Reviews include Slash/Back, Elvis, and Official Competition.
TFCA Friday: Week of July 30
July 30, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Enemies of the State (dir. Sonia Kennebeck)
“Kennebeck and editor Maxine Goedicke craft a compelling story of government overreach, legal brinksmanship and family ties stretched to the breaking point,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “The narrative is straight out of a paranoid thriller: how far would the state go to keep a terrible secret from getting out? But the stakes are painfully real: how far would parents go to keep their son safe?”
“Layers upon layer of expert opinion, heartfelt interviews with the DeHarts and Matt’s failures to show up at hearings or for his documentary interview complicate the case that was now grabbing international attention. … and then, a shocking twist. This is a white-knuckle ride all the way,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“You could call Enemies of the State a true crime film, but Kennebeck shatters all notions of reliable truth, leaving a viewer shaken and disoriented,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
The Exchange (dir. Dan Mazer)
“[L]ow aiming comedy (silly comedy with silly characters and silly fun) succeeds and is able to produce enough laughs to qualify as a moderate success,” chuckles Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The Exchange is ultimately a little thin, inviting comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite, say, without ever quite stacking up to it,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “But it’s hard to hate a film whose heart is so obviously in the right place.”
At That Shelf, Pat Mullen speaks with the film’s Canuck writer Tim Long about drawing upon his high school years, hometown quirks, writing for The Simpsons, and the legacy of Canadian comedy. “You could easily say the Ghostbusters is Canadian because it was written by Canadian Dan Aykroyd and directed by Canadian Ivan Reitman, so that’s a Canadian movie as far as I’m concerned,” notes Long. “Same thing with the Christopher Guest movies—what would those movies be without Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy? … A movie doesn’t have to be stamped with the CanCon seal of approval to be Canadian. In that sense, I don’t think there’s been a great comedy movie from the last 30 years that hasn’t had at least a little bit of Canadian content.”
For Madmen Only: The Stories of Del Close (dir. Heather Ross)
“Consistent with Close’s monster sacré persona, the film’s script slips into flippant hyperbole when narrator Michaela Watkins, reading a script by Heather Ross and Adam Samuel Goldman, describes Close as ‘the guru who discovered a new art form: improvised comedy’ or claims that ‘Del’s path of self-destruction has cut through almost every seminal comedy moment of the past 60 years.’ (Sorry, Monty Python, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams, Steve Martin and everyone else),” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
The Green Knight (dir. David Lowery)
“It has been a distinct pleasure watching [Dev] Patel grow into a confident, enigmatic actor over the years, slippery in the best ways,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “As Gawain, he’s tasked with wrestling to the ground life’s most difficult moment: knowing who you are, and trying like hell to convince yourself that you can be someone else. He meets the challenge handsomely. All hail the king.” Hertz also interviews director David Lowery and learns how a year of lockdown let him reshape the film: “I was so caught up in trying to make the movie more palatable and audience-friendly that I was under the mistaken assumption that faster was better,” explains Lowery. “I realized that it’s never going to be a fast-paced film. I needed the themes and story to breathe more. I put scenes back in and reshaped the rhythm.”
“Lowery has made a beautiful looking movie, and given it a measured stately pace, as if he cut the entire film to the timing of a metronome set at its slowest pace,” observes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Gawain wanders through a wild and forested area that is so quiet and viscerally presented that you can almost smell the moss and greenery. There are things mortal and magic here, and he presents it to us as Gawain experiences it.”
“After the mesmerizing sadness of A Ghost Story … Lowery’s latest experiment in slow cinema strives for similar gravitas but doesn’t quite reach it; the visual details are exquisite, but the myth being told is so slight and simple that expanding it into a movie that runs over two hours snuffs out its spark, as Lowery adds new complications and digressions that serve to overcomplicate the story or negate its meaning entirely,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. Wilner also has a wham-bam chat with stars Dev Patel and Joel Edgerton about working with Lowery’s languid pace. “David is a filmmaker that deals with time in such a beautiful way in his movies that you can really feel space and time,” says Patel. “And in this he really warps it, and talks about the consequences of certain decisions and explores that space, which I thought was really beautiful.”
Jungle Cruise (dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)
“There’s a quest, a step beyond the Disney theme parks ride on which it’s based,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s not Pirates of the Caribbean, the original ride film, a Harrison Ford adventure or The African Queen, but it’s what we have now.”
“[T]he messiness seen on screen (the dripping honey and the creepy snakes) reflect the script’s own mess,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“With casual homages to fellow theme park ride (and movie) Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, National Treasure, The African Queen and more, Jungle Cruise keeps its action moving at a constant fever pitch,” says Chris Knight at the National Post.
“[A]fter five Pirates of the Caribbean movies, a park-ride adaptation has to have grand ambitions; it can’t just be a fun couple of hours with some engaging actors and elaborate stunts,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “These things have to have giant story machinery, with centuries-old rivalries and elaborate curses and a backstory for characters who don’t really require one. And so almost exactly at the movie’s halfway point, all of that comes crashing down on our heroes’ shoulders, knocking the movie off course and burdening it with an emotional weight it isn’t really equipped to carry.”
The Last Mercenary (dir. David Charon)
“Forget Jungle Cruise this week and watch The Last Mercenary on Netflix,” advises Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco.
Lorelei (dir. Sabrina Doyle)
“A modest drama that delivers outsize rewards thanks to its exceptional cast,” notes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Part of what makes Lorelei fascinating is that many of these characters are fundamentally unlikable, and indeed, are shown doing some vaguely repellent things and making stupid choices. Yet they register as sympathetic, doing the best they can within the confines of difficult circumstances.”
