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Blu-ray Release: Chef

September 30, 2014

Chef Blu-ray

Today, VVS Films is releasing Jon Favreau’s wonderful Chef on Blu-ray.  With an excellent ensemble cast and a sharp script, this is a delightful and heartfelt comedy that is just as satisfying as a great meal, and one of the best movies of the year so far.  We reviewed Chef in theatres back on June 6th, and our overall consensus was:

“With an excellent cast led by director Jon Favreau, Chef is a delightful and very entertaining comedy that also has a sweet story about family bonding and some gorgeous cinematography of food being prepared. ***1/4 (out of 4)”

The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes as well as commentary with Jon Favreau.

Chef is 115 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Words and Pictures

September 30, 2014

Words and Pictures Blu-ray

D Films is releasing the pretty good Words and Pictures on Blu-ray today.  Although the screenplay is overly clichéd, Clive Owen and Juliette Binoch deliver a pair of good performances, and there are some nicely written scenes celebrating the importance of both forms of artistic expression.  We reviewed the film back on July 4th, and our overall consensus was:

“Although Words and Pictures feels a little long at 116 minutes and the story is sometimes melodramatic, the film boasts solid performances from Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, and offers some nicely written discussions of art. **3/4 (out of 4)”

The Blu-ray includes commentary with director Fred Schepisi and a “behind the scenes” featurette.

Words and Pictures is 116 minutes and rated PG.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: McCanick

September 30, 2014

McCanick Blu-ray

After premiering at TIFF last year, VVS Films is releasing McCanick on Blu-ray today.  Eugene McCanick (David Morse) is a tough cop just trying to get through his birthday, when he gets the news that Simon Weeks (Cory Monteith) has been released from prison, a street kid who he put away for murder seven years before.

The story starts out with multiple cliches, and the fractured narrative is sometimes needlessly confusing and doesn’t hold up well to close scrutiny, leading up to some ludicrous plot twists.  But director Josh C. Waller does allow a fair bit of tension to build up throughout McCanick, thanks to the good performances from David Morse and Cory Monteith, who completed the film before his tragic death.  Fans of the actor will want to check this one out for his final role.

The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes and a “behind the scenes” featurette.

McCanick is 96 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Five Views: The Boxtrolls

September 29, 2014

The Boxtrolls Poster

The Boxtrolls – An eOne Films Release

http://www.theboxtrolls.com

Release Date: September 26th, 2014
Rated PG for some scary scenes
Running Time: 97 minutes

Graham Annable (director)
Anthony Stacchi (director)

Irena Brignull (screenplay)
Adam Pava (screenplay)

Based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow

Dario Marianelli (music)

Ben Kingsley as Archibald Snatcher (voice)
Jared Harris as Lord Portley-Rind (voice)
Nick Frost as Mr. Trout (voice)
Richard Ayoade as Mr. Pickles (voice)
Tracy Morgan as Mr. Gristle (voice)
Isaac Hempstead Wright as Eggs (voice)
Elle Fanning as Winnie (voice)
Maurice LaMarche as Sir Langsdale (voice)
Toni Collette as Lady Portley-Rind (voice)
Simon Pegg as Herbert Trubshaw (voice)

The Boxtrolls

Eggs (Isaac Hemstead Wright) surrounds himself with Boxtrolls in The Boxtrolls.

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The Boxtrolls Review By John Corrado

***1/2 (out of 4)

The latest stop motion film from the geniuses at Laika, the same animation studio that gave us Coraline and ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls is another marvellously entertaining and very charming visual feast in the same vein as those two modern classics.

Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is a boy who has been raised by Boxtrolls, a group of oddly endearing and strangely adorable little creatures led by the loyal Fish, who live in the sewers clothed in cardboard boxes, inventing things using junk that they find on the streets.  But the people aboveground in the dairy obsessed town of Cheesebridge fear the Boxtrolls, hiring scheming exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to capture them.  But when Winnie (Elle Fanning), the daughter of the powerful Lord Portly-Rind (Jared Harris), stumbles upon their underground home, they uncover a sinister plot that might just bridge the gap between humans and Boxtrolls.

