By John Corrado
I still remember seeing Talladega Nights in theatres when it first came out and laughing my face off, and it still holds up as one of the funnier films of the last decade. Directed by his frequent collaborator Adam Mckay, following their cult classic Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the film allows Will Ferrell to craft another one of his finest comedic characters as the dimwitted but super fast racecar driver Ricky Bobby.
Sacha Baron Cohen is also at his scenery-chewing best as his arrogant French rival, and they are backed up by equally memorable supporting work from John C. Reily as the dumb but well-meaning best friend, Jane Lynch as the no-nonsense grandma, and Amy Adams as a charming young love interest. Probably my personal favourite of the Adam McKay and Will Ferrell vehicles, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby offers a multitude of comedic pleasures that bear revisiting, and the Blu-ray offers a lot of worthwhile material for fans to go through and enjoy.
Dubbed the Big Hairy American Winning Edition, bonus features on the two-disc set include a bunch of deleted and extended scenes on both the theatrical and unrated cuts, commentary tracks, a pair of Line-O-Ramas, character interviews, audition videos, a gag reel, several featurettes, promotional videos, Adam McKay’s Video Diaries and more.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. The theatrical cut is 108 minutes and rated 14A, and the unrated version runs for 121 minutes.
By John Corrado
To mark the fifteenth anniversary of the film, the Oscar-winning modern classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is being released on Blu-ray. Directed by Ang Lee, the film became an instant critical and box office success upon its release, that went on to win four of its ten Academy Award nominations, and remains the highest grossing foreign language film of all time.
Part sweeping romantic drama following the intertwined destinies of multiple characters, and part martial arts epic filled with high-flying stunts and beautifully choreographed action sequences that continue to dazzle, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon still wows on a purely visual level.
The film’s fight sequences remain some of the best ever put on screen, including a chase early in the film that mixes grace and excitement in the way its heroes leap across rooftops, and the now-famous fight atop bamboo trees during the climax. These meticulously pulled off sequences are made all the more impressive for the fact that they were filmed mostly with the actual actors instead of stunt doubles, and only utilized CGI to remove their safety wires. Featuring spectacular cinematography that is enthralling to watch, and a lovely musical score, the film looks and sounds as great as it ever did on Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray also includes two commentary tracks, the first one featuring Ang Lee and producer James Schamus and the second with cinematographer Peter Pau, as well as six previously unreleased deleted scenes, a new retrospective on the film that is made up of extended interviews with Ang Lee, James Schamus and editor Tim Squyres, a “making of” featurette, a conversation with Michelle Yeoh, a photo gallery and two music videos for “A Love Before Time,” one in English and the other in Mandarin.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a Sony Pictures Classics release. It’s 120 minutes and rated PG.
By John Corrado
★★½ (out of 4)
The fifth film in the popular animated franchise, arriving fourteen years after the still-best original from 2002, Ice Age: Collision Course finds its characters dealing with the various entanglements of romance.
Manny (Ray Romano) is trying to keep his marriage to Ellie (Queen Latifah) from getting stale while also having a hard time accepting their daughter’s (Keke Palmer) new overly chill boyfriend (Adam Devine), Diego (Denis Leary) is getting ready to finally settle down with his partner Shira (Jennifer Lopez), and Sid (John Leguizamo) is looking for love that lasts past a first date.
But lest you think this is some sort of relationship drama, the ragtag group of animals also find themselves having to run from a giant meteor that is hurtling towards the earth. The meteor is accidentally set in motion by Scrat, who is traversing the cosmos in a spaceship in search of the pesky acorn that keeps getting away, rearranging the solar system along the way.
Mixing elements of everything from romantic comedy, nonsensical sci-fi caper and doomsday adventure, while also working in a wacky fountain of youth subplot, none of this really makes much sense in terms of logic or plot. By all rights, it could have easily felt like a train wreck that reeks of growing franchise desperation. But I actually kind of enjoyed the ways that Ice Age: Collision Course embraces its own cartoonish lunacy, throwing everything at the wall just to see what sticks. Although by no means a great film, it’s so loony and off the wall ridiculous that it actually kinda works for what it is.
By embracing the oddball and historically inaccurate timeline of the series, which has already seen them coexist with both cavemen and dinosaurs, Ice Age: Collision Course offers a surprisingly enjoyable and sometimes downright trippy ride. There are enough amusing moments, mainly courtesy of one-eyed weasel Buck (Simon Pegg) and a fun cameo by none other than astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, to make it mildly worth a look for those of us who grew up with the series.
