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Blu-ray Review: The Mule

April 9, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Clint Eastwood is a filmmaker and actor who has dabbled in many genres over the years, from heavy dramas like Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River, to war movies like Letters from Iwo Jima and American Sniper, and even sweeping romance in The Bridges of Madison County.

So it’s fitting that his most recent film, The Mule, which he directed and stars in, the first one of his films that he has acted in since Gran Torino in 2008, mixes elements of drug thriller, police procedural, family melodrama, and even a hint of romance.

It’s a bit uneven in some of these areas, but The Mule still provides a very satisfying and bittersweet swan song for a true screen legend who, at 88-years-old, has already stated that this will likely be his last onscreen role.

Inspired by a true story, which was documented in the New York Times article The Sinola Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule, the film follows Earl Stone (Eastwood), an aging horticulturist and Vietnam War veteran in Peoria, Illinois who is somewhat estranged from his family. He has an ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) who tries her best to avoid him and resents the fact that he prioritized work over family, a middle-aged daughter (Alison Eastwood) who wants nothing to do with him, and a granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga) who strives to maintain a relationship with him, putting her at odds with the rest of her family.

Facing foreclosure on his home, and badly in need of money, Earl is offered thousands of dollars in cash if he transports a large shipment of cocaine into Chicago, and he ends up becoming a drug-runner for a Mexican cartel, who offer him the job thanks to his spotless driving record. While his old age and cool confidence behind the wheel of his truck allow him to avoid suspicion, the cartel’s movements are being closely tracked by Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and his partner Treviño (Michael Peña), a pair of DEA agents who are determined to stop the drugs from entering Chicago.

Like The Old Man and the Gun, which also came out last year and provided a wonderful career capper for Robert Redford, who has similarly stated his intentions to retire from acting following that role, The Mule provides a great showcase for Eastwood’s strengths as an actor. Earl Stone is a man who has been fending for himself for decades, and he isn’t about to stop now, even as he pushes ninety. Eastwood portrays him with the determination and steely resolve of a lone cowboy not quite ready to ride off into the sunset, and the few scenes that he shares with his American Sniper star Bradley Cooper feel almost like a passing of the torch between the two performers.

Eastwood is obviously a natural fit for the role of a grizzled old man who makes no secret of his total dissatisfaction with “young people these days,” says casually racist things without really meaning to be racially insensitive, and can barely hide his frustration and disappointment over the direction in which his country is going. But he also allows himself to appear frail and vulnerable in the film’s emotional final few scenes when his character is forced to accept his fate, and the last act of The Mule gives us the bittersweet feeling of seeing the legendary actor’s career coming to a close in real time.

While the story meanders a bit at times and lacks some of the weight of his best work, Eastwood’s direction is as efficient and economical as we have come to expect from him. He keeps the film running smoothly as it builds towards its inevitable conclusion, often bringing a pleasant, laid back quality to the material that is befitting of the central character. This is a thoroughly enjoyable and ultimately touching film to watch, providing a fitting tribute to Eastwood’s own career as an actor.

The Blu-ray also includes the featurette Nobody Runs Forever: The Making of The Mule, and a music video for Toby Keith’s end credits song “Don’t Let the Old Man In.”

The Mule is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 116 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: April 2nd, 2019

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Review: Shazam!

April 5, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The DC Extended Universe has delivered some good movies like Wonder Woman and Aquaman over the past few years, but the Warner Bros. superhero franchise has also been largely hit and miss, often struggling with consistency and tone.

Now Shazam! is here to inject a much needed jolt of energy into the DCEU, and it’s not only the most enjoyable and strongest overall film yet in the series, but it also puts the studio toe to toe with their rivals at Marvel.

The film follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a 14-year-old foster kid who keeps running from foster home to foster home, trying to track down the mother (Caroline Palmer) he got separated from years earlier. He finally gets placed with Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor Vasquez (Cooper Andrews), a foster family in Philadelphia, where he initially struggles to fit in with their pack of kids.

