TFCA Friday: Week of June 2

June 2, 2023

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

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


In Release this Week!


All Man: The International Male Story

(dir. Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed; June 6)


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “mostly man candy and an absolute delight for the gay male.”


A Beautiful Life (dir. Mehdi Avaz)


“Stefan Jaworski’s script spends a fair amount of time on the story’s characters so that the audience can associate and sympathize with the protagonist,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The actors playing the leads deliver solid credible performances that create realize drama thus intensifying the story.”


Bones of Crows (dir. Marie Clements 🇨🇦)


“Aline, played with tremendous courage by Grace Dove, witnessed harmful prejudice early in life and throughout, was determined to survive and thrive and tell her story,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Excellent film, restrained, dignified, instructive, beautiful to look at and bolstered by solid performances across the board and a mature directorial vision.”


“It’s unsurprising that writer-director Marie Clements’ Bones of Crows opens with a trigger warning, for what follows in this sweeping, multigenerational, fact-based drama is harrowing, realistically portrayed, and almost unbearably grim,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Clements’ searing film — notably and beautifully shot on traditional territories and with its unanimously strong performances abetted by a brilliant cameo by filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin — is unsparing, as perhaps it must be. The horrors of residential schools should be perceived through a lens of revulsion and deep regret.”


Bones of Crows will be broadcast later this year as a five-part hour-long [per episode] series on the CBC and, truth be told, this two-hour feature film suffers due to its episodic nature,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Not much time is given to Aline’s work as a code-maker using Cree during World War Two, which was clearly a fascinating time for her. We don’t get to follow the tragic life of her sister Perseverance nor what happens to Adam when he tries to adjust to life as a handicapped veteran after serving honourably during the War. Too often the film is forced to move from one big emotional scene to another, with lots of time shifts, which can be quite jarring.”


At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho chats with director Marie Clements about undertaking the responsibility of shooting on location at the Kamloops Indian Residential School shortly after the remains of 215 children were found in a mass grave. “There was a divine privilege to shoot there and to understand the gravity of those rooms,” Clements tells Ho. “We were looking from the windows and looking down [at] the memorial, [watching] lots of people coming in [and] giving respect. Imagining yourself at five or six years old looking out [those] windows — it changes how we see [the history] and how we feel it.”


The Boogeyman (dir. Rob Savage)


“Savage’s The Boogeyman is superior to [Ulli] Lommel’s [1980 version] in every respect; technically, with solid performances, and a better story. Savage sheds enough light on the screen enough to give the shadows a place to play,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Still, aside from a few cleverly executed jump-scares—which are to horror what tickling is to comedy—The Boogeyman drags with G-rated scares and an appropriately dreary atmosphere, but dreary nonetheless.”


The Boogeyman isn’t a failure, necessarily. Like its title, perfectly upfront about its content and ambitions,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “There are jump-scares aplenty, and a great deal of barely visible shots of its monster, culminating in a full-on creature reveal that’s nicely gross. The characters are sketched out just enough to make you care whether they live or die, with solid performances from all involved, including a rare star turn from Messina. And the whole thing wraps up in a tidy 99 minutes.”


“A rehash of the familiar dime a dozen horror slasher/monster movies,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Close to Vermeer (dir. Suzanne Raes)


“No one knows how or where Vermeer learned to paint, or with whom, or if he taught others, questions that come up as the fate of a couple of contested paintings is decided,” notes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Watching American and European academics duke it out as to whether or not Girl with a Flute or Young Woman Seated at a Virginal were painted by Vermeer constitute some of the best moments in the documentary. The scholarship is amazing.”


“Much like Brian D. Johnson’s The Colour of Ink, the film really gets close to the materials,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Macro-level photography puts viewers alongside the experts in the authorship debate. Audiences can see the textures of Vermeer and the details of his work like never before. The film is like having the closest view possible in a gallery. When Weber approaches paintings for a close up, alarms go off, but Raes’ camera gets so near to the canvas that one can practically smell it. You can’t do that in a gallery!”


The First Step (dir. Brandon Kramer; June 6)


The First Step, a doc on prison reform and the fight for prison reform that is as informative as it is urgent is one that should be seen,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Influencer (dir. Kurtis David Harder)


“Influencer adheres to the traits of a classic thriller while dodging probability,” says Thom Ernst at Northern Stars. “Yes, there are twists—some you’ll predict and be right about, and others you’ll predict and be way off the mark. The appeal of Influencer is not in how deftly the filmmakers manipulate expectations but in the ease with which the film coaxes you on the journey even while making us aware that ahead lies unpleasantness.”


Mixed by Erry (dir. Sydney Sibilia)


Mixed by Erry is a charming true story of the Frattasio Brothers, humorously told and surprisingly accurate and entertaining due to the songs on display complete with mafia intrigue and some romance told Italian style,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Sam Now (dir. Reed Harkness; June 6)


Sam Now is simply a delightful and playful documentary made up of home made movies but turning really into a mystery dealing with coming-of-age issues as well as discovering one’s identity. Totally entertaining and a celebration of what life has to offer,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Reed Harkness has made a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime film. Filled with intimate family footage, Sam Now feels like a novel or a well-crafted drama, but it’s all too true. It’s a truly artistic documentary, which should be seen and embraced by discerning audiences in North America and abroad,” writes Marc Glassman at POV Magazine.


Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

(dir. Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson)


“An incredibly ambitious film by all standards, Across the Spider-Verse largely accomplishes all of the goals it sets out to achieve. It may not meet the incredibly high bar set by the first chapter, but it forges its own way as a superb film of the superhero genre and animation medium,” notes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “As Marvel continues to slip, stumble and fall and DC attempts to put itself back together again, Across the Spider-Verse will more than satisfy the appetites of comic book fans. Surely even Mr. Scorsese will delight in this act of Cinema.”


“The plot, which is so dense that it battles becoming incomprehensible, is based on the idea of an infinite number of universes in which a multitude of Spider-Men or Women battle to save their world from super-villains,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The creators of the animation series, scriptwriter-producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have crafted an immense Spider-Society of heroes, who are sworn to protect the multiverse. There are Spider-Women and Men, octopus Spiders and AI ones, a Spider-Wolf and Spider-Monkey, even a Lego-Spider. They’re led by an Irish-Mexican ‘ninja vampire’ Spider-Man named Miguel O’Hara, the only webslinger without a sense of humour.”


“Sacrificed, however, is the story, though pretense takes second importance to the animation,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The film feels like Fast X and John Wick: Chapter 4 where story is sacrificed for expensive special effects and in the case of this film, more experimental animation.  It would not be surprising that many an audience would have no clue as to what issuing on.  But see it for the animation!”


Across the Spider-Verse is a glowing love letter to Spider-Man’s legendary mythology, and it’s bursting at the seams with homages and Easter eggs,” says Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “An avid Spider-Man fan could watch this film 20 times and find something new with each viewing. While anyone can enjoy this film, it will leave long-time Spider-Man fans in a state of cinematic bliss.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage: Inside Out Wraps as TJFF Begins!


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with actor Saul Rubinek, who appears in the TJFF selection SHTTL, which allows the actor to explore his roots and heritage in ways he hasn’t before. “My first languages were Yiddish mixed with street French. I didn’t really speak English until we moved to Ottawa when I was six-and-a-half years old,” Rubinek tells Hertz. “Yiddish was there for me, always. But I’ve never had the opportunity to use it much on-screen, until I went to Ukraine to make this film.”


At Original Cin, Karen Gordon, Liam Lacey, and Jim Slotek preview the Toronto Jewish Film Festival selections. For iMordecai, Gordon writes, “[U]neven and too often falls into cliché. But what redeems it most is the obvious love that Samel has poured into the film” Of Queen of the Deuce, Slotek says, “the widespread love for this growly surrogate mom of outsiders and scoundrels is frankly charming.” And of Concerned Citizen, Lacey writes, “Though smartly shot and acted, the film’s attention to Ben’s self-absorption and lack of interest in the victim of his entitled behaviour feels unbalanced.”


Also at Original Cin, Liam Lacey speaks with Shaina Silver-Baird about her TJFF selection, the musical Less than Kosher. “I was exceptionally tone deaf as a young child, but I’m very thankful that my parents never told me, so I thought I was great,” Silver-Baird tells Lacey . “That allowed me to start to learn without self-consciousness. My bat mitzvah culture was a professional singer, and I would imitate her and I was getting these unofficial singing lessons.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with director Lulu Wei and producer Jenn Mason about their documentary Supporting Our Selves, which screened as the centrepiece at Inside Out. The doc tells the history of Toronto’s Community One group. “Part of the history is showing aspects of queer joy that we missed out on, like the S.O.S. nights and how they had secret know-by-mouth gatherings in friends’ living rooms to support each other and get donations for the community,” says Wei. “It seemed like this magical time where there was joy though there was so much turmoil.”


TV Talk/Series Scribbles: Saying Good-bye to Succession


At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller dives deep into the culture that condition Shiv Roy’s last-second decision in the series finale of Succession: “[T]he events of the final three episodes make Shiv’s choice inevitable,” writes Schneller. “Shiv caves to a more powerful man because she has been conditioned from birth to do so. From the opening credits, where a girl watches her mother watching her husband walk away, to Shiv’s eulogy for her ‘dear, dear world of a father’ (such a telling line), she has sought – and been denied – male approval, on an almost cellular level.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz unpacks the series finale of Succession and looks behind the backstabbing: “The point of it all is that [Jesse] Armstrong and his team took us on a tour through the darkest recesses of the world-conquering psyche, and we’re all the better, and sicker, for it,” writes Hertz. “Along with regular director Mark Mylod, back here for one last public execution, Armstrong has written a series finale that instantly places itself in the medium’s hall of fame. This was, with some minor missteps, a fantastic farewell to a group of deplorables. Never has a snake pit looked so good.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out the Netflix three-part documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger: “The doc marries what’s special about him as a global star, a mentor, a donkey dad and a philanthropist with his personal life today. He shares his talent for visualising change, chutzpah, and courage,” notes Brodie. High Desert, meanwhile, shows why Patricia Arquette is consistently reliable: “Patricia Arquette’s spunky, brilliant Peggy has a gift – she can read people and predict behaviours, she’s bold as brass…High Deser, set in Yucca Valley fully embraces the Cali crazy and showcases Arquette’s anything-goes naturalism,” writes Brodie. SisteS, on the other hand, has “fun, full-on family dysfunction and lots of Irish/ Canadian jabs.”