TFCA Friday: Week of July 29

July 29, 2022

Vengeance | Focus Features

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


In Release this Week

Ali & Ava (dir. Clio Barnard)


“This is a wonderful love story celebrating differences and what a great movie!” exclaims Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Ava and Ali begin an affair in secret, a meeting of two lonely people who’ve endured struggles and finally found a bright moment in life,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s not clear sailing but Barnard’s gentle depiction of them together is optimistic and beautifully realistic. And kudos for both performances.”


“Low-key and lovely if a bit short on dramatic umph, director Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava is effectively a straight-up love story eyeballing bigger themes, perhaps to pad its slender story,” admits Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Admirable for sure, but the result is a bit like fancy icing on a cupcake: nice, but still a cupcake.”


“Barnard doesn’t rush the story or its characters, apparently based on people she met while making her other films in the area,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But she does display a wonderful economy of language, her dialogue suggesting a practical, unsentimental view of life. Here’s Ava discussing the end of her relationship with a man who took to beating her. ‘So I kicked him out. Went to college and got a degree. And here I am.’ Moving on…”


“Barnard plays out as much of the various plot points as is necessary but concentrates on scenes of friendship and redemption,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Ultimately, Ali & Ava is a comedy—admittedly with a tougher and more racial background than might be expected—and we’re rewarded with a unique genre piece, which is worthy of critical and popular praise.”


DC League of Super Pets (dir. Jared Stern)


“[A] tired, unimaginative and lacklustre affair, though kids may find the adventure cute and charming,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“The resulting shenanigans hit the sweet spot of family-friendly animation, fun for kids without being painful for their parents,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “In fact, if you’re a quick reader there are numerous little jokes that pop up in signage and on TV screens, like a news channel crawl that states: ‘Animal rights activists honestly confused.’ Or a billboard promoting Lois’s journalism: ‘Pick a Lane, buddy!’”


Endangered (dir. Drew Walkup)


“Director Walkup proves his skill in the buildup of the mystery surrounding the story, while creating a sinister night that never seems to end,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Hansan: Rising Dragon (dir. Kim Han-min)


“The special effects and the battles are nothing short of stupendous on screen with the war shirt like the sea monster head and turtle ship in full display,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The film reminds one of William Wyler’s Ben Hur with Charlton Heston in chains rowing his ship into war.”


Mister Candid Camera (dir. Peter Funt; Aug. 2)


“The doc celebrates 75 years since the Candid Microphone radio series launched and Candid Camera, a multi-media company, is still turning out programming, features, and equipment,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Howie Mandell said Candid Camera changed his life path and entered comedy. All for nothing without the setups – the Food Traffic Counter advised multiple diners to stop eating when a light flashed and they complied without question, three staffers turn to change facing direction in an elevator and a random passenger followed suit, and much more – LOL-worthy stuff that must be seen to be appreciated.”


My Old School (dir. Jono McLeod)


“Cumming reveals a startling example of the kind of talent an extraordinary actor processes,” remarks Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “So often, good acting is veiled within the cadence and delivery of the speaker. But Cumming doesn’t have a voice in the movie, at least not one that is his. And yet he masterfully recreates the nuances of the subject’s words, from nervous laughter, fitting glances, and faultless delivery.”


“McLeod saves the biggest reveals for the end of the film, when he tries (with only partial success) to delve into just why someone would do such a thing,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Brandon offers one possibility that seems a bit glib, but it’s his story and he’s sticking to it. Other theories are raised, but the kernel of the mystery persists.”


“From tongue in cheek, to incredulous to deadly serious, Lee’s classmates spill the beans, and while Lee (Cumming) speaks, he seems to be unreliable!” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “An astonishing wee gem about a deeply troubled, frustrated good son who becomes a media sensation.”


“Definitely smart and funny, director McLeod has created a very amusing and fresh comedy,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


It’s a wild tale told with dramatic panache that asks audiences to suspend their disbelief in a tale of twists, turns, and jaw-dropping revelations,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. Mullen chats with Alan Cumming and Jono McLeod about their fun doc in which Cumming lip-syncs an interview from McLeod’s former schoolmate who caused a Scottish scandal. “I have a joke about at my bar, at Club Cumming in New York, that if we’re gonna have drag queens lip-syncing, they had better know the words,” says Cumming. “There’s no excuse for a lip-syncing drag queen who doesn’t know the words. I feel I can now throw the gauntlet down.”


