Reviews include Akilla’s Escape, In the Heights, and New Order.
TFCA Friday: Week of May 28
May 28, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Ahead of the Curve (dir. Jen Rainin and Beth Medow)
“[T]he directors make a conscious effort in making her doc more widely appealing in its content,” says Gilbert at Afro Toronto. “The result is an interesting and insightful documentary that affects more of the LGBT community.”
American Traitor: the Trial of Axis Sally (dir. Michael Polish)
“There was an American woman the US wants to forget. The true story American Traitor: the Trial of Axis Sally revives the story of Portland Maine born Mildred Gillars,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Blue Miracle (dir. Julio Quintana)
“Director Julio Quintana ups the angst with melodrama and tons of clichés,” groans Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Body Brokers (dir. John Swab)
“[A]n ambitious, well-intentioned piece that is occasionally all over the place, and only settles back to its goal at the very end,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Corruption of Divine Providence (dir. Jeremy Torrie 🇨🇦)
“It’s fascinating, but perhaps a little too busy for 95 minutes,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “I haven’t even gotten to the part where Jeanne is kidnapped by a stranger who has either been touched by God, or is just touched. And I’m not sure what to make of Tantoo Cardinal, whose character professes to follow neither Christ nor First Nations beliefs, but the Egyptian Book of the Dead.”
Cruella (dir. Craig Gillespie)
“Strap yourselves in for the sexiest, whip-smartest, most flagrantly fabulous film ever to emanate from Disney,” woofs Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Emma Stone plays Cruella in a bold rethink, with fire and brimstone lapping coming out of her eyes.”
“What’s surprising is how well this material works for the whole family,” arfs Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Magazine. “That has a lot to do with an animated performance from Stone, who is heartfelt as Cruella without sacrificing the pleasures of a little malevolence, and she somehow got my kids invested in fashion industry gamesmanship. This is a Disney franchise movie about spring and fall collections, with an anti-hero weaponizing haute couture designs, which are so stunning and elaborate they are their own set pieces.”
“‘Sympathy’ seems an inevitable song choice, yet rarely has the tune been used more appropriately for a movie, which is set in 1970s London and loaded with classic pop from the ’60s and ’70s,” yips Peter Howell at Night Vision, noting the spot-on use of the Rolling Stones’ tune for Miss de Vil. “Disney wants us to feel for Cruella, who was tragically orphaned young Estella before she morphed into homicidal fashionista Cruella.”
“Cruella tackles the rise to infamy of evil fashion mogul Cruella De Vil. Alas, it takes the easy narrative path, by creating an even eviler villain who pushes the not-yet-evil Cruella into her wicked ways,” howls Chris Knight at the National Post on the latest redemptive villain origin story. “Embrace your villainy like Harley Quinn, or jettison it completely like Maleficent did. You can’t have your dogs and wear them too.”
“Set in London in the ‘70s, the story is far enough removed from any previous version of 101 Dalmatians, that there is practically carte blanche for Emma Stone to create her own character, a street kid with a punk fashion sense (topped by Oreo cookie hair) and an angry streak,” bow-wows Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Despite its winks at its source material, Cruella is very much a fun, stand-alone movie that lets two formidable actresses fly while everyone else stands back.”
“Gillespie and writers Dana Fox and Tony McNamara seem to be going for a Devil Wears Prada meets Ocean’s 11 type vibe,” barks Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But in their bid to both amuse themselves and satisfy their corporate minders, the tale turns into a pungent mush that gives off whiffs of everything from Phantom Thread to Death Becomes Her to, yes, Joker. It never completely works, although the cast is trying exceptionally hard.”
“The script is shallow, the protagonist boring and the film brutal watch,” growls Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Though Glenn Close set a high standard with her hilariously dark characterization of Cruella in the two most recent live-action Dalmatian productions, both Emmas are more than ready to be proclaimed the rightful inheritor of her villainous throne,” yaps Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
At NOW Magazine, Norm Wilner looks back at the crazy days when the NOW team predicted Emma Stone’s stardom and pulled off a down-to-the-wire cover story, which is essential for any true TIFF experience. “I still don’t know how it happened, but [Toronto publicist] Natalie [Amarol] got us a 10-minute call with Stone in the middle of a busy press day. The time difference made it even more of a nightmare: I couldn’t talk to her until mid-afternoon on a Sunday, for a cover story that should have been put to bed the previous Thursday.”
Dead Pigs (dir. Cathy Yan)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it a “flawed but still fresh satirical look at the effects of modernizing China.”
“Dead Pig is like a mood board of atmospheres, tones and ideas but struggles to find the emotional core behind its blunt-force metaphors,” writes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Magazine.
Equal Standard (dir. Brandon Kyle Cochrane; June 1)
“Equal Standard is not that bad a feature but never reaches the dizzy heights of Ladj Ly’s 2019 (similarly themed) Les Misérables,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Mercy of the Jungle (dir. Joël Karekezi)
“A well-made film from Rwandan director, Joël Karekezi (his second feature) covering many key and current world (the central Africa conflict between the Congolese and fighter rebels) as well as the personal issues of its two main characters,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Moby Doc (dir. Rob Gordon Bralver)
“Moby is the perfect subject for a documentary,” argues Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Everyone knows who he is and yet, he has remained a mysterious figure.”
