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Previewing the 2020 Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival

January 30, 2020

By John Corrado

The 17th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival kicks off tonight in Toronto, showcasing a total of six timely and relevant films over the next six nights, most of which played at other Toronto festivals over the past year.

All of the screenings will be taking place at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, and it’s worth noting that the tickets are free. More information can be found right here.

The festival begins with a screening of director Garin Hovannisian’s very engaging documentary I Am Not Alone (Thursday, January 30th, 7:30 PM), which had its world premiere at TIFF a few months ago. The film documents journalist turned Member of Parliament Nikol Pashinyan’s 2018 walk across Armenia in protest of the government led by Serzh Sargsyan, who had served his maximum two terms as President, and was trying to appoint himself Prime Minister after changing the constitution to give the PM increased powers. Moving at a fast pace, and featuring fascinating interviews with both Pashinyan and Sargsyan, the film offers an inspiring look at how one person can bring about monumental change.

The second screening is On the President’s Orders (Friday, January 31st, 7:00 PM), which premiered at Hot Docs in 2019 and, at a compact 72 minutes long, offers a terrifying, on-the-ground look at Rodrigo Duterte’s “War on Drugs” in the Philippines, which included giving the militarized police department permission to shoot drug dealers and users on site. This was one of the best documentaries I saw last year, even gaining a spot on my top ten list. It’s a shocking and powerful film that unfolds like a real life thriller, and demands more of an audience.

Next up is Gay Chorus Deep South (Saturday, February 1st, 7:30 PM), a crowdpleaser of a documentary that also played at last year’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. The film follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir as they embark on a tour of the extremely religious Deep South in the wake of the divisive 2016 election, bringing their message of love and inclusion to churches and community centres in places like Mississippi and Alabama, where anti-LGBTQ discrimination still exists. With some of the members having familial ties to the South, the concert tour presents a homecoming of sorts, and there are plenty of moving scenes along the way as they grapple with some big questions about faith and acceptance. Yes, there are sad moments, but this is ultimately still a feel good film.

Next is Born in Evin (Sunday, February 2nd, 1:00 PM), a holdover from last year’s Hot Docs, which finds German-Iranian filmmaker and actor Maryam Zaree grappling with the fact that she was born inside Evin, a notorious prison in Iran, after her parents were imprisoned for protesting in 1979. As much a personal story as it is a broader look at the oppressiveness of Iran’s regime, Born in Evin follows Zaree as she tries to find out the exact circumstances surrounding her birth, with her mother reluctant to talk about it. The result is an interesting political documentary that also functions as a moving look at trauma and how we process pain from our earliest years.

The themes of political prisoners carry over into The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov (Monday, February 3rd, 7:00 PM), a 2017 documentary which focuses on the case of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, a Maiden activist who was arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up several infrastructure sites as well as a monument of Lenin. Despite shaky evidence, Sentsov was charged with anti-Russian terrorism and sentenced to twenty years behind bars. Many viewed it as a political show-trial by an oppressive government trying to flex its muscles, gaining him support from the international film community.

Directed by Askold Kurov, The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov is partially told through the lens of Sentsov’s cousin, who visits him in prison and fights for his release. Because the film was made before Sentsov was finally released in 2019, it only tells part of the story, but this is still an interesting examination of this case and the inner-workings of Russia’s judicial system. It ends with a forceful speech that Sentsov makes from behind bars in a courtroom. The screening will be followed by a live Q&A with Oleg Sentsov.

The festival ends with director Rubaiyat Hossain’s socially conscious drama Made in Bangladesh (Tuesday, February 4th, 7:30 PM), a TIFF premiere which explores exploitative labour practises at a factory in Dhaka as the women who work there try to unionize. It’s the only one of these films that isn’t a documentary, and also the only one that I haven’t seen as of this writing, but the description fits with the broader human rights themes that the festival is all about.

The 2020 Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs from January 30th to February 4th.

Blu-ray Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

January 29, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The sixth entry into the Terminator franchise started by James Cameron in 1984, Terminator: Dark Fate serves as a direct follow up to Cameron’s groundbreaking 1991 sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day and, for better or for worse, essentially ignores the events of the other three films that happened in between.

