Reviews include You Hurt My Feelings, The Little Mermaid, and It Ain’t Over.
TFCA Friday: Week of March 11
March 11, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
This week, the TFCA awarded Beans, directed by Tracey Deer, with the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, which carries a cash prize of $100,000. Watch some highlights from our gala event here.
This Week in Movies!
The Adam Project (dir. Shawn Levy)
“The Adams battle to survive incredible odds with an interesting twist on how the future might look and transform us,” explains Anne Brodie at What She Said. “But of course, it’s mostly about our need to love and be loved without qualification.”
“Ideally consumed while accomplishing myriad household tasks (why yes, this is a Netflix movie), The Adam Project is built to hold your attention only for so long as you don’t start to wonder why you don’t just queue up one of the film’s many, better inspirations instead,” says Barry Hertz, dictating into his phone while vacuuming, at The Globe and Mail. “Or maybe coherency is a casualty whenever Reynolds is around, given that most of the dude’s films have the tendency to contort themselves around his super-smarm shtick.”
“Eventually, Ruffalo’s Louis appears. It’s a time travel movie. There are ways to reintroduce the dead. But this one has no idea what to do with him,” groans Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. “The plotting is so convoluted by the time the character is introduced that Ruffalo just ends up complicit in scenes overloaded with mawkish sentiment, clichéd standoffs and cheap CGI explosions.”
After Yang (dir. Kogonada)
“Visually attuned Columbus writer/director Kogonada returns with a lyrical sci-fi saga about a near future where people, androids and clones grapple with loss, love and humanity,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “A gorgeous piano score by composers ASKA and Ryuichi Sakamoto — I want this score! — completes the mood of blissful introspection.”
“After Yang is based on a short story by Alexander Weinstein, adapted and directed by the filmmaker and video essayist who goes by the single name Kogonada,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Rare for science-fiction, it hits a sweet spot between showing future tech and just letting it happen without detailed explanation.”
“Many films deal with family breakdowns after the loss of a child,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “After Yang deals with a family breakdown after the loss of an android. Credit goes to director Kokonada for taking on the more challenging premise.”
“It’s a subtle and deliberate and eerily quiet film about the inevitability of relying on machines with wonderful artistic flourishes like the car’s intricately carved wooden interior and vegetation, the consuming joys of nature, within the tension of the family’s disrepair despite appearances,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “An artistic adventure bringing together diverse cultural ideas to the central truths of being human.”
“After Yang is a deliberately small film but it’s made with big ideas,” agrees Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “It’s the kind of thoughtful science-fiction, which embraces philosophical questions and complex characters. Video essayist and director Kagonada has made a film that is easy to endorse and admire. Not a blockbuster, it offers a splendid, different, viewing experience.”
“Kicked my butt – I loved it,” says Jason Gorber at That Shelf. “Under the poetic lens of Kogonada, we have something truly stellar.”
“After Yang is a tightly controlled yet tremendously alive film, powered by the beating heart that is Farrell’s performance,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The actor treads the waters of wistfulness, compassion and devotion with an elegant ease. It is such strong, seamless acting that you’ll be tempted to go back and reconsider Farrell’s entire filmography.” Hertz also speaks with Kogonada and Farrell about crafting this futuristic family tale: “It’s a film about contending with how to live a meaningful life, whether it’s the daughters who are clones or having a techno-sapien to help your daughter connect to her cultural heritage,” says Farrell. “The world today is scary, so here is this family nucleus that is represented in a much more gentle way.”
“While Farrell beautifully holds the centre of this quiet and enjoyable small movie, the film’s ambitions sometimes exceed its reach. And yet, this is profound material,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “What Kogonada’s After Yang gives us is enough to remind us that, in a world of chaos, the inner life must be considered too. And that’s a beautiful thing.”
