Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday: Week of March 26
March 26, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
If this week’s offerings aren’t tempting, plan ahead for Hot Docs, which begins next April. Liam Lacey recaps this week’s programming announcement, including the festival’s opening night doc by Toronto’s Ann Shin.
In Release this Week
Bad Trip (dir. Kitao Sakurai)
“It’s intense, shocking, and exhausting, and only works because of Andre’s engaging personality,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
The Courier (dir. Dominic Cooke)
“So long as you’re not expecting subversion or surprise, you can gently sink yourself into director Dominic Cooke’s intentionally, pleasantly lukewarm waters and come out the other side refreshed and squeaky-clean,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Fans of Spielberg’s urbane thriller Bridge of Spies will no doubt enjoy this very British suspense story,” suggests Chris Knight at the National Post.
“What eventually makes The Courier so engaging and entertaining a spy fluff is its choice dialogue, impeccable acting on both sides (Soviet Union and British) and period setting,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“It’s a high-stakes game that would not have succeeded without Cumberbatch’s convincing innocence and fear and diminishment as someone who meant well but was fell into a political war,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“If it had been made in the Sixties with Michael Caine as Wynne and Omar Sharif as Penkovsky, I bet we’d still be watching it now,” suggests Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
Doors (dir. Jeff Desom, Saman Kesh, and Dugan O’Neal)
“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.
“Doors are the most absurdly imagined alien life-form since The Blob. But not half the fun,” argues Thom Ernst at Original Cin.
“If you’re willing to open up, this slippery little science-fiction story will keep you guessing the response to the question: ‘Who’s there?’” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.
Enhanced (dir. James Mark 🇨🇦)
“In this stilted low-budget drama, the oddballs are being being hunted down by a government squad of stubble-faced men in matching pea jackets,” groans Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Military characters in Enhanced speak in the sort of jargon that is familiar from video games.”
Free Byrd (dir. Tony Vidal; April 1)
“Given what it is, Free Byrd is an enjoyable little flick that delivers a message that one should pay more attention to one’s parents,” encourages Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
I Am Lisa (dir. Patrick Rea)
“It’s also at the low end of low budgets, with dollar-store claws and fangs,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “This is not a deal-breaker in horror these days.”
The Iron Mask (dir. Oleg Stepchenko)
“Fill the cupboards and refrigerator with junk food, lock the doors, roll yourself a couple of fat ones and settle in for a couple of hours of stupor/reverie,” suggests Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Warning: Resist any temptation to roll the movie back to figure out what just happened; it won’t help.”
“[T]he opening chapters are pretty funny, with these masters of action battling it out in the Tower and dropping bon mots. But TBH I’m lost for the late chapters,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“For the lavish production sets and effort put into the film, Iron Mask is enjoyable for its incredible outlandishness and stupidity,” agrees Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Nobody (dir. Ilya Naishuller)
“The bad dudes in question flash their grit and moxie, but get taken down by an unimposing underdog. It’s High Noon without the countdown, Falling Down without the racial undertones (except for Russians), Death Wish without the judgment,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin, who adds that Bob Odenkirk “makes a formidable action hero.”
“Loitering on the darkest corner of Assault and Battery, somewhere between the lone wolf who is John Wick and the loving family man Liam Neeson plays in Taken is where you’ll find this brooding, violent, occasionally funny punch-’em-up,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“If the future of action cinema requires that every middle-aged actor receive their own John Wick-ian franchise in which they get to play unassuming joes who are revealed to be ballistic killers, then, yes, please do take my money,” declares Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Whether one wants to classify Nobody as a mindless guilty pleasure or not, it does take a lot of insight, thought and clever execution to deliver a solid action packed film like Nobody,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“What keeps it grounded — and undeniably entertaining — is Bob Odenkirk’s deadpan portrayal of Hutch Mansell, a regular suburban dad whose killer instincts are reawakened by a humiliating home invasion,” writes Peter Howell at Night Vision.
