Review by David Baldwin

Akemi (musician MASUMI) is a Japanese orphan living in São Paulo, Brazil. She has had extensive fight training since she was a little girl, but has very little idea about her past. When her grandfather is murdered and mysterious stranger Shirô (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) saves her life with an ancient sword, Akemi quickly discovers she is the heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate in Okinawa. And the other half happens to want her dead.

For a film called Yakuza Princess, you might expect a non-stop action thriller with that kind of synopsis. And while there is certainly some action and thrills scattered throughout the film, it is actually more of a slow moving drama about a young woman discovering her past and coming to terms with the destiny in front of her. There is a lot of exposition, even more backstory and a whole lot going on between characters in Okinawa and São Paulo (which houses the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan). It gets a bit overwhelming at times, and some moments have a languished pacing that can be trying even at the most exciting of times.

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Image Courtesy of levelFILM

Review by David Baldwin

Casi (John Boyega) is an idealistic public defender in New York City. He wants to believe in the system, even though he knows it will keep failing him and his clients. On the verge of being disbarred, he takes on the case of Lea (Olivia Cooke), a former client and someone Casi happens to have a crush on. She has gotten mixed up in a scheme to steal an impounded car that is stashed with heroin and has her own motivations for wanting to be involved. As Casi begins seeing signs of impending universal destruction, he decides to get involved too.

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Review by David Baldwin

Beckett (John David Washington) is an American tourist traveling through Northern Greece. After a tragic car accident, he finds himself on the run from the police and embroiled in the middle of a political conspiracy. With a language barrier and no one to turn to, Beckett must rely on himself and the kindness of strangers in order to survive.

Beckett may sound interesting on paper, but after the initial prologue, it very much devolves into watching Washington run through Northern Greece for nearly 2 hours and not much else. It takes a few turns and drops in a few thrilling moments (along with some gorgeous outdoor vistas and visuals), but it fails to keep your interest and never really feels like a cohesive picture. The conspiracy driving the film is more of a MacGuffin than anything else, and we never really get to know any of the characters or their motivations beyond the surface level. The film moves slowly, yet never stops to deliver any sense of introspection or depth. It just keeps focusing on Washington either getting injured, running or struggling to avoid dying.

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Review by David Baldwin

I watched Annette a few nights ago, and have been racking my brain trying to find the words to properly describe it. It is a truly unique vision that is equal parts brilliant and bewildering. At the same time, it is profoundly weird and destined to be polarizing. This rock opera (which I guess would be the closest genre description?) will not be for everyone and I expect many will straight up loathe its very existence. The film World Premiered just under a month ago at the Cannes Film Festival as the Opening Night selection and received a 5-minute standing ovation (which bored Adam Driver and Director Leos Carax so much that they started smoking in the middle of it) as well as the Best Director prize.

Annette centres on Henry (Driver), a comedian married and in love with opera singer Ann (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard). They both have their separate careers and goals, but all of that changes irrevocably after the birth of their daughter Annette.

Knowing this and very little else beyond what I gleamed from shortened Twitter reactions, I prepared to see something crazy. And while it indeed is the certifiably bonkers vision I expected, it is also deeper and more introspective than I ever could have imagined.

So may we start?

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Review by David Baldwin

Every time I see or hear the name Jean-Claude Van Damme, I chuckle to myself. I did not gravitate to his work nearly as much as I should have growing up in the 90s, but the work of his I did watch (specifically the ludicrous Die Hard riff, Sudden Death) was a whole lot of fun. Although he was a total blast to watch in more recent fare like JCVD and The Expendables 2 — where he hammed it up as the lead villain — he has not been nearly as prevalent or visible in the ensuing years trying his best to remain relevant. The same cannot be said for a few of his 90s competitors, but then the ‘Muscles from Brussels’ was never as wildly popular as some of those guys.

Which is a shame, since he’s an actual fighter and could probably kick the shit out of all of them (or at least look super cool doing the splits during the fight in a way literally no other man on Earth can). And he has one of the best last names for an actor ever.

I mention all of this because The Last Mercenary is not so much a return to form as much as it is a deliberately over-the-top play on those ridiculous 90s action thrillers. Even in saying that, it’s more of a parody of those kinds of movies than an actual proper entry in the genre. Van Damme plays Richard Brumère (aka ‘The Mist’), a legendary secret service operative who vanished into thin air nearly three decades ago. When his son Archi (Samir Decazza) is falsely accused of being an arms dealer and drug trafficker, Brumère comes out of hiding to protect him and help clear his name, all while evading the French authorities who desperately want to take him into custody.

