Reviews include Slash/Back, Elvis, and Official Competition.
TFCA Friday: Week of Dec. 3
December 3, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
The Advent Calendar (dir. Patrick Ridremont)
At Toronto Franco, Gilbert Seah calls it “highly unusual holiday season horror.”
Bendetta (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
“Nothing here tops the fabulous amount of feces that Verhoeven dumped on Carice van Houten in 2006′s Black Book – the director’s first post-Hollywood outing – but there is no doubt that Benedetta fulfills the barf-bag whims of the forever uninhibited, filthily uncontrollable filmmaker,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “It is his way of cleaning out the system in order to ask the Big Questions.”
“You do have to be ready for the odd swerve into camp…as when a papal edict is cut short by a nun who mashes the convent’s organ keyboard to create a convenient horror-movie sound effect, 300 years before they started showing up in movies,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “On the other hand, there are some truly disturbing scenes of torture. But the final product is more thought-provoking than risible. And amen to that.”
“While those braced for offense will certainly be offended by all the flesh on display, as Verhoeven’s movies go this one’s pretty calm; as with 2016’s Elle, he’s more interested in exploring intensities of emotion and commitment than he is in shocking his audience with extreme violence or sexuality,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“The film comes across more like soft porn made by a dirty old man than a film that explores freedom and the dangers of religious fanatics,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Betrayed (dir. Erik Svensson)
“Director Svensson effectively captures the fear, dread and menace of the period through the eyes of Charles Bruade resulting in a handsomely mounted and deeply emotional film,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (dir. Brent Wilson)
“[A] relatively ok biopic documentary about a musician that is only relatively famous,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Bruised (dir. Halle Berry)
“Berry goes way downmarket for the part, kudos, her versatility’s clear, she’s focused and lifelike, a strong performance, but unrelenting emotional and physical violence are tough to take despite an upbeat end,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Encounter (dir. Michael Pearce)
“Riz Ahmed’s superior acting chops take a dark turn,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Encounter looks at ex-military who suffer from PTSD when they aren’t cared for on return from the frontlines; it’s an enduring issue following all wars, as victims of stress fall through the cracks with ruinous effects on themselves and others.”
The End of Us (dir. Steven Kanter, Henry Loevner; Dec. 7)
“Despite a few funny and sweet moments, The End of Us reminds audience of times that either they either wish to forget or might be amused at,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Hand of God (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
“Sorrentino is more sombre and controlled mode; an excellent semi-autographical piece by its director and a tribute to the strange world of filmmaking while paying homage to Fellini’s Amarcord,” proclaims Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The Hand of God lacks the imagination and mysticism that elevated The Great Beauty from being just a navel-gazing narrative about film,” argues Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “And the movie’s presumptions about sexuality and coming-of-age are far too male-centric to be comfortably amusing. Yes, it’s directed by a man and told through the perspective of a young man’s eyes; so, of course it’s male-centric. But the male gaze here is prominent in scenes that don’t even involve men.”
“Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino’s epic family saga Hand of God set in his hometown of Naples, Italy is a soaring, joyous, tragic and uniquely beautiful cinematic experience,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “As far-reaching as is the story, it unfolds naturally and subtlety, a slow burn beautiful to look at with questions are answered ever so subtly.”
“Hand of God is a rude, occasionally funny and moving account of life in Naples 40 years ago as it played out for a young man, who eventually found his way,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “It isn’t an award-winner to rival The Great Beauty but if you love Italy and films with (occasionally over-the-top) style, this is a pleasant film to see.”
“It’s gorgeously therapeutic,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Through Fabietto’s eyes, Sorrentino conveys how a filmmaker experiences life in images that create lasting impressions and inform his art. The Hand of God imprints these transformative sights within Fabietto’s awakening as an artist. It lets one witness the evolution of an eye for beauty.”
