TFCA Friday: Week of July 21

July 21, 2023

Oppenheimer | Universal Pictures Canada

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


In Release this Week!


20 Days in Mariupol (dir. Mstyslav Chernov)


At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber speaks with 20 Days in Mariupol director Mstyslav Chernov about his Sundance winner that captures the tragedy of the war in Ukraine: “You see people reacting not particularly well on camera. Sometimes they swear at me, and sometimes, on the contrary, they ask me to film them because they think it’s important or they want their relatives to see them,” Chernov tells Gorber. “Sometimes they are very pro-Ukrainian, sometimes they think Ukrainians are the ones bombing them. By keeping all of that in the film, it gives me a chance to feel that I did a good job being neutral and distant enough in telling the stories of people. In my voiceover as well, I’ve tried to be quite distant and neutral, I’ve tried to be not judgmental. But at the same time, I really wanted the audience to know that this story is part of a community. I’m of course part of this community.”

The (Almost) Legends (dir. Ricardo Castro Velazquez)


“Not as hilarious as it should be, the film has s a lagging middle. It also does not help that it is hard to care for two half-brothers succeeding when there is nothing really at stake,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Barbie (dir. Greta Gerwig)


“Let’s cut to the chase: Barbie is the greatest advertisement of all time. As a thrilling, escapist summertime movie? Yeah, no. ‘Wassup?!’ and ‘Where’s the beef’ have officially been destroyed,” declares Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “What makes the whole thing even more troubling is that Barbie, the movie brought to you by Mattel —which of course has lookalike dolls of the Barbie movie cast on its website for sale right now — is visually stunning, superbly acted, and clearly a passion project for writer-director Greta Gerwig and star-producer Margot Robbie. The sets, helpfully explained and promoted by Robbie in Architectural Digest no less, are like imagination explosions coated in cotton candy and twirling on acid trips. But the hard sell kills the film.”


“[Gerwig] has crafted a film that is at once intelligent, funny, sexy and unexpectedly emotional – and all of it built around a plastic, bodaciously proportioned fashion doll that was first marketed 64 years ago, during the long trough between the movement’s first and second waves,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Gerwig has somehow managed in under two hours to accuse, indict, arrest, try, convict, judge, imprison, parole, rehabilitate and release the hapless plaything, whose tarnished reputation was never even her own fault to begin with. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit: She’s not bad, she’s just moulded that way…Barbie is fantastic, thought-provoking fun.”


“The conceit starts to wear a bit thin as the film constantly shifts between Barbie Land, a woman-led pink paradise free from all physical defects, and the scary Real World, represented by a Los Angeles blighted by male domination, cellulite and flat feet,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “But really, should we be surprised that a movie built around a mass-production toy isn’t entirely original? The fact that Barbie succeeds as well as it does is worthy of a toast from a pink cocktail on a hot summer’s eve.”


Barbie is a high wire act as a film, with Gerwig having to balance a critique of the beautiful  bombshell with a shameless embrace of her child-like qualities. It’s a tough artistic stance but she has to grab it and make it work,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Greta Gerwig hasn’t really solved the problem of being a Barbie…A final thought: the true inspiration for this film is Pinocchio. Just like Geppetto’s puppet, Barbie wants to be a real girl—and in the end, she may get what she wants, which isn’t a nose.”


“Making a Barbie movie isn’t like adapting the Transformers or Batman. There’s no widely accepted backstory for Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach to navigate. Much like The Lego Movie, the property’s lack of narrative restrictions allows the co-writers to let their imaginations run wild. And the result is a movie unlike anything else arriving in theatres this summer,” says Victor Stiff at Victor Stiff Reviews. “Barbie defies a simple description. It has the whimsy and wonder (and gorgeous lo-fi sets) of The Wizard of Oz and the existential curiosity of The Matrix. Throw in some of the irreverent humour found in Austin Powers movies, a dash of Pinocchio, and some nods to Toy Story and you start to get an inkling of this film’s singular style and tone.”


At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes chats with Barbie’s Ken-adian stars, Ryan Gosling and Simu Liu about guys and dolls: “I grew up in a time and place in society where it was like, boys play with these toys and girls play with these toys,” says Liu. “It’s all a bunch of bullshit. You should be able to play with whatever toys you want to play with; you should be able to wear whatever colour you want to wear. You should be able to celebrate who you are.”


“The film is to be praised for its stunning set and art decoration and its creation on a fantasy and animated looking Barbieland, all dressed in dreamy pink,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Apart from that, nothing else really is worthy of note. The film should have been funnier for all its silliness.”


