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4K UHD Review: Across the Universe

January 31, 2018

By John Corrado

Earlier in the month, Julie Taymor’s 2007 jukebox musical Across the Universe got the 4K UHD treatment.  The film reimagines the events of the 1960s, including the Detroit riots, the Vietnam War, and the experimentations with hallucinogenic drugs that defined the decade, all set to the iconic music of the Beatles.

The film tells the story of Jude (Jim Sturgess), a young dockworker from Liverpool who sets off to America to find his estranged father, and falls in love with a young woman named Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), whose brother Max (Joe Anderson) gets drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.  But they start to drift apart as Jude embarks on becoming an artist, and Lucy becomes involved in the anti-war movement in Greenwich Village.

I had actually never seen Across the Universe before getting a copy for review.  I remember seeing trailers for the film when it was coming out a decade ago, and it had flown under my radar since then, having gotten somewhat mixed reviews.  But as a Beatles fan who has a longtime fascination with the culture of the 1960s, I have to say that I really enjoyed the film.  This is an incredibly entertaining and impressively staged musical, that cleverly incorporates these classic songs into its narrative.

Julie Taymor directs the whole thing with both verve and vision, showing off her true eye for big screen spectacle.  She stages a series of visually dazzling and at times downright psychedelic musical numbers, while also telling a touching story that feels resonant to its time.  The splashy and colourful nature of Across the Universe make it a perfect fit for a 4K UHD upgrade.  Fans of the film are in for a treat, and I would encourage anyone who has sat on it for this long to finally check out this underrated gem.

The 4K UHD disc has no bonus features, but the set also comes with a regular Blu-ray of the film which includes a commentary track with Julie Taymor and composer Elliot Goldenthal, the five featurettes Creating the Universe, Stars of Tomorrow, All About the Music, Moving Across the Universe and FX on the Universe, as well as extended musical performances, rehearsal footage and a deleted scene.

Across the Universe is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 133 minutes and rated 14A.

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DVD Review: Breathe

January 30, 2018

By John Corrado

Based on a true story, Breathe dramatizes the life of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield), a disability rights advocate who was struck with polio in the 1950s and left paralyzed from the neck down.  Although initially confined to a hospital bed, Robin was able to survive at home thanks to the dedication of his wife Diana (Claire Foy), and he helped invent invaluable accessibility devices like the respirator wheelchair and hydraulic lifts.

Although Breathe does feel a bit long and plays it a little too safe, this is still a well acted period piece, that is worth seeing for the solid performances from Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy.  It’s also notable for being the directorial debut of celebrated motion capture actor Andy Serkis.  For more on the film itself, you can read my full review of it right here.

The DVD also includes the two short featurettes Story and Getting Into Character, which are just over a minute long each, as well as a digital copy of the film.

Breathe is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 118 minutes and rated PG.

Review: Phantom Thread

January 29, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread is said to have been inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 classic Rebecca, and it does indeed have the feel of an old romantic drama from the 1940s or ’50s, albeit with a twisted side to it that is fascinating to unravel while watching the film.

The film takes place in London in the 1950s, and follows Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a celebrated dressmaker at the esteemed House of Woodcock, which he runs with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville).  When Reynolds finds a new muse in the form of a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), she moves in with him, and the two form a unique relationship that goes far beyond a typical romantic affair.

Reteaming with Paul Thomas Anderson a decade after his Oscar-winning performance in There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis delivers another mesmerizing to watch performance in Phantom Thread.  Employing his usual method acting techniques, the actor actually learned the art of dressmaking, and even made a dress from scratch in preparation for the role.  This dedication is felt in every frame of his brilliant performance, and Vicky Krieps is every bit his match.  The actress delivers a stunning breakout role, masterfully portraying a character who keeps her true intentions hidden for much of the film.

