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Blu-ray Release: Home

July 28, 2015

By John Corrado

Home Blu-rayThis week, 20th Century Fox is releasing DreamWorks Animation’s surprise hit Home on Blu-ray.  After our planet is taken over by aliens, Tip (Rihanna) ends up separated from her mom (Jennifer Lopez), and is travelling across the country to get her back.  When Oh (Jim Parsons) becomes an outlaw amongst his race, the innocent little alien joins the girl on her journey.

For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Home.  Although following a predictable story, this is a fun and often amusing ride, delivering enough action and popping colours to keep young ones engaged, while entertaining older audiences with some clever one-liners and appealing voice work from Jim Parsons.  My full review can be found right here.

The “Party Edition” Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, a couple of short films, multiple music videos and other brief bonus features geared mainly towards younger fans of the film.

Home is 94 minutes and rated G.

Bloor Cinema Release: The Look of Silence

July 24, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The Look of Silence

When the Indonesian military ordered the killing of anyone considered a “communist” in 1965, nearly a million people were rounded up and brutally murdered by death squad leaders, in a mass genocide that remains a blight on their country, which the government would still rather keep out of the history books.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer forced the militants to confront their actions in his Oscar-nominated film The Act of Killing, a shocking and incredibly disturbing documentary that allowed them to reenact these sadistic murders in the style of the violent movies that inspired them, many showing little to no remorse.

The filmmaker returns to the subject in The Look of Silence, a follow up that is more intimate in scope than its predecessor, but every bit as powerful.  The film opens today at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

This film follows Adi, an optometrist and family man whose brother was killed in the genocide fifty years ago, and is now confronting the men responsible, hoping to expose the truth about these tragedies that many would prefer to keep hidden.  Through meetings with the aging militants, under the guise of fitting them for eye glasses, he is forced to stare down the horrors of the past, while asking himself the ultimate question of whether or not forgiveness is possible or even deserved.

The conversations between them make for compelling viewing, at once haunting and disquieting, while also challenging our own sense of compassion.  What these men did is despicable, and the way they talk about their brutal and disgusting killings is enough to send a chill down our spines.  But Adi is searching for ways to forgive, instead of seeking revenge, perhaps as a way to provide some comfort to his ailing parents who never stopped grieving their son’s murder.

The use of gorgeously framed long takes to establish the settings, matched with unwavering close ups during the interviews, amplifies the feeling of terror lurking just beneath a seemingly normal surface.  We are forced to stare right into the eyes of these men while they describe and try to justify their sadistic behaviour, witnessing first hand the way their mannerisms both do and don’t change when they come to realize that their words are being spoken to a close victim of their actions.  Because of this, The Look of Silence is in some ways an even more personal and directly affective film than its predecessor.

As hard to watch as it is impossible to shake afterwards, The Look of Silence is one of the most emotionally draining and shockingly intimate documentaries of the year, a piece of fascinating and vital viewing that has the power to help affect change in the world.  This is a haunting and complex portrait of humanity’s capacity for pure evil, as well as the compassion and empathy that others are able to retain, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

Blu-ray Release: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

July 21, 2015

By John Corrado

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Blu-rayLast week, 20th Century Fox released the recent sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on Blu-ray.  With the highly opinionated Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) acting as his advisor, overeager manager Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) is trying to juggle the purchase of a new property to expand the hotel with preparations for his upcoming marriage, while also feeling compelled to put on a good show for new guest Guy Chambers (Richard Gere).

Although the 2012 surprise hit didn’t seem to be a likely candidate for a sequel, other than for financial reasons, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is still an entertaining chance to spend time with these delightful characters.  Yes, the plot is looser this time, and the story doesn’t have the same emotional weight as the first, but the film itself is often as pleasant as a night spent in the company of old friends.

With expectedly solid work from returning favourites like Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, the performances and cast are once again uniformly excellent, and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an enjoyable sequel that’s worth seeing for the abundance of nicely written exchanges and wonderful moments of interplay between them, all well staged by returning director John Madden.

The Blu-ray also includes six featurettes and a gallery of images.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is 123 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Release: X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut

July 21, 2015

By John Corrado

The Rogue Cut Blu-rayLast week, 20th Century Fox released X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut on Blu-ray, an extended version of last year’s summer blockbuster.  Through two previously unreleased scenes and a lot of alternate takes, this new cut includes about fifteen minutes of extra footage, mainly to expand a subplot involving Rogue (Anna Paquin).

Although your willingness to invest in a whole new Blu-ray just for a few extra scenes will probably depend on your level of fandom, X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut is still a worthwhile and attractively packaged set, especially for those who never got a copy in the first place.

Because even if the added scenes don’t really change our overall perception of the story, the film itself remains an entertaining and well made superhero movie with or without them.  My full review of the theatrical cut is right here.

