Reviews include Slash/Back, Elvis, and Official Competition.
TFCA Friday: Week of July 23
July 23, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Alice (dir. Josephine Mackerras)
“The dark emotional marital thriller Alice stars Emilie Piponnier in a demanding role she nails, a loving mother and wife, who is harried but accomodating and “pure” as her husband François (Martin Swabey) describes her,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“A dramatically power charged minor masterpiece with a nod to Belle du Jour that fully covers feminine issues while being relevant and entertaining,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “You cannot stop watching this one!”
“While it may not be wholeheartedly feminist, Alice is an often-charming film, which benefits from a fine performance by Emilie Piponnier as the titular character. One can see a bright future for her and Josephine Mackerras,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
All the Streets Are Silent (dir. Jeremy Elkin)
“The raw spirit and energy of the NYC street scene are captured in this doc, rubbing off on the audience making All the Streets Are Silent an amazing watch,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[A] deeply nostalgic look at the early days of New York hip hop, graffiti and skateboarding subcultures as they grew and bonded. From the outer boroughs to the white heat of Manhattan’s street scene, wonderful archival footage of some of today’s biggest stars as kids provides a being-there then experience,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“New York will never die and youth will always be radical and ornery,” writes Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “All the Streets are Silent brilliantly tells us about one amazing time in the city—and if hip-hop and skateboarding interest you, it’s a great idea to see the film.”
“Romanticization and exploitation often converge,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Stripped of its warm memories, this could be an MBA study on turning local youth trends into global lifestyle commodities, inevitably leaving casualties along the way.”
“If you lived and breathed skate culture in the decade covered by Elkin’s documentary, go ahead and bump up the rating a notch or two: it’s very much a ‘you had to be there’ project, a celebration of a transformational American moment by the people who made it happen,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Bankrolled (dir. Marcos Bucay)
“Think Harold and Kumar in Mexico speaking Spanish and smart (or dumb) enough to be able to execute a scam involving the internet and one will have Bankrolled,” chuckles Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Beans (dir. Tracey Deer 🇨🇦)
At the CBC, Johanna Schneller speaks with Tracey Deer about bringing the Oka Crisis to the screen. “When it comes to Indigenous people and events like Oka, Canadians put up a protective wall,” says Deer. “I want that wall to come down. This is how I came of age. This is how I understood what it is to be an Indigenous person in this country. I want people to see that, to feel it. We did not make that happen to us. It’s not on us to make things better. We’re doing every single thing we can. But we cannot change society. Canadians need to do the work to change society. I need them to do that work — for me, my people, and those to come.”
“Canada, drop everything and see Beans in theatres,” advises Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Kiawentiio is a gem and Deer’s beautifully, lovingly made and dignified film has won hearts and high praise all year on the film festival circuit.” Brodie also speaks with Deer and Kiawentiio about bringing this story to the screen.
“The prize-winning drama Beans interrogates Canadian history while illuminating a young girl’s life,” writes Peter Howell at Night Vision. “Bolstered by archival news footage of the Oka Crisis, Beans forces fair-minded viewers to choose a side — and if you’re on the side of the authorities, think again.”
At the CBC, Eli Glasner calls the film “a radical act of empathy” and says “Kiawentiio gives us a palpable desire to belong.” He also has an emotional interview with Tracey Deer about giving the Oka Crisis a personal angle and revisiting the story.
“The film is unequivocally on the side of the Mohawk warriors, but if there is even a little bit of Beans in Deer, it’s revealed in the way the film reaches out to appeal to a broader audience,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Beans is an ambitious film that, for the most part, works. It extends its efforts to reach a larger audience, but the story it tells is easy to admire.”
“[A]n assured politically correct first [dramatic] feature with a strong female Indigenous presence directed by an Indigenous female on a topical and relevant Indigenous subject,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Beans is not setting out to explain history. This is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story, and a reminder that the times and tides in which we stretch out toward adulthood will forever mark us, as individuals and as a people,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“When Beans works, it resonates deeply. And when it doesn’t, it’s not a tragedy – just evidence of a filmmaker finding what works for her voice and vision, and what might work better for an anticipated follow-up,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“As the young protagonist, Kiawentiio – making her feature debut after a few episodes of Anne With An E – is sensational, showing us Beans’s childishness and self-absorption (she’s 12, of course she’s self-absorbed) eroding against the demands of the moment,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Beans poignantly intersects the personal and political,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. Mullen also speaks with Deer about her film and the inspiration behind Beans’ mother, Lily, and the women in the film. “I was raised by these women and I am the filmmaker I am, I am the leader I am, I am the speaker I am, I am the impassioned advocate that I am—I am all of these because of these incredible women who raised me. That was everything I wanted to put into the mother character and really honor and celebrate them,” says Deer.
