Reviews include Close, Knock at the Cabin, and Alice, Darling.
TFCA Friday: Week of Oct. 29
October 29, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Antlers (dir. Scott Cooper)
“Horror films have become the go-to analogy for drug addiction, and you don’t have to dig deep to find a correlation between meth abuse and the kind of creature that surfaces in Antlers,” raves Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Visually, Antlers is stunning as a portrait of a town dying. And there are plenty of gruesome, hide-behind-your-eyes scenes to satisfy most genre fans.”
“Antlers’ gross-ness extends to its screenplay’s slop-bucket collection of overused but underdeveloped themes, and a visual style that cough-gurgles poverty-porn fetishism,” shudders Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Go in clean, but leave with a permanent layer of dirt under your fingernails.”
“[D]irector Cooper’s efforts not only going unnoticed but succeeding extremely well in this slow moving but extremely eerie and captivating horror fairytale,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“The movie relies rather heavily on jump scares and an overwhelming sound design, but even in its quieter moments the prevalent mood is disturbing rather than flat-out terrifying,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Antlers wants to talk about cycles of abuse and the foundational sins of genocide and exploitation that are written into America’s DNA, but tonally it’s a by-the-numbers monster movie with predictable jump scares and carnage,” sighs Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Army of Thieves (dir. Matthias Schweighofer)
“Director Schweighöfer knows his heist films and takes his film to the next level,” argues Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“If you squint hard and focus most of your mental energy on folding your laundry, yeah, Army of Thieves is kinda cool,” yawns Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But it’s also kinda bland, kinda formulaic and kinda sad. If this is the sort of instantly franchisable content that the streaming giant thinks its audiences want or need, then we’re truly doomed.”
At That Shelf, Victor Stiff chats with director Matthias Schweighöfer and stars Stuart Martin and Guz Khan.
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.
“What a story,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said. “See the film, hear and watch him and feel that power he wielded and the tragedy he created by doing what he did so well.”
“[T]here’s lots to gawk at and titter about in The Capote Tapes, which benefits from fabulous archival footage, the first-person recollections of key people like McInerney and Cavett, and a rags-to-riches story against all the odds,” writes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “But no one here gets out alive, figuratively or literally. Decidedly not a tale of redemption.”
Christmas Freak (dir. Sean Brown)
“Rudy’s off-the-charts cheerful, and in denial but won’t let go of the spirit of Christmas, he’s not religious, the holiday simply ‘defines the word perfection,’” ho ho hos Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It seems like an experimental art lab project because of its often sharp dialogue, loaded with hip stuff, against the comfy cozy, old-fashioned storybook Christmas that never existed.”
Dear Future Children (dir. Franz Böhm)
“[A] giant beam of optimism in these ‘uncertain’ times,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Böhm follows three young women in their roles as activists in Chile, Hong Kong and Uganda. They are young, dedicated to democracy, fighting climate change and social justice and carrying out their often mandates alone against great odds.”
Horror Noire (dir. various)
“Despite the welcome Black updating, don’t expect too much from this horror anthology,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Last Night in Soho (dir. Edgar Wright)
“The movie is a sort of séance for a vanished era of British cinema, reaching out to see what might still have power,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “But even though Last Night in Soho evokes the past, it’s not beholden to it. It’s a modern story with old bones – and without spoiling too much, figuring out where those bones came from is the real pleasure here.”
“I really engaged with these characters, the lives of these characters, and how beautifully realised they are,” says Jason Gorber at That Shelf. “They all feel believable within the context of the film.”
“As befits the era, the effects are sometimes wonderfully lo-fi, with mirrors and split-second editing instead of digital trickery in several key scenes,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post.
“Midway through, Wright abruptly shifts into a lurid homage to Italian giallo horror films, breaking the spell and losing my allegiance,” sighs Peter Howell at Night Vision. “That’s one tribute too many, Edgar.”
“From top to bottom, this movie kicks ass,” raves Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “But I wonder whether people will appreciate what Wright is trying to do here. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And Wright is recreating an unusual style of film, beat for beat.”
“Last Night in Soho is a very dark film, but Edgar Wright has cast it wonderfully well,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Kudos should go to Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham and Margaret Nolan who genuinely embodied Britain’s past and are excellent in the film. Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith are fine, too, but special mention must go to Diana Rigg, who is terrific in this, her final film role.”
“For all the colourful period atmosphere and mood created for a swinging 60s’ psychological thriller, the film is a visual pleasure,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“This is not a genre Wright has worked before,” admits Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Yes, he did the zombie movie Shaun of the Dead, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it as anything but a comedy. There is a straight-faced sincerity required for the kind of horror movie he’s attempting here that may be a stretch for a filmmaker who’s specialized in irony and winks.”
A Mouthful of Air (dir. Amy Koppelman)
“[T]he bulk of the film falls on Seyfried’s shoulders,” admits Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “She does a masterful job of showing us how Julie’s inner world is eating at her. At times you can see how confused she is at her own depression.”
“A Mouthful of Air is a genuinely upsetting work, and I wouldn’t judge anyone – whether you have a history of mental-health issues or not – from walking away once things get rough,” cautions Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Seyfried…brings all of Julie’s pain to the fore in an unfussy, unmannered performance.”
“Seyfried carries the picture with her performance of a woman on the edge,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “Julie is forever putting on a brave face, though whether for children, her doctors, her husband, her friends or even herself is unclear. It’s an affecting portrait of mental health issues, pulling no punches.”