The film is entrancing to watch, enveloping us in a hypnotic and often haunting atmosphere.  There are long scenes of Reynolds fitting dresses on his models, with sewing pins carefully held in the corner of his mouth, and there is a flow to these sequences and the meticulousness of his work that puts us under a sort of spell.  It’s beautifully shot, with Paul Thomas Anderson serving as his own cinematographer for the first time in his career.  Jonny Greenwood’s music is sublime, further engulfing us in the evocative mood of the film by providing lovely piano accompaniment to many of the scenes.

I suppose that Phantom Thread could, in the broadest of terms, be labelled as a romance, but it is in fact something much chillier and infinitely more complex than that, in ways that I wouldn’t think of spoiling here.  What I will say is that the central relationship is built more on power and control than it is true love.  The romantic partners are locked in a battle of wills, jostling to hold the power and to dominate the other, not necessarily in a sexual way, but rather to shift the imbalances between them and to constantly reshape who relies on whom.

It’s a fascinating dance, if you will, and Phantom Thread does a phenomenal job of keeping us on edge, never entirely sure who has the upper hand, and leaving us questioning the end goal of this little game that Reynolds and Alma seem to be playing.  The film could be seen as a metaphor of an obsessive artist who uses women for inspiration, which in a sense is coming back to haunt him.  Reynolds is an artist who can’t exist without his muse, but also has no control over this muse taking on a life of her own and even overtaking him, like the constant struggle of an artist who still wants to exact control over his work even after it has been released into the world.

What Phantom Thread presents is a tantalizing duet between romantic partners who are more competing for power than they are looking for love, painting a portrait that mesmerizes us with its exceptional mix of performances, cinematography and music.  I found it gripping to watch.  Daniel Day-Lewis has said that he is retiring from acting and that this will be his last role, which will be a huge loss for the industry, but at least he is going out on the highest of notes.

Review: Logan

January 26, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Right from the opening scene of Logan, a brutal attempted carjacking staged in the middle of the sparse New Mexico desert, the film immediately sets itself up as offering something different from the majority of other comic book movies, let alone the ones in the X-Men universe.

This is more neo-western than it is superhero saga, a portrait of heroes who might not even make it through another day, let alone be able to save it.  The result is a thrilling film that takes as many cues from modern action films as it does old John Wayne movies, keeping the focus on its flawed characters.  As such, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay this week.

The year is 2029, mutants have all but gone extinct or are now in exile.  Logan (Hugh Jackman) is living out his final days on a hidden property near the Mexican border, taking care of an aging Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has to stay in a metal silo in order to keep his powerful seizures from wreaking havoc on the world.  But Logan’s plans are upended when he has to care for Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant who has escaped from a government facility.  They set out on a road trip, with the goal of bringing Laura to a safe house for mutants that is rumoured to exist near the Canadian border, but they are pursued by dangerous agents along the way.

Loosely based on the Old Man Logan storyline from the comic books, Logan is most unique for the way that it presents a sobering look at a hero in the twilight of his life.  Hugh Jackman delivers one of the best performances of his career, portraying Logan as a man who’s grizzled and broken down, as much feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders as he is ready to leave it all behind.  The film presents him as an aging hero whose healing powers have diminished, making it harder and more painful for him to use his claws.  He has grown weary and depressed, and carries an ademantium bullet with him everywhere, in case he loses control or the pain becomes too much and he needs to end his life.

Patrick Stewart also delivers one of his finest turns, portraying a hero who is reaching the end of the line, succumbing to dementia and being seen by the world as more of a threat than a saviour, with his powers now at risk of doing more harm than good.  It’s deeply moving work from the veteran actor.  Dafne Keen shines in one of the finest ever debuts for a child actor, brilliantly portraying the scared, troubled and ultimately lethal facets of her complex young character.  Last but not least, Stephen Merchant does memorable work as one of the film’s most sympathetic and conflicted characters, an albino mutant named Caliban who can’t be exposed to light, and helps Logan care for Professor X.

