TFCA Friday: Week of Jan. 12

January 12, 2024

Mean Girls | Photo by Jojo Whilden / Paramount Pictures

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


In Release this Week


All to Play For (dir. Delphine Deloget; Not playing in Toronto)


“Virginie Efira is superb in the film, which is impossible to envision without her in the lead…Efira’s career has evolved from being a young, totally acceptable, glamorous TV host to a charismatic actor who plays difficult roles with depth, emotion, great heart and humour. She is now one of the finest female actors in France,” declares Marc Glassman at Classical FM. All to Play For wouldn’t attract international attention without Efira and her stunning performance. Delphine Deloget has made a fine debut feature, well worth seeing.”


“Delphine Deloget’s All to Play For is a poorer man’s or rather poor woman’s version of British director Ken Loach social drams most notably Cathy Come Home,” admits Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco.


The Beekeeper (dir. David Ayer)


The Beekeeper doesn’t care if you chuckle at its more convenient or over-the-top moments, just so long as you’re enjoying yourself and you’re never bored,” buzzes Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“The action sequences are immaculately staged with effective edits creating exciting fight sequences.  These coupled with an intelligent layered script and above average performances make The Beekeeper a pumped-up action feature that will keep audiences glued to their seats from start to finish,” cheers Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“By Cinema Statham considerations, The Beekeeper is a masterpiece – the best B(ee)-movie of this cold-hearted season,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Although the film is curiously lacking in the blood-squirt department overall – an oddly sanitized tactic given the film’s target audience and the fact that Ayer has never been a particularly squeamish filmmaker – Ayer mostly has the right idea: shoot first, never ask questions, then shoot some more.” Hertz also speaks with Ayer about letting Jason Statham flex his acting muscles: “I feel he’s capable of a broader lane than he’s been given so far. So this was making him more emotionally accessible and giving him an inner life. We know the audience is going to like watching him kick butt, but how do I make people care about this character, too?”


The Book of Clarence (dir. Jeymes Samuel)


“It’s far from a perfect exercise, but The Book of Clarence is more interesting and thoughtful than any number of so-called ‘perfect’ movies could ever hope to be,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate.


The Book of Clarence ultimately surprises for reason of marvellous casting, performances and concept of modernizing a well-worn Biblical tale,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“There’s more than a little of Monty Python’s Life of Brian in this story of an alternate Messiah occasionally crossing paths with the real Jesus of Nazareth. But Python largely steered clear of specifics – the Sermon on the Mount might be His only appearance in that film, and it’s where the hard-of-hearing crowd thinks He’s bestowing blessings on the cheesemakers and the Greeks,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “In The Book of Clarence, there are actual miracles afoot, though often frustratingly just out of sight of the main character, who holds no truck with God, and further holds that knowledge is superior to belief. (Crucially, Clarence never bothers to wade any deeper into the waters of epistemology, let alone to walk on top of them.)”


Bye Bye Tiberias (dir. Lina Soualem)


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with actor Hiam Abbass and director Lina Soualem about sharing their family’s story and reflecting on Palestine and home. “I developed the notion of home being this home that I carried with me in my heart, in my memory. I travel around with it. Home, for me, is whatever I make of it in my emotional system, so it is Palestine because that is where I came from and where I grew up,” says Abbass. “Palestine is a strong part of my identity and is the luggage that I carry around with me, but home can sometimes be a shooting set or it can become a place I’m living in a moment. It can become Paris, it can become the U.S., for that time being. But it’s really a nomad notion that I carry around with me.”


Call Me Dancer (dir. Leslie Shampaine, co-dir. Pip Gilmour)


“Director Leslie Shampaine and co-director Pip Gilmour create an inspiring and highly entertaining underdog tale with Manish’s story. The mentor-protégé relationship between Manish and Yehuda, moreover, offers the heart of the film as Call Me Dancer observes how discipline, dedication, and that one person who believes in you combine to make dreams a reality,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “The doc also lets Manish’s artistry shine in cinematic interludes that showcase his skills with far more awe that the modest observational footage from the studios, dance school, and very, very sweaty rehearsal space that Yehuda gets for the boys allow.”


