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Blu-ray Release: Toy Story of Terror!

August 19, 2014

Toy Story of Terror! Blu-ray

Today, Disney and Pixar are releasing last year’s TV special Toy Story of Terror! on Blu-ray.  When the toys get stranded at a spooky roadside motel where Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) mysteriously goes missing, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Rex (Wallace Shawn) are forced to confront their fears and find him, with a little help from Combat Carl (Carl Weathers).

Despite the short running time, Toy Story of Terror! packs every second with smart humour and even a few twists, as the beautifully animated backgrounds add a nice sense of atmosphere.  With great characters and a sharp screenplay, this is a perfectly plotted and breathlessly entertaining riff on classic horror films, that provides excellent Halloween fun and is well worth adding to your collection.

The Blu-ray includes commentary, deleted scenes, a featurete on the production and several vintage toy commercials.  Also included are three Toy Story Toons (Small Fry, Hawaiian Vacation and Partysaurus Rex).

Toy Story of Terror! is 22 minutes and rated G.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

August 19, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Blu-ray

Sony Pictures is releasing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on Blu-ray today, a thoroughly entertaining blockbuster that nicely follows the first instalment and does a fine job of setting things up for the next chapter of the franchise.  We reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 back when the film opened atop the box office earlier this summer, and our overall consensus was:

“Although not quite as strong as previous franchise instalments, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a good sequel that consistently entertains with exciting action sequences and solid performances from both the heroes and villains. *** (out of 4)”

The Blu-ray includes filmmaker commentary, numerous deleted scenes, over a hundred minutes of featurettes, and the Alicia Keys music video “It’s On Again.”

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is 142 minutes and rated PG.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Only Lovers Left Alive

August 19, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive Blu-ray

Today, Sony Pictures Classics is releasing Only Lovers Left Alive on Blu-ray, after premiering at TIFF last year.  Directed by Jim Jarmusch, the film follows depressed musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton), a pair of lonely vampires drifting through the nightlife of Detroit.

Although the wryly mannered stylings of the film are a little too offbeat for my taste, and the lengthy running time can feel self indulgent, Only Lovers Left Alive certainly has a lot of fans who are going to be delighted to revisit the film on Blu-ray.  But even if we are left a little cold, the rest of us can at least admire the ambient sounds, stylish cinematography and good performances that make the film unique.

The Blu-ray includes the production documentary Travelling at Night with Jim Jarmusch, deleted and extended scenes, and the Yasmine Hamden music video “Hal.”

Only Lovers Left Alive is 123 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Review: The Giver

August 18, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

The Giver Poster

It’s interesting that a story about memories evokes such clear ones within myself.  When I think about The Giver, Lois Lowry’s classic 1993 novel which has been a staple of young adult literature for about two decades now, I remember being 11 years old and getting up early on a Saturday morning in October, just so that I could finish reading the book.

I went outside where things were quiet and found myself completely captivated by the story, left fascinated with the implications of that perfect final chapter.  Reading The Giver again after all these years, the novel remains a haunting and beautifully written allegory of a seeming utopia that is quickly revealed to be shockingly dystopic.

My fond memories of reading the book are why I was trepidatious going into The Giver, the long gestating big screen adaptation that finally opened over the weekend, after twenty years of attempts to bring the story to the screen.  But that trepidation was washed away as I watched the film unfold, an adaptation that makes some changes from the source material, but also remains surprisingly faithful to the integrity and emotional weight of the novel.

Taking place in a world drained of memories and emotion where everyone is bound by the same rigid order, the story begins when Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) turns eighteen, the age when everyone in their community is assigned jobs by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep).  Jonas is chosen as the new Receiver of Memory, being transferred memories from The Giver (Jeff Bridges), a mysterious elderly man who is haunted by these flashes of how things used to be before “Sameness” took over.

Through receiving these memories, Jonas starts to realize the coldness of his Mother (Katie Holmes) and Father (Alexander Skarsgård), as well as the naiveté of his sister Lilly (Emma Tremblay) and friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush).  New urges become him, like the desire for actual romance, as he starts to discover the feelings within himself that have long been blocked by their daily injections.  Although this world has successfully done away with hunger and war, they have also been stripped of colour and anything deeper than superficial feelings.

