Suicide Squad – Review

By David Baldwin

If anyone asked what my most anticipated film of the year was, I would be lying if I did not say Suicide Squad. Ever since it filmed in Toronto last spring, I have been waiting feverishly for its release. The prospect of seeing some of these wildly audacious characters on-screen for the first time was more than enough reason for this Batman fan to be excited, even if some of them are a little less well known than others. My faith was nearly broken by how disappointing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a few months ago, but the wildly entertaining trailers for Suicide Squad kept my hopes high.

Then the negative reviews started popping up. And then a truly baffling petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes went public. And now there are articles about some really messy behind-the-scenes drama. Surely DC and Warner Brothers would not let down all the fans and moviegoers who invested their time and faith into yet another comic book adaptation.

In Squad I trusted.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

By David Baldwin

I have always loved Batman. I watched the VHS tape of Tim Burton’s 1989 film religiously as a kid, played with plenty of action figures and playsets, read the comics, watched all the movies, played the video games — I even wrote my fourth-year university thesis on the character’s representation in film up to that point. So no matter how good or bad the trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice looked, I still held out hope it would be great and remained excited for its release.

As I wrote yesterday, I did not hate Man of Steel, nor do I hate director Zack Snyder’s admittedly uneven body of work. And while it used to be embarrassing to say out loud, I have always liked Ben Affleck as an actor and even more so as a director. So with tempered expectations, I ventured into the so-called “fight of the century” tonight knowing it was taking a beating from the critics. But can it really be that bad? Or was my faith rewarded?

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It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these, but I’m hoping to start doing them a lot more often — along with a complete site refresh. And despite having a whole lot more to say, I figured this was the best film to restart with.



After rewatching Man of Steel for the third time, I still do not vehemently hate it as much as everyone else does. Yes, it changes the character irrevocably and yes, it really does feel like it should have been called Superman Begins with how closely it plays alongside the story beats of Batman Begins. But it is an entertaining and bold film, and one that actually made me like the character of Superman. No small feat since I have always been Team Batman.

I give credit mostly to Henry Cavill. He needs to stop yelling so much, but he brings a greater sense of gravitas to the role than anyone before. Christopher Reeve is the definitive Superman no doubt, but his take was larger than life. Cavill’s is more down to earth, more gritty and more real. We no longer look at him like he is an alien from another planet. We look at him like he is an extraordinary human being who can do things no one else can. And I think that alone makes him a stronger and more believable character.

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thegiftposterThe Gift got lost in the shuffle before TIFF earlier this year. I had heard increasingly great things about the average-looking thriller, and finally found some time to see it at the end of the summer. And now I regret not encouraging more people to check it out too. From the moment the film starts, it is anything but average.

Joel Edgerton (who was terrific in the under appreciated Black Mass) writes, directs and stars in this suspenseful gem that starts off akin to Fatal Attraction, before becoming its own scary thing entirely. It is easily one of the most unsettling films I have seen all year. It is the rare film that feels creepy and leaves you disturbed long after its twisty finale. The camera lingers too long on some moments, and adds some genuine horror to others. You expect some flaws from a first-time director, but Edgerton is a pro and makes you feel every range of emotion possible over the course of The Gift‘s lean 110-minute running time. Not one moment feels wasted, and it never really slows down. Edgerton is great in his supporting role, and Rebecca Hall is even better.

But the real standout is Jason Bateman. He plays the slimy prick character he has nearly perfected since Arrested Development, but he is completely devoid of all comedy here. And Edgerton taps into that archetype and turns it on its head, giving us what might be the best performance of Bateman’s career (Teen Wolf Too notwithstanding). It just feels so natural and brings a dramatic gravitas that you would have never expected from him. What easily could have been phoned in turns into a perception altering game changer. I have long waited for him to try something different, and hope he continues to be more daring in his future roles.

When Pixels came out earlier this year, everyone took their turns hating on it. I was excited to see it because of the Toronto connection (I walked through a literal war zone near my girlfriend’s apartment on Queen West), but there was not much else drawing me to it. And after watching the movie, I can say I did make the right decision skipping the theatre.

It’s not that Pixels is a bad movie — no, it is certainly far from. There is a lot of fun and wild imagination going into some of the battles with classic 1980’s video game characters. If you know the characters and the games, then you will be astounded by some of the details that have gone into bringing these characters to life. And they all look and sound authentic to the time period — a feat in itself considering the money that must have gone into licensing them all (Mario shows up for a brief cameo, and I’m sure that alone cost millions). It reminded me a lot of the wonder I had watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? when I was a kid, and the fascination I have to this day of seeing Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse talking to each other.

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It has been two weeks since I watched Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, the eventual winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF, and it remains in my mind the best film I saw during the festival. The power, emotion and harrowing beauty of the film is quite remarkable, and it has left a lingering impression that has not dissipated since it’s Canadian premiere. You have likely read a lot of hyperbole and praise for the film by now, and not think much of it. But believe me, it deserves all of the hype and more.

I knew very little about Room going in, and feel it is the best way to see the film. But suffice to say, the film follows the lives of Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (an absolutely incredible Jacob Tremblay). They live their lives in a confined room, hoping to break free. The circumstances of their captivity are disturbing, but no more so than Jack not knowing about anything outside of the titular Room.

