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Blu-ray Release: The Wind Rises, Princess Mononoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service

November 25, 2014

Last week, Disney released Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-nominated The Wind Rises on Blu-ray, along with new editions of the classic Studio Ghibli films Princess Mononoke (1997) and Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), providing a good overview of the recently retired filmmaker’s legendary career.

The Wind Rises Blu-rayThe Wind Rises: Although his nearsighted vision kept him from being a pilot, Jirô Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) always dreamed of designing flying machines, and the engineer was responsible for creating the fighter planes that Japan used during WWII.  His life was also marked by chance encounters with the young Nahoko (Emily Blunt), leading to a love affair marked by tragedy.

Although the script unfortunately has a few problems, this doesn’t take away from the true reason to see the biopic, which lies in the hand drawn animation.  The visuals are beautiful throughout every scene, and The Wind Rises is a good movie from a great filmmaker, nicely capping off his storied career.  You can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray includes a featurette on the voice actors behind the English dub, as well as the entire film in storyboards, a lengthy press conference with Hayao Miyazaki, and the original Japanese trailers.

The Wind Rises is 127 minutes and rated PG.

Princess Mononoke Blu-ray

Princess Mononoke: When Ashitaka (Billy Crudup), travels to the western forests seeking a cure for his deadly curse, the young warrior becomes involved in a deadly battle between Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver), who is leading a clan of humans into war against the animal gods, led by the fearless young Princess Mononoke (Yuriko Ishida) who was literally raised by wolves.

With an exciting and strikingly mature story that has a deep focus on the bond between people and nature, brought to life through brilliantly drawn animation Princess Mononoke is a classic epic that remains one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most revered and widely acclaimed films, and is among the best that Studio Ghibli has to offer.

The Blu-ray includes the original Japanese storyboards and trailers, as well as a couple of featurettes.

Princess Mononoke is 134 minutes and rated PG.

Kiki's Delivery Service Blu-ray

Kiki’s Delivery Service: Following tradition to become a witch, Kiki (Minami Takayama) is a young teenager who sets out on her own for the first time with her talking cat Jiji (Rei Sakuma), finding herself in a European city where she starts a courier service to support herself and prove her independence.

An early classic from Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, the nicely animated Kiki’s Delivery Service is a charming and entertaining coming of age fantasy adventure, with unique characters that still hold up after 25 years.

The Blu-ray includes an introduction by John Lasseter, the original Japanese storyboards and trailers, and numerous featurettes on the production.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is 103 minutes and rated G.

- John Corrado

DVD Release: Frozen: Sing-Along Edition

November 25, 2014

Frozen Sing-Along Edition DVD

Last week, Disney released a new Sing-Along Edition of their beloved musical Frozen on DVD, featuring a bouncing snowflake to help us join in with the bestselling soundtrack.  Since last November, Frozen has gone from being a holiday box office hit, to the highest grossing animated film of all time and an Oscar-winning cultural phenomenon that shows no signs of melting, and I can totally see why.

Audiences of all ages are continuing to relate to the heartfelt story and memorable characters, and I still stand by my glowing review from last year.  Although many of us already have the Blu-ray in our collections, Frozen was among the best movies of 2013, and this new edition would make a great gift for fans.  And if you don’t already know the words to the glorious power ballad “Let It Go,” then now is the perfect opportunity to sing along.

The DVD includes the new “behind the scenes” featurette titled Breaking the Ice, and the Oscar-nominated Mickey Mouse short film Get a Horse!

Frozen: Sing-Along Edition is 102 minutes and rated G.

- John Corrado

DVD Release: Drunk History: Seasons 1 & 2

November 25, 2014

Drunk History DVD

Today, Paramount is releasing the complete first and second seasons of Comedy Central’s Drunk History on DVD.  Hosted by Derek Waters, and originating as an internet series, the TV show features inebriated comedians retelling classic stories from throughout history, with their drunken narrations playing over reenactments by a cast of famous faces.

With each episode focusing on either a specific state or subject, everyone involved seems to be having fun, even if the premise does wear a little thin.  It’s pretty silly stuff, but there certainly are moments of amusement, and fans of the series will want to check out this nicely packaged set, which features all eighteen episodes from both seasons of the show.

The DVD includes drunk outtakes and extended scenes, as well as sober reveals and a longer version of the First Ladies episode.

Drunks History: Seasons 1 & 2 is 398 minutes and rated 14A.

- John Corrado

A Photo Tour of Disney’s Cinderella: The Exhibition

November 24, 2014

By John Corrado

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Back on October 22nd, I had the opportunity to visit Disney’s Cinderella: The Exhibition, an amazing collection of costumes and props from their upcoming live action fairy tale, elaborately set up for two days at CBC headquarters and open only to exhibitors and members of the media.

Although bursting to talk about what I saw, I’ve been under tight embargo since then.  But with the official trailer released last week, the embargo has finally lifted today.  The touring exhibit gave me an early taste of what to expect when director Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella opens in theatres on March 13th.

