Reviews include Slash/Back, Elvis, and Official Competition.
TFCA Friday: Week of June 25
June 25, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Cancer: The Integrated Perspective (dir. Nathan Crane)
“One does not really come off with much new insight than can be expected,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Chasing Childhood (dir. Margaret Munzer Loeb, Eden Wurmfeld)
“The sobering doc Chasing Childhood calls for a reset to the way children are overseen and pushed in 2021,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld examine concerning parenting trends and how they impact young people.”
Fathom (dir. Drew Xanthopoulos)
“If Arrival is your kind of science-fiction movie, then Fathom is the nature doc for you,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Xanthopoulos spotlights the research process and immerses viewers in the research of these two women, their passions and sacrifices, and their quests to teach us more about the natural world.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “misses the opportunity to inspire and mesmerize but instead shows the mundane task of scientific work of discovering whale communication.”
F9 (dir. Justin Lin)
“If brains were gasoline, the Fast & Furious franchise wouldn’t have enough to power a Smart car,” zings Peter Howell at the Toronto Star.
“The whole thing is preposterous, but the best Fast movies know it, abandoning any connection to coherent physical reality for balletic, impossible action scenes where cars leap between skyscrapers, swing across bridges, catch people in mid-air and even take the story where no Toretto has gone before,” gasses Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“[T]his one, under returning director Justin Lin (Fasts three through six), seems to have nailed just how seriously it wants to be taken,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “I laughed out loud at four or five moments of sheer cornball machismo and/or impossible physics and, while I don’t know if the film was angling for my dismissive chuckles, I don’t think it minded either.”
“The threat was always lurking just beneath the surface, but with F9, the Fast & Furious franchise has finally turned into a full-blown cartoon. More specifically, a F&F version of Muppet Babies,” writes Barry Hertz in a critic’s pick at The Globe and Mail. “With copious flashbacks to the baby-fat days of the series’ central Toretto clan and enough physics-defying outlandishness to tip the film’s live-action to CGI ratio into the animation sphere, F9 is as ridiculously cartoonish a blockbuster as they come.”
Gaia (dir. Jaco Bouwer)
“I didn’t find this film in the least bit horrific, it’s a slow-paced psychological drama pitting the natural against the unnatural in a battle to the death,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “What is interesting is the level of performance by actors mostly unknown to us in North America and secrets that are suggested but not resolved, leaving something for the imagination.”
“The culprit in Gaia, the next in a line of environmental horror films to double-bill with Annihilation or In the Earth, is not with the cast and crew or props, but with the terrain,” argues Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It’s all on screen in a suffocating canopy of green with muddied streaks of blue. Gaia pits the earth as the beast in the beauty: a lure into an inescapable grave, like diving too deep in the ocean without enough air to swim back up.”
“Bouwer and screenwriter Tertius Kapp create a convincing, unsettling world of scuttling, barely glimpsed threats and dream-logic exposition, with Rockman’s performance as the skeptical protagonist deftly setting the tone,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “The practical effects go a long way to supporting her revulsion and fascination, too, especially once we learn the true nature of the danger.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a slow burn scary ecological horror film almost guaranteed to give one nightmares and never to sleep beside a plant again.”
Good on Paper (dir. Kimmy Gatewood)
“Schlesinger’s witty, funny cautionary tale is a hoot with a dark side and a caution worth sharing,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said, who has an interview with Schlesinger and co-stars Margaret Cho and Ryan Hansen.
“Another adjective should be added to the three adjectives in the ads of goofy, deadpan and raunchy, describing the movie – smart,” suggests Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Iliza Shlesinger’s slapstick comedy about a horrifying dating experience is a slick extension of her stand-up material. In specials like Iliza: Unveiled, the comic assesses her relationship to feminism (is she a good or a bad feminist?) within the context of her work and romantic life,” writes Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto.
The Ice Road (dir. Jonathan Hensleigh)
“It’s dumb, but it’s the good kind of dumb, with writer/director Hensleigh…on the outsized peril, maudlin dialogue exchanges and multiple scenes that require Neeson to punch out dudes half his age,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “And somehow you can tell he’s enjoying himself; if he wants to spend his golden years cosplaying as Clint Eastwood, there are worse fates.”
“The director provides just enough back-at-the-mine footage to remind us of the urgency of the mission, and to really paint the mine executives as unfeeling bastards,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Then it’s back to some cool under-the-ice shots of the big rigs driving by, followed by revving engines and fishtailing trailers. If you want any more exciting driving action this weekend – well, you’ll need to see F9, which is conveniently also opening. Fasten your seatbelt, and your parka.”
