TFCA Friday: Week of Sept. 22

September 22, 2023

Dumb Money | Elevation Pictures

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


In Release this Week


Bad Press (dir. Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, Joe Peeler)


“Some solid dramatic tension makes for a riveting final act as Mvskoke Media rallies not simply for its own future, but for all reporters in First Nations communities,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Bad Press finely blends factual reportage with character-driven storytelling to captivate audiences in a tale that should have all viewers at the edges of their seats.”


Cassandro (dir. Roger Ross Williams)


“Gael García Bernal gives a performance of pure triumphant joy in Cassandro,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “The actor delivers his best performance since Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education. Perhaps it’s coincidental, but drag becomes Gael García Bernal. His performance as Cassandro delivers a buoyant jolt of light, energy, and infectious optimism. He’s also never had such strong screen presence in a film, rocking some beefed-out thunder thighs in tight denim booty shorts and body suits.”


Charlotte’s Castle (dir. Jamie Kastner 🇨🇦)


“There’s no doubt that Spadina Garden has a place in Toronto’s artistic and architectural history. But should it continue to exist in its old form?” asks Marc Glassman at POV Magazine. “Much of the latter part of Kastner’s film is taken up with the proceedings of Toronto’s Heritage Board and its decision regarding the maintenance of the structure of the building—inside and outside. Will Charlotte’s Castle retain its historic validity? Can our children expect to see Spadina Gardens’ apartments—and not just the exterior? Potential viewers should watch Kastner’s sprightly flavourful film to find out part of the answer.”


Dumb Money (dir. Craig Gillespie)


“Even when the film wedges in some understandable, though unnecessary, comic relief to the Gill household in the form of Keith’s stoner brother Kevin (Pete Davidson, playing exactly the kind of Pete Davidson-y character he always does), there is a difficult discussion being conducted about aspirations and greed, luck and privilege,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The moment that the film leaves the Gill household, though, it drifts into easy, breezy whateverness. It is baffling, for example, as to what attracted Rogen to the role of Plotkin, who is either the dullest man ever to work in finance or simply a convenient sketch of a villain.”


“Not all of Dumb Money works,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “There’s an attempt to create a personal drama based on Paul Dano’s Keith’s (Roaring Kitty) relationship with his brother, Pete Davidson’s Kevin. Their acting styles don’t mesh, which doesn’t help that aspect of the film. And though it’s hardly necessary, I was disappointed that there were no funny sequences between Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman, as two of the big bad investors. Rather better and more persuasive are scenes with Myha’la Herrold’s Riri and Talia Ryder’s Harmony—at least they care about the same thing.”


Dumb Money does a terrific job of energizing the process of personalizing a viral revolt in action. Bar patrons are seen suddenly watching CNBC the way they might watch a local sports team on a roll,”says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “People like college students Harmony (Talia Ryder and Riri (Myha’la Herrold) marvel at suddenly becoming ‘thousand-aires’ with a few clicks of their phones, debt-ridden nurse and single mother Jenny (America Ferrera) is torn whether to stay in the game or pay bills, and put-upon minimum-wage GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos) finds himself in a position of enviable irony. People join in for their own reasons, from pandemic boredom to the chance to give a middle finger to ‘The Man.’”


“One can see Dumb Money and read the book and still have little grasp for how the stock market works. (Having done both, I still don’t get it.) But the film isn’t a ‘how to,’” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Much like the Oscar winning The Big Short, Dumb Money is a riotous middle finger to the capitalist swine of Wall Street. The adaptation similarly fires a rat-a-tat-tat arsenal of snappy zingers and spot-on observations about the broken system that perpetuates greed for few at the expense of many.”


The Expend4bles (dir. Scott Waugh)


“There are moments of self-aware humour, including Christmas punching out a misogynistic YouTube influencer on livestream, and the realization that newly-sober Gunner (Lundgren) can only shoot accurately when he’s drunk,” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Otherwise, Expend4bles is an endless pyro/bang-bang show, with actors not mainly known for their acting (also including 50 Cent and UFC champion Randy Couture), sticking to the story as well as they can.”


“The plot is … listen, no one needs to know. Something something something bad guy steals nuclear detonators and only the black-ops heroes in Stallone’s crew can save the world. There are covert dossiers, double-crosses, and ticking-clock extractions,” notes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Audiences don’t, and shouldn’t, come to any Expendables film expecting narrative ambition or even cohesion. So long as there is impressive bone-crunching sandwiched between knowingly eye-rolling one-liners, then it’s a job well done. Unfortunately, director Scott Waugh and his small battalion of screenwriters cannot seem to punch up the formula beyond the faux force of a limp slap. And it is one that lands directly in the face of the audience.”


