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Review: Alita: Battle Angel

February 15, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A passion project for producer and co-writer James Cameron, that is finally coming to the screen after years in development thanks to the help of director Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel is an often eye-popping science fiction spectacle that offers a seamless mix of live action and visual effects.

Based on the manga series Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro, that was already adapted into an anime film in 1993, Alita: Battle Angel takes place in the 26th century, a couple of centuries after an apocalyptic event referred to as The Fall.

The wealthy have moved to Zalem, a teeming metropolis that exists on a ship hovering just above the earth, and the rest of humanity lives below in Iron City, where the architecture is crumbling and many people have morphed themselves with machine parts in order to survive.

When Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a sort of surgeon for these cyborgs, discovers an abandoned cyborg core in the dump, he gives her a powerful new body and Alita (Rosa Salazar) is born. Alita is a wide-eyed and optimistic teen girl who soon falls in love with Hugo (Keean Johnson), a street-smart scavenger who dreams of escaping to Zalem, and wants to protect their relationship at all costs.

While she doesn’t remember anything of her past life, Alita discovers that she has innate skills as a warrior, having been heavily trained in the ancient martial art of Panzer Kunst, and becomes a bounty hunter as a way to make money. This puts her on the radar of Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), the former partner of Dr. Ido, and her new boss Vector (Mahershala Ali), who runs an extreme sporting event built around a deadly game called Motorball and wants Alita for his own purposes.

The success of Alita: Battle Angel ultimately rests on the shoulders of Alita herself, both in terms of Salazar’s performance and the incredible visual effects that have enhanced it, offering an impressive showcase for how far performance capture technology has come in the past decade. Alita is an entirely computer generated creation, and yet she interacts seamlessly with the flesh and blood actors around her, with the animators even having found a way to bring her big anime eyes to the screen in a way that appears natural.

The artists at Weta Digital have done a trememndous job of pushing forward performance capture technology, the same technology that Cameron already played around with a decade ago in his sci-fi blockbuster Avatar, and what they have done with it here is quite impressive. Yes, we can tell that Alita isn’t real, despite being near photorealistic in some shots, and yet we are able to completely believe and empathize with her character.

The film’s computer generated visuals have also been seamlessly mixed with practical effects, enhancing the film’s unique visual look. The production team went to the effort of building actual sets for Iron City at Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas, and this choice really pays off onscreen, giving this post-apocalyptic world a tactical and realistic feel, with an appealing steampunk aesthetic that gives us the impression it is stuck in time somewhere between the past and future.

There are elements of the story that feel underdeveloped, as it condenses a lot of mythology and world-building into an easily digestible two hour running time, and the supporting characters aren’t all equally fleshed out. The film also just sort of ends right in the middle of a scene, with the intention clearly being to leave things open for a sequel, but it doesn’t really give us the closure that we need for a standalone film. But Alita: Battle Angel is a visual feast first and foremost, telling an adequately involving story with a protagonist worth rooting for, while also dazzling us with special effects.

The film’s set-pieces are entertaining and benefit from being seen on a massive screen. The fight scenes, which mix together elements of martial arts and hand-to-hand combat, are well choreographed, and the Motorball competitions provide some of the most fun sequences in the film. I saw Alita: Battle Angel in IMAX 3D, and this really is the best way to see it, with the gigantic screen helping immerse us in this visually stunning world that Cameron and Rodriguez have brought to life.

Alita: Battle Angel is now playing in theatres across Canada.


Blu-ray Review: Nobody’s Fool

February 12, 2019

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Danica (Tika Sumpter) is a successful career woman who seems to have her life together, with a good office job at a marketing firm and a steady online relationship with her dream man, whom she has never even met.

But Danica’s life is upended when her unhinged sister Tanya (Tiffany Haddish) gets out of jail and comes to live with her. Suspecting that something is off with Danica’s internet boyfriend, Tanya comes to the conclusion that her sister is being catfished.

This is the premise of Nobody’s Fool, a new film written and directed by Tyler Perry, that functions as both a look at how online dating has complicated relationships, and also serves as an odd spinoff of sorts to the MTV reality show Catfish, even featuring appearances from hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph.

