TFCA Friday: Week of Jan. 5

January 5, 2024

All of Us Strangers | Searchlight Pictures

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


In Release this Week


All of Us Strangers (Dir. Andrew Haigh)

***Runner-up: 3 TFCA Awards – Best Picture, Best Actor (Andrew Scott), Best Adapted Screenplay***


“[P]acks an emotional punch strong enough to fell a person. It seems mundane enough at first. Andrew Scott is Adam, a writer working on a script in his high-rise London apartment; he looks out on the vast sky and bustling city below, but his thoughts are somewhere else. He encounters another tower resident Harry (Paul Mescal) keen to be with him,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The emotional sweep of the film is unexpected and powerful, so nimbly acted and realised that it seems to be happening to us. Plan on recovery time.”


“The film’s director and scriptwriter Andrew Haigh is wonderful at extracting fine performances in his films, and this one is no exception,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM.  “Zoomer viewers may recall his terrific work with Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, an award-winner about a revelation that upsets a couple who have been married for over four decades. You won’t find better actors than Jamie Bell, Claire Foy, Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott but it still takes an excellent director to get the most out of them, especially in a film that is so interior and exquisite. It’s clear that Haigh is an auteur of the highest calibre and that this film is a testament to his ability to create something truly unique.”


“Scott, who played the conflicted priest in TV’s Fleabag, negotiates such difficult scenes with tremendous sensitivity and modulated emotion. Rather than question the absurdity of the situation, he gives himself over to it fully. The same goes for his relationship with Harry, which develops quickly once the two men intuit their mutual longing and desire,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “All four actors are brilliant, but Scott is key in how he negotiates an absurd and unsettling set of circumstances, gradually gaining confidence and self-awareness. Scott’s Adam is grounded in Haigh’s own experiences growing up gay in England; the writer/director shot the home scenes in his own boyhood abode outside Croydon, a London suburb.”


“Scott, best known for playing the Hot Priest on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, is tremendously affecting as the film’s emotional anchor and its main perspective, giving at least some sense of internal life to what is a severely underwritten character. Adam, as a person, seems to be defined by two things: his orphaning and his screenwriting, the latter of which is never touched upon in terms of genre, success, etc,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Ultimately, All of Us Strangers will make you cry – I’m not sure there’s a human being alive that won’t break down just a little while listening to The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which rolls over the film’s final scene and end credits – but this isn’t a movie that should be measured in tears. That is a rather empty game, isn’t it?”


“Too many queer films favour tragic turns in family relationships following the discovery or admission of homosexuality, but All of Us Strangers proves poignantly refreshing with its aspirational portrait of unwavering love,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Haigh straddles genres imperceptibly and one can easily forget that Adam’s encounters with his parents are speculative fiction. If there’s an absence of conflict, there’s great emotional power to the fantasy that Adam enjoys with his mom and dad. Whether he’s seeing ghosts or imagining scenes through the writing process, the absence of conflict is is what makes the film so profound…Haigh creates relationships that could do wonders for anyone waiting for the right time to have tough conversations.”


Bitconned (dir. Bryan Storkel)


“The doc should be less interesting to those uninterested in the bitcoin business but still should be informative and educational enough to be deemed a worthwhile watch. For those in the know, Bitconned is not only informative but insightful providing views from both sides of the story on the bitcoin scam devised by Ray Trapani,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Good Grief (dir. Dan Levy)


Good Grief is an impressive first full-length feature, a bit sappy but still, a film that nevertheless surpasses the typical clichéd and often forced theatrical sincerity,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Dan Levy follows up the much-loved, multi-award-winning comedy series Schitt’s Creek which he co-wrote, produced, starred in, and occasionally directed with something completely different,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A major shift in tone for Levy, and he shows promise and sensitivity as a filmmaker. However, an excess of dialogue with little breathing room or comic relief feels too heavy. Emma Corrin contrasts in a brief appearance as a screeching, knitting performance artist and the 80′ – 90s’ emo soundtrack is fab.”


