Reviews include Funny Boy. Happiest Season, Zappa, Stardust, and more!
TFCA Friday: Week of Nov. 6
November 6, 2020
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA critics
COVID update: Wondering about the state of movie theatres in Ontario’s new colour-coded zones? Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail speaks with executives across the film industry to learn how attendance restrictions are not economically viable for cinemas even though not a single transmission (worldwide) has been linked to movie theatre attendance.
In Release this Week
Ask No Questions (dir. James Loftus, Eric Pedicelli 🇨🇦)
“Canadian documentarian Jason Loftus’ Ask No Questions takes a hard look at the 2001 self-immolation of three protesters in Tiananmen Square a protest that barely made international news because the Chinese government cracked down on media coverage on the spot,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
The Cuban (dir. Sergio Navarretta 🇨🇦)
“It’s a resonant story for anyone who’s seen a friend or relative through the loss of the memories that made them themselves,” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin, who also speaks with director Sergio Navarretta about the film and its drive-in success.
“Aghdashloo and Gossett simply outperform their younger co-star,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “One can only imagine the potential if the film featured Bano tending to the Cuban, encountering memories of lost love together.”
Cup of Cheer (dir. Jake Horowitz 🇨🇦)
Chris Knight at the National Post calls it a “giddy, goofy yuletide parody that gleefully throws all the holiday rom-com tropes into a toasty, roaring fire.”
“Some bits are inspired, including the arrival of an unstuck-in-time hunk in the vein of Kate & Leopold and The Time Traveler’s Wife, while others are merely annoying, like the local bullies…which the filmmakers lean on too often and too hard for ostensibly easy laughs that never quite arrive,” writes Barry Hertz in The Globe & Mail.
The Dark Divide (dir. Tom Putnam)
“Who would think that a film about a butterfly collector could be so endearing and captivating?” – Gilbert Seah, Afro Toronto.
Darkness in Tenement 45 (dir. Nicole Groton)
“[E]ven when the stakes are high, Darkness in Tenement 45 remains a dry and staid experience,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin.
Dinner with Friends (dir. Nicole Paone; Nov. 10)
“Director Paone’s desperation in making her film work is only too obvious,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Happy Place (dir. Helen Shaver 🇨🇦)
“It’s a complete universe, a world of women where ‘when you laugh here no one thinks you’re feeling better’,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. She also has an interview with director Helen Shaver and star Clark Backo.
“Happy Place is a grim psychological drama, trapping us in space with these characters as they push themselves towards catharsis, or push each other away,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
The Kid Detective (dir. Evan Morgan 🇨🇦)
“The Kid Detective is hands down one of the best Canadian films of the year and one of 2020’s most welcome surprises,” raves Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Even though 2020 hasn’t been kind to most films released this year, mark my words: The Kid Detective is destined for cult movie status, and rightfully so.”
“What could be a classic film noir story is turned into a solid small town detective mystery,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “A well written and executed adult comedy mystery that is a lot of fun.”
“James Bond may have vacated 2020 for greener pastures, but Adam Brody’s grubby, drug-addled sleuth feels like a more appropriate hero for this year,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Morgan occasionally borrows from the hard-boiled private-eye handbook,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “But for all its gumshoe references, Kid Detective is not a throwback to the film noir of the 40s, certainly not in the same way as, say, Rian Johnson’s Brick.”
“An irreverent sense of humour might have pulled it off, but Morgan’s restraint doesn’t let the film nail the landing. Brody also looks hungover throughout the film, as if his performance as Abe is a bit too method and draws upon benders from the night before,” remarks Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
“Viewers who can handle the rather abrupt changes in pitch may get more out of The Kid Detective, which does at least hold our attention with a simmering mystery and the promise of a payoff,” advises Chris Knight at the National Post.
Koko-di Koko-da (dir. Johannes Nyholm)
Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto calls it “the best and scariest film so far this year.”
“It would have been the perfect addition to a lock-down All Hallows’ Eve of streaming,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s either six days late or 359 early.”
Let Him Go (dir. Thomas Bezucha)
“A skilfully executed thriller that is narrowly aimed at one demographic — audiences over 50 who like a little violence with their late-life dramas — but succeeds at entertaining just about anyone who comes across its dusty, blood-soaked path,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Let Him Go doesn’t reinvent the wheel,” argues Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “But it plays out with style, violence that doesn’t strain credulity, and a consequence for every action taken.”
“[Diane] Lane and [Kevin] Costner are both solid actors, with screen personae so entrenched that just casting them communicates their characters’ histories,” remarks Norm Wilner at the Georgia Straight.
“But it gets worse – or, from a movie-going perspective, better – at the clan’s rural homestead, an off-the-grid shack presided over by Blanche Weboy,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “This sinister matriarch is played by Lesley Manville, one of those getting-better-as-she-gets-older actors (she’s 64), really sinking her teeth into the role.”
“Decked out in a bouncy blonde wig seemingly discarded from RuPaul’s Drag Race and channelling Jacki Weaver’s icy turn as Smurf in Animal Kingdom, Lesley Manville commands the film from the moment she enters,” applauds Pat Mullen at That Shelf.