Destroy All Neighbours (dir. Josh Forbes)


“In the story, William spends his entire life trying to write the perfect song (much to the consternation of his girl), something that has been described that not everyone will get, but only the right ones will,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The same can be said and applied to this odd film, which as odd as it gets, might not be everyone’s cup pf tea, but the right ones might get what the film is getting at.”


Fireworks (dir. Giuseppe Fiorello)


“Simplicity is the film’s greatest strength – one of the most charming and delightful films of the year,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Freud’s Last Session (dir. Matthew Brown)


Freud’s Last Session has as its highlight a brilliant performance by Anthony Hopkins in the titular role. He plays Freud as a querulous old man, horrified and bemused by the fate that his sent him to die in England, away from his beloved Vienna, with the spectre of Naziism looming over the civilized continent he had conquered decades ago as a great intellect,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Stripped to his final physical resources, wracked with pain, needing morphine continually to ease his suffering, Freud could be a pitiable figure, but Hopkins imbues him with dignity and great anger. Hopkins’ Freud is still a proper individual, socially correct in his dealings with Lewis and others. It’s only with Anna that his weakness resides: he needs her help and can’t deal with her lesbianism. Only a great actor could make you see the tragedy of Sigmund Freud at the end of his life. Hopkins is more than up to the task.”


“There are two good reasons to see the film,” advises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Firstly, the film’s two main characters are played by two British heavyweights.  Double Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (The Father, The Silence of the Lambs) plays the ill-health morphine taking Freud while Emmy nominee Matthew Goode (The Crown) plays the celebrated Christian poet and author C.S. Lewis.  The other is their debate on the existence of God.”


“The best of the film takes place inside the Freud’s London study. There we first meet the 83-year-old doctor as he wakes from a dream in which he believes he is still back in Nazi-occupied Austria.  He waits for his meeting with Lewis, aka ‘Jack,’ who shows up late,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The London trains are filled with people sending to their children to the countryside to avoid the blitz. Lewis is not entirely sure why he has been invited to see the famous doctor, but he believes it is because he mocked Freud in passing in his 1933 satirical allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress.”


Lift (dir. F. Gary Gray)


“Although Hart has never made it a secret that he’s in this game to make money and set his family up to enjoy generational wealth, his blatant desire for commercial success has never dampened his product, with his passion clearly evident in work like Real Husbands of Hollywood, Think Like a Man and the Jumanji reboots,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “However, in his latest string of films, it’s clear that the comedian has lost some of his spark and is now simply churning out content instead of thoughtful pieces of comedy or dramedy.”


“It’s well made. It’s well cast,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s 95 minutes and some change. That’s Lift in a nutshell.”


Lift has the feel of The Italian Job remake (not the Michael Caine one), not only because it is partly shot in Italy but both films are directed by Gary and are heist films,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Fun, entertaining to watch but essentially forgetful fare, Lift succeeds as an undemanding and guilty thriller.”


Mean Girls (dir. Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez, Jr.)


“Taking a popular movie and making it a musical is nothing new,” writes Rachel West at That Shelf. “Recycling lines of dialogue, Fey, who also wrote this version, somehow makes previously funny lines fall flat. It’s not just knowing every set-up and punch line in advance, as charming as Rice is on screen, her magnetism as Cady doesn’t match that of Lindsay Lohan. Maybe the recycled lines worked better on stage, but on-screen they feel like imposters. While one can appreciate some updated dialogue terms (we’re mostly over the early 2000s slut shaming vocabulary), the actors delivering the lines and their comedic timing don’t hold a candle to their original counterparts. Even the notorious Burn Book doesn’t pack the same punch.”


“Perhaps surprisingly for 2024, the film has been toned down in other, less-likely-to-be-controversial ways. For example, Regina’s peek-a-boo boob scene in the original — where a bold T-shirt choice inspires widespread copycatting — is swapped here for running mascara. The infamous Halloween scene, by contrast, remains almost identical to the original save for the addition of a song,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “If I was a teenage girl, I might love it. But as an adult reviewer, I can’t help but feel weary about this earnest but mostly needless retread of a smart and engaging teen comedy, a genuine stand-alone classic. If the Plastics don’t bring you down, then I guess aging will.”


