Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday: Week of Dec. 24
December 24, 2020
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
The Midnight Sky (dir. George Clooney)
“Clooney’s dark study offers a ray of hope,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s not his greatest film, it’s uneven and dense, likely due to it being on completion of scenes.” Brodie also chats with Clooney, co-star Felicity Jones, and other members of the cast.
“[I]t gets lost in a final flurry of putative surprises meant to hammer home the true cost of Augustine’s misplaced priorities,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “Not a single one of those surprises is a surprise, and indeed they’re so gratingly obvious that they basically blast the film off its axis and send it spinning into the sun.”
“The script bounces back and forth between Earth and space through a succession of nail-biter predicaments, mixes in some awkward flashbacks, and relies on a third-act narrative cheat,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “And for all that, it feels derivative of better films.”
“I don’t mean to knock a guy for persistence,” cautions Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But what other filmmakers could offer such a checkered IMDb profile and still continue to wrangle marquee stars and high-profile budgets and glowing what-he-really-wants-to-do-is-direct profiles?”
“While The Midnight Sky has a downbeat tone, it’s structured like a 19th century novel, where each chapter alternates between one situation and a contrasting one,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“Clooney’s film is meticulously made, but the slow climax and the odd mix of suspense, drama, action and pathos gives the film its lack of punch,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Nitpicking aside, Clooney heads a stellar cast of characters that ably demonstrates the human desire to explore, discover and learn,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“The Midnight Sky, watchable as it is, proves definitively where Clooney’s talent resides: in front of the camera,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
Nasrin (dir. Jeff Kaufman)
“An urgent film (that) sheds light on her (Nasrin’s) work and life and hopefully will make an influence in getting her out of prison.” – Gilbert Seah, Afro Toronto
News of the World (dir. Paul Greengrass)
“Stylistically, [Greengrass] has shifted his usually frenetic docudrama style to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski’s more classic framing in the external daytime scenes,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Town scenes use more handheld cameras, and the nights, where Kidd performs by gaslight lanterns, give the scenes rich textures of light and shadow.”
“It’s a conventional film, but raised by Hanks’ presence and his character’s grace and decency, and by the outstanding performance from gifted German child star Helena Zengel,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Hanks, having played legendary journalist Ben Bradlee in The Post, not to mention storyteller Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks), straight-shooter James B. Donovan (Bridge of Spies) and no less a truth-teller than Fred Rogers (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), seems uniquely positioned to argue on the side of facts,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
Promising Young Woman (dir. Emerald Fennell)
“When’s the last time we got a film as dark, sexy, and dangerous as Promising Young Woman?” asks Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Emerald Fennell throws down the glove: anyone else making their debuts this year best be ready for the challenge.”
“Exciting, satisfying and out there, and from the producers of Killing Eve, Promising Young Woman is #MeToo at the tipping point, an authentically devastating story and character study,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Save Yourselves! (dir. Alex Huston Fletcher, Eleanor Wilson)
“Save Yourselves!, based on a simple premise, unfortunately runs out of ideas as well as fresh humour,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Soul (dir. Pete Docter)
“But there’s more to [Pixar’s] success than just solid filmmaking: They also have an understanding of the psychology of the inner child and how living through daily life inevitably robs adults of some of their original joyfulness,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin, reflecting on where Soul sits in the animation house’s oeuvre.
“[L]ike a lot of Pixar’s recent output, Soul is… kind of messy. It’s beautifully realized, as is the case with everything the digital animation studio produces, contrasting the striking, photorealistic New York City locations with the floofiness of the before-and-afterlife, where some characters exist as two-dimensional abstractions and others just sort of blob along in search of a final corporeal shape,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto, also reflecting on where Soul sits in the animation house’s oeuvre.
“It’s a visual representation of how music can transport us,” raves Chris Knight in a five-star review at the National Post.
“(An) amazing inspirational and fresh story,” declares Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Sylvie’s Love (dir. Eugene Ashe)
“Ashe’s screenplay is a busy one, layering the romance with a lot of timely subplots around women’s rights and workplace equality (race, sex, you name it) and the burgeoning civil rights movement,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s all a bit sanitized.”