The Automat (dir. Lina Hurwitz; Mar. 15)
“[C]ould have turned out to be a tiresome documentary on a glorified vending machine, but director Hurwitz has steered it into a charming and insightful slice of nostalgic history, entertaining at the same time,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Batman and Me (dir. Michael Wayne)
“Batman and Me is a minor documentary on a minor subject that has turned out only marginally more interesting as a study of collectors and hoarders and their behaviour,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Beneath the Banyon Tree (dir. Nani Li Yang; Mar. 15)
“Beneath the Banyon Tree stereotypes the American Chinese family, but truth be told, many families are like the one depicted in the film,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “As such, as they say it is always good to laugh at oneself, and being Canadian Chinese, the film not only hits close to home but is also funny and totally entertaining.”
The Bombardment (dir. Ole Bornedal)
“Director Bornedal keeps his film tense from start to end making The Bombardment not only totally entertaining but getting his message across of the horrors of war,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Dear Mr. Brody (dir. Keith Maitland; Mar. 15)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “an interesting and entertaining watch, more than the typical documentary.”
Donkeyhead (dir. Agam Darshi 🇨🇦)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a worthy debut by Agam Darshi.”
“Even laid out straight, the possibilities for comedy are there,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “So take my word that Donkeyhead is not a ribald laughfest but a thoughtful examination of immigrant experiences and filial expectations – a little goofiness perhaps, but if you come for the comedy, stay for the drama.”
Fear (dir. Ivaylo Hristov)
“Shot in black and white, with drama involving current issues like the refugee crisis, racism and living life, this satirical fable, definitely one of the best films of the year, is also funny, moving and needless to say magnificently tense and entertaining even with a few action packed scenes,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“This powerful, surreal, and often funny portrait of Eastern Europe is shot in black and white further underlining the obvious – that Bamba is Black and stands out in this place,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Sensitive viewers note that certain words make for uncomfortable moments.”
Futura (dir. Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, Alice Rohrwacher)
“Futura’s open and honest travelogue captures the pulse of a generation reborn amid collective trauma,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Shot in buoyantly stark 16mm images, Futura is a portrait of lost innocence and youth gone too soon. These kids have to grow up awfully fast, but there is a sense of collective will captured throughout the filmmakers’ travels. The students all say they’re ready to fight for their futures and be the leaders for change. Then they go back to their phones.”
Moon Manor (dir. Erin Granat and Machete Bang Bang; Mar. 15)
“In this hybrid biography and fiction, it’s never possible to sort out where fact ends and creative whimsy begins. (Did Jimmy actually attempt to sell real estate on the moon? Other hucksters have.) What’s more frustrating is the film’s tone, which whiplashes between New Age sanctimony and juvenile humour,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“[T]ackles a controversial subject of Alzheimer’s and euthanasia but the film unfortunately does not get the intended message across,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Seed (dir. Sam Walker)
“[A]n intentionally hilarious teen horror comedy – extremely cheesy, the film works as it is totally watchable as a time waster,” chuckles Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Signal: The Movie Cold Case Investigation Unit (dir. Hajime Hashimoto; Mar. 15)
“[T]he continuation of a hugely popular Japanese TV crime series and it’s a doozy,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The action ramps up with a touch of mysticism, corruption, and revelation, a time travel meet-up, and a thrilling, extended final chapter.”
Turning Red (dir. Domee Shi)
“[T]he film features plenty of recognizable landmarks – whimsically transformed by Shi and production designer Rona Liu from photographs of the city,” write Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto. Sumi also speaks with Shi about drawing inspiration from her adolescence in the 6ix: “It’s semi-autobiographical – I didn’t actually turn into a red panda,” Shi tells Sumi. “But many of the cringiest, most awkward moments in the movie are drawn directly from my own life. Like Mei, I had a secret sketchbook under my bed [which my mother found]. And on my first day of middle school, I also had the experience of catching my mom hiding behind a tree with sunglasses on to watch me. She was worried about me. I think those moments are what make the movie connect with audiences and make it feel real and funny.”
“There are heaps of note-perfect, delightful scenes in Turning Red: one where Mei attempts to show her parents she can control her emotions as they confront her with an escalating series of mortifying and/or impossibly cute items is a standout,” cheers Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “The camaraderie between Mei and her friends, especially in the face of bullies and other torments, is lovely to behold, as are the themes of embracing rather than downplaying differences, the importance of family (and food!), the invariable conflict between mothers and daughters, and so on.”
