Reviews include Across the Spider-Verse, Bones of Crows, and Close to Vermeer.
TFCA Friday: Week of April 14
April 14, 2023
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week!
How to Blow Up a Pipeline (dir. Daniel Goldhaber)
“Incendiary and furious, confident and courageous, the new thriller How to Blow Up a Pipeline boasts not only the best title of the year so far but also the best score, cast and itchy, charged, electric directorial vision – all of it only ever-so-slightly goosed by a political softening that perhaps says more about contemporary American filmmaking than the storytellers working within it,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “This is the kind of nervy, button-pushing cinema that is as much a fast and tight genre exercise as it is a gleeful provocation.”
“[W]ell-intentioned but unfortunately poorly executed environmentally friendly thriller drama that is all over the place trying especially hard to be a thriller like Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le salaire de la peur, but failing miserably,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Ultimately, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an eco-thriller that works,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The audience will be hooked by a fast paced story that makes an act of violence something that is worthy of support. This is a film that is radical in its roots. It’s so well-crafted that many will find themselves cheering for that pipeline to blow up—a truly surprising conclusion for any conservative viewers, but this is a thriller with something to say.”
“Director Daniel Goldhaber doesn’t waste a single frame in this perfectly crafted parable of radical protest,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline smartly builds stories of hardship and loss amid the escalating tension. This is an invigorating portrait of necessity. When there’s no longer any civil recourse to address the immediate concerns of climate change, the actions like those of the young activists/radicals/eco-terrorists speak directly to the restlessness of a generation that’s hungry for change.”
Kids vs. Aliens (dir. Jason Eisener 🇨🇦)
“The new horror comedy streaming on Shudder may sound cheesy based on its title, but that is because the film fully embraces its cheesy nature,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Leda (dir. Samuel Tressler IV)
“The black and white, wordless ‘ambient’ horror film Leda, a ‘reimagining of the Greek myth Leda and the Swan’ is a fascinating experience,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Director Samuel Tressler IV’s seductive style is grand and natural, many things at once, and in all, it’s a fascinating trip and a film fest darling.”
Mafia Mamma (dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
“As in most rude comedies made by men, there isn’t much scope for character development in the film although we do see Kristin gradually take responsibility for her life, rejecting her now pathetic husband and building up the wine business,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Too much of the film is taken up with Kristin’s clueless behaviour. Collette, who is a genuinely great talent, can do little with the character until she finally wises up and starts becoming—unsurprisingly—a proper Mafia mamma. Bellucci is underused except in one funny scene where she admits to having had sex with a now-dead Mafia boss.”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes chats with Mafia Mamma star Toni Collette about being a girl with a gun and facing new truths as her career progresses. “I’m 50 now. I made my first film when I was 17 years old and the industry has changed,” Collette tells Fernandes. “I’ve changed and I like myself and I accept myself. So when I’m in situations that don’t sit right, I feel fine about speaking up. I remember being so nervous about speaking up. I just always assumed that everybody else knew better when I was in my late teens and in my 20s.”
Queens on the Run (dir. Jorge Macaya)
“For the reason the film does not aim high, it succeeds as a female feel-good, road trip comedy but do not expect anything in the vein of Thelma and Louise,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Renfield (dir. Chris McKay)
“For an explanation of the film’s odd hybridization – it’s a real Frankenstein’s monster of a Dracula movie – you need only look at the creative minds behind the screenplay,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “One of them, Ryan Ridley, worked for a time on the animated adult sci-fi sitcom Rick and Morty, as well as the more straight-up sitcom Community. The other, Robert Kirkman, is the creator of the graphic novel The Walking Dead and a writer for its TV spinoff. So be prepared for a combination of oddball humour and buckets of bloody violence.”
“Cage, who went more psychologically vampiric in 1988’s audacious Vampire’s Kiss, plays Vlad Drakul with gusto, paying tribute to various earlier incarnations, evoking Bela Lugosi (in black-and-white in the film’s opening), Christopher Lee and even – with his sawed-off sharp teeth – Lon Chaney’s vampire in the lost London After Midnight,” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “But though Cage gets top billing (and some of the best lines and best “kills”), Dracula is a second banana in the film. Hoult’s Renfield is the protagonist, introduced as an attendee but non-participant in an aphorism-heavy support group for people trying to escape toxic, co-dependent relationships.”
“The movie stumbles onto unsteady ground with a half-baked subplot involving crime in New Orleans, where the story is set. More corrupt even than Gotham City, it’s a place where even vampires don’t seem strange,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “The movie squanders a lot of its potential. It’s not all that funny nor all that scary, but it is exceedingly violent. With a 93-minute running time, it’s that rare film that should have been longer or at least have had a stronger tale to tell. “Renfield” runs out of story long before it runs out of blood.”
“The production design around Dracula’s lair is perfectly in keeping with Cage’s interpretation, and it’s shame we don’t spend more time there,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Even more surprising than the lack of Dracula in Cage’s filmography is how gruesome Renfield is. Taking a video game-style approach to the showdowns between the mob, the cops, Dracula and Renfield, the action is delightfully extra. For those with a weaker stomach, Renfield may prove to be a bit much — but for those of us who relish in unrealistically intense action to the highest degree, the movie is ridiculously entertaining.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a horror fantasy though hardly an entertaining one, a rather muddled up blend of too many ingredients in one pot.”
“A #NotAllMonsters comedy that struggles mightily to maintain its one good idea – that creatures real and imagined tend to prey on victims’ desire for, or addiction to, co-dependency – director Chris McKay’s film is as laborious and grim as any toxic relationship,” sighs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “After a quick, mildly clever prologue that establishes, via the classic aesthetic of Tod Browning’s 1931 film Dracula, the relationship between ‘familiar’ henchman Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) and his master vamp (Cage), the action shifts to present-day New Orleans.”
River (dir. Jennifer Peedom)
“River is a beautiful film. It’s just too bad that it’s about ten years late. River is a doc doppelgänger for Watermark (2013), the second part of Jennifer Baichwal, Nick de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky’s environmental trilogy. Both films are visual essays about the power of water,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Evidently, you can step into the same river twice.”
Showing Up (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
“Showing Up is a movie that whispers, and yet when it ended, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Lizzy or to the other characters in her world, to the sunny leafy streets of Portland, to the free spirit vibe of the art school, to the relationships I just started to get to know. I wanted to see more. I still want to,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “This is indie filmmaking at its best.”
“Kelly Reichardt’s fourth collaboration with Michelle Williams Showing Up is in many ways removed from the three prior. Its power and subtlety are there but come late in the story, preceded by a long, meditative setup. Williams is Lizzy, a sculptor of female figures in flights of fancy,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The anxiety she masterfully passes along to us is real and underlines the tension of the interminably slow pace. But as the show approaches, the film toughens up with the pace and we understand.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams about their fourth collaboration: ““I like to spend as much time as possible in preparation, some of it to mellow out anxiety because the longer that you can prepare, the longer you can dissipate that nervousness,” Williams tells Hertz. “Acting is so strange because you spend so little time acting. When you finally get there and hear the word ‘action’ you are no longer in the waiting room, so I need to learn to become this other character so thoroughly. Being with Cynthia, and watching her do what she does to make these sculptures come alive, was incredibly helpful.”
Sweethurt (dir. Tom Danger)
“[N]ot as good or as hilarious or even as original as it wants to be, but not for want of trying,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Until Branches Bend (dir. Sophie Jarvis 🇨🇦)
“Sophie Jarvis’ feature debut Until Branches Bend is an ambitious marriage of eco-responsibility in the face of corporate disinformation, a ruinous insect invasion, ugly repercussions in a small peach growing area in the Okanagan Valley, Indigenous issues, unwanted pregnancy and two sisters who basically raised themselves struggling to secure a better future,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The sisters live without any plan, having had no guidance or support which was interesting, but tough, perhaps too much troubling material has been crammed into an important story.”
“Shot in 16 mm in the heat of summer, Until Branches Bend has a carefully considered, dreamy look, especially in outdoor scenes when the peaches dangle voluptuously from the trees. In the role of Robin, Grace Glowicki has a unique, gangly physical presence,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Typically dressed in a camisole and loose jeans, wearing frameless glasses, hair in a bun, Robin is wearing a preoccupied fixed expression that, intermittently, cracks. When the middle-aged Dennis — who appears to be the man who got her pregnant in some ill-considered though consensual encounter — brushes aside her concerns, she looks as though she has been slapped.”
File Under Miscellaneous: B-Ball Docs, ISO Woes, Classic Kino
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports on the Indigenous Screen Office’s response to getting a cold shoulder from the Federal Budget and speaks with chief executive officer Kerry Swanson. “You can see the incredible amount of work that we have accomplished in a very short period of time, and this lack of inclusion in the budget unnecessarily undermines our work – not just for us, but the hundreds of Indigenous storytellers and organizations that we support,” Swanson tells Hertz.
At POV Magazine, Courtney Small shoots some hoops with basketball documentaries that look beyond the court. “While it is easy to reduce basketball to such binary notions as winners and losers, the sense of community it evokes is the real draw,” writes Small. “Rather than viewing basketball players as mere commodities for entertainment, the increase in basketball documentaries and docuseries brings their humanity and passion to the fore. In their tales of triumph and adversity on and off the court, we see the complexities of our society reflected.”
