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Digital Release: Under the Skin

July 29, 2014

Under the Skin Poster

After premiering at TIFF last year and just finishing a successful run in theatres, Mongrel Media is releasing Under the Skin on all home entertainment platforms today, including iTunes.  Directed by Jonathan Glazer, the film follows an alien seductress (Scarlett Johansson) who stalks men on the streets of Scotland, picking them up in her white van and bringing them back to a house where they are undressed and dissolved into black liquid.

Filmed mostly incognito on the streets of Glasgow, with locals often playing the supporting roles, this is a disturbing journey of sexual discovery, and one that won’t be for everyone.  But with long stretches free of dialogue, Under the Skin is also one of the boldest and most unique works of science fiction in recent memory.  This is an evocative and haunting mix of beautifully stylistic visuals and hypnotizingly ambient sounds, with a masterful performance from Scarlett Johansson that is simply mesmerizing to watch.

Under the Skin is 108 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Noah

July 29, 2014

Noah Blu-ray

Today, Paramount is releasing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah on Blu-ray.  Adapted from the Book of Genesis, this version has Noah (Russell Crowe) foretold the world will be destroyed through dreams of death and rising water.  Noah is chosen by the Creator to build an ark that will house two of each animal and protect his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and their sons Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), as well as Shem (Douglas Booth) and his partner Ila (Emma Watson).

This is a film that encourages people to talk, a conversation that will span multiple faiths and has already sparked new interest in the story.  For these reasons, Noah is a bold, ambitious and often thrilling retelling of the biblical story, rich with complex characters and haunting visuals.  Please read my full thoughts on the film right here.

The Blu-ray includes several featurettes on the production.

Noah is 137 minutes and rated PG.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Dom Hemingway

July 29, 2014

Dom Hemingway Blu-ray

Last week, 20th Century Fox released Dom Hemingway on Blu-ray, a film that premiered at TIFF last year.  Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is a safecracker who has just gotten out after twelve years in jail, looking for payback from his old crime boss (Demian Bichir), while struggling to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke).

Although the story can be a bit all over the place, Dom Hemingway has several memorable sequences and is filled with hilarious dialogue, including some perfectly delivered monologues.  This is a sharply written dark comedy that easily provides offbeat entertainment, and is worth seeing for Jude Law’s brilliant and completely unhinged performance in the title role.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with writer/director Richard Shepard and a few brief featurettes, as well as a looped video of topless women playing ping pong which is memorably featured in the film.

Dom Hemingway is 93 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Criterion Release: Pickpocket

July 29, 2014

Pickpocket Criterion Blu-ray

Two weeks ago, the 1959 film Pickpocket was released on Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection.  Directed by Robert Bresson, this is a quiet character study of Michel (Martin LaSalle), a lonely writer who spends his days compulsively snatching wallets throughout Paris, leading to chance encounters with Jeanne (Marika Green), a beautiful young woman who might just provide his redemption.

With clever camerawork during the scenes of pickpocketing, including a fascinating extended sequence at the train station, this is an interesting little film that is often credited as influencing the ensuing French New Wave.  Filled with existential undertones that bring deeper meaning to the low key story, Pickpocket comes recommended, especially for film students and cinephiles.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with film scholar James Quandt, an intro by writer/director Paul Schrader, Babette Mangolte’s 2003 documentary The Models of Pickpocket, an archival interview with Robert Bresson and more.  Also in the package is an essay by novelist Gary Indiana.

Pickpocket is 76 minutes and unrated.

-John Corrado

Review: Begin Again

July 28, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

Begin Again Poster

Among my biggest regrets of last year’s TIFF was missing the appealingly titled Can a Song Save Your Life?, which Harvey Weinstein quickly acquired for a hefty price tag.  Now that same film has arrived in theatres under the new name Begin Again, and I’m happy announce that it was worth the wait.

Some will inevitably accuse Begin Again of being predictable and sentimental, but this is the sort of nice movie that you can see with a group of friends and all leave the theatre smiling.  Opening a few weeks back, the film is still playing in limited release.

The film starts at an intimate club, with Steve (James Corden) convincing his friend Gretta (Keira Knightley) to get up on stage to perform a song that she has just written.  As she plays the guitar and sings about her struggles with depression, Dan (Mark Ruffalo) watches her from the audience, clearly affected by the music.

