Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday: Week of Feb. 5
February 5, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
But first: we invite you to follow our TFCA Awards live vote on Sunday, February 7 at noon EST. Our members will decide the winners in eleven categories and reveal the nominees for the Rogers Best Canadian Feature Award. The winner for the Rogers Award will be named on March 9 at our live virtual gala, to which you are all welcome!
In Release this Week
Bliss (dir. Mike Cahill)
“Completely miscast, egregiously plotted and ludicrous in absolutely every single other way, Bliss is a true cinematic disasterpiece,” skewers Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“For all that it is worth, Bliss is solid trippy film when it works,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[Cahill] has an unfortunate history of crafting high-concept ideas into films that fail to soar,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post, explaining why Cahill’s latest offers overstated metaphors and technical difficulties.
Dear Comrades! (dir. Andrei Konchalovsky)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls Russia’s Oscar bid “a most amusing realistic looking political drama with lots of humour injected from the behaviour of the Communist top brass.”
Fake Famous (dir. Nick Bilton)
“Bilton goes to great and sometimes purposefully self-deprecating lengths to be up-front about the artifice of his project,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “That artificiality is key to depicting a certain sort of sought after lifestyle that’s built upon making things seem a lot rosier than reality.”
Falling (dir. Viggo Mortensen 🇨🇦)
“There’s a lot to unpack in Mortensen’s film, in the now and the remembered past, the ghosts of loved ones and the enduring inevitability of love,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A provocative, well-made piece.”
“As [Mortensen] traces Willis’s doomed first marriage to his push-pull relationship with John, the filmmaker creates a tense, even courageous look at the ugly reality of family, of trying to reconcile who you are with from where you came,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “There are hard truths here, and Mortensen has no time for those unwilling to swallow down.” Hertz also speaks with Mortensen about his directorial debut, avoiding Hollywood’s bad advice, and his ongoing collaboration with David Cronenberg.
“Henriksen is terrific as the abusive elder Willis. I couldn’t wait to get away from him,” observes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “And that’s one of the bigger problems with the film. His constant repulsive behaviour dominates and overwhelms the story, and makes it feel very one-note.”
“The film feels like a pressure cooker building up a fine head of steam, with the biggest uncertainty being when (or whether) John is going to lose his cool at Willis’s stubbornly “ist-ist” ways. (He’s sexist, racist, etc.),” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Falling is a hard film to love,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “There’s so much anger in the character of Willis that finding sympathy for him—especially after four years of Trump supporters being free reign to our south—is tough to do.”
“With a more conventional director at the helm, Falling could have been reassuring, polished awards bait; instead, it’s something richer and more discomfiting,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I saw it. So will you.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says Mortensen’s effort is “an actor’s film that stands out for its performances.”
“Mortensen has created an actor’s showcase for his feature debut, which means Falling is a good example of a first-timer sticking to what they know best,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “There are no bad parts to be found, and everyone gets a chance to shine above the ensemble for a moment.”
A Glitch in the Matrix (dir. Rodney Ascher)
“A Glitch in the Matrix is at its best when demonstrating the fuzzy line between science and religion, especially when you start wondering whether God might just be a computer programmer,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“It is a lot, and Ascher only has so many stylistic tricks up his sleeve – including a unique, if eventually exhausting, spin on talking-head Zoom footage – to delay the sheer weight of his subject matter from crushing his film into multiverse-ready dust,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“[It] can either be an extremely compulsive watch if one is well versed in the area of video games and simulation technology or a complete bore if one is completely on the other side,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber speaks with director Rodney Ascher about falling down the rabbit hole of film-on-film, brain-in-the-vat philosophy, and animated avatars. He calls the film “highly cerebral while also being cinematic.”
Norm Wilner also speaks with Ascher at NOW Magazine. The director explains how his latest doc fits into his film-on-film body of work: “All of these projects are about people grappling with sort of unsolvable mysteries…They’re juicy enough for me to spend the time it takes to make one of these projects, talking to people and working on these stories and revisiting again and again and again.”
