Members name the standout docs at this year’s festival.
TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 27
November 27, 2020
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA critics
In Release this Week
Black Beauty (dir. Ashley Avis)
“It might not be up to the high standards set by previous adaptations of Black Beauty (and it’s certainly far from the lowest end), but writer-director Ashley Avis’ effort is heartfelt, earnest, and thoughtful without devolving into treacly melodrama,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Beauty’s famously awful life has dark chapters, and I’ll admit I skipped some,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Overall, there is a sad commentary on man’s cruelty and lack of respect for one another and for animals.”
“Black Beauty is a children’s book and the film plays as one (or as a family film),” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Christmas Chronicles: Part 2 (dir. Chris Columbus)
“Part 2 can nowhere be compared to the original,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The Christmas Chronicles: Part 2 isn’t much of a film,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It can be more easily classified as ‘content,’ or more charitably as ‘a product.’”
“So many twists and turns and so much Christmas spirit including [Kurt] Russell’s sensational, seasonal song and dance numbers,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Columbus keeps things bright and bouncy enough, and Netflix very clearly spent the equivalent of several nations’ GDPs on the production design,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
The Croods: A New Age (dir. Joel Crawford)
“Perhaps it’s for the best that seven years have passed since the original, allowing for a new generation of tiny filmgoers to be born, because this Neolithic chapter is very much like the Old-o-lithic one,” says Chris Knight at the National Post.
“The Croods: A New Age won’t tax any viewers young or old, but it will offer them some gorgeous visuals, lighthearted chuckles, and gently relayed life lessons,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“[T]he took-long-enough sequel does bear the hallmarks of the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen model of modern animated fare,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “There is, simply put, a lot going on in A New Age.”
Fatman (dir. Elshom Nelms, Ian Nelms)
For a movie about an assassin charged with killing Santa Claus (!) on the orders of a Richie Rich-like brat (!!), and starring Mel Gibson (!!!) as Kris Kringle himself, Fatman is astoundingly boring,” yawns Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Fatman has a premise that sounds far more raucous on paper than it appears in execution,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Fatman is listed as a comedy but it’s not and it’s certainly not for kids,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Fatman, because of its weird premise, does not always work,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto, “but when it does makes for quite fresh entertainment.”
Fear of Dancing (dir. Michael Allcock 🇨🇦)
“Fear of Dancing starts in a place of comedic earnestness and personal embarrassment, but ends up unpacking quite a bit about the human condition by the time it wraps up,” offers Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Funny Boy (dir. Deepa Mehta 🇨🇦)
At NOW Toronto, Radheyan Simonpillai calls the film “a remarkably sensitive and balanced handling of [Shyam] Selvadurai’s novel” and discusses some of the controversies surrounding the film with director Deepa Mehta and co-writer/author Selvadurai.
“Though Funny Boy is no cinematic epic reminiscent of director David Lean with cinematography by Freddie Francis, Deepa Metha’s film aims high and is still a pleasurable watch,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Funny Boy will not endear itself to all viewers,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “It will also prove challenging for many. If you’re unfamiliar with Sri Lanka’s quarter-century civil war that ended in 2009, or with the role played by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (colloquially known as the Tigers), you may be a little at sea.”
“[T]aken as a whole, Funny Boy deserves commendation for telling a culturally specific story that hasn’t been told before,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Deepa Mehta’s latest drama is a buoyant, soulful, and refreshingly openhearted film,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
Girl (dir. Chad Faust)
“Compelling stuff in a trashy dirty universe.” – Anne Brodie, What She Said
Happiest Season (dir. Clea DuVall)
“It’s a pretty radical idea for a mainstream holiday film but isn’t it about time? I hope people will accept it as part of the Christmas movie canon and enjoy its humour and humanity.” – Anne Brodie, What She Said
“Happiest Season is much more invested in exploring what a closeted life can do to a person’s emotional compass, and how hard it is to love someone who hates a part of herself. It’s a lot deeper than you’d expect from the wrapping.” Norm Wilner, NOW Toronto
“The results are earnest and sweet, although the various conflicts do get tied up faster and tidier than presents at a mall’s wrapping counter.” – Chris Knight, National Post
“It’s the sort of film that thrives on the standard genre beats audiences expect from a holiday movie (romance, cringe-humour, increasing frustration among family members), but Happiest Season also never forgets to create memorable characters, hilarious jokes, and an appropriate amount of believable dramatic conflict to keep things interesting.” – Andrew Parker, The Gate
“Stewart and Davis make for a charming couple…But the highlight performance might just belong to co-writer Holland, who scripts herself the best bits as Harper’s desperately lonely and oft-ignored sister Jane.” – ” Barry Hertz, The Globe and Mail
Hillbilly Elegy (dir. Ron Howard)
“I grew up 500 miles from Vance’s childhood home in Middleton, Ohio, and farther still from the Kentucky stronghold of his ‘hill people’ ancestors,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But I connected immediately to the importance of family ties, and the way you can divide clans into two sorts.”
