TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 24

November 24, 2023

Fallen Leaves | Malla Hukkanen / Sputnik

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

Crime Diaries: The Celebrity Stylist (dir. Jacques Toulemonde Vidal)


Not the best whodunit but executed well enough with fair emphasis given to the story’s characters as to the plot itself,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Doi Boy (dir. Nontawat Numbenchapol)


Doi Boy is a worthy effort, more informative in the stories setting than in its dramatic execution by director Nontawat Numbenchapol (also wrote the script) who spent over 5 years developing the film,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Dream Scenario (dir. Kristoffer Borgli)


Dream Scenario evades any particular genre, straddling the sensibilities of horror, comedy and drama, while also being a metaphysical character study in banality and a satirical exploration of today’s media cycle,” says Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “This film, written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli, somehow becomes everything without sacrificing anything: it’s hilarious, pensive, loving, terrifying and awkward. So, so awkward.”


“[T]he film takes a daring headfirst dive into contemporary sociopolitics, which could have resulted in a rude awakening for Borgli. Yet the director has an imagination for deep-sleep surrealism as well as a stomach for gutsy satire,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “As Paul’s normal-guy shtick starts to fuel the world’s consumerist impulses – at one point he meets with a smarmy marketing guru (Michael Cera, perfectly cast) who is convinced that Paul should be the new face of Sprite – everyone’s dreams begin to quickly curdle, paving the way for a new nightmare that not even dream warrior Wes Craven could have conjured with Freddy Krueger. Hertz also speaks with Borgli and learns how boring old Toronto offered the perfect atmosphere for the tale: “In a way, there’s this strange sort of anachronistic sense to the movie where we’ve invented all these places that don’t exist in the real world, almost in a dream logic kind of way,” Borgli tells Hertz. “The city he actually lives in, we see it briefly on his driver’s license, is called Robing. An anagram of boring. He just lives in a boring city.”


“Intriguing and compelling that the film is, writer/director Borgli’s film takes an unexpected and odd turn at the end with an ending that introduces a dream travelling invention,” adds Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “All the entrances Paul makes into people’s dreams suddenly disappear.  Though difficult to imagine a more satisfying or subtle ending, the climax is the best that it could be.”


“At its base, the movie is a clear metaphor for the poison that is fame. It’s also, maybe, a screed against cancel culture, and the unhealthiness of society’s unprecedented connectivity,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “It’s hard to imagine a world, let alone a film, where he is a non-participant. He plays that role well, but his evolution into a soured, angry cornered animal brings out the dark Nicolas Cage we love to watch. He doesn’t want to be in people’s dreams doing the things he does. Or he says he doesn’t.”


“While Cage is best known for trademark displays of emotion, Dream Scenario allows the actor to go a bit more inward to flesh out the life of an uncomplicated man that has spiralled out of control,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s a perfect pairing of an actor with material, and one where the casting choice pushes the overall film from good to great.”


Fallen Leaves (dir. Aki Kaurismäki)


“Life is hard in the land of dark winters, and yet it’s a romantic tragicomedy. He loses her number and ‘disappears’ but eventually finds her. They share a barebones dinner; she mentions her father and brother died from alcohol when he asks for more that she doesn’t have. He storms out. The next day he’s fired for drinking. She takes in a stray dog, he swears off booze and then – a helluva twist,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The film is a remarkably subtle cinematic work, and intensely intimate, with a spare script and human universality, but it is slow, slow, slow. The score and songs sung are way out there, so that’s fun.”


“In its way, and that way would be decidedly subversive, Fallen Leaves is a romantic comedy about movies,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “There’s the whole Chaplinesque vibe, and a tone reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise…Kaurismäki does not shrink from present-day buzz-kills like updates on Russia’s attacks against Ukraine, or the afflictions of poverty on Helsinki’s working class. But here again, is the contrast; even amid conflict, things charming and funny can occur.”


Fallen Leaves brilliantly taps into a feeling that humanity is sleepwalking into an historic decline, as seen through the eyes of two people who convey a sense of lonely resignation,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Kaurismäki has always been a sharp wit – one of the best when it comes to deadpan sarcasm – but Fallen Leaves is never unfeeling or cynical.”


“Grocery worker Ansa (Alma Pöysti) is sad but hopeful, construction labourer Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) is depressed and drunk — what’s not to love?” asks Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Astringent Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki conjures a touching lonely hearts tale for this unlikely pair, in this fourth chapter of his working-class ‘trilogy.’ The Helsinki duo meet in a karaoke bar where the writer/director’s deadpan humour and precise staging get full sway and Holappa expresses his opinion that ‘Tough guys don’t sing.’ They can, however, inspire empathy when they turn out to be not as tough as they pretend to be. An unexpected crowd-pleaser from a minimalist master.”


