Reviews include Across the Spider-Verse, Bones of Crows, and Close to Vermeer.
TFCA Friday: Week of April 21
April 21, 2023
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
ICYMI: The TFCA welcomed three new members this week: Saffron Maeve, Jackson Weaver, and Rachel West.
In Release this Week
Beau Is Afraid (dir. Ari Aster)
“Ari Aster shifts from the bright horror that brought him here, via Hereditary and Midsommar, to a bleak Oedipal nightmare that throbs like a migraine for three lost hours,” groans Peter Howell at Night Vision. “This one is mostly just one long and torturous fantasy sequence, along with a few flashbacks that feel like fantasy sequences. It’s as if Darren Aronofsky, Gaspar Noé and David Lynch conspired to screw with the minds of everyone in the audience. “Beau Is Afraid” started as a short film by Aster. It should have stayed that way.”
“Trying to evaluate Beau Is Afraid, the new sort-of comedy from the horror mastermind behind Midsommar and Hereditary, is an exercise in walking that line. Because it is incredibly difficult to call anything as bravely original and weird as this movie a failure and back it up, but the experience of watching Beau is just flat-out not fun,” admits Jackson Weaver at CBC. “Beau Is Afraid is also a tiresome and aggressive movie that actively tries to get you to dislike it. As Aster said he has no more genre-flicks in him past Midsommar, Beau instead borrows from the ‘horror’ of horror without actually scaring, so the result is just the sickly feeling of something distasteful that refuses to leave.”
“Your ability to understand what’s happening depends on your desire to decipher metaphors and read between the lines. I’m willing to bet the three-hour runtime and bananas tone will alienate many potential viewers. But if you’re into daring filmmaking, Aster doesn’t hold anything back here,” says Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “An outside-the-box movie like this doesn’t work without a supreme talent like Phoenix holding it all together. There’s not another actor alive today who’s better at portraying broken and desperate men…Phoenix excels at playing slump-shouldered, mush-mouth pushovers, but what takes those performances to another level is that hint of menace always lurking in his eyes.”
At That Shelf, Rachel West speaks with director Ari Aster and gets his thoughts on having a fan in Martin Scorsese. “It’s hard to describe how meaningful it is to me because I think he’s the greatest living filmmaker and I think his body of work is basically the most intimidating and impressive [one] that I ever that I have known — and I’m talking about the entire history of the medium,” Aster tells West. “But what he’s done in preservation, what he’s done for film history — he’s gone further than anybody else.”
“Not for everyone, but by no means flawless as well, Beau Is Afraid succeeds as a nightmarish journey in which the end might not turn out as to what Beau has wished for,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Running at 3 hours, Beau Is Afraid might very well be the longest running horror film to be remembered. But it is also one that demands to be seen.”
“Beau Is Afraid is an epic, which runs to nearly three hours. Aster used his $35 million budget to create an art film comparable to Fellini in its visual splendour and astounding excesses,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The film is mesmerizing but confounding, filled with odd psychological twists and a truly bizarre scenario. Joaquin Phoenix is compelling as the ever suffering Beau and Nathan Lane is very funny as the doctor, Ralph, but the film’s acting highlight is hit by Patti LuPone, who is absolutely brilliant as Mona, the scariest mother in filmic history. She is so good that the Academy ought to give her the Best Supporting Oscar right now. It’s wonderful that one of Broadway’s greats has finally been given a role worthy of her talents.”
“Sometimes I wish I could just acknowledge that a movie has been released and then suggest we meet back here in six months after I’ve thoroughly processed it,” admits Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “That’s how I feel about Beau Is Afraid, the new, very darkly comic film from American writer/director Ari Aster, that stars Joaquin Phoenix and runs for an epic three hours. There is an overarching story and some obvious themes, including the extreme fear suggested in the film’s title…But there’s also plenty going on beneath the surface, clues that a movie that is already surrealist enough, might be even more surreal than you can catch in one viewing.”
“Neurotic and paranoid – though, as the film underlines over and over again, completely within reason – Beau stumbles from one horror to another. He escapes his neighbourhood only to find himself in the blinding-bright faux-comfort of suburbia, where a sickeningly cheery couple played by Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan insist on healing him back to health,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “A hop, skip and one ingested bucket of toxic blue paint later, Beau finds his misadventures quickly multiplying: There is a half-hour animated sequence that ages Beau by decades, a number of icy flashbacks that trace Beau’s relationship with his mother and an appearance by Parker Posey that is destined to traumatize an entire generation of Gen-Xers.”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes speaks with Ari Aster about continuing to terrorize the family unit after films like hereditary and Midsommar: “It’s hard for me to imagine a story that doesn’t at least touch on those themes. It’s really hard to get away from families in drama,” Aster tells Fernandes. “But I do sort of see this film as a continuation of what I was doing in those first two films. In some ways, I see it as kind of being an explorer explosion of those things and I see it as being kind of the end of the road as well. I kind of feel that this is the last word on whatever I was doing there or whatever I’ve been doing in that space. In some ways, this film kind of cannibalizes all of that as well.”
