Skip to content

Review: Your Name

April 7, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Already the highest grossing anime film of all-time, and a giant blockbuster hit in its native Japan, Your Name is finally arriving in North American theatres, and I’m happy to report that the film deserves every bit of the hype that has been surrounding it for months now.  This is a beautifully animated and intricately plotted anime knockout, that keeps us hooked with engaging characters and a narrative full of surprises.

The film follows Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), a teenage girl who lives with her grandmother and younger sister in a small mountain town in Japan where her father is the mayor, and Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), a teen boy who goes to high school in Tokyo and works at a fancy Italian restaurant.

The two lead very different lives, separated by lifestyle, location and gender, until one morning when they start waking up in each other’s bodies, allowing them to glimpse the ways that the other one lives.  Through this, Mitsuha and Taki start to develop feelings for each other, but there are mysterious circumstances involving a passing comet linking them together that they must overcome in order to stay connected.

This is the basic setup for Your Name, and I wouldn’t think of revealing any more of the plot, because this is a film that continuously finds new ways to engage, surprise and move us, right through to the perfectly staged final scene.  Directed by Makoto Shinkai, adapting his own novel of the same name, this is the sort of film that should be experienced knowing as little as possible about the plot the first time around, and practically begs for multiple viewings afterwards.

The animation is consistently beautiful, and the film is often breathtaking on a visual level, especially during several lyrical montages.  But Your Name is equally impressive on a thematic level, seamlessly weaving together a complex narrative that skips around and plays out on different timelines.  The film is completely confident in its staging and also refreshingly presumes the intellect of its audience, allowing viewers to work out the mechanics of its plot at the same time as the characters.

There is a twist partway through that takes the story in an exciting new direction, giving added dramatic weight to the plot and allowing Your Name to become deeply moving.  The rest of the film plays out in exhilarating, almost breathless fashion, as we barrel towards the unforgettable climactic moments.  The story masterfully draws us into its two main characters and allows us to deeply care about them as we discover the ways they are closely interconnected, which makes the film’s eventual payoff all the more poignant and bittersweet.

The film explores heady and thought provoking themes of identity and the convergences of time and fate, but it also operates on a purely emotional level that makes it universally accessible.  Richly layered both narratively and visually, Your Name is a brilliant work of art that should be savoured, and is right up there with the best of Studio Ghibli as one of the greatest anime films of all time.

Your Name is now playing in limited release at selected Cineplex Cinemas in Toronto.

Blu-ray Review: Office Christmas Party

April 4, 2017

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) is the chief technical officer at the Chicago branch of a struggling tech firm, working for the well-meaning but somewhat irresponsible department head Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller), who inherited the position from his late father.

They are in the process of planning a “non-denominational holiday mixer.”  But when the uptight CEO of the company (Jennifer Aniston) – who just so happens to be Clay’s jaded sister – enters the scene, she decides to cancel the party and also threatens to shut down the floundering branch, which would put their employees out of work.

So Josh and Clay decide to throw an even bigger and more wild Christmas party in the office, with the goal being to try and raise the spirits of their co-workers, and hopefully save their jobs by impressing potential client Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance).  But the party inevitably gets way out of hand, as the employees descend into drunken debauchery.  There are a lot of moving pieces at play in Office Christmas Party, including a subplot involving tech developer Tracey (Olivia Munn) who has romantic feelings for Josh, and numerous side characters like the quirky human resources director Mary (Kate McKinnon), but the all-star cast keeps things moving at a good pace.

This is as much a holiday movie as it is a wild party comedy, and there are laughs to be had throughout, as the shenanigans grow increasingly wild and the skilled cast tries to outdo each other with improvised one-liners.  The screenplay also works in a fair bit of heart, with the central premise built around how far the department heads will go to in order to save the jobs of their employees.  While not as good overall as some other seasonal comedies, namely The Night Before and A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas which also mostly unfolded over a single night, Office Christmas Party is still an entertaining and frequently enjoyable film that is kept fun to watch thanks to the likeable actors.

Along with both the theatrical and extended editions of the film, the Blu-ray also includes commentary with directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck, the pretty decent production featurette Throwing An Office Christmas Party, and some outtakes and deleted scenes from the film.

Office Christmas Party is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.  The theatrical version is 105 minutes and rated 14A, and the extended cut runs for 110 minutes and is unrated.

