Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday – Week of April 1
April 2, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Amundsen (dir. Espen Sandberg; Apr. 6)
Amundesen “is entertaining while a bit tiring due to its length,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The film’s mesmerising, set in places I know I won’t visit, in conditions we can’t imagine, as the men’s strength, crew and leaders, shine through,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Better Days (dir. Derek Tsang)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “an often unbearable watch, but in a good way.”
Concrete Cowboy (dir. Ricky Staub)
“Idris Elba rides a horse. What more can you people ask for?” wonders Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
At What She Said, Anne Brodie admits that the film “gets a bit emotional; but at its heart [is] a nice redemption story.”
“There are at least four different movies rattling around inside Concrete Cowboy, and it never gets a handle on any of them,” sighs Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Concrete Cowboy has enough pull due to the unfamiliar setting of horses in the city,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Francesco (dir. Evgeny Afineevsky)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a warm hearted feel-good documentary proving there is hope for the human race.”
“The Pope Francis docs, so far, are simply missed opportunities to say anything meaningful about the Catholic Church or its leader,” sighs Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Jesus wept.”
French Exit (dir. Azazel Jacobs 🇮🇪/🇨🇦)
“Among the many influences director Azazel Jacobs cites for this astringent dysfunctional family comedy are Aki Kaurismäki, Hal Ashby, Ernst Lubitsch, Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini,” writes Peter Howell at Night Vision. “Which sounds about right, since all of them approach the essential absurdity of life with a deadpan sense of fatalism.”
“In Pfeiffer’s hands, Frances Price could easily be the reincarnation of the cat that ate moist and delicious morsels from crystal goblets in the Fancy Feast commercials,” raves Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The performance should have been this year’s Best Actress winner.”
“But as memorable as Pfieffer is in French Exit, hers is far from a nuanced performance,” disagrees Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Her Frances Price is a dry, single-note character whose unapologetic aristocracy doesn’t ask for redemption, only to be pardoned.”
“Lucas Hedges is a gifted young actor who has stood his ground with Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, Carrie Coon, Shia LeBeouf, and Michelle Williams and not only survived but thrived,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “That’s a lot of presence and talent.”
“Hedges is the movie’s weak link, but I’ve so loved his work in everything from Manchester By the Sea to Lady Bird to Boy Erased, Ben Is Back and the recent how-was-it-not-Oscar-nominated Let Them All Talk that I’m going to lay this at the feet of the director,” argues Chris Knight at the National Post.
“The only note that I managed to make while watching the new sorta-Canadian comedy French Exit, though, was one short all-caps sentence: ‘I DON’T LIKE YOU PEOPLE,’” yells Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“The script and director Jacobs steer the film towards a good turn with French Exit ending up quite the great finale,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The film charts a difficult terrain. Though often charming and funny, the narrative is ultimately quite dark,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
Godzilla vs. Kong (dir. Adam Wingard)
“The best way to find any warmth in the screenplay would be to set fire to it,” says Chris Knight with the burn of the week at the National Post.
“While stopping short of camp, and giving the movie all the visual aplomb it deserves, Godzilla vs. Kong isn’t ashamed of being light entertainment writ large,” roars Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “The dramatics are few, the quips just about right, and the booms are bombastic.”
At CBC, Eli Glasner gives a shout out to deaf actor Kaylee Hottle who “makes a special connection” with the film’s massive gorilla but admits that Alexander Skarsgård is there “because they couldn’t find anymore more interesting.”
“[I]t seems the tentpole is back with a vengeance,” remarks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Good sense of fun, excellent landscapes, a great soundtrack.”
“Wingard works the same trick he pulled with You’re Next, The Guest and even his Blair Witch sequel, taking a genre apart to remind us what we love about it,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “Turns out the thing we love most about kaiju movies is giant monsters punching each other. Go figure.”
“Godzilla vs. Kong is a ridiculous movie made even more ridiculous by a distinct lack of care in its conception and execution,” cheers Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But it is also the kind of cinematic assault that delivers just the right jolt to the most base sensibilities hiding within our lizard brains.”
