Reviews include Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Mr. Malcolm’s List, and Passengers of the Night.
TFCA Friday: Week of Feb. 25
February 25, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
Earlier this week, the TFCA was proud to announce additional TFCA Award winners. Esteemed directed David Cronenberg is the recipient of the Company 3 Clyde Gilmour Award on the TFCA’s 25th anniversary. Wildhood director Bretten Hannam wins the Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize for Emerging Artist, while Rachel Ho is this year’s TFCA Emerging Critic Award winner.
This Week in Movies!
Big Gold Brick (dir. Brian Petsos)
“No one sets out to make a bad film, but at over two hours, the shot-in-Toronto Big Gold Brick seems like a bunch of ideas that must have looked good on paper, but just didn’t gel,” sighs Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Both Garcia and Isaac are terrific actors, and charismatic as hell. But neither can bring this listless film to life.”
“Writer/director Petsos keeps the secret of a twist in the story at the end, to bring his ok, bearable film to a satisfactory and more sombre closure,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Charli XCX: Alone Together (dir. Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the doc “captures the spirit and energy of youth.”
“Charli XCX: Alone Together illustrates both the pros and cons of COVID constraints,” admits Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “They work in a pinch and provide relief, but they’re dated reminders of a traumatic period in which we’re still living.”
Cyrano (dir. Joe Wright)
“Dinklage’s performance here is crushingly sad, and he is never more persuasive than as a man convinced he is unworthy of love despite his substantial social standing and towering intellect,” raves Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “I freely admit to applying transference, wondering if the pathos Dinklage summons is an extension of his own personal experience or whether he is simply a brilliant actor. Either way, the role is now quintessentially his.”
“This critic felt happily enveloped by its spell, this fairy tale of otherworldliness, the gorgeous, score, look, and vibe,” gushes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Dinklage is phenomenal, as always, as he and the company reprise their roles from the Connecticut-based Goodspeed Musicals production of Cyrano.”
“[O]ne reason to see this version of Cyrano is actually Dinklage who delivers an Oscar [worthy] performance,” praises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “His eyes convey deep emotion and his words are expressed unbelievably. But mostly, the romance is made believable because of him and he makes the film all worthwhile.”
“The songs aren’t the liveliest, as Matt Berninger and Carin Besser favour the same droning approach they bring to their work as the National,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “But given the trajectory of the story, it all works, the gravitas of the music pulling us ever closer to the final number – which lands like a sledgehammer.”
“Beyond the casting of Dinklage, the Wright-Schmidt adaptation of Cyrano is dependent on the musical score composed by the American rock band The National,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “While their music is fine and certainly moves the plot forward, it lacks a hit or even a song that another band might embrace. The songs are pleasant enough but Sondheim, they’re not.”
Downfall: The Case Against Boeing (dir. Rory Kennedy)
“For those viewers who simply never read the news reports at the time, the doc may feel somewhat revelatory, but in general, it has even less detail than the Wikipedia pages on the flight disasters,” groans Jason Gorber at POV Magazine. “It’s an economy class airplane meal version of a story worthy of fine dining, conveniently packaged for easy consumption but neither fulfilling or particularly tasteful.”
Family Squares (dir. Stephanie Liang)
“Considering the limitations of a 90-minute Zoom call, Family Squares manages to be flinty and real, frustrating, funny and knowing, familiar to us in many respects, and an oddly fun emotional roller coaster ride,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Gasoline Alley (dir. Edward Drake)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says it is “not too bad, but it is still another forgettable Willis venture.”
“Why does Bruce Willis, the charismatic star of Die Hard, Pulp Fiction and The Sixth Sense, keep making so many bad movies?” asks Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “For his part, Willis narrows his eyes and purses his lips, as if he’s got a car waiting and this nonsense is taking up valuable time. You can empathize. The script is a dazed, meandering, thing, involving drugs, pornography, neon-lit slo-mo, debauched starlets, car chases, soft-core sex scenes and loud gun fights.”
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (dir. Pawo Choyning Dorji)
“If you thought it took forever for the titular death on the Nile to happen, just wait and see how long it takes for the yak to appear in the classroom,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The Bhutanese drama is a visually appealing ditty. However, it’s also very, very slow, if languid in the pleasantly enveloping nature of slow cinema.”
