Reviews include Akilla’s Escape, In the Heights, and New Order.
TFCA Friday – Week of May 14
May 14, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
*Note: some titles are repeated due to the shifting nature of film releases during the pandemic and availability to Toronto audiences.
The Disciple (dir. Chaitanya Tamhane)
“The Disciple’s story unfolds through a series of beautifully composed, quietly scathing scenes that school viewers on the particulars of Northern Indian classical music,” writes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Magazine. “We watch as Sharad’s insistence on artistic purity slips into self-absorption as he is confronted with a series of rude awakenings, refusing to acknowledge that a level of financial success is a material necessity.”
“[I]f you are looking for a cure to your endless scrolling this weekend, Tamhane’s meditation on tradition, focus, fame and the sometimes devastating folly of commitment is a wonderful way to spend a quiet evening at home,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
Drifting Snow (dir. Ryan Noth )
Calling the film “adult and elegiac,” Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail speaks with star Sonja Smits about her first lead film role in years, acting naturally, and enjoying a shoestring shoot in wine country. “It was a wonderful experience, because it was so intimate,” Smits says. “Intimate being a nice way of saying they had two cents…But it was beautifully liberating, all of us crammed in the car, Tess and Ryan crunched down in the back seat. I felt like I did when I was starting out in theatre, where you all figure it out together.”
“Prince Edward County never looked so beautiful on film,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Drifting Snow, a meditation on mourning and kindred spirits offers a bracing, heartbreakingly beautiful dive into mid-winter there, off Lake Ontario. Howling winds and hard snow are the gorgeous backdrops for Ryan Noth’s simple story of connection.”
“A pensive, beautifully crafted film that ironically creates a warm fuzzy feeling celebrating the quiet pleasures of human connection in a gorgeous Canadian wintry setting,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“In the CanCon tradition, it reminds us of the cold facts of life in most of this country: Whether by black ice, freezing blizzards, power outages, or loneliness, the weather pushes us inward, in homes and soul-baring conversations on long stretches of highway in heated cars,” shivers Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“The story slips back and forth in time, filling in certain blanks about how each of these people ended up in their respective emotional place, but as Drifting Snow rolls on, it becomes clear that where they’ve been isn’t nearly as important as where they are, and the support they might be able to offer one another,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
“Tess Girard’s wonderful cinematography reminded me of the work of Quebec director Denis Côté, and there’s a similar sense of wistfulness as one often finds in his work,” argues Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Evocative aerial views lend a great sense of calm and composure in these landscapes of loss: this is a film about slowing down and becoming grounded,” agrees Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson speaks Sonja Smits about her return to film, wine country, and relishing an age-appropriate lead role. “One of the things that attracted me, quite frankly, is there’s very few opportunities now beyond a certain age for a full role,” says Smits. “You often come in and do a kind of cameo or little bits and pieces, but to actually have a storyline that you carry through? A lot people don’t seem that interested in women over a certain age or even people over a certain age. So it was a rare opportunity to explore someone who is also at a time of passage in her life.”
The Get Together (dir. Will Bakke)
“Whether limited by budget or imagination, The Get Together is one of those events that barely gets rolling before it winds up,” admits Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “At 74 minutes, the film has little time for deep character mining and ends up feeling more like a collection of uneven scenes and engaging dialogue riffs rather than a fully realized drama.”
High Ground (dir. Stephen Johnson)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls a “solid action drama depicting the unspeakable crimes the white man has committed on the Indigenous people.”
In the Earth (dir. Ben Wheatley)
“Even at its most vicious— and In the Earth has moments of painful eye-clenching horror—the film is spun with humour that is unmistakably Wheatley,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin.
