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Review: Love, Simon

March 17, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a pretty typical high schooler.  He gets solid grades and has a good home life with his parents Emily (Jennifer Garner) and Jack (Josh Duhamel), who were high school sweethearts, and his little sister Nora (Talitha Bateman) is a budding chef who does most of the cooking.

Simon spends his time hanging out with his trio of best friends Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Abby (Alexandra Shipp), who all carpool to school together.  But Simon also has one “huge-ass secret,” as he tells us in voiceover.  He’s gay, and nobody knows it yet.

Thus begins Love, Simon, a totally winning teen film based on Becky Albertalli’s popular YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which has been brought to the screen by director Greg Berlanti.  The result is a well written and very well acted movie that is filled with so many funny and touching moments, that it won my heart over early and often.  It pays tribute to countless other coming of age films before it, but puts a fresh twist on them with a quietly groundbreaking for a studio film gay love story at its centre, and it already feels like a potential new classic in the teen movie genre.

The story gets more complicated when a blog post shows up on a popular school gossip site talking about a closeted gay kid at school who goes by the codename “Blue.”  Simon reaches out to him through email, and the two of them start a correspondence.  They end up developing feelings for each other through their pen pal relationship, but neither of them is ready to come out, so they choose to keep their real identities a secret.  The only other “out” student at school is Ethan (Clark Moore), a flamboyantly gay kid who faces relentless bullying but always has a sharp comeback ready, which he uses like a shield for himself.

But Simon’s secret is threatened to be exposed when Martin (Logan Miller), who is starring with him in their amateur school production of Cabaret, finds his email open on a school computer and screenshots his messages, threatening to release them unless Simon helps him get with Abby.  The film unfolds with elements of a mystery, and it does keep us guessing as to the identity of Blue, offering plenty of clues and also red herrings along the way, as it builds towards the hugely romantic finale.  Whenever Simon thinks he knows Blue’s identity, that new guy becomes the one that he imagines when he reads his emails, in a very clever cinematic choice.

Nick Robinson is already a familiar face from films like Jurassic World and Everything, Everything, and his performance here cements him as a young actor who is really worth watching.   He does a really wonderful job of bringing Simon to life, striking the perfect balance between confidence and uncertainty, creating a protagonist who is both emotionally textured and relatable to watch.  The rest of the cast also does an excellent job of filling out their roles.  Josh Duhamel has perhaps never been better than he is here, and Jennifer Garner has one scene in particular that is beautifully performed and almost guaranteed to put a lump in your throat.

The other performance that really stood out to me for different reasons is Logan Miller.  Martin is a potentially obnoxious character who does some really manipulative and even cruel things, but he’s also someone who intensely wants to be liked by everyone, yet can’t even get anyone to willingly hang out with them without blackmailing them first.  He’s a natural class clown who can only get people to laugh for the wrong reasons.  Some films would have made him the villain, but he’s not.  He’s another deeply sad character who is trapped in his own way, and Logan Miller portrays him with a surprising amount of depth and sympathy.

The soundtrack features a solid selection of pop songs curated by Jack Antonoff, whose own band Bleachers lends their rousing hits “Wild Heart,” “Rollercoaster” and new track “Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song)” to the film.  The film also makes great use of the old Jackson 5 song “Someday at Christmas,” the lyrics of which are allowed to take on deeper meaning as it plays over a beautifully done holiday montage that represents one of the film’s best shifts between heartwarming and absolutely heartbreaking.

Although coming out stories have been the subject of countless indie films, including recent Oscar winners like Call Me By Your Name and Moonlight, Love, Simon is the first time that a gay character has been the lead in a mainstream studio film.  While some have suggested that this lessens the importance of Love, Simon, I say why shouldn’t gay kids have a big, commercially viable high school dramedy to call their own?  The fact that the film takes its cues from the countless straight high school movies before it is the very thing that made Love, Simon so appealing to me.

Yes, this is a mainstream teen movie made for an audience of hip, modern young people who might not bat an eye at the fact that it’s about a dude crushing on another dude, but I think the story resonates in ways that go much deeper than that overly simplistic evaluation.  For me, the fact that this film is arriving at a time when the subject matter is no longer considered to be as revolutionary, and the orientation of movie characters can be openly explored without having to hide it through innuendo and double entendres, is precisely what makes Love, Simon so affecting and even, yes, important.

The film functions as a moving exploration of why someone from a progressive and largely accepting family would still be reluctant to come out, even in a day and age when people – in the western world, at least – are largely encouraged to be themselves, and it does so in a way that struck a deeply personal chord with me.  It works as an emotionally resonant story of the struggle and uncertainty that someone still faces when trying to come out of the closet, even in this sexually open and largely accepting era, and how even the most progressive of parents don’t quite know how to react to the news that their son isn’t who they thought or naturally assumed he was.

