Reviews include Close, Knock at the Cabin, and Alice, Darling.
TFCA Friday: Week of June 11
June 11, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
ICYMI: The TFCA recently welcomed eight new members: Kelsey Adams, Sarah-Tai Black, Kelly Boutsalis, Alicia Fletcher, Sarah Hagi, Kim Hughes, Courtney Small, and Victor Stiff.
In Release this Week
Akilla’s Escape (dir. Charles Officer 🇨🇦)
Calling the film “deeply affecting,” Anne Brodie at What She Said raves, “A stunning performance by Thamela Mpumlwana as young Akilla takes us to his unstable life in his housing complex as he is caught in the crossfire of gang violence.”
“It’s not your average crime story, in other words, although the arc of a youth seeking distance from destructive influences is all too familiar, in real life as in art,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Terrific performances from poet/actor Saul Williams (Slam) as a dealer in need of redemption and Thamela Mpumlwana (who takes on two different roles) make this saga special.”
“The film’s masterstroke is in its casting: Officer gives Williams his first screen lead since 1998’s Slam, and the actor is as powerful and present as he was two decades ago,” praises Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “He gives Akilla a confidence and unspoken authority that comes with knowing a world inside and out, and an exasperation with people who insist on making the wrong move when they don’t have to.”
“[A]wesome soundtrack by poet-musician-actor Saul Williams — who also collaborated with Massive Attack’s 3D,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“There’s much to like in Akilla’s Escape, most particularly the look of the film,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. Cinematographer Maya Bankovic has a great eye and Officer’s films are well known for their poetic sensibility. Rarely has Toronto looked as mysterious and inviting as in this film.”
Awake (dir. Mark Raso)
“While [Gina] Rodriguez and [Jennifer Jason] Leigh would be enough for one thriller, we also get Gil Bellows as an ethically conflicted doctor, Shamier Anderson as a convict with a heart of gold, and the always welcome Barry Pepper as a preacher spiritually perplexed by the state of events. But for many reasons – budget, stylistic ambition, narrative credibility – the film aggravates when it should captivate,” yawns Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“If only one can fall asleep on this one,” groans Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Chasing Wonder (dir. Paul Meins)
“Gorgeous nighttime and golden hour scenes in the desert, as Savino ponders his place in the world, and the drone shots are magical.,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Emotional complexity and inevitability are the core of the film, again, raised by [Michael] Crisafulli’s understanding, empathetic performance.”
The Dare (dir. Giles Anderson)
“Only watch The Dare if you dare, but it will be guaranteed to be an unpleasant watch,” advises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Dose / La Dosis (dir. Martín Kraut)
“It had not occurred to me, before watching the mordant Argentinian medical thriller, La Dosis (The Dose) that ‘bedpan’ and ‘deadpan’ don’t just rhyme, they resonate: Keeping a straight face and a tight sphincter both involve muscle control and an element of dramatic suspense,” overshares Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “A dark movie, but also a funny one.”
At Afro Toronto., Gilbert Seah calls it “a compulsive watch.”
“La Dosis is not a bad movie, and the director handles the pacing nicely, with an understated score that sometimes suggests a ticking clock – or beating heart monitor,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But the tone is a little uneven, and the occasional suggestion that Marcos might be having hallucinations doesn’t really fit with everything else going on in the film.”
Holler (dir. Nicole Riegel)
“TIFF 20 hit Holler, the tough and touching story of an Appalachian high schooler is lifelike and naturalistic and then it starts to sneak up on you like a kind of emotional thriller,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
In the Heights (dir. Jon M. Chu)
“Way up to 181th Street, dreams are dreamed, songs are sung and it’s a candy-coated world,” sings Anne Brodie at What She Said. “No real place is like that but it’s fun to pretend for a couple of hours alongside bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos).”
“Indeed, the film’s smile-to-groan ratio is mildly concerning,” hums Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “By the time that Chu reworks the laws of gravity to illustrate the up-and-down romance between Benny and Kevin’s daughter Nina (Leslie Grace), it becomes too easy to wonder what fidelity demands were written into any adaptation contract – and the increasingly desperate lengths that the film’s creative team had to go to compensate.” Hertz also speaks with star Lin-Manuel Miranda about bringing his joyous work to the screen.
