Reviews include Slash/Back, Elvis, and Official Competition.
TFCA Friday: Week of June 17
June 17, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Beautiful Scars (dir. Shane Belcourt 🇨🇦)
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with director Shane Belcourt about bringing rocker Tom Wilson’s memoir to the screen and following the artist as he learns the truth about his family and connects with his Mohawk roots. “The issue of identifying with a community that is not the one that you grew up in is something that I could relate to with Tom,” observes Belcourt. “He’s trying to be authentic about who he is and allowing the complexity of Indigenous identity to include him in a modern context.”
Brian and Charles (dir. Jim Archer)
“[The kind of heartwarming comedy that can do no wrong,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It tackles key issues like old age, bullying, companionship, family and sticking to one’s guts even though things might look really bad.”
“If themes about the importance of friendship, hope, and love land a bit on the nose, there’s no denying Brian and Charles takes an innovative approach to delivering them, even if…the tack is brazenly metaphorical,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Yet its distinctive charms are resonant enough to offset a slender story in what nevertheless amounts to a sweet and earnest, modern-day fable…Crowds will be pleased.”
“Brian and Charles joins the list of lighthearted man-and-machine movies that includes Steve Guttenberg in Short Circuit, Frank Langella in Robot & Frank, Hugh Jackman in Real Steel, and Tom Hanks in Finch,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Not anyone’s finest hour – OK, Robot & Frank was actually pretty good – and Brian and Charles is similarly mild fun in its own quirky British fashion. If it doesn’t annoy you in the first 12 minutes, it’ll charm you for the remaining 78.”
Cha Cha Real Smooth (dir. Cooper Raif)
“There’s a lot of emotional power packed into this good-natured story, that’s thankfully unsentimental,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Cooper did well to steer clear of saccharin in this story of family and community in which the main characters all cry. Cooper’s gift for writing is abundantly clear and he has that je ne sais quoi onscreen, as an ally, friend, son and brother and a person who always chooses to do good to others.”
“I’m not sure, though, that Raiff took away quite the right lessons from S#!%house when making his follow-up, Cha Cha Real Smooth,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “While Apple TV+ certainly sees potential here – the streamer plopped down a cool US$15-million for the film after its Sundance Festival debut – my view of Raiff’s obvious filmmaking strengths are clouded by his increasingly cringe-y nice-guys-deserve-to-finish-first naiveté. It is a shallow world view that is either distressingly permanent, or perhaps more temporary – a curable symptom of next-level success. Either way, Raiff’s decision to cast himself as an embarrassingly shiny white knight in Cha Cha belies any, ahem, real smoothness.”
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (dir. Sophie Hyde)
“Thompson lays low the idea of perfection and youthful sexuality in this honest journey of discovery, featuring full-frontal nudity, and sensitive sequences, unexpected from Britain’s queen of comedy and period pieces,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said. “She goes there, she’s awesome and strikes a blow for feminism and we see a bright future for McCormack.”
“A beautiful (mostly) single location, two-hander, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is charming, funny, and quite simply, an utter delight,” writes Rachel Ho at That Shelf. “To no one’s surprise, Thompson is magnetic. She’s the embodiment of an organized mess…The vulnerability, humour, and general brilliance Thompson shows in this role may be expected, but it’s nonetheless incredible.”
“Astute, funny, sexy and brave, Sophie Hyde’s two-hander brilliantly pairs Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack for sex-positive (and life-questioning) hotel trysts between a 60-plus widow and the 20-something lover she’s hired,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Thompson’s ruffled Nancy craves the bedroom satisfaction she lacked in 31 years of marriage, but hang-ups persist; McCormack’s smooth Leo thinks he’s got it all figured out, but maybe not…The ending, already much talked about, ranks as one of the most courageous cinematic moments ever.”
Guidance (dir. Neysan Sobhani)
“Again his aim of the simple story and of an ordinary couple seems an excuse for an over-simplified film with an oversimplified idea,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Halftime (dir. Amanda Micheli)
“The heart of Halftime, really, is the awards circuit grind. Lopez clearly revels in the admiration she receives for her performance,” observes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “However, Micheli doesn’t quite seem to know what she has with this rare, if unfocused, glimpse of the icon.”
Lightyear (dir. Angus MacLane)
“I know more than one stoic who emerged from Toy Story having shed a few tears, and with a softer heart. Which brings us back to just how risky it is to reopen the toy box. The good news is that both my inner eight-year-old and my adult self loved both Lightyear and its clever premise,” beams Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Lightyear is, in movie franchise speak, the origin story for the character Buzz Lightyear. In the Toy Story series, he’s an action figure, one of the favourite toys of little Andy, who fell in love with the character when he saw him in a space movie. And the conceit is that Lightyear is that very movie.”
