TFCA Friday: Week of Dec. 10

December 10, 2021

West Side Story | 20th Century Studios

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


In Release this Week


Agnes (dir. Mickey Reece)


Agnes is a genre breaker that veers into unanticipated areas of drama, some of it absurd, some street-wise, and yet inescapably entertaining,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “But Mickey Reece’s work, the little of it I’ve seen, strikes me as something that survives on its appeal to a select audience.  By no means is Agnes a crowd-pleaser.”


“Shifting its narrative gears until it’s barely recognizable as the same film, Agnes becomes a powerful study of human despair, with Quinn – who also produced – delivering a fully felt performance as a woman searching for meaning in a world she’s no longer equipped to navigate,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.


“Come for the horror – and the poster, with its upside-down crucifix and dripping blood, promises as much – and you’re likely to find the second half a bit of a drag,” advises Chris Knight at the National Post. “Be prepared for the psychological drama that I guarantee is coming, and you’ve got a long wait before that hand is even dealt, let alone its payoff.”


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film is “good for a few laughs in what might be more comedy than horror delivered.”


The Boathouse (dir. Hannah Cheesman 🇨🇦)


“I cheese and ham are on your Christmas thriller menu, I have just the thing for you!” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Things get out of hand when truth shakes out; this slow thriller won’t win any awards, but cottage country is always nice to gaze upon.”


“Director Cheesman provides a good dark and moody atmosphere in what is a psychological horror with lots of character study but her slow plodding requires patience while waiting for things to happen,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Kurimsky turns in a compelling performance as Anne, fragile and shaky and bothered by sleepwalking and hallucinations – unless maybe there really is a ghost playing the piano in the boathouse?” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “And Van Sprang matches her performance, playing a man still reeling from the disappearance of his wife.”


“The screenplay takes Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and blends it with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s not even subtle with its inspiration,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Moreover, as it leans heavily on canonical ghost stories, the plot is immediately predictable.”


“As an unapologetically generic film, The Boathouse has numerous familiar elements. And the filmmakers do nothing to hide that this is a modern update on the gothic story of the vulnerable young woman entering an intimidating household,” agrees Liam Lacey at Original Cin.

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (dir. Brent Wilson)


“The celebrity praise grows repetitive, and Wilson himself has little to say about his process except that the music comes from his brain into his fingers,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “But producer songwriter, Linda Perry, offers the provocative idea that you can hear Wilson’s mental struggle in the compositions, the hymnal quality, the soothing melodies over the churning complexity beneath. Clearly, Wilson’s emotional relationship to music is in no sense typical.”


A Castle for Christmas (dir. Mary Lambert)


“This is another comfy cozy, non-challenging holiday film that is chock-a-block with great things to look at, the handsome leads, the idyllic rural village and its colourful citizens, loads of Christmas decor and a sweeping, winter landscape,” offers Anne Brodie at What She Said.


Death to Metal (dir. Tim Connery)


Death to Metal is something of a fresh breath of stale air. In a genre long familiar with demonizing nuns, having an evil priest is a nice change of habit,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “And while nuns tend to be the vessel of evil—ghostly or possessed figures stalking the hallways of Catholic-run orphanages—the priest here is the sole judge and executioner (there is no need for a jury).”


Death Valley (dir. Matthew Ninaber 🇨🇦)


The film’s ad reads – the mission has gone to hell. Apparently the mission is not the only thing that ended up in hell,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Don’t Look Up (dir. Adam McKay)


“It’s a full and roiling experience, enjoyable even next to the sadness, the inevitability of ruin,” chuckles Anne Brodie at What She Said. “DiCaprio, whose environmental work has been his prime concern for twenty years and Streep who has long advocated for environmental issues felt it was important to do the film, and especially with Adam McKay, another conscientious creator.”


“Compulsively cruel social media, a venal science-denying President, conscienceless tech billionaires, cheerfully stupid morning shows —  where’s the invention?” asks Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “While the obvious ambition was to create a black comedy along the lines of Dr. Strangelove or Network, with touches of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the distance between the models and the copy are disheartening.”