Tim Miller, of Deadpool fame, steps into the director’s chair here, with Cameron serving as producer. Miller has some massive shoes to fill, and he does succeed at staging some decent set-pieces, but this belated sequel also feels simplistic and is somewhat frustrating on a narrative level. The film as a whole is okay, but ultimately can’t live up to the first two, which are among the most iconic sci-fi and action films of all time.

This film begins directly after Judgement Day ended. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her young son John Connor have defeated Skynet, and successfully prevented the world from ending on August 29th, 1997. They are enjoying the newfound peace, when Sarah watches her son get shot and killed by another T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) that was also sent back at the same time to stop him from becoming a resistance leader.

The film then jumps ahead to 2020. Skynet was never built, but a system called Legion was, developing artificial intelligence that, by 2040, has taken over the world. The majority of the action is set in Mexico, where a new liquid metal Terminator, the highly advanced Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), has been sent back in time to kill a young factory worker named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who will play a role in a future resistance movement. A mysterious, cybernetically enhanced human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) has also been sent back through time to protect Dani.

In order to survive, Dani and Grace are forced to team up with an older, more grizzled Sarah Connor, who we find out has spent the years since her son’s death seeking vengeance by travelling across the country destroying rogue Terminators. The plot of Terminator: Dark Fate follows the basic formula of the other films, and you could think of it as a soft reboot of the series, in a similar vein to the 2009 Star Trek film. This is mainly done so that they can bring back Hamilton, and it is fun to see her back in the role, but the choice to kill off John Connor, whom the first two films are indirectly and directly about trying to save, didn’t really work for me.

The most frustrating thing about Terminator: Dark Fate is that the film retcons the best film in the series, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and renders the victories of that film essentially meaningless. If we know John Connor is going to get killed anyways, and another sentient AI will rise in place of Skynet, the events of Judgement Day feel a lot less impactful. While Dark Fate can be mildly entertaining on its own terms, and some of the action sequences, if generic, are admittedly well done, the film is also built upon an inherently frustrating foundation. Purely in terms of quality, the film is probably a bit better than expected for a belated sequel, but it also feels kind of needless.

The Blu-ray also includes a selection of six deleted and extended scenes (I Need Your Car, Internet Cafe, Augmentation Volunteer, The Crossing, Alicia Confronts Sarah, and Let Me Save You), as well as the four featurettes A Legend Reforged, World Builders, Dam Busters: The Final Showdown and VFX Breakdown: The Dragonfly, which range in length from a few minutes to half an hour.

Terminator: Dark Fate is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 128 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 28th, 2020

Blu-ray Review: Motherless Brooklyn

January 28, 2020

By John Corrado

One of the most overlooked movies of last year was Edward Norton’s excellent, 1950s-set detective movie Motherless Brooklyn, which he directs and stars in as a New York City private investigator living with Tourette syndrome. The film seemed to come and go in theatres with not enough fanfare, but it’s arriving on Blu-ray this week, and I hope that more people will be encouraged to check this one out.

This is a film noir in the classic sense, with shades of films like Chinatown, and if you are a fan of the genre like I am, Motherless Brooklyn is a highly enjoyable experience. It’s a beautifully crafted work, filled with excellent performances and resonant themes about housing inequality and racial discrimination. For more on the film itself, my full review can be found right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track by Norton, as well as a roughly ten minute featurette entitled Making-Of: Edward Norton’s Methodical Process, which features other members of the cast and crew talking about how Norton would seamlessly switch in and out of character to fulfill his roles as both actor and director, and touches upon his unique approach to adapting Jonathan Letham’s 1999 novel of the same name for the screen. The piece also all too briefly talks about Daniel Pemberton’s jazz score for the film and Thom Yorke’s haunting original song “Daily Battles,” which by all rights should have gotten an Oscar nomination. This is followed by about five minutes of deleted scenes.

Motherless Brooklyn is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 144 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 28th, 2020

Blu-ray Review: The Lighthouse

January 22, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Robert Eggers established himself as a filmmaker to watch with his 2015 debut The Witch, a period piece horror movie set in the 1600s that played with a moody aesthetic and a strong sense of atmosphere.

Eggers has more than lived up to this early promise with his even better sophomore feature The Lighthouse, delivering a beguiling black and white nightmare fuelled by a pair of wild and staggering performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as men going insane in isolation.

