TFCA Friday: Week of July 5

July 5, 2024

Kill | Lionsgate

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


In Release this Week


Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F (dir. Mark Molloy)


“Considering the success of Bad Boys: Ride or Die, another aging action franchise that struck a chord with audiences, it might seem a missed opportunity that Axel F bypassed the movie multiplex to premiere on Netflix,” writes Eli Glasner at CBC. “But by relying on calcified callbacks and the familiar Axel Foley shtick, Murphy is playing it safe and going for the easy laughs. The result is a film that doesn’t challenge the star or the audience: comedic comfort food perfect for watching passively on the couch or while you’re folding laundry.”


“At the end of the day, the Beverly Hills Cop franchise rises and falls on Murphy’s gift of gab, his energy level, and the support he gets from his co-stars, and thankfully all of that is on point. Murphy attacks the role of Axel Foley with renewed energy, a sense of playful snark, and sharp wit, almost as if this character has lived dormant inside of him for the past few decades and was begging to be let off the leash,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s definitely a marked improvement over a lot of the stuff Murphy has done as of late, and a further distancing from his down-trodden, unfunny turn in the third Beverly Hills Cop film. Foley is just as big of a hero as he can be an antagonist to those around him, and Paige, Levitt, and Bacon appear to be having the time of their lives being equally enthralled and annoyed by Murphy’s antics. There are no bad parts for the actors in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F., and everyone gets ample opportunity to shine and steal the focus away from the Motor City Motor Mouth.”


“Has Murphy still got what it takes?” asks Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Apparently he has as he still able to keep audiences laughing with his outrageous shenanigans – as when he touting the name Foley against the name Saunders that his estranged daughter has taken to conning victims with his sweet talk and calling them names like ‘Smart Pants’.  Murphy has trouble getting his character’s sincerity believable on screen.  In his defence, audiences come to see this film to laugh not to watch serious drama.”


Despicable Me 4 (dir. Chris Renaud)


“Its narrative duct-taped together with disparate pop-cultural homages – there are either deliberate or weirdly unintentional allusions to everything from The Simpsons’ episode ‘Cape Feare’ to David Cronenberg’s The Fly to Ferrell’s own Step Brothers – the screenplay by Ken Daurio and new Illumination studio house scribe Mike White (Migration) is a total shamble,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But at least the film’s set-pieces are visually inventive – including an extended sequence in which a group of Minions receive Fantastic Four-esque superpowers – and the vocal performances are all fiercely energetic.”


“One might think that with the 4th installment of the Despicable Me franchise, the filmmakers would have run out of ideas with Gru (Steve Carrell) and his minions, but truth be told, Despicable Me 4 is the best of the series yet,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Not only is Despicable Me 4 full of fresh ideas but the voice characterizations and animation are top notch aided by several fresh and hilarious comedic set pieces, the funniest happening at the film’s start as a parody of an awards ceremony.”


“Returning director Chris Renaud, co-director of parts one and two, knows his way around the characters, and he knows what his audience wants: cartoon mayhem, mild naughtiness from the Minions, social awkwardness from Gru. (I like that when he’s trying to sell the baby on a tropical drink he enthuses: “It’s from the Bahamas! All of them!”) Oh, and movie references — see if you can spot the nod to Dune’s ‘thopters,” says Chris Knight at Original Cin. “But hey, it’s animation, the most forgiving of media. And the Minions aren’t getting any older, either. Or if they are, it doesn’t show in their Play-Doh-smooth faces.”


“You could say it’s business as usual in the Despicable world, except here’s where Gru Jr. saves the day — and the movie,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Gru Jr. is no adorable tyke and he’s definitely no pushover. I’d rank him up there with such brilliantly bratty rascals as Maggie from The Simpsons, Dash from The Incredibles, and Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”


Escape (dir. Lee Jong-Pil)


“The messaging of Escape is about as subtle as a flag unveiling ceremony, but it provides a solid bedrock for Jong-pil’s extended chase,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “The tension level continually rises, the danger is palpable, and the framing of Lim’s journey as a meteorological race against time is a clever twist. It’s a slight movie, but this kind of spectacle cinema doesn’t require rocket science level intelligence. It’s literally about getting from Point A to Point B without getting killed along the way, and there’s always a joy in seeing that kind of stripped down story told in the most entertaining way possible. Escape might not be a smart film in the traditional sense, but it has the strength of its convictions and a wonderful level of craft.”


Freydís and Gudrid (dir. Jeffrey Leiser)


“My thoughts of a Viking musical spectacle filled with whimsical ballads and show-stopping dance ensembles disintegrate. Prior knowledge that the film is an opera might help channel expectations, but then the expectation shifts to managing my preconceived notion about opera,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Stormy seas and bloodless battles follow. But Freydís and Gudrid‘s journey goes beyond the adventuring of retribution. This is also a story of community and bonding while sliding the envelope into areas of occupation and colonization.”


