TFCA Friday: Week of Aug. 11

August 11, 2023

Passages | Mongrel Media

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


In Release this Week!


The Beasts (dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen)


The Beasts is a gruelling edge of the seat thriller with things escalating from bad to worse to unbearable for the poor French couple,” says Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “Director Sorogoyen stages very intense confrontation set pieces with rising tensions and danger. The intensity of the situation is meticulously built up to a climax that will knock the audience off their seats.”


“The film has a strange, engaging structure that hinges on an act of violence. If The Beasts’ first act takes its energy from the squabbling, quarrelling men, its second unexpectedly focuses on Olga, who has been little more than a background figure so far,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Her reaction to the taunts and threats of Xan’s family has a different timbre, and viewers may find themselves a little unsettled, uncertain what to make of the change. Imagine a classic western that suddenly morphed into a police procedural.”


Billion Dollar Heist (dir. Daniel Gordon; Aug. 15)


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a well researched, necessarily technical, well executed and totally compelling documentary.”


Heart of Stone (dir. Tom Harper)


Heart of Stone delivers what it promises, an action blockbuster with Gal Gadot with more human characters and emotions,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


The Last Voyage of the Demeter (dir. André Øvredal)


“[A]ssuming The Last Voyage of the Demeter doesn’t stray significantly from its source material (and it mostly doesn’t), the movie lacks suspense, since everyone on board is marked for death, like a gothic at-sea version of a modern slasher film,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “The movie moves, the deaths are bloody enough for genre fans, blood measurable in ounces rather than gallons. There are worse vampire films, and the period-mood is a nice change-of-pace for horror. Overall, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a middling entry in the Dracula canon.”


Our Body (dir. Claire Simon)


Our Body is a beautiful examination of those being examined, a probing, profound look at women’s health concerns and the way in which the institution of health care responds to these events,” says Jason Gorber at POV Magazine. “Overall there’s a stark beauty to what’s portrayed, both from the courage of those undergoing challenging times, to the intense confidence of the professionals who have seen it far more often than we are witness to here. It’s a fascinating journey taking the quotidian concerns of these women and presenting them in a way that’s both larger than life and deeply personal.”


Passages (dir. Ira Sachs)


“[F]eels messy and raw and real. The film is set in the present but eschews texting and even phone calls for the most part, giving it a late-20th-century feel,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Even better, the screenplay knows when it’s best to not have them speak at all, as in the scene in which one character is sitting on a bed, silently listening to two others make out in the next room. Sometimes, in equations of the heart, you can solve for X. And sometimes it remains stubbornly, soul-stabbingly unknown.”


Passages, Ira Sachs’ heart-rending study of the nature of love is short, sharp, and deeply, at times painfully poignant,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The ebb and flow of partnerships, graphic sex scenes, and Martin’s efforts to direct everyone’s lives make for a fascinating, maddening journey to define and ‘own’ love. Director Sachs who co-wrote the screenplay with Mauricio Zacharias says that after seeing actor Laura Antonelli in The Innocents: ‘I suddenly questioned the binary nature of my own desire.  I was struck by how desire is fluid.’ As Tomas discovers, love can’t be directed or controlled.”


“Sachs’ scenario, co-written with Mauricio Zacharias, has big, cavernous room for enough sweaty melodrama to fill a miniseries, not to mention an insatiable curiosity about the pains of chasing what you can’t have,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “It’s just that, as sketched out in the film’s script and personified by Rogowski’s thin and rather cocky performance, it is exceedingly difficult to lock in on just why either Martin or Agathe would throw so much of themselves into the void that is Tomas. The man is a caricature of selfishness – annoying and aggravating without the compelling layers to justify such a persona. It is a dare to spend 93 minutes in his presence, let alone a lifetime.”


“The heart of Passages is Whishaw’s award-calibre turn as Martin, a soulful lived-in performance that gives Tomas’s betrayal an extra sting,” writes Pat Mullen at Xtra. Mullen chats with director Ira Sachs about the film’s hot love scenes, but also what really sets the film apart from his earlier works. “What seems particular about Passages in comparison to my earlier work, particularly my earlier queer work, is that there’s an absence of shame,” Sachs tells Mullen. “Nothing is hidden. There’s no drama of the illicit, and it’s disappeared as the driving force of my own existence from when I was young.”


The Pod Generation (dir. Sophie Barthes)


“Besides being overburdened as a feminist film, the film touches other genres like sci-fi, romantic drama, relationships, environmental issues, social satire without really delving deep into any.  The script is repetitive in issues like the acceptance of the pod and the pod problems,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Poisoned: The Truth About Dirty Food (dir. Stephanie Soechtig)


“Documentarian Stephanie Soechtig provides plenty of useful stats and guidance and a look at the tiny beginnings of change. Stewart ‘the Peanut King’ Parnell was proven to have knowingly shipped tainted peanut products that killed people,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He refused to eat a sample of his food during the trial and was sentenced to 28 years in jail. He still claims innocence as he deflects blame, and appeals for release while some believe he should have been charged with murder.  Just the tip of the iceberg of this doc’s takeaways.”


Red, White & Royal Blue (dir. Matthew López)


“Things start with jolly fun, one-liners ‘Queen Victoria’s court had food fights all the time! Vicky!’, and my fave, the one about watching Mitch McConnell eat a banana,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Fun side characters, especially Alex’s exasperated and witty aide (Sarah Shahi), and toadying Palace workers add to the mix. The final chapters take a different tone as the men begin to fall in love.”


