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Review: American Animals

June 22, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

An ambitious mix of documentary and narrative storytelling, American Animals recounts the true story of four average young guys from middle class suburbia who plotted to steal original editions of books by John Audubon and Charles Darwin from a college library in Lexington, Kentuckey.

It’s bored college student Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) who gets the idea to steal the books after being taken on a tour of the library’s special collections room, and he is egged on by his “bad influence” friend Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), a petty thief who really puts the plan into motion.

Needing help with the whole operation, they bring in accounting student Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and young entrepreneur Chas Allen (Blake Jenner), and together the four guys work to craft a carefully thought out plan to pull off the perfect heist and find a buyer for the stolen goods.  While their plan is inspired by a large swath of heist movies that they watch, and there is a very brazen quality in their choice to do it in broad daylight donning old man makeup, they are also dealing with real life so there are obviously a lot of unpredictable elements that get in the way of their cinematic plan.

The film is directed by Bart Layton, who also used reenactments with actors to help tell a stranger than fiction story in his stunning 2012 documentary The Imposter.  But American Animals tips the scale even further, to the point where it feels like more of a narrative film than a traditional documentary.  The story is told through reenacted scenes that are intercut with candid interviews featuring the real people who were involved in the heist, which is a unique and extremely effective choice.

This really allows them to tell the story in their own words, with what they are saying sometimes being repeated by the actors, and certain details that will change in the middle of a scene depending on which narrator is telling the story.  This not only shows that this tale is only as reliable as their memories and what they are willing to tell us, but it also allows for unique insight into why they were planning to steal the books, which was mainly because they were feeling restless and wanted to do something exciting with their lives.  The performances from the four leads are excellent, especially considering that we are seeing them right beside their real life counterparts.

While American Animals is quite entertaining to watch, and it plays with the sort of jittery suspense that you expect from any good heist movie, there is also a tragic quality to the film as it goes on, heightened by the fact that we are being constantly reminded that these are real people with real lives that got upended by their decisions.  The result is a compelling film, that blurs the line between narrative and documentary filmmaking in a really unique and exciting way.

American Animals is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

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Review: Hearts Beat Loud

June 22, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

There are some films that are made to make you feel good, and Hearts Beat Loud is one of them.  The latest from writer-director Brett Haley, who also made the similarly wonderful I’ll See You in My Dreams in 2015, this is a charming father-daughter dramedy that drew praise at Sundance and hits the right notes.

The film follows Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman), a widowed father who runs an independent record shop in Brooklyn, and has always had dreams of starting a band with his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who is spending her last summer at home before moving away to university.

When they end up creating a song together during one of their nightly jam sessions – a catchy indie rock track called “Hearts Beat Loud” – Frank impulsively puts the recording on Spotify, and they end up with a small hit on their hands.  The joint musical venture helps Frank comes to terms with his daughter leaving home and the closing of his record shop, which is complicated by the romantic sparks that start to fly between him and his landlord Leslie (Toni Collette).

The story takes place over the summer as the father and daughter try to navigate their newfound success as musicians, leading to a collection of gently funny and tender moments along the way.  The original songs that they write and perform throughout the film are all easy on the ears, complimented by the other indie pop songs that appear on the soundtrack.  While the beats of the story are thoroughly predictable, the film itself is so enjoyable that it’s hard to really mind, and the simple plot is further elevated by the solid performances.

Nick Offerman brings a nicely textured quality to his hipster dad character, and he shares a charming sort of parental chemistry with Kiersey Clemons, who shines in a breakout role.  They are backed up by a strong supporting cast that also includes American Honey star Sasha Lane as Sam’s girlfriend, Blythe Danner as Frank’s forgetful mother, and Ted Danson as a weed-smoking bartender.  The best thing that can be said about Hearts Beat Loud is that this is a likeable film that is populated by likeable characters, and it’s worth seeing if you’re looking for something low-key that will put a smile on your face.

Hearts Beat Loud is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

Review: Octavio is Dead!