At Canadian Screenwriter, Kelly Boutsalis speaks with Tracey Deer and co-writer Meredith Vuchnich about shaping the narrative in a world that’s finally ready for Indigenous stories: “Deer contends that a thread running through her career is that the fictional 12-year-old girl at the centre of the film, as well as her 12-year-old self, just needed to be seen, heard and understood. That’s something that was at the core of that Indigenous resistance, and those past and current Indigenous expressions of it. ‘If those things were there, I don’t think that the violence that was put upon us would have happened,’ she says. ‘I realized recently that all of my work is in pursuit of building these bridges, so that something like the Oka Crisis never happens again.’”
“As Beans’ parents, Rainbow Dickerson and Joel Montgrand are terrific as is Paulina Jewel Alexis as April. But the film lives or dies on the acting of Kiawenti:io as Beans—and she’s a revelation, charming and charismatic and compelling as the lead Deer needed her to be. The director chose her very well,” raves Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
Blood Red Sky (dir. Peter Thorwarth)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “totally fun if you can master the over-the-top ultra violence, which actually adds to the entertainment.”
Broken Diamonds (dir. Phillip Satler)
“Moments before the credits roll, the film switches to quasi-documentary mode, as cast members sit in a circle with people with psychiatric disorders and family members of patients. The patients and family members share their experiences in ways that have value, even if their main function here is to attempt to legitimize the rest of the film,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
At Afro Toronto. Gilbert Seah says the “often hilarious film takes a candid look at mental illness (a big plus).”
Can You Bring It? Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters
(dir. Rosalynde Le Blanc and Tom Hurwitz)
“Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters is an extraordinary documentary that evokes a great dance performance inspired by the AIDS crisis and brings it forward to a period just before COVID and BLM changed the world again,” says Marc Glassman at POV Magazine.
“[A] dance documentary that delivers the vision of both its directors and subject. It is insightful, informative, riveting and powerful,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Cousins (dir. Ainsley Gardiner, Briar Grace Smith)
“The film is a combination of a casting and editing coup, featuring actresses at three different points in their lives, childhood, young womanhood and late middle-age,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “This is more a question of the projection of personality than the details of hair and appearance, as the girls and women are typically shot in closeup, with rapt attention to the individual faces.”
“Top-notch performance brings these cousins to life with intensity and heart,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “There’s a dreamlike quality in certain chapters and hard edges in other, in lifelike ways as we follow their journeys. Riveting and richly rewarding.”
Creation Stories (dir. Nick Moran)
“Perhaps conveniently for the filmmakers but tedious for the viewer is an extended, recurring scene of McGee recalling and recounting his career via an interview with a journalist, sending us into flashbacks. Handy sure but… sigh. That device already felt tired when Salieri confessed to a priest in Amadeus. There are also some hallucinatory moments more distracting than charming. But gems lurk,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin.
For Madmen Only (dir. Heather Ross; July 27)
“[A] worthy tribute to Del Close, highlighting his success in life while being very funny at the same time.” – Gilbert Seah, Afro Toronto
Holy Beasts (dir. Israel Cárdenas, Laura Amelia Guzmán)
“Holy Beasts starring Geraldine Chaplin as an elegantly hip avant-garde actor turned filmmaker, positively exudes dark seventies kitsch but is set in the here and now,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“If one loves surrealism and camp, these two elements of weirdness blend well in Holy Beast,” advises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Jolt (dir. Tanya Wexler)
“What is Kate Beckinsale doing in a downmarket portrait of a violent, unimprisoned psychopath in a not especially well-told exploitation flick?” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Maybe it was good on paper lifted with wishful thinking but here we have Lindy, an unlikeable loose cannon doing despicable things but because she is a beautiful woman, and she had a rough upbringing, she’s off the hook.”
“There is a surprise ending even Flat Earthers could see over the horizon, and the plot twists and turns eventually become repetitive,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “As utterly derivative action films go, Jolt has definite energy, and it’s not pretending to be original. As a time-killer, that may be enough for some.”
