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Review: Ted 2

June 26, 2015

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Ted 2 PosterProbably the best scene in Ted 2 comes right near the beginning of this raunchy comedy sequel.  The plushy title star (Seth MacFarlane) has just gotten married to his girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), giving way to a perfectly choreographed musical number that is equal parts Busby Berkeley and Easter Parade.  This sequence is both amusing and visually captivating, but when the best part of a film is the opening credits, that’s not really the best sign.

Now is probably a good time to mention that I have a pretty mixed relationship with Seth MacFarlane’s work.  I’ve never really gotten into Family Guy, and last year’s failed cinematic spoof A Million Ways to Die in the West was an abysmally unfunny and wildly overlong waste of time and money, that felt like pure self indulgence on the part of the writer, director and star.

But I did quite like the first Ted, a foul mouthed talking teddy bear comedy that had some big laughs and also a surprising amount of heart, somewhat understandably becoming a box office hit for these reasons.  This is why I tried to remain cautiously optimistic about this seemingly contractually obligated sequel, but no amount of a few genuinely funny moments and goodwill towards the original, can save this from feeling like an uneven retread of a superior comedic concept.

The story here picks up several years after the events of the first film.  John Bennet (Mark Wahlberg) is now divorced, and Ted is looking to reignite passion in his own marriage by having a baby.  But when attempts at artificial insemination fail, like trying to jerk off Tom Brady and another grossly sticky situation, the teddy bear and his human wife settle for trying to adopt a child.  The only problem is that their request brings unwanted legal attention, leading to Ted’s sense of personhood getting questioned, and him being deemed property.  With a novice lawyer (Amanda Seyfried) on their side, a court case is opened where Ted is forced to defend his basic human rights, and legally father a child.

It’s not that this premise doesn’t have potential, and there are some glimpses of clever satire in what Seth MacFarlane is saying about the importance of accepting differences, making a few questionable but seemingly well intentioned comparisons to other real civil rights cases.  But Ted 2 is just too unfocused a platform to really commit to any of these ideas.  The faux dramatic speechifying suggests some level of forward thinking on his part, but at a certain point, his purposefully offensive humour crosses a line and starts to drown out anything remotely progressive that the film might be trying to say.  Any messages will likely be lost on the target demographic of perpetual adolescents who are just waiting for the next bong or dick joke, two things that are even combined for an extended gag that reeks of homophobia.

To make matters worse, at nearly two hours, portions of the film run long and start to get a little boring, with several of the comedic set pieces feeling random and out of place.  This includes a thoroughly idiotic bit involving throwing apples at joggers, and a painfully unfunny scene at an improv club, that opens far too many fresh wounds.  The whole finale at New York Comic Con, a setting theoretically ripe for parody, feels nasty and mean spirited in ways that are far more uncomfortable than funny, unless you find something hilarious about the sight of two overtly stereotyped gay men bullying costumed nerds.

There are still a couple of good gags here, flashes of what made the first film mostly work.  Nicely staged references to The Breakfast Club and Planes, Trains and Automobiles provide solid if obvious laughs, and a musical cue taken right from Jurassic Park is also pretty great.  A pitch perfect cameo from Liam Neeson is easily the single funniest scene, an inspired comedy sketch that pays off with an amusing stinger after the end credits.  Mark Wahlberg once again commits himself fully to the premise, and there are also some fun exchanges between the cast.  It’s these sporadic delights that kept me from outright disliking the film, but I was never unaware of the fact that I was watching mediocrity.

Like an unfortunate number of comedy sequels, Ted 2 is very hit and miss.  There are moments in the film that are funny, and other parts that really aren’t.  Where the original felt fresh, this one often feels like a retread.  The narrative is ambling and the humour is mostly scattershot, a film that is to be enjoyed more for specific parts rather than the whole.  But these amusing moments, which maybe make up about half the film in total, can safely wait until you can watch Ted 2 in the comfort of your own home.