“[MacLane] throws himself into sound and design on this one – there’s a bit of Interstellar in Lightyear’s DNA, not to mention a shout-out to Star Wars and a couple of clever, blink-and-miss-it references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. And if you swoon to the sound of hydraulics and servo-mechanical actuators, you’ll be in heaven,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But the real mileage in Lightyear comes from the writing. It’s heartfelt without being cloying, jokey without winking.”
“Lightyear pleases adults and kids as well as the LGBT and Black community for its diversity,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“It is an act of merchandising ouroboros that is as crass as it is fascinating,” toys Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But if you can divorce Lightyear’s shareholder-appeasing origins from its actual cinematic accomplishments, then we’re left with a rather beautiful, often thrilling, sometimes devastating adventure.”
“It’s a safe bet that when audiences met Buzz Lightyear in 1995’s Toy Story, no one wondered about the Space Ranger’s backstory. A minor inconvenience to the marketing people at Disney and Pixar, though, who decided that, in fact, we do want — nay, need — to know more about Buzz,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “And the annoying thing is, their ploy works for the most part. Lightyear, while aggressively formulaic, is a delightful film with palatable humour, good voice performances, and gorgeous animation.”
The Lost Girls (dir. Livia De Paolis)
“Ends up a muddled affair with a cop-out happy ending in an otherwise unsatisfactory film,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Mad God (dir. Phil Tippett)
“Mad God is (director) Tippett doing his thing and it is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea,” cautions Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “So be forewarned that Mad Dog may be a delight to some and an utter bore to others. But one cannot complain that extremely hard work has been dedicated into the film and in a way, Mad God demands to be seen.”
Montana Story (dir. Scott McGehee and David Siegel)
“Beautifully shot in Montana, Montana Story is another addition to the list of the fine films by McGehee and Siegel,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“There is much to admire in Montana Story, especially the performance of Richardson, as the tightly knotted Erin, and Teague, as her emotional punching bag. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens captures the traditional poetic imagery of mountains, running horses and cloud-strewn sky, while avoiding postcard clichés,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “But it’s far from a seamless narrative, and it often feels awkwardly literary when the characters become mouthpieces for the writers’ agenda.”
“Montana Story trots where others would at least canter,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “Only very gradually do we learn what caused Erin to leave, and why she’s so keen on saving the horse. It feels at times as though the script is being purposefully indirect to pad out the film’s almost-two-hour runtime and give more space for gorgeous scenery.”
Paid in Blood (dir.Yoon Youngbin)
“A rare South Korean gangster film that proves the South Koreans are just as apt at making solid commercial action films beside art-house social dramas like Parasite,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Phantom of the Open (dir. Craig Roberts)
“How do you play someone so driven to do something so absurd?” asks Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “That’s where the talented Rylance comes in, a character actor who never fails to elevate whatever level of material he’s given. His Flitcroft is a man who had dreams, but had humbly set them aside to be a husband (Sally Hawkins similarly elevates the thin-on-paper role of Jean) and father – his twin boys (Jonah and Christian Lees) are also improbable dreamers, dedicated to a career as disco dancers, while his older step-son (Jake Davies) is a by-the-book engineer who’s horrified at how his dad’s attention-getting will affect his corporate career.”
“British actor-turned-director Craig Roberts, working from Simon Farnaby’s book-turned-screenplay, takes a light touch to the story, all the better to keep the mood buoyant and the laughs coming,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “We start by watching Maurice fall for his future wife, accepting the single mother’s young son without a moment’s hesitation, so we know he’s a good guy.”
“Craig Roberts’ feel-good film The Phantom of the Open is the true story of a rascal we love,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The film lapses pretty hard into sentimentality but it’s also charming and well cast and tells a whale of a tale.”
“A disarming real-life comic tale of the notorious ‘world’s worst golfer’ Maurice Flitcroft, The Phantom of the Open is a story made for cinema as it’s full of two elements loved by audiences: sight gags and humiliating drama,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Flitcroft was a shipyard crane-operator from Cumbria, England, who decided to enter the prestigious British Open in 1976 despite having taken no lessons and evincing no particular athletic talent.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says it “brings back the magic that is in movies.”
Spiderhead (dir. Joseph Kosinski)
“Like a good Philip K. Dick story, there’s a lot of untapped potential in the original text to explore notions of free will, brain chemistry, identity and perception,” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post. “And like a bad adaptation – Total Recall, Paycheck, Next – that potential is squandered in favour of standard action-movie beats, nutty plot twists and a budget that appears to have been mostly spent on the rights to songs by the likes of the Doobie Brothers, Supertramp, Thomas Dolby and Hall & Oates.”
