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Review: Emily the Criminal

August 12, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Emily (Aubrey Plaza), the central character in the aptly titled Sundance crime drama Emily the Criminal, is a young woman in Los Angeles whose designation as a law-breaker is one that she seemingly can’t escape from.

The opening scene finds her being blindsided by a job interviewer who tries to trick her into voluntarily revealing a minor criminal record (including a DUI and aggravated assault several years prior) that he already has in front of him.

This is just one of the many obstacles that she faces in moving forward, with the film’s title serving as both an indicator of past behaviour that also all but determines her future. Emily is saddled with seventy thousand dollars in student debt, but can’t get honest work because of her criminal record.

She is stuck working for a catering company, with a manager who moves around her shifts with little warning and reminds her that she isn’t part of a union if she raises concerns. It’s for all these reasons that, when presented with a mysterious number from a colleague (Bernardo Badillo) and the offer to make two hundred bucks cash in an hour as a “dummy shopper,” Emily bites at the opportunity.

Little does she know that she is getting suckered into a well-oiled criminal racket run by Youcef (Theo Rossi) and his cousin Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori). The hustle involves using stolen credit cards to buy flatscreen TVs that will be sold off later, with the “shoppers” getting a cut upfront. Emily does the job, which leads to an offer for an even bigger mission (should she choose to accept it) the next day; this one with a payout of two thousand dollars.

Written and directed by John Patton Ford, making his feature debut, Emily the Criminal is a taut mix of crime thriller and low-key character drama. Even if there are cliched elements in the setup, the film is always engaging, mainly thanks to Plaza’s compelling characterization. Plaza brings her gift for bone-dry humour to the role, infusing many of her line readings with a sardonic quality (“credit card fraud” is her matter-of-fact response when someone asks what she does for a living, all irony implied).

But there is a deeper layer to her performance as well, with Emily’s sarcasm and steely resolve serving as a defence mechanism for the fact that she is barely scraping by and can’t stop being judged for her past mistakes, and Plaza deftly portrays these different facets of the character, which is crucial. As much as Emily the Criminal takes its cues from other gritty L.A. crime thrillers like Michael Mann’s Thief (right down to a cool synth score by Nathan Halpern that ups the tension), Ford’s film is also influenced by the social realist dramas of Ken Loach and the Dardenne Brothers, even if it doesn’t hit quite as hard as either of their best works.

Ford does a good job of building suspense through uncertainty, crafting a socially conscious, working class crime thriller that explores the dark side of the gig economy, and shows how easily someone can be sucked into the criminal underworld out of necessity. It’s a solid debut that boasts career-best work from Plaza, and builds to an impactful ending.

Emily the Criminal opens today in select theatres, including Cineplex Yonge-Dundas in Toronto. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vertical Entertainment.

Disney+ Review: I Am Groot

August 10, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

I Am Groot, the latest Marvel series premiering on Disney Plus, isn’t really a series at all, but rather a collection of brief little shorts featuring Guardians of the Galaxy breakout star Baby Groot (voiced once again by Vin Diesel) going on a series of adventures between the two films.

Made up of five episodes that are roughly four minutes each, the brand off-shoot finds the title character taking a bath in mud and sprouting hair-like leaves; fighting with a bonsai tree; being awoken by a mysterious liquid life form on the ship; taking on an ambitious art project under the nose of Rocket (Bradley Cooper, reprising his voice role); and befriending/terrorizing a colony of tiny little alien creatures on another planet.

All episodes were written and directed by Kirsten Lepore, with Kevin Feige and James Gunn serving as executive producers. At its best, the series does capture a bit of that goofy but sweet tone of the Guardians films, as Baby Groot gets into mischief and dances his way through each adventure. The episodes are mostly wordless, of course, save for the signature three word sentence “I am Groot,” which Diesel amusingly delivers various ways to reflect the character’s different moods.

As a series of brief standalone adventures that have no real bearing on the larger MCU, I Am Groot is cute, but it feels largely inconsequential, with the episodes seeming like the type of shorts that would have been included as DVD extras in the past. Instead of being a hybrid of live action and animation like the movies, the series is also fully CGI, and the “photorealistic” backgrounds do have a bit of an uncanny valley look to them at times. Still, for an entire “series” that takes about twenty minutes to watch, I Am Groot is an enjoyable and amusing enough little diversion for fans of the title character.

