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Review: Ford v Ferrari

November 15, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Directed by James Mangold, following up his dark and brilliant X-Men spinoff Logan, Ford v Ferrari is a solid piece of mainstream entertainment that feels muscular in its construction.

Based on a true story, the film focuses on the friendship between Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a race car driver whose career got cut short due to a weak heart after winning France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959, and Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a temperamental but brilliant driver who runs a struggling auto shop.

When Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), a public relations guy who works for the Ford Motor Company, cooks up a plan to boost their fledgling brand by building a sports car that can compete with and beat Ferarri at Le Mans, the unlikely team of Shelby and Miles become their best bet to take on the Italian company that has cornered the racing market and keeps winning.

The film feels a bit too long at 152 minutes, but it’s consistently entertaining and satisfying on a dramatic level, and carried by a pair of solid performances from the two movie stars at its centre who have great chemistry together. Damon brings his usual easy-going charm to the role of Carroll Shelby, who has the spirit of a race car driver and the sense of a businessman, often having to serve as a negotiator between Ford and Ken Miles. Bale brings his usual focused intensity to his portrayal of the hot-headed Miles, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The cast also includes solid turns from child actor Noah Jupe as Ken’s son Peter Miles, who is often by his father’s side, as well as Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II.

Solidly directed by Mangold, Ford v Ferrari not only boasts good performances, but also has exciting racing scenes that are very well shot by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who puts the camera at road level to show wheels spinning by right in front of the screen, and great sound design that immerses us in the dull roar of engines and the screeches of rubber on the road. The film actually reminded me a bit of a Disney sports movie, which is fitting because this is one of the first big 20th Century Fox films to be released by Disney following the merger, and it fits in pretty seamlessly with their own roster.

What Ford v Ferrari ultimately works as is a good old-fashioned crowdpleaser that feels almost classical in its presentation, offering a fine balance of both exhilarating racing scenes and moments of well-acted character drama. This is adrenaline-fuelled filmmaking that plays very well in a theatre, making full use of the combined benefits of a big screen and good surround sound system.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Ford v Ferrari is now playing in theatres across Canada.

Blu-ray Review: Good Boys

November 12, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A pint-sized Superbad that sets the action in middle school instead of high school, Good Boys is an enjoyable comedy from producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that features potty-mouthed pre-teens as its stars.

The film follows Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams), a trio of childhood friends who are in the sixth grade and just starting to think about relationships, but are too young to have any experience, still being a ways removed from even their first kisses.

When they get invited to a “kissing party” by cool kid Soren (Izaac Wang), the kids become worried that their lack of experience will lead to embarrassment, so they decide to ditch school for the day and gain some first hand knowledge in the art of making out.

This involves Max stealing an expensive camera drone that belongs to his father (Will Forte), who has left him with explicit instructions not to touch it, and using it to spy on his “nymphomaniac” neighbour Hannah (Molly Gordon). But things inevitably don’t go as planned, leading to all sorts of hijinks, which are triggered when Hannah smashes the drone and the boys take her purse, which they soon find out is carrying the drugs that she just bought. As she pursues them to try and get back her stash of molly, the boys end up on a wild goose chase, trying to replace the drone before Max’s dad gets back from work.

While the concept of watching kids talk dirty could have easily grown stale quite quickly, Good Boys nicely embellishes its one-joke premise with a surprisingly heartfelt story about friendship and coming to terms with the fact that the friends you have in childhood might not stay with you as you mature and develop different interests. This aspect of the film is handled quite well, leading to a suitably bittersweet ending. Despite the overt raunchiness of much of the material, the film often still maintains a certain innocence, which is a big part of its appeal, and keeps it from crossing the line into feeling creepy.

In terms of plot, Good Boys follows a lot of the same beats as Superbad, but this derivativeness doesn’t take away from its enjoyability. Like Booksmart earlier this year, which also took familiar coming of age tropes and explored them from a fresh angle, Good Boys is the sort of film that delivers pretty much exactly what you expect and does it well. The film also has a welcome modern edge, touching upon important issues like consent and respecting women.

In addition, Good Boys features a fine ensemble cast and is carried by likeable performances from its young leads, who all seem to be relishing the opportunity to swear and say crude things. This includes another promising turn from child star Tremblay, who displays a keen comic sensibility to match the great dramatic abilities that he already showed off in Room. This is simply an enjoyable film to watch, and it will put a smile on your face as well as making you laugh out loud a few times.

