Drive My Car wins Best Picture at the 2021 Toronto Film Critics Association Awards,. Beans, Night Raiders, Scarborough vie for Rogers Award.
TFCA Friday: Week of Oct. 15
October 15, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Bergman Island (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)
“Some movies whisper and underplay their drama,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “That naturalism is part of what is so effective in writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve’s new film Bergman Island. It’s a lovely, intelligent movie that explores relationships, creativity, inspiration and the benefits of wrestling with the blank page.”
“There’s a lot going on in this movie, but it often doesn’t feel like it,” notes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto. “Hansen-Løve brings her signature subtleness to bear on characters caught between insularity and openness, and she finds a way to go in both directions at once by emphasizing how our physical surrounds can have unpredictable and complicating effects on our thoughts and feelings.”
“Hansen-Løve does Woody Allen doing Ingmar Bergman in this film, with a surprise revelation at the end that should keep audiences thinking,” writes Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “Occasionally clever and vastly entertaining, Bergman Island should not disappoint Hansen-Løve’s fans.”
Christmas at Cattle Hill (dir. Will Ashurst; Oct. 19)
“Christmas at Cattle Hill has the standard happy ending and predictable plot, but to be fair, the film is more targeted for kids than the parents,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Dear Future Children (dir. Franz Böhm)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it, “one powerful conclusion (where each of the three female teen activists summarize their emotions of the tireless and handles work) – packing one hell of a punch!”
“[T]he success on the international festival circuit of this mostly crowd-funded documentary shows there’s an eager appetite for these kinds of inspirational documentaries,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The artless approach to its material serves as a marker of its DIY authenticity. It offers few surprises, though its subjects, putting their liberty and lives on the line, demand attention and admiration all on their own.”
“This is not a PR doc à la I Am Greta,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “While the subjects of the film might be despondent due to the lack of visible results, their efforts give audiences reason to hope.” Mullen also interviews director Franz Böhm about capturing the fight of a generation: “While making this documentary, we learned that, as a young generation, there is more that unites us than divides us,” says Böhm.
“Rayen, sounding old beyond her years, says she’s tired – tired of injustice, violence, the status quo. With luck, she and the other young women in this documentary, together with their many colleagues of all ages, will push for change and inspire the next generation to follow,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “After all, they’ll be 30 one day too.”
Demigod (dir. Miles Doleac)
“Demigod is an inexpensive film with minor and occasionally lame effects (red-glowing demon-eyes, really?),” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “But the film works because of the movie’s dedicated performances, some fittingly extreme (the witches and demons) and others reliably frightened.”
Fanny: The Right to Rock (dir. Bobbi Jo Hart 🇨🇦)
“Intense hard rock. Searing guitar solos. Serious strutting on stage with no sexual posturing. These aren’t things you often associate with female musicians,” writes Susan G. Cole at POV Magazine. “So props to Bobbi Jo Hart, whose documentary Fanny: The Right to Rock puts the spotlight on the groundbreaking all-women rock group that too few people have ever heard of.”
Fever Dream (dir. Claudia Llosa)
“Fever Dream is that rare genuine horror mystery chiller that does not resort to cheap jump scares but to superb storytelling, cinematography and excellent camerawork often using images and shadows to create the mood and atmosphere necessary to work,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Grand Duke of Corsica (dir. Daniel Graham)
“All fascinating ideas, tied together, from a creative mind, but it’s glib self-consciousness and lack of characters to love is problematic,” sighs Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Halloween Kills (dir. David Gordon Green)
“Something the pandemic has underscored is that every death is brutal, traumatizing, unfair; the sheer volume and at-times-over-the-top expressionism of Michael’s murders in Halloween Kills get at that truth as few movies can,” notes Bill Chambers at Film Freak Central. “It’s almost exposure therapy.”
