Reviews include All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, White Noise, and The Inspection.
TFCA Friday: Week of Oct. 7
October 7, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
This week in movies!
Amsterdam (dir. David O. Russell)
“Russell, who loves to jam the frame — witness his earlier American Hustle and I Heart Huckabees — seems determined to sabotage historical significance and coherent storytelling,” observes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “De Niro is the only other noteworthy person who considers Amsterdam to be drama rather than farce. Weirdly enough, it’s his best performance in years. Too bad there’s no Oscar category for ‘Best Performance in a Bad Movie.’”
“With the unfortunate exception of [John David] Washington – who, despite his sturdy work in Tenet just does not possess the easy charm required for his role here – all the performers seem extraordinarily game,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The only thing is that Russell’s film is not remotely playable. Amsterdam so badly wants to be a light romp with heavy-duty meaning that it cannot help but be flattened by a sagging self-exhaustion. It is an exercise in interminable madcappery.”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes speaks with stars Christian Bale and Robert De Niro about reteaming with director David O. Russell and finding the nuances of their characters. “David was trying to get me to get involved in it and I wanted to, of course, anything that he did, I’d want to be involved with, but I wasn’t sure and finally he made me aware of who this character was, Smedley Butler and so slowly, things came together,” De Niro tells Fernandes. “I was not aware that there was this type of person ever, especially at that time in American history. I did as much research on him as I could, watched videos, read material on him, his speeches and stories about him,” he said.”
“Amsterdam is full of quips, cocked heads, characters peeking around doorway frames, and a cast of single-purpose characters. It’s a rapid-fire onslaught of scenes, dialogue, and characters. Russell fans will cling to the belief that there is something at the end of this mess; others will likely give up early on,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Russell drifts—rather sprints—through the story without instilling any confidence that he knows where it’s all heading.”
“Russell is one director who is unafraid to try something new and to entertain and to challenge his audiences,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “As such, a Russell film is always one to look forward to, as it is always filled with fresh ideas, his keen sense of humour and occasionally brilliant writing.”
“Then there are supporting characters who feel like they have entire movies of their own that we’ve just never seen. Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola play detectives Getwiller and Hiltz, one of them as racistly efficient in his work as Sam Rockwell’s character in Three Billboards,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “But my favourite secondary players have to be Michael Shannon and Mike Myers, undercover operatives of U.S. Naval Intelligence and Britain’s MI6, respectively, who combine the best traits of spycraft and birding in a way that will have you nodding: ‘Well, of course they do both.’”
“In any case, Russell takes the Business Plot seriously and it does have resonance in the present-day Trump-Bolsonaro-Modi reality where modern-day Fascism in on the rise throughout the globe. But Amsterdam shifts its story continuously, from knowing references to drug use to interracial relationships to critiques of capitalism. Keeping the film—and the narrative—on-board is Christian Bale…Bale carries the movie, making it emotional when—by all rights—it hasn’t earned it,” argues Marc Glassman at Classical FM.
Blind Ambition (dir. Robert Coe, Warwick Ross)
“It’s not all sunshine and Syrah,” admits Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Blind wine tastings, which require competitors to identify not just the grape in the glass but also its provenance and vintage, are notoriously challenging as the Italian team, which placed dead-last at the 2017 World Blind Tasting Championship, could attest.”
“The film is an easy-going underdog story that surprises with its complexity,” notes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “One could easily pour a spittoon of wine metaphors to describe Blind Ambition, but it’s best to take a cue from the teammates. Savour it yourself, especially with a glass of vino.”
“The heart of the doc is Joseph, Marlvin, Pardon and Tinashe, who relate their stories of leaving Zimbabwe in the hopes of a better life in South Africa, only to face violence and discrimination in their newly adopted homeland,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s an all-too-familiar tale of displacement and trauma, but any bitterness is more than dispelled by the doc’s tone. Notes of joy, ambition, triumph and perseverance.”
Catherine Called Birdy (dir. Lena Dunham)
“[W]hat strikes most is Dunham’s apparent knowledge and appreciation of Medieval Britain, her nimble script and skewed whimsy seem an odd fantasy for an urban American pop culture heroine,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “But there it is and it’s fantastic.”
“The most consistently funny role goes to Lord Rollo as he steps out of character to persuade visiting Lords of the virtues of his daughter,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Scott, as Rollo, is given the film’s most challenging balance act. We’re to like Rollo—and we do—despite his disparaging remarks about Birdy and his ease in putting his needs before his child’s.”
Conception (dir. Terun Verma; Oct. 11)
“Conception has its charm,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The husband and wife are likeable characters and the story follows a pleasant path. The film also boasts an eclectic cast. It is healthy to see a modern American movie where the cast is not majority white.”
Dark Glasses (dir. Dario Argento)
“The pleasure in many Argento movies is the display of his keen sense of humour amidst the horror,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Though not Argento’s best, it is still totally cool to see the Master still at it, and making excellent films at his age.”
