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4K UHD Review: The Quick and the Dead

July 17, 2018

By John Corrado

Sam Raimi’s hyper-stylized 1995 western The Quick and the Dead has just gotten a 4K Ultra HD upgrade. While the film received mixed reviews at the time of its release and was a box office flop, it has also gained somewhat of a cult following over the years.

The film stars Sharon Stone as a mysterious female gunslinger in the wild west who rides into the town of Redemption with unfinished business, and puts her name down to prove her stuff in their annual showdown, which consists of a series of gunfights to the death.

The town is run under the iron fist of Mayor John Herod (Gene Hackman), who’s cocky son (Leonardo DiCaprio) fancies himself to be a perfect shot, and the residents include a collection of quirky characters who challenge each other to the daily gunfights in order to prove their worth. Herod’s former henchman Cort (Russell Crowe), who left town and has returned as a preacher who now renounces violence, is also forced to sign up for the fight, despite his best wishes.

The plot itself is somewhat thin, offering a pretty standard story of vengeance and shootouts that mainly riffs on the tropes of most classic westerns. But The Quick and the Dead updates these themes through its genuine embrace of pop art style, and Dante Spinotti’s showy and inventive cinematography remains one of the chief selling points of the film. The shootouts play like Sergio Leone taken to the extreme, with ample use of Dutch angles and quick zoom-ins on the opponents’ eyes, intercut with looming shots of the clock in the town square counting down to the moments of gunfire.

The other element of the film that continues to stand out is the cast. Sharon Stone does fine work in the lead as a sort of “Woman With No Name,” and she is backed up by an ensemble of familiar faces both young and old. The film is notable for featuring an incredibly young Leonardo DiCaprio and for giving Russell Crowe his first American role, and it also includes memorable appearances from recognizable character actors such as Roberts Blossom and Keith David.

While The Quick and the Dead is seen as somewhat of a lesser entry into Sam Raimi’s filmography, it is chock full of the same stylistic trademarks and over the top bloody violence that has defined many of his other films. Yes, it could be argued that the film is largely an exercise in style over substance, but it’s a lot of fun to watch, and worth revisiting now that it has gotten a 4K upgrade.

The disc also includes seven “never before seen” deleted scenes, as well as the original theatrical trailer for the film. A regular Blu-ray disc is also included in the package.

The Quick an the Dead is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 105 minutes and rated 14A.


Blu-ray Review: Rampage

July 17, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Loosely based on the video game that first launched in the 1980s, Rampage follows Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), a primatologist at a wildlife sanctuary in San Diego who has formed a bond with a rare albino silverback gorilla named George, who he has taught to communicate through sign language.

But when the generally peaceful George becomes infected with a pathogen that is released when rogue canisters fall from the sky, his genes start to rapidly evolve and he gains super strength, causing him to grow in size and wreak havoc on the surrounding area.

The pathogen originated from an gene-editing experiment involving CRISPR that was being done aboard the space station, masterminded by mad scientist siblings Brett (Jake Lacy) and Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), who work for the sleazy company Energyne. It also infects a crocodile in Florida and a wolf in Wyoming, causing them to grow in size and gain the attributes of other animals. This forces Davis to team up with geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), and work with government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), in order to stop the creatures before they destroy Chicago, and hopefully also find an antidote to save George.

For what it’s worth, Rampage is another in a long line of mediocre action films that is kept watchable thanks to the magnetic screen presence and genuine likability of Dwayne Johnson, who is teaming up once again with Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas director Brad Peyton. The plot of the film grows more outlandish as it goes along, with every set-piece bigger and cheesier than the last, but it seems fully aware of its own ridiculousness, playing with its tongue firmly planted in cheek.

This is one of those films that sets out to deliver nothing more than big, dumb fun, without any real pretense of being something more, and on that basis it is mildly successful at what it sets out to do. It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s mildly entertaining and I wasn’t really bored while watching it, so I guess that counts for something.

The Blu-ray also includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, and the five featurettes Not Just a Game Anymore, Rampage: Actors in Action, Trio of Destruction, Attack on Chicago, and Bringing George to Life.

Rampage is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 108 minutes and rated 14A.

Blu-ray Review: A Quiet Place

July 17, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Set in a dystopic near-future world that has been ravaged by alien creatures that rely solely on hearing, forcing any of the remaining humans to live in silence lest they make a noise and summon an attack, A Quiet Place is an entertaining if overly gimmicky monster movie that charts one family’s attempt to survive by remaining as quiet as possible.

