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Blu-ray 3D Review: Ghost in the Shell

July 25, 2017

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

After having her human brain successfully implanted in a robotic body, making her the first of her kind in a future world where humans have melded with machines, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is sent to work as part of Section 9, fighting terrorism alongside the cybernetically enhanced Batou (Pilou Asbæk).

But when tasked with tracking down the mysterious hacker Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who has found a way to gain access and hack into people’s minds, Major goes rogue and starts to discover that there is more to her origins.  This leads her on a journey of self-discovery, exploring how deep the corruption of the company that created her really runs.

Based on the beloved 1995 anime film of the same name, this live action remake of Ghost in the Shell has had a long road finally getting to the big screen, and has also garnered criticisms of whitewashing due to the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the leading role.  No doubt cast because of the strength of her mesmerizing roles as a lonely alien in Under the Skin and as a curious AI in Her, Scarlett Johansson is actually very good here.  Casting controversy aside, she makes the most of the role in both the action scenes and quieter character moments, and is one of the best things about the film.

The other area where this film succeeds is in terms of the visuals.  The world of the film is brought to life with impressive visual style, with the cityscape made up of neon colours, holograms and virtual popups that recall Blade Runner in their design.  But the story doesn’t go as deep into its complex themes about the ethics of research and the blurring of lines between humanity and technology as it could have, often delivering more style than substance.

Although it doesn’t reach the classic status of its tighter and more impactful animated counterpart, this live action take on Ghost in the Shell still provides enough eye-popping visuals, which are enhanced by the flawless 3D presentation, to be worth a look for sci-fi and action fans who want some eye candy.

The Blu-ray also includes the trio of solid production featurettes Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell, Section 9: Cyber Defenders and Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy.

Ghost in the Shell is a Paramount Home Entertainment release.  It’s 107 minutes and rated 14A.

DVD Review: The Untouchables: The Scarface Mob

July 25, 2017

By John Corrado

Following their initial airing as part of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in 1959, the first two episodes of the popular TV series The Untouchables were edited together into a single feature length film that was released theatrically in 1962, under the subtitle of The Scarface Mob.

The film dramatizes the Prohibition-era exploits of federal agent Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) and his team of men from the Treasury Department as they meticulously work to take down infamous gangster Al Capone (Neville Brand), by striking at the heart of his underground distilleries in Chicago.

While the rest of the series focused on Eliot Ness and his team taking down other notorious criminals from the time, this is the only one of the show’s storylines that directly focused on Al Capone.  Because of this, The Scarface Mob plays seamlessly on its own as a standalone film, based on Eliot Ness’s own memoirs and later providing the blueprint for Brian De Palma’s classic 1987 take on the story.  The show was both groundbreaking and controversial for its depictions of violence and organized crime, leaving an indelible mark on television as a whole.

Whether you view this as its own film or as a two-part series premiere, The Untouchables: The Scarface Mob still holds up as a well paced and entertaining period crime drama, featuring stylish black and white cinematography, solid production values, and a strong ensemble cast.  The film is included here with the original introductions by Desi Arnez and Walter Winchell, which play automatically before the feature presentation, and provide some fascinating historical context.

The DVD includes no additional bonus features.

The Untouchables: The Scarface Mob is a Paramount release.  It’s 102 minutes and rated PG.

Three Views: War for the Planet of the Apes

July 24, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Review By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

One of the greatest moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had was going to a press screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011 not really knowing what to expect from the franchise reboot, and realizing early on in the film that I was witnessing something special.  The trend continued with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014, taking the series in even deeper and darker directions, confirming that these films had something to say.

Now we have War for the Planet of the Apes, which cements this as one of the greatest film trilogies of all time.  Directed by Matt Reeves, this is an example of blockbuster filmmaking at its darkest and most thrilling, closing this new chapter of the classic series on a harrowing and emotionally resonant note.  It’s stunning, a big movie that provokes deep thought and resonates with feeling.

The film is set two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with the virus that gave heightened intelligence to the apes having all but wiped out humanity, save for a few survivors.  We open with soldiers tracking and ambushing the apes in their forest home, where they live under the leadership of Caesar (Andy Serkis), reigniting the conflict between species and forcing them to flee.  When his family is killed by a militant named only The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), Caesar sets out to track him down with a group of other apes, spurred by the drive for revenge that he has largely tried to avoid.  They are joined on their journey by a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller), and discover a prison camp where the apes are forced to do manual labour for the humans.

