TFCA Friday: Week of Dec. 8

December 8, 2023

The Boy and the Heron |

Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.


ICYMI: We are now accepting applications for the Telefilm Canadian Emerging Critic Award.

Charles Officer at the 21st annual TFCA Awards Gala | George Pimentel and Ernesto Distefano.

Remembering Charles Officer


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reported on the death of Toronto filmmaker Charles Officer on December 1 at age 48. “Cycling through a number of careers before finding his way behind the camera – from professional hockey in Europe to graphic design in Toronto to acting at New York’s famed Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre – Officer’s cinematic work is defined by grounded, intimate visions that prioritize character and sense of place,” wrote Hertz. “He could bend genres to his will (as in the excellent 2020 crime thriller Akilla’s Escape) and could amplify and contextualize the tiny moments of humanity that form the best non-fiction cinema.” Hertz also speaks with Officers peers in the Toronto film scene, who remember his work and impact: “When you think about his legacy, it’s all about the diversity of his catalogue, and within that the communities he gives voice to,” R.T. Thorne, Officer’s directing partner on the series The Porter, tells Hertz. “He knew he was telling stories that no one else would be telling.”


At POV, Pat Mullen also looks back at Officer’s life and work: “Officer will be missed as simply a positive force in Canadian film: he was one of those people always persisted, always lifted up the people around him, and consistently pushed the industry forward with each new work.”


In Release this Week


Blood Vessel (dir. Charles Okpaleke)


“Director Okpaleke creates a delicate and successful balance between the personal and political issues in a drama-packed thriller with an authentic unfamiliar but exciting setting,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


The Boy and the Heron (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)


“Fantastic images, luminous animation and a powerful eco-allegory about the fragile state of our planet from Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, happily delaying retirement,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “It’s a coming-of-ager about a preteen boy, a talking grey heron and a magical kingdom of mysteries that delight and haunt, including the possibility the boy’s dead mother is still alive. It’s the first film in a decade from Miyazaki, 82, the visionary empath behind such hand-drawn classics as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. If this is indeed a farewell address from the Ghibli co-founder, it’s a grand statement.”


The Boy and the Heron is a treat for the eyes, the ears and the mind. Or the soul, if you prefer,” notes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “The film’s music is a perfect accompaniment to its dreamlike grandeur and pacing, which often finds our hero whisked out of one locale only to land in another, through transitions that surprise and delight…Which brings us to the heart and soul of The Boy and the Heron, which is not a simple core to reach. Is it about a young person learning to be less selfish? To give up the ghost of his dead mother and open himself up to a new parent? To learn to respect budgies? Or is it possibly just a fantastical dreamscape designed to unlock your own thoughts and spiritual desires?”


“It is all wildly fascinating and often visually enchanting to take in, but following Mahito’s path from one cosmic landscape to another requires either a heightened attention span or a wicked suspension of narrative disbelief,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Perhaps the story’s creases are ironed out in the English-dubbed version of the film featuring the voice of Robert Pattinson as the heron, and which will be released in Canadian theatres simultaneously with the original Japanese-language version. But there is no translating to be done on the awkward tone of the film, which veers between shockingly violent darkness and tear-stained heartache.”


Christmas as Usual (dir. Peter Holmsen)


“The Norwegian family wants Christmas as Usual with all the Norwegian traditions but Indian Jashan’s visit brings trouble to paradise,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “All this sounds like a good opportunity for comedy but unfortunately falls flat because of unfunny humour and a really bad blending of drama and comedy.  It does not help that the Indian character is just awful in his personal manners, despite the script trying to make him sympathetic and right.”


Concrete Utopia (dir. Um Tae-hwa)


“The set-up for South Korean filmmaker Um Tae-hwa’s genre exercise is terrifying: a massive earthquake flattens much of Seoul, leaving just one apartment complex standing amid the death and despair. But what begins as a miracle for the surviving residents — including young couple Min-seong (Park Seo-jun, Parasite) and Myeong-hwa (Park Bo-young) — becomes a pitched battle to maintain humanity within the chaos,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star.


Concrete Utopia suffers from many unanswered questions, or rather it omits many obvious issues,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The story of the survivors and the hierarchy of order is quite minimal. There is only one person in charge, nicknamed Mr. Delegate. The leadership should have been more detailed.  The entire ruling process is quite pitiful, like a pauper version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.”


