Reviews include Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Mr. Malcolm’s List, and Passengers of the Night.
TFCA Friday: Week of Dec. 24
December 24, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
This Week in Movies!
Being the Ricardos (dir. Aaron Sorkin)
“If you’re still ticked that Debra Messing was passed over to play Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, as I was, you can relax,” advises Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Nicole Kidman goes for broke, stepping way out of her fragile flower persona to play the brassy, ballsy, opinionated and savvy actor/businesswoman and succeeds.”
“Sorkin stages a solid climax that proves that the power couple is more intelligent and talented than the couple they portray in the series,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The key problem with Being the Ricardos is that neither Kidman nor Sorkin is particularly good at switching from the drama, which plays out reasonably well, to the comedy that is at the core of Ball’s art,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Quite simply, Kidman isn’t funny, and neither is Sorkin.”
“[T]he internet was wrong and Nicole Kidman was right: The actress offers an impressively wry and layered take on an icon few of us actually know much about beyond time-capsuled catch-phrases and the whispers of prime-time legends,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Kidman’s casting might not be the move that some anticipated, but it is the move that Ball’s legacy deserves. The trouble is that the film Kidman signed on for is not quite there.”
“Set over a week in 1952, as Ball tries to put together an episode I Love Lucy while juggling accusations of being a Communist and her own suspicions of Arnaz’s infidelity, Being the Ricardos is textbook Sorkin: an eclectic group of very smart people argue passionately about literally everything they do, because the thing they do Speaks To The Soul Of A Nation,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
A Journal for Jordan (dir. Denzel Washington)
“There is nothing exceptional in A Journal for Jordan – a rather ‘blah’ melodrama save for the fact that it is directed by Denzel Washington,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Denzel Washington directs a film at the opposite end of the spectrum from Macbeth, a fact-based family drama about a soldier’s tribute to his newborn son. A Journal for Jordan based on the life experiences of the then New York Times editor Dana Canedy follows a young couple in love,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“It’s delightful to watch – the actors have such an easy manner with one another – but also fraught, because you know 9/11 is looming in their and New York’s future (the two met in the late 1990s), and that the Iraq War will follow,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.
The King’s Man (dir. Matthew Vaughn)
“Fiennes is terrific,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “His performance runs the gambit of variants that convincingly define his character. And yet, it is a role impossible to win him notice. But if an actor is awarded based on skill and sheer dedication to put in one’s best performance no matter the film, this would be Fiennes’ moment.”
“[Vaughn] barely seems to understand his historical references, stampeding ahead convinced his audience will happily swallow whatever he throws at them next. I hope to god he’s wrong,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “He’s made a vacuous thing, and it needs to be shunned.”
“If you would like to spend your Christmas break Googling, ‘Did Rasputin conspire to kill Archduke Ferdinand?’ and ‘Woodrow Wilson sex tape’ and ‘Ralph Fiennes Rhys Ifans wound-licking scene,’ then boy howdy, do I ever have the movie for you,” advises Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“An old-fashioned, globe-trotting spy adventure, The King’s Man…doesn’t disappoint,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s the origins story of the Kingsman series, and it’s a doozy. Led by an all-star Brit cast…we’re taken on a mission that will result in the formation of the first private intelligence organisation.”
“Globe-trotting spy stories are notorious for cutting from location to location in the blink of an eye, ignoring the intervening air travel, customs queues, etc. The King’s Man , set well before transatlantic air travel, is particularly egregious in this regard, not to mention its lapses in portraying early 20th century fashion, mores, language and technology,” groans Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s a film that wants to have its cake and microwave it, too.”
“[N]othing more than a collection of action sequences that do not blend at all well as a whole in a story that hardly makes sense,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Licorice Pizza (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
“In Licorice Pizza, Anderson isn’t just returning to the San Fernando Valley that he grew up in. He’s going backwards to the terrain of Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, but now with the maturity we see in his recent work,” observes Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. “There’s a heavy serving of self-awareness in this return, as if Anderson is hanging his own growth as a filmmaker onto this story. Dare I say, Licorice Pizza is PTA fan service with callback after callback to his previous films.”