Good Grief has the makings of a decent warm-blanket movie — it’s entertaining, heartfelt and funny at just the right moments — and should enjoy a good amount of success as a straight-to-streaming offering,” adds Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “But, as a filmmaker, Levy’s restraint proves to be a double-edged sword. By being unsurprising, Levy can’t falter much (save for the script); it points towards a director unwilling to take risks, similar to a singer transitioning to film and deciding to play a pop star in their first movie.”


He Went That Way (dir. Jeff Darling)


“The film hardly holds much interest besides the emphasis at the start that this film is based on a true story and that it is almost impossible to guess where this true story will lead to or end,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “This raise high hopes for the audience that does not come to fruition.”


Man on the Run (dir. Cassius Michael Kim)


“The numbers of billions are shocking, beyond the imagination of us po’ folk. One theft of many involving foreign governments was a whopping, eye-watering $910B,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Like pondering the size of the universe. Not so ironically, Jho used the stolen money to finance DiCarpio’s film about criminal greed The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s one thing for a man to rob a country blind but quite another to ensnare a network of enablers from Saudi Arabia to Hollywood and Asia. Lawsuits are flying, and the two-time PM of Malaysia is in jail after having given a lengthy, juicy interview for the doc.”


Night Swim (dir. Bryce McGuire)


“Not long into the film, it’s apparent that the sink-or-swim undertaking of the filmmakers will sink. Dragging the film down is a litany of character types, from Condon’s wise and saintly wife and mother routine (her every interaction with her teen daughter is met with wide-eyed appreciation) to the comically awkward pool technician (Ben Sinclair) to the obsequious pandering of the real estate agent (Nancy Lenehan),” admits Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “But it’s disingenuous to suggest the characters are to blame when the film’s writing anchors Night Swim down to its rock bottom. A collusion of myth, psychedelic imagery, and made-for-television horror makes for an uneven delivery, even from the film’s best performances.”


“There are a couple of good ideas. One is a red-and-white toy boat that recalls the buoy in Jaws, the one that terrified swimmer Chrissie clings to during that film’s initial shark attack. Just thinking about that scene would be enough to make people wary of what’s beneath the surface of any body of water, large or small,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “McGuire wisely resists the urge to steal or imitate the ‘da-dum, da-dum, da-dum’ theme for the shark from Jaws. He instead goes in for a minimalist electronic sound that makes the pool seem all the more threatening, as does the moody underwater lensing by Smile cinematographer Charlie Sarroff. For the most part, though, this feature version of Night Swim further demonstrates the truism that longer is rarely better when it comes to movies. The original was short, sharp and shocking.”


Prime (dir. Thabiso Christopher)


“The film is not a pleasant watch for a number of reasons, the main one being the depressing and loser behaviour of the protagonist,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Director Christopher uses a lot of annoyances like stroking lights and high-pitched sounds to highlight the trauma faced by Marius.”


Seven Winters in Tehran (dir. Steffi Niederzoll)


“Her own sense of honour precluded that possibility. Jabbari’s refusal to lie to save her life made her a martyr for the abuse of women in Iran. Filmmaker Neiderzoll augments this idea by including interviews with other women inmates, including one who describes how, in a painful account, she was sold as a child into prostitution by her father,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “You can’t help but feel the anguish of Jabbari’s loving, dignified parents, and marvel at her stoicism. But in the end, all their efforts and moral principles were futile. The result is a tragedy without catharsis. That makes it difficult to know, as Sontag said, ‘what to do with the feelings that have been aroused.’”


Seven Winters in Tehran adds to the inhospitable environment of the prisons by evoking their design through miniatures and sets. Access is, of course, off limits to the real deal. This sense of absence underscores many of the common points among the women’s stories: justice doesn’t live within these walls,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “In potently examining this one case, Seven Winters in Tehran finds no sense of justice. Reyhaneh’s family nevertheless maintains a brave face when speaking about the situation, if only to help draw attention to the many more women who will be trapped by the cycle.”


