Thriller

Review by David Baldwin

Akemi (musician MASUMI) is a Japanese orphan living in São Paulo, Brazil. She has had extensive fight training since she was a little girl, but has very little idea about her past. When her grandfather is murdered and mysterious stranger Shirô (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) saves her life with an ancient sword, Akemi quickly discovers she is the heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate in Okinawa. And the other half happens to want her dead.

For a film called Yakuza Princess, you might expect a non-stop action thriller with that kind of synopsis. And while there is certainly some action and thrills scattered throughout the film, it is actually more of a slow moving drama about a young woman discovering her past and coming to terms with the destiny in front of her. There is a lot of exposition, even more backstory and a whole lot going on between characters in Okinawa and São Paulo (which houses the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan). It gets a bit overwhelming at times, and some moments have a languished pacing that can be trying even at the most exciting of times.

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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

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

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

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

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

A mysterious catastrophe has destroyed the Earth as we know it as humanity is slowly poisoned by radiation. With little hope for survival, Arctic-stationed Scientist Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) refuses to evacuate. He wants to stay behind so he can warn the team on the Aether spacecraft orbiting Jupiter to not return. But impending radiation, bad connections, cancer and a young stowaway named Iris (newcomer Caoilinn Springall) all stand in the way of Lofthouse sending his warning.

The Midnight Sky is George Clooney’s most ambitious and large scale directorial undertaking to date. He has mainly gravitated towards period pieces in the past (and whatever the hell Suburbicon was supposed to be), so it was a bit of a surprise to hear he was taking on a meditative science fiction doomsday thriller. I feared he might be in over his head, but my concerns practically vanished within seconds of the film beginning. Everything about the look of this film is great, with the meticulously detailed Production and Set Design really standing out. The Special Effects are strong, but slightly dodgy in some cases (yet still some of the strongest of any Netflix film). The majority of action beats are appropriately thrilling as well, although two are a bit too chaotically confusing for their own good. And the Score by Alexandre Desplat is simply wonderful — alternating between whimsy, melancholy and white knuckle thrills on a dime. Everything about the way The Midnight Sky looks and sounds is terrific.

It’s the rest of the film that is the problem.

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