“Gothic elements highlight the Weboys generational brokenness in this shocking depiction of evil and the will to battle it,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“On one hand, Let Him Go is a mostly predictable yarn about a family member doing everything in their power to rescue an endangered loved one, and it works just fine on that level if one doesn’t want to read too much into things,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate. “On the other, Let Him Go is so exceptionally acted, paced, written, and photographed that the whole thing feels assured and admirable.”
“Films like Let Him Go should be credited for being politically correct, written with strong female roles and with indigenous minorities portrayed in a positive light,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Life Ahead (dir. Edoardo Ponti)
“Ultimately, Ponti’s film survives on the one surprise that’s not much of a surprise at all: the power and majesty of his lead actress,” concludes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “And how did the director score such a casting coup? You’d have to ask his mother…Sophia Loren.”
“If you crave predictability in these crazy times, you may enjoy The Life Ahead, a heartstring-tugging drama from Italy that pulls no punches and offers few surprises,” says Chris Knight at the National Post.
At What She Said, Anne Brodie interviews the iconic Sophia Loren and her son/director Edoardo Ponti about working together and finding strength.
Operation Christmas Drop (dir. Martin Wood)
“Very Christmas sappy, but I fell for it,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Proxima (dir. Alice Wincour)
“It’s a cliché to see this film as feminist and although it is, Proxima is special because a woman writer-director has been allowed to explore the emotions of a female astronaut,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
Quiet Explosions in the Brain (dir. Jerri Sher)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film is “both inspirational and informative in its delivery of the miracle of the resilience of the human brain.”
Rebuilding Paradise (dir. Ron Howard)
“Howard partnered with National Geographic to document the events leading up to the fire, the fire itself, and the aftermath through news footage, home movies, conversations with officials, and residents that will break your heart,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“There’s an awkward sense though that Howard’s laudable desire to celebrate love of community and resilience gives us a partial picture of reality, or, at best, a first act,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“The opening shots of fire that begin Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise are almost as harrowing as the beach landing in Saving Private Ryan,” writes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine.
“While a populist filmmaker like Howard is still quick to note the various ways everyday people can rise above awful situations, Rebuilding Paradise is one of his few efforts to poignantly show that things often tend to get worse following a massive disaster before they gradually start to get better,” notes Andrew Parker at The Gate.
Watson (dir. Lesley Chilcott)
“Trust me, the doc is hard to watch at times, and the lessons are hard to accept but it shows that there is hope as long as brave people fight for our air, water, and place on earth,” advises Anne Brodie at What She Said, who also has an interview with director Lesley Chilcott.
“There’s a vulnerability there, but Chilcott isn’t interested in exploring it; rather than investigating her subject’s own complicated humanity, she pushes past it to celebrate his work,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Though there is nothing new in the doc Watson that I do not already know about the man, director Chilcott’s doc is still a reminder of how much the world needs to change and do to in our lifetime,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“For a far better-rounded, less deferential portrait of Watson, I recommend Trish Dolman’s 2011 Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson, a film shot over seven years which also includes perspectives from Watson’s critics and estranged family members,” suggests Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
Gilbert Seah offers some highlights from this year’s Reel Asian Film Festival, which begins Nov. 12.
TV Shows and Series
Checking out Moonbase 8, Andrew Parker at The Gate writes, “While it’s not as wacky or boundary pushing as one might expect given the creative comedic talents involved, Moonbase 8 is a dryly funny and surprisingly heartfelt series that seems custom tailored to our isolating times.”
Anne Brodie at What She Said looks at the scandalous A Teacher, saying, “Her control increases as they take foolish risks, but looking back the signs were there, her hesitation in breaking their glances, spending time alone with him to tutor, leading headlong to their full-blown affair.” Of The South Westerlies, she calls Orla Brady’s character “an enigma wrapped in a mystery.”
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner finds a hidden gem in How to with John Wilson: “It’s a remarkably gentle show, which makes it a weird choice for a late-night Friday time slot, but of course Crave makes it available to watch whenever you feel the urge. It’s also an ideal distraction from the constant stress of this miserable year.”
At Original Cin, Jim Slotek reviews two Canadian docs: Picture My Face, which was dumped as counterprogramming to the election results on TVO, and Rebellion, which kicks off the 60th season of The Nature of Things.
Cary and CanCon
In this long read for Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson talks to Hollywood historian Scott Eyman about his big new biography of Cary Grant, and why the book tackles everything from the star’s lifelong insecurity and anxiety to yes, the persistent rumours about his sexuality.
Barry Hertz chats with Beth Janson, CEO of the Canadian Academy, to learn about the organization’s recent efforts to ensure that efforts to improve diversity in film aren’t merely lip service and how the Canadian Screen Awards are adapting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking of Canadian films and awards, Radheyan Simonpilai at NOW Toronto reports on recent controversy surrounding Canada’s Oscar submission Funny Boy and casting choices that have inspired calls for a boycott from the Tamil community.