Reviews include Bullet Train, I Love My Dad, and A Night of Knowing Nothing.
TFCA Friday: Week of May 6
May 6, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
This Week in Movies!
Box of Rain (dir. Lonnie Frazier)
“Frazier credits her time as a travelling Deadhead as allowing her to finally belong and how it felt to be respected and loved,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “There are lots of touching stories like hers, the cherry on top is the ever-evolving music of the Dead.”
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (dir. Sam Raimi)
“Viewers not fully invested in Marvel Cinematic Universe minutiae become like the truant Ferris Bueller, wondering what classes they skipped or days they took off when the Book of the Vishanti was read, the WandaVision spinoff TV series was binged and the third eyeball of ‘Sinister Strange’ was poked,” explains Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “‘Nobody told me WandaVision was in the finals!’ we Buellers may pathetically bleat, but Doctor Strange 2 extends no mercy to those who merely seek escapist superhero entertainment. Study up or risk suffering complete disorientation.”
“I do know what a movie should have, which is character, plot and dialogue. I do know what a story is, and I know when there isn’t one,” observes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. “‘Please don’t reveal key spoilers,’ a publicist said as we filed out. As if I possibly could.”
“While it’s clear director Jon Watts had a plan for Peter Parker all along, the problem here is Doctor Strange himself — a powerful character inhabited by a wonderful actor trying mightily to make a meal out of an underdeveloped arc,” admits Eli Glasner at CBC. “While the first Doctor Strange film wasn’t perfect, the bones were there. Stephen Strange was an egotistical ass of a surgeon who needed to learn some humility before he could become the Master of the Mystic Arts. Cumberbatch and his clam chowder accent were amusing, as was the mentor/student relationship between him and Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. But now that Thanos is ashes, the good Doctor is fighting a case of the blues.”
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a mostly joyless exercise whose only saving grace is the mordantly silly touch of director Sam Raimi, who delivers ghouls, demons, necromancy, imaginatively surrealist backdrops and at least one rampaging monster that looks like it escaped from an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “For many, this is entertainment enough.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “the perfect outing for a blockbuster action hero movie- delivering lots of action, super effects, and surprises in a scarier setting.”
“Dr. Strange opens and closes on some crashingly powerful notes, and in the intervening two hours delivers a fast-paced, universe-hopping, nicely self-contained tale that for once didn’t have me wondering where the hell all the other Avengers were,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “Plus I got a kick out of the movie’s jargon from screenwriter Michael Waldron, who also created the Loki miniseries. Darkhold, Book of Vishanti, Gap Junction, Incursions – multiverse terminology or upscale clothing shops? You decide!”
Escape the Field (dir. Emerson Moore)
“[A]n entertaining time waster, requiring little concentration and mental work from the audience to appreciate,” admits Gilbert Seat at Afro Toronto.
Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive (dir. Ian Derry)
“A straight forward no-nonsense doc about the little known sport that should prove both enlightening and entertaining while illustrating once again the triumph of the human spirit,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Lady of Heaven: The Life of Fatima (dir. Eli King)
“It’s a time-travelling biography of Islamic historical figure Fatima that begins in the modern-day Middle East,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The bloody history of the area in both time frames finds hope in this epic, a massive and complicated undertaking; in keeping with the Muslim faith, there are no depictions of God or gods, shown with special effects.”
Operation Mincemeat (dir. John Madden)
“Oh! What a lovely war! This British historical drama about a bit of Second World War subterfuge features a beautiful, well dressed and talented cast topped by not one but two Misters Darcy: Colin Firth from the 1995 Pride & Prejudice miniseries, and Matthew Macfadyen from the 2005 movie,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “As directed by John Madden (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and adapted by Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex) from the book by Ben Macintyre, the movie is itself a bit of narrative subterfuge.”
“The Brits get the job done, the courage of brave men gets rewarded, and whatever wartime tensions arise are handled with both care and caution,” minces Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Think of such similar home-front war stories as The Imitation Game, Their Finest, Darkest Hour, and Firth’s own The King’s Speech and you’ll get the idea – as well the algorithmic ‘what to watch next”’ suggestions, which should pop up the moment you finish watching Operation Mincemeat on Netflix.”
Peace by Chocolate (dir. Johnathan Keijser 🇨🇦)
“It’s a heartwarming story with a Come From Away vibe, and while it doesn’t shy away from the racism immigrants experience in Canada, the predominant mood is one of triumph over adversity,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “And there’s a fun running gag in which fellow Syrians try to speak to Tareq in Arabic, only to find their mother tongue has gotten rusty.”
