TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 17

November 17, 2023

May December | Photo by Francois Duhamel / Netflix

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!


Believer 2 (dir. Baek Jong-yul)


“The film suffers otherwise from the lack of both a strong narrative and a more solid plot that even new nuanced characters introduced into the film cannot make up for,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Blow Up My Life (dir. Abby Horton & Ryan Dickie; Nov. 21)


Blow Up My Life has nothing that one has not seen or heard in real life with whistleblowers of big companies, especially large pharmaceuticals,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Snowden’s whistleblowing film is a case in point.”


Bolivar (dir. Nell Teare)


“There is nothing really wrong with the film as it plays safe,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The only risk the director and scriptwriter take is the extensive use of flashbacks.”


Dashing Through the Snow (dir. Tim Story)


Dashing Through the Snow is never given the chance to succeed or follow through on the promise of its premise, instead coming across like a halfhearted stab at dumping some holiday content onto an unsuspecting public that’s been produced with a wafer thin budget and no sense of care,” groans Andrew Parker at The Gate.

Designer $hit (dir. Saffron Cassady)


“Self-injecting lightly processed poo sounds weird if you haven’t heard of it. But FMT is serious business. It’s currently being studied not just for treatment of digestive ailments like colitis, IBS, and Crohn’s, but for a range of physical and mental health issues, including Parkinson’s, cancer, COVID, obesity and bi-polar depression, and autism. And several pharmaceutical companies are keeping a close eye on the research,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Cassaday is the director and the subject and is excellent in both roles. She’s self-aware, curious, and not afraid to be honest. Designer $hit is a compelling story about living with a chronic illness and the constant yearning for a cure that comes with that.”


The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (dir. Francis Lawrence)


“Instead of a thrilling game of survival, these games are a slog to get through,” sighs Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“The film is a bit puzzling to follow as director Lawrence does not spend time to let the audience digest all the facts of the story,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But one can put the story together, nevertheless unless one wishes to read the novel or the synopsis before seeing the film.  A certain amount of credibility is required though, as the heroes Coriolanus and Lucy Gray survive the greatest odds.”


“Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games did a lot for her career as Katniss and she had that rebellious spirit and very much this character Lucy [Rachel Zegler] from District 12 has that same scrappy, Dolly Parton-like sense of defiance, a bit of lilt in her voice when she speaks, and when the Games begin, a little bit of singing,” says Eli Glasner at CBC. “The real firepower is not the action, but the acting. Tom Blyth, as the young Coriolanus, it’s a really interesting portrayal, especially since we know where this is going.”


“Although unimaginatively cribbing from the smoothly bland grey-and-grit palate of his original Hunger Games aesthetic, Lawrence keeps the momentum humming for the first two thirds of Songbirds & Snakes, there are some genuinely nasty deaths on display that push the limits of the young audience that the movie is obviously trying to both court and shock,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The action also continues the franchise’s built-in capacity for finding resonance with whatever of-the-moment conflict is rocking the headlines.”


“This one is a villain’s origin story about the development of Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem,” notes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “The Hunger Games movies, based on the bestselling trilogy by Suzanne Collins, are a massive box office hit. That’s in large part because they offered a strong female protagonist, wonderfully brought to life by Jennifer Lawrence. Why thi$ male-centred prequel — with the mo$t important attraction of the franchi$e $tripped out — $eemed like a good idea to anybody remain$ a my$tery.”


In Love and Deep Water (dir. Yûsuke Taki)


“Watching In Love and Deep Water is just like taking a cruise ship vacation and being stuck with unpleasant fellow passengers that cannot be ridden of,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Worst still, the film runs over two hours, which is far too long for a mystery thriller comedy, least of all a terrible one.”


The Job of Songs (dir. Lila Schmitz)


“The topic of grieving is also examined alongside the music, yet the music is beautiful with the pipes and lyrics of the songs.  Charm and melancholy blend well together near the film’s end, bringing the film to a memorable end,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


May December (dir. Todd Haynes)


“In this movie, even the soundtrack can’t be trusted. May December flirts with the way the world we live in is dominated by tabloid news and reality TV, the tawdrier the better; the line between fact and fiction is ever more slippery,” writes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “So many different takes on the truth here — it’s like the National Enquirer version of Rashômon. May December is often very funny, and Haynes manipulates a viewer’s responses even as he demonstrates how we all manipulate the reality around us. If you’re in charge of handicapping the office Oscar pool, you’ll want to see this film.”