Blu-ray Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

April 4, 2017

By John Corrado

Focusing on the events of the rebellion that was hinted at in the opening crawl of the original 1977 film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who is recruited by a group of rebel soldiers to help steal the plans for the Death Star, a super weapon that her father (Mads Mikkelson) helped build.

For a prequel to an iconic film that’s going to be forty years old next month, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is pretty spectacular.  This is a dark and thrilling blockbuster that is rich with excellent performances and engaging characters, and provides an entertaining and emotionally resonant bridge between the series.  For more on the film itself, you can read our three views right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a second disc featuring over an hour of bonus material.  These include the short but worthwhile Rogue Connections, which shares some of the hidden references in the film, and a piece entitled The Stories that is really ten featurettes that can be watched together or on their own.  These featurettes start with A Rogue Idea, which focuses on John Knoll’s initial pitch for the film, and continue with indepth looks at the film’s protagonists in Jyn: The Rebel, Cassian: The Spy, K-2SO: The Droid, Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills, Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary and The Empire, which focuses on the Imperial characters in the film.

Next up are Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One, which shows the lengths they went to in crafting a world that both felt unique and matched the original film, The Princess & The Governor focuses on how they were able to digitally recreate both Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia, and Epilogue: The Story Continues shows footage from the premiere with fans talking about what the increased diversity of the franchise means to them.  Although it’s very easy to foresee a more decked out special edition coming somewhere down the line, like what happened after the initial release of The Force Awakens last year, these bonus features are solid and this is a worthwhile release for fans of the film.

Rogue One is a Walt Disney Home Entertainment release.  It’s 134 minutes and rated PG.

DVD Review: 20th Century Women

April 4, 2017

By John Corrado

Directed by Mike Mills, loosely basing the story on his own childhood, 20th Century Women follows teenage protagonist Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) who is essentially being raised by the three women in his life, including single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), their tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and his best friend Julie (Elle Fanning).

With outstanding performances from its entire ensemble cast, 20th Century Women is a poignant and incredibly entertaining portrait of America in the 1970s.  Despite being robbed of Oscar recognition for Annette Bening’s near career best performance, Mike Mills did receive a much deserved Best Original Screenplay nod, and this is an entirely wonderful film that deserves to be sought out if you haven’t seen it yet.  I’m happy to be able to add it to my collection, and you can read my full review right here.

The DVD includes no bonus features, but the film itself is still strong enough to stand on its own.

20th Century Women is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 120 minutes and rated 14A.

DVD Review: Trespass Against Us

April 4, 2017

By John Corrado

Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) lives with his wife (Lyndsey Marshal) and their two young kids in the same trailer park as his notorious crime boss father Cal (Brendan Gleeson).  Chad is desperate to break away from a life of crime and go clean, not wanting his son to grow up like him, but Cal is keeping him under his iron grip, and sends him out for one last heist that brings their conflicts with the law to a head.

Although Trespass Against Us doesn’t always work, the film is kept entertaining thanks to some solid action and a good cast, including a typically committed performance from Michael Fassbender, and scene-stealing work by Brendan Gleeson in an off-kilter supporting role.  This is a unique little film that is worth a look for fans of the actors, especially now that it’s more widely available.  You can read my full review right here.

The DVD includes no bonus features, but curious viewers should still feel free to check out the film.

Trespass Against Us is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 100 minutes and rated 18A.

Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

March 31, 2017

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Sometimes the hardest movies to review are not the ones that are really good or really bad, but the ones that fall into the middle ground of being just okay.  Such is the case with The Zookeeper’s Wife.  Pretty much everything about the film is fine enough in a perfunctory sort of way, but it lacks the qualifications to make it work as much of anything beyond a palatable but somewhat bland historical drama, and that’s a damn shame.

The film recounts the true story of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), who were the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo.  They used their facilities to save hundreds of Jewish people when the Nazis invaded Poland during World War II, having to hide their actions from Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), an increasingly suspicious German official who has essentially taken over their grounds.