For the most part, this is a fairly standard romantic comedy that runs a little on the long side at close to two hours and doesn’t do as much with its premise as it could have, but the cast ensures that the film is not without some amusing and entertaining moments. Sumpter makes for a likeable lead, and Haddish can be quite funny when she is allowed to just let loose. The cast is rounded out by fine supporting turns from Omari Hardwick as the charming owner of a coffee shop who has a crush on Danica and graciously gives Tanya a job; Whoopi Goldberg as the pothead mother of the two sisters; and Amber Riley as Danica’s best friend and co-worker.

It’s not great, and you will likely be able to tell where it’s going to end up from a mile away, but Nobody’s Fool is still mildly enjoyable at times thanks to the best efforts of its cast, and if all you’re looking for is something light and mindless with a few laughs, then it might do the trick. Fans of Tyler Perry’s usual brand of comedy should like it, even if it’s only really worth a rental at best.

The Blu-ray also includes an intro by Perry and Haddish, a selection of deleted, extended and alternate scenes, a gag reel, nine featurettes (Tale of Two Sisters, The Legend and the Star, Mocha Latte Extra Laughs, I’m Just Trusting Tyler Perry, She Ready or Not: Here Comes the Wedding Crasher, Bring the Funny, and Breakfast With Tiffany), and a pair of faux commercials for the film.

Nobody’s Fool is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 110 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: February 12th

Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: 10-Movie Stardate Collection

February 12, 2019

By John Corrado

Last week, Paramount released the Star Trek: 10-Movie Stardate Collection on Blu-ray. The set comes with all six films starring the cast of the original series, as well as the four featuring the characters from The Next Generation.

The films included here are Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Star Trek: Generations (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002).

While the original series only ran for three seasons on NBC from 1966 to 1969, before it was cancelled due to poor ratings, the popularity that the show found in syndication in the 1970s led Paramount to greenlight a new TV series featuring the original cast. But the success of blockbusters like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, of course, Star Wars in 1977 led the studio to adapt the pilot into a feature film instead, and that’s how Star Trek: The Motion Picture was born, spawning the cinematic franchise.

Although it’s widely agreed that some of these films are better than others – The Wrath of Khan remains a genuine classic and The Voyage Home is a fan favourite, where as the William Shatner-directed The Final Frontier was a notorious flop with both critics and audiences alike – there is still a continuity to the series that makes it worth watching them in chronological order. The only films not included here are the three J.J. Abrams reboots, but otherwise this is a solid set for both serious and more casual fans of the series alike.

The set also comes with two feature length bonus discs. First up is Star Trek: The Captains’ Summit, which features a special roundtable discussion with cast members William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and host Whoopi Goldberg, and next is Star Trek: Evolutions, which compiles a series of featurettes detailing different aspects of the series.

This same 12-disc collection was originally released a few years back in cardboard packaging, and has been reissued now in a clear plastic case with a slipcover. My only real complaint is that the tabs holding the discs are quite stiff, making them extremely hard to get out.

The Star Trek: 10-Movie Stardate Collection is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.

Street Date: February 5th

DVD Review: The Paul Newman 6-Movie Collection

February 11, 2019

By John Corrado

Along with The Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie CollectionThe Paul Newman 6-Movie Collection was also released on DVD last week from Paramount.

The six films included in the set are Hud (1963), A New Kind of Love (1963), Fat Man and Little Boy (1989), Nobody’s Fool (1994), Twilight (1998) and Road to Perdition (2002).

While a lot of Newman’s most iconic films are not included here, with Paramount not having the distribution rights to such classics as The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidThe Sting and The Color of Money, to name just a few, this is still an interesting selection of his work that showcases both his more famous and lesser known roles.

The two best and most well known films included in the set are Martin Ritt’s classic drama Hud and Sam Mendes’s gangster saga Road to Perdition, both of which got him Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Newman also received an Oscar nomination for his leading role in the underrated Robert Benton drama Nobody’s Fool, which is considered to be one of the finest performances from the later stages of his career.

A set like this is really only scratching the surface of Newman’s legendary career, which spanned from the 1950s pretty much all the way up to his death in 2008, especially considering all of the classics he appeared in that aren’t included amongst these six films. But this is still a worthwhile and well packaged set that, with the presence of classics like Hud and Road to Perdition, offers a fine introduction to his vast filmography. The six discs are in a standard-size plastic case that comes with a slipcover.

The Paul Newman 6-Movie Collection is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.

