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Review: While We’re Young

April 1, 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.

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.

Blu-ray Release: Interstellar

March 31, 2015

By John Corrado

Interstellar Blu-rayParamount is releasing Christopher Nolan’s ambitious science fiction epic Interstellar on Blu-ray today, a must have for fans of the film.  The story follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot turned farmer, who is on a literal journey through space and time that might just provide the last hope for our dying planet.

Winning the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, this was one of the most talked about and debated films of 2014.  Although not every element works equally well, Interstellar is still an admirable achievement that never disappoints on a visual level, and the majestic images and thought provoking themes make it an often breathtaking trip that is every bit worth taking for yourself.  My full review is right here.

The Blu-ray boasts over three hours of special features, including numerous featurettes on the production and an extended look at the science behind the film, narrated by Matthew McConaughey.  The package also includes a collectible IMAX film cell from an actual 70mm print, which provides a cool little novelty item.

Interstellar is 168 minutes and rated PG.

Bloor Cinema Release: Marinoni

March 27, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Marinoni PosterOne of the nicest surprises from last year’s Hot Docs, and a top ten finalist for the audience award, Marinoni is finally opening at the Bloor Cinema this weekend.  Director Tony Girardin and subject Giuseppe Marinoni will be on hand for Q&As after the first two shows, tickets and showtimes are right here.

At 75 years old, bicycle craftsmen Giuseppe Marinoni is determined to break the one hour cycling record for his age group.  An Italian immigrant who came to Montreal decades ago to professionally race, while making money as a tailor, he now spends his days crafting custom bike frames that are used and respected by cyclists around the world.

Tony Girardin follows the eccentric senior in the two months leading up to the race, getting him to reluctantly open up about his life to the camera, as he struggles through his training to shave mere minutes off his time.  Beautifully edited together for maximum emotional impact, Marinoni is an immensely charming crowdpleaser, and a wonderful testimony to not letting age stop you from pushing forward.

Review: Home

March 27, 2015

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Home PosterThroughout their filmography of over thirty features, DreamWorks Animation has had a somewhat mixed output, evident just last year with three films ranging in quality from the surprisingly good Mr. Peabody & Sherman and the outstanding How To Train Your Dragon 2, to the very disappointing Penguins of Madagascar.

Amidst these genuine highs and relative lows, Home falls in the middle ground of being one of their pretty good ones, a nicely animated and easily entertaining science fiction comedy, with some heart and positive messages about being different.  This is simply a fun diversion, nothing more and nothing less.

After our planet is taken over by an alien race known as the Boov, under the pompous leadership of Captain Smek (Steve Martin), Tip (Rihanna) ends up separated from her mom (Jennifer Lopez), and is travelling across the country to get her back.  When Oh (Jim Parsons) unwittingly becomes an outlaw amongst his race, the innocent little alien joins the girl on her journey, and the two learn to help each other understand the importance of accepting differences.

The animation features some nice uses of purple and pastel colours, and there is a pleasantly bubbly look to the world of the film.  Although the central premise does seem a little derivative of the vastly superior Lilo & Stitch, albeit without the emotional depth of that Disney classic, Home modestly works because of its own appealing girl and her alien leads.  Tip is a refreshingly natural heroine, ably voiced by Rihanna, who also adds several upbeat pop songs to the frequently catchy soundtrack.

As both comic foil and sidekick, Oh provides an adorable and appealingly designed counterpart who should sell a lot of Happy Meal toys, with the two of them making the film into a sort of mismatched buddy comedy.  We can practically see how much fun Jim Parsons must have had behind the microphone, and his line readings are often very funny.  I couldn’t think of a better actor or more fitting choice to voice such a likeable and naive alien character.

For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Home.  Although following a predictable story that will prove to be more exciting for kids than adults, DreamWorks seems completely satisfied with delivering a product that sets out simply to entertain, and sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that.  This is a fun and often amusing ride, delivering enough action and popping colours to keep the young ones engaged, while entertaining older audiences with some clever one-liners and appealing voice work from Jim Parsons.

Previewing the 2015 Canadian Film Fest

March 24, 2015

By John Corrado

Pretend Were Kissing PosterDevoted to showcasing the best in homegrown independent cinema, the ninth annual Canadian Film Fest starts tonight with the Toronto premiere of The Cocksure Lads Movie.

Screening sixteen shorts and eight features over the next four days, the festival closes on Saturday night with Pretend We’re Kissing, which is among my personal favourites and one that has the potential to become a breakout hit.

