Reviews include My Salinger Year, Stray, and Coming 2 America.
TFCA Friday: Week of Jan. 22
January 22, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
But first: in case you missed the news, the $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award is back and will be revealed at our public virtual gala on March 9. Applications are also open for the 2021 Cineplex Emerging Critic Award.
In Release this Week
Baby Done (dir. Curtis Vowell)
“Zoe’s as charming and relatable as it gets but her blind spot is never explained, and her self-defeating behaviour continues unchecked,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Good thing she’s so funny and the film’s so entertaining.”
“Clever if a touch predictable – especially during the third trimester – Baby Done is lighthearted, escapist entertainment, and even includes some terse advice for would-be fathers,” says Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Challenging the premise of comedies like Knocked Up by making the expectant mother the irresponsible one is a fine idea, but Sophie Henderson’s script doesn’t stop there: Baby Done gives both leads full emotional lives as they struggle separately with the weight of becoming parents, and whether that means their interesting, independent lives are really over,” argues Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
“More goofily inspired are the scenes where she has a short-lived flirtation with a smooth-talking ‘pregaphile’ fetishist,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “A few more such haphazard encounters might have made Baby Done feel like more like a fresh exploration rather than labouring to rework a formula.”
Clapboard Jungle (dir. Justin McConnell 🇨🇦)
“While the film illustrates McConnell’s aptitude for low-budget horror, it leaves something to be desired as a documentary,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “As a slice of lo-fi DIY film-on-film documentary, the tired talking heads approach is limited and struggles to carry the 98-minute running time.”
Coming Clean (dir. Ondi Timoner)
“[A] well intentioned urgent feature documentary that is both insightful and timely, urgent for the fact that everyone has to start doing their part to stop the opioid epidemic,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
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.
Healing from Hate (dir. Peter D. Hutchison)
“Director Hutchinson is to be commended for the film’s most powerful segment of putting an angry white man and angry back man together talking as peaceful friends to the camera,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Identifying Features (dir. Fernanda Valadez)
“Identifying Features is a first feature from Mexican writer/director Fernanda Valadez, and it tells a story of human tragedy with images so striking it reminded me why the big-screen experience is something we desperately need to get back,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Cinematographer Claudia Becerril Bulos is full of surprises – transforming the often barren looking Mexican landscape into stunning vistas,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Beautifully shot and with excellent neo-realist performances, Identifying Features encourages viewers to consider the politics and racism that underline this well wrought tale,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“While the details of Valadez’s world can be vague at times, and the filmmaker is no fan of dialogue, Identifying Features is an intriguing corrective to cinema that treats Mexico as little more than a land of cheap thrills,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
Jiu Jitsu (dir. Dimitri Yogothetis)
“Jiu Jitsu has a few well choreographed fight scenes but that is not sufficient reason to have to sit through 105 minutes of pure nonsense,” groans Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story (dir. Seth Koch and Rick Lazes; Jan. 26)
“[A] story of a fighter who turned out, in the words of Dickens, the hero who wrote his own page in the book of life, while still being a human being who found romance and who is kind, tolerant against all prejudices (as in his transgendered promoter),” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Make Up (dir. Claire Oakley)
“Gorgeous cinematography celebrates nature’s beauty and threat, as the camera gazes at people not always fully visible, through windows, grasses, sandhills, adding to Molly’s emotional isolation,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Oakley’s film might be frustrating to come as her loose narrative of Ruth’s coming-of-age journey seems to be meandering without direction,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But it is for this fact, that her film stands out.”
“At under 90 minutes, Make Up doesn’t include much action but the skin-crawling effect of the film reverberates until after the credits roll,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
Our Friend (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
“The heart-tugging examination of empathy in crisis is also unintentionally timely,” suggests Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Take your hankies, as this is a cleansing, rejuvenating experience.” Brodie also has a pre-pandemic chat with stars Jason Segel and Dakota Johnson.
“It’s a humorous, heartfelt, and bittersweet ode to friendships that transform our lives,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
“Despite the negative disorienting effects of the film’s non-chronological storytelling, Our Friend still emerges as a moving drama about life, loss and friendship,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“A moving film about love, friendship, and impending loss that never panders or gives in to unwarranted emotional manipulation, Our Friend is a delicate and thoughtful take on material that could’ve easily been turned into an empty tearjerker,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Our Friend “while sporadically affecting, is ultimately a slog of gooey sentiment and needlessly long death rattles,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“[W]hile the film may sanitize some of the physical aspects of disease, it hits home on the emotional front,” argues Chris Knight at the National Post.