“Watching this blockbuster is like eating a big bag of Cheetos before dinner: You know it’s bad, but you can’t help yourself,” admits Peter Howell at Night Vision.
The Marksman (dir. Robert Lorenz)
“Neeson doesn’t wear self-pity well, and The Marksman is not a good enough film to play on the edge of pathos without conveniently dropping all pretenses for the sake of a decent, bone-busting fight scene, or—in this case—a fight scene,” observes Thom Ernst at Original Cin.
“How much you enjoy The Marksman will depend on how much you like to see Neeson taking the law into his own gnarled hands,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “There’s tension in the story, to be sure, but not a lot of depth of character.”
No Ordinary Man (dir. Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt 🇨🇦)
Calling the film, “a reclamation of Tipton’s identity, flying in the face of widely held notions the media has spread,” Radheyan at NOW Toronto looks at the genius behind this groundbreaking film by speaking with directors Chase Joynt and Aisling Chin-Yee. “We share power in interesting ways to navigate our own vulnerabilities,” says Joynt, “and to navigate how we want the project represented and to recognize that we need multiple speaking subjects all the time.”
“The scenes of the actors discussing what resonated are poignant and telling,” writes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto. “It’s an increasingly familiar yet effective documentary conceit that makes No Ordinary Man as much about the present as the past.”
“Placing these performers in a brighter light, and encouraging them to discuss their feelings about Tipton’s life, No Ordinary Man becomes more than a bio and should open the eyes of many viewers of the film,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“Through interviews with Tipton’s adopted son Bill Junior, what emerges is a picture of a loving husband and father who made the best go at living his true life in a world that couldn’t accept what he was,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s nice to think we’re further along that road today. It’s important to know we’re not at the end of it.”
“Ironically, No Ordinary Man straightens out the past by queering Tipton’s story,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
At CBC, Eli Glasner praises the film’s “innovative” approach that lets the trans masculine actors explore themes of fluidity and identity, saying, “I think what Chase and Aisling have come up with is genius because the technique captures the fluidity—it’s not just the recreations, it’s that there was no single idea about what Billy Tipton did…there isn’t a single trans experience. It’s a spectrum.”
Oscar Shorts (dir. various)
At That Shelf, Pat Mullen taps If Anything Happens, I Love You as his favourite among the animated nominees and The Present as the strongest work among the live action shorts. For POV Magazine, he speaks with Anders Hammer, director of the masterful short doc nominee Do Not Split.
At Toronto Franco, Gilbert Seah reviews all the animated, live action, and documentary contenders with special praise for the animated short Opera: “Director Oh examines racism, terrorism and religion in his intricate pyramid that looks like hell on earth.”
Quo Vadis, Aida? (dir. Jasmila Zbanic; Apr. 6)
At What She Said, Anne Brodie calls this Oscar nominee for Best International Feature a “superior deeply moving tribute to the dead and the survivors.”
Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto says, “staged so well, the film, based on true events, feels so real and relevant.”
Shoplifters of the World (dir. Stephen Kijak)
“Set over 24 hours in Denver on the day the news of the Smiths’ breakup reaches the band’s American fans in August 1987, Shoplifters of the World is a loose, fun ensemble picture about fandom, heartbreak, coming of age and storming a radio station to get the metal DJ to play your epic new-wave misery music,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Honestly, I could have spent all of the movie’s 91 minutes in the booth with these two characters, as they bond over a shared love of music – not the same music, but still – and discover other similarities,” says the National Post’s Chris Knight on this love letter to The Smiths.
Sugar Daddy (dir. Kelly McCormack; Apr. 6 🇨🇦)
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell calls the film “a drama of artful ambition and moral expediency.”
“Unless one can care for the future of Darren, or what she goes through, the film can be a real bore,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It definitely does not help that her character comes across as terribly caustic and that she does not care what any of her friends think or do.”