“Meryl Streep is the Commander in Chief of the year’s best ensemble cast in Don’t Look Up,” cheers Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “With nothing but respect for my President, though, Streep’s President Janie Orlean is just about the worst thing to hit the White House since 45. Adam McKay’s satire is spot-on and fearlessly too soon as Don’t Look Up lampoons not only the age of Trump, but the world of alternate realities that he created.”


“McKay, from his big-screen debut with 2004’s Anchorman to his more recent and cerebral comedies about economics (The Big Short) and politics (Vice), has never made a movie that failed to provide some laughs,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “But the chuckles-per-minute ratio might have hit a career low in Don’t Look Up, especially given its 138-minute length. That’s not to say the movie isn’t entertaining, just that some of the giggles may stick in your throat as the realization of just what it is that’s so amusing sinks in.”


“Lawrence is great, Cate Blanchett has fun as a morning-show host who takes a shine to DiCaprio’s flustered academic and I share McKay’s despair for a nation that can’t save itself… but at nearly two and a half hours, Don’t Look Up just takes forever to get to its fairly obvious point,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.


“Edited like an Oliver Stone movie on methamphetamines – here’s a quick shot of a polar bear on the melting ice caps, here’s a baby taking a bath, here’s a fiery protest, here’s more more more – and bizarrely unconcerned by its two main characters having exactly one personality trait apiece, the film dares you to side with the comet,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.

France (dir. Bruno Dumont)


“France has an important awakening and she now looks on her lifelong work and her marriage with disdain,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Seydoux is absolutely transcendent in this challenging and highly nuanced role.”


Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something (dir. Rick Korn)


“And so, while sticking close to the tried-and-true talking head documentary format, Harry Chapin: When In Doubt, Do Something — the title inspired by Chapin’s maxim in life and oft-uttered motto — succeeds in celebrating a life truly worth celebrating,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Count us in.”


“One can sense that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and that’s before the credits list nearly thirty producer, executive producer, and co-producer credits,” observes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “The film, safe and celebratory, feels like a joint exercise in public relations.”

The Hating Game (dir. Peter Hutchings)


“[T]otal kitsch, a film full of clichés and predictability and total boredom,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.

Joy Womack: The White Swan (dir. Dina Burlis, Sergey Gavrilov)


“Besides being an inspirational story, the film includes lots of brilliantly choreographed ballet that should satisfy both ballet and non-ballet fans ready to be converted,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Off the Rails (dir. Jules Williamson)


“[A]n enjoyable getaway adventure for women of a certain age,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Improbable, fun and fun comic performances, with bittersweet moments, make this a comfy watch.”


“[S]hould satisfy the non-demanding filmgoer, with a little charm and humour despite some clunky pacing, story and lots of late menopause type humour,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Though the girls’ trip plot of Off the Rails is multi-derivative, its most obvious model is the cheerful-tearful ensemble dramas from Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love, Actually, and Mama Mia Here We Go Again) in which the prospect of death makes people nicer to one another,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “To be fair to Curtis, Off the Rails is more like a Richard Curtis make-your-own-dramedy at-home game, with each character’s personality stamped on a card and they roll the dice to see which complications ensue.”

The Only One (dir. Noah Gilbert)


“[T]here are too many distractions in the love story (France, horses, past history of the couple, winemaking …) for one to really one to be really interested in the film,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


The Real Charlie Chaplin (dir. Peter Middleton and James Spinney)


The Real Charlie Chaplin takes an open and thorough look at the British multi-hyphenate, his triumphs and bad acts, his four young wives, two being teenagers and his never before seen in the world global fame,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “This captivating doc from Peter Middleton and James Spinney features Chaplin in his own words in a 1966 interview and blunt remarks from his childhood friend Effie who grew up with him in the slums of London.”

This Game’s Called Murder (dir. Adam Sherman)


This Game’s Called Murder is far more film than it needs to be,” observes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It is wrought with excessive direction, pointedly off-beat performances, and over-scripted dialogue. Even the sets and costumes have the exaggerated weight of a page full of exclamation marks. It’s like a good meal ruined by overeating.”