Lee Abbott (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) live on an old farm property, walking around in bare feet and communicating through sign language so as not to alert the creatures that lurk in the forests and fields around them.

The other problem is that Evelyn is pregnant and rapidly approaching her due date, which provides a ticking time bomb in the narrative, because there is no way the baby will be able to arrive in this world quietly. The story follows Lee’s attempts to protect his family, as Evelyn navigates the challenges of bringing a new life into this world, and Regan and Marcus find themselves coming of age under extreme circumstances.

Directed by John Krasinski – who acts alongside his real life wife Emily Blunt, marking the first time they’ve appeared onscreen together – A Quiet Place is a competently made survival thriller, that does have some elements to admire about it. The film unfolds with little in the way of traditional dialogue, and it makes some inventive use of sound effects and even total silence to up the tension. Because the character of Regan is deaf, as is the actress who plays her, the film plunges us into complete silence when showing things from her perspective, which is an effective cinematic choice.

The film provides few details as to how many other survivors there are or where these creatures came from – aside from newspaper headlines referencing a meteor – and background information is kept to a minimum. While this purposely vague nature of the plot can be effective in terms of building tension, I actually wish that the film had expanded more on this world. The story feels underdeveloped at times, like a TV pilot or a short film that has been fleshed out to feature length, and the film has a tendency to play more like a series of set-pieces. The film could also be read as a metaphor of the sacrifices you have to make in terms of parenthood, but even on these terms it feels somewhat overly obvious.

While the fact that the characters have to remain quiet is an interesting storytelling device, it still is largely a device, and I wish the premise had been more thought out. My biggest problem with A Quiet Place is that the movie is built so thoroughly around a gimmick, that if you don’t fully embrace this gimmick the whole thing sort of falls apart. This is one of those films that requires us to take so many leaps of logic in order for it to work, that I ended up not really able to go with it at times.

I think the bigger problem is that by the time I finally watched A Quiet Place recently, the film had been wildly overhyped as some sort of artistic exercise in Hitchcockian suspense, which probably contributed to the reasons why I found it to be a bit of a letdown. With that said, this is still a thoroughly entertaining and technically very well made thriller, and there are enough decently crafted set-pieces that do provide momentary tension to make it worth seeing. I just wish it had lived up to more of the hype.

The Blu-ray also includes three featurettes on the production entitled Creating the Quiet – Behind the Scenes of A Quiet Place, The Sound of Darkness – Editing Sound for A Quiet Place, and A Reason for Silence – The Visual Effects of A Quiet Place.

A Quiet Place is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.  It’s 90 minutes and rated 14A.

Review: The King

July 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

What if the rise and fall of Elvis Presley could be seen as a microcosm of America itself, symbolizing nothing less than the birth and death of the American Dream?

This is the basic concept behind The King, a damn near stunning new documentary from director Eugene Jarecki, that sees the filmmaker driving across America in a Rolls Royce that belonged to Elvis himself, and using this road trip to offer a moving study of the country from the post-war boom of the mid-20th Century to where it is now.

The road trip takes us from his birthplace of Tupelo, Mississippi where fans still take pilgrimages to the house where he was born; to the city of Memphis, Tennessee where he spent his formative years attending a black gospel church that left an indelible mark on his musical stylings; and finally Las Vegas, Nevada where he spent the final years of his life performing. As the Rolls Royce moves from once-prosperous factory towns to bigger cities, different actors and musicians take up residence in the backseat to share their thoughts on both Elvis and the current state of America.

For example, Ethan Hawke joins to talk passionately about Presley’s early work at Sun Records, while Alec Baldwin offers a more critical examination of how the country has become divided along political lines. The film balances out the many admirers of Elvis with insights from political commentator Van Jones and rapper Public Enemy, who talk about the history of racial segregation that was happening behind the meteoric rise of The King. They decry his “appropriation” of black music, as he got famous by taking songs that were initially recorded by African-American artists like Little Richard and Big Mama Thornton, and bringing them to white radio stations that wouldn’t otherwise play them.

