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Criterion Release: Sullivan’s Travels

April 14, 2015

By John Corrado

Sullivan's Travels Blu-rayToday, the 1941 classic Sullivan’s Travels is being released on Blu-ray, through the Criterion Collection.  John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a popular director of escapist studio fare, who finds himself at an existential crossroads, and wants to make a serious film that will accurately depict the harsh realities of life.  Posing as a homeless traveller, he attempts to escape the privileged Hollywood system, to experience poverty and troubles for the first time.

What remains striking about Sullivan’s Travels is the way that writer-director Preston Sturges handles the mix of genres and tones throughout the film, packing layers of subtext into the brilliantly written script.  This is a biting satire of celebrity riches, the likes of which feel just as relevant now, and seem almost prescient for their time.

But the film also serves as a dramatic critique of the social order, and is often outwardly moving in its exploration of these themes, including a striking wordless sequence that takes us through a humbling night spent on the streets and in a homeless shelter.  These themes are explored even further through an ingeniously staged twist of fate at the end, culminating with an unforgettable sequence that powerfully shows the profound affects of cinema upon audiences in dire need of escape.

Both as a tragicomedy with deeper themes beneath the surface, which continue to be dissected nearly 75 years later, and as a celebration of the importance of making people laugh, Sullivan’s Travels still holds up beautifully.  Joel McCrea compellingly portrays his character’s struggle for meaning, shifting perfectly between the comedic scenes and moments of emotional desperation, in a performance that already seems timeless.  The cinematography also feels excitingly ahead of its time for 1941, and the crisp black and white images are particularly striking on Blu-ray.  This new edition is highly recommended.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, the 1990 documentary Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer, archival audio recordings of the director and a 1951 interview with him, a 2001 interview with his widow, and a new video essay on his work.  There’s also a written essay by critic Stuart Klawans.

Sullivan’s Travels is 90 minutes and not rated.

DVD Release: Complete Series of Frasier, MacGyver and The Brady Bunch

April 14, 2015

By John Corrado

Last week, Paramount released the complete collections of Frasier, MacGyver and The Brady Bunch on DVD, a trio of impressively sized boxed sets that offer an innumerable amount of discs between them, and come highly recommended for both television enthusiasts and fans of the individual series.

Frasier DVDFrasier: The Complete Series: Running from 1993 to 2004, Frasier follows uptight radio psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) after he moves back to his hometown of Seattle, and finds himself caring for his cantankerous father (John Mahoney).

An immensely popular spinoff from CheersFrasier picked up countless awards throughout its run, for understandable reasons.  The humour and heart of this classic sitcom still feel fresh, offering an excellent and sharply written showcase for Kelsey Grammer and the memorable supporting cast.

Featuring all 264 episodes from the eleven seasons of the show, along with numerous featurettes and bonus material, Frasier: The Complete Series is a massive boxed set that comes highly recommended for fans.

MacGyver DVDMacGyver: The Complete Collection: Running from 1985 to 1992, MacGyver follows the adventures and missions of the title secret agent (Richard Dean Anderson), who became iconic for his ingenious ability to work his way out of any situation, using whipsmart intelligence and gadgets crafted out of whatever supplies are at his disposal.

Exactly thirty years since the show first started, the pure entertainment value and ample suspense of MacGyver still holds up quite well, thanks in large part to Richard Dean Anderson’s charming and likeable portrayal.

Featuring all 139 episodes from the seven seasons of the show, as well as the two TV movies Lost Treasure of Atlantis (1994) and Trail to Doomsday (1994), MacGyver: The Complete Collection is a lot of fun for both old and new fans alike.

The Brady Bunch DVDThe Brady Bunch: The Complete Series: Running from 1969 to 1974, The Brady Bunch is the blended family of Mike (Robert Reed) and Carol (Florence Henderson), as well as his three boys (Barry Williams, Christopher Knight and Mike Lookinland) and her three girls (Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb and Susan Olsen).  And who can forget their longtime housekeeper, Alice (Ann B. Davis)?

Although first airing before my time, I have fond memories of watching episodes in syndication during my own childhood, and the show still offers its share of corny old school charms.

Featuring all 117 episodes spread over five seasons, The Brady Bunch: The Complete Series provides a nice nostalgia boost for those who grew up with the series, while offering the perfect opportunity for new generations to discover this family.

