An interview with Swan Song director Chelsea McMullan about their Rogers Best Canadian Documentary nominee on Karen Kain’s Swan Lake.
TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 10
November 10, 2023
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
ICYMI: We are now accepting applications for the Telefilm Canadian Emerging Critic Award.
In Release this Week
Another Body (dir. Sophie Compton, Reuben Hamlyn)
“Another Body, which uses illustrations and actors to protect the victims’ identities, does a good job of explaining the phenomenon and capturing its subjects’ ballooning anxieties. It does a less good job of contextualizing how deepfake porn can and does impact people over the long-term, or how those without the benefit of being tech-savvy, 20-something engineering students could possibly hope to track down perpetrators leveraging an arsenal of online tricks to cover their tracks,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin.
“The doc uses subtle flashes of deep fake giveaways in both real people and impersonations. Small details give it away – unnatural eyelashes, light flashes around the face, too-perfect features, and more. Kudos to ‘Taylor’ and the other young woman who took a stand and helped get the message across in this extremely timely doc,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “In this case, the man in question, who is named and shown, targeted several women. They had been his college roommates and were the only two females in a university engineering program where they experienced chauvinism. Fortunately in Canada, work is ongoing to regulate the use of deep fake technologies and impersonation.”
“We can’t put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to deepfakes, but films like this can certainly force lawmakers to finally catch up to the power of technology,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with directors Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn about diving into their deepfake investigation, but also practicing self-care throughout a demanding process. “It’s important to build space because bad decisions are made in stress, panic, and fight-or-flight,” says Compton. “Making this kind of work forces you to do the internal work that we don’t do unless we’re carrying such responsibilities. You need to process your emotions and draw your own boundaries. Making documentaries, whilst it can be incredibly challenging, forces us to get our mental health life in order, in a way.”
Birth/Rebirth (dir. Laura Moss)
“Birth/Rebirth is an impressive directorial debut from Laura Moss (a filmmaker from NYC whose work has screened at Tribeca, Rotterdam, and SXSW+ who has reimagined Mary Shelley’s classic horror myth Frankenstein into credible modern setting with real people with real issues,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Butcher’s Crossing (dir. Gabe Polsky)
“Butcher’s Crossing is a simple film, practically standard in its telling of four men trekking deep into the badlands chasing the dream of the rumoured existence of a large herd of buffalo. The men are buffalo hunters, save for the young Will (Fred Hechinger) who has abandoned his studies at Harvard to explore a deeper meaning within himself,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It’s not clear what motivates the young, fresh-faced Will to leave the comforts of privilege to head out west and take part in a buffalo hunt, or why buffalo hunting should be held in such deep regard.”
Cyberbunker: The Criminal Underworld (dir. Max Rainer and Kilian Lieb)
“At its best the doc plays like a suspense thriller,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Also, an informative, scary, and thankfully highly watchable for its easy going treatment of the material.”
Dangerous Waters (dir. John Barr)
“Dangerous Waters is a lot like an after-school TV special, only violent. Dubious, predictable, and short on character development, this B-movie cheesefest is nonetheless watchable thanks to a spirited performance from Odeya Rush (Lady Bird),” writes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Rush plays Rose, a girl of 19. She and her mother Alma (Saffron Burrows) are going on a 10-day boat trip with mom’s new boyfriend Derek (Eric Dane). Rose is not enthused about the trip but happy to hang out with her mom and maybe get to know Derek better. There’s something a little fishy about Derek, but as the holiday unfolds, he teaches Rose how to tie knots, read charts, and sail the boat.”
Journey to Bethlehem (dir. Adam Anders)
“Every addition made by director and co-writer Adam Anders is more of a subtraction to the greater whole, and by the end of Journey to Bethlehem, all but the most faithful with lowest moviegoing standards will be left wondering why they bothered in the first place,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
The Lebanese Burger Mafia (dir. Omar Mouallem 🇨🇦)
“Rich in economic, cultural, culinary, and familial histories, the amusing, cheekily titled, and disarmingly complex documentary The Lebanese Burger Mafia is a satisfyingly full meal,” munches Andrew Parker at The Gate.