This Blu-ray also boasts a ton of new bonus material, including a 52 minute “making of” documentary, a half hour conversation with the cast and crew, and several galleries of storyboards.  Then there’s commentary by director Bryan Singer and composer John Ottman on the extended cut, and a secondary commentary track with the director and co-writer Simon Kinberg on the theatrical version.

X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut is 148 minutes and unrated, where as the theatrical version which is also included runs for 131 minutes and is rated PG.

Bloor Cinema Release: All the Time in the World

July 17, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

All the Time in the World PosterI saw a lot of good films at Hot Docs, but few have stuck with me the same way as All the Time in the World, the engaging and unexpectedly touching story of a family making a difference by choosing to live more simply.  The film opens at the Bloor Cinema this weekend, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Feeling overwhelmed with the increasing pace of their lives, Suzanne Crocker and her husband Gerard Parsons took time off from work, and brought their three young kids and two pets to live in a wood cabin in the remote wilderness of Canada’s Yukon Territory for nine months.

Adopting vegetarian diets and going completely off the grid, and homeschooling their kids through the abundance of books they bring along, their plan is to live off the land without relying on any technology or clocks.  By not focusing on artificial methods of tracking time, they allow their bodies to naturally adapt to the changing seasons and rhythms of the sun, practically becoming hibernational during the long and dark winter months.

Directed by Suzanne Crocker, and filmed only with the help of her family, All the Time in the World is a pretty remarkable achievement.  The film not only captures the breathtaking beauty of the natural landscape through some striking cinematography, especially during the gorgeous winter scenes, but also the surprising and resounding success of their social experiment.  We enjoy spending time with this family, and the images of them reconnecting are incredibly heartwarming.  Their hilarious approach to Halloween provides one of the most memorable sequences, as do the charming Christmas scenes.

Touching on our collective over reliance on technology, and sharing a unique environmental message, All the Time in the World is about as warm and wise as documentaries get, a feel good film that also has important things to say.  Beautifully filmed and completely endearing, this is an inspiring look at voluntary simplicity and how it brings a family closer together, that will leave you wanting to take time off and live in the wilderness for a few months.  I simply adored this film.

Three Views: Ant-Man

July 17, 2015

Ant-Man Poster

Ant-Man – A Walt Disney Studios Release

http://marvel.com/antman

Release Date: July 17th, 2015
Rated PG for language and some scary scenes
Running Time: 117 minutes

Peyton Reed (director)

Edgar Wright (screenplay)
Joe Cornish (screenplay)
Adam McKay (screenplay)
Paul Rudd (screenplay)

Christophe Beck (music)

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man
Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym
Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne
Corey Stoll as Darren Cross
Bobby Cannavale as Paxton
Judy Greer as Maggie Lang
Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie Lang
Michael Peña as Luis

Ant-Man

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in Ant-Man.

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Ant-Man Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Although based around their smallest comic book hero, Ant-Man is one of the most fun and lighthearted entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  For a superhero blockbuster, that arrives amidst a summer of options in the genre, the film provides breezy entertainment, an origin story that sets out simply to have fun establishing its characters, and there’s something refreshing about that.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a modern Robin Hood of sorts, who has just gotten out of jail for robbing millions of dollars from a sleazy company, and giving it back to the people.  Although desperate to get back on track and regain visitation of his young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), as well as earn back the trust of his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her new police officer husband (Bobby Cannavale), he is tempted by his buddy Luis (Michael Peña) to pull off one last job.  This takes him to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who has developed a technologically advanced suit that allows the wearer to shrink down to the size of an ant and communicate with the insects.

The secret formula for these “Pym Particles” has fallen into the hands of Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), an unscrupulous corporatist who plans to weaponize the technology and sell it to the military for his own personal gain, through the Yellowjacket program.  Their goal is to break into his heavily guarded laboratory, where Hank Pym’s daughter (Evangeline Lilly) works as a double agent, and steal back the plans.  With Scott Lang donning the incredible shrinking suit, and getting the hang of it through some funny training montages, much of the narrative involves their heist on this high-tech facility.

At times, it’s admittedly a little hard to watch the film without wondering what it might have looked like if co-writer Edgar Wright had remained on the project as director.  But Peyton Reed does a fine job behind the camera, bringing a deft comedic touch that allows the film to play around with its characters and their placement in the much larger world of this series.  This is Marvel having fun with its mythology, and this lighter approach and smaller scope is actually refreshing and helps with character development, especially in contrast to the overblown battles of the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Much of the action here feels inventive and fresh, playing around with size and scope in ways that range from amusing to exciting, often at the same time.  The climactic battle, staged in a child’s bedroom and making full use of a Thomas the Tank Engine model train, is a perfect example of the clever ways that Ant-Man uses its superhero as a plaything.  A big part of the film’s success also belongs to Paul Rudd, who is completely game in the title role, infusing the character with his signature brand of immense charm and genuine likeability.  Michael Douglas also seems to be having a lot of fun, and Michael Peña provides even more comic relief in his memorable supporting role as the partner in crime.

