Reviews include Slash/Back, Elvis, and Official Competition.
TFCA Friday: Week of June 18
June 18, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In release this week
The Accidental President (dir. James Fletcher)
“As watchable and entertaining as Trump is,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Akilla’s Escape (dir. Charles Officer 🇨🇦)
“Officer makes the most of his Toronto locations, including a scene set at Wexford Heights Plaza, a Scarborough strip mall that was also the setting of one of my favourite Canadian films of 2017, Wexford Plaza,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “He plays with our expectations about characters, as when one tough guy named Jimmy brings Akilla to see ‘the Greek,’ who is not quite what I expected.”
“Given the accelerated pace of a 90-minute movie whose main narrative happens in one night, Williams gives a powerfully controlled performance, creating a character whose awareness level is high,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Physically, Akilla is set on simmer until violence becomes necessary (as it does, once people start demanding their missing money and go after the ones who took it).”
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.”
Censor (dir. Prano Bailey-Bond)
“The excitement felt from watching Censor isn’t solely the effect of a trippy, smartly told thriller,” raves Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It’s the charge that comes from being witness to the debut of a unique talent tempered by the knowledge that as good as the movie is, it’s not likely to suit everyone’s taste. Censor is an off-brand horror treat that walks the distance between artistic freedom and the scrutiny of morbid excess to which the title refers.”
“A cross between David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Marisha Pessl’s novel Night Film – with more than a dash of Peter Strickland and Ben Wheatley thrown in for good measure – Censor attempts to both mine the hazily nostalgic memories of cheap thrills and turn the mental screws when it comes to unreliable narrators who can’t distinguish between reality and fantasy,” shudders Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Censor is an eerie, moody step back in time that seems timeless; it’s always threatening and beautiful, imbued with Enid’s goodness that powerfully contrasts the darkness she inhabits,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The cinematography, stillness, lighting and pace are evocative, and with Algar’s performance, it gets well under the skin.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says that Censor is “definitely worth a look for its 80’s period look.”
“Bailey-Bond nails the look and feel of the era, shooting on a variety of old stock, and with every interior seemingly lit by 40W bulbs. And Algar is great in the role of Enid – I can’t think of the last time I saw a character so obviously carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Well, not since Hercules anyway,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“It’s a clever blend of retro style and contemporary themes, slotting in right between Andrea Arnold’s Red Road and Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio as an artful British breakout that locks the audience into its precise aesthetic and refuses to let us out,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Fatherhood (dir. Paul Weitz)
“The family drama is presented by the Obamas, as part of their multi-year production deal with Netflix, a series that has already produced a couple of Academy Award–nominated documentaries, the Oscar-winning American Factory and Crip Camp,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “As a middlebrow tear-jerker, Fatherhood has zero chance of joining that list, though as 19th century humourist Bill Nye once said of the music of Richard Wagner, it’s not as bad as it sounds.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a mediocre comedy or drama.”
Gunda (dir. Viktor Kossakovsky)
“There’s a delightful innocence to much of the film although Kossakovsky refuses to create a Disney product: there’s no music, everything is in seen in black and white and, of course, there isn’t any narration,” oinks Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “But there is a story and a devastating one at that.”
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (dir. Patrick Hughes)
“While Hughes’s first film made for easy-ish late-night phone-in-hand watching, this sequel stinks of quick-buck turnaround. The plot is a mess, the dialogue is wretched, and the action is alternately yawn-inducing or incomprehensibly staged,” sighs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Action packed and quite funny with some heavyweight actors to watch,” offers Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[S]tacked with bric-a-brac you’ve seen in other, better action movies,” shrugs Chris Knight at the National Post. “There’s a hacker, a computer virus, a briefcase full of cash, another briefcase that will explode if it gets too far from its owner, some very fast getaway boats, and a fight scene on a giant yacht that goes on so long that by the end there’s nothing left to break, and they have to resort to blowing the whole thing up.”
“It’s fast, silly and fun. A summer no-brainer!” laughs Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“The first film earned $177 million worldwide on a $30-million budget, which is why the sequel was conceived and brought to life,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The question of whether the movie should exist is less obvious. Essentially, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard — which opens in select theatres this week, and video on demand on a later date — is a buddy comedy that gets swallowed by a bombastic B-movie action flick.”
Luca (dir. Enrico Casarosa)
“Luca is the most resplendent animated movie I’ve seen in a long time,” writes Victor Stiff at That Shelf, but notes that the charming design doesn’t go all in. “If Hollywood considers itself an ally it must churn out family films that tell these children, ‘We see you, you matter, and we’re glad that you’re here.’ Luca steps up to the plate, poised to knock it out of the park on these issues. But in the end, the film does something worse than whiff on the pitch; it doesn’t even take a swing.”
“[T]his is basically Call Me By Your Anemone, with all the longing of Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 art-house hit sublimated into an awkward be-yourself metaphor,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “This will all presumably fly right over the heads of younger viewers, who’ll see it as a reworking of Disney’s The Little Mermaid without the magic, the songs or the love story.”
“Witty asides, photos of Marcello Mastroianni, the bustling multi-coloured Italian village bathed in its yellowy gold light, all add to the magic of this lovely film. A real mood lifter with important themes!” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Charming Pixar summer fun in the sun – Italian style,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“First-time feature director and longtime animator Enrico Casarosa was born in Genoa in 1971, and Luca is truly a love letter to the region, even if the setting is a fictional seaside village called Portorosso,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Pixar reportedly sent several of its artists to the Italian Riviera for the same reason I am often in Cannes – research, baby!”
At That Shelf, Jason Gorber chats with one of Luca’s Canadian contributors, story supervisor John Hoffman.