“[A] sweet, often insightful drama of living with the problems of mental illness stressing the fact that no easy solutions are available and that understanding and tolerance for the key to living with the disease,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Nine Days (dir. Edson Oda; Nov. 2)
“Japanese-Brazilian director Edson Oda delivers a heartfelt and meditative vision of human souls in limbo, aching to be born against unimaginable odds, hindered by forces beyond their will,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Passing (dir. Rebecca Hall)
“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.
River’s End (dir. Jacob Morrison; Nov. 2)
“[A] careful researched study and an interesting one at that about water in California,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Roh (dir. Emir Ezwan)
“Roh is a simple story, fueled entirely by atmosphere, new characters introduced almost as in a fairy tale, as we wait to see how the little girl’s prediction manifests itself,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “I’ll go out on a limb and say Malaysia will come up significantly short in its bid for an Oscar. But for Halloween weekend, Roh isn’t a bad mood-setter.”
Snakehead (dir. Evan Jackson Leung)
“The story comes across and has the feel of a B-action flick rather than a drama based on a true story,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Leung’s use of the camera, colour and flashbacks create a pretentiousness rather than artistry.”
“Leong’s approach charges a familiar story with unpredictable life, subverting audience expectations with scrambled chronology, minimal dialogue and unexpected humour,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “If Johnnie To was working in America, his movies might look like this. That’s a compliment.”
“The exploitation of illegal immigrants by Chinese gangs known as ‘snakeheads’ is a phenomenon familiar enough to be referenced in a Law & Order episode and the video game, Grand Theft Auto,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “What’s new about this first feature from documentarian and music video director Evan Jackson Leong…is bringing an Asian female perspective to this immigrant crime drama.”
The Golden Globes vs. The Critics Choice Awards
At the National Post, Chris Knight digs into the award show smackdown between the PR schmoozy Critics Choice Awards and the dumpster fire of the Golden Globes, which just scheduled its “event” on the same day as the CCAs and is causing quite a stir with the critics. “So far the HFPA has not blinked, although no one in the industry seems to know what form its awards show will take,” writes Knight. “A webcast? A dinner followed by press release? Also uncertain is who will attend the event (if it is an event), with the much more PR-friendly CCA dinner and show taking place on the same day.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage – Movie Madness!
Kicking off Rendezvous with Madness this week after an award-winning debut at Hot Docs, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ Kimmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy portrays the fight in the filmmaker’s Blackfoot community to combat the opioid crisis. Tailfeathers speaks with Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail about her process: “My values don’t always align with that of conventional documentary filmmaking, having to remain objective behind the camera,” Tailfeathers says. “This is community-based filmmaking. Morally and ethically, the responsibilities of being a community member are more important. Documentary filmmakers from outside our community have the privilege of walking away, and they have blind spots in their understanding of our experience. We navigate things differently.”
Thom Ernst, Jason Gorber, and Pat Mullen participated in a critics exchange with the Kyiv Critics’ Week. The trio selected three Ukrainian films from a longlist suggested by their colleagues in Kyiv (they picked and moderated conversations for Kings of Rap, Rhino, and Stop-Zemlia, respectively), while the Ukrainian critics selected three Canadian films from a longlist offered by the Toronto crew (they chose The Kid Detective, Black Conflux, and Nadia, Butterfly). All the critics then engaged in a conversation about the states of Canadian and Ukrainian film. Watch it here!
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey reflects upon Todd Haynes’ Safe, which gets a special screening at Rendezvous with Madness and assumes new significance in the COVID age: “Haynes’ film is not another contagion movie but a preview of the new abnormal, about rampant inequality, sick-blaming, fear of authority, self-help cures, and, in general, how anxiety can be more toxic than the biological virus,” writes Lacey. “The evidence for the latter is more than anecdotal: A Stats Canada report this summer indicated the increased Canadian deaths of people under 65 from alcohol and opioids was higher than fatalities from of the disease itself. COVID is not just a disease but a collective mental health issue.”
At That Shelf, Courtney Small highlights North by Current as one to watch at Rendezvous with Madness: “Painting a lyrical portrait of grief and pain that often goes unnamed, North By Current is a sensational film that is not easily forgotten.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie previews Rendezvous with Madness: “Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy kicked off the world’s biggest and longest-running arts fest on mental health and artistic expression. Eighteen features, five short programmes for a total of 68 films from 18 countries will shine a light on these issues – in a hybrid format of virtual and in-person screenings.”
At Toronto Franco, Gilbert Seah offers capsule reviews of the sleek films at Cinéfranco. Among the offerings is the Canadian COVID-19 project First Wave: “This is dramatic stuff that everyone has gone through, so the material transpiring on screen rings so true,” notes Seah. “Audiences have themselves experienced or had heard these stories – so to that effect the film does not offer anything new nor does it offer any new insight to the pandemic.”
TV Talk – Britbox Picks and Insecure Hits
At What She Said, Anne Brodie dials up The Long Call (“Breathtaking seaside landscapes, haunting soundtrack, great writing and interesting characters fit the bill”) and scrubs The Cleaner (“Not your average TV sitcom”).
At NOW Toronto, Kevin Ritchie checks in with the latest season of Insecure: “Based on the first four episodes sent to critics, S5 delivers on what Insecure does best: light comedy wrapped in a vivid and romantic portrait of Los Angeles. But there are a few sharper shifts in perspective that create what feels like a slightly more well-rounded view of the ensemble than in past seasons.”