Room is an emotional gut punch from beginning to end. It stuns in its simplicity, and never overly complicates itself explaining everything we do not see. Abrahamson navigates the abrupt tonal shifts very well, moving with ease from the likes of psychological drama to a breathless thriller. Even better, it is narrated and follows the point of view of Jack, making for many moving and deeply emotional scenes. But Room never feels like it is pandering to the audience — it earns every single feeling you have watching it.

As suggested, the young Tremblay is astounding as Jacob. He brings a genuine feeling to each moment in the film, whether his character understands what is happening or not. Watching and experiencing the film through his eyes is simply mesmerizing, and almost shifts your perception of what Room is actually about. He is the heart and soul of the film, and I fear for what it would have looked like had Jack been played by someone else. And Larson truly breaks out here as his Ma, giving one of the most brilliant performances of the year. Where Tremblay brings absolute joy to the film, Larson brings a harrowing darkness and deeply disturbing psychological neurosis. Her character is damaged, and watching her cope with everything that happens is a master class all on it’s own. She commands every moment, and you simply cannot look away from her when she is on-screen.

Room may be hard for some to watch, but it is a genuinely powerful film that is simply unmissable. It has a simply story, but packs incredible Oscar-worthy performances from its two young leads. This is a bonafide Oscar contender in every sense of the word, and I cannot wait to see it again. When it hits theatres near you, trust me when I say do not wait to see it — rush out and see it as fast as you possibly can.

Spotlight opens in a police station in the late 1970’s, before cutting to the more modern 2001. It is supposed to be an early set-up and introduction to this true life tale of a group of journalists uncovering corruption within the Catholic church in Boston (and later and more horrifically, worldwide), but it also suggests nostalgia for the era a film like this would have thrived. They just do not make slow-moving procedurals like this anymore, with no gloss, no flair and a mantra of “just the facts mam”.

But much like it’s grandfather All the President’s Men, Spotlight is a riveting piece of cinema that feels authentic and real. There are no superheroes saving the day, just honest, hardworking journalists who stopped at nothing to deliver a story they knew people needed to know about. It may feel slow and long-winded in certain instances, but no frame or detail goes wasted. In fact, the film seems so driven on chronicling the story that it barely mentions 9/11, using it only to establish the film’s timeline. That is certainly not something we have come to expect from American cinema, but director Tom McCarthy has never been one to follow typical conventions. While he may have struck out with last year’s Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler, he has always strived to be unique and atypical with his previous films like Win WinThe Visitor and The Station Agent. With Spotlight, he continues that trend and will become a director to truly look out for now.

Acting wise, everyone is at the top of their game here, from Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, all the way down to scene-stealers like Stanley Tucci and relative unknown Brian d’Arcy James. There are no stand outs because everyone seems to be on the same footing, all working together much like the team in real life, to deliver a truly moving and captivating film. As a student of journalism, I could barely look away from what was happening on-screen; I was just fascinated from beginning to end. The story at the heart of Spotlight may be despicable, but seeing how the team broke the news to the world is a more than worthwhile investment.


Nearly two weeks later, and I am still not quite sure what to make of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. It was a curiosity when I first picked it in my TIFF package, and remained that way well after it premiered at Telluride and Venice. I have always admired his work, and he was one of my favourite screenwriters for a very long time. But he has been entirely absent from the big screen since 2008’s Synecdoche, New York — a film that is easy to admire but hard to sit through — and his only credit since is for an unaired FX pilot starring Michael Cera.

But you would never think any of that based on how wonderful a film Anomalisa is. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a motivational speaker on a trip to Cincinnati. Michael has no real drive, and nobody stands out to him — everyone just sounds and looks the same. He meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and is immediately quite taken with her.

Revealing anymore about this unconventional romance would be a disservice to Kaufman, his co-director Duke Johnson and their extremely talented production team. The description may not have hinted at it, but Anomalisa is filmed entirely in stop motion, with puppets, and only has three credited voice actors starring in it (the other is character actor Tom Noonan, who does his very best to make every character sound just as mundane and ordinary as the next). But I cannot even begin to imagine this as a live action film. It just has too much imagination and wonder compacted within its 90-minute running time. While the look of the film is truly wonderful, the details of each puppet are even more spectacular. The emotions they display are nothing short of astonishing, and truly compliment the impeccable voice work.

Kaufman’s screenplays have by and large been about people on the fringes of life, wrestling with internal conflicts and how mundane life can become. And Anomalisa is no different. It says so much, by saying very little. I enjoyed it by and large, but there is something about it that is compelling me to revisit it as soon as I possibly can. And with Paramount buying and releasing the film by year’s end, it will not be nearly that long a wait.

Anomalisa does not quite measure up to the brilliance of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it is yet another eclectic and unique treasure that only a man like Charlie Kaufman can deliver.

So it’s the day after TIFF, and I’m exhausted. I got a lot of sleep yesterday since I decided against seeing the People’s Choice Award winner — Room. I had already watched it on Tuesday at the Toronto premiere and after watching the trailer today and getting choked up just watching fragments of the film, I think I made the right choice.

And yes, it is just as terrific as you have heard. I will have a more comprehensive capsule review for it later this week. So in the meantime, here’s a few smaller reviews (along with links to the films’ synopses), along with a picture of the special guest from the Midnight Madness screening of Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse. It’s best you don’t ask what it is, because I am still not sure.


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