Reviews include Close, Knock at the Cabin, and Alice, Darling.
TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 5
November 5, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
13 Minutes (dir. Lindsay Gossling)
“[A] throwback to the old days when natural disaster films swept the multiplexes – Twister, Hard Rain, Volcano, The Day After Tomorrow, Lake Placid – accessible and fast, old-fashioned, no need to think too much as excitement builds around the coming catastrophe,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“The movie huffed and it puffed, but it didn’t blow me away,” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post.
Attica (dir. Stanley Nelson; Nov. 6)
“Eventually, the state had to pay millions of dollars of damages but that was decades after the event and few people cared. Now, people do care. It’s 50 years after Attica and BLM is surrounding us in the media and reality,” writes Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Stanley Nelson has made a vital contribution to the movement with this doc.”
Also at POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with director Stanley Nelson and co-director Traci A. Curry about Attica’s ongoing relevance and the state of the USA today. “Could you imagine a Fox News existence of Attica? The U.S. is in a really scary place,” says Nelson. “Laws have been passed against teaching about slavery. We can’t handle a pandemic as well as South Korea. People are still refusing to get vaccinated. We’re in the States, but it feels like we’re living in Looney Tunes land.”
The Beta Test (dir. Jim Cummings and P.J. McCabe)
“A satire that does not come together because it is not outrageous or credible enough,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The Hollywood setting seems almost incidental – which is a good thing, because the filmmakers either intentionally chose to cheaply replicate the high-powered landscape to the point of absurdity (no reputable agency would operate out of Jordan’s sparsely designed office), or they decided that the gnarly thrust of their screenplay would triumph over their production-budget shortcomings,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“As in his previous pictures, Cummings has an unerring sense of exactly how far to push his alpha-male posturing, making a running gag out of Jordan’s habit of snapping at people and reflexively apologizing, and he and McCabe make sure Virginia Newcomb has plenty of room to develop the character of Caroline, Jordan’s understandably confused and increasingly suspicious fiancée,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Dead and Beautiful (dir. David Verbeek)
“Dead & Beautiful is not as good as it looks!” warns Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Eternals (dir. Chloé Zhao)
“[A]s Eternals crawls through its 157 minutes of exposition-laden nonsense, all of Zhao’s previous experience helming beautiful, heartbreaking, majestic films – from the hauntingly spare Songs My Brothers Taught Me to the precise drama of The Rider to the generous humanity of Nomadland – is drowned out by the clang of franchise obligations,” sighs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Eternals just isn’t interested in enjoying itself; it’s two and a half hours of sustained glumness as we watch the very talented cast stand around waiting for their motivation to arrive,” groans Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “I don’t blame the actors, who are entirely capable of being fun in things. Chan brought a fun, prickly energy to a different character in Captain Marvel, and Madden made a charismatic action hero in Bodyguard. Here, they’re just mired in the movie’s heaviness, like everyone else.
“It’s an incredibly diverse cast, ethnically and culturally, which is one of the most appealing things about the film,” observes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “But this particular cast has little chemistry. And that is especially evident between Gemma Chan and Richard Madden, Sersi and Ikaris, who are meant to have been in love for thousands of years. And some characters feel wrong. For instance, and it pains me to say this, I normally like Kumail Nanjiani, but despite a newly-impressive physique, and his commitment to the character, he doesn’t quite fit.”
“Between all the requisite exposition, character interactions (some of the Eternals don’t play well with others) and a few punchy-punchy battles en route to a we’ll-be-back conclusion and a couple of jaw-dropping end-credit scenes, there’s precious little room to put a personal stamp on this one,” yawns Chris Knight at the National Post. “The Eternals were given a non-interference directive by their even more powerful and possibly-evil-or-at-least-conflicted creators. Zhao seems to have suffered a similar fate.”
At CBC, Eli Glasner debates the latest entry in the MCU with his colleague, Jackson Weaver. The verdict? “I wouldn’t describe Eternals as an absolute failure but more a disappointment considering the talent involved,” says Glanser. “If you want a film that has something to say about our place in the universe, I think 1997’s Men in Black did it better. Eternals has moments of awe, but mostly it’s a celestial bore.”
