Reviews include Across the Spider-Verse, Bones of Crows, and Close to Vermeer.
TFCA Friday: Week of May 12
May 12, 2023
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
BlackBerry (dir. Matt Johnson 🇨🇦)
“BlackBerry is a wildly fascinating story and well told, reminiscent of Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network and Steve Jobs,” writes Marriska Fernandes at the Toronto Star. Fernandes speaks with director Matt Johnson and the cast about the made-in-Canada story. “This is what it was like for me to be a filmmaker with my friends,” Johnson tells Fernandes. “I’m actually making a movie about myself and what it’s like to struggle to do something that you think is important, and then have success and have that success destroy your life.”
“Blackberry is nevertheless a new career peak for Johnson, who has played with the documentary form in his splendid previous films, The Dirties and Operation Avalanche,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. Howell also shares why Blackberries are his favoruite fruit: “I used to rock my BlackBerry like a Star Wars lightsaber. I could file a story to the Star from anywhere, including the Cannes, Sundance and Toronto film festivals, because my CrackBerry felt like an extension of my hands. No other smartphone felt so good and I’ve tried ’em all.”
“Matt Johnson’s taut, entertaining, and alarming film Blackberry looks at the origins of the once beloved thumb-powered device that hypnotised the ’90s, created in Waterloo, Ontario,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s a colossal story, a Greek myth about rage, greed, naïveté, and exploitation that thuds, landing hard on the earth from a great height. Johnson’s script is sensational, his direction is mature and flawless. There is nothing to fault here, in the telling of this decidedly un-Canadian Canadian story. Apparently, it’s fictionalised. Drop everything and see it in a theatre near you.”
“Everything about this corporate rise-and-fall story screams America —larger-than-life personas, conspicuous consumption, private jets and heist-movie pacing, not to mention literal screaming from several of the powerful, high-strung characters,” observes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Ah, but scratch the surface and it bleeds maple-leaf red — Shopper’s Drug Mart, Bank of Montreal, Waterloo, hockey. There’s a small role for Canadian Saul Rubinek and a much larger one for Jay Baruchel. And that’s because BlackBerry is a made-in-Canada tale, the story of Research in Motion, the Waterloo company now known as BlackBerry.”
“The story of BlackBerry is both inspiring and disheartening. Canada has never been in short supply of ingenuity and know-how, and BlackBerry brilliantly exemplifies this,” exclaims Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. Ho also speaks with director Matt Johnson about bringing this Canadian tale to the screen: “These guys were flawed and heroic in all the same ways that a lot of these types of lionized tech heroes are in movies, and nobody knew who they were,” Johnson tells Ho. “So I thought, ‘This is perfect for me.’ It’s going to be a way for me to indulge my Canadian [identity], while at the same time telling something that has some international relevance.”
“As a film, BlackBerry is an odd-ball: a business story with a fascinating narrative arc but it’s not a satire and only latterly, a drama. We know little about the personal lives of Balsillie and Lazaridis and aren’t made to feel anything much towards them,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Perhaps BlackBerry is a comedy of ambition, telling us what happens when you shoot for the moon, only to end up back on the ground. Considering that Balsillie, Lazaridis and Fregin are multimillionaires and BlackBerry still makes a huge profit, their re-entry to Planet Earth certainly was aided by golden parachutes. Still, I bet that in their heart of hearts everyone involved with BlackBerry wishes that they still had possession of the most important smartphone in the world.”
“An excellent example of Canadian moviemaking that does almost everything right, especially in acting, directing, and writing,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It makes modern Canadian history and high-tech both entertaining and enjoyable to watch. BlackBerry will undoubtedly be a strong contender for the Toronto Film Critics Association Best Canadian Feature next year.”
“This is a relentlessly live-wire film…BlackBerry is funny, fast and nerve-rattling. And it is always – always – intensely entertaining,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. Hertz also chats with the film team about tackling this madcap underdog story: “Even in the moments that I was most frustrated or sweating my ass off under the wig, I knew we were making something awesome,” [Jay] Baruchel tells Hertz. “It was like playing cops and robbers – we’re not doing a job, we’re making something crazy and fun in the backyard. And Matt will just go until he finds the thing, which ends up being better because you keep refining and distilling.”