The film is set in the late 1800s on a remote island in New England, where lighthouse keepers Thomas Wake (Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) are stationed for four weeks. The grizzled Thomas is the older of the two men and the one in charge, a veteran lighthouse keeper who almost seems to take perverse delight in barking orders at the taciturn Ephraim, a former lumberjack coming up from Canada who took the job as a wickie because he was in need of work.

Ephraim is tasked with cleaning their living quarters including emptying the camber pots, but the one job he is forbidden from doing is climbing the steps and lighting the lamp, which Thomas insists on doing himself. Thomas seems in tune with the mysterious ways of the island, but Ephraim struggles to cope with the demands of the job and the seagulls that torment him, while also growing increasingly annoyed with his boss’s dinnertime folk tales and alcohol consumption, not to mention his incessant farting. As a terrible storm approaches, the two men are trapped together, with no reprieve from the elements or each other.

Thomas warns his young charge that it’s “bad luck to kill a seabird”, as they are said to carry the souls of deceased sailors. But Ephraim inevitably breaks this rule, at which point all hell starts to break loose. It would be hard to describe everything that transpires in The Lighthouse, a film that is rich with folklore and encapsulates us with its foreboding atmosphere. Not everything is explained, but it’s not meant to be, either. The film has the feel of a strange dream, working as an immersive audio and visual experience with at times hallucinatory imagery, and a darkly comic streak that adds to the unique and very specific tone of the piece.

Modelled after vintage photography from the late 19th century, the cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, who also shot The Witch for Eggers, is one of the defining aspects of the film. Shot in black and white on 35mm film, and framed in a square 1.19:1 aspect ratio, the moody grey aesthetic of The Lighthouse helps transport us to the time period in which it is set, marked by an orthochromatic colour palette that offers rich, inky blacks and weathered skin tones. The film recently received a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography, an honour that is very well deserved.

The film was shot in the outskirts of Atlantic Canada, with the cast and crew facing off against the elements in real life throughout the gruelling springtime shoot. This authenticity couldn’t have been replicated, and really heightens the stormy, Maritime aesthetic of the film. The production design is exceptional, with the crew building a 70-foot tall, fully operational lighthouse in Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia specifically for the film, complete with a working lamp. The film’s images are matched by its brilliant, all-encompassing sound design that mixes in pounding rain, crashing waves, an incessant foghorn and Mark Korvan’s score to delirious effect.

What does it all mean? Well, there are multiple interpretations you can bring to the story. Eggers has said of his film that “nothing good ever happens when two men are trapped together in a giant phallus,” and the homoerotic tension that exists between the two characters adds to the push and pull of their dynamic. Whether by virtue of isolation or long-repressed desires, a sort of psychosexual chemistry comes to develop between Thomas and Ephraim, which neither man is willing to admit or act upon, furthering their descent into insanity.

While The Lighthouse is a stripped down chamber piece that unfolds mainly in tight quarters and plays almost entirely as a two-hander between these men, it’s captivating to watch, thanks to the brilliant performances of Dafoe and Pattinson. The two actors play off each other extremely well, elevating each other at every possible opportunity, and it’s a treat to watch them tear up the screen. The film has shades of David Lynch’s more surreal works, while furthering the development of Eggers’s own aesthetic as an artist, adding up to a deeply strange, genuinely unique and often transfixing experience.

The Blu-ray comes with a surprisingly hefty helping of bonus features, starting with a commentary track by Eggers and the extended featurette The Lighthouse: A Dark & Stormy Tale, a surprisingly in-depth, nearly forty minute look at the making of the film covering everything from its early development and the attention to period detail in the costumes, to what sort of lenses Blaschke used. This is followed by the shorter featurette Making of the Lighthouse, which plays like an extension of it, as well as a selection of other brief featurettes and a few deleted scenes. A fine package all around.

The Lighthouse is a VVS Films release. It’s 109 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 14th, 2020

Blu-ray Review: Little Monsters

January 21, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The zombie comedy is hardly a new invention, and we already have films like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and its recent sequel, the teen romance Warm Bodies, as well as the delightful musical Anna and the Apocalypse to prove it’s a genre mashup that can work.

Now we can add writer-director Abe Forsyth’s Little Monsters to this list, an Australian zombie comedy which throws a class of kindergarten kids into the mix to up the undead ante. This is a film that shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it’s not only a lot of fun, it’s also surprisingly kinda sweet. Plus, it has Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o performing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on a ukulele.

