TFCA Friday: Week of March 15

March 15, 2024

French Girl | Elevation Pictures

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


In Release this Week


24 Hours with Gaspar (dir. Yosep Anggi Noen)


“The action set-pieces are exciting enough, though nothing as spectacular as in some martial arts or Hollywood action films,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The narrative, however, is blurry and more clarity would help the story along.”


The Animal Kingdom (dir. Thomas Cailley)


The Animal Kingdom is more an emotional drama of relationships set in a sci-fi setting rather than a sci-fi dystopian thriller,” notes Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “It succeeds well with director Cailley bringing his roller-coaster emotional ride to a satisfactory climax.”


“There are interesting ideas at play in The Animal Kingdom, all of them explored only superficially. If the idea is that we are all animals inside, it might have been better to let them keep the ability to speak their piece (Fix is the only transformee with any extended dialogue),” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Nonetheless, the actors are all game, even while wearing ridiculous costumes. And Kircher’s Émile carries off his transformation with more curiosity than teenage angst, which makes him a likeable protagonist.”


The Art of Love (dir. Recai Karagoz)


“Apart from a few stylishly shot scenes, (there are lots of use of reflections), there is nothing particularly exciting or interesting about any of the film’s parts,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “After a third of the film’s running time, one can surely predict where the film is headed.  Unfunny and not really romantic, the film ends up a boring dud.”


French Girl (dir. James A. Woods, Nicolas Wright 🇨🇦)


“Brochu is radiant as chef Sophie, equally at home on her family’s farm and in Ruby’s state-of-the-art kitchen. She has a natural chemistry with Braff and her on-screen family. Braff, too, is great opposite Antoine Olivier Pilon as Sophie’s brother, Junior. From bonding over MMA and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, it’s refreshing to see a brotherly bond form between two men who on the surface have nothing in common but their love of Sophie,” notes Rachel West at That Shelf. “Everyone except Ruby and [Braff’s] Gordon can easily recognize that she and Sophie don’t belong together. While having two characters completely clueless about their incompatibility can be a great set-up for a screwball comedy, it is never elevated to an exciting level here.”


“Co-writers and directors James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright deliver a broad swath of humour with results that are more miss than hit, like the local goose that delights in chasing Gordon, or the family duck hunt that goes off the rails,” observes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “But ultimately, what sinks the story is a combination of miscasting and bad writing, regardless of its language. Braff tries too hard to be likeable, sometimes coming off as almost creepy. Hudgens leans the other way.”


French Girl is a satisfactory entertaining rom-com that is interesting for its different set pieces and different premise but lacks the edginess and hilarity that is often missing in this film genre,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Hey, Viktor! (dir. Cody Lightning 🇨🇦)


“Lightning’s full throttle and full throated approach to cringe comedy is uncompromising and boundary pushing. Unafraid of coming across as naive or deeply unlikeable, Lightning balances potty humour with genuine insight about the fickle, fleeting nature of moderate fame,” Andrew Parker at The Gate.


High & Low – John Galliano (dir. Kevin Macdonald)


“Director Macdonaald’s film is well constructed and well crafted and delivers in the same spirit both uplifting and gut-wrenching as Galliano’s mixed excess lifestyle,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Galliano’s involvement in the doc ensures Macdonald has a wealth of pre-fame footage to draw from alongside marquee stuff from the pinnacle of the designer’s fame. Notably, the director presents Galliano’s 1984 graduation show from Central Saint Martins school of art, dubbed ‘Les Incroyables,’ and based on the French Revolution after he’d seen the 1927 film Napolean by Abel Gance. Also included is footage from his first catwalk show, ‘The Ludic Game’ assembled for autumn/winter 1985,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Macdonald — who has made acclaimed docs on Bob Marley and Whitney Houston but is perhaps best known for 2006’s intense feature Last King of Scotland — is commendably even-handed, presenting Galliano’s brilliance and awfulness in equal measure while charting a coherent throughline between the extremes.”