“Credit should be given to Haynes for indulging in such a difficult topic, with a story examining the complexities of guilt, acceptance, awkwardness and true love,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It is dangerous that the film does not condemn the fact that this is a case of underage sex, and Gracie is truly guilty and that adolescents should be protected.”


“Such an outlandishly queasy premise could be so easily mangled in less inspired hands. Yet Haynes approaches the material with a lip-smacking enthusiasm, playfully mocking the high-volume drama as much as he embraces it,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “This is a juicy, outré exercise that gets its kicks from booting its audience into deliberately uncomfortable corners and then leaving them there to stew.”


“Haynes might be operating at a higher pitch and in a heavily stylized fashion, but his filmmaking abilities and the talent of his cast ensures that there isn’t a moment in May December that doesn’t feel true to the experiences, fears, and loves of its characters,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“All three main actors deliver strong performances. Moore draws on her past experiences with Haynes (in “Safe” and “Far From Heaven”) makes Gracie a figure of fascination, if not sympathy,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Melton, relatively new to film, demonstrates wide range in his depiction of Joe as an impressionable and undoubtedly damaged kid who has grown to become a sensitive and caring man and father. But it’s Portman, new to the films of Haynes, who really commands attention with a layered performance that slowly reveals a calculating character.”


“Ever the auteur and lover of cinema, Haynes isn’t content with referencing The Go-Between. As the film progresses, he moves into deeper terrain, offering up the brilliant Persona, Ingmar Bergman’s psychological masterpiece, in which two women appear to exchange identities,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “That’s what happens between Elizabeth and Gracie, as the actor seeks to replace the real person with a more self-aware version of herself. In an extraordinary scene, Gracie puts on ‘her’ make-up as the two uncomfortably try to resemble each other, at least in terms of appearance.”


May December ultimately proves to be Moore’s show. This stealthy and wickedly funny performance consistently surprises. One can never quite figure Gracie out: is she a predator? A victim? Lonely? Mentally ill? All of the above? Moore creates a complex character who appears the hallmark of grace and kindness, but actually proves unexpectedly manipulative, delivering cruelty with a smile,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “This performance leaves one on edge as Gracie shifts shape to defy the easy categorization with which Elizabeth seeks to define her. Moore is never better than when she’s working with Haynes and May December is no exception.”


Miranda’s Victim (dir. Michelle Danner)


“Miranda was later found guilty on charges of kidnapping and rape, and as it turns out, he had many other victims, but the decision was reversed. The case went to the US Supreme Court which created Miranda Rights, to protect a suspect from self-incrimination and the right to an attorney before being questioned. And then the state of Arizona stepped up and sent him to the slammer,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.


Next Goal Wins (dir. Taika Waititi)


“Mostly, this is lightweight, enjoyable-if-you-don’t-invest-too-much fare,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Although he is miscast and sporting a horrible blond hair-dye job, Fassbender does as much as he can to balance Rongen as an incurable jerk and inherently decent guy. Non-binary performer Kaimana has a natural charisma that helps anchor some of Waititi’s more tone-deaf decisions (having Saelua apologize to Rongen for his own bigoted thinking is a head-shaking moment). Kightley is consistently hilarious as the never-say-die Tavita. And even Waititi’s Flight of the Conchords buddy Rhys Darby pops by to deliver five minutes of solid straight-man shtick.”


“There are several other running gags in the movie although, much like some of the more laidback members of the soccer team, I don’t think they’re running when anyone isn’t looking. There’s the extreme religiosity of the islanders, for instance,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “And their mild manners, so at odds with those of the brash outsider. Fassbender, so good in so much of what he does, may have been miscast in this project, or at least misdirected. He seems to learn small life lessons whenever the plot needs to move forward, only to stagger backwards again until the next big crisis.”


“While it might be time for the clearly overworked Waititi to take a break and recharge his creative muscles, this is a fun enough lark that will make people nostalgic for the sort of ’90s and early 2000s sports comedies to which Next Goal Wins is clearly and pointedly indebted,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.


“Winning performances come from the Samoan actors playing the footballers. Though Fassbender is good, the discovery is Kaimana, who plays real-life team member Jaiyah,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Like Jaiyah, Kaimana is a member of American Samoa’s fa’afafine community and delivers a performance that’s warm, deep, and commanding in every scene.”