“Honestly, it seems impossible that Halloween Kills was made by the same people who made Halloween 2018,” groans Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “Why, after working so hard to bring back his shark-like blankness, would they suddenly turn Michael Meyers into Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, capable of superhuman butchery with pauses for cheering crowds? What’s the point?”
“The big fat idea that Gordon Green and McBride, along with new co-writer Scott Teems, play around with here doesn’t ultimately work,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Does fear make monsters of us all? Um, I guess so. It is rather hard to tell when the film constantly oscillates between pro- and anti-mob justice, and when contrasted against scenes of an absolute monster ripping people’s heads open.”
Hard Luck Love Song (dir. Justin Corsbie)
“It’s a sweet little love story, although its desire to hew close to the song lyrics boxes it in a little, and the decision to turn a cop played by Brian Sacca into a figure of comic relief hurts the flow,” sings Chris Knight at the National Post. “Just Like Old Times is a country song, dammit – there should be no chuckling unless it’s of the rueful variety!”
I’m Your Man (dir. Maria Schrader)
“It has finally happened – a romantic comedy in which one falls in love with a robot,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“’Dan Stevens plays a German sex robot’ is a great way to secure production funding for your speculative comedy, but actor and filmmaker Maria Schrader (Love Life, Unorthodox) has a lot more on her mind than a single joke,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“It’s a rich story full of fun, wonder, lapses and questions about the ethics of robot love and partnership, big questions dealt with in sweet ways,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“[Dan] Stevens speaks flawless German, but the oddity of him in a foreign-language film gives Tom an otherness that plays into the movie’s concept,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “There’s also a sense of Germanness (or Deutschtum if you prefer) to I’m Your Man that has me cringing at the thought of an American remake, perhaps also starring Dan Stevens alongside someone like Sandra Bullock.”
“Do androids dream of electric heartbeats?” asks Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “The plot’s happily not robotic, addressing questions of whether circuits can match cells in determining humanity.”
“Some have seen it as a direct reference to our intimacy with personae on social media, virtual relationships that exist at the expense of our connections with people in the real world,” suggests Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Whatever it is supposed to be, it is a smart and often witty take on a not exactly new sci-fi premise.”
Knocking (dir. Freida Kempff)
“Warning: Knocking is as slow as a thriller can be,” cautions Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Last Duel (dir. Ridley Scott)
“The actors do excellent work, each pitching his or her performance to fit the “truth” of the chapter in question, and leaving audiences leaning in (terribly uncomfortably at times) to detect nuance that might inform how we view a character’s motivations,” raves Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s a perfect package of a film, though that’s just my truth. Your own interpretations may differ, of course.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah declares it “one helluva exciting film and one of the best action films of 2021 – forget all the Marvel superhero action nonsense.”
“Pieced together, and the result is not exactly subtle. Indeed, for a film that is ostensibly concerned with how nuance is easily and eagerly avoided by those who need to recognize it the most, a great deal of The Last Duel is as blunt as the pointy end of a sword,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Yet the film is never uninteresting, and Scott’s A-level craftsmanship is significantly aided by a trio of lead performances that are welcome reminders of what genuine movie stars can do when they’re not squeezed into CGI spandex.”
“The Last Duel’s division into three chapters allows each character to take the lead,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “But lest you say Rashômon, The Last Duel is not a treatise on the infallibility of eyewitnesses. Here the characters aren’t giving testimony, but effectively reliving their version of the events—distorted by egos and assumptions around protocol and social etiquette.”
“Lovers of the auteur theory, which proposes that the best directors are the true authors of their films, might want to think about giving a shout out to Ridley Scott,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “At the age of 83, Scott may have just directed his final film and it’s intriguing to note that his first feature, made back in the Seventies was The Duellists. Surely not a coincidence–especially when you remember that his most financially successful movie, Gladiator, concludes with a ferocious duel, which ends with a death remarkably similar to the one in the new film.”
