An interview with Someone Lives Here director Zack Russell about his Rogers Best Canadian Documentary nominee on Toronto’s housing crisis.
TFCA Friday: Week of Oct. 20
October 20, 2023
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week!
Anatomy of a Fall (dir. Justine Triet)
“Triet’s script and direction are exceptional but her truest achievement was in her collaboration with Sandra Hüller, who is stunningly brilliant as a woman accused of murder while dealing with the death of her husband,” writes Marc Glasman at Classical FM. “A brilliant performer, Hüller rises to the challenges of a dramatic, psychological script playing everything from the grieving widow to the loving mother to the egotistical writer to the preyed-upon woman up on charges of murder. For North American audiences, the simplest comparison to the immensely talented Hüller is Meryl Streep: both women can play any role with force, conviction, style and wit.”
“A must-see for all those who love courtroom drama and relationships/family conflict,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The couple fight vigorously but ‘Samuel is my soul-mate,’ Sandra declares.”
“The investigation reveals a troubled, violent marriage, but she insists his death wasn’t her doing. This psychological suspense is utterly riveting, as police, friends, and associates, Daniel and Sandra answer questions; courtroom scenes are especially fraught, difficult to watch at times, and in her case, change our early views,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “This brief look doesn’t begin to plumb the depths and complexity of the story and the personalities, but rest assured it’s a winner.”
“Writer/director Triet, who co-wrote Anatomy with her romantic partner, Arthur Harari, said she was trying to make a different kind of genre picture. She certainly succeeded. The sonic clues alone make Anatomy a pleasure to parse. That noisy ‘P.I.M.P’ song, a real earworm, may explain why no cries for help were heard from Samuel but calls into question Daniel’s assertion that he didn’t hear his parents quarrelling immediately prior to his dad’s death. How could he have heard anything amid all that commotion?” asks Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “The film also boasts some splendid visual elements, especially the actors’ expressive faces. Newcomer Graner reminds me of Sarah Polley’s character in The Sweet Hereafter with his ability to conceal his true thoughts.”
“As an intelligent, adult examination of a marriage gone sour, wrapped up in the trappings of a legal thriller, Anatomy of a Fall is original and engaging, though perhaps not so profound an investigation into truth as some of its advocates have claimed,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “‘Must we enter into a literary debate?’ asks one of the lawyers in the trial. Well, obviously, because the essence of a trial is a competition between more or less credible narratives.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz praises a “phenomenal lead performance from Hüller (Toni Erdmann), who anchors the film’s overly engineered air of ambiguity.” He also speaks with director Justine Triet about casting the German actress in a French courtroom drama. “If Sandra had refused, we would’ve reached out to other non-French actresses, because language is a central part of the film. The state of being misunderstood, especially amongst couples. The reality that can then be reappropriated,” Triet tells Hertz.
The Devil on Trial (dir. Christopher Holt)
“The Devil on Trial ends up a curiosity piece, basically a tale of a fucked up family and demonologists that wold do anything to make a quick buck,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Dicks: The Musical (dir. Larry Charles)
“I don’t imagine Dicks: The Musical will survive in the commercial market for long. The film is broad, campy, audacious and arrives with high expectations. But Dicks ultimately disappoints — and the inherent joke that goes with that line should not pass underappreciated. The title is the joke. But it’s a joke that doesn’t get as much play as it should,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “It’s reasonable to expect more from director and writer Larry Charles, who directed and scripted Borat (2006) and episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Charles leaps over telling a story about two jerks who learn to become better people, although that kind of happens. Instead, actors Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp have composed a jokey, song-filled screenplay that lowers the bar on who gets in on the sexual-fluidity revolution.”
“If you might be repulsed the by the sights (and sounds) of talking genitalia, to say nothing of diaper-clad sewer mutants who have a taste for deli meats, then flip the page/shut your laptop/throw your phone into the river. Because Dicks masterminds Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp are here to take you on a wild, wet ride into the toilet bowl of bad taste,” advises Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “That’s a compliment, by the way, as the pair’s two-man musical turned feature film is a wondrous thing: a genuinely unhinged joke stretched so far and with such disciplined mania that it boomerangs back into jaw-dropping hilarity.”