When Billy hops on the subway following an encounter with a pair of bullies at his new school, he gets transported to a cave, where an aging wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hanson) bestows powers upon him. Every time Billy says the word “Shazam,” he morphs into an adult-sized superhero (Zachary Levi) with a variety of powers that would make any other hero jealous, ranging from electricity that flows through his fingers, to “bullet immunity” and even flight.

With help from his disabled foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), who happens to be obsessed with superheroes like Batman and Superman, the teenaged Billy starts to play around with his powers, and embrace his newfound identity as a grown up superhero. But it’s not long before he has to prove himself truly worthy of his new powers, by going up against the supervillain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who is desperate to gain these powers for himself, and has a horde of demons that he is able to conjure up, which are each modelled after one of the seven deadly sins.

Directed by David F. Sandberg, fresh off the horror films Lights Out and Annabelle: CreationShazam! is simply a ton of fun. The premise of a kid ending up in an adult’s body draws obvious comparisons to Big – there’s even a nice throwback to the Tom Hanks classic during a fight in a toy store – and there is a sense of playfulness to the film that makes it a blast to watch. A great example of this comes during one of the best sequences, a ridiculously fun training montage set to the Queen song “Don’t Stop Me Now,” where Billy and Freddy test the limits of his powers by creating a series of viral videos.

The film finds the perfect sweet spot between feeling like a knowing satire of superhero movies, while also being a sincere and wildly entertaining addition to the genre in its own right. It’s filled with winking humour and is often laugh out loud funny, but the film’s dramatic core is also quite effective, offering a touching and at times surprisingly emotional story about family and the fear of abandonment.

Zachary Levi is super charming in the leading role, essentially playing a kid trapped in an adult’s body, and his winning performance is a big part of the film’s success. Jack Dylan Grazer steals every moment, delivering some disarmingly funny one-liners while also allowing us to feel the pain of what it’s like to be an outcast who is desperate to fit in. The two actors have a great rapport between them. Asher Angel also deserves praise for his strong portrayal of the younger version of Levi’s character, with both performers complimenting each other quite nicely.

I really enjoyed Shazam!, and the film is honestly just so much fun to watch that I think it might be somewhat of a new classic. It’s really funny, has good action scenes, and also a lot of heart. It’s a winner through and through, delivering exactly what you want from a comic book movie, while offering a great example of blockbuster filmmaking at its most unabashedly enjoyable and gleefully entertaining.

The fact that the film was almost entirely shot in and around Toronto adds another level of enjoyment for local audiences, who will instantly recognize many of the settings and TTC vehicles, despite the fact that our city and transit system have been dressed up to look like Philadelphia.

Shazam! is now playing in theatres across Canada.

Review: Carmine Street Guitars

April 5, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Ron Mann’s latest documentary, Carmine Street Guitars, takes us inside Rick Kelly’s custom guitar shop located at 42 Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Many of their guitars are built out of reclaimed wood stripped from old buildings that has been salvaged from construction sites, and the quaint little shop has gained a dedicated customer base of musicians who love the unique sounds of their beautifully handcrafted instruments.

Rick runs the small store with help from his elderly mother, who answers the phones and makes sure the photos of musicians that decorate the walls are straightened and dusted, and he works in the shop alongside his protégé, the young artist Cindy Hulej, who also builds guitars and has her own line of instruments featuring intricate wood burning designs.

Shot over five days in a cinéma vérité style, the film allows us to hang out in the shop. We watch as Rick and Cindy carve out the guitars, and musicians like Charlie Sexton of the Bob Dylan Band, Kirk Douglas of The Roots, and Nels Cline of Wilco, who is looking to get Jeff Tweedy a special guitar for his birthday, come into the shop to swap stories and often play a tune. Dallas and Travis Good of The Sadies, who are also credited with providing the film’s score, stop by at one point to check out the instruments, and Jim Jarmusch even comes in needing new strings for his acoustic guitar.