“Beckinsale can make the best out of confusing, and confused, circumstances, as she proved the many times she had to slide herself into the Underworld franchise’s skin-tight leather catsuits,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But her kick-butt charms prove futile against Jolt’s many, many, many odd and ultimately off-putting instincts.”
Kandisha (dir. Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury)
“[The] film contains sufficient scares with the only complaint being the abrupt ending, the surprise of which can be predicted,” admits Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco.
North Hollywood (dir. Mikey Alfred)
“Politics do matter in Hollywood. And [Vince] Vaughn’s support of the Republican party and his outspoken advocacy against gun control, claiming guns should be allowed in schools (I trust he means for the staff and not the students), does not help,” argues Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It seems that Vaughn’s film choices of late are roles in smaller independent movies where his performance tends to outshine (or overshadow) the material Like it or not, his politics has not dampened his onscreen charisma.”
“[It] works best when it shows the interaction and camaraderie of the youth,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Old (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
“It’s got jump scares, gross-out body horror and additional plot elements intended to create a more satisfying experience than the graphic novel offered; if you’re not familiar with the original text, it might even work from moment to moment… though as with most of Shyamalan’s recent output the whole thing collapses the moment the credits roll,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“The movie, and I don’t think I’m over or underselling this, is pure chaos. From its rib-poking opening to its magnificently messy conclusion, Old is a feverishly earnest look at mortality, responsibility and, um, well … I wish that I could explain just what I think Shyamalan is getting at in his final 15 minutes. But doing so risks ruining one of the great all-time oh-really-now???? pull-back-the-curtain moments in cinematic (or Shyamalanic) history,” groans Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“There is much afoot, some of it clunky, a fulsome amount of stabbing and worse. Shocking, provocative, and despite all, a bit of creepy, aerated fun,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“And the ending is … interesting. Suffice to say there is an explanation of sorts as to why a ritzy resort would strand its guests on a beach that is trying to kill them. It’s not a Sixth-Sense-style aha! reveal; more of a Knives-Out-type elaboration,” concludes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“The movie’s time-warp continuum idea and its underlying message, about living in the present and appreciating the moment, are both rich and worth pondering,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Old also smacks down an industry well-known in the real world for its mind-boggling insidiousness though clearly with better strategic planning in place than what we have here. There is also something in here about being very careful with your online purchases.”
“Gilligan’s Island meets The Twilight Zone,” groans Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Old looks like an episode of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND where everyone is still trying to be rescued but then all grow old on the island for no credible reason.
Pig (dir. Michael Sarnoski)
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz says that Pig doesn’t fit into any of the various Nicholas Cage modes that audiences have come to expect—paycheck Cage, gonzo Cage, and sensitive Cage. “Director Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut is more like a Nicolas Cage supercut: alternately ridiculous, bare-bones, heartfelt, puzzling and what-in-god’s-name-y. And more often than not, it works.”
“Pig is a serious movie with heady themes that just happens to come at you from oblique and unexpected angles,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Sometimes less really is more. And if Cage really has tamed his ‘pig,’ his performance suggests he just might teach it some subtle new tricks worth watching.”
Eli Glasner agrees and calls it “the best thing that Cage has done in years because it is a role that suits him perfectly and suits his philosophy as an artist.”
“Cage’s unshowy, quiet and visceral presence dominates every frame,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Rob’s pain and will and history elevate him to a higher plane. A heartbreaking love story as important as any and as mesmerising in which Cage’s saintly loner is a beautiful thing.”
“What begins as a simple tale of abduction and revenge quickly mushrooms into something sweeter, with undertones of loss and keening regret. And Cage, God bless him, pulls it off,” oinks Chris Knight at the National Post.
“The director shows promise from his cinematography, creation of mood and atmosphere and setting up of key segments,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “What the film seems to lack in a goal or message, it more than compensates in its depiction of the drama and desperation resulting in living in isolation.”
“All I’ll say is that Sarnoski does exactly what he wants to do, and in a manner that allows Cage to give his finest performance in years – as intensely felt as what he did in Mandy, say, but devoid of the theatricality that enabled that film’s most absurd flourishes,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “He just commits, and commits fully, to everything the role requires, and Sarnoski knows exactly what he’s got in front of him.”
Pink Opaque (dir. Derrick Perry; July 27)
“The film is cliché ridden and full of stereotyped characters and director Derrick Perry appears only too eager to milk out any possible moment for melodrama,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Playing with Sharks (dir. Sally Aitken)
“Pioneering Australian scuba divers Valerie and Ron Taylor were enthusiastic spearfishers in the ’60s; their favourite prey was sharks. But as we learn in writer-director Sally Aitken’s Playing with Sharks that after numerous awards and showing off dead catches, they made a complete philosophical turnabout,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A fascinating ecological and moral study.”