Blu-ray Release: The Wrecking Crew

June 23, 2015

By John Corrado

The Wrecking Crew Blu-rayLast week, the excellent music documentary The Wrecking Crew was released on Blu-ray.   Told through interviews and archival footage, the film recounts the story of The Wrecking Crew, a group of California studio musicians who anonymously played on some of the most famous albums of all time, helping develop the West Coast Sound and also ushering in producer Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

Directed by Denny Tedesco, whose late father Tommy played with the band, there are a lot of wonderful stories here.  This includes the realization that the album Pet Sounds was pretty much just Brian Wilson and these studio musicians, with The Beach Boys largely relegated to the background, and how The Wrecking Crew was responsible for everything heard during The Monkees early years.

A must see for all classic rock and pop fans, The Wrecking Crew is a lively, engaging and also poignant music documentary, filled with great stories and an excellent soundtrack.  Some of your favourite songs from throughout the 1960s and early ’70s will take on even deeper meaning afterwards.

The Blu-ray also boasts having over six hours of bonus content, including multiple deleted scenes.

The Wrecking Crew is 102 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Release: Spirited Away and The Cat Returns

June 23, 2015

Last week, Disney released Spirited Away and The Cat Returns on Blu-ray, a pair of Studio Ghibli films that come highly recommended for fans of the legendary Japanese animation house.  Enjoy!

Spirited Away Blu-raySpirited Away: Released in 2002, Spirited Away is the story of Chihiro (Daveigh Chase), a young girl who is moving to the Japanese countryside, when her parents undergo a mysterious transformation and she becomes lost in a strange world of spirits.

Beloved by audiences and critics alike, and winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, Spirited Away not only remains one of Hayao Miyazaki’s finest achievements, but is also my personal favourite of Studio Ghibli’s many films.

A beautifully animated and highly imaginative fantasy epic, that mixes engaging characters and moving themes with haunting and frequently breathtaking imagery, Spirited Away is simply a remarkable achievement, and this long awaited Blu-ray release is highly recommended.

The Blu-ray includes an introduction by John Lasseter, as well as the original Japanese storyboards, a couple of featurettes, and trailers for the film.

Spirited Away is 125 minutes and rated PG.

The Cat Returns Blu-rayThe Cat Returns: Released in 2003, The Cat Returns follows Haru (Anne Hathaway), a quiet school girl who rescues an unusual cat named Prince Lune (Andrew Bevis) from being hit by a truck, and finds herself taken to the Cat Kingdom, where the Cat King (Tim Curry) expects her to marry his son in return.

Although one of the more simplistic films in Studio Ghibli’s library, especially in comparison to Spirited AwayThe Cat Returns is still an entertaining and frequently amusing feline fantasy, with some wonderful imagery.

Featuring plenty of nicely animated sequences, and enough delightfully designed characters to engage cat lovers of all ages, The Cat Returns has also never looked better than it does now on Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray includes the original Japanese storyboards, as well as a couple of featurettes and trailers.

The Cat Returns is 75 minutes and rated G.

Interview: Theodore Bezaire on The Birder

June 20, 2015

By John Corrado

The Birder DVDThe Birder is one of those films that I feel like I have a long relationship with.  I’ve been championing the independent comedy for a while now, having first made note of it at the 2014 Canadian Film Fest, before offering a full review when the film opened in theatres this time last year.

So when I found an unopened email regarding the May 12th DVD release buried in my inbox a few weeks ago, I was disappointed to have missed the opportunity to have more coverage of the film.  I immediately wrote back apologizing for my delay in responding, and what happened next was a pleasant surprise.  I got a personal response from the director himself, Theodore Bezaire, offering an interview.  Now that’s pretty impressive.

So I coordinated sending over a couple of questions for him to answer, which are included below.  This whole exchange left me with an even deeper appreciation of his work, and be sure to pick up a copy of The Birder on DVD, which would coincidentally also make a great last minute Father’s Day gift this weekend.  Enjoy!

I would love to hear more about the inspiration behind the film.  Do you have any personal experience with birding?  I personally don’t have any experience birding, but growing up in Windsor and Essex County the birding culture was always present.  Point Pelee National Park (which the park in our film is inspired by) is a world famous birding spot it was on my radar.  Mike and I thought that the birding subculture was interesting and at the time we started writing, it hadn’t really been seen on film.  Then we paired it with another idea I had about looking into the the personal life of a teacher, and THE BIRDER was born.