We flashback to see that Dan is a music executive who has just been sacked from his job at an independent record company and is struggling with addiction, desperately trying to reconnect with his teenaged daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and estranged ex-wife (Catherine Keener).  But then he hears this song that changes his life.

We then flashback again to find out that Gretta is new to Manhattan, a struggling singer and songwriter who is still hurt from the fallout 0f her relationship with rising pop star Marco (Adam Levine), who used to be her closest collaborator before rising to the top.  Dan agrees to produce an album for Gretta, but without a studio to work with, they decide to record the songs on the fly around New York, creating a love letter of sorts to the city.

I’m not saying this is a flawless film.  I think there are a few problems with the narrative structure, and not all of the side characters are completely fleshed out.  The choice to frame the concluding scenes over the end credits, after a very nice fade to black, also feels strange and a bit tacked on.  As a whole, Begin Again doesn’t reach the same intimacy as director John Carney’s breakout musical Once, or the quiet power of that film’s Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly.”  But this is certainly a worthy followup to that 2007 gem and another loving celebration of music.

Because in its best moments, Begin Again really starts to sing.  There is a vibrant energy to their musical performances around the city, with every instrument and sound working together to make something complete, whether it’s kids playing in an alley or the sound of traffic in the background.  I really like the idea that music can make even the most banal moments take on new meaning, and one of the best scenes comes when Gretta and Dan walk together through the streets of New York at night just sharing their playlists, with the songs providing the perfect soundtrack for everyone walking by.

These two characters help and change each other in unexpected ways, but it’s actually refreshing that their friendship isn’t forced into the direction of a romantic relationship.  They are just two broken people helping each other get back up.  Mark Ruffalo is one of the most natural actors currently working, and he turns in another winning performance as a flawed character who still manages to be likeable, despite his struggles with addiction.  Keira Knightley also does nice work, really showing off her impressive range as both an actor and singer, even learning to play guitar for the role.

I can’t stress enough how nicely Begin Again comes together.  The film’s charms completely worked on me, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending 104 minutes in the company of these people.  The original songs are catchy and well written, with several highlights including “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home” and the big showstopper “Lost Stars.”  Put simply, Begin Again is a feel good film that totally won me over.

Bloor Cinema Release: Alive Inside

July 25, 2014

Alive Inside Poster

After picking up the Audience Award for Best Documentary at this year’s Sundance, Alive Inside is opening at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto this weekend, and will be playing multiple times until July 31st.  Showtimes and tickets are right here.

Directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, the film follows Dan Cohen, the founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory.  The charity brings iPods and headphones to seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s, as well as people with mental illness and other physical disabilities, using playlists loaded with their favourite songs to help unlock the memories and feelings that are trapped inside their minds.

The results are remarkable to watch unfold, poignant scenes of people who have been lost inside themselves regaining their basic identities and coming alive once again.  The undeniable power of using music to help treat Alzheimer’s is supported by people like Dr. Oliver Sacks and Bobby McFerrin, who are both featured in interviews, but convincing governments the importance of funding these programs is where the real struggle begins.

An inspirational testament to the profound power of music, Alive Inside is a very moving and also vital documentary that will hopefully help inspire change, both in the ways we care for our elderly and how we appreciate and use music.  More details on Music & Memory can be found right here.

Blu-ray Review: Heaven is for Real

July 22, 2014

Heaven is for Real Blu-ray

Heaven is for Real – A Sony Pictures Release

http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/heavenisforreal/
Blu-ray Release Date: July 22nd, 2014
Rated PG for thematic material
Running time: 99 minutes

Randall Wallace (dir.)

Randall Wallace (screenplay)
Christopher Parker (screenplay)

Based on the book by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent

Nick Glennie-Smith (music)

Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo
Connor Corum as Colton Burpo
Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo
Thomas Haden Church as Jay Wilkins
Lane Styles as Cassie Burpo
Margo Martindale as Nancy Rawling

Our reviews below:

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Heaven is for Real Blu-ray Review By John Corrado

**1/2 (out of 4)

After Colton Burpo (Connor Corum) goes to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy and nearly doesn’t make it through the surgery, the young boy starts claiming to have visited Heaven during the operation.  Although his father Todd (Greg Kinnear) is the pastor of their local church, and his mother Sonja (Kelly Reilly) and older sister Cassie (Lane Styles) are also very religious, they aren’t prepared for the fantastical visions that Colton starts to describe, and the controversy that his experience ignites throughout their town.