“While BlackBerry bristles with chaotic comedic energy, Baruchel’s performance as Mike Lazaridis is no joke,” says Eli Glasner at CBC. “The insular inventor is far from the elastic-faced characters we’ve come to expect. There are no easy jokes, no punchlines to release the tension. Instead Baruchel channels his energy into Lazaridis’s obsessive drive to make ‘the best phone in the world.’ Indeed, the only moments the engineer truly comes to life are when there’s a problem to solve such as a hissing intercom, or finding a way to squeeze more data packets into cell tower.” Glasner also does a set visit and chats with the team on the Canadian story that changed the world.
Book Club: The Next Chapter (dir. Bill Holderman)
“What makes it worthwhile is how the fab four gamely embrace the broad humour, cheesy slapstick and telegraphed punchlines laid out for them as they treat Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist as a beacon, and see signs or omens of fate everywhere (including the succession of planes, trains and automobiles),” notes Nathalie Atkinson at Zoomer, situating the film among depictions of female friendship. “The palpable ease of Fonda, Bergen, Steenburgen and Keaton’s charisma and chemistry together reminded me of something that pop culture commentators Tom and Lorenzo recently observed about the Star Trek: Picard ensemble: what made the third and final season so thrilling is the combined professional and personal history of the cast, which adds to the emotional weight on screen. The women of Book Club have that shared history with one another, in previous configurations…and also individually with the audience through long careers in the public eye.”
“The wardrobe is to die for – beautiful fabrics and cuts, especially Keaton’s whose signature style is always eccentrically swoon-worthy. The script is underwhelming, unfortunately – tossing around trite platitudes and pap. It gets sappy fast, it’s slight but harmless and has with enough blue jokes to keep you awake,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A better, more complex, witty script would have gone a long way for these deserving stars.”
“To be clear, Book Club: The Next Chapter is not a good movie by any standards except for its appeal to audiences old enough to fondly remember every cast member in their prime (I’m raising my hand here). Anyone born after Murphy Brown will see a predictable, forgettable series of non-adventures,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Okay, zoomer. No argument here about the contrivances and the lack of much of anything happening en route to the last act. But there is a tone of sweetness to that act, in which love conquers all in all directions.”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernades chats with stars Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen about playing BFFs: “We are friends, we care for each other and we tell each other the truth, most of the time,” Fonda tells Fernandes. “The scenes seemed very real. It was like the movie didn’t end and then there’s real life that blended together while we were there… “Women aren’t afraid of asking for help and crying in each other’s arms, hugging each other and giving each other comfort and advice. Men never ask for help.”
“[S]trictly for fans of Fonda, Keaton, Bergen and Steenburgen,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “And even then – there is a huge strain to enjoy this sequel as the original was barely passable.”
Call Me Kate (dir. Lorna Tucker)
“If Katharine Hepburn has never inspired you, this doc on Hepburn certainly will inspire you and with great admiration for her determination, ability and body of work delivered with a huge dose of nostalgia,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Employee of the Month (dir. Veronique Jadin)
“Employee of the Month is a small little film with a big message that is delivered through humour and with the added entertainment of an accident that has to be covered up,” writes Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco.
Little Richard: I Am Everything (dir. Lisa Cortés)
“Lisa Cortés delivers the definitive documentary on a complicated icon, a man of bisexual passions and partners, who praised God yet couldn’t stop singing the ‘devil’s music’ of censor-baiting songs like ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Good Golly Miss Molly,’” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “He was tragically considered almost a novelty act at the time of his death at 87 in 2020, but this engaging doc goes a long way toward justifying the man’s famous boast: ‘I am the originator. I am the emancipator. I am the architect of rock ’n’ roll.’”
“For a man who told others constantly to ‘shut up,’ Richard had plenty to say, and at its best, this doc gives voice to the man and his music. As a taste of what he meant, the film does well, but as a truly deep dive it perhaps doesn’t quite live up to the ‘everything’ in the title about this most remarkable of individuals,” writes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine.
The Longest Goodbye (dir. Ido Mizraky)
“For those of us who aren’t rocket scientists, it’s easy to assume the biggest hurdle to sending people to Mars is vehicle propulsion. Ido Mizrahy’s riveting doc, a Canada/Israel co-production, suggests isolation looms larger: How will humans handle being locked inside a van-sized spacecraft for three years, cut off from family and friends?” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Future Mars travellers, as soon as a decade from now, might be put into hibernation before space travel and/or have AI companions to fly with. The questions are all the more urgent, given next year’s Artemis II moon mission, a prelude to Mars travel.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with director Ido Mizrahy about his grounded space movie. “If the psychologists and the astronauts are constantly thinking about how they stay connected and continue their lives in their terrestrial base, suddenly you can realize, ‘I don’t want to come back.’ Maybe it’s easier to leave or uproot,” says Mizrahi. “Maybe ‘home’ could be something different.”
The Maiden (dir. Graham Foy 🇨🇦)
“Confident and inventive, ambitious and controlled, Foy’s film balances all its elements with such a sense of purpose that it’s all a little intimidating, up to and including the wonderful performances from first-time actors Jimenez, Sluiter and Ness. (There is also a fun little cameo from a cat who may be the best feline onscreen this year, Puss in Boots aside.),” purrs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “I can only hope, then, that The Maiden’s many microbudget wonders make as much of an impression on curious, adventurous audiences as the mark that Colton and Kyle leave on that aforementioned bridge. Tag your friends, and let’s make Graham Foy a household name.”
“Foy manages to push the film toward the supernatural without becoming a ghost story — just as he was able to push the film towards a coming-of-age story without actually existing on that plane,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Throughout the film, he engages in this tightrope balancing act and somehow never falls off. His storytelling evokes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s ambiguous and grounded surrealist nature, while his filmmaking has a Malickian quality. Combined together, Foy’s ambitious and bold debut becomes a dream-like rumination on youth, loss and friendship that is familiar and singular at the same time.”
“Just when one thinks one figures things out, Foy reframes things we’ve seen before, consistently surprising a viewer and providing a sense of closure by evoking the tags of “The Maiden” that will long outlive any of these young Albertans,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Employing a narrative structure that is deceptive in its simplicity and disarming in its dexterity, The Maiden envelopes a viewer in a sense of loss. It’s truly a haunted film.”
The Mother (dir. Niki Caro)
“Jennifer Lopez’s extraordinary physicality is used to great effect in Niki Caro’s revenge actioner The Mother. She plays an assassin/spy deeply trained in the art of war, known only as the Mother,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Lopez’ world-weary deportment and last-one-standing darkness are new and intriguing. It’s a testament to her talent, skills, and wells of determination as an actor; still a phenom at 53.”
“The Mother is a Netflix original Jennifer Lopez movie and marks one of her better outings,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (dir. Davis Guggenheim)
“Still is a deserving, well-crafted tale of a remarkable individual, one whose charm remains unabated,” writes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine. “ It’s an extremely accessible film that will surely be embraced widely by audiences, but to its benefit, it doesn’t always take the easy road. It provides both intimacy and context. It’s to the credit of the filmmakers, and to Fox for his willingness to not only tell his tale, but to do so honestly and without compromise, that the film is a fitting testimonial to the life and career of this remarkable individual.”
“Unlike most documentaries about a public figure’s life, the only interview conducted is with Fox himself. None of his colleagues are asked to speak on his legacy or share their perspective of what it was like to work with him,” says Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Rather than speaking directly with Pollan or their children, Guggenheim instead opts for an observatory fly-on-the-wall approach in a few touching scenes from the family’s home life. The decision to only hear Fox give a first-hand account of his life pays off nicely, serving the film’s motive of showing his life rather than convincing audiences of his significance.”
At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson shares five things audiences can learn about Michael J. Fox from the documentary, including his journey towards being upfront about having Alzheimer’s: “Fox wasn’t always candid about the challenges of living with Parkinson’s,” writes Atkinson. “When the otherwise-healthy 29-year-old was initially diagnosed with the incurable progressive disease, he recalls that he drowned his denial in wine and later, as his condition progressed, kept symptoms hidden by self-dosing with crushed-up pills stashed in various pockets (and fiddling with props on the set of his sitcom Spin City) to disguise the tremor of his left hand. Since publicly sharing his diagnosis in 1998, however, Fox has been the opposite of quiet.”
“Although Still takes audiences on an emotional ride, it’s an upbeat tale true to the spirit of its subject,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. Mullen speaks with director Davis Guggenheim about capturing Fox’s restlessness with sitting still. “I identify with it a lot,” observes Guggenheim. “His movement is physical. As a kid, he was always running—you see it in the footage. You see it in Back to the Future. Even when he is standing still, it almost feels like he’s moving. But I think all of us can identify with how fast everything moves, how fast our lives are, and how we don’t stop. Stillness is something we might want or aspire to, but we can’t really achieve. I was really drawn to that theme.”