The film covers a lot of ground, and goes far beyond just being a typical biography, as much exploring the idea of Elvis and what he came to represent at the time as it does his actual life and career. The film tries to present him as a sort of tragic figure, a young man from humble beginnings who gave up a normal life in exchange for fame and fortune and the chance to make it big, in an almost Faustian trade off. His success ultimately led to his downfall, with his popularity built around an image that masked the pain and suffering underneath.

While he started out as a revolutionary artist in the 1950s, Elvis ultimately came to be seen as somewhat of a gaudy parody of himself in the 1970s, spending the final years of his life wearing sparkly white suits and performing in Vegas, before succumbing to drug addictions that accelerated his very undignified demise. The film culminates by showing both the death of Elvis in 1977 and the presidential election of Donald Trump in 2016, whose promise to “Make America Great Again” ignited a sort of nostalgic hope for a return to the seeming prosperity of the past in the hearts and minds of many patriotic voters.

The idea, of course, is that America, like Elvis before her, runs the risk of overdosing on past successes that have now given way to excess. Whether or not you agree with this general sentiment that the rise of Trump has exacerbated the downfall of America, and I don’t really personally subscribe to that way of thinking, it’s hard to deny that the country is plagued with deep divisions that have always been there but have now only intensified. The film does a great job of presenting its general thesis, questioning if this grand idea of the American Dream has always been an illusion, like how Elvis represented an idealistic version of the country that maybe never really existed.

The overall arc of the narrative is best summed up by a heartbreaking story that Mike Myers recounts partway through the film. When Elvis used to drive into the Paramount lot where his movies were shot, his manager would put a towel over his head so that the screaming girls couldn’t see him. But after the Beatles burst onto the scene in the 1960s and the screaming girls stopped coming for Elvis, his manager would put a towel over his head so he couldn’t see that there were no more girls.

This is a very powerful example of the great American tragedy. The countercultural rebel had become mainstream, and then ran the risk of ending up obsolete. The American Dream has been all but reduced to a relic of the past, and America is at a turning point. The question now becomes whether the country is in the process of staging a comeback, or if it is doomed to the same fate as Elvis Presley, who is fondly remembered for his many great contributions to the world but died the most degrading death.

America might not be a monarchy, but for a little while they had The King, and maybe, just maybe, that’s enough reason for us to celebrate, regardless of what else happens.

The King is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Review: Three Identical Strangers

July 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

When the 19-year-old Bobby arrived at college in 1980, he was treated like a familiar face, despite the fact that he didn’t know anyone. As it turns out, they had mistaken him for Eddy, an identical twin that he never knew existed.

The story of these two long lost brothers being reunited by chance was so strange that it made the local papers, but it became even stranger – and even more of a media sensation – when they were contacted by a third guy named David, who also looked just like them.

They had all been adopted from the Louise Wise Agency in New York, shared the same birthday, and had many other things in common as well. They were identical triplets, who grew up within a hundred mile radius of each other, and never even knew of each other’s existence. The long lost brothers became fast friends and immediately shared a bond, but as they found out more about their past, their story started to take a darker turn.

Their story is recounted in Three Identical Strangers, a gripping new documentary that starts as a more lighthearted human interest piece before revealing itself to be something far more sinister. Exceptionally crafted by director Tim Wardle, who brings a strong narrative sense to the project and allows it to unfold with some truly shocking twists and turns, the film offers an incredible example of truth being stranger than fiction. The director utilizes a mix of interviews, archival footage, and reenactments with actors to tell the story in a very cinematic way. These choices are reminiscent of The Imposter, another stranger than fiction doc from several years back that the same production team had a part in.

The whole thing is masterfully edited together, with different clips and lines of dialogue repeating themselves at different points, allowing these little moments to take on deeper meaning the more that we find out about the story. The film ultimately ends up raising complex moral and ethical questions about how much information adoption agencies are required to divulge, and the effects that nature versus nurture can have upon somebody’s upbringing.

While it’s likely that some will already know the basics of this story, I would recommend seeing Three Identical Strangers knowing as little about it as possible. This is a riveting film, that just keeps getting more fascinating and disturbing with every new revelation.

Three Identical Strangers is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

Review: Mary Shelley

July 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

A biopic of the Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley takes the pretty extraordinary story behind one of the most beloved horror novels of all time, and turns it into a decently acted but otherwise fairly ordinary costume drama.

The film opens with Mary (Elle Fanning) as a free-spirited teenager living in London in 1814, reading a book at the gravesite of her mother and namesake Mary Wollstonecraft, an author and feminist scholar who died shortly after giving birth to her.

