TFCA Friday: Week of April 5

April 5, 2024

Monkey Man | Universal Pictures Canada

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


In Release this Week


The Anti-Social Network (dir. Giorgio Angelini and Arthur Jones)


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a socially relevant and informative doc that is both relevant and entertaining in today’s internet culture.”


Baghead (dir. Alberto Corredor)


“The film suffers from the clichéd jump scares that one can always do without,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The dark atmosphere of the pub and often used settings add to the horror and potential scares of the film.  However, too much plot ends up with a muddled ending as the climax disappoints after a solid buildup.”


A Bit of Light (dir. Stephen Moyer)


“Although Ella [Anna Paquin] is hard to like, she is easy to understand, she sees her life as ruined by the pain of her impossible situation; she’s given up hope,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “But she meets a shot at recovery named Max (Luca Hogan in a stunning debut performance) in the park, a precocious thirteen-year-old with an uncanny sense of empathy and wisdom. He doesn’t reveal much about himself but peppers her with extraordinary questions that get right to the heart of the matter.”


Carol Doda: Topless at the Condor (dir. Marlo McKenzie and Jonathan Parker)


“Elsewhere, juicy anecdotes abound,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “There’s the story of Frank Sinatra flying Doda to his Cal-Neva resort on his private plane for dalliances, sneaking her through underground tunnels built for his surveillance-averse gangster buddies. And how Andy Warhol would invite her to hang out with his entourage whenever he was in San Fran. Meanwhile, others from the era paint a picture of a time when anything seemed possible, and topless dancers were too novel to be saddled with stigma. Doda seemed weirdly impervious to it all.”


“In San Francisco’s notorious tenderloin district in 1964, she became the first woman in the US to dance topless, working at The Condor in North Beach, a happening, gangster-owned nightclub. She wore Rudi Gernreich’s monokini and created a firestorm, dancing atop a white piano that floated down from the ceiling with her astride. But it worked and folks flocked to watch the new headliner.  Topless clubs were suddenly everywhere. She was a pioneer of the 60s’ cultural revolution, largely unrecognised, but she did her bit on her own terms,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Mackenzie and Parker’s portrait is painted with great empathy and interviews with contemporaries proved that she was indeed loved.”


Carol Doda: Topless at the Condor admittedly feels about as padded as a schoolgirl’s brassiere as it tries best it can to find the bigger picture within which to situate this boob-bearing trailblazer,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “In Doda’s archival interviews, she’s funny and flirty, but also direct. If she saw her actions as a part of a larger act, she’s modest. She really just attributes her work as giving men what they liked and monetizing it in the process. Doda’s breasts might be fake, but she’s real and she’s spectacular.”


La Chimera (dir. Alba Rohrwacher)


“Nothing more should be said of this lush and colourful adventure that director Rohrwacher takes her audience to except to mention that there is a surprise around every corner,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Rohrwacher is at her playful best here,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. La Chimera is Little Rascals meets Red Desert with a band of Fellini-esque characters infrequently parading across the frame while Arthur’s digs lead him from the idyllic Italian countryside to an industrial wasteland. The film finds Arthur at a crossroads during a road trip of sorts. It’s not quite purgatory, but this unwashed traveller looks to be in limbo. Arthur doesn’t really seem on the level, though, long before he lands in the quaint Italian countryside. On the train over, a peddler remarks about his terrible body odour and gifts him some socks.”


Dogman (dir. Luc Besson)


“Not without flaws, Besson’s latest Dogman with its incredible plot and hard to believe situations is filmmaking that looks as impressive on screen as his futuristic Fifth Element,” says Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “It is compulsive watching, for sure, though not for everybody, one cannot go away saying theta the film is unforgettable in its execution.”


Dogman is kind of an idiotic movie built on a ludicrous premise. This does not prevent it from being eminently watchable,” admits Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Caleb Landry Jones puts in a really interesting performance here, inhabiting an odd space that hovers between a hard-earned state of grace and quiet menace. His singular talent keeps a viewer invested.”


The First Omen (dir. Akasha Stevenson)


The First Omen is nunsploitation disguised as religious horror bordering on art house. And while individual snippets from the film qualify as genuinely eerie, the overall impression is of a tale told twice-too often,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “The clergy wear their inner demon on their faces, especially the elderly ones whose stern, unmoveable and weathered expressions add an indelible touch of ageism to the film’s anti-Catholic sentiments.”


“It’s a bit of a slow burn, but never boring thanks to Stevenson’s intelligent and well reasoned sense of pacing, which is coupled by outstanding visuals, opulent period details, one of the best sound mixes any film is likely to have this year, and jump scares that actually work for a change,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “As a piece of trashy entertainment, The First Omen is considerably punching above its weight class.”