Society of the Snow (dir. J.A. Bayona)


“Held together by inventive narration and a handful of sturdy Spanish-language performances, Society of the Snow can sometimes lag – especially its mid-section, when matters atop the mountain seem the most dire – but the moments that do work will leave a pit in your stomach and a chill on your bones,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “This includes the crash itself, a harrowing few minutes of horror that underline Bayona’s disaster-aesthetic bona fides. And once the scandalous cannibalism angle comes into play – handled as delicately as possible – the film adds a more philosophical, even spiritual, layer to its desperate drama.”


Holiday Catch-up: Here’s What Members Saw/Reviewed Over the Break


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson rounds up the latest notable books for aficionados of the big (and small) screen. Highlights include an award season refreshment table accent, Vanity Fair Oscar Night Sessions: “Because sometimes you just want to see glossy photos of people all dressed up, page through the last decade of portraits from Vanity Fair’s after parties on Hollywood’s prom night, featuring Lady Gaga, Robert De Niro, Spike Lee and others –  a chronicle of up-to-the-minute celebrity. The glamour!” writes Atkinson.


At Classical FM, Marc Glassman scores a golden ticket for Wonka: “Though we’re interested in how Chalamet’s Wonka will beat his nefarious foes, the real appeal is in his friendship with Noodle, a young woman from a diverse and mysterious background, who decides to wise him up, including teaching him to read. (Yes, young Wonka is illiterate, which makes him far more vulnerable to the machinations of the kind of big business operators that King condemns). Chalamet’s open, heartfelt relationship to breakthrough performer Callah Lane’s Noodle is at the core of Wonka; their camaraderie is what makes an audience care about the film.”


At Original Cin, the team reflects on the highs and lows of 2023. For Jim Slotek, Dream Scenario is tops. (“I’m gobsmacked that this, one of Nicolas Cage’s career-best movies, has no awards traction.”) For Liz Braun, highlights include The Zone of Interest (“absolutely riveting”) and Memory (“If you like your movies dark and chewy…”). Meanwhile, Thom Ernst praises Beau Is Afraid (“Joaquin Phoenix practically implodes”), while Karen Gordon agrees on Zone of Interest (“subtle, haunting”) and Beau Is Afraid (“You’ve been warned”). For Kim Hughes, the top tickets are The Teachers’ Lounge (“a genuinely white-knuckle drama”) and Chuck Chuck Baby (“the year’s hand-down heart-warmer”). For Liam Lacey, Afire (“a film that shifts from cringe comedy to climate disaster movie”) is atop the list. Chris Knight, finally, encourages audiences to embraces three-hours of subtitles and stream The Delinquents (“a master class in filmmaking”).


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz rings in the New Year with a list of 24 films to watch out for in 2024, including (hopefully) Francis Ford Coppola’s latest work, Megalopolis: “Will 2024 be the year that Francis Ford Coppola delivers his decades-in-development sci-fi epic?” asks Hertz. “The director finally started shooting in 2022, so Coppola’s first movie in more than a decade (since 2011′s Twixt) should presumably be that much closer to completion. Then again, this is Coppola, so perhaps this love story about a woman with ‘divided loyalties’ – starring Aubrey Plaza, Adam Driver, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Laurence Fishburne – might need another year or three of tinkering.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At The Asian Cut, Rachel Ho speaks with The Brothers Sun stars Justin Chien and Sam Song Li about parental advice and mentors who guided them along the way: “[M]y mom is my hero,” Sam Song Li tells Ho. “She took care of me and my sister in a country that she didn’t even speak the language of—she came to the US and had to learn English, and now she’s an aerospace engineer. She’s sacrificed so much and experienced so much. She’s the type of mom who still is texting me updates about property tax or healthcare—these big life things that I feel like no one was really around to teach me and I think she does a phenomenal job of educating me.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie has a laugh with the return of Son of a Critch: “Mark Critch’s beloved memoir-inspired series set in Newfoundland throws open the gates. The Critch family finds father Mike and son Mike Jr. (Colton Gobbo) suddenly competitors on the local radio station. Mike Jr., now calling himself Mike Campbell, expands his youth-oriented show with local live events – he’s a hit and the ladies love him.” Ditto the new season of Run the Burbs: “Relatable, and funny; Morzaria and Phung’s comic chemistry sparkles.”