TFCA Friday: Week of Feb. 3

February 3, 2023

Close | Sphere Films

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


ICYMI: Please consider signing this petition in support of the release of filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who recently announced that he will undertake a hunger strike in protest of his wrongful prison sentence.


In Release this Week


80 for Brady (dir. Kyle Marvin)


“I’ll admit 80 for Brady is peppy. It certainly revved up the mostly female moviegoers at the screening I attended, judging by fulsome post-screening chuckles and energy,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The film celebrates friendship and seems completely unbelievable, even though the story’s ripped from reality. It’s pat, a bit too feel-good, too perky. And the audience loved it.”


“There are intangibles that suggest a giant piece of fluff like 80 for Brady has won you over against all sense. In my case, it was the realization in the last act that I was rooting for the New England Patriots for the only time in my life. I slapped myself to snap out of it, but damn. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno and Sally Field sure can carry a football movie, no matter how silly,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “And yet, it insidiously draws you in with its determination to have fun, courtesy of four actresses-for-the-ages willing to go along with the goof.


80 for Brady is an easygoing watch for anyone old enough to remember when two of its stars teamed up with Dolly Parton for 9 to 5. There’s some mild objectification of men and exactly one f-bomb – well earned I’d say,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “There’s also a running gag that’s about as raunchy as a Harlequin romance, when we find that Fonda’s character has been writing erotic fan fiction featuring Brady’s teammate Rob ‘Gronk’ Gronkowski. I do love that the, um, climax of one such story takes place at Gillette Stadium with the words: ‘The best a man can get.’”


Alice, Darling (dir. Mary Nighy 🇨🇦)


Alice, Darling is a first feature from Mary (daughter of Bill) Nighy, and it’s confidently shot in a way that puts us close to its main character, and almost immediately fearful for her,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Though I had to wonder how the film would have played out if we hadn’t seen Simon being emotionally abusive in numerous flashbacks, and had to come to that realization more gradually, alongside Alice’s concerned friends.”


“Director Mary Nighy ramps up the intensity, in subtle ways, revealing the paradox of an abused woman who is smart, educated and financially independent but gives in to her abuser,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He’s watching her friends’ posts on social media and shows up. Women in such relationships will relate to Alice, and Kendrick’s unhinged performance brings it home.”


“For those of us who love Ontario and it countryside, this film is a rarity. It truly evokes the beauty of the north, with intense and gorgeous scenes on boats in the middle of one of our thousand lakes,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM.Alice, Darling does suffer from flaws though. There’s a subplot about a missing girl, which leads nowhere, and Charley Carrick as Simon simply isn’t menacing. But the Nigerian-British actor Wunmi Mosaku as Sophie and Indigenous icon Kaniehtiio Horn as Trudy are terrific. They warmly accompany Anna Kendrick, who gives a brilliant performance as the devastated Alice.”

Asterix et Obelix: L’empire du milieu (dir. Guillaume Canet)


“The French get it right with their latest live action comedy of the Belgium-French favourite cartoon comic books of Asterix and Obelix by written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo,” says Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “The film also tackles issues like female roles and alpha males while criticizing unhealthy meat edibles. Colonization is also looked down upon in the story, too bad there\s little too much fun poked at the Chinese.”


Close (dir. Lukas Dhont)


“’Something happened.’ These words cut through the apparent calm in the early going of Lukas Dhont’s sensitive drama of boys growing up in rural Belgium. What happens from that point changes the movie and the lives within it. Close is the story of lifelong pals Léo and Rémi, both 13, played by note-perfect newcomers Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Then school comes and Rémi and Léo are teased and bullied for their close bonds. It’s the start of lives unravelling; our empathy holds fast.”


“Writer-director Lukas Dhont’s empathetic, intensely moving drama Close concerns thirteen-year-old Belgian schoolmates and best friends Leo (excellent first-time actor Eden Dambrine) and Remi (veteran actor and model Gustav De Waele,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The delicacy and compassion of Dhont’s work reverberate long after the film ends, as does the pain of knowing that the boys represent children and adults who in 2023 are afraid of being perceived as different. An astonishingly heartfelt, shimmering look at innocents in mature situations.”


“Suddenly confronted, Leo and Remi reel in shock. You see that Remi doesn’t have the psychological resources to deal with his classmates—his new society—questioning who he is,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Leo slowly withdraws from Remi. As Canadians, we may be amused by his response. Leo takes up ice hockey, a rather obscure macho sport in Belgium. There’s no way back for the two, just as there’s no way back in life, once you’re fully aware of the implications of friendship, passion and sexual desire. In the end, Close is about tragedy and how people deal with it. When love goes wrong, it hurts everyone—those who survive and those who do not.”


