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Blu-ray Review: Nobody

June 22, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) is a nobody. The title card of Nobody literally introduces him as such. He is a middle-aged man who gets up at the same time every day to take the bus to work at a factory, and once a week ends up just missing the garbage truck, only to get chastised by his wife (Connie Nielsen) for forgetting to take the trash out.

This staid routine is shown in a quick-cut montage that opens the film, setting it up in a way that recalls the middle aged male suburban malaise of American Beauty. The film will soon morph into an ultra violent action movie, but this evocative opening grounds Hutch as a sort of relatable everyman before, well, the shit hits the fan.

But, considering that the film comes to us from the director of Hardcore Henry (Ilya Naishuller) and the writer of John Wick (Derek Kolstad), it’s not a shock that it delivers in terms of insane, well choreographed action sequences. It all starts when Hutch’s house gets broken into one night by a couple of young thieves. He holds back and lets them leave without roughing them up, only to be told by every man he that speaks to afterwards that they would have handled it differently.

Feeling emasculated and like he didn’t do enough to apprehend the robbers and protect his wife and kids, Hutch goes out to get revenge, and starts spending his nights prowling around the city’s dark underbelly. This leads him to take on a group of drunk guys on a bus in one of the film’s most brutal hand-to-hand fights, which inadvertently puts the Russian mafia on his trail.

At this point, Nobody goes from being a somewhat more grounded character study of a man who snaps, and turns into a decidedly over the top shoot-’em-up action movie that basically becomes a hard-R riff on Home Alone in its last act. The film does have some pacing and story issues. It essentially has two different inciting incidents (the home invasion and the bus fight), and feels like it starts over at the end of its first act, with the somewhat clichéd reveal of Hutch’s backstory, and the introduction of the main villain Yulian Kuznetsov (played by Russian actor Aleksey Serebryakov, hamming it up). Hutch’s family members, including his wife, also feel underdeveloped.

But Nobody is kept consistently entertaining to watch, thanks to its fast pace and heavy focus on action sequences. The film delivers all of the shootouts, knife fights and car chase action that you could possibly want in a roughly ninety minute movie. Naishuller gives the film a gritty aesthetic, but retains a slightly cheesy feel that keeps it fun. This is all set to a soundtrack of classic songs that provide ironic needle drops, adding to the somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone of the piece.

The film is carried by a committed performance from Odenkirk, who trained extensively to do his own fighting and stunts, and draws upon both his comedic and dramatic abilities to play a sad sack boomer who capably morphs into an action star. In an inspired bit of casting, Christopher Lloyd plays the role of Hutch’s father. Lloyd is given the chance to kick lots of ass, an opportunity that he relishes with obvious glee, providing several of the film’s high points. All in all, Nobody is a decently entertaining movie that delivers for action movie fans.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray also includes a handful of deleted scenes, featurettes, and a pair of commentary tracks. A code for a digital copy is also included. The package ships with an embossed slipcover.

Deleted Scenes (4 minutes, 58 seconds) A trio of scenes that were cut from the film for length, helping flesh out the discovery of Hutch’s backstory.

Hutch Hits Hard (3 minutes, 52 seconds) A look at Odenkirk’s rigorous stunt training that he underwent to take on the leading role, including learning how to fight.

Breaking Down the Action (19 minutes, 7 seconds) A collection of four entertaining featurettes taking us behind the scenes of the film’s biggest action sequences from planning to execution, cutting between pre-visualization and the finished film. The car chase one is especially cool, showing how they flipped a 1972 Dodge Challenger.

Bus Fight (5 minutes, 31 seconds)

Home Invasion (4 minutes, 19 seconds)

Car Chase (3 minutes, 13 seconds)

Tool and Die (6 minutes, 2 seconds)

Just a Nobody (12 minutes, 53 seconds) A solid overview of the film’s production, exploring how Odenkirk was inspired by his real life experience with a home invasion to pursue his role in the film, the inspired casting of Lloyd and RZA in action-heavy supporting roles, and the tone that Naishuller wanted for the movie.

Feature Commentary With Actor/Producer Bob Odenkirk and Director Ilya Naishuller

Feature Commentary With Director Ilya Naishuller

Nobody is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 92 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: June 22nd, 2021

Disney+ Review: Luca

June 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Enrico Casarosa, the director behind Pixar’s wonderful new feature Luca, has cited the works of Hayao Miyazaki and the Japanese animated films of Studio Ghibli as sources of inspiration for his Italy-set film.