The X-Men comic books exist in this world, but they are shown to be mere embellishments of the truth, and ways to make the stark realities of life more palatable to children.  They are like “ice cream for bed-wetters,” as Logan describes them after discovering that Laura has been taking refuge in the hopeful hero narratives that they offer.  There is an impending sense of dread running through Logan that makes it both gripping and emotionally draining to watch.  The quiet character moments are threatened by bursts of violence, and even the film’s most innocent and sympathetic characters – a working class farming family who give refuge to these travellers partway through – aren’t safe in this world.

At a time when graphic depictions of violence are so common that audiences have become largely desensitized to their impact, Logan is powerful precisely because of how sad and angry the violence here makes us feel.  The violence is seen as a consequence of this brutal and unforgiving world, and it really stings.  Every cut, every shot, leaves a mark.  This is a superhero story that doubles as Greek tragedy, and the final scenes carry with them a haunting emotional impact, especially for those of us who have been following Wolverine over the years.

Director James Mangold has made an artfully crafted blockbuster, right down to the haunting orange-hued cinematography, which effectively evokes the feel of an old western.  This is a bleak, thrilling and powerfully acted anti-superhero movie, that cuts deep and leaves a bruising impact.  It’s not only the best X-Men film yet, but also an emotionally charged swan song to two of the franchise’s most beloved characters.  What Logan does is it elevates the comic book movie to a level of great art, and it stands alongside The Dark Knight as the best superhero movie of all time.

Review: Badsville

January 26, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Wink (Ian McLaren) is a member of the Badsville Kings, a greaser gang that tries to rule over the depressed title town in Badsville, a gritty crime drama that takes place just outside of Los Angeles and explores themes of loyalty and rivalry between gang members.

When Wink falls in love with a woman named Suzy (Tamara Duarte), and becomes both a brother and father figure to the preteen Sammy (Gregory Kasyan) whose mother (Kate Campbell) is a drug addict, he becomes determined to leave his violent life behind and hopefully get out of the town for good.

But this puts a wedge between Wink and his best friend Benny (Benjamin Barrett), a fellow gang member whose allegiances run deep but jealousies run deeper.  This also heightens rivalries with the Aces, a ruthless gang of dedicated adversaries to the Badsville Kings, who are ruled by the brutal Mr. Gavin (Robert Knepper).

Although the story follows a somewhat predictable and at times clichéd path, the performances and cinematography elevate Badsville every step of the way, and make it worth seeing.  Working from a decent script by actors Ian McLaren and Benjamin Barrett, who also impress in the central roles, Canadian director April Mullen does a good job of handling the flawed characters and maintaining a gritty atmosphere throughout, keeping us suitably engaged in the increasingly tragic story.

Badsville is now playing in limited release at Carlton Cinema in Toronto.

Blu-ray Review: Geostorm

January 23, 2018

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

When climate change starts running amok, causing devastating natural disasters around the globe, the world’s governments hire the cocky scientist Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) to set up the Dutch Boy Program, a high tech network of satellites that are connected to a space station and control the Earth’s weather, keeping the climate in check.

When Jake gets fired from his own project, his brother Max (Jim Sturgess) is put in charge, causing friction between them.  But flash forward two years, and the satellites have started to malfunction with disastrous consequences, and Jake is needed to set things straight.  This means that the two estranged brothers have to work together, and they start to uncover a threat that puts the whole planet in jeopardy.

While Geostorm can be mildly entertaining at times in a schlocky disaster movie sort of way, it’s also a mess that often feels cheesy in its approach, with the characters functioning as little more than thinly written cardboard cutouts.  This is one of those films where the cliches just keep piling up, and most of the plot points can be seen coming from a mile away, with the increasingly ludicrous story coming secondary to the set pieces.  If all you’re looking for is dumb fun then Geostorm might do the trick, but it’s about as subtle as a tidal wave or a rapidly approaching tornado on the horizon, and I can’t say that this storm adds up to an overly memorable movie.

The Blu-ray also includes the three production featurettes Wreaking Havoc, The Search for Answers and An International Cast.