“As a director, [Ron] Howard has an instinctive ability to find the way to turn his films into mainstream hits,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “He pulls back on any criticism of Vance’s hillbillies and figures out a way to turn J.D.’s problematic mother and Mamaw into gutsy women who were trying to do their best despite dreadful circumstances.”
“Glenn Close and Amy Adams could easily win nominations for their work,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Director Ron Howard says his family has roots in Appalachia and that’s what drew him to the story.”
“[T]op-notch performances from the cast elevate Hillbilly Elegy above other films in this genre,” argues Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Make no mistake: Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy is a bad film, inert and clichéd and largely devoid of cinematic imagination,” argues Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But it’s not a problematic film. Or as culturally incendiary a production as the internet predicted.”
Peter Howell (and most of the Twitterverse) agrees:
HILLBILLY ELEGY (⭐1/2): Director Ron Howard, ever the earnest Opie, presents title tome as the anti-Mayberry, a place where southern stereotypes go to die. Glenn Close and Amy Adams act their hearts out, unlike the inert Gabriel Basso, but Oscar ain't making this whistle stop. pic.twitter.com/Bmgm5Uceue
— Peter Howell (@peterhowellfilm) November 11, 2020
“It’s not that making a movie about class-based anxiety in America circa 2020 is inherently a bad idea; one could argue that it is in fact a deeply urgent subject,” writes Adam Nayman at The Ringer. “But Hillbilly Elegy is so determined to have it both ways—to draw us into J.D.’s aching ambivalence about his background while structuring itself around the bravery and necessity of his escape—that it just about cancels itself out, and what’s left over is familiar from plenty of other movies indulging in ethnographic tackiness.”
“An adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoirs that throws subtlety and complexity to the wind in favour of empty platitudes about family needing to stick together, Hillbilly Elegy is ostensibly a true story told in the fakest, most insulting fashion possible,” quips Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Into the Light (dir. Gentille M. Assih 🇨🇦)
“If the doc’s process is overly familiar, any sense of déjà-vu speaks to the need to keep the stories coming,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
Mosul (dir. Matthew Michael Carnahan)
“Those expecting a geo-political lesson will walk away disappointed and confused, but anyone hoping for an intense journey full of flying bullets and crumbling debris will be more than satisfied.” – Barry Hertz, The Globe and Mail
Rocks (dir. Sarah Gavron)
“Rocks speaks wisely and without judgment towards anyone of any age who has found themselves in a desperate situation,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“One wishes the film would take a stronger narrative and a solid path for Shola, but this is Gavron’s style for this film,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Gavron’s hand talent behind the camera is obvious through the performances she draws from the young ensemble,” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
Softie (dir. Sam Soko)
At POV Magazine, Liam Lacey profiles the film in conversation with director Sam Soko and producer Mila Aung-Thwin of Montreal’s EyeSteelFilm.
“A poignant and eye opening look into the messy, violent landscape of Kenyan politics and one grassroots activist’s fight to change what might be an irreparable system,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Stardust (dir. Gabriel Range)
“One wonders the reason they made a film on Bowie when such an awful picture is painted on the famous singer/songwriter,” asks Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
How does the film fare without being able to secure the rights to any David Bowie songs? Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail says, “a rock-star biopic without the music of said rock star ends up being a pointless exercise.”
“Imagine the film First Man if it neglected to include the moon landing,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post on the absence of Bowie’s music. “Pollock without painting. Or The Queen’s Gambit if they’d decided not to show any chess.”
“A frustratingly reductive drama about the musician’s first visit to America, in 1971…it wants to articulate a theory about the creation of Bowie’s chameleonic career, but winds up feeling like a series of missed opportunities,” groans Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“I like to believe that even the worst films have something good in them, but it’s pretty hard to find that in Stardust,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Superintelligence (dir. Ben Falcone)
“Of the three types [Melissa McCarthy] usually plays – the wallflower (Life of the Party, Spy, Ghosbusters), the no-nonsense straight-shooter (St. Vincent, The Happytime Murders, This Is 40, and the raucous wildcard (Bridesmaids, Tammy, Identity Thief, The Heat, The Boss) – Superintelligence places her firmly in that empathetic shy-but-kind territory,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Superintelligence is many things and for that reason, plus McCarthy’s presence, its challenges, and the emotional minefield, it’s a rare kind of project, so completely unexpected ad complicated,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Superintelligence is a really, really weird movie,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “There’s just no way around it.”