“Taking place in the midst of a viral outbreak (though the word ‘COVID-19’ is not uttered once, thank god), In the Earth follows jumpy scientist Martin (Joel Fry) and park scout Alma (Ellora Torchia) as they journey into the woods to rendezvous with a fellow researcher. What follows is a gruesome adventure of in-your-face freak-outs, culminating in a strobe-lit ‘nature is healing’ climax that could only possibly make sense if you are high outta your mind,” tokes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“You can sense Wheatley grappling with notions of nature out of balance, of forests older than humankind and not kindly disposed to our clearcutting ways, of the long march from superstition to science, and the fuzzy boundary that sometimes separates the two,” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post. “But the film that results is all jagged cuts, loud noises and discombobulation. A little less Dark Ages and a bit more Enlightenment might help us connect to its themes.”
“Wheatley is quite nasty in his depiction of his graphic violence,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The COVID commentary isn’t exactly deep, but it’s interesting to watch Wheatley add a distressing new element to the older, stranger mythology he loves so much,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine. Wilner also speaks with director Ben Wheatley about shooting during COVID. “Looking back on it, it feels bizarre that we were cogent enough to make that plan,” says Wheatley. “But it came together, and we shot just right at the bottom of the curve in the U.K., so it was as safe as it could be.
“For those who like ideas, it’s fair to say that Wheatley has many good ones in this film but hasn’t really come to grips with its shaggy dog plot,” adds Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
The Killing of Two Lovers (dir. Ryan Machoian)
“The film’s hyper-realism and plainness are strikingly evocative, a compelling way to play out such a fraught emotional drama,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Its deceptively simple look and sound heighten the densely charged hour and 25 minutes, unseen cows moo and church bells toll in this natural world as we stand like a neighbour watching them over the fence, helpless and in pain for them.”
“Like a well written short story, The Killing of Two Lovers builds to a solidly constructed denouement, which is simultaneously unexpected and the perfect ending,” declares Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“Crawford and Moafi are both tremendously affecting, showing us an entire history between David and Nikki through their physicality and their shared concern for their kids, and Machoian presents their performances in deliberately paced, unbroken takes that let the characters dig through their complex feelings for each other,” raves Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
“Working with a low budget in the wide-open and often haunting spaces of Western Utah, Machoian creates a nervy, stripped down domestic drama that puts character first,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Writer/director Machoian’s debut feature is a real knockout,” punches Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Machoian is exploring a very particular kind of American machismo here,” explains Chris Knight at the National Post. “David is trying to emotionally work through whatever is going on between him and his wife, but it’s clear he’d like some physical resolution as well, bad though that may be.”
Miss Angela (dir. Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood; May 18)
“An incredible journey of [Angela] Alvarez overcoming adversity, defying the odds, and pursuing her dream of becoming a famous singer,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto..
Oxygen (dir. Alexander Aja)
“Director Aja’s hefty aims of a sci-fi horror sinks under its lofty goals,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Oxygen thy name is INTENSE,” reckons Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Laurent’s performance is confined to the coffin-like chamber,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “She does excellent work acting with her eyes and facial expressions. But this is a French-language film that Netflix airs dubbed to English. The dubbing is a distraction that undermines Laurent’s efforts and robs the movie of much of its intensity and some of its integrity.”
“The screenplay, by Christie LeBlanc, is masterfully constructed to provide just enough information – some of it through recovered memories, flashbacks and/or hallucinations, and some of those more trustworthy than others – to pull us along, curious but never quite frustrated,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Aja throws at least a half-dozen twists at Liz (and the audience), eventually turning the film into a ‘oh, c’mon!’ kind of tease into an ‘okay, sure!’ roller-coaster,” shrugs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
Profile (dir. Timur Bekmambetov)
“This is one hell of an alarming story, based on multiple true stories,” gasps Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It will take your breath away.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says it’s “an occasionally confusing and intense suspense drama told with a fresh perspective for the computer savvy.”
The Reckoning (dir. Neil Marshall)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah notes “considerable effort (put in) into getting the atmosphere of the period accurate and the film pays off.”
