Reviews include Dune: Part Two, 500 Days in the Wild, and About Dry Grasses.
TFCA Friday: Week of June 16
June 16, 2023
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week!
The Blackening (dir. Tim Story)
“The Blackening works as a satirical send-up of horror films and as a formidable entry into the genre itself,” says Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Co-written by Perkins and Tracy Oliver, the dialogue is biting and laugh-out-loud funny, as it takes aim at the historically expendable nature of Black characters in horror, while also touching on other cultural touchstones, such as mixed-race relationships and upbringings, and what makes one person “Blacker” than another.”
“The film works, mostly as a comedy, never as a horror, but would work better if Story didn’t squander the film’s potential with an uneven script that fluctuates between extremes. At one extreme Story commits to broad comedy with jokes flying off the screen at a pace like—and with the same success rate as—gimmicky 3D movie effects,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “At the other extreme is observational humour regarding black stereotypes, both in and outside of the horror genre. And though both extremes offer a few solid laugh-out-loud moments, much of the film languishes at the midway point.”
“This horror comedy knows all the horror clichés and parodies them hilariously and to great effect,” laughs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Elemental (dir. Peter Sohn)
“As an artistic design challenge, Elemental has triumphant moments (which may be good enough eye candy to keep kids occupied). But as a story, it doesn’t appear to aspire to much beyond a standard star-crossed romance,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “The rest is one-liners and distractions (a lot of effort and resources were put into depicting a stadium championship of ‘airball’ – which is basically Quiddich played by clouds). It’s as if the artists gave enthusiastic thumbs up to the premise at a meeting the writers forgot to attend.”
“The realization of the four elements into living, breathing, tangible creatures is striking. The flaming movements and glowing light of the fire people in particular is incredibly imaginative, filling the screen with warmth and dynamism. As a whole, the kaleidoscopic imagery of Elemental is a refreshing reprieve from the dark cinematography so common in live-action films,” observes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Ironically, Elemental‘s animation is also the very thing that puts me at odds with the film’s story. The use of the water and fire people as a teachable lesson for young kids to understand the plight of immigrant families, and the issues faced by mixed-race couples, is purposely superficial.”
“Heartfelt in tone, imaginative in scope and rendered with a seemingly endless well of aesthetic wit, the romantic-comedy is a worthy addition to the Pixar canon … until the characters start speaking,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “It doesn’t help that the screenwriters – three are credited, but as usual for a Pixar production, this has been put through every stem of the studio’s brain trust – offer up some truly flat dialogue, with Ember and Wade trading banter that is almost entirely exposition. Elemental is also desperately in need of a dozen more laugh-out-loud (or laugh-at-all) moments, its two best gags stolen from The Simpsons and Zootopia.”
The Flash (dir. Andy Muschietti)
“Very quickly, though – almost as quick as, well, you know – Muschietti’s film settles into a head-scratching, eyeroll-inducing mishmash of CGI nonsense that tries to convince you it’s far more clever than it is in fact corporately craven,” groans Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The movie’s embarrassingly janky VFX and overreliance on faux-witty one-liners are to be expected by this point in the comic-book movie game. Same with the mushy multiverse logic, a high-concept trick that only Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s animated Spider-Man films have managed to execute with inventiveness and wit.”
“There are some crazy-cool special effects in an early scene in which The Flash saves a truly insane number of babies from certain death — take that, Battleship Potemkin, and also The Untouchables, and Naked Gun 33 1/3! But some of the Batman effects look like they came from the same era as Keaton’s caped crusader,” notes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “And while the movie motors along with admirable pacing for most of its lengthy running time, it stumbles in the final act, which is marred by even more bad special effects and a maudlin reunion. The movie (like oh so many others) would benefit from a 20-minute trim.”