The structure is loose, but there is a rhythm to Carmine Street Guitars that is both relaxing and deeply satisfying to watch. It’s also surprisingly reflective at times, including a moving acoustic performance by Eleanor Friedburger of her song “I Am the Past,” which keeps with the film’s themes of trying to protect a part of New York’s history in a neighbourhood that is being increasingly gentrified. The shop itself has an old school feel to it that harkens back to Greenwich Village’s iconic folk music scene of the 1960s, and many of the people who step into the shop do so to relive a little bit of that history.

The shop is not only giving old wood new life, but also allowing small parts of New York City to live on, and as much as Carmine Street Guitars is a portrait of a master craftsman at work, it’s also a bittersweet ode to people who are trying to keep a little bit of the past alive in a rapidly changing world.

Carmine Street Guitars is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Blu-ray Review: Bumblebee

April 2, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A prequel to Michael Bay’s five film strong Transformers franchise, Bumblebee takes what the other films did and generally does the opposite, offering an enjoyable movie that is just as focused on telling a character-driven story with real heart as it is on delivering gigantic action scenes.

The film opens in typical Transformers fashion with a big battle on the planet Cybertron between the Autobots and Decepticons, that culminates with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) sending the young Autobot B-127 (Dylan O’Brien) to Earth in order to scout out a new home for them.

B-127 crash lands in California in the year 1987, where he is discovered by Sector 7 Agent Jack Burns (John Cena), who assumes him to be a threat. When the Autobot narrowly escapes from a fight with a Decepticon, who followed him to our planet and rips out his voice box before leaving him for dead, he disguises himself as a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle and takes refuge in a junkyard behind an auto shop.

At this point, the focus shifts almost completely to our planet, and we start to follow Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage girl who is still grieving the death of her father, and spends her spare time trying to fix up the old Corvette that her dad was working on before he passed away. When Charlie finds the Volkswagen Beetle on her 18th birthday, she takes the car home to her garage to fix it up.

It’s not long before she discovers that her new automobile is actually a giant robot from outer space, and she ends up forming a bond with the Autobot, giving him the name Bumblebee. But he is being tracked by a pair of Decepticons, Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux), who followed him to Earth and have tricked the government into helping them, and it’s up to Charlie and her new friend Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) to help save him.

A surprising amount of Bumblebee is actually focused on the human characters, and the film is carried pretty much every step of the way by Steinfeld, who really elevates the material and also brings a good deal of pathos to her portrayal of Charlie. The film is directed by Travis Knight, a lead animator at Laika who previously directed Kubo and the Two Strings and is now making the jump from stop motion to live action, and Bumblebee works because Knight is more concerned with telling a heartfelt story rather than just delivering empty spectacle.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of spectacle here, and the usual technical wizardry that goes into showing the Transformers taking different forms is on full display. But the screen isn’t overloaded with robot mayhem this time around, with Knight generally limiting the battles to two or three Transformers at a time, which makes the action scenes here way cleaner and easier to follow than they were in Bay’s overcrowded films.

The film mainly functions as a coming of age adventure that offers a fun and sweetly nostalgic throwback to the decade in which it is set, complete with nods to titans of 1980s cinema like Steven Spielberg and John Hughes. There are obvious allusions to the former’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and a nice reference to the latter’s teen classic The Breakfast Club, and while Bumblebee isn’t in the same league as these ’80s classics that it takes its cues from, it is a fun and deeply sincere throwback to them. Spielberg even serves as executive producer, as he did on the previous Transformers films.

Where as the other films became cacophonies of clanging metal, Bumblebee actually has real flesh and blood characters, a good deal of heart, and a story that is simple enough to follow yet still strong enough to be engaging, without getting too bogged down in the mythology of this world. The film also clocks in under two hours, which is a welcome change from the bloated running times of the other Transformers films. It’s the best film in the series by a long shot, and a thoroughly fun movie to watch.

The Blu-ray also includes an array of bonus features, adding up to well over an hour of extra stuff in total. First up are the two short pieces Agents Burns: Welcome to Sector 7, a brief introduction featuring John Cena’s character, and the animated motion comic Sector 7 Adventures: The Battle at Half Dome, which expands upon the physical comic that is tucked into the package’s cardboard slipcover.

