TFCA Friday: Week of May 31

May 31, 2024

Backspot | levelFILM

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


In Release this Week


Backspot (dir. D.W. Waterson 🇨🇦)


“Kudos for the physical work the actors put in to execute aerodynamic choreography in this story of intense athleticism, and to carry out tough character roles, that require introspection and the joys and terrors they experience. Particularly in the case of Jacobs who is in tight closeup most of the time,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “This isn’t a teen drama, it’s extremely interior, balancing its youthful exuberance. A captivating, insightful and important film, story and direction by D.W. Waterson in a striking debut.”


Backspot features a remarkable performance by Devery Jacobs, who carries the film largely on her shoulders, like the backstop position she holds in the cheerleader’s team,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“It’s wonderful for its restraint, and for the things it doesn’t do,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Some viewers may yearn for a little more drama — between Riley and her girlfriend, or Riley and her mom (Shannyn Sossamon as a flinty, fragile, not-quite-there parent) or Riley and some of the other members of the squad. But I found just enough emotion to fill the film’s 92 minutes without it feeling overstuffed.”


“Waterson and Jacobs have created a story, where queerness is quietly accepted although it’s clear that society hasn’t embraced it,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Riley and Amanda are in love with each other—and while their mothers don’t question their relationship, neither is endorsing it. And although it’s obvious that Eileen is a lesbian, it’s a topic which remains officially taboo until she talks about it with Riley in a frosty but ultimately mentoring conversation. Far warmer is Riley’s relationship with another queer coach, Devon (Thomas Antony Olajide), who understands that her life isn’t a bed of roses even if everyone is outwardly accepting of her personal choices.”


Bionic (dir. Afonso Poyart)


Bionic never succeeds as a sports drama, action heist flick, romance, light comedy or dystopian sci-fi saga though it contains elements of each – a case of too trades and master of none,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Colors of Evil: Red (dir. Adrian Panek)


“The film plays more like a mystery with hardly any action but the end result is a violent satisfying crime thriller with quite the few twists and turns in the plot,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


The Commandant’s Shadow (dir. Daniela Volker)


The film offers a fascinating portrait of unseen monsters as Hans recalls Rudolph Höss as a great father,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “He speaks highly of his mother, Hedwig, as well. His words and his body language betray inner turmoil, however, as he wrestles with his hands while speaking of the past. It can’t be easy to admit one’s father was a war criminal when one only saw his good side. And yet, without affording Rudolph Höss sympathy, The Commandant’s Shadow runs with this way of rationalization.”


Enter the Clones of Bruce Lee (dir. David Gregory)


Enter the Clones of Bruce Lee is at its best sporadically entertaining,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “There are so many stories following the fame after the death of Bruce Lee that one can understand the decision of what to include in this doc.  A true biopic doc of Bruce Lee is what is needed for the Bruce Lee fans that will finally tell the truth and do the star justice.”


Ezra (dir. Tony Goldwyn)


“Bobby Cannavale puts in a deeply felt performance as Max, a comedian, alongside William A. Fitzgerald in Ezra,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The journey is magical in a sense as Ezra begins to open to new experiences even as there’s a national manhunt in play. It’s wonderfully uplifting, sans cheap emotion, and authentic, and with the stellar cast which includes Whoopi Goldberg, it is pure joy.”


“The plot gets a little bananas — at one point Max and Ezra hitchhike to see another friend — but by then you so love the characters that you’ll sit still for all of it,” admits Liz Braun at Original Cin. “What the film does well is investigate the relationships involved in the messy world of adult life. The way Max interacts with his manager (Whoopi Goldberg) and his friends, his emotional shorthand with Jenna when it comes to their son, the ongoing beef between Max and his father. Cannavale and De Niro are spectacular together here, particularly in scenes that emphasize how parenting never really ends.”


“The script, written by Tony Spiridakis appears to be trying its best to push all the right buttons that it looks too obvious,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Max’s stand-up comedy lines at the clubs are not funny, and to be given a spot on Kimmel Live is hard to believe.”


“[T]he film, written by Tony Spiridakis, isn’t interested in the depths of complications so much as the appearance of them, and too quickly the script pushes its audience to get on the side of a hothead who makes one deplorable decision after another,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “A more nuanced, knotty movie might be able to get away with this, but Ezra is a divorced-dad fantasy sketched in crayon. And just like Max, the film is convinced it has its title character’s best interests at heart – even if Ezra the movie isn’t much interested in Ezra the character, beyond the kid’s status as a narrative prop.”


