TFCA Friday: Week of May 17

May 17, 2024

Back to Black | Focus Features

Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.


We’re also pleased to welcome three members to the TFCA ranks: Joe Lipsett, Kathleen Newman-Bremang, and Dave Voigt. Welcome to the club!


In Release this Week


Back to Black (dir. Sam Taylor-Johnson)


“Winehouse’s glory was her singularity – the fact she was uncopyable – but Abela, who does her own singing, manages her impossible assignment (mostly) well: Although her London accent can be too marble-mouthed, she conveys Winehouse’s rawness and raucous spark,” writes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. “O’Connell captures Fielder-Civil’s charm, but in striving to give Winehouse agency (and possibly to avoid legal action), the filmmakers let him off too easily.” Schneller also speaks with director Sam Taylor-Johnson about giving Winehouse her agency back in the film.


“Abela looks and sounds just like Winehouse, only with the rougher bits knocked off as per the magic of movie making. Winehouse was all about the rougher bits, so that’s going to be a problem for some,” notes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Back to Black is a lovely film with great music (and a score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) and a terrific cast; Abela does her own singing. The issue is whether it has anything to do with Amy Winehouse. That’s all in the eye of the beholder, no doubt.”


Back to Black dilutes Winehouse’s tough history with feeble good intentions and softened portrayals — her meddling father Mitch (Eddie Marsan) and dodgy ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell) both get off lightly — making the film feel like a cheat, one that dishonours her memory,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “The film treats Winehouse’s creative process so superficially that it doesn’t offer so much as a glimpse of “Back to Black” producer Mark Ronson, her friend and musical collaborator.”


Back in Black’s real difficulty as a film is that Taylor-Johnson and scriptwriter Matt Greenhalgh haven’t come to grips with Winehouse’s tragic life,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “A brilliant singer, who loved and could emulate jazz icons like Sarah Vaughn and girl group legends such as the Ronettes’ Ronnie Spector while having the soulful power of an Aretha Franklin, lost herself to heroin and alcohol and abusive relationships. The film refuses to dramatize the upsetting but true “act three” of Amy Winehouse’s life. Instead, Back to Black repetitively offers us Winehouse doing nothing to address a downhill pull into her life until it’s way too late—and then, depleted, she dies. “


At CBC Arts, Rachel Ho speaks with director Sam Taylor-Johnson about bringing Amy Winehouse’s story to screen: “She was becoming the victim of her tragedy and the brilliance of her was being eclipsed by that. When they approached me to make the movie, I knew immediately what the job was and I knew that it came with enormous responsibility,” recalls Taylor-Johnson. “I felt like the thing I had to do was to go back into her music and back into her perspective. And by doing that, it would almost gift people back the music again. Not wanting to further victimize her was really important.”


Back to Black is a film that’s operating from a deficit, regardless of how good or bad one thinks it is,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Musical biopics haven’t been critical darlings for quite some time now, and Winehouse’s career is so recent that Back to Black feels like it’s coming too soon for anyone to have an objective opinion about it. And while it isn’t a top tier example of the genre, Johnson’s film is a fitting and thoughtful tribute to the person at the heart of it.”


I Saw the TV Glow (dir. Jane Schoenbrun)


“[A]s beautiful and deliberate as it is, I Saw the TV Glow is too plodding and stretched to make unearthing its point worth it. And for those not primed to those interpretations off the top — or not willing to read analysis beforehand — I Saw the TV Glow may simply exist as a pretty, but plodding, social media style ‘corecore’ post of the ’90s,” writes Jackson Weaver at CBC. “But as that TikTok trend of mashing seemingly meaningless but evocative imagery together is basically a new form of Dadaism, maybe there’s another explanation for I Saw the TV Glow‘s impossible to follow weirdness. With a message that’s clearly there, and Schoenbrun clearly an impressive rising talent, it could just be that I didn’t get it.”


