Reviews include Solo, Swan Song, and Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe.
TFCA Friday: Week of Sept. 30
September 30, 2022
Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.
This week in movies!
Acid Test (dir. Jenny Waldo; Oct. 4)
“Most important is the fact that the protagonist is female, the story is female oriented with a strong female voice, with the male voice not put aside (her father’s words make sense), a common trap that many female slanted films fall into,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
Athena (dir. Romain Gavras)
“In a way, Gavras has made the perfect anti-Netflix film – giant, intimidating, requiring your rapt attention – even though he knew exactly under which depressing circumstances his work would ultimately be seen,” argues Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “Partly shooting with a digital IMAX camera the size of a fridge, Gavras and his dedicated team – including cinematographer Matias Boucard and editor Benjamin Weill – have created something so impressively monstrous, so larger than life, that only the biggest of big screens can possibly optimize its maximalist glory.”
Bros (dir. Nicholas Stoller)
At CBC Arts, Peter Knegt reflects on the preimere of Bros and speaks with star/co-writer Billy Eichner: “Understandably, those of us rooting for more queer representation on the big screen were a little nervous that Bros might not deliver on the ridiculous amount of things a film in its position is expected to be: funny enough, thoughtful enough and most importantly, queer enough. And thankfully, Bros more than succeeds on all three counts.”
“Bros is a gay romantic comedy made for a LGBT audience from the more graphic sex scenes (not private parts shown though) and its culture constantly on display, though straight audiences would enjoy the film too,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “But the film unfortunately falls into the trappings of a Harlequin styled romance, complete with obligatory obstacles and a totally predictable reconciliation, destroying all of the freshness and originality of the first two thirds of the film.”
“Their relationship is a microcosm of ‘How gay should I be?’ sexual politics. And it is just one thematic ball director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and producer Judd Apatow juggle as the movie dances around its love story. There’s also diversity and privilege within the gay community that must come together to build this museum,” observes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “What’s remarkable is how the “funny” remains primary amid all these socially conscious sidetracks.”
“But it is Macfarlane’s performance that truly seals Bros’ deal,” observes Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “The Canadian actor, who has spent the past decade playing the lead in a dozen Hallmark Christmas movies, is a revelation here: wry, affecting and relatable even with an eight-pack and impossibly handsome smile. Sure, the movie pushes Bobby into such annoying territory that you begin to wonder what, exactly, Aaron sees in him. But somehow Macfarlane sells the relationship. Welcome to the big screen, bro. It’s a pleasure watching you and Eichner make history.”
“Eichner and Macfarlane have great chemistry, but they’re not required to do all the heavy lifting,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “The film features some great cameos by Bowen Yang, Harvey Fierstein, Amy Schumer and more. Oh, and three words that are comic gold: Debra Messing freakout.”
“Let’s not overlook the wonder of this year’s ditched-to-streaming Fire Island, nor the cracks The Birdcage, In & Out, and countless indies bitch-slapped into the ceiling, but there’s something unique about laughing collectively with two thousand people in a theatre over gay jokes where the gays aren’t the butt of the joke,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “More exciting than the milestone, however, is the happy relief that Bros delivers as a movie. It’s f***ng hilarious. Filmgoers from all stripes of the rainbow, and their allies, should laugh from beginning to end. Bros is a sharp, funny, and spot-on portrait of gay life.”
Dead for a Dollar (dir. Walter Hill)
“While the central conflict involves the social outsider Borlund working out his ethical obligations to the independent Rachel Kidd, their story gets hopelessly entangled in distracting side plots. Too many promising characters have their brief colourful moment on the screen before being Whack-a-Moled out of existence in a way that doesn’t offer either dramatic satisfaction or a sense of justice,” writes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “Enjoy Dead for a Dollar for what it is though: an erratically entertaining contrivance that links the Hollywood past and present, from a filmmaker who’s been there.”
From the Hood to Holler (dir. Pat McGee)
“Before one (especially non-Americans) is quick to dismiss the doc as a film irrelevant, it should be noted that there is much to be learnt from director McGee’s crowd rousing (and feel good) doc,” advises Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
God’s Creatures (dir. Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer)
“Anchored by a superb performance by Emily Watson, God’s Creatures is a small, quiet film that packs a surprising punch. It’s not easy to categorize. It’s a family saga and a morality story, but goes deeper to talk about legacy, about reconciling a broader history as a mother is forced to look at what she believes,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “Watson stars as Aileen O’Hara, a manager at a fish plant in a small tight-knit Irish coastal community. Fishing, in particular oyster fishing, is the main industry here. It seems that everyone in this small town is somehow related to it through family or work.”