“Kosinski kicks things off with Supertramp’s The Logical Song playing over hot-pink faux-retro opening-credit title cards, which for a moment promise a film far more live-wire than what is to come,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But while the music pushes the film along, it is ultimately auditory window-dressing for a movie that doesn’t have much new to add to Saunders’s favoured themes of societal despair and the emptiness of modern labour.”
“Spiderhead explores the ideas of free will, ethical medical testing and the social implications of imprisonment,” says Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “These issues are thought-provoking and could potentially illicit clever discourse, which is unfortunately absent in the film. Never going quite deep enough or even dark enough, Spiderhead feels superficial when attempting to grapple with its own principles. The concepts Saunders wrote about require a level of edge and grit to fully appreciate them, and Spiderhead plays it far too safe when employing the generic twists and turns of the genre.”
When George Got Murdered (dir. Terrance Tykeem)
“When George Got Murdered is an absorbing different examination of the George Floyd murder/conviction case offers insight and important lessons to be learned,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
A List of Lists!
Are we there yet? Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail picks the best films of the first half-ish of the year so far. There’s no love for Moonfall, but Top Gun: Maverick is tops with its whoosy big-screen escapism: “Tom Cruise’s love letter to speed/himself is not exactly an under-the-radar title, but pound for perfectly sculpted pound, there isn’t a slicker, more entertaining, bombastic blast than this magnificently expensive piece of rah-rah propaganda,” admits Hertz. “A potent combination of star power and sky-high cinematic craftsmanship, director Joseph Kosinski’s sequel is a tremendous ride.”
Before we can list the best surgery we’ve ever had, Rachel Ho at Exclaim! looks back at David Cronenberg’s best body horror hits on the heels of Crimes of the Future. At the top of the list: The Fly. “The Fly has some stark depictions of body horror: baboons being obliterated during teleportation and human shells crumbling down in a heap of bloody flesh — but it’s all done in the name of uncovering our acceptance (or lack thereof) of death and aging,” writes Ho. “No other sequence explores this more than when Brundlefly’s nails and teeth fall out. In two quiet moments, Brundlefly’s human qualities break loose with great ease, in a powerful statement of how easy our physical state will fail us.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: A Tale of Two TJFFs
Pick any day on the Toronto calendar and one can be guaranteed to find no less than five film festivals playing, two of which inevitably share the same acronym. This weekend boasts two TJFFs—the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and the Toronto Japanese Film Festival. Jim Slotek reports on the latter at Original Cin and offers some highlights from jury duty: “My personal favourite film of the festival (I am on this year’s jury), Takahiro Horie’s Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? is a sly comedy about a husband-and-wife manga team, whose marriage may be running aground. Suspecting her husband Toshio (Tasuku Emoto) of an affair, Sawako (Haru Kuroki) begins telling the story of her suspicions in a manga that takes off with the public. Who’s lying? Who’s stretching the truth?”
At POV Magazine, Marc Glassman samples the sushi at TJFF’s The Pursuit of Perfection: “When one thinks about Japanese cuisine, the presentation of the dishes immediately comes to mind,” writes Glassman. “In a typical meal, a rice and a soup bowl will be accompanied by okazu or side dishes, as many as one wants. Each dish or bowl is separate, emphasizing the order and clean lines of the classic dinner approach. That’s even more obvious when eating in sushi restaurants, which are ubiquitous in Toronto and are even more spare in their presentations.”
At POV Magazine, Rachel Ho looks at the other TJFF and highlights The Rhapsody: “On a macro-level, The Rhapsody is a testament to the many wartime stories that have been unsaid,” writes Ho. “And on a smaller scale, the film serves as an intimate portrayal of the many families who didn’t quite understand their fathers and mothers who survived such devastating atrocities. The vast majority of survivors will never get to tell their story in the way Leo Spellman did, but by giving voice to his, Hoffert and Spellman’s family honour the spirit of those who survived and the lives lost.”
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber covers a trio of Tribeca docs including Darren Foster’s American Pain: “American Pain is that rare documentary that’s both highly entertaining and excruciating to contemplate given the way it strips the façade of fairness and justice within a broken system,” writes Gorber. “Even the final comments, on their face obscene in their lack of remorse, speak truths about the fact that it was a system that was built to be exploited, and that the truly egregious top-level administrators, suppliers and other social forces were completely shielded as examples were made of this sordid lot.”