Deadstream (dir. Joseph and Vanessa Winter)
“Deadstream begins extremely badly and is so awful that it is almost impossible to watch,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But it gets better. (Is it possible for it to get worse?) Incredibly stupid that it becomes occasionally funny, but not enough entertaining for it to qualify as a pass.”
Dos Estaciones (dir. Juan Pablo González)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls the film “a rare art movie that depicts hardship in the real world; (feeling) like a documentary because most of what is shown is probably true.”
Luckiest Girl Alive (dir. Mike Barker)
“Ani is not a sympathetic character, she lies, loses her temper, and is blunt,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “But we understand the scope of the wrongs dealt to her. Kunis plays the difficult role convincingly; this Gothic revenge piece could have gone too far but Kunis shows restraint.”
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (dir. John Lee Hancock)
“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a Netflix original coming-of-age horror story based on a Stephen King short story that has plenty of good moments, but could have been made as a much more satisfying scarier movie,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (dir. Josh Gordon)
“The result is a lighthearted, toe-tapping story, and that rare and wondrous pairing that will amuse the kids without getting on their parents’ nerves,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “The film includes references to the art from the original books, here supposedly doodled by Josh’s mom. There’s a mild villain in the form of the Primms’ downstairs neighbour, the Dickensianly named Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman). There’s a climax that turns on obscure New York City housing ordinances, a device I haven’t seen used since Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”
Old People (dir. Andy Fetscher)
“Old People is a new Netflix supernatural horror shot in German about old people attacking a family. Unfortunately, Old People is a bad movie with nothing fresh to offer,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (dir. Hans Canosa)
“Between odd flashbacks and lurches forward (seven years in one instance) we are never given enough time to just sit with the tale,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “Hendricks’ character, for instance, has a rich backstory, but it only comes into play when the main plot demands it. For a film that includes an explanation of Chekhov’s gun, it feels terribly contrived at times.”
Triangle of Sadness (dir. Ruben Östlund)
“Triangle of Sadness is a film everyone would delight in viewing,” cheers Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “There is the 99% of the less wealthy audience who would cheer to see the undeserving rich and wealthy get their comeuppance and also hopefully the other 1% of the audience as represented by the yacht’s passengers who are able to laugh at themselves.”
“Östlund’s sarcasm cuts deep, no one is spared,” laughs Anne Brodie at What She Said. “There are some great WTF moments, as when non-important people are kicked out of front-row seats for a fashion show, as the cutesy aphorism ‘Everyone’s Equal’ is emblazoned across the stage. Östlund’s satire of people without their status markers trapped in paradise, their bad natures, incompetence, and disaster as comeuppance is a hoot.”
“I’m a big fan of Östlund’s work, although I did feel that with this one he has chosen rather too large a canvass, and stretched it a little thin,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “The setting of a mega-water-craft filled with millionaire passengers and underpaid crew make the targets of his satire a touch too easy. But I must admit that I laughed heartily, when I wasn’t gagging at that throwing-up scene.”
“Few writer-directors do social satire as well as Östlund,” argues Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “He writes sharp dialogue that sounds natural and nails contemporary mores. He’s a master of scenes that deliberately go on too long to the point of making us uncomfortable, and scenarios that make us laugh at things we might not otherwise. Even his sound design adds comic touches, with things like squeaky windshield wipers adding wry comedy in a scene meant to be tense.”
“Those of us with a literary or historical bent will recall Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, in which he suggests that the impoverished Irish sell their children as food for the rich English,” says Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “People were horrified but they read it—and continue to read it today. Östlund reminds me of Swift and that’s high praise indeed. But I’m not sure if I can recommend his film. You must be willing to accept something harsh and tough to watch Triangle of Sadness. But may I say it? If you can, you should see it.”
“There are movies that are on-the-nose and then there is Ruben Östlund’sTriangle of Sadness, a satire™ that is so pharyngeal that it is the cinematic equivalent of a COVID-19 swab,” sniffs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But in setting up and then obliterating such easy targets, Ostlund has created a self-indulgent and lazy screed that mistakes anger for wit, scolding for irony, and vomit (so much vomit) for gags of actual substance.”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes speaks with director Ruben Östlund, who remembers late actor Charbli Dean. The star passed away suddenly in September at 32. “She had a certain kind of positive energy. She was a team player that was lifting up her colleagues and the crew … I was looking forward to spending time with her in Toronto. So it came as a shock for everyone in the crew,” says Östlund. “She could give so many nuances and it’s always precise…It would be so fantastic if she was here now (to) share this experience together.”
“There are a couple of decent laughs and Dolly De Leon engages as Abigail, a janitor who upsets the pecking order merely by being resourceful and ruthless,” notes Peter Howell at the Night Vision. “It’s beyond me why this took the Palme d’Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, especially since Östlund won the Palme not that long ago for The Square, a sharper act of cynical observance…Triangle of Sadness evidently impressed [the jury] by inventing a whole new genre: the arthouse gross-out picture.”
Features: This Business of Art
At CBC, Eli Glasner looks at the box office disappointment of Bros and chats with industry peers to learn why the acclaimed gay rom-com flopped: “While Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian applauds Universal for swinging for the fences, he says the rom-com genre is struggling right now,” writes Glasner. “Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s the situation was different: Romantic comedies made up a much bigger portion of the box office…This past weekend, though, it was the horror film Smile that audiences wanted; it trounced Bros, earning $22 million US. While the horror genre has seen an uptick in quality over the years, Dergarabedian says the opposite has happened with romantic comedy.”
At Night Vision, Peter Howell recaps the weekly box office with trivia tidbits. As per Bros, a portion of the audience might have put their dollars towards Trump rallies instead: “Star/co-writer Billy Eichner says he doesn’t want people who voted for Donald Trump and other political conservatives to see the film, even if they identify as being part of the LGBTQ+ community that the film celebrates,” notes Howell.
At Yahoo, Marriska Fernandes breaks down the films and series that are coming to streaming this month. Among them? The period comedy Catherine Called Birdy: “This coming-of-age adventure comedy directed by Lena Dunham is set in the Medieval English village of Stonebridge, and follows Lady Catherine (known as Birdy), the youngest child of Lord Rollo and Lady Aislinn,” writes Fernandes. “Rollo sees his daughter as his path out of financial ruin by marrying her to a wealthy man, but Birdy is ready to put off any suitor that comes in increasingly ingenious ways.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz breaks down the situation surrounding Bill C-11 and the endless debate about what constitutes a “Canadian film.” But why does it matter is, say, Disney lobbies to have Turning Red classified as “Canadian” despite American financing. “Companies like Disney want access to the Canadian market – to our subscriber dollars – but do not feel obliged to play by the rules that Canadian companies currently abide by,” writes Hertz. “Disney might occasionally film in Canada, and even adapt Canadian stories – such as the forthcoming series Washington Black, based on Canadian author Esi Edugyan’s novel – but any profits they generate get funnelled back to the Magic Kingdom in Los Angeles, not reinvested into the Canadian ecosystem.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey looks at a new crop of restored Canadian films: “Given the patchwork nature of film preservation, and the opportunities to jump into streaming services, there’s some urgency to co-ordinate these digitalization and restoration efforts for Canadian film,” writes Lacey. “The restoration and digitizing of Canadian film was the subject of a wide-ranging recent study, New Light on Canadian Heritage Film, in partnership between the Ottawa’s Canadian Film Institute and the cultural service of the French Embassy in Canada. To summarize, there’s a lot of preservation, restoration and digitalization going on across the country by private and public institutions, but it’s not merit-based or comprehensive.”
Talk of the Town
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes cracks open a cold one with The Greatest Beer Run Ever star Zac Efron and director Peter Farrelly. She leans how the team bonded over, of course, beers. “We all got together and finally had some beers one night after we had accomplished a pretty big scene,” Efron tells Fernandes. “That was one I’ll never forget. I formerly didn’t really like that beer called Singha and that was the best beer I’ve ever tasted in my life.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with Guy Maddin about the restoration of Tales from the Gimli Hospital and getting snubbed by TIFF back in the day: “My producer at the time, Greg Klymkiw, was very angry that the festival turned it down, so he showed up in Toronto with a steamer trunk full of VHS tapes and circulated them among journalists, starting the rumour that the best film in the festival wasn’t in the festival,” Maddin tells Hertz. “And when the Toronto journalists began running their festival preview pieces, quite often space was devoted to this movie that wasn’t there. I got some nice notoriety right out of the gate.”
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey at Original Cin also chats with Guy Maddin about the restoration and learns how the guy who made the film back in the 1980s is different from the guy now: “I had been through a pretty harrowing nightmare of jealousy for a few years, just in a miserable relationship where jealousy was provoked at every turn, with a bucket of gasoline thrown on top of it for good measure,” Maddin tells Lacey. “And I, really, by the time I finished this movie, I’d worked out my agonized relationship with jealousy and kind of conquered it, almost like beating smallpox, or beating COVID, or something like that.”
At Elle Canada, Marriska Fernandes chats with Emily star Emma Mackey about bringing Emily Brontë to life in Frances O’Connor’s surprising biopic: “I’m just fascinated by the quiet observers,” says Mackey. “I think Emily is the champion of that; she’s the quiet observer in the corner of the room who watches everyone else and absorbs it and takes it all in and thinks about it. I think she uses her fears and her desires and her passions to her brain’s advantage. It’s a muscle that she was in constant use of.”
TV Talk / Series Scribbles
At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out the ripped-from-the-tabloids doc series about allegations concerning Armie Hammer. The series “is sure to curl your hair.” More upbeat is the doc Sex with Sue: “Sue retired in 2005 leaving behind an admirable legacy, and the spirit of her message is more important than ever considering increasingly conservative social and political realities.” Political animals fuel The Lincoln Project, a doc series about the organization that worked to oust Trump from office: “cracks appear in the pressure cooker as we watch in horror – money, credit, and burnout to blame,” writes Brodie. The former president could probably take some notes from the new series Hello Jack! The Kindness Show: “[Jack] McBrayer looks to the examples set by Mr. Rogers and hopes to re-up his positivity,” says Brodie.