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Blu-ray Review: Avengers: Infinity War

August 14, 2018

By John Corrado

It’s already one of the biggest blockbusters of all time after opening to record box office numbers at the beginning of the summer, and now Avengers: Infinity War is arriving on Blu-ray this week.

The culmination of ten years worth of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, this is a gigantic beast of a movie that features a lot of great moments along the way, building towards a shocking ending that – love it or hate it – was hotly debated amongst fans and instantly cemented itself as part of the pop culture lexicon. For more on the film itself, you can read our three reviews of it right here.

The Blu-ray also comes with a selection of bonus features, starting with a brief intro to the film by directors Joe and Anthony Russo, as well as a commentary track featuring the two filmmakers joined by writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Next up are the four featurettes Strange Alchemy, which looks at bringing all of these characters together; The Mad Titan focuses on the film’s main villain Thanos (Josh Brolin); and Beyond the Battle: Titan and Beyond the Battle: Wakanda offer a look at what went into bringing these two giant set-pieces to the screen.

Finally, there are the four deleted scenes Happy Knows Best, Hunt for the Mind Stone, The Guardians Get Their Groove Back and A Father’s Choice, as well as a brief but cringe-inducing gag reel. This isn’t a ton of bonus material all things considered, but what’s here is generally still worth watching after the film, especially for fans who are going to want to pick up a copy of the Blu-ray anyway.

Avengers: Infinity War is a Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment release. It’s 149 minutes and rated PG.

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Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

August 10, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Desiree Akhavan made her filmmaking debut with Appropriate Behaviour in 2014, a semi-autobiographical film that she wrote, directed and starred in as a bisexual Brooklynite trying to balance her sexuality with the expectations of her more traditional Persian family. It was a small but enjoyable film that put a fresh spin on old romantic comedy tropes.

Akhavan continues to explore different LGBTQ experiences in her new film adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s acclaimed young adult novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which is finally opening in theatres after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January.

Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a teenaged orphan who was raised by her very traditional aunt Ruth (Kerry Butler), after her parents died in a car crash. When Cameron is found making out with her female friend Coley (Quinn Shephard) in the backseat of a car on prom night, her aunt ships her off to a gay conversion camp called God’s Promise. God’s Promise is run by the well-meaning Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and his strict sister Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), a borderline abusive psychotherapist who hopes to “cure” the kids of their homosexuality and gender confusion through a mix of prayer and psychological reflection.

At the camp, Cameron forms bonds with the other confused LGBT youth, including her roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), a more masculine lesbian girl who holds the naive and deeply sad belief that the camp will actually help her change her identity. She also connects with the unfortunately named Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), a more outgoing girl who uses sarcasm to mask her pain, and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), a Native American kid who identifies as two-spirited, and is threatened to have both his identity and his culture taken away from him.

I haven’t read the book on which The Miseducation of Cameron Post is based, so I can’t personally say how it compares, but I could tell while watching the film that a lot of scenes seem to have been cut on its journey from page to screen. From what I’ve heard, the book focuses on a larger chunk of Cameron’s life, where as the movie drops us in right before she is sent off to the conversion camp.

We see little of Cameron’s backstory or previous home life, aside from some flashbacks with Coley, and showing more of who she was prior to the camp would have helped flesh out the film. Because we don’t get enough of a first act, this makes the pacing and rhythm of the film feel somewhat off, and at times it plays more like a series of scenes that have been stitched together, rather than a complete whole.

With that said, The Miseducation of Cameron Post can still be quite effective on a scene by scene basis and, while the film itself feels rushed and a little threadbare at points, it’s worth seeing for the moments of genuine emotion that well up along the way. The film is directed with a good deal of sensitivity by Desiree Akhavan, who allows her camera to linger over little character moments to deliver maximum emotional impact, and it also features strong performances across the board from both the main and supporting players.

