Reviews

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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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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Review by David Baldwin

I watch a lot of movies, so it seems to shock friends and co-workers any time I have not seen the popular movie of the moment as quickly as they have. I usually have the standard excuse of “It’s on the list” or “I’m waiting for Netflix”, but as must-see content continues to pile up on an almost hourly basis, I find myself consistently behind the curve. Quitting my full time job is not an option (especially when you’ve only recently become a full-time homeowner), so I’m constantly playing catch-up.

I say all of this, because the last few weeks have been dominated by discussions about Christmas, New Year’s, whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie (spoiler alert: It is), and Bird Box. The film premiered with little fanfare at AFI Fest in November (mostly because they cancelled their Red Carpet coverage out of respect for on-going wildfires terrorizing California at the time), but has since become one of the most watched original Netflix films, has inspired conspiracy theories about the veracity of the memes about the film being posted on Twitter, and now has inspired its own social media challenge related to activities being performed while blindfolded.

So yes, it makes sense that someone would be surprised I had not watched the film just yet. I made a point of fixing as soon as I possibly could.

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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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#TIFF17 has come and gone, and like most years — it kicked my ass. I saw 32 films this year between Thursday September 7 and Friday September 15 (along with 4 before the festival even began), shattering my previous best of 25 films from previous years. And I tied my personal best number of films seen in 1 day at 5. I was hoping to see 6, but the combination of Revenge starting almost an hour late (at 1AM no less) and the eye-opening experience of watching mother! were a bit too much to handle. So while I am disappointed that I cut this year short, I am more than satisfied with what I did see.

I had a lot of activity going on Twitter reviewing all the films quickly, but did get to write out a few journals for the great Oscar-tracking site NextBestPicture.com. Here are the links to the journals filled with thoughts on the films I saw, as well as some of my experiences (including getting to tell Nicolas Cage he was my spirit animal!).

On the Ground at TIFF – Days 1 & 2
Film Highlights — Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!

On the Ground at TIFF – Days 3 & 4
Film Highlights — The Current War, Molly’s Game, mother!

On the Ground at TIFF – Days 5 & 6
Film Highlights — Darkest Hour, The Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water

On the Ground at TIFF – The Final Days
Film Highlights — Mudbound, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And here are the links to the capsule reviews I wrote for my favourite film and celebrity news site, Mr. Will Wong:

Lady Bird
mother!
The Shape of Water

Until next September!

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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 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.