“There’s some cool real-world stuff here about negotiating ice in massive vehicles that should captivate anyone unfamiliar with the reality TV show Ice Road Truckers which covered a lot of this same ground,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Are there crater-sized logic gaps and plot holes? Yup. But anyone settling into The Ice Road expecting anything other than blustery, nail-biting thrills has streamed the wrong movie.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a solid action thriller that often keeps one at the edge of the seat, coupled with some fresh scenarios set in the ice.”
“An absolutely bananas mashup of History Television’s Ice Road Truckers reality series, the best and worst of the Die Hard franchise and just about every post-Taken project in Neeson’s disturbingly dense filmography, The Ice Road is destined to go down as one of the actor’s best-worst movies,” cheers Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “It is a pure trashterpiece that must be seen to be believed.”
To mark the momentous occasion of yet another decline in the career of Liam Neeson, Barry Hertz ranks the unexpected action star’s best “Daddy Action movies,” from kidnapped kids to punched-out wolves. “Remember the Liam Neeson who was nominated for an Academy Award for his heart-wrenching performance in Schindler’s List? Yeah, that guy is dead, throat-kicked by the new Liam Neeson, a take-no-prisoners badass who employs a particular set of skills to kill drug dealers, gangsters, sex traffickers, and, um, wolves,” writes Hertz. Which movie is the “best” and which is rock bottom? Find out here!
Mary J. Blige’s My Life (dir. Vanessa Roth)
“An often too personal doc on the artist singer/songwriter,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Silent Night (dir. Will Thorne)
“For evidence of the hash that the global pandemic has made of film release dates, look no farther than this yuletide British crime caper, which is getting its Canadian release precisely as far from Christmas Day as is possible,” ho-ho-hos Chris Knight at the National Post. “Not that seeing Silent Night six months ago (or six months hence – take your pick) would likely make much difference to your enjoyment of this grim little number.”
“There is nothing really fresh about the gangster film Silent Night, but it is one of those tough British gangster flicks, like Michael Apted’ s 1977 The Squeeze with an atmosphere and mood that one cannot forget about,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Sun Children (dir. Majid Majidi)
“It’s a hell on earth and real for invisible children abandoned by society, an important film, well balanced, heightened by outstanding ‘performances’ by real street kids including Ali Nassirian, Javad Ezati, Tannaz Tabatabaei and Shamila Shirzad as the sponge seller. Bring your tissues,” advises Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“[Roohollah] Zamani has an open, watchable face, and it’s fascinating to observe him as he finagles his way into the school, and sets to tunneling,” writes Chris Knight on the 12-year-old star at the National Post. “It’s dirty, dangerous work, but that’s part of the point of this somewhat didactic tale – for every educator trying to lift underprivileged kids out of poverty, there’s someone else eager to make use of their bodies for any number of purposes.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah writes, “[The] chilling film is a worthy dedication to the children around the world working in forced labour.”
“Sun Children may have a humanistic axe to grind but it certainly isn’t boring and didactic,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “At its core, the film is a thriller—a quest film that brings together a motley crew, trying to attain riches during stressful times. If there’s a film you could compare it to, it’s John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre, though I doubt that Majidi has seen the film or read B. Traven’s brilliantly subversive novel.”
“What looks like a tale worthy of a Tom Sawyer adventure is essentially an allegory of Ali’s two choices: Studying and preparing for his future in a classroom, or tunneling in the dirt toward the graveyard,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The plot is a pretext, a public service announcement for the importance of education, and, memorably, a series of portraits of the day-to-day lives of children clinging on the edge of survival.”
An Unquiet Grave (dir. Terence Krey)
“[A]n effective blend of horror, both psychological and physical, and drama condensed into a crisp 75 absorbing minutes,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Vicious Fun (dir. Cody Calahan 🇨🇦; June 29)
“Don’t expect too much for Vicious Fun,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Just enjoy the gore and laughs.”
Who Are You, Charlie Brown? (dir. Michael Bonfiglio)
“In true Charlie Brown fashion, the doc is a modest and humble portrait that one can’t help but love,” notes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
The Winter Lake (dir. Phil Sheerin)
“[T]here is a violent conclusion to all this, predictably, and it seems like an easy way out, plot-wise,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “But if it leaves the viewer a little wanting, it can be forgiven, given the sure-handed finesse of the mood construction and the performances. Boon, in particular, straddles a line of buried emotion somewhere between alienation and being on the spectrum, and still speaks volumes with his silences.”