“In Red, White & Royal Blue, however, director Lopez demonstrates expert comic timing while also excelling in the dramatic moments as in the confrontation scene between mother (Madame President) and Alex,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Credit is due to the film’s source material, the novel which takes the story, indeed a great love story, into many unexpected turns, taking the audience into new emotional heights.”


The Restless Hungarian (dir. Tom Weidliner)


“Tom found he’d secretly done top-secret work on the atomic bomb for the US military for fifty years. Meanwhile, at home, Mad kept tight control over the children, disapproving, erratic, and withholding, and was sent to a sanitarium,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “And shockingly, only as a man in his 60s did Tom discover he was Jewish. His journey is the heart of the film as he confronts his trauma, his parents’ legacies, and what became of his brilliant, wounded sister.  What a tale, life is indeed stranger than fiction.”


Satan Wants You (dir. Sean Horlor, Steve J. Adams 🇨🇦)


“The documentary Satan Wants You looks back at a pathological streak in ‘80s pop culture, the Satanic Panic, a mania which led to thousands of pointless criminal investigations of ritual abuse, unjust prosecutions, and untold hours of tabloid television time. One weird fact: This is a largely Canadian story, though not a proud one. And in any case, pride is considered by many the greatest of sins,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The doc is in the popular, borderline schlocky television news magazine style, teasing out – longer than necessary – the possibility that Michelle’s story might be plausible. There’s a lot of overly dramatic music, sobbing audio clips gleaned from therapy sessions, and a few shadowy re-enactments.”


“Adams and Horlor have a wealth of archival footage at their fingertips thanks to the many TV appearances the duo made to promote the book. They use this material to great effect, paired with interviews with a sociologist, Pazder’s ex-wife and daughter, psychiatrists, and more offering a robust examination of not just Smith and Pazder, but the satanic panic phenomenon that went all the way to the Vatican,” writes Rachel West at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. “Satan Wants You succeeds on many levels. It is a time capsule of a cultural moment, a shocking look at psychiatric manipulation, and the story of a woman in emotional distress.”


“[W]hile the doc is jammed with talking heads and archival footage, Satan Wants You lacks a sense of historical and political context in which to place the delusions,” argues Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “By the time the film starts to connect the dots between Michelle Remembers and our current age of Alex Jones and Donald Trump disinformation, the punches land softer than they should. There is a great, big, awful picture that needs to be painted here, but this doc is too preoccupied by the devil in the details of one specific, already overanalyzed case.”


Stay Awake (dir. Jamie Sisley)


“Stay Awake is understandably a difficult film to watch and can hardly be described as entertaining.  The film suffers during the initial 30 minutes or so with the script’s storyline dealing with addicts and their family that one has seen before in one film or another,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But the film slowly but surely invests time and care into the creation of the films three characters so that one does feel for each person, though not always on their side.”


The YouTube Effect (dir. Alex Winter)


“Vulnerable minds fall into the trap and down rabbit holes, a busy one being the preachings of the culture wars’ far right. And Youtube has refused a mother’s repeated request to take down a video of her reporter daughter being shot to death,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “WW3 preppers, QAnon, racists, white supremacists, and other uneducated concepts gain ground. YouTube can rightfully be blamed for helping fire the culture wars and the dumbing down of discourse; the dark side of algorithm life is here.”


File Under Miscellaneous


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz talks with the players behind the merger of Blue Ant (Canada’s Drag Race) and Marblemedia (Blown Away), which aims to shake up a “crappy” screen sector in Canada with a new super-studio: “We all see the industry malaise, but it’s not going to go on forever because the things that we create are in as big demand as ever – people still love watching audiovisual content. These clouds are going to part,” BueAnt’s Michael MacMillan tells Hertz. “It’s a great time for people who are ambitious about the future.”



A Festival of Festival Coverage: 👀ing Ahead at TIFF


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen gets the scoop on TIFF Docs highlights from programmer Thom Powers, including some of the top docs that are generating interest among buyers. Among them is Lucy Walker’s Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lahkpa Sherpa. “Oscar nominee Walker shares the unique story of Lhakpa Sherpa and her feats climbing some of the world’s greatest summits before landing at Whole Foods in the USA. ‘Mountain Queen has another extraordinary woman athlete most readers probably aren’t familiar with, but I think after this film comes out, many more people will know the name Lhakpa Sherpa,’ says Powers.”


Also at POV Magazine, Pat Mullen previews the Wavelengths and Classics programmes with curator Andréa Picard. Among the films she highlights is the documentary Pictures of Ghosts from two-time TFCA Awards winner Kleber Mendonça Filho (Bacuaru). “‘It’s for anyone who loves cinema,’ says Picard. ‘Kleber mixes a diaristic personal testimony with the city symphony of Pernambuco, which is where he grew up and makes his work.’ The film begins in the house where Filho shot his first feature Neighbouring Sounds (2012) and expands outward to consider Brazilian society through a historical and cinematic prism. ‘It’s a very personal film that expands his universal realms of cinephilia, dealing with ghosts, and how film resuscitates people we love and moments that we’ve experienced in time.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff: No Phoning It In


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz phones home with Telemarketers: “The new three-part HBO docuseries Telemarketers is the cinematic equivalent of a visit from your favourite drunk uncle: wildly entertaining, irrepressibly scuzzy and almost too much to take in one sitting,” writes Hertz. “While there is one faux cliffhanger inserted between Episodes 2 and 3, the series as a whole will make you shout and shiver. And perhaps throw away your phone forever.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie also dials up Telemarketers: “The three-parter is absolutely riveting – the amateur sleuths didn’t really know what they were doing, and repeatedly put themselves in grave danger navigating industry leaders, workers, and the police, not to mention the US Attorney General. Episode three is high drama in the “you can’t make this stuff up” universe.”