June 22, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The latest from Canadian filmmaker Sook-Yin Lee, and her second feature following Year of the Carnivore in 2009, Octavio is Dead! is a unique character drama that provides an interesting exploration of gender identity, repressed sexuality, and getting to know the ghosts of those who have died.

The film follows a young woman named Tyler (Sarah Gadon), who gets laid off from her job at a bookstore in the opening scene, and lives with her unstable mother Joan (Rosanna Arquette) in Toronto.  When Tyler gets word that her estranged father Octavio (Raoul Trujillo) has passed away, and his entire estate has been left to her, she sneaks away to his Hamilton apartment.

What she finds is a filthy dump filled with books, artwork, and other mementos from his life, giving her clues as to what sort of man he was.  When she makes the decision to cut her hair short and put on one of her father’s old suits, passing herself off as male in order to get closer to a young man (Dimitri Kitsos) that she recognizes from one of his photographs, Tyler ends up discovering more about Octavio and the long buried secrets that he held.

While Octavio is Dead! could have delved deeper into certain elements of its story – there is a ghost story angle to the film that provides an interesting spiritual component, and I wish there was more focus on exploring the supernatural side of it – there are enough intriguing moments here to keep us engaged and curious to see where the story will take us next.  There is a suspenseful nature to the film, but it’s not quite a thriller, and I would say that the tone is more comparable to something like Personal Shopper.

Sook-Yin Lee does a fine job of directing the film, with a fluidity to how she handles the mix of genres and tones, while delving deeper into the themes of sexual and gender identity that have been prevalent throughout her entire body of work.  Finally, Octavio is Dead! is carried by a strong performance from Sarah Gadon, who delivers some of her finest work yet, deftly portraying both Tyler’s initial vulnerability as well as her emotional and possibly sexual awakening throughout the arc of the narrative.

Octavio is Dead! is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas in Toronto.

Review: The Cleaners

June 22, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

While social media sites like Facebook and Twitter sell themselves as being open for anyone to post anything, they in reality all have strict guidelines that are heavily enforced by anonymous content moderators.

The majority of the work these “cleaners” do is outsourced to other countries like the Philippines, where the workers are given long hours, paid poor wages, and are also generally unprepared for what they will encounter when policing the internet, often having only seconds to decide what stays or goes.

Although their full identities have to remain hidden, filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck are able to tell some of their stories in The Cleaners, a thought provoking documentary that feels incredibly timely for multiple reasons.

The film offers an engaging and surprisingly balanced look at these secret, outsourced moderators who decide what content is appropriate for social media, and it raises fascinating questions about online censorship and who should decide what we see.  When it comes to removing illegal content like child porn and graphic self-harm videos, they are obviously doing the right thing by taking it down.  But when faced with disturbing images from war zones that could serve a journalistic purpose, or more subversive political and satirical content that should be protected by the first amendment, their jobs become much murkier.

These free speech issues really came to a head around the 2016 presidential election, exacerbated by the spread of “fake news” and Donald Trump’s heavy use of twitter to help him win.  The film does a good job of not really taking sides, giving equal voice to both Illma Gore, who painted a mocking portrait of naked Trump, as well as the provocative street artist Sabo, who have both had their deeply polarizing and heavily political online content called into question.

It’s thankless work that these moderators are doing, made even worse by the fact that they have to reach quotas of removing 25,000 images a day, and aren’t given adequate psychological help.  The amount of extremely disturbing content that they are forced to view is leading to severe mental health issues and even suicide, not to mention the fact that most of them are practising Catholics, who feel overwhelming guilt for viewing sinful content.  This is ultimately a disturbing but important glimpse at the work they are doing, which has huge implications for society as a whole.

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

Here’s to Ten Years!

June 20, 2018

We launched One Movie, Our Views a decade ago tonight, which means we’ve been writing about movies for a whole ten years now! It’s hard to believe it has been so long, as it feels like only yesterday that we were just starting out and posting our reviews of Get Smart.

We’ve obviously gone through some changes over the years, most notably our switch from Blogger to WordPress in 2010, and of course our name change from One Movie, Five Views to One Movie, Our Views at the end of 2014.

