An interview with Swan Song director Chelsea McMullan about their Rogers Best Canadian Documentary nominee on Karen Kain’s Swan Lake.
TFCA Friday: Week of Sept. 24
September 24, 2021
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
In Release this Week
23 Walks (Dir. Paul Morrison)
“[A] story about seniors and their dogs navigating late chapters [appears] in the sweet British romantic comedy 23 Walks starring Alison Steadman and Dave Johns,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “They’re Fern and Dave and the meeting while walking their dogs Henry and Tilly in a north London park.”
A.rtificial I.mmortality (dir. Ann Shin, 🇨🇦)
“It was the late, great Freddie Mercury who famously asked, ‘Who wants to live forever?’” writes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine. “Prolific Toronto filmmaker Ann Shin’s latest documentary provocatively tries to answer this quandary and asks questions of her own.”
“The doc might appear too technical for some audiences in terms of following its logic or understanding but it exposes the limitless boundaries of mankind,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“But as Shin herself asks, if a facsimile of us is immortal, does that make us immortal?” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “In fact, anybody giving the documentary serious consideration will end up wondering if these avatars are simply much more sophisticated versions of the footprint we normally leave behind – photos, writings, memories, and, these days, videos.”
“As the title indicates, this isn’t the same thing as uploading one’s actual consciousness to the cloud – that’s still the stuff of science fiction – but A.rtificial I.mmortality fails to explore the difference, settling for interviews with enthusiastic software developers and robotics designers who speak of an ideal future where our loved ones are always with us in one form or another,” argues Norm Wilner at NOW Toronto.
Dear Evan Hansen (dir. Stephen Chbosky)
“We all know art can be healing. But the creators of the new film Dear Evan Hansen, based on the lauded stage musical, take that job literally,” writes Johanna Schneller at The Globe and Mail. “But should art declare its intent to change lives? Can a film have a mandate – an unsubtle one to boot – yet still be effective?”
“[S]creenwriter Steven Levenson has made some changes that soften the musical’s cynical look at the influence of social media,” notes Glenn Sumi at NOW Toronto. “Platt reprises his Tony Award-winning role with an intense, intimate performance that only occasionally feels creepy because of his advanced age, and he’s well supported by Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani and Amy Adams.”
“The show’s most famous song, ‘You Will Be Found,’ makes for a powerful and poignant moment, and the film, although wonky at times, is neither too sentimental, nor too dark,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “At the end of the day there’s a mix of poignancy and hopefulness here and that’s what sticks.”
“I went in as skeptical as ever, but I wanted the film to give it its shot on its own terms,” says Jason Gorber at That Shelf. “It’s actually extremely well put-together as a musical. The musical writing is phenomenal.”
“[Directed with] sensitivity, emotion and care while injecting just the correct amount of humour to keep the film interesting while keeping the film’s sombre tone,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
East of the Mountains (dir. S.J. Chiro)
“Tom Skerritt’s profound, authentic performance as a widower with terminal cancer gives life in all its shades, to East of the Mountains. Incredibly this is the 88-year old’s first lead in a 59-year career in superlative supporting roles!” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
The Guilty (dir. Antoine Fuqua)
“Jake Gyllenhaal blazes as a hotheaded cop assigned to 911 call centre duties, seeking in real time to find a distressed woman (Riley Keough), a possible kidnap victim, while L.A. literally burns from climate-change wildfires,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Antoine Fuqua’s remake of a 2018 Danish movie, working a script by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) is the rare redo that exceeds the original.”
“Rarely do remakes capture the lightning in the bottle of the source material,” agrees Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “But The Guilty does, no doubt in part because screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto, best known for the True Detective series, drafted Gustav Möller, who wrote the original screenplay for and directed the original. Whether a remake was needed remains debatable, but the vision remains intact.”
“[A]t its heart this is a simple, spine-tingling tale of a man working with limited resources and a finite timeframe to solve a mystery,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “It works in any language, and if you haven’t seen the Danish original, this one will do nicely.”
