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VOD Review: North Hollywood

July 23, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

An 18-year-old kid named Michael (Ryder McLaughlin) has ambitions of becoming a pro skateboarder in skater and filmmaker Mikey Alfred’s feature directorial debut North Hollywood, which shares some common DNA with Jonah Hill’s 2018 gem Mid90s.

Alfred served as a producer on that film, which also featured McLaughlin, who has now been upgraded to lead, as part of its ensemble cast. The young star of Mid90s, Sunny Suljic, even has a couple of scenes here as another skater. This is all to say that North Hollywood feels like a spiritual successor to Hill’s film, and while it ultimately doesn’t hit quite as hard, it is still mostly enjoyable in its own low-stakes kind of way.

The loose, semi-autobiographical story follows Michael as he tries to realize his dreams of turning his post-high school days at the skate park into a career. This causes tensions with his working class father (Vince Vaughn, in an effective dramatic role) who wants him to go to college, or at the very least follow in his footsteps and get an honest job working in construction.

The main conflict of the plot comes from the strain that is put on Michael’s friendship with his childhood buddies Jay (Nico Hiraga) and Adolf (Aramis Hudson), who have formed a skating trio together defined by their matching Converse sneakers, when he starts excluding them to hang out with a couple of pro skaters. Michael is afraid his ride-or-die friends will cramp his style with the “cool kids” and hurt his chances of being noticed by sponsors. Another hitch in their friendship is Michael’s pursuit of his crush Rachel (Miranda Cosgrove), who is going away to university at the end of the summer.

North Hollywood is consistently enjoyable, even if, like its protagonist, its own ambitions as a film feel somewhat low. It’s often just about the vibe, and for the most part that’s fine, but there are some aspects of the story and certain relationships that I wish had been explored more. The strained friendship between Michael and Adolf in particular, which comes to define the film’s last act, feels like it should have come into sharper focus earlier on, and the rivalry between the two needed more development.

The film follows the pretty standard beats of a coming of age story, but the naturalistic performances, and some resonant themes, carry it through. In its best moments, North Hollywood does an effective job of exploring relatable themes about rivalries forming between childhood friends, the emotional process of coming to terms with them surpassing you and moving on without you, and not being able to let go of your childhood dreams.

Many of these themes are solidified in a poignant interaction between McLaughlin and Vaughn, that offers a moment of raw emotion and comes to define the picture. Alfred does a fine job of giving the film a sort of hazy retro vibe that is evocative of the California skater culture it aims to represent, matched by a solid soundtrack that mixes cuts of both classic Doo-wop and hip-hop. For fans of the film Mid90s in particular, North Hollywood warrants a recommendation, and it’s fun to spend a bit more time in a similar world.

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

4K Ultra HD Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and G.I. Joe: Retaliation

July 22, 2021

By John Corrado

This week, Paramount is releasing both the 2009 film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and its 2013 sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation for the first time on 4K Ultra HD, in a pair of separately released combo packs that include the films on Blu-ray as well. They are arriving to coincide with the theatrical release of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, a solo film that finds Henry Golding taking over from Ray Park in the role of Snake Eyes.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra 

The first live action film based on the popular Habro toys, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra stars Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans as Duke and Ripcord, a pair of American soldiers who are hired as part of the elite G.I. Joe strike force to retrieve a nanotechnology weapon that has been stolen by a shadowy organization known as Cobra.

To be perfectly blunt, this is not a great movie. Not only is it surprisingly violent for a movie based on toys, it also features a nonsensical plot, cheesy dialogue, stiff performances and some cheap-looking CGI. While the film does pick up slightly once the action gets transported to the streets of Paris, with a glossy set-piece that is easily the most (only?) fun thing in the movie, the messy first half feels like a pilot for a bad TV series and the finale is both overly bombastic and forgettable. It’s not very good overall, but fans who do want to purchase will be pleased by the 4K presentation.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The film is presented with Dolby Vision and HDR-10 on the 4K disc, and the set comes with a standard Blu-ray as well. There is a previously released commentary track on each disc. The package also comes with a code for a digital copy.