“If there is an Academy Award for Best SuperHero Action Film of the year, The Flash would be the clear winner,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“A series of real-life misdeeds has a contrite Ezra Miller looking for reinvention, and this Flash-first contribution to the DC Extended Universe, directed by Andy Muschietti, provides it with heart and humour,” observes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “A time-travel mistake, made to undo family tragedy, alters The Flash’s world and prompts Krypton villain General Zod (Michael Shannon) to attack. Barry One must convince Barry Two to become The Flash — it’s sort of a reverse origin saga — while also persuading Michael Keaton’s Batman to come out of retirement. The story gets messy — multiple cameos and a rushed intro for Sasha Calle as Supergirl — but I like how it follows Keaton’s war cry: ‘Let’s get nuts.’”
“Director Andy Muschietti, scriptwriter Christina Hodson and a host of animators, producers, and technicians have worked for years to make The Flash a visual and bombastic treat. One can only hope that multitudes will come to support their efforts, which I find to be generic apart from the interplay between the two Flashes,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “For me, special applause is reserved for Michael Keaton resurrecting his role as Batman with a rueful gravitas, the wonderful (and pardon me, still gorgeous) Maribel Verdu who is absolutely charming as Barry Allen’s mother and, of course, Ezra Miller, for a tour-de-force performance. Or should I say, performances?”
“I can’t stress enough how much The Flash feels like a comic book come alive. The only live-action film that comes this close to capturing the essence of its comic book source material is Edgar Wright’s 2010 masterpiece, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” writes Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “Even though comic book movies have dominated the box office for years, the studios producing them struggle to find the right balance to stay true to the pulpy source material. They often mess with classic origin stories, ditch iconic costumes, and meddle with canonical storylines. Not here though. The Flash wholeheartedly embraces its comic book roots.”
“What complicates the questions around Miller’s actions is that their performance in The Flash is unequivocally what makes the film different than anything DC has ever released,” observes Eli Glasner at CBC. “Miller plays Barry as someone who is not normal but desperate to be. His mind races, he’s constantly ravenous for food to fuel his speed powers. In person, he’s awkward and any attempt to compensate, like when the thinly sketched love interest Iris West drops by, creates hilarious moments.”
Mon Crime (dir. François Ozon)
“A new Ozon film is always sheer delight and he manages to deliver a new one every year, most of them of consistent quality comedies or drama. Mon Crime is pure period fluff set in the ’20s featuring all the flair of colour, costumes and melodrama that Ozon is famous for,” says Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco.
Other People’s Children (dir. Rebecca Zlotowski)
“The film plays like a Truffaut movie with the camerawork and focus in and out shots,” notes Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. The kindness to Rachel’s student is reminiscent of the kindness shown to students in L’argent de poche. The trouble with this movie is everything falls into place for a happy ending all too easily ending all the drama created into meaningless fluff.”
“Other People’s Children smartly tackles the shifting nature of parenthood,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “[A] great cameo by nonagenarian documentary filmmaker Fred Wiseman…Efira gives a radiant performance as Rachel. She brings an effortless comedic side—something one hasn’t quite seen in films like Benedetta and Paris Memories—that recalls the natural charm of Diane Keaton. The warmth of Efira’s performance lets Rachel conceal the aching vulnerability that only the audience can see. Efira forces Rachel to confront the sense of inadequacy she feels while navigating her maternal sense.”
Persian Lessons (dir. Vadim Perelman)
“The ever-present tension we feel, like rabbits about to be killed and skinned, is shockingly visceral,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Awkwardly handled moments and unnecessary superficial sentiments occasionally break the tension spell, but overall, it’s a gut punch of a film and another in the endless chapters of fact-based brutality at the hands of Nazi Germany.”
“By the end, Gilles’s ability to survive while his fellow inmates are murdered around him is given a redemptive twist and the almost sympathetic Nazi also gets his appropriate reward,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Yet, even with its decent performances and polished production values, Persian Lessons never clears the hurdle of its improbable premise, an idea that could serve as the setup for a bad-taste Mel Brooks’ sketch.”