Three Views: Danny Collins

April 10, 2015

Danny Collins Poster

Danny Collins – An Elevation Pictures Release

http://www.bleeckerstreetmedia.com/#!danny-collins/cfvg

Release Date: April 10th, 2015
Rated 14A for coarse language and substance abuse
Running Time: 107 minutes

Dan Fogelman (director)

Dan Fogelman (screenplay)

Ryan Adams (music)
Theodore Shapiro (music)

Al Pacino as Danny Collins
Bobby Cannavale as Tom Donnelly
Jennifer Garner as Samantha Leigh Donnelly
Giselle Eisenberg as Hope Donnelly
Christopher Plummer as Frank Grubman
Annette Bening as Mary Sinclair
Melissa Benoist as Jamie
Josh Peck as Nicky

Danny Collins

Danny Collins (Al Pacino) and Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) in Danny Collins.

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Danny Collins Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is an aging pop star who is increasingly dissatisfied with his affluent life of drugs and sex, and on a tour that is both sold out and a sellout, catering to old ladies who all want to hear the same song.  But when his manager (Christopher Plummer) gives him an undelivered letter that John Lennon wrote forty years earlier, encouraging him to stay true to his folk music roots, he feels guided to change his life.  Danny moves to a hotel in New Jersey, hoping to reconnect with his estranged adult son Tom (Bobby Cannavale).  But Tom has settled into a working class life with his wife (Jennifer Garner) and hyperactive daughter (Giselle Eisenberg), and is reluctant to accept his father’s help.

Loosely inspired by a true story, Danny Collins explores the affects of this undelivered letter in some interesting ways.  Although the film sometimes veers a little too far into sentimentalism and melodrama, it’s consistently redeemed by a nicely written screenplay that comes full circle in the perfectly staged final scene, and excellent performances across the board.  Al Pacino is excellent here and seems utterly rejuvenated in the title role, delivering his best work in years.  His scenes with Annette Bening, who has a charming supporting role as the hotel manager who catches his eye, allow them both to really come alive, and they have some wonderful interplay together.

There is equally solid chemistry between the rest of the cast.  Jennifer Garner has a few nice moments, and Bobby Cannavale delivers some of his finest dramatic work, in a career full of excellent supporting roles.  Even the bit players, like Melissa Benoist and Josh Peck who are immensely likeable as an adorable pair of hotel employees that Danny plays matchmaker for, elevate the material into something completely entertaining and sometimes even genuinely affecting.  And when’s the last time Christopher Plummer got to be this charming and funny?

Balancing the more heartfelt scenes with a few surprisingly solid laughs, Dan Fogelman has crafted a film that manages to be enjoyable throughout, all set to a nice selection of John Lennon songs.  But it’s the uniformly excellent ensemble cast that really makes Danny Collins worth seeing, effortlessly carrying this worthwhile music dramedy every step of the way.

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Danny Collins Review By Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

With the basic premise inspired by a true story, Danny Collins follows the titular aging rocker (Al Pacino), who is about to go on tour again, playing the same songs that made him famous, and living the high life with drinks, drugs, and women.  Just before he leaves, his manager (Christopher Plummer) gives him a birthday present – a letter that was written to Danny forty years prior and lost for years.  The letter is from John Lennon.  In it, Lennon tells Danny to stay true to himself, and if he ever wants to talk that his number is below.

The letter, meant by his manager to be just a unique gift from the past, changes Danny’s life irreversibly.  He wonders what would have happened if he had read the letter when he was meant to, and if he would have let his career take a different path.  Having not written a new song in years, he cancels his tour – much to his managers dismay – and takes off to stay at an out of the way hotel where he can try to write again.  As his reputation follows him, he struggles to turn over a new leaf and start his life anew, including meeting his adult son (Bobby Cannavale) for the first time.

The film is well made and will play very well to its target audience.  While the story is a little cliché at times, the actors play it in such a way that I didn’t mind, with some of the quiet moments particularly well done.  Starting as a music film and becoming one about lost/regained chances and family, Danny Collins is a good film for a night out, inspired by an amazing story.  While it won’t lose much for those who wait for DVD, either way it’s worth a look.

