An interview with Swan Song director Chelsea McMullan about their Rogers Best Canadian Documentary nominee on Karen Kain’s Swan Lake.
TFCA Friday: Week of July 15
July 15, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week!
Becoming a Queen (dir. Chris Strikes 🇨🇦)
“The nerve-shattering ups and downs of building the costume, visualizing the event, and bringing together all the myriad details to make it real, leading to a benchmark moment, make this an eye-popping, provocative doc,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“For a Torontonian, Becoming a Queen is a film that doesn’t tell as much as it could reveal,” admits Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Becoming a Queen is worth seeing but I can’t help thinking that a better—more hard-hitting– film about Caribana is waiting to be made.”
The Deer King (dir. Masshi Ando and Mijayji Masayuki)
“Visually, The Deer King is lushly surreal, with royal surveillance balloons that look like giant eyeballs floating over misty mountains and vistas covered in bile-green lichen,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The dog attacks are particularly good, beginning with a swirling inky tide from which the animals’ dark silhouettes emerge. These images tantalize, but without satisfying, like a trailer for a narrative that would work better as a long-form series.”
Diary of a Spy (dir. Adam Christian Clark)
“This is a most unusual love story playing out through layers of disinformation and a growing list of enemies,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Gripping and wildly improbable, it’s not your standard romance by any means, a truly unique and unfamiliar universe and it happened IRL.”
Girls to Buy (dir. Maria Sadowska)
“[H]as the feel and similar storyline of a single girl lost who comes of age in an adult world as in Paul Verhoeven’s tacky but much loved cult movie Showgirls,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Gone in the Night (dir. Eli Horowitz)
“It doesn’t take long and she begins to understand that a carefully constructed and dangerous conspiracy is in play,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Director Eli Horowitz’s zany, unsubtle look at generational divides, damaging selfishness, and a world of lies is intriguing, creepy, and unintentionally funny.”
“The film benefits from the performance of Winona Ryder who almost carries the film to the end,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Good Madam (dir. Jenna Cato Bass)
“Good Madam is a solid piece of horror that is ambitious enough to tackle issues like Apartheid, colonial land theft, domestic services and family dysfunction,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Gray Man (dir. Joe Russo, Anthony Russo)
“It moves, it’s entertaining, Ryan Gosling is as buff as he’s ever been and all-in as an action star. And who knew all it would take was a porn ‘stache to turn Chris Evans from Captain America into a psycho mercenary?” asks Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “But mostly the characters operate in their own lane. Ana de Armas plays a decent bad-ass as Six’s mostly-in-the-dark field partner…And Evans, who seems like the only actor having fun in this movie, is just plain despicable and over-the-top. Who needs a reason?”
“While the actor is having the best time out of anyone in The Gray Man as an unhinged bad guy – Gosling looks like he would rather be anywhere else – the Russos give him precious little bad guy-ing to do,” yawns Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Aside from two muddled fight scenes with Gosling (one interrupted by a tranquillizer dart, the other so sleepy it might have been choreographed by a tranquillized stunt co-ordinator), Evans spends his time standing behind a phalanx of screens telling other, more anonymous, charmless and ‘stache-less bad guys what to do. Which crystallizes The Gray Man’s black-and-white dilemma: It is a thriller made by people who know what great thrillers can do, but without the ability to make one themselves.”
“Save for using large text across the screen identifying locales and timelines, the Russo brothers don’t imprint any of their own character onto The Gray Man,” admits Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Instead, it’s an amalgamation of other great action films, including a very Mission: Impossible-like sequence in which Six jumps out of a plane; it’s even punctuated with a familiar-sounding score. John Wick, Jason Bourne and Michael Bay all get nods, as well. And while there’s nothing wrong with paying homage to iconic work in the same genre, The Gray Man ends up feeling like a lesser-than version of each of those influences.”