Settlers (dir. Wyatt Rockefeller)
“The setting and the family’s circumstances and history on Mars are intriguingly unexplained, as is Jerry’s backstory, but the thing that holds everything together is love,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A risky and fascinating first feature from Rockefeller, that women will especially appreciate, and at a time when many eyes are on Mars.” Anne also interviews director Wyatt Rockefeller to learn more about life on Mars.
Snake Eyes (dir. Robert Schwentke)
“The movies are back, Canada! And so, too, is big-budget Hollywood franchise garbage,” zings Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “I don’t mean the kind of mindless-but-diverting garbage that makes for a decent low-stakes afternoon matinee. I’m talking about through-and-through irredeemable trash. The kind of disposable, lazy, head-slapping work that makes you wonder what the whole fuss of movie-going was about in the first place. This is, ultimately, what Snake Eyes represents.”
““You should have killed me when you had the chance,” someone growls late in the game during the newest G.I. Joe movie, Snake Eyes. And I had to laugh. Not only because it’s one of the hoariest lines in cinema history. (A supercut from five years ago found dozens of examples.) But for almost two hours I’d been watching characters give each other second starts, call temporary truces, or leave rooms promising to murder someone the next time they saw them. I’d lost track of how many times they’d had the chance,” laughs Chris Knight at the National Post.
“The prequel/reboot Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is an attempt to squeeze more juice out of a franchise that has already birthed two tales of the “Joes” versus the organization of global evil Cobra,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “As it happens, I found more to like in Snake Eyes than I did in the previous two films, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and G.I. Joe: Retaliation.”
We Are Many (dir. Amir Amirani)
“[T]he remarkable inside story behind the first ever global demonstration and its surprising and unreported legacy,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Big Screen Is Back, Baby! And Dune Can’t Come Soon Enough
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports on the euphoric experience of stepping back into a movie theatre after a nine=month closure. “The soda was flat, the hot dog took forever and the house lights stubbornly refused to dim for the trailers. But good God, it was great to be back at the movies,” writes Hertz. “Squint, and you could see the prepandemic weekend rituals – a life before the words ‘variant,’ ‘aerosols’ and ‘Twitter epidemiologist’ became common topics of conversation. There were roving packs of teenagers sizing up the arcade before heading to see the new, and remarkably ninth, Fast & Furious adventure. There were girls nights, boys nights, buddies, couples, singles. There were families desperate for the Marvel escapism of Black Widow, even though the film was available right at home, for a fraction of the cost. I saw film festival programmers, publicists, friends-of-friends and at least one celebrated Canadian director.”
At That Shelf, Pat Mullen reports from a sneak peek at Denis Villeneuve’s Dune that treated press to approximately 20 minutes of the hotly anticipated film in IMAX along with the new trailer: “Often listed among the most ‘unfilmable’ novels, Dune’s complexity and scope has eluded other filmmakers,” writes Mullen. “However, the new Dune footage shows Villeneuve’s impeccable hand at world building and deep appreciation for the novel. With outstanding visual imagination and a bombastic Hans Zimmer score that shook the floor, the sneak peek at Dune was as much a reminder about the value of the theatrical experience as it was a hint at the movie event of the year. This kind of big screen entertainment is the spice of life.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey also hops aboard the Dune train following the sneak peek. “Whether or not another movie about a boy hero, intergalactic battles with space monsters, and chivalric codes, meets your standard of ‘hotly anticipated,’ Dune is kind of a big deal, perhaps the future of movie-going,” writes Lacey. “The challenge is whether Dune can awaken its fan base, and expand it to another generation. In the film’s favour, the story of a messianic hero in an intergalactic world, is pretty familiar even to those who don’t know the original.”
Features – Fear Street, Norman Jewison, and Neonoir
While some TFCA members enjoyed or endured the Fear Street movies on a weekly basis, Norm Wilner gives the Netflix trilogy the Band-Aid approach at NOW Toronto and looks at them in one pull: “Honestly, most of what [Leigh] Janiak brings to Fear Street – the diverse casting, queer characters who get to fight for the people they love instead of being set up as sacrificial lambs, and a finale that at least attempts to comment on how those in power structure official histories to shape the present – is worthwhile. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that – as with parody – a genre homage can function as a project on its own terms, rather than just re-creating its source material with new actors and more advanced visual effects.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz turns the pages of Norman Jewison: A Director’s Life, which profiles the career of the Canadian filmmaker: “In more than 400 pages, [Ira] Wells attempts to argue for a unified cinematic theory of Norman Jewison – a goal that, despite the author’s best intentions, seems just out of his (and history’s) grasp. The strongest through-line might be that Jewison, as an artist, views the world through a social-justice lens – that filmmaking should ultimately seek to change the way the world works.”