TV Talk/Series Stuff: Top of The Lake and a Pretty Summer
At Complex Canada, Marriska Fernandes chats with the cast of Prime Video’s first Canadian series The Lake, including Julia Stiles, who shares how the show lets audiences dip their toes into cottage country: “I think if we highlight it in the show, I haven’t tapped into it this specifically in North Bay yet, but our show makes fun of how these people know everything about each other,” says Stiles. “They have a ledger-board memory of seasons past where, who slept with whom and who lost this game, and who did this tournament. And they do get really competitive about it. So like charades is ride or die. I keep saying that, like I don’t even really know what ride or die is. But like Olympic-style charades is what they do… like you’re going for gold.”
At Elle Canada, Fernandes speaks with author Jenny Han, whose novel fuels the new series The Summer I Turned Pretty. “While I did tell her she’s the queen of rom-coms, she thinks Nora Ephron deserves that title,” writes Fernandes. “When asked what the magic formula is that makes her stories such a force of nature, she said: ‘The key to a successful rom-com is making you care enough about the characters that you care if they get together or not in the end.” Han certainly makes you care for each and every one of her characters.’”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey samples Amazon’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, but admits this is probably a case in which the free 2-day shipping remains a plus on the Prime account: “The series, which owes elements to teen soaps such as The OC and Gossip Girl (plus John Hughes movies of the Eighties) is pleasant enough, if blandly formulaic: full of breathless kisses, fireworks, bathing suits, dances, and blasts of mood-supporting pop songs. There’s a lot of teen boozing, hooking up, and cheating, but bathed in an atmosphere of fumbling innocence.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie steps into cottage country with The Lake starring Julia Stiles: “It’s utterly Canadian down to its toes, jumping into the ways of life up north when cottagers outnumber locals times ten,” writes Brodie. She also forecasts sunshine with the new season of The Umbrella Academy. “Crammed with dance numbers, great music, the Swedes, Colm Feore plus a new enemy, and all the usual familiar faces trying to stop the end of the world, what could be better casual summertime viewing?” asks Brodie. “OK so the team saved the world last time but apparently the danger wasn’t entirely put to rest and again, the apocalypse is six days away.” For something much different, she finds herself wowed by Jeff Bridges and The Old Man: “Sometimes a series is so breathtaking and complex and smart that it blows your mind.” Youthfulness, and cliché, meanwhile, abounds in The Summer I Turned Pretty: “The usual tropes of YA romance are all here, familiar and predictable. And it’ll be a hit.” The lifestyle series Home, finally, should make viewers comfortable with their surroundings: “The revolutionary ideas put in play by creators are stunning, inspirational, rooted in ecology, common sense, and our natural impulse to build a suitable and beautiful nest.”
At Night Vizion, Peter Howell rocks out with the Sex Pistols series Pistol: “Pistol hits all the high notes of the time, or more accurately the discordant ones,” writes Howell. “There are faithful recreations of such infamous headline grabbers as the riotous Thames River cruise for a ‘God Save the Queen’ promo, the ‘Filth and the Fury’ naughtiness of the Bill Grundy teatime TV interview and the redneck-baiting insanity of the Pistols’ U.S. flameout. Real news footage from the era establishes the suffocating bleakness and class consciousness of 1970s Britain and why the Pistols and other punks would be inclined to smash it.”
The series inspires Howell to revisit his Toronto Star review of the Sex Pistols’ 1996 reunion tour, which prompted an open letter to Sid Vicious: “Sure, the band can still play the old hits and non-hits. They did every song from their one and only studio album, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols,’ and a couple of others besides. They still know how to rock like a chainsaw rips through logs,” writes Howell. “The point is, Sid, it was never supposed to be like this. Punk and the Pistols were supposed to be about smashing down pompous rockers, not joining them. The ‘no future for you’ chant from ‘God Save the Queen’ used to sound like dire prophecy. Now it sounds like sweet nostalgia.”
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller says the real revelation of the Watergate series Gaslit isn’t Julia Roberts or the reasons why Nixon didn’t burn the tapes. Instead, she says the MVP of the limited series is Betty Gilpin’s Maureen “Mo” Dean, who highlights the show’s effort to spotlight hidden histories: “I looked up the real Mo Dean, and was not surprised to find little about her,” writes Schneller. “Typing her name into Wikipedia turns up John’s page. She’s written three books: an autobiography, Mo: A Woman’s View of Watergate; and two spicy novels, Washington Wives and Capitol Secrets. There’s a rather demeaning 1987 interview of her in The Washington Post, by a woman who seems hell-bent on proving she can be as sexist as a dude (I blushed reading it, because I did the same thing in that era when I wrote for GQ). Mo is around 77 now, living in California, still married to John, who has a thriving career as a pundit on CNN and elsewhere; look for him to comment on the Jan. 6 hearings.”