This is a story that deserves to be told, rich with human interest, complex characters and outcomes that range from tragic to inspiring.  But The Zookeeper’s Wife doesn’t fully succeed at telling it.  The film never really heightens its drama beyond a certain point, and the story covers so much ground that it feels like the screenplay is missing some key elements.  The emotional character reunions, cruel fates, and moments of both human and animal violence that are mostly staged just off-screen can be effective on their own, but they don’t really add up to a complete whole.  The entire film ends up feeling like it may have been better suited to being a mini-series.

Jessica Chastain is a performer who naturally exudes empathy, so she is a solid fit for this type of role and she is good here, having also served as a producer.  Johan Heldenbergh does fine supporting work alongside her, and Daniel Brühl effectively nails the balance between slick and menacing.  But their performances aren’t really allowed to breathe, because the film shares the beats of its true story in such a straight forward manner, that a lot of the character nuances feel lost in translation.

The screenplay by Angela Workman has been adapted from a bestselling book, that was in turn based on a true story, so all the elements are here for something special.  But The Zookeeper’s Wife consistently falls short of its potential.  Director Niki Caro mounts a fine looking production, but she also handles the material in the most safe and least offensive ways possible.  While it’s all staged in a respectful and well-meaning manner, the film can feel like it is trying to gloss over some of the horrors of the Holocaust in favour of crafting more of a feel good tale.

This is an example of an engaging true story that deserves to be told, but has been rendered pretty much listless onscreen.  Although the film does deliver some affecting moments, and the performances are all solid, The Zookeeper’s Wife is ultimately a film that is adequately made and far from terrible, but doesn’t really inspire any sort of praise beyond that.  It’s fine, but should have been better than that.

Blu-ray Review: Silence

March 29, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) are Jesuit priests in 17th century Portugal.  When they travel to Japan, both to spread their religion and also to locate their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who was captured for preaching his beliefs and may have apostatized, they find their own faith being cruelly tested.

Christians were being persecuted at the time in Japan for practising and spreading their faith, putting them at risk of being killed lest they apostatize and desecrate their beliefs by stomping upon religious icons, a fate forced upon those who don’t relent by the elderly Inquisitor Inoue (Issei Ogata).

A passion project that Martin Scorsese has been trying to make for years, Silence is the sort of densely layered work from a top tier filmmaker that leaves us with a lot to think about.  This is one of the director’s most personal and introspective works, layered with themes that have been hinted at both directly and indirectly throughout his career, completing an unofficial trilogy of sorts that started with his previous faith-based works The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun.

The nearly thirty years that Martin Scorsese has spent trying to adapt Shusaku Endo’s source novel have given him time to reflect upon and do justice to the material, in a way that might not have been possible if he hadn’t spent so long trying to get the film made.  The film does run long at close to three hours, but the lengthy running time adds to the reflective quality of the story, and it’s a work that is rich with symbolism and meaning.  Rodrigio Prieto’s cinematography, curiously the only element of the film to get an Oscar nomination, is consistently impressive in the way it often uses widescreen master shots to frame both the beauty and suffering of the story.

Andrew Garfield carries the film with a committed performance that holds a deep sense of reverence, powerfully portraying a man who goes from preaching to doubting his faith as his beliefs are tested, having actually gone through pastoral training to prepare for the role.  Adam Driver and Liam Neeson deliver excellent supporting work, and Issei Ogata provides a complex adversary in a fascinating, full-bodied performance that goes far beyond the usual trope of just being a villain.  The music by Kathryn Kluge and Kim Allen Kluge only adds to the almost mesmerizing landscape of the film.

This is an enthralling treatise on faith, religious prosecution and the resilience of belief, that isn’t afraid of asking tough questions of its audience.  For example, was it right for the Christians to try and convert the Japanese away from their traditional beliefs, and how much of the religion they were being taught did the local villagers even understand?  Did the brutality inflicted upon them by the Japanese officials allow the missionaries to appear even more Christ-like in their suffering?

The most interesting thing about Silence is that the film doesn’t seek to answer these questions as much as it asks us to reflect upon them, and look beneath the surface to uncover the layers of meaning.  It’s genuinely exciting to see a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese crafting what will surely be remembered as one of his most challenging and divisive works so far into his already storied career.

I think Silence is one of those films that will only get better with age, with the longer you let it linger and sit with you revealing more things about it.  This is a fascinating, sometimes exhausting and ultimately deeply introspective work, that deserves respect and discussion both on its own terms, and within the larger context of Martin Scorsese’s filmography.

