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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t hate Fifty Shades of Grey when I watched it at a packed screening back in 2015. And I didn’t hate Fifty Shades Darker when I watched in at home last Spring in all its timid “Unrated” glory. Both films were badly written and badly acted, but they were functional pieces of entertainment that were clearly not designed for me. They provided some intentional and unintentional laughs, and were not nearly as bad as some of the films I actually went to see purposely.
But the finale, Fifty Shades Freed — or climax as the posters so playfully tease — is a whole other beast entirely. And while I joked on Facebook that it was a “triumph of cinema”, it is easily the exact opposite.
Nearly two weeks later, and I am still not quite sure what to make of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. It was a curiosity when I first picked it in my TIFF package, and remained that way well after it premiered at Telluride and Venice. I have always admired his work, and he was one of my favourite screenwriters for a very long time. But he has been entirely absent from the big screen since 2008’s Synecdoche, New York — a film that is easy to admire but hard to sit through — and his only credit since is for an unaired FX pilot starring Michael Cera.
But you would never think any of that based on how wonderful a film Anomalisa is. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a motivational speaker on a trip to Cincinnati. Michael has no real drive, and nobody stands out to him — everyone just sounds and looks the same. He meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and is immediately quite taken with her.
Revealing anymore about this unconventional romance would be a disservice to Kaufman, his co-director Duke Johnson and their extremely talented production team. The description may not have hinted at it, but Anomalisa is filmed entirely in stop motion, with puppets, and only has three credited voice actors starring in it (the other is character actor Tom Noonan, who does his very best to make every character sound just as mundane and ordinary as the next). But I cannot even begin to imagine this as a live action film. It just has too much imagination and wonder compacted within its 90-minute running time. While the look of the film is truly wonderful, the details of each puppet are even more spectacular. The emotions they display are nothing short of astonishing, and truly compliment the impeccable voice work.
Kaufman’s screenplays have by and large been about people on the fringes of life, wrestling with internal conflicts and how mundane life can become. And Anomalisa is no different. It says so much, by saying very little. I enjoyed it by and large, but there is something about it that is compelling me to revisit it as soon as I possibly can. And with Paramount buying and releasing the film by year’s end, it will not be nearly that long a wait.
Anomalisa does not quite measure up to the brilliance of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it is yet another eclectic and unique treasure that only a man like Charlie Kaufman can deliver.
Another Blu-ray/DVD release #ShortCuts review for you this week — this time for Cameron Crowe’s Aloha. Pretty proud of how quickly I wrote this one up. It came out a lot longer than I thought it would. But trust me, be glad I saw it and you didn’t.
Remember when I was complaining about how awful Hot Pursuit was a few weeks back? Well, I had the privilege of watching Aloha a short time later – and I think I may have found the worst movie of the year. Even that retched excuse called The Wedding Ringer was better than whatever the hell this is. Is it a comedy? Is it a romance? Is it a drama? Is it some hybrid mix of the three with thinly veiled allusions and commentaries on…everything? I could not tell you for the life of me, and I doubt writer/director Cameron Crowe could either.
Now it may sound like I am just jumping on the bandwagon and bashing this movie like everyone else did when it was released in May. But I am a huge Crowe fan – Almost Famous is legitimately one of my top five favourite films of all time. I love Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything…, Vanilla Sky and Jerry Maguire, and I did not hate Elizabethtown or We Bought A Zoo (Singles is sitting in a pile of movies waiting to be watched). But Aloha is easily the worst film he has ever done. It just lacks any form of cohesive story, the performances are all wasted, and it just comes off like a total disaster. I can readily admit I was not fully paying attention at all times, but it felt like the film had new ideas being introduced every 15 minutes, and then fully resolved without much conflict quickly afterwards.
Fifty Shades of Grey – Review
By David Baldwin
I am by no means the target audience for Fifty Shades of Grey, but I was just as curious as everyone else when the film was first announced. This may have been due to the baffling initial casting of Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam, but mostly because of everything I had heard and read about E.L. James’ massively popular book series. Sadly Hunnam dropped out, but my interest remained piqued for the Twilight-inspired saga.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is an English literature undergrad on the cusp of graduation. Her roommate is sick, so she offers to sub in to interview billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the school paper. Despite their awkward first encounter, there is an immediate connection between the pair. After a few more not-so casual meetings, they quickly realize their mutual attraction. Anastasia wants a normal relationship, but Christian is interested in something a bit more kinky.