Reviews include My Salinger Year, Stray, and Coming 2 America.
TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 20
November 20, 2020
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA critics
In Release this Week
Belushi (dir. RJ Cutler)
“The biggest problem with filmmaker R.J. Cutler’s documentary Belushi is that there’s already too much information out there about its subject,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Between the World and Me (dir. Kamilah Forbes)
“No one flinches. No one falters. Some are moved to tears. Others bear a steely, hardened resolve,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “The commitment on the part of all involved with Between the World and Me is unwavering.”
The Christmas Chronicles: Part 2 (dir. Chris Columbus; Nov. 25)
“Part 2 can nowhere be compared to the original,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Collective (dir. Alexander Nanau)
“If the film questions your faith in human nature, it certainly reasserts the power of old-fashioned cinema verité journalism,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“Nanau’s clear point of view makes for a compelling and involving film experience while harnessing the objective reportage of his subjects,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “There are stakeouts and clandestine shoots that one could not include as easily, or as thrillingly, in a straightforward news piece.”
“Collective is a documentary that grows progressively more frightening, infuriating, and illuminating the longer one sits with it,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“It’s horrific, immediate, essential filmmaking, with Nanau building a moral indictment alongside the legal cases forming in front of us on screen,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Rarely…has cinema been so devoted to idealizing the importance of journalism than in Collective,” states Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Riveting thanks to the excellent storytelling abilities of Nanau and his investigators,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“[G]ets my vote for Best Documentary Feature of the year,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Death and Sickness (dir. Sook-Yin Lee, Dylan Gamble 🇨🇦)
“[I]ntensely intimate – an up-close, ground-level look at how two people moved from one to another during a moment of profound confusion,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Death and Sickness is a compelling experiment in filtering the experience of the pandemic through a very personal prism,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Dolly Parton: Christmas on the Square (dir. Debbie Allen; Nov. 22)
“Like an old-fashioned TV special, there’s plenty of singin’ and dancin’,” cheers Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Crammed with festive décor, sentimentality, and loose ends coming together and that’s no crime!”
“Dolly Parton now at the age of 74, delivers her brand of Christmas magic in her rhinestones,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Donbass (dir. Sergei Loznitsa)
“What may surprise is how relatable the film is to our own situation, with its subplots of conspiracy, ‘anti-fascists,’ fake news, event actors and utterly malleable conceptions of reality,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin.
The Donut King (dir. Alice Gu)
“I can’t remember the last time I so enjoyed a documentary that had such a massive hole in the centre,” exclaims Chris Knight at the National Post.
“It’s as layered as a cronut and just as admirable and innovative of a creation,” munches Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Although Ngoy is a great character who fuels a fun doc portrait, Gu doesn’t settle for a sugary celebration of the donut king,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
Dreamland (dir. Miles Joris-Peyrafitte)
“Dreamland plays like a mashup of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and Terrence Malick’s early, dreamy masterworks Badlands and Days of Heaven… or rather, an imitation so pale you can see right through it,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Visually idiosyncratic, narratively compelling and featuring a tricky lead performance from [Margot] Robbie as one half of a Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque duo, director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s Dust Bowl saga is well worth your stuck-on-the-couch time,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
First We Eat (dir. Suzanne Crocker 🇨🇦)
“First We Eat is a fun watch, but if you think about it, its message is dire,” notes Says Jim Slotek at Original Cin.
“It’s certainly not for the squeamish at times (with full on animal butchery explored, moments of palpable hunger, and a method for creating natural salt that’s certainly outside the box), but the film also isn’t about Crocker’s experiment succeeding or failing,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s about making an honest effort honestly.”
“To what extent is she doing all this less for her children than for herself?” asks Susan G. Cole at POV Magazine. “She really wants them to know the provenance of what they consume and to eat mindfully, but is she imposing too much on the brood?”