The film plays with the grandeur of a biblical epic, yet it tells a story that feels as stripped down to the basics as a classic Western, exploring deep and fundamental themes of suffering and sacrifice.  Like an old John Wayne or Clint Eastwood character, Caesar is struggling to finally bring his people to the promised land, grizzled by the journey and forced to come to terms with the choices he has made along the way.  The war of the title is as much of an internal struggle as it is a physical one, with Caesar trying to grapple with the decisions he made at the end of the last film, including taking the life of fellow ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), who continues to haunt him in nightmares.

The story is rich with allegories and philosophical undertones about the way we treat our fellow living creatures, and how these interactions can quickly become overpowered by vengeance, especially when battling for superiority and dwindling resources.  It’s been fascinating to watch the apes grow more human as these films have progressed, with the roles of oppressor and oppressed switching over the course of the series.  Now the apes vastly outnumber the humans, but interspecies rivalries have only gotten more extreme, with the remaining people trying to militantly save themselves and reclaim their control of the planet, leaving the apes forced to fight in order to merely survive.

As the title suggests, War for the Planet of the Apes is very much a war movie, but it’s as concerned with exploring the devastating effects of conflict as it is with the actual fighting.  The film takes its cues from classics that explored the tragedy of the Vietnam War, with the tone of the piece being largely influenced by Platoon and Apocalypse Now.  The words “Ape-Pocalypse Now” are even seen scrawled on a cave wall.  The story also recalls The Great Escape in that much of it takes place at the prison labour camp, providing a fascinatingly contained setting.  The last act is stunning, including a breathtaking slow motion sequence that provides some of the most gripping moments we are bound to see all year.

Michael Giacchino’s score provides an excellent accompaniment to the action, with large sections of the film playing without traditional dialogue as subtitles translate the sign language conversations between the characters.  Michael Serasin’s beautiful widescreen cinematography is filled with haunting and moody visuals, and the special effects are so seamlessly done that we forget we are watching computer generated characters.  Andy Serkis delivers another mesmerizing performance in the leading role, with an incredible sense of empathy and feeling coming through from behind the motion capture makeup.

Woody Harrelson does brilliant work, playing a deeply troubled character who is filled with existential dread, and provides a fascinating mirror to Caesar’s arc.  The cast is rounded out by Steve Zahn’s scene-stealing performance as a chimpanzee known simply as Bad Ape, who joins Caesar and the other apes on their journey, providing an endearing new addition to the cast who brings both a sense of humour and pathos to the film.  Raised in a zoo outside of Caesar’s colony, Bad Ape is an interesting character in how he has come to evolve on his own to appear more human-like.  He speaks in English, walks on two legs, and even dons a blue vest that recalls the ones worn by the simians in the original film.

Like Logan earlier this year, another great blockbuster which shares some striking similarities to this film in the way that it provided an emotional sendoff to a complex and beloved hero, War for the Planet of the Apes provides a harrowing and incredibly moving end to Caesar’s journey.  This is a summer blockbuster of the highest order, a thrilling big screen experience that is unafraid of exploring uncompromisingly bleak themes, using compelling characters as the backbone for its action.

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) in War for the Planet of the Apes

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War for the Planet of the Apes Review By Erin Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise is one of the greatest film trilogies in recent years.  I remember going into Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011 not knowing what to expect and being blown away by the way they told the first part of this prequel trilogy.  In 2014, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continued in a strong direction showing us for the first time, the hints of the war that was to come.  Now, War for the Planet of the Apes is here and it delivers a powerful and emotional punch, with excellent performances all around and a well-thought out tale of what drives us to war, fighting, and survival.

At the start of War for the Planet of the Apes it has been 2 years since the events of the previous film, when the war began.  Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his family of apes have been in hiding, trying to avoid contact with humans, vowing to only fight to protect themselves.  But the humans nearby, now led by The Colonel played by Woody Harrelson, are hunting them with extreme prejudice, leading the apes to decide to try to relocate across the country, away from the humans.

However, when The Colonel finds their encampment and kills several apes close to Caesar, things take a far more personal turn.  Sending the rest of the apes off to relocate on their own, Caesar vows to take revenge and sets out to find The Colonel who did this to them.  Joined by three other apes, Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary), and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), they start tracking towards the military base where the humans have been hiding.  Along the way they are joined by a mysteriously mute human girl (Amiah Miller) and an escaped zoo ape who calls himself Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) after the ‘name’ the humans had given him at the zoo.

