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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!

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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 prodige, 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

DVD Release: Coherence

November 11, 2014

Coherence DVD

After a successful run at TIFF Bell Lightbox, D Films is releasing Coherence on DVD.  When eight friends gather for a dinner party, on the same night that a comet is passing dangerously close to the earth, they start to experience shocking changes to all of their realities.  After the power shuts out, a few of them decide to go out and explore.  As the night goes on, they start to uncover the true implications of what might be happening, faced with moral dilemmas and paradoxical problems to solve.

The feature debut of director James Ward Byrkit, Coherence is an intriguing and intelligently written puzzle that is worth piecing together, creatively making the most of a small budget and limited locations with plenty of big ideas and thought provoking twists.  This is a clever and entertaining little science fiction mind bender that comes together quite nicely, and is well worth your time and the conversations you are guaranteed to have afterwards.  You can read my full thoughts right here.

Coherence is 89 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Review: Big Hero 6

November 7, 2014

By John Corrado

**** (out of 4)

Big Hero 6 Poster

After delivering one of their biggest and most beloved films with last year’s Oscar-winning Frozen, Disney continues their winning streak with the bighearted and beautifully animated Big Hero 6, opening in theatres this weekend.  It’s glorious.

Loosely based on a Marvel comic of the same name, Big Hero 6 is another animated knockout from the Mouse House, emerging as one of the year’s most entertaining and surprisingly heartfelt films.  And Baymax is the new Olaf, providing the touching centre of the story.

Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a teenaged robotics expert who would rather make quick cash at illegal robot fights, than spend time going to school.  Then his beloved older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) takes him on a tour of his university science lab and introduces him to Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable nursing robot that he’s been working on, and Hiro becomes determined to win a scholarship through the annual science fair.

But when Tadashi tragically dies, Hiro is left heartbroken and depressed, until he discovers that Baymax still works, inflating out of his suitcase at any sounds of distress.  When a menacing villain starts threatening their city, they team up with classmates Go Go (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), as well as university mascot Fred (T.J. Miller), to stop him.  This includes outfitting Baymax in armour and teaching him how to fight, which threatens to undermine his protective design.

The film will bring in audiences looking for the usual superhero thrills, which Big Hero 6 delivers on the same level as many live action counterparts.  This is an action packed film with several set pieces, and the supporting heroes very much fill out the sidekick roles.  Aside from the loveable slacker Fred, who is given an intriguing and amusing backstory to work with, the other three members of the team are likeable, though not always the most developed.  But as an origin story that could easily lead to more adventures with these endearing characters, the film works well as an inventive piece of world building.

The animation is breathtaking, filling out the fictional metropolis of San Fransokyo with a beautifully detailed mix of Asian and American styles.  But as much as this is a visual delight, Big Hero 6 is also a powerful story about loss and how we grieve, offering a healthy dose of the usual Disney heart in the “non-threatening and huggable” form of Baymax.  It’s this emotional openness that makes the film feel so special, with a certain tenderness to the quieter scenes that had a big impact on me.

The robot becomes a sort of surrogate brother to Hiro, his memory chip representing a part of Tadashi that continues to live on.  The design and movements of Baymax are inspired, and I found myself genuinely moved by what the character stands for, particularly in the ways that the film deals with themes of letting go.  Although a robot, Baymax is a character who represents pure heart, his only real motivation being to keep anyone in his care safe and away from harm.  Like how Olaf was the remaining link to their childhood innocence in Frozen, there is something noble and even inspiring about Baymax.

Scott Adsit delivers an impressive vocal performance, offering just enough small nuances in his carefully mannered deliverance of the lines to give Baymax an arc, allowing the robot to develop more human emotions throughout the film.  Ryan Potter does a nice job bringing to life the likeable and vulnerable protagonist, and if there’s such a thing as a scene stealer in terms of voice acting, then that’s what T.J. Miller provides.  The rock score by Henry Jackman keeps us pumped, as does the new Fall Out Boy song “Immortals” that plays during the training montage and over the end credits.

Big Hero 6 provides big entertainment, an exciting and brightly animated action film where scientific intellect is the greatest superpower, and the word “nerd” is used as a term of endearment.  The film also follows in the tradition of fellow Marvel movies with a priceless stinger after the end credits.  But the deeply touching bond between Hiro and Baymax is the biggest force that this one offers, injecting emotional depth into the film that continues to resonate long after the credits roll, making Big Hero 6 truly soar.  Yes Baymax, I am satisfied with my care.

Preceding Big Hero 6 is Feast, the latest short film from the team behind the masterful, Oscar-winning Paperman.  Following the evolving relationship between a Boston Terrier and his owner, and told almost wordlessly from the dog’s point of view through the series of meals they share, this is a lovely and touching piece of animation that tells a complete story through the beautifully drawn visuals.

Review: Kung Fu Elliot

November 7, 2014

By John Corrado

**** (out of 4)

Kung Fu Elliot Poster

Elliot “White Lightening” Scott dreams of being Canada’s first action hero, making amateurish and super low budget martial arts films with his long suffering girlfriend Linda Lum, starring his aspiring method actor friend Blake Zwicker.

Shot on the fly around New Brunswick, the action films in question are more hilarious than exciting.  But his story makes for one of the best and most thrillingly unpredictable documentaries in recent memory with Kung Fu Elliot, starting a weeklong run at Carlton Cinemas this weekend.  Now is the perfect chance to see one of the year’s absolute best films with an audience.

I first saw Kung Fu Elliot during Hot Docs and was left blown away, gasping at the truth of this documentary that could have easily been a modern response to the mockumentary stylings of This is Spinal Tap or the work of Christopher Guest.  These are apt comparisons to be sure, and the film deserves to attract a similar cult following, only this time it’s all real.

With an ironically appropriate operatic soundtrack, Kung Fu Elliot starts as a sort of behind the scenes look at the production of his third independent feature Blood Fight, and his filmmaking process often provides comedy gold.  But directors Jaret Belliveau and Matthew Bauckman, who themselves stumbled upon the title subject much the same way the audience does at the start of the film, have ultimately captured a very different type of documentary.

As surprising layers of depth are revealed during the stunning and fearless last act, Kung Fu Elliot becomes an intriguing game of deception.  Although courting controversy on the festival circuit with some audiences questioning the authenticity of what they captured, the directors assure us that they haven’t tampered with the truth, and I believe them.  This is a documentary that challenges our perceptions of reality in ways that recall the brilliant 2010 film Catfish, starting as one thing before thrillingly becoming something else during the last act revelations.

Although playing almost like a surreal cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Canada’s answer to American Movie, Kung Fu Elliot is ultimately unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  This is a shocking and wildly entertaining documentary that morphs into something entirely different before our eyes, masterfully changing our perception of the story that the filmmakers set out to tell.  This is brilliant and exhilarating stuff.

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