Simon is just an average guy.  Nobody would really be shocked that he’s gay, but they don’t really suspect he is either.  They just assume he’s not, because the majority of people aren’t.  Part of his struggle to come out is that he doesn’t want to be treated any differently, and just wants to hold on to who he’s always been.  There’s an amusing scene where he imagines himself going off to university and prolonging his coming out until then so that he can be out and proud on campus, followed by a fantasy musical number set to Whitney Houston’s accidental queer anthem “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” after which he quips in voiceover “well, maybe not that gay.”

Simon lives in a very liberal area, and his parents are tried and true Democrats, with his mother trying to keep up with progressive issues like the Women’s March.  His family and friends wouldn’t mind that he’s gay, so coming out should be easy for him, but it’s not.  Even with the increasing amount of LGBT acceptance and representation in the media, deciding to come out is still ultimately a journey that people have to take on their own, and coming to terms with and accepting who you are doesn’t necessarily get any easier just because the issues are now very much at the forefront of public consciousness.  This is ultimately what Love, Simon explores so well.

The closet can be a pretty comfy place to be, allowing you to observe life from a distance and peak out between the cracks when you want to see the light, and Simon knows this all too well.  But eventually you have to come out if you don’t want the door to be yanked open, exposing you to the world in a way you can’t control.  Yes, Love, Simon might not be the first coming out story put on screen, but it’s a film that really resonated with me for a variety of reasons, and it’s going to mean a whole lot to a whole lot of people.  All the best teen movies do.


Review: The Death of Stalin

March 16, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from writer-director Armando Iannucci, The Death of Stalin is a political satire that takes place in Moscow in 1953, and mostly unfolds following the death of dictator Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), leaving Party Head Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) trying to plan a funeral as Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) prepares to take over the Soviet Union.

Although based on a graphic novel of the same name by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, the tone of The Death of Stalin will be immediately familiar to any viewers who have seen Armando Iannucci’s previous feature In the Loop or know the style of his work from the TV show Veep.

Like his previous works, this is an extremely dry and mostly dialogue-driven comedy that reduces political figures to bumbling idiots, as they desperately try to take control of an increasingly convoluted plot.  Because The Death of Stalin is based on real events from a dark time in history and is satirizing a murderous, tyrannical regime, it obviously needs to walk a very narrow tonal tightrope, and for the most part it works and does deliver some twisted laughs.  This is ultimately a solid and well acted mix of political satire and dark comedy, that fans of Armando Iannucci’s work are sure to enjoy.

The Death of Stalin is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

Blu-ray Review: Call Me By Your Name

March 13, 2018

By John Corrado

Fresh off of winning Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars, Luca Gaudagnino’s Italy-set romance Call Me By Your Name is now available on Blu-ray.  The film charts the relationship between the 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and 24-year-old grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer), whom his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) brings over to help with his work.

While adored by most critics, I had some problems with the age gap between the two main characters in the film, and found the whole thing to be a touch overrated.  But the performances are solid, and the film is beautifully shot, so there are still enough elements to make it worth seeing on Blu-ray.  For more on the film itself, you can read my full review of it right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg, as well as the solid production featurette Snapshots of Italy: The Making of Call Me By Your Name, the Q&A-style piece In Conversation With Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg and Luca Gaudagnino which was recorded at a film festival, and a music video for the Oscar-nominated Sufjan Stevens song “Mystery of Love.”

Call Me By Your Name is a Sony Pictures Classics release.  It’s 132 minutes and rated 14A.


Blu-ray Review: Justice League

March 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Picking up after Superman’s (Henry Cavill) self-sacrificial death in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League finds Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) teaming up again when an alien threat attacks Gotham City, and recruiting a trio of new heroes to help them take down the ancient villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who has risen anew from the underworld.

The new heroes include Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a sort of merman who lives in the Scandinavian sea and often comes ashore to help the local fisherman; Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a young football star who was in an accident and brought back to life by his father (Joe Morton) with cybernetic upgrades; and The Flash (Ezra Miller), a hyper young guy who was struck by lightning and now moves really fast.

I never did end up seeing Justice League in theatres when it came out last fall, so watching it on Blu-ray was my first experience with the film.  Maybe it’s because my expectations were substantially lowered following the largely disappointing critical reaction that it got, but I actually kind of enjoyed Justice League, and had a decent amount of fun watching the film.  Now to be sure, it does have its share of problems.  The story can feels rushed, and at times it plays more like a collection of moments and set-pieces than a coherent whole.

