Netflix

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

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

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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Review by David Baldwin

It is 1994 and another murder spree has occurred in Shadyside. This latest massacre does not necessarily scare anyone in the town – they are used to multiple people dying at a time – but certain elements of what happened bear a striking similarity to a number of other murder cases from the past. Once a group of teenagers begins connecting the dots, they quickly realize they may have become the target of the source of a sinister evil that has plagued the town for over 300 years.

I worshipped at the altar of Goosebumps when I was younger. My parents were not a big fan of horror, but they indulged my interest in the series and its many spinoffs. I collected and read as many as I could, and I bet the majority of them are still lying around in a box just waiting to be rediscovered. R.L. Stine’s books were quick reads and were quite likely my gateway to the horror genre. All of this to say…I read a whole lot of those books and never really gravitated to his Fear Street series. So why am I so excited about the film series? Well, the idea of a connected trilogy premiering weekly felt like an inspired idea that had not really been done before – especially one based on a substantially less childish book series.

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Review by David Baldwin

Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) has just been accepted to film school. She is positively ecstatic at the thought of moving away from home and bonding with “her people”. Most of her family is excited too. Her father Rick (Danny McBride) however, just does not get it. They had a great relationship when she was younger, but now it is strained, and only gets worse when Rick insists he drives her and the rest of the family from Michigan to California in time for the first day of school.

Then a robot uprising happens – and humanity’s last hope suddenly lies with the Mitchell family.

That sounds like a wild description and The Mitchells vs. The Machines somehow becomes even wilder than that before the end credits roll. In some instances, it becomes downright chaotic and completely unhinged. And I loved every single minute of it.

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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

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

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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