Reviews include Slash/Back, Elvis, and Official Competition.
TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 19
November 19, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Black Holler (dir. Jason Berg)
“Black Holler is a feature-length goof,” admits Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Ostensibly it’s a comedy-horror film, but one that sets up the joke without delivering the punchline. The film yucks it up like a sharp jab to the ribcage, with each attempt at humour more painful than the last. Admittedly, I did chuckle once or twice, but it was later in the film when my defenses were well worn down.”
Don’t Say Its Name (dir. Rueben Martell 🇨🇦)
“An often compelling film that can be regarded as fully Indigenous in the good way magnificently shot in Alberta, Canada,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Drunken Birds (dir. Ivan Grbovic 🇨🇦)
“[A]rtistically stunning and though quite a film experience, it is a little too ambitious for its own good,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Guerrero, Florent and Johnson all deliver complex, heartfelt performances of people searching for answers just outside their grasp,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “But Grbovic and Mishara fumble the final movement with a manufactured conflict that doesn’t make a lick of sense given what we know about the characters – and, more importantly, what we know they know about each other.”
“Built with confidence of tone and clarity of vision, Grbovic’s film keeps all three storylines floating with ease, even though it’s clear he has more affinity, and attachment, to Willy’s plight and those of his fellow workers,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “As the film captures the men mechanically culling, chopping and bagging heads of lettuce day in and day out – their only break being Sunday afternoon trips into town to attend a Spanish-language mass or cram the local internet café – Grbovic delivers a stark but not oppressive portrait of exploitation, camaraderie and survival.”
“It’s a beautifully realized and visually stunning consideration of universal truths within a specific milieu,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. He also speaks with director Ivan Grbovic about the film’s impressionist love story. “The biggest motor to life is love, right?” says Grbovic. “I think that’s why Sara [Mishara] and I chose this theme because love is the only thing elastic enough that you can stretch in so many different directions. I’m personally a big romantic and my favorite films are ones where I filled in the blanks with my personal experience.”
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (dir. Jason Reitman)
“As much as Sony might like to reposition the property for a new, younger audience, Reitman’s son Jason is almost entirely focused on giving the old-school fans a warm blanket of nostalgia, telling them they were right to keep loving the thing they loved as kids,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “I would be lying if I didn’t admit that worked on me, too: I felt a little crackle of glee when I heard a proton pack power up in Dolby Digital. Will today’s teenagers respond the same way? I have no idea. But it worked on me: Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a different kind of mess, and I liked it anyway.”
“Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a sequel to his father Ivan’s hit 1984 comedy about paranormal exterminators, is an exercise in family homage and over-familiar exorcism,” sighs Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Though less than heavenly, it has some bright spots, including its star, a 12-year-old girl science-nerd protagonist named, Phoebe, with round glasses and a floppy pile of curls on her head that make her look a little like an adolescent Billie-Jean King. As played by Mckenna Grace, she’s deadpan and klutzy and endearing.”
“[I]t is a gigantic, perverse admission of defeat,” declares Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “It is Jason Reitman admitting that he will never match the creative powers of his father.”
“Critical reactions to Afterlife have varied almost as widely as the film’s special effects, which include everything from the latest CGI to some real Harryhausen-style stop-motion, a nod to the pre-digital techniques in the original,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “The consensus seems to be that if you want to watch the Ectomobile, Mr. Stay Puft, Gozer the Gozerian and some unlicensed nuclear accelerators live again, then Afterlife will raise your spirits, even from the dead. But if you’re looking for more than a quick game of spot-the-reference, you’ll not find much to engage you.”
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife, despite a few excellent nostalgic moments from the past films, is a messy update to a kiddies version with too many special effects and horrid storytelling,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Heart of Champions (dir. Michael Mailer)
“Despite a solid twist in the otherwise predictable tale, the film cannot help but descend into clichéd territory falling into the trap of sentimentality and the need to pull the heartstrings in a feel good movie,” argues Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Jagged (dir. Alison Klayman)
“Klayman cuts a shallow path through the star’s formative years to set up her focus, but what ultimately makes the film so watchable is Morissette herself, a thoughtful and highly entertaining interviewee whose recollections are as sharply metaphorical as her songwriting,” writes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto.
“Morissette provides engaging interviews, although one can sense she’s holding back,” observes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “There aren’t revelatory moments in her fun and animated answers addressed directly to the camera. Admittedly, Klayman was spoiled on her previous doc while observing Steve Bannon, and while Morissette doesn’t offer as many peculiarities as the kombucha-swilling dark prince of populism/hack filmmaker who was the subject of The Brink, one appreciates the platform going to someone like Alanis. Her legacy leaves only good vibes.”
Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy
(dir. Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers; Nov. 20 🇨🇦)
At POV Magazine, Kelly Boutsalis says the film “offers a nuanced look at a community grappling with the best way to approach its drug crisis, considering that not everyone is willing to embrace harm reduction, while giving space to the people actively working every day to make a change.” She also speaks with Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers about bringing her community’s response to a crisis to the screen. ““It was a tough journey in terms of wanting to represent them in a way that didn’t portray them as victims, or people who are homeless and addicted. They are so much more than that,” says Tailfeathers. “I think they have so much to contribute to our community. It’s just that living in such unfortunate circumstances where they face insurmountable barriers on a daily basis [is so difficult for them], and I don’t think people understand the gravity of their situation.”
“As a filmmaker, Tailfeathers doesn’t pretend to be an objective observer,” writes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. “She’s interested in community-based, trauma-informed storytelling. She allows her subjects to be in control. The result is scenes of extraordinary honesty and openness from people whose voices we rarely hear, but cry out to be listened to.”
“Filmmaker and actor Tailfeathers returns to her community in the Kainai First Nation to learn about its substance use and overdose crisis. Community members with substance-use disorder, first responders and medical professionals are profiled as they strive for harm reduction in radical new ways,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Shot over five years and narrated by the director, the movie is a methodical, vérité portrait of nitty-gritty work,” notes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto. “In addition to visiting people’s homes and listening to personal stories, Tailfeathers shows the kind of tireless grassroots work – in clinics, in boardrooms, on street corners, at community events – required to convince people this new epidemic needs a new approach.”
King Richard (dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green)
Calling Will Smith’s turn as “Oscar worthy performance,” Peter Howell at the Toronto Star writes, “Smith plays Richard with shamanistic fervour yet retains the human touch the actor brings to all his roles. “Richard sees himself as a father doing what he thinks is right not just for his daughters, but for his family. He’s an extreme version of the parental support often seen not just in celebrity athlete biopics but also in real-world competitions.”
“If there was ever an inspirational, thrilling and smart film about a family of exceptional achievement, it is King Richard from director Reinaldo Marcus Green,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Richard Williams (beautifully played by Will Smith), the patriarch of five daughters including the world’s greatest tennis champions in the history of the sport, Venus and Serena Williams, sets a high-minded life success plan for his daughters before they’re born.”
“King Richard, in which Will Smith plays Richard Williams, the manic and driven dad behind the careers of his tennis-playing daughters Venus and Serena Williams, comes across as both at various points. This is one of the great strengths in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film, since real human beings seldom fit narratives,” notes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “We know going in that Richard’s daughters will be two of the greatest tennis players of all time. And to hear him tell it, he visualized them before they were even conceived, let alone born, as if he willed them to life to make history.”
“Playing Richard Williams, the intensely devoted but also just plain intense father to tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams, Smith elevates a standard-issue sports-drama into the stratosphere of sky-high entertainment,” serves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Never away from the screen for more than a second or two, Smith gives absolutely everything he has to play a man with the world’s largest chip on his shoulders.”
“[A] sports film that offers an alternative dramatic story focusing on the drama rather than the sport thus transcending the typical sport biopic formulae,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (dir. Robert Weide)
“Filmmaker Robert Weide spent almost 40 years making a documentary about the life (and, as of 2007, the death) of writer Kurt Vonnegut. In the process, he gained a friend. In the early years of the project, he feared the friendship might hurt the film. By the end, the reverse troubled him. But both seemed to have survived, intact, at last,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post, along with five takeaways from the doc.
My Belle, Ma Beauty (dir. Marion Hill; Nov. 23)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says it “ends up a very bad, boring and pretentious exercise right from the very beginning.”
One of Ours (dir. Yasmin Mathurin; Nov. 20 🇨🇦)
“One of Ours is an intimate and potent documentary about a family and community embroiled in the politics and tensions surrounding Black and Indigenous identity; it leaves you with a lot to unpack,” writes Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. “Mathurin gently wades into the aftermath of a messy conflict with no easy answers, taking a moving, personal approach that considers the role experience, connection and affection plays when forming identity, and the role community can play on the path to healing.”
The Power of the Dog (dir. Jane Campion)
“Director Jane Campion’s first film in 12 years is a visually powerful, brooding drama that has echoes of her 1993 Palme d’Or-winner The Piano with sweeping landscapes, repressed desire — and yes, a piano,” raves Linda Barnard at Original Cin. “With The Power of the Dog, Campion has crafted a contemporary Western masterpiece that turns on the same pacing and style of 50-year-old films. She takes her time, letting the story, based on the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, reveal itself in languid style.”
“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.”
“[Campion] exceeds herself with this superbly calibrated adaptation of Savage’s 1967 novel, working sensuality into a story — a key in a lock, the caress of a saddle, the sharing of a cigarette — that at its surface might otherwise seem to be a straightforward drama of a bully and his unhappy victims,” remarks Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Much credit is also due to the actors, especially Cumberbatch, Dunst and Smit-McPhee, who all court Oscar attention with their superb performances, where even the smallest gesture or grimace makes its mark.”