“When Mei’s excess of emotion hits the ‘can’t take it’ level, she transforms into a giant red panda and it keeps happening at the most inopportune times – it’s a family thing,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “And it’s girly stuff, hinting at, well, sex, menstruation, and coming-of-age; we’ve all been there even if our teenage turmoil didn’t result in pandadom.”
“Our stories are also pretty horny, as Variety critic Courtney Howard pointed out,” adds Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. “The CN Tower is just a giant phallic symbol in a local movie scene that also gave us Exotica, Crash, and Turning Red’s predecessor on matters of teen girl puberty, Ginger Snaps. Props to Shi for continuing our brand at Disney, an outfit full of superheroes in tights who refuse to acknowledge any below-the-belt rumblings.”
“And as kid-centric at the movie is, it’s worth noting that Sandra Oh (another Canadian) excels in the role of Mei’s well-meaning mother, explaining to her daughter the history behind their family trait, which began as a kind of defence mechanism,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “‘What was a blessing became … an inconvenience,’ she concludes, before stressing out lest Mei ‘panda all over the place.’”
“Turning Red eschews the usual fantasy tropes about monstrous transformations, which often involve the changed person being unable to speak… Meilin remains every bit the chatterbox when she’s big and furry,” observes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Best of all, everybody just accepts the fact that Meilin is different, which speaks to the virtue of Toronto’s genuine diversity: the many hues of people we see in Turning Red are the same as what we see in real life.”
“Turning Red’s off-kilter vibe stands out from other Pixar movies,” notes Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “Despite its fantastic premise, it feels more grounded in the real world than films like Toy Story and Ratatouille. However, it has a madcap energy that sets it apart from its predecessors.”
“Canadian director Domee Shi’s new film, which is proudly set in the city circa 2002, not only reminds you of Pixar’s strength in general, but how animated films can deliver layered, tricky, emotionally resonant stories with a powerful, punchy pop,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. Hertz also chats with Shi about bringing Pixar back onto the rails: “I learned early on that humour and weirdness is a good ‘in’ for me,” says she. “If I can make them laugh at ‘magical puberty,’ then Pixar would let me make this movie…They could see it as this super-specific story about a Chinese-Canadian girl in Toronto, but also the universality of a kid waking up and not understanding what’s going on with their body and emotions and why they’re fighting with their mom every day.”
Wildhood (dir. Bretten Hannam 🇨🇦)
***2021 Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize for Emerging Artist***
“Wildhood is a poignant, bittersweet awakening story of Link, a Mi’kmaw teenager who escapes severe abuse at home and hits the road with his little brother,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A thoughtful, poetic, and transcendent meditation on growing up, finding one’s way, and creating a better life. It takes its time to allow the characters to find what’s real, and a measure of new harmony and joy.”
“Wildhood is an extraordinary film. Two-spirited non-binary Mi’kmaq director and writer Bretten Hannam plunges us into a world of anger and depravity among poor white Maritimers and then slowly brings their story forward into a tale of the redemptive power of Indigenous culture, offering the viewer hope and a true emotional release by the end,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “I’ve rarely been so moved by a Canadian film. Hannam has created a film of intensity and power rarely seen in this country.”
“Lewinsky and Odjick are natural on camera,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “They enter the story on the strength of their relationships with ease and comfort; not an easy task for young actors with limited life experience, let alone acting experience. Their characters live in the realm of the moment; things happen and then don’t. Occurrences either make them stronger or are eventually forgotten.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “an earnest look at gay Indigenous youth and an entertaining film.”
“This ‘two-spirit odyssey,’ by writer/director/producer Bretten Hannam, heralds a new generation of Canadian talent engaging in the grand tradition of Canuck road movies,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. Phillip Lewitski plays Link, a two-spirit Mi’kmaw teen whose volatile disposition masks a sensitive soul and a fierce desire to find out the truth about his long-gone mother, Sarah, whom his abusive father claims is dead.”
