TFCA Friday: Week of July 7

July 7, 2023

Something You Said Last Night | Elevation Pictures

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


In Release this Week


Biosphere (dir. Mel Eslyn)


“Recall that Duplass first made his mark in the early-oughts film movement known as Mumblecore, part of a group that included Barbie director Greta Gerwig. He hasn’t hit quite the same level of fame, but remains an arresting presence on the screen, all the more when helping carry a small story like this one, rather than relegated to minor-supporting work in larger productions. Brown (TV’s This Is Us) needs less introduction and proves an able dramatic partner here,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “The problem is the screenplay, full of ideas but none of them fully baked enough to support the hour-and-46-minute running time.”


“Billy goes through a whole segment speaking at how embarrassed he is or unable to cope with his testicles disappearing,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The filmmakers should be sensitive towards the intersex community, and in this respect, this film is extremely racist and unforgivable.”


Cash / Gold Brick (dir. Jérémie Rozan)


Cash/Gold Brick is an entertaining fable of underdog against the wealthy,” says Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. The only thing to note is that the wealthy are just wealthy but not really evil by any means,  Not really hilarious as a comedy but the film succeeds in credible and detailed storytelling.”


The Crusades (dir. Leo Milano)


“The transition from comedy to drama is uneven and ends up quite contrived, despite director’s Milano’s good intentions for storytelling his own personal experiences,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy

(dir. Nancy Buirski)


Desperate Souls gets to the heart of the power that made Midnight Cowboy resonate both then and now. As a slice of film on film documentary, a piece of urban studies, and a consideration of queer life, the film approaches a cinematic landmark from all angles,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. Desperate Souls is ultimately a consideration of what it means to make a film that endures and matters.”


Joyride (dir. Adele Lim)


“Friendship solely based on ethnicity, white people fumbling around racial issues, and casual violence and vulgarity encompass Joy Ride — with some added R-rated raunch and inside jokes,” observes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Thanks to a clever script by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, Joy Ride finds a way into social commentary and observations while also engaging in devil’s threesomes, plenty of vagina jokes, and amusingly specific insults about looking like Hello Kitty if she’d been skull-fucked by Keroppi.”


At The Asian Cut, Rachel Ho speaks with Adele Lim about directing for the first time after writing screenplays for films like Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon. “I spent most of my early career being worried about being pigeon-holed as the soft female writer or relationship writer,” Lim tells Ho. “You’re constantly trying to prove yourself to an outsider point of view, and I’m kind of over that honestly. It’s hard enough finding an amazing story to tell and tell it well. I just want to jump into the next story I find amazing and compelling, and not worry about what the industry or outsiders feel like it’s saying about myself as a creator.”


Joy Ride also boasts a genuinely fresh approach to race and sex that goes beyond the influence of Apatow and his ilk,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “First, there are the ways in which Lim explores, and toys around, with Western conceptions of Chinese culture, including a third-act turn that pushes the film into surprisingly challenging territory when it comes to questions of ethnicity. Not every audience will clock the specifics, but there is an authenticity here that levels up every narrative thread, performance and punchline.”


The Lesson (dir. Alice Troughton)


“Since it’s apparent nobody is being completely honest, the mystery for the viewer is who’s zooming who. You’ll find out in an overheated and somewhat dubious third act — except who doesn’t want to watch Richard E. Grant chew the scenery?” asks Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Otherwise, The Lesson is slow and grand, shot with a level of lovely visual irony by cinematographer Anna Patarakina and kept vaguely unsettling thanks to music from Isobel Waller-Bridge. It’s a clever bit of noir that keeps a viewer slightly off-balance at all times as the tension builds.”


“Grant’s formidable talent and embrace of J.M. Sinclair, a supercilious, manipulative, and vaguely threatening literary supernova is the dark cloud that hovers over his icy wife Hélène (Julie Delpy), and their son Bertie (Stephen McMillan),” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A darkly amusing, smart mystery and character study of people trapped under the same roof, feeling too much.”


“Despite a few clichéd moments in the plot points, The Lesson moves on at a sustained and intriguing pace, making it good sort of flaky literary entertaining fare,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “As they say, don’t expect too much and one should not get disappointed.”


“Following the dictates of the cozy, many things happen in the last third of the script, some violent and all revelatory,” explains Marc Glassman at Classical FM.The Lesson offers an impressive denouement though, quite frankly, there are plot twists that seem illogical to me. But then, I’m a fan of the cozy and its opposite, the hard-boiled private eye novel. For those who love Agatha Christie or elegant British dramas, The Lesson is a lovely summer’s divertissement. If not, well, it’s not a proper entertainment for everyone.”


“Delpy masters the art of the resting bitch face as Hélène mopes around the house in sourpuss mode, but she anchors key dramatic turns,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Her scene-stealing performance guides The Lesson to its surprising finale that asks audiences about the ethics of “stealing” in service of good storytelling. It’s fitting that a study of problematic men saves some juicy bits for the lone woman in the cast.”


The Out-Laws (dir. Tyson Spindel)


“Do not go out of the way to watch this forgettable comedy about weddings and in-laws,” advises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Sporadically funny at parts, but a bit too much swearing and violence for the family, it still makes warm and funny entertainment in the living room, the kind Netflix infamous for putting out. The Out-Laws gets a bare pass.”


