Comedy

Review by David Baldwin

A group of supervillains dubbed the “Miscreants” has been terrorizing the world since the 1980s and Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) has devoted her life’s work to developing a formula to create superheroes to fight against them. She has just finished perfecting a treatment – only to have her former best friend Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) accidentally inject herself with it. Now the pair must learn to come together again in order to save Chicago from the group.

I am not sure what I expected from Thunder Force, the fifth collaboration between McCarthy and her Writer/Director husband Ben Falcone. This film has a higher concept hook than their previous films, yet somehow is about what you expect it to be – a lame superhero movie with a few fun moments and a whole lot of world building nonsense. It takes a bit too long to really get moving (blame the endless training montages), but fans of McCarthy’s work will likely enjoy her commitment to every pratfall and asinine moment Falcone asks of her. Should it do well, I have no doubt Netflix will spin the film into a franchise that digs a whole lot deeper into the mythos behind the Miscreants and likely brings new superheroes into the mix to fight alongside McCarthy and Spencer.

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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

I had the opportunity to watch 6 Underground in the theatre last week, and tried my best to start writing the review on the train ride home. But with every word I typed, the more I got distracted. My pounding headache did not help, nor did the burning smell in the train car I was sitting in. It was so awful, so putrid that I could taste it. While it was not ideal conditions to write a review, I feel like it was an apt comparison to watching a Michael Bay film. Especially one like 6 Underground.

It is not that I dislike Bay as a filmmaker. Yes, I hate the very existence of the majority of the Transformers movies (and was so burnt out seeing the first four in theatres that I still have not even bothered to watch Transformers: The Last Knight, or Bumblebee for that matter), but I really dug Pain & Gain, have a special spot in my heart for Bad Boys II and absolutely adore The Rock. For me, that specific film is one of the best the 1990s have to offer – and it remains one of my absolute most favourite action movies ever. The cast, the score, the editing, the pulse pounding thrills. Literally everything in that movie is working on overdrive, and I feel like Bay has not been nearly as precise, nearly as dialed back nor as in tune with the macho-action bullshit as he was when he was making The Rock back in 1996. Everything since has just been so excessive and overdone. I admire his tenacity, but the majority of his films have become the punchline in a bad joke.

And I mention this all in a long-winded preamble to say that I actually really wanted to like 6 Underground. The trailer was slick, the action looked suitably ridiculous, and my feelings on Ryan Reynolds as an actor have been in constant flux since Deadpool.

So why is it that watching the film felt so exhausting? Why did this film, clocking in at 2 hours and 7 minutes, feel substantially longer and more drawn out than Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which clocks in at 3 hours and 29 minutes? How can that possibly happen?

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Review by David Baldwin

I have been kicking myself for missing In Fabric when it screened during TIFF well over a year ago. I had scheduled it in for the second day of the festival and lined up diligently 40 minutes prior to showtime. It was my first year being a serious member of the press and I had quickly discovered that to maintain my schedule, it would involve a lot of running around between theatres and screens. Having already sat through 8 films by that point, I thought I had it all figured out. But I had not factored in the size of the screen and the number of seats for that particular screening, and stupidly thought that I would not have any issues entering despite the obscene number of people in line. My confidence took a bit of a hit when they cut off the line with ten people ahead of me. Somehow I held out hope that eleven magical seats would show up if I waited around, missing other potential screenings I could have ran into instead. But it was not to be for me, the few people ahead and the 100+ behind me.

TIFF made up for this by scheduling multiple additional screenings of the film to meet the audience demand. As it would turn out, I had other much more pressing movies to see literally every single time they showed it. I was disappointed I missed out, but the consolation was seeing literally everything else. A24 picked up the film for release in the US soon after the festival (Mongrel Media picked it up for Canada), so I assumed I would not have to wait all that long to see it. That was September 2018.

Cut to December 2019. It is very cold outside, Christmas is coming, a whole other TIFF has come and gone, and I am just now finally seeing In Fabric. Some would call it a Christmas movie, so thematically the timing makes sense. But to say my expectations were super high would be an understatement.

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Review by David Baldwin

I have been trying to write a review for Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense for over a week now. I am at the point in my life where free time is slowly dwindling down, and adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it keep amping up. I do chores in and around the house, and by the time I get to writing, I just end up staring at a blank Word document and falling asleep. But in all of that time, I have not stopped thinking about Stearns’ film. It has lingered at the back of my mind, popping up when I least expect it and bringing me snide joy more times than I can count.

And I would like to think that would make Sensei proud. But I also think that he would consider me less of a man for feeling this way. Probably even less than that for using the words “snide joy” in a sentence.

If reading that sounds a bit toxic, offensive and more than slightly emasculating, than The Art of Self-Defense may not be for you. The tale of Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), his desire to learn how to defend himself, and his admiration and later obsession with the local dojo run by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) starts off innocuously and humourously enough. But around the halfway mark, it jumps the rails and morphs into the bleakest, darkest satire imaginable – something that practically wrecks of toxic fumes. And it happens to be one of the funniest comedies of the year thus far.

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Review by David Baldwin

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are about to finish high school. They are at the top of their class in academics, and both have extensive plans for the fall and beyond. But on the eve of graduation, they realize how much of the high school experience they missed out on by spending all of their time studying. So they set out to party and change the impressions their classmates have of them – that is, if they can find the right address for the biggest party of the year.

I saw Booksmart just over two weeks ago and I am still laughing just thinking about some of the jokes and wild moments packed into it. I was afraid going in that the buzz out of the SXSW Film Festival would overhype and overtake the movie for me. But rather delightfully, Booksmart met and surpassed every single one of my expectations. It truly is the real deal. And while it is easy to read the plot description and believe it is like any number of other teenage coming-of-age comedies (or specifically assume it is a gender swapped Superbad clone), it is actually something much greater than that.

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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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