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Review by David Baldwin

When we first meet Anne (Deragh Campbell), a single daycare worker from Toronto, she is prepping to go skydiving for her best friend’s bachelorette party. The overwhelming experience and new sensation she felt jumping out of a plane changes her — she starts to be a lot more care-free at work and home, much to the chagrin of everyone around her. Very quickly, Anne begins spiraling and starts blurring the lines of what is socially acceptable and what is not.

After watching Anne at 13,000 ft. earlier this week, I immediately regretted skipping it at TIFF 2019. Writer/Director Kazik Radwanski has composed a terrific character study about a woman on the edge that is equal parts intimate and invasive. The film is shot entirely in close-up shots, and has a habit of shifting from absolutely riveting to completely unbearable in the space of a single breath. It always feels honest, and Radwanski never shies away from how uneasy a situation Anne is in — or how awkward she makes the people around her feel. It was a lot to take in watching on my computer monitor; I can only imagine how much more intense it would have been to watch on a theatre screen.

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Review by David Baldwin

Malcolm (John David Washington) is a filmmaker and Marie (Zendaya) is his long-term girlfriend and muse. They are tired, hungry and getting home late after the biggest premiere in Malcolm’s career. He is on edge as they await the first trade reviews. She is not feeling too appreciated after Malcolm missed thanking her in his film introduction. What starts as some mild bickering quickly morphs into a fight that will test the strength of their patience and their relationship.

Finally, the release of Malcolm & Marie is upon us. The film was hyped as one of the first major motion pictures filmed and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic (which was reason enough to be curious), but it has also been the source of immense controversy recently due to the large age gap between Washington and Zendaya. In a pre-pandemic world, this might have only created a light discussion that did not get much traction. But in a world dealing with an on-going pandemic, it took on a whole new meaning and dominated the conversation around the film after the marketing started to kick into high gear.

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Review by David Baldwin

Edee (Robin Wright) is looking for a change of scenery, far away from the city and the life she wants to leave in the past. She settles into a cabin in the remote mountain wilderness of Wyoming with some food and supplies, but deliberately chooses to have no car, no phone or contact with the outside world. While things start promising, Edee quickly becomes in over her head with how unprepared she is for the harshness of her new reality. A chance encounter with local hunter Miguel (Demián Bichir) changes everything as he begins teaching her the skills she needs for survival.

Despite being made before Covid became our harsh reality, Land ends up feeling like a movie tailor made for the feelings many of us are having daily. Loneliness, depression, isolation and hopelessness are universal themes for all of us right now, and they are some of the biggest themes coursing through Land’s veins. Robin Wright does an excellent job capturing all of it as both the film’s lead and as its director (her feature film debut!), really allowing us to feel every moment of Edee’s journey of self-discovery. The way she uses the space is terrific, whether it is by showing how confined Edee’s new home is or how small she is amongst the vast unexplored wilderness. The natural lighting allows for some truly gorgeous cinematography (the Canadian Rockies stand in for Wyoming, and they look stunning) and while it may seem trivial, it was refreshing to see a film like Land filmed with a steady, static camera and not a handheld or shaky cam.

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Review by David Baldwin

The Blooms were an adventurous family who loved spending time outdoors. That changes in an instant during a trip to Thailand when Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) falls from a platform in a freak accident, breaks her back and becomes paralyzed from the waist down. While Sam and the family learn to cope and understand her new disability, they take in an injured magpie they affectionately name Penguin, or Peng for short. While this new member of the family is initially a burden on Sam, it slowly starts to aid in her recovery.

Penguin Bloom is an inspiring true story that would have really flourished if it were able to have a flashy physical premiere at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival. The cast would have attended, and the real life Bloom family would have been there too. I can practically feel the energy and thunderous standing applause at the Princess of Wales when the real Sam Bloom wheeled herself out on stage. It would have been a triumphant and vividly emotional moment. Covid robbed us of that, and instead it premiered online and in sparsely attended Lightbox screenings because the festival was only able to sell a set number of seats to each screening. A far cry from the days of 2000+ people crammed in at Princess.

I missed Penguin Bloom at the festival and ended up watching it on Netflix from the comfort of my living room a week ago. I was safe from Covid, but it was an even further cry from that theoretically triumphant premiere that was never able to happen.

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Review by David Baldwin

Shook and unsettled. That was how I felt after watching Promising Young Woman back in November. I rarely feel either of those emotions watching movies nowadays (especially during a raging pandemic when so little is genuinely knocking my socks off), and after it ended, it felt like entire scenes were seared directly into my brain. I kept thinking about Writer/Director/Producer Emerald Fennell’s debut feature for weeks on end, and kept coming back to what an incredible achievement it was to behold.

I finally received another chance to watch it again this week and hoped it was all hyperbole or something I was just remembering differently. I thought I would feel less shook knowing exactly where it was going. Less unsettled. But those same scenes and moments just struck harder. They echoed and reverberated more powerfully. I still felt the ground give out below and the wind get knocked right out of me. That is what kind of an unforgettable and uncompromising experience Promising Young Woman is. It makes for one of the very best films from last year – and one that might even be hard to top this year too.