This is one of those times where it’s practically a requirement that audiences have read the book before seeing the movie, both to experience the story for the first time exactly as it was written by Lois Lowry, and also to come away with a larger understanding of this world.  The film gets off to a bit of a rushed start, distilling several chapters worth of exposition into a few minutes.  The choice to cast Taylor Swift in a brief but pivotal role is distracting and just seems like an excuse to put her name in the credits.

The story has also undergone some changes on its way to the screen.  The most obvious one is that the characters were twelve in the book, where as here they are eighteen.  The structure of the last act has also been changed, naturally showing us the action from the perspective of the supporting characters, and becoming more of a chase sequence on screen.  But for the most part these things feel more like natural updates than outright deviations, and they don’t take away from the overall messages of the story.

Director Phillip Noyce thankfully hasn’t sacrificed the themes that made The Giver so fascinating in the first place.  There are a lot of interesting ideas at play about how true compassion comes from our ability to understand and therefore empathize with the pain and suffering of others, and how this world has eliminated conflict at the expense of true emotion.  The look of the film is also commendable, with the cinematography switching from black and white, to orange tinted sepia and finally crisp colour images, representing the main character’s expanding knowledge of the world around him.

As a movie, The Giver really finds its footing when Jeff Bridges enters the picture, and his unwavering dedication to the source material is apparent throughout every scene of his quietly powerful and heartfelt performance.  His scenes are some of the best in the film, and the sequences where Jonas receives the memories are beautifully done.  Shown through montages of clips taken from YouTube videos and iconic footage of real conflict, these memorably evocative images stick with us as if we are also seeing them for the first time and produce genuine emotion.

Although a lot of people have been critical, I truly believe in a few years The Giver will be remembered as one of the more interesting studio pictures of 2014, a mainstream film that is stylistically unique and has something to say.  This is a film more thoughtful than the usual summer fare, introducing the powerful story to a new generation, while offering provocative ideas about society through an empathetic and even inspirational lens.  Put simply, The Giver is a great book that has become a good movie.

Bloor Cinema Release: The Dog

August 15, 2014

By John Corrado

The Dog Poster

After premiering at TIFF last year, and coming back to the city for Inside Out, The Dog is opening at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema this weekend and will be playing until August 21st.  Showtimes and tickets are right here.

After holding up a bank to try and fund his partner’s sex change operation, John Wojtowicz became a celebrity in his own right, and was unforgettably portrayed by Al Pacino in the 1975 classic Dog Day Afternoon.

Through interviews with the man himself and those closest to him, The Dog documents the events around that fateful day in New York, from his spot at the forefront of the gay rights movement, to the aftermath of his attempted robbery that became the point of media fixation.

Directors Allison Berg and François Keraudren have put together a remarkable account of this fascinating true story, and The Dog is a compelling and wildly entertaining documentary that packs a surprising emotional punch.  This is one of the best documentaries you will see this year, and the Bloor Cinema will also be holding a special screening of Dog Day Afternoon tomorrow night, which would make for a perfect double bill.

Blu-ray Release: Locke

August 12, 2014

Locke Blu-ray

Today, Elevation Pictures is releasing the Sundance hit Locke on Blu-ray.  The film takes place in real time and almost entirely inside a car, as Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) drives across London, answering calls from his family and coworkers at the construction site where he works, slowly having the course of his life and others changed over this one trip.

Although being advertised like a thriller, Locke is in fact more of a quiet character drama, and as that the film is one of the more interesting cinematic experiments of the year.  With haunting music by Dickon Hinchliffe, and some impressive cinematography that finds clever ways to add visual intrigue, the film is ultimately worth seeing for Tom Hardy’s naturalistic and very good performance, which impressively carries the entire story.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with director Steven Knight and a “making of” featurette.