The special effects are surprisingly cheesy at times, as are a lot of the one-liners, and the climactic fight is the sort of murky CGI battle that has plagued many a superhero film.  The film is credited to Zack Snyder, but also went through some reshoots that were guided along by Joss Whedon, who came on after Snyder had to step aside following a family tragedy and reportedly brought in a lot of the humour, and this mix of tones and styles sometimes clashes in the finished product.

While the shorter running time and lighter tone make this a slight step-up from Zack Snyder’s previous DC films Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and it also benefits from having a brighter aesthetic than those more self-serious films, Justice League also can’t compete with last year’s Wonder Woman, which remains the one big highpoint for this franchise.  But the film is also fun to watch, in a mindless sort of way.  There are plenty of entertaining character moments along the way, mainly courtesy of Ezra Miller’s scene-stealing performance.

This is still a flawed film, and it’s understandable why some fans who had been waiting years for this superhero team-up found the results to be disappointing.  But watching it with tempered expectations, I was able to just have some fun with Justice League, and found it entertaining enough to warrant a mild recommendation.  There are better superhero films out there, but if you can look past its shortcomings, this is one is fine for what it is.

The Blu-ray also includes The Return of Superman, which is essentially two short deleted scenes that were nixed from the final cut, as well as scene studies for four of the sequences, and a selection of six featurettes.  They are Road to Justice, which looks at the fifty year history of the Justice League from comics to cartoons; Heart of Justice focuses on the iconic trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman; Technology of the Justice League shows us the new gadgets they created for the film; Justice League: The New Heroes talks about the newer members of the team; Steppenwolf the Conqueror features Ciarán Hinds talking about his villain role; and Suit Up: The Look of the League focuses on costume designer Michael Wilkinson’s work in the film.

Justice League is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release.  It’s 120 minutes and rated PG.


Review: Ferdinand

March 12, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

I recently came across a new edition of Munro Leaf’s famous 1936 children’s book The Story of Ferdinand while in a store, and decided to look through it.  It’s a short book, perfectly formatted for young readers, so I had time to read it cover to cover in only a few minutes.

I do have vague memories of the book being read to me as a child, and I was certainly very familiar with the story itself about a bull who would rather sniff the flowers instead of fighting.  But what struck me while reading it again, after having seen this Oscar-nominated animated film adaptation, is just how well the movie captures the spirit and themes of the original story.

Yes, the story has been fleshed out to feature length, and updated for modern sensibilities with new animal sidekicks and plenty of slapstick, including a trio of dancing horses, but the essence of it remains the same.  The peaceful message of Ferdinand is still very much intact, and there is a gentleness to how the character of Ferdinand (John Cena) is depicted in the film that absolutely fits with how he first appeared in the book.  The result is another brightly animated winner from Blue Sky Studios, and one of the better animated films from last year.

The story begins with Fedinand as a young calf living at a ranch in Spain called Casa del Toro, and his father (Jeremy Sisto) is a prized fighting bull, a slight change from his mother who took care of him in the book.  Ferdinand is quiet and shy, and prefers to tend to his flower, as the other bulls roughhouse and play fight in the yard.  When he escapes from the ranch, he is taken in by a young girl named Nina (Lily Day), who raises him to adulthood as a domesticated pet.

But after an incident at a flower festival in town, where he panics after being stung by a bee, Ferdinand is recaptured and brought back to Casa del Toro.  It’s here that he reunites with the bulls he grew up with, and also meets Lupe (Kate McKinnon), a “calming goat” who is tasked with keeping the bulls calm, but is herself somewhat jumpy and neurotic and fashions herself as a sort of life coach.  With the help of his newfound friends, Ferdinand plots an escape plan, lest he be tortured in the ring and forced to fight, or worse, face the same fate as other bulls who are deemed not strong enough.

The film is entertaining and at times very funny, including an inspired “bull in a china shop” extended gag, and an amusing trio of hedgehog sidekicks named Una (Gina Rodriguez), Dos (Daveed Diggs) and Cuatro (Gabriel Iglesias), whose companion Tres is missing in action.  But it’s in the more dramatic moments that Ferdinand really leaves its mark.  The film is actually surprisingly thoughtful and at times even a bit somber in its exploration of the cruelty that goes into bullfighting, including a harrowing and visually impressive climactic sequence in a slaughterhouse.

The film pulls off the tricky balance between paying tribute to Spanish culture, while also being critical of bullfighting itself and showing the cruelty of the sport, albeit doing so in a family friendly way.  It does a commendable job of balancing the more cartoony action scenes with showing the harsh realities of what these animals are forced to go through.  The book’s pacifistic, anti-violence message is still very much intact, and Ferdinand’s climactic stand down in the ring with famed matador El Primero (Miguel Ángel Silcestre), one of the defining moments in the book, has been brought to screen in a genuinely touching and emotionally resonant way.