Mary is being raised by her political theorist father William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), who has instilled in her a love of books but doesn’t want her reading ghost stories, and she often clashes with her stepmother (Joanne Froggatt), who wants her to be more ladylike.

But a spark is lit in her life when she falls in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), a slightly older poet who becomes her father’s protégé, and she embarks on a passionate affair with him. When Mary’s father discovers that Percy has abandoned his own wife (Ciara Charteris) and daughter in order to be with her, he disavows their relationship, prompting them to move away to a house in France, along with Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley).

Much of the film focuses on the early stages of Mary’s relationship with Percy, which had its share of ups and downs. This leads to the famous summer that Mary, Percy and Claire spent with Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge, chewing up the scenery) and Dr. John Polidori (Ben Hardy) in Switzerland. It’s here that the inspiration for her novel and most famous creation is born, prompted by a challenge put forth by the grandiose Byron for each of them to write a fantasy novel.

While Mary Shelley is often entertaining, and Elle Fanning does fine work in the leading role, the biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t spend anywhere near enough time focusing on the actual writing and publication of Frankenstein. The conception of the novel only really comes into focus close to three quarters of the way through the two hour running time, relegating what is arguably the most interesting aspect of Mary Shelley’s life to the last act. This is ultimately the film’s greatest mistake.

The story of how Frankenstein came to be is fascinating enough on its own, and could have easily filled out more of the running time. The author started working on the story when she was just eighteen years old, and it was initially published anonymously with an introduction by Percy Shelley, which led many readers to assume he had written it. This was due to the fact that the publishers were apprehensive to release such a dark book under a woman’s name, and she only received credit for it later on.

The film does show some of the moments of heartbreak and longing in Shelley’s life that inspired her to write the story of a stitched together corpse reanimated through science, but it never goes particularly deep into her psyche, offering only a rudimentary study of her as a character. The actual pen-to-paper writing of the novel is reduced only to a short montage. There is a lot of nuance here that feels glossed over, and as a result the film never quite comes alive like it should.

The film is directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, who made her feature debut with the very fine Saudi Arabian female empowerment fable Wadjda several years back, and it has a few snags that a more experienced filmmaker might have done a better job of smoothing over. The period elements of the film are attractive to look at, but the production also feels somewhat stagey at times, and the dialogue in Emma Jensen’s screenplay can veer towards melodrama.

For a movie about a revolutionary story by an author who was ahead of her time, Mary Shelley is hardly groundbreaking stuff. While it’s alright as a period romance, and the performances are decent, the film would have been wise to focus more on the actual writing of Frankenstein, in which case it might have left more of an impact.

Mary Shelley is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

Review: Leave No Trace

July 6, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

When we first meet Will (Ben Foster) and his adolescent daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in Leave No Trace, they are living a secluded life in the middle of a large urban forest in Portland, Oregon, sharing a small tent and foraging for food.

We don’t really know how long they have been living like this, but the father and daughter share a close bond and have settled into a routine between them. Will is a war veteran suffering from PTSD who can no longer handle the pressures placed on him by modern society, and Tom’s mother died when she was young, so we get the sense that she was raised this way and has been living in the woods most of her young life.

They have frequent drills to practise what they will do in the event that somebody finds their camp, and take infrequent trips into the city to stock up on basic groceries, and so that he can collect his welfare checks from the VA office. When the inevitable happens and they are discovered by police, Will and Tom are separated and put into social services, with Tom going under the watch of a social worker (Dana Millican). Arrangements are made for them to live together on a rural farm property, but Will finds himself struggling to readapt to civilization, as Tom starts to discover what she’s missed. But the question soon comes if they would actually be happier living like they used to.

The latest feature from director Debra Granik, who broke onto the scene with the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone in 2010, Leave No Trace is another stark and deeply empathetic character study of people living in the forgotten corners of America. Where as Winter’s Bone was a pitch black crime drama that had a sense of danger and despair running through it, Leave No Trace plays with a sense of serenity underlying its inherent drama that makes it transfixing and almost meditative to watch.

