Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday: Week of March 19
March 19, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
But first – congratulations to Johanna Schneller on her National News Award nomination in the Arts and Entertainment / Culture category!
In Release this Week
Above Suspicion (dir. Phillip Noyce)
“I wonder if southerners are offended by these frequent portrayals as trailer poverty cases, murderous goons and drug addicts?” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Watch in daylight.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says it’s “a boring film that seems to be made just because it is based on a true story.”
“You can see the concentration of that dramatic juggling act on her face, which unfortunately distracts from accepting her as a drug-addicted, vengeful trailer park femme fatale,” admits Original Cin’s Jim Slotek on Emilia Clarke’s “Kentucky-fried” performance.
Dolphin Island (dir. Mike Disa)
“It’s an eyeful and appropriate for older kids and teens,” recommends Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Doors (dir. Jeff Desom, Saman Kesh, and Dugan O’Neal; Mar. 23)
“Doors is a mixed bag of tricks that do not for the most time work,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Doors is one freaky and exhilarating experience, the three chapters set the stage for understanding but as usual, the humans stomp all over things they don’t understand,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Enforcement (dir. Anders Olholm and Frederik Louis Hviid)
“As effective as Enforcement is on a visceral level, it comes up short in any deeper reflection on the social crisis of its premise. Yes, there is character development — the bad cop shows his compassionate side, and the good one abandons his principles under fire,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah writes that the film “is action packed and illustrates the problems of violent youth crime as observed from both the police’s and victims’ points of view.”
The Father (dir. Florian Zeller)
*Nominated for two TFCA Awards: Best Supporting Actress and Best First Feature.*
“Finally, Canadian audiences can see this masterclass in acting,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Superior performances span realism, imagination, disarray and stabbing pain as the floor falls out from under them.”
“Director/co-writer Florian Zeller, adapting his stage play, exhibits the psychodramatic rigour of Michael Haneke or Stanley Kubrick, but also compassion and real understanding of mental-health issues,” raves Peter Howell at The Star.
“The brilliant Zeller gaslights his own audience just as life is gaslighting Anthony,” praises Kate Taylor at The Globe and Mail.
“The film is masterfully cast,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Colman anchors the supporting players with her portrayal of the dutiful daughter.”
“The Father is a compelling, illusionary story about aging’s disorienting symptoms. It is a masterpiece of structure, narrative, editing, and performance,” declares Thom Ernst at Original Cin.
“And the actors – both Hopkins and Colman have been nominated for Oscars here – are brilliant,” notes Glenn Sumi at NOW Magazine. “Colman’s expressive face registers all the emotions Anne is going through, while Hopkins, often cast as a strong, controlling character, captures the fear, frustration and anger of a man whose grip on reality is gradually slipping away.”
“[A] simple story about old age sensitively and beautifully told and with raw emotions,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “I have viewed the film a second time after 3 months and the film still packs a punch!”
At Zoomer, Brian D. Johnson speaks with Oscar nominee Olivia Colman about her performance in The Father, passing The Crown to Imelda Staunton, and finding fame later in her career. “I’m pleased it happened a bit later,” says Colman. “Too much attention too young must be really difficult to cope with and stay level-headed. Lots of amazing people do manage to keep it together. Also, when you get more work when you’re older, they’re not comparing me to a young me.”
“The dialogue is short, precise, funny, poignant and vicious,” gabs Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “It has been rightly compared to that of Harold Pinter, the master of turning the ordinary into the uncanny.”
Food Club (dir. Barbara Topsøe-Rothenborg)
Food Club “manages to avoid the worst movie clichés about women of a certain age: Too often older women are used as story fodder, sacrificial lambs to someone else’s happiness, diminished or treated as a bit pathetic,” observes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “For all of its predictability, one of the best things about Food Club is that it treats the characters with respect.”
“A good lesson for all of us,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said, praising the film’s “often charming, eye-opening and honest look at growing older, the meaning of friendship and striving to better our lives.”
Happily (dir. BenDavid Grabinski)
“Grabinski’s mining the same vein of progressive unease as Richard Kelly does in movies like Donnie Darko, Southland Tales and The Box, albeit in a less metaphysical sense,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
Loro (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
“[M]ost of the film has a one-note quality,” says Susan G. Cole at NOW Magazine. “It’s bold, wildly profane and some of the images are spectacular – but it doesn’t work.”
“A remarkable though flawed visual achievement and equally nasty exposé of a very egoistic and nasty man,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Operation Varsity Blues (dir. Chris Smith)
“The film doesn’t make an argument for free post-secondary education, but it certainly invites it by illustrating how brazenly the current system rewards a privileged few,” notes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says it “might appear too crowd pleasing and commercial for it to be classified with top docs or films based on true events, but it is still an entertaining and informative watch.”
Passage (dir. Sarah Baril Gaudet 🇨🇦)
“The director takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to these young people’s lives,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It almost feels like a loosely scripted drama, albeit one with the most meandering of plots.”
Rose Plays Julie (dir. Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor)
“The film is strong enough in performance and direction to survive any discrepancies between the social drama it begins as with the revenge thriller it becomes,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Still, Rose Plays Julie‘s sudden turn of events feels like an intrusion on a better story.”
“[A] compulsive but slow rewarding watch, and one must be prepared to give one’s full attention to the film to reap the film’s rewards,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Violation (dir. Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli 🇨🇦)
“Sexually explicit and unrelentingly gruesome, Violation is a movie about a woman working her way through trauma as methodically and horribly as possible,” praises Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
“Violation is an assured, expertly crafted piece of storytelling, and I’m excited to see what its makers do next,” applauds/shudders Chris Knight at the National Post. “I’m just not sure I want to invite viewers into its darkness. You’ve been warned.”
“Too many things shown going on, on the screen in a story in which little happens in a pretentious, slow burn of a pretentious psychological drama.” – Gilbert Seah, Afro Toronto
“Sims-Fewer is the straw that stirs the drink in this subtext-laden narrative,” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “She gives a haunting performance starring in a movie she co-directed, co-produced and co-wrote (with Dusty Mancinelli). And she changes up and muddies the typical revenge narrative (despicable person does despicable thing and we wait for their comeuppance with gleeful, and maybe shameful, anticipation).”
“While a brutal scene of nausea-inducing violence is at the film’s centre, Violation’s fractured tale deftly builds a portrait of the complicated role that intimacy plays in silencing acts of sexual violence,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf, who speaks with Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli about ruining ice cream for everyone. “I remember moments from my childhood with my siblings,” said Sims-Fewer. “The ice cream truck would come and you’d hear that the little tune. You get excited and it’s just a childlike thing between siblings.”
“Stylistically stomach-churning and narratively turbulent, this debut feature from Canadian filmmakers Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli has all the hallmarks of a TIFF Midnight Madness classic – though I was glad that no one this past September had to endure its nightmare vision in the late hours of the night surrounded by an auditorium of strangers, because they just might have been scarred for life,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
Wojnarowicz: F*ck You F*ggot F**ker (dir. Chris McStim)
“Art isn’t necromancy though director Chris McKim’s finds some dark mojo in documentary Wojnarowicz: F**k You, You F*ggot F**ker, resurrecting the prickly, passionate spirit of the late New York multimedia artist, David Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992 at the age of 37,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“But (Wojnariwicz) said when he lived, the number one thing in his life was his art, and on that note, that is what he had left as a legacy of his life,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “This is the essence director McKim achieves in his otherwise riveting documentary.”
“By using only audio narration and archival imagery, the film evokes the grittiness and tenuousness of New York City in the 80s, a transitional time when artists like Wojnarowicz were on the cusp of mainstream success, ironically just as AIDS was cutting their lives tragically short,” observes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto.
“This is a patched and scratched illustration of an artist’s ability to defy the establishment by staying true to his voice,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “It does for profile docs what Sharon Needles did for season four of Drag Race.”