“Perhaps it’s that tragic-comedic divide that made it hard for me to connect with The Hand of God. Maybe it’s the fact that I had to Google Maradona, who is to Naples what Jose Bautista or Kyle Lowry is to Toronto. Or it might be that Fabietto just isn’t believable as a future filmmaker,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “When he meets a real director, Antonio Capuano (played by Ciro Capano), the older man takes him to task, telling him: ‘Get a story to tell [and] find the guts to tell it.’”
Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something (dir. Rick Korn; Dec. 7)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “achieves the feat of changing a relatively unknown artist an artist to one that one would cannot forget.”
Letters to Satan Claus (dir. Emma Jean Sutherland)
“The filmmakers all get big lumps of coal this Christmas for this one,” ho ho hos Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Listening to Kenny G (dir. Penny Lane)
“Kenny G himself is extensively interviewed and makes for an enthusiastic and highly animated subject – his very presence on camera is a demonstration of how his un-self-consciousness is key to his success,” observes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto. “What makes Lane so great is that she elevates the kind of moments other directors might cut – the digressions are the main attraction.”
“Fans of Kenny G suggest that he plays the sax as if he’s making love to it,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Good sax or bad sax is all a matter of opinion. If Kenny G’s music is totally self-indulgent—sax with one hand, let’s say—then his records are a lot like making whoopee: whatever rocks your boat.”
Also at POV Magazine, Jason Gorber chats with director Penny Lane about the matter of taste. “When I went back and looked at archival from the ’90s and early 2000s, music critics sound really snotty,” says Lane. “They don’t really talk that way anymore. There’s much more of an understanding now that when you trash a really popular artist, you’re kind of trashing their fans, and it’s mean, snobby, and doesn’t do any good in the world.”
Love It Was Not (dir. Maya Sarfaty)
“This is a documentary that asks more questions than it answers,” writes Susan G. Cole at POV Magazine. “If you see Love It Was Not, make plans with other viewers to have a conversation afterwards. You’ll need it.”
“[O]ne of the grimmest and most disturbing documentaries on the holocaust, and a very compelling watch from start to end,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Though it sounds crude to say it, Sarfaty has found an intimate hook to an almost unapproachably grim subject,” admits Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau — where 85 percent of the 1.3 million inmates were murdered — is often thought of as a black hole, beyond illumination or interpretation. A young love story puts us all on familiar ground, even if, as the title suggests, that’s hardly the right description of an arrangement where one party can only agree to the terms or die.”
Single All the Way (dir. Michael Mayer)
“There’s much goodwill and family love here, and Christmassy spirit to cheer any grinch, but the lesson is that the heart knows what the heart wants and in this family comedy, there is ample proof,” jingles Anne Brodie at What She Said.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a funny totally entertaining gay and camp film that is so jolly and gay.”
The Souvenir: Part II (dir. Joanna Hogg)
“[L]ike all of Hogg’s films, it’s a perfectly calibrated character study with rich performances and a deep compassion for its frail subjects,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “But for those of us who’ve seen the first film, it’s not just an enthralling continuation of Julie’s story but a clever meditation on auteurism and autobiography, a triumph of personal cinema and – obviously – one of the best films you’ll see this year.”
“With The Souvenir: Part II Joanna Hogg has achieved the nearly unachievable, making a sequel that is as good as her previous hit,” raves Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “She’s done it by taking a route similar to The Godfather: Part Two, which wasn’t directly about what happened to the Corleone family after the brutal conclusion of the famous first film. Coppola’s sequel wove two stories, which barely referenced the first film; instead, it was about events in the past and future.”
“[I]t’s a film in the tradition of Federico Fellini’s 8½ and Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “It’s about filmmaking as a vocation and a way of exploring the life of emotions. The contemporary world of movies, of recycled content and franchises, seems more like an industry than the most cynical accounts of the old Hollywood studio system. Watching The Souvenir: Part II is a wonderful tonic for those feelings of ciné cynicism, a reminder of film as a means of discovery.”
