Reviews include Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Mr. Malcolm’s List, and Passengers of the Night.
TFCA Friday: Week of May 27
May 27, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week!
Benediction (dir. Terence Davies)
“The dialogue is quietly scathing, and the production values are sumptuous,” observes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. “But Davies seems most interested in Sassoon as a symbol of hemmed-in Englishness. As a character, he remains poetically opaque.”
“Davies tells the tale at his leisure, providing space for thought and poetry, in a dour and tragic tale,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Fascinating poets and artists’ circle of the early days of the last century include Wilfred Owen, Stephen Tennant, Edith Sitwell, Lady Ottoline, Rex Whistler, and Hollywood star Ivor Novello.”
“Lovers of poetry, queer culture and British history will enjoy this film,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “But Davies never comes to grips with Sassoon: he remains an enigma to us. The film is way too long; 30 minutes could have been cut. Though Davies has made an artistic film, its flaws overwhelm it.”
“Director Davies, who himself is gay, clearly leaves his imprint, especially in the dialogue he has written for the script, in the poet’s biography and it makes nothing less than superb cinema,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“It’s a beautifully shot film, with Sassoon’s traumatic wartime memories sometimes intruding in the form of old film footage and photographs of the battlefields of France. But there’s a stiltedness to it, especially in the dialogue, so precise at times as to seem stagy, with people speaking in epigrams,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “On the other hand, we get several of Sassoon’s poems read out in voiceover, which is remarkably effective.”
“Benediction is an achingly sombre elegy for love lost,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The sobriety of Davies’ production—the muted emotions, the repressed joy—reflects the social attitude that taught men like Sassoon to deny their true selves. The restraint in Lowden’s performance speaks volumes by saying little. The ever-present mask of repressed longing makes Sassoon’s poetry doubly poignant.”
Bleeding Audio (dir. Chelsea Christer)
“Bleeding Audio is the real thing – a fast paced doc that shows how impossible it is to succeed in the music industry despite all the talent a band might possess,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie (dir. Loren Bouchard, Bernard Derriman)
“When it comes to Bob’s Burgers, I’m a vegetarian,” confesses Chris Knight at the National Post. “Despite it running for 226 episodes over 12 seasons (and counting!), I’ve managed to never catch an episode of the animated series. And while that might make me seem like a distinctly unqualified critic, I’d argue that if Bob’s Burgers: The Movie can win over the uninitiated, it’s clearly got something going for it.”
“It is a small story told with slightly greater ambition than the small-screen affords,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The animation is slicker, the original-songs budget more generous (the movie is, like the series, half-comedy and half-musical), and the guest stars are plentiful. It is ideal lazy summer Saturday matinee viewing.”
Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) (dir. Roger Michell)
“Without narration, and with each chapter moving around in time, the film seems like a hodgepodge. But there’s method to the madness,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “This is an unusually structured but well-crafted film. Indeed, Michell and Crickmay achieve something quite remarkable. Without losing a sense of the formality and tradition surrounding the British monarchy, we get a sense of Elizabeth, the royal and the woman, one who took up the job of being Queen, committed to it, and has, through the decades, continually served the people of the Commonwealth.”
Godspeed (dir. Mehmet Ada Öztekin)
“Despite the film’s many flaws, Godspeed is still rare movie to be watched – a Turkish road movie from Netflix,” suggests Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Godspeed also reveals a beautiful Turkey with its long coastal roads by the sea.”
In Front of Your Face (dir. Hong Sang-soo)
“There is nothing really going on, and very slowly at that,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “One can argue that it is the keen observations that make a Hong film special, and in a way this is true.”
Lux Æterna (dir. Gaspar Noé)
“Noé seems to be saying something about the madness of moviemaking, the dark seam of insanity that runs beneath the polished gem of a finished production,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But the split-screen framing, overlapping conversations, and 10 minutes of brightly flashing lights (the film carries a warning to those with epilepsy to stay clear) means we don’t so much learn about the anarchy and mayhem as just live through it.”
“For the viewer, it’s something of a theme-park experience, with the divided screen, and complex lighting and sound design, creating a constant sense of hectic movement,” admits Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The exception is the relatively quiet first 10 minutes, which consist of the candid and earthy Dalle, on the left screen, drinking wine and smoking in an empty room, with the more reserved Gainsbourg, on the right screen.”