How long was the whole process, from writing the script to the actual production?  After our first film THING TO DO premiered at Slamdance, that opened a few doors for us.  It was distributed in Canada by Mongrel Media and it also caught the attention of some people at Telefilm Canada.  Telefilm brought us in and asked us what we were working and we pitched them the idea of THE BIRDER.  They liked it and we started development.  Overall the writing process took about 3-4 years.  Then the packaging/financing phase took another 2-3 years.  It was definitely a different process than our first film which went from idea to premiering in Park City in literally 1 year.

I was really impressed with the look of the film.  The cinematography feels very polished for a small independent feature, which I found very refreshing to see.  Can you tell me a little bit about some of the technical elements behind the production?  Thanks for the compliment!  The cinematography is definitely one place we wanted to focus.  We were really lucky to get Arthur Cooper on board as our DOP.  He’s shot a bunch of great movies including ONE WEEK, WHO LOVES THE SUN, and YOUNG PEOPLE FUCKING.  We were going for a bit of a classic look, using a dolly, no handheld,  really thinking about composition, etc.  Since our main character is stuck in the past we wanted that to be reflected in the way we positioned and moved the camera.  I really wanted to shoot this on super 16mm, again to give it more of an old school feel, but ultimately for various reasons we ended up shooting on the Arri Alexa.  It’s really a great camera and allowed us to move a little bit quicker, which was very important on our tight schedule.

All of the actors were perfectly cast for their specific roles, particularly Tom Cavanagh and Mark Rendall, who have some really great chemistry together.  I would love to hear more about how they became involved in the project.  We couldn’t be happier with the cast we were able to assemble.  We sent the script to Tom’s manager and within a few days we heard that he was interested. I had an initial phone conversation with him to discuss the project, tone, that sort of thing, and we immediately were on the same page.  Tom really understood the kind of film we were trying make and jumped in with both feet.

As for Mark, he was an actor I had been keeping track of.  I’d seen him in a few films, and really liked his energy.  He was mainly doing more dramatic work but I knew he could pull off the comedy we were looking for.  Mark tells this great story about the day he received our offer to be in the film.   His grandfather, who recently passed away, was an avid birder and actually met his grandmother at Point Pelee.  On the day that Mark’s mother sent him an email telling him that they were spreading his grandfather’s ashes at Point Pelee, he also received our offer to be in the film.  Mark said that he had to do the film.

I was also impressed with the song choices.  How did you select the music for the film?  Music is very important to me and I really wanted to find the best songs to be in the film.  I was lucky enough to work with 2 great people.  David Hayman was our Music Supervisor, and it was his job to go out and find all the songs featured in the film.  He would send me a bunch of choices for a certain cue and they were always spot on.  I also worked with Richard Pell and his team who handled the score.  I was a fan of Richard’s previous work, so it was a real pleasure to be able to work with him on this project.

And what’s next for you?  Any upcoming films or projects you can talk about?  I have a few features I’m developing along with a TV series, but nothing official to announce just yet.  I’m also looking into getting more directing work so we’ll see how that goes!

Three Views: Inside Out

June 19, 2015

Inside Out Poster

Inside Out – A Walt Disney Studios Release

Release Date: June 19th, 2015
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Running Time: 103 minutes

Pete Docter (director)
Ronnie Del Carmen (co-director)

Meg LeFauve (screenplay)
Josh Cooley (screenplay)
Pete Docter (screenplay)

Michael Giacchino (music)

Amy Poehler as Joy (voice)
Phyllis Smith as Sadness (voice)
Richard Kind as Bing Bong (voice)
Bill Hader as Fear (voice)
Lewis Black as Anger (voice)
Mindy Kaling as Disgust (voice)
Kaitlyn Dias as Riley (voice)
Diane Lane as Mom (voice)
Kyle MacLachlan as Dad (voice)

Inside Out

Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and
Joy (Amy Poehler) in Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out.

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Inside Out Review By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

At what point do we stop remembering every aspect of our childhood, and are some memories destined to be forgotten, in order to make way for new ones?  When we get older, do we just have to accept sadness in order to find joy?  As I drift through my young adult years, and farther away from my own childhood, I’ve been asking myself a lot of these questions over the last little while.  And many of these same ideas are explored in Inside Out, the latest triumph from the geniuses at Pixar Animation Studios, and the third from visionary director Pete Docter.

