Reviews include Slash/Back, Elvis, and Official Competition.
TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 12
November 12, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Ascension (dir. Jessica Kingdom; Nov. 15)
“Shot in 51 locations, crossing all social and economic strata, we see how the people fit into pre-ordained, never-changing roles, rich person, servant, or cog. It’s incredible that Kingdon had such access,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Belfast (dir. Kenneth Branagh)
“[I]t’s best to walk into Belfast with the same kind of wide-eyed, heart-on-sleeve intentions that Branagh made it with,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The film is not a masterpiece, but a memory box. Comforting, inviting, and one you won’t mind keeping close.”
“Branagh has a tendency to romanticize the past – Buddy is too cute for words, and the director’s callbacks to the showdown of High Noon are a bit forced,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “But maybe that’s the way Buddy/Kenneth remembers it. This is a tribute to a city from a man who left it, even while his heart stayed and a bit of his soul was lost in the process.”
“As Buddy’s father, Jamie Dornan, and mother, Irish actress Caitríona Balfe, are, to use an Irish-ism, too feckin’ gorgeous,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “But they’re also estimable actors in scenes brought down to earth by their quarrels about finances and her reluctance to shed community and family to go ‘over the waters.’ The grandparents, too, are exemplary figures, crinkly, wise and beguiling: Dame Judi Dench is a salty, movie-loving grandma, and Ciarán Hinds, in the movie’s most winning performance, is the ailing grandpa, who enjoys his morning smoke in the backyard outhouse and is Buddy’s favourite confidante.”
“[A] wonderfully nostalgic and occasionally dramatic film shot in glorious black and white, with lots of film references,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe give exemplary performances as the quarreling but still in love Pa and Ma but they’re topped by Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds as Buddy’s grandparents, who are bound to their lives in Belfast. Branagh has written great parts for Dench and Hinds, showing in their banter and the looks in their eyes that theirs has been a grand romance for many decades. writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“There’s also the slight problem of young Hill being not quite as versatile a performer as the adults surrounding him,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “Sure, any newcomer would have trouble pulling focus from the likes of Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds and Jamie Dornan, but Branagh doesn’t do much to protect him, either; in fact, as Belfast goes along it becomes clear that Branagh is cutting to scenes that don’t feature his younger self at all, mining deeper feeling from the characters around him – then shifting the focus back to Buddy’s perspective for a thoroughly contrived climax.”
“Dench and Hinds make a delightful pair, contributing much needed levity. If Belfast deserves any of the Oscars it’s touted for, these two reliable actors must surely be first in line for glory.” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Kenneth Branagh thinks he can charm his way to an Oscar and with the undeniably rousing “Belfast” he might just be able to pull it off.”
Clifford: The Big Red Dog (dir. Walt Becker)
“[S]omething of a gigantic delight,” yips Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Don’t get your hopes Pixar-high: this is a mid-budget kid’s flick through and through, and only exists because producers are smelling easy money like so many dogs sniffing each other’s butts.”
“Kids will get a kick out of Clifford the Big Red Dog and likely shed a tear or two,” woofs Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Sweet, lovely, emotional but not TOO emotional, Clifford is a great all-ages adventure.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says Clifford “has big hopes as a family film.”
“It’s just the kind of fun escape that kids probably need,” arfs Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Clifford is light escapism with a feel-good message about embracing anyone who stands out from the crowd. Someone finally found a way to make ‘fetch’ happen.”
“At the risk of being labeled a grump, I’ll add that back in my day we’d have got this done with a can of red paint, a bit of forced perspective and a healthy donation to the American Humane Association,” barks Chris Knight at the National Post. “Woof.”
Double Walker (dir. Colin West)
“Double Walker’s story is feverishly imaginative, though its internal logic often doesn’t hold up,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “But the star and co-writer Sylvie Mix is committed to her story, playing a mostly silent, seductive (often nakedly so) phantom who “can only be seen by believers and sinners.”