Concrete Valley (dir. Antoine Bourges 🇨🇦)


“Sensitive and intimate might be the obvious adjectives for such a film, but Bourges is also intent on making Concrete Valley quite funny in parts, the humane humour balancing the ever-present anxiety that exists in many of Thorncliffe Park’s hallways and crowded elevators,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “And the entire world-in-miniature is captured with a spare sort of isolated beauty by cinematographer Nikolay Michaylov (Anne at 13,000 ft.) – never have pharmacy shelves and faded apartment lobbies looked so enigmatic.”


Concrete Valley is a slow moving drama but is nevertheless captivating enough to hold interest throughout with its endearing immigrant family facing both integration and personal problems, occasionally with both mixed together,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The entire film looks much less pretentious than previous Canadian immigration films like last year’s downright awful Scarborough or this year’s recent So Much Tenderness.”


“Straddling the line between drama and documentary, Concrete Valley uses a mix of professional and first-time actors to tell the story of Rashid and Farah (Hussam Douhna, Amani Ibrahim), recent immigrants from Syria who have settled with their young son in the Toronto neighbourhood of Thorncliffe Park,” says Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Concrete Valley is a loving, lovely portrait of a corner of the city that, unless you live there, is probably either a blank spot on your map or a region you drive through to get somewhere else.”


“Played by actor/comedian Aliya Kanani, whom audiences might remember from her heartbreakingly good performance as the devoted teacher in Scarborough, Saba is one of few roles assumed by a professional thespian,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “On one hand, this casting affords a unique dynamic of authority to a character in a relatively minor role. On the other, the naturalism of Kanani’s performance complements the understated power of the non-professional actors. Concrete Valley is an honest and humane consideration of what it means to grow roots in a new land.”


El Dorado: Everything the Nazis Hate

(dir. Benjamin Cantu, and Matt Lambert)


“Another timely offering as walls close in around non-binary folks in the US, parts of Africa, and elsewhere in the world. Gay oppression seems to be a pre-existing factor for societies to turn towards fascism,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Germany’s Weimar era 1919 to 1933, was alive with new arts and music, exploration of sexuality, expression, and acceptance of radical lifestyle ideas.  In the early thirties, Hitler and his goons were rising in influence and power, seeking a pure Germany, a superior Aryan uber state of blue-eyed blondes, fit, malleable, and sexually ‘normal.’ The new freedoms of the Weimar offended Hitler and his far righties; the result was attempted genocide of the LGBTQ2S community.”


Lakota Nation vs. the United States

(dir. Jesse Short Bull, Laura Tomaselli)


“Moving, relevant and important, the doc reminds every non-native in North America that they are living on stolen land,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Miraculous: Lady Bug & Cat Noir (dir. Jeremy Zag)


“The animated feature is from France’s Zag Studies with the director serving too as co-writer and song writer for the film,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “A neat little French entry, no competition to Pixar and Disney but has its French charm which is hard not to like.”


Oppenheimer (dir. Christopher Nolan)


“A triumph of balance, intellect, excitement, and psychological soundness, of political, historical, and human significance, and of poetry, the music of science and beauty. It’s a masterpiece, and extraordinary philosophical experience, and an entertainment, and easily one of the best big films, ready to take its place in history,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Also stars Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and a mass of name stars and character players. A telling and amusing conceit as Albert Einstein’s (Tom Conti) single facial expression changes the course of history. Bonus – How refreshing to listen to clear, concise, crisp, forward-moving dialogue.”


Nolan is often criticized (unfairly, in my opinion) for making films that are cold and detached. With Oppenheimer, Nolan brings the force of one of modern history’s most world-altering events in a manner that may seem heartless on the surface, free of outward displays of the actual human suffering caused by Oppenheimer’s creation,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “However, it’s through the physicist’s downfall, and redemption of sorts, that Nolan gets to the unsettling heart of humanity and all its intricacies.”


“There has been much talk of Oppenheimer being Nolan’s best work, comparing it to Oliver Stone’s JFK in terms of scale, scope, and conspiracy. While I would argue that even an ‘okay’ Nolan film is still a good film, as good as Oppenheimer is, it is simply is not his best (I’d rather reserve that accolade for the mind-bending Inception or Interstellar). At his best, however, is Murphy,” says Rachel West at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. “The actor convincingly spans Oppenheimer’s life, from young intellectual in a lab through to the weary man whose brilliance wrought the deaths of hundreds of thousands, unleashing an awesome power that humanity perhaps should not hold. Murphy plays each iteration of Oppenheimer well, which is a must for an actor who is in virtually every scene of the films three-hour runtime.”


