An interview with Swan Song director Chelsea McMullan about their Rogers Best Canadian Documentary nominee on Karen Kain’s Swan Lake.
TFCA Friday: Week of June 9
June 9, 2023
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, Jesse Finley Reed)
“All Man takes a straightforward talking heads approach to recreate the International Male story. Participants from the early and later publishing days of International Male remember the genesis of the catalogue with excitement,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “There’s a great discussion of queer coding here among the interviewees. Talking heads reflect upon the power of seeing images that bucked the conventional American likeness of masculinity.”
Aloners (dir. Hong Sung-eun)
“The pleasure of the film comes from observation – observation of human behaviour,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Often, human behaviour can be more than intriguing, and director Hong has fashioned an intriguing film while at it.”
Americonned (dir. Sean Claffey; June 13)
“It is easy to complain and list problem after problem of American society. Director Claffey ends his doc on a high note with an interview with the Boston mayor who offers opportunity to his people saying that they have to accept the society to succeed, hopefully to bring down the disparity between ethnic income groups,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Beyond Paper (dir. Oana Suteu Khintirian 🇨🇦)
“Letters and books are physical objects which can be shared with family, friends and lovers,’ observes Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Oana Suteu Khintirian hasn’t just made a film, which ultimately endorses paper and book and libraries. She’s made it about family… She’s made a personal essay doc that should be seen by those who love literature, and those who don’t.”
“The NFB documentary Beyond Paper is an unexpectedly emotional primer on what paper means to humans, as a means of communication, recording history, spilling our innermost thoughts, drawing loved ones, animals, designs, graphs, family trees, lineages, charts, lists – the endless functionality and ‘home’ of paper is under siege,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Filmmaker Oana Suteu Khintirian’s thoughtful and far-reaching ode to paper carries an air of finality.”
“Food for thought that often boggles the mind, Beyond Paper is as fascinating as it is informative, poetic as it is current and a doc that is both personal and inspirational and cinematic,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Dalíland (dir. Mary Harron)
“Passages concerning Dali’s imagination and highs and lows are told in dreamscapes, he’s mocked, adored, out of control, and in his childlike state, unable to fend for himself, especially against the tricky woman he loves,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Ezra Miller offers a restrained and powerful early-days interpretation of an already troubled Dali. It’s dazzling, outre, and when the fun runs out, tragic, oh so tragic.”
“Possibly, no sane person could truly explain Dalí — who could account for the painter of Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano? — but Harron’s film maintains a wry compassion for these mad love birds, who have spent their lives defying convention and perhaps reality itself,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “At best, perhaps Dalíland helps illuminate the muddle. As Dalí himself put it, “What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.”
“Despite the film’s excellent production values, including well staged lavish parties with intricate costumes, Daliland fails to inspire,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Dalí’s artwork is notably absent, and the origin of his genius remains unexplored. The audience is merely offered a hint that his genius stems from the anger he and Gala share. The film portrays Dalí in all his ugliness and indulgence, such as conducting the wind atop a mountain, without delving into any of his redeeming human qualities. With its focus on sycophancy and conflicts, particularly between Dalí and Gala, the film proves to be a rather unpleasant and hollow viewing experience.”
“There is one problem, though, and it’s a major one. Christopher Briney, a young and quite handsome man, plays James, a fictional figure, who is working for Dalí’s New York gallerist,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Briney is attractive and affable but he’s not interesting or perceptive enough to act as the film’s narrator, or ‘fifth business.’ … Unfortunately, Briney’s James leaves a huge vacant space where the drama and comedy of being with a complex surrealist should be. The result is the ultimate irony: a bland film about Salvador Dalí.”
Past Lives (dir. Celine Song)
“A film like Past Lives doesn’t work without gentle yet stirring performances,” observes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “The performance I was most taken by, though, was Yoo’s. In an incredibly restrained turn, Yoo grants Hae Sung a generosity and patience that brings the young man to life in a way that feels tangible yet dreamlike. There are no outbursts of anger or anguish, but Hae Sung’s longing and frustration are deeply felt thanks to Yoo’s complexity and malleability as an actor.”
“Past Lives is not an unfailingly perfect film,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The raves coming out of its Sundance premiere in January were understandable but they cruise past the fact that Song lets some of the early Korea-set scenes hang in the air, while her second act feels just a degree or two rushed, defensible given how strongly the last third lands. But the movie is still a rare thing: honest, intimate, lasting.” Hertz also speaks with director Celine Song about the Canadian thread that gives Past Lives an emotional hook. “The movie has to move through 24 years, so some of it had to be abbreviated. But what mattered to me is that Nora is twice an immigrant, not just once, so there’s Canada and then America. It was an important part that she is not just a Korean American, but a Korean-Canadian American.”
“Past Lives takes audiences through the emotional roller coaster of the Before trilogy with the economy of Brief Encounter,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “There’s not a wasted second here, as is the case with loves that define our lives whether they stay or go.”
Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) (dir. Anton Corbijn)
“The film necessarily (and fascinatingly) chronicles ancillary stories of rock debauchery, brilliance, and tragedy, notably via Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s deeply troubled erstwhile co-founder,” notes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “But in the end, it’s the art that’s most persuasive. Like Mojo Magazine sprung to life, but with way better imagery. Unmissable.”