The most interesting character here is actually Reverend Rick, who talks about overcoming his own homosexual attractions, but also seems increasingly unsure of what he actually feels or believes. John Gallagher Jr.’s portrayal is filled with subtle nuance, leading to a couple of crushing moments near the end. I found myself wanting to know more about what led him to start the camp with his sister, a domineering figure who is also far from the one-dimensional character that she could have been.

While the film tells a fictional story, what makes The Miseducation of Cameron Post so effective and even upsetting is that gay conversion therapy still exists to this day, despite there being no evidence that it actually works, and much more to suggest that the psychological effects of it can be extremely harmful, especially in the long run. This is a timely and very well acted drama that is worth seeing for its selection of little moments along the way that leave quite an impact.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Review: Cielo

August 10, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Named for the Spanish word for “heaven,” Cielo is a documentary that takes a long look at the night sky in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Directed by Alison McAlpine, the film focuses on the scientists and astronomers who have devoted their lives to studying what goes on up above at the nearby ALMA Observatory. We are also introduced to local native residents of the area who share ancient myths and stories pertaining to the night sky that have been passed down through generations.

The film often takes on a contemplative tone, mixing these interviews with lingering shots of the night sky, including some stunning time-lapses that were shot over several days. These gorgeous images are matched by a meditative voiceover track that mixes spiritual and philosophical musings, ruminating on the meaning of the stars.

Although the somewhat slow pace and the hushed, inquisitive narration make this a film that won’t be for everyone, Cielo still serves as a worthwhile and often interesting impressionistic documentary about the night sky. The whole thing is also beautifully shot, making this the sort of film that would lend itself well to being seen on the big screen. But if you don’t get a chance to see it in theatres, it’s worth noting that Cielo will also be airing on Documentary Channel later in the year, and it still has enough going for it to be worth watching on the small screen as well.

Cielo is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Blu-ray Review: Life of the Party

August 7, 2018

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Melissa McCarthy can be a very funny person. But that also doesn’t mean every film she’s in is going to be a comedic hit, as she has also made her share of misfires.

McCarthy’s latest film, Life of the Party, which she co-wrote with her husband Ben Falcone who also serves as director, is neither a hit nor a complete misfire. It instead falls right in the middle. As a film, it’s thoroughly average and mediocre, but at the same time, it’s also completely innocuous and offers some passably amusing moments here and there.

This time around, McCarthy stars as Deanna, a middle aged woman who, right after dropping her only daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at college, is informed by her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) that he is having an affair with a real estate agent (Julie Bowen) and wants a divorce.

Facing a mid-life crisis, and still burdened with regret from dropping out of college in her young adult years when she got married and became pregnant, Deanna decides to go back to college alongside her daughter, in order to finally complete her archeology degree. While Maddie is initially embarrassed by having her mother accompany her to college, Deanna becomes somewhat of a star around campus.

Deanna bonds with her daughter’s trio of friends (Gillian Jacobs, Adria Arjona, and Jessie Eniss) who give her the nickname “Dee-Rock”, finds herself partying hard with the kids, and even starts hooking up with a hot young college student (Luke Benward). But this wouldn’t be a comedy if Deanna didn’t run into her fair share of wacky pitfalls at college, and she finds herself in any number of embarrassing and awkward situations along the way.

The tagline for Life of the Party could easily be “Melissa McCarthy goes to college”, and that description basically tells you exactly what you are going to get, but the overall results are somewhat mixed. There is a sitcomish quality to much of the film, and it also has a tendency to play more like a series of sketches at times, with the story and characters often feeling very thinly developed.

The film itself is not exactly laugh out loud funny, but it does have a few amusing moments here and there that do elicit some chuckles. So while this is hardly a great movie, or even a great comedy for that matter, it’s also not exactly terrible either. It’s the sort of thing that passes the time well enough while watching it, but you don’t really need to go out of your way to seek it out.

The Blu-ray also includes a bunch of deleted scenes, a gag reel, the two featurettes 80’s Party and Mom Sandwich, as well as two Line-o-Ramas.

