TFCA Friday: Week of April 7

April 7, 2023

Air | Amazon Studios

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


In Release this Week!


Air (dir. Ben Affleck)


“The excellent cast and character-driven and dialogue-heavy plot, complete with those big motivational speeches, are the moving pieces that make this film entertaining,” writes Marriska Fernandes at Exclaim!. “Affleck draws the big laughs with his hilariously terrible wig delivering the punch lines, while Davis gives a goosebump-worthy performance with fierceness and warmth as Deloris. Even in the smaller roles, Messina, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker and Marlon Wayans steal the spotlight and leave an impression.”


“The superstar at the heart of Air isn’t the rarely seen Michael Jordan (who Affleck keeps carefully obscured) but rather Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro. He’s a TV dinners and beer kind of guy. He’s the guy who wears loafers to work at a running shoe company,” observes Eli Glasner at CBC. “At a time of CEOs with purple Porsches and basketball players worth millions, Sonny is a corporate cog. This is a man with no swag. But his sense of surety is seductive. He’s confident the world will eventually see what he sees.”


“The movie is so across-the-board charming that even the most hardcore of socialists will find themselves rooting for Nike – that bastion of global corporate responsibility – to make gobs and gobs of money off the hard work of a young Black athlete. (The film makes a point, perhaps too late in its game, that the company’s Jordan deal changed the fortunes for so many disadvantaged families for generations to come),” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Now five films in as a director, Affleck has proven himself to be as confident a presence behind the camera as he can so often be in front of it.”


“To say that actor/director Ben Affleck’s docudrama Air is about a pair of basketball shoes is like saying Cinderella is about a glass slipper,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star.Air is that most familiar and satisfying of movie stories: believing in yourself and persuading other people to accept your quest, despite long odds and questionable methods. It’s the art of the deal, to quote a certain orange-haired scoundrel.”


“Yes, Ben Affleck’s Air is a commercial for a commercial. But damn, it’s a good commercial,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “It’s not many films that can convincingly cast a multi-billion corporation as an underdog. The basic plot of Air is how Nike – once a distant third in the race to sell us overpriced athletic shoes – grabbed mucho market share from competitors Converse and Adidas. They did so by betting on a college basketball star who would go on to become the greatest of all time in the NBA.”


Balloon Animal (dir. Em Johnson)


“The events of the last couple of days make [Poppy] question everything, family, tradition, love and dreams. Johnson’s work is transcendent; flawless and revealing, sombre and reflective of the way life can suddenly stand up and slap us. It’s transforming and emotional, quiet and yet packs a helluva punch,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said.


“Though Balloon Animal is set in a circus environment, the amount of ‘circus’ shown is quite pathetic,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Gangs of Lagos (dir. Jádesola Osiberu)


“The result is a derivative but solidly made street opera, acted broadly by North American conventions and a bit too tidy in the end,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “What cuts through are those generic elements that feel specific to Nigeria, both the celebratory aerial shots of the bustling city, and  the film’s blunt critique of the political criminal complex. When one character expresses a desire to leave a life of crime, he’s told by his boss there are just two ways out: Go into the ground or into politics.”


The Issue with Tissue (dir. Michael Zelniker)


The Issue with Tissue – a boreal love story examines the urgent importance of our thousands of miles of unbroken forest that teems with biodiversity is key to human survival,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The threat against its survival in the form of industrial clear-cutting of ancient trees for toilet paper is too real. Not only does it cut its life of it away, but unwanted timber is also tossed on the ground, compacting the soil and preventing future growth, and poisoning the waters. Once an ancient tree is gone, it’s not coming back.”


Living with Chucky (dir. Kyra Elsie Gardner)


Living with Chucky is a work of love. But it’s a love that smothers anything of real interest with so much goodwill that, if derision exists, it doesn’t stand a chance. Were Chucky a living entity I suspect he’d hope his documentary would be somewhat darker and not quite as sweet as the one we’re given,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “In the end, Living with Chucky feels like a film in earnest pursuit of substance and a search for validation when none is needed.”


Operation Fortune (dir. Guy Ritchie)


Operation Fortune plays like Jason Statham as a Guy Ritchie type James Bond complete with tuxedo and suave fighting skills,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“All the action takes place under Sarah’s watchful eye who is digitally connected to seemingly every corner of every country they rush to,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “And Greg gets a crush on her too which she uses to her team’s advantage. A breakneck pace, and endless sequences of people typing and texting, overlong, deadening fight sequences seem regressive, but Plaza’s energy and brightness raise Ritchie’s retro effort.”


Out of the Loop (dir. Michael Alexander; Apr. 12)


“[D]oc is interesting enough as well as funny especially since comics tend to tell jokes when interviewed,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The doc achieves its aim in an entertaining way while stressing the difficulties of many comics attaining success in what is basically a non-laughable industry.”


