Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday: Week of Dec. 11
December 11, 2020
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
40 Years a Prisoner (dir. Tommy Oliver)
“It’s a very good documentary with nothing technically wrong with it, and yet, 40 Years a Prisoner tells a story that has a lot more to it than what ends up on screen,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Viewed through the eyes of one man who has seen his family ripped apart by prejudice, 40 Years a Prisoner is a searing examination of the human costs of systemic racism,” argues Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
76 Days (dir. Dir. Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and Anonymous)
“A major disappointment!” cries Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “One would expect after watching the film to come out wiser or more insightful on the COVID-19 virus, at least from the Wuhan point of view.”
“76 Days emulates the feeling of the doctors themselves, racing to deal with the next problem as quickly as possible because stopping for even a moment could lead to total collapse,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“This is strong stuff, especially since COVID continues to spike around the world. For God’s sake people, wear your masks,” advises Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“The rhythm of the editing in the opening scenes is quietly bravura: you only notice it later as sequences slow down when conditions begin to improve as spring approaches,” writes Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. Also at POV, Pat Mullen interviews director Hao Wu about capturing this story from afar and working with his team remotely to tell an urgent story.
Anything for Jackson (dir. Justin G. Dyck 🇨🇦)
“[A] nifty little Canadian production that is sure to terrify.” – Barry Hertz, The Globe and Mail.
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (dir. Frank Marshall)
“[I]’s a nostalgic walk to the sound of those oh so familiar and distinct harmonies,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Beyond the Woods (dir. Brayden DeMorest-Purdy; Dec. 15. 🇨🇦)
Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto calls it “one of the better Canadian features to turn up this year with solid delivery from all departments.”
The Forbidden Reel (dir. Ariel Nasr 🇨🇦)
“Nasr’s ability to match footage with critical moments in Afghanistan’s actual history is immensely impressive, but the history itself is often bewildering, with repeated civil wars, factions within factions, and occupation by the two major superpowers. A more conventional timeline or narrator guide would help to provide some basic information.” – Liam Lacey, Original Cin
Honest Thief (dir. Mark Williams)
“To be honest, (sorry, just could to help using this phrase), Honest Thief is not half-bad, delivering the action exactly as expected despite its mundane main plot,” says a punny Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“I wasn’t really entertained by Honest Thief, but it wasn’t a total wash, either,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate.
I’m Your Woman (dir. Julia Hart)
“I’m Your Woman is gripping and hyper stimulating and surprising, story wise and as a hell of a segue for Brosnahan from Mrs. Maisel to this traumatised character,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A major adrenaline boost for the holiday season.”
“The movie makes the most of its time period,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s a throwback in all the best ways.”
“What starts with a kernel of a good idea quickly devolves into a case of style over substance, with too much dead space between the more interesting character beats and themes,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Unfortunately, Hart and her co-writer/husband Jordan Horowitz don’t have much more to offer than a different perspective – and no POV shift can compensate for a film that looks otherwise so familiar in its twists and turns,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide (dir. Malia Scharf, Max Basch)
“When Worlds Collide playfully deconstructs the life and times of a creator who tries to balance their childlike playfulness with the adult responsibilities of the real world,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Lennon’s Last Weekend (dir. Brian Grant)
“It’s a bit odd that a film called Lennon’s Last Weekend virtually excises the final two days from the singer’s life,” quips Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
Let Them All Talk (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
“Soderbergh and his talented cast have crafted a deeply thoughtful, intelligent story,” writes Chris Knight in a five-star review at the National Post. “If it were a book, it would be one you couldn’t put down.”
“[L]eave it to director Steven Soderbergh, one of the most surprising filmmakers working today, to make travel’s least-enticing sector look like witty, bouncy fun,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Among Soderbergh’s considerable gifts is the ability to make movies that may seem light on the surface, often from an off-beat angle and a little screwball, but with intellectual and emotional weight,” argues Karen Gordon at Original Cin.