Twice Colonized (dir. Lin Alluna)
“Aaju Peter is an extraordinary person, worthy of our respect and fascination,” says Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Peter is a rare example of someone who has dwelled in two of those regions, giving her a unique perspective on the many issues plaguing her society. Danish director Lin Alluna has done a sensitive job, exploring Peter’s life in Greenland, where she was born, and Canada, her home since the early 1980s.”
“Twice Colonized doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths as it sharply addresses Canada and Denmark’s colonizers past and present,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It brings this urgent and crucial story to life in a captivating, riveting and angry way.”
“The energizing presence of Aaju Peter, a seal hunt advocate and lawyer, is already known to viewers of Angry Inuk, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s 2016 doc,” observes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Peter is no less a dynamo in Lin Alluna’s provocative new film, titled for Peter’s autobiography and her years of fighting colonialism first in Denmark and then in Canada. The doc is almost a sequel to “Angry Inuk” in the way it tracks her continuing activism for Indigenous rights, which includes defending the traditional seal hunt and lobbying for a permanent forum for Indigenous people within the European Union. Peter’s personal well-being also figures prominently in the narrative. Grieving for a lost son while attempting to disentangle herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend, she’s attempting to answer a self-posed question: “Is it possible to change the world and mend your own wounds at the same time?”
“Twice Colonized is destined to start as many conversations as Alluna and Peter shared over the course of their long journey together. Spanning continents, the doc feels both epic and intimate,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Early on, we see Peter type the following words on a computer screen, the opening lines to an ostensible memoir: ‘Is it possible to change the world and mend your own wounds at the same time?’ Throughout the course of 90 swift minutes, Alluna poses that same question to her audience over and over, following Peter as she achieves legal milestones, and endures personal tragedies.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with director Lin Alluna, subject Aaju Peter, and producer Alethea Arnaquq-Baril about tackling the effects of colonialism through one person’s story and her fight for change. “It was much more complex than I imagined. I just lived my life, but all the things that were so amazing to me were edited away,” says Peter. “Then you have the raw woman going through all the hardship. My view of my life is quite different because we all live this lie that we tell ourselves every day, all day long. It was good to see another person’s take on my life and how it’s touching other people.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Hot Docs Highlights and ReelAbilities’ Return
At the TFCA blog, members share their picks for the best films of the festival. Among them? The Disappearance of Shere Hite, 20 Days in Mariupol, Milisuthando, Angel Applicant, Soviet Barbara, and This
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen offers a festival wrap-up and sees a return to form for Hot Docs after the virtual years. “Audiences generally turned out in high numbers for screenings throughout the festival,” notes Mullen. “Hot Docs smartly reduced the number of screenings per title, down to two theatrical screenings from three pre-COVID, although some of the festival’s major titles, like Love to Love You, Donna Summer or Black Barbie, screened three times. Full houses featured filmmaker Q&As for most screenings, so Hot Docs was able to recapture the experience of sharing a film and engaging with the artists behind it—something with which all festivals struggled amid the Zoom fatigue of online iterations.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with the team at ReelAbilities Film Festival about accessibility and adapting in the virtual age: “Our intention is to respond to the inherited way that disability is represented in not just film, but media in general,” says programming director Linda Luarasi. “These stories have been traditionally told by people who are not disabled. Our hope is that the festival is giving a voice and platform to stories that more authentically represent our communities, both the joys and tensions.”
TV Talk/Series Scribbles
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out Jada Pinkett Smith’s latest, Queen Cleopatra: “It’s stunning how much detail is known about the Queen and her struggles,” says Brodie. “Cleopatra has been romanticized and idealized since her suicide in 31 BC and no wonder, hers was an extraordinary life, but much of what we know thanks to Hollywood is pure rot.” Meanwhile, Happy Valley returns for a third season after a seven-year absence: “Buckle up! Helluva show still, it’s won four BAFTA awards and 24 of 24 nominations and continues its winning way in S3. They say it’s the final season, I say, say it ain’t so,” writes Brodie.” The Tower is “another terrific British police drama.” For audiences snacking too much while binge-watching, What Am I Eating? “breaks down misconceptions, covering fruit, cereal, greens, grains, and a full episode on dark chocolate!”