Chevalier (dir. Stephen Williams)
“Chevalier is filled with rich performances and anchored by an enthralling performance by Harrison Jr. Building upon his breakout performance in Waves, Harrison Jr. delivers his best work yet with undeniable charisma. His Bologne is simultaneously proud, boastful, sexy and charming as he is vulnerable, scared, and defiant. For anyone not already familiar with Harrison Jr.’s work, Chevalier will have audiences paying attention, eager to see where his career takes him next,” notes Rachel West at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. “His performance is bolstered by a supporting cast including [Samara] Weaving who disappears into every role she takes.”
“If true, as seen in the film, [Bologne] humiliated Mozart by outplaying him on his own Fourth Symphony before an audience and creating jealousy and resentment in high society, including the powerful, tyrannical Montalembert with whose wife Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving) he had an affair,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The good story, sumptuous art direction, and sensual confidence Harrison exudes are rewarding.”
At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson considers Chevalier and revisits developments in representation and colour-blind casting with a look at Sanditon and Bridgerton prequel series Queen Charlotte.
“Opulent period piece Chevalier, which had its world premiere last fall at TIFF, aims to give a long-overlooked, real-life historical figure his due and his racist, colonizing usurpers their comeuppance,” observes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “That’s a noble aim, and the percolating madness of the pending French Revolution heightens the overall drama. Yet in its eagerness to correct past wrongs and set the story straight, the film feels weirdly rigid, narratively predictable, and occasionally overstated. How it ultimately scans may depend on a viewer’s expectations.”
“Chevalier’s energy and imagination never feel adequately reflected in this cinematic retelling. It is not as if the filmmakers were hemmed in by the facts of the man’s life – Bologne likely spent a few weeks sharing a guest house with Mozart, but they never duelled it out Charlie Daniels-style – or any preconceived cultural notions,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Thanks to Napoleon’s purging of Bologne’s music from the history books, contemporary mainstream audiences are as likely to be as aware of his life as they are to believe that, say, Lydia Tár is a real person.”
“Much of Chevalier is witty and quite theatrical as Bologne charms French aristocratic society. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is funny and charismatic as the Chevalier, a sexy aristocrat who knows how to play his part in high society,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “But the film takes a highly melodramatic turn as Bologne has to confront the racism he’s always carefully avoided. The latter third of the film plays up the Chevalier’s embrace—at last—of liberté, egalité, fraternité. While that’s wonderful politically, it becomes quite emotional in ways that are not keeping with the sharper, subtler tone of the earlier part of the film.”
Chokehold (dir. Onur Saylak)
“A worthy thriller set in a foreign setting for an additional element of awe, Chokehold is solid entertainment made simply and effectively without any use of explosions, car chases or special effects,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Dry Ground Burning (dir. Adirley Queiros and Joana Pimenta)
“Fusing gritty actuality with hallucinatory B-movie pyrotechnics, this docu-fiction from Adirley Queiros (White Out, Black In; Once Upon a Time in Brasilia) and co-director/cinematographer Joana Pimenta casts women of the favela to play fictionalized versions of themselves as outlaw heroines,” writes Liam Lacey at POV Magazine. “The filmmakers have said in interviews that their genre-mashing approach was a way of creating a collaborative cinematic language to depict the political and social complexity of contemporary Brazil…Much of it relies on parallel scenes of contrasting tones.”
Evil Dead Rise (dir. Lee Cronin)
“The essentials of the franchise remain,” observes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “There is still The Book of the Dead bound in human flesh, an incantation played in a tenor of religious fervour, and (ultimately) the transformed menace of a loved one as a demon happily exposing the vulnerabilities of it victims before tearing into their flesh. But the franchise has dispensed with its campy origins. There are no skeletons dancing ballet in the woods, and no garden tools attached to dismembered limbs. And yet the humour remains, only now there is an added charm missing from previous installments.”
Ghosted (dir. Dexter Fletcher)
“Ghosted from Apple TV+ is a satirical cute couple romcom spy jaunt stars Chris Evans as Cole and Marilyn star Ana de Armas as Sadie. They meet at a Washington, D.C. farmers market, have sex and he’s smitten. The next day he sends 11 texts and calls but no Sadie,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Head-spinning, not quite cooked satire is confirmed by a sudden rotating sky-high restaurant appearance of a beloved star. Loaded with cameos and 110% tongue-in-cheek.”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes chats with stars Chris Evans and Ana de Armas about having fun, kicking butt, and avoiding typecasting. “I think it is an industry that could get small and repetitive if you let it happen because, of course, once you get a role that works and the project is watched by a lot of people, they want to repeat the formula because why not, it’s a business and they’re making money with it,” de Armas tells Fernandes. “Hence, this is the third movie that we’re doing together, but it is up to us to also draw a line in how much you’re willing to do that, because then your craft is the one that suffers and you’re limiting yourself.”