“A love story of sorts between two lonely working-class people in Finland showing that love can still be found, no matter what age or no matter the dire circumstances.  This theme is what makes Kaurismaki’s latest film such a delight,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“What’s interesting is that Kaurismaki actually gives Ansa and Holappa a real problem: his incipient alcoholism,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Since hard drinking and actual alcoholism is a huge issue in Finland, where the nights are long, winter is endless and hard liquor is easily available, Kaurismaki has the characters struggle with a situation that likely happens all too frequently in Finland. (As to some extent it does here in Canada.) Here, the director has tipped the scales away from his ‘am I kidding?’ approach into making you care about the characters and their situation. It’s a wise choice.”


“But while Kaurismaki holds little space in his heart for Helsinki, he reserves more than enough room for his characters. Working-class heroes just barely clinging onto existence and each other, these are Kaurismaki’s people. The day that the director makes a film in which all hope is lost – in which romantic yearnings are actually trumped by gloomy environs – is the day that Helsinki freezes over,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “There are complications, of course, including one missed-connection moment that feels so manufactured that it can only be Kaurismaki satirizing a romcom trope. But like much of the director’s work, Fallen Leaves is more comedy than tragedy, even if it delivers its jokes with the straightest of deadpan faces.”


Frybread Face and Me (dir. Billy Luther)


“A refreshing look at a coming-of-age story in a different Navajo setting as Benny learns about rodeo, driving and sheep herding,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“Benny’s load is lightened with the arrival of his cousin Dawn aka Frybread Face (Charley Hogan) a kindred spirit who names him Shamu because he’s from San Diego, home of her beloved but never-seen whale lives. They horse around, get into scrapes, tease one another, and absorb Grandma’s teaching – history, weaving, and living simply and off the land. It’s his introduction to the traditional life he’s never known and embraces it,” adds Anne Brodie at What She Said.Frybread Face and Me is simply a beautiful big helping of love, gentle learning, humour and family, suitable for all ages.”


Leave the World Behind (dir. Sam Esmail)


Leave the World Behind is not perfect — a little long at two hours and 18 minutes, and a little too talky in the final act — but it is emotional and affecting and very of-the-moment. Even one character’s obsession with the ’90s TV hit Friends (she’s been streaming it, uncertain what a ‘rerun’ is) creates an unplanned frisson as we’re reminded of the recent death of Matthew ‘Chandler’ Perry,” says Chris Knight at Original Cin. “And the opening lyrics of the show’s theme — ‘So no one told you life was gonna be this way’ — could operate as a sly subtitle to this disturbing drama.”


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “plays like a Hitchcockian suspense thriller where the audience is never sure what is happening.”


Leave the World Behind makes up for having a well worn story arc by having an A+ cast and some expertly written dialogue,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Viewers have seen films like Leave the World Behind before, but rarely done to such an accomplished and reasoned degree.”


Leo (dir. Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel and David Wachtenheim)


“Fortunately, the film really picks up during the last third, super-surprisingly with many laugh-out moments during various segments like the runaway school bus driven by a kid, a chase involving a gym hunk teacher and Mrs. Malkin and Leo frozen out of fear in the Everglades.  Can Adam Sandler’s animated Leo compete with Disney’s Wish this week of opening?” asks Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. Leo certainly is funnier, less assuming and more fun.”


The Long Walk (dir. Pierre Stine; Nov. 28)


“Norwegian activist and model Aleksandra Orbeck-Nilssen doesn’t do anything by halves. She moved to Namibia ten years ago, learned San, the local indigenous ‘clicking’ language and lives with the Ju’hoansi bushmen,” explains Anne Brodie at What She Said. “She and writer-director Pierre Stein set out with her close bushmen friends Cui Gcaq’o and Kamache Kun Jonnas, to walk unassisted from eastern Namibia to the Atlantic Ocean, a 1490 km walk, carrying no money, no food, just small skins of water. They foraged and hunted without much luck and were fortunate enough to be invited for meals along the way.”


Napoleon (dir. Ridley Scott)


“The inept lover turns ruthless killer, inclined to gaze impassively and silently at battle scenes, and commanding his troops with barely the blink of an eye or raise of a hand,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “This plays into Phoenix’s deep reserve as an actor, an improvement on the simmer of Marlon Brando and the bluster of Rod Steiger, who played Napoleon in their respective films, Désirée (1954) and Waterloo (1970). Gazing into Phoenix’s eyes is like staring into two bottomless pits, which draw us in with a weird kind of anti-charismatic energy. When Napoleon gets riled up on the battlefield, especially in the early going of the Toulon conflict where his horse is shot out from beneath him and he charges on with his sword drawn, Scott’s eccentric casting choice begins to make sense.”