4K and Blu-ray:

• Commentary by director Stephen Sommer and producer Bob Ducsay

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

While this might not be saying much, the 2013 sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation is actually a slight step up from its predecessor. The film sees the return of Tatum’s Duke, while also adding Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis to its cast as fellow members of the G.I. Joe team. When most of their team is wiped out in an attack, it’s up to Johnson’s Roadblock and the others to deal with Cobra’s infiltration of the White House and attempts at world domination.

The dialogue is still cheesy and the plot itself is still ridiculous and hard to take seriously, but Retaliation is easily the more fun of the two. Directed by Jon M. Chu, who has gone on to make Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights, it features better and brighter action sequences, and Johnson’s charisma also helps sell the film. It’s fully mediocre, but for a relatively harmless action movie based on toys, Retaliation is at least watchable, and the 4K edition provides a fine upgrade for fans.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The film is presented with Dolby Vision and HDR-10 on the 4K disc, and the set comes with a standard Blu-ray as well. There is a previously released commentary track on each disc, and a selection of archival bonus features on the Blu-ray. The package also comes with a code for a digital copy.

4K and Blu-ray:

• Commentary by director Jon M. Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura

Blu-ray Only:

G.I. Joe: Declassified (1 hour, 13 minutes)

Mission Briefing (10 minutes, 5 seconds)

Deployment (8 minutes, 8 seconds)

Two Ninjas (7 minutes, 35 seconds)

The Desert Attack (8 minutes, 26 seconds)

COBRA Strikes (8 minutes, 58 seconds)

The Lone Soldiers (7 minutes, 46 seconds)

The Monastery (9 minutes, 59 seconds)

Fort Sumter (12 minutes, 12 seconds)

Deleted Scenes (4 minutes, 14 seconds)

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is 117 minutes and rated 14A, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation is 110 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: July 20th, 2021

Disney+ Review: Behind the Attraction (First Five Episodes)

July 21, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The latest Disney+ show, Behind the Attraction, is a very good ten-part docuseries that sheds light on some of the famous attractions at Disney Parks and Resorts around the world.

Five of the ten episodes in the series, which features Dwayne Johnson as one of its executive producers and ties into his upcoming Disney movie Jungle Cruise, are dropping today in Canada, with the other five set to premiere later this year.

I really enjoyed watching through these five episodes. They do a good job of exploring the history and engineering behind these rides in an entertaining and informative way, and are populated by a wealth of archival images and first-hand accounts from many famous Imagineers.

Paget Brewster provides inquisitive if at times obstructive narration that gives the series an upbeat, easily accessible tone, and the show is simply filled with enjoyable anecdotes and fun tidbits for Disney fans. Below is a rundown of all five episodes being released today, along with some brief thoughts on each of them.

Jungle Cruise: This episode most closely ties into the new film, with Johnson appearing onscreen to reflect on what the ride means to him. It looks at the unique challenges that the Imagineers faced in order to realize Walt Disney’s grand vision of building a river in the middle of the Southern California desert, and how they designed animatronic animals, with real ones not being a feasible option.

The episode also highlights how the skippers are an integral part of the experience, including their many corny but iconic jokes (“the backside of water”) that guests go to hear. We find out that Jungle Cruise was initially a more serious ride, before the addition of these “dad jokes” made it even more of a hit with families.

Haunted Mansion: This was one of my most anticipated episodes due to always having a soft spot for the Haunted Mansion, and it did not disappoint. The episode offers a good history of the attraction, and the impressive special effects within, which was inspired by Disney’s own assertion that “children like to be scared.” We see how the Imagineers went about finding the right mix of scary and fun, a balance that is represented in how the ride transitions from its spooky first half to the amusing singing busts that appear later on.