Joyland (dir. Saim Sadiq)
“[Q]uite an achievement in progress for gay rights,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[I]t goes a bit off in the final act of the film. Sadiq seems too anxious to make his points about society in a way that is perhaps a bit too on point,” observes Karen Gordon at Original Cin.“Nonetheless, Joyland is impressive, with an emotional world that feels true, and characters who feel complex and alive. This will no doubt be a break-out film for some of the actors, including Junejo, a stage actor in Pakistan in his first film role, and Alina Khan. And with his debut feature, Sadiq has established himself as a director with a knack for creating emotionally resonant films.”
“Joyland delivers a story of star-crossed lovers in Saim Sadiq’s revelatory first feature,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The film pushes against the status quo with an invigorating tale of forbidden love. Famously the first Pakistani film to screen at Cannes—where it won the jury prize in the Un Certain Regard competition and the festival’s Queer Palm (over heavy hitters like Close and Moonage Daydream)—and then infamously banned in its home country, Joyland boldly, beautifully, and defiantly makes a giant stride forward for onscreen representation. This heartfelt film is ground-breaking cinema and you can feel it in every frame.”
To Catch a Killer (dir. Damián Szifron)
“A suspenseful whodunit thriller filled with sardonic wit and superior performances from the two leads, it is a compelling brilliantly executed film that marks the best of detective films to date,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Here Comes Hot Docs!
At What She Said, Anne Brodie previews Hot Docs, including opener Twice Colonized, about Aaju Peter and her activism: “Peter still lives in Iqaluit where she cares for her grandchild following the suicide of her son – there is a huge cemetery in her community as suicide is a serious health crisis for the young,” writes Brodie. “And she is trying to extricate herself from an abusive relationship with a white man. Tiny, fit, and energetic, Peter is a whirlwind of activity and an inspirational thinker who attracts admirers for her forthright, just intelligence and experience – and for her appealingly buoyant personality.”
File Under Miscellaneous
At MUBI Notebook, Saffron Maeve speaks with How to Blow Up a Pipeline director Daniel Goldhaber about adapting a manifesto and what it means to tell such a tale without spilling any fake blood: “If people want to be critical about that, I think that’s totally legitimate. But nobody looks at Ocean’s Eleven and says, ‘Why don’t these characters get more hurt?’ That was the idea—it is a Hollywood wish-fulfillment fantasy,” Goldhaber tells Maeve. “I don’t want to be reductive of that criticism; I understand that everyone has their own perspective of activism and its cost. At the same time, Pipeline is trying to defy the narrative convention that asks movies about progressivism to be tragedies, or failures to organize, or men being overcome with ego and having that ultimately destroy a movement, which is a criticism that I have of Night Moves. Part of the provocation of our film is to bring [these actions] into the mainstream in that capacity.”
At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho uses National Canadian Film Day to highlight five emerging talents that readers should keep on their radars, including Therapy Dogs director Ethan Eng. “Hailing from Mississauga, ON, Eng has a lot ahead of him,” writes Ho. “After screening Therapy Dogs at Slamdance, Eng was awarded with a fellowship at AGBO, the production company of the Russo Brothers. He’s also kept busy in front of the camera with a supporting part in the upcoming film BlackBerry. Suffice to say, Ethan Eng is a name to remember.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey does his patriotic duty by using National Canadian Film Day to highlight Canadian films for people to watch beyond one day per year, like Chien Blanc: “Based on the book by French novelist, filmmaker and diplomat, Romain Gary, [the film] follows his account of his marriage to the actress Jean Seberg, and how the couple, determined to be good anti-racist allies, adopted, and attempted to retrain an Alabama police dog that had been taught to attack Black people,” writes Lacey. “You may recall that Samuel Fuller previously made this into a controversial film in 1981. The new version by Quebec’s Anais Barbeau-Lavalette, is reportedly more faithful to the book, in a film that should have renewed resonance in the post-Black Lives Matter era.”
Meanwhile, Jim Slotek at Original Cin talks Canadian film and Gordon Pinsent with Mary Walsh, who looks back on John and the Missus: “Gordon played that darker temerity, that stubborn cranky guy, the way that you had to be as a Newfoundlander to just stay here,” Walsh tells Slotek. “It was kind of a visionary movie because it looked back to us losing our independence and committing to Confederation. But it also looked forward to 1992 when we lost our whole raison d’etre, losing the cod fishery in ’92.. And Gordon’s story of leaving and coming to the end of a natural resource and leaving a way of life et cetera was spot on.”