Locke is 84 minutes and rated 14A.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Muppets Most Wanted

August 12, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted Blu-ray

Today, Disney is releasing Muppets Most Wanted on Blu-ray.  This time around, the Muppets take their show on the road across Europe, naively hiring Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) as their manager.  Things take a turn for the worse when Kermit is replaced by Constantine, who is using their shows as a coverup for elaborate jewel heists, leaving Kermit at a Russian gulag run by the strict Nadya (Tina Fey).

Although this followup to The Muppets doesn’t reach the same brilliant heights as that delightful 2011 film, returning director James Bobin acknowledges this right off the bat, allowing us to just sit back and enjoy the less focused but still fun Muppets Most Wanted.  This is an easily amusing way to spend time with these beloved classic characters, a film that modestly sets out to entertain and ultimately does just that.  You can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray includes an Unnecessarily Extended Cut and the Statler and Waldorf Cut, The Longer Longest Blooper Reel in Muppets History, a music video for “I’ll Get You What You Want” and a “Frog-E-Oke” track.

Muppets Most Wanted is 107 minutes and rated PG.  The extended version runs for 124 minutes.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Disneynature’s Bears

August 12, 2014

Bears Blu-ray

Today, Bears is being released on Blu-ray.  The latest wildlife adventure from Disneynature, the film follows a year in the life of Sky and her two adorable cubs, as they come of age against the stunningly captured backdrop of the Alaskan Peninsula.  We reviewed Bears when the film opened in theatres this past April, and our overall consensus was:

“With charmingly child friendly narration from John C. Reilly, Bears is another beautifully filmed wildlife documentary from Disneynature, filled with breathtaking and sometimes adorable footage of the animals and their natural habitat. *** (out of 4)”

The Blu-ray includes four “behind the scenes” featurettes and a music video for “Carry On” by Olivia Holt.

Bears is 78 minutes and rated G.

-John Corrado

Blu-ray Release: Six Disney Classics

August 12, 2014

Along with Bears and Muppets Most Wanted, Disney is also releasing half a dozen of their classics for the first time on Blu-ray today, the first two as a combo pack and the other four on their own.  I had fun working my way through this stack of new releases over the weekend, and I think other Disney fans are going to feel the same way…

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad:Fun and Fancy Free Blu-ray

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Fun and Fancy Free: Released in 1949, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad combines an entertaining take on The Wind in the Willows with a stunning musical retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, respectively narrated by Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby.

First released in 1947, the very charming Fun and Fancy Free is hosted by Jiminy Cricket and Edgar Bergen, bringing together the adorable short story Bongo, about a circus bear escaping to the wild and falling in love, with the amusing fairy tale adaptation Mickey and the Beanstalk.

Boasting some beautiful animation, both films are still quite entertaining and worth seeing, with Fun and Fancy Free being the last animated feature to star Walt Disney himself as the voice of Mickey Mouse.  A pair of less widely available classics from the studio, this set is an invaluable release for Disney fans looking to complete their libraries.

The Blu-ray set also includes The Reluctant Dragon, a feature length production diary from 1941 that takes us on a tour of the studio, switching between black and white and Technicolor, with four short animated segments worked into the 73 minute running time.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is 68 minutes and rated G.  Fun and Fancy Free is 73 minutes and also rated G.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks Blu-ray

Bedknobs and Broomsticks: When siblings Charlie (Ian Weighill), Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan) and Paul (Roy Snart) are evacuated during WWII, they are sent to live with the kind witch Miss Price (Angela Lansbury).  Looking for a spell that could help end the war, she takes them to London on a flying bed where they meet Professor Emelius (David Tomlinson), who happens to be a charlatan.

The film takes a detour into animation when they travel to the Isle of Naboombu, mixing the actors with cartoon animals in a feat of Oscar-winning visual effects.  Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this 1971 film is the Sherman Brothers music, including the incredible extended number “Portebello Road.”  Although running a little long, despite being whittled down from a much longer cut, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a fairly entertaining fantasy, and fans are sure to be pleased with this new edition.

The Blu-ray includes a bunch of deleted and extended scenes and songs, and a featurette on the music.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is 117 minutes and rated G.