Girls State (dir. Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss)


Girls State is, by its design and its function, a sister film to the original, yet is in just about every way as vital and profound a look at this generation of young people as they navigate the new normal of political life,” notes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine. “The choice of this location that pits the two events in such proximity is such a brilliant choice. It narratively serves as a perfect mode of counterpoint, while also providing the participants themselves opportunities to express their own views about the situation.”


Glitter & Doom (dir. Tom Gustafson; Apr. 9)


“[T]his romance comedy about two very annoying young men who do not know what they want or roughly do but do not know how to achieve it is largely a boring affair,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Monkey Man (dir. Dev Patel)


“[T]he lush cinematography and meticulous references to Indian mythology and culture mark Patel as an artist coming into his own. There is a clear vision here both behind and in front of the camera, infusing the world with harsh and realistic vignettes into Mumbai’s poverty, inequality and caste system,” writes Jackson Weaver at CBC. “Patel’s acting, meanwhile, is second to none — to be expected from the man who dazzled in The Green Knight.”


“While it’s admirable that most of Monkey Man is more of a revenge drama than an outright action thriller (based very loosely on the mythical tale of Hanuman), it’s overthought to the point of being slower than advisable; a movie that takes five steps to accomplish a goal rather than one well planned move forward,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s more frustrating than bad because there’s plenty of potential for Patel as a filmmaker. He just needs to either go full on crazy with his style or reign things in a bit more cohesively.”


“That violence may deter the squeamish (you’ve been warned, squeamish!) even as it draws those who thrill to a well executed knife thrust, axe swing or even just a well executed execution,” adds Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Sometimes the combination of blood spray and camera sway makes it hard to know exactly what’s going on, even as you know exactly what’s going on. And there’s a welcome respite in the second act, in which the pace slows a little as Kid is nursed back to health by an unusual collective who will later prove to be useful teachers and allies.”


“For a debut director, Patel shows a lot of promise, notably in the face of the many unexpected challenges,” says Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “I can see the potential Peele saw in this film and why he didn’t want it to be eaten by Netflix’s algorithm. It’s a fun movie with an absorbing storyline that lends itself to a lot of interesting avenues. Monkey Man feels so close to being a really great and different action movie, but it just narrowly falls short.”


Monkey Man is an invigorating watch but not an easy one. Cinematographer Sharone Meir whirls the camera around like a top and frequently goes in for claustrophobic, luridly coloured and poorly lit close-ups, perhaps to disguise the fact that Patel didn’t have the money to pay for elaborately choreographed fight scenes or unlimited retakes,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “For all of its one-take roughness, Monkey Man signals an impressive new directorial career for Patel and perhaps the start of an action franchise that can build on its many vivid characters.


The Old Oak (dir. Ken Loach)


“Loach (and I should include Laverty in this assessment) has always had a unique talent of making movies that illustrate human warmth without ever sliding into the maudlin. What’s more, he can deliver a lesson without ever being didactic. And he can make us cry,” says Chris Knight at Original Cin. “The Old Oak is no exception. If you’re aged and British (or, like me, aged-and-British-adjacent) you may see shadows of yourself in the townsfolk who claim to speak ‘the Queen’s English’ while using words like ‘nowt,’ and who say they understand the travails of immigration because ‘me father was Irish.’”


“Loach’s The Old Oak is not his best, but it is still an excellent film, all things considered,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The film is an easy watch, pulling all the right political and social-emotional strings while offering an insight into the frailties of the human race.”


“It makes sense that The Old Oak would be seen by Loach and screenwriting collaborator Paul Laverty as part of a trilogy, since each of the films in the set (and across the filmmaker’s career) follow a similar, familiar formula,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Decent, hard-working folks already at their breaking point mentally and physically are pushed even further by forces beyond their control and purview. The push creates a tension that will bring out the best in some and the worst in others. Everything gets worse before it gets better, and even when things are looking up, the viewer can keenly sense that another massive setback is lurking just around the corner. In Loach’s vision of the world, anything that can go wrong will undoubtedly do so, and the crux of dramatic catharsis lies in watching what people will do in such situations.”


“Loach found his lane and stuck with it,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. The Old Oak, the director’s latest and reportedly last film, is a Ken Loach film through and through—but it’s a film he’s made many times before… The film admittedly leaves audiences with some local one-note ruffians, a cute dog—Marra, the film’s MVP—along with some noble newcomers, and one daft racist lady who has a quick change of heart. The Old Oak is Crash without the car accidents as it presents a feel-good narrative that invites audiences to feel united by the differences that ostensibly divide us.”


Remembering Gene Wilder (dir. Ron Frank)


Remembering Gene Wilder is lacking in overall depth and scope, but in terms of encapsulating what made the film’s subject such an endearing and enduring presence, it’s okay for those who don’t want more from a biopic than the obvious,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“There’s a continuum in biography, from warts-and-all to hagiography,” sings Chris Knight at Original Cin. “This is not to say the doc does a disservice to Wilder, or that he had some horrible secrets to hide. But the man who was born Jerome Silberman in 1933 — there’s a great quote where he tells an interviewer that he ‘wanted to be Wilder’ — gets a selected series of highlights over the film’s 93 minutes.”


Someone Like You (dir. Tyler Russell)


Someone Like You is a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-finds-lost-girl’s-hitherto-unacknowledged-sister-who-was-given-away-as-an-embryo-and-boy-gets-a-second-chance-at-love. All of this is revealed in the trailer, so these are not spoilers,” notes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Someone Like You is essentially a 30-minute Hallmark-like film stretched into two hours of romance novel fluff via playful-lovebird music videos and other visual padding. It is indescribably bad, and none of that matters.”


Someone Like You is a silly, unknowingly creepy, and wholly earnest Christian romance made for people who find Pumpkin Spice Lattes too spicy and Hallmark movies too secular. It’s a film that’s trying desperately to be wholesome, inspirational, and hopeful, but to anyone paying attention, it’s bizarrely horny and pretty messed up,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate.


The Tearmaker (dir. Alessandro Genovesi)


“Truthfully, a good cry brings out a lot of emotions and makes human beings feel better,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “This is the premise of the imaginative adult fairy tale of The Tearmaker, the stuff of legend and stories told from the grave that eventually, the audience is told become bedtime stories.”


Wicked Little Letters (dir. Thea Sharrock)


“Word spreads and Edith becomes a kind of pathetic local celebrity as she and her pals investigate, using among other devices, invisible ink. Who would do such a thing?” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “One thing’s certain, everyone has a theory, but something’s not adding up. Pure escapist pleasure with strings of expletives you’ve never heard and may appreciate, eve memorise, in a jolly bit of fun!”


Wicked Little Letters kicks into gear just as the prim spinster Edith [Olivia Colman] receives her 19th anonymous letter full of filthy language and accusations of sexual impropriety,” writes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Wicked Little Letters is a broad and funny period piece, and it sparkles with sharp dialogue.  It’s also a little heartbreaking in its depiction of the many ways women are judged, shamed, and kept down by the concerted efforts of society in general. Fairly shocking how little has changed in the last 100 years.”


Where Wicked Little Letters stumbles is in its desire to have two completely different things at the same time: a foul mouthed treatise on the roles of women in post-World War I British society and a traditional, easily accessible BBC level production that doesn’t challenge the viewer in the slightest,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“This wicked little film blinds the fine line between good and evil,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “While working like a whodunit, it does not take a genius to correctly figure out the culprit of the letters.  But that is not the point of the film that sneaks quite a few messages of racial prejudice, suffrage and religion into the storyline.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff: Ripley Returns


At Original Cin, Karen Gordon says that Andrew Scott suits Ripley well: “None of this would work without the performance of Andrew Scott, who has consistently turned out work of the highest quality project to project, most recently in 2023’s All of Us Strangers, for which many, myself included, thought he should have received an Oscar nomination,” says Gordon. “His performance is riveting. Ripley is a man who appears to be void of emotions, his face fairly neutral. There are times when we’re seeing through to what’s really going on in Ripley, by noticing a slight tightening of the jaw, or the way his expression stays calm, betrayed by a quick reaction in his eyes.”


At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho finds Ripley not so talented compared to previous adaptations of Highsmith’s novel. “Beyond the drawn-out story, where Ripley falls the most is in Tom’s motivations apart from simply being a conman,” writes Ho. “Much of what makes Highsmith’s story (and Minghella’s movie) compelling is Tom’s unadulterated obsession with Dickie, and how Dickie initially entertains this to feed his own ego. Whether it’s the writing or the completely sterile dynamic between Scott and Flynn, there’s nothing between Dickie and Tom that even mildly insinuates a relationship greater than two men who bond over accidentally wearing the same shirt at a social gathering.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie gets the scoop on, well, the Prince Andrew drama Scoop: “A cautionary note and general rule of being a successful human being – it’s nice to get credit, but it’s nicer to give credit where credit is due,” she says. Meanwhile, Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office is “a heart-wrenching series about corporate greed, lies, and conspiracy based on real-life events.” And Sugar offers “a fascinating character” and a “perfect role for [Colin] Farrell.”