“The huge ensemble cast seems almost too big and talented for a story this slight. No worries: Think of the movie as a series of vibrant short stories,” notes Peter Howell at Night Viz. “Many of these stories — with their attendant life choices — come with big production numbers, which Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, Step Up 2 & 3) directs with flair and vigour.”
“[L]ong awaited film adaptation of the Broadway musical, highlighting the multi-talents of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” describes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“In the Heights is so joyous, vibrant and visually wondrous that it mostly gets away with having next to no plot,” admits Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto.
Also at NOW Toronto, Glenn Sumi chats with director Jon M. Chu about bringing In the Heights from stage to screen: “[It was about the studio] saying, ‘This cast is worth your time, your money, your effort to go out and see them being put on the pedestal of a cinematic experience,” says Chu. “And to me, that said everything. It meant these [actors] could then go make their own movies and be the stars and make whole new paths – just the way Crazy Rich Asians happened.”
“In contrast to Disney’s film adaptation of Hamilton, In the Heights goes maximal, full of lavish production numbers and puppyish energy…that inflate playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes’ slender script until the seams nearly pop,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “All this is big, busy fun and while one might wish for some a bit more grit in the charm offensive, the catchwords here are feel-good and broad appeal.”
“It’s over-the-top fun, with the caveat that if you don’t like musicals, you really won’t like this one, with its Busby Berkeley-inspired swimming pool number, and its clever callbacks to Miranda’s other works,” hums Chris Knight at the National Post. “The only question for Ontarians is whether to pony up for the digital on demand release or hold out for a cinema screening. You could probably make a song-and-dance number out of that conundrum.”
Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl (dir. Amy Goldstein)
“[M]ore interesting to those both in the recording industry and for singer/songwriters, but the doc is only somewhat interesting for the others and director Goldstein does not appear to try to make Kate Nash a more interesting subject,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Once famous singer-songwriter Kate Nash, best known as Glow’s Rhonda Richardson, has a cautionary story to tell,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “At 18 she was a well-known alternative/punk musician, writer and singer, known for her signature wild style as much as her songs – Foundations, Drink About You, Deathproof, Take Me to a Higher Place.”
“[T]he amped-up concert scenes clash starkly with the rawer behind-the-scenes verité, particularly the notably uneven sound levels, but the doc’s two-pronged approach accentuates Nash’s plight,” notes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “There’s the music scene that audiences see—bright lights, concert halls, and screaming fans—and the one that artists see: grit and struggle.”
New Order (dir. Michel Franco)
“It is at times a terrifically uncomfortable movie to watch,” raves Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “New Order bills itself as a dystopian tale though its creation pre-pandemic and arrival post-pandemic adds an eerie layer to its already disturbing surface.”
“Franco, an uncompromising filmmaker, maintains his bleak outlook through a nightmare drama of civil unrest: a rich vs. poor vs. military confrontation that splinters loyalties,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Paying riveting testament to the madness of modern times, it dares us not to look away.”
“Aside from the well-meaning bride, the best way to approach this story is to trust no one and sympathize with nobody,” cautions Chris Knight at the National Post. “In Franco’s dark and disturbing tale, people are motivated solely by the possibility of social or monetary gain. The rich will do anything to hang on to power. The poor will do anything to wrest it away – and will then act just the same once they have it.”
“Michel Franco’s New Order is an explosive portrait of social unrest you’ll not soon forget,” argues Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Riveting, horrifying and as we know, not unprecedented in the real world.”
“New Order might go down as the most uncomfortable watch of the year,” warns Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Sadistic and ugly and crushingly depressing. But also demanding of your engagement. The reward? A master-class in high-anxiety cinema, and enough fodder for a thousand uncomfortable conversations.”
“New Order starts as an allegory for the rage of the underclass and then goes somewhere else – somewhere awful, but all too believable,” forewarns Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “It’s a story of what happens when civil disobedience gives military leaders the opportunity to take out both the resistance and the existing structure government in a single brutal motion, and what happens after that. Franco’s script has a cruel, unrelenting logic: the worst thing that can happen in any given situation always does.”
A Perfect Enemy (dir. Kiki Maillo)
“All will become clear by the final act, 90 minutes later,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Good luck keeping ahead of the twisty narrative, however, which includes as many red herrings as it does fresh fish. Although you might pay attention to some of the editing choices that move us from one scene to the next. There are clues if you know where to find them, though admittedly I only knew in hindsight.”
