An interview with Swan Song director Chelsea McMullan about their Rogers Best Canadian Documentary nominee on Karen Kain’s Swan Lake.
TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 26
November 26, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Captains of Za’atari (dir. Ali El Arabi)
“You (the two boys) have taught us that that dreams cannot be imprisoned or confined,” [is] needless to say, a powerful message in a film that brilliantly brings this message across,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Director El Arabi is a former war journalist who met his subjects in 2015 and followed them over several years, which explains the casual intimacy and careful selection of dramatic moments, compressed into a brisk 71 minutes,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “There are plenty of candid moments that feel close to scripted drama: A family eats dinner by candle-light and talks about its precarious future. Fawzi and Mahmoud, talk about girls while leaning against a wall one chilly evening.”
“Beautifully shot and told with equal parts subtlety and sensitivity, it’s one of the great non-fiction films of the year,” notes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine, who interviews director Ali El Arabi. “I feel that often we have something controlling or limiting our dreams,” says El Arabi. “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.”
C’mon C’mon (dir. Mike Mills)
“Not a lot happens, but everything does, the operatic, choral score is thrilling, Jesse loves listening to opera at full volume, lying on the floor; the music gains momentum and the story becomes a chamber piece, breathing and alive through music. C’mon C’mon is a revelation,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“It’s gorgeously shot in black and white, a bit of a trend these days, given the recent Belfast , the upcoming Tragedy of Macbeth and portions of The French Dispatch . And it features a fine turn by Phoenix, bouncing back from a triumvirate of violent characters (in Joker, The Sisters Brothers and You Were Never Really Here ) to show a softer side we haven’t really seen since 2013’s Her,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Wielding a shotgun mic around the beach or in the streets, Jesse learns how to zero in in the sounds of the city,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Rather than feel engulfed by the sensory overload of daily life, the microphone gives him control. C’mon C’mon is palpably therapeutic as the sound design turns cacophony into catharsis.”
“There’s a way to read this film as a plea for white parents to be sensitive and listen to what marginalized kids are feeling in the same way that they would their own,” says Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. “But that seems disingenuous when C’mon C’mon is only emotionally invested in Jesse. The other way to read this: C’mon C’mon uses marginalized kids to make a story about privileged white people and their problems seem relevant.”
“Partly inspired by Mills’ own ascent into fatherhood in 2014, C’mon C’mon is lovely to behold and buoyed by three terrific performances and the remarkable, almost palpable, chemistry between Phoenix and Norman,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “But it really can’t be endorsed across the board. It’s just too… unusual. Inarguably too long, arguably too navel-gazing, and, ultimately, not a lot happens over its 108 minutes.”
“[H]ere is another film that benefits enormously, but isn’t entirely worthy, of Phoenix’s presence,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The actor makes the entire endeavour worthwhile, but substitute any other performer in the role, and the film would crumble completely.”
Drive My Car (dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)
“Formally inventive – the film’s prologue eats up 41 minutes, at which point the opening credits finally appear on-screen – but tinged with a classical sensibility, Hamaguchi’s drama hits in both expected and surprising ways,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Take three hours out of your life, and enjoy one of the most fulfilling cinematic rides of the year.”
“As the film inevitably becomes more dramatic towards its conclusion, one never loses the sense that the best of part of Drive My Car is when characters are ‘on the road’ figuratively or literally, trying to understand themselves and those around them,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Inevitably, all that Yusuke and the others can do is accept their solitudes and try to act responsibly. Ryusuke Hamaguchi has made a near masterwork, inspired by Murakami, in which the attempts to break down the barriers between people is examined and quietly endorsed.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “weird, challenging and fresh.”
“[A] fascinating, multi-layered metaphor for power dynamics – between driver and passenger, to be sure, but also between director and actor, play and performer, writer and text,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“All the ingredients that made Hamaguchi’s 2015 breakthrough Happy Hour such a beautifully affirming experience are here, but sharpened ever so delicately into a story that parallels personal growth with the acting process,” says Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto. “Hamaguchi’s eye for architecture, objects, light and spaces is both unassuming and absorbing – his framing often suggests how ineffable things can affect us unexpectedly yet tangibly.”
