Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday: Week of Dec. 4
December 4, 2020
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week*
*Although some films have been released theatrically elsewhere in Canada, they are available for Toronto audiences in digital formats.
All My Life (Dir. Marc Meyers)
“All My Life is a movie so relentlessly corny that theatres should station scarecrows outside auditoriums showing it to avoid birds from pecking it off the screen,” groans Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“…you’ll be done in by the mere image of a huge, joyful gathering, and the sight of so many people hugging each other in complete safety and with utter abandon,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s pandemic porn.”
Ammonite (Dir. Francis Lee)
“Francis Lee’s forbidden-love story in 1840s England is vital and austere, not unlike the fossilized sea creature that gives the film its title and poignant symbol,” observes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star.
“[Winslet’s] excellence in the role of a fierce cigar-smoking, barrier-breaking woman, suddenly transfixed by love, is to the top standards of acting, while Ronan’s quiet passion burns the screen,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Subtlety and mystery are the two elements that elevate Francis Lee’s (God’s Own Country) Ammonite to one of the best films this year,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Lee has produced an engaged and carefully constructed study in loneliness, ambition, and the grossly destructive power of the patriarchy,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But given that Lee has also set out to film a romance, Ammonite is as far from the qualities of passion and yearning as Anning’s fossils are from the Jurassic era.”
“Ammonite is a visually beautiful movie,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Lee and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine approach each shot with an artist’s eye.”
“Ammonite is the type of film that can tell more with images, body language, and glances than most epic novels could manage with thousands of words,” argues Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“As he did in God’s Own Country, Lee shapes his film’s love story through disdain and exasperation, Mary treating the calm, unwavering Charlotte harshly and with cruelty, simply because she sees something in the younger woman that she cannot abide in herself,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“But ultimately the whole was-she-wasn’t-she is a mild addition to the film’s other issues, including some unfortunate parallels with the fantastic French film Portrait of a Lady on Fire (even the script on the posters is similar) that find Ammonite wanting,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post.
Baby God (Dir. Hannah Olson)
“2020 has delivered its fair of crazy stories,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “However, no doc this year quite has a jaw-on-the-floor ick factor like Baby God does.”
Black Bear (Dir. Lawrence Michael Levine)
“Intriguingly weird, and only loosely tethered to its own reality, Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear is two movies in one – both on the theme of creativity-squeezed-from-pain, and both offering Aubrey Plaza the acting turn of her career,” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin.
“Plaza’s searing performance is so achingly authentic, one worries for her post-shoot bounce back,” agrees Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“There’s such a fine line between a viewer shouting ‘Give me more!’ and one asking ‘Is that all?’” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Black Bear fell into the second camp for this watcher.”
“An overall fresh and intriguing drama of discomfort,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[Levine] and his exceptional leading trio of actors put everything they have to give into their wild and constantly shape-shifting concept, giving Black Bear a tremendous amount of confidence, delicacy, and insight,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Black Bear is both emotionally and narratively messy, as Allison’s issues spin out into the people around her, but Levine and Plaza never step wrong,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Crock of Gold (Dir. Julien Temple)
“Like most rock-docs – last week’s excellent Zappa, about legendary musical genius Frank Zappa, is a prime example – this stroll through MacGowan’s life will appeal most to those who are already fans,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.
Dear Santa (Dir. Dana Nachman)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a flawed but well-intentioned doc that aims relentlessly at audiences heartstrings to hammer in the message.”
Deep in Vogue (Dir. Dennis Keighron-Foster, Amy Watson)
“Bright, lively and totally exciting, one wishes this documentary would never end.” – Gilbert Seah, Afro Toronto
Freaky (Dir. Christopher Landon)
Anne Brodie at What She Said calls it a “ballsy, refreshing and not so subtle satirical look at high school, bad teachers, gender identity and the whole slasher thing.”