The screenplay offers interesting allegories of classism, with the rich upper class wearing white hats that are coveted by the red hat wearing middle class, all the way down to the Boxtrolls, who represent those living in poverty who are therefore at the bottom of the social ladder.  The story also has a poignant heart, with touching messages about adoption and the importance of accepting differences.  This is all done with a quirky sense of dark humour that is reminiscent of Monty Python, right down to the final dispensing of the villain.

Filled with sharp verbal and visual puns and idiosyncratic little touches, The Boxtrolls is an absolute feast for the eyes, boasting tremendously detailed stop motion animation.  There is a wonderfully tactile feel to the handmade characters and sets, and every frame is visually arresting, filled with invention and something to see.  This is a wildly entertaining and also heartfelt film, culminating with perhaps the cleverest end credits scene of the year.

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The Boxtrolls Review By Erin V.

**** (out of 4)

From the studio that made Coraline and ParaNorman comes The Boxtrolls – an offbeat, clever film with enough weirdness to fit right into this time of year.

The Boxtrolls takes place in the town of Cheesebridge, where exterminators hunt Boxtrolls after an imposed curfew for citizens at night.  This all started ten years prior when a baby was reported kidnapped by the trolls, never to be seen again.  Little do the residents know, that baby is now a 10-year-old boy named ‘Eggs’ (Isaac Hempsted-Wright) who has been lovingly raised in the sewers by the Boxtrolls. Eggs considers the Boxtrolls his family, and Boxtroll ‘Fish’ (Dee Bradley Baker) a father-figure.  (All the Boxtrolls are named after the image on the boxes they wear, eggs, fish, shoe, etc.)

Meanwhile, up on the street level the head of the exterminators, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) is obsessed with destroying the Boxtrolls and earning the level of power that will make him worthy of the ‘white hats’ of society.  When Winnie (Elle Fanning), daughter of the head of the White Hats finds her curiosity leading her to discover the truth about the Boxtrolls, it is up to her and Eggs to figure out a way for the people and Boxtrolls to realize that they don’t need to fear each other any more.

The film is charming, impeccably animated by the stop-motion geniuses at Laika, and extremely witty and well-written.  The messages of making the choice to be who you are and standing up for yourself are powerful, and will connect to many viewers.  The film is not for the youngest of audiences, since it is quite strange and a little dark at times, but those 10 and up should enjoy it.  And for the adults in the audience, the film provides plenty to look at, and be entertained by.  I was fully engaged from start to finish and would gladly see The Boxtrolls again at some point.  With a film like this, there are always new details to catch on consecutive viewings.  Be sure to stay during the end credits as well.

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The Boxtrolls Review By Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Loosely inspired by Alan Snow’s whimsical children’s book Here Be Monsters, The Boxtrolls is a wonderful fable about family.  The story takes place in Cheesebridge, a fictional Victorian town where the elite Whitehats eat all the cheese they want, while the Redhats get hardly anything.  The lowest class are the Boxtrolls; friendly blue-green creatures who live underground and build their village out of whatever they find.  One of their “finds” is a human boy whom they named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright).  (All Boxtrolls are named after the boxes they wear.)

The humans, however, think the Boxtrolls kidnapped and killed a boy years ago.  Redhat Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) and his henchmen run a Boxtroll exterminating business, in hopes of becoming Whitehats.  Things start to really unfold when Winnie (Elle Fanning), the daughter of Whitehat Lord Portly-Rind (Jared Harris), discovers Eggs and the Boxtrolls village.  Everything is not what it seemed.

The Boxtrolls challenges our world’s notions of classism, racism, speciesism, and other forms of bigotry. Cheesebridge’s Whitehat and Redhat delegations are examples of classism.  The Boxtrolls are examples of groups subject to racism, homophobia, or other forms of discrimination.

The Boxtrolls, ultimately, is about family.  No matter what that family may look like, it’s the love and cooperation that makes the family a good one.  Whether that family is one’s personal family, or the family of all life on Earth, The Boxtrolls is a great parable about what really matters when it comes to family. Stay for a funny credits scene, and an innovative song called “Some Kids.”

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The Boxtrolls Review By Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

There’s nothing plain or ordinary about the cardboard boxes in The Boxtrolls.  The odd-looking creatures who wear boxes for clothes and identity and live under the Victorian-era city of Cheesebridge are strangely charming. These creatures called Boxtrolls emerge only at night to forage for bits and pieces that the people of the city above throw away.  The underground world the Boxtrolls create with their recycled materials is clever and inventive.