“In a year when it seemed the romantic comedy had fled theatres for a permanent berth on streaming services, it’s a pleasure to see this delightfully dazed and confused rom-com from Paul Thomas Anderson, set in Southern California in 1973,” writes Peter Howell at Night Vision. “Propelled by a killer ‘70s soundtrack, it’s the most fun I had at the movies all year.”
“It’s risky, and Anderson has added to that by hanging his movie on two first-time actors,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “But boy, are they good. Anderson wrote the film for Alana Haim. He’d directed a few videos for the group and felt she was a natural. His instincts are dead on. Unselfconscious and committed, she delivers one of the best, most interesting performances of the year.”
“Bradley Cooper shows up as the infamous golddigger turned producer Jon Peters and knocks it out of the park,” laughs Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He’s buying a waterbed for his longtime GF Barbra Streisand! The film is a ‘scene’ from start to finish and you’ll be happy to be part of it.”
“[I]ts soundtrack lives up to that namesake, with tunes by Paul McCartney, The Doors, Donovan, Gordon Lightfoot and even a little Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, the 1940s being to the 1970s what the 1970s are to us, musically speaking,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s the perfect backing for this carefree coming-of-age comedy.”
“Licorice Pizza is Paul Thomas Anderson doing what he does best,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“It’s hard to put a handle on Licorice Pizza,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Just like the title, it’s strange, doesn’t make much sense but is appealing. Will we see more of Cooper Hoffman, who is young, charismatic and, yes, strangely resembles his dad? Hope so. As for Alana Haim, I enjoy the music she makes with her sisters but I don’t think she’ll do much in movies unless Anderson decides to feature her again. Licorice Pizza is an odd film that is perfect for a very odd holiday season.”
“If you have ever fallen in love with one of his films, then you will become instantly smitten here,” gushes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “And if you have ever felt hard done by one of his films, for whatever reason, then consider this a humble plea to at least sample a tiny little slice of his peculiarly flavoured pie.”
On the NOW What? podcast, Radheyan Simonpillai and Adam Nayman discuss the parallels of Licorice Pizza director Paul Thomas Anderson and fellow fanboy-fueller, David Fincher. “I think maybe one reason that they’ve always felt paired as well, they’re both kind of narratives of young, brash, presumptuously controlling directors who at a certain point grew up,” notes Nayman. “I think in Fincher’s case, growing up has had a maybe less salutary effect because people see that twinned with this need for prestige. He’s kind of gone from L’enfant terrible almost to a kind of Oscar season filmmaker with exceptions.”
And at Cinema Scope, Adam Nayman chats with PT Anderson about bringing the 1970s’ to life and his inspiration for the story: “Ithink, at the beginning, the film seems to be Gary’s story because he’s got more going on: he has his auditions, he has this promotional tour for a movie, he has a business, he has all the moves,” says Anderson. “His whims are swift. He’s not bothered by things. But Alana ends up being the more interesting character. She seems grown up: she’s dismissive, tough, wise, and disappointed. She’s this ball of goodwill and emotion. And the more you see of her, you see that she’s really vulnerable.”
Margrete: Queen of the North (dir. Charlotte Sieling)
“The multitalented Danish actor Trine Dyrholm is mesmerizing; as a child, her character witnessed the brutal carnage of war, sparking her dedication to creating peace,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “She married for love and adopted a son, Prince Erik and there was peace in the region for the first time in centuries.”