Simulant (dir. April Mullen 🇨🇦)


“The Simulants must follow a modified version of Asimov’s laws of robotics – don’t injure humans, obey orders, etc. – but are slowly developing their own sentience. Uh-oh, right? I mean, potentially!” ponders Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “In a different, far more interesting movie, that is. The problem is that Simulant’s filmmakers have no real clue where to take this wholly-completely-totally-original scenario, settling for a wan dystopian spectacle whose thrills are as low-rent as the film’s production values. (Telefilm contributed $1.5-million in production costs – plus $281,700 in development and marketing – but it seems that most of the money was spent on inserting cheap-looking CGI billboards onto desolate Hamilton street corners, as if Ridley Scott were being held hostage by the CBC.)”


“It’s all very au courant, as we find ourselves bombarded daily with news of chatbots and AIs which, while they may not have humanoid bodies, seem more than capable of developing emotional responses to humans, and encouraging humans to do the same,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “But with so many threads and only 95 minutes, it’s too much slick surface, not enough philosophical underpinning. Which is fine if you’re creating a shoot-’em-up action story, but Simulant isn’t quite that either. It’s a hybrid, and not quite strong enough in any one area to qualify as a hit.”


“Though not flawless, director Mullen’s film contains the elements of eeriness, a technical styled score, fascination, futuristic art deco and atmosphere – all important to the success of a sci-fi film,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Soft (dir. Joseph Amenta 🇨🇦)


Soft offers a love letter to queer youth straight from the heart,” writes Pat Mullen at Xtra. Mullen speaks with director Amenta about bringing these young voices to the screen: “I wanted the kids to feel like colourful bandits moving through the streets like they own the joints, but in reality, owning nothing. They don’t care that they own nothing because they have each other,” says Amenta.


The Super Mario Bros. Movie (dir. Aaron Horwath and Michael Jelenic)


“Bowser is infatuated with Princess Peach. He orders her to marry him or watch as he burns the Mushroom Kingdom to the ground. The aggrieved Peach prefers to fight rather than hitch. She joins forces with Mario — whose real motivation is to find and save Luigi — and her giant ape neighbour Donkey Kong (a rambunctious Seth Rogen),” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “That’s about it for the plot, the film’s weakest element. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is more of a getting-to-know-you-again immersion into Nintendo lore than a truly great adventure. Better stories would benefit the inevitable sequels.”


The Super Mario Bros. Movie clocks in at a tight 90 minutes, and as much as I enjoyed the film, it could use some more meat on its bones. Horvath and Jelenic borrow from the J.J. Abrams school of filmmaking, where there’s always a lot going on, but nothing meaningful happens,” notes Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “The film is jam-packed with action and adventure but light on character and oddly enough, world-building. The movie jumps from one thrilling set-piece to the next, hoping you don’t realize how thinly-sketched the characters are.”


“So far this year a great many films have surprised audiences, like M3GAN and Dungeons & Dragons — and now The Super Mario Bros,” says Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Movie can be added to that list. The nostalgia will delight fans of the game and audiences of a certain age, kids completely unaware of Mario and Luigi’s history will be entertained, and the film may even drive some curiosity in the younger crowd to seek out the old Super Mario and Donkey Kong games online.”


“[W]orks too largely because of its humour,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The humour is largely of the goofy sort that adults should also appreciate, with lots of references to the Nintendo game like the Italian stereotyped but still funny jokes, the jumping around and the references to the games like jumping over planks and pipes.”


“This is a beautiful-looking, somewhat straight-ahead adaptation of a game where jumping plumbers learn to jump and bop and Mario is a little guy who doesn’t give up and learns the power of the power up,” says Eli Glasner at CBC. “You will see Donkey Kong throw barrels. You will see the Mad Max of Mario Kart scenes with a beautiful sequence on the Rainbow Road – it has never been shinier!”


“As is often the case with a not-so-great film, I can report that I wanted to like it more than I did. But I just couldn’t,” admits Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Maybe it was the lack of anything of interest in the dialogue, exposition or character motivations. Perhaps it was the various creatures – mushrooms, penguins, Koopas, etc. – clearly vying for the role of “next new Minion,” given that one of the companies behind the film was Illumination Studios of Despicable Me fame.”


File Under Miscellaneous – The Screenies and the Streamers


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz unpacks the challenges that the Canadian Screen Awards are facing as they prepare a hybrid event that aims to entertain people, award talents, and spotlight films and series that few people have seen or heard of. “While it isn’t exactly fun for directors and producers and stars to receive their awards during off-camera events, there has to be a reality check here, too,” writes Hertz. “So many of the films and TV series that are being honoured by the CSAs are flying completely under the radar. So why not mix things up by turning the annual awards show into a star-filled and hopefully entertaining one-hour marketing tool?”


