TFCA Friday: Week of Sept. 1

September 1, 2023


Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.


In Release this Week


Astrakan (dir. David Depesseville)


Astrakan is a powerful coming-of-age film of altered innocence, marvellously captured at points by director Deppesville, displaying the best traits of French Nouvelle-vague director François Truffaut in his early classics such as L’argent de poche, L’enfant sauvage, and 400 Blows,” notes Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “The film has a muddled somewhat confusing ending where various images of Samuel’s past incidents are strung together.”


Aurora’s Sunrise (dir. Inna Sahakyan)


“The connective tissue comes thanks to striking storybook animation. Imagine Atom Egoyan’s Ararat conjured through the lens of Tahir Rana and Éric Warin’s Charlotte with a dose of Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. Aurora’s Sunrise uses the power of animation to represent the erasure of lives and history. Where there are no photographs or records to represent the lives of family members, friends, and neighbours who were slaughtered, the animation finds more power in imagining what official records cannot provide.”


Bottoms (dir. Emma Seligman)


Bottoms puts a queer spin on the absurd, raunchy, over-the-top teen comedy genre,” says Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “This is the second film from Toronto writer-director Emma Seligman, the follow-up to her sharp, witty, and warm debut, Shiva Baby which also starred Sennott (who co-wrote Bottoms) as another slightly unlikeable character having a very bad day. Shiva Baby was confidently directed and showed a knack for tight storytelling and terrific comedic timing.”


“With a David Fincher-like zealousness, soon the girls are pummelling each other with abandon. And as with the comedy, Bottoms fully commits, if not revels, in the violence. Of course, such a club couldn’t go unsupervised,” notes Eli Glasner at CBC. “Enter Bottoms‘ MVP, former NFLer Marshawn Lynch as the social studies teacher Mr. G. Much more than stunt casting, Lynch’s drawling delivery and lackadaisical attitude is infectious, whether he’s spouting off about his divorce or his own twisted take on feminism.”


The Equalizer 3 (dir. Antoine Fuqua)


“One thing this sequel has going for it is that it bucks the trend of ever more bloated running times. Where The Equalizer ran a needless two hours and 12 minutes, and Equilizer-er came in at two-oh-one, Equalizer-est manages to tell its tale in an hour and 49. That’s progress, until you recall that the very first Equalizer had everything sewn up in less than 48 minutes per episode, plus commercials and station identification,” writes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “He had a cooler car too.”


“[D]irector Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington with the aid of scriptwriter Richard Wenk prove that they have the chops to create a number one topnotch stylish action flick that is as violent as it is feel-good, bringing out the sadistic nature of audiences,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“It is easy, though, to understand why Washington agreed to sign up for a third go-round of this extremely loose adaptation of the 1980s television series,” admits Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Set in Sicily and Naples, Fuqua’s film pauses for long stretches of time to admire the beautiful coastal scenery, all cobblestone streets and centuries-old churches. Washington also looks like he’s having a grand time sipping tea in sun-dappled palazzos, with McCall having landed in a small village after injuring himself during the battle with that mob boss mentioned above. If the actor just wanted to finance a movie in which he toured charming Italian towns, honestly, that would sell. Hook up with Stanley Tucci and call it a day, Denzel – no need to bring automatic weapons into the mix.”


Ghosts of the Chelsea Hotel (dir. Danny Garcia)


“The climax of the film has the long-term residents talk about the ghosts of the hotel,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Half of them believe that they have seen ghosts. But these-role also sound has crazy.  The doc is occasionally interesting when it offers a weird fact or two but is also repetitive and all over the place.”


In the Company of Rose (dir. James Lapine)


“Lapine’s film isn’t so much a conventional biography or arts doc, but a thoughtful, personal study of what it means to make things work in a relationship,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “This portrait of sticking together through thick and thin suggests that, when it comes to relationships, commitment should ever be a ‘Sophie’s choice’ decision. It’s a story people write together, so some drama is inevitable.”


The Jewel Thief (dir. Landon Van Soest)


“Who would have thought one of the most notorious jewel thieves in the world hails from Winnipeg?” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Meek and mild, self-described nerd Gerald Blanchard needed cash as an adolescent and cooked up schemes to steal goods and money in ways that beggar belief. At 12 Blanchard pulled his first heists and he liked the feeling. He filmed them with cameras running, one in each armpit. One Sunday he and a friend rented a truck and entirely emptied a store, and a SWAT team showed up at his home, and presto his first mugshot at 15.”