Life of the Party is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 105 minutes and rated PG.

Review: Christopher Robin

August 3, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays, you will find the enchanted neighbourhood, of Christopher’s childhood days…

These song lyrics, etched into my mind from the many, many times I heard them as a kid, took on even deeper meaning for me when I was watching Christopher Robin at a screening a couple of weeks ago.

The new film serves to tell a wonderful story that finds the title character’s stuffed animal friends from childhood returning to him as an adult in order to help him rediscover what is important in his life, with delightful and slightly melancholic results.

This is Disney’s latest live action update to one of their beloved animated properties, and also one of their best. The film doesn’t serve as a mere remake of their 1977 anthology film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, or any of their other animated films featuring the loveable teddy bear, but it rather functions as a sequel of sorts that lovingly reimagines A.A. Milne’s classic characters in a live action setting.

The film opens with a very tender and bittersweet prologue in which we see Christopher as a young boy (Orton O’Brien), having to say goodbye to his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood before being sent to boarding school. This nicely sets the tone for the rest of the film, as our focus shifts to Christopher as an adult (Ewan McGregor) in London, too preoccupied with his work at a luggage company to spend time with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and their young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).

When Evelyn and Madeline go away to the cottage for the weekend, and Christopher is forced to stay behind after his boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) insists that he work overtime to find inefficiencies in the company, he is visited by his old friend Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings). Pooh ventures out of the Hundred Acre Wood in search of some hunny, and also needs help locating his other friends – Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Tigger (Jim Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and Roo (Sara Sheen) – who have all disappeared following a storm, which has made things quite gloomy in the enchanted woods.

I don’t want to reveal any more of what happens in the story, because there is a very gentle quality to Christopher Robin that makes it delightful to just watch unfold and let wash over you. This is a sweet and immensely charming film that very much does justice to A.A. Milne’s classic characters and really gets to the heart of what his stories were always about, built around an excellent and surprisingly textured performance from Ewan McGregor who has great chemistry with Pooh and his friends.

Directed by Marc Forster, overseeing a beautifully crafted production that seamlessly mixes the live action and animated elements, the film manages to capture the feel of Classic Pooh with impressive accuracy. Because the story takes place in the 1950s, Pooh and his friends have been closely modelled after E.H. Shepard’s original illustrations. These classic designs give them the look and feel of well-loved stuffed animals, (save for Rabbit and Owl who are depicted as real animals), and also allow them to fit in very well with the period setting.

Being a Disney film, Christopher Robin also pays great tribute to how the studio has portrayed these characters over the years. The film utilizes the familiar chapter headings and ink drawings that were prevalent in the animated films to help move its story along, and also features a lovely musical score by Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli that incorporates elements of the classic songs by Robert and Richard Sherman. These instantly recognizable musical cues are enough to elicit feelings of nostalgia that are sure to warm even the coldest of hearts.

The film’s screenplay – credited to Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder – tells a simple yet always engaging story, and is filled with many classic “Poohisms” that are profound in their simplicity. “People say that nothing is impossible,” Pooh muses at one point, adding “but I do nothing every day.” The film also has a deep understanding of the fact that each of the animal characters is meant to represent an aspect of Christopher Robin’s own life.

This was perhaps one of the most ingenious elements of A.A. Milne’s original books, with them all acting like subsets of the boy’s personality. For example, Pooh is “a bear of very little brain” who represents optimism and pure heart, where as Piglet is a sort of agreeable creature who also represents anxiety and fear. Tigger is obviously a representation of hyperactivity and unbridled spontaneity, where as Eeyore is representative of feeling blue and being scared to try new things, etc.

The most important aspect of this film is that it doesn’t change any of their personalities, and is able to use them within the narrative to draw some clever parallels with Christopher Robin’s adult life. Pooh is able to help Christopher get back in touch with the sense of discovery and finding joy in little moments that is paramount to being a kid, but many of us lose when we become adults. It is only by going back to the Hundred Acre Wood that he is able to not only rediscover what is important in his own life, but he must also rediscover his own childhood in order to best raise his own daughter.