Gaza Mon Amour (dir. Nasser Brothers)
“Taking their cue from the internationally acclaimed Iranian cinema of Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Nasser Brothers have created a film that avoids highbrow discussion, engaging instead with the tales of people who experience love, loss, friendship and fear in Gaza, much as they would be anywhere else in the world,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“The film works best when it focuses on the easy charms of its two leads, the daily life of Occupation providing an unusual but poignant backdrop,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Yet there is also a sense that the Nassers are toning down their political messaging in order to feed the rom-com-ish narrative, when there’s likely room for both elements to thrive.”
“[S]enior love story is totally charming and is a standout,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The Nasser twins offer lively pictures of the community, the residents stress when they learn Israel has a new bomb, jokey street talk, whimsical moments and the solace and beauty of finding Siham shares Issa’s feelings – what joy,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “[A] gentle, funny and intimate portrait of well-lived lives on the Mediterranean.”
“Issa is a man of determination but few words,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Daw’s portrayal is wonderful. It’s a performance that conveys Issa’s thoughts and anxieties through internal reactions and body language. He’s created a character who is quirky and out of practice in the romantic realm. He is someone we can root for. Abbass is also wonderful as Siham, who is clearly not sure of what to make of Issa’s awkward attention.”
“Gaza is hardly the next stop on the Eat, Pray, Love train,” notes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “However, the unexpected twist that the Nasser brothers give this war-torn section of the Middle East makes the love story quietly and powerfully political: Love finds a way.”
Great White (dir. Martin Wilson)
“[M]akes for good cheesy entertainment that needs no concentration or emotional draining of one’s senses or anxieties,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Lair (dir. Adam Ethan Crow)
“Lair is a stand-out British horror film, with strong female leads and inclusive, LGBTQ+ storyline, camp and full of asshole characters and initially confusing as hell,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But director Adam Ethan Crow works his charm transforming it to one of the more memorable horror flicks of the year.”
Mayor Pete (dir. Jesse Moss)
“It is invigorating to witness a person of minority, as in the new doc Mayor Pete succeed against all odds,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Moss gets extraordinary access to Buttigieg, but Mayor Pete doesn’t rest on immediacy alone,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “As a character study, the film intuitively burrows into the tension that exists between Buttigieg’s squareness and queerness.”
On Broadway (dir. Oren Jacoby)
“[T]he overall tone is upbeat,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “Though I question the decision to intersperse history with behind-the-scenes footage from a new play called The Nap, especially given that the unfortunately named comedy ultimately ran for just 53 performances.”
“The Nap’s randomness echoes the wider hole in On Broadway: the doc doesn’t have an argument,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “It takes audiences through the vicissitudes of the theatre scene amiably, but somewhat aimlessly.”
Portraits from a Fire (dir. Trevor Mack 🇨🇦)
“Portraits from a Fire is an extraordinary work, both by Mack and actor William Lulua who carries the film on his young shoulders,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He’s in almost every frame and his easy self-assurance and acting range just jump straight out of the screen and into the heart.”
“Portraits from a Fire lays out its story artfully, as Mack and cinematographer Kaayla Whachell use the deliberately amateurish frame of Tyler’s movies to hide key elements in plain sight while anchoring the drama in the tension between Lulua and Arcand,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Portraits From a Fire is a sweet movie, with flashes of digital artiness, some dark moments and nicely drawn characters with a shared wry sense of humour,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “The location shoot, the Tl’etinqox (Anaham) Reserve, adds to the atmosphere with its lived-in reality. There’s a working-class hominess to it that could stand for small towns anywhere in Canada. Except this one’s called a ‘rez.’”
“Portraits from a Fire boasts some superb production values in the larger film, but wrapped around a simple, heartfelt tale that is clearly close to the heart of its 29-year-old director,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Tyler may mispronounce the name of the French film festival as ‘Khan-ness,’ but Mack surely knows how to say it. And I wouldn’t be surprised to run into him there one day.”
The Power of the Dog (dir. Jane Campion; Nov. 17)
“Jane Campion’s beautifully shot (in New Zealand) parable goes to extreme places and builds insurmountable tension in lifelike ways, haunting, both ugly and beautiful,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Cumberbatch reaches for the skies and touches them, as this powerful, violent elegy continues to haunt me two months after I saw it.”
“Jane Campion deftly adapts Thomas Savage’s western novel of toxic machismo, a tale exceedingly well told. Benedict Cumberbatch simmers and boils brilliantly as Phil, the Marlboro Man from Hell, a cattle rancher in 1920s Montana who is determined to wreck the new marriage of his meeker brother (Jesse Plemons),” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star.