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Danny Collins Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is a rock star who still fills arenas with fans that have aged with him. He hasn’t written a new song in thirty years, replaying his cheesy playlist of hits with predictable swagger, fuelled offstage by alcohol and cocaine. One day, his long-time manager and friend Frank (Christopher Plummer) brings a letter from John Lennon that he had never received, inspired by an interview (seen in an early flashback with Nick Offerman) Danny had given forty years prior as a serious singer-songwriter, encouraging him to remain true to his ideals. Danny decides to leave his trophy wife and her lover behind in his California mansion and fly to New Jersey to meet the son he had sired in a brief fling over thirty years ago, but had never met. He also wants to get clean and write some new songs. Despite his easy charm, Danny’s flirting is resisted by the local hotel manager Mary (Annette Bening).

When he shows up at his son’s house, Danny is met by Hope (Giselle Eisenberg), a vivacious granddaughter who immediately likes him and her mother Sam (Jennifer Garner) who is receptive but more wary. When the son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) comes home he is understandably hostile to Danny’s heartfelt remorse and belated attempts at some kind of relationship. Even using his wealth to get Hope into a private school is met with grudging acceptance, but a health crisis proves that there is no substitute for time spent together, however overdue.

The first feature directed by screenwriter Dan Fogelman, Danny Collins is worth seeing for its brilliant cast led by Pacino, getting the best out of a not quite so good but perfectly serviceable script.

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Consensus: With an excellent performance from Al Pacino in the title role, and a uniformly solid supporting cast, Danny Collins is a nicely written music dramady that offers an enjoyable balance of entertaining and heartfelt scenes. ★★★ (out of 4)

Criterion Release: Hoop Dreams

April 7, 2015

By John Corrado

Hoop Dreams Blu-rayLast week, the classic 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams was released for the first time on Blu-ray, through the Criterion Collection.  The film follows William Gates and Arthur Agee throughout their high school careers, two inner-city kids in Chicago who dream of playing professional basketball, with the chance of elusive sports scholarships being the only hope their families have of finally escaping poverty.

Director Steve James shows these young men and their families through a compassionate and sympathetic lens, allowing us to become really invested in the emotional ups and downs of their lives.  Assembled from more than 250 hours of raw footage that was captured over five years, the story comes together seamlessly, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing.

Nearly three hours long, and engaging every step of the way, Hoop Dreams is an expansive and layered portrait of poverty and chasing the American Dream, that encapsulates something profound about real life, through a series of moving and inspiring scenes and perfectly captured dramatic setbacks.  For these reasons, Hoop Dreams is a landmark achievement that revolutionized documentary filmmaking, and remains one of the best ever made.  This edition provides the definitive version of the film.

The Blu-ray includes commentary tracks with the filmmakers and the two main subjects, additional scenes, archival footage of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert championing the film, and the rarely seen music video for the theme song.  There’s also the fascinating forty minute documentary Life After Hoop Dreams, which nicely shows where William Gates and Arthur Agee are now.

Hoop Dreams is 172 minutes and rated PG.

DVD Release: The Rewrite

April 7, 2015

By John Corrado

The Rewrite DVDElevation Pictures is releasing The Rewrite on DVD.  Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) is an award-winning screenwriter who is past his prime in Hollywood, and begrudgingly takes a teaching job at a small town university.  But despite his initial inappropriate behaviour and attempts to avoid actual work, the class, including mature student Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei), might just help him overcome writer’s block.

Although flying pretty much under the radar and going straight to DVD, The Rewrite is quite a nice surprise.  Yes, the story follows some of the same beats as a traditional romantic comedy, but director Marc Lawrence infuses his screenplay with enough clever references and sharply written scenes for even more serious film watchers to enjoy.

Elevated by a multitude of likeable performances, including charming leading work from Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei, as well as memorable supporting roles for J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney among others, The Rewrite is a thoroughly entertaining film that actually has some smart things to say about the creative writing process.  This is an enjoyable film that’s well worth checking out on DVD.

The DVD includes deleted scenes and a “making of” featurette.

The Rewrite is 107 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Release: A Most Violent Year

April 7, 2015

By John Corrado

A Most Violent Year Blu-rayElevation Pictures is releasing A Most Violent Year on Blu-ray today.  Named for the high crime rate in New York in 1981, the story centres around Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a hardworking immigrant struggling to keep his heating and oil business afloat amidst allegations of fraud and threats of violence, and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) who has no qualms with taking things into her own hands.