Napoleon‘s biggest failure is a deep lack of curiosity over its mythic main character, that keeps us external from him at every turn,” says Jackson Weaver at CBC. “The often ridiculous neuroses Phoenix adopts, along with an end sequence that adds up the total number of dead from all his campaigns, show Scott is at least trying to tear down the Bonaparte monument in the public consciousness… If he accomplished that, it would be worth the price of admission — and while it would still probably upset more than a few committed to his legend, it would have merit. There would be something to pick apart.”


“There’s more to Napoleon than love and diplomacy, of course, and that’s in the battles. The film has exceptional scenes of combat that emphasize the brutality of war while still being mesmerizingly attractive to watch,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The greatest of the war scenes may be the one at Austerlitz, where Napoleon’s army destroyed the combined forces of Austria and Russia in a fierce wintry battle, with the French cannons forcing many of the enemy foot soldiers to plunge to their deaths in broken ice. Though this account is not historically accurate—sorry, Ridley, there are many diaries and reports from that day—the image of red blood pouring out of broken bodies upward to the top of freezing waters is disturbingly beautiful.”


Napoleon is all over the place, but never boring for a second,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Its depiction of one of history’s greatest madmen and walking punchlines doesn’t so much traverse a tightrope as much as it stumbles around drunkenly shouting at people. And that’s kind of the point Scott is going for with Napoleon, a portrait of an egotistical social climber who thinks they’re destined for greatness, but doesn’t realize they’re the architect of their own slow demise.”


“The most entertaining part of Napoleon and the most spectacular and entertaining are the battle scenes, especially the beginning battle at Toulon and the climatic battle Waterloo at the end,” argues Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “In the former, the storming of the fort in the darkness of night while the British are still clamouring in their night clothes.”


“[I]t is Scott’s control of, or perhaps looser-than-others’ leash on, his stars that ensures the whole film roars and rips. Phoenix, reuniting with his Gladiator director to play another sneering megalomaniac, sinks as deep as one can go into the title tyrant, all petulance and venom. And Kirby matches her madman lover beat for beat, offering a performance so sharp that she tactfully bites instead of chews the scenery. Most importantly, both stars are allowed and graciously encouraged to be funny, with Phoenix and Kirby offering some all-time sour-faced line-readings and indulging in some hilarious physical comedy. Keep a literal head’s up for the lamb-chop scene,” advises Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.


Hertz also dives into the Apple’s cinematic universe and explores how the streamer works within a changing distribution system: “Even in the current feature-film space, though, Apple remains something of an outlier,” notes Hertz. “The company will throw hundreds of millions of dollars at Scorsese and Scott to make huge impressions in the theatrical space, yet it will also think nothing of dumping similarly expensive films (including this past summer’s Chris Evans/Ana de Armas action comedy Ghosted and next month’s Mark Wahlberg-led comedy The Family Plan) into the great streaming void with little fanfare. The wide theatrical release of Napoleon – and the generous window of time it will take before the film makes its way to streaming – might signal a shift in ambitions for Apple. Or it might be another tech-land experiment, with the entirety of Hollywood its test subject.”


Saltburn (dir. Emerald Fennell)


“As a certain character changes, and reveals their disturbing side, their behavior seems unmotivated by what we’ve seen so far.  And so, the final act feels more like it’s going through the motions to get us to the conclusion. The film lacks the emotional bite that this kind of noir-ish satire needs. The movie’s message is muddled or lost,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “But still, there is a lot going on.  Fennell has style, an ear for dialogue and a strong eye as a director. All of the elements are well thought through: the location, the art direction, etc.”


At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho speaks with Emerald Fennell and the cast of Saltburn about how it’s good to be bad. “I made sure in every single scene, [Felix] does something shitty,” Fennell tells Ho. “He’s either capricious, spoiled or snobbish. He’s misogynistic, casually racist. He’s profoundly flawed, but he’s also so fucking beautiful and so nice. Given his upbringing, he’s better than we imagined him to be, and therefore, we will forgive him anything…I started with the quite firm belief that we are all devils to some degree.”


“Fennell’s script has a lot of snarling, but no bite, with the filmmaker abandoning a lot of the trademark wit they’re known for in favour of showing off their technical skills behind the camera,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Showing off is just fine for most films about characters that love to show off, but that’s all there is on display here.”


Saltburn might be to everyone’s taste and could be argued too that it might have tried too much in excesses with the result in a muddled narrative,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But credit to director Fennell who is brave enough to experiment and deliver a film that is at least exciting and different.”