While this might seem like an odd thing to say, since Pixar has its own completely recognizable style that is still on display here, the Ghibli influences are felt in the whimsical but grounded nature of Luca. The film plays out in a charmingly low-key way, beautifully evoking the feel of a summer hangout movie.

The title character is Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay), an adolescent sea monster who is reaching that age where he is starting to get curious about the surface world and the “land monsters” who live above, despite repeated warnings from his parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) that it is dangerous up there.

Then Luca meets the gregarious and outgoing Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer), another young sea monster who collects human objects and splits his time in the surface world, taking advantage of their ability to take on human form above water. Alberto pulls Luca into the human world, and shows him a life that he didn’t know was possible. The boys bond over their shared dream of owning a Vespa, which to them represents the freedom to go wherever they want.

Eventually, the boys venture into the local fishing town of Portorosso, where the residents are evidently scared of sea monsters. It’s here that they meet Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), a spunky girl who recognizes them as fellow outsiders, something that the town bully, and Giulia’s rival, Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), instantly dislikes them for. Giulia takes the boys back to meet her father Massimo (Marco Barricelli), a local fisherman who firmly believes the legends about sea monsters and has a wall adorned with harpoons to hunt them.

There is a real charm to Luca in how it lets us tag along with the characters as they eat pasta and go on bike rides. While it doesn’t have the most elaborate plot compared to some of Pixar’s other films, this is in no way a bad thing. It has a slice-of-life quality to it that I found refreshing and is perhaps meant as an homage to the great Italian neorealist film movement, only the protagonists here just so happen to be sea monsters. This is one of those films where not much and everything is at stake at the same time; the plot itself may seem simple, but the stakes for the characters couldn’t be higher.

The film does an excellent job showing the friendship that forms between Luca and Alberto, and how it changes when Giulia enters the picture. The fear of being “found out” adds tension to the story, with every drop of water that reaches their skin threatening to reveal their sea monster form to the outside world. The film is in no way explicitly a queer coming of age story, but the subtext is there if you choose to interpret it in that way. The story has an overarching message about accepting differences, but it never feels preachy, and is handled in a very sweet and poignant way.

The film is a very personal one for Casarosa, with the story inspired by his own adolescent friendship with a more adventurous boy named Alberto who helped pull him out of his shell. While Portorosso itself is a fictional place, the film beautifully captures the look of an Italian seaside town, right down to the old buildings and cobblestone streets. It’s never specified when exactly it takes place, but the lack of technology suggests it could be the 1970s or 1980s, when Casarosa himself was growing up in Italy.

The look of the film is also unique for Pixar. Unlike many of the studio’s other features, Luca isn’t going for photorealism, and the film has a more stylized look to it that really works for the story. It’s a very warm movie with a soft, summery colour palate. Casarosa previously directed the sweet Pixar short film La Luna, and the designs of the characters here very much recall that 2012 short. There are also some wonderful magical realist touches throughout as Luca imagines himself among the stars, images that instantly evoke the memory of La Luna.

Luca serves as an incredibly charming and delightful coming of age adventure, and a very heartfelt tribute to the friends who help us grow and try new things along the way. The animation is visually splendid, and the voice actors do a wonderful job bringing their characters to life, including fine work from young stars Tremblay and Grazer. Dan Romer’s music is another highpoint of the film, providing perfect accompaniment to both the action and emotional beats, with a few music cues that made my heart swell.

Everything about the film simply works. It offers a sweet, well-told story that lets us hang out with likeable characters for an hour and a half. And the bittersweet final few scenes prove that Pixar is still unparalleled when it comes to tugging on our heartstrings and getting us choked up. This film really captured my heart.

Luca will be available to stream on Disney+ as of June 18th.

4K Ultra HD Review: Godzilla vs. Kong

June 15, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A movie called Godzilla vs. Kong basically only needs to deliver one thing, and that is scenes of two classic movie monsters punching and kicking each other. Thankfully, Godzilla vs. Kong, which serves as the culmination of Warner Bros. and Legendary’s so-called MonsterVerse, delivers on this promise.