The episode also features a nice history of the Hatbox Ghost, an animatronic figure that Walt had removed from the ride shortly after it opened due to it not working properly, who was finally fixed and reintroduced in 2015. Furthermore, we are also given an intriguing glimpse at how the attraction has been reimagined for other parks, including as Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris and Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland. It will put “Grim Grinning Ghosts” in your head in the best way.

Star Tours: Long before Disney bought the rights to Star Wars, the studio created Star Tours, a ride based around the iconic film franchise that was inspired by flight simulators to give audiences the feel of being in one of the movies. The episode offers a good history of the ride, from the logistics of creating the hydraulics, to coming up with a storyline guided along by a nervous robot named RX-24 voiced by Paul Reubens. It also explores how the ride changed with the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, and how it gave way to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, an entire new land devoted to the franchise. We also get anecdotes about how a young George Lucas was at Disneyland on opening day with his family in 1955.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: This episode takes us behind the scenes of the groundbreaking drop ride, which was inspired by the facade of an old hotel and the popularity of Rod Serling’s TV series The Twilight Zone. It looks at the unique challenges of consulting with actual elevator engineers to develop a system that would allow the ride to safely free drop and go side to side, as well as digitally recreating Rod Serling to serve as host.

The Imagineers also had to strategically build the setting for the ride, the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel, to be 199 feet, to get around air traffic requirements that buildings above 200 feet need to have a flashing light on top. Lastly, the episode also explores how the original ride in Anaheim, California was reimagined as Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! in 2017, to capitalize on the success of the Marvel movie and tie in with the new Avengers Campus.

Space Mountain: The fifth episode focuses on the iconic Space Mountain, a ride that was born out of Walt’s desire to simulate the experience of space travel, and designed by the late John Hench. Working from a building concept that had its roots at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, an event that comes up quite a bit throughout the series, the Imagineers had their work cut out for them in figuring out how to get thousands of feet of track for the ride to stretch around an enclosed space.

The episode does a good job of showing us how ingenious this design really is from an engineering perspective, giving us newfound appreciation for the ride. The last part focuses on how the design of Space Mountain provided the inspiration for the TRON Lightcycle Power Run ride at Shanghai Disney Resort, which quite frankly looks awesome.

All in all, these five episodes will leave you eagerly anticipating the next five (The Castles, Disneyland Hotel, “it’s a small world”, Trains, Trams and Monorails and Hall of Presidents) later this year.

The first five episodes of Behind the Attraction are now available to stream on Disney+ in Canada.

Review: Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

July 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Filmmaker Morgan Neville’s new documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is as much about the life of the celebrity chef and TV personality as it is about his death. But the question of why Bourdain ended up killing himself in a hotel room in France in 2018 looms large over the film.

It’s hard to imagine anyone going into the film who isn’t aware of how Bourdain died and the salacious rumours around his death, and Neville doesn’t reach for easy answers. But he does explore the question in this involving and emotionally exhaustive film, reaching a sort of catharsis for those impacted by his death.

The film opens with Bourdain talking about what he hopes will happen to his body after he dies, centring the narrative around his mortality. From here, Roadrunner moves breathlessly through his career highlights, showing a man who is very much alive. Piecing together archival footage and interviews, Neville charts his rise from being a chef to bestselling author of the memoir Kitchen Confidential, and finally gaining fame as a television star travelling the globe and trying exotic foods on camera.

But there are glimpses of the darkness to come, with flashes of the genuine suffering in the world that he witnessed first hand on his travels to places like Vietnam and Haiti, and the impact that it had on his mental health. Neville doesn’t shy away from hinting at Bourdain’s dark side, from a macabre sense of humour to his perfectionism and anger, as well as his past as a heroin addict. Emotions run hot in the film’s last act as Bourdain’s friends talk with a mix of grief and, well, anger, about his suicide and the times that he hurt them emotionally.