Sharpnel (dir. William Kaufman)


“Director Kaufman’s Sharpnel is a no-nonsense action flick that skimps on subplots like romance, redemption etc. but still touches these issues without compromising on the action,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “With loud shouting, jittery and held camera and chase stunts, Shrapnel is a low budget effective thriller that delivers its product without any shit.”


Something You Said Last Night (dir. Luis De Filippis 🇨🇦)


“Beyond all that, there’s something about a lakeside summer resort background that is almost like a visual soundtrack. For all the noise sprinkled with Italian phrases and mannerisms, Something You Said Last Night eventually finds a quiet place in its storytelling,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “It can’t quite be called finding peace. In this family, it’s more like a truce. But De Filippis gets full marks for painting a very human picture.”


“The vibe is more documentary than fiction from writer-director Luis De Filippis supported by in-yer-face cinematography, a real accomplishment,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s a day in the life of an extraordinarily courageous and well-loved young woman who is strong but always on the lookout for bias-based problems. Quite harrowing at times, but delicate and deeply intimate.”


“A breakout performance by Carmen Madonia…carries the film with barely a word as Ren joins her family on a vacation in Orillia where seemingly nothing and everything transforms their relationships,” writes Pat Mullen at Xtra, who speaks with De Filippis about creating a character who might challenge audiences. “I don’t really care if audiences think she’s likable or not. What I care about is if audiences think she’s human. Men on screen are allowed to be unlikable, but women are not. There’s another level with marginalized characters—in this case, a trans character. A lot of the depictions we’ve seen of trans characters put them on a pedestal,” says De Filippies.


This Place (dir. V.T. Nayani 🇨🇦)


“Rising star, writer, director, and actor Devery Jacobs, a Mohawk from Kahnawa, tackles coming-of-age on multiple levels in This Place. Jacobs plays Kawenniióhstha setting out on a voyage of self-discovery that brings her to Toronto after a lifetime on the reservation. She grapples with the opposite of her experiences in the city and feels the separation from her mother, but finds love,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “These young women experience the crumbling of mountains of stored emotion and resentment which leads them to their truths. Toronto is well-represented.”


Users (dir. Natalia Almada)


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with director Natalia Almada about exploring the increasingly pervasive presence of AI and blurring the lines with two narrators—one real, one AI-driven—that are indistinguishable. “This synthetic voice double is done through machine learning: you record the sentences and they’ve developed the software that can take those recordings and recreate your voice to say anything you tell it to say. I find that fascinating,” explains Almada. “It was a kind of obsession in my mind, thinking, ‘One day I’ll be gone. Hopefully, my kids will outlive me and I will live on in that voice.’ What does that mean? How much is it me? How much is it not me? How much will they hear it and feel it’s their mother? I wanted to create this narrator for the film’s lens of motherhood through a whole new way. It has narrators both synthetic and humans. They’re really similar.”


Wham! (dir. Chris Smith)


“Too many contemporary documentaries about music or entertainment figures attempt to elevate the importance of the artist in question.  Smith, blessedly, avoids that. He doesn’t bring in talking heads to give the band context, to big up Wham!’s legacy. Instead he sticks to the story itself, of two friends who became very successful collaborators, who reached the goals they’d set for each other,  refused to be pulled apart and moved on seemingly without acrimony,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “The result is a wonderful biography, of two people, of a pop band, with complications weathered well because of the unshakeable friendship at the center.”


Who Killed Maggie Moore(s)? (dir. John Slattery)


“Nestled among this escalating, town-wide intrigue is a budding love story between Hamm’s self-effacing widower Jordan and Fey’s Rita, a withdrawn divorcée with self-esteem issues. Both are playing against type; commendable buy not terribly buyable, especially since the pair display negligible sexual chemistry,” notes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “The film acknowledges as much in a scene where Jordan and Rita’s first planned lovemaking session deflates, ending with the pair stretched on top of the covers in hotel bathrobes, clutching drinks and trading theories. Sharper dialogue would’ve elevated the whole shebang.”


File Under Miscellaneous


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz swings in with his picks for the best films of 2023 so far. At #1? Across the Spider-Verse: “It is ridiculous how imaginative, gorgeous and thrilling this animated Spidey sequel is compared with any other so-called ‘children’s’ film to come out over the past year,” writes Hertz. “Easily the best Spider-Man movie ever made – making it one of the best superhero movies ever made, too – Christopher Lord and Phil Miller’s epic-sized beast of a thing fulfills the implicit promise of every Marvel adventure times 10.”


TV Talk/Series Scribbles: Soderbergh and the World of AI


At What She Said, Anne Brodie looks at Steven Soderbergh’s latest endeavour, the crime series Full Circle: “[A] bristling, uncomfortable, and ultraviolent six-parter that seems to feed off the current state of anxiety across our culture,” notes Brodie. “And all the while the gangster boss lady continues her rice circle around the man’s face. All dark, tense, and unsettling; if you are inclined to nightmares, best to avoid. Ironically the most dangerous of the gang members is played by Happy Anderson!”


At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller looks at two series, Joan Is Awful and Content Farm, to consider the implications for AI within the film and television industry. She also gets a few words from Content Farm creators Lauren Gillis and Elaine Hutton about what’s at stake. “AI versus respecting people’s art and work, that’s a human problem,” Hutton tells Schneller. “People who control content are constantly stealing already. With added tech it will be easier to edge creators out. The people at the top don’t care about the human casualties, and that attitude frightens me more than any tech.”