Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday: Week of March 5
March 5, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
Please join us for the TFCA Awards virtual gala on Tuesday, March 9 at 8:00 pm! The show will stream via our YouTube channel, and you will be able to find the link at TorontoFilmCritics.com, as well as our Facebook and Twitter pages. We will have some stars in attendance as we reveal the winner of the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, so bring your own bubbly and enjoy the show! (And we promise it won’t be the host mess the Golden Globes were!)
In Release this Week
*Some films may be repeated due to the constantly shifting release dates and differing publication dates between outlets.*
The Affair (dir. Julius Sevcik)
“For confined viewers, escapism isn’t just about stories but a chance to experience other landscapes, other cities, other houses,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Consider the case of The Affair, a middlebrow Mitteleuropa drama from Czech director Julius Sevcik, adapted from Simon Mawer’s Booker Prize-nominated novel, The Glass Room.”
Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell (dir. Emmett Malloy)
“Biggie still remains elusive in some respects, but this doc goes beyond the mythology to show how his trajectory to fame straddled overlapping worlds, and how the specifics of his life informed his singular sound,” writes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto.
Boogie (dir. Eddie Huang)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it an “occasionally flawed film [that] is still well paced and keeps the audience’s attention focused with hardly any dull parts.”
Coming 2 America (dir. Craig Brewer)
“[A] big fish-out-of-water culture clash for all, Murphy’s showcase for elaborate music and dance celebrations, eighties-style excess and nostalgia is fun, but his prime character, King Akeem, is strangely flat and weary,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“It ain’t Shakespeare,” declares Chris Knight at the National Post. “It also ain’t especially funny.”
“You couldn’t call Coming 2 America a good movie or even a so-bad-its-good, but just puffed-up mediocre concoction with a few pockets of delight,” shrugs Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“Everyone’s here to have a good time with friends and cater to fan service, which isn’t the worst way to spend two hours,” offers Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto.
“[W]hile watching Murphy’s long-time-coming sequel Coming 2 America the other week, I felt frequent pangs of nostalgia for Norbit,” waxes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Norbit was memorably offensive. Coming 2 America is merely offensively forgettable.”
“The film’s ending where the cast goes on to show their dance moves to the tune of ‘We Are Family’ is a bit laboured and is indicative of the film’s desperation for last minute humour,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
FTA: Free the Army (dir. Francine Parker)
“Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland’s 1971 satirical review Free the Army or F.T.A. that they toured through southeast Asia during the Vietnam War was filmed and released and was quickly shuttered due to its leftist, anti-war message in a strictly right-wing era in America. The film is finally restored and re-released,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said on the retro screening.
“The doc’s greatest achievement is not the display of the variety show, but the demonstration of the power of protests – and how they can be used to send messages that change the world,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
In and Of Itself (dir. Derek Delgaudo)
“While a film can’t recreate the excitement of seeing a live show, director Frank Oz captures DelGaudio’s tricks up close,” writes Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto. “And in a few instances, Oz offers excerpts from different performances to illustrate how consistent DelGaudio is in his effects.”
Jump, Darling (dir. Philip J. Connell)
“Cloris Leachman is staggeringly beautiful in her final lead performance,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said, calling the film “an unvarnished take on familial ties, love, imbalance and the hope of healing, told without sentimentality.”
“The film is just horrid though one can see Cloris Leachman trying her best to up the film another notch,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Land (dir. Robin Wright)
“Robin Wright makes a soul-stirring debut with Land,” raves Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Land is one of those films that just grabs you emotionally, mentally, and, arguably, physically.”
“Land hangs onto its quietly lofty ambition of being a tragedy by refusing to pander to the audience by revealing too much about why Edee (Wright), a woman from the city, would decide to move alone to a remote cabin in Wyoming,” agrees Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“It looks great and it means well, but it just isn’t much of anything,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“It’s painful, bleak, and shockingly beautiful, a true grieving esthete’s meditation on life and loss,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Martha: A Picture Story (dir. Selina Myles)
“Cooper is a great character and fans of either of the Bill Cunningham films will love A Picture Story,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
The Mauritanian (dir. Kevin Macdonald)
“Though it’s a movie with an identity crisis, Rahim’s magnetic performance carries enough of The Mauritanian to make it a worthwhile watch,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin.
“[W]hile Macdonald manages to come up with one of the most impressively brutal cut-to-black endings in recent memory, the rest of this feature cannot hope to match the power of his cast,” declares Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. Hertz also speaks with Tahar Rahim and Golden Globe winner Jodie Foster about their tense drama. “I’ve never made a political movie before,” observes Foster. “I don’t really like them because most of the time they don’t honour character first, and to me that’s important.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie calls it “a tense legal and political fact-based thriller” and an “incredible, disturbing 14-year journey.”