However, the humans above see them as people-eating monsters and resort to hiring the nasty, cheese obsessed exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to get rid of them.  Little do the people know that the Boxtrolls have a tender, caring side evidenced by the fact that for the last ten years they’ve been raising a missing human boy, who they named Eggs (Issac Hempstead-Wright) after his box labeled “eggs.”  It’s only when another human child, Winnie (Elle Fanning), daughter of Lord Portly-Rind (Jared Harris) discovers Eggs that the two children can work together to save Eggs and the Boxtrolls.

Laika Entertainment, the studio behind animated gems Coraline and ParaNorman, has done it again with The Boxtrolls.  This is a delightfully dark and charming tale of classism, greed and clever inventiveness.  As always, the stop-motion animation is brilliantly done.  Every little detail counts, especially in a period piece like The Boxtrolls.  The way the odd creatures pop in and out of their boxes works really well.

This isn’t your typical animated fare for young children.  There are no bright primary colours and nobody is conventionally cute.  Yet for older children and adults who enjoy a Dickens-like story and love this animation style, The Boxtrolls is a wonderful treat.  Stay through the end credits for a unique perspective into the world of stop-motion animation.

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The Boxtrolls Review By Tony

**** (out of 4)

The Boxtrolls, the latest feature from stop motion animation house LAIKA (Coraline, ParaNorman) is based on the children’s novel Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow. Set in the fictional British town of Cheesebridge c.1900 it is a quirky dark tale reminiscent of Roald Dahl full of whimsical steampunk contraptions and exaggerated characters. Under the town, the Boxtrolls, named after the boxes they use like turtle shells, live mainly on a diet of insects among a world of fantastic inventions made from parts stolen in above-ground night raids. Having been snatched as an infant, the ten-year-old boy called Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has been brought up by the Boxtrolls.

The villainous Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) will do anything to join the mayor, Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) and his white-hatted council in their cheese-tasting meetings, though his cravings are linked to severe allergic reactions. He whips up fear of the Boxtrolls among the people and promises to exterminate them in exchange for a white hat, aided by his minions (Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade and Tracy Morgan). When the mayor’s feisty daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning) runs into Eggs and discovers the Boxtrolls world, she has to both help them fight against Snatcher and turn Eggs into a proper boy.

Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, The Boxtrolls creates a brilliantly handcrafted world of appropriately muted colours (in contrast with the upcoming Book of Life) and wonderful scenes of action and dialogue full of interesting details that will reward repeated viewings. The voice cast is great, particularly Kingsley and the two young leads, as well as Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum, who devised the Trolls language. Finally, Dario Marianelli has provided an excellent musical score, including an operatic quartet played on a 78 rpm record with double-talk lyrics listing various Italian cheeses.

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Consensus: Boasting beautifully detailed stop motion animation from the geniuses at Laika, The Boxtrolls is a brilliantly inventive and visually stunning feast for the eyes, matched by an intelligent and heartfelt screenplay. ***3/4 (out of 4)

Review: Pride

September 26, 2014

By John Corrado

**** (out of 4)

Pride Poster

There is perhaps no greater compliment than to say that I left the screening of Pride with the same feelings I had after seeing The King’s Speech for the first time four years ago.

And just like that other retelling of a somewhat lesser known but very important true story, Pride is a gloriously moving celebration of overcoming adversity that left me wanting to stand up and cheer.

Like The Full Monty or Billy Elliot, other films that also came to mind during the screening, this is a crowdpleaser that deserves to become a breakout hit.  After premiering at TIFF two weeks ago, Pride opens today in limited release, courtesy of Remstar Films.

The film starts in 1984, with the determined Mark (Ben Schnetzer) forming Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a group of London activists who come to the aid of striking workers in a small Welsh town, after their job security falls victim to Margaret Thatcher’s controversial reign.

They are welcomed by empathetic miner and union representative Dai (Paddy Considine), as well as the kindhearted and politically minded housewife Sian (Jessica Gunning), who open their homes and help them organize a benefit concert.  Locals Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and Cliff (Bill Nighy) are also quick to take up the cause, but not all of the residents are equally supportive or willing to accept their generosity.  Through one of many deeply touching subplots, Pride is also a coming out story for Joe (George MacKay), a young man from the suburbs who has to hide his sexuality from his conservative parents.