The Blu-ray also includes the extended featurette Martin Scorsese’s Journey Into Silence, a very well put together piece that sheds light on the production and deeper themes of the story.

Silence is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.  It’s 161 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

March 28, 2017

By John Corrado

A prequel to the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place in the 1920s and follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in New York from Hogwarts, and accidentally unleashes the creatures inside his magical briefcase.

Serving as a polished piece of world building that is carried by excellent performances and keeps us engaged with darker themes woven throughout, this is a richly rewarding fantasy film that provides a compelling and throughly entertaining return to the wizarding world.  This was one of last year’s best blockbusters, and you can read our three views of the film right here.

The Blu-ray also includes about fifteen minutes of deleted scenes and the solid “behind the scenes” piece Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins!, as well as a whopping total of eighteen other featurettes divided up into three sections focusing on the characters, creatures and design of the film.  With almost two hours worth of stuff, this is an excellent selection of bonus material that provides good background on the film and the meticulous amount of work that everyone involved poured into it.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release.  It’s 133 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Review: Live By Night

March 22, 2017

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a Boston-born gangster in Prohibition era, who operates on a different side of the law from his Irish cop father (Brendan Gleeson).  Following a run in with the Italian mob, he senses a way to get rich by moving his business to Miami and trying to corner the rum market, by exploiting the vast underground distilleries and supplying illegal booze to local clubs.

But when he tries to get a casino built to cash in on gambling as well, Joe finds himself navigating a dark underworld of bad business deals, crooked cops and pushback by the Ku Klux Klan, while trying to protect his wife (Zoe Saldana), who has ties to the Cuban syndicate he’s working with.

The latest from director Ben Affleck, and his second film adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel following his debut Gone Baby Gone, Live By Night is an example of a film that is pretty good all around, even as you sense that it is striving to reach a level of greatness which it never achieves.  The film isn’t in the same league as the works of Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Sergio Leone that it tries to emulate, but it’s also something perfectly fine and competently made on its own terms.

Ben Affleck does solid work both in front of and behind the camera, staging some well done action sequences and quieter character moments, especially at the end.  The production elements are solid all around, recreating the feel of the 1920s and ’30s while still carving out its own stylish look, with fine cinematography by Robert Richardson.  The cast is loaded with great actors, even if they just appear in a couple of scenes.  Elle Fanning in particular delivers a standout performance as the daughter of a crooked police chief (Chris Cooper), who has dreams of becoming a young starlet in Los Angeles, but returns as a recovering drug addict who intensely preaches moralism and opposes the casino.

Parts of the film do feel rushed in terms of plot and character development, especially during the first act, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a longer director’s cut kicking around somewhere that the studio edited down.  But if you enjoy classic gangster movies, Live By Night is a perfectly decent entry into the genre, that is pretty entertaining to watch and carried by solid performances.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Ben Affleck joined by director of photography Robert Richardson and production designer Jess Gonchor, as well as deleted scenes and the four featurettes The Men of Live By Night, Live By Night’s Prolific Author, Angels With Dirty Faces: The Women of Live By Night, and In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase.

Live By Night is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release.  It’s 129 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Review: Julieta

March 21, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, Julieta is adapted from a short story by Canadian author Alice Munro that follows the title character at two stages in her life.  We first meet Julieta as a middle-aged woman (Emma Suárez) who receives word on her estranged daughter after years of separation, and decides to write a letter detailing how she met and fell in love with the girl’s father Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train years earlier.

The film then unfolds in flashbacks, showing Julieta as a young woman (Adriana Ugarte), and revealing how her relationship with her only daughter slowly fell apart.  This dual narrative approach allows the quiet character drama of Julieta to unfold almost like a mystery, and the film becomes more emotionally impactful as it goes along.

The film is very well acted by all involved, with Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte both doing excellent work as versions of the same character, as we witness the grief portrayed by the older woman slowly coming to consume the younger one as well.  Beautifully filmed, with a carefully balanced palate that includes many symbolic uses of the colour red, Julieta is an engagingly written drama that finds its master filmmaker in fine form.

The Blu-ray also includes the featurettes Celebrating Director Pedro Almodóvar and Portrait of Julieta.

Julieta is a Sony Pictures Classics release.  It’s 99 minutes and rated 14A.

%d bloggers like this: