TFCA Friday: Week of April 19th, 2019

April 19, 2019

Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA critics.

Opening this Week

Breakthrough (dir. Roxann Dawson)

Yet another limp, poorly assembled, and underdeveloped stab at faith based filmmaking from a major studio, Breakthrough will only appeal to true believers with exceptionally low standards” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

As a parable of faith in the face of adversity, Breakthrough is without reproach. As a bit of dramatic entertainment, however, it feels oddly slack” — Chris Knight, The National Post

The Curse of La Llorona (dir. Michael Chaves)

Jump scares are the easiest way to spot a horror hack at work. Used judiciously and creatively, they can add a pleasurable shiver to the spine. Employed indiscriminately to bludgeon the senses, as they are in the steaming load of hackitude that is Michael Chaves’ The Curse of La Llorona, the effect is like a snotty kid repeatedly hitting you with a Nerf bat” — Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

Audiences will be treated to my least favourite type of horror movie; one where previously intelligent kids and adults suddenly turn into barely functional imbeciles because the movie would end if the characters weren’t complete idiots” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Tempted as I am to find something meaningful in this tale of child separation, Hispanic immigrants and malevolent influences from south of the border, there’s not much here” — Liam Lacey, Original-Cin

Guava Island (dir. Hiro Murai)

Glover isn’t digging deep into his cryptic music’s themes. Instead, he’s grafting his recent tracks onto a different context; a sunnier landscape and a different culture. And there’s something queasy about how easily and carelessly he applies the Childish Gambino brand to this context” — Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW Magazine

The Grizzlies (dir. Miranda de Pencier) 🇨🇦

An excellent cast that includes Tantoo Cardinal and Nunavut-based actors Paul Nutarariaq and Emerald MacDonald help enliven a tale you only think you’ve seen before” — Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

Looks and moves like a standard underdog sports story: it’s based on actual events, and it’s a drama about a high-school teacher who went out on a limb to inspire his neglected students… But it’s different. It has real stakes, and de Pencier and screenwriters Moira Walley-Beckett and Graham Yost never let us forget them” — Norm Wilner, NOW Magazine

The fearless and inspiring The Grizzlies gives Canadian film the great sports drama that has long eluded it” — Pat Mullen, Cinemablographer

Gets into only a few minor scrapes on its way to a rousing finale that beautifully subverts the sports-movie trope of the come-from-behind victory” — Chris Knight, The National Post

So unflinching in its portrayal of its subject that it breaks out of its narrative strait-jacket and establishes its own story” — Jim Slotek, Original-Cin, including an interview with the director and producer

Each player’s personal story and breakthrough is explored with sensitivity and empathy and their hard-won triumphs are sweet. But this is no sentimental journey – its tough and real and fired by that thing we all have inside – hope” — Anne Brodie, What She Said!

Though critics might sneer at the film trying so hard at pushing the right buttons to be a feel-good movie, it all works well” — Gilbert Seah, Festival Reviews

At The Gate, Andrew Parker speaks with the film’s director and two lead actors on how The Grizzlies tackles reconciliation

High Life (dir. Claire Denis)

The vastness of space is such a natural fit for the free-floating narratives of Claire Denis, it’s a wonder she hasn’t embraced sci-fi before now” — Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

This is very much a prison film that uses the artificiality of the genre conceit – from beautifully designed space suits and astrological phenomenon to over-the-top story points and gruesome violence – to contemplate basic human impulses. The results are often uncomfortable and frequently mind-blowing” — Kevin Ritchie, NOW Magazine

Denis explores the microcosm of life in space, raising uneasy, even queasy questions about humanity’s need to push into that frontier, and the costs that will have to be born by individuals” — Chris Knight, The National Post

Denis has created a unique and complete world, but as that diseased place eats up every living thing and human beings are reduced to dogs, you just want it to end” — Anne Brodie, What She Said!

Anyone expecting a crowd-pleasing crossover movie from the French director of modern art-house landmarks like Beau Travail and 35 Shots of Rum may be ill-prepared for this perplexing, repellent/fascinating vision of bodies in tight spaces” — Liam Lacey, Original-Cin

Claire Denis’ style makes for one of the most intriguing films of the year” — Gilbert Seah, Festival Reviews

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (dir. Bi Gan)

A surreal, stunning, and rigorous take on classic film noir tropes and conventions that defies neat and tidy categorization” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

For strict cineastes who enjoy moody atmospheric films in which nothing much happens, the film will satisfy” — Gilbert Seah, Afro Toronto

Nureyev (dirs. Jacqui Morris and David Morris)

There’s a lot to admire in Nureyev, but the documentary keeps getting in its own way. I’m glad it’s in theatres, though, since it paves the way nicely for Ralph Fiennes’s upcoming biopic The White Crow, which opens in Toronto next month” — Norm Wilner, NOW Magazine

Penguins (dir. Alastair Fothergill)

Impresses with its scope and access, the rigours of which are once again documented over the film’s closing credits for anyone who sticks around and is interested” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

There’s much to admire in it, but its devotion to a family-friendly tone is often at odds with the astounding footage onscreen” — Thom Ernst, Original-Cin

A life-affirming warm hug of a doc about survival in face of incredible odds” — Anne Brodie, What She Said!

Runs a kid-friendly 76 minutes and is silent about climate change and shy on science – any facts we learn about Adélie penguins are purely a byproduct of Steve’s adventures” — Chris Knight, The National Post

Rafiki (dir. Wanuri Kahiu)

Hardly breaks new narrative ground, but Kahiu’s fluid direction and wholly empathetic performances by Mugatsia and Munyiva make the movie special” — Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

Above all, what stands out in the film is its rhythm” — Gilbert Seah, Festival Reviews

Sir (dir. Rohena Gera)

Ostensibly a Mumbai-set romance about the sparks that fly between a servant and her well-to-do employer. But if you take away the slow-brewing attraction that serves as an appealing logline, you still have a mighty fine picture about a village girl who wants to defy the patriarchy and stand on her own two feet in the city” — Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW Magazine

This low-key romance from Indian writer/director Rohena Gera feels at first like a throwback to an American rom-com of the ’80s, with even less skin than in that time period… But stick with Sir through its modest hour-and-40-minute runtime and you’ll see that Gera is actually playing with our expectations of the genre” — Chris Knight, The National Post

A beautifully told feel-good Cinderella story set in Mumbai that is enhanced by its culturally rich atmosphere” — Gilbert Seah, Afro Toronto

Teen Spirit (dir. Max Minghella)

Minghella has a good eye for hazy, moody backdrops, and the soundtrack is full of lively covers of thematically resonant tunes by everyone from Robyn to Grimes. Fanning’s singing voice is as haunting as her faraway expression; you just want to hear and see more” — Glenn Sumi, NOW Magazine

Minghella’s directorial debut is awash with mean girls, pretty boys, seizure-inducing club scenes, headache-inducing auto-tune, and a thin plot that unfolds (and ends) dizzyingly quickly” — Jim Slotek, Original-Cin

Minghella drifts into expressionism, cutting to images of things the song is making Violet think or feel; it’s kind of dazzling, but the technique becomes a crutch. This must be the most montage-heavy movie since Rocky IV” — Bill Chambers, Film Freak Central

Totally cliche ridden and filled with predictable plot points right up to the very end of the film” — Gilbert Seah, Festival Reviews

Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

A staggering work of mind numbing self importance and borderline toxic nostalgia baiting” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Cannes Film Festival 2019

Peter Howell, The Toronto Star: A look at the Agnes Varda-inspired poster, and a rundown of the Competition slate (missing Tarantino and Gerwig)