Wolfgang (dir. David Gelb)
“It makes for an agreeable film but is it wrong to have wished for a bit more here?” asks Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Maybe it’s my personal interest in cooking, food, and food culture in general that makes me wish that Gelb had gone a bit deeper in this direction, adding context from some of those other voices.”
“The food porn is sadly lacking here,” admits Courtney Small at POV Magazine, who notes there’s still enough on the plate to satisfy. “Wolfgang offers an interesting, if conventional, portrait of a chef always on the hunt for his next great dish.”
“This is frank stuff, the abuse portions are unbearable, but his will and resilience forced him to run away and towards life anew,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He became that thing his stepfather told him he could never be – a success.”
“Wolfgang, the doc is formulaic, predictable but still enjoyable as a literal food feast for the eyes,” dishes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Let It Be and the Wizard of Oz
Peter Howell at the Toronto Star revisits the classic, but mostly forgotten, doc Let It Be following the recent highlights of Peter Jackson’s upcoming Beatles mini-series Get Back. “The project was perhaps doomed from the get-go,” writes Howell of the 1970 doc. “At McCartney’s urging, the band had decided to make a combination documentary and concert for a TV broadcast. They wanted to get back to their rock ’n’ roll roots — hence the tune ‘Get Back’ that the sessions were originally titled for.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with Whiplash Oscar winner JK Simmons about getting jacked for The Tomorrow War and discovering the actor while sneaking in episodes of HBO’s expletive-laden Oz without his parents’ know-how. “Oz was a first for me, too, because I was really only a theatre actor until about a year before then,” says Simmons. “It was huge for a lot of the cast. Now that it’s on again, and I’m just an older and wrinklier version of the same bald white guy, I’m getting more recognition again, much to my children’s consternation. But they haven’t seen it, as far as I know. We certainly sheltered them from it for a long time. Better than your parents did.”
A Festival of Festivals – TIFF Returns and Saguenay Keeps it Short
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell breaks down the first news about TIFF 2021. The festival returns as an expanded event with more films and more theatrical events, although the return to moviegoing won’t have its buttery normalcy. “TIFF is cheered by news this week that more than 75 per cent of Toronto adults have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 25 per cent have received their second dose. This allows it to plan for in-person screenings at its indoor theatrical venues, including Roy Thomson Hall, the Princess of Wales Theatre and festival headquarters TIFF Bell Lightbox,” writes Howell. “Viral precautions will still have to be observed: masks and physical distancing will be required of moviegoers during indoor screenings, where popcorn and other snacks will not be sold to avoid people removing their masks to eat.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz gets to the really exciting part of the TIFF news: an IMAX world premiere of Denis Villeneuve’s hotly anticipated Dune at Ontario Place’s Cinesphere. “While the film will enjoy its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival the week before TIFF launches, its Toronto screening will mark the first time that the hopeful blockbuster is presented in an IMAX theatre,” writes Hertz, who gets a few words with TIFF co-head Cameron Bailey. ‘The special thing about having Dune here is not only that Denis is a celebrated Canadian filmmaker, but that he shot parts of the film for IMAX, and we have the Cinesphere,” said Cameron Bailey. “I’m excited for audiences to see it on the biggest screen possible.”
Pat Mullen reports on the Canadian short films that screened at Regard – Saguenay Short Film Festival as part of his jury duties for FIPRESCI. The doc Ain’t No Time for Women won the FIPRESCI prize. “Ain’t No Time for Women poetically conveys the significance of reflecting women’s stories as it gives voice to the women in the salon and artfully links the personal with the political,” writes Mullen. “Most refreshingly, this portrait, shot in 2019, demonstrates that engaged and respectful discourse is still possible for parties with competing ideologies or worldviews during this new era of divisive and polarised politics.”
TV Talk – Benedict, Kevin, and Crime
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah looks at the new Disney+ series The Mysterious Benedict Society and calls it “intriguing enough, both for adults and children with lots of puzzles and riddles to delight.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie tunes into Annie Murphy’s latest sitcom after her Schitt’s Creek super success: “Kevin Can F**k Himself looks at the extreme duality in the life of a married woman in Worcester, Mass. Its unique concept creates an emotional button pusher. Half the series takes place in a sitcom world of bright colours, laugh tracks and forced smiles in which Allison’s husband Kevin is the life of the grown child party.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with director Elizabeth Wolff about the chilling true crime series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which returned this week with a special episode about the sentencing of the Golden State Killer and an origin story of sorts for late author Michelle McNamara. “Much in the same way with the Golden State Killer case, we were able to let Michelle’s voice and investigation be our north star in the edit,” says Wolff. “Michelle takes us to everything.”