Reviews include Bros, The Good House, and God’s Country.
TFCA Friday: Week of Oct. 22
October 22, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Becoming Cousteau (dir. Liz Garbus)
At POV Magazine, Jason Gorber speaks with director Liz Garbus about bringing Cousteau’s life to the screen, navigating access, and the murky waters of family drama. “For me, within the confines of a film about the education of environmentalists, those inter-family battles are so familiar in terms of dealing with famous people,” says Garbus. “But they are not the heart of the story. For me, the heart of the story was the person who journeyed from hubris to conservation, from adventurer to protector—that’s what I was interested in.”
The Capote Tapes (dir. Ebs Bournough)
“A thorough biopic on the flamboyant Capote with the added bonus of the mystery of his missing tapes,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The beautifully assembled doc offers a peek behind the curtain into the life of the great writer, his troubled mind, and the book(s) that killed him,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
Dune (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
“[A] blockbuster for the eye, the mind and the now,” raves Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “This commanding and transfixing film, rich in subtext and ripe for modern engagement via the biggest screen possible, is geared to viewers who are already Dune fans. Newcomers may want a second look, but they should consider it a pleasure rather than a necessity.”
“Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is, at its best moments, pure and gigantic cinematic madness,” cheers Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Yet for all of the movie’s mammoth outréness – I almost forgot about its levitating Jabba the Hutt-sized villain – the most gonzo element of Villeneuve’s Dune is that its full on-screen title is Dune: Part One – and there is no telling when Part Two may or may not be made.
“Any truly faithful adaptation can’t work as a movie; Herbert’s philosophy and labyrinthine mythology simply take up too much space, pushing the genuinely thrilling moments too far apart to build any kind of storytelling momentum,” admits Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“Beautifully shot, imaginatively realized and with a narrative clarity that eluded David Lynch, Denis Villeneuve’s take on the Frank Herbert epic-doorstop novel Dune benefits from being only half-told (it advertises itself as Dune: Part I),” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “This might be a Dune that could even be appreciated by someone unfamiliar with Dune.”
“There hasn’t been as great an evocation of a desert in any film since Lawrence of Arabia,” suggests Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “And like David Lean’s epic, the film is actually interested in the philosophy of the people inhabiting the land. In its own way, Villeneuve’s Dune is the first contemporary epic to try to come to grips with a culture that might bear some resemblance to a futuristic Arab one.”
“Villeneuve’s Dune is hyper imaginative – massive galaxies, unthinkably futuristic innovation and tech against which seethes a world of humans at war for territory – and spice,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Emotional elements are overwhelmed by the spectacle and stoic characters remain at arm’s length, but it’s a beautiful, seductive spectacle.”
“The first line in Dune is: ‘Dreams are messages from the deep.’ It is part warning, part invitation,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Don’t be afraid. Fear is the mind killer. (If you don’t get that reference then it applies to you even more.) Open your eyes, and let the dream take you.”
“People of the world, spice up your life!” says Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Dune is big screen escapism at its finest: one can hardly imagine a bigger and better cinematic adventure this year.”
“We know what they’re doing and we know that they’re having a lot of fun,” observes Jason Gorder at That Shelf, noting all the Apocalypse Now-isms in the film. He also talks with Denis Villeneuve and Rebecca Ferguson about this epic adaptation.
At Original Cin, Karen Gordon chats with Denis Villeneuve, who observes how Frank Herbert’s novel was ahead of its time: ““The impact of colonialism is still totally relevant to today’s world. The over-exploitation of natural resources. The danger of blending politics and religion together… and more important, the environmental crisis. It’s something that Frank Herbert foresaw in the sixties.”
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (dir. Will Sharpe)
“The Electrical Life of Louis Wain also has Benedict Cumberbatch in a brilliant, lived-in performance as the real-life polymath (and possible schizophrenic) of the film’s title whose famed, gently hallucinatory illustrations of cats elevated the creatures from disdained four-legged mousetraps to venerated companion animals in an era when animals were regarded as little more than chattel,” raves Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Now thanks to Sharpe’s tremendous biopic, Wain might get some overdue recognition.”
“Benedict Cumberbatch needs to stop playing socially awkward geniuses,” declares Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto. “Cumberbatch is left stranded in a film that doesn’t know what it wants to say about art, society or the strange forces suggested by the title.”
“Cats are not considered cute nor pets in 1900’s London, but Wain’s endearing caricatures of them in their many moods help change that and soon, he – and cats – become the darlings of New York,” purrs Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Utterly charming and optimistic, with a dose of antic realism, the film delights and feeds the soul.”
“British director and co-writer Will Sharpe runs us pell-mell through more than four decades of Wain’s life, with an exciting assortment of actors popping in to help,” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post. “There’s Olivia Colman narrating; Andrea Riseborough as sister Caroline; Toby Jones as a sympathetic publisher; and Taika Waititi as American journalist Max Kase. Busy? Yes. Electrifying? Depends on your definition of the term.”