The Marvels (dir. Nia DaCosta)
“The screenplay features more bafflegab than the average Marvel outing – do we really need to know that the system of stargates is ‘a universal neural teleportation network,’ or that Dar-Benn’s hammer is actually ‘a universal weapon’?” asks Chris Knight at the National Post. “Must be a Swiss army hammer. There are also a bewildering large number of worlds, though I did like Tarnax, which looks like what would happen if you based your entire planet’s architecture on the Canadian Museum of History in Quebec.”
“It’s all there in the script but somehow, we don’t feel the love on the screen,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “As much as this reviewer wanted to believe in the comradeship between the Marvels, it all feels awkward and shy. They’re likeable but the connection between the three feels forced, like cousins made to feel that they should be friends at weddings and family reunions. Not for once do we care—as we should—that Captain and Ms. Marvel and Monica Rambeau (aka Prof Marvel?) might become the dearest of friends.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a terrible mess of story and narrative in too expensive a film.”
“How does one properly talk about a film like The Marvels, where there are three really exceptional things going for it, and a truckload of bad things to offset them?” asks Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Furthermore, what if that truckload of bad things still doesn’t outweigh the power of the three good aspects? I guess what I’m saying is that The Marvels is a film that does ten things wrong for every three things it gets perfectly right, but in the grand scheme of things it still remains rather light and likeable.”
“In avoiding the suffocating backstory contained in nearly 120 hours of connected content shows, The Marvels shows that what was once the MCU’s greatest strength has turned into an awkward and especially heavy albatross,” writes Jackson Weaver at CBC. “That said, The Marvels does start strong. After a dizzying exposition section covering the events of Captain Marvel, Infinity War, Endgame, and the Disney+ series’ WandaVision, Secret Invasion and Ms. Marvel, we get to the meat and potatoes. Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Carol Danvers) is still drifting alone in self-imposed interstellar isolation, brooding over all the great power and great responsibility a growing superhero needs.”
“It’s a busy movie, and those silly moments tend to underscore how much of too much is going on the rest of the time,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “As fleshed-out characters, Carol and Monica barely register. Fangirl Kamala at least brings some life to the game with her unrestrained chatterbox enthusiasm. (As well, the actors playing her parents chew up some scenery when they’re taken to space by Fury for security reasons).”
“Blessed be any casual MCU-goer who can piece together exactly what is happening on a scene-to-scene basis, as a full understanding seems to require Talmudic study of not only the many Avengers films that have since followed Larson’s first superhero outing, but also at least three Disney+ television series (WandaVision, Ms. Marvel, and Secret Invasion are key texts) plus one other movie that [redacted on pain of being excommunicated by Disney],” groans Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The Marvels is just that kind of production, a white board of sticky notes that magically coalesces, slowly and grudgingly, into a feature-length motion picture that merely acts as a long advertisement for the next.”
“Markham, Ont.-raised Vellani made her acting debut as New Jersey teenager Kamala in the recent Disney Plus series Ms. Marvel. Over six entertaining episodes, young Kamala learns that her obsession with comic book hero Captain Marvel (played by Larson in the movies) is based on more than just fangirl worship, although there’s a lot of that, too,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “She brings some of the TV show’s quarrelsome fun to “The Marvels,” along with her family from the series: her hectoring mom and dad (Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur) and her know-it-all older brother (Saagar Shaikh).”
Stamped from the Beginning (dir. Roger Ross Williams)
“Stamped from the Beginning though biased against all white folk in general (hardly anything good to say about white folk), does shed excellent light on the origin of racism,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“While the film takes a relatively conventional approach to the subject—talking heads, title cards, vérité, and awkward graphics–it synthesizes the creation and perpetuation of anti-Black racism and white supremacy,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “These are big topics and Williams assembles smart people who contextualize the story and provide historical facts with an engaging delivery. The doc always circles back to the violence of the present to illustrate how deeply racism is entrenched in the fabric of American society.”
