Reviews include Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Mr. Malcolm’s List, and Passengers of the Night.
TFCA Friday: Week of Feb. 18
February 18, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
Remembering Ivan Reitman
“Today, mainstream studios have all but abandoned big-screen comedies – even Judd Apatow’s next movie is headed for Netflix,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But back when comedy actually mattered to Hollywood – when the world’s funniest movie star could be Bill Murray one year, Arnold Schwarzenegger the next – Mr. Reitman’s instincts and influence could be felt in almost every corner of comic culture.” Hertz offers further proof that Reitman might just be Canada’s most influential filmmaker with a handy streaming guide on where to find his work.
“That level of attention – and the rate of return on those projects – was impressive, given that Reitman started his career making disposable Canadian tax-shelter pictures,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto, taking stock of Reitman’s comedy gems ranging from Ghostbusters to Dave. “His first two features, 1971’s Foxy Lady and 1973’s Cannibal Girls, would be entirely forgotten now had they not been early vehicles for Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin; around the same time, Reitman also got David Cronenberg’s first two features Shivers and Rabid rolling at Cinepix, launching the career of one of Canada’s foremost auteurs.”
“Reitman also helped mentor and boost filmmakers who were just starting out,” adds Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “In 2009, he teamed with actor Eugene Levy, his friend since their McMaster University days, to donate their time and talent to the Telefilm Canada Features Comedy Lab. They helped mentor five teams of Canadian filmmakers to create five feature films to tickle the funny bones of their fellow Canucks — and also of comedy lovers everywhere.”
This week in movies!
Aline (dir. Valérie Lemercier)
“[J]ust thinking about Lemercier’s intense energy and madcap vision brought a wide smile to my face with the easiest of recollections,” sings Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “As Dion herself might sing, there were moments of gold. And there were flashes of light. It’s … all coming back to me now.”
“Aline will surely be the year’s weirdest movie,” admits Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “In an otherwise pedestrian progression through many of the signal events of Dion’s life, Lemercier has opted to abandon all credibility by insisting on playing the singer, via her avatar Aline, from child to preteen and right on up to middle-aged adult.”
“Lemercier is not Aline, and Aline is not Dion, even though all three of them have tremendous stage presence, a lot of fabulous costume changes, and a signature chest-thump motion while singing that I thought looked a little like a Klingon salute,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “That clearly puts me more in the Galaxy Quest camp, but if you love Celine the way I love Star Trek, you’ll love Aline just as much. Sing long, and prosper.”
“Aline is so awkward at presenting this love story, that it’s fascinating to watch, in a car crash sort of way,” argues Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Otherwise, Aline is prosaic in presentation and in its dully chronologically told tale (it’s the kind of movie where someone will suddenly break into tears, then look up and say, ‘I’m sad.’)”
“Aline finds the sweet spot between Walk the Line and Walk Hard,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. This is a love letter penned with the unabashed joy of fandom.”
“Singing to Victoria Sio’s renditions of Dion’s song book, Lemercier effortlessly channels the singer’s physicality and captures her down home spirit,” says Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto. Glenn Sumi also chats with director Valérie Lermercier and learns how she played Aline Dieu from ages five to forty-five. “That’s not my old face on someone’s young body,” says Lemercier. “I’m playing the young Aline with my body in front of a green screen, and they’ve resized me. And sometimes it’s simpler. In school scenes, I’m sitting at a huge desk and so seem small.”
A Banquet (dir. Ruth Paxton)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a worthy watch, an admirable psychological thriller.”
“Resolution is always good, but the resolution in A Banquet is as undebatable as a coin toss,” nibbles Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “And though the film toys briefly in areas of mental illness, religious hysteria, and the intense, inequitable relationships between mother and daughter, it is not enough to wholly nourish the layered set-up that it initially brings to the table.”
The Cursed (dir. Sean Ellis)
“This is not a gentle film, but neither is it excessive,” observes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “The violence is severe but quick, and except for the opening massacre and a subsequent, gruesome but entirely compelling crucifixion, nothing is too hard to watch. The choices in the movie side with atmosphere over fright, despite a few curiously executed jump scares. Otherwise, The Cursed survives on the dramatic play between the land barons and a visiting pathologist, John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), with his own dark issues.”
“The Cursed is a handsomely mounted period piece with excellent cinematography and stunning production values,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It is likely the best looking horror film in ages.”
“This haunting period-piece works both as an anti-colonialism takedown and a violent and pulpy horror-thriller,” observes Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “The Cursed’s visuals and incredible sense of atmosphere are the stars of the show. It’s one of the most transporting horror movies I’ve experienced in a long while.
