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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.

 

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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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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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There is a fierce bidding war on-going for Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore, and for good reason. It is unlike anything we have ever really seen in a movie before. Think the video game series Call of Duty meets Crank (which itself was akin to a video game), but high on cocaine. The lead character is named Henry, but he is really you since the film takes place entirely through first person POV. He has just been brought back from the dead as a super soldier, and when his wife is taken from him, he intends to destroy his way through Russia until he finds her.

Hardcore is a bit weak storywise (and somehow moderately confusing with some character motivations), but it makes up for it all in its relentless and kinetic visuals. The camera is always moving and the action very rarely stops. And it only becomes more intense and ridiculously violent as it goes along. Thankfully the film never feels like a gimmick like that sequence we all remember from the Doom film adaptation in 2005. Naishuller uses the camera to feel like a genuine part of the action, allowing for the visuals to become truly creative and inventive. Sharlto Copley of District 9 and Elysium shines as a bizarre accomplice and guide named Jimmy, giving a performance that is beyond description. He is off-the-wall and practically delirious in nearly every instance. If you can think of the most ludicrous thing you can while reading this, chances are Copley does it during the film (including an absolutely insane musical number).

Hardcore will not be for everyone — a person fainted at my screening, and it is quite nauseating in some instances with the way the camera moves. But it is a lot of fun, and a product that feels genuinely unique. Prepare yourself and strap in for the ride.

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American Ultra – Review

By David Baldwin

Six years ago in the thick of Twilight fever, Kristin Stewart starred with Jesse Eisenberg in the little seen but ridiculously enjoyable and offbeat Adventureland. It tragically came and went without much fan fare, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the film has still not found its true audience. The film was great, and the pair were great together. And now they are reuniting for this week’s offbeat American Ultra — and it may prove to be another film that will struggle to find an audience.

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner living with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) in a small US town. He is not all there and has a number of behavioural and social problems. While he struggles to control his issues, he harbours a secret even he does not know — he is actually a fully trained government operative, and has been marked for extermination. But all bets are off when this “sleeper agent” is activated.

It gets a little more complicated from there, but at its heart, American Ultra wants to be a genuinely silly action/comedy. It just lacks all the ingredients to successfully pull it off.

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As a writer, my problem has consistently been brevity. I always write too much and tend to overwrite in some cases. So as an exercise, I’ve devised #ShortCuts — short, timed reviews that I write within 15-minutes, check for spelling and grammar, and that’s it. The idea is a bit daunting for someone who has never really been limited with what he writes, but it’s something I’m keen to try out. I will continue writing long form reviews, but may try to post these a few times every few weeks and see if it helps make my writing a bit more concise.

With that, here are my #ShortCuts reviews for Hot Pursuit and Unfriended, both hitting Blu-ray/DVD this week.

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Southpaw – Review

By David Baldwin

If you have had the misfortune of seeing the trailer for this week’s Southpaw, you may be disappointed when you watch the movie. It is common place for a film trailer to give away the best parts of the movie. That is nothing new. But Southpaw‘s trailer gives away all but the entirety of the film. A little disheartening but even with that in mind, the film may still rank as one of the best this summer has given us.

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unstoppable force as a boxer. He has a storied past as an orphan and a criminal, but he turned it all around with the help of his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). He is at the top of his game when tragedy strikes, losing Billy everything including the custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). With nothing to lose, he turns to veteran boxing trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) to help him turn it all around.

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As a film fan in Toronto, I can say I am very excited to see Suicide Squad when it is finally unleashed next August. And I can say I was even more excited to finally see some legit footage from the movie yesterday.

I have been following it intently, and even went to a few of the outdoor shoots throughout May. I was there the first night when Will Smith and apparently, Ben Affleck, were on set. I saw a bit of the digital effects work going into scenes with Smith and Margot Robbie outside of Bay Station (made up to look like a subway station from Metro City).

And I even got to see the friggin’ Batmobile one night alongside well over 500 other people cramming onto a long block of Yonge Street. It was so crazy that night that filming was delayed for 4 hours, and the on-duty police told people they had to go home before shooting would commence again. This, after they escorted the Batmobile up and down the street in all its glory.

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Furious 7 – Review

By David Baldwin

I am at a loss for words trying to write this review of Furious 7 – or as the film’s credits and director James Wan call it, Furious Seven. The series has developed a core fan base that continues to grow with each new entry in the genre-bending action saga, and they all come expecting to see ludicrous action set-pieces and insane stunts. And of course, the occasional race or two.

On all of those fronts, Furious 7 delivers in spades. Whether it be a brutal fist fight, a daring hillside chase and rescue or grand theft auto from the top of skyscrapers, the film one-ups itself at every chaotic turn, pausing only momentarily between each action beat. It concerns itself very little with its threadbare revenge story and characters, focusing more on the goofy one-liners and the set-up for the next action scene. It is thrilling and wildly exhilarating, and IMAX only bolsters the insanity.

Now if this sounds like exactly what you want to see, then you will not be disappointed in the least.

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