“The credits list Rob Gordon Bralver as director and co-writer, but this feels very much like Moby decided he had a few things to say, and asked his sometimes music-video maker to lend a hand,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“The doc is insightful, just as Moby is, making it one film that is both eye-opening, insightful and biographical,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
New Order (dir. Michel Franco)
“New Order has the feel of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Skull: The Mask (dir. Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman)
“[N]othing really scary about this film – just lots of blood, gore and violence,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (dir. Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese)
“Between the textures of [Mary] Twala’s aged but defiant face and the deep, contemplative landscapes behind her, I doubt you’ll see more beautiful and awe-inspiring images this year,” writes Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Magazine.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese “shines through in his use of composition and mood, to create a meditative and touching experience.”
The Water Man (dir. David Oyelowo)
“Magic realism – it’s tough to nail both,” admits Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. “In this unapologetically sincere family film, his directorial debut, the actor David Oyelowo (Selma) does better with the realism than the magic. But that’s okay, because the realism is more important.” Schneller also speaks with Oyelowo about getting a chance to tell a fairy tale that reflected his experience, unlike the blockbusters he enjoyed as a kid: ““The heroes of the films I loved growing up – The Goonies, Stand By Me, E.T. – even though they didn’t look like me, I could identify with what they were going through,” says Oyelowo. “But because they were always white boys, it subconsciously planted a seed that my existence was of less value and importance than theirs.”
Festember: Inside Out Edition!
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz previews Inside Out LGBTQ Film Festival and chats with the fest’s new executive director Lauren Howe about bringing the event back to May after last year’s COVID-delayed October edition. “We collectively felt it was important to come back to this May sweet spot,” says Howe. “And we didn’t want to do that crystal-ball thing and hope for the best in October, and then find ourselves in the spot we’re in now. Even two months ago we didn’t have the insight into the vaccination rollout that we have now.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with A Sexplanation director Alex Liu about his fun, informative, and sex-positive doc screening at Inside Out that embraces the pleasure principle while schooling audiences about making whoopie. ““If you don’t start with the framing of sex being fun, you lose credibility with the public,” notes Liu. “People know that sex is fun. The more that we hide that, or pretend that isn’t true, or don’t lead with that fact, the more damage we do in general.” Mullen also reviews some Inside Out docs like the chorizo fest Everything at Once and the Two-Spirited tale Being Thunder.
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey surveys Inside Out, including the festival’s opening night film, Language Lessons: “While it’s unusual to find any film that focuses on friendship, Language Lessons, touches on themes common in several of this year’s films: A struggle for intimacy and caring that is beyond what we usually think of as sexuality.” Other highlights in Lacey’s preview include the Israeli drama Two, the Sundance hit My Belle, My Beauty, and the Canadian quasi-sitcom Dawn, Her Dad, and the Tractor.
At NOW Magazine, Kevin Ritchie, Glenn Sumi, and Norm Wilner offer some best bets for Inside Out. Their picks include Potato Dreams of America (“one of the freshest, smartest immigrant coming-of-age films around”), Poppy Field (“quietly ambitious film that uses taut pacing and framing to take a character study and springboard into a wider societal malaise”), and Language Lessons (“Although Language Lessons was shot during COVID, Morales and Duplass’s script doesn’t incorporate the pandemic; their characters are isolated for different reasons”).
2021 Summer Movie Season in Canada or: A Quiet Place 2
“It is now official: Canada’s one-dose summer movie season is going to suck,” declares Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. Hertz notes that Paramount’s firm decision to release A Quiet Place 2 in theatres only, when few Canadian theatres are open, leaves most audiences (and critics) shut out. With the Canadian market mostly parroting American rollouts, few major summer movies will be enjoyed by Canucks. “So: Who’s to blame?” asks Hertz. “First up is Canada’s tragicomedy of a vaccination rollout, with condemnation spread across all three levels of government. Then we can drill down on the provinces, given how most treated movie theatres like they were COVID-19 hot spots, when the data says the exact opposite. Reserve a special shout-out to British Columbia’s bewildering logic for allowing indoor dining to continue while movie theatres were ordered shut, and to Ontario for this week pushing back any hope of reopening into August.”
As an alternative to looking at the window and imaging the joy of air conditioning and hot popcorn this summer, Anne Brodie at What She Said offers a list of retro summer movies to bring the blockbusters home to you. Atop the list? Jaws! “The greatest summer blockbuster of them all,” writes Brodie. “Intelligent, thrilling, made with an eye for beauty and style, and the slowest slow burn, starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, two men waging war against nature in the form of a giant rogue shark. And that beach tracking shot! Gave sharks an undeserved bad name though.”
What about the lost joy of post-screening discussions? At Original Cin, Jim Slotek looks at the new platform Hoovie, which helps cinephiles navigate the dizzying flood of digital releases while enjoying after-stream chats with fellow film buffs. “People are completely inundated with films right now,” says Hoovie founder Fiona Rayher in an interview with Slotek. “And our mission is to connect the community with film. My husband put it well. He said, ‘You know what really builds a community is familiarity and consistency. It’s people seeing the same people over and over again.’”
TV Talk: Ziwe, Pearl, and Halston
At What She Said, Anne Brodie binges on a handful of new show’s, like Crave’s comedy series Ziwe (“delightfully unhinged and on point”) and Acorn’s Witstable Pearl (“a fresh angle on the new wave of the British murder series”).
At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson unzips the fashionable threads of Roy Halson following the debut of the Ryan Murphy limited series on Netflix, starring Ewan McGregor. “Outfits were body-conscious but always supremely comfortable, “writes Atkinson. “The words ‘comfort and ease’ come up again and again in reference to Halston clothes —and the same notion of refined casual that was embraced in the 1970s is a refrain we are hearing a lot right now with the profound work-from-home and lifestyle shifts of the pandemic.”