“It is difficult to dislike this ‘kind’ film,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“There are times when the fantastical aspects, as grounded as they try to be, are a little too on the nose,” observes Courtney Small at That Shelf. “Not fully trusting in her audience to get the symbolism, Doyle has a tendency to overstate the obvious.”
Nemesis (dir. James Crow)
“Nemesis is a low-grade gangster saga with a home-invasion twist and a cast that sounds like bigger stars from other movies: Billy Murray, Nick Moran, and Bruce Payne (for all you Batman and Reuben fans),” groans Thom Ernst at Original Cin.
“[T]acky as hell, bordering on the edge of silliness and camp which ironically makes the film also a terribly entertaining and an absorbing watch,” laughs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Pray Away (dir. Kristina Stolakis; Aug. 3)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “an extremely intriguing and controversial subject.”
Stillwater (dir. Tom McCarthy)
“Stillwater…is an expertly paced tale, following Bill as he wades through various levels of guilt and culpability on his way to uncovering something new about Allison’s case,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “At times it seems there will be no justice without some personal price, as though the universe were exacting a toll on him.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz situates Stillwater within McCarthy’s erratic filmography, saying, “It is at once highly watchable and baffling. Perhaps I’m still adjusting to life back in the dark of a movie theatre, but I can’t recall the last time I was so engrossed in what was unfolding on the big screen in front of me, then, in an instant, repelled.” Hertz also speaks with McCarthy and asks about crafting Matt Damon’s conservative character without uttering the T-word. “The truth of the matter is Bill probably would’ve voted for Trump,” admits McCarthy. “He’s an oil guy. They vote where they eat. Republicans said they’re going to drill forever.”
“Damon is typically excellent playing salt-of-the-earth characters with a thoughtfulness and sensitivity so rarely afforded to them,” says Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. “But there is also something funny about a movie that makes someone from Trump country relatable by removing that person from Trump country.”
“The trouble is not that the movie is exploitative but that it’s out of its depth,” argues Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “This tone-jumping jigsaw of a narrative (written by McCarthy and Marchus Hinchey along French screenwriters Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré) amounts to several movies in one.”
“What is most amazing in the film is the important message that McCarthy brings to the audience, though it has been dished out more subtly,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Playing Baker in peak dad bod mode, Matt Damon creates an anti-hero who is far more complicated than everyday dad rock,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Bill isn’t an especially likable character, yet Damon’s subdued performance presents Bill as a man who is a prisoner of his own prejudice.”
Tailgate (dir. Lodewijk Crijns)
“ As cheesy or cliché ridden as the film may be, it must be worth a look after voted the Best Dutch Film of 2019 by the Dutch Critics Association,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Twist (dir. Martin Owens)
“The film begins with a voiceover saying that this story has no music or singing (referring to the Oscar winning Best Picture Oliver! by Carol Reed). This film is nothing much of anything else,” admits Gilnert Seah at Afro Toronto.
A Festival of Festival Coverage: TIFF Is Going to the Dogs
After audiences woofed over the Gala selection of Clifford last week, they yipped with joy when Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog was added to the line-up. At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell reports why Campion’s return to the festival matters: “It’s the first feature since Bright Star in 2009 for esteemed New Zealand writer/director Campion, who until this year was the only woman to direct a feature that won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Her achievement, for The Piano in 1993, was shattered this month by France’s Julia Ducournau, whose sexual thriller Titane — which is not among films selected for TIFF to date — took the Palme.”
TIFF’s latest announcement might be reason for excitement, but Barry Hertz finds that it’s not quite there yet in his assessment at The Globe and Mail, “Still, this year’s program is so far absent of some of the year’s most anticipated movies, including films that will premiere at fall festivals in Venice (Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, Pablo Larrain’s Spencer, Pedro Almodóvar’s Madres Paralelas) and New York (Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth).”
At That Shelf, Pat Mullen looks at the new Canadian additions to the TIFF line-up: “The Canadian front for TIFF 2021 looks strong with Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson’s Scarborough offering a hometown highlight. The film is an adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s award-winning novel about an indefatigable teacher and her class of diverse young students.”
TV Talk – Boxed In, Lasso Love, and Ronson’s Sound
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller reflects on a growing number of series about working women who feel boxed in and ache for something greater. “I’m all for this renaissance of the yearning wife,” writes Schneller. “In the 1930s and ’40s, cinemas were stuffed with these stories. They fell out of fashion, but the feelings and fears behind them didn’t go away. As Peak TV rose, the woman hero returned, though at first her feelings were only interesting if she were also a drug dealer, a drug user or a hooker. If these new series are demonstrating that a woman can be fascinating simply because her inner and outer lives don’t always match, well, huzzah.”
Anne Brodie at What She Said cheers the return of Ted Lasso, noting “Sudeikis plays the twangy accent for all its worth.” The period drama The Pursuit of Love, meanwhile, doesn’t quite hit the bull’s-eye but is worth a shot: “It’s fun if muddled, with gobsmacking period art design,” while the doc series Small Town News: KPVM Pahrump is “danged entertaining.” Audiences wanting something more sombre will find it in The End, starring Frances O’Connor: “The End is a serious stab at death and all it means, and it takes some steel to watch, especially during a pandemic.”
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner reports on the latest music doc series Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson: “It’s not as revelatory as other music docs, but that’s okay; Ronson and [Morgan] Neville aren’t trying to surprise us with new information, just enhance our understanding of the elements of an art form that too often goes underappreciated. And there’s at least one wonderful thing in every episode, like footage of Ronson and Lady Gaga figuring out the structure of “Shallow” in the studio or a sequence in which Ronson farts around in a decommissioned oil-storage tank in the north of Scotland that’s now the world’s largest reverb chamber.”