Based on a true story, Heaven is for Real was the subject of a bestselling book.  I don’t fault audiences for finding joy and even profound inspiration in Colton’s story, and it’s easy to take comfort in the more intimate details of his experience.  I just wish this was a more even film.  Directed by Randall Wallace, who last helmed the great Secretariat, Heaven is for Real had the potential to be something more than just another religious melodrama.  But the production is too glossy, the screenwriting just okay, and the overly sappy tone often overshadows the more dramatic elements.  Although with fine performances and a well intentioned story, faithful audiences should at least find lots to enjoy.

The Blu-ray also has deleted scenes and a couple of featurettes, including one with the Burpo family.

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Heaven is for Real Blu-ray Review By Erin V.

**1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the true story and best-selling book by Todd Burpo (played here by Greg Kinnear), Heaven Is For Real is about a family in Nebraska whose son after getting emergency surgery told them he went to Heaven during the procedure.  Young Colton Burpo (newcomer Connor Corum) is just four years old, and lives in a home where faith is strong (his father is the local pastor).  Predictably, some people are uncomfortable with the family talking about what Colton explains he experiences.

The film has its problems in its set-up, and structure.  We get an extended first act before the inciting incident of Colton’s surgery even happens.  A lot focuses on the father near the beginning and since the story really revolves around what Colton says (“Heaven is for real”) it doesn’t make sense that we don’t get to that part until almost a third of the way through the film.  Most of the set-up seems to be trying to establish how religious the family is, but that was clear within the first five minutes.

Once the inciting incident does happen, things pick up a bit, then stall out again.  The second and third act are almost indistinguishable from each other, with no really amping up of any stakes or real buildup to the climax and resolution.  The fact is, tonally we get almost complacent and never move past this, which takes us out of the film.  I get that it’s based on a true story – but these are structuring issues that with a few scene adjustments can be dealt with without compromising the story they have decided to tell.

For those who loved the book, I’m sure they will enjoy seeing the story brought to screen.  Unfortunately this is a film that could have been done better.  Still, for a rental if you’re interested, it’s easy enough to check out for yourself now that it’s on DVD.

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Heaven is for Real Blu-ray Review By Nicole

**1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the true story of the same name, Heaven is for Real is a harmless Christian movie for families.  Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is a small town pastor who is struggling with his faith.  But when his four year old son Colton (newcomer Connor Corum) gets appendicitis, he experiences a powerful out of body experience during his surgery.

Colton did not have a near death experience, since he didn’t go into cardiac arrest, or lose any brain function.  It should be emphasized to young viewers that Colton never died.  Some children associate being “put to sleep” for surgery with death.  Children may also be confused into thinking Heaven is somewhere to go on vacation, as opposed to an afterlife.  Colton’s experience was a mystic, prophetic and spiritual vision, but his soul likely never actually left his body.  Simply experiencing a spiritual vision would have still been a miracle.

Todd is unaware of Colton’s vision, until he mentions visiting Jesus, angels, his late great granddad whom he never met, and an older sister who died as a miscarriage.  Colton couldn’t have seen these people unless he really did go on a mental trip to Heaven.  Colton’s parents desperately want their son to be “normal,” but eventually realize his unique experience maybe what our increasingly secular world needs to gain enlightenment.  I would love to see a film about the young mystic artist Akiane Kramarik who is briefly mentioned in the film.  Her Prince of Peace painting is absolutely haunting.

Heaven is for Real is not that great in terms of filmmaking.  While the acting is fine, the Heaven scenes are laughably cheesy and silly looking.  The movie also seems a little long.  But its message is really good.  One thing I loved was the mention of animals in Heaven, including Jesus’ “Horse of a Different Colour.”  Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t show the heavenly animals.  However, their mention subtly proves animals do have souls, a notion that many people sadly disregard.

I also like that they showed a Middle Eastern Jesus, a subtle message that Jesus is universal, not just a saviour for the Western world.  We need more people to help bring Christianity back to its universal, multicultural and animal friendly roots.  Heaven is for Real is a gentle film that sparks important discussions about how we can bring heavenly qualities back to Earth.

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Heaven is for Real Blu-ray Review By Maureen

**1/2 (out of 4)

Now that Heaven is for Real is available on the home entertainment market, a lot of Christian families will want to add this film to their personal library.  Based on a true story and adapted from the New York Times bestseller with the same title, Heaven is for Real touched a lot of people and sparked discussions about the existence of heaven.