But other than that, the core values of the site have largely remained the same and it has been going steady ever since, and we want to give a sincere thank you to everyone who has joined us along this journey and hope that you’ll stick with us for whatever the future holds.  There have been some ups and downs throughout the past decade, as there always are in life, but mostly it’s been fun.  So here’s to finding something that you’re passionate about, following your dreams, and most importantly doing what you love!

DVD Review: Elvis Presley: 5 Film Collection

June 19, 2018

By John Corrado

Last week, Paramount released the Elvis Presley: 5 Film Collection on DVD, a new set that includes his films G.I. Blues (1960), Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), Fun in Acapulco (1963), and Roustabout (1964).

I’m a pretty big Elvis fan, and consider his films to be somewhat of a guilty pleasure having seen a good number of them over the years, so this set easily gets a recommendation from me.  The musical icon starred in a grand total of 31 films throughout the 1950s and ’60s, so this is just a small sampling of his acting output right from the middle of his film career.

Elvis Presley himself remains a charismatic screen presence, and these films serve as light and enjoyable pieces of escapism that feature some great music and are a lot of fun to watch.  While they admittedly aren’t exactly masterpieces of cinema, and there are elements of them that do feel dated particularly in terms of their sexual politics, the one thing I have to say about many of his films is that they are eminently watchable.

My personal favourite of this bunch is probably the breezy beach movie Blue Hawaii, a film that is notable for giving us the romantic ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love” which has become a perennial classic, and also helped cement his connections to Hawaiian culture.  With artwork and packaging that is similar to the Jerry Lewis: 10 Film Collection, which also came out last week, this is an attractive and worthwhile set for fans of The King, that provides a fine sampling of his films.

Elvis Presley: 5 Film Collection is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.

Review: Incredibles 2

June 18, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

It’s been fourteen years since The Incredibles came out in 2004, and now writer-director Brad Bird has finally given us the sequel that fans have been eagerly anticipating for ages.  So was the long wait worth it for Incredibles 2?  The answer to that would have to be a pretty big yes.

While it might not be quite as strong as the first one, this is a more than worthy followup that is a lot of fun to watch, building upon the original and allowing us to spend another couple of hours in the company of these beloved characters.  It’s a sequel that does pretty much exactly what you want it to, while also serving as an entertaining adventure in its own right.

The film picks up right where the first one left off, with the Parr family – parents Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and kids Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner), and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) – in the midst of battling the Underminer (John Ratzenberger), with a little help from their good friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson).  The trouble is, superheroes are still illegal, and once they are seen in public they have to go into hiding again.

Enter Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), a powerful sibling pair who run a corporation that wants to bring supers back into the spotlight, offering the family a new home and the chance to do hero work again.  They quickly deem that Elastigirl is their best bet in terms of marketing to get the public used to the idea of superheroes, which leaves Mr. Incredible at home to raise the kids, as his wife becomes the primary breadwinner.  When Elastigirl is faced with a mysterious villain who goes by the alias of the Screenslaver, and is interrupting live broadcasts and sending out hypnotizing signals through screens to brainwash viewers, calling the rest of her family into action.

As I mentioned earlier, Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor.  The plot feels a bit more conventional this time around, and there is a twist involving the villain that is somewhat easy to predict right from the start.  This in no way makes the story any less compelling, but it does reduce a bit of the element of surprise.  The film also introduces us to a variety of new superhero characters with various powers, including Voyd (Sophia Bush), Krushauer (Phil LaMarr) and Reflux (Paul Eiding), to name just a few, and they feel largely underdeveloped.  But for the most part, the film does come pretty darn close to recapturing the magic of the original, especially for a sequel being released so long after.