Street Date: February 5th

DVD Review: The Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie Collection

February 11, 2019

By John Corrado

Last week, Paramount released The Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie Collection on DVD, featuring a selection of her classic films conveniently packaged together in a single case.

Listed in chronological order, the set includes the films Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), War and Peace (1956), Funny Face (1957), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Paris When It Sizzles (1964), and My Fair Lady (1964).

I’ve been watching through these films since I got this set for review, and doing so has been an absolute joy. Hepburn was a true movie star of her time, with an ability to light up the screen like few other actresses then or now, regardless of whether she was starring in comedies, dramas or musicals.

As you can tell, some of Hepburn’s most famous works are included here, from her Oscar-winning breakout performance as a young princess in William Wyler’s incredibly enjoyable Roman Holiday, a real treat to watch that remains just as splendid and effervescent as it ever was, to her Oscar-nominated performances in Billy Wilder’s classic romantic comedy Sabrina and Blake Ewards’s iconic Truman Capote adaptation Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Then there’s George Cukor’s beloved musical My Fair Lady, which won a total of eight Oscars including Best Picture, but strangely didn’t get Hepburn a Best Actress nomination for her performance, in what must have been an incredibly surprising snub at the time. The other musical included in this set is Stanley Donan’s Funny Face, in which Hepburn stars alongside Fred Astaire. Loosely based on the 1927 Broadway play of the same name, it features a selection of Gerswhin tunes that will be instantly familiar to most viewers, even if they’ve never seen the film.

The most underrated film here is easily Richard Quine’s completely delightful Paris When It Sizzles, a sort of screwball comedy that finds Hepburn playing the typing assistant to a struggling screenwriter (William Holden), who becomes his muse and helps him overcome his writer’s block as they work to assemble a screenplay over two days in a Paris hotel room over looking the Eiffel Tower.

The film is cleverly assembled as a dual narrative, cutting back and forth between their scenes in the hotel and the increasingly over the top movie they are writing, with these two stories converging as the film goes on. It’s a fun and inventive look at the writing process, with the bulk of the film playing as a two-hander between Hepburn and Holden – reuniting ten years after Sabrina – that smartly keeps the focus on their chemistry together.

While Paramount doesn’t own the rights to several of her other classics, namely The Nun’s Story, The Children’s Hour, Charade and Wait Until Dark, so they can’t be included in this set, the films that are here make this an incredibly solid collection for fans of Hepburn’s work. The seven discs are housed in a clear plastic clamshell case, that comes with a lovely pink cardboard slipcover.

The Audrey Hepburn 7-Movie Collection is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.

Street Date: February 5th

Review: Cold Pursuit

February 8, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a mild-mannered snowplow driver who, near the beginning of Cold Pursuit, is named “Citizen of the Year” in Kehoe, the fictional Colorado ski town where the film’s action unfolds.

When his son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) is killed by a brutal drug cartel, Nels seeks revenge, and transforms himself into a skillful assassin. Armed with a hunting rifle that has the barrel and butt sawed off, he starts picking off the gang members one by one, efficiently working his way towards their gleefully sociopathic leader Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman, doing his best impersonation of Christian Bale in American Psycho).

But Viking blames the killings on a rival Native American gang led by White Bull (Tom Jackson), and decides to get vengeance of his own against them. This sets in motion a chain of circumstances that ends up igniting a brutal turf war encompassing all three men, that threatens to take everyone around them down as well. Complicating matters further is the presence of Viking’s own son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes), a sensitive young boy who ends up caught in the middle.

Directed by Hans Peter Moland, remaking his own 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, Cold Pursuit is a consistently entertaining film that also strikes an odd tone that makes it hard to fully pin down. At times it seems like we are watching a stone-faced parody of a “Liam Neeson gets revenge” movie, as the actor scowls his way through the sort of role that has come to define his career, delivering the film’s often laughable dialogue with his trademark growl.

It’s hard to tell at first if we are supposed to be taking this seriously or not, but we quickly come to realize that this clash of tones is intentional, as Moland works to establish a darkly comic tone that is marked with moments of absurdity in order to help drive home the film’s larger point about the futility of violence. As the film goes along, it reveals itself to be much cleverer than it initially appears, with a certain level of self-awareness that makes it feel fresh within the revenge thriller genre.