“The major question is: will Eternals make enough money to impress the Celestials at MCU’s head office so we can see them again?” asks Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “My guess? The film will make tons of money as the first really well-made comix epic in almost two years. And Eternals will last a decade if not an eternity.”
At That Shelf, Jason Gorber calls it “an underwhelming blockbuster that takes itself and its dour characters too seriously.”
“One of the great things about Zhao’s low-key filmmaking style, very much in evidence in last year’s Oscar champ Nomadland (my favourite film of 2020) and in her earlier The Rider, is her ability to make the personal seem universal,” observes Peter Howell at Night Vision. “She inverts this with Eternals, her Marvel debut, attempting and failing to make the universal seem personal. This gambit might work in some circumstances, but it surely doesn’t here, in a comic-book fantasy that mistakes lethargy for profundity”
At That Shelf, Victor Stiff reports from the Eternals press conference where Marvel prez Kevin Feige reflects on where the MCU is going. “In a post-Infinity Saga world, we wanted to make a bold new step,” said Feige. “You don’t know everything about the universe yet, and there are these ten spectacular heroes that you haven’t met, who have been here the whole time.”
Finch (dir. Miguel Sapochnik)
“[Sapochnik] also has done his level best to keep the film from drifting into cuteness or sentimentality, focusing instead on the jeopardy that Finch is in, his underlying anxiety and the things from Finch’s life past and present that are on his mind,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “It adds up to a movie with real heart, that is surprisingly touching.”
“The Hanks magic and optimism, the last days of the planet and the sweet dog and robot are all but overwhelming; it’s hard to watch but also endlessly about love,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Not as sappy as the trailer would have you believe.”
“[T]he COVID-19 era’s best on-screen invention is the Tom Hanks comfort movie,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Like Greyhound and News of the World, Finch was originally destined for theatres before everything changed. And maybe the gentle sci-fi drama would have played well on the big screen – its sound mix, a whirl of hurricane-strong winds and magnificent dust storms, cries out for a proper surround-strength system. But as things stands, director Miguel Sapochnik’s feature feels right at home in the comfort of, well, your home.”
“Miguel Sapochnik, whose directing credits include a half-dozen episodes of Game of Thrones, is working with a screenplay from first-time writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, and everyone seems intent on keeping the story as simple as possible,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “We know that Earth is suffering from extreme heat and UV radiation and that a solar flare was to blame, but there’s little else in the way of background. Thank heavens it wasn’t our fault!”
Gaza Mon Amour (dir. Tarzan Nasser and Arab Nasser; Nov. 9)
“[S]enior love story is totally charming and is a standout,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The Nasser twins offer lively pictures of the community, the residents stress when they learn Israel has a new bomb, jokey street talk, whimsical moments and the solace and beauty of finding Siham shares Issa’s feelings – what joy,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “[A] gentle, funny and intimate portrait of well-lived lives on the Mediterranean.”
“Issa is a man of determination but few words,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Daw’s portrayal is wonderful. It’s a performance that conveys Issa’s thoughts and anxieties through internal reactions and body language. He’s created a character who is quirky and out of practice in the romantic realm. He is someone we can root for. Abbass is also wonderful as Siham, who is clearly not sure of what to make of Issa’s awkward attention.”
The Harder They Fall (dir. Jeymes Samuel)
“The film feels like an impression of an impression, the work of someone cribbing Tarantino cribbing Leone. And when you make a copy of a copy, something always gets lost in the translation,” says Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “But at the end of the day, Tarantino and Leone are still two fine inspirations. The movie works as an action-packed, genre-busting joyride at the expense of giving its outstanding cast more time to do their thing.”
“The Harder They Fall cost almost $100 million to make and director Samuel’s film is worth every cent of it,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The movie to see this week!”
A Man Called Scott (dir. Robert Alexander)
“The doc comes across like its subject Cudi – often dishonest while attempting to be honest and eventually as totally detestable,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Mondo Hollywoodland (dir. Janek Ambros)
“The laugh needle rarely rises above “smirk” on the comedy meter, even as the actors employ the kind of pressured speech you associate either with mania, stimulants or vintage sitcoms,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “But the editing is witty and the mondo spirit of experimentation is, refreshingly, a break from the Hollywood formulaic.”