Much of the appeal of Incredibles 2 comes from the fact that it allows us to hang out with the original characters again, picking up right where we last saw them.  The strength of the film really lies in the dynamics between the family members, which are not only delightful to watch, but also once again extremely well defined.  Much of the film follows a Mr. Mom-style plot, and the domestic scenes with Mr. Incredible trying to get a handle on parenting is actually some of the best stuff in the film.  Violet is also going through her own issues, trying to make things work with her crush Tony Rydinger (Michael Bird), who had his memory wiped by Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks) after seeing her in her super suit.

A good deal of the film revolves around Jack-Jack discovering more of his vast array of super powers, which the audience already knows he has but his own family is only just discovering.  He really is the breakout character here, managing to steal the entire movie with his amusing and often adorable antics, including a raucous fight with a racoon in the backyard.  Another one of the funniest sequences involves everyone’s favourite fashion designer Edna Mode (Brad Bird) taking on the role of babysitter, leaving us hopeful for the possibility of another  spinoff short film, à la Jack-Jack Attack.

As we have come to expect from Pixar, the animation here is technically flawless.  The production design is impeccable, with art deco overtones that really capture the 1960s look and feel of the film, especially in the design of the Parr family’s new house.  Brad Bird has an exceptional eye for staging action sequences, and the set-pieces here are often dazzling to watch, including a thrilling foot chase through an apartment building that is lit by flashing strobe lights.  Michael Giacchino’s score once again provides jazzy and energetic accompaniment to the action, building upon his now-iconic themes from the first film.

I’ve been waiting for this film since I was a kid, so there is an obvious nostalgic appeal to Incredibles 2, but on top of that it’s simply an extremely well crafted animated blockbuster.  While the first film came out at a time when superhero movies were more of a novelty, where as now they are a dime a dozen, this one still manages to feel fresh.  The film is impeccably well paced at close to two hours, as it effortlessly zips between action, humour and character drama with nary a missed beat.  It’s simply a lot of fun, and probably one of the best times you will have at the movies this summer.

Blu-ray Review: Tomb Raider

June 12, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Seven years after losing her father (Dominic West), Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) discovers the many puzzles that he left behind in his work as an archaeologist, and sets out to solve the mystery behind his disappearance.

Teaming up with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who is captaining his own father’s ship, Lara travels to an island off the coast of Japan in search of the tomb of the mythical Queen Himiko, but finds herself in direct conflict with the brutal Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) and his team of mercenaries, who are also trying to uncover the tomb.

Lara Croft first made her debut in a series of video games that started over two decades ago, and Tomb Raider serves as a new take on the classic character.  Because I have never played the games, and I admittedly also haven’t seen the original movies starring Angelina Jolie that came out in the early 2000s, I don’t really have anything to compare this new version to.  But taken on its own terms, Tomb Raider is an enjoyable enough action adventure that is fine for what it is.

No, it’s not a great film – as is probably to be expected from a video game adaptation, the characters are not that well fleshed out, the plot sort of jumps around, and the dialogue is often wooden – but it’s also not a bad one, either.  Director Roar Uthaug competently directs the film, staging some decent set-pieces, and it’s carried by a fine performance from Alicia Vikander, who delivers a more grounded and realistic take on Lara Croft, as opposed to the more sexed up portrayals of the character in the past.

While the film often comes across as a bargain basement version of Indiana Jones, I can’t say that I minded watching it.  If you are in the mood for this sort of thing, and all that you’re looking for is two hours of mindless entertainment, then Tomb Raider gets the job done just well enough.

The Blu-ray also includes the four featurettes Tomb Raider: Uncovered, Croft Training, Breaking Down the Rapids, and Lara Croft: Evolution of An Icon.

Tomb Raider is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release.  It’s 118 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Review: Sherlock Gnomes

June 12, 2018

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

A belated sequel to the 2011 film Gnomeo & Juliet, Sherlock Gnomes finds star-crossed lovers Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) being moved to London, where their owners now share a garden.

But when their fellow lawn decorations mysteriously go missing, they must enlist the help of the famous gnome detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his partner Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), in order to track them down and return them safely to the garden.