Killers of the Flower Moon (dir. Martin Scorsese)
“Martin Scorsese surpasses himself with the seismic, complex, malicious beauty of Killers of the Flower Moon,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Scorsese’s full-throated mastery is evident in every frame – the emotional weight, historic verite, deep texture, and structure for such a complex story are faultless. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment, Scorsese’s best work to date IMHO. Three hours and 26 minutes fly by thanks to the electric storytelling and its broken-hearted audacity. I have never been so viscerally affected by a film, was a blubbering mess exiting the theatre because of Scorses’s stark portrait of wickedness and premeditated death, the betrayals and genocide, and the injustices to indigenous peoples through time in the US and Canada.”
“The movie also boasts the golden presence of Lily Gladstone and Canada’s Tantoo Cardinal, who play two of the many Osage characters drawn from tragic real life,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. Howell also reports on Scorsese’s approach to tackling the Osage tragedy with respect. “Authenticity is one thing, but compassion is another,” says Scorsese. “When I got to know the Osage as people, it became really interesting…We were really, really taken by their culture…it was also smart to understand that here’s a society (the Osage) that still has its own culture and language … and here are some people, as close as we can get, to living witnesses as to what happened in this situation. Why don’t other people know about it?”
“The book unfolds like a murder-mystery investigation with the guilty revealed towards the end. For the film, Scorsese and his co-writer Eric Roth flip that, focusing on characters so that from early on, we know who is guilty. The film paints a portrait of venality and greed. It’s also about a specific era in American history: the end of the ‘wild west’ as it transitioned into the modern era, in many ways a time of changing ideas,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “It was important to Scorsese that he represented the Oglala people, and he has woven their story in with a light but effective hand. The community was consulted before the filming and has since given the film its endorsement. Although the movie focuses a lot of its running time on the bad guys, its soul comes from its connection to the Osage people. Scorsese’s choices, particularly towards the end of the movie, are quite moving.”
“Director Scorsese takes a risk at a surprise ending (not to be revealed here) [that] goes completely against the grain of his entire film,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The gamble works, however. Killers shows the Master attempting and succeeding at diverse filmmaking.”
“Monumental in scope and intimate in construction, Scorsese’s new epic announced its ambitions before a single frame of the film was shot. It is the first of the director’s works to unite his two most frequent and trusted leading men, Leonardo DiCaprio (working with Scorsese for a sixth time) and Robert De Niro (10th round),” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Partly a continuation of the career-long conversation that Scorsese has been having with audiences about the evil that men do, and partly a new dialogue that the he felt he needed to have with himself about just how the American West was won, Killers of the Flower Moon is an opus that could – but hopefully will not – act as the 80-year-old filmmaker’s last will and testament. This is a master artist putting a stamp on not only his own career, but also the entirety of American cinema and, why not, American history, too.”
“As great as De Niro and DiCaprio are, they are not the only ones performing at their best. Tantoo Cardinal, a Canadian Indigenous icon, is superb as Mollie’s dying mother Lizzie Q; Jesse Plemons is tough as nails as the matter-of-fact FBI agent Tom White and Cara Jade Myers seizes every scene she’s in as the doomed Anna,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “But the revelation here is the superb performance of Lily Gladstone as the gracious, brilliant Mollie. Gladstone more than matches DiCaprio as a partner, playing with a coolness that works brilliantly against his intensity. At one point, DiCaprio’s Ernest calls her a “lady” and it’s true that she offers class in a scenario that is too often quite squalid.”
Night of the Hunted (dir. Franck Khalfoun)
“[N]ot half bad, the premise of the sniper trapping his victim in the store has its limitations and one can only do so much with the limited scenario which means limited opportunity for suspense,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Nyad (dir. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin)
“For directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the duo who made the Oscar-winning mountain-climbing documentary Free Solo, this was their first foray into narrative feature films. They’ve done extremely well, not only in the many scenes when Nyad is swimming, but on land, when Bening’s Nyad has to deal with the surface world with only Foster’s Stoll to help,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “The film sensitively deals with Nyad’s past, which includes being sexually abused for years as a teenager by her swimming coach. Part of Diana Nyad’s success in her life is the way she handled her own situation—stoically dealing with it in her twenties before eventually going public, turning her treacherous mentor into a controversial figure by the time he died. The film and its directors offer a mature approach—never sensationalizing while remaining truthful—to this difficult subject.”