“Netflix’s most expensive film ever at $200 million plays like a sexier Bond film,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The Russo brothers’ adaptation of Mark Greaney’s novel is not for the faint of heart or easily grossed out despite two H’wood heartthrobs,” cautions Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Bring on the war machine – Court and Lloyd are Rasputins reborn, enduring direct shots, stabbings, bone breaks, and whatnot, and keep on tickin’ and the girl watches. Alfre Woodward is there to represent common sense.”
“Until very recently, Netflix had money to burn. And if you’d like to see $200-million of it go up in smoke, look no further than The Gray Man, the streaming service’s costliest production to date. Is it entertaining, you ask? That’s rich!” laughs Chris Knight at the National Post.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song (dir. Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine)
“A new documentary from Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine is ostensibly the story of [one] song, but it also takes in enough of the famed troubadour’s life to give the whole thing just the right amount of context,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Among other things, we learn that Cohen worked on Hallelujah for many years, writing multiple verses – upwards of 150, according to music journalist Larry Sloman – as he struggled to balance its competing themes of physical desire and spirituality.”
“An absolute treasure trove of trivia, the film was approved for production by Cohen before his death in 2016 at age 82,” notes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “It includes never-before-seen archival materials from the sprawling Cohen Trust, including journals showing the ever-changing lyrics of ‘Hallelujah’ plus photographs, performance footage, and rare audio recordings and interviews notably with onetime journalist-cum-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Rolling Stone writer Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman. There is also ample talking-head commentary from admiring musicians.”
“For those who are fans of Cohen, the film contains an in-exhaustive wealth of information,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber chats with directors Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine about exploring Leonard Cohen’s legacy through the many covers of his beloved song. “Brandi Carlisle says towards the last third of the film that what’s so remarkable about a song if it struggles and makes its way out into the world against all odds is that it ultimately becomes its own thing, almost its own person,” Goldfine tells Gorber. “That’s what happened to ‘Hallelujah.’ As filmmakers and artists, it was really gratifying to see that there are times when a good piece of work gets past the gatekeepers. I think that’s something to celebrate and give people hope.”
Karmalink (dir. Jake Wachtel)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “touches many issues but fails to deal with much depth to solve the issues, resorting to his film turning into a sci-fi horror piece at the end.”
Love Accidentally (dir. Peter Sullivan)
“There are lots of sighs, eye rolls, and woe-is-me stuff which drove me bananas but let’s face it – this isn’t heading to the Oscars,” sighs Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (dir. Anthony Fabian)
“Manville, a reliably spiky actress who earned an Oscar nomination for playing her own version of an intimidating fashionista in Phantom Thread, does what she can to keep treacle at bay – she allows a welcome bit of flint to peep from underneath Ada’s goodness, and it’s fun to watch her knock some poseurs down a peg,” writes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. Schneller also speaks with star Lesley Manville about the film’s theme of (in)visibility: “I’m glad the film goes there. Don’t push me into a corner just because I’m over 60,” says Manville. “I’ve been lucky enough to do some great dramas recently, where I’m playing my age, but women who are still sexually active, involved. We’ve got to start saying, ‘Don’t think because you’re over 50 you don’t want to have a romantic or sexual life anymore.’ That’s ludicrous. It’s important to start showing women of our age being sexual.”
“Yet another superb performance by Lesley Manville in a film set in the world of Haute Couture,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “I can be hard-hearted when told a film is “enchanting” but left with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. Eye candy + triumph of positivity + bonds to be made in this life = sweet distraction from our woes.”
“Leslie Manville is nothing short of marvellous in her role,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The movie wants to be a light entertainment, not a lecture, and yet it raises issues as a way of pushing the plot along. We can see it in Mrs. Harris’s determination to have something above her station, but also in the character of beautiful, young Dior model Natasha, who would rather be studying Sartre and philosophers, than making appearances on behalf of her employers,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “All interesting ideas that, along with the idea of a maid buying a couture dress, suggest an era that is turning from rigid class-base, to something more modern. But the movie deals with everything in a perfunctory way.”
