Comedy

Review by David Baldwin

I have been trying to write a review for Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense for over a week now. I am at the point in my life where free time is slowly dwindling down, and adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it keep amping up. I do chores in and around the house, and by the time I get to writing, I just end up staring at a blank Word document and falling asleep. But in all of that time, I have not stopped thinking about Stearns’ film. It has lingered at the back of my mind, popping up when I least expect it and bringing me snide joy more times than I can count.

And I would like to think that would make Sensei proud. But I also think that he would consider me less of a man for feeling this way. Probably even less than that for using the words “snide joy” in a sentence.

If reading that sounds a bit toxic, offensive and more than slightly emasculating, than The Art of Self-Defense may not be for you. The tale of Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), his desire to learn how to defend himself, and his admiration and later obsession with the local dojo run by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) starts off innocuously and humourously enough. But around the halfway mark, it jumps the rails and morphs into the bleakest, darkest satire imaginable – something that practically wrecks of toxic fumes. And it happens to be one of the funniest comedies of the year thus far.

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Review by David Baldwin

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are about to finish high school. They are at the top of their class in academics, and both have extensive plans for the fall and beyond. But on the eve of graduation, they realize how much of the high school experience they missed out on by spending all of their time studying. So they set out to party and change the impressions their classmates have of them – that is, if they can find the right address for the biggest party of the year.

I saw Booksmart just over two weeks ago and I am still laughing just thinking about some of the jokes and wild moments packed into it. I was afraid going in that the buzz out of the SXSW Film Festival would overhype and overtake the movie for me. But rather delightfully, Booksmart met and surpassed every single one of my expectations. It truly is the real deal. And while it is easy to read the plot description and believe it is like any number of other teenage coming-of-age comedies (or specifically assume it is a gender swapped Superbad clone), it is actually something much greater than that.

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Review by David Baldwin

The premise of The Last Summer revolves around that small window of time for high school grads just before they go to college and continue their march towards jobs, adulthood and the real world. It is a magical time because you are on the precipice of a new adventure and are literally about to turn your back on who and what you were in the past. I do not really remember my own “last summer” much — I think I went to a few parties, hung out with my now ex-girlfriend, went on one small trip and definitely watched a ton of movies. I spend more time thinking nostalgically about that entire school year, what a wild adventure that was, all the friends I made (and the few I still remain in contact with) and all the memories I made that continue to bring me great joy.

I think that is why I was really cautiously optimistic about checking out The Last Summer when I saw the trailer a few weeks back. I was hoping it would evoke nostalgic memories for me and think about those friendships and adventures. And having Riverdale‘s K.J. Apa as the lead of a fairly recognizable ensemble didn’t hurt either.

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Review by David Baldwin

Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) and Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) have just broken up. They were dating for 9 years in New York City, but decided to end their relationship when Jenny gets her dream job at Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco. With one week until the big move, she looks to her friends Erin (DeWanda Rise) and Blair (Brittany Snow) to help cheer her up and go on one last adventure.

It took me two tries to watch Someone Great. Admittedly, I was extremely tired the first time I watched first-time director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s film and fell asleep after about 20 minutes. But I watched it again from the start the next day, and immediately realized what a terrible mistake I made. Robinson has created a raw, emotional, and charming film that speaks to what friendship means in the face of becoming an adult — and the maturity on display here may catch you off guard.

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Review by David Baldwin

What I have always found fascinating about movies is the fact that once they are finished and released into the world, they rarely change. Sure there have been Director’s, Extended and Unrated Cuts released after the film’s initial release (Ridley Scott is the KING of tinkering with his movies and never being satisfied with any of his final cuts) but they rarely alter the original content or message. They merely add to and/or enrich and/or destroy the viewing experience. What does change, almost every single time, is how we as individuals feel about the movie we are watching. It’s not unheard of to watch a movie you liked for the second or third time and have absolutely no idea why you ever enjoyed it in the first place, or vice versa. And I find that this ideal happens substantially more often for films I see at festivals, specifically the Toronto International Film Festival.

