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Disney+ Review: Black Widow

July 9, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Over a decade after her big screen debut in Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) has finally gotten her own long-awaited solo film in Black Widow, the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And the film is indeed long-awaited by fans, especially after having its initial release date last summer pushed back by over a year due to the pandemic.

I have personally been wanting to see a solo movie featuring Natasha, aka Black Widow, ever since the character took centre stage as a key member of Marvel’s superhero ensemble in The Avengers in 2012. Which is why it’s a bit disappointing to say that Black Widow, while generally entertaining, is also one of the more minor entries into the MCU.

Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow is more of a midquel than a prequel or proper origin story. Chronologically, the film is set right after the events of Captain America: Civil War in 2016. The Avengers have broken up, and Natasha is on the run from Secretary Ross (William Hurt) after defying the Sokovia Accords. The plot finds her travelling through Europe and reuniting with her fellow Black Widow sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), while grappling with elements of their past that continue to haunt them.

Johansson is an expectedly solid presence in the lead, and there are some interesting emotional aspects of her character that are explored. While the traumatic training that she underwent in the Red Room as part of the secretive Russian spy program was already covered in Avengers: Age of Ultron, we do learn a few more details of Natasha’s backstory here, with the film filling in a few blanks. But Black Widow ends up feeling sort of like an afterthought to the larger narrative, a spinoff that exists more to cash in on a popular franchise in need of new content.

More so than being a fully fleshed out solo movie for the character whose fate was already sealed in Avengers: Endgame, Black Widow often feels like it is showing us what Natasha was doing in her free time between the events of Civil War and Infinity War. At its best, the film works as a dysfunctional family drama that seeks to explore the trauma of Natasha’s upbringing. But it ultimately devolves into being more of a simple side adventure meant to slot in neatly between the other films than something truly substantial on its own.

The film starts off quite strong, opening with an intriguing prologue that introduces us to Natasha and Yelena as kids in 1995, being forced to flee from their childhood home with their parental figures Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei (David Harbour). The girls are whisked away and put into training to become deadly assassins for the KGB’s Black Widow program, which leads into an impressive opening credits sequence set to a drawn out, emo cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Malia J and Think Up Anger that plays over unsettling flashes of their training in the Red Room.

It’s a gripping start, and these first roughly fifteen minutes of Black Widow have a grittier and more grounded feel that offers an interesting change of pace for Marvel. I don’t want to necessarily say the film gets less interesting as it goes along, because there are entertaining moments throughout, including a decent, more character-driven midsection. But there is also a marked difference in the involvement that I felt between watching this prologue and the film’s pretty standard comic book movie climax.

Following this prologue, we flash forward to 2016. Natasha is now a rogue superhero and Yelena is an assassin starting to question her programming, and their mission involves taking down the system that created them. Along the way, they reunite with the washed up but arrogant Alexei, who has his own superhero alter-ego as the Red Guardian, the Soviet answer to Captain America. The first half of the film sort of has the feel of a globetrotting spy movie, and there are some solid action sequences, including a gritty hand-to-hand kitchen fight between Natasha and Yelena, a car chase through the streets of Budapest, and a high-wire prison escape involving a helicopter.

The dynamic between Johansson and Pugh, a welcome new addition to the MCU whom I suspect we will be seeing more of in the future, is the best part of the movie. One of the film’s most interesting sequences is a domestic dinner scene that reunites their family unit, including Weisz and Harbour, which is buoyed along by the chemistry between these four actors. Pugh is the standout here, with her sarcastic, accented take on Yelena making her a sardonic counterpart to Johansson’s stoic Natasha. Harbour is also quite entertaining as the full of himself former hero, who seems intent on reliving his glory days.

But Black Widow ends up feeling a bit lacklustre as a whole, and is not quite the thrilling standalone adventure this character deserves. There are some pacing issues in the over two hour film, and the last act, which finds old conflicts being rehashed, leads to a mostly uninspired and overly chaotic climax that could be interchanged with pretty much any movie in the Marvel canon. It ends up feeling more like an extended pilot for a new TV series, most notably in the obligatory end credits scene.

I think the film would have hit harder if it had been released in 2016 or 2017, before the events of Endgame. Still, there certainly are things to like about Black Widow. The opening is very strong, the performances are solid, the action is mostly decent, and there are enough good sequences to give it a recommendation. I just wish it was a bit better overall, and less of a minor entry into the MCU.