Spiral: From the Book of Saw (dir. Darren Lynn Bousman)
“Do unto others what you could not stomach having done unto you. It’s some gruesome,” barfs Chris Knight at the National Post.
Those Who Wish Me Dead (dir. Taylor Sheridan)
“The film zips along so nicely, in fact, that at times it almost seems to forget that Jolie is the lead name on the marquee and that she came out of semi-retirement as an action star…to once again storm across the screen,” blazes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “This she surely does, proving her prowess with a firefighter’s axe, although no one can upstage the fury of Mother Nature.”
“The film’s reminiscent of those ’80s and ’90s natural disaster movies; it’s kind of nostalgic and moves well if predictably. It also pays respects to the brave souls who parachute into forest fires with one goal – to save lives,” sparks Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Here, the writing credits are shared between Sheridan, author Koryta, and Charles Leavitt, a committee approach resulting in incoherent overkill, if you’re foolish enough to think about it. Fortunately, thanks to the film’s spectacular wide-screen aerial views and taut action scenes (not to forget Jolie’s fascinating face smudged in ash and tears), thinking is not the film’s priority,” burns Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“Listen: let’s not pretend that Those Who Wish Me Dead is a work of art. Or that it reaches the hardcore-action heights of, say, Cliffhanger or The River Wild, to name just two works that Sheridan apes,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But sometimes you simply want to see a movie star stab a guy in the chest while a raging inferno burns in the background.”
Together Together (dir. Nikole Beckwith)
“[Helms] seems at home playing a repressed guy playing normal in a world where he doesn’t quite fit,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “And the magnetic Harrison is a revelation as Anna, skillfully revealing in layers Anna’s vulnerability, her personality and past, and prodding Matt to reveal his.”
“Sure, the characters make some stupid decisions, not least when it comes to the concepts of personal boundaries and oversharing. But you need something on which to hang the plot, and the leads are great fun to watch,” laughs Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Beckwith’s film educates with the trials, worry and wonder of the miracle of childbirth,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Together Together’s graceful refusal to turn into a romantic comedy might be its most radical element of all,” concludes Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
Trigger Point (dir. Brad Turner; May 18)
“The joke in the auto shop is the only memorable thing in this sorry and disappointing action film,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
What Lies West (dir. Jessica Ellis)
“The stakes are low, the narrative simple and direct, and the characters efficiently, vividly drawn,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine.
The Woman in the Window (dir. Joe Wright)
“In terms of recent books-turned-movies featuring unreliable, sometimes boozy narrators, you could shelve The Woman in the Window squarely between Gone Girl (which is much better) and The Girl on the Train (much worse). This Girl – sorry, Woman – is a solid timewaster, neither classic nor dud,” advises Chris Knight at the National Post.
Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto says it is “so terribly derivative [and] filled with over-the-top dialogue that it makes a hilarious viewing.”
Telling us how he really feels, Norm Wilner at NOW Magazine calls the film “just awful” and adds, “People will try to hate-watch this movie. It will defeat them.”
Hot Docs – More from the Fest
In case you missed it, the TFCA polled its membership to see what films were the best of the fest. Get the list of hot docs here.
At Variety, Jennie Punter chats with director Emanuel Licha, winner of the Best Canadian Feature Award for zo reken, a unique road movie that sees Haiti through the windows of white “shark tooth” 4x4s. “It became a metaphor of the country, in a way,” said Licha, “this driving around and around. At times it feels like there are two films happening, one inside the vehicle and the other outside in the street.” Jennie says to subscribe to Variety’s newsletter for more breaking news and stories.
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen reports on the weight of industry at Hot Docs, which included a notably problematic shift in power dynamics and struggles of access that are becoming more frequent at online festivals. “The first weekend of Hot Docs could have easily been confused with the first weekend of TIFF,” writes Mullen. “The spirit of an online festival is very different from a live one, which proves frustrating since Hot Docs is usually the most easygoing, accessible, and enjoyable festival to cover in real life.”
