Reviews include Across the Spider-Verse, Bones of Crows, and Close to Vermeer.
TFCA Friday: Week of March 31
March 31, 2023
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Colorblind (dir. Mostafa Keshvari; Apr. 4 🇨🇦)
“The magic question this film tries to answer is whether a supreme faddist can change? The film, however, is not effective in its second half when it tries to show Walton’s conversion from racism to sympathetic human being,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves
(dir. John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein)
“[A] wise decision on the filmmakers’ part, to treat the movie as a fairytale fantasy, similar in vein to Rob Reiner’s highly successful fairy tale epic The Princess Bride,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The film contains all the elements of a solid fairy tale including a magical troubled Kingdom, adventure, journeys, heroes and villains.”
The First Step (dir. Brandon Kramer)
“[The] film also takes pains to emphasize the frustrations than Jones undergoes in his thankless task of prison reform – which is indeed inspiring,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis (dir. Gianfranco Rosi)
“I’m not a Catholic but it’s always impressive to see a miracle. Award-winning director Gianfranco Rosi has performed one, making a relevant film about the current Pope, Francis, delivering messages of peace and hope to a world ravaged by war and suffering,” praises Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “He has not white-washed Francis’ problems at all. In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis could have been a throwaway piece. It’s not.”
“In Viaggio — which is neither a Vatican public relations film nor an exposé — is essentially a chance to go along for the papal ride,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Director Rosi, a 59-year-old New York-based Italian, has won major awards in Europe for his observational films of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, the conflict at the Mexican-U.S. border and Mideast war zones, plus regions of suffering where the pope, too, has journeyed over the past decade. Rosi’s unobtrusive approach offers scraps of evidence for both believers and skeptics.”
“[The] film’s message is subtly brought to the audience without the use of voiceover,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Director Rosi arranges his sequence of footage that emphasizes certain points. He ends many of the papal visits with the speeches of Pope Francis that summarize how he feels of the different situations.”
Kill Boksoon (dir. Byun Sung-hyun)
“Kill Boksoon is best described as a poor man’s (or rather woman’s) version of hit-man martial-arts action flick series John Wick, but with a little more story, which could be as good as it is bad,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Murder Mystery 2 (dir. Jeremy Garelick)
“Sandler and Aniston make a culpable and adorable couple, bickering half the time while still supporting each other humorously,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “As far as whodunits go, there is a marvellous segment where the half dozen suspects all enter one by one into the couple’s room to reveal a secret about another, each hiding somewhere in the vast room before another appears. The comedy is funny enough with many laugh-out-loud moments.”
“Honestly, by this point in the streaming wars, I can only admire Sandler for exploiting the system to make gobs of money for himself and his buds, including Aniston, whose appearance here marks her third collaboration with the Sand Man, now tying the actor’s previous onscreen paramour, Drew Barrymore, for easy paydays,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “So long as Sandler also makes the time now and then to star in genuinely interesting films for Netflix (The Meyerowitz Stories, Uncut Gems, Hustle), then no one is being hurt. Except audiences who should know better by now.”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes chats with stars Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler about friendship, Face Time and olives, along with their co-stars Jodie Turner and Enrique Arce about collaborating with the comedy vets. ““I was surprised at how down to earth and cool and fun they are. I didn’t necessarily see that coming,” Turner-Smith tells Fernandes. “I think a lot of times when you see actors that have been doing it for a long time, and that have been doing it at a certain level for a long time, there’s a certain level of separation from them and the rest of us. And with those two, it wasn’t like that at all. I mean, they were just so cool, wonderful and amazing. I just felt so welcomed.”
Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV (dir. Amanda Kim)
“Paik’s whimsical attempts to shock a la Cage included a robot with breasts and a penis, walking the streets of New York, with JFK’s “Ask not what you can do for your country…” speech on repeat, and a topless cello performance by his accomplice of choice Charlotte Moorman that saw the police step in and make arrests,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Kim provides a splendid tour of his works (my favourite is TV Buddha, in which a statue of the Buddha is seen to be watching an image of himself on TV (via a camera pointed at him from behind the TV).”
“While Paik’s art might have gone right over my head, Kim’s realization of Paik’s life successfully digs into the how and why of Paik,” notes Rachel Ho at POV Magazine. “Nam June Paik is the portrait of a man who influenced countless new artists around the world, and, maybe more importantly, is a film that understands and shares the importance of art to a society’s health.”