Polaris (dir. Kirsten Carthew 🇨🇦)


“Though the transition from futuristic to action flick is kind of odd and not really smooth, the film moves with a kind of mystery that propels the film along with the audience not knowing or being able to guess what is going on or going to happen,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Scout’s Honour (dir. Brian Knappenberger)


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “covers the subject of pedophilia within the scouts which by now is not surprising but still shocking.”


Zombie Town (dir.Peter Lepeniotis 🇨🇦)


“High school student Mike (Marlon Kazadi) works at the theatre and manages to nab Carver’s copy to secretly show it to his bestie (Instagram star Madi Monroe, going against her online image) Amy, unwittingly unleashing an ancient curse. And they have to turn it back or Carverville citizens are in BIG trouble,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Ranging from amusing to hysterically funny, Zombie Town is a delight that carries a lot of positive notes for kids, showcases our hero and heroine, and warns us to stay out of Egyptian burial chambers in small-town Canada. Fabulous! Stay to the very last post-credits moment!”


Fall Movie Previews!


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell picks 10 films to watch for this fall, including Bradley Cooper’s latest turn behind the camera as director with Maestro: “Actor Bradley Cooper hit a home run with his first directorial effort, A Star Is Born, but that was about fictional showbiz characters,” writes Howell. “Cooper’s sophomore feature seems considerably more challenging: he’s directing himself in the role of Leonard Bernstein, the legendary composer (West Side Story, On the Town) and New York Philharmonic conductor. Carey Mulligan plays Felicia Montealegre, Bernstein’s wife of nearly three decades and mother of his three children. People who remember Bernstein will be watching carefully for any lapses in character, incident or looks, the latter already contentious because of the prosthetic nose worn by Cooper. However we respond to this depiction of a larger-than-life figure, it’s sure to be quality work.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz surveys the fall release schedule. Highlights include the epic Marty party Killers of the Flower Moon: “Martin Scorsese drained the bank account of the Apple TV+ film division to make this epic adaptation of David Grann’s excellent 2017 non-fiction book,” writes Hertz. “Starring frequent Scorsese collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, the film examines the murders of Oklahoma’s Osage people circa 1920, and how the FBI was formed shortly thereafter to tackle the crimes. Having enjoyed a warm reception during its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this past spring, expect Killers to dominate come awards time.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage: TIFF Avant-Premières!


At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller, Barry Hertz, and Kate Taylor pick their best bets from this year’s festival. Schneller picks The Holdovers despite discomfort with Alexander Payne: “I can’t resist the sound of The Holdovers: widely-disliked teacher (Paul Giamatti, who helped Payne win an Oscar for Sideways) stuck at his New England prep school over Christmas 1970, babysitting a clever-but-troubled 15-year-old whose mother would rather vacation with her new husband.” For Hertz, Dumb Money is atop the list: “I expect to walk out of director Craig Gillespie’s new comedy about the memefied ‘GameStonk’ scandal of 2021 – in which amateur, Reddit-savvy traders somehow managed to pull one over on the billionaire hedge-funders of the world – fully and woefully confused. But also, quite possibly, wildly entertained.” For Taylor, the festival should open with a bang with Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron: “Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films are known for their fantastical worlds and strong stories: The Boy and the Heron charts a teenage boy’s psychological development in a new town as he discovers a magical world in an abandoned tower and makes friends with a talking grey heron.”


At Classical FM, Marc Glassman offers films that he’s looking forward to seeing at the festival, including Chloé Robichaud’s Days of Happiness: “Call it—in advance—Tár light: it’s a drama about a female orchestra conductor who is mixing the personal with the musical in her life,” writes Glassman. “Set in Quebec, we follow the burgeoning career of Emma, a brilliant young conductor, who has to deal with the demands of her father, who is also her agent, while managing a love life with a cellist in the Metropolitan Orchestra of Montreal. Best of all, for our listeners, is that music is handled by Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who worked closely with the film’s director Chloé Robichaud. Naturally, we won’t know for certain that this is a fine film right now but it has the makings of a truly interesting one, with exceptional music.”