Not Just a Girl: Shania Twain (dir. Joss Crowley)


“We know her story – she and the producer’s husband moved to Switzerland, eventually broke up, she remarried and remains there with a cabin near Huntsville – but to hear her tell it and admit to anxieties and doubts, the stars she worked with, the joy her career brings her – is sweet,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.


“Okay, rock stars, let’s clear something up: you are not obligated to make a documentary to mark a new album’s release,” pleads Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Canadian county-pop superstar Shania Twain is the latest musician to get the commercial (I use that word consciously) documentary treatment. Not Just a Girl, which shares the same name as Twain’s greatest hits album released day-and-date with the doc, is basically 88 minutes of marketing collateral.”


Recurrence / Pipa (dir. Alejandro Montiel)


“[The] film unfolds like a classic thriller noir that benefits from excellent camera work, cinematography and a brilliant soundtrack,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.

Resurrection (dir. Andrew Semans)


“Finally, the summer movie season has the psychosexual vomit-ride thrills that the likes of Lightyear simply could not provide,” declares Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Yes, that sentence doesn’t make much sense, but then again neither does Resurrection, a silly and disgusting (but unfortunately not disgustingly silly) experiment that feels like the lost punchline to the infamous gag at the heart of the 2005 comedy documentary The Aristocrats.”


“[Hall and Roth are] great to watch, but the screenplay, from writer/director Andrew Semans, pulls some of its punches and pushes too hard on others,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “The result is that we never quite believe some of the more bizarre circumstances of the plot, nor do we ever completely fall under the spell the movie is trying to cast, a kind of is-she-crazy-or-is-it-him vibe.”


“All the mystery and buildup of danger and menace cannot be matched in the film’s last 20 minutes – a great pity!” cries Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Thirteen Lives (dir. Ron Howard)


“The ultimate question is which one is the better film or rather which one would reveal a more accurate account,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The answer is the documentary, which is more difficult to make and put together. Howard’s version has the unfair advantage to look at the doc and improve on it, which it did in terms of cinematography and the actual rescue.”


“The pace of Thirteen Lives accelerates as Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Call Me By Your Name, Memoria) takes us from the pastoral football field to the bustling village to the torch-lit underwater caves,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Howard’s well-intentioned effort to create a panoramic and inclusive picture comes at a cost, particularly in the depth of characterization. One is left feeling that, though the film runs almost two-and-a-half hours, it barely scratches several surfaces.”


“When Howard focuses on the head-scratching mechanics of the mission itself, Thirteen Lives excels – and its many claustrophobic underwater scenes likely play excellently inside the confines of a darkened theatre,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But by the time we’re in pure rescue mode, it is almost too late. What should be the highest of high-stakes dramas arrives with a drippy thud.”


“For audiences who have experienced Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi tautly crafted documentary The Rescue, Thirteen Lives doesn’t really add to the story, aside from some sexed-up casting choices,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “It’s sort of a classic anything drama can do, documentary does better situation. As a standalone work, the film is solid no-frills based-on-a-true-story drama from Hollywood’s top metteur en scène. If The Rescue was a daring-do by documentary adventurers, Thirteen Lives is dad cinema in top form.”


Vengeance (dir. B.J. Novak)


“It’s very funny in places, but ultimately gets a little too bogged down in drama, to the point where characters start behaving in ways that are neither funny nor believable,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “What follows is a comedy you’ve seen before, though aided by some whip-smart writing.”


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls the film a “fresh and satirical look at American society and where it all went wrong.”


“Novak’s film reminds me of indie films from a couple of decades ago: strange smart Sundance successes that people loved but were never big successes,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “This one won’t be either. But it’s likeable and sincere and deserves to be seen even if it poses way more questions than it can possibly answer.”