Colton Burpo (Connor Corum) was four years old when he had a near death experience while undergoing an emergency appendectomy.  During that time, Colton said he saw angels, met Jesus and relatives whom he had never met.  Colton’s father Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) was a Nebraskan pastor whose Christian faith was challenged by the extraordinary things his son was sharing with him.

This movie version of the Burpo family’s story will appeal to Christian believers looking for a sentimental film that the whole family can sit together to watch.  The acting is decent, with Greg Kinnear giving a good performance and young Connor Corum lighting up the screen with his adorably innocent face.  The storyline is a little on the melodramatic side at times, and drags in more than one scene.  As for the special effects in the heavenly visions, I sincerely hope things won’t look that cheesy when I finally go through the pearly gates.

If you liked the book and are a believer, then Heaven is for Real is worth checking out on disc.  Church groups and Christian families will be the main audience for this movie.

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Heaven is for Real Blu-ray Review By Tony

**1/2 (out of 4)

Heaven is for Real is based on a recent best selling book by Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) about apparitions of Heaven related by his four year old son Colton (Connor Corum) in 2003. Todd is a small town Nebraska preacher who also volunteers as a firefighter and high school coach, struggling to make ends meet as an installer of garage doors in a depressed economy, particularly once the hospital bills come due.

Colton’s near death and out of body experiences during an emergency appendectomy included vivid visions of Heaven, Jesus and some dead people that he couldn’t have known about otherwise. When Todd shares his son’s story with the congregation the response is mixed between inspiration and skepticism, and church elders Jay Wilkins (Thomas Haden Church) and Nancy Rawling (Margo Martindale) are afraid he may have to be replaced. Even Todd’s wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) is troubled, but remains loyal and loving throughout.

Heaven is for Real is a decent American Protestant counterpart to apparition accounts from Lourdes, Fatima and more recently Medjugorje that have provided inspiration for many Catholics. Written and directed by Randall Wallace, it is anything but subtle, much more like a Hallmark or Christian film than would be expected from its Sony TriStar studios. The heavenly visions are particularly weird, with strange lighting and colours and angels that reminded me of a blurred vision of TriStar’s flying horse logo.

However, Todd’s thoughtful responses to his son’s experience, with excellent performances from Greg Kinnear and Connor Corum, make the film worth seeing beyond its target churchgoing audience.

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Consensus: Although the visuals sometimes falter and the story can feel melodramatic, Heaven is for Real is a decent film for Christian families, with fine performances from Greg Kinnear and newcomer Connor Corum. **1/2 (out of 4)

Digital Release: Made in America

July 22, 2014

Made in America Poster

After premiering at TIFF last year, Phase 4 Films is releasing Made in America on all home entertainment platforms today, including video on demand.

Directed by Ron Howard, the documentary follows the staging of the Made in America music festival in Philadelphia, a massive outdoor concert masterminded by iconic rapper Jay Z.  The idea is to bring together and showcase different kinds of music, uniting people and lifting them up from the hardships that we all face.

As a fan of many of the performers involved, I really enjoyed this film.  Mixing engaging interviews with vibrant performance footage of everyone from Jay Z and soul singer Janelle Monae to blues man Gary Clark Jr. and rock band Pearl Jam, Made in America is an entertaining and inspirational concert film that celebrates the power of music to pull people together.

Made in America is 93 minutes and unrated.

-John Corrado

Review: Snowpiercer

July 21, 2014

By John Corrado

**** (out of 4)

Snowpiercer Poster

When talking about the the sheer spectacle and mayhem on display in Snowpiercer, someone describes it as “a blockbuster production with a devilishly unpredictable plot,” and late in the game this becomes the perfect description of South Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s latest epic.

After months of anticipation, Snowpiercer finally opened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox over the weekend, and I’m pleased to announce that it’s one of the best movies of the year.  This is a fascinating and exhilarating piece of visionary science fiction filmmaking that provokes thought and keeps us glued to the edge of our seats, right up to the breathtaking final scene.

The year is 2031, and most of the human population is extinct due to a failed experiment to reverse global warming.  Temperatures have dropped so low that the entire Earth has frozen and become uninhabitable, with the remaining human population circling the planet onboard a massive train.  The rich ones live at the front controlling the engine, with the poorest people being relegated to the back where they are treated like dirt, under the stern watch of Mason (Tilda Swinton).