“Perhaps fittingly, the directors’ big foray into Hollywood is saved by the star power of the two industry legends headlining the film. Bening and Foster are absolute delights from beginning to end, giving Diana and Bonnie’s friendship – sometimes combative, sometimes supportive, always unbreakable – real emotional weight that the film’s script or direction simply do not otherwise provide,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “While Foster might have an easier go of things given that her character is kept mostly dry, the actress unlocks something special by playing Bonnie as someone wrestling with the limits of encouragement. How far can you support your best friend, if that best friend is almost pathologically determined to kill herself to prove that age isn’t just a number?”
“Running at two hours directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin make sure no stone is left unturned in terms of the torture and sacrifice both Nyad and her dedicated tam endure,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Diana Nyad is a distance swimmer, decades past her career peak, who at age 60 decides to fulfil her dream of conquering the shark-and-jellyfish-infested waters between Cuba and Florida,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Ruthlessly unstoppable despite brutal setbacks, she puts herself and her long-suffering coach (Jodie Foster) and navigator (Rhys Ifans) through an aquatic version of hell. Bening, not afraid to portray an unlikeable character, will be remembered at awards time. So will Foster and Ifans if there’s any justice.”
Old Dads (dir. Bill Burr)
“The magic question in all this is whether the film is funny,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The dialogue might be comedic but other components like the actors’ and the director’s comedic timing are more important factors. The first scene has one kid beating another with a stick and the dads accessing the situation, just as the audience accesses the film. It is amusing like the movie, but nothing groundbreaking in terms of comedy.”
Pain Hustlers (dir. David Yates)
“It is clearly the pharmaceutical company that is the villain of the piece and the film treats this as so, with the victims as innocent manipulated employees. Predictable but still entertaining,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“It’s about that laugh-a-minute topic fentanyl, the pain management medicine that, thanks to its toxicity, addictiveness, and ease of manufacture, has since 2018 overtaken heroin as the most common cause of drug-overdose deaths in America — more than 70,000 a year. Hoo-boy!” laughs Chris Knight at Original Cin. “[Adam] McKay didn’t have any part in Pain Hustlers, but the movie has a lot of his tics and flourishes, including multiple filming styles (it opens in black and white), slow-motion and freeze frames, and bizarre musical choices. There’s a rap number about titrating dosages that I assumed was fictional until learning that it was actually an exhibit in the trial of John Kapoor, former chairman of Insys Therapeutics, now doing five-and-a-half years for bribery.”
The Persian Version (dir. Maryam Keshavarz)
“Writer-director Maryam Keshavarz’s semi-autobiographical dramedy — we see her with her own family in the closing credits — won both the Audience Award and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance earlier this year. Hers is an inventive film that festively garlands its themes of filial and cross-cultural conflict and sexual ambiguity with pop culture ephemera and fourth wall breaks,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “What might have been distracting is, mostly, charming and enhanced by a suitably breezy performance by Mohammadi as Leila, who bears the assimilation struggles unique to first-generation children with an effervescent mix of grit, humour, and sass.”
“[T]here’s no denying the charm of this brood, a New York family of eight older sons and one daughter. The latter is Leila, played as an adult by Layla Mohammadi, who also serves as the film’s narrator and the director’s alter ego,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “She’s the frequently amusing focus as the story shifts to reveal not only why the family left Iran but also the reason for tensions between the queer-identifying Leila and her strict but resourceful mother, Shirin (Niousha Noor). The film is a colourful blur of characters and incidents that somehow resolves into a satisfying dance of life, set to the improbable soundtrack rouser ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.’”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it a “semi-autobiographical, confident first feature.”
“Maryam Keshavarz’s semi-autobiographical dramedy The Persian Versian driven by the energy of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, follows Leila (Layla Mohammadi) the only daughter in an Iranian American family of eight brothers, and their mother Shirin (Niousha Noor) an immigrant who rules them with an iron, exacting, but loving fist,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
The Pigeon Tunnel (dir. Errol Morris)
“In other words, Cornwell is a master of truth disguised as fiction and vice versa, a veritable onion of honesty and obfuscation that Morris delights in peeling,” writes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. She also chats with Morris about truth and the state of the world: “It’s hard to be an American today and not be in despair,” Morris tells Schneller. “I’m appalled, to tell you the truth. The news is all, Trump this, Trump that, Trump everything. Polls about how many people believe him. It makes you think that truth is an opinion poll, which of course it is not.”