The Oscar-nominated Short Films (dir. various)
At the National Post, Chris Knight advises that the animated shorts aren’t family-friend, but are strong nevertheless. The exception to the R-rating, though, is Robin Robin: “It’s adorable, and might well take the prize in a strong field of contenders.” Live action short Please Hold, meanwhile, is “as funny as it is disturbing” and short doc When We Were bullies leads a grab bag of nominees: “For all its creative visuals, it plays like a great radio doc or podcast.”
At Toronto Franco, Gilbert Seah reviews the full crop of shorts. On the animated front, Affairs of the Art is “full of surprises at every turn,” while the documentary Three Songs for Benazir is “simple but effective.” Putting the “action” in the live action shorts, “The actor playing Matteo, Erick Lopez, [in Please Hold] is also very good-looking and easy on the eye.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen reviews the short docs and has special praise for The Queen of Basketball (“a slam dunk”) and Lead Me Home is “character-driven observational cinema at its best.” At That Shelf, he reviews the animated nominees and finds them dark but notes “there’s some R-rated brilliance here” while the live action shorts are “mostly forgettable, but have their hearts in the right place.”
Paper & Glue (dir. JR)
“Watching Paper & Glue, one can’t help being impressed by JR’s artistry and convictions,” writes Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “He truly marks art that empowers people while never forgetting the terrible circumstances that surround and often overwhelm individuals trapped in systems that are not of their own making.”
Scarborough (dir. Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson 🇨🇦)
***Nominee, Rogers Best Canadian Film Award***
“Scarborough is for people who have felt chronically under-represented in film and others who want to know more about them,” writes Susan G. Cole in an essay for the TFCA blog. Cole speaks with Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson about carefully crafting a portrait of the city close to the heart of author Catherine Hernandez. “There was a truthfulness in it that can only come from lived experience and Catherine’s lived experience gave her a deep understanding that even in the most tragic circumstances people still have humour and joy,” explains Nakhai. “It’s a survival mechanism, a coping mechanism, and that’s why it was storytelling looking at it from within but without a tone that was too serious. Films that qualify as poverty porn revel in the misery and this film doesn’t do that.””
“If you have any doubt about the tremendous, inspiring, near-transcendent power that Canadian film can offer, then you must make a priority of watching Scarborough,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Sincere in their aesthetics and humble in their intentions, Nakhai and Williamson deliver an engrossing film that soars on the strength of its specificity.” Hertz also chats with Shasha Nakhai about getting compelling performances from a cast of young actors: “There was improv with the children on-set, but when it came to dealing with the violence or challenging subject matter, that’s when we switched to a mode of working to be much more rehearsed, as if you were filming a fight scene,” notes Nakhai.
“Each character contributes to the fabric of the community,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s an engrossing, mature, well-made, and rich tapestry of a community in its daily life told with compassion.”
“Scarborough is a tough film, as was the novel,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “There is tragedy. A child dies while others struggle to survive and grow. Nakhai and Williamson have made a truthful drama about lives in an area of Toronto, which is rarely acknowledged.”
“You’re going to need a store of sympathy before sitting down to Scarborough’s two and a quarter hours,” advises Chris Knight at the National Post. “Sure, it’s easy to feel for the kids. But the parents are just as deserving of our understanding.”
“[T]he climax trivializes the film, assuming that the audience connects the success of the boy’s performance with the success of the centre; a low budget project and it shows from the horrid soundtrack, often telling the audience how to feel, to the lighting and camera work,” argues Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Scarborough is wrenching, uplifting and sadly groundbreaking, representing the vital and vibrant east end whose stories have for too long been shafted in favour of the emotional hang-ups of the Annex crowd,” writes Radheyan Simonpillair at NOW Toronto. “The runtime can be wearying, a flaw rooted in Scarborough’s affection for the characters.”
At Complex, Pat Mullen says that the film “will capture the heart of Toronto” and speaks with Nakhai and Williamson about bringing Catherine Hernandez’s novel to the screen and drawing upon their documentary roots. “The process in documentary begins with humbling yourself and figuring out what are the different truths before you attempt to capture them,” says Nakhai. “I think that philosophy was very helpful in this instance.”