This might not be the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, those honours still go to the first Iron Man and last year’s exceptional double hitter of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.  But Ant-Man is probably their flat-out funniest film yet, and one of the most purely enjoyable pieces of this much larger machine, playing as a comedic heist film first and foremost, and being very entertaining at that.  It’s simply a lot of fun, and stick around for the two end credits scenes, which have exciting implications for the rest of the series.

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Ant-Man Review By Erin Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Marvel for the most part has had a good track record at making solid Summer entertainment.  The risk they run however is finding fresh ways to tell their stories and not feel like just a copy of themselves.  By continually introducing new characters and bringing in new directors to flow new styles into the mix they have often found success.  Ant-Man is one of those successes.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a cat burglar who specializes in stealing from people who ‘have it coming’ usually due to their attitudes and rich elitism.  His moral criminal code attracts the attention of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who is struggling to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who has forced him out of his own company and is on the verge of creating a technology that could have dangerous military consequences on the entire world.

For those who know the comics Dr. Pym has created the Pym particle which gives the ability for the user to shrink to the size of an ant, and have the strength-to-weight ratio that comes with it.  Faced with a decision between staying in jail and being recruited to become the Ant-Man, Scott Lang finds himself on the side of the good guys for once and finally may just be able to prove that he is worthy of being a good father to his young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson).

The film follows a classic origin story set-up, but it does it with humour, a likeable lead in Paul Rudd, and fun action sequences befitting of a Summer blockbuster, while also keeping the body count low.  There are also some clever references to films such as Avengers: Age of Ultron that feel intentional in a very meta way.  There are also some great cross-overs with characters from previous films that blend in perfectly and set-up for Ant-Man to join in by the time Civil War rolls around.  With the feel at times of a heist, action, and comedy film, Ant-Man is an all-round enjoyable piece of entertainment that still keeps itself grounded in the development of its main characters.

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Ant-Man Review By Tony Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Ant-Man is the latest Marvel film, about the origins of the character embodied by Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a burgler who finds himself with a stolen suit that shrinks him down to insect size while enhancing his strength. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) had developed the suit technology in the 1980s, but hid his findings out of fear they would be misused. Former assistant Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) forced him into retirement and took over his company, managing to redevelop the technology into a tiny weaponized force ready to sell to the two-fisted salute folks.

Pym’s supposedly estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is Cross’s trusted assistant, but really hopes to help her father stop him. Scott has a daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), in the custody of his ex-wife and her new spouse (Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale). Facing further imprisonment that will keep him away from Cassie, Scott agrees to don the suit and help the Pyms, along with his own partners in crime (Michael Peña, David Dastmaschian and T.I.), and armies of specialized trained ants.

Co-written by Edgar Wright and directed by Peyton Reed who is better known for comedies, Ant-Man inevitably doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes Paul Rudd perfect for the title role. The witty script well served by the fine cast helps lighten the serious if far-fetched story, with lots of suspense and spectacular action sequences. The special effects alternating between regular and shrunk scales are brilliant. In summary, Ant Man is one of the best Marvel films to date.

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Consensus: A superhero origin story that has fun with its characters, Ant-Man is maybe the funniest film yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a comedic heist that boasts some inventive action and a charming performance from Paul Rudd. ★★★½ (out of 4)

Criterion Release: The Black Stallion

July 14, 2015

By John Corrado

The Black Stallion Blu-rayToday, The Black Stallion is being released on Blu-ray, through Criterion.  After surviving a shipwreck that claims the life of his father (Hoyt Axton) in 1946, Alec (Kelly Reno) is left stranded on an island, developing a close bond with the wild stallion that survived alongside him.  When they are rescued, the boy starts grooming the horse to become a champion racer, under the guidance of elderly retired trainer Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney).

Directed by Carroll Ballard, who later made Never Cry Wolf and Fly Away Home, and executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola, The Black Stallion became a surprise critical and commercial hit when it was released in 1979.  The film went on to receive a trio of Oscar nominations, including recognition for its sound and editing, and Mickey Rooney.

Although the film moves at an almost deliberately slow pace, and the beats of the sometimes overly simplistic narrative have become predictable, The Black Stallion is a commendable film for the way it allows the story to mainly unfold through images.  And the cinematography is beautiful here.  With long stretches free of dialogue, some of the most memorable sequences are focused entirely on developing the relationship between Alec and his horse, introducing symbolism of loyalty and primitive connection.