“Ben’s transformation is slow and believable. Vengeance is a movie whose dry humour carries its message well and even has its sweet moments. The desolate desert location hangs over everything, sometimes suggesting another planet peopled by humans. But given the movie’s suggestion of the emptiness of city life, it may also suggest just another kind of desert,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Still, Novak pulls off a lot, theme-wise, in his exploration of the American divide.


Vengeance could work just as easily as a podcast as it does as a film,” admits Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The dialogue is often sharp and often funny, but Vengeance wouldn’t be too much of a different movie if you watched it in its entirety with your eyes closed.”

A Festival of Festival Coverage: All 👀 on TIFF!


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell reports on the star-studded TIFF announcement and chats with festival director Cameron Bailey about some of Toronto’s bigger gets, including Women Talking and The Fablemans: “Steven Spielberg’s world premiere of The Fabelmans marks the first time the Oscar-winning director has brought a movie he directed to TIFF,” writes Howell. “This one is a world premiere based on his Arizona boyhood as a budding filmmaker. Starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Seth Rogen, it’s Spielberg’s most personal film yet, Bailey said. ‘It’s a fascinating story but also a real family story with some heartbreak at the centre of it … This is a film that audiences will fall in love with.’”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz surveys this week’s festival announcements and sees everyone gunning to be the best platform as TIFF snags Steven Spielberg, but Sarah Polly picks Telluride for a world premiere. “The Telluride premieres, coupled with comments this week from Venice’s artistic director Alberto Barbera about his festival losing The Fabelmans to TIFF (“That one got away from everyone … Then we got this surprise announcement [that it’s going to Toronto]. I have to admit that, in this case, it was a bit unpleasant”), suggest that the spirit of co-operation and collaboration that existed between the fall festivals during the heights of the pandemic has shifted back to full-scale rivalry mode,” writes Hertz.


Courtney Small reports on the films at Fantasia, including Orchestrator of Storms (“a convincing, if stubbornly conventional, argument for [Jean] Rollin’s important contribution to cinema”) and Relax, I’m from the Future (“A delightful comedic romp with genuine heart”).


At That Shelf, Jason Gorber chats with Fantasia’s lifetime achievement award receipient John Woo and learns about the film that inspired him to become a director: “[I]t started with The 400 Blows,” Woo tells Gorber. “In Hong Kong we greatly admired the French New Wave and especially François Truffaut. I admired Jean-Luc Godard as well, but I especially like Truffaut. So, like them, I thought of using a handheld camera and shooting a movie on the street, without building sets or anything. I thought that since these real films can do it, I can do the same thing!”


TV Talk/Series Scribbles: Thank Heaven for Paper Girls


At What She Said, Anne Brodie finds gripping stuff in the B.C. shot mini-series Keep Breathing: “[Melissa] Barerra, a fearless young Mexican actress holds our interest in what is a one-hander,” writes Brodie. “She’s a skilled swimmer and diver and holds her breath underwater for terrifyingly long stretches. Her co-star, the magnificent backdrop of the endless, natural north is beyond beautiful even if it is the greatest threat to her life.” Meanwhile, she finds plenty to like in the rom-com Uncoupled with Neil Patrick Harris, noting the actor “expresses a world of pain in his performance here and throughout.” She also finds a winner in Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s turn in Surface, which’ll have viewers hooked: “Surface will keep you out of the pool halls for eight hours, madly bingeing.” And Paper Girls cuts through the noise with a fresh take on time travel: “The girls realise they’re not in Kansas anymore, and what the heck is a mobile phone? and this device that holds ‘all human knowledge’?” writes Brodie. “A trip to the tech store drives the point home with chilling certitude.”


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah reports on Paper Girls: “Interesting characters, interesting premise, makes an interesting series.  The first few episodes are slow, but be patient for the action picks up.”


At Original Cin, Liam Lacey also weighs in in Paper Girls: “Although Paper Girls was created by adult males, the series has undergone a second fermentation process under mostly female oversight in its television adaptation, with all eight episodes directed by women, though Folsom left the series as executive producer and co-showrunner last year. There were 30 issues of the Paper Girls comic and future seasons of the TV show seem inevitable. Fingers crossed, it can continue to strike a balance of entertainment and provocative ideas in its exploration of female futurism.”