At Criterion’s The Current, Adam Nayman unpacks the evolution of noir and neonoir: “Where film noir gained potency from its distorted yet crystalline reflections of a starkly stratified, economically depressed society—a world of detours down nightmare alleys at nightfall—neonoir applied a carefully filigreed lens of nostalgia, aligning it with the returns to western and gangster-movie forms that served as the foundations of the New Hollywood.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Dear Evan Hansen to Open TIFF
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell speaks with TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey about some of the Galas and Special Presentations selections announced this week, including the opening night gala Dear Evan Hansen. “The healing and forgiveness themes of Dear Evan Hansen make it ‘the ideal film’ to launch the festival in a year of continuing recovery from the global pandemic, said Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, in an interview. ‘It’s a story that feels like it really is of this moment … It sets the right tone for the festival, starting out. It’s been a tough year for a lot of people. There is serious dramatic material in the film, but it’s ultimately so hopeful. The music is just really soaring and lifts up your spirits.’”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Cameron Bailey as well and gets the scoop on the film that generated the most chatter/ridicule from Tuesday’s announcement: Clifford the Big Red Dog. “‘Clifford is just fun!’ said TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, Cameron Bailey. ‘So many people have grown up with the books and TV series, and here’s this big-screen version with an incredibly stacked cast of comic performers. We felt like children who have been cooped up for so long needed this, and we’re going to play it as a matinée gala at Roy Thomson Hall so families can attend.’”
TV Talk – Ted Lasso, Sexy Beasts, Royal Weddings, and Osaka’s Activism
Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto doesn’t simply recommend the new season of Ted Lasso – he calls it the best show on television right now: “Sudeikis is giving the performance of his career as Ted, finding a new nervous energy – especially around Dr. Sharon [Sarah Niles] – that expands our understanding of what motivates the world’s nicest person, and building on the idea expressed last season that Ted’s perpetual optimism might also be limiting him from fully engaging with life’s disappointments and defeats.
At NOW Toronto, Kevin Ritchie swipes right for Netflix’s Sexy Beasts, which proves that dating isn’t exactly dead during a pandemic, but finding love while masking up is just about as fun and romantic as it sounds: “Fortunately, Sexy Beasts is sparing us the pie charts and textbook lessons. It’s an out-and-proud guilty pleasure and the cast is very much dressed – transformed from the neck up into pandas, dolphins, zombies, scarecrows and other anthropomorphic creatures, real and imagined (a smattering of makeup on hands and necklines adds continuity).”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie cuts the cake with a look at the restoration of the wedding videos of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer: “Only British Movietone shot the ceremony, not on VHS but on 35mm film, a format that can be easily upgraded to 4K resolution. Archive specialists Touchdown restored the film footage, rendering it in stunning detail. Not only is it clear as a bell, but there are also new revelations and anecdotes from those close to the event including the chief royal florist, David Longman, musical director Barry Rose, Royal Navy head baker David Avery and royal photographer Kent Gavin who Diana chose to photograph Prince William’s christening.” She also checked out—and bailed on—the new Woodstock doc, but says that Tig Notaro’s animated stand-up special “breaks new ground.”
At That Shelf, Victor Stiff tunes into Revelation, the latest entry in the Masters of the Universe universe: “The thing that stands out about Revelation is how seriously Smith takes the source material. This franchise was created to peddle toys and not much else. Yet, Smith finds the humanity in what were once silly, one-dimensional characters. Smith pulls off an impressive feat since he isn’t drawing from a complex, thematically rich text like Watchmen. Instead, we’re talking about a toy line featuring an elephant man who fires water from his trunk named Snout Spout.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen checks out Time director Garrett Bradley’s three-part doc series on tennis star Naomi Osaka: “The first two episodes of Naomi Osaka admittedly feel more like a coup of access to a young star during the peak of her fame, but, as with Time, Bradley finds the real heart of her character study by sticking with her subject and observing her inner conflict.”