“The best screenplay winner at Cannes this year and Japan’s Oscar [submission], the film by Japanese director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Asako I and II) has been getting some serious best-of-year consideration,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Certainly, it’s a welcome call-back to grownup movies of 1960s and 70s, about adult intimacy and meaning-of-life concerns. Shot with crisp, unfussy clarity inside a car or in boardroom offices and the streets of the modern urban Japan, it’s a drama about the intricate ways love, performance, and work merge into each other.”
“With Drive My Car, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi crafts an emotional epic,” raves Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “It’s a road movie through the soul and an odyssey well worth taking. You’ll feel transformed by the journey’s end.”
“From such a minor premise does a mighty film grow, one so absorbing and enigmatic its three-hour running time flashes by,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star.
(dir. Byron Howard, Jared Bush, and Charise Castro Smith)
“Encanto explodes off the screen in a vibrant swirl of music, colour, and smiling faces with enormous eyes,” raves Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Its plot is possibly more complex than it needs to be for the small fry, and there is one scene that could be very scary. But for the most part, Encanto is a dazzling feast for big and little eyes and ears, and easily the most kinetic thing in memory.”
House of Gucci (dir. Ridley Scott)
“Alas, there’s no reason to go gaga for this saga, which plays more like a ponderous soap opera than the outrageous entertainment it might have been, especially considering the recent competition. There are better boardroom antics in TV’s Succession and more wicked fashion follies in Cruella,” observes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Yet Gaga’s Patrizia is a regular live wire compared to Driver’s Maurizio, who has the personality of wet plywood. Driver is a supremely talented and expressive actor, one of the best of his generation, but he’s clearly uncomfortable behind the big 1980s eyeglasses and inside his character’s pampered realm.”
“Gaga’s Patrizia performance comes from the school of go big or go home. I’m not going to lie, most often, Patrizia sounds more like Count Chocula than a native Italian,” admits Victor Stiff at Victor Stiff Reviews. “You can overlook Gaga’s bizarre vocal inflections thanks to her magnetic screen presence. I never got over the harsh line readings so much as I learned to roll with them.”
“[F]eatures a powerhouse performance by Lady Gaga, whose turn as Patrizia Reggiani is itself worth the price of admission,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Alas, Driver’s performance never quite matches hers in intensity. Perhaps that’s just a function of the character he plays.”
“[A] camp treatment, totally outrageous, silly and poking fun (rather than being a serious biopic) at Gucci with truth and credibility stretched to the limit. To this end, House of Gucci succeeds more than admirably,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[T]he performances are uneven to the point where some seem to be acting as if they were in a different movie. Notably Jared Leto,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Leto finds a way of playing Paolo so that we see his clownishness, but also have moments sympathy for him. And sure, you could argue that it’s a bit too broad for the film. But what Leto has done is to give us a character who is unambiguous and both annoying and fun to watch.”
“It is not nearly as engaging or entertaining as The Last Duel – it is, at times, nakedly and bewilderingly bad – but you have to admire Scott’s energy,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “When Gaga makes a faux-promise to Paolo with the line, ‘Father, Son, House of Gucci’ in a deliciously bad Italian accent – the worst I’ve heard since 2018′s instant Canadian cult-crap-classic Little Italy – it is Scott’s cue for us to eat this exorbitantly priced cheese up before it curdles.”
“Some will insist producer/director Scott meant for House of Gucci to turn out this way – that its collision of mismatched molto Italiano performances is intended to pitch the film into some operatic stratosphere, with Driver’s restrained, almost charmingly awkward turn as Maurizio somehow supposed to contrast the cartoonishness of Lady Gaga as Maurizio’s scheming wife Patrizia and whatever the hell Leto’s doing as the oafish gargoyle Paolo,” argues Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “But that would require the film to have a perspective it simply does not possess.”