The Middle Man (dir. Bent Hamer; 🇳🇴/🇨🇦)
“Its dark tone is eased somewhat by an office romance subplot, and a little goofball comedy, like the notion that you might inherit someone’s adult son along with their property,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Is The Middle Man dry and thoughtful, but ultimately quietly uplifting and worth your time? Signs point to yes.”
The Quest: Nepal (dir. Alex Harz)
“The doc increases in the fascination factor during its second half as the expedition climb higher and higher in their harrowing journey to the top, the camera capturing the magnificence of the mountain, treacherous as it may be and the glories of nature,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Range Roads (dir. Kyle Thomas; May 31 🇨🇦)
“Range Roads is a dour tale of an actress and her brother who live in two vastly different worlds grudgingly reunited when their parents are killed in a crash. It wasn’t made for your comfort,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s an unusual and mostly interior journey about redemption that is well-acted and finally offers hope.”
“[A]ny narrative shortcomings are overcome by Purvis’s performance in the lead role,” argues Chris Knight at the National Post. “She looks believably uncomfortable in her own skin, and her flinty delivery will elicit sympathy from any audience member who has ever felt out of place in the place they once called home. Range Roads might not do enough, but what it does it does right.”
Ripples of Life (dir. Shujun Wei)
“[T]he opposite of a feel-good movie, a really sad one that reflects the disappointments in life as seen in the 3 chapters from the experiences undergone by the different characters of the story,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “There is more disappointment and hopelessness than happiness and hope.”
Strawberry Mansion (dir. Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney)
“Strawberry Mansion is the wacked-out entertainment we all need now,” laughs Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Top Gun: Maverick (dir. Joseph Kosinski)
“Tom Cruise takes to the skies once again and pushes the limits of what a blockbuster can be, giving audiences a front seat in the cockpit to witness the adrenaline-pumping action first hand,” raves Marriska Fernandes at Exclaim!. “The cast actually pilot the planes in flight sequences to capture real scenes and aerial footage, instead of relying CGI. The result is spectacular, more than fulfilling the anticipation for this long-awaited blockbuster.”
“What Top Gun: Maverick lacks in subtlety it makes up for with stunning cinematography and flight sequences with actors in the centre of the action,” says Eli Glasner at CBC. “Cruise is an experienced pilot who is known for pushing his cast and crew. Not only did he design a five-month flight training course for the young actors, but he reportedly insisted on the camera system being placed in the cockpits to capture the flight manoeuvres. The result is a blend of acting and real aerial footage that is breathtaking.”
“Big memories as we gaze on faces from the past on the bar walls as 80’s music takes us immediately to the fun shock of Top Gun 1986,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Maverick is similarly subtle as a hammer, deep as nickel, a portrait of a certain kind of masculinity, crammed with fun ‘thrill rides’ and finally grounded by Cruise’ solid, mature performance.”
“Say what you will about flight delays at major airports as we continue to inch our way through/out of the pandemic. Top Gun: Maverick was grounded for almost 35 months. First scheduled for release in the summer of 2019, it was delayed for production issues, then several times due to COVID,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “I’m happy to report it was worth the wait. Maverick can be my movie wingman any time.”
“Clocking in at under two hours, virtually every word of prosaic bro dialogue, every dramatic exchange, every turn of events, is designed to do one thing: get us back in the sky twisting and turning at several times the speed of sound, narrowly avoiding crashes with other planes and with the ground,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “I mean, the movie literally starts at Mach 10 – or rather, at the rogue attempt by over-the-hill fighter pilot Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) to push an experimental fighter past that speed.”
“PHHOOOOOOOOOOOMMM,” whooshes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “That’s not a typo, or you watching me experience a stroke in real-time print media. Instead, it is the overwhelming, transforming, jet-fightin’ sound pounding inside and outside my head as I try to recall exactly how it felt to watch Top Gun: Maverick, one of the best, and loudest, blockbusters that I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.”
“The film ends up a tad too long as the filmmakers stretch out the action set-pieces to the point of disbelief,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “One must certainly throw all caution and credibility to the wind to enjoy this movie.”
Talk of the Town
At CBC Arts, Peter Knegt chats with actor Harvey Fierstein about his deckle-edged memoir, his discomfort with the term “queer,” and using his gravelly voice to give the audiobook gravitas: “When I recorded audio of the book, I didn’t know what that was going to be like because I’m so dyslexic,” Fierstein tells Knegt. “They told me it would take three days and it actually took me six days because I’m so slow, which was fine. And I got through reading everything with no problem at all emotionally, except for that one part in the AIDS section where I said that I felt like the heterosexuals, you know, gave us a hug, said we’re so sorry and walked away and left us to die.”
