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Blu-ray Review: The Disaster Artist

April 3, 2018

By John Corrado

It’s no surprise that James Franco won a Golden Globe for his performance in The Disaster Artist, which is now available on Blu-ray.  The actor, who also directed the film, commands the screen with his brilliant portrayal of Tommy Wisseau, the infamous writer, director and star of The Room, which has been dubbed the best worst movie ever made.

When I saw The Disaster Artist at a press screening, it’s maybe the only time I can remember when the audience of critics actually clapped at the end, and that’s one of the best recommendations I can offer.  This is a wildly entertaining look at the making of an accidental cult classic, that also serves as an oddly inspiring ode to dreamers.  For more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with James Franco and Dave Franco joined by their real life counterparts Tommy Wisseau and Greg Sestero, as well as a selection of three featurettes.  Oh, Hi Mark!: Making a Disaster is a general look at the production that really illustrates how much fun everyone seemed to be having on set; Directing a Disaster focuses on how James Franco went method, doing the entire film in character; and Just a Guy Leaning On a Wall: Getting to Know Tommy features those involved in the film and other actors discussing the enigmatic figure that is Tommy Wisseau.  It’s good stuff all around.

The Disaster Artist is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 104 minutes and rated 14A.

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Blu-ray Review: Lady Bird

April 3, 2018

By John Corrado

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is a wonderful coming of age film that finds the perfect balance between being funny, moving, bittersweet and a little edgy, just like its spirited protagonist Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan).  The film is now available on Blu-ray.

This was my second favourite movie of last year behind The Florida Project, and it’s worth seeking out now, especially if you haven’t seen it yet.  Nominated for five Oscars, including a much deserved Best Director nod for Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird already feels like a modern classic, and it’s carried by phenomenal performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.  For more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Greta Gerwig and cinematographer Sam Levy, as well as the featurette Realizing Lady Bird.  The fifteen minute piece takes its name from the French word for director “réalisateur,” which Gerwig tells us that she finds to be a much more accurate description of her approach to filmmaking, realizing her vision rather than directing it.  It’s an excellent behind the scenes look that features some good interviews with the cast and crew, and really highlights the amount of love and care that Gerwig and her entire cast and crew brought to the deeply personal project.

Lady Bird is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 94 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

April 3, 2018

By John Corrado

Based on the true story of how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) wrote and published his beloved tale A Christmas Carol in a matter of weeks, helped along by visions of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and his other characters, The Man Who Invented Christmas finds the sweet spot between being a biopic and a new take on the classic story.  The film is now available on Blu-ray.

As someone who has always loved the story of A Christmas Carol, I really enjoyed The Man Who Invented Christmas, and it deserves to find more of an audience on Blu-ray.  This is a playful and well acted film that provides an inventive look at the writing process, and I already look forward to watching it again around the holidays.  For more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray also includes the short featurette The Story Behind The Man Who Invented Christmas.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 104 minutes and rated PG.

DVD Review: The Breadwinner

April 3, 2018

By John Corrado

Nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, The Breadwinner follows an 11-year-old girl in Afghanistan named Parvana (Saara Chaudry).  When her father (Ali Badshah) is taken by the Taliban, she has to cut her hair and start passing herself off as a boy, so that she can get work to provide for her family, and hopefully reunite with her father.  The film is now available on DVD.

Based on the children’s novel of the same name by Canadian author Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is a timely and moving tale for both kids and adults, that masterfully uses its stylized animation to tell a deceptively simple yet incredibly powerful female empowerment story.  For more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The DVD also includes a short introduction by director Nora Twomey and executive producer Angelina Jolie, as well as a commentary track with the filmmakers, and four featurettes.  Animating the Film offers an interesting glimpse into how they created the unique look of the film; Behind the Scenes With the Cast features the actors talking about bringing their characters to life; Creating the Music and Sound has composers Jeff and Mychael Danna talking about their approach to scoring the film; and Telling the Story focuses on how the efforts that were made to make the film culturally appropriate to Afghanistan.

TheBreadwinner is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 93 minutes and rated PG.

Review: Journey’s End

March 30, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on R.C. Sherriff’s 1928 stage play, which was adapted for the screen four times between 1930 and 1988, Journey’s End takes place towards the end of World War I in 1918, and follows a group of British soldiers who are holed up in the trenches in northern France, preparing for an imminent attack by the Germans.