Radical Wolfe (dir. Richard Dewey)


“He was revered as ‘the most skillful writer in America,’ became a pop icon, and kept doing what he did best,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Interestingly, Wolfe kept his private life private, removed from the hurly-burly he regularly caused. This is a wonderfully illuminating and entertaining look at the late, great iconoclast, featuring interviews with Michael Lewis, Lynn Nesbit, Terry McDonell, Tom Junod, Christopher Buckley, Niall Ferguson, and daughter Alexandra Wolfe.”


Reptile (dir. Grant Singer)


“Murders don’t come with more potential suspects than this one. The realtor’s partner and boyfriend, Will (Justin Timberlake) fought with her the night before. Plus, there’s a quirky not-quite-ex-husband on the fringes who may have drug dealing connections,” says Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “Nothing in the very twisty Reptile is as it appears, and those twists are both its strength and weakness. Viewers need to be alert to subtle narrative shifts and suggestive dialogue pointing to eventual reveals exposed during its intense conclusion. Miss them to your everlasting confusion.”


Stellar (dir. Darlene Naponse 🇨🇦)


“Anishinaabe filmmaker Darlene Naponse sets an Indigenous romance against an apocalyptic storm in Stellar, a remarkable love letter to the land and the people. The feature, Naponse’s fourth (and a feature at TIFF 2022), is based on her short story of the same name. It unfolds almost like a fairy-tale or a dream, as the story of a man and a woman who meet in a bar is interspersed with shots of fantastic natural vistas — green forests, blue skies, rushing rivers,” writes Liz Braun at Original Cin. “Some of the observations are visual; Naponse inserts the odd image of urban blight and industrial pollution into the mix, sometimes juxtaposing the beauty and the ruin, as with aerial shots of massive industrial hellscapes at night — framed by the extraordinary beauty of the Northern Lights.”


Stellar gets under the skin in record time. It takes place inside a dilapidated bar in Sudbury near the nickel and copper mines formed by a meteorite hitting Earth 1.8 billion years ago. ‘Aadizookaan’ from the sky it came. Mother Earth willfully split the ground beneath the lake,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Naponse’s incredibly powerful, utterly quiet fable spans millennia and an evening; it is lyrical, mysterious, depressing, and hopeful, so much power packed into a quick look at humanity in the scheme of things.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage: That’s a Wrap for #TIFF23!


In case you missed it, the TFCA surveyed its members for their picks of the best of the fest. We received a wide range of responses, but The Zone of Interest drew the most votes with four critics picking it as the strongest offering of TIFF ’23.


At Original Cin, seven TFCA members pick their TIFF favourites. For Jim Slotek, it’s Dream Scenario (“an intelligent mix of comedy and horror”). For Liz Braun, it was getting back to interviews (“I had an extraordinary conversation with Canadian author Kim Thuy about seeing the film version of her novel, Ru, with a TIFF audience”). For Thom Ernst, it was seeing TIFF respond to feedback (“The press room is bigger and better”). For Karen Gordon, it’s a toss-up between The Zone of Interest (“affecting and troubling”) and Perfect Days (“a simple, beautiful movie”). For Kim Hughes, it was touring the world on screen (“peering into different corners and eras of the world”). For Chris Knight, he agreed with the People’s Choice: American Fiction (“Jeffrey Wright knock[ed] it out of the park”). For Liam Lacey, it was Ethan Hawke’s Wildcat (“I was surprised and moved”).


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz susses out where TIFF stood in comparison to the other fall festivals: “There were a lot of fine-to-good films premiering – including the opening-night selection The Boy and the Heron, TIFF’s one true 2023 coup – but too few must-see knockouts and a whole lot of unmistakable mistakes,” writes Hertz. “Going up against the many high-profile titles from other fall fests that were energizing the conversation – Michael Mann’s Ferrari! Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla! Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things! Way too many more to list here without blowing the word count! – TIFF was asking a lot for audiences to get pumped up for such world premieres as Craig Gillespie’s Dumb Money (forgettable fun), Anna Kendrick’s Woman of the Hour (ambitious, but overpraised), Michael Keaton’s Knox Goes Away (distressingly dull), or Brian Helgeland’s Finestkind (don’t worry if you didn’t hear about it; you never will).”


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell picks his TIFF top ten, including The Boy and the Heron: “Fantastic images, luminous animation and a powerful eco-allegory about the fragile state of our planet from Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, happily delaying retirement,” writes Howell. “TIFF’s first ever animated opening gala proved to be its best ever opener. It’s a coming-of-ager about a preteen boy, a talking grey heron and a magical kingdom of mysteries that delight and haunt, including the possibility the boy’s dead mother is still alive…If this is indeed a farewell address from the Ghibli co-founder, it’s a grand statement.”