Okay! (The ASD Band Film) (dir. Mark Bone 🇨🇦)
“Director Mark Bone deftly blends the ASD Band’s musical pursuits with an intimate study of autism and the impact that it has on the family of each member,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “As insightful as it is entertaining, Okay! takes a cue from its participants. It marches to the beat of its own drum. The doc eschews the pacing and structure of a conventional music doc and is the better for it. It’s loud and occasionally shrill, as exhausting as it is enlightening, yet exuberantly immersive. Okay! brilliantly drops viewers into its characters’ world to afford a clear sense of music’s ability to transform their lives.”
Pathu Thaala (dir. Obeli N. Krishna)
“[T]he typical overlong Indian feature that comes complete with Bollywood dance sequences, songs and crazy action,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Rye Lane (dir. Raine Allen-Miller)
“The easy comparison would be Before Sunset meets Lovers Rock (and in fact Steve McQueen gets a mid-film shout-out), but Rye Lane is a cut above a mere cinematic mixtape,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “With charming performances, sparkling dialogue and the kind of vibrant and consistently inventive vision of a filmmaker with epic ambitions, Rye Lane is a genuine delight. And take note, aspiring rom-com directors: You can do the entirety of a boy-meets/loses/wins back-girl arc in less than 83 minutes.”
Space Oddity (dir. Kyra Sedgewick)
“Sedgwick’s direction is supple and authentic, the film could easily be too sweet or unbelievable but it’s not,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “She effortlessly focuses on the story’s profundity and conversely, has a light touch. Kudos to Bacon’s brother Travis and Scott Hedrick for a suitably beautiful, otherworldly score.”
Spinning Gold (dir. Timothy Scott Bogart)
“Spinning Gold is ambitious: it aims to paint a picture of this influential character, his romantic life and the trajectory of his career as he rose through the music industry – apparently on an abundance of talent and an ability to market the heck out of artists and records,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Unfortunately, love and enthusiasm doesn’t automatically add up to a good movie. The ideas here are well thought through, but the execution is tonally wonky, at times feeling like a stage musical translated to the screen. At other times, it comes across like a Hallmark movie.”
“Despite the spirited and frequent dramatic set-pieces, Bogart’s film drags on and one feels that a lot of hogwash could be eliminated. Neil Bogart was likely the same way in reality,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Spinning Gold is sentimental about Neil Bogart. We see him supporting his luckless hustler of a father and somehow treating his ex-wife lovingly,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The storyline, such as it is, revolves around Bogart’s increasing indebtedness to the Mafia until Donna Summers and disco saves the day. You find yourself cheering along as this hustling record executive makes Kiss into a superstar rock group and turns Casablanca Records into a multi-million dollar enterprise.”
Tetris (dir. Jon S. Baird)
“Who would have imagined that the story of the launch of a video game and hand-held device would involve international cloak and dagger, murder, billionaires, espionage, nerve-shredding chases, escapes, hits and threats, and the inhumane policies of the Cold War era Soviet Union?” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Not me. Director Jon S. Baird has created a dynamic version of this incredible true story with the lightning pace and feel of Tetris itself.”
“The film has nice touches and unravels like a video game with an introduction such as Level 1, 1980 and ending with a winner announced as Henk Rogers, video game style,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Unfortunately, despite Egerton’s most dedicated efforts to pump some life into his hero, Rogers is the blandest kind of capitalist hero. Meanwhile, the various Soviets and Brits caught up in the Tetris antics are just one graphics card away from being Super Mario Bros.-ready boss-level villains,” sighs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Game over, man. Game over.”
A Thousand and One (dir. A.V. Rockwell)
“Teyana Taylor gives a blistering performance for the ages, radiating both a momma bear ferocity and rich vulnerability,” says Courtney Small at That Shelf. “Carrying hope for the future, while repeatedly getting squeezed by the disappoints of the present, she constantly forces the audience to re-evaluate the dynamics of Inez and Terry’s relationship. When Inez tells her son, ‘I saw someone who needed me. But maybe I’m the who needed you,’ the emotional punch it delivers feels well earned.”
“By the time the new drama A Thousand and One draws to a close on the heels of a whale of a twist, there is the distinct sense that the most remarkable aspect of the story is about to get started just as the cameras stop rolling.,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “The beforementioned twist in A Thousand and One — which won the grand jury prize: dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival last January where it premiered — feels like the key that would unlock something vastly more interesting than what’s ultimately presented here. If that sounds vague, that’s because that’s how this movie feels, strong performances notwithstanding.”