Studio 666 (dir. BJ McDonnell)
“What a fun and ridiculous premise for a movie. But what is hilarious in concept and on paper might not play as funny on screen,” admits Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Even hardcore Foo Fighter fans checking in to watch Grohl and his band of lovable miscreants goofing it up might feel like they’ve stumbled on to an unfinished demo reel.”
“[P]romoted as a horror comedy by the rock group the Foo Fighters, notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “(But it is) is an uneven non-serious horror film that can hardly be considered a comedy, since it is not really funny.”
“Mayhem and hilarity erupt as [Dave] Grohl becomes demonically possessed,” laughs Peter Howell at the Toronto Star, who chats with the rocker about his offbeat flick, turning it up to 11, and living with ghosts. “I can definitely say I lived in a house and I wasn’t the only f—ing one in that house, whether it was footsteps in the kitchen, or f—ing lights going on and off, or feeling like someone was behind you all the time,” Grohl tells Howell. “And it wasn’t just me. It was also (felt by) people that would come over to my house. I’ve experienced it.”
“You can’t take it any of it seriously, but that’s kind of the point,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “And the music? Pretty damn good.”
Unsilenced (dir. Leon Lee 🇨🇦)
“Unsilenced might have worked better as a documentary than the ticking-clock thriller it is, but the bones of the story would remain the same – a vital examination of China’s treatment of its religious and ethnic minorities,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
Features – Canadiana and a Cabaret
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller interviews filmmaker Polley about her new book of essays Run Towards the Ranger. Polley reflects on her reportedly gripping words about the Jian Ghomeshi case and navigating that experience through storytelling: “This case predated Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo. Things are a little better now, we know a little more about how memory behaves after trauma. But our legal system has a long way to go before it becomes a safe place for women to come forward,” Polley tells Schneller. “This image has been helpful: When I’m being treated as the least credible voice in a room, I imagine an army of women behind me. I imagine my friends, who are on my side and believe me, and funnelling behind them, a whole bunch of other women who have felt not-heard.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey and members of the programming team to learn how the organization plans to entice cinephiles back to the cinema. These plans include a revamped Midnight Madness series and the return of MDFF. “We’re in a pretty good position, but we’re not out of the woods yet. We have to see what the longer-term appetite is for going out to the movies again,” Bailey tells Hertz. “But we got through the last two years better than we were fearing.”
At The Ringer, Adam Nayman teaches Jujubee a thing or two about doing a proper Liza and revisits Cabaret upon its 50th anniversary: “A critical hit branded with the scarlet letter of an X-rating in the UK, Cabaret was a shot in the arm for an entire genre, not only bridging the historical gap backwards from the paranoid political zeitgeist of the early 1970s to the horrors of the Third Reich, but forwards towards exultantly sleazy rock operas like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, whose reigning Sweet Transvestite antihero was like spiritual sibling to Grey’s Emcee,” writes Nayman. “Not only did Fosse’s evocation of a flamboyant-yet-secretive subculture throbbing at the margins resonate in a post-Stonewall context, the film’s vision of a catastrophic solipsism rolling out the red carpet for authoritarians was, and remains, a history lesson with present-tense applications — a movie for a moment when we are all cameras.”
TV Talk – Carbon Speaks
At POV Magazine, Marc Glassman looks at Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography, which has Succession’s Sarah Snook voicing the element: “Turning Carbon into a woman is playful and imaginative but it can actually annoy and anger viewers, particularly women. Do we really want to think of Carbon as a flirtatious and flighty female?”
At the National Post, Chris Knight offers five things he learned about carbon from her “unauthorized biography.” For one, “Our carbon footprint isn’t carbon’s fault.” Moreover, “Carbon isn’t just immortal, it’s eternal.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out BLK: An Origin Story, which looks at the history of Black Nova Scotians. “Their stories must be known and this beautifully made, richly detailed series is crucial,” notes Brodie. Taika Waititi’s Our Flag Means Death, meanwhile, is “the zaniest comedy series in recent memory.” There’s also good reason to watch The Tourist, which is “crazy interesting and entirely bingeable,” but Murder in Provence is “all good fun but I found the dialogue to be a tad xenophobic.” In From the Cold, finally, “demands too much suspension of disbelief.”