“Wildhood, from First Nations writer/director Bretten Hannam, got its start three years ago as the 12-minute short Wildfire, about a Mi’kmaw boy who runs away from his abusive father,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “I haven’t seen the earlier film, but this one did feel like a short story trying to expand into the space of a novel. It’s episodic, straightforward, and narratively a bit slight.”
“Wildhood is the most significant queer Canadian film since Xavier Dolan’s breakthrough I Killed My Mother,” writes Pat Mullen at Complex Canada. “With palpably rawness, vulnerability, and authenticity, Wildhood intimately connects Link’s persona growth within a larger assertion of Indigenous resilience.” Mullen also speaks with Hannam about how their sophomore feature charts new terrain for Two-Spirit stories in the queer canon: ““To me, Two-Spirited means an identity that encompasses a relationship, not just with gender and sexuality, but with the land, culture, animals, and community,” says Hannam. “It’s a lot broader than a label of sexual identity or a gender identity.”
The Wolf and the Lion (dir. Gilles de Maistre)
“Children’s films do not always translate to good adult films and this film is the best example,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It is a real chore to sit through this one as the film is so ‘blah’, the best word to describe the otherwise well-intentioned family film.”
Woman in Car (dir. Vanya Rose 🇨🇦)
“Woman in Car plays like a throwback to Canadian art house cinema of the ’80s, and not in a good way,” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post. “Back then, deserved or not, our nation’s films were seen as chilly, emotionally repressed and needlessly dark.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says it “starts off slow but accelerates to a successful emotional finish.”
Features: Canadian Pride, Diane’s Ditties
Committing a notable act of Frank D’Angelo erasure, Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail celebrates Turning Red’s love letter to Toronto by looking at the best movies set and shot in Toron’o. His top pick? Don McKellar’s Last Night: “Don McKellar’s end-of-days dramedy is an ode to this wonderful, maddening, beautiful, messy city as well as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency eulogy for a place, people and style of filmmaking that will one day feel quaint and bygone, if it is felt at all.”
For audiences who want to see more Toronto, but also more Montreal, more Winnipeg, and more Bosnia, Hertz previews TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten festival and chats with programmer Steve Gravestock. “It’s not abnormal to have a pretty wide-ranging list – it’s actually a statement as to just how diverse the Canadian filmmaking community is,” Gravestock tells Hertz. “It speaks to how adventurous not just our filmmakers are, but everyone: producers, the funding agencies, distributors. They take risks.”
At That Shelf, Pat Mullen breaks down the greatest hits of one of Oscar’s biggest losers, Diane Warren, who looks to go home empty handed again this year, just as she did the years she should have won for Armageddon and The Life Ahead. “There are at least three certainties for the upcoming Oscars. Jane Campion will win Best Director, Drive My Car will take International Feature, and Diane Warren will lose Best Song. Again,” writes Mullen. “But don’t let all the losses fool you. Few people have amassed so many accolades and so much name recognition with below the line credits as Warren has. She’s the queen of the power ballad. No movie finds a closer quite like a movie with a Diane Warren song on the end credits.”
TV Talk/Series Spiels
At What She Said, Anne Brodie finds the Evan Rachel Wood doc Phoenix Rising to be gripping stuff: “Veteran documentarian Amy Berg follows Wood’s journey of healing, learning, and speaking out, a decade after her escape from [Brian] Warner [aka Marilyn Manson],” writes Brodie. “This is an upsetting but vital documentary, now complicated by Warner’s denials and lawsuit against her.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey finds much to admire about The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray. “[T]he series is a well-earned chance for Jackson to take his biggest acting dive in years, transitioning between confused and lucid, but also — through various prosthetics and de-aging CGI —the same changing man over the course of different decades,” writes Lacey. “Only the seven-year-old version of Ptolemy isn’t played by Jackson though one imagines he could pull that off, too.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen raves about the doc series The Andy Warhol Diaries: “Filled with insiders’ stories and star-studded details that helped define Warholmania, the series is a fitting extension of the artist’s signature portraiture: the best icons are immortalised in their art. We only truly understand them by engaging with their work again, and again, and again.”