“We see the young boys trying to navigate life and friendship, and watch as their mothers – Émilie Dequenne and Léa Drucker, each matching her on-screen son in looks, both radiating a gentle maternal warmth – offer love and guidance, while at the same time clearly existing as individuals and not just ‘moms,’” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Their casting is a minor triumph in the creation and use of secondary characters. But it is the younger stars who occupy most of our time and attention. That draft you feel in the cinema while watching Close may be your own sighs, perhaps even sobs. No matter. Close may feature an ill wind, but it ultimately does its viewers good.”


“The subtle interplay between young actors Dambrine and De Waele helps us understand that Léo has not simply turned cruel. He understands with obvious sadness that he’s pushing his best friend away in the process of fitting in. It’s a realization that becomes more profound when Close takes its tragic, but easily anticipated sharp left turn, one that changes the tone of the movie,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. Close is a wise relationship film in its depiction of both the beauty and the cruelty youth is capable of.”


Close masterfully observes intimacy and heartache between friends,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “At the same time, it is a deeply moving study of fraternal love. It delicately navigates the jungle of the schoolyard and the bonds that break when we try to categorize and compartmentalize our peers. The film is further proof that Dhont is among the most talented artists of his generation. Mullen also has an interview with Dhont in which they discuss his casting process, developing the roles with his young actors, and challenging them to break schoolyard norms. “What I look for is vulnerability, or the possibility to be vulnerable,” says Dhont. “We make films about characters in which things are happening on the inside, so you look for young people who are able to exteriorize that and convey the implosion of something happening on the inside that isn’t vocalized, but is felt. When I saw Eden in that train, I saw that happening already.”


Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls (dir. Julianna Notten 🇨🇦)


“Simple, straightforward and unapologetically fun, Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls is a lesbian coming-of-age story that doesn’t so much flip the traditional straight narrative on its head as just tell it with girls, reveling in the ways that being 13 is always going to feel awkward and intense and emotional and (with the benefit of hindsight and a little distance) very funny,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.


“The film’s refreshingly honest and open in its depiction of diverse kids who may be struggling to find their way but are buoyed by inner strength and a positive outlook on life,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Women of all ages will appreciate the message of self-worth and also glimpse inside middle school and all its nostalgic, universal trials and triumphs.”


Godland (dir. Hlynur Pálmason)


“Pálmason looks at Denmarks’ colonisation of Iceland and the depravity that follows with tremendous power, quietly, and deeply; it lingers,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “An overhead tableau of Lucas’ dead pony, rotting over time, symbolises all that is wrong with the enforcers of patriarchal traditions, not to mention Lucas’ unsuitability. The landscape dictates life in that place, the lesson he failed to learn, to add to his sins.”


“[A] pretty awesome epic that runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, trudging along, though the journey is well worth it,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Knock at the Cabin (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)


“Sorry to have to take a knock at this Cabin, but M. Night Shyamalan’s latest is mediocre and missable – not especially scary, less thought-provoking than it wants to be, and pretty much devoid of anything that might qualify as a ‘twist,’” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post. “Naturalistic dialogue has never been Shyamalan’s strong suit, but in this case the somewhat stilted lines are a good match for Bautista’s chosen style of delivery. Calmly, like the second-grade teacher he claims to be in his non-apocalyptic life, he tells the nuclear family that one of their particles must be sacrificed, else the whole world will go boom.”


“It is possible that by setting up the victims as a same-sex married couple, with an adopted child from a foreign country, is a way of normalizing a contemporary nuclear family. But the only purpose the scenario seems to serve is inciting a paranoia that the victimization of this young, happy family, is an act of a targeted hate crime,” observes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Shyamalan tosses a wrench into expectations by introducing the four intruders as being mostly agreeable. The exception is Redmond (Rupert Grint) whose anger and impatience are monitored by Leonard (Dave Bautista) whose size and tattoos run in contrast to his gentleness.


“[A]rguably the more interesting and intriguing title [compared to other releases] is horror director M. Night Shyamalan’s best and most intense film in years,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.Knock at the Cabin puts in on par and bears many similarities with one of his best works the sci-fi alien horror Signs in 2002. In both films the question of whether an alien invasion actually occurred or in this case whether the end of the world is arriving is kept to the very end when the audience is kept guessing whether the notion in question is true or not.”