“The three leads all do excellent work, but I was struck by Mescal as Brian, having seen him at the Toronto festival playing a very different character in the incredible family drama Aftersun,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “God’s Creatures is the chance for filmgoers to see him in the early days of what will likely be a long and fruitful career. And the film itself is a revelation, a conversation-starter and a delicate, nuanced portrait of trauma and grief. You don’t have to be a mother to know it’s worth watching.”
“The new psychological drama, which premiered at Cannes this year at the Director’s Fortnight, set in an Irish rural fishing village, sinks the audience in the tense atmosphere held by the powerful performances of lead actors Emily Watson and Paul Mescal,” observes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
“Darkness falls on the community pitting neighbour versus neighbour, family against family, and Emily her religious faith versus her lies and knowledge of her son’s true nature,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Gripping, heightened tension provides the engine for this unusual character study of a woman, her son, and a community.”
The Good House (dir. Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky)
“Sigourney Weaver talks to the camera like Deadpool in The Good House, a mild, seniors-friendly romantic comedy that also doubles as a 100-minute public service announcement about the dangers of alcoholism,” sighs Chris Knight at the National Post. “It’s enough to drive you to drink.”
“How bad must things get before she commits to sobriety?” asks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “This story about redemption and love and taming recklessness is a gift and Weaver’s wonderful, speaking to us directly about [Hildy’s] reality.”
“This film wouldn’t work without Weaver, who gives a fresh, honest portrayal of Hildy Good,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “As for Kevin Kline, there may be some disappointment. He’s not the close-mouthed New England worker-type at all. Though we see some lovely gestures between Weaver and Kline—after all they were in Dave and The Ice Storm together in the Nineties—their rapport isn’t extraordinary. Still, it’s fine to see them together again after more than 20 years.”
“The film transitions from mild comedy to serious drama not too smoothly when Hildy starts getting into trouble for her drinking, with a few too many subplots that lead nowhere, but are there just for a bit of humour,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever (dir. Peter Farrelly)
“While 2018′s Green Book isn’t exactly a masterpiece, it is a work of high art compared to The Greatest Beer Run Ever, a tonally off and exhaustively glib effort that starts off dumb, then gets dumber,” chugs Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail. “As played by an extremely eager-to-please Zac Efron, Chickie comes across as a well-meaning idiot so obtuse that you cannot possibly take any of his actions half-seriously.”
“Unfortunately, The Greatest Beer Run Ever lacks the wallop of Green Book,” admits Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “There’s no ‘ah-ha’ moment when Chickie realizes that America shouldn’t be in Vietnam. In fact, he may never have felt that way; all that Chickie admits is that the situation isn’t as easy to understand as World War Two. And Chickie’s pals enjoy him, but their attitude may be summarized by Pappas’ observation: ‘Chickie, you’re all heart. But I’m not so sure about your brains.’ Over half a century later, the audience will likely feel the same way.”
“One must give Peter Farrelly credit. The Greatest Beer Run Ever actually makes Pabst Blue Ribbon seem refreshing,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Admittedly, it is Ball Scratching: The Movie with its portrait of buds, brews, and bravery.”
Hocus Pocus 2 (dir. Anne Fletcher)
“Midler’s fabulous theatricality is the film’s sweet spot, her delivery and physicality are off-the-charts funny and yes there are drag dance numbers!” cheers Anne Brodie at What She Said. “The final chapter’s a tad dark but what do you expect when you venture into the woods with a headless zombie and the Sandersons? Watch for Hannah Waddingham.”
At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “delivers very much of the same with little or no surprises in story or plot twists.”
The Justice of Bunny King (dir. Grayson Thavat)
“This is the feature film debut of New Zealand director Gaysorn Thavat, working from a script by fellow New Zealander Sophie Henderson,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “They’ve crafted a story about a woman who is complicated and resolute, trying to manipulate a system that she can’t pierce. Bunny’s driven by great love but can’t get her head far enough above water to comply and isn’t always aware of how the people around her are feeling.”
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
“An extremely watchable film, director Amirpour invests time and attention to her characters so that the audience cares for them,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Her film flows along smoothly but not without direction. One can see her characters grow in terms of maturity and personality.”
Nothing Compares (dir. Kathryn Ferguson)
“Filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson’s Nothing Compares, a no-holds-barred portrait of an artist years ahead of her time, illustrates what made her a success and what happened when she had it,” writes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “At once empowering and alarming, Nothing Compares reminds us how wonderful raw talent can be and that we should appreciate it and the person with the gift.”