While Blue Sky Studios is perhaps best known for their profitable Ice Age series, the animation house has also carved out a nice name for itself with more unique works like The Peanuts Movie and Horton Hears a Who!, which remains the best feature length adaptation of a Dr. Seuss story.  The style of Ferdinand most obviously recalls their Rio films, both in the look of the characters and the animal rights message, and it shares a director with them in Carlos Saldanha.  There is a softness to the animation and colours of the film that really fits with the gentle nature of the title character.

The film is carried by appealing voice work from John Cena, who really embraces the role of Ferdinand, and he is a perfect fit to play an imposingly sized figure who is actually a big softie on the inside.  He is nicely matched by Kate McKinnon, who provides some wonderful comic relief as the scrappy calming goat.  This is ultimately an enjoyable and surprisingly heartfelt film that does justice to the classic story, boasting likeable characters and a strong anti-bullfighting message.

Ferdinand is being released on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow.


Three Views: A Wrinkle in Time

March 9, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Disney’s new adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s 1962 children’s novel of the same name, which has been guided to the screen by acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, A Wrinkle in Time is a contemporary take on the classic story that also stays mostly faithful to the source material.

The result an ambitious and brightly coloured mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and I enjoyed being taken on the sometimes emotional and sometimes downright trippy ride that it offers.  Sure, the film has some faults, which I’ll get to later on, but this is also a movie that’s primarily made for families, and a pretty good one at that.

The story follows Meg Murry (Storm Reid), an adolescent girl who is an outsider at school.  Her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and father (Chris Pine) are both physicists, and her father has been missing for four years, after disappearing while investigating a way to travel instantly through space by tapping into different frequencies using something called a Tesseract.  Joined by three mysterious supernatural beings – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) – Meg is taken on an interplanetary journey with her prodigious little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and a boy from school named Calvin (Levi Miller), to rescue Dr. Murry and stop a dark force known simply as the IT that is sucking up the light in the universe and replacing it with darkness.

Partially because of the iconic stature of the source material, A Wrinkle in Time has been generating mixed reactions, and I do somewhat understand why.  The $100 million budget is splashed across the screen, and the film does have many wondrous visual flourishes, but some of the special effects are also kind of cheesy, including Mrs. Whatsit’s winged creature form and a giant-sized Oprah that looms in the background.  The film also has a bit of an over-relience on pop songs, and the narrative structure relies heavily on being built around set-pieces, which can make it feel a little episodic.

The film does make some changes to the book, most notably removing the sequence with Aunt Beast, taking out the characters of Meg’s twin brothers, and changing the gender of the Happy Medium, who is played here by Zach Galifinakis as a somewhat campy character who provides both guidance and comic relief.  Mrs. Whatsit is also depicted as looking much younger than the weathered old lady she was described as in the book, and the “haunted house” where the Mrs. W’s live is no longer in the woods, but now in the inner-city.  But for the most part, Ava DuVernay has crafted a faithful adaptation, and the majority of these changes do work to streamline the material for a smoother transition to film.

The screenplay, which was co-written by Jeff Stockwell and Frozen director Jennifer Lee, who is herself a huge fan of the book, captures the essence of Madeline L’Engle’s work.  The book was groundbreaking for 1962, and got rejected over two dozen times before finally being published.  It has frequently ended up on lists of the most challenged and banned books over the years, due to its melding of science fiction and religious themes.  While the movie doesn’t feel as radical now as the book did at the time, I think this is mostly due to changing attitudes over the years.

At its best, like in the climactic sequences when the characters are tested on a nightmarish planet, this adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time can be quite stirring and also emotionally engaging.  A big part of why the film works is because of the strength of the young actors who were cast in the leading roles.  Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey might be the big names here, and they all do likeable work, but it’s the trio of younger performers who carry much of the movie on their shoulders.  Storm Reid is quite good at portraying both Meg’s vulnerability and quiet strength, and Deric McCabe delivers impressive work for a child actor, handling the demands of his character very well.

The story touches on bullying and body image issues, which are important and timely themes, especially for a film that is geared towards middle school audiences.  The film does a good job of showing Meg’s struggles with self-esteem, including feeling self-conscious about her curly hair, which was present in the book as well but takes on added resonance here as her character in the movie is mixed race.  The main crux of Meg’s journey is that she must learn to accept herself in order to harness her true potential, and this journey towards self-fulfillment provides the main heart of the film.  The story is also about fighting against conformity, best visualized in a creepy sequence where the characters are tested on a suburban cul-de-sac with kids all dribbling basketballs in unison.