There are so many wonderful little moments between the characters, where they give each other words of wisdom or offer an inspiring speech, that it’s impossible not to tear up for multiple reasons throughout the film.  At heart, Pride is a proud celebration of simple acts of solidarity, like two hands joining together or people standing up for each other, the moments when there are no differences between us because we are all human.  It’s about different minorities coming together to help each other, finding common ground through a mutual understanding of what it’s like to be looked down upon by society.

But the film also doesn’t shy away from the dire details of the union strike and the darker realities of the time, as the AIDS crisis looms on the horizon and their efforts are sometimes met with heartbreaking defeat and homophobia.  One moment they are celebrating their achievements, and the next are washing away slurs that have been spray painted across their window.  This just makes the still quietly triumphant final scenes all the more powerful, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I left the theatre with a restored faith in humanity to put aside their differences and pull together in times of need.

With a cast that includes strong performances from Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, as well as moving work from Ben Schnetzer and the young George MacKay, all of the actors come together beautifully to create a rich group of characters that we find ourselves genuinely rooting for.  This is a true ensemble, and I enjoyed spending time with these people.  Director Matthew Warchus nails the perfect tone, mixing humour, drama and politics without ever taking a wrong step.  The soundtrack features an excellent selection of songs, which sets the stage for a memorable dance scene courtesy of the flamboyant Jonathan (Dominic West).  The songs are nicely tied together by Chris Nightingale’s musical score.

As certain scenes keep coming back to me, I already can’t wait to watch this one again.  With an ending that left me in tears of both emotion and joy, Pride is a profoundly affective crowdpleaser filled with plenty of wonderfully humorous and also genuinely heartfelt scenes along the way.  We might not see a more rousing, entertaining, inspiring and also moving film this year.

Review: This is Where I Leave You

September 24, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

This is Where I Leave You Poster

Shawn Levy is a director whose films I often find myself enjoying for various reasons, and his dysfunctional family dramedy This is Where I Leave You is no different.  What can I say?  I guess I just have a soft spot for his brand of feel good comedies with heart.

This might not be a perfect film, but it works as an entertaining diversion, with a great cast that is always fun to watch.  After premiering at TIFF earlier this month, Warner Bros. released This is Where I Leave You last weekend.

After walking in on his wife (Abigail Spencer) in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard), Judd (Jason Bateman) gets a call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) to tell him that their ailing father has passed away.  To make things worse, their self help author mother (Jane Fonda) informs them at the funeral that her husband’s last wish was for them to all sit Shiva, and spend the week together under the same roof.

This includes oldest brother Paul (Corey Stoll), who’s wife (Kathryn Hahn) is growing hysterical trying to get pregnant.  Then there’s youngest brother Phillip (Adam Driver), a perpetual slacker who brings alongs his much older girlfriend (Connie Britton), who just so happens to be his therapist.  All four siblings have their own issues.  Wendy is stuck in a dead end marriage to the father of her two young young kids, and still has feelings for neighbour Horry (Timothy Olyphant), who was never the same after a brain injury.  Judd starts to rediscover the spark that he never lost with his high school sweetheart Penny (Rose Byrne).

The film does stumble a few times, when a more serious scene is suddenly punctuated by a pratfall or cheap gag courtesy of the toddler who keeps showing up clutching a potty like his favourite play thing, and proceeding to use it in the most inappropriate of places.  A certain scene with Kathryn Hahn’s character let’s just say coming on too strong feels especially off.  These sometimes awkward attempts at slapstick humour can distract from the more genuine scenes, and it’s actually in the quieter character moments that This is Where I Leave You really comes alive.

This is a dream comic cast, and it’s often fun just to watch them playing off each other, effortlessly trading sharp verbal quips.  Jason Bateman and Tina Fey have some wonderful scenes together, with a very natural and believable chemistry as brother and sister, that is refreshing to see captured this well on screen.  Adam Driver delivers his share of memorable moments, with his crack comic timing and delivery providing some of the film’s biggest and best laughs.  Rose Byrne also has a few charming scenes as the quirky romantic interest who is easy for the audience to fall in love with.

