Reviews include Close, Knock at the Cabin, and Alice, Darling.
TFCA Friday: Week of Dec. 23
December 23, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week!
Babylon (dir. Damien Chazelle)
“After having positioned itself as ‘hate-letter to Hollywood,’ the movie’s true sympathies are ultimately to the business of making movies,” observes Nathalie Atkinson at Zoomer. “If Babylon has a point, it’s about the ephemeral nature of fame — that it’s all down to chance and zeitgeist, the luck of being in the right place at the right time (as Nellie and Manny are). Or as producer Robert Evans (appropriating Seneca) famously said: Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”
“What ever happened to Chazelle who directed … La La Land?” asks Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Babylon is quite the opposite, a collage of often unwatchable and disgusting scenes that include racism, homophobia and other unaccepted social issues. Not to mention that the film is three hours long, Babylon requires a lot of patience to sit through.”
“Chazelle’s runaway style, the scattershot focus is deeply distracting as are constant shocks, many including animals (fake ones) but the heart of his story is pure nostalgia, reminding us how Hollywood became Hollywood, according to legend,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Chazelle’s runaway style, the scattershot focus is deeply distracting as are constant shocks, many including animals (fake ones) but the heart of his story is pure nostalgia, reminding us how Hollywood became Hollywood, according to legend.”
“Ironically, Chazelle blasts long-time collaborator Justin Hurwitz’s triumphant score without any abandon throughout the silent era,” notes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “This [first] part of the movie uses long camera shots and a frenetic energy that will consume audiences, in a good way. It’s 90-minutes of non-stop roaring action that comes to a grinding halt once microphones and sound booths are introduced.”
“Babylon could, arguably, have lost half an hour of running time and not compromised the point. As well Chazelle adds a coda at the end of the film celebrating movies, from the silent era to the 21st century, mixing characters from Babylon with actual movie clips, which, for me, just felt superfluous and exhausting,” admits Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “That Chazelle loves and respects the era is evident. He’s fully committed with Babylon, and for a long time that spirit drives the film and makes it compelling. But how much is too much? There’s a point where the film loses a sense of forward motion, and it staggers under the weight of its ambitions.”
At That Shelf, Pat Mullen says Babylon is the cinematic equivalent to Cards Against Humanity’s “Sneezing, farting, and cumming at the same time” card: “Babylon expels winds and bodily fluids in a messily orgiastic cacophony of movie. It is a love/hate letter to Hollywood and the party to end all parties. It’s the only party in Hollywood that’s boozier, glitzier, and rowdier than the Golden Globes. In this case, that’s high praise.”
I Wanna Dance with Somebody (dir. Kasi Lemmons)
“The frankness boosts the film’s credibility while planting the seed that had Houston landed in today’s ostensibly more accepting climate, things might have turned out differently,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Despite that liberating arc, the film just never takes flight, remaining rigorously tethered to a textbook biopic formula that does a disservice to the electrifying, complex, multifaceted subject at its centre. At no time and in no way are we offered a rumination (even a hint) on Houston’s inner dialogue or how she perceived herself.”
“Ackie has to show off quite a range in the film, from the optimism and arrogance of Whitney’s youthful successes, beating the Beatles and Elvis for most #1 hits in a row, to fighting her manipulative father for control of her company to battling the demons of drugs and alcohol later in her life,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “She’s wonderful—and has to be, for the movie to be a success. The script by Anthony McCarten has some of the beats and pleasures of his Bohemian Rhapsody, and though she won’t match Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury at the Oscars, Ackie is clearly a talent on the rise.”
No Bears (dir. Jafar Panahi)
“Panahi’s stoic figure keeps shooting, observing, and directing his feature remotely as tensions boil over,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He is an affront to their “traditions” and while he is triggered when at night he steps on the borderline between Turkey and Iran, he bravely keeps on his mission, showing brutal government suppression and village mob rule.”
“Panahi (the real Panahi) has crafted a fascinating, multi-layered fable in which the storytelling techniques of film butt up against the realities of the world,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “In one scene, Panahi (the one in the movie) visits an unguarded section of the border with his assistant director. He asks exactly where the border lies. ‘Right under your feet!’ He jumps back sheepishly. Or did he jump forward?”
“No Bears is not as satisfying as his simpler works,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Panahi has taken a bit too much on his plate, more than he can handle. One can see his attempt at portraying the frustrations of a filmmaker, from the film’s delving in and out of reality and fiction resulting in a bit of confusion unless one has read the synopsis of the film before seeing the film.”
“At times, No Bears can come across as frustratingly convoluted, but Panahi is an artful filmmaker, who surprises us by breaking the rhythms of the film with disruptions, confrontations, and plot twists,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “There are also tender, quiet sequences, as Panahi bonds with his landlord’s mother (Narjes Delaram) who cooks him hot meals in a clay oven, and he provides her with medication for her sore feet.”
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (dir. Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado)
“[T]he animators, working under co-directors Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado, get to try out some interesting artistic styles in the fight scenes, as well as proving that there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “There are in fact at least eight, and most of them feature the famous last word: ‘Watch!'”