One of the areas where the film holds back a bit is in exploring Bourdain’s relationship to Harvey Weinstein accuser Asia Argento, whom Neville declined to interview. Bourdain’s role in the #MeToo movement is brought up, with the film noting how he became a merciless champion of it to the point of cutting people out of his own life. But Neville leaves out the fact that Argento herself became a disgraced figure in the movement when she was accused of sleeping with child actor Jimmy Bennett when he was 17, and that Bourdain reportedly helped pay off Bennett to the tune of $380,000 to keep him quiet.

This would have made Roadrunner a much thornier portrait of its central figure, and the omission is somewhat noticeable. The film also seems to strongly suggest that Argento’s infidelity led to Bourdain’s depression at the time of his death, which some claim to be an unfair accusation. The film’s most controversial element is Neville’s choice to use A.I. to recreate Bourdain’s voice to read an excerpt from a private email that he sent to his friend, artist David Choe. The ethics of the choice are up for debate, and it adds another layer to the film’s deeper discussion of how we memorialize the dead.

But these things don’t stop Roadrunner from being a compelling and moving documentary portrait of celebrity burnout. The film seems more focused on capturing the essence of Bourdain’s life, and Neville succeeds in exploring his immense curiosity for trying new things, and also the elusive, unknowable parts of himself that often remained hidden. The last act becomes about the heartbreak, grief, and unanswered questions that he left in his wake, with the final few scenes poignantly focusing on how Bourdain would want to be remembered.

This sparks a complex conversation about how we immortalize celebrities who kill themselves, and if it is right to turn them into martyrs. Neville holds our interest throughout the nearly two hour running time, delivering a fast-paced and well edited film that serves as both a solid introduction to Bourdain’s work and a bittersweet farewell for his fans. Part travelogue and part psychological portrait, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain serves as a moving look at a man who ran so fast that perhaps it was inevitable he was going to burn out, offering an exciting glimpse into his unique life.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is now playing in select theatres. It’s being distributed in Canada by Focus Features.

Review: Pig

July 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

When you hear the basic outline for the plot of Pig, and that it stars Nicholas Cage as a lonesome truffle hunter living in the woods who has his beloved pig stolen, you would be forgiven for assuming that it was another one of Cage’s gonzo action roles, like a sort of riff on John Wick with a pig instead of a dog.

But Pig, director Michael Sarnoski’s surprisingly subdued debut feature, actually finds Cage in sombre, melancholic mode. Buried under long hair, a scruffy beard, and the weight of the world on his shoulders, Cage has many scenes of minimal dialogue, punctuated by a few strangely moving monologues. This is some of his finest, most restrained onscreen work, reminding us what he can be capable of as an actor when given the right role.

Cage stars in the film as Rob, whom we we first meet living alone in a cabin in the woods of Oregon. He forages for truffles with his pig, who serves as his pet and closest companion. His only human interaction is with his buyer Amir (Alex Wolff), who comes around weekly to collect truffles from him that he sells to high-end restaurants in Portland. When Rob’s cabin is broken into one night by masked assailants, who leave him bloodied and kidnap his pig, he travels into the city with Amir, in search of his animal friend.

This sounds like the setup for a revenge movie, and Pig sort of is that, I guess. But the film also becomes a journey through the past for Rob, as he is forced to reconcile with the life he left behind in Portland. At the same time, it’s a deconstruction and critique of the restaurant business, as well as an exploration of the relationships we have with food. And, somehow, it all works, at times beautifully so. It’s a strange movie in this regard, and one that holds back from going where you might expect it to, but is ultimately all the stronger for it.

The story is broken up into three chapters, and it does have an episodic feel to it, at times playing like a collection of strung together scenes that build upon each to create a complete whole. Elements of the characters and plot are kept somewhat vague, but this vagueness also feels intentional. Sarnoski does an impressive job establishing a strange, almost dreamlike atmosphere that makes us lean in right from the start. The tone of the piece feels singular, at times darkly funny and other times achingly bittersweet, matched by Patrick Scola’s moody cinematography.

At the centre of it all is Cage, whose haunted performance as a man burdened by his past has a surprising sense of sadness to it that permeates every frame. Those who doubt his acting abilities will find his work in Pig to be a revelation, while those already in tune with him will find it an affirmation of his talents. Where as in other roles Cage seems to delight in going wild and over the top, here he seems to take pleasure in holding back, defying our expectations by keeping things quiet and internal.

The result is a surprisingly poignant look at grief and loss, told through the eyes of a man who has long since turned his back on the world slowly realizing that he has nothing left to go back to. All this from a movie starring Nicholas Cage about a man and his pig. What an unexpected film this is in every way.

Pig is now playing in select theatres. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

VOD Review: The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52

July 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Filmmaker Joshua Zemen sets out in search of the “52 Hertz Whale” in his documentary The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52, which follows Zemen and a team of marine biologists as they try to track the elusive whale’s signal across the Pacific Ocean.

Because this specific creature vocalizes at a different frequency from other whales, scientists have theorized that it is alone in the wild, separated from other pods. The whale, who came to simply be known by the name 52, was first discovered by the US Navy in 1989, who at first believed the signal to be coming from a Soviet submarine.

Dr. William Watkins, a pioneer in the field of marine mammal bioacoustics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was the first to determine that the sound was actually coming from a whale trying to communicate at 52 hertz, and tracked the whale until his death in 2004. While the animal has never actually been seen by people, 52 started to receive an online following of people who projected their own feelings of loneliness onto him, with Zemen’s team hoping to catch the first visual documentation of the creature.

With Leonardo DiCaprio serving as executive producer, The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 seems intended to reach the widest possible audience with its ecological message,  but Zemen’s journey doesn’t always maintain full audience interest. The film itself drags a bit, and is somewhat messily assembled, with a few interludes that aren’t properly woven into the narrative. Moments where the film ponders the sentience of 52, and whether or not he is experiencing the feelings of loneliness that we humans have ascribed to him, are interesting, but feel under explored and could have been better incorporated.

One of the most interesting parts of the film examines how whales used to be killed by the thousands for their oil, a practise that fell widely out of favour with the release of biologist Roger Payne’s 1970 album Songs of the Humpback Whale, with the public turning against the whaling industry when people heard them singing. It’s an interesting interlude, but again feels separate from the rest of the movie.

The film also touches on how the sounds from container ships passing through the paths of the whales are causing audio pollution that drowns out their sounds, which provides an interesting suggestion of the effects that global trade are having on the environment. But, again, this theme feels somewhat underdeveloped. We also get random moments like actress and musician Kate Micucci singing a song she wrote inspired by 52, which comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie.

Zemen works in references to Moby Dick that seem intended to provide subtext to his own increasingly elusive search for the so-called great white whale, but these themes are never quite as fleshed out as they could have been. While there are certainly interesting elements in The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52, and some moments of intrigue, the film as a whole feels a bit unfocused and is not as compelling as it could have been.

The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

4K Ultra HD Review: Almost Famous (Steelbook Edition)

July 14, 2021

By John Corrado

Writer-director Cameron Crowe’s coming of age rock dramedy Almost Famous is 21 years old this year, and Paramount is marking the occasion by revisiting the film with a new 4K Ultra HD remaster, that comes in a limited edition Steelbook package.

Based on Crowe’s own experience as a teenage writer, Almost Famous follows William Miller (Patrick Fugit). William is a sheltered 15-year-old kid in the 1970s who ends up getting a writing assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to follow a rock band on tour, allowing him to escape the shadow of his protective mother (Frances McDormand) for the first time.

The band is Stillwater, a fictional group fronted by lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), and hotshot lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). William’s real motivation for following the band is Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a young woman that he falls for who is part of a group of “band aids” who follow the band on tour. In other words, a “groupie,” though she bristles at the term. Groupies sleep with the band, and they are simply fans of the music who provide other services.

Watching Almost Famous now is a joyous, bittersweet experience. With its evocative depiction of the waning days of rock and roll in the early 1970s, the film has always been a nostalgia piece, and this nostalgia feels even greater over twenty years removed from its original release. Told through the youthful vantage point of his teenaged protagonist experiencing the world for the first time, Crowe beautifully captures a sense of time and place with the distinct feel of someone fondly looking back.

Crowe made the film fresh off the success of Jerry Maguire. While he has never been able to fully recapture this magic since in his subsequent narrative films, Almost Famous stands tall as maybe his finest achievement. The film, which was famously Roger Ebert’s favourite movie of 2000, won Crowe the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It also picked up an editing nomination as well as a pair of highly deserved Best Supporting Actress nods for McDormand and Hudson, but was strangely (and unfairly) left out of the Best Picture field that year.

The film is a time capsule of rock music in the early ’70s, yes, but it’s also an almost universally relatable portrait of a teenager finding his way in the world for the first time. It’s carried by strong performances, including a small but impactful performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs, a music critic who mentors William. The film is set to a memorable soundtrack, and features any number of indelible moments. The “Tiny Dancer” singalong on the bus is just as poignant now as it ever was, and the final scenes have a bittersweet nostalgia to them that still tugs at the heartstrings.

The 2-disc set includes both the 123 minute theatrical cut from 2000 and the 2001 “Bootleg Cut,” which runs for 161 minutes and restores nearly forty minutes of deleted and extended footage to the film. It has become the preferred version for some fans, with the lengthier running time helping to expand certain storylines and allow the film to breathe more. While I love the theatrical cut, those two hours do fly by, and the “Bootleg Cut” promises a longer, more complete experience.

The Steelbook itself has a nice matte finish to it, with an image of Penny Lane on the cover, a closeup of her boots and legs on the back, and a lineup shot of the ensemble cast on the inside. It’s an attractive set for fans of Almost Famous, who will surely be impressed by the quality of the film’s transfer.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The film has been remastered from a new 4K film transfer under the supervision of Crowe, and is presented here with Dolby Vision and HDR-10. The set comes with a great selection of old and new bonus features, which are mainly found on the first disc with the theatrical cut, and are broken up into several sections. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package.

First Disc (Theatrical Cut):

New Releases

Filmmaker Focus – Cameron Crowe on Almost Famous (8 minutes, 6 seconds): The filmmaker reflects on making the film, including his own personal connections to the story, and the experience of shooting the film chronologically.

Casting & Costumes (12 minutes, 52 seconds): This featurette focuses on casting the film, including teenaged newcomer Fugit, and features voiceover from the different cast members over early audition and rehearsal footage. It also looks at how the costumes help define the characters.

Rock School (10 minutes, 48 seconds): This featurette focuses on how the actors worked with Peter Frampton to believably portray musicians, with Crudup taking a crash course in learning to play guitar for the film.

Extended Scenes (9 minutes, 0 seconds): A collection of extended scenes from the film.

Odds & Sods (8 minutes, 53 seconds): A collection of alternate takes and extended moments.

Greatest Hits

Intro by Cameron Crowe

The Making of Almost Famous (24 minutes, 50 seconds)

Interview with Lester Bangs (1 minute, 55 seconds)

“Fever Dog” Music Video (4 minutes, 42 seconds)

“Love Comes and Goes” (3 minutes, 50 seconds)

B-Sides (9 minutes, 11 seconds)

Cleveland Concert (15 minutes, 46 seconds)

“Small Time Blues” (2 minutes, 55 seconds)

Stairway (12 minutes, 13 seconds)

Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 27 seconds)

Hidden Talent (Unhidden Easter Eggs)

Eerie Outtake (45 seconds)

Stolen Kisses (4 minutes, 59 seconds)

Cameron Crowe’s Perfectionism (9 minutes, 3 seconds)

Second Disc (Bootleg Cut):

Audio Commentary with Cameron Crowe and Friends

Almost Famous (Steelbook Edition) is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 123 minutes and rated 14A. The “Bootleg Cut” is 161 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: July 13th, 2021