Gasoline Rainbow (dir. Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross)


“The resulting film has the loose, empathetic vibe of a Gus Van Sant film, a chronicle of the mundane and the lyrical, with a few glory shots of sunsets and Pacific Northwest vistas. There are bits of voice-over audio interviews that have the echoes of generational therapy speak (‘I want to be myself, I want to be accepted. I want to be loved for who I am’),” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “But Gasoline Rainbow remains gentle, optimistic and free-flowing. It’s a vision of America that is almost banal in its lack of menace, an alternative kind of docu-fiction that belies the angry drama of the daily news.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen calls the film “a mellow journey well worth taking” and chats with the Ross brothers about their unique approach to hybrid cinema. “It’s all dictated by them once the camera starts going,” says Turner Ross. “If anything feels inauthentic, we know we’re on the wrong path. Mostly, we are creating the condition so that we can just follow that. We can be observers and mildly push things in certain directions. But if there’s ever anything that they overtly baulked at, and I can’t think of many instances, then it’s going to end up being performance and that’s not what we want. They’re there to have an honest experience in whatever way they see, but not to perform, not to do our bidding.”


The Great Escaper (dir. Oliver Parker)


“While not remotely the best project of either Caine or Jackson’s career – it wouldn’t crack the Top 10 – the film is a slight but sweet ode to a particular flavour of Britannia that will leave its target audience in sentimental shambles,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “[T]here’s a bland romanticism of war here that feels at odds with the present-day drama – and the actors he has hired to play younger versions of the central couple (Will Fletcher as Bernie and Laura Marcus as Irene) cannot possibly measure up.”


“To see Caine and Jackson together in The Great Escaper is a great joy,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The film may be about honour and memory, in part, but surely it is mainly about love. It’s what Bernie had for Rene and what we have for the admirable film stars who make this film eminently watchable. For those of us who enjoy the great escape of cinema, it is a pleasure to be in the company of Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson for one last time.”


“Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson are Bernie and Rene, a long-married couple who met just before WWII and now share a suite in a care home,” adds Anne Brodie at What She Said. “A sweet, sad, and in its way, profound portrayal of Bernie’s story, a generation’s story, and the unbreakable bond between Bernie and Rene.  Unsentimental and an important reminder of the Greatest Generation’s sacrifices for our freedom.”


Handling the Undead (dir. Thea Hvistendahl)


“In a conventional zombie movie, reactions are heightened, which can detach us from the very emotions that Hvistendahl seems to be aiming at,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “By eliminating the predictable carnival-ride ups and downs of the usual zombie movies, Hvistendahl goes deeper into the archetype of what the undead represent and gives us something more profound.”


In a Violent Nature (dir. Chris Nash 🇨🇦)


“Stumbling into In a Violent Nature can be like finding a discarded mattress in a ditch,” says Thom Ernest at Original Cin. “You can sense the disease, bug-ridden mildew rising from the rotting fabric and the rusted springs. The difference is that you are likelier to sit through In a Violent Nature than sleep on a discarded mattress. Or you might decide the mattress is less disturbing. Regardless, genre fans will relish every unsettling, dangerous moment.”


“An ingenious, almost diabolical cross between a Friday the 13th flick and an open-world video-game a la the Grand Theft Auto series – but pitched to the slowed down tempo of such Gus Van Sant films as Gerry and ElephantIn a Violent Nature is the most thrilling, terrifying, gross and often quite funny reworking of the slasher genre in ages,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “If the subversive 2006 mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon felt like the last time a slasher movie was given even the glint of a new edge, then In a Violent Nature arrives like a freshly sharpened, artisanally forged butcher knife. This is horror with art on its mind and blood on its hands.”


“Johnny stalks the forest wordlessly, sneaking up on the campers who have wronged him, then meting out their punishment in the most violent ways. They’re ripped apart with a meat hook, an axe and a wood chipper that looks like it was designed by Rube Goldberg,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “True to the extravagant blood lust of the modern horror genre, Nash and cinematographer Pierce Derks show the butchery in mostly full light and gruesome detail. The gore is made all the more intense by the film’s boxy 4:3 aspect ratio.”


In a Violent Nature is as up to its ears in horror chops, convolutedly gruesome kills and artistic leanings as The House that Jack Built, Hannibal or True Detective‘s good seasons. But unfortunately for us all, subversions do not a classic make.” writes Jackson Weaver at CBC. “In a Violent Nature is a cool subversion of horror, but without actually saying all that much — or rather, getting it across effectively. And an arthouse slasher without a substantive message is, in the end, just a less entertaining slasher.”


At Queer Horror Movies, Joe Lipsett calls it “One of the most original horror films of the year”


Jim Henson: Idea Man (dir. Ron Howard)


“Howard delivers a thorough, polished, and charming documentary that celebrates Henson’s life. However, the film isn’t all love and rainbows. It delves into how success took a toll on his personal life, chronicling his declining health, failed projects and separation from his wife,” writes Victor Stiff at Victor Stiff Reviews. “If you’re a Muppets fan, watching Howard’s documentary is a must. It’s every bit as entertaining as it is insightful, celebrating the soul who breathed life into so many beloved characters. Jim Henson: Idea Man is a heartwarming story of a visionary dreamer who used his creativity to manifest a kinder, gentler world.”


Jim Henson: Idea Man offers a portrait of a maverick artist working within the seemingly squarest of mediums. Children’s television might not seem like the ideal stomping ground for creative outlet. And yet, Howard, arguably the squarest of filmmakers on the surface, finds in one song a subtly radical act that reveals Henson’s ingenuity as an artist,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.