Interestingly enough, the film is not an all-out battle-driven war piece.  A lot of it is quiet and very much gets into the wrestling Caesar in particular has with his drive for revenge, fearing he has become more similar to Koba, (the antagonist ape from the previous film), than he would like.  There are also now apes working as ‘donkeys’ for the humans, choosing to take a ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ mentality, and fearing Caesar would reject them because of their previous allegiance to Koba.  Things soon end up at the human base and an ape prisoner of war camp, where the rest of the film plays out with homages to The Great Escape.  While much of the film has a dark and bleak tone, there are a few moments of comic relief courtesy of Bad Ape.

Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson give powerhouse performances here, with several scenes between their two characters so filled with nuance and complicated character motivations.  It would not be a shocker to see either of them recognized for their work come awards season.  The special effects of course are amazing and awards-worthy as well, so much so that when watching the film you don’t think of the apes as computer generated/mo-capped.

Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the top films of the year, and deserves the critical and audience reception it has received.  A film about a war where no one fully wins, with tragic losses on both sides as every war has, it is a powerhouse of modern cinema.

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Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Caesar (Andy Serkis) in War for the Planet of the Apes

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War for the Planet of the Apes Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

First of all, those who missed the first two films in this reboot Planet of the Apes trilogy need not worry. There is a brief summary of the first film in which a serum for treating human dementia had left apes much more intelligent, including the chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis), who led a large group of them into a forest home north of San Francisco. The opening sequence of the second film follows, in which a simian virus spread around the earth wiping out most of the human population shows arrows linking the points of infection followed by lights winking out everywhere as seen from space. War for the Planet of the Apes begins two years after the second film in which a battle between human survivors in the ruins of San Francisco resulted in a truce with the apes once again left alone in their forest home.

A surprise attack on Caesar’s family impels Caesar and some trusted companions, including the wise orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) and gorilla Rocket (Terry Notary) from the two previous films, to go seek out and take revenge on the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) of a rogue human force. Along the way they are joined by Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a chimp who had escaped from a zoo up north, and a little girl they call Nova (Amiah Miller) affected by a mutant strain of the simian virus leaving humans not only bloody-nosed but mute. When they reach the Colonel’s camp they find their colony imprisoned and forced to labour for his human forces, aided by turncoat gorillas literally labelled as donkeys. Another major battle is inevitable before Caesar can lead his troop to the Promised Land.

Once again co-written and directed by Matt Reeves and filmed mainly in the forests of Canada with much of the photorealistic CGI ape rendering by WETA in New Zealand, War for the Planet of the Apes is just as good as the other two films in the series. Top-billed Andy Serkis is as brilliant as ever, supported by an excellent cast, particularly Woody Harrelson in an intense role deliberately reminiscent of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, and Steve Zahn whose Bad Ape is both comical and poignant at the same time. The interesting twists as Caesar struggles with his need to set things right amid scenes of brutality and serious combat, all under the fine Michael Giacchino score, make it a fitting close to the trilogy, with promise of another generation to come.

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Consensus: Providing a dark and powerful viewing experience, War for the Planet of the Apes closes this new chapter of the series on a thrilling and impressively made high note, capping off one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. ★★★½ (out of 4)

Blu-ray Review: Kong: Skull Island

July 18, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The year is 1971, and monster researcher Bill Randa (John Goodman) has convinced the Nixon administration, still reeling from the Vietnam War, to fund his research trip to a hidden island in the South Pacific to investigate claims of an otherworldly beast.

To help him explore and map the uncharted land, Randa puts together a team including mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and army colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who oversees a helicopter squadron.  What they find is a vast new ecosystem that houses a variety of bizarre creatures, overseen by the giant ape Kong, who serves as the King of the island and exists to keep other dangers at bay.

While Kong: Skull Island does pay tribute to the iconic 1933 King Kong, the film also cements itself as its own thing, serving as both a remake and reboot of the classic tale.  The film’s characterizations sometimes feel a little broad, with the core cast essentially playing archetypes, and the story here is fairly predictable.  But Kong: Skull Island works by harkening back to a type of Saturday Matinee filmmaking that doesn’t really get made anymore, and it’s inherently entertaining and fun to watch as such.

The film does away with the Beauty and the Beast-style romantic element of the original tale, instead offering a straight up action adventure that is chock full of monster movie thrills, while also paying tribute to the Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now.  The special effects are impressive, delivering a Kong that is both massive in size, and also highly detailed and emotive when seen in closeups.  The cinematography gives the film an earthy visual look that harkens back to the 1970s, and the soundtrack is populated by classic rock hits from the decade that provide fun musical cues.

The screenplay is peppered with humour to keep the tone fairly light, and its matched by fine work from the all-star cast.  John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson all deliver fun performances, and John C. Reilly steals every one of his scenes as an eccentric long-lost pilot who has been stranded on the island for years, and is living there as a hermit.  Elevated by its strong ensemble cast and cool 1970s vibe, Kong: Skull Island is a solid action adventure flick, that pays as much homage to Vietnam War movies as it does to classic monster films.

The Blu-ray also includes commentary by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, as well as several deleted scenes, and a selection of featurettes.  First up is the two-part “behind the scenes” piece Creating a King, which offers a general look at the production and special effects, On Location: Vietnam focuses on their shoot in the country, Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveller sees the actor taking us through some of the different locations, and Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography focuses on the photos that she took on set, being given an actual film camera for her role.  Finally, Monarch Files 2.0 is a fictional archival piece that provides an overview of the island’s history and wildlife.

Kong: Skull Island is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release.  It’s 118 minutes and rated PG.

 

Blu-ray Review: Free Fire

July 18, 2017

By John Corrado

Set in 1978, Free Fire follows Justine (Brie Larson), who is overseeing a weapons sale between the IRA’s Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and gun dealers Ord (Armie Hammer) and Vernon (Sharlto Copley).  They are selling a shipment of automatic rifles in an abandoned Boston warehouse, but things quickly escalate into an increasingly bloody and relentless shootout.

Although Free Fire doesn’t have a ton in terms of plot, this is a lean and entertaining action thriller that gets the job done with style to spare.  Directed by Ben Wheatley, and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the film is carried by a script that’s chock full of quippy one-liners, and is all delivered by a game ensemble cast.  It’s worth a look for action fans, and you can read my full review of the film right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a couple of minutes of B-Roll from the set, as well as a solid “making of” featurette that has the actors talking about their experiences on set and character motivations.

Free Fire is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 90 minutes and rated 18A.

Three Views: Baby Driver

July 14, 2017

Baby Driver Review By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is like the cinematic equivalent of a guitar solo, an example of a singular filmmaker showing complete control over his craft, while riffing on a wide variety of genres and proving the full extent of what he is capable of.  It’s thrilling to watch a maestro like this at work.

We already know that Edgar Wright is a master at delivering genre-defying cult classics, with the unofficial trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End as well as the honorary Canadian film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.  With Baby Driver, the director has delivered something akin to a car chase musical, an action movie that cuts its set-pieces in time to songs, offering the most entertaining ride of the year so far.

The film follows Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver who uses music to drown out the tinnitus he’s been left with since being in a tragic accident as a kid, and times his jobs in accordance to specific songs.  Working to pay off a debt to crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby starts wanting out of his life of crime when he falls in love with young waitress Debora (Lily James).  But he gets pulled in for one last job where things threaten to go dangerously awry, as the hardened crew including Buddy (Jon Hamm), his girlfriend Darling (Eiza González), and the wildcard Bats (Jamie Foxx), become increasingly suspicious of whether or not they can trust Baby to help pull off a violent robbery.

The idea of setting heists and car chases to music is one that Edgar Wright first conceived in his youth, and used it as the basis of his 2002 music video for the band Mint Royale, which also serves as a basic blueprint for the opening scene of Baby Driver, set to the track “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.  The filmmaker stages sequence after sequence of thrilling action, with every single car chase and shootout clicking in tune to the soundtrack.  Baby has numerous classic iPods that hold different playlists, and the film brilliantly utilizes about thirty tracks culled from multiple decades of music.

Like the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Baby Driver is filled with classic songs that are masterfully woven into its story, providing an awesome backdrop to the action in a way that makes the whole thing feel alive.  The film uses a couple of different versions of “Easy” to surprisingly moving effect, both to score a heartbreaking flashback partway through, and also over the poignant final scenes.  A warehouse gunfight set to “Tequila” provides a particularly fun musical cue, and Baby Driver also of course works in the Simon & Garfunkel tune that gives the film its title.

Ansel Elgort carries the film with a swagger and confidence that is incredibly appealing to watch, whether dancing down the street and through his apartment or cooly manipulating the steering wheel during a tense car chase.  But the young actor also brings a quiet, emotional vulnerability to the role that allows us to really connect to his character.  Some of the most touching scenes in the film are between Baby and his elderly stepfather Joseph (CJ Jones), a man who is deaf and uses a wheelchair.  Baby is almost always wearing earphones and often reads lips, and Joseph can’t hear, but the two of them are able to communicate fluently through sign language and movement.

The film has an excellent supporting cast.  Kevin Spacey masterfully delivers the fast paced and razor-sharp dialogue, Jon Hamm does brilliantly intense work with glimmers of humanity underneath, and Jamie Foxx provides an increasingly menacing antagonistic presence.  The fact that the impressively choreographed car chases were created using practical effects gives them a classic and tactical feel that furthers the excitement, and Bill Pope’s cinematography offers a memorable mix between pop art style and noirish visuals.  Finally, the editing by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss brilliantly ties the whole thing together, cutting in time to the music and keeping the film moving at an exhilarating pace.

The film deftly blends genres, using the narrative structure of a crime thriller to work in elements of comedy, romance, character drama and music video style, all the while paying loving tribute to a variety of other cinematic classics.  There’s even a pretty great reference to Monsters, Inc. worked in, which I certainly appreciated.  The film itself could be vaguely described as playing like a cross between Drive and The Blues Brothers, but it always manages to feel fresh and entirely likes its own thing, feeling both like a genre homage and like something we’ve never seen before.

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Baby Driver, and the film more than lives up to it on every level, feeling like an instant classic right from the opening scenes and never letting up from there.  This is an example of pure cinematic exhilaration, a work that embraces its own style without ever sacrificing character or story, allowing all of its elements to play together in perfect harmony.  It’s a slickly edited, wildly entertaining and surprisingly moving car chase thriller, all set to a great soundtrack.  Try your best to see this one on a big screen with loud sound to get the full effect.

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Baby (Ansel Elgort), Bats (Jamie Foxx), Darling (Eiza González) and Buddy (Jon Hamm) in Baby Driver

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Baby Driver Review By Erin Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

In Edgar Wright’s newest film Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort plays the title character Baby who is a getaway driver paying off a debt to crime ring leader Doc (Kevin Spacey) by providing his car-handling skills.  Baby is a ‘devil behind the wheel,’ driving like a master stunt driver and getting away from cops and helicopters with an almost calm ease.  Despite being good at it though, all he really wants is to be done with this world of crime.  But when one of the jobs goes bad due to team member Bats (Jamie Foxx) disobeying orders, things start to go downhill, and it begins to seem like maybe Baby won’t be able to get out of this line of work after all.

As the film goes on and we watch someone forced into this world, but not really wanting to be a part of it, we are taken on a ride of an observer in a violent world, who is all the while scoring his entire experience through music.  The quiet Baby is a very relatable character, played with subtle nuance by Elgort, who has proved time and time again to be an actor that can show so much emotion while being very still (and even quiet), allowing his eyes to do the talking for him.

Baby Driver is an utter masterpiece, and the use of diegetic sound to present the soundtrack is brilliantly realized here.  As the main character Baby listens to his collection of iPods, we hear what he hears, whether that means muffled dialogue or just a song taking over all the other sounds in the background.  It is done so well that it feels natural and really adds to the experience.  Also, refreshingly for an action film, so much of it is centred around Baby’s interpersonal interactions – be it with the young waitress (Lily James) he starts to fall in love with at the diner, or with his Deaf step-father (CJ Jones) who he communicates with through sign language.  The storyline with his step-father especially is incredibly touching and really helps round out who Baby’s character is when he is not behind the wheel.  In fact, the entire script is super-tightly written and I am sure there will be lines and callbacks that will become apparent on subsequent viewings.

This Summer there have been a few films that really stand out, and Baby Driver is definitively one of them.  While it will be fun on a small screen as well, I highly recommend seeing it in a theatre with a large screen and speakers to get the full experience of the action and soundtrack.  Funny, intense, entertaining, and moving, this is sure to become another well-deserved classic of Edgar Wright’s.