Only the Animals (dir. Dominik Moll)
“Only the Animals has had a long, slow road to Canadian cinemas. The film had its world premiere during the Venice Film Festival of 2019 (before the pandemic!) and then popped up at other fests, virtual and in-person, over the last two years,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Here it is at last, and well worth the wait.”
“The highlands offer beautiful wild vistas and life-threatening danger – its midwinter storm season, and the topography of the place, its crevasses, sharply turning narrow highways that cling to the rocky precipices,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “a fascinating tale of murder and coincidences and the human’s desire for love.”
Passing (dir. Rebecca Hall; Nov. 10)
“Passing looks at many issues in the twenties that exist today – the social, cultural and moral places we come from. It’s provocative, fresh and beautiful to look at in its harsh reality,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Although Hall’s Passing is one of the few films in cinema’s history to cast Black actors in such “white-passing” roles (one of the earliest and well-known examples of this exception being Fredi Washington in John M. Stahl’s 1934 drama Imitation of Life), the production also continues the history of white directors, however well-meaning their intentions, claiming ownership over Black stories,” writes Sarah-Tai Black at The Globe and Mail.
“Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, Passing, is a whip-smart film dramatizing a deeply scarring situation that occurred for over a century in the U.S. and elsewhere, particularly in Europe,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
“Filmed in radiant black and white and boxy aspect ratio that moodily conjures 1920s New York, it stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as erstwhile friends who have mastered the era’s social necessity of light-skinned Blacks ‘passing’ for white,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Thompson’s Irene chafes at the deception, while Negga’s Clare delights in it — but both are leading false lives.”
“[A] detailed and meticulously delivered film in all departments notably in the acting, cinematography and set decoration,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Red Notice (dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber)
“It’s the feature version of that Twitter meme: ‘did… did an algorithm write this?’” computes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “It is a movie determined, in each and every frame, to deliver a comforting, familiar experience, the platonic ideal of an entire genre.”
“The prison escape segment says it best in the description of the entire film,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Totally improbable and likely that this escape would succeed, but nevertheless entertaining to watch.”
“Our heroes have nothing in common but daddy issues and must unite to finally go mano-a-mano with The Bishop and prove themselves the better persons,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Elaborate gags and one-liners up the fun in this hokey, old-school wanna-be from writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber.”
“[T]he system is not only broken. It is on bloody fire, people,” warns Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “If Red Notice is the future of the big and shiny movie, then we are now in the era of the neutered blockbuster.”
Sin La Habana (dir. Kaveh Nabatian; Nov. 9 🇨🇦)
“A visual treat, particularly the shaman ceremonies, and his powerful dancing,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Contrasting voodoo drumming, historic Spanish and classical music of the ballet is captivating. Writer-director Kaveh Nabatian’s classically-inspired drama’s artistry and weight are remarkable.”
“[H]as an open ending that might look like a cop-out – the main complaint of the otherwise compelling film,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Spencer (dir. Pablo Larraín)
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller chats with Kristen Stewart about getting inside Diana’s head: “There’s nothing unconditional in Diana’s life,” says Stewart. “Except for her children, everything is unstable. I loved the idea of this vulnerable, sensitive, scared animal, backed into a corner, at a precipice moment where she’s about to make a decision that going to change things that have been the same for hundreds of years.”
“Kristen Stewart is absolutely, freakishly, Diana, Princess of Wales in the imagined and much-anticipated biopic Spencer,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Diana’s clipped, dense accented speech is perfect, her carriage, and physical tells and intense eyes, all revived in Stewart’s spookily realistic portrayal of a woman in crisis.” Brodie also chats with director Pablo Larraín.
At CBC, Eli Glasner looks at Spencer’s haunted history with a few words from star Kristen Stewart and director Pablo Larraín. “We really had this beautiful terrain with which to dance and dream — sort of revive this woman for a moment, in order to kind of give her a chance to speak for herself,” Stewart told Glasner.