I Am Groot is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

Blu-ray Review: Firestarter (Collector’s Edition)

August 9, 2022

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

Firestarter is the second adaptation of Stephen King’s 1980 novel of the same name, following the 1984 film that starred a young Drew Barrymore. This Blumhouse-produced remake is intended as a modern upgrade, but it’s actually one of the blandest King adaptations, struggling to, well, get any sort of fire started. Put simply, it’s just not very good.

Zac Efron stars in this version as Andy McGee, a young father who is forced to go on the run with his 11-year-old daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who has the ability to combust and start fires with her mind.

The opening credits establish that Andy and his partner Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) were part of a drug experiment in college that gave them telepathic and telekinetic powers, which they passed along to Charlie, making her a coveted government asset. The family has been in hiding ever since, but Charlie is increasingly struggling to control her pyrokinesis when angry, and an incident at school following intense bullying ends up blowing their cover.

A skilled tracker named Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) is sent to capture her, putting Andy and Charlie on the run, which makes up the bulk of the movie. Directed by Keith Thomas, making the jump to studio filmmaking following his pretty good Jewish horror debut The Vigil, Firestarter struggles to hold our interest right from the get-go. It’s never particularly scary or thrilling, yet not engaging or involving enough to really work as family drama, either. The adapted screenplay by Scott Teems leaves both the characters and story feeling underdeveloped, and the film ultimately feels more like a TV pilot than a fully fleshed out movie.

At a scant 94 minutes, Firestarter rushes through its plot, yet has the added baggage of feeling much longer (which is never a good thing). For a story that should have more of an emotional pull, the film mostly falls flat, with characters often seeming weirdly detached and disaffected. The young Armstrong does show some promise in the lead, but Efron, while serviceable, isn’t really given enough to make the role his own, and is left to play a sort of interchangeable dad archetype. And, despite the potential for cool visuals, the film also often looks surprisingly dull.

The one saving grace of Firestarter is the eerie, Stranger Things-esque synth score courtesy of none other than the legendary filmmaker and composer John Carpenter (alongside his collaborators Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies). Carpenter’s score appropriately rocks, especially during the film’s big finale. I just wish it was accompanying a better overall movie.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray comes with an alright array of bonuses, including an alternate ending and a handful of featurettes. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

Alternate Ending (2 minutes, 43 seconds): A variation on the final scene in the film. The ending they went with is better, in my opinion.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (Play All – 20 minutes, 14 seconds): A mix of new and extended scenes, a few of which would have helped pad out the film a bit. I actually think the last one, Andy’s Visionary Escape From the Cell, should have been left in as one of the better scenes.

Andy Reflects in Mirror (1 minute, 46 seconds)

Andy’s Lot Six Nightmare – Extended (4 minutes, 4 seconds)

Wanless Gets a Visitor – Extended (2 minutes, 30 seconds)

Rainbird Scare/Wildlife Hunt (4 minutes, 15 seconds)

Charlie Treks to Find Andy (2 minutes, 9 seconds)

Charlie Counts Down “Five, Four, Three, Lies” (1 minute, 7 seconds)

Andy’s Visionary Escape From the Cell (4 minutes, 11 seconds)

Gag Reel (1 minute, 6 seconds): Your standard gag reel.

A Kinetic Energy (6 minutes, 4 seconds): A look at crafting a new take on the novel, and Efron’s performance in the film as a father.

Spark a Fire (3 minutes, 43 seconds): Director Thomas, screenwriter Teems, and the producers discuss the deeper themes of King’s story.

Igniting Firestarter (3 minutes, 38 seconds): A brief but interesting look at the film’s mostly practical effects, including covering actors and stunt doubles in Nomex gel in order to use real fire.

Power Struggle (3 minutes, 28 seconds): A look at an early set-piece between Vicky and Rainbird, including the use of air cannons to explode things off walls towards the actors.

Feature Commentary with Director Keith Thomas

Firestarter is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 94 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: August 9th, 2022

Disney+ Review: Prey

August 5, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), