TFCA Friday: Week of Feb. 16

February 16, 2024

The Taste of Things | Photo by Carole Bethuel, courtesy of Mongrel Media

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


In Release this Week


Bob Marley: One Love (dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green)


“I floated out of the theatre on a tide of emotion, welling with tears of joy and a warm longing that goes far deeper than nostalgia. As it turned out, the eternal optimism of Marley’s Three Little Birds had prevailed: ‘Don’t worry about a thing /‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright,’” sings Brian D. Johnson at Zoomer. “I would herald it as is a miraculously good movie, and a historic milestone for both music and cinema. American director Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard) does more than get it right.  In crafting a faithful, vibrant portrait of global music’s most influential superstar, he has minted a rare Hollywood phenomena: a biopic that doesn’t try to deify a larger-than-life legend, but brings him back to earth, grounding him in his music, his mission and his motherland.”


“Though touted as a biopic, Bob Marley: One Love is more of his work for peace and his struggle during only a few years of his life before being diagnosed with cancer.  It is easy to see the reason the filmmakers concentrated on these years, as they are the most inspirational and most interesting part of his life,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Bob Marley: One Love scores top marks for visual authenticity — its Jamaican setting obvious yet easily shortcut — and it’s buoyed by terrific lead performances from Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley, who nails the patois, and Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley,” says King Hughes at Original Cin. “Their wattage makes it easier to forgive their characters in flashback, which don’t nearly summon the same gravitas. Other aspects are nerd-friendly fun. Marley stumbles into a raging Clash gig in London before being collared by bobbies for smoking weed in public. Island Records honcho Chris Blackwell (James Norton) gets loads of screen time and snappy retorts, and Marley’s football obsession is included.”


“Ben-Adir settles into the role here, as we are taken behind the scenes of the creation of an album that Time magazine declared to be the finest of the 20th century,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “He hires a spirited new lead guitarist, Junior Marvin (played by Marvin’s son Davo), cautioning him not to sound too ‘psychedelic.’ Marley improvises the ‘don’t worry about a thing’ lyrics of ‘Three Little Birds’ during a car ride with two of his sons. He rejects an artist’s busy album cover design in favour of a minimalist approach, arguing in favour of ‘appearing less but meaning more.’ The movie seeks to prove, if proof is even necessary, that Bob Marley was about more than just music. Yet it functions better as a reminder of the songwriting genius of a man who packed potent cries for social change into songs that endure within the ‘one love, one heart’ of humanity.”


“[Lynch] steals the biopic from Kingsley Ben-Adir (Barbie), whose turn as Bob Marley gets the patois rhythms just right and oozes charisma, but lacks bite. Lynch, on the other hand, gets all the big moments of One Love,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “She’s the heart of the film with a hungry, fiery performance that reminds viewers that Marley’s music is more than mellow vibes: it’s about something. Any reason why the film leans into Rita’s dramatic presence, with Rita as producer, may be speculative. But Lynch consistently brings the dramatic spark the biopic needs with this outstanding performance. Come for Bob but stay for Rita.”


Einstein and the Bomb (dir. Anthony Pilipson)


“The doc’s re-enactments are done with a credible created period atmosphere and executed with conviction, humour and mystery making it an entertaining watch,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Kill Me If You Dare (dir. Filip Zylber)


“Kill Me If You Dare is a totally unfunny comedy with lots of missed opportunity for humour gone down the drain,” groans Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The only thing about the story is that the audience is kept guessing (though it does not take a genius to guess right) as two whether the couple will get together in the end, but one has to sit through a gruelling 90 minutes to fund out.”


Land of Bad (dir. William Fairbanks)


“[O]nce Land of Bad establishes its stakes – one man versus an army – the film settles all too comfortably into war-machine territory, minus any particularly inventive kills or sense of style,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “By the time that Kinney is elevated (or rather reduced) to a shirtless, Bowie knife-wielding terminator, any exhilaration is replaced by a kind of obligatory relentlessness. Yadda yadda yadda, and that’s how I survived the terrorists, mate.”