“A haunting, evocative, and heartbreaking exploration of the adolescent pains that come with figuring out just who you are and who you cannot be, Schoenbrun’s film fuses the body-horror of Cronenberg’s sticky oeuvre (notably 1983′s Videodrome) with the rerun-addled memories of a tween who has watched far too much television under far too loose parental supervision,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “It is at once a singular piece of pop-cult art, delivered with the brash confidence of a filmmaker who has either been told “no” too many times or not enough, and a film that could not exist without the contributions of Cronenberg and a dozen of his contemporaries and acolytes…their midnight visions co-opted by Schoenbrun into one slickly nostalgic neon-lit nightmare.”


“Based on a micro-budget, the film has impressive production values,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “One wishes that director Schoenbrun would have developed a more solid and credible story than this fantasy anything can happen with no explanation plot.”


“Lots of people who see I Saw the TV Glow might not know exactly what to make of it by the end, but Schoenbrun’s latest isn’t about tidy conclusions or resolved feelings of inadequacy and emptiness,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s all about how it hits you. And I Saw the TV Glow hits harder than any other film so far this year.”


IF (dir. John Krasinski)


“It’s full of eye candy and tear jerking moments, and while its overall premise and some of the plot developments are obvious and unoriginal, IF still flows with the conviction and good will of someone telling an elaborate bedtime story,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“Blending adult themes with an outwardly appearing kid’s movie can work extremely well (the aforementioned Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. movies being perfect examples); however, where IF missteps is in its childlike delivery of these mature messages,” observes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Krasinski offers a script that panders to children to the extent that an adult audience just won’t engage. But if the loud yawn by the kid sitting behind me was any indication, kids didn’t find the storytelling all that appealing either. I don’t think that’s for lack of intelligence or maturity, but simply because it’s not a part of their lived experience yet.”


Limbo (dir. Ivan Sen)


“Simon Baker goes dark in Limbo an Australian outback tone poem saturated with suspense and black and white sunbaked oppression,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The mystery / character study follows Travis Hurley, a narcotics detective assigned to an isolated Aboriginal town so perfectly named Limbo. It’s blazing white-hot sun, interesting for a noir piece, is everpresent as Hurley moves through attempting to solve a twenty-year-old cold case, the disappearance of Charlotte, a local woman. Among his findings, white police back then worked from racism and hate, and got physical with the locals, with torture.”


“The setting is the story in Limbo, a terrific Australian noir outing steeped in shame,” says Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Shot in black and white and directed by Ivan Sen, Limbo is the story of an old, unsolved murder and the weatherbeaten cop (Simon Baker) who turns up to investigate. As Travis Hurley, Baker is all tattoos and defeat, a white junkie cop hoping to turn up new evidence in the 20-year-old disappearance of Charlotte Hayes, an aboriginal girl.”


Monster (dir. Rako Prijanto)


“The film plays like a horror version of Home Alone with kids vs. adults and A Quiet Place where the children have to be very quiet,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “To director Prijanto’s credit, the film contains quite a few scares that are guaranteed to make audiences jump from their seats.”


Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever (dir. Ole Bornedal)


“Coming thirty years after the original (and twenty-seven years after the ill-fated, Weinstein-ruined Hollywood remake), Danish writer-director Ole Bornedal returns to the literal scene of the crime, brings back some familiar faces, and updates his original plot line just enough to have some degree of timeliness and relevance,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.


Power (dir. Yance Ford)


“A scathing indictment and scholarly examination of the history of policing in America, documentarian Yance Ford’s Power is a wake up call to the world in an era of growing inequality and social revolution,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“The doc at best, serves as a history lesson and an examination of the police as a force or power that has gotten out of control,” says Gilber Seah at Afro Toronto.


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with director Yance Ford about tackling police brutality in his new film, and observing uncomfortable truths in the interview process, including one revealing exchange with interviewee Christy Lopez: ““She realised that she had told me something that I hadn’t actually known before when she said that most of the things the police do are legal,” explains Ford. “That’s a moment, formally, where the construct of the interview breaks down. We let my much-delayed response happen in real time. We include the material of Christy fixing her lipstick and drinking her water, all the things that we usually don’t include in an interview, which point to a person’s humanity and the fact that they’re sitting in a chair for hours and hours. You can see in the film when she says, ‘It’s scary, right?’  It was important to include my reaction to let the scene play out as it did in the interview. It was a real genuine response.”