This isn’t a showy film, but instead one that is built around subtleties, and the entire film unfolds with a sense of realism. There are no real villains, and even the police officers and social workers who roust them from their peaceful inhabitance in nature, who could have been painted in an antagonistic light, are instead portrayed as sympathetic and well meaning. The drama feels very grounded, which isn’t surprising considering that the story is based on a novel by Peter Rock that was itself inspired by true events. The film’s suspense comes from a constant sense that the peaceful life Will is so desperately trying to establish for him and his daughter is constantly at risk of being intruded upon.

The film explores many of the same themes that were raised in Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentalist classic Walden, and in Michael Finkel’s more recent nonfiction bestseller The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the First True Hermit, providing a meditation on the healing benefits of solitude as well as the price that has to be paid in exchange for choosing to live away from society. Will’s PTSD becomes almost like a metaphorical way to explore feelings of restlessness and constantly wanting to get away from it all, but never really being able to, with forces outside your control always pulling you back towards what you are trying to escape.

The film works as both a coming of age story of a teen girl trying to figure out what sort of world she wants to live in, and of her father who can no longer handle the real world and needs to find a way to leave it behind in an attempt to find peace of mind. Will has already been broken by the world, a state that is contrasted by Tom, who is walking the fine line between being young enough to still have an idealistic view of the world, but also starting to discover the realities of it. Will lived amongst civilization once and is now making the choice to get away from it, where as Tom needs to decide what sort of life she wants to live.

Ben Foster does a compelling job of exploring his character’s anxieties about the world and his nascent paranoia, suffering from his own internal demons but also trying desperately to hold it together for the sake of his daughter. It’s a brilliantly minimalistic performance, with Foster playing these complex emotions in a subtle, low-key way that really resonates. The young New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie does beautifully naturalistic work as his daughter, and the two actors bring incredible depth and nuance to their characters and the bond between them.

Built around this pair of masterful performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace is a quietly moving and beautifully shot portrait of people wanting to just live their own lives, and the systems that keep intruding upon them.

Leave No Trace is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Review: Always at the Carlyle

July 6, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The Carlyle has seen its share of famous guests over the years, ranging from actors and rock stars to politicians and royalty, and now the famous New York City hotel is the centre of attention in Matthew Miele’s glossy new documentary Always at the Carlyle.

Situated in the Upper East Side, and harkening back to a different era with its elegant decor and glamorous rooms that cost upwards of thousands of dollars a night – and even come complete with monogramed pillowcases for regular visitors – the Carlyle is the hotel of choice for elites visiting the city.

Through interviews with a selection of dedicated staff members, some of whom have worked there for decades and have built up a rapport with the regular guests, we find out some of the history of the nearly a century old hotel, and hear anecdotes about some of the people who have stayed there over the years. There are also appearances from a whole slew of famous faces, including George Clooney, Wes Anderson, Bill Murray, Tommy Lee Jones, Jeff Goldblum, Angelica Huston and even the late Anthony Bourdain, who speak highly of their experiences at the hotel.

We hear stories about the Rolling Stones staying there, and how Jack Nicholson is known to send flowers to the staff. The employees also talk fondly about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first visit to New York in 2014, when they stayed at the Carlyle in honour of the late Princess Diana, who adored the hotel. We are even told of the time that Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs all ended up in one of the old elevators together. The hotel is also home to a classic bar where Woody Allen is known to hang out that has walls adorned with artwork by Ludwig Bemelmans, as well as an intimate lounge known as Cafe Carlyle, where Bobby Short performed for many years.

There are moments when a famous name is brought up but an anecdote about their time at the hotel is cut short because of the hotel’s strict policy not to talk about their guests. There is also an overall sense that the film is holding back on some of the more unsavoury stuff that has inevitably gone down at the Carlyle, which is said to become party central every year following the annual Met Gala, especially in light of the #MeToo movement. George Clooney somewhat jokingly says near the beginning of the film that many “dastardly” things have happened at the hotel, but if the filmmakers had chosen to explore this claim it likely would have turned into a much darker exposé.

The trouble is that the film doesn’t have much in the way of substance, and the experience of watching the rich guests fawn over the affluent experiences they’ve had there – and hearing how the staff have gone along with some of their ridiculous demands, including one unnamed woman who insisted they bring her a patch of grass for her dog to piss on in the room – can get somewhat tiring. After all, they are talking about experiences that the majority of us could never even dream of having, and I wish the film had pushed back further on some of the elitism on display.