Oppenheimer features an extraordinary cast…Murphy is faultless in Oppenheimer: he is that man. Nolan has a knack for finding the right actors for his films and so it is with Oppenheimer,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Malek, Affleck and Oldman are excellent in their scenes but the finest—or at least showiest—performance is by Robert Downey Jr. who absolutely dominates his scenes as the villainous Lewis Strauss. You can’t keep your eyes off him; Downey is mesmerizing in the role.”


“Here though, it’s less about the characters than a finding. From the beginning to Nolan’s visually stunning and prophetic end, Oppenheimer never seems able to exert control over where he — or humanity as a whole — is headed. He is unable to control the outcome of his relationships, fight back against the sham hearings against him, control the use of his weapons, or stop the later development of the even deadlier hydrogen bombs,” writes Jackson Weaver at CBC. “With its fatalistic bent, Oppenheimer is another of the year’s pessimistic parables like Beau Is Afraid and Asteroid City, seemingly plucked right from a public unconscious staring right at an apocalyptic end.”


“Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stunning photography magnificently conveys the grandeur of this turning point in human history. From the elemental beauty of the dusty New Mexico plains to the crimson fury of an atomic explosion, the visual palette engulfs the audience in cosmic wonder and nihilistic dread, all in the span of a few moments,” says Victor Stiff at Victor Stiff Reviews. “Composer Ludwig Göransson‘s spectral score complements the visuals, intensifying the relentless tension. The ethereal sound design adds to the feeling of drifting through Oppenheimer’s mind, creating an immersive and haunting experience.”


Oppenheimer is to be praised for its direction, main performance and particularly its visuals, aided by director Nolan’s re-imagination of the damaging effects of the hydrogen bomb,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The film contains many moments of jaw dropping shots in which the theatre went into complete silence.”


“At three dense hours of mostly dialogue and murky motivation, Oppenheimer demands commitment and tests patience as we follow a brilliant but difficult-to-like protagonist (a mesmerizing Cillian Murphy),” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “By the time Gen. Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) puts J. Robert Oppenheimer in charge of the Manhattan Project, damning him personally as a ‘dilettante and a womanizer,’ we already know this to be true. Murphy’s Oppenheimer is arrogant, often clueless about people, makes bad personal decisions, treats the women in his life badly and can be a hypocrite on moral grounds.”


“Ultimately, Oppenheimer is a riveting history lesson and a calculated study of an individual who changed the course of human history forever – though as someone in the film notes, if it wasn’t him it would have been someone else,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “As we mark the 78th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki next month, and continue to live with the possibility of nuclear war in Ukraine, Kashmir, Korea and elsewhere, this primer couldn’t be more timely. In fact, since July 16, 1945, the so-called timeliness of the atomic bomb has never left us.”


Oppenheimer is a captivating kind of commitment that requires significant breathing room, or maybe a spacious panic room. And anyone who might walk away from the film convinced that it is a glorification or obfuscation of a man whose machinations rained death down on Japan, as some early bad-faith talking points are already intent on miscommunicating, has either slept through the film or intentionally blinded themselves to its truths,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Helping Nolan achieve all this – and Oppenheimer is an achievement as much as it is an undertaking, vast and complicated and excitingly successful – are two elements: sound and fury. The former is provided by composer Ludwig Goransson (Tenet), who brings to Oppenheimer a shattering sonic blast that hums and rattles, unnerves and energizes.”


“The interplay between Murphy’s suave Oppenheimer and Damon’s gruff Groves is another oppositional highlight of the film. So is the pairing of Murphy with Emily Blunt, the woman who makes the greatest impact in this male-dominated picture,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Fiercely loyal to her husband despite his philandering ways and patrician manner, strained by the demands of raising a daughter almost on her own and too dependent on alcohol for relief, she’s very much the fire to his ice.”


Sharkspoitation (dir. Stephen Scarlata)


“Best to skip unless one is totally interested in shark horror as there is nothing really of urgency to be learnt here, though interesting to watch clips of old movies of forgettable low-budge generally awful shark horror films,” advises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.Sharksploitation is mildly entertaining at best!”