It’s only in allowing himself to rediscover these aspects of himself through these manifestations of his childhood that Christopher Robin is able to rebalance his life as an adult, and this idea is one of the most moving aspects of the film. For anyone who grew up with Winnie the Pooh, I think there is something magical about seeing the characters reimagined in this way, and Christopher Robin manages to tell a touching and emotionally resonant story that is sure to resonate with both kids and adults.

Review: Our House

July 27, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Don’t mess with the dead. That’s the main lesson to be learned from Our House, a small but entertaining new ghost story from director Anthony Scott Burns that is itself a remake of Matt Osterman’s 2010 indie film Ghost From the Machine.

The film follows Ethan (Thomas Mann) who, along with his girlfriend Hannah (Nicola Peltz), is working on a machine at university that will be able to provide wireless electricity. But when his parents are suddenly killed in a car accident, Ethan is left to care for his younger siblings Matt (Percy Hynes White) and Becca (Kate Moyer).

Cut to three months later, and Ethan has brought the machine home to his garage, working on it in his spare time. The machine doesn’t work for what it’s intended to do, but the electromagnetic fields that it sends out have unexpected consequences. When he turns it on, strange things start happening around the house, leading the three siblings to believe that they are being contacted by their parents from beyond the grave. Ethan becomes determined to use the device to contact them, but what if the machine has also unleashed something much darker?

So there is no disappointment amongst more seasoned horror fans who go to see the film, it’s worth noting that Our House is not particularly scary, and is fairly tame even by its PG-13 (14A in Ontario) standards. But it’s also a frequently enjoyable little film, that maintains an intriguing and at times spooky tone throughout, and is carried by likeable performances from its young leads.

Shot in Toronto, the production values are solid across the board, and the whole film has a polished feel to it that makes it easily digestible for audiences. It’s also short at barely 90 minutes, making it just the right length to tell a satisfying story that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Overall, Our House is a fairly enjoyable ghost story that gets the job done well enough to make it worth a look.

Our House is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas in Toronto, and is also available to watch on demand.

Review: Generation Wealth

July 27, 2018

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

A disappointingly shallow followup of sorts to her excellent 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles, Generation Wealth finds photographer and documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield painting a much broader portrait of the destruction that can be caused by affluence and greed in modern society.

The film serves as a companion piece to Greenfield’s glossy coffee table book of the same name – which has a hefty Canadian list price of close to a hundred dollars, making it quite ironically the sort of thing that only super rich people would buy – and functions as a sprawling look at the lifestyles of a variety of different people who were either raised rich or have come into money.

Some of the subjects featured here include the unscrupulous German hedge fund manager Florian Homm, whose young adult son is also interviewed separately; the porn star Kacey Jordan, whose claim to fame is being Charlie Sheen’s ex-girlfriend and is now trying to make more of a name for herself separate from him; as well as the owner of an Atlanta, Georgia strip club where the strippers are treated like local celebrities.

We are also introduced to a businesswoman pushing forty who gets frequent botox injections in an attempt to keep herself looking young, and is now trying desperately to have a baby after holding off for so long to focus on building her career and making money; as well as a middle class bus driver whose obsession with getting expensive plastic surgeries in Brazil led to tragic results in her own life; and a young girl from a small town in Arkansas whose mother has gotten her into those creepy child beauty pageants after appearing on Toddlers and Tiaras.

The film functions as a sort of career retrospective for Greenfield, as she catches up with some of the same subjects from her 1997 photo book Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood, many of whom went to the same private Los Angeles high school as her, as well as touching on the same body image issues that were present in her 2006 film debut Thin, which focused on anorexia. There is an introspective element to it as well, as the filmmaker examines her own privileged life and upbringing, interviewing both her parents as well as her two sons, who talk about how their mother’s busy work schedule and constant travelling have affected their own lives.

