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Blu-ray Release: Ricki and the Flash

November 24, 2015

By John Corrado

Ricki and the Flash Blu-rayToday, Sony Pictures is releasing Ricki and the Flash on Blu-ray.  Ricki Rendazo (Meryl Streep) is an aging and washed up rocker, who has grown estranged from her family.  But when her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) invites her back home to help deal with their depressed daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer), Ricki starts to insert herself back into the lives of her adult children.

Although the story mostly follows a predictable path, the film itself is thoroughly enjoyable to watch, bolstered by Diablo Cody’s engaging and often witty script.  With fully dedicated performances from Meryl Streep and her real life daughter Mamie Gummer, who share some great chemistry together, Ricki and the Flash is an entertaining dramedy that allows its sharp dialogue and solid musical numbers to take centre stage, reaching a feel good ending.

The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, multiple featurettes and a cast photo gallery.

Ricki and the Flash is 101 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Release: Shaun the Sheep Movie

November 24, 2015

By John Corrado

Shaun the Sheep Movie Blu-rayToday, Elevation Pictures is releasing Shaun the Sheep Movie on Blu-ray.  Looking for a day off from the monotony of their farmyard existence, the impossibly clever Shaun and his fellow flock of sheep hatch a scheme to evade their farmer.  But when a series of mishaps cause the farmer to end up lost in the big city, the sheep and trusty dog Bitzer head off to find him, while having to evade an evil animal containment officer.

A work of gleeful invention that often reaches inspired levels of madcap brilliance, harkening back to classics from the silent era, Shaun the Sheep Movie is another stop motion triumph from the fine folks at Aardman.  This is a true delight for those of all ages, and one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year.  My full review can be found right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a “behind the scenes” featurette.

Shaun the Sheep Movie is 85 minutes and rated G.

Blu-ray Release: American Ultra

November 24, 2015

By John Corrado

American Ultra Blu-rayToday, Elevation Pictures is releasing American Ultra on Blu-ray.  Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a constantly anxious stoner, who lives a mundane life with his girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart).  But when he suddenly discovers that he’s actually a highly trained agent who had his memory wiped and went rogue, and is now in threat of being killed, they end up on the run from the government.

Although I wasn’t really the biggest fan of this stoner action comedy, American Ultra does have its moments, including some likeable chemistry between the two capable leads.  There is inevitably an audience that will enjoy this cult classic wannabe, and curious viewers should feel free to check it out at home, with whatever enhancements deemed necessary.  My full review can be found right here.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with director Nima Nourizadeh, a gag reel and two featurettes.

American Ultra is 96 minutes and rated 14A.

Review: Brooklyn

November 20, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Brooklyn PosterA moving period romance that captures something profoundly universal about the immigrant experience, Brooklyn is one of those films that grabs us by the heart early on and never lets go, and feels completely sincere while doing so.

Beautifully conveying feelings of loneliness, hope and the promise of falling in love, through a story about finding your own place in the world that is filled with moments of gentle humour, this is one of the most emotionally satisfying films of the year.

Like so many other young adults in the 1950s, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) has left behind her beloved mother (Jane Brennan) and sister (Fiona Glascott) in Ireland, to seek a better life and find work in America, landing on the shores of Brooklyn.

Although welcomed by the kind Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), and given refuge at the boarding home of Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), at first Ellis is overwhelmed with the changes in her life, and left feeling profoundly homesick for the country and family she left behind.  But when she falls deeply in love with Tony (Emory Cohen), a charming young Italian guy who sweeps her off her feet despite their cultural differences, Eilis starts to set down roots in her new hometown.  This just makes a tragic trip back to her old country, and the attention of well-meaning local boy Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), that much more conflicting and heartbreaking.

Directed by John Crowley, Brooklyn is classic filmmaking in every sense of the term, and the production is top notch across the board, from the luminous cinematography to the gorgeous and authentic period costumes.  Adapting Colm Toibon’s bestselling novel for the screen, Nick Hornby has crafted a sensitive and beautifully written screenplay, that is refreshingly respectful of its leading character and the choices she makes.  After also scoring hits with An Education and Wild, the writer continues to prove himself as one of our finest purveyors of nuanced and believable female characters.

