TFCA Friday: Week of June 21

June 21, 2024

The Bikeriders | Focus Features

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


Remembering Donald Sutherland


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reflects on one of the most reliable actors in Canada and Hollywood: “Seeing Donald Sutherland’s name pop up in the opening credits was a kind of implicit promise from the producers to the audience: You are in good, sturdy hands,” writes Hertz. “And when the actual writing and director and co-stars and resources of a film actually matched Sutherland’s high-tier talents? When those surrounding the star brought their very best game to go toe-to-toe with one of the most screen-ready performers of his generation? Then the results were remarkable, culture-shaking events.” Hertz also picks five films that show the range of Sutherland’s talent.


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell looks back on the career of Donald Sutherland: “Fans of genre cinema fondly remember Sutherland for his roles as a weed-smoking professor in National Lampoon’s Animal House and as an alien-hunting health inspector in the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, both of which were released in 1978,” writes Howell. “It was all grist for the mill of the New Brunswick-born Sutherland, a man of irascible wit who was quick to puncture any pomposity he encountered, especially when the topic turned to his vast influence on Canadian film.”


At Zoomer, Brian D. Johnson reflects on Donald Sutherland’s distinct contribution to Canadian film and Hollywood, along with some memories of a set visit to China during production of Bethune: “But by this point, Sutherland, who had previously played Bethune in three TV productions, was so thoroughly entrenched in the role that his character’s adversity and his own had become almost synonymous,” writes Johnson. “He shed 50 pounds for the role. During the third week of the shoot, he fell off a camel and injured his back and was still wearing a rigid corset for the pain.  I remember talking to him in the austere high-ceilinged guesthouse where he was staying at the location, and how he was tickled by the fact that in Bethune’s day it was the home of Mao’s right-hand man, Lin Piao. And he talked about his feud with the screenwriter, Ted Allen, as if a vital political truth depended on it.”


In Release this Week


The Accidental Twins (dir. Alessandro Angulo)


The Accidental Twins does not glorify its subject but tells the story the way it is,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The story is nevertheless interesting enough to warrant a documentary in the making that does not take much research but more detective work.  The piecing of the re-enactments together gives the doc a mystery element and works to bring up the entertainment level ups notch or two. Director Angelo ends his film on a feel-good not about the power of the human spirit to forgive and to look at the good fate dishes out.”


The Bikeriders (dir. Jeff Nichols)


“Given the general divisions rampant in our today’s discourse (particularly online), The Bikeriders hits on a nerve that many of us can connect with, in spite of the events of the film occurring half a century ago,” says Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “By leaving the film as a cinematic portrait, Nichols leaves room for audiences to find themselves among the changing of generational guards, and reinforcing the idea that, across time and space, change will always be inevitable, for better and for worse.”


“Everybody spends a great deal of time drinking beer and smoking cigarettes (my throat felt raw just watching the on-screen inhaling), with occasional breaks for punch-ups when somebody threatens the tribe,” observes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “The Bikeriders has an authentic look and feel, but, like most films by Nichols, the story is subservient to the atmosphere. I wish I could give the film a higher rating, since I like all the actors and admire Nichols’ style.”


The Bikeriders has pulled something of a magic trick: its dreamy and loose story, rotating cast of characters and obvious philosophizing is less Wild Hogs bro-comedy and more Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance from the get go,” adds Jackson Weaver at CBC. “Its structure — a somewhat aimless recounting of the purposefully purposeless actions of a midwestern motorcycle club — allows for a self-analytical grappling with the fruitlessness of its characters’ actions.”


“Nichols ties the narrative around his main trio by having Mike Faist play Danny Lyon interviewing Kathy back in the Sixties, when life was relatively innocent, and in the Seventies, after everything had changed. This gives the film a curiously objective stance,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “We see the story as something recalled—events from the past—and from the perspective of Kathy, who wasn’t at every event, being the wife of a gang member, not a Vandal. That distance allows the film to achieve a nearly mythic quality as the fights, rides and parties enjoyed by the gang don’t seem real—they’re events retold, the stuff of legends.”


The Bikeriders is a tough film about tough males, but given a female point of view, morphing it also into a love story,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Jodie Comer steals the show, providing background and insight into the formation of a bike club that morphs into something more dangerous than just riding and parading through small outlying towns like the docile bikers Cher hung out with in Peter Bogdonavich’s Mask (1985),” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Nichols attempts something that evokes the late Robert Altman and the still-alive Paul Thomas Anderson. But what lands instead is a film that rubs closer to Emilio Estevez’s attempt to do something similar with his shallow dive into the ‘60s with Bobby (2006), an ambitious ensemble cast movie.”


“Hardy is in especially fine whackadoo form, adopting a high-pitched nasally voice that is equal parts Looney Tunes and Al Capone (but also several degrees removed from the time that the actor actually played Al Capone, back in 2020),” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The gently seductive way that Hardy rolls his tongue around his rather unclassifiable accent – enjoying a kind of studious, committed fun – also makes the strained midwestern American inflection that Comer is attempting that much more of a slack-jawed misfire.”