The Strangers: Chapter 1 (dir. Renny Harlin)


“I’m not convinced The Strangers: Chapter One will be a popular entry into the franchise. Harlin brings nothing new to the story but more of the same: the anguish of a lovely, loving couple who don’t deserve what’s coming,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “The crime of repetition can also be assigned to Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, or any franchise that stays faithful to the formula that brought it success. However, unlike The Strangers: Chapter One, these films have the additional appeal of spectacular kills and dark humor.”


“At this point, even if the next two instalments (both from Harlin) are masterpieces of horror cinema, there’s no way to ever redeem what has happened here or how this series has been set up thus far,” advises Andrew Parker at The Gate.The Strangers: Chapter 1 really makes me question my belief in the power of cinema. You truly can’t do much worse than this.”


The Strangers: Chapter 1 is a very violent slasher horror film on house invasion with little plot or story, paying tribute to the horror films of the past and succeeds in this respect,” adds Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Sweetland (dir. Christian Sparkes 🇨🇦)


“[T]he film is extraordinarily poetic, and deeply local, so much so that we must learn its ways, adjust to the heavy accents and the views on life, and its history, so different from ours,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It feels foreign, this tiny place on the roaring Atlantic; it’s an immensely profound character study, set within a darkened palette, mostly silent, it tries our patience but also strikes deep emotions. Mary Walsh has a wonderful cameo.”


“The second film from Newfoundland writer-director Christian Sparkes to be released in the span of a month – following the equally profound supernatural parable, The King TideSweetland is a sad story rising and falling on big emotional swells, but also one that approaches a wealth of uneasy feelings from a kind, non-judgmental perspective,” adds Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“For a while, it feels as though the movie is going to stray into thriller territory – someone’s been sending Moses threatening letters in the style of ransom notes, telling him to stop stalling. ‘You’ll be some sorry,’ one of them reads, a lovely bit of vernacular,” says Chris Knight at Original Cin. “But midway through the story, a series of tragedies convinces the old man to change his mind and agree to the relocation. This, even as he devises a plan for staying on as the sole occupant of the soon-to-be-abandoned outport, rattling around like a ghost in a ghost town.  As a filmgoer with a fondness for one-person-alone narratives, I found these scenes to be supremely moving.”


Tish (dir. Paul Sng)


Tish is an excellent blended doc that ties together the photographer’s work with the conditions of her childhood horrors, which earned the BFE nomination for the Best Edited British Documentary or Non-Fiction Programme,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“The film uses the extraordinary photos made by Tish, then in her early 20s, to recapture the lives of youths in Newcastle, particularly in the tough, working class Elswick district,” explains Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Noteworthy in the photos is their concentration on the fun that the kids were having, jumping out of windows in abandoned buildings onto old mattresses, playing cards and sports on abandoned streets: finding joy in the simplest of things. Tish clearly loved unguarded expressions on faces, using them to express the quiet grace and charm that young people so often possess. It makes for a sharp contrast with her images of older boys—often punks—and adults, who show their anger and fear to her compassionate eye.”


You Can’t Run Forever (dir. Michelle Schumacher)


“There are, to the scriptwriter credit (script is co-written by the director and Carolyn Carpenter and both being female, gives the film a strong female slant. The males are either done away with (the stepfather), the psycho killer or inept police officers who by the book in their investigations.  Another female, Miranda’s half-sister, Jenny (Fernanda Urrejola) takes control to help Miranda in the woods after realizing the officers are not capable of doing enough,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


