Reviews

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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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

Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) are a young married couple who have their whole lives ahead of them. That is, until a viral pandemic breaks out where those afflicted lose their memories. When Jude begins to show symptoms of the disease, the couple comes together to preserve their relationship and the memories that go with it for as long as they can.

Another movie about a pandemic? REALLY?! That was my thinking before I pressed play on Little Fish, Chad Hartigan’s rather timely sci-fi romance film. Much like everyone else, the real life pandemic has left me burnt out and languishing as I wait for some form of normalcy to kick back in. And after watching multiple documentaries and dramedies made about this moment in history that we are all living through – I was not immediately keen on taking another one in, even if it was based on a fictional event that was filmed well before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.

How could I possibly get any enjoyment out of something that hits so close to home?

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Review by David Baldwin

Freelance journalist Amy (Valene Kane) is working against a looming deadline on a story about terrorists recruiting young European woman online. In order to get closer to the story, she creates a fake Facebook profile, posts a few links and almost immediately attracts the attention of terrorist recruiter Abu Bilel (Shazad Latif). The two begin conversing regularly on Skype, and as Amy’s story develops, so too do her feelings for Bilel.

The film is based on a true story and told entirely through a computer screen using Director Timur Bekmambetov’s patented Screenlife format (previously seen in the likes of Searching, Unfriended and if you were lucky enough to catch it at Sundance or SXSW this year, R#J). It lends the story an eerie aura of authenticity and though I find this style of filmmaking fascinating, I know it is not for everyone. So keep that in mind before venturing into Profile, because the action never leaves the computer screen.

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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

Darren (Kelly McCormack, who also Wrote and Produced) is a talented musician filled with ambition and big dreams. Unfortunately, she’s broke and stuck slaving away at odd jobs. After being let go from yet another part-time gig, she signs up for a “Sugar Daddy” dating website — and ends up getting into more than she bargained for.

Sugar Daddy is the kind of picture that grows on you gradually. I did not think much of it when I first sat down to watch, yet found myself drawn to Darren’s journey of self-discovery as the film moved through its initial set-ups. It is raw, unflinching and due to the 4:3 aspect ratio, highly claustrophobic. It is not hard to watch in the least (the framing does give it a very intimate and candid feel), but it also never gives the easy answers. Should we be cheering and hoping for the best for Darren, even as she treats everyone around her so horribly? She is not quite an anti-hero nor is she particularly likeable.

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Review by David Baldwin

Alfred Chin (newcomer Taylor Takahashi) is a high school senior living in Queens. He goes by the nickname Boogie and he dreams of playing basketball in the NBA. His has the skills and the drive, but needs a scholarship in order to play college ball — but his stubborn attitude is just one of the many obstacles standing in the way of him achieving his goal.

There is a lot I admire about Boogie. The film is the feature directorial debut of Eddie Huang, the restauranteur who wrote the memoir that inspired the wonderful ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. He infuses his experiences growing up in an Asian-American family into the film, giving it a resonance and cultural expression missing from any number of atypical sports dramas of its ilk. Huang may not have been a sports prodigy, but the struggles Boogie deals with feel authentic and lived in. The soundtrack is great, and the film looks great.

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Image Courtesy of MDFF

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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