“Anton Corbijn’s wonderfully visual and insider doc Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) tells the story, of the influence of hallucinogens on their art and business, and the pop scene and the biggest music stars of the day who queued up for their own landmark Hipgnosis covers,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Lots of great details about celebrities, design quirks, happy accidents, and tragic events. Food for the eye and soul and of course for music lovers.”
“Corbijn’s film contextualizes the period well, particularly for viewers who didn’t live through this era,” writes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine. “The inclusion of the always sardonic Noel Gallagher of Oasis is a nice touch, as his unabashed nostalgia is on play, as well as the self-awareness that he was too out of it when making his own masterpiece to have given as much care for his cover as he would have liked.”
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (dir. Steven Caple, Jr.)
“There is something that cannot really be explained on the fascination human beings have (especially males) of a human being being transformed part by part into a machine or top vehicle,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[F]or all its fantastic-looking robot transformations, Rise of the Beasts is a lengthy, leaden tale, barely brought to life by the spark of its fortunately lively and expressive human co-stars,” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post. “Like the toys of the decade that spawned it, this is a case of batteries not included. Any energy and joy you feel will merely be what you bring with you.”
Without Precedent: The Supreme Life of Rosalie Abella
(dir. Barry Avrich 🇨🇦)
“[I]f you don’t already know who Rosalie Abella is, then it is high time you learned – and the best entry point is Without Precedent, a new documentary that explores one extremely remarkable, perhaps underappreciated life,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Abella can, by this point in her life, claim a number of remarkable firsts. The youngest judge in Canadian history. The country’s first female Jewish Supreme Court Judge. And now she is the first Canadian judge, as far as I can tell, to have a feature-length documentary devoted to her myriad achievements. Precedent-breaking, indeed.”
“The U.S. Supremes are celebrities, infamous ones in some cases. People rattle off their names and rage about them on Twitter,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “By contrast, Canadian Supreme Court justices fairly fly below the radar. Which is why Barry Avrich’s recent Hot Docs feature Without Precedent: The Supreme Life of Rosalie Abella demands attention. The spirited, progressive, eccentric wife, mother and former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella stood out in that august body like a splash of colourful paint on a grey wall.”
The Wonder Weeks (dir. Appie Boudellah, Aram van de Rest)
“Despite how silly and trivial as the plot might sound, The Wonder Weeks covers current issues like the problems of mothering, gay couples, surrogate fathers, culture clashes to mention a few – making this entertaining comedy more heartfelt and meaningful,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Wrath of Becky (dir. Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote)
“The film is a short and effective 83 minutes that fly past for the reason that is so delightfully wicked.. More fun than Spider-Verse, Transformer, and Fast X put together,” declares Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
You Do You (dir. Cemal Alpan)
“This colourful Spanish-styled Turkish comedy unfortunately fails miserably,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto
File Under Miscellaneous
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell shares his best bets for summer movie season, including Greta Gerwig’s hotly anticipated Barbie. “Cheap laughs or heavy thoughts?” asks Howell. “But as fuller plot details have emerged — Barbie No. 1 must leave her Barbie Land fantasy world to solve problems in the real world — [one] has hope that Gerwig and her co-writer/partner Noah Bambauch have crafted something that is more than just high-concept product hustling. The film’s full trailer has Barbie stopping a dance number in her dollhouse abode to ask fellow revellers, ‘You guys ever think about dying?’ I am curious pink.”
At That Shelf, Courtney Small makes a case to make movies long again after seeing the latest Spider-Man cliffhanger: “While studios used to have a drive-thru mentality towards blockbusters, get them in and out quickly so that a theatre could maximize its number of screenings, the chokehold that Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films have had on the box office for the past 15 years has eradicated that approach,” notes Small. “Aside from training people to sit through credits, modern blockbusters have also gotten audiences comfortable with spending an average 2.5 hours watching the latest spectacle. Most of which have become glorified commercials that set up the next film in the franchise. The problem is not that blockbuster are too long, but rather that many do not to justify their running time.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Turning Japanese, Blue Mountain Ascends
At Original Cin, Jim Slotek and Liam Lacey preview the Toronto Japanese Film Festival and pick some highlights, like A Man, which swept the Japanese Academy Awards: “The film goes to dark corners, as it examines the nature of identity and an often fruitless search for happiness. My personal favourite of the fest,” says Slotek. Meanwhile, Lacy calls Slow, Small, but Steady, “An artful character study…a sports drama that dodges nearly all the sports movie clichés.”
On the TFCA blog, Rachel Ho reports from the Creative Forum at the Blue Mountain Film Festival, which demonstrates why the Collingwood event is worth noting in its second year: “For an event in its very early infancy, the Blue Mountain Film Festival attracted an impressively high calibre of speakers to the Creative Forum,” writes Ho. “Each session was well attended with audiences completely engrossed in the panellists and variety of topics. As with any film festival, the heart of the weekend is the line-up of movies for audiences to get lost in; however, in the case of the Blue Mountain Film Festival, its Creative Forum provides attendees with a holistic experience, embracing the feats in front of and behind the camera.”
TV Talk/Series Scribbles
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out the true crime series The Crowded Room: “If you’re looking for fun, distraction, and comfort viewing, this isn’t it, however, the case consumed the media when it came out.” On the other hand, Amy Schumer’s latest special “serves up her witticisms and social observations that are always on point and accurately reflect our culture.”