“There’s lots of room for comedy as Fassbender’s character must put up with the island’s absurdly low automotive speed limits and easy-going attitudes towards everything from shopping to gender relations. Comedy arises out of conflict and misunderstanding but Fassbender seems so befuddled and unengaged that the humour in even well-constructed scenes fail to come off,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The one thing that Waititi does give us is the remarkable real-life tale of Jaiyah Saelua, who became the world’s first transgender football player to appear in World Cup competitions. As played by Kaimana, who is non-binary and identifies as a fa’afafine (a third gender commonly accepted on the island), Jaiyeh is the most appealing character in the film.”


Stamped from the Beginning (dir. Roger Ross Williams)


“The film is sumptuously illustrated and animated featuring interviews with academics, writers, and activists including Angela Davis, a deep and troubling take on our same old, same old times,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.


The Stones and Brian Jones (dir. Nick Broomfield)


The Stones and Brian Jones is fairly dark and essentially tragic, but it also captures a remarkable time and place — sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — and the social upheaval of the day,” writes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “And it underlines Jones’ crucial role in the band’s earliest days.” Braun also speaks with Broomfield about his doc and larger oeuvre: “I guess a lot of them are an amazing vehicle to look at a complex situation. A lot of them reveal an intimate portrait of you know, parents and kids, the portrait of Whitney Houston, in that family, and their aspirations for her and her being unable to live up to the image Clive Davis had created for her. It was almost a Shakespearean story,” Broomfield tells Braun. “I guess that’s what I look at with these things. And Brian’s relationships with his background and his family was the same kind of thing.”


“This is raw stuff, and again profoundly sad,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The world lost a remarkable talent, a seeker and provocateur who lived on the edge and in fear. Broomfield’s respect for Jones is clear as he outlines Jones’ unique visionary gifts, that unquenchable passion, and the way he lived out his colourful, sad, and very short life. The doc’s an experience in itself.”


“The film, largely shot in black and white, at its best transports the audience back in time to the ’60s and ’70s at the height of the fame of the Stones,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“As a straightforward biography of troubled rock star Brian Jones, it works,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It won’t tell die hard Stones fans too much they don’t already know, but Broomfield shows proper reverence and criticism to a complicated figure that was both a product and symbol of their era.”


At Zoomer, Brian D. Johnson speaks with Nick Broomfield about tackling Jones’ story and inquires about speculation that the former Stone’s death was a homicide. “He also spoke at length about it with Bill Wyman, the Stones’ original bass player,” writes Johnson. “Wyman’s girlfriend at time had been best friend’s with Jones’s partner, Swedish model Anna Wohlin, who pulled Jones from the bottom of the pool and tried to revive him. ‘Anna had told Bill over and over what had happened and didn’t mention anything about foul play,’ says Broomfield. ‘Ten years later she writes a book saying it was murder. Bill said, ‘I know she was telling the truth at the time. I guess she ran out of money and needed to come up with something else — the book.’'”


“Is there any stone left unturned in the seemingly endless parade of Rolling Stones documentaries?” asks Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “One can hardly imagine so, since even purportedly fresh angles feel like déjà vu. Nick Broomfield’s latest work in a series of music docs— including Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, Whitney: Can I Be Me, and Last Man StandingThe Stones and Brian Jones is a been-there, done-that retread of the great British rock band.”


Thanksgiving (dir. Eli Roth)


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “an incredibly gory and satisfying R-rated slasher experience with creative and bloody kills.”


“Eli Roth’s long awaited Thanksgiving is the type of raucous, go-for-broke, whodunnit slasher film that doesn’t get made much these days outside of the ongoing Scream franchise,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Come to think of it, Thanksgiving is actually a better Scream movie than Scream VI was earlier this year.”


Trolls Band Together (dir. Walt Dohrn, Tim Heitz)


“Truth be told, I had more fun watching the littlest of kids in attendance at my screening bouncing in their seats and dancing along to the trolls’ antics than I did watching anything that was unfolding on screen,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate. “I wish that energy from the young crowd was infectious, but at least it was heartwarming to see them having a fun time. They were probably only paying the barest attention to what was on screen themselves, but the enjoyment was obvious.”


“[A]imed mainly for littler kids, who from the film’s preview screening, allowed family, the children were simply delighted with the product, even though there is a lack of imagination in the story or dialogue with most of the latter depending on silly one-liners and punch lines,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“[E]ssentially one big tribute to the dominant boy bands of the late ’80s and ’90s, but has little to say about the bands it celebrates,” says Courtney Small at That Shelf. “While a film like Turning Red uses the fictional boy band 4*Town to emphasize both Mei Lee’s hormonal changes and define her bond with her close friends, Trolls reduces its central harmonizing group to a product. Gleefully pointing out the manufactured formula of groups being made from distinct personalities, something that the members of the fictional BroZone ultimately rebel against, the film is more interested in referencing bands rather than highlighting what made them popular in the first place.”