The film unfolds with grandiose themes of fathers and sons, and how every act of violence leads to another in a vicious cycle of vengeance that has been going on for generations and threatens to keep spinning for many more. Every death is followed by a black title card noting the deceased character’s name, marked with either a cross or other religious symbol, and the mock solemnity of this stylistic choice helps illustrate the film’s overarching theme that violence is ultimately pointless because it only begets more violence.

Like a pulpy crime novel, Cold Pursuit draws us into its absorbing world of drug dealers and men seeking revenge, unfolding like a cross between the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Elmore Leonard, fuelled by a distinctly dark Scandinavian sense of humour. The film uses wicked, pitch black comedy to heighten the almost farcical nature of its premise, before culminating with a bloody and wildly over the top shootout that brings things to a natural boiling point and gives genre fans exactly what they want, while heavily embracing the comic absurdity of it all.

If you can appreciate a good dark comedy disguised as a typical revenge thriller, then Cold Pursuit offers a lot of twisted pleasures in its satirical portrayal of the never ending cycles of violence that can be born out of one man’s search for vengeance.

Cold Pursuit is now playing in theatres across Canada.

Review: Arctic

February 8, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A survival movie in the most stripped down and literal sense of the term, Arctic centres around Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen), a man who is stranded alone in the middle of the Arctic following a plane crash.

We are never explicitly told what transpired, and we don’t know exactly how long he has been stranded for, either. It could be a matter of weeks or even months.

When we first meet him in the film, he has set up a sort of base camp for himself, with the crashed plane providing a source of shelter from the elements, as he relies upon fish pulled from holes in the ice in order to feed himself.

Overgård gets a glimmer of hope when a helicopter circles above, but it soon crashes to the ground, and the sole survivor is a badly injured woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) whom he pulls from the wreckage. He is no longer alone, but now has another person that he must take care of, who is reliant upon him to survive. With her health declining, he is faced with making the choice of whether to stay put in his makeshift shelter waiting for them to be rescued, or set out into the unknown in search of help.

This is basically what transpires during the first act of Arctic, a film that unfolds with minimal dialogue and little in the way of traditional plot in order to offer a visceral look at survival in the face of the most extreme circumstances. Directed by Joe Penna, who co-wrote the sparse script with Ryan Morrison, this is a survival thriller distilled to its most basic form, pitting two people against the elements in a fight to stay alive. Penna follows his characters with an often observational style that at times recalls a nature documentary, as cinematographer Tómas Örn Tómasson fills the screen with sweeping images of the harsh snowy landscapes that put the vastness of their surroundings into perspective.

The film is built around a compelling, mostly wordless performance from Mikkelsen, who embraces the physically demanding elements of the role and keeps us gripped to his portrayal of a man struggling to survive, even if we know almost nothing about his character. The film moves slowly, but it maintains a steady amount of interest thanks to the beautiful cinematography and excellent leading performance, rewarding patient viewers with its incredibly suspenseful final few minutes, before cutting to black at just the right moment.

Arctic is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto, and will be expanding to more cities across Canada in the coming weeks.

Contest: Win a Copy of Goosebumps 2 on Blu-ray!

February 6, 2019

To celebrate last month’s home entertainment release of the entertaining sequel Goosebumps 2, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has provided us with a copy of the Blu-ray to give away to one lucky Canadian reader!

To enter, simply send an email to with the subject line “Win a Copy of Goosebumps 2 on Blu-ray!”, or you can also just leave us a comment below indicating that you’re interested. Please also note that this contest is open to Canadian residents only, and if selected as a winner, you will be asked to provide your mailing address so that the prize can be shipped to you.

The contest closes in one week on February 13th at 11:59 PM. Good luck and thanks in advance for entering!

Blu-ray Review: Goosebumps 2

February 6, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

A followup to the surprisingly good 2015 film Goosebumps, Goosebumps 2 finds a new group of young protagonists accidentally unleashing monsters from author R.L. Stine’s classic series of books.

This film is also set at Halloween, and follows Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris), two kids who have an after school business removing junk from other people’s houses, hoping to find some lost treasures amidst the trash.

But when they get called to an abandoned mansion that belonged to none other than R.L. Stine (Jack Black), they end up finding a locked manuscript for an unfinished book called Haunted Halloween, along with the ventriloquist dummy Slappy (Jack Black).