Scare Package 2: Rad Chad’s Revenge (dir. various)
“The anthology succeeds more as comedy horror than scary horror,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Whale (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
“It is deeply painful to see what he has become when under that massive fatsuit, Charlie’s humanity shines forth,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He’s interested in and intrigued by his seething daughter and endures her hateful taunts without flinching. Still, she keeps visiting. Samantha Morton is vividly real as his ex-wife warns him that their daughter is evil.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with The Whale star Brendan Fraser about his transformative performance and finding the confidence to be so vulnerable on screen. “There is still that sense that someone is going to walk up to me, hand me a towel and say, ‘Fraser, get back in the dish pit!’” Fraser tells Hertz. “I don’t ever want to get too comfortable. I want to make sure that I can approach the work with an eager attitude. It is always going to be hard to believe the criticism, and you shouldn’t believe the praise, either. But it’s nice work if you can get it.”
“[L]ike Charlie himself, Aronofsky overindulges. Never a subtle filmmaker (Black Swan, Mother!) his depiction of his movie’s protagonist sometimes crosses over into competitive-eating volume, each new emotional wound inspiring the pounding back of KFC and meatball sandwiches to the point of regurgitation,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Despite what redemption there ultimately is, The Whale is a feel-bad movie. But in a movie marketplace saturated with homogeneity, at least it inspires you to feel something.”
“Just don’t think of him as Brendan Fraser in a fat suit. The prosthetics the actor wears to take on this career-redefining role are nothing like the costumes worn to comedic effect by the likes of Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “And he is revelatory, prosthetics or no. Fraser wrings more pathos out of his eyes and mouth than many actors manage with their entire bodies, delivering deep reserves of sensitivity and vulnerability…He is like a horse that knows only the whip.”
“Director Darren Aronofsky has a penchant for making dramatic films about troubled souls. The Whale, which is once again such a tale, makes both Aronofsky’s career best film and lead actor Brandon Fraser’s career best performance as obese Charlie,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Oscars are up for the taking.”
“Much has been said about Fraser’s performance since The Whale debuted at the Venice Film Festival, and they’re all true,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “He brings a sensitivity and dignity to the film where others may have played the audience for pity or comedy. Hong Chau and Sadie Sink both offer incredible performances as well, in difficult and complex roles.” Ho also chats with Fraser about his mighty role, which drew upon advice from the Obesity Action Coalition: “They gave me their stories and testimonials, and in the most candid way. It was moving. It was moving to learn [from them],” Fraser tells Ho. “I noticed from person to person who I spoke to, that their journey began with someone early in their life who was quite cruel to them verbally. Made them feel horrible about who they were. Words have meaning.”
“Aronofsky is, of course, a wildly successful if controversial auteur, but this film is really about acting and not overt cinematic style,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “It’s clear that Aronofsky has to be acknowledged for casting former he-man Brendan Fraser in the critical role of Charlie, but this is a film that lives and dies on its actors. The near deafening Oscar buzz around Fraser’s performance as Charlie has reached boom levels: he’ll be nominated as best actor and could win. This is a showy part made all the more transfixing by the realization that Fraser is now a large man—not obese but hardly svelte—and this is a comeback role, the kind the Academy loves to honour.”
“The Whale admittedly engages in a bit of sizism as it relies on the visual power of Fraser’s gigantic presence for equal doses of black humor and stomach-flipping grotesquerie,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “As Charlie, Fraser could easily give Eddie Murphy’s fat-suited characters in The Nutty Professor a run for their money in the latex department. Aronofsky knows the visual power of his made-up star. Moreover, he grasps how to use the character’s huge size in relation to the small, dank apartment that barely contains him. The Whale offers a transformative experience thanks to the heart Fraser summons from deep within the belly of his prosthetics.”
Women Talking (dir. Sarah Polley)
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller calls Women Talking “women filmmaking, at every level” and sits down with Women Talking to discuss the art of adaptation, creating safe space for survivors’ stories, and, well, football. “[Y]ou see the globe, and then we zoom into the globe, and then we zoom into this football game, as if the football game is the only thing on the whole globe that matters,” Polley tells Schneller. “That always made me laugh and sort of sickened me at the same time. But for this film I realized, ‘A conversation among women about how to remake the world? That deserves every bit of gravity that these other stories, about war or football or dirty cops or whatever, have been told with.’”
“It’s a stunning script, Polley’s direction is perfect, down to her choice of a grey palette indicating faded brokenness and the need to be fixed is essential,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Taking on a film with a huge cast like this, capturing the personal and community moments in balance, in the time of #MeToo had to be an extraordinary job of work. You’ll be stunned into contemplative, deeply sad silence and work through it for days to come.”
“Women Talking is a truly unique film,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “This is a work of introspection, of examining one’s deepest faiths and convictions in order to decide how to move forward. It’s a story of a community and how it can survive or, by breaking apart, possibly become something better. In a medium that generally involves action as the base from which everything takes place, this film places its precedence on discussion.”