This is the studio’s first film in two years, and one of their absolute best, an experience that moves fast and keeps us fully entertained, while also pondering moments from our own lives.  Emotionally rich, thematically satisfying and visually inventive, Inside Out is a shining and powerful example of the best that animation has to offer, a truly special film that features the perfect balance of inspired humour, and also plenty of tears.  Joy and Sadness were in charge of my emotions the entire time, and as of right now, I can’t imagine seeing a better or more affective film this year.

Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) is a generally happy eleven year old girl, who is both the protagonist and main setting of Inside Out.  She is the protagonist, because the majority of the narrative involves her struggles with a stressful move from Minnesota to San Francisco, forcing her to leave behind her best friend and beloved hockey team, and providing increasing tension between her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan).  But she is also the main setting, because much of the journey takes place inside her mind, as seen from the perspective of her five emotions.

Since Riley was a baby, Joy (Amy Poehler) has been the main one at the controllers in Headquarters, making sure that she remains happy and playful, leaving the lonely Sadness (Phyllis Smith) to often feel left out and question her purpose in life.  Anger (Lewis Black) controls her temper and makes sure things are fair, Fear (Bill Hader) is in charge of keeping her safe, and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) keeps her from being poisoned, both physically and socially.  And as she inches towards adolescence, they are all increasingly important players within her mind.

But when Joy and Sadness get lost in the many winding halls of her Long Term Memory, Riley’s world is thrown even further off balance and she starts to experience depression, forcing the two differing emotions to work together, in order to get her memories and feelings back in order.  They also encounter Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s imaginary friend from when she was three, who has essentially become a hobo and is terrified of being forgotten.  He’s one of those characters who is almost destined to be a fan favourite, an adorable and instantly lovable creation who will also break your heart.

The appealing designs of these central characters are matched by a pitch perfect voice cast.  Amy Poehler does a wonderful job of portraying both the upbeat nature and maternal instincts of her character, and Phyllis Smith does equally outstanding work on the other end of the emotional spectrum, bringing genuine feeling to her depressed counterpart.  Bill Hader nicely captures the sound of jittery anxiety, Mindy Kaling does her best impression of a moody teen girl, and comedian Lewis Black is the perfect choice to portray feelings of anger.  The lovely music by Michael Giacchino is maybe the composer’s finest and most resonant work since his now iconic score for Up six years ago.

From the gorgeous opening sequence, when Joy emerges inside the infinite darkness of Riley’s newborn mind, opening her eyes for the first time and peering up at her parents, the film captures something profound about what makes each of us unique, even if we all more or less have the same five emotions in control.  And for those worried that only showing five emotions won’t encompass enough of the wide ranging spectrum of feelings, the film proves that it’s possible for a single emotion to have a complete character arc, coming to understand and embody more than just their designated role.

If all of this sounds intellectually stimulating, that’s because it is, but Inside Out is also incredibly relatable in the way it sets up these ideas.  The film boasts wildly imaginative and richly detailed visuals, with the sequences in our world offering some of the most beautifully realistic animation that Pixar has ever done.  The film even takes a turn for the surrealistic, taking us to such destinations as Abstract Thought, Imagination Land and Dream Productions, which all make inventive use of the animated medium.  The clever screenplay also includes some of Pixar’s funniest moments, and the hilarious end credits sequence is like a cathartic release, laughs that come naturally after the tears.

And believe me, I cried a lot during Inside Out.  Because this is a film about emotions, it’s only fitting that our own feelings are taken on a roller coaster ride, and rarely has a mainstream animated film felt this reflective or bittersweet.  Among the most ingenious elements is how Riley’s memories are shown as glowing spheres, which can be projected back into her mind.  The happy ones are yellow, the same colour as Joy, but when Sadness touches them, they turn blue and gain twinges of melancholia.  This offers a touching representation of how our perception of memories that were once happy, especially those from childhood, can easily turn poignant the farther we get away from them.

This is undoubtedly one of the most profoundly moving explorations of memory and emotion that I have ever seen, and in a library of deeply affective films, Inside Out is also among Pixar’s most complex works yet.  I attribute much of this emotional honesty to Pete Docter, a filmmaker who continues to prove that he is unafraid of using animation to explore deeper themes, this time inspired by watching his own daughter grow up.  Like the beautifully realized opening montage of his Oscar-winning 2009 film Up, and the deeply resonant final scenes of his 2001 debut Monsters, Inc., there are similarly entire sequences in Inside Out that are almost painfully open in the ways they tug at our heartstrings.