The main character is Dave (Alexander England), an immature man-child who makes money busking. Dave has just gone through a bad breakup and, with nowhere else to go, ends up staying with his sister Tess (Kat Stewart) and her young son Felix (Diesel La Torraca), becoming more like a big brother to him than an uncle. When Dave lays eyes on his nephew’s kindergarten teacher, Miss Caroline (Nyong’o), he agrees to chaperone a class field trip to a fun farm just to get close to her.

But the farm happens to be right near a government facility where an outbreak of a virus has happened and infected patients have gotten loose. When the undead escape, they descend upon the farm, leaving Dave and Miss Caroline no choice but to team up to protect the kids. Also in the mix is Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), a wildly popular children’s television show host with an annoyingly cheery onscreen persona who happens to be taping an episode at the farm when the zombies attack, giving way to the revelation that he is actually a cruel, foul-mouthed drunk in real life. It’s a role that Gad excels at playing.

The first roughly twenty minutes of Little Monsters, which are spent introducing us to the character of Dave long before the zombies even show up, are already hilarious, and a big part of why the film works as well as it does is because it takes time to establish its characters before it even introduces the genre element. England does a good job of carrying the film. While Dave is a slacker and perpetual screw-up who is a victim of prolonged adolescence, England’s affable portrayal of him ensures that he is still a likeable protagonist and someone that we root for on his journey into maturity.

Nyong’o flexes her acting muscles in a different way, capably handling a role that is more comedic than anything we have seen her do before, with Miss Caroline walking a fine line between being free-spirited and no-nonsense. While Little Monsters does play with a lot of gore and gross out humour, it’s also got a surprising amount of heart, and is ultimately somewhat of a feel good film. It’s an odd mix, but Forsyth has done a good job of pulling it off, adding up to an at times delightful little film that I found enjoyable to watch. If you are a fan of zombie comedies, add this one to your list.

The Blu-ray also includes a short “behind the scenes” featurette filmed by the child actors, as well as over two hours of cast and crew interviews.

Little Monsters is a VVS Films release. It’s 94 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 14th, 2020

Review: What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

January 17, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Whether you agreed with her or not, there’s simply no denying that Pauline Kael was one of the most influential film critics of the 20th century, a writer whose often controversial opinions were sometimes hurtful and sometimes helpful, but always uniquely hers.

Even when her contrarian views put her in the critical minority – which was often, with her trashing such widely acclaimed films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Midnight Cowboy and West Side Story, to name but a few of the classics that she struck down with her pen – Kael’s razor-tongued writing style gained her a dedicated following of cinephiles as well as a good deal of detractors.

Kael gets the glowing biographical treatment in director Rob Garver’s What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael, a crowdfunded documentary that is made up of interviews with a litany of people who admired her work, ranging from other critics to filmmakers like Paul Schrader, David O. Russell and Quentin Tarantino, as well as a constant stream of movie clips, and excerpts from her reviews read in voiceover by Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s fairly entertaining to watch, but also feels a bit vapid.

The documentary recounts how Kael’s first review was of Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, a piece that she was invited to write for City Lights magazine after the editor heard her arguing about film in a coffee shop. She hated the film and critiqued it harshly, which helped establish her reputation as someone who was unafraid of criticizing works that others adored. Kael’s work appeared in a variety of outlets before she was hired part-time by The New Yorker magazine – the outlet that she was famous for – in 1968, and she would write for them until 1991.

We learn that before she was brought on as their full time movie critic in 1980, Kael split the gig with Penelope Gilliatt, with them each being allotted six months of the year, which meant that for the first stretch of her career, she wasn’t earning a living wage from The New Yorker. Throughout this time, Kael sought other jobs and went after book deals in order to support herself and her daughter Gina – whom she eventually recruited as her typist, preferring to write all of her reviews by hand – and even briefly took a job for a few months at Paramount Pictures in 1979, after being hired by Warren Beatty as a consultant.

There is some interesting background here on Kael’s life and career. But all of the interviewees in What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael express pretty much nothing but glowing admiration for her, and the biggest problem with Garver’s approach is the fact that he doesn’t really counter this praise or balance it out in any substantial way. The whole thing feels rushed, and at times his film ends up seeming more like hagiography instead of a more fleshed out biography.