At That Shelf, Courtney Small, Rachel West, and Pat Mullen picks the TIFF films atop their radars. For Small, it’s Lulu Wang’s series Ex-Pats: “Presenting the feature-length penultimate episode of her six-part limited series Expats, which stars Nicole Kidman, the show examines a family tragedy from multiple perspectives. Considering how well Wang tackled family drama in her stunning and moving film, The Farewell, this show is destined to be one of the year’s must-see works.” For West, it’s the Danish drama The Promised Land: “Mads Mikkelsen reteams with his A Royal Affair director Nikolaj Arcel for an 18th-century Danish drama. What more could you ask for?” For Mullen, his top three includes Frederick Wiseman’s Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros: “Wiseman’s immersive observational style ensures that audiences will see the intricate culinary skills entailed with preparing, plating, and savouring the restaurant’s famed small plates that fuse international flavours with local ingredients. Menus-Plaisirs promises to be your best four-hour brunch friend at TIFF.”


At So Sumi, Glenn Sumi highlights the stage-set films for theatre lovers at the festival. The list includes Atom Egoyan’s latest drama, Seven Veils: “Director Egoyan is a big opera fan, as anyone who’s seen his acclaimed production of Strauss’s Salome – revived last season at the Canadian Opera Company – knows,” writes Sumi. “Now he’s using that dark and lurid psychological opera as the backdrop for his latest film, about a young director (Amanda Seyfried, who starred in his 2009 film Chloe) whose life becomes unmoored after the death of her mentor, the original director of the opera. Real-life opera singers Ambur Braid and Michael Kupfer-Radecky (who were in Egoyan’s Salome) star alongside Diggstown‘s Vinessa Antoine, Big Little Lies’ Douglas Smith and frequent stage performer Rebecca Liddiard (Frankie Drake Mysteries).”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with TIFF’s Cameron Bailey and Anita Lee to learn how the festival will navigate star power amid the strike: “If actors are starring in films made by independent producers who are not members of the AMPTP, they can receive permission from SAG-AFTRA allowing production and promotional duties to continue. Practically, this means that Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson, stars of TIFF selection Daddio, can walk Toronto’s red carpets. As can Colman Domingo, who leads the agreement-receiving drama Sing Sing, and Maya Hawke, star of her father Ethan’s new directorial effort Wildcat. Jessica Chastain (Memory) and Nicolas Cage (Dream Scenario) are also reportedly close to confirming,” reports Hertz. “But the optics of appearing is another thing entirely. Betting that average audiences have a clear understanding that SAG-AFTRA agreements benefit the union and are not, in fact, acts of scabbing is a sizable gamble for any star to take. Exactly which actors might risk becoming the subject of a misleading headline or a dishonest social-media post remains, as of this writing, a waiting game.” Hertz also reports that the “T” in TIFF won’t stand for “Therme” as the festival pauses its relationship with the controversial spas, while streaming titles will again have all their press and industry screenings at the Lightbox with Cineplex taking a stand for theatrical.


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen revisits the crowd-pleasing documentary Next Goal Wins to find out why it’s perfect fodder for a dramatic take by Taika Waititi: “Next Goal Wins, directed by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, delivers a highly entertaining and undeniably inspiring sports saga. All the ingredients are present for a terrific underdog story: a tale of crushing defeat, a team united by passion, a transgender trailblazer, and a predictably triumphant ending,” writes Mullen. “Next Goal Wins is the Cool Runnings of sports documentaries. The American Samoan soccer team hits all the right notes to have audiences cheering them on, just as they did years ago for the Jamaican bobsled team that made its way to the Olympics. It’s pure catnip for audiences.”


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out Ontario-shot The Changeling starring LaKeith Stanfield and Jared Abrahamson: “This fantasy “fairytale for grownups”, based on the book by Victor LaValle goes to dark corners of the mind, into a traumatic universe and tortured reality and simmers with anxiety,” says Brodie. She also finds lots to love in the return of the Danish series Face to Face starring Lars Mikkelsen: “The mini-movie episodes are vivid, lifelike, and startling, tiny dramatic masterpieces that create clock-ticking urgency. Also, superb production values, no frills, intense focus, and performances by some of Denmark’s best make this series, aka Forhøret, tick.” Hailing from Sweden, meanwhile, is Limbo, which “has a documentary feel as a detailed look at the relationships between three families, and longtime friends when a tragic accident occurs.”