The film very much focuses on Eilis’ journey, and the love triangle comes to symbolize much more than just the choice between two different guys who each have their own merits.  Both men represent choices that has to make, between a new country and the one where she was born.  For the first time in her life, Eilis has to choose between the quiet beauty of Ireland, versus the bustling promise of New York.  The film understands that it’s important for her to reach a point where she can decide for herself, and we become so invested in her story that it’s hard not to get choked up alongside her at the bittersweet end.

Saoirse Ronan never hits a wrong note in her touching and deeply felt portrayal of a young immigrant, drawing us in with her striking blue eyes and capturing our own emotions through small changes in facial expressions.  Reflecting on her own experience of being born in New York to Irish parents, the young actress delivers a nuanced performance that ranks as her best work yet, blossoming right in front of us into one of the finest leading ladies of our generation.  Emory Cohen brings immense charm to the role of her love interest, with the two young actors displaying a wonderful sense of chemistry between them.  Domhnall Gleeson also delivers heartbreakingly affective and beautifully understated work.

It’s a little hard to write about Brooklyn without just swooning over and over again about how charming and touching the whole thing is to watch.  There are just so many wonderful sequences here, and feelings that the film evokes, which have stuck with me since first seeing it.  This is one of the loveliest and most beautifully crafted films of the year, a luscious and deeply moving period romance and story of finding home, built around a radiant performance from Saoirse Ronan.  Your heart will soar, as did mine.

Bloor Cinema Release: Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World

November 20, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Haida Gwaii PosterAfter premiering at Hot Docs, and winning the award for Best Canadian Feature, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World is opening at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema this weekend, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

An archipelago located on the North Coast of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii is one of the most stunningly beautiful natural places that our country has left to offer, and filmmaker Charles Wilkinson has captured a sense of this beauty in Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World.

A spectacularly filmed portrait of the people who live there and the rich traditions of their culture, the documentary provides an engaging look at the environmental activists and eccentric locals who are fighting to protect the place they call home.  This includes Severn Cullis-Suzuki, David Suzuki’s daughter and fellow activist, who lives there with her family, and a woman who has inspiringly taken her home off the grid through solar panels and a homemade wind turbine.

We are shown the heartbreaking ways that their land is being destroyed through logging, commercial fishing, and increased tanker routes cutting right through the trees, as well as the irreversible damage that would be caused by the government’s proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline.  These things not only present grave danger to the livelihood of the locals, but also threaten to severely throw off the natural balance of the land, and have vast negative impacts on the environment as a whole.

But Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World becomes all the more powerful because it ends on an inspiring and moving note of hope, with a rousing cover of the song “Carry On” that proves the Haida people have no plans to give up their land without a fight.  Featuring some of the most beautifully captured and composed images of any documentary this year, this is a must see for all Canadians who are passionate about the wellbeing of our natural world.

Blu-ray Release: Jimmy’s Hall

November 17, 2015

By John Corrado

Jimmy's Hall Blu-rayThis week, Sony Pictures Classics is releasing Jimmy’s Hall on Blu-ray.  Based on a true story, the drama follows freethinking socialist activist Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), who returns to his home country of Ireland amidst internal conflict in 1932, after ten years of exile in New York.

When he reopens the dance hall that made him a local hero amongst the youth, but got him kicked out of the country, Jimmy finds a fierce adversary in Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) and the building is aggressively challenged by the government and church, who see his progressive ideals as a threat to their overly traditional views.

Anchored by a nicely understated performance from Barry Ward, and a highly articulate screenplay, Jimmy’s Hall is sensitively brought to the screen by acclaimed director Ken Loach.  This is an engaging and nuanced look at the ongoing clash between progressive politics and the old school values of the church, rich with thought provoking and evenhanded sociopolitical themes that continue to carry important modern relevance, and are explored through an emotional lens.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with actors Barry Ward and Simone Kirby, several deleted scenes and a “making of” featurette.

Jimmy’s Hall is 109 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Release: Bad Boys I & II: 20th Anniversary Collection

November 17, 2015

By John Corrado

Bad Boys I & II Blu-rayLast week, Sony Pictures released the Bad Boys I & II: 20th Anniversary Collection on Blu-ray, a box set featuring both the 1995 original and 2003 sequel.  Directed by Michael Bay, the blockbuster action comedies follow Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), a pair of narcotics detectives who have their own way of doing things.

Featuring some strong chemistry between its two leads, and successfully mixing humour with wildly over the top car chases and explosions, Bad Boys remains an entertaining action film that is still a staple of the 1990s, twenty years later.  Remastered in 4K, and featuring the second film on Blu-ray for the first time, Bad Boys I & II: 20th Anniversary Collection is a fine gift idea for fans of these films.

Bonus features on the first film include a commentary track with Michael Bay, a behind the scenes documentary and several music videos.  Extras on the second film include deleted scenes, production featurettes and an early Jay Z music video.

Bad Boys is 119 minutes and Bad Boys II is 147 minutes, both are rated 18A.

DVD Release: Dark Places

November 17, 2015

By John Corrado

Dark Places DVDAfter a pretty much under the radar theatrical run, Remstar Films is releasing the thriller Dark Places on DVD.  Nearly thirty years after testifying against her brother in the murder of their mother (Christina Hendricks) and sisters, Libby Day (Charlize Theron) is contacted by a group of true crime enthusiasts under Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult), who are convinced that he was wrongly convicted, forcing her to follow old clues to uncover the mystery of what really happened with her family.

Adapted from a novel by Gillian Flynn, who previously scored a hit with both the book and film of Gone Girl, Dark Places pales in comparison to other stories of its kind.  The film does boast a fine cast, who all do their best with what material they have, including Tye Sheridan and Corey Stoll who solidly portray the teen and adult incarnations of the brother in question.

But even their performances can’t hide the fact that the story around them is pretty much just a series of pulpy twists awash in melodrama.  Although similar allegations of exaggerated plotting could be levelled against Gone Girl, that film was successful because it took a darkly satirical approach in transitioning to the screen, where as Dark Places remains completely literal, often painfully so in the case of needless voiceover.  Almost relentlessly depressing, and not even particularly well made, this often feels like a TV movie, and it doesn’t really have enough redemptive qualities to warrant a recommendation.

The DVD includes no bonus features.

Dark Places is 113 minutes and rated 14A.

Review: Spotlight

November 13, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Spotlight PosterWhen allegations of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston first started to leak out, many parishioners had trouble believing the news.  But this denial was made far too easy by the institution’s willingness to silence the scared victims, keeping the reports and court documents out of the public eye.

The abuses were able to continue because the church chose to hide behind a veil of secrecy, putting the guilty priests on sabbatical at neighbourhood recovery houses instead of defrocking them, before shuffling them around to different parishes to hide their trails.

When the Boston Globe broke this story wide open in early 2002, after a year of intense fact checking and dedicated reporting, a media firestorm was ignited, forcing the entire church to confront these sins that they weren’t yet willing to confess.

Directed by Tom McCarthy, from a razor sharp and highly literate screenplay that he co-wrote with Josh Singer, Spotlight recounts the true story of the reporters who worked tirelessly to expose the church and hold these priests accountable.  Thoroughly detailing every step of their investigation and the admirable amount of work that went into filing their Pulitzer Prize-winning article, this is an example of intelligent adult filmmaking at its absolute best, and one of the most powerful movies of the year.

The team of investigative journalists at the centre of the story includes Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), who work in a special newspaper division known as Spotlight.  When they are assigned by their new editor (Liev Schrieber) to investigate these allegations of sexual abuse, they start to uncover a massive web of lies and legal cover ups that goes way deeper than anyone could have imagined, in their fight to have strategically hidden court documents released.

They reach out to lawyers like Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) and Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup), who both took different approaches in handling many of these cases, emotionally scarred victims Phil Saviano (Neal Huff) and Joe Crowley (Michael Cyril Creighton), as well as anyone else willing to come forward.  Even though many of those affected have been forced to remain silent or are too scared to speak up, the truth becomes too hard to ignore when they start finding compelling evidence linking a shocking number of priests to child molestation cases, a systemic problem trickling down from the Vatican.