The film builds upon the lore that was already established in the recent trio of solo films devoted to both of its title stars, (the brooding 2014 Godzilla remake, the lighter 1970s-set adventure movie Kong: Skull Island, and the overstuffed blockbuster Godzilla: King of the Monsters), and gets down to business refreshingly quickly in having the two Titans fight each other.

The film, of course, was also loosely inspired by the 1963 mashup King Kong vs. Godzilla, which first paired up these two legendary characters. At the start of the film, King Kong is being monitored from underneath an artificial dome by linguist Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), whose adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a young Deaf girl who is the last of Skull Island’s Iwi tribe, has formed a special bond with the creature.

Following his victory over King Ghidorah in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla reemerges from the deep and attacks Apex Cybernetics in Penascola, Florida, a rampage that conspiracy theorist and Apex whistleblower Bernie Hayes (Bryan Tyree Henry) believes is linked to mysterious goings-on at the facility. Bernie hosts an Info Wars-type podcast, and one of his avid listeners is Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), the daughter of Monarch scientists whom we first met in King of the Monsters.

Madison sets out with her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) to track down Bernie and get to the bottom of Godzilla’s attack on Apex, whose CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) is working on a secret project to take down the kaiju and reestablish humans as the rulers of the planet. This requires enlisting the help of Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a professor who has literally written the book on Hollow Earth, where the Titans originated from and some of the film’s action takes place. The human characters get split up into two trios; Ilene, Jia and Nathan on the Kong side, and the delightful tag team of Bernie, Madison and Josh on the Godzilla side.

Much of this is preamble for the WWE-style smackdowns between Godzilla and Kong, now loose in the world, that dominate the film’s second half. This is what audiences are coming for, and these battles are staged in a way that doesn’t disappoint, offering the wanton destruction of seeing two giant behemoths going toe to toe. This includes ripping through the skyscrapers of Hong Kong in the film’s definitive, neon-lit battle that has been teased in all the marketing.

Directed by Adam Wingard, who is coming from a horror background having previously directed the thrillers You’re Next, The Guest and Blair Witch, Godzilla vs. Kong corrects some of the problems of its overlong predecessor Godzilla: King of the Monsters. In some ways, this film has the opposite issue; it clocks in a little under two hours, which is refreshing in an age of bloated blockbusters, and if anything I actually think it could have been a bit longer to flesh out its characters more.

The film also isn’t guilty of keeping the monsters hidden from view, a common complaint of the 2014 Godzilla, which kept him mostly in shadows. The visual effects here are impressive, showing the scope of the two monsters as they smash apart giant buildings. There are some cool uses of colour and lighting as well, and the scenes in Hollow Earth are quite visually striking. The action excites in a primal way, but the film also has a few surprisingly touching moments showing Kong’s bond with Jia. Kong is presented as an older, more weathered version of the character than we saw in Kong: Skull Island, and there are some dramatic closeups on his face that really make us sympathize with him.

While obviously playing out with cutting edge visual effects, Godzilla vs. Kong also has a sort of back to basics charm to it. It’s a fun movie that offers just enough in terms of story and characters to not just feel like two action figures fighting each other, while also understanding that, at a base level, this is the main appeal of the film. The result is a fast-paced monster movie that delivers what you want from something called Godzilla vs. Kong, and that is an entertaining spectacle built around two iconic characters. My only complaint is that I didn’t get to see it on the big screen, with theatres still closed in Ontario.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

Due to the pandemic, Godzilla vs. Kong was released day-and-date in select theatres and on demand in March, and is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. The 4K set, which is the one I got for review, comes with a separate Blu-ray disc containing a number of featurettes divided into sections, along with a commentary track that appears on both discs. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which comes with a shiny cardboard slipcover.

Commentary by Adam Wingard (4K and Blu-ray)

The God: A pair of featurettes focusing on the character of Godzilla, including appearances from the cast and crew of Godzilla (2014) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Godzilla Attacks (6 minutes, 25 seconds) Wingard talks about his approach to making a Godzilla movie, as well as the fun chemistry between Bryan Tyree Henry, Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison, who are all highlights of the film’s human cast.

The Phenomenon of Gōjira, King of the Monsters (9 minutes, 52 seconds): A surprisingly substantial look at the history of Godzilla, including how the original Japanese film was much more serious than many remember, and a recap of the other films in the MonsterVerse.

The King: These four featurettes focus on the character of King Kong, including appearances from the cast and crew of Kong: Skull Island.