At Complex Canada, Marriska Fernandes interviews Joshua Jackson about lending his voice to the Audible original Oracle and the renewed appreciation for Dawson’s Creek that audiences found while binge-watching during lockdown: “I’m like pleasantly surprised by this, because I sort of assumed for the connected generation… the social media generation, that they wouldn’t connect to this very specific moment in time,” Jackson explains. “But before these [points to phone], it’s a totally different method of storytelling now. Or human interaction, even where everybody’s on the phone all the time and text messages and Instagram and none of them did the other thing not even Instagram and TikTok. I guess what I missed is that those human emotions are just universal, right?”
At That Shelf, Victor Stiff speaks with Ariel Phenomenon director Randall Nickerson about his research into the alleged extraterrestrial encounters explored in the film. “The schoolyards piqued my interest because there were eight that I’m aware of, personally, and that’s a curious thing to me,” explains Nickerson. “It wasn’t just schoolyard cases, it was any case that had credibility—multiple witnesses, witnesses to witnesses, or military pilots who had something to lose by talking about it, which is why they haven’t talked about it.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Cannes, Inside Out, and Human Rights Watch
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell reports on the best of the festival now that Cannes is nearly in the can. He picks some of this year’s highlights, including a hip-swinging Elvis, a devastating Dardennes’ pic, and a Palme frontrunner by Park Chan-wook. “Park Chan-wook’s neo-noir about an obsessed cop and a widow of deadly suspicion operates in the misty realm between sleep and wakefulness,” writes Howell on Decision to Leave. “The cop, played by Park Hae-il, is an insomniac homicide detective who isn’t easily fooled, except perhaps in matters of the heart. The widow, played by China’s Tang Wei (of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution), seems far too sanguine about her mountaineering husband’s death. I felt shivers of Vertigo and In the Mood for Love, plus an intense desire to see it again. Park encourages such close inspection: every frame is like a painting, with hints to character motivation and plot twists.”
Also at the Toronto Star, Peter Howell speaks with Canada’s Cannes contender David Cronenberg about Crimes of the Future and making audiences squirm in their seats. “I have these interesting thoughts, these visuals, these images, and these strange connections, and they troubled me, they fascinated me, or they just delighted me,” Cronenberg tells Howell. “I’m inviting (moviegoers) to come along with me and see what you think of these things. That’s basically my approach. I don’t mind if I scare people. But I don’t need to scare people.”
At RogerEbert.com, Jason Gorber recaps some of the highlights at Cannes, including truffle noms and a luminous Emily Watson in God’s Creatures. “While there are few true narrative surprises in the telling, it’s still intoxicating to watch Watson navigate all her character’s emotions on her immensely expressive face,” writes Gorber. “She is truly one of the most remarkable performers to appear on screen, and if God’s Creatures does nothing else but remind the world of this fact it can already be considered a triumph.” Gorber also reviews Elvis via video above.
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Inside Out’s Elie Chivi and Andrew Murphy about bringing the festival back to theatres and retaining a hybrid component. “In the early days of the pandemic we saw a lot of sales agents and producers holding their cards close to their chests,” Murphy tells Hertz. “There was short-sightedness – people were prioritizing festivals that could still do in-person editions. But people started to come around to the idea that they could broaden their reach of audience. Distributors are more open to adjusting a business model that maybe doesn’t work any more in the new world.”
At Original Cin, Jim Slotek speaks with director Ryan Bruce Levey, whose documentary Out in the Ring screens at Inside Out, about wrestling and queer coding. “How quickly these wrestlers would get their backs up if you called them on it. ‘It’s not gay!’ Well, it is pretty gay,” Levey tells Slotek. “You can’t really divide drag culture from wrestling the way they get into the ring, feathers and makeup and all of that. There’s so much of this stuff, you look back and wonder, ‘How do you not notice it?’ It’s all just built up to play on people’s discomfort around homosexuality and gender representation.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out the New Romantics doc Tramps!, which screens as the centrepiece at Inside Out: “The New Romantics loved a bit of makeup, extravagant gender-fluid presentation, and outfits with holes to expose the rear end and breasts, made from new-fangled lycra, it was no holds barred, larger than life and eminently youthful,” writes Brodie. “Sadly the New Romantic era was cut short by overdoses and AIDS, ending a social era unique to London.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with Tramps! director Kevin Hegge about harnessing the edge and aesthetic of the New Romantics into the form of his doc. “I didn’t want any chill anywhere,” explains Hegge. “I didn’t want the titles to be chill. I didn’t want the music to be chill—I wanted everything to be a really fabulous punch in the face. That could bring it into the contemporary conversation…we were finding opportunities to challenge those instincts and make it more like a gallery of the work that was produced. You can see all these people collaborating and friends helping each other, and being absorbed into these iconic artworks and other ones that haven’t yet been exhibited in institutional spaces.” He also speaks with Pulse survivor Jeannette Feliciano about sharing her healing process with director Maris Curran.