The Mattachine Family (dir. Andy Vallentine; June 4)


“This LGBT+ film is all about family and the importance of family,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Though it could have been a heartbreaking drama, director Vallentine takes the route of feel-good, with the result that The Mattachine Family becomes an easy and pleasant watch while still getting its message across.”


Much Ado About Dying (dir. Simon Chambers)


“Without Simon or the documentary, David’s life might have become a Shakespearean tragedy,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Through the film, though, it’s more akin to one of Shakespeare’s comedies, even if it ends with a death and not a wedding. David is a larger than life figure who knows how to work the camera. The film affords him many moments to embark on lengthy soliloquies as he tells the story of his life. For an actor, that is such stuff that dreams are made of.”


A Part of You (dir. Sigge Eklund)


“Director Eklund delves into the routines of the troubled teens, illustrating the drug and alcohol use while also emphasizing the tension and stress that youth face (i.e. the Mean Girls mentality).  Through the actions of Agnes who also has to deal with the grief of her sister’s death, one cannot help buy both sympathize and root for the film’s protagonist. Director Eklund clearly moves his film effectively, gearing it to an explosive climax,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The magnificent performances of both Larsson and Felicia Maxime in the title role of Agnes aid all this.”


Plastic People (dir. Ben Addelman, Ziya Tong 🇨🇦)


There is an almost hopeless, too-late feel to the scope of the ocean of plastic bits we turn out to inhale and absorb,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “At its end, Plastic People tries to strike an optimistic note, with stats about the countries that have implemented directives toward limiting plastics, and a feel-good snippet about a Philippine river once clogged and now clear after a massive plastic cleanup effort. But cheering up is a bit of a tall order after 80-or-so minutes of the global Frankenstein’s Monster we’ve blithely, and even enthusiastically, created.”


What You Wish For (dir. Nicholas Tremblay)


“A non-stop thrill ride,” says Joe Lipsett at Bloody Disgusting. “What You Wish For is hugely entertaining, tense, and (often surprisingly) funny film that risks getting lost in the glut of horror and thriller releases. Don’t miss this culinary delight; it’s one of the best of the year.”


Reports from Canadian Screen Week


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Ivan Schneeberg and David Fortier of Boat Rocker Media to take the pulse of the film and TV biz in Canada. “We’ve always seen ourselves as not a Canadian entertainment company, but an entertainment company based in Canada,” Schneeberg tells Hertz. “The Canadian TV industry is a product of regulation, not a product of demand, but the regulation was strong enough to generate a real marketplace. But as that’s deteriorated, the regulatory framework that created and protected the industry has become weakened. So if you want to survive, you have to either stay small in Canada, or look outward.”


Also at The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with Gail Case, the newly appointed head of The Black Academy and learns how the Canadian screen sector is stacking up when it comes to DEI efforts: “We’re making progress, but the conversation needs to continue,” says Case. “There are a lot of organizations that are now including diversity, equity and inclusion in their mandates. So I would say there’s a little progress happening, and it needs to continue.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with director David Lickley and co-executive producer Brenda Tremblay, whose documentary Jane Goodall: Reason for Hope received the inaugural award for sustainable production: “You really have to pay attention to what impact you’re having and doing the environmental documentaries that we do, it’s our responsibility to do it the way that has the least impact on the environment,” says Lickley. “I think going forward, lots of people are going to do it. It’ll save money in the end too. These are more efficient ways of doing things.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage: Shalom, TJFF!


At What She Said, Anne Brodie previews the return of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival: “Eighty films from Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Algeria, France, and more cover the gamut of issues and human interest stories in various genres, styles, and subjects.” Highlights include Home, All About the Letkoviches, and Midas Man.


On the TFCA blog, Jason Gorber kibbitzes with David Cronenberg about his new film The Shrouds at Cannes. “Interestingly, I wrote it before these times, before the increased intensity since the Hamas atrocity,” Cronenberg explains when asked about imagery in the film. “I’m very Jewish, and I’m completely irreligious, and completely secular, and atheist. But nonetheless, I am Jewish in my sensibilities, and definitely formed by that. I wasn’t trying to make a statement particularly with the toppled tombstones, I must confess. I wasn’t particularly thinking of that resonance, even though it’s obvious, because I’m so focused on the universe within the movie. But as soon as the discussion of targeted tombstone desecration comes up, I mean, of course you think about it.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie goes along for the ride with Benedict Cumberbatch in Eric: “Into the dingy, filthy subway tunnels we go, into seedy discos and bars, interrogation rooms, foreign lands, and the dark, secret corners of people’s minds. It’s an extremely disturbing world presented in Eric in which monsters dictate what goes on.”


So does Karen Gordon at Original Cin, who digs its take on city life: “Eric recreates a realistic, rundown, dirty version of 80s New York, where life spans from the very privileged to the unseen and discarded who live in parts of the subway. There’s deceit and corruption everywhere, and lots of people have motives to do bad things and to cover those bad things up.”