Black Widow is now available to rent for $34.99 on Disney+ with Premier Access, and is also playing in theatres where they are open.

Disney+ Review: Monsters at Work (First Two Episodes)

July 7, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Twenty years after the release of Monsters, Inc., which already got an official prequel in 2013 with Monsters University, we are now getting a spinoff and continuation of that Pixar classic in the form of the new Disney+ series Monsters at Work.

The ten-episode series is set in the direct aftermath of the 2001 film, with the company now going through the growing pains of switching to collecting laughs instead of screams to power the city of Monstropolis. And based on the first two episodes, which I was able to preview in advance and are premiering this week, the show is mildly amusing but also feels somewhat needless.

The series follows in the footsteps of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command as only the second TV show to be based on a Pixar movie, and like that somewhat forgotten Toy Story spinoff from the early 2000s, Monsters at Work is also not actually a Pixar production. It was produced by Disney Television Animation and animated by ICON Creative Studio in Vancouver, and it sort of has the feel one of those direct-to-video sequels that Disney was putting out for a while in the 1990s and 2000s.

Which is to say that it’s passable and will please younger audience members, but also not up to the level of the films that preceded it. Yes, there are a few cute moments sprinkled throughout, including some fun appearances from familiar characters. But the show feels more in line with the Planes movies, those harmless but pretty forgettable spinoffs of the Cars franchise from Disney Toon Studios, than it does a proper Pixar production. Which makes sense, since the executive producer and showrunner of the series is Bobs Gannaway, a Disney TV veteran who worked on the first Planes and directed its sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue.

The loveable stars of the two Monsters films, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), do appear here, and it is nice to hear the original voice actors reprising their roles. But Mike and Sulley are also reduced to supporting players who only show up periodically, and the main star of Monsters at Work is actually a new character named Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman). Tylor is an aspiring Scarer who has just graduated from Monsters University and is hired to work at Monsters, Incorporated, only to discover the switch that has taken place there when he arrives on his first day.

With his skills not sharp enough yet to land a spot as a Jokester on the newly remodelled Laugh Floor, Tylor gets relocated to the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT), a band of quirky outsiders who keep things running behind the scenes. The team is made up of several new characters, including Tylor’s overeager, arch-shaped former classmate Val (Mindy Kaling); the dopey, bighearted supervisor Fritz (Henry Winkler); the ornery, Waternoose-looking Cutter (Alanna Ubach); the scheming, multi-eyed Duncan (Lucas Neff); and a very silly, non-verbal monster known as Banana Bread.

From here, Monsters at Work basically plays out as a situational workplace comedy, as Tylor interacts with his co-workers, learns the ropes of his new job, and sets a course to rise through the ranks of the company. And, look, it’s fine, at least for what it is. There are some amusing moments here and there, and the show is accompanied by a jazzy score by Dominic Lewis that pays tribute to Randy Newman’s music in the original film, including a solid cover of the iconic theme.

But the show lacks much of the imagination and genuine heart of the original movie. The characters and storylines feel more simplistic, and the show plays out with a lot of slapstick humour that skews towards the younger set. In theory, exploring the transition from scream to laugh energy is a natural jumping off point for a continuation of Monsters, Inc. But the ending of the first film was also so perfect that a follow up wasn’t really necessary. In this regard, Monsters at Work feels somewhat needless from a narrative perspective, and ends up feeling more like a Disneyfied brand extension for the franchise.

While the show does seem geared towards a younger audience, I am also squarely in that adult nostalgia bracket that Disney is at least partially trying to reach. Monsters, Inc. was one of my favourite movies growing up, and as a kid I always thought it would be kind of cool to see a sequel exploring more of the world. But as I got older, I came to appreciate the film’s bittersweet final moments for how they provide just the right amount of closure for Sulley and Boo. The truth is, we don’t need to see where the story goes next, which makes this series seem unnecessary for anyone who shares that mindset.

This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Monsters University so much. It let us spend more time with these characters before the events of the first film, while keeping the ending intact. I don’t want to judge Monsters at Work too harshly based only on the first two episodes, and I’m curious enough to see where the story goes next and if it ekes out more of a reason for its existence in the next eight chapters. But the first two episodes of Monsters at Work reveal an animated sitcom that is okay but unremarkable, which feels like kind of a letdown for an extension of such a beloved film in the Pixar canon.