File Under Miscellaneous


At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber interviews legendary film editor Thelma Schoonmaker about her career, making Woodstock, the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and a little guy named Marty. “I love improvisation to this day,” Schoonmaker tells Gorber. “Take the scene in Raging Bull where Joe Pesci’s trying to talk his brother into fighting De Niro, and Bob is yelling at his wife. Marty couldn’t get two cameras in. Whenever he does improvisation, he almost always has two cameras, static. You can’t move because it would be too hard to edit. In this case, he could only get one camera in, so we had to do all of Joe on one side, and all of Bob on the other. It was very hard for me to make their wonderful, individual improvisations work. It was really hard, but I loved it!”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz surveys a summer forecast of sequels, reboots, redids, and dead horses being resoundingly beaten. Among the IP renewals that nobody asked for? Another Beverly Hills Cop movie: “It is unclear who, aside from Eddie Murphy’s estate planners, has been begging for a fourth entry in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise,” writes Hertz. “Yet anything that nudges the actor closer to his raw comedic roots has to be welcome news. After all, long-time (and long-disappointed) Murphy fans can only take so many lame-duck Prime Video efforts such as Candy Cane Lane and Coming 2 America. Judging by the money that Netflix is pouring into this decades-later sequel – practically every member of the original film is back, with new additions including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Kevin Bacon – there has to be something promising here. Maybe even enough that the theatre-allergic streaming giant will kick the potential crowd-pleaser onto the big screen for a week or two before releasing it to its subscribers.”


Also at The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports on the restoration of David Secter’s queer Canadian classic Winter Kept Us Warm: “We never used the term ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ – I always described it as a surprising relationship between two guys from different backgrounds,” Secter tells Hertz. “John Labow claims that he never thought the character was gay. It wasn’t homophobic on his part, but I think he was full of it. The material is subtle enough so it’s there if you’re looking for it, but otherwise it could be interpreted and enjoyed without that element, which is a route a lot of the cast chose.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage: Yes, We Cannes!


At Zoomer, Brian D. Johnson covers the festival from afar and notes that it’s still very much an affair for elder statesmen with veterans like Francis Ford Coppola, David Cronenberg, and Paul Schrader dominating the main competition: “With its black-tie traditions and classical rites, Cannes remains a Hollywood dreamland that does not exist in Hollywood,” writes Johnson. “Sustained with lavish government funding, it feeds on a culture and a fan base in a country where cinema is a virtual religion. With a pantheon dominated by aging patriarchs – this year George Lucas, 79, will receive an honorary Palme d’Or – it’s a funhouse mirror of the whole industry, which is still dominated by male filmmakers determined to die with their boots on.”


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell looks at some of the most anticipated titles at Cannes, including Ali Abassi’s The Apprentice: “A Canada/Ireland/Denmark co-production, shot in Ontario, that is already causing a stir. Described as “a dive into the underbelly of the American empire,” it tells the story of Donald Trump’s early days as a real estate hustler in the New York City of the 1970 and ’80s, when the young future U.S. president was wheeling and dealing alongside his mentor Roy Cohn, a right-wing lawyer,” writes Howell. “Sebastian Stan plays Trump and Jeremy Strong of TV’s Succession plays Cohn, in a film that will premiere while Trump is on trial in New York for allegedly contravening U.S. presidential election laws by paying hush money to adult entertainment star Stormy Daniels.


At Variety, Jennie Punter reports on state of film production in Quebec: “While local production continued apace during the 2023 strikes, Quebec’s audiovisual sector, like others outside the U.S., was disrupted by the drop-off in international productions. Most years, 20% (roughly 200 productions) of the province’s annual output consists of foreign collaborations covering services, co-productions, animation and advertising, according to the QFTC. During the strikes, nearly half the workforce
was unemployed.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports on Winnipeg’s takeover of the Croisette with Matthew Rankin’s Universal Language and Rumours by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson among the works from the singular film scene storming the festival. “There’s something about living here rather than somewhere more central that might produce a kind of attitude – and not in a cool way, but more an obliviousness that I think has helped us as filmmakers,” Evan Johnson tells Hertz. Adds Maddin: “In the preinternet age, it helped in a different way…There just wasn’t that much to do in Winnipeg, so instead of just talking about making a film like the artsy kids were doing in New York and Paris and even Toronto, I just got so bored that I’d work on my film and actually get things made.”


TV Talk/Streaming Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie recommends the highly binge-able espionage series Treason: “Tight plotting, characters fighting for countries, and astonishing plot twists. Some situations seem outrageous and unreal but hey, we’re not spies,” notes Brodie. Mysteries also abound in Elspeth: “Each week’s mystery is clever, and unusual, hits timely cultural moments, and showcases Preston’s terrific comedic skills and New York, New York.”