“Apart from impressive craft credits — the imposing production values, elaborate costumes and d.o.p Rasmus Videbæk’s foreboding candle-lit interiors — this is a film carried by the quietly skillful performance of Dyrholm, a much-awarded Danish star, known to the wider world through roles in Susanne Bier’s Oscar-winning In a Better World and films of Thomas Vinterberg,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
The Matrix Resurrections (dir. Lana Wachowski)
“Neo, as you may recall, took the red pill. But The Matrix Resurrections takes the blue one, settling for rehashing the original film rather than reinventing the series,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “The reality-bending concept is running on fumes, but Wachowski and her collaborators are content to go through the motions with a few new faces…and that new coat of self-reflexivity. But the lack of genuine invention is startling; Wachowski’s characters may not know they’ve played this game before, but we do.”
“Resurrections wants to have its cake and eat it too,” writes Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “The movie’s cheeky first hour makes it clear reboots suck while basking in the warm glow of the audience’s nostalgia. At least the script isn’t afraid to let viewers in on the joke. Wachowski playfully acknowledges that the film has giant shoes to fill and goes out of her way to carve out a new identity through trippy self-examination. The story’s first act is a meta-commentary on studio filmmaking, soulless corporate cash-ins, and trying to live up to an impossible legacy.”
“[T]he spirit of the Matrix films (is kept) intact, so fans should not be disappointed despite the fact that the film is overlong, messy, occasionally incoherent and unoriginal in delivery,” weighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Resurrections finds itself in an odd predicament. On the one hand, it presupposes a certain familiarity with the world of the Matrix, much of which has, like Star Wars, Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings, seeped into popular culture through osmosis,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But it doesn’t want to presume too much, so we get recreations of earlier scenes.”
“[T]he award for worst-est in The Matrix Resurrections goes to Jada Pinkett Smith, who seems to have essayed John Travolta’s Terl from Battlefield Earth for her role as former fighter, now wizened sage Niobe, who hobbles about spewing platitudes about war and honour and some such with all the appeal of an embittered history teacher in final period,” admits Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Oh, it’s all just so very bad when you stop to think about it.”
“A weird, hilarious, romantic, messy, violent and upsetting manic spectacle, Lana Wachowski’s sequel-reboot-remake encapsulates every emotion of this supremely messed up year,” suggests Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “It will divide whatever fanbase for the original trilogy still exists, and is guaranteed to start so many ugly online debates that you might want to stay away from social media until February.”
Sing 2 (dir.Garth Jennings)
“If you like animated jukebox musicals, Sing 2 should endear itself to you on volume alone. It’s one well-stocked jukebox, with songs from Prince, U2, Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Burt Bacharach, Billie Eilish and a whole lot more besides,” suggests Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Sing 2 is hilarious, thanks to the director’s brilliant sense of humour and the feature that stresses that it requires hard work and perseverance in order to be successful in show business,” chuckles Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (dir. Joel Coen)
“McDormand looks especially beautiful as the dangerously seductive wife to the man who is not convinced he can do the deed; his hesitation infuriates her and she pushes and pushes him, a deed that if he fulfills it, will have far-reaching consequences and compromise his sanity,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Shakespeare’s text comes richly to life in this heartbreaking and vivid retelling.”
“Washington could be reading from, say, the trash-bag script of John Turturro’s Big Lebowski spin-off The Jesus Rolls (it exists!), and still make the whole thing sing,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “McDormand is an equally powerful, volatile presence, with the actor determined to fall as far into darkness as the story allows.”
“The deliberately artificial sets and gorgeous black and white design turn the drama into one of metaphor and allegory,” writes Mac Glassman at Classical FM. “This is a tale of ambition and what it can cost even the most noble of people if principles and the basic verities of life are abandoned.”
“The film is shot in sumptuous, velvety black and white, something of a trend these days given Belfast, C’mon C’mon, Netflix’s Passing and large swaths of The French Dispatch,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s the perfect palette for a story of such stark murder and mayhem, one in which flocks of crows, showers of leaves or thick swaths of mist serve to confound and disturb characters and viewers alike.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “one of the best adaptations of the Bard’s tragedies.”