There are several montages of Riley getting older, flashes of memories that feel both personal and universally relatable, which have an absolutely gutting emotional impact.  Riley is all of us, just another kid not quite ready to grow up, but needing to do so anyways.  Yes, this is a story about the death of childhood, heartachingly showing getting older as the end of some things.  But it also shows the end of being a kid as a rebirth of sorts, a natural progression that allows us to have new experiences and make more memories.  This is a film that tells us it’s okay to grow up, and that feeling blue is a natural and important part of the human condition, just so long as our emotions find ways to work together.

So if I sound personally attached to this film, that’s because I am.  The literal and figurative emotions of Inside Out have become a sort of guiding force in my own life since I first saw the film two weeks ago, a metaphor with which to explore my own current feelings and memories of childhood.  Beautifully balancing the joy with the sadness, this is a film that will steal your heart, break it wide open and then proceed to fix it again, an incredibly entertaining and extremely moving mix of emotions that has the power to revolutionize the way we think about what’s going on inside our own minds.

Before Inside Out, there’s the new short film Lava, a sweet musical love story between two volcanos in Hawaii, which features some breathtaking animation.  It’s a charming showcase for Pixar’s ability to make anthropomorphized objects capture our hearts, and the song by director James Ford Murphy, who also sings and plays the ukelele, will get caught in your head in a good kind of way.

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Inside Out Review By Erin Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

What goes on inside our heads?  How can we feel one way one moment, and then another the next?  What colours our memories with the emotions of the moment?  Inside Out is another masterful outing from Disney•Pixar that explores an entirely new – yet very familiar to us all – world.  Inside the workings of our heads.

Inside Out opens where we meet Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as a baby.  The first emotion to pop into her head is Joy (Amy Poehler), who, as Riley’s eyes open for the first time, experiences through Riley the wonderment of her new world.  Next to come is Sadness (Phyllis Smith), then Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black).  These five emotions and the way they work together help make Riley who she is.

After another well-done montage from director Pete Doctor (Up), we meet 11-year-old Riley.  Hockey-playing, goofy, loving, and smart.  But as her parents decide to move from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley’s world and that of her emotions is turned upside-down.  When Joy and Sadness accidentally get lost in Long Term Memory, they have to find their way back before Riley changes forever.

It’s a hard film to synopsize without giving much away, or ending up confusing.  The concepts of the inner-workings of the mind are really visual and have to be seen on screen.  The literal conceptualization of the Train of Thought, Long Term Memory, Recall Tubes, Dream Production, and more, are well thought out and oddly feel believable in the visual incarnation they are given.

While being visually stunning, Inside Out is also at its heart as it should be.  Emotional.  As Joy and Sadness learn from each other and how emotions really are more intertwined than we may like to think, it is hard to keep tears from welling up in the last act.  Anyone who’s experienced sudden mixed emotions and the confusing time of growing up and handling change, will relate to the range of emotions that come flooding through here. And thanks to a solid script as we are catapulted back and forth between the timelines happening inside and outside of Riley’s head, it feels fluid and seamless.

The score by Michael Giacchino elevates the emotions of the film as well, as do the voice performances by the entire cast, and in particular, leads Poehler and Smith.  There is no doubt – Inside Out is a film that will take you on an emotional ride in the best way possible.

Attached to Inside Out is the short film Lava.  Following the lives of two volcanoes as they sing out their hope for someone by their side, it is a quirky yet charming short.  Be sure to arrive early so as not to miss it.

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Inside Out Review By Maureen Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a way you could get inside someone’s head and understand what they were thinking and feeling?  Wait.  Pixar just did that, with genius director Pete Docter’s Inside Out, an entertaining and brilliantly insightful adventure inside the mind of an eleven year old girl.

Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), her mom (Diane Lane) and dad (Kyle MacClachlan) move from Minnesota to San Francisco, leaving behind Riley’s childhood friends and the hockey team she loved playing on.  When she reacts by retreating inside her own thoughts and emotions, we get to watch her inner world unfold through the incredibly imaginative animation that makes up this brilliant movie.