As it stands, this is not a particularly deep film, and it sometimes feels stretched thin even though it only runs for an hour and a half. The film largely functions as a celebration of the rich and famous, made for those who want to fantasize about their lifestyles. But this lightness of touch is not necessarily a bad thing, and Always at the Carlyle is a breezy and enjoyable enough film that offers enough small pleasures to make it mildly worth seeing.  Just don’t expect much more than a fluff piece.

Always at The Carlyle is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Review: 22 Chaser

July 6, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Set in the seedy underground world of Toronto tow-truck drivers, 22 Chaser follows Ben (Brian J. Smith), a driver for the Jackrabbit towing company who is trying to make an honest living, but is stuck doing by-law duty and finds himself struggling to support his wife (Tiio Horn) and their young son (Jack Fulton).

The real money is in being a “chaser,” the sleazy drivers who operate on the edges of the law, listening to police scanners and racing each other to traffic accidents, trying to be the first truck on the scene to bring the damaged vehicles to body shops that give them kickbacks in cash.

When Ben promises to buy his son a several hundred dollar bike for his birthday, and gets money from a crooked cop (Aidan Devine) who moonlights as a loan shark but isn’t happy waiting to be paid back, his only hope is to become a chaser. But this puts him in direct competition with the other chasers who patrol the streets, including his ethically shaky co-worker Sean (Aaron Ashmore), who is trying to weasel his way into Ben’s family life, as well as the independent driver Wayne (Raoul Trujillo), a lone wolf whose loyalties lie with no one.

Made with the help of the Canadian Film Centre, 22 Chaser is the promising feature debut of filmmaker Rafal Sokolowski, following several short films. While the story is admittedly clichéd at times, and the overall outcome is fairly predictable, this is a thoroughly watchable and decently entertaining Toronto thriller that has enough going for it to make it worth a look.

The film moves at a good pace, and largely eschews filler at a tightly packed 85 minutes. With much of the action unfolding at night, Cabot McNenly’s attractive cinematography gives an almost noirish vibe to the film, highlighted by the steely grey skylines of The Six. Furthermore, the performances are solid across the board, and do a good job of keeping us engaged in the story.

22 Chaser is now playing in limited release at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto, and will be getting a VOD release on July 17th.

Blu-ray Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ

July 3, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest in a long line of faith-based movies from Affirm Films, Paul, Apostle of Christ depicts the last days of Paul the Apostle (James Faulkner).  The film begins with him imprisoned in Rome in 67 AD, and sentenced to death by Emperor Nero, who accused Christians of burning down the city.

The story focuses on the visits that Luke the Evangelist (Jim Caviezel) paid to Paul in prison, at a time when followers of Christ were being violently persecuted.  Acting as his physician and caretaker, Luke risked his own life to write down the accounts of Paul’s life and document his time spent spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in the early days of the Christian faith, in what would become the Acts of the Apostles.

One of the most interesting aspects of Paul, Apostle of Christ is that the film often strikes a more introspective tone than the usual biblical epic, focusing on the intimate conversations between these early adopters of the faith.  The film does a good job of exploring Paul’s journey from persecutor of Christians to loyal follower of Christ, showing what led to his powerful Road to Damascus moment in flashbacks.  This is mirrored in the story of prison guard Mauritius (Oliver Martinez), who starts to question his own opposition to Christianity in his time spent upholding Paul’s sentence.

The script can be a bit heavy-handed at times, including a couple of oddly self-referential moments that don’t quite work in which Paul and Luke literally quote what would become scripture to each other, but for the most part, Paul, Apostle of Christ is an engaging biblical drama.  Andrew Hyatt does a solid job of directing the film, showing both reverence and respect for the material, as well as a good eye for crafting an authentic period piece.

The film is further elevated by the excellent performances of its leads.  James Faulkner brings a world-weariness to his role that is compelling to watch, and Jim Caviezel delivers another respectful portrayal of one of the bible’s foremost figures, following his career-defining performance in The Passion of the Christ.  This is a well acted film that uses its biblical story to provide a thoughtful and at times moving exploration of religious belief and how Christianity was able to spread, despite the violent persecution faced by its followers in the early days of the religion.

The Blu-ray also includes a pair of deleted scenes, two illustrated bible readings entitled The Living Scriptures, as well as the three featurettes The Path of the Apostle: Adapting Paul, Recreating First Century Rome, and An Extraordinary Friendship: Luke & Paul.

Paul, Apostle of Christ is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 108 minutes and rated PG.

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