“I can’t help but point out that Luca is voiced by our own Jacob Tremblay and he’s excellent in the role,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Particularly fine as well is Maya Rudolph, as Luca’s mama. Her voice is full of love and discipline: she really is gleeful in the role especially in a scene where she’s seen pulling off some spectacular footie moves that most soccer moms would only dream of doing.”
Songs for a Sloth (dir. Bradley Hesse)
“The filmmakers are making it up as the film goes along. Everyone seems passionate about nothing important, which is symbolized by the sloth sanctuary,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Sparks Brothers (dir. Edgar Wright)
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber speaks with Edgar Wright about translating his Sparks fandom into his first feature doc. “I’d already met Sparks before I suggested doing the documentary,” says Wright. “They are the guys that they are on stage. I never saw the mask come off. Ron actually says in the documentary that they’ve been doing it for so long that there’s not a clear line between where Sparks end and Ron and Russell start. I’m not sure even they know themselves.”
“At two hours and 20 minutes it risks being as exhausting as it is exhaustive, but you can’t really argue against Wright packing in everything he can; he’s telling us how much Sparks means to him, too,” sings Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“The Sparks Brothers is clearly a labour of love for Edgar Wright,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “He takes great pleasure in the brothers’ odd but engaging personalities and is clearly a fan of the music as it changes over the years.”
Superdeep (dir. Arseny Syuhin)
“An incredible and terrifying atmosphere of the superdeep,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Sweet Thing (dir. Alexandre Rockwell)
“Though not reaching those dizzy heights as Truffaut’s L’argent de poche and Les quatre cents coups, Sweet Thing still emerges as Rockwell’s amazing yet scary ode to youth with all its splendour, danger and horrors,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation
(dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland)
“The result is an absorbing documentary that makes intriguing connections between the two and mid-century queer life without being reductive,” writes Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto. “Even though Capote was clearly more comfortable in the spotlight, you get a good sense of both men’s wily charm and intelligence – this despite the fact that Capote at one point says Williams was a genius ‘but not intelligent.’ There are enough bitchy comments for an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked.”
“The emotional tone here is sympathetic and elegiac, and since both men have a way with words, often absorbing. Though there is little here that won’t be known by fans of the writers, the format of the interviews is striking,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation from filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland is an absolute must-see for fans of great American literature,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “This very tender eloquent and insightful biography is a luxurious treat.”
“Truman and Tennessee is a tremendously entertaining doc about two highly entertaining gay writers with lots of old film clips to boot,” recommends Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Immordino Vreeland proves that she’s found a niche for herself with this kind of documentary and she does it very well,” notes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “As with her previous works, Truman & Tennessee takes audiences inside the world of the rich and fabulous without being seduced by it. The film is a rich window into the minds of creative geniuses with all the rewards and burdens that the double life of an author brings.”
The Winter Lake (dir. Phil Sheerin; June 22)
“Such a mess for these poor youngsters. The beautiful haunted setting with its muted greyed colours allows us to focus on the emotional dynamite in these troubled souls,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Canadiana: Indigenous Music and Pickering Biz
At POV Magazine, Kelly Boutsalis speaks with Sarain Fox about her doc project Giiwewizh, a series of short music docs shot on iPhone 12 by Indigenous musicians during lockdown. “‘When I was on the ground at Standing Rock, I became obsessed with the power and the potential of cell phones as tools for media,’ says Fox, recalling seeing her friends on the frontline live streaming and making films from their phones. Apple provided each artist with an iPhone 12, and everyone received training on the capabilities of filming, a list of questions from Fox, and sent on their way to capture their own footage.”
At the Toronto Sun, Liz Braun reports on a new deal between the city of Pickering and industry outfitter William F. White that will bring more productions like Jack Reacher and Titan up the 401: “Catherine Hodge, senior coordinator, development liaison at the city of Pickering, said Thursday that interest in Pickering from the film and TV industry has grown steadily over the years — and now all the pieces are in place. ‘William F. White coming to the table was perfect,’ said Hodge. ‘We love their program on sustainability and a waste-free site. They contribute to the community with their re-use program, and their parent company has done work with alternative energy.’”
A Festival of Festivals: Cinema italiano edition!
At That Shelf, Pat Mullen speaks with Sergio Navarretta who is heading up the jury at this year’s Lavazza Drive-In at Ontario Place as part of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival. The fest gets an early start with the Canadian bigscreen premiere of Luca and a line-up focusing on multiculturalism. “There will be a wide range of films celebrating multiculturalism, which is the backbone of Canadian culture,” notes Navarretta. “That’s something that the festival is really proud of. I’m excited to be aligned and associated with it having grown up Italian, being stuck between two worlds and trying to figure out what Canadian is. We all know that is undefinable at this point. Festivals like this celebrate the best in us.”
TV Talk: Annie Murphy and Jean Smart Are the S[c]hit[t]
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner checks out Annie Murphy’s new sitcom post-Schitt’s Creek, Kevin Can F**k himself, in which she plays two versions of the same character: “In the first few episodes, Murphy makes it work, selling the shift between Show Allison’s exasperation and Outside Allison’s mounting desperation and misery, and finding little ways to show us they’re the same person. Her outsized comic reactions are as sharp as they were on Schitt’s Creek, but now they’re recontextualized in a way that invites us to see what’s going on underneath.”
After stealing much of Mare of Easttown with her quick wit and vintage coupes, Jean Smart delivers another of the year’s best TV performances in Hacks. Glenn Sumi recaps the series at NOW Toronto in a 5-N review: “The series’ emotional high point comes in the ninth episode, when Deborah [Smart], doing an interview about a new act she’s worked on with Ava, reflects on her independence and the dangers of relying too much on others. Smart lets you see the bittersweet truth in this statement, the cost to Deborah’s personal life and the rewards to her career.”