The film takes place over four days and unfolds almost entirely in the dugout, offering a gritty and intimate look at the sometimes mundane day to day realities of war, as the soldiers are made to wait for enemy fire that could come at any moment and claim any or all of their lives.  It’s this sense of banality at times that makes Journey’s End such an interesting character piece, as the soldiers share meals prepared by the jovial cook Private Mason (Toby Jones), and mainly just wait to be called into battle.

The film features solid performances from its ensemble cast, carried by strong work from Sam Claflin as the alcoholic Captain Stanhope, who is already battle-worn and struggling to make it through, clearly suffering from PTSD.  Asa Butterfeld also delivers fine work as the bright-eyed Second Lieutenant Raleigh, a young soldier who asks to be put in the same unit as his old friend Stanhope, but hasn’t quite had the realities of war sink in for him yet.

The English filmmaker Saul Dibb directs it with the right mix of simmering tension and character drama, and Laurie Rose’s cinematography nicely captures the earthy tones of the muddy trenches and weathered brown uniforms.  This is ultimately a well acted look at men in the midst of war, that wisely keeps its focus on the nuanced interactions between its characters, and does justice to the original play.

Journey’s End is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

Blu-ray Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

March 27, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The surprise hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle provides a perfect example of how to make a belated sequel to a childhood classic.  The film successfully avoids the trap of being either an unnecessary followup or an inferior retread, and instead nicely expands upon the world of the original, while still going in a new direction.

The result is a film that is allowed to be its own fresh thing, while also cleverly using the 1995 film as a jumping off point.  Where as the first film featured a board game that sprung to life and brought Jumanji into our world, this new version features an old video game console that sucks the players right into the world of Jumanji.  It’s a fun twist on the premise, that works wonders thanks to an adventurous spirit and great comic cast.

The story begins over two decades after the events of the first film, with the four high schoolers Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) facing detention and sent to clean up the school basement.  It’s here that they discover an old video game cartridge, and when Spencer boots it up, they are sucked into the jungles of Jumanji.  The twist is that they are each given an avatar, which couldn’t be more different from their real life personas, but these characters allow them to discover hidden strengths that they didn’t know they had.

The nerdy gamer Spencer becomes the strong and courageous archaeologist Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson); the well-built jock Fridge becomes the small and high-voiced zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart); the shy girl Martha becomes the confidant and scantily clad commando Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); and the vain, popular girl Bethany becomes an overweight, middle-aged male cartographer by the name of Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black).  They are met with a guide by the name of Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby), who explains that they must return a magical jewel called the Jaguar’s Eye to its rightful place, and keep it out of the hands of Professor Russell Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), in order to break an ancient curse and escape the game.

This is an example of a movie that is way better than anyone likely expected it to be, but it isn’t just good because of low expectations.  Make no mistakes, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a legitimately well crafted adventure that is loads of fun to watch.  Director Jake Kasdan does a fine job of balancing the adventure movie feel with the many comedic elements, helped along by the completely game cast.  The four headlining stars all do great work, wonderfully channelling their younger counterparts.  Jack Black in particular steals scenes with his hilarious performance as a teen girl, really nailing the mannerisms and vocal inflections.

There are a lot of ways that this film could have gone wrong, but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle gets almost everything right in terms of being a long awaited franchise continuation.  One of the biggest pitfalls to making a Jumanji sequel now is obviously that the original film starred Robin Williams, who is sadly no longer with us.  This film thankfully doesn’t try to replace him, and instead offers a nice nod to his character of Alan Parrish, as a way to further tie it back to the first one.  The film works as the sort of sequel that has some clever throwbacks to the original, while also functioning perfectly well on its own as a standalone adventure.

This is probably one of the best surprises in recent memory, and it’s no shock that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle became such a huge hit at the box office.  This is an incredibly fun film, and one that greatly benefitted from word of mouth, as more people discovered how good it really is.  It’s the sort of purely entertaining movie that I had a great time watching in theatres with a packed audience, and I already look forward to revisiting it.

The Blu-ray also includes a gag reel, the fake music video “Jumanji, Jumanji” featuring Jack Black and Nick Jonas, as well as five featurettes.  Journey Throught the Jungle: The Making of Jumanji is a fun piece that takes us behind the scenes of the production with the character of Nigel Billingsley acting as our tour guide; Meet the Players: The Heroic Cast features the main actors talking about how much fun they had, especially shooting in Hawaii; Surviving the Jungle: Spectacular Stunts talks about what went into crafting the action sequences; Attack of the Rhinos offers a visual effects breakdown of the rhino chase sequence; and Book to Board Game to Big Screen & Beyond! Celebrating the Legacy of Jumanji looks at the original film and how they paid tribute to it.