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Debora (Lily James) and Baby (Ansel Elgort) in Baby Driver

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Baby Driver Review By Tony Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Baby Driver is the latest film from Edgar Wright. The title character (Ansel Elgort) is a brilliant car thief and getaway driver indentured to Doc (Kevin Spacy), an evil crime boss who assembles robbery gangs from a pool of really scary characters (Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Jon Hamm). As a child, Baby had survived a car crash that killed his parents and left him with tinnitus, so he must always wear earbuds with tunes that provide the soundtrack not only for his life but for the film itself. Living with his foster parent, an elderly deaf man (CJ Jones) and finding a new girlfriend Debora (Lily James), a waitress at the local diner, Baby has saved his share of the loot and is being assured that the next job will be his last.

Baby Driver is brilliant in every way. As a straight heist film it has a really gripping story with great writing served by a gifted cast with sudden death at every turn but also flashes of real wit. The action scenes using almost no CGI are epic, particularly the chases through Atlanta streets with mainly ordinary cars actually driven from the roof (like Mr. Bean at New Year’s) by the best stunt drivers in the business led by Jeremy Fry.

What really makes the film special is the soundtrack. All the music was cleared before filming, including the 50 year old Simon & Garfunkel song over the closing credits that gave the film its name. With the tunes in the ears of each performer and crew member, every move (Elgort is a trained dancer), gunshot, even windshield wiper cycle is synchronized to music perfectly chosen for each scene.

With all these things going for it, not to mention loads of extra touches that the director likes to throw in that may escape us at first, I am confident that Baby Driver is already among the best films ever made in any genre, and will delight audiences even more in subsequent viewings.

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Consensus: Boasting stylish editing, memorable cinematography, an excellent cast and a great soundtrack, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a wildly entertaining thrill ride from start to finish, that brilliantly stages its action in time to music. ★★★★ (out of 4)

DVD Review: Their Finest

July 11, 2017

By John Corrado

Taking place during WWII, Their Finest follows Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), a Welsh writer who is hired to work on a propaganda film about the Battle of Dunkirk, to boost the morale of British audiences.  Although initially brought in to write the female dialogue, Catrin becomes an invaluable part of the project, and even starts to find real life romance with her more cynical co-writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin).

Bolstered by excellent performances, including a memorable supporting role for Bill Nighy, Their Finest is a piece of lovingly crafted escapism that celebrates the importance of film to offer a break from the real world for a couple of hours.  This is one of those films that I grow more fond of the more I think about it, and if you haven’t seen it already, it’s worth taking the time to check it out now.  You can read my full review right here.

The DVD includes no bonus features, but comes with a digital copy of the film.

Their Finest is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 117 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Review: The Lost City of Z

July 11, 2017

By John Corrado

Based on the fascinating true story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), James Grey’s The Lost City of Z dramatizes the three expeditions that the British soldier turned explorer took into the Amazon between 1906 and 1925.  Although initially going for colonialist purposes, Fawcett brought back valuable evidence of a lost civilization that was way more advanced than anyone deemed possible at the time.

With an excellent cast led by Charlie Hunnam, and featuring strong supporting roles for Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland among others, The Lost City of Z is a piece of classical filmmaking that is absorbing, beautifully filmed and sometimes haunting to watch.  This is one of the finest movies of the year so far, and you can read my full review of the film right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a trailer-length promotional featurette entitled Locating the Lost City, which offers a fine but all too brief overview of the production, and comes packaged with both a regular DVD and a digital copy of the film.

The Lost City of Z is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 141 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

July 11, 2017

By John Corrado

Based on a true story, The Zookeeper’s Wife dramatizes the lives of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo who used their facilities to save hundreds of Jewish people when the Nazis invaded Poland during WWII.

Although I do think there are some problems with this film, mainly in its somewhat overly by the numbers approach to the story, The Zookeeper’s Wife is still worth a look for the few emotionally stirring moments that it offers, and is held together by Jessica Chastain’s empathetic performance.  You can read my full review of the film right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a selection of deleted scenes, and two featurettes.  First up is The Making of The Zookeeper’s Wife, which offers a fine overview of the production and the largely female crew that worked on it, and The Żabriński Family is a brief but affective piece with the surviving children that introduces us to the real people behind the film.  A digital copy is also included.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 127 minutes and rated 14A.

Three Views: Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 10, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is back to being an awkward high schooler in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the result is the best outing for the webslinger since Sam Raimi’s first two films.  This reboot forgoes any sort of origin story, which is just fine this time around, and instead picks up right after where we first met this new Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War.