“Larraín, working from an imaginative screenplay by Steven Knight, fills his own frame with a story that is not quite biographical truth, neither wholly invented. But that is part of its genius,” raves Chris Knight at the National Post. “The story, set during Christmas 1991 at the royals’ Sandringham estate north of London, announces itself as ‘a fable from a true tragedy’ in the opening scene, signaling that anything could happen. When Diana and Charles are arguing in the billiards room over their respective affairs, I half expected her to take the snooker ball she was fidgeting with and hurl it across the table at her husband, turning Spencer into Clue.”
“A bravura performance by Kristen Stewart as a haunted Princess Diana, contemplating divorce from Prince Charles during a 1987 Christmas break,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Director Pablo Larraín (Jackie) admits up front it’s more fable than fact and, while he occasionally overreaches with his myth-spinning, his empathy and compassion for a woman suffering a mental breakdown are beautifully expressed. Gauzy cinematography makes this seem like a high-class ghost story.
“Rather than having scenes with Charles or the Queen nagging her, we see Gray, wonderfully played by Timothy Spall, reminding her constantly of her duties as a Princess,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Similarly, the character most sympathetic to Diana, her dresser Maggie, performed warmly and effectively by Sally Hawkins (like Spall, another Mike Leigh alumni) is fictional. What we have is a portrait of Diana Spencer, warts and all—and still looking beautiful when all is said and done.”
“For Stewart, who has quietly become one of the best young actresses on the scene…portraying this descent-into-near-madness had to be irresistible. And as Natalie Portman did in Jackie, she convincingly channels her nightmare onscreen into renewed strength,” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “The largely interior cinematography by Claire Mathon is stark, cold and beautiful, backed by a soundtrack that ranges from funereal chamber music to discordant jazz-noise meant to inspire dread.”
“Larraín has total control over his material, capturing empty halls and beautifully appointed rooms with a sense of alienation and unease,” notes Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto. “The way he paces the film and orchestrates the foreshadowing elements is masterful. Jonny Greenwood’s score adds layers of complexity, suggesting improvisatory jazz and clanging, anxious percussion.”
“Kristen Stewart surely gives the performance of the year as Diana Spencer, the late Princess of Wales in Pablo Larraín’s hypnotic biopic Spencer,” writes at Mullen at That Shelf. “The best performances are those that find a perfect fusion between character and star persona. (Think comeback kid Renée Zellweger putting it all on the line with Garland’s attempted return in Judy.) Few actors of any generation inspire such massive mobs of screaming fans… However, she channels the weight of celebrity into a fully lived-in Diana.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: Reel Asian Edition!
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Martin Edralin, the director of Reel Asian’s opening night film Islands. Here’s what he has to say about the film being part of a new dawn for Filipino-Canadian representation: “It’s something that we see even in other arts and even food. There’s first- and second-generation Filipinos who are now reaching for some taste of their roots. That’s the response I’ve been getting on the festival circuit. I thought it would be more immigrant Filipinos interested, but it’s their children and grandchildren who wish they understood the language that they heard from their parents and aunts and uncles growing up. They also love to see Joshua’s house, which looks exactly like the house their grandparents lived in.”
Anne Brodie previews Reel Asian at What She Said and notes a special highlight: “Ali Kazimi will be recognised in Reel Asian’s Canadian Artist Spotlight in 2021. The documentary filmmaker, media artist, activist, author, and educator has been a fixture in the Asian Canadian community, with 30 years of ‘vital contributions to Canadian media.’”
TV Talk –Big Mouth, Great Taste
At What She Said, Anne Brodie nibbles on Taste the Nation: “It’s not only food, and it’s always treated with respect and love on the series, it’s also a deep dive into identity, immigrants, indigenous culture, and finding one’s place in the bustling melting pot of the USA.” As for the return of My Life Is Murder? “William Shatner makes a very special guest appearance!”
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner finds a lot to enjoy about the return of Big Mouth: “This season is more meta than ever, which doesn’t always work but does offer the joy of Kroll’s Maury and Mulaney’s Andrew debating tonal choices in little throwaway exchanges. There’s also a format-breaking Christmas episode that finds room for puppets, stop-motion and – somehow – a John Wick parody starring Jay’s dog.”