“In order to keep the cultural stereotypes on an even keel, Mrs. Harris cooks [her French friends] a dinner of toad-in-the-hole, which they translate clumsily as ‘frog in the ditch,’” ribbits Chris Knight at the National Post. “That bit of linguistic goofiness is a perfect representation of the lighthearted mood that runs through the film. With a soundtrack that sounds like it was inspired by Downton Abbey, and a nuttiness reminiscent of this summer’s other British feel-good movie, The Phantom of the Open, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a frolicsome frock fantasy, full of joie de vivre and a certain I don’t know what.”
“Admittedly, the writers seem to have binged Pretty Woman excessively during pre-production. The terse exchanges between Manville and Huppert could easily accompany Julia Roberts’ shopping spree on Rodeo Drive,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “As far as fashion flicks go, though, the House of Dior fares much better than the House of Gucci.”
Neptune Frost (dir. Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman)
“As blunt as the message is, as a film, Neptune Frost is explosively celebratory and narratively scrambled,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Neptune Frost’s real triumph is the deployment of striking imagery, led by the production and costume design of Rwanda fashion designer, Cedric Mizero, mixing traditional and fashion-forward adornment with technological bric-a-brac (fairy lights on bicycle wheels, circuit boards as jewelry). Co-director Uzeyman’s expressive camera work transitions from lush, pastoral greens to neon pink, twilight blues and milky morning light.”
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (dir. Rob Minkoff & Mark Koetsier)
“Paws of Fury is smart, funny and entertaining and should mark its territory as one of the most entertaining animated features this year,” purrs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Persuasion (dir. Carrie Cracknell)
“Dakota Johnson’s scintillating performance in Jane Austen’s Persuasion puts a new complexion on the beloved story,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The wardrobe, the fine linens and Empire styles that blow so prettily in the coastal winds, the voluminous hats that oddly stay put, and the beautiful Georgian settings and decorations.”
“A wearying spoof, the film, with its Regency-era setting, takes a smart, sombre drama and turns it into a juvenile inanity,” sighs Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Even a silly adaptation doesn’t have to mean stupid. Take Fire Island, a gay Asian-American take on Pride and Prejudice, currently streaming on Disney Plus and a film which feels closer to the spirit of Austen’s tartly observed 19th century comedies of manners than this trifle.”
Where the Crawdads Sing (dir. Olivia Newman)
“The problems start with the central three performers, who are asked to play unbelievably, embarrassingly younger versions of themselves – if you can buy the strapping Smith as a high-schooler, I have some marshland to sell you – and are never, ever able to chew through their dialogue without coming off as completely and utterly artificial creations,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Edgar-Jones, who was engagingly lovelorn in another adaptation of a bestseller (BBC’s miniseries version of Sally Rooney’s Normal People), struggles mightily as Kya, mastering neither the deep south accent nor the babe-in-the-woods shtick. And while Smith and Dickinson are certainly handsome – in that intimidating but also blandly forgettable TV movie kind of way – neither has the screen presence to sell the required romantic intensity.”
“I have to say that in the weeks since I caught an early screening of Where the Crawdads Sing, the particulars have faded somewhat,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “So if we stick with the literary metaphor, this page-turner mystery drama is also something of an airport novel, the kind you might start (and then finish) while waiting for your thrice-delayed flight to finally board. It’s fascinating but forgettable – which sometimes on a warm summer’s evening is all you want.”
“Whether you have read the book or not, the mystery and romance is beautifully woven together and draped on the shoulders of Edgar-Jones’s performance,” observes Marriska Fernandes at Exclaim!. “She brings out the different shades of Kya with such gravitas — her depths and vulnerabilities, her strength and ferociousness, her thoughtfulness and trauma — all at once. The actor has a knack for such intricate characters, seen before with her terrific performance in Fresh. She truly is a force of nature.”