Renatta Adler’s not entirely unwarranted criticisms of Kael’s writing in an infamous review of her 1980 book When the Lights Go Down are mostly brushed aside, and the allegations of plagiarism against Kael for her 1971 essay Raising Kane are all but ignored. Kael could also be incredibly and needlessly cruel in how she cut people down with her words, and the film recounts a time when she ripped into and berated David Lean at a dinner party, having considered his Lawrence of Arabia to be an inferior adaptation of T.E. Lawrence’s writing. Lean talks in a surprisingly sad archival interview about how this encounter with her greatly impacted his sense of self-worth, and caused him to stop working for years.

The documentary also makes an all too brief mention of Kael’s attempts to influence the opinions of other writers, with a small coterie of critics dubbed the “Paulettes” whom she expected to fall in line with her in terms of what movies to recommend. While Garver doesn’t entirely shy away from these things, he also doesn’t exactly allow for the most nuanced portrait of her more complicated place in the cinematic landscape or the more challenging aspects of her legacy.

It’s a widely established fact that Kael’s praise of controversial and misunderstood movies such as Bonnie and Clyde and Last Tango in Paris helped bring in audiences to those films and keep them in the conversation, when they might have disappeared otherwise. But the film also seems to over inflate Kael’s importance in advancing the career’s of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg with her positive reviews of Mean Streets and The Sugarland Express, when those filmmakers were on an upward trajectory anyways.

The film also makes zero mention of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, contemporaries of Kael who were equally as influential as her in terms of film criticism, and their curious omission from the film feels like a major oversight. Despite its shortcomings as a complete biography of its central figure, What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is still a fairly enjoyable introduction to her life and career. I just wish it had gone a lot deeper.

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto.

Review: Les Misérables

January 17, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Symbolically named after Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel about poverty and injustice, and the beloved musical that it subsequently inspired, director Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables is a modern day fable about racial tensions and police brutality in contemporary France that explores how a series of events can bubble over into chaos.

The film was awarded the Jury Prize at Cannes and also just received an Oscar nomination in the newly renamed category of Best International Film, having been France’s official submission over the critical darling Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and its social and political relevance – not to mention quality – likely helped it secure a spot.

Like Hugo’s story, this film is also set in Montfermeil, a suburb of Paris that has become a cultural melting pot. At the start of the film, France has just won the World Cup, leading to celebrations in the streets that we observe in the opening scenes, but tensions are rising between different groups in the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood. We follow three plainclothes officers working for the police department’s anti-crime brigade who are sent out to patrol the area.

There’s Gwada (Djebril Zonga) and Chris (Alexis Manenti), both veterans of the force, as well as new recruit Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), who has just been picked up for his first day on these streets and is given the nickname “Greaser.” Chris walks around with the cockiness of someone who believes that he is the law, where as Stéphane doesn’t believe that he is above the law and is used to following rules that this unit has decided don’t apply to them.

A series of escalating events get set in motion when Issa (Issa Perica), an adolescent boy who has a history of getting in trouble with the law and has positioned himself as the leader of a gang of kids, steals a lion cub from a travelling circus troupe, as another local boy (Al-Hassan Ly) films everything with his drone. These disparate elements slowly but surely come together throughout the deliberately paced first half, coming to a boil with a shocking scene about halfway through that sets the stage for the finale.

The result is an explosive drama that builds with simmering tension towards the literal fireworks of its climax, ending with an intense fadeout that wisely ensures the discussion will keep going long after the credits roll. It’s a daring choice that Ladj Ly has made, and some audiences might find it frustrating, but I think it’s the perfect way to end such a potent film, symbolizing that these issues are ongoing. Through this stylistic choice, Ly seems to be acknowledging that these often volatile interactions between police and marginalized communities, which fuel the anger within his film, keep building and seem incapable of being properly defused, unless somebody makes the choice first to lay down their weapon.

It’s a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself, emblematized by the film’s slow-burning plot where one thing keeps leading to another and snowballing further and further out of control. This is a challenging film that seems intended to provoke. Ly does a good job of maintaining interest and tension throughout Les Misérables, crafting a film that seems as inspired by its namesake novel as it does by Spike Lee’s seminal 1989 film Do the Right Thing, even following a similar template of unfolding over a single, blisteringly hot summer day.