Wild Mountain Thyme (dir. John Patrick Shanley)
“[A] film that celebrates everything that is Irish and that should draw romantics to see this film during Christmas,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Shanley’s lilting poetic script and the cast’s earnest delivery are soul soothing, as is the rural life envisioned here, but there’s a long row to hoe before the ageing would-be lovers see things clearly,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Shame about the film’s final, ridiculously sappy scene with all the cast in a pub,” writes Linda Barnard at Original Cin. “That made me feel a bit airsick.”
“And on [Walken] goes in that voice of his,” brogues Chris Knight at the National Post. “It doesn’t sound Irish. Heck, it doesn’t even sound like Queens, which is where he’s from. It’s a one-of-a-kind brogue from the country of Chriswalkenstan, population one.”
The Witches (dir. Robert Zemeckis)
“Dahl’s work demands darkness and an edge, but instead there’s a bright Hollywood-y antic sense to Zemeckis’s The Witches, and the overused and unconvincing FX only serve to trivialize what we’re seeing,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin.
“The screenplay is pretty much the same. The special effects are better, but not that much better, particularly given that this is meant to be for children and shouldn’t be so realistic as to give them nightmares,” argues Chris Knight at the National Post.
“For adults, re-watch the Roeg film and for the family, the Zemeckis version,” suggests Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Despite all, there’s delight in the wonderful 60’s costumes and art design and in [Octavia] Spencer’s dignified strength and warmth,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Zemeckis’s production never gives off an impression that this story needs to be told, but rather that everyone involved with this version seemed to love the source material and original film,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate. “The result is a frustratingly static and only moderately engaging film that never creates brilliant flashes of its own.”
Wonder Woman 1984 (dir. Patty Jenkins)
“If the multiplexes had been overwhelmed by the half-dozen or so comic-book adventures that were scheduled to come out over the past 12 months, then perhaps I’d feel differently about the overriding same-ness of Wonder Woman 1984,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But as our purgatory-ish existence stands, the movie is good enough to get a pass.”
“All the special effects, razzmatazz and female pulchritude cannot replace a fresh story,” sighs Anne Brodie at What She Said. “To ‘modernise’ the franchise should mean showing more fully human superheroes, not more eye-popping tech.”
“Granted, most Canadians are going to watch Wonder Woman 1984 at home, just as most Americans will see it on HBO Max,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But the arrival of a big-budget, big-screen-worthy superhero story in this plague year is a thing of joy, a star of wonder, and a harbinger of hope.”
“Preferring a slow burning, character based approach to storytelling over simplistic, crowd pleasing spectacle, returning director and co-writer Patty Jenkins has delivered a popcorn movie for audiences young and old that values their intelligence,” munches Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“In its effort to be politically correct and have a message of inspiration for the world, the otherwise action-paced film unfortunately opts for a really sappy ending that spoils the action,” argues Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Like Avengers Endgame, Wonder Woman 1984 has big-screen bloat and a message about moderation: ‘You can’t have it all,’ intones the super-heroine to the television people of the world which, given our small-screen confines, seems like a mean taunt,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“[B]y the final hour, as the movie’s story is swamped by incoherent choices and an ending that just won’t, well, end, I was aware of how awfully hard I was working to find things to enjoy,” sighs Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Jason Gorber offers a video review for That Shelf, suggesting that the home video experience doesn’t do the should-be-bigscreen adventure any favours.
At What She Said, Anne Brodie reports on Netflix’s Bridgerton, writing, “Bridgerton shows a diverse London probably more in line with the way things were considering the number international travelers who stopped in what was then one of the world’s most important cities. Settle in for spunky stories and get lost in the gorgeousness of the pale pastel rooms, furnishing and wardrobes and the ages old quest for standing.”
2020 in Review
Eli Glasner counts down the top ten movies of 2020 for CBC with Mangrove, Nomadland, and Dick Johnson Is Dead atop the list.
2020’s eh-list for the best Canadian films includes Blood Quantum, White Lie, and Anne at 13,000 ft, says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah picks his top ten films of 2020. On the list? Another Round, Soul!, The Father, and more!
Marc Glassman and Pat Mullen of POV Magazine list their choices for the best documentaries of 2020. Favourites include Collective, The Viewing Booth, and 76 Days for Marc and Boys State, Pahokee, and The Reason I Jump for Pat.
Also at POV Magazine, Pat Mullen reflects on how Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland led a field of hybrid dramas in 2020 that created a new interplay between fiction and non-fiction.