The Blu-ray also includes an alright selection of bonus material, starting with an unrated alternate ending and eleven deleted and extended scenes (Turtle vs. Tortoise, Benji Don’t Like That, Customer Service, Ball Pit Shenanigans, Tracking Molly, Stealing a Glance, Upsell Fail, Max Explodes, Best Friends, Traffic Jam, and First Kiss Heartbreak), most of which aren’t missed in the final film.

This is followed by a collection of six short featurettes (Boys For Real, Welcome to Vancouver, A Fine Line, Ask Your Parents, Bad Girls, and Guest Stars), a pretty amusing gag reel, and a commentary track featuring director/co-writer Gene Stupnitsky and producer/co-writer Lee Eisenberg. The combo pack also comes with a regular DVD and a digital copy of the film.

Good Boys is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 89 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: November 12th, 2019

Review: Doctor Sleep

November 8, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Despite receiving mixed reviews upon its release in 1980, and famously being disavowed by Stephen King himself who felt that it wasn’t an accurate adaptation of his book, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is now rightfully regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time and is seen by most as a crown jewel in the iconic director’s filmography.

The film has a legacy that is almost unparalleled, both in an out of genre circles, and now it has gotten a belated sequel in the form of horror director Mike Flanagan’s new movie Doctor Sleep, which serves as both an adaptation of King’s literary sequel, published in 2013, and a direct follow up to Kubrick’s film.

The result is a fairly decent King adaptation that often copies the aesthetic of Kubrick, while also having Flanagan’s fingerprints all over it. This trio of influences is simultaneously felt throughout the film, and we are left with a final product that is generally good if a bit mixed, featuring some clashes in tone and a slightly bloated running time, but also a mostly compelling human story at its centre.

The story catches up with Danny Torrence (Ewan McGregor) as an adult, decades after his father went crazy and tried to kill him and his mother at the Overlook Hotel. Danny is now a recovering alcoholic who is still dealing with the residual childhood trauma of these events, moving around the country trying to get away from himself. Danny starts being telepathically contacted by Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), an adolescent girl who shares his supernatural gift of the “shining.”

Abra is haunted by visions of a group of ancient, vampire-like beings called The True Knot, who travel around the country with their leader Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) – so named for the “magic hat” that she wears – kidnapping children who have “the shining” and feeding off their energy as they torture and kill them. Danny and Abra are drawn towards Rose for a final showdown that forces him to relive experiences from his childhood.

Where as The Shining had a very specific tone that Kubrick carefully established and kept consistent for the entire running time, which is what still makes it such a uniquely compelling and transfixing film to watch almost forty years later, Doctor Sleep feels a bit disjointed, and the film’s separate storylines don’t always gel. The stuff with Rose the Hat and her band of vampires has an inherent cheesiness to it that at times reminded me of the Twilight movies, and I don’t really mean that as a compliment. McGregor’s performance is internal and toned back, where as what Ferguson is doing is a little campier and more over the top, which is one of the more pronounced examples of the film’s clashing tones.

The film is at its best when directly following Kubrick’s vision, and the movie also deserves credit for not trying to digitally de-age Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, instead casting approximate facsimiles of them (Henry Thomas and Alex Essoe) in these roles. While some of this feels like fan service, it’s also genuinely well done. Flanagan has a good eye for detail, and is able to seamlessly copy several iconic moments from the original in a way that will trick many at first into thinking they are seeing actual clips from Kubrick’s film, instead of meticulously pulled off recreations that perfectly copy the sets, colours, camerawork and framing of Kubrick’s masterpiece.

At its heart, Doctor Sleep is about confronting childhood trauma decades after the fact, and in this regard the film is effective, both as a sequel and on its own terms. The film is more drama than it is horror, and there is a poignancy underlying much of it. In the film’s most touching story thread, Danny starts working in a hospice, and using his supernatural abilities to help dying patients transition over to the other side. The film is carried by a strong performance from McGregor, who brings depth to the role, and does an excellent job of portraying a man who has spent almost his entire life haunted by literal and figurative demons.

The film has some bumps along the way, and the 152 minute running time – which is a full six minutes longer than The Shining – feels stretched at times. But after a lengthy buildup, Doctor Sleep is able to deliver a satisfying and very well staged finale that pays direct tribute to Kubrick’s film, while also being suspenseful and chilling in its own right. The fact that Doctor Sleep can’t live up to, let alone surpass, its iconic predecessor is a given. But even though this is ultimately a merely good follow up to a great film, it still has enough intriguing elements to make it worth seeing on its own terms.