Also at the Toronto Star, Howell speaks with the stars behind the festival’s hottest ticket: a reunion screening of Stop Making Sense with the Talking Heads. The band members tell Howell about what it means to be back together after so many years. “Any kind of separation/divorce thing is bound to be fairly traumatic, but it comes to a point where, at least for me, there’s a realization that, yeah, the way I handled things was not perfect,” David Byrne tells Howell. “I probably could have done things a lot better than what I did at the time, but we’re trying to make amends. And here we are and look at the incredible thing that we did.”


At Variety, Jennie Punter surveys the Quebecois films that made a splash at this year’s festival, including Kanaval, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, and Best Canadian Feature winner Solo, directed by Sophie Dupuis. “To have a queer story on the TIFF Gala screen and to celebrate this together on the red carpet is huge,” Dupuis tells Punter. “The majority of the cast is queer, and we know this kind of film can change lives — even save lives. It can be a validation for some people who need that right now.


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen reports on the documentaries at TIFF where Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa stood tallest. “The doc, which screened as a work in progress but could have easily passed as a complete and polished film to casual viewers, drew a thunderous response from the TIFF audience that was wowed by the courageous story of Lhakpa Sherpa and her quest to conquer Mount Everest for the tenth time. The doc was easily the standout in the TIFF Docs programme,” writes Mullen. “Netflix announced plans to release Mountain Queen during next year’s award season after giving Walker time to complete the project. Expect it to be a major contender in the awards conversation for its bravura cinematic feat that puts audiences long Lhakpa’s journey as she summits the mountain. It’s an absolutely thrilling adventure with one of the most memorable characters in recent years.”


File Under Miscellaneous: Fall Film Reads!


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson picks twelve books about star styles for readers to consider when they’re done thumbing through this year’s September issue. Highlights include The Sofia Coppola Archive: “This pink-covered, 488-page cache of the filmmaker’s scripts, photographs and paraphernalia is the most coveted cinephile style tome of the season. It’s an intimate annotated look at her process, including costume fitting Polaroids and lipstick tests. It’s so up-to-the-moment, it even documents her preparation for Priscilla, her new Presley biopic,” writes Atkinson.


TV Talk/Series Stuff


At What She Said, Anne Brodie reports on the fashionable and surprising doc series The Super Models. “They looked powerful, and began to feel powerful, and ‘all of a sudden we became the personification of power’,” writes Brodie. “It’s said they were endlessly demanding, Concords, limos, drivers, chefs, top pay, the best suites, and as one wag says ‘they controlled every inch of their makeup and hair.’ Well, why not? They worked for themselves and they moved product.” Meanwhile, Baroness Von Sketch’s Carolyn Taylor fuels the doc series I Have Nothing: “There’s a lesson and laughter in this for all of us dreamers,” says Brodie. Meanwhile, Saviour Complex “shows what can happen when someone with good intentions but a fundamental lack of understanding and runaway ego is set loose” and the Great Canadian Baking Show returns with Cake Week: “The execution doesn’t always match the intent but it’s always fun to watch the excitement, joys, and fumbles and imagine the flavours.”


At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson looks at The Super Models and sees how it sizes it up a recent documentary about fellow model Donyale Luna: “I’ve been intrigued to learn more about Luna, who died of an accidental heroin overdose in 1979 at the age of 33, since speaking with Atlanta filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper about her 2012 documentary, Versailles 73,” writes Atkinson.Draper’s doc excavates the 1973 fashion face-off between American and French designers — a watershed moment for Black models — but came about from discoveries made while she was originally researching the life of the elusive Luna, who constructed an alluring and exotic persona to conceal her real identity.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen chats with The Super Models director Larissa Bills about telling the stories of fashion icons Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington in a new doc series. “You start to see connections that you wouldn’t necessarily have seen,” Bills tells Mullen. “For instance, when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a plethora of Eastern European models. This is in the ’90s, and you started to see those models walking Prada very uniform. It blew the supermodel thing away because, all of a sudden, there were all these young Eastern European girls. Linda actually told me that fact. When I dove into it, it was so interesting to think that this geopolitical event had an effect on modelling, which had an effect on fashion, which had an effect on consumerism. I love the fashion, the beauty, these women, and the nostalgia trip, but there were connections that were fascinating.”


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz tunes into the latest entry in the John Wick cinematic universe, Continental: “The story itself is a stretch of crass franchise ambitions, even when compared with the original film’s pitch of ‘What if a guy got really angry over the death of his puppy?’ Besides the series’ producers, who in the Wick-verse was dying to know how Winston became middle management for the secret assassin organization known as the High Table? And if you’re especially curious about the history of those silver coins that everyone in the Wick films uses to barter, then do I have good (re: silly) news for you,” writes Hertz.