The screenplay, which was co-written by Ly and Manenti along with Giordano Gederlini, touches upon themes of nationalism, citizenship, and how police overreach can fuel distrust in the law. It’s written in shades of grey, with characters who don’t necessarily perform as stereotypical heroes or villains, and filled with some surprising moments of both insight and humanity as we observe a day unfold in this community. The acting is uniformly strong, particularly from the three adult leads and promising newcomer Perica. What we are left with is an engaging and timely snapshot of modern day Paris.

Les Misérables is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

Blu-ray Review: Beverly Hills Cop 3-Movie Collection

January 15, 2020

By John Corrado

Eddie Murphy has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence lately, from his explosive comeback performance in Dolemite Is My Name to the upcoming Coming to America sequel set to arrive at the end of the year.

Now one of Murphy’s most famous characters, the street-smart Detroit cop Axel Foley who ends up bringing his own way of doing things to California, is back in the spotlight as the Beverly Hills 3-Movie Collection arrives on Blu-ray, which was just released in honour of the first film’s 35th anniversary last year.

Released in 1984, and directed by Martin Brest, Beverly Hills Cop finds Axel Foley travelling to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of his friend, Michael Tandino (James Russo), who has just gotten out of jail. Foley gets a rude awakening when he discovers that the cops in Beverly Hills are more straight-laced and do things strictly by the books, a far cry from how he’s used to operating in Detroit.

Foley finds himself butting heads with the Beverly Hills police department, before teaming up with the mismatched pair of Sergeant Taggart (John Ashton) and Detective Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), who are a great buddy cop duo. Released three years later in 1987, with Tony Scott taking over directing duties, Beverly Hills Cop II finds Foley returning to Beverly Hills, and re-teaming with Taggart and Rosewood, to investigate a munitions smuggling ring. The trilogy was completed with the release of Beverly Hills Cop III in 1994, which was directed by John Landis and resets the action mainly at an amusement park that is heavily inspired by Disneyland.

A mix of fish-out-of-water comedy and satisfying action movie, with as many car chases and shootouts as laugh out loud scenarios and a great soundtrack of technopop and funk music that matches the action perfectly, Beverly Hills Cop remains a classic for a reason. It’s interesting to note that Sylvester Stallone was initially attached to star in the film, but he ballooned the budget when he rewrote parts of the script to bring it in a more action-oriented direction, and was subsequently let go in favour of Murphy, who puts his own unique stamp on the role and brings so much energy to it.

This is one of the roles that really solidified the comedic actor as a bona fide movie star, and in hindsight, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Murphy playing the part and it certainly would have been a very different movie if that were the case. It’s filled with so many classic moments and great, quotable lines, with some of the best ones being improvised. In addition to Murphy’s dynamite turn in the leading role, Ashton and Reinhold also have great chemistry together, memorably embracing their roles as a sort of Laurel & Hardy tag team. Bronson Pinchot also shines in a memorably hilarious bit part.

While the first film is easily the best of the trilogy, parts two and three are entertaining as well, and I would say that all three films are fun to watch in their own ways. The second film becomes more of a straight action movie, and really embraces the buddy cop element, moving at a brisk pace. The third one certainly follows the law of diminishing returns, and received an extreme critical drubbing at the time of its release, but I think it’s still fairly enjoyable to watch and has some moments, including a really solid opening action sequence at a chop shop.

I watched all three films over the weekend, and had a really good time doing so. Featuring Eddie Murphy at the top of his game, Beverly Hills Cop is a genuine classic that still holds up really well. The second film is also quite a bit of fun in its own right, and even the third one offers a fairly enjoyable if admittedly weaker outing for Axel Foley. Whether you are new to this series or already an established fan, this is a solid set that provides a good deal of entertainment value and comes recommended.

The Blu-ray set comes with a good deal of bonus features on disc one to back up the first film, including a commentary track by director Brest, two deleted scenes (You Might Be on the Right Track and Axel Gets Ready for Beverly Hills), and a collection of four short “behind the scenes” interviews from 1984 (Axel’s Wild Ride, Detroit Cops vs. Beverly Hills Cops, Eddie’s Impromptu Lines, and Taggart and Rosewood) featuring Brest, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and members of the cast.