“Teyana Taylor twitches like a raw nerve as Inez, 22, a determined single mom in the NYC of 1994. Newly released from prison, she finds that even being a hairdresser is hard if you have a criminal record. She claims she’s trying to ‘stay out of trouble,’ but she rashly decides that her six-year-old son, Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola), should be with her rather than in the foster care he’s been in while she was in jail,” writes Peter Howell at Night Vision. “Taylor is terrific in a role that doesn’t seek our sympathy and rarely commands it. But it’s the three kids who play her son over the years, especially Josiah Cross, who really seize the heart.”
The Tutor (dir. Jordan Ross)
“[S]exy, creepy, stylish, occasionally smart and entertaining, aided by good solid performances,” remarks Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It is an odd film that appears not to follow rules which include a few sick scenes such as student and tutor uncomfortable obsessional relationships. But it is this weirdness and style that makes this film stand out. Whether for good or bad, the film tries and credit to the director for that.”
The Unheard (dir. Jeffrey A. Brown)
“The film, unfortunately falls apart during the last 20 minutes, when the film takes a 180 degree turn with the identity of the slasher killer suddenly revealed and Chloe suddenly realizing the fact and begins running from him,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat, and Tears?
(dir. John Scheinfeld)
“This is one hell of a tale for which there has not been much told,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The documentary footage had to be smuggled out to avoid seizure but was never made. This doc’s makers found footage and went down the rabbit hole for this astonishing tale.”
File Under Miscellaneous
At POV Magazine, Marc Glassman considers the role of the “displaced narrator” as seen in recent Canadian documentaries Freedom from Everything, Mis dos voces, and Geographies of Solitude. “For many years, I have been thinking about this technique of having a ‘displaced narrator.’ Unlike classic ‘voice-of-god’ docs, the viewer doesn’t feel that they are being lectured to,” writes Glassman. “We’re not expected to be passive recipients; the hope is that the viewer will be part of the construction of the work. Much of the fun—and the form has a game-like aspect to it—often resides in the quirky character of the narrator. We’re introduced to a world that is curiously subjective, bound by the imagination and reminiscences of the voice—or voices—leading us on our way. Nothing is being foisted upon you. The beauty lies in its elusiveness and personality as well as its freedom to float between subjectivity and objectivity.”
At Night Vision, Peter Howell offers five takeaways from the trailer debut of Wes Anderson’s star-studded Cannes selection Asteroid City. “Asteroid City was shot on Kodak film, a rarity in the digital world of 2023,” notes Howell. “It accounts for the bright colours and sunny sheen of the film, which was lensed on Arriflex cameras — which incidentally is the same brand (but not same camera) used by Jean-Luc Godard for his seminal 1960 crime drama Breathless, one of the greatest of all French films. Another wink to the programmers of Cannes, perhaps?”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Canadian Film Fest Brings the CanCon
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell previews the Canadian Film Festival and gets some words with director Ashleigh Rains about this year’s slate. “We’re always mindful of what we’re programming and we try to represent as many diverse voices in our programming as possible,” Rains tells Howell. ““But this year, 66 per cent of our features are directed by women. So it’s no surprise to me that women-led films feature a female protagonist at the core.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey checks out the line-up at the Canadian Film Fest including Retrograde: “Director Adrian Murray’s clever minimalist dramedy follows Molly (Molly Reisman), who we first meet as she is receiving a traffic ticket for pulling in front of a police car on the 401,” writes Lacey. “Shot with long takes, this funny film is a painful spectacle of someone convinced that her willpower can change reality.”
TV Talk/Series Scribbles: Kiefer, Rob, and Witnesses
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller chats with Rabbit Hole star Kiefer Sutherland about his latest spy game and the complicated history of 24. “It went from being Bill Clinton’s favourite TV show to John McCain’s,” Sutherland tells Schneller. “Poor Howard Gordon – he’s a left-democrat thinking guy, so proud to have met Barack Obama, and suddenly his biggest fans were the political right. There was a point toward the end where he and I tried to stay in our bubble of why we were making the show, and not pay attention to what some people were praising about it.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie highly recommends the return of Rob Lowe in Unstable: “Witty, warm, fun, and fascinating to watch Lowe go batsh*t cray cray, never hurt a soul, and live his best, confused life until he can express his grief.” Meanwhile, Beef looks at these crazy times. “Talk about capturing the uncivil zeitgeist!” exclaims Brodie.
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen looks at the short documentary series Witness directed by Amar Wala, Yasmine Mathurine, and Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize winner Carol Nguyen, which looks at the stories behind viral videos: “While the systems might not be changing, Witness suggests that the speed with which technology evolves may inspire a generation of citizens who are more aware of the world around them and will be agents of change to shake the status quo,” writes Mullen.