Kong Leaves Home (7 minutes, 56 seconds) Wingard talks about presenting an older, more weathered version of King Kong as opposed to how he was presented in Kong: Skull Island. Also looks at the casting of young Deaf actress Kaylee Hottle.

Kong Discovers Hollow Earth (7 minutes, 53 seconds) Looks at the impressive visual design of Hollow Earth, including its unique landscape, inverted gravity, and different creatures.

Behold Kong’s Temple (5 minutes, 52 seconds) Looks at the design of Kong’s temple, and how they made him into a sympathetic character.

The Evolution of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World (8 minutes, 25 seconds) Looks at the evolution of the character, from the 1933 original, to Kong: Skull Island and this film.

The Rise of Mechagodzilla (7 minutes, 6 seconds) A look at the history of Mechagodzilla and his evolution in this film.

The Battles: A trio of featurettes focusing on the three big battles in the film between Godzilla and King Kong, from pre-vis to final visual effects.

Round One: Battle at Sea (5 minutes, 1 second)

Round Two: One Will Fall (5 minutes, 58 seconds)

Titan Tag Team: The God and the King (7 minutes, 59 seconds)

Godzilla vs. Kong is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 113 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: June 15th, 2021

4K Ultra HD Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 2-Movie Collection

June 15, 2021

By John Corrado

On June 1st, Paramount reissued the 2001 film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and its 2003 sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life on 4K Ultra HD, together for the first time in a new 2-movie collection.

Starring Angelina Jolie in the title role and adapted from the video game of the same name, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was released in theatres on June 15th, 2001 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month.

Serving as a star vehicle for Jolie, who already won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar by that point for Girl, Interrupted in 1999, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was a decent-sized hit at the summer box office. The film also notably features a young, pre-Bond Daniel Craig with a suspect American accent.

The first film finds adventurer Lara Croft tracking down an ancient, time-altering artifact known as The Triangle of Light and facing off against the Illuminati, while the second one puts her on a globe-trotting adventure to find Pandora’s Box before it falls into the hands of a mad scientist (Ciarán Hinds) who plans to release a lab-made bioweapon. While it feels a little dated, and certainly is cheesy, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider does have some fun set-pieces and is still kinda entertaining in a brainless, early-2000s action flick sort of way. The film also doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is a plus.

The sequel, which was slightly better received by some, pretty much offers more of the same in terms of mildly entertaining set-pieces, only it’s a little longer and bigger in scope, and adds Gerard Butler to its cast. Neither of them have exactly earned the distinction of being called classics, per se, but they aren’t unwatchable, either, and still do their jobs well enough as mindless adventure movies. This 2-movie collection offers a convenient way for fans to get both of them in 4K, though the lack of bonuses aside from commentary tracks will be a turnoff for some.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The films were previously released on 4K in 2018. While this release lacks many of the bonus features found on those editions, as well as on the newly remastered standalone Blu-ray edition of the first film that was also put out for the 20th anniversary this month, the original director commentary tracks have been ported over. The two discs come packaged on either side of a standard black 4K case, and codes for digital copies of both films are also included.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Commentary by Director Simon West

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life

Commentary by Director Jan de Bont

Lara Croft 2-Movie Collection is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is 100 minutes and rated PG, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is 117 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: June 1st, 2021

DVD Review: Boogie

June 14, 2021

By John Corrado

This is a review of the DVD release. For my full thoughts on the film itself, including my star rating, please read my original review right here.

On June 1st, Focus Features’ coming of age sports drama Boogie was released on DVD and Blu-ray. The film, which serves as the feature directorial debut of Eddie Huang, who produced the TV series Fresh Off the Boat, centres around Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi), a Taiwanese-American teen in Queens, New York who dreams of playing professional basketball.

The film was released in theatres and On Demand earlier this year, and I enjoyed it enough to give it a mild recommendation. While parts of it are clichéd, Huang’s screenplay also has some interesting thing to say about identity. And, despite looking a little old to play a teenager, Takahashi delivers a solid breakout performance in the title role.

Overall, Boogie is a fairly enjoyable basketball drama that is worth a look on DVD, especially if the cultural themes or sports angle are of interest to you.

Bonus Features (DVD):

I was sent the pretty bare bones DVD for review. The Blu-ray includes the same short bonus features but with the addition of a digital copy, not included here.