Next up are the nine deleted and extended scenes Original Opening, Drive to Karate Class, Birthday Present, Car Wash and Beetle Breakdown, Charlie Drops Off Mona and Conan, Decepticons Inspect the Armory, Drive to Cliff, Sector 7, and Appliance War. There are some entertaining moments here, but they would have added extra length to the film’s lean running time, and the last one (Appliance War) is better left on the cutting room floor. They are followed by the five outtakes Burns Meets Bee, War Room, There’s a Door in My Way, Charlie in Trash, and Saved the World.

The short piece Bee Vision: The Transformers Robots of Cybertron shows the film’s opening battle with freeze frames to tell us which Transformers are involved in the action. Last but not least, we get the fairly substantial five part feature Bringing Bumblebee to the Big Screen, which is divided into the different chapters The Story of Bumblebee, The Stars Align, Bumblebee Goes Back to G1, Back to the Beetle, and California Cruisin’ Down Memory Lane, which mainly focuses on the film’s ’80s aesthetic and is the longest and best of the bunch.

Bumblebee is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 113 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: April 2nd, 2019

Review: Giant Little Ones

March 29, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Franky (Josh Wiggins) is a popular high schooler who has his world upended after his 17th birthday party leads to a drunken but reciprocal sexual encounter with his best friend, Ballas (Darren Mann).

The encounter leaves Franky struggling to define his own sexuality, and bullying amps up at school when word spreads that he might be gay. Meanwhile, Dallas slowly becomes distant and even vengeful, terrified to come to terms with the prospect that their lifelong friendship might be something deeper.

The second feature from Canadian writer and director Keith Behrman, Giant Little Ones is an engaging coming of age drama that sensitively deals with interesting and relevant themes of identity and questioning your sexuality.

The most interesting thing about Giant Little Ones is that it doesn’t define exactly where its protagonists fall on the LGBTQ spectrum, instead showing them in a state of flux. This allows the film to function as a powerful look at the confusion that can come with trying to be yourself, especially when you still aren’t sure who you really are, and others are mercilessly bullying you for it.

The film is carried by solid performances from Josh Wiggins and the rest of the young cast, as well as strong supporting turns by Maria Bello as his single mother, and Kyle MacLachlan as the father who left his wife for another man. There is a standout scene near the end between Wiggins and MacLachlan that is beautifully acted on both their parts.

Giant Little Ones is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Review: Firecrackers

March 29, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and Chantal (Karena Evans) are best friends who are both trapped in the small Ontario town where they grew up, and they are trying to save up enough money so that they can hitch a ride to New York.

But their plans to escape are threatened to be upended following a bad encounter with Chantal’s possessive ex-boyfriend Kyle (Dylan Mask), which leads to a series of rash decisions. Lou’s precarious living situation with her somewhat volatile mother (Tamara LeClair) is also in a state of upheaval, with the arrival of her mom’s new boyfriend Johnny (David Kingston).

Expanding her 2013 short film of the same name, Firecrackers is the feature debut of young writer-director Jasmin Mozaffari, a Ryerson graduate who crafts a compelling low-key character drama that at times recalls the work of Andrea Arnold.

While the story of wanting to leave your small town to find a better life in the city might seem familiar, Firecrackers renders it from a uniquely feminine perspective, and in doing so touches on timely themes of sexual abuse, female independence, and trying to break free from the cycle of poverty and all of the problems that come with it. The often handheld cinematography by Catherine Lutes captures this all with gritty authenticity and intensity.

Carried by impressively naturalistic work from its mostly young cast, including a breakout performance from child actor Callum Thompson who delivers a sensitive portrayal of Lou’s gender-questioning little brother, Firecrackers is an engaging and assured feature debut that serves as a promising calling card for all involved.

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

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Review: Dumbo

March 28, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Tim Burton’s Dumbo, the latest in Disney’s lineup of live action retellings of their earlier classics, serves as more of a reimagining of the 1941 animated film than it does a straight up remake.