Hercules Blu-ray

Hercules: Although the son of Greek Gods Zeus (Rip Torn) and Hera (Samantha Egger), Hercules (Tate Donovan) was raised an on earth and must become a true hero in order to reclaim his immortality, which includes battling the evil Hades (James Woods) and protecting his love interest Meg (Susan Egan).

Oscar-nominated for the song “Go the Distance,” this 1997 take on mythology has a great soundtrack and is simply a lot of fun.  I have fond memories of enjoying Hercules back when I was a kid, and the film still holds up as a stylized and very entertaining animated fantasy, filled with some big laughs and a dose of the classic Disney heart.

The Blu-ray includes a “making of” featurette, as well as a sing-along track and the music video for “No Importa La Distancia” with Ricky Martin.

Hercules is 93 minutes and rated G.

Tarzan Blu-ray

TarzanAfter his parents are killed, a young baby is adopted by the kind gorilla Kala (Glenn Close) and raised with the other apes, given the name Tarzan.  But when he meets explorer Jane Porter (Minnie Driver), the adult Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) must decide between staying in the jungle and protecting his family, or embracing his human side.

There are many reasons why 1999 is considered among the best years for movies, and Tarzan is one of them.  From the haunting wordless opening, to the unforgettable soundtrack from Phil Collins including the beautiful Oscar-winning song “You’ll Be in My Heart,” everything about the film still feels fresh after fifteen years.  Entertaining, thrilling and also moving, Tarzan is one of Disney’s best and most mature films, a sweeping adventure story filled with breathtaking animation and a beating heart.

The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, several featurettes and the original music video for “You’ll Be in My Heart.”

Tarzan is 88 minutes and rated PG.

The Three Musketeers Blu-ray

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers: When Princess Minnie (Russi Taylor) is kidnapped by Pete (Jim Cummings) and his trio of bad guys, it’s up to janitors Mickey (Wayne Allwine), Donald (Tony Anselmo) and Goofy (Bill Farmer) to become Musketeers just like their heroes, and return her to the throne.

With musical narration, the film was released direct to video in 2004, and looks especially crisp on Blu-ray.  Although not in the same league as these other classics, at just over an hour, Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is an amusing way to spend time with these classic characters, especially for younger kids.

The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, cast commentary, some sing along tracks and a dance video to the song “All For One and One For All.”

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is 68 minutes and rated G.

-John Corrado

Remembering Robin Williams (1951-2014)

August 11, 2014

By John Corrado

Robin Williams

Deeply sad doesn’t even begin to describe the news that Robin Williams has lost his fight with severe depression at 63 years of age.  The world has truly lost one of their best today, and the actor will be missed both by everyone who got to know him through his performances, and those who knew him in real life.

Robin Williams was great in so many films that it’s impossible to pick a favourite among them.  Like so many others, I first became a fan when I was a kid through his memorable voice work in Disney’s Aladdin (1992), and his breathlessly funny role in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).  I still laugh when I think about The Birdcage (1996), and the list just keeps going on.

He was an actor who effortlessly made us laugh out loud in these and other comedies, but Robin Williams was also able to deeply move us with his best dramatic roles.  Who can forget his Oscar-nominated performances in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Fisher King (1991), and that he deservingly won Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting (1997).  He was simply unforgettable.

When the actor showed a darker side in thrillers like Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo (2002) and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia (2002), or the pitch black dramedy World’s Greatest Dad (2009), it was simply another impressive progression in his already interesting career.  And what a career he had, spanning several decades from his start as a standup comedian to his breakout role on the sitcom Mork & Mindy in 1978, before becoming one of our most versatile and genuine movie stars.  It’s heartbreaking to think about all of the performances that Robin Williams might have had left to give, and that the actor was never able to have a proper return to his glory days.

The only words that seem appropriate right now are from his own great work as a psychologist in Good Will Hunting, when he repeatedly and poignantly tells Matt Damon’s title character that “it’s not your fault.”  Depression isn’t anyone’s fault, and as the world mourns the passing of Robin Williams, it’s heartbreaking that the sickness has claimed another victim.  May he rest in peace.

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