“[O]ver two time-scrambled hours, director Cowperthwaite (Megan Leavey) and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace) pull every string and mash every button to get your tear ducts flowing, without ever once bringing these people clearly into focus,” cries Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
Phobic (dir. Bryce Clark)
“The story ends with a twist, but unfortunately the most ridiculous one ever seen in a film this year,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
(dir. Lili Horvát)
“[T]he brain surgery segment is the most suspenseful and tense segment in any film seen this year,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“This throws Marta, a neurosurgeon who is beginning to doubt her own work, into a state of existential crisis, one that director Lili Horvat teases with curiosity and ambiguity, as if Krzysztof Kieslowski were alive and well and making movies in Budapest,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Horvát’s film slips us into [Natasa] Stork’s disconnected, self-doubting state of mind, drifting alongside Márta as she investigates this crucial question and turning the film into a mixture of Hitchcockian drama and Kieslowskian existentialism,” agrees Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
“It takes its time, in its moody, way without even a hint of commercial, conventional Hollywood cliché,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“The ending of this intricately ingenious film with its retro-noir sheen is unexpectedly flat, though even the let-down leaves tantalizing questions,” admits Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“If you’re OK drawing your own conclusion about what happened to Marta, this will no doubt appeal,” suggests Chris Knight at the National Post. “After all, deciding what you think about cinema isn’t brain surgery. Or – wait – is it?”
Psycho Goreman (dir. Steven Kostanski 🇨🇦)
“With Psycho Goreman, Kostanski cements himself as the modern heir to Canada’s Tax Shelter Era throne,” declares Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “In the words of Evil Dead hero Ash – surely another remnant of 1980s culture occupying sizable real estate in Kostanski’s head – hail to the king, baby.”
“Kostanski populates his film with an impressive array of aliens, lovingly crafted out of practical prosthetics and oodles of slime,” agrees Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s not quite the equal of Manborg, but it is silly, cornball fun.”
“Writer/director Kostanski, whose last feature was the eerie John Carpenter riff The Void, takes his ridiculous premise and runs with it, walking an impossible line between the inherent foolishness of the world he’s built…and finding the tragedy in the consequences of that violence,” splatters Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
“With winks at the cheesiness of a previous generation’s entertainment and a razzberry directed at contemporary blockbusters with a thousand times its minuscule budget, Psycho Goreman is an entertaining exercise in low-tech sci-fi camp,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin.
The Rental (dir. Dave Franco)
“The Rental offers a compelling mix of domestic-drama tension and slasher thrills,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. Hertz also has an interview with star Alison Brie, who still stays in AirBnBs after filming the horror flick.
Stallone: Frank, That Is (dir. Derek Wayne Johnson)
“It is a vanity project with the faintest hint of documentary ambitions – a barely feature-length tribute to the many apparent talents (music! acting! boxing!) of Sylvester’s younger brother,” cheese Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
The White Tiger (dir. Ramin Bahrani)
“A caustic, comic tale of rags-to-riches to moral collapse,” roars Liam Lacey at Original Cin, who also calls the film an “intriguing departure for Bahrani.”
“Watching The White Tiger – framed, like the novel, as a letter from budding entrepreneur Balram Halwai to then-premier Wen Jiabao on the occasion of a state visit from China to India – feels more like an audio book than a true adaptation,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“[Adarsh] Gourav is impressive showing the dark recesses of human malevolence sparked by insecurity,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto calls it “an Indian family epic coming-of-age story of morals and behaviour.”
“The White Tiger is a film of wit and murderous rage—in other words, a must see,” raves Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
You Will Die at Twenty (dir. Amjad Abu Alala)
“[A] magnificent coming-of-age story set in a male dominated Sudanese society where director Alala proves that women can still come up strong,” praises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“First-time director Abu Alala brings visually striking cinematography to this Sudan-set drama, which imbues the story with its heightened sense of fable,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
Questions Answered, Woman Discussed, and a World Travelled
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz answers readers’ many questions to help them navigate the world of VOD, SVOD, PVOD, CanCon, and the future of theatrical moviegoing: “Anyone who has a firm idea [when theatres re-open] is guessing/deluded,” writes Hertz. “Even though theatres have undertaken intense public-health measures and there have been no reported cases of in-cinema transmission, Canadian governments have arbitrarily lumped in theatres with bars, restaurants and live-entertainment venues.”
Taking a ride on an airplane might be a fool’s endeavour in the era of COVID, but film buffs can travel the world thanks to the Oscars’ Best International Feature category, which is busier than ever. Liam Lacey breaks down some of the contenders at Original Cin, which range from “harrowing point-of-view battle scenes” in Latvia’s bid Blizzard of Souls to “juicily gruesome horror” in Indonesia’s long (very long) shot contender Impetigore.
At NOW Magazine, Radheyan Simonpillai leads a round-table discussion in which several women unpack the cocktail of triggering and empowering violence in Emerald Fennell’s revenge flick, Promising Young Woman. “People get scared when women get angry,” says panelist Farrah Khan, who defends the complexity in the film’s portrait of violence and rage.
The Critics Get Political
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller reacts to the sight of Kamala Harris being sworn for the office of the Vice-President of the United States: “Men and women alike were moved, but for women it felt especially personal. Ms. Harris is the embodiment of female perseverance. Watching her succeed calls to mind the struggles that all women, and especially women of colour, have endured throughout human history. Women were ruminating about all the days they’ve lived limited by outside ideas. They were thrilled that Ms. Harris, who has always spoken with conviction, was at last definitively being heard.”
At POV Magazine, Liam Lacey considers how documentary has employed the role of propaganda more liberally in the Trump years when other films confront the world of fake news: “This distrust of the consensus-oriented mainstream liberal media, from left and right, continues to lead to the bewildering horseshoe or mirror effect. The phenomenon is notable in the case of filmmaker Michael Moore. Despite his ideological differences to Trump, Moore fits a similar stereotype: another comically overweight truth-telling clown in a trucker cap with a gift for insulting his rivals, who claims to speak for the forgotten manufacturing workers against globalist elites.”
TV Talk: Stay-at-home Binge-watching
At What She Said, Anne Brodie has been binge-watching away during lockdown. Among her recent screenings are Lupin (“old fashioned fun”) and Losing Alice (“it shocks and surprises, and but with glossy authenticity”). She also has good words for Topic’s The Grave, calling it a “jaw-dropper,” the “dangerous seductive” Painting with John, and the growth of Inuit film and television.
Glenn Sumi at NOW Magazine looks at Netflix’s Bling Empire and sees how it stacks up to the Crazy Rich Asians comparisons it invites (and makes itself): “What saves the series from total superficiality, however, is the fact that, as in Crazy Rich Asians, there are intriguing themes about things like tradition vs. modern life, respect for one’s elders and saving face.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen finds himself disappointed with part two of Tiger after the first half teed-up the story so well. “As Tiger arrives as one of the first docs to craft a comeback narrative in the wake of the #MeToo reckoning that Woods’ fall preceded, its rousing finale strikes the wrong tone—as accurate as it may be that Woods returned with renewed fire. Sometimes a player doesn’t warrant a mulligan.”
From the Archive: Manborg
With Psycho Goreman getting the critics’ blood flowing this week, film buffs might want to revisit Steven Kostanski’s feature directorial debut Manborg. The splat-n-chuckle mayhem is available on VOD, Amazon Prime, and Shudder. Here is what Chris Knight had to say about Manborg in his original review at the National Post:
The effects are a hodgepodge of Ray Harryhausen-style stop motion, bad prosthetics and rotoscoped laser blasts. By all the laws of modern cinema (and a few of physics), it should collapse under its own weight, yet Kostanski manages just the right mix of ridicule and drama that we can care about the plot even as we laugh at it.
Besides, it’s hard to hate a film in which fighters in an arena are told: “There are no losers. You either win or you die! Although saying it out loud it seems fairly obvious who the losers would be. Let the games begin!”
Manborg runs a scant 62 minutes, including credits. Did Kostanski run out of money or ideas? Either way, it was a wise call to end the film when he did. If there’s one lesson to be learned from the 1980s, it’s not to overstay your welcome.