“The film is wordy, intellectual and stimulating, a true portrait of rupture and dashed expectations that I could watch again and again, so as not to miss a word,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Let Them All Talk is an actor’s dream of a film. All of the performers get a chance to shine,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“If there’s a standout among them, it’s Bergen, who gives Roberta’s single-mindedness about money a simmering frustration that tells us everything we need to know about the life this person has lived,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Let Them All Talk is a witty and unpretentious story about overcompensating and pretentious people,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Streep finds in Soderbergh her best directorial pairing since Mike Nichols,” declares Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Let Them All Talk has a tangible spark of brainwaves colliding.”
Modern Persuasion (dir. Alex Appel)
“Harlequin styled romance ends with Wren and Owen expectedly getting back together in a terribly tacked-on last scene,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Prom (dir. Ryan Murphy)
“Some ill-judged moments like Cordon’s sudden effeminate turn, the stereotypical Mean Girls subplot, and more,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “However, the song and dance numbers are fabulous.”
“Murphy shows minimal regard for the main story and the utmost desire to wow the viewer with starpower and showstoppers, taking the most suspect aspects of the show and amplifying them all tenfold,” argues Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“It’s fitting that Streep headlines 2020’s most upbeat respite from COVID-19 blahs since she mixed quarantinis and Sondheim numbers on Zoom with Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald, doubling down on musical theatre for the second wave after giving us a booster in the first,” sings Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
“Murphy’s musical numbers are staged with the usual Glee-style sugar rush of intensity, including several acrobatic mass choreography exercises, though the busy camera rarely allows us to appreciate the full effect,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“The Prom, which should be an effervescent satirical musical, has way too many clunky scenes that are brassy but not beautiful,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“Cheesy, silly and totally irreverent, The Prom is exactly what is expected from an LGBT musical,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[T]he casting and performance of [James] Corden casts a queasy pall over the entire proceedings,” argues Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“It’s a bit of half-baked, forgettable fun,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Or, given that one of its stars is James Corden: “Better than Cats!”
Queer Japan (dir. Graham Kolbeins)
“[O]ne would expect more depth and insight from Queer Japan, which seems only too content to glamourize,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[The] emphasis on visibility is the key to this eye-popping survey of Japanese LGBTQ culture,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Credits are splashed out as neon signs in the centre of Tokyo, in slo-mo, split-screens, and impressionistic montages.”
Safety (dir. Reginald Hudlin)
“There’s probably a version of Safety that could be far more adult and harrowing in tone, but Disney’s version is still entertaining and thoughtful in its own right.” – Andrew Parker, The Gate
Songbird (dir. Adam Mason)
“Director Adam Mason and co-writer Simon Boyes’s lumpy script feels like it was completed as part of a long-abandoned Purge instalment, only now dusted off and spit-shined with a COVID-19 conceit,” groans Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“[A]n exploitive sci-fi dystopian thriller that has no shame taking its premise the COVID-19 havoc that is currently rocking the world,” argues Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Forget about the controversy or one’s feelings. Just avoid Songbird because it’s flat out awful,” cautions Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“First out of the gate, Songbird is the Pfizer vaccine of pandemic thrillers,” prescribes Chris Knight at the National Post.
The Stand-In (dir. Jamie Babbit)
“I love the quiet tension, the ebb and flow of the power struggle, Barrymore’s committed portrayal of two opposing characters and the contemporary spin on the ages old story of downfall and rebirth.” – Anne Brodie, What She Said
Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (dir. Jia Zhang-ke)
“While an interesting enough meditation on the intersection of Chinese literature and familial culture across the past century, the documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue is an overthought effort from master filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“If you go in with a modicum of modern Chinese historical knowledge already in your pocket, even greater riches await,” suggests Chris Knight at the National Post.
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz calls it a “fantastic return to documentary cinema for firebrand narrative filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke.”