Lensed by Caleb Deschaneal, in its best moments the film achieves visual greatness, capturing the undying bond between humans and animals, through a collection of sweeping and often breathtaking images.  For a piece of mainstream entertainment, that is more artistically inclined than the majority of family movies, it’s understandable why The Black Stallion is considered a classic, and the stunning picture quality of the Blu-ray does justice to this adaptation of the famous children’s novel.

The Blu-ray includes five short films directed by Carroll Ballard, a conversation between him and film critic Scott Foundas, as well as a new interview with Caleb Deschaneal.  The package also features an essay by film critic Michael Sragow.

The Black Stallion is 117 minutes and rated G.

Digital Release: It Follows

July 14, 2015

By John Corrado

It Follows PosterThis week, Mongrel Media is releasing the recent surprise horror hit It Follows on all home entertainment platforms, including iTunes.  After having sex with her boyfriend (Jake Weary), 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) becomes infected by a mysterious supernatural entity, leaving her plagued with disturbing visions of people chasing her, that can only be stopped by having sex with someone else and passing it on, like a disease.

Through spectacular cinematography, including some inventive uses of tracking shots and long takes, and ambient music by Disasterpeace that helps amp up the tension throughout, It Follows has style to spare.  Director David Robert Mitchell does an impressive job of balancing this palpable sense of atmosphere, with haunting symbolism and intriguing themes of teen sexuality, that are sure to be discussed long after the credits roll.

Relying on genuine suspense and carefully timed jump moments, instead of gratuitous violence and gore, It Follows is a smart horror film that delivers only the best aspects of the genre, to become a cult classic in its own right.  The excellent performances, coupled with refreshingly naturalistic characters and dialogue, allow it to play like an authentic teen film, and the autumn setting and 1980s vibe that runs throughout is incredibly enjoyable to watch, adding a nice feeling of nostalgia to the proceedings.

From the foreboding opening scenes to the much debated final images, we are never entirely sure what the title threat really is, and that’s exactly what makes It Follows so gripping and affective.  This is a strikingly well crafted thriller that provokes as much conversation as it does tension and scares.

It Follows is 100 minutes and rated 14A.

Digital Release: Ex Machina

July 14, 2015

By John Corrado

Ex Machina PosterToday, Mongrel Media is releasing the critically acclaimed science fiction thriller Ex Machina on all home entertainment platforms, including iTunes.  Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a bright computer programmer who is invited to the private estate of reclusive coding genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac), to complete the Turing Test for his latest invention, a sentient and artificially intelligent robot named Ava (Alicia Vikandor), but obsession starts to take hold.

Domhnall Gleeson does an excellent job of carrying the film, with his increasing paranoia transferring over to the audience, as his character starts to figure things out at the exact same moments that we start to piece together the puzzle.  Oscar Isaac seems consumed by his increasingly creepy role, and Alicia Vikandor gives a haunting and nuanced performance as the central artificial intelligence, a breakout turn for the young actress.

Working from his own highly intelligent screenplay, director Alex Garland does an excellent job of slowly building tension, with the landscapes and impressively designed fortress providing a chilly sense of atmosphere.  Raising fascinating questions about what constitutes consciousness and how sexuality is used for manipulation, as well as the precise moment when the singularity becomes reality, Ex Machina is an engaging and incredibly thought provoking film that provides enough gripping suspense and stimulating mind games, to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Ex Machina is 108 minutes and rated 14A.

Review: Big Game

July 10, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Big Game PosterWho knew that one of the best “protecting the American president” films would come from Finland?  But Big Game is a lot of fun, and more than able to hold its own alongside many of the summer blockbusters being released.  After premiering during Midnight Madness at TIFF last year, the film opens this weekend.

Sent out to prove himself as a man on his thirteenth birthday by shooting a deer with a bow and arrow, young hunter Oskari (Onni Tomilla) stumbles upon President William Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) in the middle of the wilderness in Finland, after Air Force One is taken down by terrorists.

With the bad guys hot on their trail, the young teenager becomes the only one who can protect the most powerful man in the world, in classic “kid power” fashion.  Director Jalmari Helander does a fine job of staging this all in the form of a throwback to summer afternoon entertainment from a few decades ago, and Big Game works quite well as both loving homage and decidedly modern popcorn film.  Yes, the low budget special effects and mostly one dimensional villains sometimes veer into campiness, but this is all part of the film’s simple charm.

With the violence never exceeding a certain level, and the feel of something that Amblin Entertainment could have produced back in the 1980s, Big Game is a ridiculously entertaining coming of age thriller, that deserves a wider audience of both young teens and adults.  It’s poised for cult classic status.

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