They accidentally bring him to life after reading out the spell written on a piece of paper in his pocket, and after bringing him home, Sonny starts to discover that the dummy has a mind of his own. Slappy almost instantly becomes possessive of his new family, prompting him to use the same spell to bring a variety of Halloween decorations – and an army of bloodthirsty gummy bears – to life.

When the manuscript gets opened, the other Goosebumps monsters are also released once again, and it’s up to Sonny and Sam to set things right on Halloween night, while also getting some reluctant help from Sonny’s teenaged sister Sarah (Madison Iseman), who is supposed to be watching him while their single mother Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) works late. This leads to a climactic showdown, in which they are faced with a series of different threats in order to save the town and their friends.

While Goosebumps 2 is not as good as the first film, which worked as a super fun throwback to 1980s horror comedies, I still enjoyed this sequel for what it is. Like the first one, this film also takes a very meta approach to adapting the original books, and while the results are slightly diminished this time around, this allows it to work as more than just a straight adaptation as it somewhat cleverly weaves together elements from different titles in the series. The special effects are also decent, which leads to some fun set-pieces as the various monsters and Halloween decorations start springing to life.

Although the presence of the original leads Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush and Ryan Lee is somewhat missed here, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris and Madison Iseman all do a decent job of carrying the film, and the fact that Goosebumps 2 is mostly centred around new characters allows it to distinguish itself a little bit more from the first one. Ken Jeong also has an amusing supporting role as an overly enthusiastic neighbour who loves all things Halloween and happens to be a huge Goosebumps fan.

This is ultimately a fairly entertaining Halloween movie for families, that once again does a fine job of paying tribute to R.L. Stine’s classic books. I had a decent amount of fun with it, and it would also be a good choice for kids who want something Halloweenish, but aren’t really ready for the scarier stuff yet. Another interesting thing to note is that during the theatrical release the film was advertised with the subtitle Haunted Halloween, which is curiously nowhere to be found on the Blu-ray packaging.

The Blu-ray also includes a few short deleted scenes, a gag reel, the two featurettes Thrills & Chills – The Making of Goosebumps 2 and Meet the Monsters, the five-part Science With Slappy, which showcases a series of science experiments being conducted by the dummy and the cast, as well as a fake commerical for Sonny and Sam’s junk removal business and an “audition tape” for Slappy.

Goosebumps 2 is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 90 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 15th

Blu-ray Review: The Cloverfield Paradox and The Cloverfield 3-Movie Collection

February 5, 2019

By John Corrado

This week, Paramount is releasing the Netflix film The Cloverfield Paradox on Blu-ray, both on its own and as part of a new 3-movie collection that also includes the 2008 found footage film Cloverfield and the 2016 followup 10 Cloverfield Lane. Famously released on Netflix as a surprise directly following last year’s Super Bowl, The Cloverfield Paradox is the third entry into the loosely connected series, and this unconventional release strategy was arguably one of the most interesting aspects of the film.

I found the film itself to be a pretty mediocre sci-fi flick that often feels more like an extended episode of a TV show than it does an actual movie, but it’s not without some entertaining moments. While it seems quite suited to being viewed on a streaming service, fans of the J.J. Abrams-produced series who already own the first two on Blu-ray and are looking to add a physical copy of this one to their collections might still want to pick it up. For more on the film itself, you can read my full review – which was published exactly a year ago – right here.

As an added bonus, the Blu-ray also comes with the two very well assembled featurettes Things Are Not As They Appear: The Making of The Cloverfield Paradox and Shepard Team: The Cast, which shed a surprising amount of light on the production through a mix of behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. But without a digital copy or regular DVD included in the case, this still feels like a pretty bare bones release, which I guess is to be expected considering that most Netflix films don’t even get physical releases.

If you don’t already have copies of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane – which basically functions as a standalone suspense thriller and remains the high point of the series – then the Cloverfield 3-Movie Collection, which includes all three films on Blu-ray neatly packaged in a single case along with their previously released bonus features on each of the separate discs, is definitely the better value for your money rather than the standalone release. But which one you get is really up to you.

The Cloverfield Paradox and The Cloverfield 3-Movie Collection are both Paramount Home Media Distribution releases. The Cloverfield Paradox is 102 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: February 5th, 2019

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