These are followed by the very solid half-hour featurette Beverly Hills Cop – The Phenomenon Begins, which provides really good background info on the film’s production, and the two shorter but equally worthwhile pieces A Glimpse Inside the Casting Process and The Music of Beverly Hills Cop. Finally, the disc has an interactive location map, the original theatrical trailer for the film, and a mixtape feature that lets you watch the music sequences separately. There are no bonus features on discs two and three.

Beverly Hills Cop 3-Movie Collection is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. Beverly Hills Cop is 105 minutes and rated 18A, Beverly Hills Cop II is 100 minutes and rated 14A, and Beverly Hills Cop III is 104 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 14th, 2020

4K Ultra HD Review: Gemini Man

January 14, 2020

By John Corrado

Ang Lee’s Gemini Man was one of the more curious big budget films to be released last year, and it’s arriving on 4K Ultra HD this week in a set that also includes a regular Blu-ray of the film.

The film offers the Oscar-winning director a chance to play around with new technologies including higher frame rates and digital de-aging through the story of Henry Brogan (Will Smith), a hitman who confronts a younger clone of himself named Junior, who is played by a de-aged, entirely digital version of Smith.

While Lee shot Gemini Man in 3D at 120 frames per second, the UHD disc presents the film in 2D at 60 FPS, which is the frame rate that I saw it presented at in theatres. This really is the way to watch it if you have the right equipment, with the higher frame rate providing an odd, hyperreal look that is interesting to watch. While the film itself is somewhat mediocre, this is still a mildly entertaining action flick that is mainly worth checking out for its cutting edge visual effects. For more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The 4K UHD disc also includes a visual effects scene breakdown, which is presented at 60 FPS. The majority of the bonus features, about an hour in total, are housed on the regular Blu-ray disc that is also included in the black case, starting with an alternate opening and two deleted scenes (I Found a Plane for Us and Original Yuri Scene). These are followed by six in-depth featurettes that delve deep into the making of the film and the technologies used to bring it to life.

The Genesis of Gemini Man is a short piece featuring Lee and producer Jerry Bruckheimer talking about the origins of the long-gestating project; Facing Your Younger Self focuses on the characters of Henry and Junior; The Future is Now offers a deep-dive into how the visual effects team at Weta created an entirely digital human character, and allowed Smith to act alongside himself; Setting the Action looks at several of the film’s big set-pieces, including that insane motorcycle chase; Next Level Detail explores the production design of the catacombs used in one of the big fight scenes; and The Vision of Ang Lee talks about the filmmaker’s process and what it’s like to work with him.

While Gemini Man is somewhat more successful as a highlight reel of what is possible through digital effects than it is as an actual movie, and it’s far from Lee’s best work, the film still offers some cool action sequences and the groundbreaking visual effects coupled with the higher frame rate do make it worth a look for curious viewers. I would also recommend watching the bonus features afterwards to get a better sense of how they pulled it all off.

Gemini Man is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 117 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 14th, 2020

Blu-ray Review: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

January 14, 2020

By John Corrado

A sequel to the 2014 film, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil finds Aurora (Elle Fanning) preparing to marry Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), leading to increasing tensions between her stepmother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and the human world, with Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) waging an all-out war against the magical realm. The film is arriving on Blu-ray this week.

While Maleficent: Mistress of Evil feels somewhat needless, and it’s not as good as the first film, this is still a fine enough sequel to check out on Blu-ray. It’s worth mentioning that the film just received an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, which is understandable considering the work on Jolie alone. For more on the film itself, you can read my full review of it right here.

The Blu-ray comes with a small selection of bonus features, starting with the three short but worthwhile featurettes Origins of the Fey, which talks about Maleficent’s species of fairy known as the Dark Fey and the many different cultures that exist within the race; Aurora’s Wedding, which features Fanning talking mainly about her character’s bridal gown; and If You Had Wings, which offers a fun look at how they did the flying scenes in the film.

This is followed by Maleficent: Mistress of Evil VFX Reel, which shows the progression of the film’s visual effects, most of which were done using a mix of blue and green screens on practical sets. Finally, we get two extended scenes (The Queen Comforts Aurora and Philip and Aurora Dance), two minutes of outtakes, and a music video for “You Can’t Stop the Girl” by Bebe Rexha.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment release. It’s 118 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 14th, 2020

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