The first two episodes of Monsters at Work are now available to stream on Disney+, and new episodes will be released weekly on Wednesdays.

Review: Zola

July 2, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

“Y’all wanna year a story about how me and this bitch fell out? It’s kind of long, but full of suspense.” This was the first post from Twitter user A’Ziah “Zola” King in a 148-tweet thread posted in 2015, detailing a wild weekend road trip that she took to Florida with a fellow stripper.

These are also the opening lines of Zola, a new A24 movie that finds director and co-writer Janicza Bravo adapting that now-infamous Twitter thread for the big screen with entertaining if slightly mixed results.

The film recounts the story of how Zola (played by Taylour Paige), a stripper working as a waitress in a Detroit diner, befriended and subsequently fell out with a chatty customer named Stefani (Riley Keough), with the two bonding over their shared experience as dancers.

When Stefani promises a way for them to make thousands of dollars in one night dancing at a club in Miami, Zola ends up going on a road trip to Florida with her new friend. Along for the ride are Stefani’s dimwitted boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and an intimidating man named X (Colman Domingo), who happens to be her pimp. Zola soon realizes that all is not as it seems, and Stefani actually plans to make money through more involved forms of sex work, and has tricked her into getting involved.

More so than just telling this story, Zola also embraces its origins as being a movie based on a Twitter thread. Bravo has crafted a highly stylized film that features running narration from Zola, and includes moments where she breaks the fourth wall. While these stylistic touches are sometimes effective, Zola also can’t quite overcome some of the challenges that you would expect from a movie based on a series of social media posts. The character development is pretty thin, and the narrative has a sort of slapdash quality to it, with the film clocking in at just over eighty minutes and stripping the story down to only its most basic elements.

Perhaps its because the Twitter thread has entered public consciousness, but Zola has a predictability to it that dampens the suspense we are promised in the opening lines. While there are certainly moments of tension in the individual sequences when Stefani and Zola end up trapped in some compromising situations, the film can’t quite sustain itself for the entire running time. At times the film struggles to find the balance between being a wild, Spring Breakers-type comedy and a more serious look at sex work, which prevents it from leaving more of a lasting impact.

The film also uses a chirpy tweet sound effect to signify certain story beats, a stylistic touch that becomes slightly irritating and kept taking me out of the movie. With that said, the performances are solid, and do keep us engaged. Paige is very good in the title role, especially in moments when we see it starting to register on her face that everything is not as it seems with her new friend. Keough commits herself to the role of Stefani, the sort of trashy white girl who tries desperately to sound Black, and while her portrayal can become somewhat grating, this is a testament to how believably she plays the character.

Domingo proves to be a commanding presence as the conniving pimp, and Braun finds moments of both humour and pathos in his portrayal of the pathetic boyfriend who is in way over his head. While I don’t know if movies based on Twitter threads needs to become a trend, let alone ones that make their origins so obvious, Zola is still a pretty entertaining dark comedy that largely does justice to the posts that inspired it.

Zola is now playing in select theatres in cities across Canada, please check local listings. It’s being distributed in Canada by VVS Films.

4K Ultra HD Review: Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection

June 29, 2021

By John Corrado

Steven Spielberg’s classic adventure movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, which introduced audiences to the bullwhip-cracking, fedora-wearing archeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), was released exactly forty years ago this month on June 12th, 1981.

To celebrate this milestone, Paramount has released all four films in the Indiana Jones franchise in a new 4K Ultra HD collection, that includes Raiders of the Lost Ark along with 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

The centrepiece of the collection is obviously Raiders of the Lost Ark, the one that started it all. Sending Indiana Jones on a globetrotting race against the Nazis in 1936 to find the Ark of the Covenant, Raiders is a rip-roaring adventure that features one of Ford’s best performances in one of his most iconic roles. The film features still-excellent special effects, including the classic “face melting” scene, and is enlivened by a rousing musical score courtesy of John Williams, with an iconic theme that runs through all four films. It’s a classic through and through.