This is not to say that the film strays quite as far from the original as something like David Lowery’s take on Pete’s Dragon, which bore little if any resemblance to its earlier counterpart.

But it is closer in tone to Jon Favreau’s updated retelling of The Jungle Book, which paid tribute to its predecessor without directly copying it, than it is to something like their live action Beauty and the Beast, which at times was essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the already beloved animated film.

For starters, there are no talking animals in this version of Dumbo, and the role of Timothy Q. Mouse is reduced to a mere cameo. There are no storks delivering babies or stereotyped singing crows, and no anthropomorphic choo-choo train. The animated film also clocked in at just over an hour long, where as this version runs close to two hours. This obviously means that Burton has added a lot more plot to the film, and for the most part, his approach works in a way that allows it to feel more like a companion piece to the original rather than anything close to a replacement.

So I guess the real question that everyone wants answered is if this version is worth seeing, and for me the answer to that is yes, as I tend to find Burton’s artistic voice to be an interesting one. The director’s usual stylistic visual flair is on full display here, and he also brings a personal touch to this material that wasn’t really present in something like his big budget take on Alice in Wonderland, which he also made for Disney. But I can also see why others will walk away from his Dumbo feeling disappointed, especially if they are expecting something that is closer to the animated version, as Burton certainly does put his own unique spin on the story.

The bulk of this film is actually built around a new cast of human characters, who have been added to fill out the story. The film centres around Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), who returns from World War I to his home at the circus, where his two kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) are waiting for him, having lost their mother to illness. Holt was a famed horse rider at the circus, but having lost his arm in the war, he is no longer able to perform. The ringleader, Max Medici (Danny DeVito), decides to cut the equestrian act to save money, and instead puts Holt in charge of the stables, where he has just brought in a pregnant mother elephant named Jumbo.

When Baby Jumbo is born, his gigantic ears make him the laughingstock of the circus, and he is given the nickname Dumbo, until Milly and Joe realize that his ears also give him the ability to fly and turn him into a main attraction. This attracts the attention of V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), a corporate tycoon who makes an offer to buy out the failing circus, and wants to put his girlfriend, French trapeze artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green), at the centre of an act with the flying elephant. But when Dumbo’s mother gets taken from him and locked away after accidentally causing a stampede in the big tent, the baby elephant longs for nothing more than to be reunited with her.

I’m actually glad that Burton opted not to go the route of just trying to copy every single moment from the original film, and while not every choice that he makes here works equally well, his decision to forge ahead along a new path makes Dumbo much more interesting in terms of a remake. Burton also seems deeply aware of the ethics around making a movie about elephants in the circus in this day and age, and the film becomes a surprisingly powerful statement against exploiting animals and using living creatures for entertainment. In the original, Dumbo’s ultimate goal was to be accepted within the circus, where as this one is about him seeking complete liberation from it.

At the centre of the film are the impressive visual effects that are able to bring Dumbo to life in a live action world, with the animators having successfully turned him into a deeply expressive and almost photorealistic computer generated creation, while still recognizably modelling him off of the original drawings. But despite the technical wizardry of its main character, the film also has a sort of old school grandeur to it, with the visually striking production design and colourful costumes by Colleen Atwood offering a feast for the eyes. The large scale practical sets that were built for the circus are spectacular, and give the film the feel of an Old Hollywood production.

The fairly simple plot does feel somewhat stretched thin at close to two hours, and the human characters are mostly rudimentary and not really that fleshed out, and at times it feels like Dumbo himself gets a bit sidelined by everything that is happening around him. But I still found much to like within Tim Burton’s Dumbo, from the impressive production design to the positive animal rights message, and there is also a gentle quality to the film that did tonally remind me of the original animated classic.

While this film forgoes being a musical, Burton’s frequent collaborator Danny Elfman is able to work in cues from some of the original film’s songs throughout his lovely score, ending with an amazing, ethereal cover of “Baby Mine” by Arcade Fire over the end credits. At its heart, this new take on Dumbo is still a bittersweet and slightly melancholic story of a misfit seeking acceptance for his differences and longing to be reunited with his mother, and these aspects of the timeless story remain fully intact.