Seire (dir. Park Kong)
“Director Park’s film moves at a slow pace, but he keeps counting the tension. Boredom is never the issue,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Stan Lee (dir. David Gelb)
“The doc is insightful and informative showing only the positive of Stan’s life,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But the doc omits the more troubled life of Stan in his older age, of how he was abused as an elderly and how his business manager had physically and mentally abused him in his old age.”
The Stroll (dir. Kristen Lovell, Zackary Drucker; June 21)
“Lovell opens The Stroll by reflecting upon her participation in a documentary about sex work that misrepresented her story,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “She makes a corrective by giving the story its due as told by the transwomen whose histories echo throughout bricks and alleyways of this gentrifying space of the city. This talking heads doc invites audiences to learn the history of The Stroll through the voices of those who lived it.”
Those Who Remained (dir. Barnabás Tóth)
“Barnabás Tóth’s Those Who Remained…sheds light on the human cost of the Holocaust and the trauma for those who decided not to flee their country,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Teenaged Klára (Abigél Szõke) lost both parents in the war but refuses to acknowledge that they have died; she’s under great emotional strain at school, home, and with her aunt who took her in. She’s angry.”
Village (dir. Michihito Fuji)
“Though (the film) takes its time to tell its story (effectively mounting the suspense), the images are haunting, the storytelling convincing and the horror often felt. The Japanese atmosphere also aids in the film’s intrigue,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Voices Across the Water (dir. Fritz Mueller 🇨🇦)
“Filmed over several years variously in Yukon Territory, Alaska, and in the traditional territories of the Carcross/Tagish, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Kwanlin Dün and Coast Tlingit, Voices Across the Water is visually beautiful, narratively compelling, and was met with great enthusiasm in Whitehorse where it screened last February as part of the Available Light Film Festival,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “It’s hard to imagine a more thought-provoking, soul-soothing way to spend 84 minutes.”
“Voices Across the Water makes a relatively mundane and methodical practice dynamic while observing the artists at work,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Both processes involve patience and precision. So too does Mueller’s approach, which takes a cue from the creators by favouring the handcrafted and artisanal. This is old-school filmmaking with an eye for detail and character.”
File Under Miscellaneous: De-Aging Gracefully
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Indiana Jones’ new director James Mangold about embracing the Spielbergian cheese of the franchise. “I wanted to give audiences a taste of something that they missed and loved, which is classic golden-age Indy, because I knew that we were after going to land in a period of time where that kind of adventure can’t happen that way any more,” Mangold tells Hertz. “Part of how you set up that loss or disorientation is to give audiences exactly what they want, and then take that away. You watch the character earn their way back to getting that mojo back by the third act of the movie. It’s never worthwhile to make a movie if we’re not challenging the audience.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen reports on Shane Smith’s departure from Hot Docs and looks back at the artistic director’s eight years with the festival. “The programming under Smith’s direction reflected documentary as the art form reached new heights of popularity. Editions of Hot Docs over the past years included many films that would go on to win the Academy Award, including American Factory (2019), Summer of Soul (2021), and Navalny (2022),” notes Mullen. “Hot Docs also had the premiere for My Octopus Teacher tapped for its 2020 slate, although the Netflix doc ultimately didn’t screen in the online edition. The festival line-up also maintained an eye for Canadian content while pursuing hotter international titles.”
TV Talk/Series Scribbles: The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys
At What She Said, Anne Brodie binges the conversion therapy escape drama Alter Boys: “It’s hard to imagine in 2023 that there are places like this, but Lawrence’s film is based on fact,” says Brodie. Meanwhile, she finds another grim case in Clean Sweep: “Clean Sweep’s an intriguing fast-paced psychological drama and police procedural in which we root for the baddie.” And for Katharine Hepburn fans, “Call Me Kate is essential viewing for KB fans, outsiders, nonconformists and free spirits everywhere.”