Dog (dir. Channing Tatum; Reid Carolin)
“The profound relationship between man and dog saves them and offers grace and transformation,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s unsentimental, concerns the possibility of love and our capacity and necessity of connection and caring for other creatures. Dog is billed as a comedy but that’s debatable – perhaps I was too invested in the dog’s future.”
“Billed as a buddy comedy filled with the kinds of crazy hijinks and hilarious calamities that lead to bonding, Dog is actually a road movie, propelled by traumas of the past and the sadness of the moments at hand,” writes Jennie Punter at Original Cin. “While this is not a bad thing, Dog does feel tonally wonky at times. We may seem to be in a comedy sequence, and then the vibe is quashed by a stark reminder of the lasting damage of war, or vice versa.”
“If you can’t figure out where this is headed, it’s possible you don’t know dogs and you don’t know movies,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “But if you’re very much into either (or Tatum for that matter) then Dog may still manage to rub you the right way. All you have to do it sit, and stay, for 101 minutes.”
Last of the Right Whales (dir. Nadine Pequeneza 🇨🇦)
Calling the film an “urgent call to action,” Pat Mullen at POV Magazine speaks with director Nadine Pequeneza about getting her extraordinary footage of the North Atlantic right whales. “I worked with five different cinematographers,” explains Pequeneza. “Some of them were from the film industry and some of them had a scientific background… We didn’t always have the ability to work with film people because you need federal permits to get close to these whales because they’re critically endangered. Who can fly under those permits has to be approved by either the U.S. government or the Canadian government, depending where you’re working.”
“A harrowing, indeed shocking, film climax is something you’d expect from a scripted thriller rather than a documentary on right whales,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin on the film’s footage of a North Atlantic right whale tangled in fishing line. Slotek also spoke with Pequeneza about getting that footage. “One thing you could say is that’s never been witnessed before, to see a fresh entanglement,” says Pequeneza. “And we know it was a fresh entanglement because the scientists photographed that young male four hours earlier, gear free. So, the violence of it is really astounding.”
“In many ways, Last of the Right Whales is a pretty standard endangered-species doc. Well-meaning scientists, conservationists and citizen advocates explain the human-made perils facing these marine creatures, backed by lovely ocean photography and a stirring soundtrack,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But don’t harpoon the messenger. The latest from Canadian filmmaker Nadine Pequeneza is also a vital and important call to action.”
President (dir. Camilla Nielsson)
“Chamisa’s determination and commitment to his people is one of the few rays of light in the dark cloud of corruption that hovers over Nielsson’s documentary,” notes Courtney Small at POV Magazine. “Considering the many hurdles thrown his way, President is a sobering and powerful reminder that democracies are tough to achieve, and even harder to maintain.”
“Absolutely appalling and familiar,” agrees Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A reminder and a lesson in the ideas, realities, and definitions of democracy, and its apparent fragility. Not just in Zimbabwe but around the world.”
“It’s a fascinating story from a director who also made the 2014 documentary Democrats, about efforts to rewrite the same country’s constitution after the 2008 elections there,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Neither film is especially timely, except insofar as politics and corruption are, alas, timeless.”
“The film succeeds admirably as director Nelson appears to be given unlimited access to shoot her doc as she pleases while she plays out her story like a political thriller,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Streamline (dir. Tyson Wade Johnston)
“[T]he film somehow works thanks mainly to the strong performances that believe in the source material,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Just ignore the tagged on Hollywood ending.”
Ted K (dir. Tony Stone)
“They made a movie about the Unabomber and it’s a work of art,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “What a trip.”
“[A] biographical film about a despicable and strange person that might not be for everybody,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Critics have admired and praised the film but commercial audiences might take a damper view of the subject matter.”
Uncharted (dir. Ruben Fleischer)
“So, what is left in Uncharted to admire beyond Holland, who also earns a demerit mark for not being more discerning in projects between his Spidey gigs?” asks Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Well, I guess Antonio Banderas has some fun as the movie’s snarling villain, who thinks he has a birthright to Magellan’s gold. But the actor is not on-screen nearly as much as he should be. Maybe Sophia Ali, who plays Drake’s fellow adventurer and sorta love interest Chloe Frazer? But like everyone else, the actress is given the absolutely shoddiest of material to work with.”
“My bias is against Uncharted for being the latest in transitions from video games to blockbuster film,” admits Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Uncharted may well be an engaging game to play, but as a movie dips well beneath the watermark of the throw-back matinee actioners, it so feverishly wishes to be part of.”
“Allegiances are swapped, traps are sprung, puzzles are solved, priceless artifacts are waved around like conversation pieces,” sighs Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “There’s an impressive IMAX-scaled climax, as these things require. Uncharted ticks all the boxes, but there’s no spark of life; it’s just another generic action picture with no ambition beyond launching another franchise.”
