Drama

Review by David Baldwin

For as far back as I can remember, I have had Sundance Film Festival FOMO. Going to Cannes will likely remain a pipe dream for the foreseeable future, but the prospect of going to Sundance is much more attainable — just a matter of the stars lining up in just the right pattern (and my wife granting me permission to skip her birthday to spend a week in Utah). Until both of those things happen or Hell freezes over, I will continue to sit by idly paying attention to all of the buzz coming out of the festival every January and make a mental list of all my must-see films.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was one of those films and was one I assumed I would have to wait until the Fall to see at TIFF. Thankfully, the film showed up a whole lot earlier. The buzz has remained high ever since the January premiere and I have heard and read the word “Oscar” being thrown around in a completely serious way. And when that happens, it can go one of two ways: it can be warranted or absolutely preposterous. And despite the lengthy and obnoxious title, I hoped it was the former and not the latter on this one.

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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

I love watching the Oscars. Full stop. Despite the on-going shenanigans the Academy continues to pull on a daily basis, not to mention the seething and vile commentary from bloggers and Film Twitter, I am still very excited for this year’s ceremony. But much like the rest of you, I rarely know which Short Films to pick when I am filling out my ballot for the yearly office Oscar pool. I have had some successes in the past — and by sheer luck, went 3/3 way back in 2004 and then never again — but I typically miss properly predicting these categories entirely.

So when the opportunity arose to watch and review these films this year, I jumped at the chance. I am always well versed in the nominees for the major categories, but the Shorts have consistently been a major blind spot. And now I’m slightly more optimistic at my future picks this year. I still need to catch up on the Documentary Shorts, so today I will focus on the Animated and Live Action Shorts.

Here’s hoping the Docs are a little more uplifting, because if there’s anything these short films have in common so far, it’s that they are very bleak and depressing. And the majority of them involve children.

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Another year, another TIFF. It was my ninth year in a row of going to the festival, and my second time covering as Press — but first time where I actually used the pass as it was meant to be used. The less said about the last time, the better.

I watched 5 films before the festival, 44 films during (my own personal record!), attended 2 Press Conferences, 1 Jason Reitman Live Read (for The Breakfast Club no less), and even had some time leftover to skip a whole day to attend the wedding of a dear friend. Through all the smoking and deep, depressing films, I had a total blast and cannot wait for next year. Perhaps I’ll budget my sleeping better so I don’t doze through a good portion of a movie like The Old Man & The Gun? Probably not, but I can at least pretend that I’ll try.

I wrote quite a few words for Mr. Will Wong on a number of the films I had the opportunity to see, so here are the individual links to those reviews and the links to the Press Conferences I covered:

CAPSULE REVIEWS
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Fahrenheit 11/9
First Man
The Front Runner
Halloween
High Life
Hold the Dark
The Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway
Let Me Fall [Lof mer ad falla]
Life Itself
Mid90s
Monsters and Men
Nekrotronic
The Predator
A Private War
The Public
ROMA
Les Salopes or the Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin [Les salopes ou le sucre naturel de la peau]
A Star is Born [2018]
Wildlife

FULL REVIEW

White Boy Rick

PRESS CONFERENCES

First Man
The Front Runner

roomstill

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.