File Under Miscellaneous


At Zoomer, Brian D. Johnson speaks with Testament director Denys Arcand about his latest film, gaining perspective with age, and going strong at 82: “A lifelong bachelor who likes strolling through cemeteries, he looks forward to a discreet death, mourned by no one, after an uneventful life at the National Archives, where he still works two days a week,” writes Johnson. “Portrayed by Rémy Girard, the historian in Decline and Invasions, he serves as the film’s droll protagonist and an alter ego for its director. ‘It’s me, but it’s not me,’ says Arcand. ‘It’s a transposition of myself. I’m not an archivist. And I’m not really retired. I should be, I guess.’ While he doesn’t rule out making another movie, he concedes that the odds are against it given his age. ‘So … it’s just the end.’”


At Original Cin, Thom Ernst speaks with Cynara director Sherien Barsoum about her documentary that tackles a wrongful conviction case that’s currently being re-tried in Toronto. “I’m a filmmaker, and I also know the realities of our system, but I have to be as honest as I can to the story. And the integrity of the story depends on my integrity as well—they go hand in hand,” says Barsoum. “There were moments of things that weren’t entirely clear. You see that near the end when I filmed with Jim (Rankin of the Toronto Star) and the forensic linguist. That letter was still a question mark.  And I struggled. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to include that scene. I didn’t want to because I felt like Cindy’s story wouldn’t have been packaged so nice and neatly as I wanted it to be. But our team decided that we needed to. To preserve the integrity of all of us: Cindy, the family, myself, the film. Everyone involved. So, it was a challenge.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage


At the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Rachel West reviews We Will Be Brave hot off its premiere at Reel Asian: “Hessing’s subjects articulate what Good Guise has done for them personally and culturally. They are shining examples within their community, for peers and the next generation to have the access and place for dialogue they didn’t have,” says West. “Having open discussions about their healthy and mindful journeys is honest and refreshing as they find outlets to express their emotions. They are creating safe spaces for others to feel comfortable in their skin and creating a culture and community of care. However, while the subjects of We Will Be Brave have found a healing space within Good Guise, their creative outlets are not a cure-all. It is an ongoing journey with bumps along the way as various members cope with personal hardships and setbacks including financial insecurity for the collective.”


At Original Cin, Jim Slotek offers some highlights from the Shorts Not Pants Film Festival, like Tiny: “West Coast filmmakers Ritchie Hemphill and Ryan Haché interviewed Hemphill’s aged mother Colleen, a Nakwaxda’xw elder, about her childhood living aboard a traditional ‘float house’ with her siblings and parents,” writes Slotek. “Her memories are dramatized in stop-motion that lends surreality to the lens of time. But the memories of a life on the water, constantly swimming, paint a vivid a picture of an unimaginable and alluring life as a marine creature of sorts, not just living off of the sea but on it.”


Also at Original Cin, Jim Slotek reports from the Water Docs festival, which honours late filmmaker Rob Stewart this year: “He is the ideal recipient of the Water Warrior Award at the Water Docs Film Festival, the annual free-to-the-public programme of current water-themed documentaries. This year’s 11th festival takes place Friday, November 17 to Sunday, November 19 in the auditorium at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE),” writes Slotek. “The presentation of Stewart’s Water Warrior Award will take place as part of Friday’s opening night program. His parents, Brian and Sandy (who played a big part in completing Sharkwater: Extinction after Rob’s death), will be accepting the award on his behalf.”

TV Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie praises the return of Fargo: “The series in its epic, deep firestorm of humanity’s struggle to survive, created by Noah Hawley and now in its fifth season remains one of the finest series ever to appear on TV, up there with Twin Peaks,” writes Brodie.


At The Gate, Andrew Parker investigates A Murder at the End of the World, “which is basically The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Who Broke The Glass Onion, only not as good as that might sound.” Ditto the first part of the final season of The Crown, especially Elizabeth Debicki’s performance: “Debicki gives Diana wisdom, evenness, and a strong desire to love and be loved. It wasn’t easy in that family or under that microscope.” Meanwhile, Björje – The Journey of a Legend tells the story of a hockey icon: “New footage shot inside the Gardens looks just the way it did before the place was shuttered, not sure how that was done but what a treat for concertgoers and sports fans back in the day. I’m not a hockey person but the six-parter, set here in town about a singular set of characters and circumstances is fun,” says Brodie.