“Shot largely through Zoom interviews, with some subjects in digital costumes — along with flurries of film clips and computer animation, and a robotic woman’s voiceover — Glitch employs a scattershot means to illustrate a fragmenting sense of reality,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
Greenland (dir. Ric Roman Waugh)
“It’s grim, ugly, violent and frustrating, mirroring how it makes me feel. Can they outrun a fireball of doom?” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“The world will undoubtedly end many times before Hollywood lets go of this oeuvre,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “And there are worse ways to watch it die than this.”
“When I heard that Gerard Butler was starring in a movie in which Earth (and his family!) is threatened by a rogue comet, I thought I knew what I was getting into,” explains Chris Knight at the National Post. “Butler, weirdly, doesn’t Butler his way out of this mess. There are no quips, and the violence is realistic rather than cartoonish.”
“Butler’s glowering resolve is all the actor needs to sell his character, and while Greenland never really surprises us with what it wants and where it’s going, at least it keeps the ride interesting,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“There’s plenty of genre fun to be found in Greenland – along with all of the nagging scientific questions that remain in such movies – but its sense of humanity actually bothers to put an empathetic face on world annihilating devastation,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“An end-of-the-world thriller that arrives during, well, all of this, director Ric Roman Waugh’s film represents the best of a historically stupid genre,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
John Ware Reclaimed (dir. Cheryl Foggo; Feb. 8 🇨🇦)
“The Black cowboy has never been properly represented anywhere – the raison d’etre of the film,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Little Fish (dir. Chad Hartigan)
“The beautifully fluid cinematography, striking minimalism and moody palette increase our connection to these doomed lovers,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Powerful, frightening and unrelenting, and what timing!”
“Hartigan leans heavily into the frustration, fear, and desperation of the characters’ situation, but while this story centres around loss of self rather than certain death, it’s eerie how accurately Little Fish (which was shot last year in British Columbia) predicted how a pandemic would play out,” argues Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Malcolm & Marie (dir. Sam Levinson)
“This wouldn’t be the first time Black characters feel like props in a Levinson film,” argues Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Magazine. “Assassination Nation is about four high-school girls who go to war against their toxic community. African-American singer Abra plays the underused accessory among the quartet.”
“I honestly can’t tell if I appreciate writer-director Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie or I hate it with every fibre of my being,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Even more honestly, I’m in no rush to revisit something this purposefully shrill, abrasive, and combative to find out.”
“Taking place in what is essentially real time over an hour and three quarters, it shifts gears more often than Mario Andretti, with first one of the characters pitched on the verge of tears, then the other, and back again,” grinds Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Malcolm & Marie is the worst kind of self-indulgent nonsense,” declares Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “It is an obnoxious gripe about everything and anything that is so devoid of wit and imagination that it ends up being about nothing at all.”
“The onslaught of dizzying angst begins becomes a tough but captivating slog. Not for sissies,” advises Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Washington and Zendaya both put 100% into their performances,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “If only Levinson’s material was worthier.”
More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story (dir. Kevin Derek)
“Looking past its nostalgia and unhappy ending, More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story is kind of a time capsule of an era of North American showbiz, and the compromises and struggles that faced people because of their faces,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin.
“The doc teaches audiences that man is fallible,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It is the little things that men do that make people like Morita be remembered like the deeds of kindness, besides his fame.”
A Nightmare Wakes (dir. Nora Unkel)
“Hallucinations dog [Mary] as she writes her legacy story, overloading us with repetitive images of blood and ink, stained white dresses, dark rooms, faces twisted in madness and creepy ponds,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Gilbert Seah agrees, calling it “a narrative mess” at Afro Toronto.
Rams (dir. Jeremy Sims)
“Director Jeremy Sims and screenwriter Jules Duncan dial down the bleak notes of the Icelandic original and inject the film with some Oz jocularity for their version,” writes Linda Barnard at Original Cin. “They stay authentic to the spirit of the Icelandic film but admirers of the original will miss the stark, dark drama and flashes of quirky humour in Hakonarson’s style, where more is shown than told.”
“it’s just as invested in Hákonarson’s considerations of modes of masculinity, expanding the role of a local vet (Miranda Richardson) and making the most of Neill’s remarkable skill at revealing the tenderness behind a character’s grumpy façade,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
“This is one of the best remakes of an original film,” declares Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Recommended for non-sheep farmers.”