If all of this sounds sprawling and all over the place, that’s because it largely is, and Generation Wealth misses its mark in an almost shocking way. The film’s simplistic and unfocused approach is especially disappointing after the success of The Queen of Versailles, which worked as a fascinating study of the ridiculously extravagant lifestyle that is enjoyed by timeshare mogul David Siegel and his much younger wife Jackie, whose story is briefly updated here.

The greatest sin of Generation Wealth is that it attempts to criticize the affluence of the disgustingly rich, yet the documentary itself feels shallow, and comes across as little more than a self-aggrandizing vanity project. The film is, I suppose, attempting to say something profound about wealth not being the only road to a fulfilling life, but it’s hard to glean any sort of meaningful message from it, and instead I just felt kind of gross while watching it.

There’s a huge difference between having money and being tacky, and many of these subjects fall into the latter category, which in and of itself makes the film somewhat unpleasant to watch. For the most part, Generation Wealth functions as little more than an overly glossy look at the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and without much of a clear message beyond the obvious “money doesn’t equal happiness,” it’s easy to imagine the more critical aspects of it being lost on audiences who view the film in a more aspirational way.

The film’s main argument is that the American Dream of owning a home and having a family that came about in the post-war 1950s morphed into a sort of ugly caricature of itself throughout the more affluent 1980s, pushing people to constantly pursue bigger and bigger lives by any means necessary, instead of just being satisfied with enough. These unrealistic expectations are pushed by popular culture, which glamourizes excess through reality TV shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and gives people unhealthy goals both in terms of lifestyle and body image.

There is a sort of “End of Rome” feel running through it, but the film doesn’t really have much of anything new or substantial to say. While it does an alright job of addressing some of the problems plaguing society – from an overly consumeristic culture that views designer clothes and handbags as symbols of status, to the unrealistic views of sex and the commodification of human bodies that are perpetrated through the porn industry – it’s much less equipped at actually coming up with solutions, besides just vaguely pointing the finger at capitalism as the root of all evil.

It’s easy to blame “capitalism” for the greed in society and other social ills, and I’m not saying it isn’t a contributing factor in some areas, but it’s also much harder to actually come up with a system that would work better. Because short of forcibly redistributing wealth, taking away private property rights, and allowing the government to control the means of production, which had disastrous results whenever it was attempted throughout the 20th century, it’s not clear what the solution would be, and the trouble is that this film seems to have no clue either.

For example, the film vaguely criticizes the growing affluence of China, which has become one of the largest importers of luxury brands, but clearly the country was not doing better when it was being run under communist rule. There is no mention of the fact that capitalism, while clearly not a perfect system in and of itself, has also lifted millions of people out of poverty and into a more modest way of life, and formerly socialist nations such as China have only been able to ensure any sort of prosperity for their citizens after bringing in a market economy and allowing for more free enterprise.

As an indictment of capitalism, Generation Wealth feels wholly incomplete, because it fails to also point out the inherent problems of government greed that exist within the systems put forth by Marx, Lenin and Mao, which many would think of as the natural alternatives to a capitalist system. I would argue that unchecked corporatism and the creation of monopolies are more of a problem than capitalism itself, but the film seems disinterested in making these distinctions. What it does instead is focus on a variety of people who have accrued money and have made bad decisions with it, using this as a justification for its argument as to why the system itself is bad.

The film feels somewhat ironically guilty of its own sort of elitism, and this hypocrisy becomes apparent in the final scenes when Greenfield travels to the Philippines to oversee the printing of her book, taking advantage of the cheap cost of production that outsourcing to another country allows. It culminates with her throwing a glitzy launch party for her expensive book at a trendy art gallery, and it’s hard not to see the hypocritical nature of her criticizing a system that she is clearly taking advantage of and benefitting from in her own life.