Blu-ray Review: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful Steelbook Editions

July 13, 2021

By John Corrado

Last month, Paramount Home Entertainment released new standalone editions of the three John Hughes classics Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful on Blu-ray, with collectible, limited edition Steelbook packaging. In terms of actual content, these are the same discs that were included in the John Hughes 5-Movie Collection earlier this year (reviewed here), with updated artwork.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

First up is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. The 1986 classic, following the title slacker (Matthew Broderick) playing hooky in Chicago with his best friend Cameron (Allan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara), is undoubtedly one of the finest high school comedies ever made, and a personal favourite of mine as well. It’s fondly remembered as one of John Hughes’s greatest achievements, and still holds up quite well.

If you are a physical media collector like myself and a John Hughes fan like me, then this edition is pretty irresistible, even though you probably already have a copy in your collection. The predominantly red, white and silver Steelbook is quite appealing, with an image of Ferris lounging in the 1961 Ferrari that stretches across the front and back covers, with the famous art gallery lineup on the inside of the case. There is also new disc artwork, featuring an image of Ferris’ sunglasses on a white background, which is a nice touch as well.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray comes with a number of previously released bonus features from the 2009 edition. A code for a digital copy is also included.

• Getting the Class Together – The Cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (27 minutes, 45 seconds)

• The Making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (15 minutes, 29 seconds)

• Who is Ferris Bueller? (9 minutes, 12 seconds)

• The World According to Ben Stein (10 minutes, 51 seconds)

• Vintage Ferris Bueller: The Lost Tapes (10 minutes, 16 seconds)

• Class Album

Pretty in Pink

Next up is Pretty in Pink, which is also celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Written by Hughes, and directed by Howard Deutch, the classic romantic dramedy follows Andie (Molly Ringwald), a poor girl who ends up caught between rich guy Blane (Andrew McCarthy) and her flamboyant best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer).

The Steelbook has a nice pop art illustration of Ringwald on the cover, and the quote “I just wanted them to know that they didn’t break me” in bold pink lettering on the shiny black back of the case, with an image of Ringwald on the inside. The vinyl record disc artwork is the same as the Paramount Presents edition that came out last year (reviewed here).

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray comes with the same selection of bonus features that were included on the Paramount Presents edition. A code for a digital copy is also included.

• Filmmaker Focus: Director Howard Deutch on Pretty in Pink (7 minutes, 38 seconds)

• The Lost Dance: The Original Ending (12 minutes, 15 seconds)

• Original Theatrical Trailer (1 minute, 27 seconds)

• Isolated Score Track

Some Kind of Wonderful

Finally, we have Some Kind of Wonderful, the 1987 romance that plays like a gender-swapped Pretty in Pink and is a classic in its own right. The film, which is again written by Hughes and directed by Deutch, follows an artsy kid named Keith (Eric Stoltz) who falls for popular girl Amanda (Lea Thompson), causing his tomboyish best friend Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) to feel sidelined.

The Steelbook features an illustrated pop art image of the three main characters on the cover, with the iconic quote “you look good wearing my future” on the back of the case, and a version of the famous poster shot on the inside. The disc itself also features new artwork, made to look like the top of a drum adorned with Watts’ drumsticks. It’s an attractive set.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray includes the same selection of bonus features as the disc included in the John Hughes 5-Movie Collection. A code for a digital copy is also included.

Commentary by Director Howard Deutch and Lea Thompson

• Back to Wonderful: A Conversation with Howard Deutch (6 minutes, 46 seconds)

• The Making of Some Kind of Wonderful (7 minutes, 46 seconds)

• Meet the Cast of Some Kind of Wonderful (13 minutes, 27 seconds)

• John Hughes Time Capsule (10 minutes, 50 seconds)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is 102 minutes and rated PG, Pretty in Pink is 96 minutes and rated PG, and Some Kind of Wonderful is 94 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: June 8th, 2021

VOD Review: Gunda

July 13, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Shot in black-and-white and entirely free of dialogue, Russian filmmaker Viktor Kosakovskiy’s documentary Gunda is an often hypnotic piece of experiential cinema that captures the day to day lives of a group of farm animals.

