Reviews include Bullet Train, I Love My Dad, and A Night of Knowing Nothing.
TFCA Friday: Week of June 24
June 24, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
The Black Phone (dir. Scott Derrickson)
“No doubt Derrickson has a rationale behind the film’s division of school and domestic violence with the violence of a sub-basement level villain like The Grabber,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “But the message doesn’t warrant the time Derrickson dedicates to establishing that ‘normalized’ violence is a far more insidious crime than a rampant child-killer. On the other hand, he’s probably right. Ultimately, The Black Phone is an immensely satisfying film primed to have audiences cheering in the cinema.”
“The Black Phone is a very scary, shocking horror film that should leave horror fans more than satisfied,” advises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Part Stranger Things, part The Lovely Bones, and part that urban myth that freaked you out when you were little, The Black Phone is a deliciously creepy throwback anchored by strong performances from both kids and adults alike,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “A serial kidnapper known as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke under an assortment of creepy masks) has been stalking the neighbourhood, and Finney becomes his latest victim, imprisoned in a soundproof basement with little more than a mattress, a toilet and a boxy, wall-mounted telephone that doesn’t work anymore.”
Blue Island (dir. Chan Tze Woon)
“The Chinese title of the film,「憂鬱之島」, translates to ‘Island of Depression,’ a perfectly concise way to describe the feeling of despair and helplessness of many Hong Kong people around the world,” observes Rachel Ho at POV Magazine. “And although Blue Island spends the majority of its time focusing on dark events, director Chan shines a light of optimism when it can be found, focusing on the belief that Hong Kong will live on no matter what challenges lie ahead. As student representative Keith Fong Chung Yin elegantly expresses: ‘Hong Kong isn’t the place, it’s the people.’”
Dual (dir. Riley Stearns; June 28)
“Despite the clichéd and predictable ending, Dual works for the most part as a satisfactory and intriguing thriller,” admit Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Elvis (dir. Baz Luhrmann)
“[W]e have never had an Elvis Presley played by the walking, talking, cinematic sex-bomb wonder that is Austin Butler. More importantly: We have never had such a performance – a fearsomely committed, hip-thrusting act of pure actorly subservience to not necessarily character, but an entire culture’s concept of character – be captured via the unrelenting vision of a director like Baz Luhrmann,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “All of which means that, yes, the pair’s new super-sized movie, Elvis, is an instant piece of essential pop. But the film is not an easy, chart-topping sensation fresh off the hit-factory floor. Elvis the singer only wanted the love of his audience. Elvis the movie asks for a whole lot more.”
“Elvis, Baz Lurhmann’s 2-hour and 39-minute hallucination fable comes at you like shot from a pellet gun, blasting from one nerve point to the next in rapid, head-spinning succession, bouncing from style to style, plot point to end-it-all motifs to tight closeups of Austin Butler’s sensuous Elvis-like lips to pensive Elvis to runaway hips Elvis to mama’s boy Elvis,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Butler transforms himself from teen TV hero to smokin’ sexpot with rubber joints, eyes blackened with mascara and black shadow completely comfortable in an era in music about which he likely knew nothing.”
“The energy Elvis brings to its first act is hard to maintain over that extended length of time. And the final-Vegas ‘fat Elvis’ years succumb at times to lugubriousness. Still, Butler is all in, from the hyperkinetic moves of young-Elvis to the jumpsuits of later years,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “As many of these movies do at the end, there are jumps to the movie’s actual subject in performance. Butler and Elvis himself are spliced, and damned if it isn’t hard to tell who’s who at that point.”
“[A] super-lengthy 2 and three quarter hour long film with scenes that last no longer than 6 seconds without an edit, cut, fadeout or super-imposing,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “This is Luhrmann’s style, so the result is a totally intense experience.”
“Luhrmann pushes his style to its excessive limit but I’m not sure to what end he does it,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Is the film a critique of pop culture starting with rock’n’roll? He starts with circuses and side-show acts and ends in Vegas. That says something. But is he endorsing any of it? Not necessarily. It seems as if Luhrmann enjoys what Presley and his generation created in the Fifties without deciding that it’s all worth endorsing.”
“Butler gives a truly transformative performance of Elvis, the man everybody has paid to see. He goes the distance from skinny new sensation to well-fed Vegas mainstay,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “The transformation is so convincing, it’s not a shock when the film ends with an affecting performance of ‘Unchained Melody’ by the real Elvis Presley, seen in one of his final concerts, weeks before his death in August 1977.”