At this point, the irony of Greenfield wagging her finger at capitalism and the commodification of people’s bodies becomes especially hard to swallow, considering that we are essentially watching her take advantage of the free market in order to commercialize the images and stories of these individuals in order to make a buck. No, I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything wrong with what she is doing, but it seems dishonest and is a strange way to end the film, leaving us with the feeling that we have merely been watching an extended tie-in for her overpriced book.

It’s in these moments that Generation Wealth becomes particularly off-putting, offering an example of champagne socialism at its most hypocritical and glaringly obvious. The trouble with the film is that it essentially amounts to a bunch of little human interest stories about how people’s lives have been ruined by greed, some of which can be interesting on an individual basis, but it fails at saying something deeper than that. For a documentary that purports to galvanize affluence and excess, the film feels overstuffed and is itself guilty of being only surface deep.

Generation Wealth is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Blu-ray Review: Ready Player One

July 24, 2018

By John Corrado

One of my very favourite movies of the year so far is Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, which is arriving on Blu-ray this week.

Based on Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel of the same name, the film offers a wildly entertaining and visually dazzling thrill ride that pays tribute to countless classic movies, while also offering an engaging and surprisingly moving story about nostalgia. I wrote extensively about the film when we reviewed it back in the spring, and you can read our three views right here.

The Blu-ray comes packed with about two hours of bonus features. The centrepiece of them all is the very well done production documentary Game Changer: Cracking the Code which, at nearly an hour long, offers a comprehensive look at the making of the film from a variety of different angles. It starts with the writing of the original book, and takes us through the casting process, the costume design, the motion capture process, and also how they crafted that stunning sequence recreating iconic moments from The Shining. This is a superior supplemental feature, that helps pull back the curtain on the film’s unique and seamless mix of live action and motion capture animation.

The next biggest piece is Effects for a Brave New World, which offers a fascinating and in-depth look at the creation of the film’s different visual effects, including how Steven Spielberg used groundbreaking VR technology to help with the pre-visualization process. The production team basically treated the live action stuff and the scenes inside the virtual reality world of the Oasis as two separate movies, using seamless digital enhancements for the visual effects of the former, and choosing a more stylized look for the latter. It’s also worth noting that the visual effects of the real world scenes were handled by Digital Domain, and the Oasis stuff was done at Industrial Light & Magic.

These pieces are rounded out by four shorter featurettes. The ’80s: You’re the Inspiration offers a short but satisfying look at some of the many references to the pop culture of the decade that are present in the film; Level Up: Sound for the Future features sound designer Gary Rydstrom talking about how they went about crafting the wide range of sounds for the film, envisioning it as an auditory experience as much as a visual one; and High Score: Endgame specifically focuses on Alan Silvestri’s score for the film, including how he worked in elements of his iconic theme from Back to the Future.

Finally, Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure features Ernest Cline and Tye Sheridan coming together to talk about the film at Cline’s home in Austin the week before the world premiere at SXSW, and even going for a drive in the author’s DeLorean. Between the amazing entertainment value of the film itself, and the quality of these bonus features, the Blu-ray comes highly recommended.

Ready Player One is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 140 minutes and rated PG.

Review: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

July 20, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The latest from director Gus Van Sant, mining similar territory as his Oscar-winning 1997 drama Good Will Hunting, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is based on the life of controversial quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan.

The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Callahan, and much of the story focuses on his struggle to get sober. An alcoholic since the age of thirteen, when he started drinking as a way to cope with being adopted and abandoned by his birth mother, he struggles to give up the alcohol that provides a reprieve from both the emotional and physical pain of his life.

But with the help of his alcoholics anonymous sponsor Donnie (Jonah Hill), a charismatic hippie who runs a support group made up of other misfits, he slowly starts to overcome his addiction, and finds a new reason for being when he starts to realize his gift for drawing edgy and wonderfully politically incorrect cartoons. These crude drawings, done with the limited mobility he has of his hands, gain him a dedicated following – as well as a somewhat sizeable backlash – after they start getting published in local papers.