“The only real drama in the movie is whether Tareq ends up dedicating his life to his family or to medicine,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “There’s an old-style TV-movie quality to all this, that assures a happy ending (it helps that there was a real-life happy-ending to draw from). Like chocolate itself, its empty-calories will at least leave you feeling good.”
Petite Maman (dir. Céline Sciamma)
***TFCA Award nominee: Best International Feature***
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller Petite Maman “a film as compact and brilliant as a jewel” and speaks with Céline Sciamma about exploring family relationships through a modest fable: “I tried to craft it so that whether your parent is alive or dead, whether you have a good or bad relationship with them, you will feel seen by the film, and you can build a bridge between the film and your story.”
“The idyll comes to a close when Marion goes to the hospital and Nelly’s family prepares to return home,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Will they see one other again? Or is there a deeper question? Sciamma outdoes herself with this beautiful meditation on identity and love.”
“There is magic afoot here, but Petite Maman isn’t a supernatural movie,” observes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Sciamma is using this to get at something more wistful and emotionally resonant, about the connection between generations – in particular here the connection of mothers and daughters going back generations…In some ways, the film is made with such a light touch that it’s a miracle of storytelling that it holds together, and contains such deep emotions.”
“Petite Maman, a short and simple fable from writer/director Céline Sciamma turned me into a puddle with its final scene,” cries Chris Knight at the National Post. “Even days later, my voice would catch as I tried to describe its emotional heft.”
“A superb and delightful gem about girls in their fantasy yet mature world!” exclaims Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco.
“After going big, in the historical period romance sense, with 2019′s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Sciamma goes small in all the right ways for her epic-in-miniature follow-up, which finds comfort in the space between love and grief,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Shot with a small cast in just a handful of locations, Petite Maman represents both the absolute apex of pandemic-era filmmaking as well as proof that between this, 2014′s Girlhood and 2011′s Tomboy, Sciamma is one of contemporary cinema’s most astute chroniclers of adolescence.”
Stanleyville (dir. Maxwell McCabe-Lokos 🇨🇦)
“Stanleyville has a Lindsay Anderson/Thomas Pynchon-ish theatre of the absurd vibe that had me analyzing everything from the significance of character surnames (Jumpcannon, Frisbee, Pancreas) to the film’s hard-to-miss references to Lord of the Flies,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “But the strain of trying to keep up with the film’s offbeat hints that may or may not be targeting a deeper meaning became, if not exhausting, then at least tiresome. Perhaps it’s better to allow the film to play out as though confusion is the intent.”
“God bless Canadian weirdos,” declares Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Stanleyville, an aggressively strange concoction from Maxwell McCabe-Lokos…fits perfectly into the Canadiana sub-genre unofficially known as ‘messed up stuff.’ Audiences who like their boundaries to be teased, tested and sometimes tortured will fall deep into Stanleyville’s warren of weirdness – and everyone else has probably stopped reading this review by now.”
“Best to let you know that there are no easy answers in Stanleyville,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “That annoyed me a little, although if you were bothered by the overly explain-y finale of Squid Game, you might actually thrill to the open-endedness of this one, which allows for multiple theories, philosophizing and metaphors. Although sometimes a brand new habanero-orange compact SUV is just a brand new habanero-orange compact SUV.”
The Takedown (dir. Louis Leterrier)
At Toronto Franco, Gilbert Seah calls it “a fast paced action comedy that is both entertaining and a solid time-waster.”
“Diakité is fair, empathetic, effective, and brainy while Monge is a competitive, misogynist narcissist who has earned the contempt of his fellow coppers and most of the women he knows,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
The Twin (dir. Taneli Mustonen)
“The Twin is a solid psychological horror movie from Finland that churns out sufficient mystery, thrills and scare making it one of the better Shudder originals on the streaming service,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Hot Docs’ Home Stretch
At Variety, Jennie Punter reports from the Hot Docs industry programming, including a look at the conversations that transpired during the festival’s spotlight on Ukraine, featuring filmmakers Oksana Karpovych, Alina Gorlova, and Darya Bussel who spoke to the urgency of capturing an escalating crisis. “Many documentary filmmakers as well as people who usually work in fiction took up cameras immediately, even though, at the time, the majority of the Ukrainian population did not expect that this war would grow to this scale,” said Bassel. “Many Ukrainian filmmakers were prepared because they went through the (2014) Revolution of Dignity—they knew what was going on, they know what to expect.” Punter also reports on the master class with filmmaker Christine Choy, subject of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Exiles, who appeared in a talk with the TFCA’s own Angelo Muredda.