“To director Eubanks’ credit, he is able to wring out suspense in quite a many segments leaving the audience at the edge of the seats,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The script attempts a few funny moments like a choice of Frosty Flakes or Fruit Loops cereal and a few one-liners that are mildly amusing at best.  The trouble is the script that fails to explain the incidents and the details of the mission, who the enemy is and what the stolen asset is leaving the main plot vague and blurry.”


Madame Web (dir. S.J. Clarkson)


“Concocted by avaricious producers desperate to cash in on any Spider-Man-adjacent intellectual property – for those who absolutely must know, ‘Peter Parker’ in any of his familiar cinematic forms never appears here, though he definitely kinda sorta exists – Madame Web is a dirge for the Marvel cinematic era,” sighs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Stupendously stupid and never remotely in control of its faculties, the film represents a kind of weaponized incompetence, hostile and assaultive. The fact that it is being released into the world and not digitally incinerated feels like the cruellest kind of joke, with everyone – its makers and its audience – cast as the punchline.”


“This is director S.J. Clarkson’s first feature, and there are, in Madame Web, signs of first feature jitters. Clarkson is primarily a television director with credits that include Succession, Orange is the New Black, and Jessica Jones; impressive credentials that occasionally (but far too infrequently) make it on screen,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. Clarkson plays Cassandra’s experience—a confusing glimpse of accidents, victims, and faces—that makes no sense until they do. It’s a mystery that will either engage the viewers (it did me) or frustrate them. Madame Web is a strange and quickly forgettable entry in the superhero genre. It falls apart entirely in the third reel with an unimpressive final battle and an odd, but not wholly uninteresting, Buñuel-like exposé.”


The Oscar Shorts (dir. various)


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah checks out the nominated live action shorts, where Wes Anderson’s Henry Sugar might have the edge: “Anderson makes sure his audience is always aware that they are watching a film with the props and sets moving around as in a studio set.” For the animated nominees, he raves about Pachyderme: “This short is a meticulously crafted and ultimately most beautiful and nostalgic look at a child’s memories.”


At POV Magazine and That Shelf, Pat Mullen looks at the short films nominated for Oscars. On the documentary front, he calls The Last Repair Shop one of the best short docs he’s ever seen: “In a very strong field, The Last Repair Shop hits the highest of notes.” For live action, he likes Quebecois drama Invincible: “a loving tribute, but also one that is frank, sobering, and unapologetically real.” And for the animated shorts, Letter to a Pig gets his vote: “It could save our collective bacon.”


The Peasants (dir. DK Welchman, Hugh Welchman)


“[A]nother beautiful labour of love utilising drawings and paintings by 100 animation artists in studios in Poland, Serbia, Lithuania, and Ukraine,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The film’s stupefyingly beautiful imagery distracts from the everyday evils of the place but we are trapped in that hellish reality. Filmmakers DK Welchman (aka Kobiela) and Hugh Welchman based the film on Wladyslaw Reymont’s Nobel Prize-winning novel The Peasants, required reading today in Polish high schools.”


“In following life in the village over four seasons, the film’s look embraces Polish realistic painting around 1900, along with other 19th-century European works, such as Jean-Francois Millet’s The Gleaners,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “At best, this gives us a series of quasi-anthropological scenes of weddings and harvests celebrations. Actors dance in candlelit rooms shimmering with painterly brush strokes. Conflagrations of yellow-orange flames light up blue nights. Landscapes change from dappled sandy brown to white granular snowfields as the seasons change. Lovers press pink and beige flesh together and Jagda’s cheeks and forehead frequently glow as if she carried a high-wattage lightbulb inside her head.”


“After writing a scenario that faithfully captured the essence of Reymont’s novel, the Welchman duo shot the film in a style that evoked the historic country life in Poland. Then they employed over 100 artists to recreate each shot in oil paintings,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Many look like works one would see in galleries: they are extraordinary interpretations of art by acclaimed Polish realist painters Chelmonski, Ruszczyc and Wyczolkowski. It’s estimated that the animation team spent over 200,000 hours creating the film, shot by shot. The effect, as one might expect, is almost outrageously beautiful—you feel like pausing the film every few minutes just to relish the images being screened.”


