Thriller

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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Review by David Baldwin

Retired Sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) live on a ranch in Montana. Their only son dies suddenly, leaving them devastated and wanting to spend more time than ever with their young grandson Jimmy. So when their widowed daughter-in-law marries into the dangerous Weboy family years later, it becomes imperative that George and Margaret stay in Jimmy’s life. But the Weboy clan, lead by matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville), may have other plans.

I once described Kevin Costner’s career to a friend as being characterized by him playing either a cop, a cowboy or a fish. Sure I may have only been half-joking about the fish being a go-to (justice for Waterworld!), but the number of movies where he plays a cop, a cowboy or some combination of the two is downright staggering. Let Him Go is one of those films were he gets to combine the two, in a grizzled, “I’m too old for this shit” fashion that I am certain will delight his fans.

But for the non-fans and just about everyone else, Let Him Go might be a bit of a tougher sell. Because while the trailer may suggest it is a nail-biting thriller about the lengths people will go to for family, it hews much closer to a slow burn — one that simmers and fizzles out far more than it should.

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Review by David Baldwin

Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is 8-years-old, friendless and on the autism spectrum. He is non-verbal, so he communicates by writing and typing on his phone and tablet. One night, he awakens to a children’s story on his phone called “Misunderstood Monsters”. The story revolves around a monster named Larry, who longs to be loved and have a friend to play with. As Oliver reads the story, weird things start happening in his room. He thinks nothing of it, but Larry is desperate to make a new friend and will stop at nothing to make sure it’s Oliver.

Prior to this year, I never put a whole lot of thought into the “kids in peril” genre, specifically as it relates to horror movies. The films were either good or bad, and the decisions made by the characters usually landed somewhere between asinine and completely outrageous. Of course I saw myself in the kid characters, but I never really saw myself as one of the parents. But now that I have a child of my own, all I could see when I watched Come Play was how much I related to the parent characters and their struggle to keep their child safe. It was something I could suddenly empathize with, and something I actually understood versus something I merely had an understanding of.

And when I think of it that way, Come Play becomes the kind of visceral, eye-opening experience that I am not sure I will be able to ever watch again while my son is growing up.

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Review by David Baldwin

It has been a few weeks since I watched The Trial of the Chicago 7. And in that time, I have continually put off writing the review. Not because I did not like the film. And not because I did not want to discuss it – though it seems like Film Twitter has discussed it to a point where I have serious doubts over whether it is worth entering into the discourse or not. No, the reason I kept putting it off is that there was some form of nagging feeling I had every time I thought about the film, some nervous tick that kept telling me I should like it a whole lot more than I did; how I should be reflecting more fondly on such an important work. That feeling kept manifesting every time I even considered writing and reduced me to staring at a blank page when I should be writing endlessly on this future Oscar-nominee. Part of me wonders if Aaron Sorkin ever feels the same way.

He probably doesn’t. Let’s be real here. The man is a legendary Oscar-winning writer — to go along with his multiple Emmy and Golden Globes wins — who is more creative than I ever will be. There’s no way he has ever just been caught up in staring at a blank page, unable to get the words out, right? It would be pretty wonderful if he did, if only to make bouts of writer’s block seem a whole lot more acceptable for the rest of us.

But I digress.

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Review by David Baldwin

I had the opportunity to watch 6 Underground in the theatre last week, and tried my best to start writing the review on the train ride home. But with every word I typed, the more I got distracted. My pounding headache did not help, nor did the burning smell in the train car I was sitting in. It was so awful, so putrid that I could taste it. While it was not ideal conditions to write a review, I feel like it was an apt comparison to watching a Michael Bay film. Especially one like 6 Underground.

It is not that I dislike Bay as a filmmaker. Yes, I hate the very existence of the majority of the Transformers movies (and was so burnt out seeing the first four in theatres that I still have not even bothered to watch Transformers: The Last Knight, or Bumblebee for that matter), but I really dug Pain & Gain, have a special spot in my heart for Bad Boys II and absolutely adore The Rock. For me, that specific film is one of the best the 1990s have to offer – and it remains one of my absolute most favourite action movies ever. The cast, the score, the editing, the pulse pounding thrills. Literally everything in that movie is working on overdrive, and I feel like Bay has not been nearly as precise, nearly as dialed back nor as in tune with the macho-action bullshit as he was when he was making The Rock back in 1996. Everything since has just been so excessive and overdone. I admire his tenacity, but the majority of his films have become the punchline in a bad joke.