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell recaps twelve Hot Docs highlights, including Navalny by Toronto’s own Daniel Roher: “Navalny is fearless, charismatic and an agent of history. Roher’s doc puts us right in there with him, and his story has become all the more timely and urgent in light of Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine.”
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber speaks with Navalny director Daniel Roher about getting tougher on his subjects and looking beyond Putin for a fair portrait of Russia: “We don’t know the will of the Russian people at large because they are not allowed to express it in free, fair and open ways,” Roher tells Gorber. “I think all people with a moral conscience around the world have to understand that an alternate future is possible for Russia and all people of good conscience have to aspire to it.”
Also at POV Magazine, Marc Glassman interviews Toronto filmmaker Barri Cohen about exploring a family secret in Unloved and digging into the gross history of abuse at Huronia Regional Centre. “A core theme I discovered while researching the film, is the link between sadism and care when ‘care’ and ‘residency’ are industrialized,” Cohen tells Glassman. “Realizing that was a game changer for me. What is it about us that makes us angry and almost sadistic when tasked, under specific conditions, for caring for our most vulnerable in society?”
On a much different tone at POV Magazine, Pat Mullen revisits a comedy classic with Still Working 9 to 5’s Gary and Larry Lane and Camille Hardman. The documentary unpacks the Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton flick through the lens of #MeToo. “I think it depends on who you’re working for and I think it’s culturally different,” Hardman says when asked if Hollywood has changed. “Younger women have very strict boundaries, so they know right away whether something doesn’t feel right. They will stand up and say it, whereas women who are a little bit older are learning to stand up.”
At Toronto Franco, Gilbert Seah recaps a slew of docs from the festival and points out some highlights, like The Killing of a Journalist. “The segment in which a police spokesman tells the camera how the investigation led to the identification of the murder suspects is the most intriguing part of the film, writes Seah. “The doc plays like an unsolved mystery that turns to an absorbing and informative watch.”
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but are they TIFF’s? Barry Hertz reports at The Globe and Mail the recent news that the Toronto International Film Festival secured Italian jeweller Bvlgari among its posh sponsors for the fall festival. “While Bvlgari is not the first jewellery partner TIFF has secured over its 47 years, the deal is a bling-bright symbol that the festival is aiming to reassert its bigger, stronger, glitzier prepandemic self after two years in scaled-down hybrid mode,” writes Hertz.
Big Screen Blockbusters, Ahoy!
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports from CinemaCon, which ushered in a chorus of popcorn flick extravaganzas, while giving sneak peeks at films like Crimes of the Future and Tár. The spirit in the room, however, was all about getting back to the big screen: “At its best moments – like during the world premiere of the rip-roaring Top Gun: Maverick, which features [Tom] Cruise at his most charmingly unhinged – CinemaCon felt like a genuine return to film-industry normalcy. Look: it’s Jurassic World Dominion star Jeff Goldblum circulating among Nobu sushi platters,” writes Hertz. “And over there are the two most powerful frenemies in the movie theatre world, hugging by the shrimp cocktail platter inside the Palm restaurant.”
At the National Post, Chris Knight offers a summer movie preview and hints at the movies we’ll finally be able to enjoy on the big screen, like Elvis, Top Gun, Lightyear, and Nope. “So here we are again, and the studios seem to have found their footing. Just like in 2019 (and ’18, ’17, ’16 and ’15) Marvel has grabbed the first Friday of May for its latest production, Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” writes Knight. “Ticket presales are brisk, although pundits are suggesting an opening weekend of close to $200-million won’t outperform last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, which earned $260-million when it opened in December.” Hopefully, this means TFCA members’ editorial calendars may finally breathe easy.
At What She Said, Anne Brodie reports on the picturesque potboiler The Wilds: “This teen angst potboiler retains its high pitch with more twists and turns than trying to put a cover on a duvet.” Meanwhile, she especially likes Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack: “Fun, bold and fact-based, Jones is wildly entertaining in her larger-than-life performance.” On the other hand, The Unsolved Murder of Beverly Lynn Smith revisits an Oshawa cold case: “Chilling indeed and close to home.”
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber chats with director Nathalie Bibeau about exploring new terrain in true crime with The Unsolved Murder of Beverly Lynn Smith: “Is it ok to take a unique stance on a story, to explore it in a different way, to challenge those preconceptions,” says Bibeau. “You might go into this story thinking you know everything, or that you know who killed Beverly Smith. You might come out feeling differently. Your opinion might change ten times while you watch this series. That is something that we wanted to explore as a concept because of the complexity of the story.”