The story’s most universal theme is that we have to fight against the darkness in order to find the light, with the light manifesting itself as love and kindness and the dark representing hatred and jealousy, and this is a message that we can all get something out of.  Yes, it’s a little sentimental at times, but I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time because it does wholeheartedly embrace this sense of positivity.  This is a completely and refreshingly uncynical film that has its heart in the right place, and I liked the hopeful and inspiring message behind it.

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Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Meg Murry (Storm Reid) in A Wrinkle in Time

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A Wrinkle in Time Review By Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on the classic 1962 novel by Madeline L’Engle, this newest big screen adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is a solid adventure film for the middle-school aged crowd.

In A Wrinkle in Time, we follow young Meg Murray (Storm Reid), who’s father Dr. Murray (Chris Pine) has been missing for the past four years.  Her parents are both scientists with a specialty in theoretical physics and at the time of his disappearance, her father had just announced his work in the field of interstellar travel through the ability to wrinkle space-time.  Ridiculed by the academic community for this announcement, most people around Meg presume her father disappeared intentionally in one way or another, although she still holds onto a last shred of hope that he will be coming back one day.

Before her father disappeared we learn that Meg was a bright, top student, but the longer her father has been gone the more her light disappears as she has become depressed, withdrawn, and getting called into the principal’s office.  The one other person who truly believes their father will be coming back one day is her younger adoptive brother Charle Wallace (Deric McCabe), who is convinced of the reality of space–time travel.  When Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her friend Calvin (Levi Miller) to three interstellar beings, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who have heard a call from across the universe they say belongs to Dr. Murray, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are transported across the universe in search of him, and to face a dark energy that spreads negativity and preys on the fears in the universe, named only ‘The It’.

The film works solidly as an adventure, especially for the 8-14 crowd, and moves along at a good pace without feeling rushed.  But what really makes the film work as well as it does, is the acting from its young leads.  All three kids do a stupendous job bringing their characters to life, in particular young McCabe as Charles Wallace, delivering the many sides to his character and ample dialogue with an intelligence and confidence without being annoying, and Reid as the lead Meg.  Reid expresses the emotional depths of her character with such quiet subtlety that completely avoids the trap of overacting that some actors of her age-range fall into.  It is this believability and vulnerability that added layers to the way we follow these characters and engage with the journey they are on.  Likewise, the adult actors all played their roles quite well, perfectly embodying the roles – solid casting all around.

In terms of the special effects, they are nothing ground-breaking, however they service the story well enough and didn’t draw me out of it, even when they were slightly dated looking at times.

Overall, while it is not going to be one of the top films of the year, as a March Break release, A Wrinkle in Time is going to provide an entertaining time at the movies, with characters that kids can relate and connect to.  A well-directed and acted film with a good storyline, I have no qualms recommending seeing A Wrinkle in Time.  Kids are going to enjoy this one, and adults won’t really mind sitting through it either.  Personally, I quite enjoyed it.

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Meg (Storm Reid) and Calvin (Levi Miller) in A Wrinkle in Time

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A Wrinkle in Time Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay, is the latest princess-free Disney film based on the 1962 children’s classic novel by American author Madeleine L’Engle.

The Murry’s (Chris Pine & Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are a mixed-race couple (an update from the book) of brilliant physicists whose tesseract theory of wrinkle (not warp) travel (called “tessering”) gets them laughed out of a conference of fellow scientists. They have two kids: Meg (Storm Reid) and Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). We first see a younger Meg in a flashback fascinated by her father’s Chladni figures (cool geometric interference patterns made by sand on a vibrating plate). He soon realized that this could be the key to tessering, if he could just find his own resonant frequency, and he has been lost ever since.

Four years later, Meg is in middle school, a brilliant nerd with glasses bitter about her father’s alleged abandonment–an obvious target for the mean girls. Charles Wallace, who at six years of age doesn’t remember his father, feels just as alienated as Meg, but his intelligence is off the charts. Three mysterious women with big hair and overdressed for anywhere on Earth appear to Meg, CW and Calvin (Levi Miller), a cute boy from school who likes Meg more than she likes herself.  As Celestial Warriors of light, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) offer to help Meg find her father, and they are all tessered to a distant planet.