Sometimes I Think About Dying (dir. Rachel Lambert)


“Director Rachel Lambert handles what could have been an off-putting character study in a frame of the support of everyday people for each other, experience as the great teacher, and the possibility and necessity of exiting the wrong path,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Nothing happens but everything happens. Powerful.”


A Soweto Love Story (dir. Rolie Nikiwe)


“This romantic comedy about A Soweto Love Story, actually three love stories in one is flawed with clichés with an overused storyline, but it still manages to pack quite the few laughs regardless, the biggest one involving the invoking of what is termed ‘force majeure,’” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “A satisfying Valentine’s Day pick.”


The Taste of Things (dir. Trần Anh Hùng)


“There is barely any music heard on the soundtrack and none is required. Why compete with the mouth-watering sounds of a feast being prepared inside, while birds chirp happily outside?” asks Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “You don’t have to be a foodie to savour The Taste of Things, but you’ll adore it all the more if you are. Just be careful not to show up at the theatre hungry or you might find yourself licking the screen.”


“The Taste of Things is rare, with a depth and maturity we don’t often see on screens anymore,” adds Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Location is another factor. Tràn shot not on a set but in a house in France, and that sense of being in a place that has been lived in and well used and cared for adds to the feeling of the movie. There’s so much time spent in the kitchen that it becomes like another character in the film. Cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg has done a beautiful job of capturing the quiet beauty of the place, the sun streaming in as steam rises from a pot. It’s a lovely moment.”


The Taste of Things is an extraordinary film. It has so many glorious elements: the food, the romance, the friendships, and the mentorship of a new chef. Trần Anh Hùng has taken a risk casting former real-life partners Binoche and Magimel as lovers but his assumption that their personal chemistry and professional approach would make their on-screen romance work has proven to be correct,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “He’s made a wonderful film, which any ‘foodie’ or Francophile will automatically embrace. And so should everyone else—except, apparently, the Academy.”


“It’s a sensual exercise of the highest order – washing lettuce, an early ice cream contraption working outside, making an omelet (must be eaten with a spoon), searing a lamb roast, prepping a mirepoix, and quenelles with a spoon, stewing an enormous whole fish in milk, a fish, shrimp, and scallop dish, short ribs with cubed bacon and mushrooms, with red pepper, fennel, tomatoes, oranges flamed wine, parsley and thyme, bay leaf, cumin, juniper berries, cloves, mini lobsters, truffled turkey and for dessert a new recipe from America, Baked Alaska, a mass of meringue set ablaze around ice cream,” munches Anne Brodie at What She Said.


“With onscreen food styling from Michelin-starred chefs Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Nave – you will dream of sea bream, ortolan, the complex puff-pastry dish vol-au-vent – and the kind of quietly propulsive pace that drives the most proficient restaurant, Hung has created a film that is all warmth and comfort,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Crucially, it is also never didactic or elitist, either, as if suggesting that its pleasures can only be enjoyed by an audience of a certain taste or income level. Nor is it straight-up food porn. If you can appreciate the simple concept of nourishment – of the stomach, and of the soul – then you will walk away delightfully stuffed.”


“[The opening sequence] lasts more than 30 minutes and might require some patience to watch as well as to sit through this 2 hour-15 minute historical romance drama,” advises Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “But the effort is well worth it.  From the gardens outside the residence where fresh vegetables are harvested to the kitchen where all the stock is made from scratch using exotic ingredients like crayfish, veal short ribs and quenelles, the film illustrates gastronomical delights.”


“Anh Hùng envelopes the film in their singular love language: cooking. The Taste of Things understands that for people who truly appreciate good food, a full belly isn’t the end game,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Rather, spending time in the kitchen with someone is among the most intimate of practices. Devoting time to crafting a dish with care, and watching someone devour it, savouring and appreciating the complexity of flavours and the time that went into creating them, is mutually satisfying for diner and chef alike. You’ll eagerly want a second helping after scarfing down this film.”


File Under Miscellaneous: The Biz of Canadian Film!


On the production side of the Canadian film biz, Jennie Punter at Variety reports on the boon for Indigenous cinema in Canada and the impact of new funds, incentives, space, and snow. “Recently, new studios have been popping up in Indigenous communities,” writes Punter. “Mukwa Studios, which opened in 2022 in Nipissing First Nation near North Bay, is a 30,000-square-foot space where seasons of Canadian series SkyMed, Essex County, and Hudson & Rex have lensed. Indigenous-owned White Owl Film Studios is collaborating with Volume Global, an L.A.-based company that specializes in LED volume design and pop-up soundstages, on a 20,000-square-foot soundstage, which is set to open this spring in Wahnapitae First Nation, near Sudbury.”


On the sales side of the Canadian film biz, Jennie Punter at Variety reports on the European Film Market where homegrown titles like Ru, One Summer, and Irena’s Vow attract foreign interest. “The market can respond in unpredictable ways, which we saw recently at Sundance, for example, so all I can rely on is that, starting at TIFF and at every screening thereafter, reviewers and audiences love this film,” Irena’s Vow producer Nicholas Tabarrok tells Punter. “It’s impactful, moving, features great performances by Sophie Nélisse and Dougray Scott and its themes and message are, very sadly, as relevant today as they were during WWII.”


On the distribution side of the Canadian film biz, Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail shares word from distributors, including the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters. As the sector responds to news that exhibitor Cineplex will continue to release films: “CAFDE said that Cineplex, whose 1,600-plus screens across Canada make it the country’s largest theatre operator by a wide margin, uses its ‘dominance in exhibition to unfairly compete as a distributor,’ adding that such an arrangement ‘also threatens the Canadian production industry, supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage and Telefilm Canada, which relies on Canadian distributors to get Canadian content films made,’” writes Hertz.


A Festival of Festival Coverage: From Blue Mountain to Berlin to TBFF


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with Helen du Toit of the Blue Mountain Film Festival and learns how the fest plans to add digital works and influencers to its slate while emphasizing the festival/market experience. “It’s so easy for people to sit in the comfort of their own home today, but we will be showing them new films, and ones that they cannot yet access through the streamers,” du Toit tells Hertz. “That’s increasingly challenging for festival programmers, but people like the shared community experience of seeing something together on the big screen. And even more so if the filmmaker is there to discuss their work. That forms a real bond.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports from the shoot of Berlin-bound Matt and Mara, directed by Kazik Radwanski and starring Matt Johnson and Deragh Campbell. “‘Compared with Anne, we have double the number of people on set – but that’s still only five of us,’ Radwanski says while on a bubble tea break between takes…‘And with stepping things up, you don’t want to lose the things you rely on, which is spontaneity,’ Radwanski adds, noting that while the production budget for Matt and Mara is double what it cost to make Anne [at 13,000 ft], it’s still only about $700,000. “I want Matt and Deragh to be able to walk up Yonge Street and for us to not have to shut down the whole block to do so.’”


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah looks at Toronto Black Film Festival selection Sway: “The script contains a few interesting though not groundbreaking ideas. The fight against crime is duly established and serves to be the main goal of the protagonist in the storyline,” he writes. “‘Crime is an occupation. It just sits on the opposite side of law and order. Crime has to be driven out of Parkwood,’ and so says Sway.  The success of the film depends mostly on the script which tends to be stage bound.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie notes that Juliette Binoche serves both food and fashion this week. After The Taste of Things, she appears in the Coco Chanel series The New Look:  “Early chapters are filled with the scent of gunpowder and death, as Chanel schemes to win back her business even as the world has bigger fish to fry.” She also blasts off with Constellation starring Noomi Rapace and James D’Arcy: “It undermines our expectations/confidence with limitless twists and when comprehension comes, it’s a superior intellectual and entertaining outing, in fact, stellar,” she writes. “You won’t know what hit you.” An then there’s the J-Lo self-portrait This Is Me…Now, “an ambitious, oversized undertaking meant to be intimate.”


At Original Cin, Karen Gordon checks to see of The New Look is chic or off the rack: “Chanel’s morality is on a sliding scale, but to the credit of series creator Todd A. Kessler, and the portrayal by Binoche, she isn’t simply a villain.  It paints a picture of an ambitious woman, caught up, and perhaps even attracted to dangerous circumstances.  The series seems less interested in judging her, or any of its characters, but rather presenting the world as it was and letting us make up our minds.”