Dumbo is opening tomorrow in theatres across Canada.

Blu-ray Review: Pet Sematary: 30th Anniversary Edition

March 27, 2019

By John Corrado

Leading up to the release of the new adaptation on April 5th, Paramount is releasing the original 1989 film version of Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary on Blu-ray this week in a brand new 30th anniversary edition.

The story follows Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff), a doctor who moves with his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby) and their two kids Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and Gage (Miko Hughes) to a rural house in the small town of Ludlow, Maine.

Their house backs onto a path in the woods that leads to a place called “Pet Sematary,” which their elderly neighbour Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) explains to them is a final resting place for beloved animals. It also happens to be situated near an ancient Native American burial ground, that has the ability to raise the dead.

When his daughter’s beloved cat gets killed by one of the passing trucks that speed along the dirt road between their house and their neighbour’s property, Louis buries the animal on the grounds, to avoid her having to face the animal’s death. But the creatures that return from the grave don’t come back the same, which Louis soon finds out when another tragedy strikes and he makes a drastic decision, despite increasingly dire warnings from the ghost of a dead emergency room patient (Brad Greenquist).

The film is notable for having a screenplay that was written by King himself, and for the most part Pet Sematary is a solid adaptation of the author’s 1983 novel, which he still considers to be one of his most terrifying literary works. It does feel somewhat dated, including some special effects that appear cheesy by current standards, and admittedly make the film seem a bit campy at times. But there is also an underlying feeling of dread running throughout the film that is still effective all these years later.

Director Mary Lambert brings a sense of foreboding to the film, and there is an eeriness and creepiness to the story in the way that it deals with themes of dying and parental grief. This is really a story about a family struggling to accept the inevitability and finality of death, and it’s these ideas that allow the story to get under our skin. As we await the new one, this version of Pet Sematary is still worth seeing as an entertaining and at times genuinely unsettling horror movie from the 1980s.

The Blu-ray includes the two new featurettes Pet Sematary: Fear and Remembrance, which mainly focuses on the forthcoming remake and features interviews with members of the new film’s cast and crew; and Pet Sematary: Revisitation, which features Lambert reflecting upon her experience making the original film and the restoration process that it went through for this release.

The disc also has a trio of photo galleries that allow us to scroll through some of the original storyboards, production images and marketing materials, as well as the three previously released featurettes Stephen King Territory, The Characters and Filming the Horror, which are carried over from the original Blu-ray release along with a commentary track by Lambert.

Pet Sematary is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 102 minutes and rated 18A.

Street Date: March 26th, 2019

Blu-ray Review: Aquaman

March 26, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), who first appeared as part of the DC Extended Universe in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice before playing a much larger role as a member of the superhero ensemble in Justice League, gets his own origin story in director James Wan’s Aquaman.

As we are shown in the film’s prologue, Arthur is the mixed-race son of a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and an Atlantean queen (Nicole Kidman), who fell in love when she washed ashore from the depths of the ocean, before she was forced to return to the lost kingdom of Atlantis and punished for having an illegitimate son.

When his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who now rules over Atlantis, decides to wage war against the surface world, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) enlists Arthur’s help to stop him. With the help of his old mentor Vulko (Willem Dafoe), Arthur and Mera set out to track down the ancient Trident of Atlan, which will allow him to take his rightful place on the throne, and prevent a war between his two worlds. Meanwhile, Orm hires the sea pirate Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who has his own reasons for wanting to get revenge, to try and stop Arthur from getting the trident.

There is an inherent campiness to Aquaman – both the original character, as well as the movie – and the film is cheesy at times. But Wan is able to embrace this in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way that I’m happy to say mostly works. The visual effects that splash across the screen are cutting edge, and the underwater scenes are impressive for the amount of computer power behind them. But at its heart, Aquaman also feels like a throwback to the old school fantasy and adventure films from the 1950s and ’60s, and it owes as much to the stories of Jules Verne as it does to other comic book movies.