And I mention this all in a long-winded preamble to say that I actually really wanted to like 6 Underground. The trailer was slick, the action looked suitably ridiculous, and my feelings on Ryan Reynolds as an actor have been in constant flux since Deadpool.

So why is it that watching the film felt so exhausting? Why did this film, clocking in at 2 hours and 7 minutes, feel substantially longer and more drawn out than Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which clocks in at 3 hours and 29 minutes? How can that possibly happen?

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Review by David Baldwin

Charlotte (Allison Williams) was a teenage cello prodigy on her way to being a star. But she had to leave her illustrious school when her mother fell ill. Flash to ten years later, where her mother has passed away and Charlotte is not sure what to do next. She decides to take a trip to Shanghai and there she encounters Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the school’s new rising star. They have an instant rapport and comradery, but it does not last for long.

If you are squeamish, or prefer the movies you watch to feature less bugs, blood, and vomit, than this might not be the film for you.

I have already said far too much for my own good. Saying any more would rob you of the deliriously twisted pleasure in seeing how The Perfection plays out for the remainder of its 90-minute running time. The film was a huge hit at last year’s Fantastic Fest – and after watching, it is plainly obvious to see why.

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Review by David Baldwin

For as far back as I can remember, I have had Sundance Film Festival FOMO. Going to Cannes will likely remain a pipe dream for the foreseeable future, but the prospect of going to Sundance is much more attainable — just a matter of the stars lining up in just the right pattern (and my wife granting me permission to skip her birthday to spend a week in Utah). Until both of those things happen or Hell freezes over, I will continue to sit by idly paying attention to all of the buzz coming out of the festival every January and make a mental list of all my must-see films.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was one of those films and was one I assumed I would have to wait until the Fall to see at TIFF. Thankfully, the film showed up a whole lot earlier. The buzz has remained high ever since the January premiere and I have heard and read the word “Oscar” being thrown around in a completely serious way. And when that happens, it can go one of two ways: it can be warranted or absolutely preposterous. And despite the lengthy and obnoxious title, I hoped it was the former and not the latter on this one.

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Review by David Baldwin

When I pitched watching Velvet Buzzsaw to my wife, I mentioned that Dan Gilroy had written and directed two other films: Nightcrawler, which I love, cherish and still to this day remain devastated did not land Jake Gyllenhaal a Best Actor Oscar nomination; and Roman J. Israel, Esq., a total mess of a movie that landed Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar nomination, despite featuring the single worst performance Denzel has ever given. The film was better used as a punchline in a Weekend Update sketch involving Bill Hader’s Stefon which still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

So needless to say, it was a 50/50 shot going into Velvet Buzzsaw. I refused to watch the trailer (and you should too) and tried my very best to stay away from any and all of the Sundance reviews. But even after seeing Gilroy’s mash up of satire and horror set in the world of art dealers, creators and critics, I am still sort of confused about what a Velvet Buzzsaw is. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of whatever Gilroy thought he was making here.

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Review by David Baldwin

I watch a lot of movies, so it seems to shock friends and co-workers any time I have not seen the popular movie of the moment as quickly as they have. I usually have the standard excuse of “It’s on the list” or “I’m waiting for Netflix”, but as must-see content continues to pile up on an almost hourly basis, I find myself consistently behind the curve. Quitting my full time job is not an option (especially when you’ve only recently become a full-time homeowner), so I’m constantly playing catch-up.

I say all of this, because the last few weeks have been dominated by discussions about Christmas, New Year’s, whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie (spoiler alert: It is), and Bird Box. The film premiered with little fanfare at AFI Fest in November (mostly because they cancelled their Red Carpet coverage out of respect for on-going wildfires terrorizing California at the time), but has since become one of the most watched original Netflix films, has inspired conspiracy theories about the veracity of the memes about the film being posted on Twitter, and now has inspired its own social media challenge related to activities being performed while blindfolded.

So yes, it makes sense that someone would be surprised I had not watched the film just yet. I made a point of fixing as soon as I possibly could.

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