Eileen (dir. William Oldroyd)


Eileen has nothing much that is festive or joyous for the festive season, yet it is a solid psychological thriller, made with care and brilliance blending a disturbing theme with humour and suspense,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Eileen is based on the novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, who co-wrote the screenplay with Luke Goebel (Causeway). The excellent cast includes Sam Nivola and Marin Ireland; everyone here, even in the smallest of roles, is fully three-dimensional and McKenzie and Hathaway are superb,” notes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “There’s something haunting about this movie, and in a good way. It stays with a viewer long after viewing, but it’s slightly unsatisfying overall. It leaves you wanting more —kind of like Eileen herself.”


“The performances nearly save the film from itself,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Hathaway, perhaps the most fierce and determined performer of her Hollywood cohort, delivers another highly alluring character that is just two beats away from being caricature. Rebecca is a woman of icy purrs and batted eyelashes, not so much a femme fatale as a femme dead on arrival. Hathaway knows exactly the right amount of verve needed to keep the creation from sliding into full-tilt parody.”


“There are shades of Patricia Highsmith novels and Hitchcock films in this icy suspenser by William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth), set in 1960s Massachusetts in a town where the penitentiary is the most exciting place. Thomasin McKenzie’s meek title character toils there as a secretary, trying to forget her awful home life caring for her alcoholic and emotionally abusive father (Shea Whigham). Enter Anne Hathaway’s blond Rebecca, a Harvard-trained psychologist with agency, attitude and possibly an agenda,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Here’s where things start to get really interesting. McKenzie and Hathaway are superb as women subverting the prison of expectations — especially the viewer’s.”


“Thomasin McKenzie hasn’t become a household name yet, but it’s bound to happen,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The New Zealand born actor made a splash as the hidden Jewish girl in JoJo Rabbit and was the lead in the dark British thriller Last Night in Soho. McKenzie is brave; as an actor, she seems to have no boundaries, which makes her perfect for a film, where she plays a young woman, who must go to dark places in several scenes. The big revelation, and perhaps the best reason to see Eileen, is Marin Ireland, who has one scene as the victimized Rita Polk and transforms the whole film into a tragedy with her devastating performance. Ireland will never be a star but when she’s given a chance, she has the range and depth to make a part memorable—and she does so here.”


Fast Charlie (dir. Phillip Noyce)


“Despite the film title, Fast Charlie is a lazy slow action thriller with more shootouts than unarmed combat scenes showing the later years of both the film’s director Phillip Noyce and main actor, Pierce Brosnan,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 (dir. Toby Amies)


“It’s about being on the road in your sixties. It’s about the discipline of making music, contemplating mortality. And, of course, it’s a deep dive into the mind of its leader and mastermind, the hard driving task-master and unintentional Zen master Robert Fripp,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Amies has packed a lot into the documentary’s lean 86-minute running time. He filmed the current version of King Crimson as the band prepared to go on a European tour, in rehearsals and on the road. He collected comments and observations from long-time fans.”


NAGA (dir. Meshal Aljaser)


“Unfortunately, this one is too madcap, all over the place in a complete mess,” groans Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Though many individual segments of the film are well shot, they do not come together as a cohesive whole nor does director Aljaser make any attempt to do so. Stylish thoughts aim might be, but style without direction here results in a total miss.”


The Sacrifice Game (dir. Jenn Wexler)


“Director and co-writer Jenn Wexler does a relatively good job at this Christmas horror, which is quite violent at times,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


The Three Musketeers: Part 1 –  D’Artagnan (dir. Martin Bourboulon)


“The film’s apparent big budget allows for plenty of elaborate scenes. There’s an outstanding battle sequence in a forest -soldiers on horseback swinging swords and guns, staged with complex choreography shot with a single hand-held camera. Incredible!” exclaims Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The machinations of the French court, its enemies and protectors, a wide network of spies and the Three Musketeers’ derring-do bring Dumas’ novel to vivid life.”