“The cinematography by Adam Stone appropriately harnesses the hardened steeliness of the era,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Handsomely rugged and classically composed, the film observes the bikers’ detachment in a self-contained world. The film quietly takes audiences on a road movie that spends relatively little time gliding down the road itself. Nichols favours run-down and working class corners of the city where wall paper peels and trash sits in piles. Dive bars, house parties, and parking lots offer rest stops in the drama of life.”


The Boy in the Woods (dir. Rebecca Snow 🇨🇦)


The Boy in The Woods is a devastating story. As much as it is an historical account of survival, it’s also a character study of resilience and courage. In real life, Maxwell Smart eventually came to Canada as a war orphan and stayed here, fulfilling his ambition to be an artist,” observes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Filmmaker Snow captures much of Max’s experience from a child’s point of view, particularly the forest environment — simultaneously forbidding and protective — in which he must survive.”


The Exorcism (dir. Joshua John Miller)


“Crowe also starred in last year’s The Pope’s Exorcist, playing a real-life priest named Gabriele Amorth. That one was so bad it was damned – well, not literally but you know what I mean – by the International Association of Exorcists, a real group (look it up) that Amorth co-founded in 1990,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “This one? Also pretty bad, I must confess. It’s one of those movies where, short of any actual existential terrors to throw at the audience, the sound engineers merely crank up the volume from time to time so that a door closing sounds like a cannon going off. Our Lady of Jump Scares preserve us!”


The Great Salish Heist (dir. Darrell Dennis 🇨🇦)


“The movie has been described as an Indigenous version of Ocean’s Eleven, and that’s apt. There’s a lot of action, clever misdirection, tech derring-do and laughs involved in bypassing a sophisticated anti-theft system and hoodwinking museum security guards. It’s all to gain access to sacred objects and put them back where they belong,” says Liz Braun at Original Cin.

“Along the way, The Great Salish Heist pokes fun at the usual First Nations stereotypes — noble savage, downtrodden victim — and doesn’t spare the settler characters, either. One character trots out what sounds like a bit of ancient Indigenous wisdom… but it’s a quote from Star Trek.”


I Am: Céline Dion (dir. Irene Taylor)


“Often, celebrity profiles driven by the subject render less-than-stellar results — the footage is too sanitized, the narrative a tad too skewed. But in this case, Dion’s insistence that no other voices be heard in the film gives her the opportunity to explain her absence these last few years directly to her fans in the manner she wishes,” notes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Fan of Dion’s or not, the film is a force.”


I Am: Céline Dion offers an unexpectedly moving human portrait amid a sea of homogenous music documentaries. But on the other hand, one really shouldn’t be surprised that the film contains such raw and uncontrived emotion,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “This is the story of Céline Dion, after all. Cynical audiences who don’t care for the unabashed emotion of Dion’s music might find the doc too weepy. Alternatively, Dion’s amassed fans worldwide by making them feel the power of a good song. On film, she’ll inevitably unite them with the power of a good cry.”


Inheritance (dir. Sylwester Jakimow)


“There are shades of Agatha Christie akin to a film like Neil Simon’s Murder by Death,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But it is barely funny with the murder plot clouding the humour.  The game that Uncle forces the family to play is at least quite inventive though nothing to write home about.”


The Omicron Killer (dir. Jeff Knite; June 25)


“For a small budget movie, director Jeff Knite has created a cultish and very entertaining slasher horror black comedy,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution (dir. Page Hurwitz)


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “covers material that most audiences are familiar with, but a reminder of history and what the LGBTQ community have gone through is important as it is part of History and done in a humorous entertaining way.”


Thelma (dir. Josh Margolin)


“Hilariously funny at times, writer-director Josh Margolin creates a positive portrayal of ageing and agency in an extraordinary moment for film, inspired by the true story of his own grandmother,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s groundbreaking and shines with love between family and the possibility of making change and appreciating one another.  A radical and warm hug of a film.”


Thelma is a delightful film about a woman of 93 who gets caught in a ‘grandparent scam’ and decides to get her money back from the people who swindled her,” writes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “It’s a love letter to one woman and a nod to age and wisdom in general; the film also acknowledges the rough road seniors travel while getting old and simultaneously attempting not to be a burden to anyone…The performance from Squibb, a 70-year vet of the industry and Oscar-nominated for her work in Nebraska, is fantastic.”


“Thelma is the first senior section superhero.  But mostly, the story is credible as it shows the challenge a senior has in learning how to use a computer and search the internet,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Thelma stars June Squibb as the titular lead and at 93, she must be the oldest actor to ever headline a film for the first time at such an advanced age,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Though she didn’t appear in a film until she was 60 (in Woody Allen’s Alice), Squibb has a well-developed persona as a tough talking straight shooter—a true forthright American. Her appeal comes from the contrast of having the appearance of a prim and proper ‘old maid’ while being absolutely the opposite—a totally uninhibited granny.”


What Remains (dir. Ran Huang)


“Dark, dangerous, creepy, and yet compelling, What Remains starring Gustaf Skarsgård, his father Stellan Skarsgård, and Andrea Riseborough, is admittedly a tough slog,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. What Remains is hard to watch, but sufficiently interesting to continue to the end and its stunning updates.”