See You Next Christmas (dir. Christine Weatherup)
“[A] holiday trifle with no snow or diversity,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Not especially Christmassy or engaging.”
Small Time (dir. Niav Contey)
“[A]n examination of the failure of today’s America – a scary film in that respect and perhaps for this reason is worth a look,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Soulmates (dir. Timothy Armstrong)
“The corny Soulmates isn’t exactly a masterwork but it’s competing for space with award season-heavy hitters,” sighs Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Female buddy buddy film with a dash of romantic comedy sees Soulmates (the film could also be appropriately called BFFs) sees the main actors going around giggling and trying their best to look busy in what could be considered well-worn territory,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
They Say Nothing Stays the Same (dir. Joe Odagiri)
“Popular Japanese actor and musician Joe Odagiri adds another creative achievement to his already impressive career with his directorial debut,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “They Say Nothing Stays the Same is a deceptively simple, slow-moving film that takes its time in revealing its layers.”
“They Say Nothing Stays the Same is a pensive and meditative drama of change,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Slow moving as it is, running at a length of 2 hours and 17 minutes, it is still a captivating film enlightened by award winning cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s stunning camerawork.”
Tick, Tick…Boom! (dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda)
“Garfield plays Larson as a man ready to explode. His every movement and gesture reveal a desire to be heard and seen, so that bursting into song hardly seems irrational,” raves Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Miranda does well by Larson, bringing the play to the screen and telling Larson’s story with compassion and, most importantly, with music.”
Canadiana: Reitman’s Family Biz; Temperament on Stage and Screen
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Jason Reitman about taking over the family business with the latest Ghostbusters outing, Afterlife, and navigating fan service and franchise demands. “There’s this sense of ownership that you have as a director while making a movie that you then give to the audience. It stops being yours and starts being theirs once you start playing it,” says Reitman. “Ghostbusters never belonged to me from Day 1. I got to pick up the baton and run with it. The pressure I feel is telling a story that I never really believed belonged to me, and only wanting to make people who love this franchise happy.”
Canadian stage-to-screen production Lessons on Temperament gets a special event screening in Toronto. Chris Knight reports at the National Post: “Lessons in Temperament began several years back as a play. But with theatres shuttered by the pandemic, Smith decided to instead perform for the camera, all while tuning dormant pianos in empty venues, including Harbourfront Centre, Soulpepper and Mirvish theatres.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Reel Asian
At Toronto Franco, Gilbert Seah surveys the line-up at Reel Asian. Highlights include Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (“shows that minor masterpieces can be made on a shoestring budget”), Islands (“a quietly charming indie film”), and Three Sisters (“an emotional roller-coaster ride that also offers slice of Korean life”).
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey dives deep in the Reel Asian line-up. His favourite? The peculiarly titled Digital Video Editing with Adobe Premiere Pro: The Real-World Guide to Set Up and Work Flow: “No, the film is not a video version of the manual that comes with Adobe software. Instead, this 40-minute film is an ingenious ghost-story take on the director-editor relationship — and how a ruthless editor can bring a film to life.”
TV Talk: Sick and Shrink
At What She Said, Anne Brodie samples the new series Dopesick and The Shrink Next Door. Of the former? “This riveting crime thriller took place in real life and this excellent limited series lays it out with rich storytelling, a mournfully beautiful score and events that would be tough to make up.” Of the latter? “The fact-based story of Dr. Ike Herschkopf (Paul Rudd) and his longtime patient Marty Markowitz (Will Ferrell) is wry and dark, unexpected material from two comic actors.” As for the return of Shetland? “There’s plenty to ponder, and the music from John Lunn is the gorgeous icing on the cake.” And the Nature of Things special Nature’s Big Year? “Just goes to show how big and negative our impact is on the natural world.”
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner gives Shrink a second opinion: “[A]s with so many streaming shows this year, an intriguing concept is defeated by stretching the material to fill an episode order: at eight episodes, most of which run around 45 minutes, The Shrink Next Door crawls when it should sprint, forcing a gifted cast…to play variations on the same scenes over and over.”