“Fleischer moves the arcane story along quite briskly,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The best sequence in the film is in Barcelona, when Nate and Chloe, backed up by Sully, hunt down Magellan’s fortune through a medieval church, its ancient catacombs, a surprising and delightful underground disco, a nearly deadly sub-basement, and a Roman treasure hiding spot. The locations are spot-on, and the sense of history is profound.”
“It may seem petty to fault one particular film when so many action movies routinely flout the laws of gravity, momentum, displacement, electricity, entropy, cause and effect, conservation of energy and parking,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But Uncharted does seem to be a particularly egregious offender.”
Canadian Screens: A Time for Celebration?
At POV Magazine, Kelly Boutsalis takes the pulse of Indigenous film production in Canada with words from filmmakers, decision makers, broadcasters, and advocates. “There are success stories, but many Indigenous filmmakers in documentary, film, and TV are struggling to get the support they need from the major Canadian funding bodies,” writes Boutsalis. “If it seems as if Indigenous creators aren’t exactly effusive at the state of the industry, it’s more about taking a cautious approach towards the incremental changes happening in film and TV. Nobody wants to look naïve by celebrating change until it’s really happened.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz weighs in on the Canadian Screen Awards’ ongoing habit of nominating films that haven’t opened yet or films with which even insiders are unfamiliar. “On one hand, the CSAs can act as a great advertisement for excellent Canadian films with little marketing budgets (all of them). On the other hand, it’s hard to get audiences excited about films they can’t yet watch,” writes Hertz. “And then there are the true outliers: movies that even I haven’t heard of (mostly Québécois titles that never escaped the province’s theatres, including The Time Thief, You Will Remember Me and The Noise of Engines).”
TV Talk: The Porter, Severance, and the not-so-marvellous Maisel
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller talks with the creators, cast, and crew of The Porter to learn about its breakthrough for Black Canadian storytelling on screen. “For their first meeting with CBC, [Arnold] Pinnock created a synopsis/treatment/look book, so the executives ‘could see how deep this story went, and how many directions it could go,’ he says. Then he poured coffee on it and kicked it around. ‘[Writer/showrunner] Bruce [Ramsay] asked what on Earth I was doing,’ Pinnock recalls, laughing. ‘I said, ‘I want this book to look as though someone found it in their grandparents’ attic.’ That’s how it was for me, finding these amazing, untold stories of Black Canadian history.’”
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner looks at the new series The Porter and speaks with stars Ronny Rowe, Jr. and Mouna Traoré about bringing this chapter of history into the present and telling Black stories. “Some of these characters have gone through war, or [experienced] really intense racial discrimination and violence,” Traoré tells Wilner. “Everybody has their own backstory, and the paranoia and the sense of desperation and liberation coming out of a pandemic like we experienced last summer.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie looks at the refreshed Bel-Air: “There’s a lot at play, addressing issues of race, wealth, class, striving for the American Dream, and then getting it for good or ill. This is a dark take, and reflective of the times.” The documentary mini-series Lincoln’s Dilemma, meanwhile, is “beautifully constructed, artistic, surprising.” She also finds The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel’s fourth season a welcome return: “The series’ polished and precise scripting raises the bar for TV comedy but sadly, season five will be the last.” Severance, meanwhile, is “dead serious” and “a trippy take on an artificial future workplace.” For laughs, try LOL: Last One Laughing: “Contestants can’t laugh but I guarantee you will be!”
At NOW Magazine, Glenn Sumi checks out the fourth season of The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel and thinks its charm is wearing thin. “Amy Sherman-Palladino’s beloved series about housewife-turned-stand-up-comic Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel’s personal and career ups and downs in the late 50s and early 60s is beginning to wear thin, especially if you’ve watched the superior series Hacks, also about female comics,” writes Sumi.
“Apart from the dialogue, the writing is uneven, both in the digressive plotting, and in Midge’s standup sequences, which though energetically delivered, sound unconvincing, like colourful rants with the punchlines left out,” agrees Liam Lacey on Maisel at Original Cin. “And Midge’s moxie tends to sound borderline pathological.”
Lacey, meanwhile, recommends Severance at Original Cin: “It’s the idea that sufferers simultaneously live in two disjointed worlds, the social experience and the delusional one. It hits home and also at work. No wonder conspiracy theories are flourishing. No wonder so many people who can’t leave their homes are leaving their jobs instead.”
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner agrees on Severance. “Severance strikes a jittery tone of suppressed panic from its very first scenes, each deadpan corporate interaction hinting at something malevolent underneath,” says Wilner. “It also becomes clear, over the course of this first season, that the world in which these characters live is not entirely rational.” He thinks Space Force should be blasted to the moon, though: “As for storylines, Trump is out of office but the Biden era doesn’t offer much inspiration.”