To mark National Canadian Film Day, Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail offers 10 ways to save Canadian film including a suggestion that we should share space with the VFCC. Shots fired! “It is hard to counter the argument that Toronto media coverage sucks up all the oxygen in this country when the Toronto Film Critics Association awards Canada’s richest film prize – the $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award – every year,” writes Hertz. “Perhaps one of Canada’s other giant telcos should step up to support a similar award given out on the other side of the country by the VFCC. Currently, its three ‘Best B.C.’ awards come with a tiny cash prize of $500 each. Spread the wealth, and spread the awareness.”
Speaking of shots fired, Hertz commits justifiable homicide at The Globe and Mail with a frank look at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards: “At least audiences knew that their evening was about to be ruined right from the start, with host Samantha Bee participating in a cringe-inducing opening sketch that cobbled together tired gags about Toronto-playing-New York, toques, Anne of Green Gables, and one especially weird reference to Turning Red,” writes Hertz. “The entire structure of Bee’s contributions – the show kept coming back to the comedian stuck in this quasi-clubhouse of clichéd Canadiana – reeked of a self-congratulatory nothingness. From the looks of it, it seems that Bee never even left her home in New York to film the bit, something that perhaps only someone such as, say, CBC president and CEO Catherine Tait might be able to appreciate.”
At POV Magazine, Marc Glassman offers his Editor’s Letter introducing the latest print issue. This issue also features words from members Jason Gorber, Rachel Ho, Pat Mullen, and Courtney Small.
TV Talk/Series Scribbles: When Does Barry Season 4 Start? Dead Ringers Splits
At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho checks in with the fourth season of Barry: “The series has never shied away from what a monster Barry is, but it has also never been subtle in giving the character an almost child-like demeanour that, with Hader’s comedic abilities, generates a lot of sympathy and love for the hitman,” writes Ho. The gender-swapped Dead Ringers, however, disappoints: “In theory, changing the gender the Mantle twins lends an interesting texture to the original story. Beverly’s fertility issues could create a heartbreaking portrait of a woman who helps so many others create life while she herself cannot,” notes Ho. “Both of them could present interesting (and differing) views on women’s healthcare that the original film wasn’t able to explore. Unfortunately, any promise is squandered, as these threads are raised but only brushed upon in a rather superficial manner, leaving viewers to listen to dialogue that we could find on Twitter threads.”
Alternatively, Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail finds lots to admire in the remake of David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers: “While the two leads have the same names and yin/yang personality traits as in Cronenberg’s film – Beverley is the more sensitive and docile one, Elliot the boundary-breaker who skirts all manner of ethical and moral lines – the space that Birch and her writers give the women to move and operate within their world gives the characters a rich, raw meatiness,” writes Hertz. “The time to explore and play with characters is a luxury of the television format, naturally, but it is so easy to see how other, sloppier producers might have resisted going as deep as Birch and her team (including Canadian directors Sean Durkin and Karena Evans) do here.”
For something lighter, Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto calls Alex Borstein: Corsets and Clown Suits “funny enough to entertain for an hour and a half.”
At What She Said, Mrs. Davis has Anne Brodie singing hallelujah: “If Betty Gilpin’s in it, you know it’s going to be fun, smart, and action-packed,” advises Brodie. Meanwhile, The Diplomat with Keri Russell is “strong stuff, a fine replacement for the late great Homeland.” For readers looking for briefer binges, though, Love & Death with Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons takes audiences back to the 1980s and “digs into fundamentalism and the social repression of women in that time and place.” And sister Boniface Mysteries offers “total comfort viewing.” As for Dead Ringers? Here’s what she said: “Steel yourself. It aims for the same shock trauma territory of gore, horror, deceit, subversion, weird sex, outliers, and the omnipresent bugbears of money and power. It’s sexually and medically graphic, gross at times, and hits the mark – it feels Cronenbergish, but the emphasis is on women…Dead Ringers is strong meat.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey delivers a verdict on Jury Duty: “The mockumentary sitcom, a television format which arose in the aughts along with reality television, is a waning phenomenon,” writes Lacey. “The new eight-episode Prime Video series Jury Duty, created by The Office’s writer-producers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, just edges into this area. Essentially, it’s a feel-good sitcom with one weird difference: The main actor, real-life 29–year-old San Diego solar contractor installer Ronald Gladden, doesn’t know it’s all pretend.” And for Dead Ringers, Lacey observes, “Birch’s series stands separately as a kind of thought experiment, an explicitly didactic series of riffs on the same themes from a women’s perspective. The result is a compendium of reproduction-related scenes and ideas, including sometimes barely integrated subplots along with blasts of satire and gothic pastiche.”