The Humans (dir. Stephen Karam)
“Karam, making his feature directorial debut, keeps all six [characters] in motion, and his overlapping dialogue is sharp and delightful,” writes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. “Sometimes his direction is a bit frustrating – to create intimacy, he sets his actors at far- and middle-distance, as well as in close-up, so we sometimes feel we’re missing things. But that’s also the point: We lean in, and we’re rewarded for it.”
“With the year’s fiercest ensemble including Richard Jenkins, Steven Yeun and stage star Jayne Houdyshell, Karam manages to defy our worst expectations,” says Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. “The Humans is a haunted house story, where horror movie tropes from rattling furnaces to forceful shadows are expertly deployed to express the emotional terror and uncertainly living inside its characters.”
“Theatre director Stephen Karam guides us through a nerve-shredding evening using sly shooting angles to throw us off balance, and into psychological discomfort, buoyed by actors who go all in,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “These are, after all, humans, “the creatures monsters tell horror stories about.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says it’s “likely one of the best dysfunctional family Thanksgiving films.”
“Subtlety is the strength of The Humans,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “It is an intelligent even-handed drama where the family’s issues aren’t played to the point where they’re gruelling and destructive. Rather, they show us something more ordinary and therefore more truthful.”
“It’s well-crafted drama, with fine performances from the cast, who have four Oscar nominations among them,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Jenkins is particularly good, hinting at financial problems back home in Scranton, and at one point asking his daughter’s boyfriend: “Don’t you think it should cost less to be alive?”
Incitement (dir. Yaron Zilberman; Nov. 30)
“A compelling watch, Incitement shows how easily one can become a dangerous fundamentalist, leading to terrorist actions, all in the name of religious righteousness,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Julia (dir. Julie Cohen, Betsy West)
“It’s an easygoing, highly enjoyable look at the life and considerable influence of Julia Child,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Julia is a life and times documentary, but it’s also an appreciation. Celebrity chefs, including José Andrés, Ina Garten, Marcus Samuelsson, Ruth Reichl, Jacques Pépin and Sara Moulton discuss Julia’s influence on them.” Gordon also has an essay on chef docs like Julia in the new issue of POV.
“Julia the documentary makes the case that Child’s good works outweigh her personal blind spots, and when all the evidence is piled up it’s hard to argue otherwise. But the film’s own blind spot has a way of sticking in one’s throat,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“No offence to the filmmakers behind this charming documentary about the late, great chef and TV personality Julia Child, but for me the quintessential portrait of her will always be 2009’s Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Child’s larger-than-life personality makes the documentary a compelling case for how well Meryl Streep captured the chef in her Oscar-nominated turn in Julie & Julia,” agrees Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “As the film recounts how Julia ran home from Le Cordon Bleu each day to spoil Paul with good food cooked with care, mouth-watering macro photography caresses the ingredients of her delectable dishes. Food porn this exciting should come with an X-rating.”
“[O]ne of the most amusing and delightfully entertaining documentaries of the year, like a perfect soufflé,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“What a boon it is that [Child’s] revolution was in the kitchen and the result is better food and cooking in America and throughout the world,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Julia is a lovely homage to a woman, who deserves the accolades that have accrued to her over the decades.”
The Last Rite (dir. Leroy Kincaide)
“[A] solid psychological horror worthy of its prize of Genre Rising Star won by its writer/director,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Not to Forget (dir. Valerio Zanoli)
“Not to Forget, about a young con-artist sent by a judge to care for his grandmother stars five Academy Award Winners – Cloris Leachman, Olympia Dukakis, George Chakiris, Louis Gossett Jr. and Tatum O’Neal!” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (dir. Johannes Roberts)
“Welcome to Raccoon City is a harmless and occasionally entertaining distraction despite forced expositions, animatronic zombie-birds, a gum-smacking waitress, motorcycles that start without keys, a town where the primary industry appears to be law-enforcement (seriously, what’s with all the cops?) and endless variants on ways to deliver the phrase, ‘What the f**k!’ with nods to, ‘Who the f**k!’ and ‘How the f**k!’ said in equal measure,” admits Thom Ernst at Original Cin.