The version that was sent to me for review is actually a double pack, which is pictured above, that includes a copy of the original Jumanji as well.  The disc included is from the fully restored new edition that was put out as a standalone release last December, which also has the new bonus features of a gag reel, two deleted scenes and a sneak peak at Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, as well as all of the extras from the 2015 Blu-ray release.  If you are looking to add both of these fine films to your collection, then this attractive combo pack is the way to go.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 119 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

March 27, 2018

By John Corrado

When Star Wars: The Last Jedi opened last December, it became one of the rare movies that was acclaimed by the majority of critics, while leaving a good portion of fans disappointed.  Now the debate can rage on, as the film is being released on Blu-ray.

As someone who considers himself both a critic and a fan, I was somewhere in the middle.  This is an entertaining entry into the saga that has elements to like about it, but it also has a lot of plot holes and makes some problematic choices.  I personally found it to be good but not great, and for more on the film itself, you can read our three views of it right here.

The Blu-ray includes a commentary track with director Rian Johnson, as well as an entire second disc devoted to bonus features.  The main attraction here is obviously The Director and the Jedi, a surprisingly hearty 95 minute documentary on the making of the film.  It offers an in depth look at the entire production, from scriptwriting to location scouting, set building, and the actual shoot, which lasted over a hundred days.

As a Blu-ray bonus feature, The Director and the Jedi is pretty darn impressive.  It’s an engaging and well made look at what it takes to pull off a film with this many moving pieces, while also being an entertaining film in its own right, and shedding more light on some of the story choices that Rian Johnson made.  The most revealing moments are when Mark Hamill is talking about how he initially wasn’t happy with the character choices that were made regarding Luke Skywalker, but reconciled himself to these creative differences in order to do the film and reprise his role.

The disc also includes the featurette Balance of the Force, which features Rian Johnson talking about his ideas for the Force and how it is used in the film; the scene breakdowns Lighting the Spark: Crafting the Space Battle, Snoke and Mirrors and Showdown on Crait, which provide deep dives into the visual effects behind three key sequences; Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only) which presents the raw footage of Snoke’s big scene before the actor was digitally painted over.  Finally, there are about twenty minutes of deleted scenes, which are preceded by an introduction from Rian Johnson and feature an optional commentary track with him as well.  There are some fine moments here, but these cut scenes ultimately would have made a long film even longer.

Because the bulk of these bonus features were obviously shot during the production, it’s also bittersweet to see Carrie Fisher featured throughout, and they directly pay homage to her in The Director and the Jedi, acknowledging how hard the entire cast and crew was hit by her passing.  Regardless of your thoughts on The Last Jedi itself – I still have some mixed feelings about the film and some of the choices that it makes – the wealth of bonus features here, starting with the very good The Director and the Jedi, makes this a highly recommended Blu-ray release.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment release.  It’s 152 minutes and rated PG.

Product Review: MovieMask Premium

March 26, 2018

By John Corrado

I have always been interested in the prospects of using VR headsets to watch regular movies.  But the problem is that you have to use a special app on your phone to split the image in two, losing quite a bit of resolution in the process.  Because the headsets are made for 360° videos, if you turn your head, the still image has to be readjusted.

When I was searching for a solution to these problems, after testing out a cheap cardboard VR viewer, I came across the MovieMask, which was made by a team of young inventors in Norway, and successfully funded through a couple of crowdfunding campaigns.  As the story goes, they were inspired to make it after seeing The Hateful Eight in theatres, and wanted to find a way to replicate the experience of watching something on the big screen in a darkened theatre.  “Your personal cinema experience on the go,” is how they sold it.

So I recently reached out to the makers of the MovieMask, and much to my surprise, I got a message back from Harald Manheim – the CTO and one of the co-founders of the company – who was kind enough to send me the MovieMask Premium for review.  I have been testing it out over the past few weeks, and have to say that I’m thoroughly impressed with the quality of the product.

How Does It Work?