The Blu-ray also includes Ice Age: The Story So Far, which edits together moments from the earlier films, as well as Scrat: Spaced Out, Scratasia: Scrat’s Solo Adventures, Mystery of the Scratazons, Star Signs of the Animal Kingdom, a Figaro Sing Along and a photo gallery. The best of the bonuses is The Science of It All: deGrasse Tyson deBunks, a fun little piece that features Neil deGrasse Tyson playfully pointing out the multitude of scientific inaccuracies in the film.
Ice Age: Collision Course is a 20th Century Fox release. It’s 94 minutes and rated G.
By John Corrado
★★★½ (out of 4)
Jonas Ford (Josh Wiggins) lives on a struggling rural farm property, with a severely depressed mother (Vickie Papavs) and a father (Joe Cobden) who keeps him out of school and expects him to work in the fields.
When Casey Caraway (Sophie Nélisse) moves into a nearby farmhouse with her police officer father Wayne (Bill Paxton), the two teens start to form a close relationship with each other. But there is trouble afoot, and when Jonas witnesses Casey being abused by her father, a series of events is set in motion that puts them on the run with a bag of stolen cash, struggling to escape their troubled lives.
Following his promising and ambitious debut feature Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster in 2011, director Nathan Morlando continues to show a sure hand behind the camera with his gripping second feature Mean Dreams. Seamlessly balancing elements of both character drama and crime thriller, the film envelopes us in a moody atmosphere that keeps tightening the screw in terms of tension, with several brilliantly handled sequences that ratchet up genuine suspense.
Shot in Northern Ontario, Mean Dreams is beautifully photographed by Steve Cosens, with the wheat fields and wooded landscapes appearing both inviting and dangerous. Josh Wiggins displays an intensity beyond his years and does an excellent job of carrying the film, and Sophie Nelisse affectingly portrays a character who is forced to make mature decisions that threaten to change her entire life, as the film reaches its dark but almost inevitable conclusion.
Anchored by a pair of engaging performances from these two young leads, and menacing supporting work by Bill Paxton who provides a chilling adversary to them, Mean Dreams is a gripping coming of age thriller, wrought with near-constant suspense flowing through its veins.
Mean Dreams is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas in Toronto, and at other locations across Canada.
By John Corrado
★★★ (out of 4)
The People vs. Fritz Bauer dramatizes the lengths prosecutor Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) went to in tracking down high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann (Michael Schenk) over a decade after the end of World War II, hoping to put him on trial in Germany for his crimes against humanity.
Burghart Klaussner portrays the title figure with admirable tenacity, a German-Jewish lawyer who seeks overdue justice for the man who aided in the Holocaust but remains at large, to serve as an example to others who escaped conviction by fleeing the country after the war.
The film also works in a fictional but still engaging subplot involving his associate Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld), a lawyer who is struggling to remain closeted, lest he be charged with engaging in homosexual acts which were illegal at the time.
Directed by Lars Kraume, and set to a classy jazz score that recalls an old noir film, The People vs. Fritz Bauer is a handsomely produced historical drama that unfolds as a simmering legal procedural, and is kept engaging thanks to a well written screenplay and solid performances from its cast.
The People vs. Fritz Bauer is opening in limited release at Famous Players Canada Square in Toronto.
By John Corrado
A much less successful followup to Tim Burton’s 2010 take on Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass follows Alice (Mia Wasikowska) as she is guided through a mirror that takes her back to Underland. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has grown sick, and the clues to cure him lie in the past, so Alice steps into a clock and steals a time machine from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to save him.
I wasn’t really a fan of Alice Through the Looking Glass, it’s bafflingly undercooked in terms of narrative and garishly over the top on many other levels, but it still has some cool visual moments and curious viewers should feel free to check it out on Blu-ray. For more thoughts on the film, you can read our three views of it right here.
The Blu-ray includes audio commentary by director James Bobin, five deleted scenes with optional commentary, as well as the featurettes Behind the Looking Glass, A Stitch in Time: Costuming Wonderland and Characters of Underland, and two “scene peelers” which show the visual effects progression of key sequences. There’s also a brief bit with Sacha Baron Cohen being interviewed in character, as well as the music video for P!nk’s “Just Like Fire” and a look at the making of the video. Although these bonuses don’t really change my opinion of the film, the looks at the costuming and visual effects do a good job of helping us appreciate the artistry behind it.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is a Disney release. It’s 113 minutes and rated PG.
By John Corrado
★★½ (out of 4)
When an ancient and powerful mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is awoken after thousands of years and becomes hellbent on wiping out humanity, it’s up to Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), as well as a team of young mutants including Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to stop him.