Testament (dir. Denys Arcand 🇨🇦)
“Testament has performed well in cinemas in Quebec, and will probably do well in France when it opens there. English Canada, with its differing comedic sensibilities, may be less receptive. But my guess is that it will split along generational lines. Well-educated twentysomethings may be outraged. Those who were well-educated twentysomethings 20 years or more ago may not be,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “I advise both groups to pay attention to the film’s clever coda, a kind of ‘this too shall pass’ moment that invites us all to take a deep breath and consider what really matters in the world.”
“It’s like having a two hour debate with someone well-spoken and intelligent who sometimes runs into a wall, shrugs, and says, ‘well, that’s just your opinion.’ It’s an ornery, dyspeptic work that also wants to play nice, and that never works,” sighs Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“For many of his finest films including Decline and the Academy Award winning Barbarian Invasions, Arcand has worked with Remy Girard, who plays here a gifted figure—an artist and wise man—who is also humble, almost an everyman,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Girard is the lead in Testament, an honest lonely figure who continues to work twice a week as an archivist but is otherwise a bemused individual, observing the frailties of our lives as played out even in a seniors’ residence. In an over-the-top sequence Girard’s Bouchard receives a top literary prize only to be disparaged by his fellow winners and the organizers for being old, white and out of touch with contemporary issues.”
“Veteran and many time collaborator with Arcand, actor Remy Girard is one of the reasons to watch the film,” advises Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “He delivers a meticulous and nuanced performance, fed up with what is happening in the world and let to live the rest of his life in the retirement home. His only source of hope and happiness is Suzanne.”
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell interviews Denys Arcand about finding new perspective with age: ““I was a lot more anxious when I was 40 to 45. I was often afraid of dying, because I enjoy living, you know? I wanted to enjoy life until the end, obviously, so I was maybe more anxious and also intolerant of some people, politicians, social structures and stuff like that,” Arcand says. “As I grew older and older, I became more pacified. I’m not afraid of death anymore. It can come tomorrow; I’m fine. I’ve done all the things I wanted to do. I’ve had.”
At the Canadian Press, Pat Mullen speaks with director Denys Arcand about his inspiration for his new film and what distinguishes satire from cynicism: ““A cynic is hopeless. He thinks that things are going to turn from bad to worse, and he has absolutely no hope. Satire is something that you do hoping to change the way people behave,” says Arcand. “That’s been my motto forever: you underline stuff that you think should be changed. But at the same time, you make it in a light, entertaining way hoping that people are going to be better. There’s hope. It’s not despair.”
Who’s Yer Father? (dir. Jeremy Larter 🇨🇦)
“As a genre, stupid criminals have been tapped to great effect by the likes of the Coen brothers and Elmore Leonard. Who’s Yer Father? obviously isn’t in the same league (or budget), but it is committed to its story and to lowering the bar on its gags as they pile up with each plot twist,” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “And Locke and Kent have an eccentric romantic chemistry that gives you someone to cheer for, even when they’re doing sketchy things. Ex-Second City trouper Marc Hickox plays Larry’s drunken buddy Blair, which is kind of gilding the lily, giving a dumb protagonist a stupider sidekick. Still, Hickox brought his chops. Who’s Yer Father? is a pretty broad comedy for such a small island. But it has some charm, and a silly laugh or three.”
At the TFCA blog, Marriska Fernandes chats with director Jeremy Larter and cast about making a PEI-set comedy with distinct local flavour: “I remember 15 years ago, people would tell me in the industry, ‘You cannot make your story. You cannot set your story in PEI. It will not sell. You have to make it take place in America, not even Canada. Like, you have to pretend that this is the United States,’” says Larter. “That was the attitude for a long time. You can’t make a PEI story, let alone a Canadian story. I’m glad that’s changed.”
You Were My First Boyfriend (dir. Cecilia Aldarondo)
“Aldarondo turned out fine, she’s a filmmaker, and she partnered with a nice guy but it wasn’t enough; she had to understand or correct the past. She staged sequences at the prom, in the lunchroom, classroom and hallways, and in her teenaged bedroom. It was a bold undertaking,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “She soon became focused on Joel, the one who got away, even though she only remembers a single conversation and one dance between them from Grade 6 to high school graduation. Why does she go there? She calls it an “emotional exorcism”, relief from the bad feelings she still carries in middle age.”