Funny Boy (Dir. Deepa Mehta 🇨🇦)
This story’s intimate coming-of-age arc is set against a complex and hostile social environment “Director Deepa Mehta’s screen adaptation is often admirable, or at the least fascinating, for its attempt to incorporate the book’s multitudes and for the nuances it builds into a melodrama largely told in broad and obvious strokes,” writes Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. He also has an important roundtable with director Deepa Mehta, co-writer/author Shyam Selvadurai, and members of the Tamil community that tackles some of the controversies surrounding the film.
“Though Funny Boy is no cinematic epic reminiscent of director David Lean with cinematography by Freddie Francis, Deepa Metha’s film aims high and is still a pleasurable watch,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Funny Boy will not endear itself to all viewers,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “It will also prove challenging for many. If you’re unfamiliar with Sri Lanka’s quarter-century civil war that ended in 2009, or with the role played by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (colloquially known as the Tigers), you may be a little at sea.”
“[T]aken as a whole, Funny Boy deserves commendation for telling a culturally specific story that hasn’t been told before,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“It’s a pleasure to recommend Funny Boy, a film of tolerance and humanity, in this holiday season,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “And it could win an Oscar. You can never tell.”
“Rarely do we see the clash between homosexuality and South Asian collectivism, how social pressures and the influence of family can crush those with supposedly transgressive desires,” observes Tina Hassania at The Globe and Mail.
“The urge to find hope in tragedy is as inevitable as the one to recognize shapes in clouds,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “But Funny Boy leaves an unsettling chasm between this one slender story and the grim history it represents.”
The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
“Coda’s ending, meanwhile, is closer to what Part III offered…though slightly more poetic,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Instead, it is the many tiny, almost imperceptible adjustments that Coppola makes throughout the film that torque the film just that closer to greatness.” Hertz also chats with director Francis Ford Coppola about re-editing Godfather III and the irony of his daughter, Sofia, taking a bullet for him during the film’s original release.
Godmothered (Dir. Sharon Maguire)
“A sweet bit of satire on newsrooms, haughty anchors, young execs who know nothing,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Pleasant, funny and warm.”
At the National Post, Chris Knight calls it, “a harmless bit of Disney holiday fluff that announces its intentions in the opening scene, and follows through to the big closing number.
“[A]n entertaining watch thanks primarily to Jillian Bell in the title role,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“There are more than a few good ideas stuffed into Godmothered’s pumpkin carriage, just not enough whimsy to fuel the gourmobile to the ball,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
The Legend of Baron To’a (Dir. Kiel McNaughton)
“The message of filial devotion seems specifically Tongan but also with an eye to a wide genre audience that will enjoy the largely bloodless and death-free mayhem,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
Luxor (Dir. Zeina Durra)
It’s “a very slow burn, if it burns at all,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Mank (Dir. David Fincher)
“Mank gets to the dark heart of Hollywood’s ‘magic’ the way few films ever have,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star/ Night Vision. “The central narrative of the controversial birth of Citizen Kane, with its still-simmering argument about whether Mankiewicz wrote alone or Welles deserved the co-screenwriting credit the two shared an Oscar for, plays second fiddle to a gripping tale of Old Hollywood wheeling, dealing and deceiving.”
“Gary Oldman is transformed as a fat, boozy, searingly witty Mank as he was writing the script for Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Mank feels a lot like Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: every detail has been worked out to within an inch of its life, but you never get a sense of why he wanted to make the thing in the first place,” argues Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“[A] must-see for film history buffs,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Shot in black-and-white, it nods to Hollywood tradition without direct imitation.”
“The devil is in the details,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Hecht and MacArthur were far wittier than what we see in that scene. If you don’t laugh and scenes don’t feel true, it becomes difficult to believe in the film. This happens again and again in Mank.”
“With just the correct amount of dramatization, Mank with its stunning cinematography and near perfect delivery in all departments is every cineastes’ dream come true,” raves Gilbert Seah in a five-star review at Afro Toronto.
“Mank is, overwhelmingly, so very interesting,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But it is also something of a half-masterpiece mess: thematically scattered, awkwardly paced, overlong and curiously uninterested in the inner life of its title character.”