“Sporting a bizarre accent that evokes Parker’s statelessness, but can only be traced back to House of Gucci, Hanks simply overwhelms the film,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “On the other hand, since Hanks is so spectacularly awful, he makes Butler’s performance doubly remarkable…Butler admirably performs his own vocals for the early Presley tunes and sings blended with the King during later acts. Whether die-hard fans or casual viewers can spot the difference barely matters: Butler bets big and wins.”
Endangered (dir. Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing; June 28)
“The brave reporters the filmmakers follow worry for their own safety and their families, but charge on, determined to help keep democracy alive,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s an eye-opener, it gnaws at our sense of justice yet there are moments of great inspiration.”
Flux Gourmet (dir. Peter Strickland)
“Strictly for Strickland fans and for those who can bear just plain odd films with a meandering narrative,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Long Rider (dir. Sean Cisterna 🇨🇦)
“The Long Rider has enough narrative (there were more than 500 hours of footage), that it could have been a doc series,” suggests Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “As it stands, The Long Rider is a film experience that reminds us of the lure of solitude, of slowly traveling in the most rudimentary way, dependant on the bonds between human and horse. It’s a look back at a lost way of life, and a testament to accomplishing the near-impossible.”
“I didn’t realize when I started watching this film that Leite’s long ride actually took place almost a decade ago,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “There’s an extended postscript to catch us up on what happened after that initial journey, which gives the film a sprint-to-the-finish quality out of keeping with the rest of its pacing. But it’s still an inspirational and moving story, and a whole lot more fun than hearing about someone’s problems at the airport.”
“Besides being the film’s central focus, the resourceful and personable Leite also acts as narrator and director of photography,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “He speaks on camera while travelling (he used GoPro mini cameras, among other gear) and in formal posed recollections that connect the many incidents that occurred during his 803-day journey.”
“Often dispirited and in tears, and joyous and loving his choice, it’s a maelstrom of extreme obstacles, pain, joy, and mystery, as they wind their way down south,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He survived and immediately set out on a trip from Alaska to Calgary in his ride of the Americas.”
“It’s an epic adventure over 10,000 km in the making,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “As The Long Rider treks through a dozen countries with the idealistic adventurer, it inspires an uplifting, if self-congratulatory, consideration of what it means to feel at home.”
The Man from Toronto (dir. Patrick Hughes)
“We’ve waited so long for The Man from Toronto, the mistaken identity assassination comedy starring Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson and at last, it’s here. Shot in Heart Lake, Milton, Brampton, Toronto, and Atlanta, we have an attachment to it,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “But the fun is following Hart whose wonderful tweaks on reality and droll lines make this movie a winner, a showcase for his comic agility. He takes the ordinary and skews it through the Hart machine to turn out relatable, on-point lines.”
“It’s a bonkers plot, though your viewing pleasure will be increased by the obvious use of some decent Canadian dialogue coaches – almost everyone in the movie calls it ‘Tron-o,’ with only a few instances of ‘Toe-Ron-Toe’ thrown in by Americans who don’t know any better,” laughs Chris Knight at the National Post. “You can also amuse yourself by imagining how this mismatched buddy comedy might have played out with its original star and a big-screen release in the autumn of 2020. Alas, between Statham’s departure and the pandemic’s arrival, this is what we’re left with.”
“Nothing spectacular the film has to write home about, but still, it is an amusing non-thinking person’s low brow comedy for all that it is worth,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“A stupendously dull action-comedy that is devoid of both thrills and humour, The Man from Toronto features Kevin Hart at his most Hart-iest, playing a fast-talking beta type named Teddy, who is failing at both his ‘contactless boxing gym’ business and his marriage,” groans Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “If there is any one trademark of Cinema de Hughes, it is the recurring shtick of characters getting unexpectedly mowed down by speeding vehicles and emerging unscathed – a gag employed here to soul-deadening effect.”
Official Competition (dir. Mariano Cohn, Gaston Duprat)
“I never cease to be amazed by Cruz, who in every performance is subtle and effortless,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Rivero is the cliché of a superficial movie actor, but in the flicker of an eye Banderas gives us insight into some of what motivates his him. It’s the same with Martínez as Torres. He is in many ways Rivero’s opposite, the solid, steady workman, but as the film goes on, he lets us see just enough of what’s behind that stoic determination.”