Although offering more smoke than actual fire, A Most Violent Year is a well made film that deserves some level of admiration.  Oscar Isaac delivers excellent and carefully mannered work, and Jessica Chastain is sizzlingly good in a Golden Globe-nominated role, and their performances are both worth seeing.  My full review is right here.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with writer-director J.C. Chandor and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb, as well as deleted scenes and three featurettes.

A Most Violent Year is 125 minutes and rated 14A.

Review: While We’re Young

April 3, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

While We're Young Poster

The first thing we see in While We’re Young are excerpts from Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder.  “I’ve become so disturbed by younger people, they upset me so much that I’ve closed my doors,” a man says, and the response to his fear of youth comes just as matter of factly.  “Maybe you should open the door and let them in.”

And so begins the highly perceptive While We’re Young, the latest from acclaimed writer-director Noah Baumbach, and one of the most incisive depictions of the dividing line between generations that I have ever seen.  This is a bitingly humorous and also unexpectedly moving film, boasting a sharply written screenplay that is already among the absolute best of 2015.

Like any great story, the characters could be taken as metaphors of the larger themes at hand.  Josh (Ben Stiller) is a struggling documentary filmmaker and university professor in his forties, who has settled into a quiet life with his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts).  They are at odds with their friends who are all preoccupied with having kids, and struggling to accept that they are now middle aged.

But then they meet aspiring filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver), and his free spirited wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a hipster couple freewheeling through their twenties, who show up in one of Josh’s classes and inspire them to embrace spontaneity.  At first, the four artists find a lot to learn from each other, but their different ideologies and ulterior motives ultimately turn their friendship into rivalry, leading to a fascinating and unpredictable last act.

Ben Stiller and Adam Driver have perfect chemistry together, delivering the kind of comedic dance between two fundamentally different personalities that is both highly entertaining and engaging to watch.  Because the script plays into his innate ability to portray characters who walk an almost invisible line between charming and strange, Adam Driver is able to deliver his best and most well rounded performance yet.  Ben Stiller is one of those actors with an inherently likeable screen presence, even if there is a hint of misanthropy behind those eyes, and his character here taps into that perfectly.

There are a lot of layers here, and every member of the ensemble cast adds something to the film.  Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfried provide excellent counterparts to these two male leads, nicely fleshing out their supporting characters and allowing us to see the same themes through a different lens.  Behind the camera, Noah Baumbach continues to prove himself as one of the most accurate voices of our generation, naturally expanding upon The Squid and the Whale‘s honest look at divorce, Greenberg‘s powerful portrait of middle aged regret, and Francis Ha‘s beautifully framed take on young adult malaise.

All of these themes come full circle in While We’re Young, perfectly illustrating the gap in generationally defined ideals, and the major differences that a few decades can make.  The film offers a complex look at millennials versus those who have already reached middle age, while also examining the balance between people with kids and those who don’t have any, and what drives them to become parents in the first place.  This is all pulled off so effortlessly, that audiences might not even realize how many different themes are evident until afterwards, leaving plenty of room for both thought and conversation.

There is a special moment partway through when we realize that the story is evolving and changing into something more, and it’s one of those moments that makes a film like this so exciting to watch.  Because of this, there are two conversations to be had about While We’re Young, one centred around the first half, and the other concerning the second.  To be clear, the film is entertaining right from the start, filled with sharp dialogue and astutely observed comedic situations, but it’s elevated even further by this fearlessness to become something deeper and darker halfway through.

Without giving too much away, While We’re Young becomes about exposing truth in a world and generation that is suddenly okay with fabrication.  The film builds up to this in such a seamless way, that it’s fascinating to observe how all of the pieces fall into place, and there is an ingenious quality to the way that every scene of the screenplay is allowed to grow even richer together.  The film could be considered a high concept comedy in this way, and it’s quite simply one of the best since David O. Russell’s great I Heart Huckabees over ten years ago.

I’ve never seen these ideas tackled in such a nuanced way before, presented with clear eyed honesty through what could have just been extremist satire.  Jamie is shown as stealing the pop culture references of the previous generation, and disingenuously passing them off as his own, which could be seen as a statement on hipster culture in general.  Josh is still holding on to these same pop culture references and not ready to pass them along, afraid to move past his own young adult years.  They are both living in is a weird mashup of retro culture that is so definitive, it never really went away.