“Dumas and his audience love a complicated plot, and few are as compulsively watchable (and readable) as The Three Musketeers,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “D’Artagnan falls in love with Constance, one of Anne’s coterie of attendants, and along with his swordsman friends, will do anything to help her. This leads to a brilliant sequence of events that involves getting Anne’s royal jewels back from the Duke of Buckingham before Louis finds out. Opposing D’Artagnan and the rest of the musketeers, particularly Athos, is Milady, a beautiful murderous figure who works with Richelieu. The audience (assuming some haven’t read the book) will find out much more about Milady in the sequel, which is coming out in France next week.”


“Director Bourboulon balances good old-fashioned action and comedy tied together in a period piece that comes complete with grand costumes and lavish sets,” notes Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco.


A Tiger in Paradise (dir. Mikel Cee Karlsson)


“Everything bridges to a violent yet idyllic encounter with the titular tiger: there are no easy answers here, but rather an exploration of life’s deeper questions, scored to mellow vibes that invite a viewer to open themselves to a truly zen cinematic experience,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. Mullen also speaks with director Mikel Cee Karlsson about reuniting with musician José González. “It’s actually a pretty special project because it was so planned out. Since we were in a little bubble during the pandemic, we’re a small team,” says Karlsson. “We planned scenes and shot them around José’s summer house, and then edited the scenes. We knew that we had what we were looking for, so it was a quick edit. I think 99% of what we shot is actually in the film. That’s special.”


Total Trust (dir. Jialing Zhang)


“A woman and her child are kept in the dark about her lawyer husband’s fate; he was taken away when 300 lawyers ‘disappeared.’ There’s a heartbreaking scene in which she travels 2000 miles to his prison, and she and her son cry out to the walls, ‘Are you dead or alive? Why all this?’” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The Communist government’s spoken aim is to ‘create a safe environment and fulfillment of happiness.’ The details of this dangerously stark doc are beyond imagination in the cruelty, hatred, and mistrust in which China holds its people.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage – Bad News/Good News from TIFF


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports that the Toronto International Film Festival cut 12 full-time staff positions this week amid restructuring. “The move reduces TIFF’s head count by about 7 per cent at a time when the cultural institution is facing pressures both inside and out,” writes Hertz. “The lingering effects of the pandemic have radically altered audience behaviour when it comes to moviegoing, while the dual actors’ and writers’ strikes that effectively shut down Hollywood for much of the past year also upended TIFF’s marquee festival plans.”


On a more optimistic note at The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz looks at how TIFF’s Film Circuit is thriving while bringing independent and Canadian films to regional audiences: ““What Film Circuit does is bring so much more of the country into the conversation around movies and give them a diet of movies well beyond the commercial mainstream,” says TIFF chief executive Cameron Bailey. “Because we’re in a position to see so many new films before most people do, we can put together a list of films that we think would be interesting for Film Circuit locations, and we liaise with local film clubs or theatres who know their market better than we do and can make suggestions.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie dives into the story of Carey Grant, aka Archibald Leach, in Archie: “Grant’s life, as sad as it was, never tarnished his suave, debonair image or dimmed his popularity. Learn about this man and his assumed life, and along the way, meet Alfred Hitchcock and his savvy wife Alma at their famous blue dinner, Grace Kelly, Mae West, Doris Day, George Burns, and Danny Kaye among others, and experience the glorious fakery of Hollywood and the man who lives on in its constellation of greats.” Brodie also chats with Grant’s ex, actress Dyan Cannon, along with Jason Isaacs who plays Cary/Archie in the drama.


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson talks to Jennifer Grant, daughter of Cary Grant, about the new biographical mini-series Archie about her father’s life: “He’d avoided having a family for so long because of his own childhood,” Grant tells Atkinson. “One might think becoming Cary Grant is enough of a challenge, but I think for him, becoming a parent was crucial. And I think he’d been searching for himself all his life. And I think in taking that step into becoming a parent, he really truly became himself.”


At POV, Rachel Ho says the hockey doc Overtime scores: “The subject of the film lends an unexpected intimate tone, but the way in which [Jenny] Lee-Gilmore quietly executes this intimacy illustrates a dynamic eye for storytelling and filmmaking. By showcasing the specificity of Kelley’s adolescent recounting, Lee-Gilmore brings to light the universal truth about the great satisfaction that comes with pursuing one’s passion. It’s through this found truth and joy that Overtime inspires and motivates us to recapture our dormant enthusiasm and appreciate time with our moms that much more.”