Reviews

#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.

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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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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.

So there was a really big learning curve this year taking the whole week off for TIFF: do I see as many movies as I possibly can, or do I only see a select few and spend the rest of the week writing? As you can probably tell, I picked seeing the movies. I have 3 scheduled for today, but the first does not start until 6:45 tonight — and tickets are still available, so I am not anticipating a crowd.

I’ve been running behind on posting photos as well, so here’s a taste of the main cast from Spotlight on stage after the premiere on Monday, along with the real journalists they were portraying:

spotlightcast

So here are a few more things I learned, or have confirmed over the past few days:

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