According to Inside Out, everyone’s emotions are controlled by five basic characters.  Inside Riley, there’s yellow Joy (Amy Poehler), blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith), purple Fear (Bill Hader), red Anger (Lewis Black) and green Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  And up to this point, Joy has been the main one at the control panel.  But things change for her when Sadness starts to take over, forcing Joy and Sadness to go on a journey inside Riley’s mind to try and set things right, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust at the controls.

What’s brilliant about Inside Out is how so many aspects of the mind are visually depicted.  Memories look like see through bowling balls, the subconscious is a dark pit and key areas of memories are grouped together on islands.  Riley has islands called Family, Goofball, Hockey, Friendship and Honesty.  But as Riley’s emotions start to fall apart, so do her islands.

As Joy and Sadness journey through Riley’s mind, we are treated to some incredibly funny moments and also some truly touching ones.  It’s in Riley’s mind that we meet Bing Bong (Richard King), and experience one of the most creative animated depictions of abstract thought.  The whole sequence in abstract thought still has me thinking about how brilliant it is.  If only the psychology classes that I took in university had been this entertaining and informative.

Inside Out feels perfect in every way.  The story is insightful, touching and relatable.  The animation is creative, colourful and very entertaining.  The voice work, especially from Amy Poehler’s Joy and Phyllis Smith’s Sadness, is solid all around.  Backed up by another wonderful score by Michael Giacchino, Inside Out is a truly special experience from beginning to end.  Stay for the end credits montage to see the emotions of a wide range of characters.  My favourite?  The cat’s emotions panel.  Watch for it.

Inside Out deserves a lot of attention when awards season rolls around.  But in the meantime, adults, families and especially children in the ten and up range, can enjoy this wonderfully creative glimpse of the inner workings of that fascinating place called the mind.

Before Inside Out is Lava, a charming musical tale of a lonely volcano who wants to fall in “lava.”  A sweet story that reminds us it’s never to late to fall in lava, this one will have you longing for a trip to Hawaii with your special someone.  Delightful.

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Consensus: The latest triumph from the geniuses at Pixar, and visionary director Pete Docter, Inside Out is a masterful film that uses visually inventive animation to deliver an entertaining and incredibly emotional glimpse inside the mind. ★★★★ (out of 4)

Book Review: Film + Video Budgets, 6th Ed.

June 18, 2015

41kROPEeLBL_largeReleased June 1st, 2015
Page count: 365 pages
Size: 6” x 9”

Film + Video Budgets, 6th Ed.

by Maureen A. Ryan

Published By Michael Wiese Productions

To find out more about Film + Video Budgets or other titles, visit MWP’s website here.  

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Film + Video Budgets Review by Erin Corrado

What are line items?  Why are they important?  And how do you make heads or tails of everything in a budget when starting out as a filmmaker?  If these are questions you are wondering, you might want to check out this book.

At close to 400 pages, it may seem intimidatingly long at first, but it’s really not.  The first five chapters give us the overview we need to read and understand a budget, and then by 196 pages in, the book moves into chapter six – aptly titled ‘Sample Budgets for Specific Projects’.  These are not intended to be copied for your project (there are blank budget sheets you can download when you buy the book), but are really for reference.  From $1 million+ features, all the way down to documentaries, industrial films, and student shorts, the samples are useful as an example of how to budget different types of media production, even if the actual dollar figures are different from your own.

This 6th edition of the hugely successful book Film + Video Budgets is written by Maureen A. Ryan (author of Producer to Producer).  I’d read the 5th a few years back and was refreshed by the amount of information easily provided.  But times change and information in the world of film is out of date in an instant, which brings us to this much needed updated manual to budgeting.  For those just starting out or already involved in the independent world of filmmaking, this is a manual you’ll want to have by your side as you set up your production.

Review: Jurassic World

June 17, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Jurassic World PosterThe original Jurassic Park is one of those films that rewired me as a kid.  I must have been about eight years old when I first saw Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic, and even just watching it on a small television screen in the middle of a summer afternoon, the dinosaur adventure tapped right into both my hunger for spectacle and innate, childlike sense of wonder.  I loved every second.

I unfortunately can’t say the same for The Lost World.  Although the 1997 sequel boasts some solid set pieces, it also can’t help but feel like a disappointment after the success of the original, and it’s one of Steven Spielberg’s weakest films, with a lot of distractingly needless elements.  Contrarily, I still contend that 2001’s Jurassic Park III is a pretty fun popcorn film, playing on a smaller scale than the first one, but still modestly successful in its execution.

This brings us right into Jurassic World, which is easily the best sequel that the series has ever gotten.  No, this fourth franchise instalment can’t surpass the greatness of the original, but it’s still a wildly entertaining dinosaur spectacle that made me feel like a kid again, and I mean that in the best possible way.  And having just come off the biggest opening weekend of all time with an impressive box office haul of $208.8 million, it’s also one of the summer’s best blockbusters.

The story takes place 22 years after the disaster at the original park.  A revamped version of the theme park is now up and running on Isla Nublar, where new attractions are always being commissioned to keep their visitors excited.  Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the corporate head of the place, not only tasked with showing around their biggest investor, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), but also watching over her two nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), who are sent there for a tour.

Owen (Chris Pratt) is a sort of dinosaur whisperer who boasts a deep understanding of the animals, and also has some pretty tough survival instincts of his own, trying to keep his velociraptors out of the hands of Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who wants to weaponize the creatures and sell them to the military.  But when the lab’s newest creation, a spliced together dinosaur known as Indominous Rex, breaks out of her constraints, the park is poorly equipped for the disaster, putting the visitors in grave danger.

Although Jurassic World has been accused of having stereotypical characters, they are nowhere near as problematic as some buzz would suggest, and are actually understandable in context.  Yes, they are often archetypes, but the film does get points for at least trying to have a strong female lead and more racially diverse cast.  The actors all do a fine job of bringing a little more depth to their roles than you might expect, being given enough breathing room for us to become invested in their plight.

Chris Pratt is an easily likeable presence no matter what, with his charmingly self assured humour matched by his genuine action movie capabilities.  Bryce Dallas Howard brings a sense of determined strength to her character, who gets many opportunities to stand up for herself and kick ass, even though she is often wearing high heels.  Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins are engaging as the young leads, with their tested bond as brothers providing the main heart of the film.  Jake Johnson is a nice addition to the cast, providing some delightful comic relief through his brief role as a desk attendant.

The most pleasantly surprising part of Jurassic World is how respectable it is of the original film, and just how many clever little references they are able to work in.  The director this time around is Colin Trevorrow, who first showed promise with the great little time travel adventure Safety Not Guaranteed a few years ago, and he does deft work behind the camera here.  The first act does a good job of introducing us to the characters and setting up the stakes of this world, building up genuine tension that finally explodes when all hell breaks loose partway through.  This suspense is kept going right through the genuinely exciting finale, where the T-Rex is used in a pretty cool way.

The action sequences actually allow a fair amount of tension to build up in order the amplify the thrills and jump scares, and the old Steven Spielberg tactic of putting kids in peril is also put to great use here, especially during a tense ride in a gyrosphere.  What also helps is that the special effects are pretty damn impressive, once again bringing these dinosaurs to roaring life right before our eyes.  The size and scope of these creatures is felt throughout, and a thrilling pterodactyl chase where visitors are literally being plucked off the ground, is like something right out of The Birds.

When I revisited the original Jurassic Park again a few years ago, in a theatre no less during the surprisingly successful 3D rerelease, I was delighted to find that the film held up just as well to my adult sensibilities.  It’s one of the few movies of its type that I would consider absolutely perfect in what it sets out to do, and I still count it among my favourites.  For an effects driven summer blockbuster, and the fourth instalment in a franchise that first launched over twenty years ago, Jurassic World is way better than anybody probably expected it to be.

This is a film that works exceedingly well as summer popcorn entertainment, offering enough likeable performances and genuine dinosaur thrills to keep us thoroughly engaged from start to finish.  Put simply, Jurassic World is a lot of fun, tapping right into that childhood sense of both wonder and fear that hopefully still exists within all of us.