The Road to Boogie-Town (2 minutes, 32 seconds) This short promotional featurette mainly looks at Takahashi’s role in the film.

Eddie Huang: It’s Personal (2 minutes, 7 seconds) This brief pieces looks at Huang’s inspiration and intentions for the film.

Shout Out to Pop Smoke (1 minute, 20 seconds) A brief look at the late Pop Smoke’s supporting role in the film as a rival basketball player.

In-Theater Trailer (2 minutes, 16 seconds) This is more of a short featurette than a trailer, culled together from brief clips from the previous three featurettes.

Boogie is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 90 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: June 1st, 2021

VOD Review: A Perfect Enemy

June 11, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Jeremiasz August (Tomasz Kot) is a prominent Polish architect who is on his way to catch a flight in Paris following a speech at a conference, when a young Dutch woman, who reveals herself to be named Texel Textor (Athena Strates), knocks on his car window in the pouring rain asking for a lift to the airport.

Jeremiasz misses his flight, but runs into Texel again in the airport lounge, where she insists that he listen to her increasingly bizarre and disturbing stories. This is the setup for director Kike Maíllo’s A Perfect Enemy, which takes the all too relatable premise of a chatty stranger who won’t leave you alone and uses it as the basis for a twisty and pretty good psychological thriller.

The film, which is adapted from Belgian author Amélie Nothomb’s novel Cosmétique de l’Ennemi, mainly unfolds as a two-hander between Jeremiasz and Texel. As Texel plays mind games with him, Jeremiasz has his own perceptions challenged, and the film embraces a slippery narrative that keeps shifting and messing with our own sense of what is really happening.

This is one of those films that maybe doesn’t work quite as well in hindsight when reflecting back upon all of the reveals as it does while watching it, but the elusive nature of the story and how it is structured still makes this an intriguing viewing experience. It becomes a story that is about the build up and deconstruction of stories, which is itself an intriguing proposition.

Even as the increasingly convoluted twists pile up, A Perfect Enemy is kept engaging to watch, mainly due to its smooth assembly. Yes, this is quite literally an airport thriller, and there is a fair amount of pulpiness to it. But Maíllo finds a few inventive ways to let the story unfold, including some interesting production design choices and seamless editing to open up the world of the airport. The film also holds our interest thanks to a pair of good performances from Kot and Strates, whose back and forth as Jeremiasz and Texel is often compelling to watch.

Kot allows the layers of his character’s steely, perfectionist persona to be peeled back over the course of the story as his mental state becomes increasingly frayed, and Strates delivers an unsettling performance that keeps us guessing as to her character’s true intentions. Playing out as a cross between an arthouse psychological drama and a pulpy thriller, A Perfect Enemy is ultimately a sleekly assembled and fairly engaging little mind-bender of a movie that suggests bigger things to come from Maíllo.

A Perfect Enemy is now available to watch on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

Review: In the Heights

June 10, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Lin-Manuel Miranda became a household name by giving American history a hip-hop makeover in his Broadway sensation Hamilton. But, before creating a genuine cultural phenomenon with that historical musical, Miranda made his Broadway debut with In the Heights, a good-natured tribute to the mostly Latino denizens of New York’s Washington Heights neighbourhood.

Now In the Heights has gotten the big screen treatment in director Jon M. Chu’s exuberant new film adaptation of the same name, an enjoyable if slightly overhyped movie that serves as a throwback to the big Hollywood musicals of yesteryear. While the film is not without its flaws, it’s still a fun movie that has a lot to like about it, and the musical numbers are bright and vibrant.

While Chu is coming off a big hit with Crazy Rich Asians, which did for East Asian representation what this film does for Latino visibility, In the Heights actually allows him to draw upon his cinematic roots directing the second and third Step Up films. Those flashy dance movies gave him ample practise for making a full-on song and dance musical such as this one, and he draws upon this experience for the film’s large scale production numbers.

The rhythmic opening number introduces us to the large cast of characters populating this New York City barrio. Our narrator and main character is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, taking over Miranda’s role in the original Broadway production), who runs his family’s bodega in Washington Heights but dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic to rebuild his father’s old bar. Like many in the community, Usnavi was partially raised by Abuela Claudia (played by Olga Merediz, reprising her Tony-nominated role from the stage), his older neighbour who serves as a matriarch for the whole block.