Expertly crafted from start to finish, Spotlight stylistically recalls classics of the 1970s, and comparisons to All the President’s Men are absolutely warranted.  The result is a tautly paced journalistic thriller in which most of action unfolds through dialogue and takes place in cramped offices and basement archives, authentically capturing the world of reporters with a simmering sense of suspense coursing through its veins.  There is a feeling of urgency to their reporting, not only because another paper could publish a story that undermines their work, but also because of the inherent need to reveal the truth.

This is a searing critique of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, an organization that provides little transparency and possesses excessive amounts of control, making it far too easy for those within to abuse their power, even to the point of turning a blind eye to some of the most disgusting crimes.  The film celebrates the importance of journalism, recognizing the reporters who were brave enough to face incredible pushback from one of the oldest and most powerful institutions in the world, in order to break a story that needed to reach the public even though it understandably shook the church to its core.

But Spotlight isn’t a takedown of spiritual belief in itself, and is made all the more thought provoking and almost miraculous for this very reason, offering a nuanced look at the dividing line between personal faith and organized religion, and finding a balance between the two.  Sacha Pfeiffer reveals that she still goes to church every week with her grandmother, even if just out of tradition and habit, and the majority of the newspaper’s subscribers are either practising or lapsed Catholics.  The reporters on the case all grew up going to these churches and attending schools run by priests, like pretty much everyone else in Boston at the time, and this is exactly what makes their revelations hit home even more.

We don’t know much about the personal lives of these reporters, yet we know who they are, and are given enough little details to keep us engaged and make them feel relatable.  The entire ensemble cast delivers uniformly brilliant work, finding a crackling rhythm together in their delivery of the sharply worded dialogue.  Michael Keaton shines in an intense and focused performance, Rachel McAdams has rarely been better, and Stanley Tucci commands the screen.  Even the bit players are given memorable scenes, including Michael Cyril Creighton, who is a standout in his brief moments of screen time.

Mark Ruffalo in many ways provides the emotional anchor of Spotlight, delivering a masterfully nuanced and surprisingly moving performance, as the dogged reporter starts to reveal his own tested faith through both his determination to finish writing this story and his terror of what it implies.  During one of the film’s most quietly moving exchanges of dialogue, his character confesses that he used to like going to church, and is now unsure if he can ever go back.  It’s a profoundly symbolic moment that continues to resonate, mirroring the feelings of betrayal that many of us still feel in response to this scandal.

Because of this, you could say that my personal connections to the subject matter of Spotlight run pretty deep.  As someone who was raised Catholic, but has come to severely question the church’s pretty much unwaveringly conservative views on homosexuality and women’s rights over the years, I’m not alone in seeing the epidemics of child molestation as a defining part of their history.  This was and continues to be a moment when the Catholic Church had the chance to do the right thing, but ended up doing the exact opposite of that, and have never fully come clean or atoned for it.

Fascinating, involving and emotionally powerful, Spotlight is a gripping exposé that understands the power of words, and the metaphorical excitement of watching a printing press spring to life, to offer some of its most thrilling moments.  Densely packed with compelling details, and infuriating revelations that are heartbreakingly revealed to be just the tip of a much larger iceberg, this is a story that feels both timely and timeless, and that’s precisely what makes the film pack such a hard punch.

Bloor Cinema Release: Mavis!

November 13, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Mavis! PosterAfter premiering at Hot Docs, and becoming a runner-up for the Audience Award, Mavis! opens at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema this weekend, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A legendary gospel and soul singer, and iconic civil rights activist in the time of Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples has a lot of fascinating history behind her, from singing with her family in the Staple Singers, to the inspiring energy that she still brings to every concert and performance.

Mavis Staples makes for a fine subject in the aptly titled Mavis!, appearing as energetic and openhearted as ever in front of the camera.  Although the film itself follows the pretty typical bio doc formula, director Jessica Edwards has assembled a rousing and entertaining celebration of her inspiring life and music, filled with great stories and some wonderful performance footage.


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