“With its lack of meaningful plot, and a roster of characters with lovely hair, pretty faces and forgettable personalities, Welcome to Raccoon City plays more like an extended cut of a shampoo commercial than the latest chapter in a long-running action-horror franchise. Resident Evil: Now with 100% less Jovovich!” proclaims Chris Knight at the National Post.
“The movie would work better taking a less is more approach. Instead of five competing plot threads, it should have settled on two that actually matter,” argues Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “The cast come across as Resident Evil characters in name only. They aren’t well-developed, so if you don’t know who they are going in, there’s no reason to care about them. Hell, I played the games like a fiend, and even I don’t care about these thinly-sketched video game personalities.”
“Fans of the early Capcom games will enjoy seeing the locations brought to life, and fans of Toronto actors will enjoy seeing Pat Thornton turn up as a skeevy truck driver and Josh Cruddas as a frantic whistleblower,” notes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “Seven movies in, that’s something.”
‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas (dir. Becky Read)
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with director Becky Read about chronicling a yuletide feud that speaks to the wider divisions rippling around the globe.. “I was attracted to the film because I think people love Christmas movies,” says Read. “This was an entertaining way into a much more serious conversation that everyone’s having across the globe about truth, about division, about personal liberties, and about who ‘wins’ so to speak.”
The Unforgiveable (dir. Nora Fingscheidt)
“There’s a sense that the film is attempting to navigate a sort of Atom Egoyan-like exploration of the ripple effects of trauma but it stumbles over a mishmash of a screenplay — the clumsy fragmentary flashbacks, the rushed climax and time-jumping, cross-cutting wind-up — none of which are improved by David Fleming and Hans Zimmer’s generic thriller score,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“Drawn, taut and nearly silent, Bullock convincingly creates a shell of wariness and self-protection, and then gradually lets it crack,” observes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. “Fingscheidt (System Crasher) does a good job doling out the information we need to understand Ruth, and shows us the grimness of the institutions that are supposed to ease formerly incarcerated people back into society, but instead reinforce how separate they feel.”
“The Unforgiveable ends up a thriller/drama that suffers from its occasional confusing storytelling despite strong performances,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
TV Talk – Beatles: Get Back and Hollywood Suite’s 10th Anniversary
At Original Cin, Jim Slotek praises Peter Jackson as “Lord of the Ringos”: “It’s like hanging with the Beatles in person for hours and watching and listening to them create. One minute, ‘Get Back’ (which was originally intended as an anti-anti-immigrant statement) doesn’t exist. Five minutes later it does,” writes Slotek. “But much of the miracle is technical. Originally shot in 16 mm (and magnified to grainy 35 mm in Let It Be), the footage was digitally improved to HD quality, and the audio is similarly Peter Jackson-ized, making The Beatles: Get Back into a remarkably intimate time-machine experience.” Slotek also checks out the mini-series of Haweye, which isn’t exactly WandaVision: “For MCU fans, however, it is comfort food, a lighter version of a stand-alone movie with well-executed action and an often wry sense of humour.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie rocks out to Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back: “Their music brings back rushes of nostalgia and admiration, but the best thing is – here they are, four young men at their peaks of creativity as one, fresh, young, mop-topped and engaged with one another, having made world history and brought so much joy.” Anne also recommends TVO’s Magic Shadows, Elwy Yost: A Life in Movies about the beloved Saturday Night at the Movies Host, saying the doc “celebrates a Canadian celebrity locally up there with the Beatles.” As for drama, Anne likes Finding Alice: “Good gripping stuff heightened by [Keeley] Hawe’s unique characterisation.”
In another take at Original Cin, Jim Slotek marks the tenth anniversary of Hollywood Suite with a nod to its upcoming broadcast of the 1980s punk flick The Fabulous Stains and speaks with president and co-founder David Kines. ““The idea was that video stores were closing, or closed, and there was a thirst for classic films that wasn’t being satisfied by the existing channels and platforms,” Kines says. “So, we saw there was a niche and an opening in the market. Where do you find Casablanca, or something like The Great Waldo Pepper (the ’70s film where Robert Redford played an ex-WWI pilot-turned-barnstormer) now that Blockbuster’s gone?”