“Throwing away subtlety and replacing the film with over-the-top set pieces that reflect the film industry, this satire undoubtedly has many brilliant moments,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The comedy often comes at you from odd angles,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “The scene of Lola explaining to her patron the plot of the book he never bothered to read is somehow heightened by having him eat a ludicrously large serving of ice cream during the conversation. Then there’s a screen test with the benefactor’s daughter, in which an unexpected third party proves to have better chemistry with her than either of the preening actors.”
“Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat’s Official Competition puts ego-driven film stars under the microscope and the result is brilliantly, uncomfortably, and scathingly funny and real,” laughs Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s a joy, it’s brainy and oh-so-human.”
“With Official Competition, Cohn and Duprat deliver a laugh-a-minute satire rooted in the shared pleasure of moviegoing,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The film is an escapist delight that asks audiences to reflect upon the power of cinema, but also to reflect upon the hard work that goes into each frame. Whether lured by auteur cinema or A-list stars, Official Competition offers something for everyone who is seduced the moment the house lights dim.”
Revealer (dir. Luke Boyce)
“[I]s fresh in terms of putting different cinematic elements together to effect a horror flick,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The two actresses make solid chemistry and despite a few flaws, Revealer manages to maintain attention for horror fans from start to end with its blend of horror and low-brow humour.”
Slash/Back (dir. Nyla Innuksuk 🇨🇦)
“Like every good horror film, Slash/Back weaves social issues into its genre conventions: the teenagers’ ambivalence about their indigeneity; the alcoholism that plagues their community; the ever-present threat of colonization; and the Land Back movement,” writes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. She speaks with Nyla Innuksuk about delving into her first feature and bringing an alien-slasher flick to her community up North. “When I was a teenager, horror was for me escapist and thrilling and fun. Now it’s a beautiful way to layer stories with themes that give a movie heart and emotional weight,” Innuksuk tells Schneller. “Scary movies helped me figure out who I was, trying on different aspects of my personality to see what fit. Now I see that same thing in my teenage actors.”
“Inuit filmmaker Nyla Innuksuk’s genre-busting Slash/Back is probably the sweetest film of its kind, a variation on the Little Women theme, set in remote Pangnirtung, Nunavut or Pang as the kids call it with feminist, warrior teens and a touch of horror,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Don’t miss this promising and endearing first feature.”
“Slash/Back is entertaining, well made and fun to watch proving that the setting of a film does much more for a film than one featuring big stars,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Slash/Back is a horror movie in the spirit of The Goonies and Attack the Block,” observes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It’s Steven Spielberg working with a fraction of Joe Dante’s budget (and Joe Cornish’s, for that matter.) As horror movies go, Slash/Back is tame. Not that the film is bloodless. Nor is it without tension. But mostly it plays like a loving tribute to the movies that first-feature director Nyla Innuksuk grew up with.” Ernst also speaks with Innuksuk and learns how she went from riding bikes around town in Spielbergian wonder to making movies with them at school: “I was really lucky. I was able to go to a different high school for a semester when I was in Grade 11. There we did media studies in the morning, and in the afternoon you had access to the cameras and editing the equipment and computers. And we’re just supposed to make movies and that’s what we did,” Innuksuk tells Ernst. “For me and my friends – whom I’m still friends with, still making stuff with – it was just a chance to kind of explore telling stories and getting that encouragement.”
“[O]ccasionally…Slash/Back hits the sweet spot of blood, guts and tweenage ennui,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But the moments between can be rough, the result of a script whose last two acts can’t reach the heights of its enticing conceit, a choppy sense of pacing that speeds up when it should slow down and vice versa, an amateur cast whose rawness is at odds with the story that they are enlisted with telling and a no-frills visual-effects budget that robs the film of its central creature-feature thrills.”
“Slash/Back slots nicely into a recent Renaissance of First Nations genre pictures that includes Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum and Night Raiders by Danis Goulet,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It features a dreamlike lo-fi feel that doesn’t rob the film of its intensity. And while the plot stutters and skips a few times like a vinyl record that’s been left too long in the midnight sun, the fun, frantic pacing will keep viewers invested, forgiving of any minor missteps. Turns out that of all the places aliens could touch down, Nunavut is one of the most dangerous – and entertaining.”
“The greatest strength of Slash/Back is its script,” notes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Innuksuk authentically highlights the preteen experience of young girls, specifically those living in Nunavut’s quiet hamlets. She doesn’t simply rest on stereotypes and tropes of what we may expect from these characters. Rather, she takes Maika’s deep knowledge and skills passed down from her father and contrasts this with a juvenile shame in her Indigeneity. Innuksuk creates a character like Leena who doesn’t have any interest in hunting — and not because of any rebellion against her culture, it’s just not her thing.”