“Cat lovers will definitely be more entertained by this feline venture but Sharpe’s film gets tedious and takes too long to come to its likely conclusion,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The French Dispatch (dir. Wes Anderson)
“It’s almost Pythonesque at times, with its forays into the absurd,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “And Anderson displays his usual linguistic wit and cinematographic genius, changing the aspect from almost-square to widescreen several times, with characters sometimes crowding the edges of the frame as though about to fall out of the movie altogether.”
“Equal parts clever and annoying, Wes Anderson’s latest film is akin to being locked in a holding cell with a team of cellmates suffering from florid cases of logorrhea,” observes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “They might be smart, but it would be a relief if they would just shut up or at least slow down occasionally.”
“If you are going to hate Wes Anderson, you are going to hate this movie,” admits Jason Gorber at That Shelf. “I love visiting Wes Anderson’s worlds. There may be no more intricate, no more layered, no more Wes Anderson world than The French Dispatch. It is an onslaught, a flume ride of Wes Anderson nonsense being thrown at you.”
“[T]he new comedy isn’t exactly a challenging proposition – though it will test one’s ability to distinguish between your cassoulets and your Chalamets – it does feel like a straight-ahead movie review is underserving its highly cozy but expertly curated ambitions,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail, who offers a pop quiz on all things Anderson-esque so that readers may gauge their likelihood of loving or loathing the director’s latest.
“The less said about this marvellous film the better,” teases Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “A must-see for film cineastes that demands a second if not multiple repeat screenings.”
“The French Dispatch is Anderson in his most whimsical, quirky, and Andersonly spirit,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “This film is for those who cherish the smell of new ink, the pungent aroma of damp well-read books, and the colours that fade with age on paper when digital ephemera disappear to the black hole of defunct servers.”
“Anderson has left himself open to criticism by using the anthology format,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Whenever you put multiple stories together, you’re just asking for criticism. Inevitably, a pecking order is established with one tale rising to the top. The winner, for me, is Roebuck Wright’s story “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner.”
“The French Dispatch is the most Wes Anderson thing Wes Anderson has ever Wes Andersoned: taking the nested narratives and chronological hopscotchery of 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (as well as most of its cast) and applying it to a feature-length salute to the patrician attitude of intellectual publications like The New Yorker, repurposed here as an impossible European arts magazine edited by one Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), whose death opens the magazine’s final issue – brought to life as an anthology of pleasantly preposterous stories that revolve around obsession and risk,” gasps Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “Yes, that was all one sentence. The movie plays out much the same way, overstuffed with detail and incident, each meticulously designed, obsessively symmetrical frame packed with information.”
“ [A]ll icing and no cake,” declares Peter Howell at the Night Vision. “I say this with much sadness, since I adore Wes Anderson’s fastidious manner, his obsessively curated and colourfully rendered retro images, his meticulous camera movements, his quirky and catchy pop soundtracks and his devotion to cinema as both a visual and aural medium. My review of Anderson’s 2014 film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” lavishly described it as a dessert, delivering both icing and cake.”
The Harder They Fall (dir. Jeymes Samuel)
“The Harder They Fall powers through its flaws with locomotive energy and the excess swagger coming from a cast that can make the most of slick postures,” says Radheyan Simonpillai at NOW Toronto. “In case it wasn’t obvious from the get-go, Elba brings back that Stringer Bell energy we’ve been missing for two decades. Stanfield is a whispery angel of death as Cherokee Bill. And I could get lost in King’s chilling glare and intentional slow drawl all day.”
“The movie, full of jaunty bloody-minded humour, with an all-star cast of contemporary African-American actors, aims to change the complexion of the myth-rich Western genre,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “In a welcome break with tradition, it’s also a showcase for an eclectic soundtrack of rap, reggae, funk and spirituals, overseen by the film’s British multi-hyphenate writer-director, Jeymes Samuel.”
Knocking (dir. Frida Kempff)
“Knocking owes a great deal to Roman Polanskis’ Repulsion, and Milocco owes much of her performance to Catherine Deneuve’s career-making role in the same film,” admits Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Look, too, to films like Robert Altman’s Images, George Cukor’s Gaslight or Brian G. Hutton’s lesser-known film, Night Watch, starring Elizabeth Taylor.”
Mothers of the Revolution (dir. Briar March)
“The film draws an admirable range of interviews to create an old-school talking heads doc. Mothers of the Revolution tells history by those who made it,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.
The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses (dir. Steven Latham and Conrad Stanley)
“The scenes following showing wild horses galloping in the open are enough to send spirits soaring,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “This beautifully shot film comes with a powerful message.”
Night Teeth (dir. Adam Randall)
“Night Teeth attempts to bring the vampire film genre to young adults with stylized fantasy and comedy set in the supposedly cook club scene with vibrating vibes, but it just lacks bite (sorry -cannot help the pun) in all departments,” laughs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Ron’s Gone Wrong (dir. Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine and Octavio E. Rodriguez)
“Ron’s Gone Wrong should entertain kids while adults might have to stretch their kiddie entertainment appreciation abilities,” suggests Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“[T]here is hope and joy. and the film’s bright funny vibe candy coats the message but lands it,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Watch for Barney’s wonderfully entertaining old Eastern European granny who makes him take old school cuisine to school!”
