Romance

Image Courtesy of levelFILM

Review by David Baldwin

Casi (John Boyega) is an idealistic public defender in New York City. He wants to believe in the system, even though he knows it will keep failing him and his clients. On the verge of being disbarred, he takes on the case of Lea (Olivia Cooke), a former client and someone Casi happens to have a crush on. She has gotten mixed up in a scheme to steal an impounded car that is stashed with heroin and has her own motivations for wanting to be involved. As Casi begins seeing signs of impending universal destruction, he decides to get involved too.

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Review by David Baldwin

I watched Annette a few nights ago, and have been racking my brain trying to find the words to properly describe it. It is a truly unique vision that is equal parts brilliant and bewildering. At the same time, it is profoundly weird and destined to be polarizing. This rock opera (which I guess would be the closest genre description?) will not be for everyone and I expect many will straight up loathe its very existence. The film World Premiered just under a month ago at the Cannes Film Festival as the Opening Night selection and received a 5-minute standing ovation (which bored Adam Driver and Director Leos Carax so much that they started smoking in the middle of it) as well as the Best Director prize.

Annette centres on Henry (Driver), a comedian married and in love with opera singer Ann (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard). They both have their separate careers and goals, but all of that changes irrevocably after the birth of their daughter Annette.

Knowing this and very little else beyond what I gleamed from shortened Twitter reactions, I prepared to see something crazy. And while it indeed is the certifiably bonkers vision I expected, it is also deeper and more introspective than I ever could have imagined.

So may we start?

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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

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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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

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

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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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.

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anomalisastill

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.