File Under Miscellaneous


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz remembers the influential work of late film critic Jay Scott, whose name graces our Stella Artois prize for emerging artists: “When Scott loved a film, his reviews were invitations to broaden sensibilities and curiosities,” writes Hertz. “On Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now: ‘When it was all over, when the audience had applauded desultorily, too devastated and perhaps too heartbroken and certainly too depressed to summon the bravos that were demanded, Coppola’s $30-million Vietnam War movie would dissolve in the mind into one long, fluid camera movement, a movie fabricated from a single operatic take to a single operatic purpose, a movie commencing with the mundane and ending with the monstrous, a movie made with the swiftness, the silence, the subtlety – and the savagery – of a spear thrown home to the centre of the heart.’”


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson dives into Lagueira Davis’s Black Barbie upon the film’s Netflix release and the 65th anniversary of Barbie to consider why representation in dolls matters: “Davis also considers the impact her aunt and other Black women at Mattel had on the evolution of the Barbie brand through the story of generations of Black mentorship within the toy design world,” writes Atkinson. “When we meet Kitty Black Perkins, for example, the first Black designer for Barbie at Mattel, she wears a vivid red outfit that matches the body-conscious look she created for the original Black Barbie (taking cues from something Diana Ross might wear)…Using the personal point of view repeatedly pays off in powerful testimonials about the impact of dolls growing up.”


2024 might not be a Barbenheimer summer, but at the Toronto Star, Peter Howell finds some movies to look forward to, like the big screen bonanza Twisters: “It’s only natural to think of this blockbuster from Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) as the long-awaited sequel to disaster thriller Twister from 1996, but that’s just a load of hot air,” says Howell. “There’s an all-new cast and story, with Glen Powell (Hit Man) and Daisy Edgar-Jones (Where the Crawdads Sing) playing dedicated tornado chasers who are also considering giving romance a whirl. This film is worth seeing on the biggest screen possible just to compare how much CGI tech has improved in the past 28 years. Judging by the blow-you-down trailers, it’s a lot.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen offers a toast to wine docs like Mondovino and Crush: “If there’s anything more fun to write about than movies, it’s wine. Critiquing the perfect wine—taking a deep sniff, swirling the glass to let the air release the depth of flavour, and indulging in its bouquet—offers great practice for exploring creative tasting notes. For this critic, the ideal glass might be a pinot noir from Patagonia with hints of cherry, dirt, and tobacco, especially with a bowl of truffle chips. Alternatively, a seafood grill on a summer night goes best with a dry sauvignon blanc that drinks like chomping on apricot, lime, and passion fruit, and then licking the juice drippings off a nice chalky rock. And for the movie buff, there’s nothing like a fine chardonnay that resembles buttered popcorn,” writes Mullen. “Wine and movies are the perfect pairing, yet wine itself occupies surprisingly little space in the ever-popular world of food documentaries.”


At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber chats with Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss about their latest film Girls State and finding hope amid a time of political polarization. “Hope and fear are the staple of most stories that are told,” McBaine tells Gorber. “One thing I like about making films about teenagers is that they’re so adept at being frank about the problems and the bullshit they’re facing. Yet they’re also full of energy and idealism and optimism and openness. So, they’re frank about the fact that America’s got a lot of problems, and has done so many things wrong. At the same time, as individuals, they’re not done with civil discourse. That to me, creates an interesting tension.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage: The TIFF Six


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell talks with Anita Lee about the first six films announced for TIFF 2024 and what to expect at this year’s fest: ““I tell people, and they’re surprised, that our attendance was actually up last year from the previous year, despite the strikes,” Lee said. “I think that really speaks to the audiences that we have in Toronto that are really excited to actually see the films. (They’re also) really, really excited about the directors and the filmmakers.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports on the first wave of TIFF titles and also gets some words with Lee about what the festival is screening after last year’s strikes: “We’re not necessarily seeing fewer titles, but there is a little bit of a shift in the kinds of films,” said Lee. “There seems to be a greater interest in more audience-friendly international art-house films – movies that are getting positioned in a stronger way, with bigger budgets put behind them for awards season.” Hertz also reports on some major shake-ups to the board of directors at Hot Docs.


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie gabs with Lady Jane star Anna Chancellor about giving the Tudor lineage a contemporary twist: “She’s an alpha female, and she will do anything for her family to survive,” says Chancellor. “She’s the ultimate in tough love, but what they say to me, the writers is that, although I didn’t even really notice it, but they said she’s always right. Everything that she predicts is always right. Everything that she thinks is coming, everything that mistakes that she thinks Jane is making, she’s obviously not right about the love affair because they’re in love.” Brodie also gives the “thumbs up” to Land of Women: “Despite all, it’s lighthearted, with LGBTQ2 positivity, family relationships and dynamics in a pinch, the can-do spirit, and the possibility of love and redemption.” She offers some highlights as well for Indigenous People’s Day: “Twelve outstanding Indigenous achievers from a diverse list of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities will be celebrated during the broadcast of the 2024 INDSPIRE AWARDS, which recognize outstanding achievements from Indigenous peoples across the country in a variety of fields.”