While Raiders remains the best of the bunch, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, which includes the welcome casting addition of Sean Connery as Jones’ father, are also classics in their own right, rounding out one of the best film trilogies of all time. Then there’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While this legacy sequel, which is set in the 1950s and features Shia LaBeauf as Jones’ son, gets somewhat of a bad rap, I still think it’s an entertaining film on its own terms, even if it is not up to the level of its predecessors.

The main draw of this release are the 4K remasters. The films have been remastered from 4K scans of the original negatives with Dolby Vision and HDR-10, with the approval of Spielberg himself. They also feature Dolby Atmos soundtracks that were remixed at Skywalker Ranch under the supervision of sound designer Ben Burtt, using the original sound elements. This is probably the best these films have ever looked at home, and fans who are wanting to upgrade should be pleased with the quality.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The set comes with a fifth disc devoted entirely to bonus features, boasting seven hours of previously released content. The discs are held in plastic trays that are glued to a cardboard trifold, which comes housed in a cardboard case. Some new featurettes on the restoration work and sturdier packaging on the standard release would have been welcome (there is a Best Buy exclusive Steelbook version as well), but this is still a solid 4K set all around.

The package comes with a pretty nice fold-out map featuring a timeline of events from the films on one side, and all four movie posters on the other. Digital copy codes for all four films are also included. A full list of the bonus features is below.

On Set With Raiders of the Lost Ark

• From Jungle to Desert

• From Adventure to Legend

Making the Films

• The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 documentary)

• The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark

• The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

• The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

• The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (HD)

Behind the Scenes

• The Stunts of Indiana Jones

• The Sound of Indiana Jones

• The Music of Indiana Jones

• The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones

• Raiders: The Melting Face!

• Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (with optional pop-ups)

• Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (with optional pop-ups)

• Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute

• Indy’s Friends and Enemies

• Iconic Props (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)

• The Effects of Indy (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)

• Adventures in Post Production (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)

Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. Raiders of the Lost Ark is 115 minutes and rated 14A, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is 118 minutes and rated PG, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is 126 minutes and rated PG, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is 122 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: June 15th, 2021

VOD Review: The Ice Road

June 25, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Liam Neeson has made such a career out of playing grizzled older men who are forced to become action heroes in extreme situations that you can practically copy and paste his name into any high stakes premise and have yourself a pretty bankable thriller.

Earlier this year, we got Neeson as a rancher turned border patroller helping a young immigrant kid escape cartel violence in The Marksman. Now we get Neeson as a big-rig truck driver on an ice road transporting equipment needed to free trapped Canadian miners in writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Ice Road.

Make no mistakes, The Ice Road is a clichéd film. It plays out with a premise that could have been written on the back of a napkin, and fits so cleanly into the aforementioned Liam Neeson genre that you could be forgiven for thinking it was a made up movie in another movie. But the film is also more fun than I expected it to be, and does serve up a fair bit of suspense. While admittedly cheesy and at times physically implausible, it modestly works as an unpretentious thriller that gets the job done as a piece of enjoyable white-knuckle entertainment.

Neeson stars as Mike, a North Dakota truck driver who answers an emergency call to drive across a thawing Manitoba ice road in April to deliver equipment to a diamond mine in Northern Canada. The mine has caved in, trapping 26 men inside, and they only have about thirty hours to survive before their oxygen runs out. A team is being assembled by organizer Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne), and Mike is chosen to lead a fleet of three long-haulers each carrying a heavy load of piping and a 25-ton wellhead, that must be driven across the frozen lake.

The team also includes Mike’s disabled brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), a veteran with PTSD and aphasia who is a brilliant mechanic; a young Cree woman named Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) who was in jail for protesting and takes the job in exchange for bail; and Varnay (Benjamin Walker), a corporate tag-along from the mining company. Tantoo also has personal reasons for joining the fleet, with her brother (Martin Sensmeier) among the trapped miners.

They will get $200,000 split between them if the mission is completed, with their individual shares increasing if any member doesn’t make it, which is a very real possibility. The drivers face any number of dangers, ranging from pressure waves creating cracks in the ice, to corporate malfeasance. We cut back and forth between the drivers on the road and the miners trapped underground, who are going through their own dramatic fight for survival as the clock ticks down and their oxygen rapidly depletes.