At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes talks with Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos about programming, passwords, and what’s happening in at-home viewing. “On the trend front, Sarandos cites ‘cinema-infused television’ as the next big wave,” writes Fernandes. “‘It isn’t just the quality of the storytelling that’s more like what you used to see in the theatre — it’s actually the scope.’ As examples, he points to The Night Agent, which was filmed mainly in Vancouver, Beef, the new 10-episode series starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun and the upcoming Chris Hemsworth action film Extraction 2, which, he said, has ‘mind-blowing scope and scale for a movie that’s built to be watched at home.’”


Fans of Netflix’s Stranger Things can get the full experience of the show thanks to a new live location in Toronto. Marriska Fernandes reports for Toronto Life: “After the immersive portion of the experience, visitors are invited to spend time in the Mix-Tape area, which offers food, drinks and plenty of photo ops,” writes Fernandes. “Chips Ahoy, chicken and waffles, cinnamon rolls, and scoops of ice cream are on offer at the Hawkins ice cream parlour, Scoops Ahoy, where the well-coiffed Steve worked in the summer of 1985.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage: Saguenay Shorts


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen reports on jury duty from Regard: Saguenay Short Film Festival and raves about some of the documentaries including FIPRESCI prize winner Madeleine, in which director Raquel Sancinetti animates a road movie adventure with her 96-year-old character, Madeleine. “As Madeleine transports its subject on a voyage that only animation could allow, it offers a wonderful journey of heart and humour as both women grow along the way,” writes Mullen. “Madeleine confronts her mortality, while Sancinetti accepts the stage she is at in her own life by drawing upon her companion’s indefatigable joie de vivre. Madeleine is a true coup de coeur and the highlight in a strong programme at this year’s Regard.”

TV Talk/Series ScribblesHere’s the Beef!


At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho looks under the bun to find little filler and lots of meat with Beef: “Saying it’s one of Netflix’s best TV shows in recent memory isn’t a particularly high bar to clear, but Beef is riveting and endlessly intriguing,” writes Ho. “Yeun continues on his impressive run of impeccable turns in well-chosen roles and projects. As for Wong, this is arguably the first role to truly test her acting abilities, and she passes with flying colours in a career-best performance.”


At Original Cin, Karen Gordon agrees and gives Beef a super-sized A: “The drive to succeed is part of the game in the modern world. Danny and Amy may be living different lives, but the high bar of outward achievement is chasing both of them. The brilliance of Beef is how it takes its lead characters to such entertaining extremes, and yet in the end, doesn’t abandon their humanity.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie struggles with Kathryn Hahn’s character on Tiny Beautiful Things: “There is nothing sympathetic about Clare, who is unable to go through life without disrupting it, writes Brodie. “There is nothing to grab onto, so just imagine what lies ahead when a friend asks her, nay, insists, she takes over his advice column…The journey may well change everything – I don’t know because I was so put off my feed by this feral character.” On the other hand, she loves Brenda Blethyn’s sleuth who returns in Vera: “Brenda Blethyn has created an unforgettable, iconic character in Vera Stanhope based on Ann Cleeves’ unorthodox detective,” exclaims Brodie. On the other hand, audiences looking for courtroom drama post-Paltrow can check out Jury Duty: “[James] Marsden arranges for paparazzi to rush the courtroom to get out of service, and this is just one of the weird things [non-actor John] Gladden witnesses – also a totally incompetent lawyer for Trevor the defendant, a thieving anarchist juror, no phones, sequestering and bad acts across the board.”


At Zoomer, Marriska Fernandes chats with The Power stars Toni Collette and John Leguizamo about their new series The Power in which young women receive a super-strength that creates a world where they can walk around without fear. “I find it so moving,” Collette tells Fernandes. “It’s something every girl, every woman faces, still, to this day. And you know, to tackle important subjects like that and for girls to be able to see this dialogue and see girls becoming empowered. I just think it’s so  important. I’m so happy my daughter gets to see a show like this.”


At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller profiles Shelved star Robin Duke, who looks back at her SNL and Second City days: “In the 1980s, Duke, [Catherine] O’Hara, Andrea Martin and others had done a two-week show at Second City where they changed archival sketches to all-female. ‘It was heaven,’ Duke says. ‘Catherine rewrote lyrics to sixties songs.’ She begins to croon, ‘You’ve got to do it, do it, do the dirty thing girl, do it to get a ring girl.’ (When I marvel at her recall, she tells me that at a get-together just last week, she and Short were singing Second City songs,)” writes Schneller.


At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes speaks with Beef stars Steven Yeun and Ali Wong about honing their comedy chops and drawing upon experiences in a series that breaks ground for representation: “When I was younger as an immigrant latchkey kid, I was pretty dukes up against the world,” Yeun tells Fernandes. “Getting older and more mature, you kind of are able to face yourself and see yourself a little bit clearer. But going back to Danny was interesting, because I was like, ‘Oh, right. I forgot, there’s this part of you that we all share’ … just this cringe part of early years in our life where maybe we’re not so forgiving of the person, and it was nice to revisit that.”