“Undoubtedly the film understands, acknowledges, and celebrates the achievements of Cornwell, but The Pigeon Tunnel becomes much more than a profile of a public figure,” notes Rachel Ho at POV Magazine. “Through his conversation/interview/interrogation with Morris, this documentary stands as a character study into one of the great literary minds of our time — a true pioneer in his field whose contributions have permeated throughout pop culture and in the intelligence world. In the same way that Cornwell’s characters play in the grey areas of morality, The Pigeon Tunnel emphasizes how the author’s own lifelong cerebral pursuits often retreated into these same ambiguities.”
“Revelation after revelation delivered via Cornwall’s exquisite use of spoken language, touching on other famous spies and the traits he and his father shared. Morris’ signature style is extraordinary; cinematic and theatrical, more psychological experience than standard fact-finding, there is currently no more consistently excellent and enduring documentarian. Quite the riveting combo,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“Documentary fans will find Morris near the top of his irascible game here, deftly interrogating spy novelist David Cornwell (a.k.a. John le Carré) about his life and career,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Fans of le Carré’s Cold War classics will get to chew on details of life inside the espionage bubble. And anyone who enjoys a good guessing game will get enjoyably lost trying to parse when le Carré is telling the truth, and when he is applying the rules of his characters – or perhaps his own father, who was something of a con man himself.”
“Engaging inquisitor meets erudite cipher. Documentarian Errol Morris (The Fog of War) turns his eager lens upon author David Cornwell, a.k.a. John le Carré, spy novelist extraordinaire (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy),” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “What really grabs is how deftly Cornwell manipulates: he’d rather talk about his rotten con man dad, Ronnie, than dig deeper into his spy trade past and romantic liaisons. But he spills on traitor Kim Philby (‘He loved to deceive’) and, really, any chat between these two chaps would intrigue, especially since Cornwell is now dead. Or is that just what he wants us to think?”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with Errol Morris about his new film, but makes the mistake of calling it a ‘documentary.’ ““Why do you use this word constantly?” Morris asks Mullen. “What I do, they’re not strictly speaking ‘documentaries.’ They’re hybrid movies. They have elements of drama…I’m the progenitor of the kitchen sink approach. There’s interviews—very stylized interviews—shot with multiple cameras and mirrors. There’s drama. There’s found footage. There’s quotations from the various movies that were made from his novels. You name it.”
Sick Girl (dir. Jennifer Cram)
“There are some horrific segments like the one in which the 4 girls dance, trying to look cool and funny. The comedy has degraded to pathetic at this point,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “So what else can happen after Wren lies about her cancer? Apparently, not much. Other desperate attempts at laughter include the automatic cost of the mini-van door and baldness related to cancer.”
File Under Miscellaneous
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz picks the top 20 Canadian horror movies of all time. Atop the list? An American film! “Ultimately, the best Canadian horror film ever produced isn’t technically Canadian,” notes Hertz on The Fly. “Cronenberg’s remake of Kurt Neumann’s 1958 classic was financed by 20th Century Fox, and led by two decidedly non-Canuck stars, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. But the Toronto-shot movie – filmed with a homegrown crew who make little effort to mask such locations as the Art Gallery of Ontario – lives and breathes thanks to its Canadian blood and guts. And Cronenberg’s distinctly intellectual sensibilities – a filmmaking philosophy that is as concerned with the breakdown of the body as it is with the mind and soul – could only emerge from the primordial muck of this country’s eternally confused identity complex.”
TV Talk/Series Stuff
At What She Said, Anne Brodie looks at the witchy series The Burning Girls in time for Halloween: “A nod to the bad old days when women and girls who were different could be named, shamed, and burned alive, as witches, Satan’s handmaidens, capable of all kinds of evils,” writes Brodie. Much lighter, though, is the return of the hit sitcom Frasier: “The old wit, fish out of water, and sad/ funny snobbery themes are strong as ever, and there is laughter, it’s riotous and wry, and despite Grammer’s politics, I’m glad the show is back.”