All in all, I’ve had the opportunity to preview seven of these films, and can safely say that there is some good stuff here.  The eighth film being screened is Late Night Double Feature, which I’ve heard some pretty good things about and horror fans should like.

All of these screenings will be taking place at the Royal Theatre, and tickets and showtimes can be found right here.  Enjoy!

The Cocksure Lads Movie: After arriving in Toronto for their first big show, and breaking up almost immediately, the four members of the British invasion band The Cocksure Lads end up wandering the city, all meeting girls and getting into the usual mischief.  But as the night draws near, Dusty (Lyndon Ogbourne), Derek (Luke Marty), Blake (Edward Hillier) and Reg (Adam McNab), find themselves struggling to get back together before the curtain opens.  Although juggling a few too many characters, and sometimes feeling overly slight, The Cocksure Lads Movie makes up for these shortcomings with high energy and good spirits.  A fictional take on writer-director Murray Foster’s real life novelty band, this is a fairly enjoyable and often entertaining comedy musical that has some nicely staged moments, and offers a fun way to start the festival.

Wednesday, March 25th – 6:45 PM @ The Royal Theatre

Relative Happiness: Lexie Ivy (Melissa Bergland) is a plucky Bed and Breakfast owner in small town Nova Scotia, who desperately needs a date for her sister Gabby’s (Molly Dunsworth) wedding.  But when she asks her attractive and free spirited guest Adrien (Jonathan Sousa) to be her plus-one, a whole new batch of relationship problems are unleashed.  Maybe she should have heeded the advice of her charming and available roofer Joss (Aaron Poole) after all.  Pretty much everything about Relative Happiness is perfectly okay and sometimes even sweet in a clichéd romantic comedy sort of way, but the film is also far too lightweight and predictable to have any real lasting impact, beyond a few surface charms.

Thursday, March 26th – 7:00 PM @ The Royal Theatre

Shooting the Musical: Like an offensive joke that gets away with being offensive by becoming about the joke itself instead of the content, Shooting The Musical is a mockumentary that cleverly satirizes film school graduates who are willing to do anything to get known in the industry.  After his friend (Lee Shorten) commits suicide, and leaves behind a screenplay about a school shooting, young filmmaker Adam Baxter (Bruce Novakowski) exploits his death to assemble a cast and crew and turn the script into a musical, which understandably sparks controversy.  Although willfully offensive and certainly not for everyone, Shooting The Musical is pulled off with such brash confidence by writer-director Joel Ashton McCarthy, that we can’t help but keep watching.  The film walks an almost invisible line between being uncomfortable and genuinely entertaining, but it’s rare that we see a project this ballsy and ambitious coming out of homegrown independent cinema, and that counts for a lot.

Friday, March 27th – 7:00 PM @ The Royal Theatre

Barn Wedding: When their idyllic country wedding is moved to the middle of winter, Emma (Emily Coutts) and Colin (Brett Donahue) find themselves stuck at a snowy rural property, forced to spend the weekend dealing with old tensions between their friends and siblings.  The group of youngish adults are all dealing with their own various quarter-life crises, especially college friend and maid of honour Jessie (Kelly McCormack), who still lives with the bride and groom as their roommate.  Although the story follows a fairly predictable path, director Shaun Benson and writer Kelly McCormack offer enough nice twists on the typical wedding comedy along the way, to make Barn Wedding an enjoyable film that is elevated by believable dialogue and good performances.

Friday, March 27th – 9:30 PM @ The Royal Theatre

Ben’s at Home: After a bad break up, thirty year old Ben (Dan Abramovici) makes the decision to not leave the house again, spending his days reviewing movies and hanging out with anyone willing to come over.  But a cute grocery delivery girl (Jessica Embro) might just force him to rethink his plans, and pull him out of the house once and for all.  Maybe it’s just that I have a soft spot for movies about film critics, or can admittedly somewhat relate to the title character, but I really enjoyed Ben’s at Home.  Making the most of the perfectly timed 70 minute running time, which manages to be compelling despite being pretty much confined to a single location, this is a winning and incredibly likeable indie comedy, that succeeds thanks to a sharp script and naturalistic performances.  This is solid proof that you can make something completely entertaining, even with the simplest of resources.

Saturday, March 28th – 3:45 PM @ The Royal Theatre

Nocturne: Arman (Knickoy Robinson) is a sleepwalker who spends his nights wandering the city streets like a zombie, compulsively eating and making origami.  Cindy (Mary Krohnert) is his coworker, an insomniac who’s obsessed with fairy tales and starts following him at night, becoming drawn into his mysterious world.  There are a few intriguing elements here, including nicely animated sequences that help tell the story and some stylish cinematography, but the themes of Nocturne are frustratingly vague, and the film seems completely unsure of what tone it’s going for.  Feeling far too long at dangerously close to two hours, mark this one down as a mildly interesting but not really successful experiment.