Filmed in New Zealand, this beautiful place has fields of chattering levitated orchids and the kids are taken around on the back of Mrs. Whatsit morphed into a flying vegetable. Seeing a black cloud, they are told that this is the “darkness” that is taking over the universe with all that is evil, embodied in a creature known as the “It”. They then go to another planet where a seer known as “The Happy Medium” (Zack Galifianakis) shows Meg her father’s possible location, a planet too dark (like a black hole) for the Warriors since once there they might not escape. They tell Meg to “be the warrior”, trust no one, and embrace her faults. Without trying to spoil too much, I’ll just say that Meg will rescue Dad, but not before at least one of her companions goes, as it were, to the dark side and she is zapped and tangled up by giant neurons within It’s brain.

Unaware of the original source and having grown up avoiding the physical and chemical vices of the 1960s, indeed ending up teaching some of the physics mentioned here, my first (vicarious) impression of A Wrinkle in Time was “What a [psychedelic] trip”. Moreover, I couldn’t avoid comparisons with Star Trek and Star Wars. When Mrs. Which said the tag line “Be a Warrior” and Meg replied “I’ll try” I almost croaked out loud “Try not!” But when I got home and looked it up I realized that the book had predated the other two series.

I still believe A Wrinkle in Time may not be as popular as the Star Wars/Trek series for anyone beyond adolescence unfamiliar with the book; but with excellent production and a fine diverse cast led by the brilliant Storm Reid, it will really appeal to its target audience and should be a great inspiration to kids, reminding them that they are all beautiful in their own ways.

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Consensus:​ While Disney’s new adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time will likely garner some mixed reactions, director Ava DuVernay has delivered a mostly faithful and enjoyable take on Madeline L’Engle’s 1962 children’s novel, that is carried by solid performances from its young leads and boasts an inspiring message. ★★★ (out of 4)


Review: Juggernaut

March 9, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Saxon Gamble (Jack Kesy) is a young outlaw who returns to the hometown where he grew up following his mother’s sudden death, dredging back to the surface problems with his brother Dean (David Cubitt) and father Leonard (Peter McRobbie).

But things take a darker turn when Saxon becomes convinced that his mother’s death was not a suicide, and was actually a murder done to cash in on her life insurance.  As Saxon rushes to unravel the mystery, the threat of violence becomes stronger and his life is endangered.

The debut feature from Vancouver-based writer-director Daniel DiMarco, who has previously only done shorts, Juggernaut is a decent mix of familial crime drama and slow-burn thriller, that has both flaws and some elements to admire about it.

The ambiguous nature of the plot grows somewhat tiresome to watch, and the film runs long at nearly two hours.  While the characters themselves are largely two dimensional, the story is rife with classic and grandiose themes of fathers and sons, and the rivalry between brothers, and it’s a familiar tale that is fairly well told.  Although the tension is mostly kept at a simmer, there is also some mounting suspense throughout, and the film unfolds with a solidly handled neo-noir tone.  It’s bolstered by Patrick Scola’s moody cinematography, and features intense performances.

Juggernaut is now playing in limited release at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto.


Blu-ray Review: Thor: Ragnarok

March 6, 2018

By John Corrado

With Black Panther currently dominating the box office, Marvel has been top of mind these past several weeks, but a few months back the studio had another hit on their hands with Thor: Ragnarok, which is now coming to Blu-ray.

While the film doesn’t have a ton of plot, it’s simply a lot of fun, with enjoyable characters and a sense of playfulness to it that feels refreshing.  This is a purely entertaining entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that mainly sets out to have a good time, and mostly delivers on that promise.  You can check out our three views of the film right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with director Taika Waititi, the New Zealand indie filmmaker who took over the reigns of the franchise, as well as a gag reel, deleted and extended scenes, and a good selection of featurettes.

Getting in Touch With Your Inner Thor focuses on Chris Hemsworth’s acting and how his character has loosened up over the course of the films; Unstoppable Women: Hela & Valkyrie is a profile of the film’s kickass new female characters played by Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson; Finding Korg is a look at the comic relief character played by Taika Waititi; Sakaar: On the Edge of the Known and Unknown talks about the wacky planet that is home to Jeff Goldblum’s flamboyant Grandmaster; and Journey Into Mystery touches upon the influence of Jack Kirby’s artwork upon the look of the film.

There’s also Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years – The Evolution of Heroes, which presents an overview of the first eighteen films in the franchise starting with Iron Man in 2008, and leading up to this summer’s Avengers: Infinity War; the very amusing new short film Team Darryl, which shows the further adventures of Thor’s former roommate Darryl (Daley Pearson), who now has a surprising new tenant; and 8-bit versions of the two action sequences Sakaar Spaceship Battle and Final Bridge Battle, which were done to help the filmmakers plan and shoot these scenes.

This all adds up to about an hour of bonus material in total, and it’s enjoyable to watch through, giving us a good sense of how much fun everyone from the director to the cast seemed to be having on set.

