TFCA Friday: Week of March 17

March 17, 2023

Riceboy Sleeps and Brother | Game Theory Films/Elevation Pictures

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


This Week in Movies!


All the World Is Sleeping (dir. Ryan Lacen)


All the World Is Sleeping attempts its utmost best, perhaps trying too hard, as witnessed in many segments, light on the realities of addiction, and the resources that are so desperately needed for families living in cycles of addiction,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Credit should definitely be given to the well-intentioned film that unfortunately shows stereotypically that a happy ending or the road to heaven is paved with rocks and stones.”


Are You Lonesome Tonight? (dir. Win Shipei)


“The occasionally seemingly clumsy flashbacks that occur are often disconnected with a character and come about non-chronologically. But it is this and other daring risks that make Wen’s film stand out,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Bono & the Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with David Letterman

(dir. Morgan Neville)


“There is also expert commentary, from super-producer Jimmy Iovine whose association with U2 goes back to the early ‘80s, and Irish singer and friend-of-the-band Glen Hansard, of the rock band The Frames. Hansard dissects the band’s creativity, and – in a highlight – has Bono and The Edge join him in a pub for folk music and poetry,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Yes, Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with Dave Letterman is unabashedly meant as creative marketing for an album. But if it is effectively a commercial, it’s an interesting and enjoyable ride.”


Boston Strangler (dir. Matt Ruskin)


“Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon as Loretta and June are knee-deep in patriarchy; they were not taken seriously even as they continued to find new evidence through witness and grudging police interviews. Their success rubbed officials the wrong way but they kept at it, travelling to Ann Arbor, Michigan to investigate an early murder matching the Strangler’s MO,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The film is well-written and respectful, sober, and important and reveals a horrific real-life twist. Top-notch direction and acting.”


“Most of the story is McLaughlin’s and Knightley steps up into the role with strong convictions and heated determination while not stumbling unconvincingly out of sorts with the reality of the era. This is the 60s effectively captured in setting and in design, so McLaughlin moves stealthily through a barricade of ignorance and an assumed male hierarchy,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Ruskin gives a fresh bend to the story of the Boston Strangler, and indeed to the true-crime genre.”


Brother (dir. Clement Virgo 🇨🇦)

***Runner-Up: Rogers Best Canadian Film Award***


Brother is the perfect bookend to Virgo’s first film, Rude. Both highlight the stories and challenges of Black Canadians growing up in Toronto, and, most importantly, show the beauty of the individuals who make up these rich communities,” notes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!.Brother overwhelms with power and emotion, creating one of the most deeply felt films of the year.” Ho also speaks with Virgo about putting Scarborough on screen: “The more I made movies, the more I wanted them to be specific,” Virgo tells Ho. “The best movies are specific and bring you into a world that you don’t know about and communicate this kind of humanity.”


“Because Clement Virgo’s family drama Brother is so beautifully made, and the performers give their all, it is an exquisitely painful, provocative experience and cuts deep,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Virgo creates a profound reality for them and paints a pretty picture with muted lighting, rich colour, and familiar details of the 1980s and 1990s – including a clip from Master T on MuchMusic. The heavy limitations of poverty missed opportunities and dashed hopes are staggering and Brother becomes an elegy.”


“For his part, Pierre is brilliant as the physically imposing older brother who is far more emotionally vulnerable than his exterior lets on. Giving one of the year’s best performances, he effortlessly moves back and forth from protective to despondent to tender with heart-wrenching beauty, which makes the character far more complex than others give him credit for. Thanks to Johnson and Pierre’s brilliant performances, Virgo’s film explores themes of identity, masculinity, sexuality, and grief in ways that always feel authentic,” writes Courtney Small at That Shelf.An emotionally resonant film that presents Scarborough in a poetically beautiful and gritty light unlike it has ever been captured on screen before, Brother is a marvel to behold.”


“Toronto’s Clement Virgo presents an affecting memory puzzle, set in 1990s Scarborough and adapted from a novel by David Chariandy,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Brothers Michael (Lamar Johnson of The Hate U Give) and Francis (Aaron Pierre of TV’s The Underground Railroad) are like fire and ice: Francis confronts, Michael observes. They share love plus the pain of a troubled mother and absent father. A world is revealed, brilliantly.”


“Anchoring all of the film’s beauty, meanwhile, is a truly breakout performance by Johnson, a Scarborough native himself. Before the young star is inevitably lured to Hollywood forever – the actor just killed on a recent episode of HBO’s zombie phenomenon The Last of Us – every Canadian director should be trying to throw their very best scripts at him,” advises Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Johnson is so compelling and well-cast that, regrettably, the British Pierre cannot help but feel out of place half the time. While the 28-year-old actor (best known for Barry Jenkins’s The Underground Railroad series) possesses a fiery charisma that toggles easily between sweet and slick, he just seems too mature – too gigantic a presence, really – to believably play a high-schooler.”


“Virgo has evoked 1990s Scarborough wonderfully well in Brother. It’s a neighbourhood filled with poverty and violence but also with families and respect,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Francis and Michael are Trinidad-Canadian brothers raised by their mother, Ruth, to love each other and try to make their lives better than hers. Francis, played by the charismatic Aaron Pierre, is the big athletic elder of the two boys while Michael, well performed by Lamar Johnson, is the classic smaller, more poetic younger one. The escape for the two of them and their mother is the near-by Rouge Valley, filled with forests, wetlands and the river. There, they can be at peace with a world that doesn’t terrify and anger them.”


Full Red River (dir. Zhang Yimou)


“The film at its best, can be looked at as a very funny satire one the Chinese way of governing – be it communist or communist-run,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Everyone is suspicious and with good reason. Everyone is vying for a top spot or a promotion from an existing position.”


Inside (dir. Vasilis Katsoupis)


“The only plus of this otherwise terrible movie is the production design,” signs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “As expected, the penthouse is beautifully crafted as are the paintings on display.”


Ithaka (dir. Ben Lawrence)


“The UK turned down the US request for extradition but the US appealed, bringing more harm to Assange who is suffering mentally, emotionally and physically. He’s in solitary confinement and suicidal but is allowed phone calls to Stella and their two children; she watches him deteriorate,” adds Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Shipton who has little regard for the media has spent years campaigning on his son’s behalf and it’s clearly taken a toll on him. This is the heartbreaking human, and emotional cost of being the most important, symbolic political prisoner in the world.”


Leave (dir. Alex Herron)


“The film’s only complaint and a main one at that is the climactic last 30 minutes or so when credibility is pushed to its limits,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Hunter is rescued just in the nick of time by her father who suddenly appears, free from the institution. How does he know where she is at that time?”


Money Shot: The Pornhub Story (dir. Suzanne Hillinger)


“Certainly, if you’ve never heard of Pornhub before – perhaps you have just returned from a monastery, which was located under a rock, which was on the planet Mars – then Money Shot runs down the Canadian company’s checkered history with a succinct, Dateline/48 Hours kind of flair,” sighs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “This is a film of talking heads, stock images of Montreal and many, many blurred-out porn stills, with no particular point of view as to the state of contemporary sex culture.”


Riceboy Sleeps (dir. Anthony Shim 🇨🇦)

***Winner: Rogers Best Canadian Film Award***


“The film is as impressive in its technical approach as it is in its storytelling. Shim shoots coverage with a single camera, affording the director luxurious single-take scenes that allow the audience to watch the action like secret observers hiding in the shadows of a room,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “This is a tender, ambitious, meticulous and deeply empathetic work. No easy or arbitrary comparisons necessary.”


“Without a doubt, the heart and soul of Riceboy Sleeps is So-young. Her fortitude and solitary strength are powerful forces that drive the film,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Bringing her to life is a truly remarkable performance from Choi. A trained ballet dancer, there’s an effortless grace with which she moves that makes each tender laugh and agonizing tear achingly felt. The same restraint that Shim paints the entire film with, Choi exhibits when conveying the inherent pain of So-young: a woman who was never given a set of circumstances that allowed her to live freely, even in moments of happiness.”


“Shim keeps the film very simple, focusing on these two characters in small moments over a span of time. The film feels natural, never forced, or artificial. And yet slowly and quietly, we get a sense of who these people are and their relationship, even as things change over the years,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Shim is helped along by a superb cast. Both young boys playing Dong-Hyun do wonderful work, but the bulk of the film focuses on the character’s teen years, and Ethan Hwang is terrific, playing a character who is quietly grappling with a sense of feeling unsettled, and questions about his identity that he can’t quite resolve.”


“Riceboy Sleeps pivots away from a tale of immigrants to a passionate return to Korea,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The last third of the film follows So-Young as she introduces Dong-Hyun to his father’s family of farmers. While he’s embraced by his grandfather and uncle, Dong-Hyun’s demented grandmother wants nothing to do with him and his mother. Still, there’s a real emotional trajectory throughout their journey to Korea, reaching an apex towards the end. Riceboy Sleeps is a moving drama, one that is filled with compelling performances, and a deservedly sentimental wallop.”


“Do yourself a favour and see this poignant, heart-rending, but tough story of Korean immigrants living in suburban Canada,” suggests Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The film’s power is in its subtlety and spare style, we aren’t so much watching mother and son as living inside them, a phenomenal achievement. The performances are heartbreakingly raw – Choi Seung-yoon was named a TIFF Rising Star, and a Share Her Journey Fellow and she won Best Actress at the Marrakech International Film Festival. Both actors playing Dong are wonderful. Deeply rewarding.”


At That Shelf, Pat Mullen calls the film “Canada’s next great coming-of-age movie” and chats with director Anthony Shim and star Choi Seung-yoon. “I have a love for celluloid, but for this film in particular, I’d looked at different examples of films that were set in different periods, particularly the ’90s and things that were shot digitally and shot on 16mm or 35mm,” says Shim on the choice to shoot on film. “I liked the look of 16 best. It just gave us that undeniable sense of that time and place. There’s a texture and a depth to the colours as well that I thought worked really nicely. I wanted to see Korea in those colours and with that grain.”


Shazam! Fury of the Gods (dir. David F. Sandberg)


Shazam! Fury of the Gods tries to deliver all the big-budget spectacle audiences crave from this era’s superhero titles, while capturing the spirit of golden age Captain Marvel comics. But Sandberg’s lack of interest in character development and reliance on style over substance calls back to the superhero movie era we all wish we could forget,” admits Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “Mirren and Liu’s one-dimensional Daughters of Atlas performances align more with the campy villains in the Christopher Reeve Superman films than the Machiavellian tyrants in modern comic book movies. It’s a shame the film wastes these undeniable talents because a great villain can make or break a superhero movie.”


“The film that cost a whopping $130 million to make is an utter bore and silliness, particularly for the adult audience,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“There is an ambitions-check conducted here that, while soul-crushingly depressing when put up against the entirety of modern moviemaking, is also paradoxically refreshing,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The experience of watching this new Shazam! is akin to watching an exceptionally wealthy but ultimately sweet and innocent child smash their toys together for 130 minutes. There’s little point in it all, but hey, at least the kid is happy.”


Supercell (dir. Hert James Winterstern)


“The movie, directed by Herbert James Winterstern, wears its low-budget emulation of Twister on its sleeve (there’s even a scene where someone does a Google search, and the first name that comes up is that of the late Twister star Bill Paxton),” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “[A]cting aside, Supercell is a good example of what can be done these days with a limited budget and savvy use of mood and affordable effects. It doesn’t set out to be Sharknado-esque cheese. Heck, it even takes the time to explain what a supercell is. A scene with baseball-sized hail is frighteningly realistic, and the movie leans more on the awe-inspiring sight of clouds piling up on themselves, building power.


“The late Anne Heche, Alec Baldwin, Skeet Ulrich, and newcomers Daniel Diemer and Jordan Kristine Seamón are caught up in the risk-loving, storm-chasing world,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Baldwin’s Zane now owns Bill’s storm tourism business and thinks nothing of risking customers’ lives to experience the things he loves – extreme peril and money. several major storms blast through, and the visuals are superb. But the story falls flat as it seems hastily edited; many ideas, themes, actions, and dialogue are incomplete so there’s a lot of guesswork for the viewer. On the plus, there’s plenty to learn about supercells and chasers, a unique, fear-averse bunch.”


Tenzin (dir. Michael LeBlanc and Joshua Reichmann 🇨🇦)


“A Toronto man called Tenzin is in psychological distress. His peace activist brother died setting himself on fire to protest China’s occupation of Tibet, a traumatizing event Tenzin rewatches online,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Tenzin describes the experience of trauma viscerally, and plainly, and how oppression has cursed the world throughout human history, via a confused young man. Wrenching.”


“Ultimately, Tenzin becomes an unfulfilling game of guess work,” shrugs Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Perhaps, it’s a portrait of a descent into mental illness. At one point, Tenzin purloins a sacred peg or dagger, known as a phurba, and shows it to a Tibetan shopkeeper, to ask her what it’s for. She explains it can block curses or subdue demons. ‘Your mind and your demons are the same,’ she explains… If the goals of meditation and mindfulness are to achieve clarity, Tenzin comes up short.”


“[T]oo much of Tenzin feels held together by the thinnest of wires, from its looping and meandering screenplay (a collaborative effort written by the directors and cast) to its regrettably shaky performances,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Eventually, an overwhelming realization arrives: This is a well-intentioned short film unfairly inflated to just barely feature-length territory. By the time that several inevitable, highly telegraphed moments arrive – including Tenzin’s confrontation with his deplorable, vaguely criminal boss – the film has depleted its energies, ambitions and sense of purpose.”


Therapy Dogs (dir. Ethan Eng 🇨🇦)


“There are things that I could nitpick about Therapy Dogs, but quite frankly, they aren’t worth their weight when considering all the aspects of the film that point to an incredible filmmaker just beginning his journey,” notes Rachel Ho at The Asian Cut. “A movie seemingly unfocused and rambling, actually has a strong narrative thread that comes together nicely in the end. The typically frenetic high school antics are mellowed with heartfelt moments between friends. Eng strikes an impressive balance in the film that speaks to a sharp eye and depth of inherent skill.”


File Under Miscellaneous


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz surveys the field of Indigenous virtual reality projects and speaks with voices in the field about the state of innovation. “Indigenous storytelling isn’t limited by the constraints of colonial infrastructure or institutionalized ideas of what that looks like, so there’s a freedom available through virtual reality that gets at that non-linear way of storytelling that’s very much suited to Indigenous narratives,” the Indigenous Screen Office’s Kerry Swanson tells Hertz.


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson unpacks the role of generational trauma in the Jane Fonda/Lily Tomlin film Moving On (the Canadian release of which is in limbo), which tackles series subject matter. “Fonda and Tomlin’s characters are both from that traditionalist silent generation, where the same stigma of having — let alone talking about — emotional baggage was prevalent,” writes Atkinson. “History has borne out that in spite of leading in self-actualization and civil rights, it’s also a cohort known for insufficient generational response to depression, postpartum depression, PTSD and assault. War veterans, for example, were sent to asylums for PTSD rather than helped within society. Women also often did not seek care for postpartum illness due to fears of being placed in a psychiatric hospital and separated from their husbands and children.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen reports on a talk by filmmaker Mike Downie, who shared details about his upcoming documentary on his late brother, singer Gord Downie, and his legacy with The Tragically Hip. “In many ways, I’ve been getting ready for this for a long time,” noted Downie as the conversation became emotional. “It was just the right amount of time since Gord had passed. Memories are still fresh.”


Canada’s Night at the Oscars


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz picks the highs, lows, and biggest yawn (Jimmy Kimmel) of the Oscars telecast. He also chats with Toronto’s Daniel Roher about his big win for Navalny. But while a bunch of wins for Canadian artists proved a high, Hertz also says it’s cause for concern: “Surely, the simple fact of watching Polley stand on-stage to hoots and hollers will inspire a profound sense of pride and imagination among this country’s struggling young artists, a feeling that any dream – even one hatched in the small-scale environs of Canada’s screen sector – can go the distance,” writes Hertz. “But there is that nagging Canadian catch, too, given that every one of our homegrown talents who was honoured Sunday night only got to the Oscars stage thanks to the bank accounts of American producers.”


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell recaps Hollywood’s big night and reports why Sarah Polley’s win for Women Talking represents a greater victory. Howell also chats with Toronto’s Oscar winner after her big night to learn about her whirlwind run on the awards circuit. “It’s been a really positive experience. It’s been wonderful, actually,” Polley tells Howell. “I really can’t find anything to complain about in terms of, you know, the experiences of rolling this film out into the world … I’ve had an embarrassing amount of fun[…]But I actually just can’t believe the sheer volume of things that one does between the time someone first sees your film at a film festival and the Oscars. It is really unbelievable, and I’ve enjoyed it all. It’s been really wonderful, but it is, you know, it’s wild.”


TV Talk/Series Scribbles: Extrapolations, Essex, and Lasso


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports on the production of the series Essex County and speaks with Canadian talents on the show including James Lemire, Andrew Cividino, and Eilis Kirwan. “It’s rare to work on a quiet human drama about ordinary people where it’s being treated in a way that’s epic and imaginative and poetic,” Kirwan tells Hertz. “So many beautiful things began to thematically and emotionally emerge.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks in to see if the stars align in Extrapolations: “AppleTV+ gathered impressive stars to remind us yet again, that we have become our own worst enemies,” writes Brodie. “The eco drama series Extrapolations, starring Meryl Streep, Sienna Miller, Kit Harington, Daveed Diggs, Edward Norton, Diane Lane, Yara Shahidi, Matthew Rhys, Gemma Chan, David Schwimmer, Keri Russell, Adarsh Gourav, Indira Varma, Marion Cotillard, Forest Whitaker, and more, takes us through the future to see if we will help ourselves or not.” Brodie also tunes into Essex County: “It’s moody and dark and aims to set itself in the same Ontario Gothic of the 2007 series Durham County.”


At That Shelf, Pat Mullen checks out the star-studded climate change drama Extrapolations. “As a sci-fi series set in the not-so-distant future and rooted in concerns ripped from the here and now, the drama is as prescient as a series can be. Oh, and Meryl Streep plays a whale,” writes Mullen. “Voiced by Meryl Streep, a whale hasn’t sounded so grand since Finding Nemo. The screen icon lends a prophetic air to the whale as the marine mammal and Rebecca chat about life, love, and loneliness. A mother herself, and one reeling from multiple losses amid the escalating climate crisis, Rebecca opens up to the whale more than she does most humans.”


At Original Cin, Liam Lacey salutes the return of Ted Lasso. “The potentially most complex storyline so far is that of Nick Mohammed’s Nathan Shelley, who betrayed Ted and his team, and now burns with paranoia and mania as he gains the accolades he craves,” writes Lacey. “Finally, there’s assistant Coach Beard (series co-creator Brendan Hunt), Ted Lasso’s deadpan alter-ego, a man of mystery, who may be the series’ secret MVP.”