TFCA Friday: Week of September 20th, 2019

September 20, 2019

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

Opening this Week

Ad Astra (dir. James Gray)

I never would have predicted that James Gray would make an interplanetary riff on Apocalypse Now. But here it is, and here we are, with an apocalypse that’s much smaller and more personal despite the fate of all known life hanging in the balance” — Norm Wilner, NOW Magazine

There’s a familiarity to some of the trappings in Ad Astra that have been elevated by intriguing curveballs that play with audience expectations of sci-fi conventions, all of them delivered with a straight face and artistic conviction” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Incorporates big ideas and big screen visuals in an attempt to not only entertain, but to inspire. Its mission is to create something magical, and in many ways it does so, granting us a vision of interplanetary travel that feels both authentic and operatic at the same time” — Jason Gorber, High-Def Digest

Gray seems unsure of his story here, although he handles a blockbuster better than we might have suspected. You can bet that random thriller sequences on the moon and Mars and inside an abandoned spacecraft were introduced to give the story a stronger pulse — something the movie needs, even if Roy doesn’t” — Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

A bold attempt to do something new with the genre, and that alone deserves some applause. But its muddy storyline and limp plotting only proves how difficult it can be to weld big ideas to a rocket-science framework. A minor miscalculation is all it takes for your film to fail to reach orbit” — Chris Knight, The National Post

Takes us to the edge of the solar system for a story about fathers and sons in [this] sincere, but predictable and maddeningly cliche [film]” — Karen Gordon, Original-Cin

A thinking person’s adult space movie” — Gilbert Seah, Festival Reviews

Before You Know It (dir. Hannah Pearl Utt)

Slight and overly whimsical but not without its charms, Before You Know It tells the story of two very different sisters who must deal with the death of one parent, and the subsequent news that the other, whom they thought dead, is still alive” — Chris Knight, The National Post

There are so many tantalizing themes at play – gentrification, generational change in the arts, grief and parental estrangement – but much of Before You Know It’s emotional terrain is left under-explored” — Kevin Ritchie, NOW Magazine

Ingratiating, messy, and sporadically amusing, [this] American indie dramedy aims for that poignant-screwball sweet spot of celebrated television series like Arrested Development or Transparent” — Liam Lacey, Original-Cin

Director Utt elicits family dysfunction with ease — the trouble is that she does not know what to do with it” — Gilbert Seah, Afro Toronto

Downton Abbey (dir. Michael Engler)

The film’s merely high-toned soap opera, but veteran TV director Michael Engler successfully blends humour, pomp and pathos. The Abbey is reassuringly stunning to look at – and its traditions and routines deliver a nostalgic look at a Britain way before Brexit” — Glenn Sumi, NOW Magazine

The excuse here, if you need one, is the royal visit to Downton Abbey by King George V and Queen Mary” — Gilbert Seah, Festival Reviews

So much to absorb!  This highly polished follow-up is a joy, the look, sound, musical themes and the characters are heightened for the fans” — Anne Brodie, What She Said!

There are a couple of racy kisses, and a long denouement after the climax of the film, which is when – wait for it – dinner is served” — Chris Knight, The National Post

Ultimately, this is one for the fans… for them, the movie is a chance to revisit and find out what their beloved characters have been up to in two years of screen-time” — Karen, Gordon, Original-Cin

I would strongly advise against anyone unfamiliar with the show from trying to go into this world cold, but it has an overall savviness and willingness to entertain as broadly as possible without betraying the complexity that made the series alluring to so many viewers in the first place” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Honey Bee (dir. Rama Rau) 🇨🇦

Stone, who at 21 has already built an impressive body of work in Canadian indies… is as good as she’s ever been in this movie, physically conveying Natalie’s constant fight-or-flight state while still showing us the scared, vulnerable kid trapped inside it. Honey Bee is all the stronger for having her at the centre of it” — Norm Wilner, NOW Magazine

Nathalie is obliged to go to high school, where she gets a detention because she loses her temper and shows entirely too much knowledge in sex-ed class. (I have a feeling Honey Bee is a movie that ends up getting shown in that kind of class)” — Liam Lacey, Original-Cin

Rau’s documentary background lends an air of authenticity to the already serious subject matter, and the script she’s been given (courtesy of Bonnie Fairweather and Kathleen Hepburn) is outstanding” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band (dir. Daniel Roher) 🇨🇦

The film, the recent gala opener at TIFF 2019, is very much Robertson’s version of the truth… but the story rings true as it accounts how drugs, petty jealousies and other demons ultimately undid these Fab Five musicians” — Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

Like sharing a 90 minute ride in a train car with Robertson, but never asking him a question that would cause him to get up and walk away from the conversation” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Get thee to a theatre for the big screen experience” — Anne Brodie, What She Said!

Catnip for Baby Boomers, and anyone else who cares about how we got to the musical here from the musical there” — Liam Lacey, Original-Cin, including an interview at POV with the filmmaker (and Robbie himself) 

Garth Hudson is still around but gets little screen time in Daniel Roher’s documentary, which seems content to let Robertson ramble on, unchallenged” — Chris Knight, The National Post

At Sharp, Pat Mullen talks to director Daniel Roher on the pleasures of telling this story

One Cut of the Dead (dir. Shinichiro Ueda)

Wildly inventive and endlessly unique, One Cut of the Dead is one of the most ambitious and entertaining genre experiments ever concocted” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Rambo: Last Blood (dir. Adrian Grünberg)

There’s some inspired bloodletting here and there to get heartbeats racing and action movie aficionados’ fists pumping in approval, but one will have to sit through a lot of dull, uninteresting, uncomfortable, and flat storytelling to get there” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken (dir. Morgan Spurlock)

Gone is the everyman filmmaker seeking the truth, and its place is a savvy operator who cracked the formula for stunt journalism and is keen on running it into the ground” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Send Me to the Clouds (dir. Teng Congcong)

A multi-layered, keenly perceptive, and admirably uncompromised look at growing old and staying single from a female perspective in a country where women have been perpetually undervalued, Send Me to the Clouds has rich cultural specificity but enough universal themes that it could be remade in any country in the world with only a handful of tweaks” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

Toxic Beauty (dir. Phyllis Ellis) 🇨🇦

Might be a documentary about the unseen killers lurking in one’s household, but it’s also a hopeful tool for change” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

[This] excellent cautionary documentary takes big pharma to task in ways rarely acknowledged” — Anne Brodie, What She Said!

Doesn’t tell women to go home and raid their vanity kits, but it might inspire them to. It’s really asking women to show the world that beauty, intelligence, and resilience are not mutually exclusive” — Pat Mullen, POV Magazine

Zeroville (dir. James Franco)

Isn’t a satire of Hollywood excess putting an end to one of the most formative eras in cinematic history, nor is it an impactful love story. It’s a giant shrine to James Franco and every talent that he wants to show off to the world” — Andrew Parker, The Gate

But for all its hallowed movie references, and despite the pride Zeroville takes in its weirdness, it just might be a movie too strange for its good” — Thom Ernst, Original-Cin

TIFF 2019: Post-Mortem

At Maclean’s, Brian D. Johnson writes on the 14 films that are likely to please Oscar in February

On Long Takes, Pat Mullen chats with Louise Archambault and her new film, “And the Birds Rained Down”

In the Toronto Star, Peter Howell writes about Bruce Springsteen at the festivaland his favourite films of the century (so far)

Also on Long Takes, José Teodoro discusses the many TIFF selections that probed narratives of class mobility