Thor: Ragnarok is a Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment release.  It’s 130 minutes and rated PG.


My 2018 Oscar Predictions (Now Updated With Winners!)

March 3, 2018

By John Corrado

Update: Well, I got 16 out of 24 correct.  Not as good as I had hoped, but not too shabby, either.  I’m happy with a lot of the winners, even if the show itself was wildly overlong and pretty average.  It’s awesome that The Shape of Water took home Best Picture, and I’m thrilled that Guillermo Del Toro is now an Oscar winner.  The acting categories went exactly the way that I expected them to, and that’s fine by me.  The best surprise was Jordan Peele taking home Original Screenplay for Get Out.  And Coco won for both Animated Feature and Original Song!  That’s all I really have to add.

There are a lot of really tight races at the Oscars this year, which is a good thing in that it will make tomorrow’s ceremony more interesting and exciting to watch, but it’s also making it more frustrating in terms of trying to predict who will win in all 24 categories.

Then again, who could have predicted what happened last year, with La La Land being mistakenly announced as Best Picture, before Moonlight was crowned the rightful winner?  It’s up for debate which way some of these categories will go, but here are my guesses for who will take home the gold this year.  You can find the full list of nominees on IMDb right here.

Best Picture: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – It’s between this and The Shape of Water, and it’s still anyone’s guess at this point which one will prevail, but I’m predicting that it will be TIFF People’s Choice Award winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri due to the timely subject matter and stellar performances.  If there’s a spoiler, it will be Get Out.  For the record, my personal vote would go to Lady Bird, since my favourite movie of last year The Florida Project wasn’t even nominated. (ACTUAL WINNER: The Shape of Water)

Actor in a Leading Role: Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour – If you’ve seen the film then you’ll know why he’s been dominating awards season and is the odds-on favourite to win here.  The actor is phenomenal as Winston Churchill, and it’s the type of transformation that Oscar voters love. (WINNER)

Actress in a Leading Role: Francis McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – I’m fairly certain that the Fargo actress will win her second Oscar for her searing portrayal of a mother’s grief turning to anger.  There is a slight chance of I, Tonya‘s Margot Robbie or Lady Bird‘s Saoirse Ronan pulling an upset, but McDormand is the clear frontrunner.(WINNER)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – There’s still a small chance that Willem Dafoe will be the surprise winner for his remarkable work in The Florida Project, and I would obviously be thrilled if that happened.  But Rockwell was tasked with delivering a complex character arc as a racist cop written purely in shades of grey, and it was positively thrilling to watch him in the role, so I’m predicting that he will prevail.  It’s the type of role actors dream of. (WINNER)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Allison Janney, I, Tonya – It’s between her and Laurie Metcalf who played a very different type of mother in Lady Bird.  But Allison Janney stole every scene of I, Tonya as the abusive and foul-mouthed matriarch, and it was impossible to look away from her. (WINNER)

Animated (Feature): Coco – This is Pixar’s to lose, and the frontrunner also happens to be my favourite of the bunch.  I liked all of the nominees, but how could this not win? (WINNER)

Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 – I keep going back and forth in my mind on whether Roger Deakins will finally win for Blade Runner 2049, or if the Academy will give this to Hoyte Van Hoytema for Dunkirk.  It’s a tough call.  Either one could win, and either one would deserve it, but I’m going to go with Deakins this time around. (WINNER)

Costume Design: Phantom Thread – It’s a film about dressmaking, filled with gorgeous designs, so I think it’s a safe bet that the costume designers will spring for this one. (WINNER)

Directing: Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water – While I still think that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has a very good shot at winning Best Picture, I’m predicting that everyone’s favourite Mexican filmmaker turned honorary Torontonian will take home the directing prize for his magical interspecies romance.  As for Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele and Paul Thomas Anderson, I’m just happy that they were all nominated. (WINNER)

– Documentary (Feature): Faces Places – If voters are looking for something more serious then they will likely opt for Icarus, but I’m expecting this audience favourite feel good film to win, which would make co-director Agnes Varda the oldest Oscar winner ever at 89 years old. (ACTUAL WINNER: Icarus)

Film Editing: Dunkirk – I’m feeling like Baby Driver could pull off an upset here, with every one of the action scenes and car chases cut in time to music, so I wouldn’t count it out either.  But conventional wisdom says that Dunkirk will win, since it makes interesting use of timelines, was an early Oscar favourite, and war movies often win in this category. (WINNER)

– Foreign Language Film: The Square – While Chile’s A Fantastic Woman has a good chance of winning, it was also a little overrated in my book, so I’m going with Sweden’s Palme d’Or winner. (ACTUAL WINNER: A Fantastic Woman)

Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour – This is the type of work that seems practically destined to win an Oscar.  Gary Oldman was almost unrecognizable in the film, and the way that the makeup team transformed him into Churchill through the use of prosthetics was seamless. (WINNER)

Music (Original Score): Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water – I would be delighted if Jonny Greenwood won this for Phantom Thread, but Alexandre Desplat seems to be the favourite here, and his contributions to the film were lovely. (WINNER)

Music (Original Song): “Remember Me” from Coco – Finding this category really hard to predict this year.  It’s down to “Remember Me” from Coco and “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, but either one could easily win.  They are both memorably used within their films, and are both from popular songwriting pairs who have won before, with the former credited to Frozen composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and the latter written by La La Land songwriters Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, who just won last year.  But “Remember Me” is masterfully woven into the narrative of Coco, and it made me cry, so I’m giving it a leg up here. (WINNER)

Production Design: The Shape of Water – It’s a Guillermo Del Toro film, so of course the production design was astounding, and I think it’s going to be nicely awarded. (WINNER)

Sound Editing: Dunkirk – The use of sound in the film to put us right in the middle of a war zone all but ensures that this will one in at least one of these always elusive categories. (WINNER)

– Sound Mixing: Baby Driver – I’m predicting there will be another split between the two categories, and there will be a lot of respect for how the songs were mixed in with the other sounds in this film. (ACTUAL WINNER: Dunkirk)

– Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes – The majority of the characters in the film were brought to life through stunning visual effects, and this will also be a good consolation prize for Andy Serkis not getting nominated for his stellar performance. (ACTUAL WINNER: Blade Runner 2049)

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name – I personally liked the other nominees better, but Call Me By Your Name has a lot of passionate supporters and James Ivory is a veteran of the industry, so the odds are heavily in his favour. (WINNER)

– Writing (Original Screenplay): Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – If the academy wants to acknowledge more diverse choices, this would be the perfect chance to award Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird or Jordan Peele’s Get Out, both masterful scripts in their own right.  But Martin McDonagh’s script for Three Billboards has a masterfully handled mix of tones, and is filled with crackling dialogue, so I’m thinking it will triumph here. (ACTUAL WINNER: Jordan Peele, Get Out)

Short Film (Animated): Dear Basketball – Pixar’s Lou is the only one that I’ve seen, but former Disney animator Glen Keane’s Dear Basketball sounds like the favourite to win and Kobe Bryant will be there to take the stage, because the #MeToo movement clearly hasn’t caught up to him yet… (WINNER)

Short Film (Live Action): DeKalb Elementary – I haven’t seen any of the nominees, but this short inspired by a real life 911 call made by a school shooter seems like it will resonate with recent events. (ACTUAL WINNER: The Silent Child)

Documentary (Short Subject): Edith+Eddie – Again, I haven’t seen any of the films.  So I’m just guessing based on the descriptions, and this one sounds like a winner. (ACTUAL WINNER: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405)


Review: The Party

March 2, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from writer-director Sally Potter, The Party is a work of filmmaking that’s economical and to the point.  The film is short at just 69 minutes including credits, and doesn’t waste a minute of its running time.  It unfolds pretty much in real time, and all takes place in the same location, building towards one heck of a final reveal.

The film follows Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), who has just been appointed to serve as the Shadow Minister for Health in Britain’s opposition party, and is celebrating by throwing a dinner party at the London townhouse that she shares with her husband Bill (Timothy Spall).

The elite guests include the pretentious April (Patricia Clarkson) and her self-help guru husband Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), lesbian couple Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Martha (Cherry Jones), and the coke-snorting banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) who is waiting for his wife to arrive.  But things quickly deteriorate following Bill’s decision to drop the bombshell news that he is not only terminally ill but also having an affair, which leads to the entire evening falling apart as more secrets come to the surface involving all of the guests.

There’s also a gun involved that we glimpse throughout waiting for it to go off, per Checkhov’s old adage about how a gun shown in the first act must be fired at some point.  This is an example of a small film that manages to leave a pretty big impact.  The entire ensemble cast does great work bringing each of the distinct characters to life, and the screenplay is sharply written, working in memorable dialogue as more revelations come to light.  The black and white cinematography adds a sort of sparse elegance to it.

The film was shot in 2016, and it serves as both a metaphor of the Labour Party in total meltdown post-Brexit, and the shocking blow dealt to progressives following the election of Donald Trump.  The result is a bitingly satirical and darkly comic chamber piece that offers the unique delight of watching rich elitists who think they have all the answers have the rug pulled out from under them one by one.

The Party is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

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