The third in the prequel trilogy following First Class and Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse doesn’t reach the heights of its better predecessors, serving as a by the numbers introduction to a new younger cast of characters. The film also runs long and often unwieldily at well over two hours, with a somewhat confusing timeline that jumps ahead to the 1980s and doesn’t really add up with the rest of the series.
But with a good cast and some decent set-pieces, X-Men: Apocalypse is still a fairly entertaining entry into this franchise that is often enjoyable on a scene by scene basis. It’s elevated by solid performances from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Magneto, who remains an interestingly conflicted character even if his storyline here feels largely recycled from the previous films. The storytelling is a bit messy and all over the place as a whole, but there are still enough fun moments here for superhero fans to enjoy. A visually stunning sequence where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) runs through a live explosion, set to “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” no less, springs to mind as the main standout of the film.
The Blu-ray also includes commentary by director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg, deleted and extended scenes with optional filmmaker introductions, a gag reel, video from the wrap party and a series of featurettes on the production.
X-Men: Apocalypse is a 20th Century Fox release. It’s 144 minutes and rated PG.
By John Corrado
★★★★ (out of 4)
A passion project for director Andrea Arnold, American Honey is an epic in its own right. This is an exhilarating road movie that quietly explores the hidden pockets of America where real people live their lives, struggling with ways to make money and dealing with the reality of dreams dashed to poverty.
Escaping her troubled life in Texas, which includes dumpster diving for food and taking care of her two younger siblings, Star (Sasha Lane) runs away from home and hits the road with a crew of poverty-stricken youth who travel the country in a white van, selling magazine subscriptions in rich neighbourhoods.
Star gets teamed up with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a slick and unpredictable hustler who sets out to show her the tricks of the trade, and also embarks on an affair with him that seems built purely around physical passion. This puts her at odds with group leader Krystal (Riley Keough), who sees the unpredictable Star as a threat to her business. As the group drives across the Midwest, singing along to songs as they roll down the highway and sleeping at motels, they party, do drugs and have sex, all with a sort of primal energy.
Clocking in at close to three hours, American Honey will test the patience of some, but I found it to flow with a rhythm that becomes almost hypnotic to watch, a film more interested in evoking moods than having a traditional plot. Like in her acclaimed breakout feature Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold is interested in capturing character moments that flesh out the worlds of young women who remain resilient and headstrong despite poverty and unstable living conditions. Here she has delivered a film that not only has her signature gritty realism to it, but also an energy that makes it all feel positively alive.
A newcomer to the screen, Sasha Lane is transfixing to watch throughout every scene, carrying the film with a magnetic and almost instinctual performance that is all the more impressive for being her acting debut. Andrea Arnold initially discovered her on a beach during spring break and asked her to audition based on her look, and she emerges like a true breakout star. Shia Labeauf delivers one of his finest performances, blurring the line between character and actor in an exciting way, as he infuses Jake with unhinged and almost manic energy that permeates through the screen. Much of the supporting cast is made up of unknown young actors, who give the film a compellingly naturalistic feel.
This is matched by a largely improvised script and the impressive, often handheld camerawork. Robbie Ryan’s free flowing cinematography keeps us gripped, framed within a square aspect ratio that helps make the characters feel boxed in, while also seeming wide open as they dot across the sprawling roads and desolate landscapes. The soundtrack offers an entire playlist of great tracks, giving way to several beautifully done musical sequences that either burst with energy or pack an emotional wallop, including unforgettable uses of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dream Baby Dream” and Lady Antebellum’s “American Honey,” which gives the film its title.
Like all great road movies, American Honey is a film that allows us to get lost in the journey, and all the joyful, somber and unexpectedly moving moments that come along the way. One of the film’s best and most poignant scenes finds Star taking a ride with a kind older trucker, who becomes an almost paternal figure and asks about her dreams for the future. It’s a touching moment on its own terms, and also represents a passing of the torch if you will between an old, fading side of America and the young people who represent the country’s future but haven’t really been given the means to inherit it.
Playing with a deep undercurrent of heartbreak that is fully indicative of the struggles faced by real people just trying to get ahead in this day and age, American Honey is a major achievement, a film that captures the feeling of being young and all the spontaneity and energy that comes alongside it. Filled with vivid, iconic images of people being alive, this is a sprawling, engaging and beautifully filmed portrait of youth lost in America, that is easy to get lost in and has many moments that leave a lasting impact. Rarely has the true sense of being young, wild and free been so indelibly captured on film.
American Honey is opening today in limited release in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and is set to expand to other markets in Canada on October 21st.