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (dir. Zack Snyder)
Calling the cut “a marvellously surreal act of corporate synergy-slash-apology,” Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail writes, “It is still by no means a great film, even compared against the standards of contemporary superhero cinema, which is bleeding any sense of individual artistry and purpose each passing year.”
Jason Gorber at That Shelf chats with the film’s cinematographer Fabian Wagner about the film’s wild social media origin story, shooting Gang of Thrones, and fandom.
Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine calls the redux “exactly twice as long and at least five times more self-important” than the non-Snyder cut, adding, “Too long; didn’t read: Zack Snyder’s Justice League is basically critic-proof, since it’s pitched directly at super-fans who will receive it as the lost masterwork they always knew it to be.” Also at NOW Magazine, Radheyan Simonpillai interviews Zack and Deborah Snyder about the Rotten Tomatoes effect, fandom, and how they too would like to purge Batman v. Superman from existence.
Where or When Can Canucks See Movies?
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz unpacks the surprises and snubs of this week’s Oscar nominations (they’ll leave us truly satisfied!) and wonders what the point of it all means when few audiences can actually see the films. “The Oscars do feel all so very small and curious a thing when so much of the film industry, and the world, is mired in chaos and confusion,” admits Hertz.
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller looks at the upcoming movies that hope to be in theatres if the COVID curve flattens, or in digital release if it doesn’t. However, the previous year of blink-and-they’re-changing release dates and theatre closures makes a forecast tricky. “The United States is far ahead of Canada in COVID-19 vaccinations, and their theatres are reopening much more quickly,” writes Schneller, noting that Americans will likely get Cruella and A Quieter Place on the big screen. “Meanwhile, we in Canada probably will be stuck in a much, well, quieter place. What if our theatres are still dark? Will Paramount, Disney and the other studios be willing to forego big box office returns, and make those titles available here if we can only watch them at home?
SXSW – Streaming from Austin!
At Toronto Franco, Gilbert Seah reviews 15 films at SXSW. Highlights include the Canadian immigration drama Islands, which wears its heart on its sleeve. “It is hard to dislike a film like this, that pays tribute to the country where the film is from and one that shows the sincerity of a family,” writes Seah.
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with director Amar Chebib, director of the short doc Joe Buffalo, along with the titular subject who is an actor (Luk’Luk’I) and residential school survivor. Hertz also looks at the glut of “pandemic productions” birthed by a year of quarantine blahs and limitations. “No fewer than nine SXSW titles tackle the pandemic, and while you cannot help but admire the tenacity and resourcefulness of filmmakers painted into a COVID-19 corner,” writes Hertz, “the resulting work should also compel artists of all stripes to take a breath and ask themselves if, truly, they are creating work out of purpose or because they’re bored.” Paging Zendaya!
TV Talk: Falcons and Winter Soldiers
Enduring the latest entry in the Marvel Televisual Universe, Barry Hertz tunes into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier just as the credits for Wandavision roll: “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is Marvel Studios’ latest bid to reassure its fan base that the best Avengers adventures are no longer restricted to the big screen – producers can provide all the necessary thrills and heroics and gotta-watch-’em-all moments of MCU continuity on Disney+, too.”
Anne Brodie has been very busy watching shows at What She Said, beginning with Falcon. (“The six-parter is heavily emotional, with the losses of the past, the mess of things and the toll on the heroes.”) Even better action may be found in Acorn’s Badlands. (“The series is explosive, starts with a bang and holds its fire, a smart, solid and unnerving procedural stranger than fiction.”) Apple’s innovative audio-and-electronic-artwork series Calls, meanwhile, offers something strange and new. (“It’s haunting and hung on me for days, and I dreamed about it, or in it or something.”) The second season of Breeders, similarly, is all about the words. (“Paul’s shouting and swearing is the series’ new soundtrack and he adds it’s about loving one’s children but also wanting to kill them.”) Finally, The Strand continues the tradition of poorly adapting Stephen King novels. (“Somehow this isn’t really what I want to watch in the throes of COVID 19, especially as it’s not a great adaptation.”)