Usnavi works in the bodega with his teenaged cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), and is harbouring a crush on Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who works at Daniela’s (Daphne Rubin-Vega) nail salon but dreams of moving downtown to become a fashion designer. There is a secondary romantic subplot involving Nina (Leslie Grace), who has just returned from Stanford, and her ex-boyfriend Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works for her father Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) at a local car service. Nina represents the hopes and dreams of the community as the one who was able to make it out, but her ambitions differ from what her father wants for her.

The loose narrative counts down the days to a neighbourhood blackout. There are multiple story threads going on here, including the revelation that a winning lottery ticket has been sold at Usnavi’s store. This gives way to what is one of the film’s best and most high energy musical numbers, “$96,000,” which goes into an impressively choreographed water routine at a public pool, and finds the large supporting cast singing about what they would do if they had the winning ticket. It’s a splashy, colourful production number and one of the true high points of the film.

The film does feel somewhat padded at a whopping 143 minutes. It doesn’t have much in the way of plot, and the dialogue scenes are often not as engaging as the musical ones. Some of the supporting characters are sort of bland and could have been developed further, and despite the cultural specificity of the story, the “follow your dreams” narrative itself actually feels sort of generic and clichéd.

The adapted screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes, who also wrote the book for the stage play, changes certain plot points from the original musical to varying effect. This includes adding a new framing device that finds Usnavi telling the story to a group of kids on a beach, turning the musical itself into a sort of movie within a movie. I don’t know if this was really needed. It gives the film more of a family movie feel, but these scenes can come across as overly saccharine and sentimental. They also interrupt the film’s energy and flow at times, adding minutes to an already bloated running time.

The film feels like it is meant to replicate the feel of a block party, and it is largely successful at doing this. It has a celebratory feel to it, and while this alleviates some of the story’s inherent drama, it’s hard to argue against the good vibes that the film gives off. The main attraction of In the Heights are the musical numbers, and while every song isn’t equally memorable, the productions themselves are often jubilant. There are hints of Hamilton on the soundtrack here, which offers a mix of rap, hip-hop and Latin-influenced rhythms, and it’s interesting to hear how Miranda honed his clever wordplay and rhyming style between both projects.

Ramos gives an immensely likeable performance as Usnavi that shows his movie star potential. The actor brings an infectious positivity to the character, while also delivering some very heartfelt moments that play off his expressive face. While her role is brief, Merediz in many ways serves as the heart of the story, and she delivers the film’s most emotional musical number with a show-stopping sequence in the middle. The production design and art direction in this scene alone is pretty incredible, detailing her arrival in America from Cuba in an impressively stylized way.

While the film sometimes looks a little too polished and glossy, and some of the shots are a little cheesy including obvious lens flares, cinematographer Alice Brooks does a fine job of capturing the musical numbers. Her dynamic camerawork shows the expansive crowds of backup dancers, including with some swooping crane shots. The best of the film’s images is an impressively captured shot of dancers reflected in the bodega’s glass door over Ramos’ face. The editing by Myron Kerstein often cuts to the beat, and while it can be a bit much at times, it gives the film a very energetic flair.

I do think the film has been a bit overhyped, and the somewhat threadbare story doesn’t quite justify the lengthy running time. But In the Heights is still a good musical that offers enough of a celebratory, feel-good experience to recommend it, along with some eye-popping production numbers. I watched the film at home, and would love to see it again in a theatre, since I imagine that a massive screen and surround sound would only amplify the experience.

In the Heights is now available to rent at home on various Digital platforms, and is also playing in select theatres where they are open.

Nomadland is Now Available on Blu-ray and Digital

June 8, 2021

By John Corrado

Fresh off of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, 20th Century Studios is releasing Chloé Zhao’s masterful road movie Nomadland on Blu-ray and Digital today.

The film, which also got Zhao her first Oscar for Best Director and Frances McDormand her third Oscar for Best Actress, is one that I have been championing since I saw it at TIFF last year. It was my second favourite movie of 2020, and a very powerful work that, in my opinion, deserves all of the praise and awards it has gotten.

While the film is already available to stream on Disney Plus in Canada (Hulu in the United States), I’m glad it’s getting a Blu-ray release for us physical media collectors. I was only sent a digital copy for review, but look forward to adding the Blu-ray to my Best Picture winners collection in the future.