“Due to legal complexities, the Prince-written song doesn’t appear at all, and rights issues are often the bane of music docs,” notes Jason Gorber at POV Magazine. “Yet there’s a story there, about how someone who always spoke her truth found her greatest financial (and, arguably, artistic) success with words written by another for another. How that song came into O’Connor’s life, how it’s affected her since, and how something that she made internationally famous yet prevented from truly calling her own are questions left unanswered.”
“New interviews and a brief performance supplement a wealth of archival material, including an off-camera confessional moment in which she describes the abuse rained upon her as a child by her ‘beast’ of a mother,” writes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “The pain never stops for O’Connor: shortly before the premiere of this doc at Sundance in January, her 17-year-old son, Shane, committed suicide.”
Red River Road (dir. Paul Schuyler; Oct. 4)
“Red River Road is a low budget little film that succeeds in delivering the chills and psychological terror that isolation brings to a typical family,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It is perhaps one of the better Pandemic related films made during the Pandemic and about the Pandemic that is entertaining enough to make its point.”
Sissy (dir. Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes)
“(Cecilia is subject to) extreme bullying both mentally and physically,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “What Cecelia must do to survive makes this story intriguing.”
Smile (dir. Parker Finn)
“Finn takes full advantage of the brain’s inability to process the kind of vast dichotomy between appearance and intent. It’s just plain creepy when the pleasant assumptions we attribute to something like a smile breaks down in the face of horrific acts of self-harm,” says Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “If only Finn had more faith in the effect of his premise. Instead, his go-to method is the jump-scare. Sometimes it’s a sudden noise in the dark or the abrupt appearance of a smiling predator, or an unexpected jump-cut into a new scene. Sometimes it’s just the cat.”
Tales from the Gimli Hospital (dir. Guy Maddin; 1988 🇨🇦)
“It’s gorgeously crisp, the sound pure perfection, and includes a long-lost scene of the 1988 cult classic about blistering lust and seething envy during a 19th-century epidemic ravaging Gimli, a small Icelandic-Canadian fishing village on the shores of Lake Winnipeg,” Anne Brodie at What She Said notes on the restoration.” Inspired by silent and early film techniques and film scores, Maddin’s ultra-surreal style, and story are miles from home, figuratively speaking, and an important landmark in experimental film. Maddin told me recently that early screenings in ’88 found most audience members walking out and TIFF rejecting its inclusion in the fest that year. Different story now.”
What We Leave Behind (dir. Iliana Sosa)
“Though not directly topical or political, it’s a story that evokes the long history of U.S.-Mexico cross-border immigration through the experience of Sosa’s bi-national family,” says Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The subject is the filmmaker’s grandfather, Julián Moreno, a man who holds that ‘Life is hard work,’ and who puts his belief into practice. In his late ‘80s, he decided to build a cinderblock house next to his home in rural Mexico. His hope was that his extended family —seven children and their off-spring living on both sides of the border — could sometimes come and stay there after he was gone.”
Deep Dives: Blonde, Bandit, Books, and Doc Talk
At Zoomer, Nathalie Atkinson dives into Blonde, the Marilyn Monroe biopic that doesn’t seem particularly interested in her career or acting chops. “The film Blonde, meanwhile, exhumes Monroe’s victimization in a way that feels like disturbing her grave and blowing the dust off a peacefully decomposing corpse,” writes Atkinson. “Mistaking trauma re-enactment for insight and empathy, Dominik covers 30 years of the actress’ life, from childhood molestation in orphanages and foster homes to failed pregnancies up to her untimely death from barbiturates overdose in 1962, at the age of 36, by working backwards from photographs taken throughout Monroe’s life. The string of re-enactment scenes are filmed in either black and white or colour; there’s no narrative reason for the back and forth, beyond the goal of being faithful to the original source photos.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with Blonde director Andrew Dominik about his Marilyn Monroe movie that’s inspiring raves and pitchfork-waving: “Everyone who writes about her, whether it’s Joyce or Gloria Steinem or Norman Mailer, their takes on her might be different but the impulse is the same: having this special understanding of her and this sense to kind of see her, what she was going through,” says Dominik. “I don’t think Blonde the film is different from that. That’s the enduring appeal of Marilyn as a figure, this protectiveness that we feel toward her. And that she probably needs protection from us. When you want to rescue somebody, the person they most need rescuing from is probably you”
At The Globe and Mail, Johanna Schneller speaks with filmmaker Chelsea McMullan and learns about their approach to the Tanya Tagac doc Ever Deadly and the dance doc Crystal Pite: Angels Atlas. “What’s impressive about both films is that they capture each performance from the inside, without getting in its way,” writes Schneller. “‘That’s what cinema can bring to live performances – to be allowed in these spaces you don’t normally get to be in,’ McMullan says. A Steadicam operator stood on stage with Tagaq, while McMullan called shots from another room, to echo the live, ‘this happens once and never again’ intention of Tagaq’s improvisations. McMullan used seven cameras to shoot a full performance of Angels’ Atlas, and four cameras to capture rehearsals and added performance material.”