File Under Miscellaneous
“With an agreement finally reached between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail asks what’s next for Hollywood after the strike: “Either way, Hollywood’s workers are now left to re-enter a market drastically less sunny than the one they were forced out of by avaricious studio heads. The excitement of the next few weeks and months – in which producers scramble to restart stalled productions, sound stages become choked with overlapping productions, and writers’ rooms begin to flood the phone lines of local restaurants – will, sadly but realistically, start to give way to a more confounding reality of cost-cutting and “right-sizing.”
Also at The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz takes the pulse of the industry at the American Film Market. “Taylor Swift was name-checked more than anyone else, with her experiment in directly distributing her Eras concert film to theatres with the help of U.S. multiplex giant AMC cited as a revolution in reviving the theatrical marketplace, while also proving that not every film needs the traditional studio and distribution systems that Team Swift bypassed. Except, well, there’s only one Taylor Swift – even Beyoncé’s forthcoming concert film, replicating the Eras model, is set to perform significantly lower at the box office.”
At CBC, Marriska Fernandes speaks with Brendan Fraser about lending his voice to the audio tale The Downloaded: “It really distils the medium down to the performer, even more so than on something that incorporates the visuals of a television show or a film because it’s incumbent on the listener to have their imagination inspired to create the story, and that’s the fun of it. It really kind of put me in the driver’s seat of how the story gets told,” Fraser tells her.
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell about their latest entry in the Audrey Benac cinematic universe, Opus 28, which seeks to reclaim the story of violinist Kathleen Parlow: “What Deragh and I are trying to do is give Kathleen the Glenn Gould treatment,” Bohdanowicz tells Hertz. “We both think it’s sad that she’s not recognized, so we’re trying to resurrect her by piecing her life together, though you can only get so much out of documents.”
At Zoomer, Marriska Fernandes speaks with Nyad director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi about drawing about her documentary roots for her first narrative work: “It actually felt very familiar, because we were dealing with familiar challenges because [it’s] always about the obstacles that make it fun. You know, swimming is not your most entertaining sport. There’s not even dialogue. But we were used to that because, say, in Free Solo, Alex climbed and climbed and really what we understood in Free Solo was you don’t really need to know the jargon. But you do need to know that challenge,” Vasarhelyi tells Fernandes.
At That Shelf, Rachel West looks at the MuchMusic documentary 299 Queen Street West as it brings a slice of Canadiana on a road show tour. “The sheer volume and range of archival footage in 299 Queen Street West is something to be marvelled at. There are early interviews with everyone from Tommy Lee to Britney Spears, AC/DC, Beastie Boys LL Cool J, No Doubt, Radiohead, Garth Brooks, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and NSYNC, as well as candid conversations with David Bowie, and Eminem, and Bono in the backseat of a car on the way to the airport. From the disaster that was Woodstock ‘99 to annual tree tosses, Menard manages to cover it all in a concise and entertaining package.”
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber speaks with 299 Queen Street West director Sean Menard about his doc and why it’s so hard for Canadian audiences to see it: “Even before my SXSW premiere, the number one question I’m getting is ‘When can Canadian audiences see this film?’ I kept saying, well, there’s a certain film festival that takes place in our city in September, and that I’d love for the red carpet moment for the VJs and the home audiences to be able to see it then,” Menard tells Gorber. “I kept saying September in our city, and I did an incredible amount of media. The majority of them posted that very [comment]. That’s how they would end the article because local audiences wanted to know how they could see it.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Rojek Lands, Reel Asian Rises
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with Rojek director Zaynê Akyol ahead of the film’s overdue US premiere at DOC NYC. The film, Canada’s submission for Best International Feature, explores the roots of religious fundamentalism “As a Kurdish woman, I really wanted to understand who they are and why they’re doing those things because I saw so many horrible things on the ground,” explains Akyol. “Because I was there at the beginning of the war, it was my own quest to understand how they explain everything with religion. As Simone de Beauvoir, says ‘You aren’t born a woman, you become a woman.’ It’s the same thing as a murderer. You are not born a terrorist, you become a terrorist.