“It’s ambitious, passionate, and sometimes too brutally honest for its own good,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Mayor (Dir. David Osit)
“Osit strikes an expert balance between the serious and humorous, building to a climax – set during a violent siege in downtown Ramallah – that’s overwhelmingly emotional and terrifying in the wake of everything that comes before it,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“The simple act of enjoying a public Christmas tree becomes a form of political resistance, and an elaborate Bellagio-like water fountain becomes an escapist reprieve,” observes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto.
Minor Premise (Dir. Eric Schultz)
“[A] simple one idea thought of a movie,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto, “and one that soon turns out to be a boring and bad experiment.”
My Psychedelic Love Story (Dir. Errol Morris)
“Errol Morris’ journey as a documentary filmmaker has been from objectivity to subjectivity,” argues Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Like many auteur filmmakers, his films represent his vision of events he depicts, not necessarily correlated by other, even professional, journalists or doc-makers.”
Spring Tide (Dir. Yang Lina)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it, “an accomplished piece of family drama that spans three generations.”
Survival Skills (Dir. Quinn Armstrong)
“[The] novelty of the unrealistic over documented training video delivered deadpan style runs its freshness quite early,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Triggered (Dir. Alastair Orr)
“It’s the sort of ‘race against the clock’ story that’s begging to be told in real time, but strains credibility and patience as it wheezes towards and past the 90 minute mark,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Yes God Yes (Dir.Karen Maine; Dec. 8)
“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.
“The animation gives the show an elasticity that allows for genuine feeling to slip when it’s least expected, the way Andrew’s elaborate masturbation ritual is used to set up a great, dark OCD joke but also lays the groundwork for a multi-episode run about guilt and shame,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto on the new season of Big Mouth.
Anne Brodie at What She Said looks at Downton Abbey star Jane Froggatt’s new series The Commons, calling it, “Compelling and timely, and a cautionary tale that is probably too late.”
Festember: Whistler Edition!
Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail previews the mountain of quality cinema the Whistler Film Festival, which includes some world and virtual premieres of hot Canadian content.
Also hitting the slopes at Whistler, Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto highlights five standout films at the festival, including Death of a Ladies Man and Marlene.
One of the Canadian premieres at Whistler is Tanya Lopointe’s The Paper Man, about late artist Claude Lafortune. Pat Mullen at POV Magazine speaks with Lapointe about filming Lafortune and juggling the small hand-crafted doc with her upcoming blockbuster Dune.
— Elliot Page (@TheElliotPage) December 1, 2020
Canadian Film Headlines and Biz
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller looks at the significance of Canadian actor Elliot Page coming out as transgender, unzippering their inner life, and what it could mean for their career moving forward.
Film Twitter erupted yesterday following the news that Warner Bros would release its 2021 slate, which includes Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and Godzilla Vs. Kong, in theatres and HBO Max with simultaneous releases. At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz explains why Canadian filmgoers are particularly screwed amid this shake-up. At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner looks at the complicated situation and sees what distributors like Universal are doing instead.
Two of the GTA’s finest stars, brothers Stephan James and Shamier Anderson launched The Black Academy this week to bolster Black talent. Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail speaks with them about giving back.
In Conversation With…
Alright, alright alright! Nathalie Atkinson talks with Matthew McConaughey for Zoomer about his career so far, quarantine life, and his new book Greenlights. “Greenlights are things in our life that approve our way, that affirm the way we’re going, that say yes — they’re ‘atta boys’ keep doin’ what you’re doing,’ they’re freedom, we love ‘em,” says the Oscar winner on the story behind the title.
Toronto filmmaker Anne Shin follows her Oscar-shortlisted short doc My Enemy, My Brother and feature doc of the same name with the virtual reality experience Eye of the Beholder. Pat Mullen at POV Magazine speaks with her about giving the story an immersive take.
At What She Said, Anne Brodie looks at the latest batch of yuletide releases that will take more than 12 days to stream, with a special shout-out to Mariah Carey’s new Christmas special.
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz offers some alternative picks for Christmas-adjacent content if viewers are tired of the old staples. Yipee ki yay is the new ho ho ho.