By John Corrado
★★★½ (out of 4)
A visually stunning mix of animation and archival footage, the unique documentary Tower recreates the events of August 1st, 1966 when a lone gunmen with a sniper rifle positioned himself atop the clock tower at the University of Texas, and for over ninety minutes unleashed a reign of terror that claimed sixteen lives and left many others wounded.
The story is told from the perspective of the remaining survivors, who appear in talking head interviews that have been traced over using rotoscoping and dubbed using actors, so the subjects can look and sound more like their younger selves, a technique that is often surprisingly affective.
The first two acts of Tower have an immediacy that is harrowing to watch, putting us as close as we will ever get to actually having been on campus or in the surrounding area as the terrifying carnage unfolded. The events of this fateful day are all painstakingly recreated through striking and beautifully rendered animated sequences that switch between black and white and colour, all set to an excellent soundtrack that helps transport us back to the time period.
The last act is a little more conventional in its approach, but finds genuine emotion in how it shows the fallout of the attack, briefly touching on the tragic amount of mass shootings that have sadly followed in its wake. Director Keith Maitland has crafted an admirably unique hybrid of documentary and narrative reenactment, mixing highly stylized animation and real footage to moving effect, in a style that recalls the Oscar-nominated Waltz With Bashir.
Although Tower is a tough film to watch, it’s also an important and often striking one, a work that feels reflective instead of exploitative in its approach to exploring the tragedy of a mass shooting, with the killer’s name barely mentioned and the focus rightfully kept on the heroism of the survivors.
Tower opens today in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.
By John Corrado
Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life is being rereleased in a new Platinum Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray. The film follows the life of George Bailey (James Stewart), a man faced with suicidal desperation on Christmas Eve who is visited by Clarence (Henry Travers), a kind angel wanting to get his wings, who helps him realize all the ways his life has touched others.
Frank Capra’s personal favourite of all his films, and featuring one of James Stewart’s best performances, It’s a Wonderful Life is a complete package of acting and dramatic storytelling that still holds up beautifully. Although it was considered a box office flop when it first came out, due to its steep production costs, the film found new life on TV in the decades that followed, and the rest is history.
Watching the film has now become a beloved holiday tradition in countless households every year, and for good reason. Filled with numerous iconic moments, this is a grand work that aims to encapsulate the importance of a single life and how it affects others, and it succeeds at doing so, offering a rich tapestry of characters and scenes that are not only a joy to revisit, but also get better with age. It remains a definitive Christmas film that is indicative of the season for the way it deals with dark themes faced by real people around the holidays, matched by a contemplative and deeply spiritual feel good message.
This is the quintessential Frank Capra film, a work that celebrates human decency and doesn’t shy away from showing the realities and financial struggles of America at the time, while also reaching a moving and genuinely uplifting finale. The screenplay offers a masterclass in narrative structure, working on multiple levels and taking us through all the defining moments of George Bailey’s life in the first half, in a way that perfectly sets up and gives added meaning to everything that unfolds in the last act. The result is a poignant and compassionate portrait of a man slowly descending into depression, that is made all the more resonant for showing his dashed dreams and acts of selflessness along the way.
James Stewart carries the film in an incredible showcase of his range as an actor, in his first film role after serving a stint in the army during WWII, making the central character’s emotional arc both believable and powerful. Through a myriad of famous supporting roles, the film seamlessly weaves in subplots involving the Bailey family business, George Bailey’s relationship with his high school sweetheart (Donna Reed), and a corrupt banker Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) threatening to take over their idyllic town of Bedford Falls, characters that all work to enhance the central narrative.
With a story that could be seen as a companion piece of sorts to the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life is a true holiday classic that has a way of connecting to audiences like few other films, with nearly everyone who watches it finding something to relate to. There are some movies that transcend time, and this is absolutely one of them, a work that is still just as thematically rich and emotionally resonant as it ever was, even after seventy years and countless viewings. I’m not ashamed to count It’s a Wonderful Life as one of my all-time favourites, and those who don’t already have a copy of it on Blu-ray shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this handsome looking new edition.
The Blu-ray also includes the nicely done featurette The Making Of It’s a Wonderful Life, a TV special from 1990 hosted by Tom Bosley that takes us through the film’s evolution from a short story that the author sent around as a Christmas card, to the classic that it’s now regarded as. There’s also the original theatrical trailer for the film, and a second disc that houses the colourized version. The package also comes with six replica lobby cards and newspaper ads, which are a very nice addition to the set.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a Paramount release. It’s 130 minutes and rated G.