And the film looks quite lovely.  Being able to see the richly designed sets and original props up close, as well as the gorgeously detailed costumes by Oscar-winning designer Sandy Powell, was like seeing Disney’s beloved 1950 animated classic come to life.  I also got a chance to watch a few brief clips and an extended trailer for the film, which were playing on screens throughout to transition us between the different sets, and the footage looks very promising.

The tour started with artwork and merchandise from the original film, and culminated with a collection of products that will be on shelves this spring.  Between these two different examples of the enduring Disney brand, we were taken through the sweeping entrance way and cold cellar that make up Cinderella’s house, giving way to the nicely atmospheric garden and the spectacular ballroom that will be seen in the film.  Connecting the two halves of the exhibit was a giant pumpkin adorned with glowing lights that we literally walked through to find a shiny gold carriage on the other side, ingeniously connected by a mirrored wall.

This was one of my favourite little touches in an exhibit filled with tons of cool details to absorb.  I enjoyed the whole thing so much that after the formal tour, I asked to go through a second time, which the publicists kindly obliged.  Although outside photo and video was strictly prohibited, they had a professional photographer on hand, and below I have included ninety official photos spread over six slideshows, along with some descriptions and trivia for each section of the exhibit.  Enjoy!

Read more…

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

Mockingjay - Part 1 Poster

The penultimate entry into the wildly successful cinematic saga, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is the sort of film that is only really worth seeing if you were gripped by the previous instalments, and are already eagerly anticipating next year’s final chapter.

And I mean this in a good way.  As a fan of the films and Suzanne Collins trilogy of books, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 provides a stirring and high minded political thriller that expands upon the already introduced themes, while doing a fine job of setting the stage for next year’s grand finale.

But this is also the least standalone entry into the outstanding series, feeling very much like the buildup for things to come, in a more expository way than 2012’s stunning first instalment, or last year’s excellent Catching Fire.  Though these things hardly matter when the exposition is this tightly scripted and brilliantly acted.

With District 12 left in ruins after the shocking Quarter Quell, war is brewing between the displaced residents of the bombed out towns, and the dictatorial Capitol of Panem.  After being airlifted from the arena, rebel leader Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is now taking refuge in the bunkers of District 13.  There she is being groomed by gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), resistance leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) and now sober mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), to become a symbol of hope for the burgeoning revolutionaries, including childhood friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).

But their efforts to use Katniss as a media symbol, shooting propaganda videos with aspiring filmmaker Cressida (Natalie Dormer), are matched by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) using her boyfriend turned war prisoner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as leverage through televised appearances with the flamboyant Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci).  Trying to send images of the destroyed districts back to the totalitarian Capitol, with engineer Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) helping intercept the television signals, the film intriguingly shows how the media can be manipulated by both sides of an idealogical divide.

Although this is the shortest film in the series at just 123 minutes, in many ways The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 takes the most time.  This is the most dialogue heavy of the films, almost making us question the decision to split the final novel into two parts, as has become standard with most Young Adult adaptations.  But as I said earlier, these things hardly matter when the writing and filmmaking is this good.  Francis Lawrence continues to do an excellent job directing the series, and the few action set pieces that the film offers are thrillingly handled with striking and even haunting cinematography.

What The Hunger Games series also has in its corner is the endlessly impressive cast, fronted by the Mockingjay herself, Jennifer Lawrence.  The Oscar-winner continues to bring depth to this refreshingly resilient heroine, believably portraying both the physical strength and emotional turmoil of the inspiring young revolutionary.  When you have such great actors as Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Woody Harrelson and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman all onscreen together, the results are simply exciting to watch.  Elizabeth Banks continues to provide delightful comic relief as Effie Trinket, her character still trying to be fashionable despite now wearing a grey jumpsuit.

Rich with bitingly relevant political subtext, this is one of the more intelligent mainstream films of the year, providing something more thought provoking than the usual blockbuster fare.  The series also continues to use violence in appropriately disturbing and provocative ways, making every gunshot sting, even when reflected in the black visers of the ironically named Peacekeepers.  Promising great things for next year’s final chapter, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is a stirring beginning of the end that is anchored by sharp writing and outstanding performances.

Criterion Release: It Happened One Night

November 18, 2014

It Happened One Night Blu-ray

Today, director Frank Capra’s Oscar-winning 1934 classic It Happened One Night is being released for the first time on Blu-ray, through Criterion.  Ellie (Claudette Colbert) is a spoiled heiress, and Peter (Clark Gable) is a struggling reporter looking for a story.  When she runs away from her family and he helps her survive on the road, the two polar opposites start to realize that they’re actually falling in love.

Winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay, this was the first film to win the Big Five, one of only three to ever do so.  With dialogue and humour born out of situations that still feel just as fresh seventy years after being released, as well as flawless writing and performances, It Happened One Night was one of the first romantic comedies to ever hit the screen, and remains among the best ever made.

The Blu-ray includes Frank Capra’s 1921 short film Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House, the 1997 documentary Frank Capra’s American Dream, the American Film Institute’s tribute to the director and an interview with his son.  There’s also an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.