But a group of revolutionaries from the final car, including leader Curtis (Chris Evans), his young friend Edgar (Jamie Bell), fiercely protective mother Tanya (Octavia Spencer) and their unofficial patriarch Gilliam (John Hurt), have plans to take over the train.  This means fighting their way to the front and facing new adversaries in every car, relying on security expert Namgoong Minsoo (Song Kang-ho) and his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko) to open the doors, who seek only hallucinogenic drugs made from industrial waste in return.

The use of this train to introduce metaphors of classism and the rift between the rich and the poor, who are world’s apart but often only steps away, is simply ingenious.  Every section has its own unique visual style, from the carefully detailed steampunk look of the final car, to the garish affluence of the other passengers that is revealed as they get farther along the train.  These scenes sometimes resemble what The Hunger Games might look like on acid, and both in style and themes, Snowpiercer also has shades of everything from The Cabin in the Woods to the work of Terry Gilliam.

But Snowpierecer still manages to feel blindingly unique, surprising us at every turn.  From the darkly beautiful cinematography, to the expertly choreographed action sequences and propulsive editing that ties everything together, this is one of the most spectacular and brilliantly realized science fiction films in recent memory.  There are countless scenes here that reach a level of visual poetry, including a fight with axes that is seen through night vision goggles as the train rockets through a tunnel and is plunged into darkness, before a live flame is introduced to give us fiery flashes of the carnage on display.

Although distributor Harvey Weinstein controversially planned to cut his standard twenty minutes from Snowpiercer for this theatrical release, we should all be thankful that director Bong Joon Ho’s vision ultimately won out in the end.  This is just such a tightly wound experience that I honestly don’t know what scenes could have been left out, as every little element and detail ties together, with a nonstop sense of tension coursing through its veins.

The uniformly excellent performances are also a big part of this success, and Chris Evans is simply stunning in the leading role.  As we already know from his work as Captain America, he really rocks the scenes of fighting and hand to hand combat, and Snowpiercer incidentally features some of the best action sequences since The Winter Soldier earlier this year.  But the actor also excels during the quieter character moments, and the way his performance changes with a story that he tells near the end of the film really blew me away, as we watch this action star become deeply bruised and broken.

This all adds up to something mesmerizing, a mix of seamless choreography and haunting imagery, all underscored by powerful allegories on humanity and where we could be headed as a civilization.  But it’s the train itself that becomes the perfect analogy for the constant forward momentum of Snowpiercer, an across the board triumph that manages to be disturbing, wildly entertaining and impressive on every imaginable technical level.  I already can’t wait to watch this one again.

Movie Review: Planes: Fire & Rescue

July 18, 2014

Fire & Rescue Poster

Planes: Fire & Rescue – A Walt Disney Pictures Release

http://movies.disney.com/planes-fire-and-rescue
Release Date: July 18th, 2014
Rated G for action and some peril
Running time: 84 minutes

Roberts Gannaway (dir.)

Jeffrey M. Howard (characters)

Mark Mancina (music)

Dane Cook as Dusty Crophopper (voice)
Ed Harris as Blade Ranger (voice)
Julie Bowen as Lil’ Dipper (voice)
Curtis Armstrong as Maru (voice)
John Michael Higgins as Cad (voice)
Hal Holbrook as Mayday (voice)
Wes Studi as Windlifter (voice)
Brad Garrett as Chug (voice)
Teri Hatcher as Dottie (voice)
Stacy Keach as Skipper (voice)
Cedric the Entertainer as Leadbottom (voice)
Danny Mann as Sparky (voice)

Fire & Rescue

©Walt Disney Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) in Planes: Fire & Rescue.

Our reviews below:

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Planes: Fire & Rescue Review By John Corrado

**1/2 (out of 4)

This might sound like faint praise, but Planes: Fire & Rescue is actually a better movie than Disney’s financially successful but thoroughly middle of the road Pixar spinoff from last year.  Don’t get me wrong, this is still a film made squarely to entertain kids young enough to tug on the arms of their parents to take them to the toy store afterwards.  But this sequel at least works better at what it sets out to do, providing harmless entertainment and even excitement to the youngest of moviegoers.

After fulfilling his dreams of becoming a racer, modest crop duster Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is feeling the wear and tear of flying fast on his gear box.  When he burns out and accidentally causes a fire that gets their town of Propwash Junction shut down, he decides to get outfitted with water tanks and become a firefighter.  Stationed near Piston Peaks National Park, home to a popular tourist resort run by the sleazy Cad (John Michael Higgins) who cares more about making money than keeping vehicles safe, Dusty finds his true purpose dousing forest fires and protecting campers.