“I love the casting that went into this tale,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Cumberbatch, his American accent well oiled and broken in after some rough starts, is just about perfect in the role of a brilliant brute. Smit-McPhee, so skinny he looks like he’d need suspenders to keep his belt up, hints at hidden depths.”
“I have to be That Guy, and point out that Benedict Cumberbatch is not the best choice for the role of Phil Burbank,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “He still can’t do an American accent without pitching his voice up an octave, and the twang he adds here unbalances him even further, almost keying us into the affectation of it all. It’s as though Phil is putting on his own performance of swinging-dick machismo, and while that may be intentional, it breaks the reality of the film; it feels increasingly impossible that we’re the only ones able to see through this posturing martinet.”
She Paradise (dir. Maya Cozier)
“The liveliest scenes in She Paradise are the dance sequences, bum-shaking routines that probably qualify as not safe for viewing at work,” advises Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “But first-time feature director Maya Cozier — a former dancer and choreographer — also emphasizes that this is work, requiring sweat, muscle, and discipline as well as sensuality.”
“She Paradise is a coming-of-age story set in a remote town with dance videos, partying and various super-dirty dances as a backdrop,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It is a tremendously spirited film that is compelling to watch- hilarious and totally entertaining.”
The Shuroo Process (dir. Emrhys Cooper; Nov. 24)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a dramedy that cleverly bends the drama and comedy of successful journalism and religious cults.”
Simple as Water (dir. Megan Mylan)
“Simple as Water shows that it isn’t always this way, though. It’s never easy to reunite families ripped apart by war. Yet in showing us these various stories, and inviting us to witness difficult and transformative moments in the lives of these families, the film asks why we can’t do more to help those who are hit hardest,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
The Strings (dir. Ryan Glover; Nov. 24 🇨🇦)
“Warning: nothing is explained in the film,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Unless you like the ‘music’ of Little Coyote and like to see barren winter landscapes, avoid this boring excuse of a horror movie that teases and teases but leads nowhere.”
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.”
“Garfield throws himself into the role of Larson,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Although the character is backed up at times by his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), his good friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) and talented singer Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens), the one-man-show nature of Tick, Tick … Boom! requires a lot of screen time from its star, not to mention singing. And he delivers.”
“Would you enjoy, or even be able to identify, a Godspell joke? How about an Old Deuteronomy gag? Would the sight of Bradley Whitford as Stephen Sondheim provoke a gasp? If, say, Phillipa Soo popped up for a moment, would you lose your collective bearings?” asks Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “If the answer to any of the above is “yes,” then Tick, Tick … Boom! will give you a fatal heart attack, and you, my friend, will die dancing. But if you have no idea what I just wrote, then maybe consider this a pass.”
“Those who know and love music theatre will in be for a real treat with Tick, Tick…Boom! with its impressive list of cameos, apt direction by Miranda and a superlative lead performance by Garfield,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Blood and Soccer
At Original Cin, Thom Ernst previews Blood in the Snow and looks at some of the horror flicks coming to town. “Films like The Family, Flee the Light, Peppergrass, and Woodland Grey delve into themes more potent than just fear and disruption, offering less definable shades of horror than in traditional genre movies…Cody Calahan’s Vicious Fun is an audacious send-up of the genre, making full use of the horror tableau by tossing a horror-specific film critic (with an unproduced script) into a serial-killer support group. The film’s first half is an outrageous comic breakdown of the genre, while the second half falls in line with expectations.”
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber speaks with Ali El Arabi about Captains of Za’atari, which screened at Doha: “I feel that often we have something controlling or limiting our dreams. I come from a small village, I don’t have a good education, and I’m not from a rich family. Yet I always had big dreams, and I followed them to get what I wanted. Now I’m a director, everyone knows my name. I produce films and have my own company. This all came from my dreams, so this film explains my own journey, not just Mahmoud and Fawzi’s.”
TV Talk: Bebop, Janet, and Christmas Logs
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner chews up the Cho in Cowboy Bebop: “Cho is, honestly, just about perfect as the flesh-and-blood version of Spike Spiegel, the bounty hunter with a haunted past; the role lets him build on all the skills hinted at in J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek movies, showcasing his boundless charisma and impressive physical skills. He’s funny, of course, but he’s always been funny; what’s new here is the streak of exhaustion he brings to Spike, who’s perpetually annoyed that reinventing himself as a bounty hunter meant having to listen to other people all the time.”
At What She Said, slips a look at the doc series The New York Times Presents Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson (“It’s fascinating and maddening”), Kamikaze (“Just stunning”), True Story (“[Kevin] Hart finally has a vehicle for his remarkable take on a tortured man”), and finds holiday spirit with Fireplaces of the World (“Get into winter the Hygge way”).