While Aquaman doesn’t quite reach the heights of Wonder Woman, and the nearly two and a half hour running time can feel a bit bloated due to the sheer amount of stuff that it tries to pack in, this is still an entertaining blockbuster that easily ranks among the better entries in the DCEU. The film features some solid visual effects, as well as a lot of fun action sequences that are very well staged by Wan, and it glides by on the power of Momoa’s hugely charismatic portrayal of the titular hero.

The Blu-ray also includes a good selection of bonuses, starting with the eleven featurettes Becoming AquamanGoing Deep Into the World of AquamanJames Wan: World BuilderThe Dark Depths of Black Manta, Heroines of Atlantis, Villainous Training, A Match Made in Atlantis, Atlantis Warfare, Creating Undersea Creatures, Aqua-Tech, and Kingdoms of the Seven Seas. There are also scene study breakdowns for three of the film’s best action set-pieces – “Submarine Attack,” “Showdown in Sicily” and “The Trench.”

It’s about a hundred minutes of bonus material overall, providing an engaging deep dive into the film’s story, characters, production design, and visual effects. Finally, the disc also has an extended sneak peak at DC’s upcoming film Shazam!, which I coincidentally saw the other night and is an absolute blast.

Aquaman is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 143 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: March 26th, 2019

Blu-ray Review: Second Act

March 26, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Maya (Jennifer Lopez) is a woman in her forties who is fed up by the fact that “street smarts” aren’t given as much value as “book smarts.” She dropped out of high school and is now stuck working at a big box grocery store, with nobody else wanting to hire her because she doesn’t have a college or university degree.

But when her godson (Dalton Harrod) puts his hacking skills to good use and makes her a fake online profile and resume under her maiden name, she suddenly turns into a Harvard graduate who served in the Peace Corps, and ends up being brought in for an interview by none other than Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams), the CEO of the New York cosmetics company Franklin & Clarke.

Maya quits her job working at the supermarket and accepts a high-powered position at Franklin & Clarke, where she ends up being pitted against the boss’s daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), an ambitious young woman who is climbing the ranks at the company, to see who can create the best and most profitable eco-friendly skin cream.

Maya has gained valuable insight into what customers actually look for in their products through her real world experiences as both a consumer and retail worker, and she starts working with her quirky assistant Ariana (Charlyne Yi) and the nerdy, lone researcher Chase (Alan Aisenberg) to develop an organic moisturizing cream, but there are also some unexpected developments along the way.

This is the set-up for Second Act, the latest movie from comedy director Peter Segal, who is best known for films like Tommy Boy, 50 First Dates and Get Smart. There are a lot of ridiculous hijinks that ensue as Maya struggles to keep up the ruse of being an accomplished career woman, but the screenplay by Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas also makes a pretty major reveal about halfway through that takes the story in a more heartfelt and melodramatic direction. It’s admittedly far-fetched, but this is not to say that the twist doesn’t work because it actually sort of does, as contrived as it may be.

The film also takes on some added layers of interest in the wake of the college admission’s scandal, with rich celebrities getting caught bribing universities to get degrees for their underqualified children. The story works to challenge the idea that you need a degree or piece of paper in order to be qualified for a top job, and on a somewhat deeper level, Second Act also explores how expensive degrees are used as largely arbitrary barriers to keep the underprivileged classes out of higher paid positions.

While Second Act is by no means a great film, and it becomes predictable once it reveals the only real surprise up its sleeve – which some audiences might also see coming from the get-go – the film is also better and more enjoyable than I expected it to be. Lopez does likeable work in the lead, doing a decent job of handling both the comedic and dramatic moments, and she is surrounded by a fine supporting cast. If you’re looking for something lightweight with a positive female empowerment message, then Second Act works as a pleasant and thoroughly watchable diversion.

The Blu-ray also includes the three short featurettes Connections, Empowerment and Friendship, which are all just under a minute long and vaguely explore the film’s different themes.

Second Act is an Elevation Pictures release. It’s 103 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: March 26th, 2019

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