“The Guilty is an all right watch, an OK thriller with nothing exceptional and with lots of Gyllenhaal’s closeups,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller chats with Jake Gyllenhaal and Antoine Fuqua about how the shot the film so quickly during the pandemic. “My work gives me the opportunity to exorcise feelings that so many people would be holding in – about the climate emergency, the police killings, the pandemic,” says Gyllenhaal. “I’m so grateful I have a safe space to come to and express the anger I have, the pain I’m feeling, the anxieties and the terror I think we’re all feeling. It’s the essence of why I love to act.”
The Hidden Life of Trees (dir. Jorg Adolph and Jan Haft)
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it “intelligent, quiet, and insightful.”
“A pro-environmental protest is thrown in and, in the last segment, Wohlleben joins Dr. David Suzuki onstage on Vancouver Island, where they discuss the short-sightedness of the logging industry,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “But by the end, this gentle meandering film about a man who loves forests feels at least half-nonsensical.”
I’m Your Man (dir. Maria Schrader)
“It’s a rich story full of fun, wonder, lapses and questions about the ethics of robot love and partnership, big questions dealt with in sweet ways,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said.
“[Dan] Stevens speaks flawless German, but the oddity of him in a foreign-language film gives Tom an otherness that plays into the movie’s concept,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “There’s also a sense of Germanness (or Deutschtum if you prefer) to I’m Your Man that has me cringing at the thought of an American remake, perhaps also starring Dan Stevens alongside someone like Sandra Bullock.”
“Do androids dream of electric heartbeats?” asks Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “The plot’s happily not robotic, addressing questions of whether circuits can match cells in determining humanity.”
Intrusion (dir. Adam Salky)
“Dishing out stand horror fare, including cheap typical jump scare (like loud noises and sudden appearance of people), there is nothing really fresh in this supposedly horror thriller,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan (dir. Patrick Trelfz)
“[A]n intriguing film examining the genius and madness of an artist,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Maria Chapdelaine (dir. Sébastien Pilote, 🇨🇦)
“Pilote and his cinematographer Michel La Veaux have made every frame look like a master painting,” raves Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Maria is beautiful as a Renaissance painting. She’s at one with her world and takes pleasure at her part in the family. The world around them is also beautiful, from the neat farmhouse, and scenes of the family having dinner by lamplight, to the landscape.”
“As the fifth adaptation of Maria Chapdelaine, Pilote’s version should serve as the definitive take,” notes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Gilles Carle made a respectable effort in 1983, but Quebec’s film scene has simply advanced so strongly since then. Pilote’s film is a remarkable achievement: intimate yet epic, this Maria Chapdelaine feels as fully realized as an adaptation could be.”
“Pilote’s version clocks in at 2 hours and 38 minutes, and spends a great deal of time setting the scene, and the pace, of life in the region at the turn of the last century,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s a wise choice; even today’s Quebecois are so far removed from the culture of les habitants that a bit of decompression is needed.”
Martyr’s Lake (dir. Ruth Platt)
“Moody, atmosphere, slow burn stuff, not for children,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Even so, Kiera Thompson is a tiny miracle as Leah, carrying this intense psychological thriller on her wee shoulders.”
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (dir. Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri)
“Today [Björn] Andrésen is a troubled, sad senior, living in isolation and squalor in Stockholm, still trying to process the bomb that exploded his life,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “He reveals lifelong and unimaginable struggles in this sensitively made film.”
“While one can appreciate that Andrésen didn’t ask to become a gay icon, Boy inadvertently adopts an undercurrent of homophobia,” admits Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Andrésen mostly seems intent on proving his heterosexuality and making audiences know that Visconti endowed upon him an unwanted label.”
Rushed (dir. Vibeke Muasya)
“[Siobhan Fallon] Hogan’s characterisation of Barbara is memorable; she’s the person you’d want on your side. Her passion, strength and fearlessness are inspiring,” says Anne Brodie at What She Said.
Saint-Narcisse (dir. Bruce LaBruce, 🇨🇦)
“The subtle/unsubtle shifts in the story don’t always feel entirely balanced, but LaBruce delivers both B-movie thrills and his most beautiful-looking feature while leaving a lot on table thematically for the audience to reflect on,” notes Kevin Ritchie at NOW Toronto.