“[T]he movie a marvel, showing the filmmaker’s maturity through her lead character,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The Souvenir Part 2 continues the previous film’s use of period pop – Eurythmics, Nico, Fine Young Cannibals and Bananarama all feature prominently on the soundtrack. And the intimate edge is still there, even when you don’t notice it directly,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.
This Game’s Called Murder (dir. Adam Sherman; Dec. 7)
“See This Game’s Called Murder only if so bored that you can risk not being more bored by pure trashiness,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Twas the Night (dir. Chris Rodriguez, Grant Rosado)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says “no need to rush to see this one.”
Wolf (dir. Nathalie Biancheri)
“And you thought Wild Mountain Thyme was weird,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “With its own unique art-house identity, Wolf is a mutation that might even qualify as a new species. It’s not perfect, but it’s never boring.”
“Crossbreed Jodie Foster’s star vehicle Nell with S1m0ne’s character study I Am Pig and the result is Wolf,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Wolf ultimately plays like an actor’s workshop: there are good performances, but one never forgets that one is watching actors act.”
“Wolf is supposed to be a powerful reflection on self-determination and belonging in societies that dictate behaviour but the film never amounts to anything. Howlingly awful!” cries Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Biancheri hasn’t thought through her premise’s potential, and her directorial tone veers from cheeky dark comedy to ultraserious miserablism. By the time that the S&M-esque gear comes out to literally cage these young men and women, any intended sense of shock gives way to eye-rolling boredom,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Free the animals, and then free yourself.”
Talk of the Town: A Tale of Two Titans
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz talks with TIFF’s Cameron Bailey about being promoted as the organization’s CEO. What does that mean for the former critic turned programmer? “Long focused on TIFF’s programming and presentation, Bailey said that a ‘lot of things that I’ve been doing, I won’t be doing in the same way or to the same extent,’ in his new role, and that he is ‘looking for additions’ to his team. ‘I’ve had to roll up my sleeves and figure out the nuts and bolts of TIFF, and now my job is to take ultimate responsibility for ensuring that they all work.’”
Also at The Globe and Mail, the talkative Barry Hertz speaks with the indefatigable Steven Spielberg about his first musical, reimaging a beloved classic, and why he hasn’t tried a song-and-dance flick yet. “As you know, I’ve made movies in every genre imaginable, and the press has been asking me probably since E.T., ‘What haven’t you done?’ I’ve always maintained that I’ve never done a musical and have always wanted to,” Spielberg tells Hertz. “I’ve developed four or five musicals over the last 40 years that I never did. I tried to turn Hook into a musical! Nobody knows that there were nine songs, written by John Williams and Leslie Bricusse, that I threw out at the last minute.”
TV Talk – Best of the Year
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner, Radheyan Simponpillai, Glenn Sumi, and Kevin Ritchie consider the best TV shows of 2021. The winner? Reservation Dogs. Here’s Rad on why it’s number one: The jokes are so mischievous and laid back in Reservation Dogs you almost miss how monumental the show truly is – it just hits like Atlanta, Fleabag or a pound of really good skunk…[Sterlin Harjo’s] characters fight to keep their sadness at bay in a hopeful show that finds healing in tradition, community and a good laugh.”
Also at NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner looks at the return of Lost in Space, noting, “It’s a shame Sazama and Sharpless took this long to realize their potential, but at least they finally got there.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie raves about the mini-series Landscapers with Olivia Colman and David Thewlis. “Landscapers is uniquely appealing, horrifying – a masterwork. And as ever, Colman and Thewlis are outstanding.” There’s also much to like in The Tower: “As intricate and challenging as the series is, storywise, a special shoutout to [Gemma] Whelan a renowned British comedienne, dancer and actor, as a dour Collins fighting multiple battles including misogyny, bigotry against LGBTQ+, and crime, and keeps it together on the job.” And the return of Alex Rider is “byzantine, young, fun and snappy.”