Reviews include Dune, The French Dispatch, and The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.
TFCA Friday: Week of Oct. 8
October 8, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
Defining Moments (dir. Stephen Wallis 🇨🇦)
“The Canadian-made Defining Moments was the last film from Burt Reynolds before his death in 2018, though this is not one for the memorial reel,” admits Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Though Reynold’s face is featured on the film’s poster, the late star can’t be blamed for this would-be life-affirming dramedy from writer-director Stephen Wallis. Shot around Unionville, Ontario, the film follows an ensemble of characters facing personal crises over a period of months leading up to Christmas.”
“(Director) Wallis still keeps his so-so film interesting, with his film touching and moving without resorting to too many clichés and too much sentiment,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“It’s a movie-of-the-week-grade Canadian film schlepped into commercial release amid the COVID-19 era BOGO sale in which distributors snapped up whatever junk was lingering on the shelves and delivered it to the stuck-at-home masses,” groans Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Reynolds’ final performance isn’t enough to save Defining Moments from being another holiday turkey.”
Detention (dir. John Tsu)
“[T]he film is its most effective in (the director’s) creation of the atmosphere of constant dread of an oppressed environment created under martial law that the film succeeds most,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Events Transpiring Before, During, and After a High School Basketball Game (dir. Ted Stenson 🇨🇦)
“It’s a gentle kind of chaos, and writer/director Stenson shoots it all in long, contemplative takes, as though if we watch these characters long enough they might suddenly start making sense,” writes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “They do not, but the protracted shots become their own running gag, prepping us to look for the next bit of foolishness barging into the frame.”
Fauci (dir. John Hoffman, Janet Tobias)
“Today Fauci’s up against Trump’s MAGA crowd that refuses to mask and vax, but he has plenty of fighting spirit to encourage compliance while retaining his good humour and dignity,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Fever Dream (dir. Claudia Llosa)
“The story builds toward a revelation, which is a bit mundane for the strange, complicated events that have transpired,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Llosa’s film is best appreciated not as a mystery with a solution but a multi-level experience — a representation of a near-death experience, a psychodrama of temptation and punishment, and a hot pang of maternal angst.”
Lamb (dir. Vladimar Jóhannsson)
“The film goes far on its icy, moody tone, and the concluding scene is something of a shocker,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “The whole edifice has the feeling of a lost fairytale, something dreamed up a thousand years ago by one of the island’s early bards. And maybe it’s asking too much for a Rod Serling type to step in and wrap up the tale.”
“Johannsson’s film also entrusts its audience with caring about a character that is brought to life through some truly wobbly puppetry and visual effects – a combination so aesthetically shaky that the result may well be intentionally bad,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “But if Johannsson aimed to make a point about, perhaps, the reality parents want to see versus the reality they’re presented with, then it’s muddied in execution.”
“Lamb is a Scandinavian import that slots right onto that artisanal hand-carved shelf, a folk tale in modern dress about childless farmers (Noomi Rapace, -Hilmir Snær Guðnason) who take in an unlikely newborn and raise it as their own,” says Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “Lamb is a tightrope walk between the sublime and the preposterous, accomplished with a mixture of puppetry, CG and tone.”
At That Shelf, Jason Gorber speaks with star Noomi Rapace and director Vladimar Jóhannsson about their folk horror film.
Muppets Haunted Mansion (dir. Kirk R. Thatcher)
“Muppets Haunted Mansion isn’t a top-tier Muppet movie, but it delivers more than enough family-friendly pleasures to deserve a spot on your Halloween watchlist,” suggests Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “My only gripe with the film is its meagre running time – it clocks in at less than 50 minutes. But in the end, I can’t knock the Haunted Mansion for following showbusiness’ golden rule: always leave them wanting more.”