Peter is still jazzed by his moment in the spotlight fighting with the Avengers, and is growing restless being stuck at a high school in Queens, New York, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).  He’s desperate to move beyond fighting local crime and actually prove himself as a real hero, seeking more responsibility and freedom than his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who keeps Peter under the watchful eye of his chauffeur Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), is willing to give him.

When local criminals start using otherworldly super weapons, Peter takes it upon himself to stop them, and tracks the weapons back to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a working class scrap collector whose company was tasked with cleaning up the alien junk left behind following the Avengers battle in New York, before losing the lucrative job to officials from Stark Industries.  Adrian keeps behind some of the glowing alien orbs and has his team of mechanics fashion them into super weapons to be sold at profit to local criminals, even building himself a flying metal suit that turns him into the Vulture, presenting a much more complicated threat than this “friendly neighbourhood” Spider-Man might be ready for.

The young indie director Jon Watts keeps things moving at a good pace, maintaining interest over the 134 minute running time.  The big scale action sequences are excitingly done, including a thrilling set-piece involving the Washington Monument on a school trip and another on the Staten Island ferry, but there is also a character-driven element to the film that keeps it grounded.  Peter Parker is supposed to have just turned fifteen in this version, and there is a youthful energy to the entire film, with elements of it playing like a high school comedy.  If John Hughes had made a superhero movie, this is what it might have looked like, and the filmmakers have even worked in a clever little nod to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Although I still think Spider-Man 2 is the best cinematic outing for Spidey both in terms of scope and genuine emotional stakes, Spider-Man: Homecoming comes close to it in terms of sheer entertainment value.  This is a very different version of the character than the more subdued and withdrawn qualities that Tobey Maguire offered in the original trilogy, and different again from Andrew Garfield’s take on the character in the pair of reboots that followed.  Tom Holland instead plays him as an excitable bundle of nervous energy, which works because he is also much younger than the actors before him.  It’s a great take on the character, and a big reason why Spider-Man: Homecoming is so much fun to watch.

The other big reason this film works is because of the strength of its villain.  Michael Keaton does great work, elevating the Vulture into one of the finest and most grounded antagonists the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever offered, simply because he isn’t really an evil villain at all.  He’s an intimidating and threatening figure towards our hero, but there is also a ruggedly empathetic quality to him because he’s basically just an ordinary working class guy who feels cheated by the system and finds a way to make money to support his business and family, which puts him on the wrong side of the law.  He’s all the more interesting as an adversary because of this, and the film does an excellent job of developing his character and giving him his own compelling story arc.

Jacob Batalon steals the show as Ned, Peter’s best friend and wannabe partner in crime fighting, who is more than happy to be friends with the hero and hopefully become “the guy in the chair.”  Laura Harrier does fine work as the love interest Liz, who plays into the homecoming dance that is referenced in the title, and Zendaya also leaves her mark on the film as Michelle, a high school outsider who will likely play an even larger role in future instalments.  Tony Revolori also seems to be having fun with his brief role as the high school bully.  Michael Giacchino keeps things moving along with his boyaunt score, even working in a few elements of the classic Spider-Man theme song.

Although this is a polished blockbuster, there is also a delightfully homemade feel to parts of Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is a big reason why it so enjoyable to watch.  This includes a nicely done found footage-style sequence at the beginning that shows Spider-Man’s time with the Avengers from the perspective of his own video diary, and a closing credits sequence decorated with drawings.  I love the little details that have been worked into this film, right down to the barebones red hoodie and goggles suit that Peter has made himself to stand in for the high-tech one gifted to him by Tony Stark.

The film even delivers a pretty great twist late in the game that I genuinely didn’t see coming, and gives added stakes the finale.  This is a franchise extension that both stands on its own and fits perfectly into the larger fabric of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, delivering a fresh take on this beloved and iconic character.  It’s a summer blockbuster that is tons of fun to watch, working as both an entertaining superhero movie and an enjoyable high school comedy, delivering equally on both fronts.

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Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Spider-Man: Homecoming Review By Erin Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

When Spider-Man: Homecoming opens, we get a brief set-up to how the events of The Avengers and Civil War play into this instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The focus then shifts to Peter Parker himself, this time played by young actor Tom Holland.  Peter is a regular high school kid, and already has had his Spidey powers for a little bit.  In fact, we first met Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War where he made a brief appearance.  Unlike the previous versions of Spider-Man we get no real origin story here, and just drop right into the middle of Peter’s dual life as a superhero.