Where as Gnomeo & Juliet was a charming enough spin on William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Sherlock Gnomes is less cohesive and also less successful.  This is not to say there aren’t still some mildly enjoyable moments scattered here, because there are a few.  The title character himself is a fairly amusing creation, and the sequences where he enters his “Mind Palace” are nicely done using black and white 2D animation, in the film’s best and most creative touch.

The brightly coloured computer animation is generally decent, the all-star voice cast does fine work and, like its predecessor, the film features a buoyant selection of Elton John songs.  But as a whole, Sherlock Gnomes is a thoroughly mediocre affair, and it’s further bogged down by having an annoying villain in Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), who has been reimagined here as a crazy pie shop mascot and starts to grate on the nerves right from when he first appears.  It’s fine for kids, but that’s about it.

The Blu-ray also includes the featurettes Gnome is Where the Heart Is, All Roads Lead to Gnome: London Locations in Sherlock Gnomes, Gnome Wasn’t Built in a Day: The Design and Art of Sherlock Gnomes, as well as Miss Gnomer: Mary J. Blige and the Music of Sherlock Gnomes and the music video for her new song “Stronger Than I Ever Was.”  There’s also the short piece Animating Sherlock Gnomes and instructions on how to draw four of the main characters.

Sherlock Gnomes is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.  It’s 86 minutes and rated G.

Blu-ray Reviews: Trading Places: 30th Anniversary Edition and Coming to America: 35th Anniversary Edition

June 12, 2018

By John Corrado

A pair of classic comedies from the 1980s that share the same director in John Landis and the same star in Eddie Murphy, Trading Places and Coming to America are both celebrating anniversaries this year, and are getting brand new Blu-ray releases to honour the occasion.

Released to wild success in 1983, Trading Places tells the story of two insider traders Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche) who make a bet about nature versus nurture, and enact a cruel social experiment in which they fire their top broker Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) and hire the homeless grifter Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) in his place.

With a clever script, and standout performances from the ensemble cast which also includes Jamie Lee Curtis as a street-smart prostitute, Trading Places remains a bonafide comedic classic that unfolds with shades of Frank Capra.  The film also functions as a pointed and still relevant social satire, using its rags to riches and riches to rags story to touch on bigger themes of race and class, and how the same person is treated differently when their socioeconomic status changes.  It’s a wildly entertaining film that still holds up, bolstered by one of Eddie Murphy’s finest roles.

The Blu-ray also includes the featurettes Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places, Trading Stories, Dressing the Part, and The Trade in Trading Places, as well as a deleted scene, an industry promotional piece, and trivia pop-ups.

Released five years later, Coming to America in a lot of ways served to capitalize on the critical and commercial success of the earlier collaboration between its director and star, and became one of the highest grossing movies of 1988.

This time around, Eddie Murphy takes on the role of Prince Akeem, who hails from a fictional African nation called Zamunda, and doesn’t want to marry the bride that his parents (James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair) have chosen for him.  So on his 21st birthday, he travels to Queens, New York with his servant Semmi (Arsenio Hall), to pose as a regular man and find his own true love.

While Coming to America isn’t quite as good as Trading Places – the characters aren’t as well defined, and the screenplay feels looser – it’s still an amusing comedy that explores similar themes about how people are treated differently depending on if they are seen as rich or poor.  The film delivers several classic scenes, and features cameos by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche reprising their roles from Trading Places, allowing it to serve as a followup of sorts.  It’s also notable for starting the trend of Eddie Murphy playing multiple characters, with him and Arsenio Hall utilizing Rick Baker’s Oscar-nominated makeup work to show up in different roles throughout the film, including as the hilarious denizens of a local barbershop.

The Blu-ray also includes the featurettes Prince-ipal Photography: The Coming Together of America, Fit for Akeem: The Costumes of Coming to America, Character Building: The Many of Faces of Rick Baker, Composing America: The Musical Talents of Nile Rodgers, as well as A Vintage Sit-Down With Eddie and Arsenio, and a photo gallery.

Trading Places: 35th Anniversary Edition and Coming to America: 30th Anniversary Edition are Paramount Home Media Distribution releases.  They are both 116 minutes and rated 14A.

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