TFCA Friday: Week of June 23

June 23, 2023

Asteroid City | Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

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


In Release this Week!


Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun (dir. Banchi Hanuse 🇨🇦)


Before the Sun excels as a sports documentary,” says Rachel Ho at POV Magazine. “Hanuse presents with clarity, artistry and respect the unmistakable force of the horses and the might required to compete. Watching Red Crow train, with her brothers serving as her pit crew, is inspiring. While the physical strength necessary to ride the horses and perform a swift exchange after each lap is a given, Hanuse also imparts to audiences the mental fortitude required. Staying focused and sharp is vital where one misstep could be disastrous and, indeed, fatal.”


Asteroid City (dir. Wes Anderson)


“This all defines his work as comedy. Yet, the style that seems designed to keep things on the surface often goes deeper. The characters are all longing for something and there’s often a vein of melancholy and empathy that echoes after the film ends,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Even after all the to-ing and fro-ing between colour and black and white, we’re still left with a connection to Augie and his children as they depart Asteroid City and return to their lives. So, the answer to the Times question is yes. Asteroid City is very Wessy. Maybe the most Wessy ever. And thank goodness for that.”


“[Anderson’s] eleventh movie takes risks he hasn’t before, while hiding a puzzle in its centre you’re forced to unlock to find the enjoyment. But that’s all as the Andersonian touches — a stop-motion roadrunner; girl witches with the names Andromeda, Pandora and Cassiopeia performing spells in the dust; and one of the most delightfully absurd deus ex machinas of all time (you’ll know it when you see it) — keep you aware this is indeed an Anderson production,” writes Jackson Weaver at CBC. “The puzzle, though, is the point. Because while it might seem the plot is just a shallow, zany, brightly coloured excuse to set Alex Colville paintings in a desert, Asteroid City (both Anderson’s actual movie, and the play within it) are a mournful meditation on art, art-making and purpose.”


Weaver and CBC’s Eli Glasner also face-off Wes Anderson style via TikTok:


Read our actual reviews here ⬇️ From Jackson Weaver, entertainment reporter, CBC News: Asteroid City is a narrative puzzle. Wes Anderson made a movie like The Fabelmans, The Irishman and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood — a late-stage auteur’s self-reflection. It’s about why we make art, and what to do when your original passion is overshadowed by success. Most of his other movies have a whimsical sense of joy. This is about veiled dread. It’ll probably make it most Anderson fans’ least favourite movie. ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 From Eli Glasner, entertainment reporter, CBC News: Wes Anderson continues to be one of cinema’s great visual stylists who can find comedy in composition, framing his characters with whimsy and wit. Asteroid City continues Anderson’s recent trend of stories that lack narrative propulsion, even with an extraterrestrial element. The drama is as dry as the desert. On top of this, Anderson adds another layer, giving us a backstage glimpse of the actors and even the writer’s motivation. But instead of adding meaning, it comes across as needless busywork — robbing the characters of their agency. ⭐⭐⭐/5 #WesAnderson #AsteroidCity #FilmTok

♬ original sound – Jeremy Cascamisi


“Wes Anderson finally achieves peak weirdness with Asteroid City… in which a visiting space alien seems right at home with the even stranger humans making this close encounter,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “This is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing for fans of the filmmaker, who adore Anderson’s idiosyncratic storytelling, quirky casting and obsessive production design.”


“Anderson at his best with his eccentric and meticulously crafted comedy that both teases and entertains with surprises around every corner,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“The crushing weight of parenthood, the rebellious energy of youth, the incomparable romance of two lost souls finding one another, and the self-imposed pressures of creativity – the entire Anderson psyche is here, splashed out in both scopes of the director’s vision board: widescreen Technicolor, and academy-ratio’d black-and-white,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “And while every actor – including the roughly two-dozen stars who I didn’t have the word count to mention above – is exact and fine-tuned, if there has to be a standout player, it is Schwartzman, who is collaborating with Anderson for the seventh time here.” Hertz also speaks with Schwartzman about working with the Fantastic Mr. Wes from Rushmore to present: “Looking back, wow, Wes was only 27 when he directed Rushmore,” Schwartzman tells Hertz. “So maybe it is hard for me to tell the difference now – you know that thing where someone who is two grades above you will always feel two grades above you? Things remain the same. In my mind, he’s always been doing it right.”


“More than in most Anderson films, there is a lot of peripheral noise but it’s hard to tell that the film is saying anything. Of course, Anderson is too cool, too deadpan, to make us feel anything specific. But his best films leave us with something, whether it’s an appreciation of The New Yorker in The French Dispatch or the innocent joy of running away with a friend in Moonrise Kingdom,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Here he offers us very little, just a grin at the woeful fates of those who enjoyed America in its heyday during the ‘50s. As always, Wes Anderson has made a stylish film that touches on so many of the excesses of our society and culture.”