Making money was obviously a driving factor behind the choice to start this franchise in the first place, and in a summer strapped for children’s entertainment, Disney will surely reap the financial rewards of Planes: Fire & Rescue from both the box office and inevitable toy sales.  The sometimes stereotyped characters are still pretty derivative with few plot points that we don’t see coming, and adults will likely find their attention wandering throughout the simplistic and largely predictable story.

But Planes: Fire & Rescue is also a step up from the first film in pretty much every way, and we can at least be thankful for that.  The animation is better, the set pieces are more engaging, and the story does get points for providing a heartfelt tribute to real life firefighters, with some authentic and even stirring scenes amidst the blazes.  As a whole, this sequel is more well intentioned in a way that the first film wasn’t, which is certainly a step in the right direction for the inevitable third instalment.

Sitting near me at the screening of Planes: Fire & Rescue, there was a little boy clutching a flashing and talking toy airplane, that kept going off during the movie.  This is the age Planes: Fire & Rescue is made for, and anyone who is too old to bring toys to the theatre might not be equally engaged.  But kids who still carry around their plastic counterparts of the characters are guaranteed to love the film, and I can’t really argue with that.

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Planes: Fire & Rescue Review By Erin V.

**1/2 (out of 4)

A sequel to the 2013 film Planes (itself a Disney-made spinoff of Pixar’s Cars world), Planes: Fire & Rescue tells the story of Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook), who after winning a huge around the world race in the first film now is becoming certified as a fire-fighting plane in order to meet a requirement to have an extra firefighter at his own local Propwash Junction airport.  The opening scenes of the film feel really ordinary and very pedestrian – it seems like they are trying to do their own Radiator Springs thing with Propwash Junction, but it falls way short.

Once the film gets to the firefighting training base though, things pick up.  The rest of the film is focused on fighting forest fires and Dusty’s journey to become a firefighter.  Real firefighters were used as consultants on the film and the forest fire scenes are quite well done, with good animation and the planes using real techniques to fight the flames.  There is a real sense of peril here – if you are under 10.  The kids in the theatre seemed genuinely invested at the scary moments, although for the adults in the audience, it is very clear exactly where the film is going to end up.

I’ll be honest.  At times, I was bored, especially early on.  As an adult I recognize that I am not the target demographic for this film.  It is predictable to the level that it seems practically written with each beat obviously falling precisely where it should be and stereotyped one-note characters.

In particular I found the characters of Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen) and Windlifter (Wes Studi) to be extremely one-note.  While all the characters fulfill a stereotype/archetype, they seemed to fulfill more positive ones (hero, mentor, etc.) than these two.  Sure Dipper is starstruck by Dusty at the beginning, but as a professional working with him as a firefighter she honestly never moves beyond squealing at him every time he appears?  And does Windlifter really have to only speak in hard to understand quotes?  It’s screenwriting shortcuts to creating characters like these that never allow the film to become more interesting – because we can’t really relate to these one-note characters.

Overall, for a summer film, I’d rather see parents bring little kids to this than anything else out in theatres right now.  Certainly for the under 6-8 crowd, this is really the only film that is completely appropriate for them.  But for older audiences looking for flying scenes in 3D, find a theatre playing HTTYD 2Planes: Fire & Rescue is an improvement on the first instalment, but is consistently afraid to take the risk and push the engine into the red.

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Planes: Fire & Rescue Review By Nicole

**1/2 (out of 4)

Families will remember the first Planes movie, where Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) beat the odds to become a race plane.  In this adventure, Dusty breaks his gear box, and no replacement can be found.  It seems like the end of racing for him.  Things get worse when a small fire breaks out in his airpark.  They only have an old firetruck, not enough for a big emergency.  To save the airpark, Dusty sets off to train with the forest fire fighting planes at Piston Peaks National Park.  There he makes new friends, and must work together to save the tourists.

Planes: Fire & Rescue adds a new element to the vehicular Cars and Planes worlds.  The animation is sharper than the first film, and the storyline is a bit stronger too.  There are many fun firefighting sequences, some of which may frighten very small children.  Parents may also be aware of Windlifter (Wes Studi), who perpetuates First Nation stereotypes.  But overall, Planes: Fire & Rescue will appeal to the 6-10 range, and is entertaining enough for adults too.  I especially liked the deer trucks and balsa wood birdplanes.  Airplane and firefighting fans of all ages will really enjoy this film.