Jiu Jitsu (dir. Dimitri Logothetis)
“With its corny dialogue and so-so effects … Jiu Jitsu might have found a cult following, if only it had been released 24 or 30 or 36 years ago,” suggests Chris Knight at the National Post. “In 2020 it feels out of time and place, another Nicolas Cage vehicle stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels.”
The Last Vermeer (dir. Dan Friedkin)
“Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps, cast as Bang’s lovestruck assistant, gives a convincing performance as someone who desperately misses working with a real filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Pearce is hypnotic as a pixie-ish, narcissistic charmer with a deep understanding of human nature and an ability to use it for his own purposes; on the other hand, he’s generous and gives his estranged wife everything he owns including hundreds of properties and billions in currency,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“There is a terrific movie to be made about the trial of Han Van Meegeren, one of the most successful art forgers in history, who made millions selling his paintings to rich and prominent Nazis during the Second World War. Unfortunately, The Last Vermeer isn’t it,” sighs Karen Gordon at Original Cin.
“The Last Vermeer is essentially a two-hander for a couple of charismatic actors,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “an absorbing, handsomely mounted production of an incredible true story on art and the depths human beings go to achieve their goals.”
“The Last Vermeer is a dutiful, mature, and stodgy piece of work that would land better if it wasn’t so precious about its reveals,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist
(dir. Alexandre O. Philippe)
“Leap of Faith captures Friedkin’s version of the making of The Exorcist for posterity, with director Philippe illustrating his subject’s monologue with film clips and other archival footage, offering no other perspectives,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Gibert Seah at Afro Toronto says the doc “should delight and inspire filmmakers and cineastes.”
“Philippe is an old hand at these kinds of behind-the-scenes tours thanks to his previous dissections of Psycho and Alien, which are smart and slick enough to elevate them from mere DVD bonus-feature material,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“The beauty of watching an interview with William Friedkin is how intelligent he is without sounding condescending, and how he pulls no punches about the things he likes and doesn’t like,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Mank (dir. David Fincher)
“Mank gets to the dark heart of Hollywood’s ‘magic’ the way few films ever have,” writes Peter Howell at Night Vision. “The central narrative of the controversial birth of Citizen Kane, with its still-simmering argument about whether Mankiewicz wrote alone or Welles deserved the co-screenwriting credit the two shared an Oscar for, plays second fiddle to a gripping tale of Old Hollywood wheeling, dealing and deceiving.”
“[A] must-see for film history buffs,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Shot in black-and-white, it nods to Hollywood tradition without direct imitation.”
“Mank is, overwhelmingly, so very interesting,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But it is also something of a half-masterpiece mess: thematically scattered, awkwardly paced, overlong and curiously uninterested in the inner life of its title character.”
“It’s ambitious, passionate, and sometimes too brutally honest for its own good,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
The Princess Switch 2: Switched Again (dir. Mark Rohl)
“[T]he plot is once again completely predictable, with the film going downhill into clichéd territory (as most romantic comedies do),” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Real Right Stuff (dir. Tom Jennings)
“[A] comprehensive examination of the Space Program as well as the Mercury 7 astronauts that serves as a more efficient watch than the 8-episode TV series,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Covering already well documented and adapted ground in an entertaining and innovative way, The Real Right Stuff is a familiar history lesson told in captivating fashion,” offers Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Shawn Mendes: In Wonder (dir. Grant Singer; Nov. 23)
Gilbert Seah looks at what it is to be young, pretty and famous in his review of the new Netflix Shawn Mendes documentary.
“There’s a certain wholesomeness to the film that’s equally corny and refreshing,” admits Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
The Sound of Metal (dir. Darius Marder)
“[T]hanks to Marder’s script and masterful direction, and Ahmed’s beautiful performance, there are increasingly deeper layers that take this movie to a deeper place,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Sound of Metal is easily one of the best films of the year.” Gordon also interviews director Darius Mader about the production.
Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto calls it “a powerhouse character study about a noise-metal drummer trying to cope with a sudden, devastating hearing loss.”
“[T]he new drama The Sound of Metal is, with apologies to the handful of Canadian cinemas screening it this weekend, a movie perfectly engineered for home viewing,” argues Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Particularly with the best set of headphones that you own.”
“[Riz] Ahmed, an actor demanding more recognition, gets my vote for best actor of the year,” reveals Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “An actor going all out with research and study for a role in a film should be respected.”
“Although not as dramatic as in The Sound of Metal, the choice of living with limited hearing or committing to a deaf life is a real one that people deal with every year,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The reality of that choice and the growing number of well informed and confident members of the deaf community places this film into one of true relevance today.”
“The exhilarating, exasperating and ultimately beautiful story will linger, and perhaps encourage some to learn sign language,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Boasting one of the best leading performances of the year from Riz Ahmed and one of the finest on screen depictions of fraught recovery processes – both physically and mentally – Sound of Metal is the definition of unforgettable and original,” raves Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“[I]n several striking moments the sound drops out completely,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s disorientating, purposefully and effectively so.”
“Subjective sound conveys a world of muffled noises and indiscernible sounds, while distortion and clamour disorient a viewer when the story broaches the topic of cochlear implants,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
Team Marco (dir. Julio Vincent Gambuto)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a harmless family comedy with a message that is a bit too obvious.”
Vanguard (dir. Stanley Tong)
“The culprit seems to be the film’s unmistakable CGI effects,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Indeed, the scenes in question—two snarling hyenas and a vicious lion attack, plus several other lapses involving jet skis and battleships—are obvious enough to push the film towards animation rather than a thriller.”
“Chaotic, borderline incoherent, and only showing fleeting moments of cheesy fun, the big budget Chinese action thriller Vanguard would be a lot more enjoyable if it didn’t take its ridiculousness so seriously all the time,” chuckles Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Festember – a month/season of film festivals!
Gilbert reviews the best of Commercial French Cinema screened at Cinefranco 2020, one of the oldest film festivals in Toronto.
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner offers some Cinefranco highlights and spotlights the Canadian/Quebecois content.
TV – Nuns and LEGO edition!
At What She Said, Anne Brodie chats with Gemma Arterton, Alessandro Nivola, and the cast and crew of FX’s new adaptation of Black Narcissus. Here’s what Arteton had to say about shooting in picturesque Nepal: “The air is really thin, and you get altitude sickness, but it makes you feel really alive, and it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.”
Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto, checks out the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, saying, “The filmmakers put outlandish comedy over action in the film and it works!”
Meanwhile, at The Gate, Andrew Parker disagrees: “This cheap looking and barely passable animated yarn is aimed squarely at the youngest and least discriminating of kids.”
As does Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto, calling it “entirely insubstantial, not even trying to do anything with the holiday gimmick or the decades of investment we have in this galaxy.”
Controversies and Classics
Controversy continues to brew for Telefilm Canada after a year of listening and adapting to feedback from the industry. At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz reports on a “Directors Manifesto” released by Canadian filmmakers in response to reviews of Telefilm’s Success Index. At NOW Toronto, Radheyan Simonpillai speaks with producers in an industry divided by generations as filmmakers respond to the suspension of Telefilm’s Fast Track stream, which reserved funds for proven talents.
Twitter was all excited by the news that Wonder Woman 1984 will have a day and date release with HBO Max in the USA on December 25. But how will Canadians see the movie when the service is not available here? Barry Hertz finds out at The Globe and Mail. (Also says what’s going on the HBO Max’s Let Them All Talk, starring the real Wonder Woman, Meryl Streep.)
Everything old is new again as theatres revisit classics, including 1984’s Oscar winner Amadeus, which screens at Cineplex in a director’s cut. Andrew Parker calls it“a classical work that still speaks to the plight of many young people.”