“Ron’s Gone Wrong aims to be a mild rebuke of our consumer oriented, social media obsessed society. Instead, it plays like a propaganda film prepping children for the eventual robot uprising,” worries Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s chilling.”
Sabaya (dir. Hogir Hirori)
“[A]s Sabaya asks audiences to empathize with the women in the camps, one can’t ignore what the women say when the cameras aren’t rolling,” notes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Sabaya therefore offers further proof that a film can be equally compelling and problematic.”
Surge (dir. Aneil Kaira)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “showcases Ben Whishaw’s talent at capturing the mental anguish and gradual but eventual collapse of the character’s ability to function in society.”
Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free (dir. Mary Wharton)
“[A] unique take on the Petty legacy, diving into a selected portion of the star’s life showing his creativity, freedom and lifestyle,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Trip (dir. Tommy Wirkola)
“Hardly publicized, this Danish comedy is a real treat – that rare film that includes the genres of horror, action and comedy,” advises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The hilarious and ingenious beginning of the movie is a promise that more good funny stuff is yet to come.”
Voyagers (dir. Neil Burger)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “receives a pass for effort and for the probable success in reaching its target of young adult audience.”
Wife of a Spy (dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
“There are classic elements in this spy thriller – suspense, mystery and dread in a period atmosphere of danger – a suspenseful Hitchcockian-styled thriller shot in stunning 8K (which is) definitely a treat for fans of the spy genre,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The intersection of film and history is central to ]Kurosawa’s] new film, Wife of a Spy, the 66-year-old director’s first period film,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “On a basic level, Wife of a Spy is an homage to Alfred Hitchcock, especially his 1940s paranoid romance thrillers, Suspicion and Notorious. Co-written by the director and two of his former students, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Tadashi Nohara, it has the classic thriller structure of a film from the period in which it’s set.”
“[W]e get a lot of lengthy conversations about politics, patriotism and passion, backed by some lovely period design but ultimately ringing a little flat,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “Even the increasing danger to the couple feels underplayed; Kurosawa…never quite sells us on the stakes involved.”
“The game keeps changing as dangers/stakes mount in this noirish espionage adventure,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Even so, its warm colour palette reminds us these are people, not pawns. Peek-a-boo camerawork enhances the spirit of a cobweb, visually beautiful and sensual, and dangerous – shot in 8K.”
“The story is captivating, the characters are magnificently fleshed out, and the emotional stakes are entirely, utterly believable,” writes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “If Wife of a Spy marks an entirely new pivot in Kurosawa’s enigmatic career, then so be it.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: imagineNATIVE edition
At Original Cin, Jim Slotek and Liam Lacey break down some highlights at this year’s imagineNATIVE festival. Top picks include TIFF champ Ste. Anne (a “haunting unclassifiable collage of experimental abstraction, allegorical drama and supernatural thriller”) and Kimmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy (“A hard and hard-hitting doc”).
Tricks and Treats
For readers who aren’t trading surgical masks for Halloween masks, Barry Hertz offers ten streaming recommendations by picking the best of the best films in horror franchises. The answer to the question, “What’s your favourite scary movie?” is obviously Scream 2: “Wes Craven’s first Scream is great, deconstructive entertainment,” writes Hertz. “But scary movies are designed to be repurposed. And so when tasked with doing just that, Craven came up with a killer follow-upScream 2 has all the shocks and humour of the first film, but with a bigger cast (Timothy Olyphant, Liev Schreiber, Sarah Michelle Gellar) and a neat commentary on, well, the perils of sequels.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie finds much to love with Invasion: “Invasion is exciting, well written and of the times, with a beautifully unusual score deserves its own column – this is a full meal.” The Pact, meanwhile, is “a terrific series that deserves bingeing.” As for the return of Locke & Key, she says it’s “going to be a wild things-that-go-bump-in-the-night ride.”
At NOW Toronto, Glenn Sumi weighs in on the Dave Chappelle/Netflix controversy surrounding his new comedy special that’s full of homophobic, transphobic, and politically correct one-liners. Sumi says Chappelle’s craft can be very funny as he’s skillful with rhetoric and timing. “But then he ruins it all by saying something nonsensical like: ‘In our country you can shoot and kill a [N-word], but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings,’” writes Sumi. “Does he really believe this? Hateful comments do more than hurt feelings; they can also depersonalize people and in so doing incite murder.”
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner thinks Netflix does better with its second season of Locke & Key: “This season feels more confident, leaning into the slip-sliding tone even more – for every colossal gummy bear, there is a giant rampaging spider – and adding notes of genuine tragedy to a subplot that explores what happens as characters age out of the youthful ability to comprehend magic.”