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) acts as a mentor to Peter Parker and we see that he has provided Peter with the well-fitted – and completely decked out with technology – Spider-Man suit he uses.  After thanking Peter for his help in the Civil War fight though, Stark just drops him back off at his home and tells him if he is needed, Stark’s assistant Happy (Jon Favereau) will get in touch with him.  Excited to be ‘part of The Avengers,’ Peter waits and waits to be called back into action, but after months of hearing nothing he starts to get bored and takes it upon himself to find crime to fight.

This leads him to stumble upon a huge underground weapons ring run by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who has salvaged alien parts from the New York Avengers fight and is re-weaponizing them.  Toomes is a relatable villain in a way – especially as Keaton plays him – and we see that he really just wants to do what Stark did, because as he essentially says, why should only the rich profit off of weapons, leaving the working class to struggle in the dust?

The film plays quick and is entertaining throughout, with the mostly young cast all bringing a fresh and new element to their roles.  A fun addition is Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) who finds out Peter is Spider-Man pretty early on, and decides that he should become the ‘guy in the chair’ who sits behind the computer and helps fight crime through an earpiece.  Overall, there were several little touches here that I quite liked – another one being the version of a ‘suit’ that Peter made himself before getting a Stark upgrade (essentially blue and red sweatpants and a hoodie-vest with goggles).  Because how else would a kid make a superhero suit?

One interesting thing about another Spider-Man film, is that for many around my age, we grew up watching Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, and we’ve kept seeing different versions of the character (most recently Andrew Garfield) with subsequent reboots every few years.  However, Holland does a good job of setting his version apart and making the character his own.  It is a very different portrayal of Spider-Man – one that lives with only his Aunt May, (here a lot younger than in previous versions and played by Marissa Tomei), and with no mention of an Uncle Ben.  He also doesn’t work at a newspaper, and is in fact too young to, with the Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming only 15 years old.  This leads one to wonder what will be down the line for this Parker – will he eventually get a job as a photographer?  Will an Uncle Ben come into play at some point?  It’s not a bad thing to take a different route, since with the many reboots, providing a different line for the story keeps Homecoming feeling fresh.  It should also be noted that Holland is the youngest actor to play Spider-Man in recent years, and was actually a teenager when cast in the role.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an entertaining summer blockbuster that delivers pretty much everything you’d want from a superhero film – the performances are solid and the journey the film takes us on is concise and fits right into the MCU world.  I wasn’t sure how this film would turn out, but I liked Holland’s portrayal of the character and Keaton made an excellent antagonist for him.  There was also a twist in the film that seemed like it should have been obvious, but I actually didn’t see coming, which made for quite an entertaining raising of the stakes in the third act.  For those looking for a summer superhero outing, Homecoming hits all the marks and is easy to recommend.

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Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Spider-Man: Homecoming Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the latest Marvel film with Tom Holland in the title role, first seen crashing the Avengers’ Civil War in the last Captain America film and now a protege of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), but still just Peter Parker, the 15 year old kid making his way in a STEM high school in Queens, NY.

While flying about thwarting local crimes, Peter finds himself up against the film’s villain, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Resentful that his salvage business had been taken over by Stark for the Civil War cleanup, Toomes kept back enough Alien-powered material to produce new weapons, particularly a flying exoskeleton that would turn him into The Vulture, with the help of others known to comic fans as the ingenious Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and violent Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine).

Amid all the cool action scenes that are as good as ever, the charm of this film lies mainly in Peter’s interactions with his fellow students. Treated to an all-day marathon of John Hughes films, the young cast were well prepared to fill the roles of the heavy-set geeky sidekick Ned (Jacob Batalon), the rich bully Flash (Tony Revolori), the cynical girl Michelle (Zendaya) and Liz (Laura Herrier), the girl Peter likes.

As Peter’s aunt, Marisa Tomei appears much younger than in previous versions, almost a cool cousin like she played in Slums of Beverly Hills. The witty banter linking Spider-Man to the Marvel franchise is well handled by brief appearances of Tony Stark and his assistants Happy (Jon Favreau) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and video vignettes from Captain America (Chris Evans) played for the edification of the students.

Marvel fans are sure to like this latest film, but even those who are tired of the franchise and wonder why we need a third Spider-Man will be pleasantly surprised.

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Consensus: Anchored by solid performances from Tom Holland as the hero and Micheal Keaton as the villain, as well as an irresistible sense of fun, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an excellent franchise reboot that is both exciting and entertaining. ★★★½ (out of 4)

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