“LaBruce knows a striking leading man when he casts one,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “Duval commands the screen in both roles (though playing Daniel demands he dial down Dominic’s brashness).”
“As a twin, I must admit that Saint-Narcisse gave me the willies,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “However, one can’t help but admire how valiantly LaBruce owns his ‘That’s how it is in our family’ tale. Get thee to confession, Bruce!”
“Delightfully bonkers, with risible dialogue and a horniness bordering on porniness – the opening sex-in-a-laundromat scene sets the tone nicely – Saint-Narcisse clearly believes that you can’t be a crowd-pleaser until you please yourself,” chuckles Chris Knight at the National Post.
Sankofa (dir. Haile Germina; 1993)
“Say what you like about Netflix and its meagre classic film catalogue,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “In the case of Sankofa, a canonical modern African American film, the mainstream streamer has beaten the prestigious Criterion Collection to the punch.”
The Year of the Everlasting Storm (dir. Anthony Chen, David Lowery, Jafar Panahi, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, Malik Vitthal, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
“The film ends with an odd short from Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, featuring insects crawling on an empty bed. It looks like an art gallery installation. I couldn’t connect with it,” admits Chris Knight at the National Post. “But I loved the shorts from Panahi and Lowery and, to a lesser extent, those from Poitras and Chen.”
A Festival of Festival Coverage: the TIFF after party
ICYMI: several TFCA members weighed in with their picks for the best of the fest in our critics’ poll. See the results here.
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah picks his top ten films of the festival, including Ali & Ava, Petite Maman, and Huda’s Salon.
At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell recaps the best films and strongest Oscar contenders from the fest. Jane Campion’s Power of the Dog is best in show.
At What She Said, Anne Brodie recaps some TIFF highlights, including Lakewood, The Good House, and Nobody Has to Know.
At Film Comment, José Teodoro and Adam Nayman gap about TIFF highlights including Silent Land, Benediction, and Sundown.
At RogerEbert.com, Jason Gorber reflects on the changing nature of the festival and the implications of this year’s event.
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen recaps the TIFF Docs line-up. His favourite? Flee.
At That Shelf, members Jason Gorber, Courtney Small, Victor Stiff, and Pat Mullen join Emma Badame to discuss the highs, lows, and hidden gems at the festival like Saloum, Dug Dug, and a little movie called Dune.
TV Talk: A Bunch to Binge
At Original Cin, Liam Lacey describes The North Water as the anti-Ted Lasso, writing, “Let me introduce you to a different kind of English drama, The North Water, the antidote to Ted Lasso-itis. If anyone in this audaciously bleak series gives anyone else a warm hug, it’s probably accompanied by a shiv under the rib cage.”
At NOW Toronto, Norm Wilner looks at Foundation, which mostly seems interested in, er, laying the foundation for a second season: “Foundation might throw some curve balls at the faithful with its first couple of episodes…but it’s still an airless thing, all portent and anticipation for the story to come. This has been a problem with a lot of these fantasy and sci-fi shows, and with the larger streaming model in general: entire season of televisions are being produced as a tease for the next one, the better to keep subscribers sticking around to see what happens next.”
At What She Said, Anne Brodie says Good Grief is good stuff: “There are unstoppable and deeply inappropriate giggle fits, too much fortifying wine and self-doubt and it looks like they’re about to dash their grandfather’s dream of keeping the place in the family. Fun, irreverent, with an occasional dark but funny in retrospect event, like the girls having a fistfight in front of a mourning family. This is truly a unique series.”
At NOW Toronto, Radheyan Simonpillai swipes through the web series Next Stop: “The six episodes, roughly 10 minutes a piece, can feel half-formed. The performances can be raw. But what makes Next Stop connect is the vibes – a feeling that we’re eavesdropping on conversations that are happening across the city, and even on Instagram and TikTok, among a demographic that rarely (like never) finds its way into Canadian film and TV.”