High & Low: John Galliano is a stylish documentary by Kevin Macdonald, which contrasts the brilliance of fashion designer Galliano’s clothes with the revulsion people felt when he unleashed a stream of anti-Semitic rhetoric in a Parisian café in 2011. What caused the eminent designer to go berserk, yelling racist insults at innocent folks sitting in a posh café? Macdonald’s film, which has been made with the cooperation of Galliano and Vogue publishers Conde Nast, offers his excuse while telling us the colourful story of his life,” writes Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Kevin Macdonald has made a film that looks like an apology but is too smart to be one.”


Irish Wish (dir. Janeen Damian)


Irish Wish is easy-going, friendly comfort viewing, with its pretty, vibrant spring colour palette against her romantic ups and downs. It’s also a travelogue of Ireland’s landscapes from barren, raw, cliffs to its green pastures,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A mini vacation from the daily hurly-burly, with Lohan’s renewed energy and spark.”


The Last Year of Darkness (dir. Ben Mullinkosson)


“Shot with an eye for the neon lights that pop on the scene, and with a sense that the grit and the vomit on the streets of Chengdu are essential elements of the euphoria the friends find, The Last Year of Darkness creates an immersive portrait of a space, albeit a fleeting one, that the club kids can call their own,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine, who spoke with director Mullinkosson about bringing the scene to screen: “[T]his film is a celebration of life. It’s a celebration of my friends’ experiences in Chengdu and the strength in vulnerability that they have for being so brave and being so bare by showing the struggles they go through,” says Mullinkosson.


Love Lies Bleeding (dir. Rose Glass)


“A fair warning, there are violent scenes that elicited screams from an audience of hardened film critics who have presumably seen it all. The violence, although infrequent, can be shocking and unexpected. Love Lies Bleeding brings back the mid-80s nouveau-noir of Blue Velvet, Trouble in Mind, and Stormy Monday, with nods to Mulholland Drive, Bound, and The Hulk,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Glass has created a film where reality is merely a suggestion. Love Lies Bleeding got a standing ovation at a midnight screening at Sundance, 2024. Indeed, it has Sundance favourite all over it—obscure, independent, dark, and twisted. It works if you let it. Just stop people who are determined to tell you the ending.”


“Kristen Stewart is in her Gay as Fuck era and we’re all better for it. Love Lies Bleeding casts Hollywood’s defiant star in a badass role that’s her queerest part to date. And it’s one of her best. Stewart plays Lou, a young woman with a greasy mullet who manages a New Mexico gym. The place is a dump and Lou pulls shit out of toilets daily, but the gym offers a prime view of buff women on display,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Love Lies Bleeding is sweaty, dirty, pulpy noir to its core and it’s absolutely electrifying.”


On the Adamant (dir. Nicolas Philibert)


“The arts soothe the soul in On the Adamant. This calming slice of cinema vérité invites audiences to step aboard the Adamant, a unique day centre moored on the Seine in Paris,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “The boat forms part of the Paris Central Psychiatric Group and it favours a holistic, hands-on, community-based approach towards treating mental health. Coming to and going from the Adamant with the cadence of a regular out-patient, Philibert observes a refreshing practice. In turn, the therapeutic approach permeates his cinema to create a richly humanist work.”


One Life (dir. James Hawes)


“The material is elevated by affecting performances from Sir Anthony Hopkins and Johnny Flynn — both of whom play Winton at different ages. The story moves back and forth in time between the 1930s and the 1980s,” writes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “One Life is slow, old-fashioned storytelling. Both Hopkins and Flynn work to keep things tethered; children in peril are subject material that leans easily into the maudlin, but that’s avoided here, mostly courtesy of these performances.”


One Life stars Anthony Hopkins as Sir Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Winton, an English broker who as a young idealist travelled to Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938 to rescue Jewish children from Holocaust atrocities. He was naive but soon recognised that there was a major role for him – finding British foster homes for countless children left orphaned or separated from their parents,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. One Life’s incredible and moving story brings tears, even if the film’s execution doesn’t live up to it as it’s sentimentalised by swelling violins. It’s well worth learning about this man among men.”