“Damon, Affleck and Nicole Holofcener wind up marginalizing Comer’s Marguerite even when they’re supposed to be presenting her perspective,” suggests Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “Or maybe, as with so many of Scott’s films, there’s a much longer director’s cut coming that’ll set everything right. I’d suggest waiting for that one.”
“I love her New York stories, but The Last Duel is the Nicole Holofcener historical epic we’ve long waited for,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “While The Last Duel will doubtlessly be celebrated—and rightly so—as a Ridley Scott film, its co-writer brings a uniquely sharp perspective to this adaptation of Eric Jager’s thrilling book.”
Mass (dir. Fran Kranz)
“Oscars alert!” cries Anne Brodie at What She Said. “In writer-director Fran Kranz’ Mass, seasoned actors Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs and Reed Birney put in sublime performances, compressed and powerful, two hours of human interaction following a tragedy that will rip your heart out.”
“Mass is an intense and emotionally draining film, a potential bookend to We Need to Talk About Kevin even as its unique execution recalls Carnage, minus the laughs,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “It may be too grand a claim to say the film recalibrates our response to school shootings. But it does a superb job of capturing deep, wrenching grief and then, crucial, life-saving redemption.”
“Mass had me thinking of Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in The Rabbit Hole 10 years ago, and of Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room 10 years before that,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Mass stands as a grim new signpost in the history of films that try to grapple with tragedy.”
“Ostensibly, this is all the set-up needed to deliver an emotionally devastating drama that asks provocative questions about the nature of parenting, forgiveness and culpability,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But Kranz’s screenplay, while initially sly in revealing the exact reasons why these families have been summoned, merely plops the Big Theme of ‘grief’ down, like an decorative ornament in a church basement, and lets it sit there for an hour and a half.”
“Mass is pale by inevitable comparison with Polanksi’s excellent Carnage, which would provide a better second watch than viewing Mass,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Mass is almost unnervingly composed, the specificity of cinematographer Ryan Jackson-Healy’s frame and the rhythms of Yang Hua Hu’s editing subtly amplifying the actors’ wrenching performances until it’s almost unbearable to look at their faces,” raves Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
The Medium (dir. Banjong Pisanthanakun)
“[T]he decision to tell the horror story mockumentary style works very well for really hilarious parts, with the hilarity not interfering with the horror,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The Medium is a real treat!
The Old Ways (dir. Christopher Alender)
“The Old Ways might have continued along a path of deception and naïve beliefs and have survived on its bleak and irreverent humour, but director Alender steers the film from dark to darker,” argues Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It’s not quite an about-face, as the film never reaches a point where it can be taken too seriously, but it does churn out a few unexpected and unpleasant shocks.”
The Velvet Underground (dir. Todd Haynes)
“This is easily a definitive portrait of the band, but above that, it feels like the Velvets’ last testament, a kind of meta-recording that can easily sit on the shelf beside the Banana album and the rest as part of their output,” raves Jason Gorber at POV Magazine.
“It’s a celebration of a brief window of genius, and an elegy for the environment in which that genius gestated – as sultry as Venus in Furs, as joyous as Sweet Jane and as melancholy as Reed’s subsequent solo work,” agrees Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “He knew what he’d lost by moving on. So does Haynes.”
“The Velvet Underground benefits from huge amounts of archival footage courtesy of Factory, which filmed everything always, yet the film is also defined by what’s missing: the ruminations of the late Lou Reed who pretty much everyone interviewed identified as the creative engine and soul of the band, all props to John Cale (who does comment, as does Mo Tucker) notwithstanding,” notes Kim Hughes at Original Cin.