Goyo (dir. Marcos Carnevale)


“The film compels one to admire diversity while reflecting on ones values as well as others’ prejudices,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


The Imaginary (dir. Yoshiyuki Momose)


The Imaginary hooks the viewer by presenting scenarios where anything and everything is possible and nothing is off limits,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Even as I was growing weary and skeptical with the evolution of the story, my emotional investment in these creatures and their human counterparts remained resolutely solid. By the end, I was legitimately crying at the beauty of it all, so even if it isn’t a flawless film, The Imaginary still hits the right notes in all the spaces that count the most.”


The Imaginary is an imaginative and worthwhile watch from another Japanese Animation Studio that takes a fresh look at an English children’s novel – imagination that can turn into hope and then into reality,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


June Zero (dir. Jake Paltrow)


“Paltrow’s characters are based on real people and circumstances which adds weight to the story but the emphasis on the rascally boy and the grisly business of the custom-made oven feels misguided, an attempt to sell a forbidding subject for a wide audience,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Ultimately, June Zero becomes another half-successful attempt in a long line of films about the Holocaust without staring directly into the blinding darkness.”


“The film stands as a fable on the current Hamas and Israel war on how Palestinians and Jews could function together utilizing the best of their human abilities,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Director and co-writer Jake Paltrow’s anthology film June Zero is half a good movie and half a colossal misfire, which is a strange thing to say about a story that has been split into thirds,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate.


Kill (dir. Nikhil Nagesh Bhat)


Kill‘s action draws favourable comparisons to the hallway fight scenes of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy and Gareth Evans’ The Raid: an enclosed environment, one-versus-many,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “The claustrophobia of the compact train elevates the violence and action, creating some intense and visceral visuals. Unsurprisingly, given the title of the film, Kill contains some incredibly gruesome sequences, much to my macabre delight.”


“The lead-in to Kill is brilliantly deceptive, offering no indication of just how off-the-rails the film is willing to travel. It begins as an overwrought love story—all dreamy eyes, innocent gazes, and virtuous gestures—playing on the tradition of what North American audiences will likely identify as Bollywood,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “And for those who cringe at cinema violence and are concerned that the violence will be too intense…allow me to reassure you that the violence in Kill is acrobatic, graceful, comic-book silly and outrageous.”


Kill, action aboard a packed train, ranks with The Beekeeper as the top two action films of 2024,” declares Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“For its first half-hour, Kill’s fights are plentiful if slightly pedestrian in their staging and speed,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Amrit can kick, punch and stab with the best of ‘em, but there is a repetitiveness to the choreography that just barely keeps the audience hanging on. It turns out that the slow-blow pacing is deliberate, though, with Bhat suddenly turning things upside-down and ramping up the intensity to a neck-snapping degree.”


“Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat chugs along on the strength of his own momentum and a high level of energy, often overcoming the limitation of resources at their disposal,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.Kill stretches uncomfortably towards the two hour mark, with more slow points than would be advisable for something that should be quicker paced, but the good bits still outweigh the lesser stuff by a healthy margin.”


Last Summer / L’été dernière (dir. Catherine Breillat)


“Director Breillat proves once again she can deal with sexuality in a modern everyday context, balancing unease and complicity with raw emotions and desperation,” writes Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco.  “An immensely complicated film with a complicated subject but done with surprising ease and effortlessness.”


“Hold on to your hats,” advises Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Co-writer-director Catherine Breillat’s excellent psychological study cum somber thriller zeroes in on a character we don’t see often: the female predator. People are frequently not what they seem, and abuse is abuse and abuse, whoever’s doing it. And the tone of the film, non-judgemental and beautiful to look at, is perfectly foreboding.”


“The stubborn ambiguity of Last Summer — with its genuinely could-be-this, could-be-that head-scratcher of an ending — will either be a dealbreaker for viewers or proof of bold, irreverent storytelling that refuses to be neatly packaged. To be sure, the film isn’t judging so much as presenting a fraught scenario for its audience to consider,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Watching Anne’s erotic exchanges with both Théo and Pierre were strangely perplexing, though, and maybe therein lies a clue to the filmmaker’s intent. Both looked less like lovemaking than what might be indelicately call rutting, despite one lingering closeup of… maybe ecstasy? Or ennui. You decide.”


“Breillat is a filmmaker who’s anything but shy when it comes to pushing a viewer to their limits, but Last Summer bears the hallmarks of a director working under an ill-advised, self-imposed set of limitations,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate. “If it weren’t for the taboo subject at its heart, Last Summer would feel like just another movie about someone in a committed relationship having an affair with a younger person. It’s a shrug of a film from someone that normally doesn’t pull punches. It will lock the viewer into the subject, but then forget to push them in the direction of deeper contemplation.”


A Man of Reason (dir. Jung Woo-Sung)


“What follows are beautifully choreographed fight scenes, car crashes, explosions, gun-play (some of it with a nail gun), a stupendous car-chase through a tunnel with incendiary devices all around, and mayhem in general, all of it beautifully made and big fun to watch,” writes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “What isn’t happening, alas, is any kind of emotional investment from a viewer. Brilliant though the action scenes are, shouldn’t one be watching them from the edge of one’s seat? Su-hyuk is as stoic a reformed bad guy as the genre demands, but oddly unmoved by a tragedy or two along the way and almost impossible to read.”