Doctor Sleep is now playing in theatres across Canada.

Blu-ray Review: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

November 5, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

A spinoff to the blockbuster franchise, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw brings together best frenemies Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) for a mission, when both men are recruited to track down a rogue MI6 agent named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who is in possession of a weaponized and extremely contagious super virus known as “Snowflake.”

They are going up against a villain named Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), who has been bionically and genetically enhanced to give himself superhuman strength, and has a genocidal plot to release the virus being carried by Hattie, to kill the weaker members of society so the stronger ones can thrive. This is the sort of movie where he literally introduces himself as “the bad guy” during the film’s opening action sequence, just in case there was any confusion.

Directed by stuntman David Leitch, who is perhaps best known for his work on John Wick and also directed Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 as well, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw delivers exactly what you expect in terms of non-stop action and stunts, and mainly serves as an excuse to watch the likeable and charismatic action stars at its centre play off each other for over two hours. Johnson and Statham playfully butt heads with each other, trading insults and crude nicknames (“Mike Oxmaul” is my personal favourite), while also kicking a lot of ass.

The film is kinetic and hyperactive in its editing and assembly, with a lot of quick cuts and many shots that only last for a few seconds each, and the script mainly consists of cheesy but amusing one-liners, with the plot serving as a formality more than anything else. It’s all done with a slightly tongue-in-cheek tone that suggests nobody is taking themselves too seriously. This is the sort of film that doesn’t really have any pretensions about being anything more than a big, loud, turn your brain off action movie, and for the most part it’s fun, even if it suffers from delivering sensory overload at times.

There is a sort of goofy, macho bravado baked into every scene, along with the broader themes of family and having each other’s backs that have come to define the series. While this is not the best entry in the franchise, and the film features an entirely generic plot that takes a backseat to the action, as is almost to be expected, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is still a thoroughly undemanding and mildly entertaining action blockbuster that gets by purely on the star power of its leads.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Leitch, as well as an alternate opening, a generous selection of deleted and extended scenes, and over a dozen short featurettes that touch upon everything from the characters, to the choreography of the fight scenes and the mix of digital and practical effects.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 137 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: November 5th, 2019

Review: Motherless Brooklyn

November 1, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Set in the 1950s in New York City, Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton), a private detective with Tourette syndrome. He twitches and tics, his mind obsessing over certain phrases and making him repeat them, only getting reprieve from this when he self-medicates with marijuana and other drugs.

But Lionel also has an incredible ability to retain information and never forgets anything, which makes him a brilliant, meticulous gumshoe. After witnessing his partner and mentor Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) get killed, Lionel becomes obsessed with unraveling the mystery that Frank was trying to solve when he got shot.

This sucks him into a seedy New York underworld involving those in power and the people trying to hold them to account, including an activist, Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is protesting the city’s forced relocation of the poor African-American communities, and a crooked politician named Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin).

Directed by Norton, who also delivers a compelling and touching performance in the lead, Motherless Brooklyn is a hardboiled detective movie in the most classic sense, rich with crackling dialogue and a tangled web of a plot dealing with political corruption. Adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s bestselling 1999 novel of the same name, Norton’s screenplay touches upon racial discrimination and housing inequality, themes that still feel relevant.

The film is loosely inspired by the true story of Robert Moses, whom Baldwin’s character is based on, the New York City parks commissioner who amassed incredible amounts of power behind the scenes and is said to have controlled every decision made in the city and state from the 1930s to the 1960s. The film’s aesthetic recalls noir classics like Chinatown, and while Motherless Brooklyn does have an intricate, politically charged plot akin to that 1974 film, it’s also somewhat of a mood piece.

One of the centrepiece moments is a haunting and moving sequence set to an original song called “Daily Battles,” a beautiful contribution to the film by Thom Yorke and Flea, showing Lionel falling into a drug-induced dream in order to escape his mind. There is also an instrumental version of the song, arranged for saxophone by Wynton Marsalis, that is worked into Daniel Pemberton’s evocative jazz score for the film and recalls elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic music in Chinatown.

The film does an excellent job of getting inside Lionel’s head. I really enjoyed Norton’s portrayal of how this character’s mind works, and I found his performance as someone navigating both the struggles and blessings of having a brain that works differently from most to be quite moving at times. Because he is always making connections, this makes him adept at seeing patterns where others don’t and finding the clues needed to solve complex mysteries. Norton’s character offers constant voiceover throughout the film charting his progress and thought process, which is written and delivered in a style that recalls the prose-like speech patterns associated with old detective stories.