Geostorm is a Warner Bros. Home Enrertainment release.  It’s 109 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

January 23, 2018

By John Corrado

The latest from director Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer follows Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a cardiac surgeon who strikes up a strange friendship with an offbeat teen named Martin (Barry Keoghan), but things start to go horribly wrong when he brings the troubled teen home to meet his wife (Nicole Kidman) and their two kids (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic).

Although The Killing of a Sacred Deer has certainly proven to be divisive, this is one of the most unnerving and strangely compelling films that I saw last year.  It moves at a deliberate pace that maintains a steady sense of suspense, carried by perfectly pitched work by Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan, and punctuated with moments of dark humour.  You can read my full review of the film right here.

The Blu-ray includes no bonus features, but does come with a digital copy of the film.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 121 minutes and rated 18A.

iTunes Review: Loving Vincent

January 23, 2018

By John Corrado

The first ever fully hand painted feature film, Loving Vincent takes place a year after the suicide of Vincent Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), and follows a postman’s son (Douglas Booth) who is tasked with delivering a lost letter that the Dutch artist had written to his brother, and ends up becoming intrigued by the mysterious elements of his life and death.  It’s now available on iTunes, as well as a variety of other VOD platforms.

Made up of a whopping 65,000 oil paintings all done by hand, with twelve per second to give it the illusion of motion, Loving Vincent is easily one of the most ambitious animated films in recent memory, offering a spectacular feast for the eyes.  The film received a much deserved Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature just this morning, and it’s well worth seeking out.  You can read my full review of the film right here.

The iTunes extras include the two featurettes The Making of Loving Vincent and Walking Through Vincent’s Neighbourhood, which give us a glimpse into the unique process behind making the film, as well as an interview with Douglas Booth.

Loving Vincent is a Mongrel Media release.  It’s 95 minutes and rated 14A.

iTunes Review: Wonderstruck

January 23, 2018

By John Corrado

Based on a book by Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck tells the interconnecting stories of Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a young deaf girl in 1927, and Ben (Oakes Fegley), a preteen boy in the Midwest in 1973 who goes deaf when lightning strikes his house, who both run away to New York.  Although the film isn’t getting a physical release in Canada, it’s now available on iTunes, as well as a variety of other VOD platforms.

Directed by Todd Haynes, Wonderstruck is one of those films that seemed like an awards player in theory, but ultimately came and went.  Although I found it to be somewhat uneven overall, there are still enough elements to like about Wonderstuck to make it mildly worth a rental for families.  You can read my full review of the film right here.

The iTunes extras include the five bonus featurettes American Natural History Museum, Cabinet of Wonders, Featurette on Milie, The Miniatures, The Panorama and The Worlds of Wonderstruck, which offer brief but interesting looks at the amount of craftsmanship that went into making the film.

Wonderstruck is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 116 minutes and rated PG.

iTunes Review: Human Flow

January 23, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Directed by Ai Weiwei, Human Flow is a mix of documentary and art project that offers an on the ground look at the migrant crisis in Europe, filmed over 23 different countries.  The film offers a sprawling look at the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from war torn countries in the Middle East and Africa, to seek refuge in places like Italy, Germany and Greece.  The film is now available on iTunes, as well as a variety of other VOD platforms.

There is some excellent cinematography here, and the flyover shots of thousands of people who have been forced to leave their homes really drive home the scale of this humanitarian crisis, which is the largest mass migration to Europe since WWII, and is changing the cultural landscape at an unprecedented rate.

The film also touches on how governments are struggling to find adequate placement for these newcomers, with some countries now looking to close their borders in order to stop the flow of people coming over.  While immigration is certainly a timely and contentious topic both here and abroad, Human Flow is ultimately too long and slow moving to have the impact that it sets out to have.  Although it is interesting at times, and there are some stirring images on display, the film would have benefitted from having more of a clear narrative structure, and there is a repetitive nature to many of the sequences.  It’s still mildly worth a rental for curious viewers, but I found my attention waning at times.

The film includes no extras on iTunes.

Human Flow is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 140 minutes and rated PG.

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