Senior Moment (dir. Giorgio Serafini)
“William Shatner as you’ve never seen him!” exclaims Anne Brodie at What She Said. “This isn’t Shakespeare or S.J. Perelman but it’s an OK time-waster with likeable characters, the beauty of Palm Springs and the easy-going story of elder love and baked goods.”
Shiva Baby (dir. Emma Seligman 🇺🇸/🇨🇦)
“You don’t have to be Jewish to delight in the wince-making chaos that unfolds in Shiva Baby,” advises Linda Barnard at Original Cin, who calls Emma Seligman’s feature debut a “sharply observed dark comedy.”
“Seligman and Sennott mine a great deal of uncomfortable comedy from the collision of Danielle’s personal, professional and private worlds, even though we can feel Seligman labouring to stretch her 2018 short film into a feature,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“It’s a comic buffet of awkwardness, served up lox, stock and bagels,” laughs Peter Howell at Night Vision.
“Writer/director Emma Seligman, expanding on her 2018 short of the same name, crafts a perfectly cringe-worthy 77 minutes of entertainment in Shiva Baby,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post.
Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto calls it “a discomforting film that generates few laughs or satisfaction despite the fact that the actors try quite hard to make it all work.”
Six Minutes to Midnight (dir. Andy Goddard)
“It’s not all gentility and Bennie Hill chase scenes, mind you,” advises Chris Knight at the National Post. “There’s murder and mayhem at play in this tale, built around the strange-but-true existence of Augusta Victoria College, a finishing school for German girls in the British seaside town of Bexhill.”
“[Eddie] Izzard’s passion is admirable and the story he brings to light, rather mindbending,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Six Minutes to Midnight reaches a dramatic conclusion, one fully in keeping with the events of the fall of 1939,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “This film will likely be remembered as an Izzard personal project and, as such, should enjoy a small bit of British cinematic history.”
“For those who like their spy thrillers nasty and tense, Six Minutes to Midnight will delight despite its flaws of bits of incredibility and cheap theatrics,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Six Minutes to Midnight shifts focus between classroom drama and war thriller without allowing time for either genre to take shape,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “And some of the film’s choices — a brash and perpetually angry Colonel Smith (David Schofield) and an over-the-top performance from James D’Arcy — suggests that maybe Izzard toyed briefly with making this a comedy.”
Tina (dir. T.J. Martin, Daniel Lindsay)
“The best scenes are when the directors give the footage room to deepen the story, especially during pivotal live performances or recording sessions,” writes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Magazine. “It’s a rare glimpse behind the armour.”
“The drama, great as it is, leans a bit too hard on its portrayal of the rocker as a victim,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine, comparing Tina with the biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It?. “The documentary is a redemption song. It’s a survivor’s story and a hero’s farewell.”
Four Icons of Film and Television
Canadian audiences can catch a screening of Claire Denis’s L’Intrus via NYC’s Metrograph. José Teodoro situates the film within Denis’s larger body of work: “The singularity of Denis’s cinema emerges, in part, from her willingness to simultaneously embrace the cryptic and the sensual, to be withholding with regard to orientation or the establishment of a given status quo, while being profoundly generous in her attention to bodies, movement, breath, elements, atmospheres, heat: transmitters of desire.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Anthony Hopkins on his Oscar nominated performance in The Father. The film icon looks back at his career and situates his working relationship with Florian Zeller in a wider field of directors. “There are some wonderful directors who love to control everything. Kenneth Branagh, he knows everything that he sets out to do,” says Hopkins. “Oliver Stone, he likes to do a lot of takes. But that’s okay, because he’s a perfectionist and a real wild genius. So is Spielberg. I just don’t like the screamers and the shouters. None of those directors are. They just pay tremendous, fantastical attention to detail.”