At Complex Canada, Pat Mullen chats with director Nyla Innuksuk about being a part of this Indigenous renaissance and learns what impact Blood Quantum and Night Raiders had on Slash/Back. “The pressure was off a little bit with Jeff having done a good job and same with Danis,” says Innuksuk. “I almost felt like I could mess up a little. Even if Slash/Back totally failed, what is so important for us is Indigenous screen sovereignty—your right to tell your own stories and that we should be financing them with proper budgets. Those pressures weren’t all on me, which was great.”
Features – Biopics and Biz
To mark the release of Elvis, Pat Mullen, Rachel Ho, and Courtney Small join other writers at That Shelf to countdown the top 25 biopics of all time. There are a lot of trips to rehab and Meryl Streep movies, but here’s Small on the film that topped the list, Goodfellas: “Effortless shifting from drama to dark humour to chilling tension on a dime, it is easy to see why many not only consider Goodfellas one of the top gangster films of all time, but one the best biopics ever made.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports that moviegoers might need to forgo the real butter in favour of the ambiguous “topping” to offset costs if they book their movie tickets online for Cineplex. “This month, Cineplex CGX-T implemented a $1.50 booking fee for tickets purchased online and on its mobile app. Guests who buy tickets in-person at theatre kiosks, box offices or concession stands will not be charged the fee, while members of Cineplex’s Scene+ rewards program will pay $1 a ticket, and members of the company’s upstart CineClub monthly subscription program will have the fee waived entirely,” writes Hertz. “Meanwhile, Cineplex and the Bank of Nova Scotia earlier this month welcomed Empire Co. Ltd., the parent company of grocery chain Sobeys, as the new co-owner of Scene+. When the hit sequel Top Gun: Maverick opened last month, 50 per cent of Cineplex moviegoers used a Scene+ card to purchase tickets and concessions.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage – Only One TJFF this Week!
At Classical FM, Marc Glassman reviews the toe-tapping melodrama Musciolophia screening at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival. “Happily, the film is quite spirited with lots of humour, mainly supplied by the gauche Aota and a general sense of energy as if the idea of a music school in an arts institution is enough to keep audiences—and the film’s students—engaged,” writes Glassman. “Even better, although the music in the film isn’t top notch, it is more than adequate. I hate hearing contemporary music used as a form only worthy of satire. Here it’s treated with respect and there’s even a lecture, which Saku attends, where Schoenberg’s 12-tone method is adequately explained.”
TV Talk/Series Scribbles – Murders and Spoilers and Bears, Oh My!
At What She Said, Anne Brodie has nothing but praise for the return of Only Murders in the Building. “It may be the smartest, most satisfying ‘sitcom’ since Seinfeld,” she raves. Meanwhile, newcomer The Bear brings a worthy kitchen comedy: “A wonderfully lively cast of characters elbowing one another for cooking space balances [Carmen’s] angst and optimism with their sass and soon enough, come around to him, charmed by his food and passion.” It’s the same for Loot, a fun new comedy on Apple: “Hilarious scenarios of work and play, growing comradeship, and Molly’s gradual recognition of who [Molly] really is, and dropping the artifice of her former life make for a charming, engaging three hours.” Chloe, on the other hand, gets pretty dark: “Becky is deeply unlikeable, she’s a puzzle; what outrages will she put in play to soothe her aching psyche.” Ditto The Terminal List: “Dark, insidious treachery and intrigue to protect what?” For audiences binge-watching in both official languages, there’s the French mini-series Gloria: “Gloria’s an intense, fierce story raised by Bois’ supple performance as a woman who’s had the rug pulled from under and must face the fact she never knew David.”
At That Shelf, Pat Mullen attended the virtual junket for The Umbrella Academy where “no spoilers!” caveats made conversations impossible and spoiled the party. “[T]he idea that wet-blanket critics get off by spoiling the fun for fans is as silly as it is insulting,” writes Mullen. “Any effort to reveal twists in Umbrella Academy’s playfully convoluted plot requires Tolstoy-like literary dexterity and a word count comparable to Anna Karenina. Critics have zero interest in ruining the fun for fans because we’re fans too. (And we’re professional enough to talk about something knowing we have to write about it diligently.) Everyone was uneasy knowing that Captain No-Spoilers in Mission Control was ready to hit the red button and send heat-seeking missiles in our direction if we gave any indication that we’d even watched the show.”