“I’m declaring this Australian remake the second-best non-animated sheep-centric movie in history, right after Iceland’s original. (That keeps Shaun the Sheep out of the equation.)” pronounces Chris Knight at the National Post.
At What She Said, Anne Brodie calls it, “Beautiful, refreshing, healing and provocative. And the gorgeous outback landscapes remind us of nature’s many moods as the real-life bushfires of 2019 and 2020 approach.”
Two of Us (dir. Filippo Meneghetti)
“This one gets my vote for both Best International Feature as well as Best First Feature,” praises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[T]he heart of the movie is the deep history of its protagonists, the quiet patience they have exhibited, waiting decades to step out into the world together,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “It’s a tribute to the fine acting of its principals, and the modest, emotionally rich and rewarding movie that evolves around their relationship and subsequent events.”
“Director Filippo Meneghetti’s emotional thriller is original, subtle and powerful, set in an alarmingly shifting world, in which love is the only certainty,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“While the narrative in The Two of Us is compelling, what propels the film into something moving are the performances by Chevalier and Sukowa,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
TV Talk – Romance, BHM, and Procedurals
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller looks at how shows like Bridgerton and Firefly Lane offer women the romance and release that many audiences crave right now. “If Hallmark films are Harlequin Romances – formulaic, tightly structured, comfortingly predictable – these series and films are more like trade paperbacks, written by the likes of Elin Hilderbrand,” notes Schneller.
For readers in search of Black History Month recommendations, Anne Brodie at What She Said suggests HBO’s doc mini-series Black Art: in the Absence of Light. “We watch artists creating huge installations, fine small objects in multiple media, in a variety of scales,” notes Brodie, “expressing ideas of race and collective memory, society and politics via history’s lens, the human experience through portraiture, Black community, land development, sculpture, and performance, ethnicity, sex, gender, literature, landscapes, a rich collection of ideas and mediums that describe the Black experience in America.” If viewers are more in the mood for something light and fluffy, she recommends Firefly Lane, noting, “It doesn’t ask a lot of viewers and is a guilty pleasure.”
At The Gate, Andrew Parker checks out Danish director Tobias Lindholm’s mini-series The Investigation, writing, “The Investigation belongs in the conversation alongside Mindhunter and Broadchurch when discussing the finest and most emotionally riveting police procedurals of this century.” Of The Lady and the Dale? It’s “a thoroughly engrossing, but sometimes uneven look at gender constructs, family bonds, and one of the biggest frauds to befall the automotive world.”
The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
In keeping pace with the shifting award season and the head-spinning volume of films released this year, Andrew Parker offers a belated but thoroughly considered list of the 50 best films of 2020 at The Gate. Will any win on Sunday?
The lunacy of the Golden Globe nominations is an annual tradition and this year’s announcement was no exception. Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail looks at the few hits and many misses of the egregiously Streep-free nominations.
Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine agrees that the Golden Globes are becoming increasingly stupid, noting “there’s an unsettling disregard in what the Globes are choosing not to recognize.”
Sundance Kids: Reports from Virtual Park City
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell reflects on the virtual shift for Sundance, noting, “Being online didn’t mean being out of touch. Freed of the necessity of taking shuttle buses and lining up, I was able to see more films than usual at Sundance — close to 30 this year — and I enjoyed most of them.” Howell also offers his picks for the best-of-the-fest, which including Grand Jury Prize winners Flee, Coda, and Summer of Soul, which landed the only four-star review from the fest.
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz recaps the whirlwind Sundance Film Festival, which he frankly declares “mostly a straight-up embarrassment.” As for the festival’s omen for COVID-19 content? This year’s Sundance slate “highlights the fault lines of pandemic-era Hollywood: filmmakers struggling to adjust to COVID-19 restrictions, desperate-for-content streamers spending money as if it was the end of the world (fair!), producers holding back promising titles for whenever a real theatrical market returns, and second- and third-rate productions getting passes from programmers because nothing else is available.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with Jamila Wignot about her Alvin Ailey doc Ailey, which scored one of the festival’s more notable distribution deals, and Natalia Almada, winner of the directing prize for U.S. Documentary for Users. Meanwhile, Jason Gorber chats with Edgar Wright about his documentary debut The Sparks Brothers.