“Rahim obviously gets a bravura monologue in the film’s final moments of unabashed soapboxing, yet Foster ultimately emerges as The Mauritanian’s secret weapon,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
“Foster and Cumberbatch are excellent. But the prize performance goes to Tahar Rahim,” offers Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[A]s The Mauritanian rolls along and the years tick by, it becomes clear the movie doesn’t really have anything to say about this particular miscarriage of justice,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
My Salinger Year (dir. Philippe Falardeau 🇨🇦)
“It’s a rare movie where the watching feels like curling up with a good book,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Some films put you on the edge of your seat. This one will make you want to settle back in it instead.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie speaks with director Philippe Falardeau and Sigourney Weaver in a video interview about their film, which opened last year’s Berlin Film Festival.
“Philippe Falardeau’s adaptation of Joanna Rakoff’s coming-of-age publishing memoir is entertaining enough, but it never feels like the Monsieur Lazhar director is excited by, or connects to, the material,” writes Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto.
“My Salinger is not bad, not the best of Falardeau’s films, but one that could have had more surprise and humour,” suggests Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“After watching the film twice in quick succession – a futile attempt at catching a glimpse of what usually makes a Falardeau film so immensely watchable,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail, “My Salinger Year ultimately lands as a mere footnote.” Hertz also speaks with Faladeau and star Sigourney Weaver about all things Salinger. “I think that Salinger is the kind of writer that we should all return to, even if this is more a story of a beautiful mentoring relationship between two women,” says Weaver.
“[T]he general public may find My Salinger Year a tad too precious for their liking,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “This gentle film is unlikely to be a hit and that’s a pity.”
Calling the film “smart, refreshing fun,” Pat Mullen at The Shelf speaks with director Philippe Falardeau about the first job that had him in suits and what inspired him to pursue film. “The book moved me because it’s about someone who has to make a choice between something that could be interesting and something she could be good at,” explains Falardeau. “I studied political science and international relations. I work in a lobbying group in Ottawa when I was very young. The job had me wearing dark suits and ties to go to work and I was 21. One day, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘Whoa, what is this?’”
Notturno (dir. Gianfranco Rosi)
“Rosi has stripped his film of all of the conventions of documentary. There are no voice-overs. There’s nothing on screen to identify where we are, or the names of the people,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “The result is a documentary that leaves space for the viewer to have their own emotional reaction.”
“Nothing violent happens in Notturno (unless one counts moments where some of Rosi’s subjects watch playback of past events on a screen), but there’s always a chance that something will happen,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “The people profiled in Notturno are tired, and in a constantly heightened state of preparedness.”
“Of a piece with Rosi’s previous films, Notturno is intensely observational and highly aestheticized, with scenes framed like classical paintings that astutely make use of negative space,” observes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto.
“Notturno is observational cinema at in its most provocative and poetic form,” raves Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “A film doesn’t need any words when the images are so strong.”
Pandemic (dir. Johnny Martin)
“A title change from Alone to Pandemic to hone in on COVID-19 pandemic does not say much for this sorry zombie movie,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Pandemic, with its contemporary vibe, resonates; a life-changing virus is familiar territory, and Posey – Teen Wolf! – and Sutherland are working it, but a zombie film is just a zombie film, with a pandemic nod,” shrugs Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Whatever the cause, let’s just say that in this Pandemic, symptoms of immunity include wild eyes, heavy breathing and acute overacting,” diagnoses Chris Knight at the National Post.
Raya and the Last Dragon (dir. Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada)
“It’s all played out on a sumptuous visual canvas, with co-directors Hall (Big Hero 6, Moana) and López Estrada (Blindspotting) orchestrating a series of set pieces that riff on everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Mad Max: Fury Road,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto says it “works like an oriental fairy tale and everyone loves a good fairytale.”
“There are some pretty fantastic battle sequences, however, with the (virtual) camera roving around in a way I can’t remember seeing in an animated movie,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post.
Sometime Other than Now (dir. Dylan McCormick)
“It’s earthy, honest, simple and true, wise and funny in its view of human nature to make the emotions stick and stay,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Stray (dir. Elizabeth Lo)
“Lo’s depiction of her wanderings (aided with a dog-cam and GPS) takes us seamlessly through the busy activities of Istanbul,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “It is, in the end, a very moving film.”