 

As you can see in this video, the headset itself looks pretty similar to other VR viewers, with one key difference.  The MovieMask uses special optical lenses, which were designed with the help of opticians, so that what you see is one solid image.  Which means that you don’t need any special apps, and the image isn’t split in two.  You can just watch regular 2D content from whatever apps you have on your phone, including iTunes, Netflix or YouTube, while retaining the full resolution.

The actual construction of the headset and the materials used are very sturdy, and looking through it does give you the illusion of watching something on a big screen.  It’s also really easy to use.  All you need to do is unzip the back of the unit, pop your smartphone in between the universally sized mounts, zip it closed, and put the device on your head using the adjustable straps.  That’s it.  Within a minute of taking it out of the box, I was already watching my digital copy of Cars 3.

The headset comes in a choice of three colours – Polar Night Black, Granite Grey and Glacier Blue.  I opted for the Polar Night Black, which I find has a nice sleek look to it.  You can tell that a lot of time and effort went into the product right from the packaging itself.  It comes in a sturdy white box that recalls the sort of packaging you would get from an Apple product.  The box also comes with a conveniently sized carrying pouch, which will come in handy when travelling with the device, as well as a soft cleaning cloth to wipe any fingerprints or dust off of the lenses.

How Does It Look?

 

This video provides a really accurate depiction of what you actually see through the lenses.  The image is surprisingly sharp and clear, giving you a wide field of vision.  I would say the image is somewhat similar to staring directly at the screen in a pitch dark theatre.  When you look through the lenses, you see the darkened sides of the MovieMask around the screen, which really helps add to this illusion.  I’ve been using it with my fairly new iPhone SE, which is a bit on the small side, but it will easily fit phones with larger screens as well.

You can adjust the focal length between the lenses and your phone screen by up to several centimetres, simply by unlocking the small dial on the underside of the device, and pulling the mask part out a bit.  It worked pretty well for me at the closest distance, but depending on what I’m watching, I have also found it more comfortable to extend it by about a centimetre.  It’s actually pretty easy to get the hang of doing this while the device is strapped onto your head.

Because there are no built in controls on the MovieMask itself, it’s best to use it with headphones that have their own play button and volume controls.  I’ve been using it with the earphones that came with my iPhone, and it’s been working out just fine.  The double zippers make it very easy to leave a small opening for the headphone wire, without really allowing any extra light to get in.

Final Thoughts

I’m happy with the MovieMask Premium, and would recommend it.  I have a huge selection of movies on my phone thanks to the digital copies that come with most Blu-rays, and this offers a way to really take advantage of them.  I have tested it by watching a variety of different things, including shorts, feature films, live action and animation, with some pretty satisfying results.  While the benefits of watching a character drama on it are less pronounced, it’s a real trip to put on something like Mad Max: Fury Road, and have the action unfold right in front of your eyes.  I have also used it to watch some live performances and concert footage, which looks really cool.

The benefit of the MovieMask is being able to watch videos on your phone in a way that makes them appear bigger than the tiny screen in your hand, and it’s also a convenient way to watch movies without being distracted by other things around you.  It really comes in handy if you want to watch stuff during the day without having to deal with the glare of outside light on your TV or computer screen.  I can also imagine using it while travelling.  As shown in one of the videos above, there is also a smaller, more compact version of the device available called the MovieMask Go, which is made of collapsible rubber and doesn’t have head straps.  I haven’t personally tested it out, but presume it is of similar quality.

If you are looking for a fun new way to watch stuff on your phone, without the aforementioned drawbacks of using a regular VR headset, then I would wholeheartedly recommend the MovieMask Premium.  It’s an impressive and very well made product that is a lot of fun to play around with.  Oh, and I couldn’t resist watching the Ready Player One trailer on it, which looked awesome.

You can find more information on the MovieMask on the company’s official website right here, and you can check out their two crowdfunding campaigns here and here.  I have also included a selection of my own unboxing photos below to give you a better sense of what you get.

Review: Flower

March 23, 2018

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

At the beginning of Flower, the 17-year-old Erica (Zoey Deutch) is in a cop car, giving a blow job to a local cop (Eric Edelstein).  This is all part of a money-making scheme, where she pursues sexual encounters with middle aged men, and has her two friends Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet) film the encounters, so that they can blackmail the men for money.

Erica needs the cash to bail her father out of jail, but her life gets a whole lot more complicated when her mother Laurie’s (Kathryn Hahn) boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker) brings his son Luke (Joey Morgan) to live with them.