Sweet Parents (dir. David Bly)
“Sweet Parents is a ‘weird’ movie in a not-good way – ie. people tend to act counterintuitively, as if they’re from another planet – Gabby expects Will to be cool about it when she says she’s going off on an extended trip with another man, like tonight!” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “While Will is eventually revealed as a jerk, Gabby’s naivete should be illegal.”
Tales of the Uncanny (dir. David Gregory)
“Everyone seems on board with praising the horror anthology with little thought to actual merit,” observes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Many anthologies get a pass without so much as a wincing, apologetic nod to poor taste or guilty pleasures mostly because the titles mentioned are given top-five status.”
“[A] guilty pleasure, nothing really extraordinary, but it contains short interviews of 60 experts in this area together with assembled clips from a whole lot of experts,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Triggered (dir. Alastair Orr)
“The success of the film proves that no matter how silly the premise is, if all the departments are serious enough to put in their 100% and believe in the material, the result can be remarkable,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Uncle Frank (dir. Alan Ball)
“Uncle Frank ticks off a lot of familiar melodrama boxes, right down to the weepy post-funeral reconciliation,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“[W]here the film truly succeeds is in its pacing,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Editor Jonathan Alberts has worked on some fine dramas in the past few years, including 45 Years and Lean on Pete, both by Andrew Haigh. Here, he and Ball work to craft Frank’s backstory through perfectly timed flashbacks.”
The Walrus and the Whistleblower (dir. Nathalie Bibeau 🇨🇦)
“The perfect marriage of a cracking legal drama and a vital social advocacy exposé,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it, “a crowd pleaser and a very sad story.”
“Whether one considers Demers a hero or an asshole is beside the point when his fight is in service of those who suffer,” observes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “As a portrait of a heroic asshole, though, the film is thrilling stuff.”
Wolfwalkers (dir. Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart)
“Wolfwalkers delivers a fantastic feat of world-building as each element—the visuals, the story, and the magical music—transport a viewer to a faraway land. Its magic will captivate audiences young and old,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
Zappa (dir. Alex Winter)
“Despite all the odds, Zappa’s work provides a soundtrack that continues to resonate for those with open ears,” notes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine. “Its refusal to die remains laudable, and Winter’s Zappa provides just the kind of electroshock boost needed to keep its beat ticking for years to come.”
“Filmmaker Alex Winter is the man behind this crowd-sourced, shaggy love letter of a documentary. Winter, recently in front of the camera reprising his role as fellow musician Bill S. Preston, Esq., was granted rare access to Zappa’s extensive archives and seems to have made the most of it,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Alex Winter’s meticulously researched documentary on Zappa takes us through his strange and contradictory career,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“Frank Zappa is unquestionably an interesting person to build a documentary around, and Winter does a fine job of showing the various ways he changed an industry to which he refused to conform,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
“Director Winter has, through his earnest documentary, shown Frank Zappa to be a great man who has transformed the world of music through his dedicated work and music,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
TV Takes Flight
“An intriguing start to a boundary-breaking series that promises the wide world of adventure, mystery, and the nature of a complicated woman’s mind,” raves Anne Brodie about The Flight Attendant at What She Said. “Loaded with visual innovation and experimentation.” Brodie also checks out news things on the tube/’net, like Saved by the Bell, Riviera, and The Accidental Wolf.
“The Flight Attendant is a great addition to that lineage of addictive, crowd pleasing series,” writes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s every bit a page-turner and pulpier than full flavour orange juice.”
At Original Cin, Jim Slotek looks at The Nature of Things’ doc The COVID Cruise, which chronicles the outbreak on a ship he and his wife and travelled on during a recent holiday: “While it was an amazing experience, it’s chilling to imagine being told, as we were preparing to disembark for good, that we’d have to stay on board, confined to the claustrophobic four walls of our cabin for weeks.”
Watching in a Winter Wonderland
Yes, Virginia, there will be movies for Christmas. Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail offers a holiday movie preview, which looks very different this year!
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but Nathalie Atkinson’s coat is sure delightful! Read in The Globe and Mail how she scored a custom-made coat based on the wardrobe of Withnail and I.
You better watch out! The roster of Christmas specials, Hallmark movies, and holiday treats is longer than Santa’s list. Anne Brodie breaks down what is playing and when at What She Said.