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey previews Reel Asian, which screens Canada’s other Oscar bid, the Pakistani co-production In Flames: “In Flames comes with some strong buzz as a selection at the Directors Fortnight sidebar in Cannes, and as Pakistan’s submission to the Oscars. The feature debut of Pakistani Canadian director Zarah Khan is a psychological thriller,” writes Lacey. “The story follows a Mariam (Ramessha Nawal), a medical student who lives in a Karachi apartment with her indebted widowed mother and younger brother. Shifting between social pitfalls — debt, predatory men, accidents, mental illness — and ghostly visitations, the film is described by Indiewire as ‘a Kafkaesque saga of niceties gone awry’.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah previews Reel Asian and highlights films including Relics of Love and War: “There is much to learn and discover in this amazing 40-minute film by filmmaker Keith Lock, the film told mainly with a voiceover that puts together an amazing true tale using old photographs. Lock narrates the story of how his mother (directly from China, a petite 4 ft 10 inc but very pretty lady) married his father in Australia, who was training with other Chinese Canadian veteran volunteers for the top secret suicide mission, Operation Oblivion.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie previews Reel Asian films like Unibrow: “Within fourteen minutes Sarshar develops lead Leyla (Lina Sennia) an Irani-Canadian girl as a free thinker, a traditional yet rebellious private school student in the GTA, who struggles between her traditional home life and school where her thoughtless patriarchal teacher seems typical, and with those complicated feelings that rise up when we are teens…Sarshar’s mature direction in this subtle, moving short is empathetic, the cinematography is elegant, beautifully shot and lit. Highly recommended. Watch for more from Sarshar.”
At The Gate, Andrew Parker surveys Reel Asian selections like We Will Be Brave: “We Will Be Brave has a lot of ground to cover, almost too much of it to fit in a single film, but Hessing’s interview subjects do a wonderful job explaining what sets Good Guise apart from other male support groups that might not be making healthier or more mindful choices. Everyone in We Will Be Brave is willing to be vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable honest about their past and present battles, something that grows more poignant as the collective struggles financially and some members go through more profound personal changes and issues.”
TV Talk/Series Stuff: Are they movies, series, or both?
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz explores the new trend of Canadian films that have companion mini-series and vice versa, including Bones of Crows, Swan Song, and BlackBerry: “The CBC first commissioned a four-part doc [for Swan Song], but the production team pivoted to a hybrid model in order to complete financing, with producers now able to shop a feature-film version to the rest of the world to raise additional funds,” writes Hertz. “BlackBerry, meanwhile, is an experiment within an experiment. The project originated not with a filmmaking team but with the CBC, which had optioned the rights to Sean Silcoff and Jacquie McNish’s 2015 non-fiction book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry. While taking pitches from outside producers about how the network could adapt it, the CBC connected with Rhombus Media’s Niv Fichman, who brought in Johnson and his producing partner Matthew Miller.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks into another mystery with A Murder at the End of the World: “What makes it modern, updated from endless film and stage takes on the Agatha Christie stories And Then There Were None…is Darby – she’s a feminist, strong, resilient, intuitive, and well-versed in human psychology and behaviour, she breaks all the rules,sets her own and she has nerves of steel.” Meanwhile, Our War “uncovers the prisoner-of-war experience his father never spoke about.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz dives into the Safdie brothers’ series The Curse: “That fuzzy line between what is real and what is manufactured divides the dark heart of The Curse. Fielder and Safdie delight in the itchy, nerve-wracking comedy that can come from exploring such ambiguity. Even the way the show is shot – many episodes are directed by Fielder himself – blurs the line between scripted and unscripted storytelling,” writes Hertz. “When the HGTV cameras aren’t trained on Asher and Whitney, it seems that we’re watching their lives caught by some other, more hidden camera crew – all high, odd angles and peek-a-boo staging that erases the notion of privacy.”
At Original Cin, Chris Knight looks at the return of For All Mankind: “The showrunners have done some creative hand-waving with some of their historical changes. For All Mankind posits that in 1986 a working fusion reactor opened up a world of cheap, clean electricity. And at about the same time, the U.S. government clamped down on the nascent internet, dubbing it the Government Computer Network and prohibiting most public use of it. A world without climate change or social media, AND a base on Mars? Sign me up!”