Reviews include Bullet Train, I Love My Dad, and A Night of Knowing Nothing.
TFCA Friday: Week of April 22
April 22, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In release this week!
The Automat (dir. Lisa Hurwitz)
“Mel Brooks, who wrote and recorded an orchestral song for Lisa Hurwitz’s documentary The Automat is a huge fan and leads the way into the rich history of the Automat. Sadly they are no more, but wouldn’t it be great if they made a comeback?” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Pure fun and olde timey food!”
“Hurwitz spent eight years pulling the film together, speaking to a broad range of people, from the descendants of the founders to historians to a well of people who worked for the chain, in various capacities,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Given its century-plus life span, the life and times of Horn and Hardart’s Automat restaurants, is a lot of story. And Hurowitz does it thoroughly in 78 minutes, in a wonderfully evocative way.”
The Bad Guys (dir. Pierre Perifel)
“First-time director Pierre Perifel gives the animation an organic, hand-drawn look that reminded me of some of the great sequences from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It feels like the dawn of a new style – computer-influenced rather than merely computer-generated. There’s an appealing roughness to the images.”
“A solid animation bet for the family!” suggests Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Charlotte (dir. Eric Warin, Tahir Rana 🇨🇦)
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller speaks with star Keira Knightley, who voices Charlotte Salomon in the English release of the film, about bringing the late painter’s story to new generations and playing women who carve their own paths in society. “I find it inspiring playing women who manage to be their truest selves in a society that doesn’t celebrate that,” says Knightley. “That’s a constant thread through my work – that person who feels like she doesn’t quite fit into the space that she’s given, and is trying to find more space. I’m drawn to women who have the courage to go against the norm, who question the society they live in, and try to push that society forward in whatever way they can.”
“Charlotte a powerful animated Canadian film, with an impressive international cast presents the saga of German Jewish painter Charlotte Saloman,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Charlotte is a deeply moving and profound film, a true story, and as unusual use of animation as politics as last year’s Flee.”
“Done in glorious animation, Charlotte is the remarkable true story of Charlotte Salomon, a German Jewish artist defying incredible odds to create a masterpiece during World War II,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Animators and co-directors Eric Warin and Tahir Rana headed up a Canada/France/Belgium coproduction that follows the last 10 years in the short life of Salomon, voiced in the English dub by Keira Knightley,” adds Chris Knight at the National Post. “Born and raised in Berlin, she managed to find a placement in the Academy of Fine Arts thanks to her father’s service in the Great War.”
“One could call Salomon’s art the work of a documentarian even though she commits paintbrush to paper, instead of recording a verité-style account of life in photographs, film frames, or written words,” observes Patrick Mullen at That Shelf. “Charlotte could not pay a finer tribute to Salomon than in the painterly frames with which Warin and Rana recount her story. Each composition of Charlotte bears the influence of Salomon’s aesthetic. It’s as if she summoned a moving and living painting to life.”
Hit the Road (dir. Panah Panahi)
“The film is the debut from Panah Panahi, a filmmaker with one eye to the present and another in the rearview mirror. Panahi is the heir to two of the giants of the Iranian cinema, the son of the persecuted filmmaker, Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, Crimson Gold, Taxi), and a former student of and assistant director to the late, esteemed Abbas Kiarostami,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “There are obvious resonances of the older directors’ works, which are replete with dramas set in cars and child-centred fables of political resistance, but Panahi opens up the genre with a free-wheeling, pop sensibility and a sitcom-like premise.”
“Hit the Road, not a bad movie for a first time director, succeeds in demonstrating the family’s odd dynamics,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Panahi takes his time but the film’s spirit never wanes- the journey is the centre, the setting, and circumstances fluid, but their love for one another, despite the bickering and resentments, is solid,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A most unusual and fulfilling experience.”
“What emerges is a sidelong glance at the sometimes paradoxical state (I use the term both politically and psychologically) that is modern Iran,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Panahi illustrates the dynamics of parenting, spoils us with glorious natural scenery, and provides an extended shout-out to one of my favourite films, 2001: A Space Odyssey. What’s not to love?”
Hostile Territory (dir. Brian Presley; Apr. 26)
“Hostile offers a skewed look at the west, trivialized by this fable of family reunion despite good intentions,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Intervention (dir. Samesh Ramjattan)
“Watching a Zoom based film during these Pandemic times is just too trying and one needs a break from Zoom,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Magnitude of All Things (dir. Jennifer Abbott 🇨🇦)
“The Magnitude of All Things moves with the unshakable sensation of grief and loss,” writes Patrick Mullen at POV Magazine. “Exploring climate change through the perspective of environmental grief, The Magnitude of All Things witnesses far corners of the world coping and adapting in the face of devastating losses—but also many people fighting for the world’s future. The doc navigates the space between anger and hope to emerge with a deeper sense of serenity. It’s as poignant as it is provocative.”
The Northman (dir. Robert Eggers)
“In the midst of all this testosteronal tussling, the performances of three women stand out,” observes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Anya Taylor-Joy, made famous by Eggers’ The Witch, arrives near the 40-minute mark as Olga, no friend of Fjölnir. She sides with Amleth and also fosters the closest thing to romance and family life this film can muster. She helps gives Skarsgård’s character much more humanity than he might otherwise possess; the innate intelligence of both actors also shines through.”
“It is a wild and trippy ride that mixes ‘reality,’ with sequences that dip into the mystical world of the Vikings, and back out again. It’s also meticulously made, with an attention to detail as close to actual 10th century Viking life as is possible,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Fans of [Eggers’] work – and I am one of them – have fallen for his singular way of mixing stories based in historical periods, that toggle between the basic narrative, with side trips to the supernatural.”