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Review by David Baldwin

A mysterious catastrophe has destroyed the Earth as we know it as humanity is slowly poisoned by radiation. With little hope for survival, Arctic-stationed Scientist Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) refuses to evacuate. He wants to stay behind so he can warn the team on the Aether spacecraft orbiting Jupiter to not return. But impending radiation, bad connections, cancer and a young stowaway named Iris (newcomer Caoilinn Springall) all stand in the way of Lofthouse sending his warning.

The Midnight Sky is George Clooney’s most ambitious and large scale directorial undertaking to date. He has mainly gravitated towards period pieces in the past (and whatever the hell Suburbicon was supposed to be), so it was a bit of a surprise to hear he was taking on a meditative science fiction doomsday thriller. I feared he might be in over his head, but my concerns practically vanished within seconds of the film beginning. Everything about the look of this film is great, with the meticulously detailed Production and Set Design really standing out. The Special Effects are strong, but slightly dodgy in some cases (yet still some of the strongest of any Netflix film). The majority of action beats are appropriately thrilling as well, although two are a bit too chaotically confusing for their own good. And the Score by Alexandre Desplat is simply wonderful — alternating between whimsy, melancholy and white knuckle thrills on a dime. Everything about the way The Midnight Sky looks and sounds is terrific.

It’s the rest of the film that is the problem.

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Review by David Baldwin

Jennifer (Jessica Rothe, of the Happy Death Day series) and Sol (Harry Shum Jr., of Crazy Rich Asians and the Shadowhunters TV series) meet, fall in love, get engaged and start planning their happily ever after. But all of their planning changes in an instant when Sol finds out he has liver cancer.

All My Life is based on the true story of two young people from Toronto who fell in love and had all of their plans changed overnight after a terminal cancer diagnosis. The film takes some liberties with their story and changes many of the details (for one, Toronto is no longer a part of the story), but the main love story and cancer elements remain the same — as does the GoFundMe fundraiser that helped the pair get married substantially earlier than planned. It’s a beautiful, romantic and downright heartbreaking love story that will make you smile just as much as it will make you emotional.

When the film hits on those beats, it is truly wonderful. But when it misses them entirely, it just ends up feeling long-winded, melodramatic and far too cliched for its own good.

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Review by David Baldwin

Retired Sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) live on a ranch in Montana. Their only son dies suddenly, leaving them devastated and wanting to spend more time than ever with their young grandson Jimmy. So when their widowed daughter-in-law marries into the dangerous Weboy family years later, it becomes imperative that George and Margaret stay in Jimmy’s life. But the Weboy clan, lead by matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville), may have other plans.

I once described Kevin Costner’s career to a friend as being characterized by him playing either a cop, a cowboy or a fish. Sure I may have only been half-joking about the fish being a go-to (justice for Waterworld!), but the number of movies where he plays a cop, a cowboy or some combination of the two is downright staggering. Let Him Go is one of those films were he gets to combine the two, in a grizzled, “I’m too old for this shit” fashion that I am certain will delight his fans.

But for the non-fans and just about everyone else, Let Him Go might be a bit of a tougher sell. Because while the trailer may suggest it is a nail-biting thriller about the lengths people will go to for family, it hews much closer to a slow burn — one that simmers and fizzles out far more than it should.

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Review by David Baldwin

Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is 8-years-old, friendless and on the autism spectrum. He is non-verbal, so he communicates by writing and typing on his phone and tablet. One night, he awakens to a children’s story on his phone called “Misunderstood Monsters”. The story revolves around a monster named Larry, who longs to be loved and have a friend to play with. As Oliver reads the story, weird things start happening in his room. He thinks nothing of it, but Larry is desperate to make a new friend and will stop at nothing to make sure it’s Oliver.

Prior to this year, I never put a whole lot of thought into the “kids in peril” genre, specifically as it relates to horror movies. The films were either good or bad, and the decisions made by the characters usually landed somewhere between asinine and completely outrageous. Of course I saw myself in the kid characters, but I never really saw myself as one of the parents. But now that I have a child of my own, all I could see when I watched Come Play was how much I related to the parent characters and their struggle to keep their child safe. It was something I could suddenly empathize with, and something I actually understood versus something I merely had an understanding of.

And when I think of it that way, Come Play becomes the kind of visceral, eye-opening experience that I am not sure I will be able to ever watch again while my son is growing up.

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Review by David Baldwin

It has been a few weeks since I watched The Trial of the Chicago 7. And in that time, I have continually put off writing the review. Not because I did not like it and not because I did not want to discuss it. No, the reason I kept procrastinating was because of the nagging feeling I had every time I thought about the film, some nervous tick that kept telling me I should like it much more than I did; how I should be reflecting more fondly on such an important work. That feeling kept manifesting every time I even considered writing and reduced me to staring at a blank page when I should be writing endlessly on this future Oscar-nominee. Part of me wonders if Aaron Sorkin ever feels the same way.

He probably doesn’t. The man is a legendary Oscar-winning writer — to go along with his multiple Emmy and Golden Globes wins — who is more creative than I ever will be. There’s no way he has ever just been caught up in staring at a blank page, unable to get the words out, right? It would be pretty wonderful if he did, if only to make bouts of writer’s block seem a whole lot more acceptable for the rest of us. It’s doubtful he would ever admit that though.

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