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell speaks with director Sarah Polley about the inspiration behind a pivotal song switch, the role of kindness, and how cynicism fades. “I’m an optimist, but I wasn’t always. I’ve outgrown my cynicism. And so I believe in people’s capacity to change. I really believe in people’s capacity to change their minds and shift, and to learn and unlearn,” Polley tells Howell. “I’ve seen people who I’ve written off take responsibility and be accountable, and move in a very real and authentic way, and choose a different course.”
“[T]his is a powerful film in these times of sexual abuse with a fine cast of actors including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Judith Ivey, with Ben Wishaw and Frances McDormand all delivering unforgettable performances,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Despite lacking the visual scope and timeline of Polley’s earlier works like Take This Waltz, Away from Her, and Stories We Tell, Women Talking is her most accomplished film to date: An intimate portrayal of a group of people driven to the brink of rebellion lest they concede to defeat,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It is also a film that counters against any narrative that misleads a population to maintain control. This is Polley’s year, and she has earned it.”
“The cast also includes Jessie Buckley as Mariche (injured, angry), Michelle McLeod as Mejal (quietly traumatized) and Judith Ivey as Agata, who says that staying cannot coexist with a desire for pacifism, since “by staying we will be knowingly placing ourselves on a collision course with violence, either by us or against us,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “She also delivers a beautiful, heartbreaking soliloquy in which someone suggests they ask the men to leave the colony and she replies that they have never asked the men for anything, reeling off a list that begins with ‘for the salt to be passed’ and ends: ‘Or to put your hand on the small of my back while I try again for the 12th or 13th time to push a baby out of my body.'”
“As Greta, Sheila McCarthy is the heart of Women Talking,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The naturalism of her performance is quietly magnetic. Greta has a simplicity to her cadence, yet McCarthy conveys with understated grace how the women understand the world through the limited perspective life has afforded them. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking in the same line reading, particularly when Greta frames each of her ideas with her beloved workhorses, Ruth and Cheryl, McCarthy’s tenderness and innocence evokes a paradise lost as the women realize the cruelty of the world in which their trapped and desperately need to escape.”
A List of Lists: The Best of 2022
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell picks the top ten films of the year with the number one film surprising from behind the clouds: Jordan Peele’s Nope. “Peele weaves multiple narrative threads, choosing enigma over the overt racial messages of his earlier films Get Out and Us,” writes Howell. “Perfectly puzzling, Nope made me want to view it multiple times to parse its clues. It’s the movie I thought about and talked about most in 2022.”
At CBC Arts, Peter Knegt makes the yuletide gay by listing 13 queer films that made 2022 worth the slog. On the list? Comedies like Bros and Fire Island, along with family tales such as Close, Aftersun, and Everything Everywhere All at Once. There’s also Tár, which refreshingly gives a queer character a complicated narrative: “Led by a staggering performance from Cate Blanchett (the queen of straight people playing lesbians, and we will forgive her for it because she is that fucking good), it brilliantly examines the nature of power in modern arts and culture — even when that power is held by a queer person,” writes Knegt. “Vive la Lydia Tár, vive le queer cinéma.”
At That Shelf, Jason Gorber, Courtney Small, and Pat Mullen join local writers in picking the best films of the year. Atop Gorber’s list? Triangle of Sadness: “its mixture of deep philosophical elements with a slurry of comedic filth is absolutely a touchstone for this year’s slate of films.” For Small, Everything Everywhere All at Once is tops: “This wildly original film tackled themes of family, love, and the expansive multiverse far better than any Marvel film could.” For Mullen, it’s all the way for All the Beauty and the Bloodshed: “There has been no better articulation that “silence equals death” than this potent essay about holding people in power accountable for their misdeeds.”
At POV Magazine, Courtney Small reports on one of the best advances in the Canadian screen sector: the Black Screen Office’s essential guide Being Seen. Small talks with Joan Jenkinson and Jennifer Holness about the BSO’s industry roadmap for enacting change: “As Jenkinson notes, ‘With a few exceptions, the directives are not ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do this.’’ She goes on to say that they are simply asking the industry to ‘be aware of the complexity of the issue and have it inform their thinking and analysis before they start a project or commission it.’”
TV Talk/Series Scribbles – The British Are Coming!
At What She Said, Anne Brodie notes that Greg Davies brings some squeaky clean Christmas cheer in The Cleaner Christmas Special. “He’s a thoroughly decent everyman who always gets the dirty jobs,” says Brodie. Anne’s also looking forward to the Royal Family Christmas. Guests include “Craig David, Alexis Ffrench, Samantha Barks, Alfie Boe, Melanie C., …The Prince of Wales, Dame Kristin Scott Thomas, Hugh Bonneville, and Kadeena Cox.” For Yuletide mystery, there’s A Death in Paradise Christmas Special (“A lighthearted whodunit”), Wagatha: A Courtroom Drama (“one of the most bizarre celebrity court cases in a generation”), and The Control Room (“new thriller set in Glasgow”), among other offerings.