Fernandes also speaks with Crawdads star Daisy Edgar-Jones at Elle Canada and learns how the rising star discovered her character: “So much of how we get to know Kya is actually through flashbacks,” Edgar-Jones tells Fernandes. “We first meet her in the courtroom, and then we get to know her when she’s 15 to when she’s 20. I think imbuing all of those different versions of Kya with something slightly different and finding those nuances was a challenge and also kind of pitching her voice and things like that. I tried making her voice a higher pitch when she was younger, and then there’s like a grounded nature to her voiceover. That part was quite challenging.”
“Where the Crawdads Sing succeeds as a satisfactory strong female mystery romantic drama set in a fresh and different setting in which the bullied and individual triumphs over her adversaries,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Where the Crawdads Sing is recommended, and part of me liked it. But I confess to feeling a bit bored and, surprising even to myself, a bit disappointed that the filmmakers, in the quest to honour Owens’ book, created something without a single surprise in casting, setting or anything else,” admits Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “The balance between faithful and innovative can be struck: witness Witherspoon’s ace portrayal of writer Cheryl Strayed in late director Jean-Marc Vallée’s riveting adaptation of her memoir, Wild. Maybe non-fiction is the key, with quasi-fantasy either best left on the page or rendered with less painstaking attention to details that were imaginary to begin with.”
File Under Miscellaneous
From Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris to Diane Keaton’s upcoming bodyswap comedy, Nathalie Atkinson at Zoomer surveys the new crop of movies about adventurous women of a certain age “We’re going to need a catchy moniker, because Everything Everywhere All at Once and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande are two of the best new non-franchise films in a long time to revolve around older women and their self-discovery outside of marriage and children,” writes Atkinson. “Hopefully they’re only the beginning of an emerging wave of film (and TV and literature) interested in laying bare the challenging, glorious and sometimes madcap adventures embarked on in mature age.”
Alternatively, Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail looks at these films about mature women and asks if the movies can do better. “The fact that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande was written and directed by women; that Carmen has a female writer/director; and that Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris sports a female screenwriter (out of four writers credited) just makes my heart hurt more,” writes Schneller. “Are there really that many women in this current millennium who bend themselves to their husband’s wills, unhappily? And is that really the only story to tell about 50-plus women in 2022?”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes chats with Canada’s Drag Race judge Brag Goreski about the return of the hit show for its third season. He sees a certain Canadian kindness on the show that touches audiences: “I think the way that Canada’s Drag Race connects with people and people see themselves in these queens, or the different versions of these drag queens … I’m so happy to be a part of a show that celebrates the LGBTQ plus community, and celebrates our diversity and also celebrates so many different types of drag,” says Goreski. “I think visibility and representation is so important. If it helps connect one person, then I think we’ve done our job.”
At POV Magazine Pat Mullen cracks the spine of Michael D. Clemens’ book Screening Nature and Nation, which examines the history of NFB environmental documentaries. “As the earlier works from the Board propagated to a passive audience a state message about expansionism in a land ripe for cultivation, the NFB gave shrewd filmmakers a platform to shape environmentalism and, ultimately, the form of documentary itself,” writes Mullen. “Clemens sees even in the most didactic years of the Board moments in which filmmakers innovated with film form, whether they were exploring the relationship between documentary and drama or challenging the perceived objectivity of the camera’s gaze.”
At Sharp, Marriska Fernandes chats with Christian Bale about playing the baddie in Thor: Love and Thunder, going method (or not), and being the man in black: “[W]ith Gorr I had a lot of time because of the makeup process to sit and dwell on him,” says Bale. “We were doing a minimum of three and a half hours makeup every single day. He’s a hell of a character. You always have to accept that you enjoy the process of making a film and then if any of that ends up in the actual end result, that’s gravy.”
TV Talk/Series Scribbles
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out the foxy mini-series Signora Volpe and calls it “good fun.” The docu-series The Bond, meanwhile, is “utterly amazing.” Forever Summer: Hamptons, on the other hand, is a troubling slice of reality: “As silly and over-dramatic and inane the level of entertainment value, its voyeurism captures kids at a vulnerable time. So that’s concerning.”