Saturday, March 28th – 6:00 PM @ The Royal Theatre

Pretend We’re Kissing: Benny (Dov Tiefenbach) is a shy young adult who over thinks everything, and finds his life held back by his 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.  Providing a wonderfully textured and sharply written examination of a short term love affair, believably portrayed by Dov Tiefenbach and Tommie-Amber Pirie, this is a likeable and entertaining film that nicely subverts the typical romantic comedy tropes, to reach a genuinely sweet final scene.

Saturday, March 28th – 8:45 PM @ The Royal Theatre

Blu-ray Release: Into the Woods

March 24, 2015

By John Corrado

Into the Woods Blu-rayToday, Disney is releasing director Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods on Blu-ray.  The musical follows a childless baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who must travel into the woods to reverse a longstanding curse that has been placed upon them by the Witch (Meryl Streep), encountering different fairy tale characters along the way.

I was a big fan of Into the Woods, and even saw the film twice in theatres, so obviously I’m recommending the Blu-ray.  Nominated for three Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep, this is a darkly beautiful and very entertaining musical, that boasts top notch performances from a dream cast.  My full review is right here.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca, a four part documentary on the production and two other featurettes.  There’s also an original Stephen Sondheim song performed by Meryl Streep, that was written for but cut from the film.  This is all good stuff.

Into the Woods is 125 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Release: Exodus: Gods and Kings

March 24, 2015

By John Corrado

Exodus Blu-rayLast week, 20th Century Fox released Exodus: Gods and Kings on Blu-ray.  Directed by Ridley Scott, this Bible epic recounts the story of Moses (Christian Bale), and how he came to free his people from the Egyptian rule of his adopted brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton).

There are some stirring special effects, and the production design is impressive and authentic, matched by a dedicated performance from Christian Bale.  But with a pretty uninspired screenplay, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a largely middle of the road swords and sandals epic, that runs overly long and dry at a whopping 150 minutes.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with Ridley Scott and co-screenwriter Jeffrey Caine, deleted and extended scenes, as well as a historical guide.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is 150 minutes and rated PG.

Review: Seymour: An Introduction

March 20, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Seymour PosterAfter questioning the meaning behind his own art, Ethan Hawke had a chance encounter with the elderly Seymour Bernstein, an acclaimed classical pianist in New York who gave up performing publicly decades ago to focus on being a teacher and composer.

This dinner party meeting came at a crucial moment in Ethan Hawke’s acting career several years ago, inspiring him to direct his first documentary, the beautifully captured portrait Seymour: An Introduction, which opens in limited release today.

The two bonded over their shared nervousness and anxiety around performing, which Seymour Bernstein considers to be very much a part of talent and success, and this connection between director and subject transfers over to the audience.

Living alone in a single room apartment, and devoting his life to sharing his passion for the universal language of music, Seymour Bernstein makes for a warm and wise subject who serves as our collective mentor throughout the film.  Ethan Hawke shows a deft hand behind the camera, and it’s clear that this is a deeply personal project for the actor.  These are both artists with plenty of wisdom to share, and that’s exactly what makes this such a special documentary.

Done in a conversational style that recalls the equally wonderful Keep On Keepin’ On, Seymour: An Introduction is a very inspiring and often philosophical conversation piece about our desire and need to create art, and how artists should pursue their passion throughout every aspect of their life.

Blu-ray Release: Top Five

March 17, 2015

By John Corrado

Top Five Blu-rayToday, Paramount is releasing writer-director Chris Rock’s Top Five on Blu-ray.  Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is a celebrated standup comedian, who has become a sellout movie star, and now wants to be taken seriously as an actor.

But on the weekend of his new movie release, and widely publicized reality show marriage, he is given the opportunity to rethink his past, as a journalist (Rosario Dawson) spends the day with him trying to get an honest interview.

There is a lot of funny stuff here, but Chris Rock has also imbued this raunchy comedy with surprisingly thoughtful and even bittersweet undertones about addiction, the nature of celebrity, and the often slippery relationships between actors and journalists.

Bolstered by a sharply written and incredibly tight screenplay that ties everything together quite nicely, as well as solid performances across the board, Top Five provides great entertainment, with something genuine and deeper beneath the surface.  This is Chris Rock at the top of his game.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with Chris Rock and actor JB Smoove, some outtakes and deleted scenes, as well as two featurettes.

Top Five is 101 minutes and rated 18A.

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