Stephen Curry: Underrated (dir. Peter Nicks)


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with director Peter Nicks about profiling NBA star Stephen Curry and getting to the heart of his story. “The art of documentary is allowing someone’s authentic self to reveal itself,” Nicks tells Mullen. “In fiction, you tend to write it: you put your characters in a conflict or a position where they have to make a choice. Oftentimes, those choices reveal character and lead to authenticity. Whether it’s a first date, a job interview, or what we’re doing right now [having a conversation], we project an image of ourselves that we want to be seen. That comes from a very human desire to be seen in a positive light, to be understood, or to be recognized. With Steph, we knew that it was going be a process of allowing him to unfold for the audience in terms of who he was and what his values were.”


Theater Camp (dir. Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman)


“Like its characters, Theater Camp is an underdog with loads of talent, lots of laughs and a great big heart. While it may not be the most popular new kid at the multiplex, it deserves all the love it can get,” declares Glenn Sumi at Go Ahead Sumi. “What’s more, the writers and filmmakers have real affection for everyone in the film – even Troy. They also clearly love the industry, from the use of a tear stick to induce crying (‘doping for actors!’) to the unsmiling yet totally organized stage manager. And while Joan, Still sounds (intentionally) dreadful, it’s no worse than any number of ill-conceived biographical musicals.”


Theater Camp is a crowd-pleaser if you happen to be part of the crowd. That doesn’t mean theatre outsiders are excluded, but they might feel upstaged by the good-natured ‘Gosh, I hope I get it’ push towards everything Fosse, Weber, Sondheim, Larson, and Miranda,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “[N]otable performances come from Ayo Edebiri as an acting coach with zero experience. Noah Galvin plays an under-appreciated set-designer with talent that exceed expectations, Kyndra Sanchez is a young girl verging towards success outside of camp perimeters, plus a scene-stealing performance from Alan Kim as a pint-size talent agent in waiting.”


“One needs the right sense of humour to catch all the theatre references that fly by as the instructors and campers trade barbs quicker than actors in a Hamilton face-off. Viewers who know their show tunes, appreciate their EGOTs, and all that jazz will find the comedy infectious. Theater Camp unabashedly plays to the creatives, weirdos, and misfits. This is a movie of in-jokes and secret handshakes,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “But there’s something very refreshing to the film’s forthright specificity. It knows its audience, which only the best productions do. Give my regards to Broadway!”


They Cloned Tyrone (dir. Juel Taylor)


They Cloned Tyrone blends in several genres – sci-fi, Blaxploitation comedy, a bit political thriller and crime drama,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But the film borders eventually on goofy humour, blaxploitation type. The film is surprisingly good comedy, if not anything else.”


Unknown: Killer Robots (dir. Jesse Sweet)


“There are advantages to AI drones, they don’t feel fear or death because it’s not programmed. AI learning is invaluable in medicine, inventing vast numbers of medications as compared to human research,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Learning AI helps predict and fight forest fires, along with many other applications. But the ethical implications of their use in war must be weighed. Chilling. I’m particularly struck by the casual way the folks at Shield AI talk about their achievements.”


File Under Miscellaneous: Barbenheimer Explodes, TIFF’s Strike Woes, Freedom…Reigns?


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson digs into the summer’s biggest phenomenon: Barbenheimer, a film that doesn’t exist. “The #Barbenheimer phenomenon truly exploded in June in the wake of a meme — a mock-up of a split-personality T-shirt in bleak grey and Malibu pink. If my phrasing seems glib, it’s because that’s been the gleefully light tone in juxtaposing the two movies about existential crises that have vastly different contexts,” writes Atkinson. “Critics debate the right way to watch them both (which to see first and why), while skilled Photoshop Barbenheimer fusions abound, with magenta mushroom clouds, mashups of La La Land and riffs on the visual grammar of enemies-to-lovers rom-com posters featuring the two leads — Margot Robbie (Barbie) and Cillian Murphy (J. Robert Oppenheimer).”


At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho looks at the box office face-offs of Barbenheimers past. Among them? Several of this weekend’s big rivals: “Christopher Nolan, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. were once again behind the ultimate counter-programming move, although the parties were all on different sides than for today’s Oppenheimer/Barbie showdown. Nolan and WB were in the midst of their successful partnership, and excitement was exceptionally high for the director’s follow-up to 2005’s Batman Begins. Universal, in a bid to cut into their competitor’s box office receipts, released a rom-com musical, but to no avail. Not only did The Dark Knight crush Mamma Mia! in its opening weekend, it also became the top-grossing film of the year, crossing the $1 billion mark worldwide.”