West Side Story (dir. Steven Spielberg)


Here is a glorious and genuine movie-movie: A vivid, sweeping, beautiful piece of top-tier pop-art. You will leave the theatre swooning, in love with the biggest kind of big picture,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “This film is the reason that we go out to the movies – as in, physically trudge our butts to a seat in a room full of strangers – and should continue to do so for as long as the opportunity is afforded to us.”


Spielberg triumphantly pulls it off, delivering a finger-snapping West Side Story that faithfully honours the past while energetically showcasing much fresh and diverse talent in a show that’s more in tune with the times,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “I prefer the bright primary colours of the original West Side Story film, even though that film had an overall stagier look than this one, which also plays up the story’s theme of encroaching gentrification and neighbourhood destruction.”


West Side Story lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died at age 91 weeks before this film’s release, was not a fan of the ’61 film (or movie-musicals in general), and singled out the rendition of ‘Tonight’ between Maria and Tony on the fire escape as being particularly static,” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Spielberg still has ‘Tonight’ sung on the fire escape, but playfully uses angles and aspect to give the impression of the steel grill floor as a cage, separating them. The camera in this movie truly moves.”


“[A]lthough Spielberg’s choices for musical and dance collaborators is superb, there’s not much they have to do to improve on what was already excellent in 1961—and, indeed, 1957,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “With all of the music and dance intact, the transformed West Side Story is relevant for a new audience. It is truly a fine adaptation of a brilliant original. Kudos to Spielberg, Kushner and a great team of creative artists, including the terrific performers.”


“Spielberg’s West Side Story should have everyone applauding by the film’s last reel, a sprawling musical epic that is one of the best films to come out of Hollywood during the pandemic,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“The whole shebang runs two hours and 36 minutes, a shade more than the 1961 version, which featured an overture and an intermission for audiences not yet accustomed to sitting through bloated superhero movies and the like,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But it’s a high-energy, toe-tapping, Technicolor, shot-on-film two-and-a-half hours. Movie versions of stage musicals are always a little awkward in that, when the numbers come to a close, the film seems to be begging for applause. Damned if I didn’t want to stand up and give it some.”


“[It] plays like a revelatory new mounting of a classic: it understands the original intention and finds new ways to shake the material to life, moving the musical numbers from soundstage stoops and rooftops to bustling daylit streets, building sites and dance halls,” raves Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.


“Why bother?” asks Susan G. Cole in an essay for the TFCA blog. “Enter Tony Kushner, Spielberg’s choice to pen the script for his remake. Kushner, an out queer writer, gets in his guts oppression, marginalization and the complexities of New York’s inner-city life. This last element factors into the first images of West Side Story 2021, where the city’s old run-down buildings are being demolished so that New York looks like a war zone.”



One of the titles in TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten list is Charlotte, an animated take on the life of late painter Charlotte Salomon. At Variety, Jennie Punter speaks with Toronto-based producer Julia Rosenberg about assembling Salomon’s story with an all-star cast and an eye for the artist’s aesthetic. “I believe this film is going to connect with young creative women,” says Rosenberg. “It’s a war story, it’s a refugee story, but it’s really a biopic of an artist who’s been overlooked. She invented the graphic memoir, he played with autofiction and did all of these conceptual things that are now widely used. She’s one of the great artists of the 20th century.”


At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller speaks with environmentalist David Suzuki and playwright Tara Cullis about their film/performance piece collaboration What We Won’t Do for Love, and using their platform to raise awareness about the growing environmental crisis. “We have to reframe the crisis,” says Suzuki. “We’re at an opportune moment. We’re in trouble. We’re in deep trouble. The heat dome and the atmospheric rivers have made British Columbia the poster child for what’s coming. We’re getting e-mails and calls from people across Canada saying, ‘This is scary.’ And we know from COVID that the public is willing to make big changes to save their lives.”


At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber speaks with Academy Award winner Brigitte Berman about restoring her debut feature, Bix: Ain’t None of Them Play Like Him Yet, which recently screened at Whistler. “This film holds a special place in my heart,” says Berman. “I’m surprised that I actually ignored it for so long. I was pretty pissed off with myself. But then, a lot of things have happened in my life, and there’s always a right time for everything. This was the right time to restore it and thankfully I knew it and I did it.”