The story beats are mostly predictable, and the dialogue is often clunky, with an expositional quality to it. The film also increasingly defies the laws of physics as it goes along and the obstacles stack up, with some moments bordering on ridiculous. But I’ll be darned if The Ice Road didn’t keep me entertained while it was on. Neeson doesn’t exactly stretch his acting muscles here, but he provides a dependable onscreen presence as growls rote lines like “this is personal” and “now I’m angry,” which is exactly what we want from him in these sorts of films.

Hensleigh’s filmmaking approach has an economical quality to it, effectively setting up the stakes and then playing out with a number of ticking clock devices. The film was shot by cinematographer Tom Stern, who has worked with Clint Eastwood on a number of films, and we do get some impressive shots from underneath the ice, showing small cracks and water bubbles that threaten to sink the trucks. The result is a surprisingly entertaining B-movie thrill ride that builds a solid amount of suspense as it goes along, providing a pretty fun entry into the Liam Neeson action movie genre.

The Ice Road is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by VVS Films.

Disney+ Review: Wolfgang

June 25, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Wolfgang Puck is credited as being the first “celebrity” chef, a title that he obtained by attracting a dedicated guest list of Hollywood stars to his restaurant Spago, before gaining a broader following through charming TV appearances, and building a food empire around frozen pizzas.

Puck’s story is told in the new documentary Wolfgang, which comes to us from Jiro Dreams of Sushi director David Gelb. The film focuses on the Austrian chef’s rise to become one of the most prominent food figures, packing a lot into a smoothly assembled and always engaging 78 minute running time.

Among Puck’s greatest accomplishments is how he helped to elevate the role of chef from being thought of as a blue-collar job to being a high profile position. The film takes us through many of the key points in Puck’s life, starting with his troubled childhood in Austria where his self-esteem was rattled by an abusive stepfather. Because of this, Puck took refuge in the kitchen with his mother and grandma, who helped him develop a love of cooking as they prepared wiener schnitzel together on Sundays.

Puck’s career path saw him move to France to work in a restaurant and hone his cooking skills, before his arrival in America, where he was dismayed at the lack of fresh produce. The young chef cut his teeth in Los Angeles working for restaurateur Patrick Terrail at Ma Maison, a poorly reviewed restaurant that he singlehandedly turned around with his menu, but received almost none of the credit for. From here, Puck bought his own restaurant space in West Hollywood with his business partner and eventual spouse Barbara Lazaroff, and Spago opened its doors in 1982.

Spago, of course, became the new “it” spot for Hollywood A-listers and changed the way restaurants were run in America, with an open kitchen that put the focus on the role of the chef. Puck cemented his legacy in homes when him and Lazaroff went into the business of packaging his dishes and selling them in grocery stores, starting with frozen pizzas, an idea that spawned from Spago regular Johnny Carson ordering ten pizzas to go. When Puck inquired why he needed so many, the late night host replied that he was bringing them home to put in his freezer, and thus a food empire was born.

That story is just one of the many fun anecdotes that are sprinkled throughout the film. Gelb doesn’t entirely shy away from the darker parts of Puck’s story, either. We get some candid moments when he talks about growing up with his stepdad, as well as the breakdown of his marriage to Lazaroff, and how his career ended up taking away time from his kids. But we also get the sense certain details have been left out, and Woflgang does feel at times like a glossed over portrait. To use an imperfect food analogy, the film overall feels a bit more like a frozen pizza than a three-course meal.

But it’s still a satisfying and enjoyable documentary that is, to make use of another food allegory, easily digestible. While it might seem like a bit of an odd choice of programming for Disney Plus, Wolfgang still finds a welcome home on the streaming service as an inspirational film that I can imagine will motivate a lot of younger audience members to take up cooking.

Wolfgang is now available to stream on Disney+.

Blu-ray Review: Nobody

June 22, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

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

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

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

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

Bus Fight (5 minutes, 31 seconds)

Home Invasion (4 minutes, 19 seconds)

Car Chase (3 minutes, 13 seconds)

Tool and Die (6 minutes, 2 seconds)

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

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

Feature Commentary With Director Ilya Naishuller

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

Street Date: June 22nd, 2021

Disney+ Review: Luca

June 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4K Ultra HD Review: Godzilla vs. Kong

June 15, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Date: June 15th, 2021

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

June 15, 2021

By John Corrado

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

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

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Commentary by Director Simon West

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life

Commentary by Director Jan de Bont

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

Street Date: June 1st, 2021

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