“For all the hotness on parade, the vapidity is a bit too meta for its own good. It’s never really clear what, if anything, Fennell wants to say here. Saltburn satirizes Britain’s antiquated social structures, but it’s class warfare via a battle of raging hormones,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Moreover, as Oliver lusts after Felix, who in turn seduces Oliver while Farleigh grows green with envy, the film lapses into a conflation of queerness and mental illness that’s as retrograde as Britain’s class system. Admittedly, that aspect is especially frustrating after Fennell’s sharply satirical take on gender in Promising Young Woman. It plays like trendy queer-baiting.”


Wish (dir. Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn)


“While Wish isn’t approaching Frozen levels of earworms, the film’s songwriting team of Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice deliver a healthy amount of hummable hits, including the standout track This Wish. Best of all, the team does so in a more classical, knock-down-the-house kind of way, all thunderous choruses and ensemble harmonies, a welcome respite from the rapid-fire shtick of recent in-house Disney song-mogul Lin-Manuel Miranda,” sings Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The tunes are generously sprinkled throughout the film, perhaps directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn’s way of acknowledging that their film works best when the characters are singing through their problems instead of unimaginatively talking through them.”


“Disney plays safe and does what they do best in their new animation feature, no groundbreaking filmmaking here nor does it tackle controversial issues, but re-hashes a formula in which dreams and wishes come through in a magical Kingdom, in this case, the kingdom of Rosas,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


File Under Miscellaneous


At Sharp, Marriska Fernandes speaks with director Christopher Nolan about the home video release of Oppenheimer and taking risks in Hollywood: “The idea that you’re going to shoot a lot of the film on black and white, it’s a very serious subject matter, it’s really mostly people talking and it has to be R rated… those are all things we knew going in,” says Nolan. “They were a big risk and a big gamble. We went to the studio with it, we were very clear about what the film was going to be and how much money we needed to make it. There were a lot of risks that came with it. Then when we came to make the film, it was really just about executing on that promise, and making the most engaging film we could within those parameters.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with action icon John Woo about his new film Silent Night and making a movie without any pesky dialogue. “I go by my own instinct, so when I showed up to the location for the stairwell scene in Silent Night, I saw the space was about four storeys high, and it felt to me like it was hell upside-down,” Woo says. “Joel [Kinnaman]’s character, he never gives up, so I said let’s do it where he starts from the bottom and doesn’t stop till the top, like he’s a fighter in hell. And the crew got excited and kept training, even though it was dangerous to work out.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho speaks with Bryan Lee O’Malley about the new animated series Scott Pilgrim Takes Off. “It’s been all over the world; everywhere I go, people relate to it. Something about it has resonated with people,” O’Malley tells Ho. “I used to be in bands and play in venues over here, and I just wanted to capture a bit of that — the energy of being in your 20s. Having friends that you love and hate at the same time, everyone’s dating everyone and it’s just kind of gross. And then, especially when it comes back to Toronto, they love it in a whole different way.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz looks at the doc series version of Swan Song, which spreads its wings across four episodes: “With incredible behind-the-scenes access – aided by some ingeniously placed cameras and mics, the crew filming five days a week for 10 hours a day – the Swan Song filmmakers jeté past tired hallmarks of the documentary form to deliver a vivid, propulsive, empathetic and engaged portrait of the artistic process,” says Hertz. “This is no vanity project, either, something that might feel commissioned by the National Ballet itself as a parting gift to Kain: There are as many difficult, even wince-inducing, moments captured here as there are triumphs. By the time that opening night arrives in Episode 4, you might never view a live performance of dance (or anything) the same way again.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie also checks out the expanded Swan Song: “Kain’s parting gift was her own version of Swan Lake. We follow her and witness the stress and joys of creating and mounting the show, casting, taking risks, and redesigning its traditions, focusing on the “trapped women” theme. Kain, the ageless beauty, left her imprint. At 72 she works with retired dancers and looks back on a flawless career.” Meanwhile, the eighth season of Shetland offers “Multiple layered subplots coalesced by great writing and direction” and The Buccaneers has “enough eye candy for everyone!”


At The Gate, Andrew Parker looks at Baz Lurhmann’s return to Australia in the expanded Faraway Downs: “[I]nstead of making Australia more interesting, Luhrmann has made Faraway Downs into something even more ungainly than its already lacking original version. Australia was not a good movie to begin with: maudlin, overstuffed, and constantly unable to decide if it wants to be a stylish modern epic or an old Hollywood indebted piece of claptrap set in the outback,” says Parker. “Faraway Downs – whether you want to call it a series or a movie – is the exact same final product as Australia was on a surface level: tonally messy, full of poorly handled sentimentality, and looking like a zillion bucks without delivering a satisfying bit of entertainment or art.” On the other hand, Monarch: The Legacy of Monsters, is “One of the most delightful and engaging surprises on the small screen this year.”