It Happened One Night is 105 minutes and unrated.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: 22 Jump Street

November 18, 2014

22 Jump Street Blu-ray

Today, Sony Pictures is releasing 22 Jump Street on Blu-ray, a very entertaining comedy that smartly references its own sequel status.  Police officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are going back undercover, and this time Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) is sending them to college, where there is a new drug making the rounds.  But their partnership is tested when Jenko joins the football team, and Schmidt finds his place in the art scene.

The first 21 Jump Street was one of the funniest comedies in recent memory, and if 22 Jump Street isn’t quite as fresh, this sequel makes up for it with a completely unhinged sense of humour.  This is the sort of comedy that goes all out to bring the laughs, but perhaps the biggest reason that the film is so much fun is the bromantic pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, who are some of the best at this type of humour.  You can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray includes 22 deleted and extended scenes, commentary with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller as well as the two leads, and a bunch of other fun stuff.

22 Jump Street is 112 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

DVD Release: About Alex

November 18, 2014

About Alex Poster

Last week, levelFILM released About Alex on DVD.  When Alex (Jason Ritter) attempts suicide, his university friends come to stay with him at his rural house, to keep an eye on him and also figure out where they broke apart.  This includes Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) who is masking her own pain, and the sarcastic Josh (Max Greenfield).  Then there’s the struggling writer Ben (Nate Parker) and his wife Siri (Maggie Grace), and the successful Isaac (Max Minghella) and his younger girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy).

Although much of About Alex feels routine and like something we’ve seen done better, namely in Lawrence Kasdan’s definitive classic The Big Chill, there are several good scenes that prompt genuine sympathy for these characters, and some memorable exchanges.  The film also boasts a trio of solid and naturalistic performances in Jason Ritter, Max Greenfield and Aubrey Plaza, who are given the most interesting characters and make the film mildly worth a look.  You can read my full review right here.

The DVD includes five featurettes on the production.

About Alex is 96 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Review: The Better Angels

November 14, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

The Better Angels Poster

Produced by Terrence Malick, and directed by his collaborator A.J. Edwards, The Better Angels takes a unique approach to the usual biopic formula, focusing on the rural Indiana childhood of Abraham Lincoln (Braydon Denney), years before he became the Sixteenth President.

This couldn’t be farther from the expansive portrait of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, or the loony counter history of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  But this is a film about the little moments as a boy that helped him become a great man, and in turn the seemingly small moments in all of our lives that ultimately become the very things that shape us.

This is not to say that The Better Angels achieves the same affect as the films that Terrence Malick has directed.  But the master’s protégé, so to speak, has none the less crafted a visually beautiful historical drama that is often lovely in its quiet simplicity.  The film opens exclusively at Carlton Cinemas this weekend.

Narrated by his cousin, The Better Angels shows Abraham Lincoln as a quiet and intelligent young child, with an adoring mother (Brit Marling) and tough father (Jason Clarke).  They take care of their cows and tend to the fields, their existence not much different from that of other poor farmers in the 1800s.  When his mother dies, his father promptly remarries, and stepmother Sarah (Diane Kruger) becomes another defining figure in Abraham’s life.

The screenplay almost defiantly avoids the usual biopic trappings, and to my knowledge, the name Abraham Lincoln is never even said out loud in the film.  When his teacher (Wes Bentley) takes a roll call of students at school, the screenplay skips right over surnames beginning with the letter L.  A brief moment when young Abe ventures out on his own and glimpses a group of enslaved men being led along on a chain, is barely dwelled upon within the film, but becomes a powerful image for the audience, knowing what this boy will grow up to accomplish.

Although The Better Angels doesn’t reach the profound heights of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and has a much smaller focus than that definitive 2011 masterpiece with which the story shares some thematic elements, his fingerprints are felt throughout the film.  From the camerawork that feels both fluid and tightly controlled, to the prominent focus on images of nature throughout the story, A.J. Edwards directs with clear admiration for his signature style, and this could have easily been a minor entry into Terrence Malick’s own filmography.

The actors do a wonderful job of simply existing within these painterly frames, gracefully moving about the onscreen landscapes.  With the crisp black and white images floating across the screen like classic paintings, this is a tranquil and beautifully filmed slice of art house cinema that is often lovely to watch, showing us Abraham Lincoln’s life from a decidedly different perspective.

DVD Release: Happy Christmas

November 11, 2014

Happy Christmas DVD

Today, Paramount is releasing Happy Christmas on DVD.  Jenny (Anna Kendrick) has just broken up with her boyfriend, when she goes to stay with her brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg) over the holidays, with his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynsky) and their young son (Jude Swanberg).  Jenny is barely responsible when it comes to living with a small child, staying out late and getting drunk with her friend Carson (Lena Dunham), but she might just prove beneficial to the young family in the long run.

Filmed at director Joe Swanberg’s own Chicago home, Happy Christmas is the sort of low budget film that works because of the sharply naturalistic dialogue and strong performances.  Joe Swanberg makes for a likeable everyman in front of the camera, but this is really a showcase for Anna Kendrick, who is simply excellent here.  This is a low key and very entertaining little film that is well worth seeing, especially with the holidays fast approaching.  You can read my full review right here.

Happy Christmas is 82 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

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