Line of Fire (dir. Scott Major; Feb. 7)


Line of Fire has the audience on their toes from start to finish while questioning their allegiance between the two lead female characters,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “There are sufficient twists in the plot to keep the story fresh and exciting and to the writer and director’s credit, the film’s credibility is spot on as well.”


Million Dollar Pigeons (dir. Gavin Fitzgerald)


“Part of what makes Million Dollar Pigeons such a delight is that Fitzgerald never pokes fun at the colourful individuals he interviews, but rather ensures that their humanity shines through even when their egos threaten to overshadow them,” notes Courtney Small at POV Magazine. “Filled with eccentric characters and plenty of humour and heart, it is hard not to get pulled into this David versus Goliath tale. Million Dollar Pigeons is one of the most engaging and unconventional sports films you will see this year.”


“Really, it’s hard to imagine a place where seemingly ordinary pigeons — those ubiquitous and otherwise overlooked and unconsidered feathered city dwellers, often pejoratively referred to as ‘rats with wings’ — are adored, exalted, and meticulously groomed to race internationally for big money,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “But this highly watchable film, which screened last year at the Hot Docs festival, follows a globetrotting clutch of “fanciers,” almost exclusively men, who travel from around the world to South Africa and, more successfully, to Thailand to race their fierce winged athletes for cash and bragging rights.”


“I can’t wait for the crowd-pleasing, based-on-a-true-story retelling that I’m half-certain is already in the works somewhere,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. Million Dollar Pigeons reminded me a little of Dark Horse, a 2015 documentary about a group of Welsh entrepreneurs who sell shares to finance the breeding of a racehorse. It was remade five years later as Dream Horse, with Toni Collette and Damien Lewis. A similar treatment to this one could prove that docs of a feather flock together.”


Skinamarink (dir. Kyle Edward Ball)


“Unless one is a fan of experimental films in which one is prepared to bear the patience to see nothing of essence happening on screen, the entire exercise can be a boring, sorry a very boring waste of time,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “This is what an experimental film is all about.”


Features: Remembering Noah Cowan, Summing Up Sundance


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell remembers TIFF stalwart Noah Cowan and his wide-ranging love for movies. “Cowan’s zeal for the Hollywood disaster flick The Towering Inferno was emblematic of his unabashed love of genre movies, no matter what snobby critics might think. He listed the 1974 cheese fest, starring Fred Astaire, Faye Dunaway, Steve McQueen and O.J. Simpson as escapees from a burning office building, as one of his top three movies of all time in a 2004 feature I wrote for the Star. (His other top faves were Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 family heart-tugger Tokyo Story and Seijun Suzuki’s 1964 prostitution drama Gate of Flesh.),” writes Howell. “Cowan didn’t try the old critical dodge of explaining away his fondness for The Towering Inferno as a guilty pleasure.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen reports on the documentaries at Sundance, which easily eclipsed the dramas. “For my money, though, the standout documentary of Sundance is Milisuthando Bongela’s World Cinema competition title Milisuthando in a runaway,” notes Mullen. “This dextrously layered essay film examines identity and apartheid through a deeply personal lens. In terms of aesthetics, scope, and ambition, nothing else on Sundance’s documentary front matched it. Milisuthando stood out as a distinctive feat of auteur cinema and should enjoy a strong run on the festival circuit. In addition to delivering a probing and complex interrogation of identity and belonging, Milisuthando marked one of Sundance’s notable works for advancing one’s idea of what documentary can be.”


At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber chats with Thom Zimny and Oren Moverman about their Willie Nelson doc that debuted at Sundance: “We started collecting pieces of narrative, and started putting them together almost in the way he puts together a song: the way vocally he sits just behind the beat, or ahead of the beat, jumping in time,’ says Moverman. “We’re creating something formally that’s equivalent to what Willie does himself, but with the voices of people who know him, but also his own voice throughout the years. The film was never going to be an almost 90-year old man reflecting back on his life and feeding the myth. He was so open and honest and authentic.”


TV Talk/Series Scribbles


At Original Cin, Liam Lacey looks at two new series, Shrinking and Dear Edward, and finds them both a bit ‘meh.’ “Shrinking plays like a cringe sitcom in which the jokes feel too glib for the weighty content. There is a lot of grief and a lot of inappropriate behaviour going on here and there are certainly some laughs as well, but too often, they leave you feeling queasy,” writes Lacey. “Dear Edward reflects Katims’ talent with casting and garnering strong performances. But there is something amiss. The show also suffers from a lack of an organizing idea to explain this claustrophobic descent in shared misery, and the relentless sad song soundtrack begins to feel aggressively manipulative.”