“Plenty of fun for the kids but best fun for adults who will be treated to loads of sly pop culture, political and musical notes, film references and a crazy cast of characters including … wait for it … Danny Trejo!” laughs Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Night Raiders (dir. Danis Goulet 🇨🇦)
At Variety, Jennie Punter speaks with director Danis Goulet about assembling her crew and working with Taika Waititi as one of the film’s executive producers. “The global Indigenous community is super-connected on the festival circuit,” explains Goulet. “I met Taika at Sundance 2004, when we both had shorts there. Around the time we were looking for funding, I reached out to Taika and asked if he’s consider being an EP and he said, “Absolutely.” I wanted an Indigenous producer partner, and we met with Ainsley Gardiner, who produced Taika’s early movies. I had the idea of expressing on screen the solidarity that’s there between the communities.”
“Night Raiders is Goulet’s feature film debut, the kind that challenges preconceived notions about how a first feature can look. Goulet comes at her story with the strength and confidence of a seasoned filmmaker; her skills are honed from years of making award-winning shorts and presenting them on the festival circuit,” raves Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “In lesser hands, the simile between yesterday and tomorrow might be too clever to have any impact. But Goulet manages a story that is more prophecy than allegory.”
“Goulet has cleverly set up her film with the kind of prophecy that an audience can easily dismiss as poetic artifice. The trickiest part of Night Raiders is its conclusion when all of the prophecies prove true,” observes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Danis Goulet has intrigued her audience and repaid their belief by crafting a brilliant conclusion to the film. A thriller with a huge difference from regular fare, Night Raiders deserves to be a Canadian hit.”
“The horrors of stolen indigenous children, the Canadian residential school system, and mass unmarked graves has come close to home this year and the unthinkable notion that the government and church kidnapped, mistreated and killed untold numbers of children for more than a hundred years is at the root of the story,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “It’s an intense experience, a sci-fi thriller that enters mythology in a beautiful way.” Brodie also speaks with director Danis Goulet and star Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.
“A thoughtful and invigorating sci-fi thriller quite unlike anything else this country has produced, Night Raiders takes a hard look at Canada’s past and sets an oil-slick fire to the idea of our safe, nice and boring nation,” raves Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.
“Night Raiders is ultimately a flawed film but an important one, not least because it heralds the emergence of another First Nations talent in Goulet,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “She’s currently at work on Ivy, a Toronto-shot thriller produced by Netflix. It’s not a First Nations story, but I’m looking forward to it, and to whatever else her future brings.”
No Time to Die (dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga)
“While No Time to Die lags in parts, it feels like the fitting finale Daniel Craig has been waiting for,” writes Eli Glasner at CBC. “It doesn’t have the vigorous energy of the Casino Royale reboot or the epic scope of the excellent Skyfall. Instead, it gives Craig — a brusque Bond for a changing world — the hero’s send-off he deserves.”
At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson looks back on the Craig years that shook the 007 franchise: “While Craig’s physical style makes him the most bloodied and bruised Bond, he’s also something of a contradiction: a vulnerable thug in elegant evening clothes. His Bond is an introspective, damaged individual, often grim, haunted by the sadness and guilt over the death of Vesper Lynd, the lover who betrayed him, throughout his character arc.”
“And Craig? He’s as impressive as ever, letting James be a brick wall and big ol’ softie, depending on the story’s obligations,” says Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “No Time to Die doesn’t offer him the rough-and-tumble intensity of his Casino Royale debut – though it does briefly allow him to pay homage to, I think, Nicolas Cage’s characters in both The Rock and Con Air – but it does cement his legacy as the second-most charismatic actor to ever convince audiences that alcoholism and murder are super cool.”
“No Time to Die manages a mix of goofiness and gravitas, sometimes in the same scene,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “There are the requisite post-mortem witticisms from Bond, and the usual tension between him and Q (Ben Whishaw), who at one point tries to walk him through “an overly complicated and intricate switching system,” all while 007 is gleefully pressing every button he can find in the villain’s control room.”