“There are abundant human foibles on display in Mean Girls, which apart from the songs has barely changed from the original film,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Many of the same jokes are heard and plot beats are followed, and that’s probably a good thing for fans of the original enterprise. First-time directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. know better than to mess with a winning property. They also know how to keep the camera moving.”


“By inevitable comparison with Barbie, Mean Girls 2024 is what Barbie should have been – a teenage or pre-teen movie starring a younger cast and written by those who now comfy like an SNL cast and not by drama heavyweights like Greta Gerwig and her husband Noah Baumbach who are better known for their relationship dramas,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Box-office success aside, Barbie is a complete dud, boring after the first 15 minutes trying too hard to make a message while Mean Girls is totally fun entertainment, hilarious, and edgy with performances that suit the story.”


“This Mean Girls adds nothing to the legacy of the original outside of some dodgy filmmaking, so-so performances, a meaningless parade of cameos, and subpar songs,” sighs Andrew Parker at The Gate. “To say that it doesn’t improve on the original is a big understatement.”


“[Renée] Rapp, who played the role of Regina on Broadway, is a force-of-nature knockout, honouring but not imitating Rachel McAdams’s beautiful bullying from the first film with a sly kind of menace. The same goes for Rice, Wood and Avantika – they all had opportunities to merely crib from the actresses who came before them instead of bringing something fresh to the roles,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The same can’t quite be said of Fey, who again plays math teacher Ms. Norbury with the exact same wry detachment as she did in the first film.”


Some Other Woman (dir. Joel David Moore)


“Is it a badly written faux feminist tale about the-choices-women-make-or-don’t-make-and-the-pressure-to-have-children-when-what-you-really-always-wanted-to-be-was-a-low-level-chanteuse-in-your-podunk-home-town-and-perform-in-the-kind-of objectifying-outfit-and-scarlet-lipstick-that-attracts-the-exact-same-male-gaze-you’re-intent-upon-avoiding?” asks Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Who’s to say? The only thing for sure here is that constant viewer was obliged to watch the last part of Some Other Woman all over again in a desperate attempt to understand what the movie is actually about.”


Some Other Woman hinges on the performances of its leads to make the story work. Canadian actress Crew does a lot of the heavy lifting as Eve, dealing ably with a complex range of emotions, while Green Khoury finds equal balance with Renata. Without relying on too many histrionics, both actresses capture their characters’ journeys well and are complemented by Felton’s performance as Peter. He is a husband dealing with a troubled wife, her very personality changing daily. The concern and sadness Felton feels is palpable, making Peter feel like a well-rounded, three-dimensional character instead of a plot point,” says Rachel West at That Shelf. “If you’re in the mood for a light psychological thriller, Some Other Woman is a satisfactory one. It even has a few tricks up its storytelling sleeves that may catch you off guard.”


File Under Miscellaneous


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell recaps this year’s Golden Globe Awards: “Oppenheimer seized momentum in the early going and maintained it to the end by taking five Globes, making it the night’s biggest winner: best picture (drama), best director (Christopher Nolan), best actor (drama) for Cillian Murphy, best supporting actor (Robert Downey Jr.) and best original score,” writes Howell. “Barbie won just two Globes, but they included a big victory in the new category of ‘cinematic and box office achievement,’ essentially a ‘best blockbuster’ prize. The movie also won for best original song, ‘What Was I Made For?’ sung by Billie Eilish.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports on changes at TIFF, including Jennifer Frees’ appointment as the festival’s chief business and marketing officer, the expansion of Judy Lung’s role, and the impact of the strikes. “Our corporate partners, who depend on red carpets and sizzle and excitement, were concerned before we even knew how a strike would work,” TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey tells Hertz. “We were dealing with things like interim agreements, and who might come, on a film-by-film, actor-by-actor basis. But our partners didn’t want to live in that uncertainty, which is understandable,” says Bailey. “In some cases, there was a scaling back of how much they wanted to participate and in some cases they said, ‘No, we’re taking a pause and we’ll come back when this is over.’”