While Motherless Brooklyn is set in the 1950s, it very much recalls the mature, adult filmmaking of the 1970s, and I found it to be a completely absorbing film to sink into when I saw it at TIFF. Working with cinematographer Dick Pope to give the film a noirish look that is quite often darkly beautiful in its stark composition, Norton has crafted a completely pleasurable cinematic landscape to get lost in for a couple of hours, and fans of classic detective movies are sure to find a lot to like here. I really enjoyed it.

Motherless Brooklyn is now playing in select theatres across Canada.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Blu-ray Review: The Haunting of Hill House

October 31, 2019

By John Corrado

It was a hit on Netflix, and now director Mike Flanagan’s ten-part dramatic horror series The Haunting of Hill House is available to own on Blu-ray in a 3-disc set that includes extended versions of several episodes.

The series follows the Crain family, jumping back and forth between past and present to show both the horrors that five siblings experienced as children growing up in the haunted Hill House, and how these experiences continue to affect them as adults as they struggle with addiction, relationship problems and supernatural visions that still won’t leave them alone.

As children, Steven (Paxton Singleton), Shirley (Lulu Wilson), Theo (McKenna Grace), and twins Luke (Julian Hilliard) and Nell (Violet McGraw), moved into an old house for the summer, and watched as their mother Olivia (Carla Gugino) slowly unraveled and started to lose her mind as their father Hugh (Henry Thomas) struggled to keep the family together.

As adults, Steven (Michiel Huisman) is a horror writer who turned his traumatic childhood experiences into a bestselling book, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) runs a funeral home, Theo (Kate Siegel) is now a child psychologist who uses her supernatural gifts to help others, Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a heroin addict, and Nell (Victoria Pedretti) is struggling with depression. The show moves at a deliberate pace, devoting the first five episodes to each of the different siblings before bringing them together under tragic circumstances, and reuniting them with their now-estranged father (Timothy Hutton).

There was a lot of hype surrounding The Haunting of Hill House, which was inspired by Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 novel of the same name, when it was released on Netflix around this time last year, including reports of people passing out and getting sick while watching it, and I can’t help but feel like the show has been a bit overhyped. Yes, there are some shocking images and the show explores a lot of disturbing themes, but for my money, it’s often more unsettling than it is scary, and at times it feels more like a melodramatic soap opera with horror overtones.

I had heard a lot of great things about The Haunting of Hill House before watching it, so my excitement was pretty high. I think the fact that it was overhyped is partially why I ultimately wasn’t as taken with it as others have been. While the ten episode running time allows the writers to delve deep into each of the characters individually, the show also drags quite a bit, and it gets bogged down by multiple lengthy monologues that can feel downright self-indulgent. Several beats of the plot also feel clichéd.

The narrative structure is interesting at times, criss-crossing back and forth between different points in time, and showing the same events from different perspectives. This abstract approach ultimately works against it though in the last episode, Silence Lay Steadily, which is somewhat of a mess. The production design is solid, and the show is also technically well made and at times flashy in its assembly, sometimes too much so. Episode 3, Touch, features more match cuts than you can count to the point where they become distracting, and episode 6, Two Storms, unfolds through several extended sequences that are stitched together to look like single takes, an illusion that is broken every time there is an obvious cut.

I would ultimately say that The Haunting of Hill House is is more of a slow burn family drama than it is straight up horror, more about the after effects of living in a haunted house than it is about the haunting itself, and this approach will likely work better for some than it will for others. There are some elements of the show that do deserve admiration on a technical level, and at times it is fairly engaging to watch, featuring a handful of jump scares and a few moments that do get under our skin, but it also left me cold and wondering what all the fuss was about. So unless you are already a fan of it, you can probably just stream it on Netflix instead of purchasing the Blu-ray set.

The Blu-ray includes extended director’s cuts of the episodes Steven Sees a Ghost, The Bent-Neck Lady and Silence Lay Steadily, which also feature optional commentary tracks by Mike Flanagan. There is additionally a commentary track by Flanagan on the episode Two Storms.

The Haunting of Hill House is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s approximately 569 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: October 15th, 2019

Blu-ray Review: Galaxy Quest: Collector’s Edition Steelbook

October 29, 2019

By John Corrado

In honour of its 20th anniversary this year, Paramount has released a new steelbook edition of the 1999 science fiction comedy Galaxy Quest on Blu-ray. Dubbed the Never Give Up, Never Surrender Edition, this is a fairly irresistible release for fans of the cult classic film.