“Jia restrains himself from any overt commentary, which is surprising given the level of allegorical engagement in his recent features,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Jia’s film has the appearance of being simply made with 4 authors telling stories but the effects are astounding,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Wander Darkly (dir. Tara Miele)
“[Sienna] Miller and [Diego] Luna are superb, traversing a range of emotional material without a false note. It’s their anger, their confusion, and their love that breathes life into the movie.” – Karen Gordon, Original Cin
We Had It Coming (dir. Paul Barbeau 🇨🇦)
“Thoroughly dark but with standout performances and an assured sense of style to carry it through, We Had It Coming is worth seeking out for those interesred in the seedy, slimy underbelly of polite Canadian society,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
Wolfwalkers (dir. Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart)
“Some of the scenes are composed almost vertically rather than with any sense of depth, but it’s a compelling visual trick, and a welcome respite from the hyper-real computer-generated images to which we’ve become accustomed,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“With a visual aesthetic that evokes woodcuts and tapestries, Wolfwalkers spins its beautiful story out slowly and carefully, the better to keep even the youngest viewers on board,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Wolfwalkers delivers a fantastic feat of world-building as each element—the visuals, the story, and the magical music—transport a viewer to a faraway land. Its magic will captivate audiences young and old,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
“Wolfwalkers is everything one could want from an animated adventure, regardless of the viewer’s age,” raves Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Yes God Yes (Dir.Karen Maine)
“Really funny, winning and cringey at times for her sake, but again this is a movie about an innocent discovering the real road to hell is paved with hypocrisy,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Director Maine’s message is to follow your heart though it might include chatting online and masturbation,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Yes, God, Yes, is a teen sex comedy with the engine of a mature, character based drama,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
TV – The Wilds, Dating, and Diversity
“It’s addictive viewing – and the whole season is dropping all at once, so maybe don’t plan anything else this weekend,” says Norm Wilner on The Wilds at NOW Toronto. Norm has mixed thoughts on Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy, writing, “There’s nothing here that might make viewers change the channel, but neither is there anything that will have them counting the days until the next episode airs.”
Also checking out The Wilds, Anne Brodie at What She Said writes, “It’s a Young Adult offering, but it doesn’t limit its scope to a certain age or mentality, it has broad interest and throws a fuel on danger conspiracies… Let the social commentary fly, ladies!”
COVID-19 might have put a freeze on casual dating for some, but Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto reasons why some of 2020’s dating shows were inspiration to swipe right (at least on streaming platforms).
Also at NOW Toronto, Radheyan Simonpillai speaks with Charles Officer and RT Thorne about their new series The Porter, which will be the biggest TV show yet by Black Canadian creators.
Canadian Film News: Local Heroes and Institutions at a Crossroads 🇨🇦
Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto salutes the local heroes of Toronto’s film industry who were the local heroes of 2020, from Emmy winners to headline makers changing the game for art and representation.
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz looks at the ongoing conversation about Telefilm Canada and the place for filmmakers both emerging and established in the funding schemes.
Marc Glassman and Pat Mullen at POV Magazine speak with Claude Joli-Coeur, Julie Roy, and Jérôme Dufour of the NFB about the Board’s new strategic plan.
2020 in Review
The “Best of 2020” lists are here! The NOW Toronto trio of Norm Wilner, Radheyan Simonpillai, and Kevin Richie list their picks for the year’s finest films. Atop the lists? Nomadland, First Cow, and Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, respectively. On the 25 best TV shows of 2020, I May Destroy You stands tallest.
Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail agrees with both Norm and Rad on the year’s best film(s) with his top 10(ish) films of 2020.
Retrospectives and Reappraisals
Thom Ernst at Original Cin settles the “is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debate once and for all, writing, “[A]s if waking from a Dickensian nightmare, I began to recognize Die Hard as not just a suitable Christmas movie, but as a perfect Christmas movie – not only because it takes place on Christmas Eve, but because it’s filled with enough comfort and joy to have you crying in your eggnog.”
At Film Freak Central, Bill Chambers gives Coming to America another trip in the Blu-ray player: “In short, Coming to America is about and reflects a fear of disappearing up one’s own ass. [Eddie] Murphy is present in scenes in a way he hadn’t been before and has seldom been since; and the sweetness and charm he brings to Akeem are new and rare qualities as well.”
“When it was first released to great acclaim, The Great Invisible was a wonderful look at everyday people whose lives were ruined by a disaster they didn’t cause,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate on Margaret Brown’s 2014 doc. “When viewed through the eyes of someone living in 2020, one begins to notice a pattern concerning corporate influence over disaster response.”
How has the queer camp of But I’m a Cheerleader aged since first released? “The film still comes across as forced and amateurish though, like mid-century furniture, it has developed a patina of character with age,” says Liam Lacey in a retrospective at Original Cin.