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Review by David Baldwin

After an extended prologue, we flashback to Elias (Carl Anton Koch) checking himself and his mother Nadja (Peri Baumeister) in for an overnight flight from Frankfurt to New York. She is sick and not with him; instead taking heavy drugs in her hotel room and prepping for an experimental treatment in the US. Shortly after getting in the air, terrorists seize control of the plane and start making demands and taking hostages. Nadja gets caught in some crossfire and is believed dead — that is, until she reveals herself to be a vampire hellbent on protecting her son from harm.

Yes, you read that right. Nadja is a vampire and she is stuck on a transatlantic flight filled with mostly innocent passengers turned hostages and a batch of deadly terrorists, including the enigmatic Eightball (Alexander Scheer), who seems to have it out for her. What could possibly go wrong?

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Review by David Baldwin

As Fear Street Part Three: 1666 opens, Deena (Kiana Madeira) has flashed back to 1666 and inhabits the body of the infamous Sarah Fier (also played by Elizabeth Scopel). As Deena learns some long hidden truths about Fier and the curse she placed on Shadyside, she must also race against time in 1994 to save her girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) before it is too late.

The end of Fear Street is here. All the secrets are laid bare, all the puzzle pieces have come together and Co-Writer/Director Leigh Janiak has completed her film trilogy based on R.L. Stine’s book series. As I have mentioned in a past review, I was excited at the prospect of a three-film series of interconnected films being released over three weeks in the middle of what is traditionally the summer blockbuster season. While I had my reservations about the structure and plotting, I watched each film enthusiastically – or as enthusiastic as possible – and have no idea how I would have survived if the films were released in theatres months apart from each other. It truly is the kind of franchise I would have adored as a teenager and young adult.

All of that to say, Part Three is my favourite of the films and left me very bloody satisfied.

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Review by David Baldwin

Who is Anthony Bourdain? Prior to a few weeks ago, I really had no idea. Despite not watching it, I knew he was a chef who traveled and ate foods from all over the world on a popular TV show called Parts Unknown, and I knew he had committed suicide. And that’s where my knowledge of this legendary artist ended.

Enter Academy Award-winner Morgan Neville’s documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. It’s a lengthy title for a suitably lengthy film. Yet, it does not really feel very long at all. It opens as Bourdain is working on his future best-selling book Kitchen Confidential and quickly blasts into orbit as he starts traveling the world and becoming an international celebrity. It charts the highs and lows of his personal life, his addictive personality, his profane give-no-fucks attitude and the demons he was facing internally. Talking head interviews with family, close friends and his production team are peppered throughout, along with narration from the man himself and a treasure trove of candid and behind-the-scenes footage.

So needless to say, I am very aware of who Anthony Bourdain is now – or Tony as his friends called him.

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Image Courtesy of FOFS

By David Baldwin

Though I have always gravitated towards watching feature-length films, I have found over the past decade that I have increasingly become more interested in experimental short films. The breadth of ideas in these films is staggering and the way filmmakers compose and tell their stories in such a short time is simply miraculous. Some of these films work and look slick, while others fail and look incredibly amateur. But the passion radiating from these films is second to none. You can tell from every frame just how much love went into their creation. I worked on a few short films with my brother over the years, and the camaraderie and collaboration that went into those productions gave me a deep appreciation and admiration for the format.

I say all of this because I am excited to see what the 8th Annual Future of Film Showcase has to offer this July. I only knew about the festival showcase in passing previously, and this is the second year in a row where the work of 11 filmmakers will be available for all Canadians to watch for free on CBC Gem from July 9-22. I had the opportunity to screen four of the films in advance and if this is what we have to look forward to, I cannot wait to see what the rest of the festival will have in store.

Here’s a little preview of what to expect:

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Review by David Baldwin

It is the summer of 1978 at Camp Nightwing. The Shadysiders and the Sunnyvalers are at odds with each other as usual and are just about to start their annual Paint War tournament. As the campers are out having fun, the witch Sarah Fier has unwittingly possessed one of the camp counsellors. As bodies start to pile up, everyone must do what they can to survive the night.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 owes a lot to the Friday the 13th film series and countless other 1970s/1980s era slasher films. From the look and feel, to the ominous atmosphere and chilling soundtrack, right down to the horny and drug-obsessed counsellors, there is no stereotypical character or moment left unaddressed here. Well…maybe some midnight skinny-dipping. Beyond that, it will be incredibly challenging to miss checking off everything else you can think of from this immortal genre. Part Two wears all of its references and homages like a badge of honour and delights in putting the cast through hell as they avoid the killer’s ax. It knows what it is and does its very best to look radically different from its predecessor.

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