“If Waltz being effective is no surprise, it’s a pleasure to see Malek so brilliant as a deeply wounded figure who seems to be forced into being a psychopath,” remarks Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Also underplaying his role, Malek subliminally reminds one of the early Peter Lorre in his portrayal of the deeply intelligent, fundamentally flawed Safin.”
“No Time to Die is, once again, a Bond movie that insists it’s doing something different with the franchise but is unwilling to truly change the game,” sighs Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto. “That’s the biggest problem with the Bond franchise in general, and because No Time to Die is so exhaustingly long – 163 minutes, longer than all but one of the Transformers films and every Marvel movie except Avengers: Endgame – it leaves you with a lot of time to think about why that should still be.”
“I give credit to director Cary Joji Fukunaga for some of the film’s more thoughtful moments,” notes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “Fukunaga dials in memories like stock footage from previous Bond movies, not all of them Craig’s: A framed shot of a woman carefully draped in bedsheets matches that of the asphyxiated body of a woman covered in gold in Goldfinger. The island fortress (slightly more Matt Helm than James Bond) evokes Scaramanga’s (Christopher Lee) hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun.”
“Craig is bidding farewell to the role, but he leaves us with a commanding and moving performance that beckons awards attention and prompts reflection on the relentless passage of time,” argues Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Bond will return, as the credits promise. Whoever assumes the role has an exceedingly hard act to follow.”
Old Henry (dir. Potsy Ponciroli)
“At a compact 98-minute running time, [Ponciroli]’s cut out a lot of exposition to focus on character and action: stand offs, and shoot ‘em ups,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “That keeps it lean and focused and, of course violent. But what makes it so watchable is his excellent lead cast.”
“The ways writer-director Potsy Ponciroli places us in this dangerous and beautiful, unspoiled place, where hanged men sway in the breeze, the grass waves and death comes calling are inventive and fresh carried by [Tim Blake] Nelson’s superb performance and an intriguing twist on history,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Henry has a secret, and wow, what a secret!”
The Rescue (dir. E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “has the best elements of a suspenseful thriller, working better than many a fiction film … all that transpire on screen true.”
“The final section of The Rescue shows the power of non-fiction storytelling, whether in prose or audio or film,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Most of the viewers of the doc will know what happens to the lads but it hardly matters as we hear about the life and death dramas that took place as the boys were brought back to the earth.”
“I could have done without the liberal use of re-enactments; towards the end, when The Rescue shows us a diver struggling to keep his young charge alive while talking about how utterly alone they both were, re-creating that moment for a camera that couldn’t have been present feels almost obnoxious – but that’s a minor knock against an otherwise brilliantly orchestrated film,” observes Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
“But there’s something to be said for the visceral impact of a well-told documentary, and The Rescue… certainly qualifies,” notes Chris Knight at the National Post. “For a sense of the slim odds of success, note that when the team entered the caves to attempt the rescue, they brought lots of oxygen tanks, masks and sedatives. They also brought body bags.”
“Whereas the directors’ last project, the Oscar-winning free-climbing doc Free Solo, chronicled an open-air kind of anxiety, The Rescue is a claustrophobic exercise in tension, expertly assembled for maximum emotional impact,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The film may be traditionally structured – this is a tick-tock thriller chronicling the event from beginning to end, with little room for abstract cinematic detours – but it captures all the human drama and daunting logistics with a sharp, unflinching eye.”
“The Rescue will take your breath away,” raves Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “It’s an incredible chronicle of a true impossible mission, of how the world can come together to save life.”
“The Rescue immerses the audience in a dangerous odyssey in which every second and every gulp of air counts,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Don’t forget to breathe.”
Summertime (dir. Carlos López Estrada)
“(Director Estrada) has assembled an impressive list of artists, each performing their art, some but not all delivered in quite an entertaining manner,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Not quite a drama, not quite a performance documentary, it’s a series of raps and poetry performances tied together with a loose narrative, co-created with and focusing on young poets from the downtown, marginally employed, and distinctly non-Hollywood side of the city,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin.