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes speaks with Bandit stars Josh Duhamel and Elisha Cuthbert about drawing inspiration from the people who inspired their characters. “[H]e was more interested in talking about how he was able to cut his turtlenecks off in the back and he cut the sleeves off, because it’s easier to pull off when you leave. It’s all about getting in and out as quickly as possible,” Duhamel told Fernandes on trying to get tips from his real-life counterpart. “He really wanted to talk to me because he wanted me to talk to the producers about when he was gonna get paid.”
At POV Magazine, Susan G. Cole looks at two docs about the 1972 Canada-Soviet Union hockey series, Ice-Breaker and Summit 72, and asks if it’s time to reconsider sport’s role in the national ethos: “Also left out is the sad state of hockey at the time,” writes Cole. “Pierre Trudeau and his hipness notwithstanding, Canada and its favourite sport were not beacons of enlightenment. Summit 72 handles this deftly if obliquely, showing the retro beer ads that accompanied the game, ads that, among other reactionary elements, highlight extreme gender roles. As for the hockey, the players were all white, the women’s game was virtually non-existent, the NHL was five years into their greed-driven expansion and the stage was being set for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Broadstreet Bullies to overtly deploy and celebrate violence as a strategy for winning.”
At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz chats with novelist Iain Reid about his new book We Spread, the upcoming Foe adaptation, and why his latest novel started out as a script. “It was around the time that I was working on writing the screenplay for Foe with Garth [Davis] – and I had never written a screenplay before, or even read many – and I had an idea that came out of the blue,” Reid tells Hertz. “It didn’t feel like a novel, it was very visual. I tried it as an exercise. There are more constraints as a screenwriter: it has to clock in around 100 pages, it has to have lots of dialogue. But the constraints were freeing in a way.”
At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen responds to the New York Times’ recent coverage of the documentary Jihad Rehab and alleged censorship: “While the Times gave [Meg] Smaker her rightful opportunity to offer a riposte, it only told half the story. The article amounted to a dangerous and insidious act of gaslighting. It was classic ‘look over there!’ misdirection to change the narrative,” writes Mullen. “As critics, programmers, filmmakers, and audience members in the documentary field, it is our job to question everything we see. That isn’t censorship. It’s active viewing, and it’s our responsibility.”
A List of Lists!
At Night Vision, Peter Howell breaks down the box office, which gave Olivia Wilde little reason to worry as her embattled Don’t Worry Darling rode waves of controversy to #1: “It’s the first movie to film at the Kaufmann Desert House, a modernist landmark in Palm Springs made famous by the 1970 Slim Aarons photo, ‘Poolside Gossip,’” notes Howell.
At the Toronto Star, Marriska Fernandes breaks down a dozen hot contenders in this year’s awards race. Among them? The women (and man!) of Women Talking: “Based on the novel by Miriam Toews, it follows women in a Mennonite colony deciding how to handle an epidemic of sexual abuse,” writes Fernandes. “The film is anchored by riveting and emotionally complex performances from a stunning ensemble cast. Buckley and Foy are almost certainly getting nods, while Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand and Ben Whishaw are also solid candidates for supporting role nominations.”
At Night Vision, Peter Howell lists five nuggets from Jordan Peele’s conversation about Nope earlier this month at TIFF. Among them? How he and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema made the sky look so sinister. “There’s something that nobody really knows,” says Peele. “On one hand, the clouds are CG, right? The clouds we had to kind of create, One of the elements about the sky that I think is particularly fascinating that people don’t know, because I haven’t wanted to ruin the illusion — but I’ll ruin it for you today! — is the night shots for the most part were shot at day. Which is due to a technological and strategic thing that (van Hoytema) brought to the table.”
TV Talk: Truth and Pastries
At What She Said, Anne Brodie recommends True Story for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation viewing: “True Story is an eye-opener, and because it is so well made, is also a superior documentary that may promote understanding, communication, and fellowship.” For much – much – lighter fare, there’s the return of The Great Canadian Baking Show, featuring “Friands, an Australian almond cake, Brazilian Rollo de Bolo de Rolos, a Brazilian rolled guava cake, and a breakfast-themed cake, all of which challenge the skills and spark the imagination of the competitors.”