I first saw While We’re Young at TIFF, and haven’t stopped thinking about it since then.  The film succeeds because there is emotional truth behind the laughs, showing the sizeable disconnect between older and younger sensibilities, and how each generation carves out their own perception of truth and meaning.  With a great cast at the top of their game, and a sharply insightful screenplay, While We’re Young is an inspired and very entertaining film, that has something genuine to say and offers a poignant testimony to finally allowing yourself to grow up.

Review: Pretend We’re Kissing

April 3, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Pretend Were Kissing PosterAfter closing the Canadian Film Fest, and winning their award for “Most Awkward Sex Scene,” the charming romance Pretend We’re Kissing is opening at the Carlton today, and will also be playing at Landmark Cinemas across the country.  This is the sort of homegrown film that has the potential to become a breakout hit, and it’s every bit worth seeing.

Benny (Dov Tiefenbach) is an impossibly shy young adult who over thinks everything, and finds his life held back by his self-diagnosed agoraphobic and part-time nudist roommate Autumn (Zoë Kravitz).  But when he has a chance encounter with Jordan (Tommie-Amber Pirie) at a concert, a young woman who believes in fate and seems perfect on the surface, Benny might have just found his first real chance at true love.

With some beautifully captured Toronto moments, Pretend We’re Kissing is an assured narrative feature debut from local writer-director Matt Sadowski.  Much of the film’s success lies in the strength of his screenplay, which realistically charts the ups and downs of modern relationships with a relatable tone that often recalls vintage Woody Allen, right down to the clever uses of interior dialogue and some distinctly Jewish humour.

Zoë Kravitz adds a quirky and amusing presence to the film, and also a name that mainstream audiences will recognize.  Providing a wonderfully textured and sharply written examination of a short term love affair, believably portrayed by Dov Tiefenbach and Tommie-Amber Pirie through a pair of completely natural performances, Pretend We’re Kissing is a likeable and entertaining film that nicely subverts the typical romantic comedy tropes, to reach a genuinely sweet final scene.

Please see below for my video interviews with Dov Tiefenbach and Tommie-Amber Pirie on their leading roles and what went into doing that now infamous sex scene, and my talk with Matt Sadowski about his inspiration behind the film, casting actors and John Hughes.

Read more…

Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

April 3, 2015

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Kumiko, the Treasure HunterThe 1996 film Fargo is one of the most iconic movies of the past twenty years, and an achievement that is nearly impossible to replicate.  Now the Coen Brothers classic has received an offbeat followup of sorts in the unlikely form of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, an arthouse curiosity that has one of the more intriguing premises of 2015, and opens today at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

The story follows Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a quiet office worker in Japan who becomes obsessed with Fargo, through an old worn out VHS tape that she finds in the mysterious opening scene.  She behaves oddly and clearly suffers from some form of mental illness, and believes the film to be a document of true events, even traveling to North Dakota in search of the buried money.

Like the film at its centre, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is also the work of filmmaking siblings.  Director David Zellner, who shines in the supporting role of a kind police officer and co-wrote the film with his brother Nathan Zellner, allows the story to have a dreamlike tone.  This leaves some elements up to debate, especially during the nicely done final scenes, and the film is a haunting and absurdly humorous odyssey at its best.

The film does run long at 105 minutes, often moving at a deliberately slow pace, and I don’t know if there’s all that much buried beneath the surface, unlike Fargo.  But at least what’s on the surface is beautifully filmed, with plenty of interesting little moments along the way.  Anchored by a compelling performance from Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a quietly sympathetic portrait of mental illness, that reaches a pretty satisfying payoff.

Blu-ray Release: The Imitation Game

March 31, 2015

By John Corrado

The Imitation Game Blu-rayToday, Elevation Pictures is releasing The Imitation Game on Blu-ray.  The handsomely produced film is based on the true story of brilliant but socially awkward mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who was enlisted by British forces to help break the Enigma codes at the height of World War II, with help from a group of intellectuals including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley).

Elevated by the excellent ensemble cast, The Imitation Game is an intelligently written and emotionally affective biopic, that comes alive thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch’s magnetic performance.  Nominated for eight Oscars, the film won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, which allowed young screenwriter Graham Moore to deliver his already iconic speech.  You can read our three views right here.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with director Morten Tyldum and Graham Moore, deleted scenes, a “making of” featurette, as well as a Q&A with the cast and crew.

The Imitation Game is 113 minutes and rated PG.

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