At Night Vision, Peter Howell revisits a 1993 interview with the band when he was the Toronto Star’s rock critic: “A lot of people, if they’re getting a ‘grunge’ sound, they’re not getting it off our records,” John Cale told Howell. “They might get them off the bootlegs (Reed nods assent at this remark) but I don’t know if anyone could really tell you whether they were just (bad) recordings or whether there was bad playing.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage – Festober Returns
At What She Said, Anne Brodie samples the buffet at imagineNATIVE and Devour: The Food Film Festival. The menu includes Fries! The Movie: “from Anthony Bourdain’s production company, [the film] explores three Michelin kitchens in Paris, carts of Hong Kong, and more to find the perfect fry. Canada’s own Malcolm Gladwell and Chrissy Teigen take an irreverent and learned approach to the humble and globally adored potato.”
At That Shelf, Victor Stiff speaks with Julia Ducornau following Titane‘s Palme d’Or win at Cannes and Midnight Madness triumph. “I usually think about the scene visually speaking, so I would write in the script everything that has to do with the image, the lights, the costumes,” says Ducornau. “The only thing I don’t write out is the camera angles because that would make it unreadable, but I will write all the sound effects, all the special effects as well, and this is incredibly precise.”
TV Talk – Kaling Breaks Loose, NtBtS Showrunners Get Animated, Succession Succeeds
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller chats with Mindy Kaling about The Office, Hana Khan Carries On, and telling diverse stories. “What I’m trying to do is really simple – see family stories and romances through a different lens, and show worlds people haven’t necessarily seen,” Kaling says. “Uzma [Jalaluddin]’s book is a perfect example. Muslim-Canadian, so fresh and funny – she defies a lot of expectations. But someone like her getting to have a platform is unusual, so that’s exciting.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz looks at an unlikely animated kids’ series by Nirvanna the Band the Show creators Matt Johnson and Jay McCarroll, Matt & Bird Break Loose: “Johnson, McCarrol and producing partner Matthew Miller had long tossed around the idea of making an animated series. But it wasn’t until NTBTS was put on ice by Viceland’s closure – and then the group’s third feature film was delayed by the pandemic – that the trio had the time and energy to focus on a cartoon. The project was initially going to be an animated riff on NTBTS, the cult series in which Johnson and McCarrol played heightened versions of themselves who roped real people (passersby, unsuspecting professionals) into their increasingly outlandish schemes to play a gig at Toronto’s Rivoli nightclub.”
“It’s straight out horrifying, revisiting D.C. January 6th in the HBO documentary Four Hours at the Capitol,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “There’s no filler here, just the facts from both sides of the divide.” Introducing Selma Blair, meanwhile, is “an excellent and honest reflection of what it is to be a person as special as Blair.” Sex, Love, and goop is poop, though, as Brodie advises, “people might want to follow Selma Blair and invest in being a better person.” She also talks sweet treats with the hosts of The Great Canadian Baking Show.
At Classical FM, Marc Glassman is all in for another round of Boar on the Floor with the return of Succession: “The continuing attraction of Succession is the brilliant dialogue colouring its sharp devastating scenes. At its best, Succession feels like a terrific post WW2 Broadway satire or a Hollywood movie by Billy Wilder without the censorship. Kieran Culkin’s Roman is the best at uttering devastating put-downs of other characters but the rest, particularly Jeremy Strong’s Ken are very good at it, too. The rest of the cast is a pleasure to see, particularly Brian Cox’s Logan and Sarah Snook’s Siobhan, who truly can be ‘Shiv’ when she has to defend the family. Succession is back and just as funny and terrifying as ever.”
Similarly, Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto says that much of the sharpness of Succession can be seen in how it incorporates a notably diverse cast into the Roys’ world of white privilege: “This is easily the most diverse season of Succession, but in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned in like so many other movies and TV shows reacting to the current climate. Succession is rather tactical and brilliant about mixing up the make-up of its cast, knowing its characters only mingle in the most extremely white and privileged circles. This is a family that commands a fleet of choppers and private jets (which they call ‘PJs’ for short) at a moment’s notice and attend private parties where they decide who will be the next President, even when they’re under FBI investigation. If there’s going to be diversity in their ranks, it’s strictly for the optics. Succession wears that.”