At Classical FM, Marc Glassman looks at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival selection March for Dignity, which observes the fight between freedom of expression and homophobia in Georgia: “In 2019, when most of the film was shot, the question confronting the leaders was ‘how do we mount a parade and not be targeted by more appalling behaviour?’ The answer took time as a strategy was mounted,” writes Glassman. “Meanwhile, the roving doc camera captured the preparations for the parade and the mounting opposition against it. That tension, which makes the film compulsively watchable, is resolved in the best possible manner as the LGBTI+ organizers, all of whom speak English quite well, and are subtle thinkers, pull off two media coups involving a drone and an early morning demo. Both work brilliantly.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey previews the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which is screening for free this weekend. “The festival opens with the world premiere of Canadian entry Klabona Keepers, directed by Tamo Campos and Jasper Snow-Rosen, set near the community of Iskut in northwest British Columbia, where the Indigenous Tahltan people are involved in a prolonged conflict with gas and mining companies to preserve the health of three watersheds and salmon-bearing rivers,” writes Lacey.
TV Talk/Series Scribbles: Stranger Danger!
With Top Gun: Maverick hitting theatres, Stranger Things returning to Netflix, and some executive hopefully getting fired for bumping Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’s Emma Thompson from the Oscar race to the Emmy race (pardon the editorializing), Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail looks at the notable battle for content and eyeballs between theatrical exhibitors and the streamers. “In a perfect world, there is an entertainment ecosystem in which both theatres and streamers can feed off of one another,” writes Hertz. “But because Wall Street has decided to treat studios like tech companies – they must move fast and break things, only worrying about the collateral damage later, once total market dominance is presumably established – only one Hollywood machine can win.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah is mixed on Ricky Gervais’ latest comedy special: Ricky Gervais: “SuperNature is sporadically funny, sporadically disgustingly offensive depending who one is, but Gervais has his fans and one cannot doubt that there are hilarious parts in the show.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie also weighs in on the Gervais show: “This second special will inflame but it’s not new,” writes Brodie. “Gervais made his reputation by saying the things that can’t be said.” Meanwhile, Top Gun: Maverick isn’t the only throwback to the ’80s hitting screens this week as Angelyne gives the story of the iconic singer/billboard model the series treatment: “[Emmy] Rossum is full-on Angelyne through the decades, physically unrecognizable, spirited, precise, mimicking that high-pitched baby talk that distracts from her steely true self,” says Brodie. More ’80s nostalgia gets cranked-up in Oscar winner Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols mini-series Pistol. Anne says it’s “messy, fun, outrageous, crammed with great music, and boasts veteran actors as the band.” Tehran, on the other hands, brings a contemporary edge: “Gripping and complex, it requires full attention and perhaps a Venn chart to keep track of the characters, assumed identities, politics, loyalties, and trickery. What a ride!”
At Exclaim!, Marriska Fernandes checks out the fourth season of Netflix’s horror hit Stranger Things: “This season is quite dark, and inspired by the ’80s horror films like the cult classic Nightmare on Elm Street,” writes Fernandes. “It’s a treat to watch the nostalgic, larger-than-life set pieces and a Freddy Krueger-inspired villain Vecna take over the season. It truly feels like the team is leaning into mature storylines just as the kids are growing up.”
Fernandes also chats with the cast of Stranger Things for the Toronto Star, including Noah Schnapp and Millie Bobby Brown, who grew up while working on the series. “Stranger Things as a whole just even for audience and fans does a great job of making people feel like they’re not alone in what they’re suffering,” explains Schnapp. “There’s always a character kind of going through something somewhere in our show, and there’s always someone to relate to for anyone that’s struggling through anything. It definitely makes me and all of the fans feel like they’re not alone because it’s just a normal part of growing up.”