“Another Pre-Code gem from Kino Lorber is available on DVD now,” recommends Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Director Erle C. Kenton’s Search for Beauty, a tongue-in-cheek naughty romp starring an almost unrecognisable Ida Lupino, matinee idol Larry Buster Crabbe and familiar characters including James Gleason. Lupino and Crabbe are Don and Barbara, two Olympic athletes some shady entrepreneurs believe will draw readership for their magazine.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Hot Docs, Cannes, TIFF Heat Up
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen recaps 23 films from the festival circuit coming to Hot Docs 2023. Highlights include The Eternal Memory, The Echo, and Milisuthando. “I saw nearly every documentary at Sundance this year and Milisuthando was the best in a runaway,” writes Mullen. “Fans of essay films like Sans soleil or A Night of Knowing Nothing will be awed by the ingenuity of this first feature. Milisuthando Bongela proves a true breakthrough behind the camera as she considers the fractured nature of identity and community while examining South African apartheid.”
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell reports on the recently-released Cannes line-up, which includes some notable CanCon: “The French Riviera event, running May 16 to 27, will present the world premiere of The Idol, a controversial upcoming HBO TV series billed as ‘the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood.’ It’s co-created by and co-stars Abel Tesfaye, the Toronto musician better known as The Weeknd,” notes Howell. “Another Canadian is taking a sex-themed production to Cannes: “Simple Like Sylvain,” the third feature by Quebec writer/director Monia Chokri, whose previous film “Babysitter” recently won top honours at the Canadian Film Fest.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Anita Lee and Robyn Citizen about TIFF’s efforts to rejuvenate the Lightbox and branch out to new audiences: “Women Talking is a good example of finding more intersections,” Lee tells Hertz. “The film was a premiere in our theatrical strand as a new release, but we took the opportunity there to do a mini-spotlight of films selected by Sarah Polley for Cinematheque. Then we had on-stage conversations with Sarah and [author Miriam Toews], which was set up in public programming.” (Polley’s film is so far the Lightbox’s No. 1 title of the year, earning $129,992 across its 12-week run.)
TV Talk/Series Stuff – Marvelous Influencers, Succession‘s Shocker
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz and Radheyan Simonpillai list the 25 most influential people in Canadian television, including Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, Sort of’s Bilal Bag, and the prolific Clement Virgo: “It is a small wonder that Brother director Clement Virgo is able to make movies,” writes Hertz. “Not because of the challenges of Canada’s film industry – though that wildly complicated system doesn’t help – but because Virgo (whose new Scarborough-set feature [won] for  Canadian Screen Awards this week) is so busy making television, on both sides of the border.”
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller reports on the collaborative Pacific Screenwriting Program and speaks with its co-creators about working to ensure that B.C. writers are part of the province’s growing screen sector. “We decided, let’s not fight over a slice of the pie – let’s build a pie shop,” Brian Hamilton tells Schneller. “It didn’t hurt that streamers are in a growth phase in Canada, looking for ways to demonstrate that they’re good citizens. But we’re all motivated that a collective rising of the tide will lift everyone. And everything starts with the writer.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey checks out the new season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and finds the title slightly inaccurate. “Given its diversity of representation and emphasis on showbiz sexism, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is strikingly apolitical about the tumultuous 1960s. Vietnam gets mentioned only in a scene where, through movie magic, Midge appears, bantering with Bob Hope on a USO tour,” writes Lacey. “One is left with the unavoidable impression that Mrs. Maisel is essentially a study in self-promotion. As with many egocentrics, the mysterious self-confidence is intriguing until it becomes repetitious and tiresome.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out Maisel star Alex Bortstein’s special Corsets and Clown Suits: “Borstein’s great writing makes this a winning and remarkable hour and a half, mostly about her personal life (although she manages to out Linda Hamilton as celibate for fifteen years) and hilariously brainy zingers and her thoughtful ones “How do I control how I’m perceived?” along with her philosophical meanderings,” writes Brodie.
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz digs into that doozy of a “Red Wedding” episode last week on Succession that had fans’ jaws on the floor. “Watching Strong, Snook, Culkin and, eventually, Ruck come to terms with the development their characters must process was a wry and wrenching exercise – a gut punch that was also a punchline,” says Hertz. “And while lesser performers could have turned on the big, bright ‘For Your Emmys Consideration’ lights, each actor here walked the thinnest of tightropes, navigating the news their characters have been dreading-slash-eagerly-awaiting their entire lives with just the right kind of destabilizing internal implosion.”