Directed by Dean Parisot, (who is now doing the third Bill and Ted film, Bill & Ted Face the Music, set to be released next year), the movie follows the cast of a long off the air 1970s science fiction television series called Galaxy Quest, who now make their money appearing at fan conventions.

When they are mistaken for actual space heroes by an alien race who view the series as a documentary, the mostly over-the-hill actors, including leading man Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) and his co-stars Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) and Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell), are tasked with once again saving the universe, only for real this time.

I remember watching this movie on VHS as a kid when I was first going through my Star Trek and Star Wars phase, and I’ve always felt like it has flown a bit under the radar, so it’s nice to see the film getting the recognition that it deserves upon this milestone twentieth anniversary. First and foremost, Galaxy Quest features fine comic performances from its entire ensemble cast, with Weaver and the late, great Rickman having great fun playing variations on the types of roles they became famous for.

The supporting cast also features appearances from pre-fame Sam Rockwell and Justin Long. The film works as a clever and funny high concept comedy, and also has enough going for it to hold great appeal for sci-fi fans as well, serving as both a parody of and an affectionate tribute to the original Star Trek series. It’s very entertaining, and the attractive steelbook packaging is a nice bonus for those of us who still like to collect physical media.

The Blu-ray includes a selection of bonus features, starting with something called Galactopedia, which allows us to access a database of info about different characters during the film. This is followed by the featurettes Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest, Never Give Up, Never Surrender: The Intrepid Crew of the NSEA Protector, By Grabthar’s Hammer, What Amazing Effects, Alien School: Creating the Thermian Race, Actors in Space, and Sigourney Weaver Raps. There are also deleted scenes, an option to watch the film with a Thermian audio track, and the original theatrical trailer.

Galaxy Quest: Collector’s Edition Steelbook is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 102 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: October 22nd, 2019

DVD Review: Luce

October 29, 2019

By John Corrado

There has been a lot of talk about the racially charged drama Luce since it premiered at Sundance at the beginning of the year, and it’s now available on DVD as of today. The film follows a high school student named Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), an Eritrean immigrant who is the adoptive son of a white couple (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth).

Luce ends up locked in a game of cat and mouse with his teacher (Octavia Spencer) after writing an essay that leads her to believe he has extremist leanings. I personally found the film to feel a bit too heavy-handed and melodramatic, but it’s carried by strong performances, and does open up a lot of conversations, making it worth a look on DVD for curious viewers. For more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The DVD also includes an interview with actresses Spencer and Watts in which they talk about their characters and the film’s themes of power and privilege, as well as a commentary track featuring director Julius Onah. A digital copy is also included in the package.

Luce is an Elevation Pictures release. It’s 109 and rated 14A.

Street Date: October 29th, 2019 

Review: Jojo Rabbit

October 26, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Satire is a tricky thing to properly pull off, but New Zealand actor and filmmaker Taika Waititi mostly succeeds in his latest film Jojo Rabbit, an original and daring World War II satire that is equal parts funny and moving.

The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month where it went on to win the coveted People’s Choice Award. That it won is not a shock to anyone who was in the room for its premiere, where the film got a rapturous response from the audience and received a standing ovation.

The film is set in Germany in the dying days of the Second World War, and the main character is Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a young German nationalist and dedicated member of the Hitler Youth, whose imaginary friend is a cartoonish version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi). But when Jojo discovers that his beloved mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic, his adherence to the poisonous, Jew-hating Nazi ideology starts to be challenged, as a heartwarming friendship forms between the two.

At first, Jojo Rabbit feels like it could go off the rails at any moment, but as the story starts to reveal itself and take some surprising dramatic turns, the film actually becomes quite emotionally involving in addition to being bitingly funny. The screenplay mercilessly mocks the stupidity of white supremacist thinking, while also delivering several moments that show the terrifying reality of the horrors being carried out by the Nazi regime. It should be offensive, and for some it might be, but Waititi’s irreverent approach is meant to take the piss out of Nazis, particularly Hitler himself, whom he often hilariously portrays as a buffonish, unhinged narcissist.

The film is carried by brilliant work from its young leads, with Davis deftly handling his portrayal of a difficult character in what is a true breakout role for the first time actor, and McKenzie complimenting him with a textured and moving performance that proves her remarkably understated work in last year’s Leave No Trace was no fluke. Johansson brings a great deal of heart to her role as Jojo’s mother, with an appealing earnestness and goofiness that we have never really seen from her before, and there are some lovely scenes between her and Davis.