The film, which boasts actor and noted animal rights activist Joaquin Phoenix as an executive producer, is named for a mama pig, Gunda, who lives on a farm with her piglets. We meet her in the opening sequence poking her head out of the barn door, as playful, curious piglets emerge around her.

The film unfolds entirely through long takes such as this one, the camera sometimes staying still and other times gently moving to follow the animals. We watch the pigs for a while, then shift to following some chickens, including a bird who struts about with only one leg. We go back to the pigs, and then some cows enter the picture. And this is the extent of the story.

There is no voiceover narration giving anthropomorphic personalities to these creatures, and no musical score, just the sounds of pigs grunting, grass rustling, flies buzzing and cows mooing. While Kosakovskiy doesn’t use the film to make an explicit statement about vegetarianism or veganism, he doesn’t need to, either. The gorgeously shot monochromatic images, which the credits reveal were shot in Norway, Spain and the UK, fully speak for themselves.

The point of this film is for us to simply observe these animals, and come to our own conclusions about their sentience and autonomy, and the nature of their lives on a farm. What I saw was piglets playing in a way that is indiscernible from happy puppies, and cows that are close enough to the camera to notice the oddly human mops of hair on their heads and the expressions in their eyes. I saw piglets peaking their snouts out of the barn during a rain shower to catch water droplets in their mouths, followed by the pigs luxuriously lounging in the mud puddles that follow this rainstorm.

There is a hypnotizing, almost relaxing nature to these images, with the camera mostly staying at eye level with the animals, allowing us to reflect on the nature of their existence. You could start the film at any point and still get something out of it. It almost exists as a loop that could be started over again as soon as it finishes. What Kosakovskiy has done is to capture the daily lives of farm animals in a way that is both engaging and surprisingly poignant, offering an entirely unique cinematic experience in the process.

Gunda is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

Review: Lift Like a Girl

July 10, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Captain Ramadan is training the next generation of female weightlifters in Egypt, with his outdoor facility surrounded by chain link fencing on a street corner in the port city of Alexandria providing both a training ground and safe haven for girls who want to get into the sport.

The Captain’s own daughter, Nahla Ramadan, was an Olympic athlete and world campion weightlifter, and now he is focused on finding the next great. His sights are set on Zebiba (Arabic for “raisin”), a shy teen girl who is capable of lifting but needs help boosting her self-confidence

Egyptian filmmaker Mayye Zayed takes us into this world in Lift Like a Girl, an observational documentary that allows us to witness how this walled off corner of the bustling city is providing a space for both champions to be born and gender norms to be challenged. The film follows Zabiba over several years, with Zayed’s camera capturing a number of setbacks and triumphs as she trains extensively under the tutelage of Captain Ramadan, and competes in world class competitions.

While there are aspects and details of Zebiba’s life that are left out, with Zayed employing a purely vérité approach and focusing mainly on long scenes of her training, what emerges is an engaging fly on the wall portrait of perseverance and female empowerment in the heart of Egypt. Captain Ramadan is a caring but harsh figure who yells and swears at the girls, which can be jarring for Western sensibilities, but he also gets them to recognize their abilities and encourages them to try harder.

The film mostly plays out with no music, with the sounds of the city and the clanging of barbells dropping to the ground taking centre stage on the soundtrack. The few moments that do feature music bring in a percussive, metallic score that compliments these sounds. Even if we are occasionally left wanting more context or character development, this is still an engaging documentary that offers an interesting glimpse into a unique form of female empowerment in a different part of the world.

Lift Like a Girl is now playing in select theatres across Canada as part of The Impact Series. It will be available on iTunes and on July 20th.

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