“There is a twist to all this, though not a difficult one to spot coming,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “In A Perfect Enemy, Maíllo…painstakingly keeps the story on course to its visceral and disturbing conclusion, despite the very ground the characters walk on becoming less reliably real in the last act.”
“The climax is muddled over the decision to turn the film into super surrealistic stylish,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Queen of Spades (dir. Patrick White; June 15)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “an inoffensive horror flick ending up as yet another forgettable run-of-the mill film.”
An Unknown Compelling Force: the True Story of the Dyatlov Pass (dir. Liam Le Guillou)
“Le Guillou examines each theory with fellow obsessives and questions why in 60 years no cause of death has been determined or investigated,” notes Anne Brodie on this disaster film doc at What She Said. “He put life on the line to retrace their steps and find answers, but truth is elusive. Just a brutal story and an extremely interesting doc.”
Summer Movies Are Back! (Sort of)
Since Ontarians can’t have summer movies on the big screen, Pat Mullen and Courtney small join the team at That Shelf to rank the top summer blockbusters of the 21st century. Pat loves The Devil Wears Prada as the ultimate summer flick (“he second best performance of Streep’s career”) and Courtney dishes on The Dark Knight (“an exhilarating action film and an engaging crime tale”). Jason Gorber voted for Battleship, but it (thankfully) did not make the list.
A Festival of Festivals
Debuting at Tribeca, but getting an aggressive push in Toronto, Brett Gaylor’s interactive project Discriminator receives a look from Jim Slotek at Original Cin: “Discriminator may be [Gaylor’s] most personal film, a retracing of the fate that befell the many photos he’d submitted to Yahoo/Flickr over the years, family photos, wedding photos, etc. Yes, they had been accessed, but not for art’s sake. They were eventually part of the ‘megaface directory,’ a vast archive of photos that provided facial recognition fodder for image-hungry AI programs.”
TV – Lokis, Lady Parts, Bettys, and Kings
“The Loki we get in Loki, Disney+’s often trippy newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is still undergoing psychoanalysis, as part of his processing by the Time Variance Authority – a group of, what, Timelords?… Time Cops? It’s hard to think of a new name for this idea of entities who keep timelines in line,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “But it’s entertaining, sporadically funny, takes some interesting turns (including random acts of time travel), and introduces likeable characters.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie also seems to enjoy Tom Hiddleston’s turn in the spotlight with Loki. “He’s funny, awkward, hilariously overconfident and kind of human, I guess you could say, as he’s taken on a journey – to prison!” She also welcomes the return of Flack for its second season. (“Comedy, drama, character development and the mad world of flackery make for a rich, good time.” Meanwhile, audiences looking for some style can hit up Miss Fishers Modern Murder Mysteries. “[The] boldly coloured, dolly outfits are to die for!” DNA offers “good solid Nordic noir” and Full Bloom “boasts a new crop of florists sharing a love of design.”
At NOW Toronto, Kevin Ritchie dives into season two of Betty, noting, “This time around, the drama is even more character-driven and refreshingly digressive than in season 1. Betty plugs into zeitgeisty relationship conversations – such as polyamory or the idea that men are afraid to aggressively pursue women post-MeToo – in ways that are funny and finely observed.”
Also at NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner raves about We Are the Lady Parts and offers a response to anyone who wonders whether audiences will tune into a show about young Muslim women: “Or maybe it’s exactly the right time for a comedy that sees these characters as individuals who exist within a larger culture, and represent no one but themselves. The genius of writer/producer/director Nida Manzoor’s show is that it doesn’t attempt to speak for all Muslims any more than it wants to speak for all women, or all Londoners. It’s a comedy about talented people trying to get on the same page, and if you can’t connect to that, I don’t know why you’re watching television.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen calls the doc series The Kings a total knock out. “Aided by a nimble cut team that includes film editors Rory Gordon, Brett Irwin, Iain Kitching, and Paul Monaghan, who splice the fights together with the rise and fall of America during the Reagan years, the doc energetically stands to make a boxing fan out of anyone. The bouts remain thrilling thirty years later, while the wins and losses gain resonance thanks to the robust political backdrop that unfolds with the fights.”