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Planes: Fire & Rescue Review By Maureen

**1/2 (out of 4)

Last summer, DisneyToon Studios released Planes, a followup of sorts to the popular Disney/Pixar Cars franchise.  Younger children in particular took to Planes in a big way, so for those who can’t get enough of talking airplanes, Planes: Fire & Rescue is here to save the summer and give young ones a movie they can call their own.

Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is still every planes idol back in Propwash Junction, as he continues to win flying races.  But all that changes in an instant when his mechanic Dottie (Teri hatcher) diagnoses a failing gearbox after Dusty crashes into a building and starts a fire at the airpark.  Propwash’s firetruck Mayday (Hal Holbrook) realizes their little airpark is ill-equipped to handle bigger fires.  When the TMST (Transportation Safety) threatens to shut them down until they meet fire safety regulations, Dusty does the honourable thing and wings up to become an aerial firefighter.

Dusty flies off to Piston Peaks National Park to train with the experienced helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), and his dedicated team of forest firefighters including Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen) and obviously Native ‘copter Windlifter (Wes Studi).  Dusty’s flying skills are put into use right away, as forest fires are only a lightning strike or unattended campfire away.

It’s the forest fire sequences that makes this Planes sequel a couple of notches above the original.  Fire fighting techniques and the perils involved are shown realistically.  The fire scenes rise above the cuteness of the rest of the film and show enough action and good animation to keep older kids and adults engaged.  There is one nighttime fire sequence that is particularly well done.

Overall, Planes: Fire & Rescue pays fine tribute to the firefighting teams across North America who protect our beautiful forests.  Children who love airplanes will love this film.  There is an inherent cute factor to the talking vehicle that appeals to a lot of kids, and one little guy at the screening I attended sat clutching his toy Dusty airplane as he watched.  The under-fives were predictably talking through the movie with cries of “oh no!” when scarier things were happening onscreen suggesting they were following the story.

Planes: Fire & Rescue is a good choice for families wanting something younger children can appreciate.  Yes, it will play just as well on disc at home, but sometimes an outing at the movies with a bucket of popcorn is just what a family needs.  That’s what summer memories are made of.

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Planes: Fire & Rescue Review By Tony

**1/2 (out of 4)

Planes: Fire & Rescue is a sequel to last year’s Planes, in which the crop-dusting plane Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) became a famous long distance racer.  This has placed too much strain on his engine, and with replacement parts unavailable, he pursues a new career fighting forest fires at Piston Peak Park under the training of chief helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris). The team also includes the flirtatious water bomber Dipper (Julie Bowen), resourceful forklift mechanic Maru (Curtis Armstrong) and spiritual native copter Windlifter (Wes Studi). The good voice cast is rounded out by the old fire truck Mayday (Hal Holbrook), sleazy park superintendent Cad (John Michael Higgins), cabinet minister (Fred Willard), and a sweet old camper van couple, Harvey and Winnie (Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara).

The Planes films come from DisneyToon Studios, with the bulk of the visuals outsourced to India’s Prana Studios, using Maya animation software developed here in Toronto. Though not in the same league as Pixar features, they are produced by John Lasseter and inspired by his own Cars films in their creation of vehicle characters. I found the original Cars brilliant and even liked Cars 2, though most critics have dismissed them as blatant toy generators.

Of course, the same criticism faces the Planes films even more. Though they are clearly aimed at children with simpler stories and broader humour, the aerial sequences are well done and the fires here provide added excitement. Adults may also be amused by the typical punning references to popular culture including a 70s/80s cop show, but I am not sure the native character was as favourably depicted as its distinguished Cherokee voice actor hoped.

In summary, Planes: Fire & Rescue is a good choice for families with young children. For those on a budget, the 2D version will be just fine. In most cases where I have seen both, the differences between 2D and 3D have little impact on the overall enjoyment of a film, particularly for little kids. At any rate, in either format it will be a good choice for the home market, where it can be repeatedly enjoyed by all ages.
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Consensus: Although the simplistic story is predictable and geared towards the youngest members of the audience, Planes: Fire & Rescue improves on the first film, with better animation and some more engaging firefighting sequences. **1/2 (out of 4)

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