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson dives into the age of the atomic bomb with Asteroid City and Oppenheimer delivering two of the summer’s most-anticipated films. “[F]rom TV to toys, ’50s pop culture mined and promoted the ongoing fascination with rocket ships, interplanetary travel and alien encounters until they loomed large in the imagination,” writes Atkinson. “Hollywood likewise met the moment: mass entertainment drew from the wellspring of Cold War hysteria about Russian espionage (Communists!), the threat of Soviet invasion and both nuclear annihilation and surviving an atomic attack. In a distraction from post-war paranoia directly about the atomic threat came schlocky B-movies about flying saucers, visiting aliens and Martian tales (populated by doctors and scientists both mad and heroic) that put real nuclear dangers like radiation and the aftermath of contamination into a fantastical context — helping to familiarize and normalize audiences and also to clearly define the good vs. evil dynamic.”


At That Shelf, Pat Mullen looks at the role of meta-theatre in Anderson’s latest: as Asteroid City weaves between the play-within-a-film creations of  ‘Asteroid City’ and the stagey vignettes that illustrate its production, though, Anderson plays it backwards,” writes Mullen. “This role-reversal means that Asteroid City constantly works against itself. Earp’s ‘play’ unfolds as if in his imagination, but he envisions it awfully cinematically. It’s a bit odd since Anderson’s aesthetic caters to theatrical trimmings. Witness his films—The Grand Budapest Hotel, Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited—that play with a stage’s horizontal axis. His film sets usually resemble theatrical productions and they employ theatrical sight gags. They often reflect upon the construction of stories through tableaux shots and nifty production designs. Asteroid City sometimes signals this style, like when a wonky cardboard cut-out roadrunner drolly lurches through the frame.”


Blue Jean (dir. Georgia Oakley)


“The film is made even more powerful by strong performances, a dynamic script, and powerhouse direction,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“McEwen is a formidable presence on the screen; I was reminded of a younger Rosamund Pike,” says Chris Knight at Original Cin. “She’s quiet and watchful and watchable, although the director sometimes needlessly cranks up the score and camerawork, pushing into a crescendo-backed closeup when all we really need is a raised eyebrow or look of consternation from the character. But I’ll chalk that up to first-feature jitters, distracting but not enough to derail the powerful story.”


“[Jean] must retain teacher-student separation but also wants to signal to Lois not to out her at school. Things come to a head when a student sets Lois up for exposure,” adds Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The performances are outstanding particularly McEwan who carries the heavy weight of this internal struggle. All about being true to oneself. Brave and capable debut feature.”


Blue Jean is a stylish debut film, which benefits greatly from a compelling performance by Rosy McEwen, who conveys the difficult nature of compromising in an increasingly divided world,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “We’re there with Jean as she tries to negotiate her way out of a trap brought on by her true nature as opposed to a reasonable desire to keep a job and a way of life, which she deserves.”


“One of the brilliant aspects of McEwen’s sensational lead turn is the way she keeps Jean’s humanity at the forefront. Regardless of whether navigating sibling dynamics or the difference in approaches that she and Viv take, McEwen’s Jean is both complicated and immensely relatable,” writes Courtney Small at That Shelf. “Oakley further accentuates the performance through her use of colour in the film. Whether at school coaching girl’s netball or navigating daily life, Jean is presented in a stone-washed blue colour palette. This not only reflects the drabness of a life not whole but is also nicely juxtaposed with the warmth of reds and pinks that she is bathed in when at the bar surrounded by Viv and her friends.”


Here.Is.Better (dir. Jack Youngelson; June 27)


“Though largely informative, director Youngelson gets often too preachy with his good intentions with his doc gearing too predictably to a ‘happy ending,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.

King of Clones (dir. Aditya Thayl)


King of Clones, as it is more a doc on Dr. Hwang, does not answer every question on the subject but still provides interesting subject matter on one of the most controversial scientific researches of all time,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Nimona (dir. Nick Bruno & Troy Quane)


“Netflix breaks the animation mould with its thematically cutting-edge feature Nimona,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “This engaging tale dares to enter the gender equality movement, it feels ancient yet immerses itself in today’s zeitgeist. Directed by Nick Bruno & Troy Quane based on the award-winning graphic novel by ND Stevenson. Wonderfully original, winningly inclusive, merry, scary, and wise.”


No Hard Feelings (dir. Gene Stupnitsky)


“At least Jennifer Lawrence won’t be the lead sentence of the genre’s obituary. As the commitment-phobic Maddie – can’t have a woman eagerly pursuing sex without her having some sort of attachment issues, can we? – the actress is fiercely game and wildly committed,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Despite being saddled with a role that feels like it was written as fan-fiction for Amy Schumer 15 years ago, Lawrence tries her mightiest to make any – just one! – of the comedic moments work. Yet she is foiled by a script whose one-liners are cockeyed, and direction by Gene Stupnitsky consistently half-a-beat off, as if the filmmaker was overseeing the set via a wonky Zoom connection.”