Also at POV Magazine, Marc Glassman speaks with designer Bruce Mau, subject of the documentary Mau, about redesigning himself, the Anthropocene, and all the world! “The common denominator is actually having empathy for other forms of life, and putting life at the center, not humans,” says Mau. “[It’s about] being able to actually relate to these conditions, relate to other people, other living things, other inanimate things that have their own life force, and really bring them together in a new way that is respectful and honourable and takes it to a new place.
Canadiana: IFs and Buts
At NOW Magazine, Radheyan Simonpillai reports on Lisa Jackson’s win of the BMO-DOC Vanguard Award this week and recaps Jackson’s emotional acceptance speech that highlighted the interesting anf fun players of the doc crowd (“IFs” as Jackson calls them) and in paid tribute to films and festivals, particularly Indigenous voices, that supported her throughout her career so far. “We’ve stood together through so much,” said Jackson. “The genuine support and the understanding that we have and what it means to look around a room … to know that they’re standing there and they have my back is unbelievable. And that’s what we do for each other.”
Barry Hertz chats with Beth Janson of the Canadian Academy ahead of next week’s Canadian Screen Awards. He notes that this year’s event won’t simply be another Zoom meeting and, unlike the Oscars, will take time to showcase the nominated work. But questions of the “Canadianness” of several film nominees is, as usual, contentious with contenders having little Canadian content outside of funding or the odd birth certificate for a key creative. “I would like to see the academy take more of a nuanced approach to this sort of thing, admits Janson. “For us, it’s not a question of tax credits, it’s a question of culture.”
Ahead of Canadian Screen Week, Johanna Schneller speaks with several nominees for the CBC, including Charles Officer, Noah Reid, Tracey Deer, whose dramatic feature debut Beans is a Best Picture nominee: “When it comes to Indigenous people and events like Oka, Canadians put up a protective wall,” says Deer. “I want that wall to come down. This is how I came of age. This is how I understood what it is to be an Indigenous person in this country. I want people to see that, to feel it. We did not make that happen to us. It’s not on us to make things better. We’re doing every single thing we can. But we cannot change society. Canadians need to do the work to change society. I need them to do that work — for me, my people, and those to come.”
After her rise to becoming the hottest filmmaker in Canada was toppled by challenges to her claims of Indigenous identity, Michelle Latimer speaks out for the first time since the controversy in an interview with Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. Latimer explains the roots of her ancestry, her work as a filmmaker, the dirty that the Canadian Screen Awards pulled on Trickster, and how she feels about cancel culture. But does she have any words for peers who harmed by the news? Read and find out.
TV Talk – Brutal Barry
Anne Brodie at What She Said advises to “gird yourselves” and embrace Barry Jenkins’ The Unground Railroad, “As in any Jenkins work, mysticism and magic realism are powerfully present. Brutal violence. Jenkins says he’s had backlash for the series’ extreme gore but he wants more such images to ‘re-contextualise’ the narrative of slavery.” For something lighter, Brodie recommends Hacks starring Jean Smart: “It’s a tense two-hander with plenty of barbs, and it’s fun peering behind the scenes at Vegas celebrities as their clashing cultures and personalities look for common ground.” She also recommends the doc series 1971: The Year that Music Changed Everything (“incredible archival footage”), Line of Duty (“sharp, brilliant”), and Halston (“a Ryan Murphy spectacle so there will be plenty of drama, sex and outre glam”).
At NOW Toronto, Radheyan Simonpillai speaks with The Underground Railroad star Thuso Mbedu about working with Barry Jenkins, representing Black history, and the series’ use of violence. “I know that Barry comes from a place where he wants to tell the story of what happened because to pretend and erase it would be doing the ancestors a great disservice,” says Mbedu. “We’re not here showcasing brutality for the sake of getting a reaction… It’s a matter of giving you a peek of what happened as something that is part of a bigger journey.”