They are backed up by an excellent supporting cast that also includes Sam Rockwell as an oddball Nazi, a role that has shades of his Oscar-winning turn as a racist cop finding redemption in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, even if his character here is written in broader strokes. Additionally, there are scene-stealing moments from Rebel Wilson as a dimwitted Nazi stalwart, and Stephen Merchant as a Gestapo officer who commands the film with a sequence that somehow manages to be both suspenseful and hilarious.

As I mentioned earlier, satire like this is a very tricky thing to pull off. Waititi is walking a very tricky tonal high-wire with Jojo Rabbit, and there are a few moments when the film doesn’t quite stick the landing. I enjoyed the film a lot, and reacted quite well to it in the moment during that sold-out TIFF screening where it was very easy to feed off the energy of the crowd. But after having some time away from it, I don’t know if the film necessarily always goes as deep as it seems to think it does, and there are a few moments where I actually wish it had gone even darker to really drive home its point. This might have helped the film leave even more of a lasting impact. The story is set in a horrifying period in human history, after all.

While amusing, Waititi’s jokey portrayal of Hitler also becomes a bit of a distraction at times, and can get in the way of the film’s emotional centre. There are a few moments where he shows up when I wish he had gotten out of the picture sooner, especially near the end, and with this imaginary version of Hitler remaining a goofy, comic figure throughout who never really progresses into being portrayed as truly evil, the depiction can end up feeling a bit too simplistic. But even if Waititi has made more of a one-off than an all time classic, Jojo Rabbit is still one of the more unique and enjoyable films to come along this year, playing like a cross between Life is Beautiful and Moonrise Kingdom.

The film serves as a sadly all too relevant exploration of how easy it is to get sucked into hate, especially for impressionable young people who feel like outcasts and are trying to find their place in the world. But it also shows that, in some cases, both change and forgiveness is possible. Waititi has crafted a film that is as subversive as it is sweet, and despite the subject matter, Jojo Rabbit is ultimately a feel good story that reaches a bittersweet conclusion.

Jojo Rabbit is now playing in select theatres in Toronto, and will be expanding in the coming weeks.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Review: Pain and Glory

October 25, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from master filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory is a beautiful work filled with colour and emotion that is carried by a powerful, career-defining performance from Antonio Banderas, who won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his role.

The story centres around an aging filmmaker named Salvador Mallo (Banderas), who is plagued by chronic pain and a sense of creative stagnancy. When a revival screening is booked of Sabor, the last movie he made before his career started drying up, and he is invited to do a Q&A, Salvador reunites with the film’s star, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), whom he hasn’t spoken to in years.

Alberto is a junkie and avid drug user, which causes Salvador to start doing heroin. This sends him down a path of remembering moments from his early life as a child (Asier Flores) in Spain, as memories of his mother (Penélope Cruz), and other figures from his past, start flooding back.

While it might not seem this way at first, Pain and Glory actually becomes a bit of a puzzle box, with our understanding of the story constantly evolving and turning in on itself as more elements of Salvador’s life are revealed through his memories. This leads to one of the best and most beautifully composed final images of any film this year. As figures and moments from Salvador’s past keep re-emerging within the narrative, Almodóvar’s film becomes a powerful exploration of repression, and how memories of sexual awakening and old relationships continue to linger and define our lives.

Themes of pleasure, desire and repressed sexuality have always been present in Almodóvar’s work, and in Pain and Glory the Spanish director plums them for maximum emotional depth. There are moments that recall the buoyancy and pleasurable qualities of his lighter works, including a wonderfully staged sequence involving a Q&A going horribly awry that walks a knife’s edge between funny and tragic, and shows that his gifts for screwball comedy are still just as sharp. But this is matched by a profound sense of tenderness and a deep, bittersweet well of feeling that makes this one of Almodóvar’s most perceptive and inward films, drawing upon moments from his own life to craft a story of longing and rebirth.

Banderas brings an introspective quality to his portrayal of Salvador, delivering a beautifully textured performance that reveals new layers of nuance as more of his character’s backstory is revealed. José Luis Alcaine’s cinematography is brilliant and vibrant, with symbolic splashes of the colour red appearing throughout. The result is a sumptuous, entertaining and very moving look at the intersections between movies and memories, that finds both Almodóvar and Banderas in top form, and provides a richly rewarding cinematic experience.

Pain and Glory is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

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