Blu-ray Release: Chappie

June 16, 2015

By John Corrado

Chappie Blu-rayToday, Sony Pictures is releasing the recent science fiction film Chappie on Blu-ray.  Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is a computer engineer in South Africa, who helped launch the world’s first robotic police force.  But when he steals a broken droid and creates a sentient machine, the invention named Chappie (Sharlto Copley) gets hijacked by a violent gang, who plan on using him to pull off a heist.

There’s also company rival Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) to contend with, a religious zealot hellbent on proving that artificial intelligence is dangerous.  Although Chappie strives for intelligent realism, the singularity seems more silly than serious in this film, which continues to squander the genuine promise that director Neill Blomkamp showed with his Oscar-nominated debut District 9.

Although there are some theoretically interesting ideas at play here, the whole thing feels a bit ridiculous right from the start, with the dialogue and characters often seeming more like self parody than original science fiction vision.  The philosophical undertones are mostly painted in broad strokes, the cinematography feels overly glossy for this sort of thing, and the mind numbing action sequences are like something out of a video game.  It’s not really boring, but also could and should have been a whole lot better, making it very hard to give the thematically messy Chappie any real credence.

The Blu-ray includes an alternate ending and extended scene, as well as multiple featurettes.

Chappie is 120 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Release: Wild Tales

June 16, 2015

By John Corrado

Wild Tales Blu-rayAfter being Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Sony Pictures Classics is releasing Wild Tales on Blu-ray today.  Directed by Damián Szifron, the Argentinian film weaves together six different stories, involving a doomed flight, a waitress seeking revenge, an extreme case of road rage, the surprising fallout from a parking ticket, the tragic aftermath of a hit and run, and the wedding from hell.

Like many anthology films, Wild Tales feels a little episodic, and some parts are more engaging than others.  Although the prologue is really great, the brutally violent second and third stories are probably my least favourites of the bunch, before the film delivers on its early promise with the last three chapters, which are all quite well done.

For a pitch black satire about how low people are able to stoop when feeling justified, and the moral comeuppances they receive, there is dark entertainment to be found here, even if some portions of the film can be physically uncomfortable to watch.  The level of craft on display is undeniably impressive, including some clever writing and brilliant cinematography, and these commendable technical elements are what really make Wild Tales worth checking out.

The Blu-ray includes an extended “behind the scenes” featurette, and a TIFF Q&A with the director.

Wild Tales is 122 minutes and rated 14A.

DVD Release: Complete Series of Laverne & Shirley and The Odd Couple

June 16, 2015

By John Corrado

Today, Paramount is releasing the complete season boxed sets of Laverne & Shirley and The Odd Couple on DVD, a pair of classic sitcoms that were both produced by Garry Marshall, and originally aired on CBS.  Fans should be delighted with these releases.  Enjoy!

Laverne & Shirley DVDLaverne & Shirley: The Complete Series: Running from 1976 to 1983, Laverne & Shirley follows the antics of working class roommates Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) in Milwaukee, as they work at the local Shotz Brewery and hang out at the Pizza Bowl, with former classmates Andrew “Squiggy” Squigmann (David L. Lander) and Leonard “Lenny” Kosnowski (Michael McKean).

A popular spinoff from Happy Days, that features some delightful guest appearances by the iconic Fonzie (Henry Winkler), Laverne & Shirley holds up surprisingly well as a female buddy comedy.  The performances of Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams still provide their fair share of laughs, and fans should have a lot of nostalgic fun revisiting this classic Garry Marshall sitcom.

Along with all 176 episodes spread over eight seasons, Laverne & Shirley: The Complete Series also includes gag reels and the original episodic promos.

The Odd Couple DVDThe Odd Couple: The Complete Series: Running from 1970 to 1975, The Odd Couple follows the friendship between the neat and organized photographer Felix Unger (Tony Randall), and the messy and disorganized sportswriter Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman), who are forced to share the same apartment after their wives divorce them.

Adapted from the 1965 stage play of the same name by Neil Simon, and the 1968 movie starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathieu, The Odd Couple is one of the most iconic comedy pairings of all time.  Produced by Garry Marshall, the show remains one of television’s most enduring sitcoms, with memorable dialogue and pitch perfect performances from Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

Along with all 114 episodes spread over five seasons, The Odd Couple: The Complete Series also includes audio introductions by Garry Marshall and commentary tracks on selected episodes, as well as archival interviews and a gag reel.


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