“Credit to Lo for her creation of an emotional journey,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “An unforgettable documentary revealing the life of poverty stricken strays, both canine and human.”
“It’s a meditative and humbling experience witnessing what living beings must endure through no fault of their own, to fight to survive and accept hardship as their lots in life,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Although Elizabeth Lo uses the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes’ quotes about canines throughout her film, it’s not entirely clear why she decided to make a film about stray dogs in Istanbul,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“Stray is the perfect film for animal lovers, and particularly those who recall watching Kedi and thinking: ‘What’s with all the cats?’” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “I identify as a cat person, but even so I found this one its equal in every way.”
Saying the doggie doc “invites a deeper essay on human rights and empathy,” Pat Mullen at POV Magazine speaks with director Elizabeth Lo on capturing the world from the pooches’ pov. “We tried to develop a sonic language where you hear when dogs are truly paying attention to things around them and when they’re not, especially with the human conversations that they’re tuning out despite the drama that’s around them as people talk about their marriages or political situations,” said Lo on the immersive sound design. “It puts all these human dramas in perspective because it’s grounded in the dog’s lack of understanding.”
The United States vs. Billie Holiday (dir. Lee Daniels)
“Andra Day is thrillingly gritty, real and complex as the iconic music great and political activist Billie Holiday,” declares Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“The best thing about this otherwise depressing film about drug abuse and the downward spiral of Holiday’s life [is] the rendering of her songs. Day does a marvellous job in this respect,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“I dare anyone to sit through Day’s performance of “Strange Fruit” without getting chills,” challenges at Mullen at That Shelf. “It’s a dramatic full stop in Daniels’ film—a brilliantly played direct address that leaves a viewer awestruck.”
“Daniels’ film is an exasperating mess,” groans Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Echoing that other well-known Holiday biopic, 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues…it’s a cliched showbiz drama, partially rescued by the magnetism and performance of its star.”
The World to Come (dir. Mona Fastveldt)
“A solid piece of filmmaking [that] would be a hard sell due to its depressing theme,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The World to Come is further proof that Vanessa Kirby is one of the best actresses of her generation and that Katherine Waterston is one of the most boring ones,” argues Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
Talk of the Town
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with director Danis Goulet about her sci-fi horror Night Raiders, which just wowed audiences in Berlin, and crafting dystopian tales through Indigenous perspectives. “Obviously the idea that children are the property of the state is an allegory for residential schools,” says Goulet. “But the film’s idea of moving people onto bad tracts of land is based on the reserve system, and the idea of keeping them from moving around is based on the pass system that Indigenous people were required to obey to leave their reserve, which I still don’t think many Canadians know about.”
Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto also speaks with Goulet about her landmark project, which drew the attention of executive producer Taika Waititi. “We were never supposed to have a future,” says Goulet, who adds that these types of stories are political activism because they defy an attempted genocide. “It’s actually a very powerful act just to say that we as Indigenous people have futures and will exist in the future.”
Hertz also looks at the ongoing challenges for cinema operators amid COVID. From “Popcorn-gate” to the problems in BC, operators are feeling the pinch despite following all protocols and having no traces linked to movie theatres.
At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson does a deep dive on The Sit-In and looks at the legacy of Harry Belafonte: “The documentary also never forgets that even at the height of his fame, Belafonte was a Black superstar with a white fan base at a time when racial segregation was still legal,” writes Atkinson. “In one segment, he and guest Petula Clark recount the details of a furor that erupted after she inadvertently held onto his arm during a duet on her variety show that year… Hosting The Tonight Show wouldn’t be the last time that time Belafonte leveraged fame to take an existing white institution in American culture and turn it into something that should represent his world.”
Also at Zoomer, Brian D. Johnson speaks with award season favourite 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.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with director Anders Hammer about his Oscar-shortlisted doc Do Not Split. The film is an intense portrait of the 2019 protests that broke out in Hong Kong as citizens pushed for autonomy from mainland China. “When you are there as a foreigner, you are the taking the lowest risk,” explains Hammer. “I was at risk of being randomly hit by tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, or fire bombs that were flying in different directions, but the protesters that I was following were fighting for their future. They were risking their futures, their careers, and facing the possibility of being sent to prison.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey tackles the Goethe Institut’s film series “Radical – Exiting Extremism,” running now at TIFF. He has special praise for The Renegades, a documentary about Islamic radicalization. Of the series, he writes, “The torch-carrying men chanting racist slogans at Charlottesville found their truth on the Internet. For the German kids, the source can be as close as the angry old man in the upstairs room.”