TFCA Friday: Week of August 4

August 4, 2023

A Compassionate Spy | Mongrel Media

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


In Release this Week


A Compassionate Spy (dir. Steve James)


“Steve James’ documentary A Compassionate Spy paints a dire picture of global conflict in World War II, and how an eighteen-year-old impacted warfare,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The doc features incredible archival footage of workdays at the Los Alamos lab and the test, his wife Joan’s powerful interviews, his daughter’s memories, and Sax’ disapproving son’s reflections, adding to the emotional and moral complexity and his high-risk heroism.”


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “plays like a suspenseful dead-serious espionage thriller.”


“Even documentary wants in on the ‘Barbenheimer’ craze. The summer phenomenon of Barbie and Oppenheimer taking the box office by storm gets some non-fiction counterprogramming with A Compassionate Spy,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “The film tells an extraordinary element of the story about the USA’s rush to make a nuclear bomb that Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer only hints at. Audiences might not hear the name Ted Hall in Oppenheimer. He doesn’t appear as a credited character, but his part of the tale is worth knowing. Now he’s the star of his own movie.”


“In contrast to the complex psychodrama of Nolan’s opus, A Compassionate Spy is a gentle and intimate film, largely narrated by Hall’s wife, Joan, who was 90 at the time of filming. She tells a love story,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Joan, who died last month, is a perceptive and moving narrator and one could easily see the film getting a feature romantic-thriller feature treatment. James goes partly that direction through selective dramatizations, with mixed results.”


Meg 2: The Trench (dir. Ben Wheatley)


“I consider Wheatley a B-movie director for the art house set; a Hollywood outsider with no indication he’d have it any other way. So, ask not how Wheatley came to the gig, but how the gig came to Wheatly,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It’s a question the studio—who opted to not show the film to critics in advance—might be asking themselves. But they offered Wheatley the brass ring, and he ran with it like a con man given access to their bank account. Wheatley knows he’s the wrong guy for the job and does everything in his power to make certain the audience knows it too. Then he rewards us—big time—for playing along.”


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


“The doc raises more issues with the food industry and the fallout from contaminated food but only barely touches the solution to the problem,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The onus, according to the doc, is on the public. The public is supposed to initiate the cause by pressuring their legislators to make a change in Congress.”


Reveille (dir. Michael Akkerman)


“[E]motional, raw and disturbing,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The script is based on archival documents and interviewing family members of soldiers who had survived the second world war.”


Shortcomings (dir. Randall Park)


“Wryly funny, and just a little more complicated than its familiar indie film tropes suggest, the dramedy Shortcomings marks the directorial debut of comic actor Randall Park,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Shortcomings is more buddy movie than rom-com, the kind that doesn’t resolve into a happy ending, but leaves the characters with lots of room to grow.”


“[Ben] and Alice are connected in ways he hasn’t found with straight women. All that aside, he isn’t a sympathetic lead, he’s brittle, dishonest, mouthy, naive, and self-absorbed, but we follow him out of curiosity hoping he’ll learn,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Park’s cinematic swagger is impressive and artful and his choice of music is cutting edge, plus he appears in a cameo as a waiter. The film’s jokey, witty, au courant, and lots of good things but I followed Ben against my will.”


“The film struggles to decide whether it aims to be a romantic drama that explores relationships in an Asian American setting or a crowd-pleaser like the film that Ben previously criticized,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Shortcomings ends up being a compromise of both genres but fails to excel in either.”


Soulcatcher (dir. Daniel Markowicz)


“There is nothing else in the plot that creates anticipation or any excitement,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Sitting through the whole movie is a mission in itself.”


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (dir. Jeff Rowe)


“Mutant Mayhem plays into ’90s nostalgia with a perfectly curated soundtrack that will have the adults in the audience nodding their heads in unison. But what makes the movie work, and what Rowe has done so well, is bringing the Turtles into a modern context for a new generation,” notes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!.. “By playing to two different — yet related — demographics, Mutant Mayhem was at risk of feeling stretched thin. However, the movie firmly sticks its landing as a welcome party for one generation and the celebration of another’s childhood memories — no diggity, no doubt.”


“The exuberant energy is complimented by the cleverly chaotic art style from Montreal’s Mikros Animation and Vancouver’s Cinesite. Similar to the painterly touches in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Mutant Mayhem is the latest film to continue the creative explosion in cartooning inspired by Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse,” says Eli Glasner at CBC. “Where Spider-Verse adapted the visual vocabulary of comic books, Mutant Mayhem takes inspiration from high school sketch books. The action radiates with squiggles and colourful lines, like a living wall of graffiti.”


Til Death Do Us Part (dir. Timothy Woodward, Jr.)


“If lowbrow action with a bride in a bridal outfit throughout the film kicking the butts of 7 groomsmen sounds exciting then Til Death Do Us Part  is your type of movie,” cautions Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


What Comes Around (dir. Amy Redford)


“An awkward story of cyclical abuse and predatory behaviour, What Comes Around feels like a chore to watch,” sighs Rachel West at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. “Organ has peppered the story with what he intends to be twists and thrills but each one falls flat. Adapted from Organ’s play, it’s more of an overwrought melodrama best suited as a Lifetime made-for-TV movie than the thriller about grooming it wants to be. Unfortunately for the cast and Redford, nothing in this story feels fresh or interesting. It is an intentionally uncomfortable story, but it is made all the more awkward and unenjoyable through its clunky staging and performances.”


Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead (dir. Yasuke Ishida)


“Then comes the zombie apocalypse that occurs without any reason given. The adventures that follow the hapless hero turn out to be a comedy though the laughs are few and far between. The film is amusing at best and perhaps might elicit a smile or two,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


File Under Miscellaneous


At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller gets down to business with the spending spree of Hollywood studios. “Unfortunately, studios can’t calculate the cost of franchise fatigue on moviegoers. However splendiferous – and spend-iferous – a fourth or seventh instalment is, it’s missing the thrill that made Barbenheimer a success: the thrill of the new,” says Schneller. “Add to that the fault in our star system. The ubiquity of superhero movies has buried two generations of actors under layers of latex and CGI, and made them interchangeable.”


At The Globe and Mail, Nathalie Atkinson talks to actor Richard E. Grant about his bittersweet new memoir, and staying starry-eyed during his Hollywood escapades: “’I still feel wide-eyed in Babylon,’ Grant says of never getting blasé, whether it’s enthusiasm for seeing a new play or joining an impromptu dinner with Julie Christie, Paul and Linda McCartney, and Twiggy. ‘Weird moment when you’re talking to people you’ve known remotely for years,’ he writes, ‘trying to amalgamate the real person with all the memories of their movies and music in your mind.’”


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell picks the best films of the year so far. Atop the list? Past Lives: “Korean-Canadian playwright Celine Song draws from her own immigrant experience for a singular ‘what if?’ tale of wistful life choices. Na Young (Moon Seung Ah) and Hae Sung (Leem Seung-min) are childhood sweethearts in Seoul whose dream shatters when Na Young emigrates to Toronto. A joyful reconnection via Skype a dozen years later, when they’re both 24, leaves their situation intriguingly unresolved,” writes Howell. “The trip dissolves distances and decades, leading to thoughts about paths taken and forsaken in this outstanding debut feature.”


At the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Liz Braun speaks with North of Normal director Carly Stone about bringing her mother-daughter tale to the screen and drawing upon her own experience with motherhood to get the story right. “I think the fact that I had, at the time, a two-and-a-half year old with me, made me aware of the rhythm of children, how it’s a lot slower, and takes a lot more patience in the way a day would work, than with a grown up. I would try to get on River’s level physically and stay aware of how short a child’s attention span is. They do need to run around, they do need a snack, they do need to take a break,” Stone tells Braun. “Being a mom came in handy for understanding kid energy.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz rants about movie theatre etiquette, which is at an all time low with selfie-snapping influencers: “While any visit to the movies over the past two decades has required civil audience members to gird themselves for the occasional glow of a screen or ping of a text, the situation has devolved with remarkably swift and devastating speed since theatres reopened after the worst of the pandemic,” writes Hertz. “At a Barbie matinee last week, it was difficult to escape the glare of a cellphone flashlight, the buzz of a notification, and, yes, the blinding flash of camera as someone just had to catch an image of Ryan Gosling on-screen. One guest directly in front of me even spent a good portion of the film Instagramming her reactions live. (Reader, I moved, but passively-aggressively harrumphing the whole way.)”


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell ranks the films of Christopher Nolan now that he’s seen Oppenheimer. Down at the bottom (where it belongs) is Interstellar: “Even a cool cat like Christopher Nolan can cough up a fur ball — and with this misbegotten sci-fi drama, it’s blockbuster-sized. His cautionary tale about global warming fails to achieve liftoff,” writes Howell. “[Matthew] McConaughey’s Cooper, a Midwest farmer and test pilot, is caught not only in the time/space/gravity/love vortex of the film’s multiple dimensions, but also the dizzy inanity of a screenplay that whipsaws between John Steinbeck and Stanley Kubrick.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage


At the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Liz Braun puts a spotlight on TIFF’s new VP of public relations and communications, Judy Lung. Braun chats with Lung and learns how her recent role with Cineplex shaped her vision for the festival, as did her small-town upbringing and training in piano. “The memories you create at a festival feel much more specific to me. It isn’t just that I can enjoy a great movie with a group of movie lovers but that I can be in a room with acclaimed filmmakers and performers, witness an historic moment, or find something I didn’t know I was looking for. That’s the very special draw of a festival experience,” Lung tells Braun. “And I think these kinds of experiences can go a long way in restoring people’s faith in the world and their ideas about art and entertainment overall … People have a heightened experience at a TIFF screening that stays with them and in many cases, changes them.”


TV  Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie reviews Special Ops: Lioness and sees Zoe Saldana’s Joe working hard for the money. “Work-life balance is a laughable concept for Joe – it’s non-existent, and so she carries on, overseeing intentional brutality in torture chambers for the good of the country,- in secret- and putting salve on the wounds of family and friends, which include Nicole Kidman’s Kaitlyn, and doing what so many of us do, in efforts to please everyone,” writes Brodie. Meanwhile, the Sigourney Weaver limited series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart packs a lot in: “As extreme as the situations are, it unfolds with subtlety and compassion, eschewing melodrama,” notes Brodie.


At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller looks into the growth of queer love stories on TV/streaming in series like The Lake, Somebody Somewhere, and Glamorous. “Many of us have had to wait a long time for entertainment where we can see people like ourselves reaching for that and falling short, being selfish and making amends, blushing while being serenaded and kissing in the rain,” writes Schneller. “And then one day, standing at an altar surrounded by friends in matching outfits, entering into the mystic company of the billions who’ve pledged those troths before them, and dancing their faces off to Gloria.”