At That Shelf, Rachel West counts down Cillian Murphy’s best roles pre-Oppenheimer, including Disco Pigs: “With the deeply unsettling relationship between Pig and Runt coupled with thick Cork accents and dark realism, it’s not a surprise that Disco Pigs only found a niche audience and middling reviews, especially outside Ireland. But there is no denying Murphy packs star power here as he shines through even the most dark and audience-alienating scenes so much that even this Irish indie was enough to propel him to bigger and brighter roles,” writes West.


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell reports on how the Toronto International Film Festival continues as planned with the SAG-AFTRA strike posing some challenges to the usual fanfare. “TIFF is endeavouring to remain positive,” notes Howell. “It released an expanded and more upbeat version of its official statement about the Hollywood union strikes against major movie studios and streaming services[:] ‘The impact of the SAG-AFTRA strike on the entertainment industry and events like the Toronto International Film Festival cannot be denied. We are continuing to plan for a memorable and star-studded festival showcasing the best of global cinema and are excited to once again welcome thousands of film lovers to TIFF in September!’ TIFF’s plans have already been disrupted. The fest was planning to make a much larger announcement this week, its list of the films in the big-ticket Galas and Special Presentations programs. The announcement has been pushed to next week.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie reports on how strike will affect how we watch, make, and write about movies. “Union members seek living wages, better health coverage, and crucially, protection from AI,” notes Brodie. “As of now, those 65 years of age lose health coverage and face pension caps and residuals are shrinking. And regarding AI protections, as it stands, the majority of players are to be scanned, for one day’s pay, and the studio will own and use their images freely for eternity. Once lower-tier actors are scanned then it’s the big stars, directors, writers, landscapes, locations and there goes film’s human soul. Bitter online battles between the studios and actors aren’t helping.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz digs into another box office battle: the fight to make the independent drama Sound of Freedom an uncomfortable hit. “Sound of Freedom boasts a distinct adjacency to the right-wing conspiracy-o-sphere,” explains Hertz. “Shot back in 2018 but unable to secure the financial means to launch a wide release until now, Sound of Freedom has been building a production narrative that it is the one film that liberal Hollywood doesn’t want you to see. Why? While the screenplay never lets slip the words ‘QAnon’ or ‘Pizzagate,’ two interrelated conspiracy theories that posit the U.S. is run by pedophiliac left-wing elites who can only be stopped by Trump, both Sound of Freedom’s subject and its star have made no secret of their MAGA dog-whistling – that they alone are truth-telling underdogs engaged in the real fight for justice.”


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson unpacks the role of generational trauma in the Jane Fonda/Lily Tomlin film Moving On, which tackles series subject matter. “Fonda and Tomlin’s characters are both from that traditionalist silent generation, where the same stigma of having — let alone talking about — emotional baggage was prevalent,” writes Atkinson. “History has borne out that in spite of leading in self-actualization and civil rights, it’s also a cohort known for insufficient generational response to depression, postpartum depression, PTSD and assault. War veterans, for example, were sent to asylums for PTSD rather than helped within society. Women also often did not seek care for postpartum illness due to fears of being placed in a psychiatric hospital and separated from their husbands and children.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’s Henry Czerny about his return to the series and working with director Christopher McQuarrie to pack each shot full of action and story: “I get there and Chris is there with the Steadicam guy, and they tell me to come back in a bit,” Czerny tells Hertz. “Three hours later, I’m back and McQ has got cranes everywhere. It’s because he wants to fill every inch of the screen with story. They’ve worked it and rehearsed it so many times by then so that when you come on, it’s like a beautiful five-course French meal. The entire thing has been honed down and reduced.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes speaks with Lioness star Laysla De Oliveira about working with Zoe Saldana, training for the intense role, and tapping into her character’s vulnerability: “I think when it comes to strength, there is great strength in vulnerability as well. That’s what’s so beautiful about Cruz is that she is someone who has such a tough and strong exterior,” De Oliveira tells Fernandes. “But as the show progresses, she’ll be in a lot of vulnerable situations and you’ll get to see her sensitive side as well.”


At Original Cin, Karen Gordon praises the return of The Bear: “For fans of the series, and I’m one of them, It feels good to connect with these characters again.  The acting is once again a strong point,” writes Gordon. “But the anchor of The Bear is the performance of Jeremy Allen White as Carmy. Carmy is the heart and soul of the restaurant, and of the series. He’s a quiet serious guy who doesn’t reveal much, and yet when he’s on camera, he has our full attention.”