At POV Magazine, Susan G. Cole remembers the career of the late, great experimental film maverick and lesbian film icon Barbara Hammer. “For her entire career, right up until she died in 2019, Hammer put herself on cinema’s frontlines, fearlessly facing that vulnerability, whether offering audiences a full view of her genitalia or coping with her 2006 cancer diagnosis,” writes Cole. “She began making art with a visceral urge to blur the edges between her private and public life; it was a conscious choice, which never diminished.”
At NOW Toronto, Glenn Sumi speaks with Kim’s Convenience star Jean Yoon, reflects upon her head-turning nude cover from a 2000 issue, and gets her thoughts on the recent hate crimes that drew attention to anti-Asian violence. “The murders were disturbing, of course, but they were utterly predictable,” says Yoon. “I knew something like this was coming. You just had to listen to Trump’s rhetoric, the way he pronounced ‘China’ and said ‘Kung Flu’ and blamed COVID-19 on China – all of it.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey chats with Toronto’s reigning queen of indie filmmaking, Ingrid Veninger, about her collaborative COVID project One (Nine), which premieres this weekend at the FemaleEye Film Festival. “I would guarantee the film would be finished,” explains Veninger on the process. “And I wasn’t going to work, orchestrate, shape or inform the creative work in any way. But I was absolutely assuring every participant that this project will not fail, and we won’t wait for funding or permission and we will absolutely finish it. And at the end, hopefully, it will be something we will all like and be proud of.”
One of this year’s Cineplex Emerging Critic Award winners, Mark Hanson, speaks with the prince of Montreal’s DIY scene, Terry Chiu, about her new Canuxploitation opus Open Doom Crescendo, the cult hit Mangoshake, and drawing inspiration from his surroundings. “Suburbia was one of those seminal times of thinking that there’s some more romantic version of life that you can retroactively tap into. But then that’s a treachery because it’s a lie. It only exists for the people who were there to begin with, right?” explains Chiu, noting how growing up in the less glamorous pockets of Montreal informed his work. “This was the formative experience of honoring my lived urban experience through the raw yet sincere aesthetic and thematic ethos of my creative work. I’ll take dirty and real over clean and fake any day, whether real life or creation-wise.”
At The Globe and Mail, Joahnna Schneller profiles Lord of the Rings star Orlando Bloom and wonders where he fits in amid the palm trees of L.A. “Bloom may have been the most gorgeous fella in his native Canterbury, Kent, but what makes him stand out in a place where everyone is gorgeous?” writes Schneller. “He’s gone as far west as he can, dangling his toes off the edge of North America, and he has all the things people dream of: money, check; access, check; adoration, check. What is left to want?”
TV Talk – Mighty Ducks and Invincible
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out the return of everyone’s favourite hockey team in The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. “Totally heartwarming, non-sugary and entertaining, shot in Vancouver and starring Canadian Kiefer O’Reilly and one of the funniest kids in the biz, Maxwell Simkins, Estevez’ old magic returns and it’s just a warm hug,” says Brodie. She also interviews mighty Canuck Kiefer O’Reilly. Meanwhile, the CBC doc Big News, tackles mainstream media and misinformation. “[Daniel] Dale, who covered Rob Ford and calls himself a ‘fact-checker’ relates his experiences in Canadian and American news that will curl your hair. And of course, the polarisation of the pandemic and, well, face masks,” notes Brodie. For something a bit more upbeat, Brodie recommends the “snazzy new animated series” Invincible starring Nepean homegirl Sandra Oh. “You’ll spend a good deal of time looking up characters to find the actor, which kind of adds to the fun,” says Brodie.
At NOW, Norm Wilner looks at the new series The Slowest Show, which riffs on the styles of Roy Andersson and the motley crew of Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson with a series of long shot vignettes that invite viewers to decode the action of each episode. “Conceptually, it’s ingenious; each 20-minute episode depends on meticulous timing that doesn’t call attention to itself, with the actors setting up gags that won’t pay off until they’re in a different physical space,” writes Wilner. He also looks at Invincible and agrees with Anne, saying the animated series “has fun up-ending traditional concepts of superhero team-ups while also building a rich and unpredictable cast of characters.”