Re:Uniting (dir. Laura Adkin 🇨🇦)


“A weekend of fun quickly becomes difficult, if funny, sweet, and sour, with false faces and truth-telling. The answer is more wine and dope, which heightens the drama,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Mood switches follow the human habits of gut-spilling, fights, and fellowship. Then the host drops a major bombshell. Writer-director Laura Adkin’s take on people in enclosed spaces tugs at the heart, upsets and settles, with great naturalism and nature’s backdrop.”


“Director Adkin aims for a lighter version of The Big Chill or The Decline of the American Empire going for more humour and more quirky characters,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“I’d say the whole affair, written and directed by Laura Adkin, has a bit of a neo Big Chill vibe, but that’s not fair to either movie. Re: Uniting may be a story of a generation, but it’s not trying to be THE story of its generation, and it would be wrong to judge it thusly,” says Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Mind you, it does have some trenchant, cogent things to say about the choices and decisions we make early in life and must then co-exist with for the rest of it, for better or worse, until death takes us. And surely ones 40s are a time for ruminating (or ru: minating) on the path not taken, and on the more existential fear of time running out. They don’t call it midlife for nothing.”


They Shot the Piano Player (dir. Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal)


“By creating the fictional journalist whose first love is the music, and by making this about his inquiry and his journey, we’re brought along on an exploration about these people, about this time and place. The movie gives us enough political context to understand what was going on and what life felt like back then. But it’s really about the life of Tenório, who he was, his complicated personal life, how people felt about him, and the effects of the years of not knowing what happened,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “What we’re left with is something very human. It’s the story of a loose community of people, artists who lived through a vibrant time, a difficult, heartbreaking time, all connected through the loss of someone they all knew and loved.”


“Using vintage recordings from the Sixties, Trueba evokes the talent of Tenório, who was a brilliant improviser. He can be compared to the American jazz musician Bill Evans, and it was lovely to find out that they once met and had a great discussion together. But They Shot the Piano Player isn’t just a homage to a great musician,” says Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Trueba has researched the sinister Operation Condor, which was backed by the US and involved a conspiracy of state terror in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile and Paraguay in the Seventies and Eighties. Tenório’s death was just one of hundreds of thousands of human rights violations which took place during that time.”


Uproar (dir. Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch)


“With no risk of over-subtlety, Uproar mixes gentle quirky comedy with a few digs at clumsy white allies and the myth of the innocent bystander,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Mostly though, it’s a showcase for the sunny, charismatic Dennison, a young actor who has graduated from children’s roles in his native country (Shopping, Hunt for Wilderpeople) to international films including Deadpool 2, Godzilla vs. Kong and the upcoming disaster film, Y2K. You will, no doubt, see more of him.”


“The film succeeds as a bright and funny coming-of-age story with a Maori teen trying to find his identity and place in a racist society,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “A few feel-good moments will have many cheering in their seats.  On the more serious side, the racism examined exists in South Africa and New Zealand.”



File Under Miscellaneous


At Zoomer, Radheyan Simonpillai recaps this year’s TFCA Awards Gala, where BlackBerry and Swan Song won Rogers Best Canadian Film and Rogers Best Canadian Documentary. “BlackBerry’s Best Canadian Film win was a bit of a full circle moment for director Johnson, who has a reputation for being a provocateur speaking truth-to-power – albeit in comparatively more frivolous and entertaining terms,” writes Simonpillai. “Eight years ago, in conversations with journalists like myself, Johnson had made critical remarks about the insular Canadian film industry. He specifically railed against a public film funding system that dedicated the bulk of its budgets to the same old handful of filmmakers whose best days were behind them, meaning little was left on the table for new voices. He told the Globe and Mail a bunch of people had to die of old age to make room for new filmmakers, which made for a hilariously awkward 2016 TFCA awards gala.”


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell recaps the Oscars’ broadcast, including Jonathan Glazer’s acceptance speech for The Zone of Interest that had everyone talking: “Writer/director Glazer said that while his film ‘shows where dehumanization leads at its worst; in its depiction of a Nazi commandant’s family ignoring the Holocaust happening literally next door to their home during the Second World War, it also begs comparison to the current war by Israel against the terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which has led to thousands of Palestinians killed and many more facing starvation,” writes Howell. “Outside the Oscars show, 1,000 pro-Gaza protesters attempted to disrupt traffic and the ceremony, chanting ‘Let’s shut it down!’”


From Anna May Wong to The Blue Brothers, Nathalie Atkinson rounds up a few of the latest movie-related books at Zoomer, including Cocktails with George and Martha by Philip Gefter: “The American historian charts the production of Mike Nichols’ feature debut, the Academy Award-winning Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? adaptation of the Edward Albee play (1966). The movie starred newly married and famously tempestuous couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, whose riveting performance would win her the Best Actress Oscar. Offering deeply researched behind-the-scenes moments, Gefter details how the movie survived censorship, from Broadway stage to screen, why he made provocative creative choices (like shooting in black and white) and how the movie thrived on the tumultuous moods of its tabloid-grabbing co-stars,” writes Atkinson.


A Festival of Festival Coverage: Canadian Film Fest Approaches!


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell looks at the upcoming Canadian Film Festival, which kicks off with Doubles, Ian Harnarine’s expansion of his award winning short, Doubles with Slight Pepper: “Father/son tensions in the short version of the story occur entirely in Trinidad. “In the feature-length version they shift to Toronto, where Dhani travels to confront his now ailing father, learning along the way, as have other immigrants he meets, that the so-called ‘Canadian dream’ is far from reality for many people,” writes Howell. “It makes for intense and engaging viewing, all the more so since writer/director Harnarine cast the same lead actors from his short for his feature. Their world-weariness from the intervening dozen-plus years really shows.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie singles out Place of Bones as one to watch at the Canadian Film Festival: “an edgy western from Audrey Cummings led by two strong female characters … From this point comes the showdown, the incredible mother and daughter’s bravery and cunning that mystifies Calhoun. The battle begins and a prize winner of unforgettable twists. It’s not a great film but it’s a jolts-per-minute shocker of a plotting masterclass.”


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah offers capsule reviews of movies at the Canadian Film Festival. Highlights also include Audrey Cummings’ Place of Bones: “[T]his is a rare and excellent, brutal and exciting western complete with a High Noon-styled showdown that looks at the western from a feminine point of view,” notes Seah. “Taken with much humour and a pinch of salt, the women folk in the film are demonstrated to be much smarter than their male counterparts.  ‘Most men will not admit that the trouble they get into is entirely due to their doing,’ is what the mother tells her daughter at one point.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie finds contemporary resonance in the historical limited series Manhunt: “So many chilling parallels to events around the assassination of US President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, and today’s poisonous political environment in the battle between The Democrats and Republicans,” writes Brodie. “The Confederate State, the South, has lost the Civil War and must accept the end of slavery. Great wealth was built on the backs of abused stolen Africans. President Abraham Lincoln (Hamish Linklater) enacted the Proclamation of Emancipation and set them free. Four hundred years of free labour – gone. Leading Confederate loyalists vowed their state and slavery would rise again whatever it took and set up secret spy networks leading across the east and up into Montreal to plot a coup.” For a palette cleanser, there’s Nolly: “If you need a lift, this is the one for you. [Helena] Bonham-Carter’s vivacious appeal, the costumes, sets, and dialogue are wonderful and this is one diva we truly care about.”


At Original Cin, Karen Gordon checks out Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen: “The core of the series is the relationship between Eddie and Susie. Eddie is forced to depend on Susie as he tries to navigate a massive number of unpredictable, quick-to-murder criminals while keeping his eye on the prize. Susie is the experienced hand at running a drug empire, managing all the power players, mostly with the guidance of her father from his jail cell. She’s blunt with Eddie but is also managing threats against her family’s business,” writes Gordon. “The Gentlemen ends up being everything you’d want from a classic Richie gangster film.”