“Don’t expect much and one will not get disappointed,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “This is forgettable fluff with a few messages about life tossed in here and there, without being too preachy or superficial.”


Subtraction (dir. Mani Haghighi)


“A psychological thriller out of Teheran explores the ideas of multiplicity, climate change, and coping with a life-changing event that can’t be explained. Subtraction…is a gripping story of inescapable doom that unfolds during a never-ending rainstorm,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “We feel something bad is going to happen; it’s an effectively suspenseful couple of hours as these doppelgangers try to retain their earlier lives, knowing they’ve changed for all time. Extraordinary.”


Subtraction is an original and fascinating film in which one must believe the existence of doppelgängers as a given,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Not questioning this logic, everything else is credible with the result of an intense suspenseful and emotional story.”


“Politically, Haghighi keeps his cards close to his vest. One tumultuous climactic scene seems to place us in the midst of an angry protest march, though the shouting, fist-pumping mob turns out to be nothing more than a parade of boisterous soccer fans,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “More broadly, the film attempts to find a new way to frame endemic injustice and the cruelty of haves against have-nots by depicting abusers and the abused as mirror images of each other.”


“Alidoosti and Mohammadzadeh excel in their dual roles,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “They play both couples with remarkable agility, conjuring unique personas so that one can often spot the differences despite minimal variations in make-up and dress, but the film toys with perception as allegiances shift and motives darken. Moreover, the film constantly defies expectations. Subtraction is a dark and twisty human drama that keeps one guessing until the final frame.”


Unwelcome (dir. Jon Wright)


Unwelcome is violent, gritty and definitely not for the family, but it is deliciously wicked entertainment, actually more fun than horror, where violence and gore are dished out with unrestrained relish,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


File Under Miscellaneous: To Cancel, or Not to Cancel?


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell uses the recent blitz with The Flash and troubled star Ezra Miller to ask why some celebrities are held accountable while others seemingly get a pass. He speaks with industry figures about the climate in Hollywood. “People will care and pressure companies to take action if it boosts their status. If it doesn’t, they ignore it,” Awards Daily pundit Sasha Stone tells Howell. “If it boosts their status to take someone down and keep them down — Woody Allen — then they will make a fuss about it. If it doesn’t — Ezra Miller — then they ignore it. It’s selective outrage and self-serving. That’s why punishment is always better by due process rather than by mob.”


TV Talk/Series Scribbles: A Liv-ing Legend, Marvels, and Non-Toxic Men


At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller looks at a series trend that sees male characters explore non-toxic aspects of masculinity in shows like Ted Lasso and Bupkis. “Maybe these stars (who are all producers of their series) and their writers were raised by feminist parents who went to therapy,” wonders Schneller. “Maybe they’re digging into characters who buck traditionally toxic settings because they know what their culture wants them to be, and they know what they don’t want to be.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz endures another trip through the Marvel-verse with Secret Invasion: “If movie stars like Brie ‘Captain Marvel’ Larson and Tom ‘Spider-Man’ Holland aren’t compelled to appear here, then the show only has C-list characters and new faces to work with – and does anyone much care whether, say, Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett K. Ross is actually a Skrull or not? As it is, Marvel has wasted a potentially great film by tossing it into the undiscerning Disney+ maw,” writes Hertz.


At What She Said, Anne Brodie jumps into the Kim Cattral-verse with Glamorous: “Kim Cattrall is having a moment,” says Brodie. “[T]his week, she launches Glamourous on Netflix as powerhouse makeup magnate Madolyn Addison whose eponymous product line needs a bit of a rejig. Brodie also explores the cinematic universe of Liv Ullmann in A Road Less Travelled: “The film verges on hagiography but it’s hard to imagine her setting a foot wrong…She goes for the soul, and she goes for the heart.” Speaking of roads, Brodie says that the return of Carpool Karaoke “is doing fine in its new format.” There’s also a binge-athon of Mission: Impossibles, “So plan your mission to sit in your nice, safe chair and watch Cruise go!” advises Brodie.


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen also goes down the Road Less Travelled with Liv Ullmann: “As a Norwegian actor who broke out in Swedish arthouse films in the ’60s and ’70s, her story defies Hollywood convention,” notes Mullen. “This film-on-film doc is a fine study of the art of screen performance and the aura of stardom. Ullmann, even now, seems both confident and amazed by her success. She’s a reluctant star, so to speak, but one who knows she’s left her mark.”