“The Northman plays out as a stark and viscerally compelling narrative from the Beowulf tradition,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Much blood is spilled, endorsed (one presumes) by the Gods. Too many people die. Amleth and Olga almost run away to the Orkneys, a gorgeous and stark land where they might prosper. But Amleth has a fate he must pursue and a battle at a volcano, neatly dubbed The Gates of Hell. Heaven forfend that I reveal the ending of this saga.”
“In The Northman, vengeance is a dish best served cold. And slow,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “In fact, pacing is the film’s main problem. I appreciated the story immensely by the end, but in the early going I kept being reminded of The Green Knight, a recent Medieval adventure film that nearly sinks under the weight of too much atmosphere, not enough plot.”
“If I had to choose one word to describe Robert Eggers’s new Viking epic The Northman, it would be: “Yaaaaaarghghghghhgghghghghghh!” cheers Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The brutal, bloody and bare-chested revenge thriller is essentially one big, long war cry – a guttural, primal grunt of a movie that is all raging testosterone and incendiary machismo. And I loved nearly every minute of it.”
Sexual Drive (dir. Kota Yoshida)
“Writer/director Yoshida attempts to tackle this difficult task of examination the lives of sexual deprived individuals and creates a somewhat intriguing film, if one can stomach his excesses,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (dir. Tom Gormican)
“A cheap, crass and ruthlessly sloppy skewering of celebrity culture that is barely a millimetre above the material it thinks it is so sharply satirizing, Gormican’s new film is the definition of disappointment,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “I would say that the filmmaker hit the jackpot by convincing Cage to star in his Hollywood-plays-itself comedy (was his backup choice John Travolta?) but that goes against the movie’s own reality-mining conceit: As we’ve seen time and again, Cage will take any project that lands in his lap.”
“Cage has always been in on the jokes. That much is clear in the meta-comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, about a barely-working erstwhile star named Nick Cage, who is so desperate to pay his bills, he accepts a gig to be paid $1 million to attend the party of a reputed Spanish arms dealer,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “The movie is both an exercise in self-mockery and a spoof of both Hollywood and the kind of movie Cage might take to pay the bills.”
“It’s hard to imagine any other film actor taking on a plot that is so deliberately intended to make fun of his status as a problematic Hollywood icon,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “So, kudos to Cage, who started making a critical comeback last year with Pig, and shows here that he’s a good sport, willing to play at being pretentious and neurotic, two charges that have been leveled against him over the years.”
“[I]t doesn’t hurt that Nick is as much a fan of his own work as Javi, going so far as to call Captain Corelli’s Mandolin ‘underrated.’ Compare this against critics at the time who went with ‘overproduced,’ ‘uninvolving,’ ‘phlegmatic’ and, in one rare rave, ‘watchable,’” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Unbearable Weight isn’t down there with Captain Corelli, and it generates a fair amount of laughter, much of it through Javi’s star-struck reactions to getting to hang out with his idol. But the film fails to get enough mileage out of its high-concept pitch.”
Canadian: Streamers and Shake-ups
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reads the tea leaves for Netflix, which is finding itself in a self-made streamer war as competition grows, content migrates, and passwords travel. “The domino effect of this on the industry could be especially messy. Toronto’s current studio-space boom, for instance, was built to satisfy the presumably never-ending streaming gold rush. And Netflix’s streaming-first business model has totally disrupted studios’ traditional revenue paths. See everything from Disney’s decision to send Pixar’s Turning Red straight to Disney+ instead of theatres. Or Warner Bros’ move this month to premiere The Batman on HBO Max (Crave in Canada) in half the time it would’ve taken such a blockbuster to hit home audiences just two years ago.”
On the other hand, Hertz writes that there’s a lot to applaud for Prime Video. At The Globe and Mail, he reports on Amazon’s recent showcase of Canadian content in Toronto: “Prime Video should be applauded for doing more to explicitly appeal to Canadians than that other big streaming giant,” writes Hertz. “Two years ago, Netflix premiered Québécois director Patrice Laliberté’s chilly survivalist thriller The Decline, the streamer’s first original Canadian feature film – and, presumably, the starting point for a string of made-in-Canada films, which have yet to materialize. Certainly, there appears to be movement on that front – this past November, Netflix appointed Tara Woodbury as its first Canadian-based content executive – but the time seems ripe, too, for Prime Video to plant its own red-and-white flag.”
Canadian film leaders seem to be musical chairs these days. Following several shake ups at Hot Docs and the City of Toronto, as well as new appointments at the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF announced two new positions with Anita Lee moving over from the NFB and Beth Janson coming from the Academy, reports Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. At Telefilm Canada, meanwhile, Christa Dickenson announced that she’ll be stepping down as executive director in September. Hertz speaks with her about why she decided to end after a four-year run: “I would do everything all over again,” Dickenson tells Hertz. “Not every decision is well-received, but as I look back, I feel that Telefilm is better positioned today, and the team is empowered. All those decisions were done in full consultation with the industry.”
Series Stuff: Scandals and Science
At What She Said, Anne Brodie raises a cup of tea for A Very British Scandal: “Prime Video’s polished rager A Very British Scandal set in the British very upper class, and a castle no less, is War of the Roses between The Duke and Duchess of Argyll, played with gusto by Paul Bettany and Claire Foy.” Meanwhile, Brodie praises Julia Roberts’ “zany and spirited performance” in Gaslit. In the science series Universe, Brian Cox (not that Brian Cox) suggests that “Elon Musk would like to conquer space for access to dead star fossils and their life-giving elements.” For something lighter, the return of A Black Lady Sketch Show offers “seriously outrageous and imaginative riffs” and Ten Percent is “not to be missed.”