MaXXXine (dir. Ti West)


“West hit his stride with his muse, the enigmatic, soul-capturing star quality of Mia Goth. Make no mistake—Goth is a discovery. West fully realizes the impact of her questioning eyes, filled with feigned confusion, underscoring an unshakeable confidence,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Goth is magic on the screen. West sees that magic and honours it with affection and respect.”


“It ends up being West’s unlikely and pleasantly unexpected subtext that makes MaXXXine a minor success rather than a near miss,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate. “As much as West likes to revel in the visual decadence of the 1980s and the fondness so many who lived through it have for various pop culture touchstones, MaXXXine is just as much of a sharp condemnation of the American years under Ronald Reagan as they are a celebration of its aesthetics. At every point in the narrative, West makes it known that the 1980s were a terrible time for women in particular, but also for anyone trying to be a decent human being.”


“Director West’s slasher horror black comedy is still an entertaining watch given the over-used plot of a novice actress trying to succeed in Hollywood,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But Mia Goth is quite the prized actress and a pretty good one at that, as can be observed in her audition film at the art of the film.”


Population Purge (dir. Brian Johnson; July 9)


“Director Johnson makes no special effort to make any of his characters particularly likable,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “If one dies, no one really cares.  The action sequences are executed with not much aplomb either, with many victims down away with a shotgun or crossbow.”


Valley of Exile (dir. Anna Fahr 🇨🇦)


Valley of Exile works in ways beyond what you’d expect in a canon of films of this nature that we’ve seen before, but because more than anything it’s not a film that is trying to evoke any kind of emotion about a certain situation, but rather about the people who have to survive through it all,” writes Dave Voigt at In the Seats.


Valley of Exile is a slow, closely observed and very personal story that distils the terrible cost of conflict and presents it on a relatable human scale. While the film celebrates the women’s resilience, it also shows the gradual, inexorable unravelling of family as all things familiar fall away,” says Liz Braun at Original Cin.


File Under Miscellaneous


As the fight to save Toronto’s Revue Cinema continues, Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail speaks with programming director Serena Whitney about how the Revue Film Society has become a thriving community hub at a time when many theatres are struggling. “Multiplexes are a different thing, but indie exhibitors can make it work. They just need to give audiences a reason to get off their butts at home,” Whitney says. “It takes a little bit more creativity and a lot more time.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie catches up with streaming hit A Family Affair: “one of those headscratchers,” she notes. “The performances are fine, Zac Efron is pretty good as Chris a spoiled Hollywood movie star who likes to bark out orders at his assistant Zara played with tremendous verve by Joey King. Both have spirited deliveries and drive the film. Nicole Kidman as her mother Brooke is okay, inoffensive, and familiar.”


At POV Magazine, Marc Glassman looks back at the growth of regional offices in the National Film Board of Canada: “A group of key people at the NFB’s office in Montreal began to lobby for the setting-up of production units across the country as early as the mid-’60s,” explains Glassman. “By the early ’70s, the movement started by Rex Tasker along with Eugene ‘Jeep’ Boyko, and supported by NFB icon Colin Low as well as many others, had become impossible to ignore, even to the conservative regime of Commissioner Sydney Newman. From 1973 through 1980, regional facilities in Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver were set up and, after some growing pains, began to flourish.”


At Maple Popcorn, Marriska Fernandes chats with Karen LeBlanc, star of Nurse.Fighter.Boy and She Came Back.


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell digs into the summer of sequels: “If there’s a lesson to be drawn from the Furiosa debacle and the Day One triumph, it’s that moviegoers don’t want to be pulled too far from the familiar comforts of what attracted them to a franchise in the first place,” writes Howell. “This also applies to sequels: Imagine a Despicable Me movie without the clownish Minions, who are so popular they have their own spinoff series. Or how about a Deadpool movie without Ryan Reynolds or a Beverly Hills Cop flick without Eddie Murphy? Unthinkable.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage


At What She Said, Anne Brodie highlights the return of the Weengushk International Film Festival: “A conference follows at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre on resilience, history, and the path forward, honouring the past, present and future. WIFF 2024 celebrates Indigenous storytelling with global Indigenous voices via features, shorts, workshops, a gala awards event, and musical performances by Aysanabee, Adrian Sutherland, Nishina. Esquega, and The Poets: A Tragically Hip Tribute. The opening night film is Sugarcane, directed by Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho says The Bear is quite serving like it used to: “Creator and showrunner Christopher Storer has an uphill battle to fight with each additional season. Season 1 introduced something new and exciting to television, only to be finessed and refined in Season 2. This current season doesn’t necessarily continue the series’ ascent, but it bides its time at the summit with flourishes of creativity, looking for a way to create a new summit to climb.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie says Rashida Jones in Sunny will brighten your day: “An unexpectedly complex and dark role for the usually ‘sunny’ Jones.”