For more on the film itself, you can read my full review from TIFF right here.

The Blu-ray includes the following bonus features:

  • The Forgotten America (Featurette)
  • Deleted Scenes
    • Lunch Interrupted
    • A Gift From God
  • Telluride Premiere Q&A with Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao

Nomadland is a 20th Century Studios release. It’s 109 minutes and rated R.

Street Date: June 8th, 2021

#InsideOut21 Review: Alone Together

June 6, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The 2021 Inside Out Film Festival is running virtually from May 27th to June 6th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Ontario

The music documentary Alone Together, which screened virtually last night as the closing night film of Inside Out, takes us behind the scenes of Charli XCX’s 2020 album How I’m Feeling Now, which was fully conceived and recorded over five weeks during quarantine at her home in Los Angeles last year.

The film opens with a quick-cut montage of the pop star’s career up until that point, with snippets of concert footage that show her dedicated fanbase coming together, many of them young LGBTQ folks who found a sense of connection through her music. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and put a stop to concerts and clubbing, leaving many feeling cut off from the world. In response to this, Charli XCX started hosting zoom calls with her fans, and came up with the idea to write, record and release a new album during the lockdown.

Assembled by directors Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler, who are credited simply as Bradley & Pablo, Alone Together mainly focuses on the actual production of the album. The film is very much a product of the digital age, mixing together zoom calls, phone footage and RPG-style animated sequences, and it feels a bit cobbled together. But it still offers a decent look at the creative process, showing the whirlwind process of making an album, from fine-tuning lyrics with the help of her fans, to dealing with vocal and mental burnout that is being exacerbated by the lockdown.

The film also serves as a tribute to Charli XCX’s passionate fanbase and her boyfriend Huck, who came to live with her during the pandemic and served as the inspiration for the album. The filmmakers pack a lot into a scant 67 minute running time, and Alone Together moves at a quick pace, often feeling more like a “making of” bonus feature than a proper film. The film itself seems almost exclusively made for her fans, but it offers just enough for casual viewers as well to serve as an interesting look at her songwriting process, while also doubling as a somewhat unique pandemic-era time capsule.

Alone Together premiered last night at 8:30 PM. More information can be found right here.

#InsideOut21 Review: I Carry You With Me

June 5, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2021 Inside Out Film Festival is running virtually from May 27th to June 6th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Ontario

The narrative feature debut of documentary filmmaker Heidi Ewing, I Carry You With Me is an often poignant immigrant drama that offers a mostly effective mix of non-fiction and dramatic storytelling, mixing actors with real footage of the subjects they are portraying.

The main character/subject in the film is Iván, a gay man from Mexico who makes the perilous trek across the border to the United States, both to escape the homophobia of his home country, and to realize his dreams of opening a restaurant in America. The film’s opening scene cuts back and forth between footage of the real life Iván in New York City, with flashes of Yael Tadeo and Armando Espita, the two actors who play him as both a boy and young man in Mexico.

We then flash back to his life in Puebla, Mexico circa 1994, where Iván (Espita) is an aspiring chef who can only get jobs in a kitchen as a dishwasher and cleaner, despite having a culinary degree. It’s here that he falls in love with Gerrardo (played by Christian Vázquez), a man that he meets in a gay bar. But Iván keeps his identity a secret, out of fear that he will no longer be allowed to see his young son, eventually making the tough decision to illegally cross the border.

The film switches back to documentary footage in the last act, showing the life that Iván has built for himself, with the tradeoff being that, as an undocumented immigrant, he is unable to safely return to Mexico. This narrative approach is interesting and gives the film a unique edge, but it also leaves a few gaps in the story, and the film doesn’t always feel fully fleshed out as either a documentary or narrative drama. But Ewing, who is working from a screenplay that she co-wrote with Alan Page, does capture a number of moving moments in both the narrative and documentary portions of the film.

The dramatic scenes are nicely carried by Espita, who delivers a sensitive performance. As much as this is a story about being gay in Mexico, it is also a story about the American Dream, and the sacrifices that have to be made to obtain it. Overall, I Carry You With Me is a touching and uniquely assembled film about the pieces of ourselves that we leave behind in search of a better life, and the physical barriers that stand in the way of going back home.

I Carry You With Me will be available to stream until June 6th at 11:59 PM. Tickets and more information can be found right here.

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