Adapting his own novel for the screen, writer Jonathan Tropper often does a nice job of setting up all the characters and putting their various issues into play, which Shawn Levy directs with his usual warm touch.  The central players are all believable as siblings, and there are some moments of insight about how they will always have each other’s backs, even when the last thing they want is to be living together again.  “You guys are idiots,” Wendy tells her brothers after their latest mishap, “but you’re my idiots.”

Although there are a few missteps along the way, as a whole This is Where I Leave You comes together quite nicely and works more often than it doesn’t.  This is ultimately a big hearted and never less than entertaining dramady, that provides an enjoyable escape from your own dysfunctional family for a couple of hours, in the company of actors who we don’t mind spending time with.

Blu-ray Release: The Double

September 23, 2014

The Double Blu-ray

Back on September 9th, D Films released The Double on Blu-ray.  Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a hopelessly shy office worker, slaving away at his job and pining for the attention of cute coworker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). But then the charismatic James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) arrives at the office, an exact doppelgänger of Simon James who threatens to derail his entire existence.

Several months after first seeing it, The Double is a film that I still find myself thinking about, and one of the best of the year so far.  This is a film that quietly grows on you and is impossible to shake afterwards, a fascinating tragicomedy filled with perfectly mannered character quirks and dark subtext, as well as a mesmerizing double performance from Jesse Eisenberg.  You can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray includes an interview with director Richard Ayoade as well as several featurettes.

The Double is 93 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Think Like a Man Too

September 23, 2014

Think Like a Man Too Blu-ray

Last week, Sony Pictures released the popular sequel Think Like a Man Too on Blu-ray.  When Michael (Terrence Jenkins) and  Candace (Regina Hall) decide to get married in Las Vegas with all of their friends in tow, their respective bachelor and bachelorette parties predictably spiral out of control, with the hyperactive and impulsive Cedric (Kevin Hart) threatening to overshadow the wedding itself.

Although not as good as the surprisingly charming and insightful Think Like a Man from 2012, this is an amusing sequel that still offers its share of laugh out loud moments, having fun revisiting the large group of characters.  With a solid cast all clearly having a good time, this is a harmless and mildly entertaining Vegas comedy that works well enough as an enjoyable diversion.

The Blu-ray includes six deleted scenes, four featurettes and a gag reel.

Think Like a Man Too is 106 minutes and rated PG.

-John Corrado

TIFF Bell Lightbox Release: Coherence

September 19, 2014

By John Corrado

Coherence Poster

After making a splash at Fantastic Fest last year, D Films is releasing the creative and intelligently written science fiction thriller Coherence at TIFF Bell Lightbox this weekend.  Tickets and showtimes are right here.

The setup for the film is deceptively straight forward.  Eight friends gather at one of their houses for a dinner party, and it’s clear that there are some unresolved issues between them.  But there is also a comet passing dangerously close to the earth, that may have shocking effects on all of their realities, and this is where the inventive twists start to come in.

Two of their iPhones mysteriously break, and the internet goes down.  Then the power shuts out, leaving them in the dark and scrambling for glow sticks.  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 going on, faced with moral dilemmas and paradoxical problems to solve.

The feature debut of director James Ward Byrkit, Coherence is an intriguing puzzle that is worth piecing together, making the most of a small budget and limited locations with plenty of big ideas and thought provoking twists.  This is a smart and entertaining little film that comes together quite nicely, and is worth your time and the conversations you are guaranteed to have leaving the theatre.

Blu-ray Release: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

September 16, 2014

The Winter Soldier Blu-ray

Last Tuesday, Marvel released Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Blu-ray.  Dark, gritty and also thought provoking, while still managing to breathlessly entertain, this is one of the best blockbusters of the year.  We all reviewed the film in theatres back on April 4th, and our overall consensus was:

“With exhilarating action sequences and a surprisingly smart screenplay full of twists, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a spectacular sequel that takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe in exciting new directions. ***3/4 (out of 4)”

The Blu-ray includes commentary with the directors and screenwriters, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel and three short featurettes.

The first season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was also released last week, following a different group of heroes put together by the mysteriously returning Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), after the events of The Avengers.  Although not in the same league as the movies, fans of the show are going to want to add this set to their collections, including all 22 episodes of the TV series and a bunch of featurettes.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is 136 minutes and rated PG.

-John Corrado

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