I mention and namedrop TIFF because the first time I saw Unicorn Store was at its World Premiere screening during the festival back in September of 2017. It was Day 5 of the festival and my first movie of the day. I had slept in that day not just due to exhaustion from the previous four days, but I was also still reeling from seeing mother! the night before (I went into that movie completely blind as my fifth movie of the day and was not okay afterwards). I was excited to see Unicorn Store that day for multiple reasons: it was Oscar-winner Brie Larson’s directorial debut; it was playing at my favourite venue, the Ryerson; and it was not an obscenely priced Premium ticket to pick up. I sat down in my seat, took not-all-that subtle photos of the celebrity sitting behind me (the team flanking him was less than thrilled), and waited for the film to start.

Looking back at my Twitter feed from that day, it looks like I enjoyed the film for the most part. But as days and weeks turned into months, I forgot about it and it quickly became one of four movies I saw during that festival that never officially saw the light of day again. Flash forward over a year and a half later, and Unicorn Store is finally being released on Netflix. But a lot can change in that amount of time, even if the movie itself has not done much changing.

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Review by David Baldwin

My exposure to Mötley Crüe has been limited at best. I played their songs in Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I was briefly obsessed with “Kickstart My Heart” after hearing it during the trailer for the all but completely forgotten Clive Owen romp Shoot ‘Em Up (do you remember that movie? I own in on DVD and remember literally nothing besides Owen’s character liked to chew carrots like Bugs Bunny and used one to stab a guy). A girl I was intrigued with had a grotesque image of a two-faced demon from Nikki Sixx’s book The Heroin Diaries tattooed on her hip. That’s pretty much where my knowledge begins and ends.

Oh, and I watched Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s sex tape when I was a teenager, as you do.

So when it came time to watch The Dirt, I was at a bit of a loss. Do I wade in as blind as possible or do I look up some of the stories? Do I just trust that the filmmakers will be honest in their portrayals? And if they aren’t, will the movie and music be entertaining enough for me to completely look past it?

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Review by David Baldwin

I turn 32 this weekend, so my future mortality has been top of mind as of late. I am not sure if 22-year-old me would be excited or disappointed at who I have become. I have had highs, lows and plenty of what-have-yous over the past 10 years and am literally coming off the most exciting year of my life. Some of these moments were planned, some not so much. Some were those classic “Jesus Take the Wheel” moments you can never have too many of. So while my writing situation is less than ideal at this given moment (a grungy food court in downtown Toronto where a couple is breaking up feet away from me), I was very much in the right frame of mind to watch Paddleton, the latest Netflix film from the Duplass Brothers.

Paddleton revolves Michael (Co-Writer Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano), best friends who live in the same apartment complex. They are both single and hang out together often – mostly at Michael’s place, which is on the ground floor directly below Andy’s. Michael has terminal cancer and has been given only months to live. Neither are ready to lose the other, but Michael wants to be sure he makes the decision on how he leaves this world.

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Review by David Baldwin

When I pitched watching Velvet Buzzsaw to my wife, I mentioned that Dan Gilroy had written and directed two other films: Nightcrawler, which I love, cherish and still to this day remain devastated did not land Jake Gyllenhaal a Best Actor Oscar nomination; and Roman J. Israel, Esq., a total mess of a movie that landed Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar nomination, despite featuring the single worst performance Denzel has ever given. The film was better used as a punchline in a Weekend Update sketch involving Bill Hader’s Stefon which still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

So needless to say, it was a 50/50 shot going into Velvet Buzzsaw. I refused to watch the trailer (and you should too) and tried my very best to stay away from any and all of the Sundance reviews. But even after seeing Gilroy’s mash up of satire and horror set in the world of art dealers, creators and critics, I am still sort of confused about what a Velvet Buzzsaw is. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of whatever Gilroy thought he was making here.

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I didn’t hate Fifty Shades of Grey when I watched it at a packed screening back in 2015. And I didn’t hate Fifty Shades Darker when I watched in at home last Spring in all its timid “Unrated” glory. Both films were badly written and badly acted, but they were functional pieces of entertainment that were clearly not designed for me. They provided some intentional and unintentional laughs, and were not nearly as bad as some of the films I actually went to see purposely.

But the finale, Fifty Shades Freed — or climax as the posters so playfully tease — is a whole other beast entirely. And while I joked on Facebook that it was a “triumph of cinema”, it is easily the exact opposite.

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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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