The Unholy (dir. Evan Spiliotopoulos)
“Instead of celebrating Christ, here is a movie that revels in the sinister. But don’t worry – righteousness will still overcome evil, and all repentant sinners shall be redeemed,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “I can’t say that arc will apply to The Unholy’s filmmakers, though.”
“The frights are pretty standard, and include a lot of jump scares and a few shots of a neon motel sign that buzzes on and off eerily,” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post. “And what is it with evil entities that move in jerky, St. Vitus dancing motions? Did they not stretch properly before heading out to harass the living?”
Super Canadian: Screenies, CFF, and the State of Distribution! 🇨🇦
Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail dives into the uncharacteristically strong list of nominees for this year’s Canadian Screen Awards. But there are some conundrums to consider. “Instead of barely- or yet-to-be-released movies populating the list, there is a good chance that Canadians might have actually seen some of this year’s nominated films,” writes Hertz. “But the industry is also going to have to once again ask itself the uncomfortable question of what exactly qualifies as a ‘Canadian film,’ as opposed to international fare that has Canadian money attached. Fun times, people!” Then there’s the whole Michelle Latimer thing.
Hertz also looks at the increasingly confusing state of moviegoing and streaming access to films in Canada. After Netflix Canada retweeted a trailer for an Amazon Prime release and after most Canadians probably just bootlegged Nomadland instead of navigating how to watch it legally, Hertz thinks this could have consequences for the Canuck market. “It’s not personal; it’s strictly business, is the real answer,” writes Hertz. “But those Michael Corleone-y words are cold comfort to Canadians who are just now getting used to the idea of VOD, forget becoming experts in deciphering international acquisition deals.”
Audiences can find Canadian content on Super Channel, however, for this week’s Canadian Film Festival. Liam Lacey at Original Cin surveys the festival. “In the year of living weirdly, we are now reaching the first anniversary editions of film festivals that were forced to go online last year because of the theatre shutdown,” writes Lacey. “One of the first of the virtual festivals was the Toronto-based Canadian Film Festival, which focuses on new Canadian films by emerging filmmakers. The organizers saved the festival by hooking up with the pay-TV subscription service, Super Channel to offer a virtual version of the event across Canada.”
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell also looks at the Canadian Film Festival and speaks with the festivals founder/executive director Bern Euler and director Ashleigh Rains about pivoting to a non-theatrical format to preserve space for Canadian programming. Euler says it relates to why the festival was created: “I found that over the years, the fact that we are Canadian holds us back. Which is to me insane. Filmmakers, especially emerging artists, don’t have — or they didn’t when we came on the scene — a place to congregate and shake hands and network and watch each other’s movies and let the general public watch. That’s one of the reasons I want to keep it going, because this is not a money-maker.”
TV – Worn Serpent and Worn Stories
At What She Said, Anne Brodie has good word on the four-part documentary series Exterminate All the Brutes, noting, “Stunning revelations emerge, provocations, reminders of past misdeeds and crimes against humanity, all framed in stunning cinematography. [Raoul] Peck’s truth-telling narration is indeed hard to absorb but there’s no denying the thoroughness and power of his series.” On the true crime limited series The Serpent, she calls it “a bumpy ride in more ways than one.”
Norm Wilner agrees on the latter at NOW Toronto, panning The Serpent: “[W]hat’s merely dull becomes actively awful once you realize the scripts aren’t going to stop shuffling the story’s chronology, jumping backward and forward in time – with on-screen supers unhelpfully telling us this is ‘five months ago’ or ‘three years later’ so often it becomes impossible to know when the show’s present is supposed to be – in order to revisit key moments from different perspectives… but never managing to show us anything we couldn’t intuit the first time through.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen buttons up for the fashion series Worn Stories, which offers light entertainment about the stories in our favourite clothes. “Worn Stories spins a new yarn with killer lewks in the sea of chic fashion docs: the study is not so much one of style but the significance that articles of clothing hold,” writes Mullen.
Cinema-Scope #86 Coming Soon!
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