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell picks 24 films to look forward to in 2024. Maybe we’ll see some at TIFF ’24? Atop the list is the latest Coen brother movie, Drive-Away Dolls. “Ethan Coen’s film is being called a ‘lesbian road trip movie,’ which of course is only the starting point for a movie likely to go in many directions. Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan star as friends on a mission to Tallahassee, Fla,” says Howell. “As the trailer indicates, they’ll be pursued by a gang of Coen-esque knuckleheads, but to quote the great Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski, ‘This aggression will not stand, man!’ The supporting cast includes Pedro Pascal, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Bill Camp and Matt Damon. The run-time is a comedy-friendly 83 minutes and Coen has hinted it’s the first in a series of queer B-movies he’s making. Bring it on!”


At Original Cin, members share picks for their most anticipated films of 2024. For Jim Slotek, it’s Nosferatu: “I say Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse, The Northman) has the sensibility to make this work.” Liz Braun, meanwhile, can’t wait for the next Deadpool: “How great that Reynolds insisted Deadpool maintain his R-rated status.” For Thom Ernst, he hopes that Francis Ford Coppola’s long-in-the-making Megalopolis finally arrives: “something about this science-fiction story about rebuilding a demolished New York City is weirdly appealing.” Karen Gordon can’t wait to dig into The Taste of Things: “an adult love story where the care involved in preparing wonderful food leads to a deeply felt love.” Kim Hughes, on the other hand, says yes, yes, yes to Back to Black: “It’s hard to imagine any film topping Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary about Amy Winehouse for empathy and sheer emotional heft.” For Chris Knight, a return to Arrakis in Dune: Part 2 is worth the wait: “Here’s hoping it’s as good as the first part and, if it is, here’s further hoping Academy voters have long memories.” Finally, Liam Lacey picks George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga: “Miller fills the screen in every bizarre corner like Hieronymous Bosch paintings sprung to life.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz says that physical media is alive and well (hurrah!) and speaks with staff at Vinegar Syndrome and Bay Street Video to learn how cinephiles are stocking up. “You’re seeing a lot fewer mainstream films get released on physical media, so niche is the way to go – a lot of the stuff that we carry has never had a proper release before,” Andy Williams, co-owner and director of Vinegar Syndrome’s Canadian operations, tells Hertz. “There’s definitely been a resurgence for both us and other boutique labels like Arrow and Kino Lorber that have been constantly upping their game.”

At That Shelf, Pat Mullen chats with director Andrew Haigh and actor Andrew Scott about their film All of Us Strangers and bringing a refreshing portrait of a queer family to the screen. “I just immediately recognised it as something that I feel, which is the accidental cruelty of families. Through love, we say things to our families that are brutalising and make your family members feel unseen and you feel angry with them,” says Scott. “Working through that is so beautiful because, for a lot of people in Adam’s situation, when they come out, it’s not about necessarily outright rejection, nor is it about full-hearted embracing. It’s somewhere in between. I think that’s an experience for a lot of gay people, queer people, and people in the LGBTQ+ community.”


TV Talk/Streaming Stuff


At The Gate, Andrew Parker says Criminal Record “is good thanks to the antagonistic, well performed battle of wills between stars Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo, but the overstuffed plot and a few too many conveniences nearly derail it.” Echo, meanwhile, “is the rare example of a Marvel series that’s all killer and no filler. Probably the studio’s most culturally interesting offering since the first Black Panther film.” Finally, True Detective: Night Country “is a masterful blending of police procedural and snowy horror with exceptional storytelling and direction from Tigers Are Not Afraid director Issa López.”


At Original Cin, Liam Lacey also examines the evidence for Criminal Record: “Where Criminal Record works best is in scenes where Jumbo and Capaldi go toe-to-toe, as characters and actors,” writes Lacey. “Jumbo, who has been twice nominated for playing male Shakespeare roles (Marc Antony, Hamlet) looks strong and is fluidly athletic in intensely physical scenes. Her character constantly pushes forward, in contrast to Capaldi’s ramrod posture and twitchy psychological gamesmanship.”