“The film was borne out of a summer workshop for youth poets, each performing their own material and seamlessly interlocking,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The diversity of the poets and their struggles and hopes, the intersections into one another’s lives is breathtaking.”
“It’s a poetic anthology about the power of owning your piece of the city and inviting others to share it,” says Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Summertime is a city symphony film fuelled by authentic urban beats.”
V/H/S/94 (dir. various)
“While the latest V/H/S entry doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it delivers the series’ signature brand of terror and suspense,” notes Victor Stiff at That Shelf. “V/H/S/94 proves there’s still plenty of (after)life left in this gleefully twisted anthology series.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Palme d’Or winner Julia Ducornau about Titane, body horror, and how she feels about the frequency with marketing campaigns emphasize the “shock value” of her work: “I never have that in mind when I’m making films,” says Ducornau. “I think there’s something gratuitous and a bit depreciative in the use of the “shock value” expression. My only goal is to somehow make you gradually get in touch with my characters, accept them, love them and feel for them. I don’t go beyond that.”
At POV Magazine, Courtney Small speaks with filmmakers Selwyn Jacob, Sam Pollard, and Sylvia D. Hamilton about their paths as trailblazers who broke ground at a time when the industry offered little room for Black perspectives. Have things changed? “People are going to say you are not good enough,” Pollard says. “You are going to have moments of self-doubt. But you’ve got to be tenacious. Even when you stumble you have to pick yourself up and move to the next project.”
At Gawker, Sarah Hagi recaps her love for Tom Hooper’s disasterpiece Cats and challenges Andrew Lloyd Webber’s disdain for the movie: “I understand his frustrations. But with all due respect Mr. Lloyd Webber, you are wrong. Yes, watching Jason Derulo gyrate as Rum Tug Tugger was disgusting, and seeing Ian McKellan lap up milk in a closet while standing up felt weirdly pornographic, but I’m certain if he watched Cats all the way through four times he would find a way to appreciate this masterpiece.”
TV Talk – Thrilling Maids and Creepy Cronenberg
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller chats with The Maid star Andie MacDowall and showrunner Molly Smith Metzler about creating this gripping story with real socioeconomic stakes. ““Quite often people don’t understand how difficult the system is,” says MacDowell. “They think the working poor aren’t making an effort, that they’re lazy or undeserving. But Alex’s story gives us a clear picture of how hard it is to crawl up from rock bottom. It asks us to imagine, for example, how important an extra $20 dollars might be to someone. Just that tiny bit of empathy.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie cracks the Da Vinci code with Dan Browne’s latest Robert Langdon romp, The Lost Symbol: “It’s a complex story with a mathematical bent, that symbols, signs and algorithms have life and can do damage. And someone has to figure it out – fast!” Then for the feel-bad crowd, there’s Maid (“this is a message in a bottle that where there’s a will, there’s a way”), while Baker’s Dozen serves a pick-me-up (“a baking competition to increase your happy hormones”).
At Original Cin, Thom Ernst debates if the casting of David Cronenberg in Slasher is as much of a mistake as skipping the drive-in premiere was: “Cronenberg is too Cronenberg and, despite being once labeled The Baron of Blood, he is an inherently decent man. Even beneath the personification of soulless evil, Cronenberg’s decency comes through—at one point, that decency serves the script well. But decent people creating nasty things on screen is one of those behind-the-scenes truths to the horror genre; Cronenberg is one of them.”
At NOW Toronto, Kevin Ritchie chats with Cronenberg himself about the joys of (spoiler alert) performing a death scene in Slasher: “It was a lot of fun. The first thing about acting is it’s a very childlike thing. It’s like kids in a sandbox putting on these moustaches and hats and pretending to be somebody else. There’s a huge element of fun and playfulness even when you’re doing something that is perhaps horrific or scary. The other thing is the acting challenge – getting the expression right, moving in the right direction at the right emotional tone. Doing a death scene is not really different from doing dialogue.”