“[The casting] lends further dimension to Washington’s charm in Macbeth’s early scenes: the hearty Thane of Cawdor was just the mask of a man who’s spent his whole life putting people at ease, waiting for the right moment to reveal himself,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “And McDormand similarly rips into Lady Macbeth with the zeal of someone who’s always wondered how she’d handle the role. Turns out she’s a natural.”
“Shakespeare loyalists out there may be reassured to know that Coen has been faithful to the original text, thoughtfully trimming bits here and there, mostly for flow,” observes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “The words are Shakespeare’s. The one notable change he’s made is turning the three witches – a.k.a. The Weird Sisters – into one oracle, played to chilling perfection by Kathryn Hunter.”
“Kathryn Hunter steals the film and captivates with magnetic power,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The physicality with which Hunter imbues the witches’ spells is an extraordinary thrill. Shakespeare’s verse lends the witches’ speeches unique visual language and Hunter interprets it through her body.”
Try Harder! (dir. Debbie Lum)
“[A] timely topic, especially for Asians,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Writing with Fire (dir. Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh)
“A celebration of shoe-leather journalism and indefatigable commitment,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
2021 in Review
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz considers what the financial success of the latest MCU product means for cinephiles. “No Way Home was produced and marketed, more than any other entry in the unstoppable Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a must-see cultural event,” writes Hertz. “An event that, unless you caught it at the earliest possible opportunity, would be ruined by wave after wave of spoilers and memes. Even casual MCU viewers – the type who don’t watch the Disney+ series, let alone those who obsess over, say, the ramifications of Mahershala Ali’s voice cameo at the end of Eternals’ second post-credits scene (don’t worry, you don’t need to know about it … yet) – felt compelled to visit the multiplex, hell or high variant.”
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell picks his top ten films of 2021, including The Power of the Dog (“a tale exceedingly well told and a movie that stays in the mind like a whispered secret”). He also calls out the three biggest disappointments of the year, including Chloé Zhao’s Eternals (“can we just go back to the usual brightly coloured inanity?”).
At That Shelf, Jason Gorber, Courtney Small, and Pat Mullen share their picks for the best films of their year. Their top movies? Summer of Soul (“the most musical of musical films”), Pig (“anchored by a brilliant performance by Nicolas Cage”), and Flee (“imaginatively transports audiences through Amin’s journey”), respectively.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah picks his top ten films of 2021, including The Pit (“one of the best psychological horror coming-of-age films”) and House of Gucci (“Forget authenticity, just enjoy the fun!”).
At POV Magazine, Marc Glassman and Pat Mullen each pick the top ten documentaries of 2021, although they agree on the top two films: Flee (“This groundbreaking personal odyssey helps redefine what docs can be”) and Simmer of Soul (“It was a time when revolutionary rhetoric was voiced out loud—and it still speaks to audiences now”).
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz picks the top ten Canadian films of 2021. Here he is on recent Rogers Best Canadian Feature winner Anne at 13,000 ft: “An intimate look at the life of a Toronto daycare worker (Deragh Campbell) who has a shaky grasp on adult responsibilities, the film is a wonderfully intense work of art.”
At Complex Canada, Pat Mullen contributes to the list of the best Canadian films of the year, including Drunken Birds (“a stirring fable about the universal impulses that connect us”) and Wildhood (“proudly creates space for Two-Spirited voices and stories”).
TV Talk: Yule Logs, Ahoy!
At What She Said, Anne Brodie tunes into the second season of Emily in Paris, and admits it “isn’t brain food, high-minded or even good for you, but hell’s bells, it is FUN.”
At the National Post, Chris Knight stokes the flames of Christmas Yule Log options on streaming services. The winner? Netflix’s roaring holiday options directed with Scorsese-esque panache by George Ford. “Crackling Yule Log Fireplace , presented in 4K high-def, is backed by a selection of secular and Christian melodies played on the piano, complemented by, as the subtitles say, [crackling].” Our members look forward to the accompanying coffee table books and scented candles.