Always a chameleon, Joaquin Phoenix disappears into the role of John Callahan. The actor delivers another in a long line of gripping performances here, not only respectfully portraying the physical constraints of the real life subject he is bringing to the screen, but movingly portraying his emotional arc as well. Jonah Hill does equally memorable work in a role that walks the knife’s edge between comedy and drama, and there are a couple of deeply felt scenes between them that provide some of the most emotionally charged moments in the film.

Based on John Callahan’s own autobiography, the film criss-crosses back and forth between different moments in his story, to offer an appropriately scrappy portrait of his somewhat scattered life. The film briefly shows his life before ending up in a wheelchair, and the events leading up to the drunk driving accident with his friend Dexter (Jack Black) that leaves much of his body paralyzed, as well as his burgeoning relationship with Annu (Rooney Mara), a Swedish physiotherapist whom he meets while recovering in the hospital.

The stylistic choice to edit between all of these different story strands allows the film to play with an irreverent, unpredictable quality that helps capture the offbeat sensibilities and unexpected punchlines that were at the heart of Callahan’s drawings. There is a dark sense of gallows humour running through the film, but Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is also powerfully moving when it needs to be, blind siding us with little moments of incredible honesty and emotion that range from inspiring to heartbreaking.

As Callahan makes his way through the twelve steps, including giving himself over to a higher power, apologizing to those he has hurt, and finally coming to a point where he is able to forgive both himself and others, the film becomes a powerful look at overcoming personal struggles by staring adversity in the face and coming out stronger on the other side. The result is a compelling biopic that’s inspiring without being treacly, and genuinely moving without veering into sentimentality.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

Review: Eighth Grade

July 20, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) is having trouble finding her place in middle school, and the final week of her last academic year before starting high school is charted in Eighth Grade.

The film opens with Kayla filming one of the videos for her YouTube channel, where she tries to impart wisdom about “being yourself,” but seems unsure of how to apply this advice to her own life. Her awkwardness in front of the camera is cringe-inducingly palpable, making us feel every single “um” and “uh” and nervous pause.

From here, Kayla goes to school where she struggles to make conversation with her disinterested classmates, and, as if things weren’t already bad enough for her socially, she gets crowned “most quiet” at her school assembly.

This is one of those slice of life movies where not much happens in terms of plot, but at the same time it feels like everything is happening for our protagonist. Kayla gets invited to a popular girl’s (Catherine Oliviere) pool party, and tries to get the attention of a boy (Luke Prael) who catches her eye, but is sort of an aloof jerk. She lives at home with her awkward but charming single dad (Josh Hamilton), who gently tries to pry into his daughter’s life at the dinner table, but gets the same bored or annoyed treatment from her that she gets from her classmates.

The feature debut of standup comedian Bo Burnham, who writes and directs the film, Eighth Grade has a sort of awkward charm to it, sometimes feeling painfully real in how it depicts the almost unbearable shyness and social anxiety of its main character. This is a coming of age story for the generation of amateur vlogging and Snapchat, and it effectively depicts how hard it can be for a quiet, sensitive kid to try and make friends, perhaps even more so in the age of social media and people staring at their phones instead of looking at each other.

It kind of goes without saying that the story itself doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of the coming of age genre, and there is a feeling of slightness to it at times, especially in comparison to some of the rapturous responses it has received. But this is almost beside the point. This is a small film about little moments, which are captured in a believable and relatably lifelike way, and it succeeds modestly but satisfyingly on these terms.

The film is carried on the shoulders of Elsie Fisher, who does a great, naturalistic job of portraying her character’s awkward adolescence and crippling social anxiety. We really feel her pain, and she provides an anchor that keeps us reliably interested in Kayla’s sometimes funny, sometimes gutting middle school exploits. What Eighth Grade does is that it allows us to feel like we have gotten to know her a little bit, and leaves us genuinely hoping for the best for her.

Eighth Grade is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

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