Luke is a troubled teen who has just gotten out of rehab, and when he reveals that his problems stem from being abused by a former teacher named Will (Adam Scott), whom Erica sees at the local bowling alley, she decides to take matters into her own hands by seducing him and getting photographic evidence.  But this plan inevitably starts to spiral out of control, and it’s only a matter of time before things take a dark turn.

Directed by Max Winkler, working from a script that he co-wrote with Alex McAulay and Matt Spicer, Flower is an offbeat film that aims for a mix of quirky humour and pitch black satire, and it works less and less as it goes along.  The film has an intriguing premise about how far you should go in terms of taking justice into your own hands regarding sexual predators, which takes on added shades of grey in the #MeToo era, but the execution is flawed.

I was rolling with the film for about the first act, but then the questionable decisions that it makes start to pile up, and eventually we are left with a film that bites off more than it can chew and struggles to provide answers to the complex questions that it raises.  It lacks the depth that would have been needed to make this premise work, and ultimately feels like it has an identity crisis, oscillating between oddball comedy and vigilante drama.  The film goes almost completely off the rails in the last act when it becomes a really awkward romance, before wrapping things up with an overly pat resolution.

One of the biggest problems with Flower is that the character of Erica is far too one-note for the film to really work.  The screenplay keeps trying to make her bubbly and likeable, when in reality she is clearly damaged, and should be messier and more flawed.  Erica is instead presented as one of those relentlessly quirky indie characters, who only really exists in fantasy.  You know the type.  She draws artsy sketches of every dick she sucks and has a pet rat named Titty Boy.  The film tries so hard to make her seem cute and appealing, even when she is doing some very twisted things, and it’s a balance that even an actress as talented as Zoey Deutch fails to make fully believable.

I watched Flower the other night, and I’ve found myself less sold on the film the more that I think about it.  It has some interesting themes, and the performances are generally solid, but the film starts to strain credibility partway through, and doesn’t really stick the landing.

Flower is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas in Toronto.

Blu-ray Review: Pitch Perfect 3

March 20, 2018

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Following the 2012 surprise hit Pitch Perfect, and the inevitable but still enjoyable 2014 followup Pitch Perfect 2, Pitch Perfect 3 should have ended this series with a bang, but instead it just sort of fizzles out.

At the start of this third instalment, the original Barden Bellas have now left the group after graduating from college, with the girls having all gone their own ways.  Beca (Anna Kendrick) is doing work as a record producer, and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is now working as a street performer, leaving Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) to be the new leader of the Bellas.

But when they are given an opportunity to perform on a European USO tour, thanks to Aubrey’s (Anna Camp) father being in the Army, the a cappella group get back together one last time, but not without some unexpected twists along the way.  The winner of the tour will be chosen to open for DJ Khaled, but they face added pressure as they are going up against several highly competitive groups that use musical instruments.

This is a film that I really wanted to like more than I did, but it’s just not that good.  The globetrotting premise feels tired and clichéd, and it’s got a weird action movie finale on a boat involving Fat Amy’s sketchy father (John Lithgow) that feels like a strange place to take the franchise, and doesn’t really work at all.  Anna Kendrick has an always likeable screen presence, and there is some fun interplay between the characters, but for the most part the cast here just seems like they are ready to move on to other things.

There are a handful of decent musical performances, and some fun moments here and there, but the film as a whole ends up feeling forced, like they are just going through the motions one last time.  It’s still worth a look for fans of the series, but Pitch Perfect 3 unfortunately fails to live up to the first two films, and lacks much of the sparkling energy that made them work.  I like the Bellas, but I really wish that this film had provided a better sendoff for them.  It does the job if all you want is some lightweight escapism, but it’s not exactly memorable, either.

The Blu-ray also includes two commentary tracks, the first with director Trish Sie and the second with producers Paul Brooks and Max Handelman, as well as several new and extended musical sequences, a deleted scene, a gag reel, an official music video, and a selection of nine short featurettes.  They are Competition Crescendo, A Capella Action, The Women of Pitch Perfect 3, Don’t Mess With Rebel, The Headliner: DJ Khaled, The Final Note: John and Gail, Just Because He’s a Bad Guy…, The Final Performance and Hollywood of the South.

Pitch Perfect 3 is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 93 minutes and rated PG.

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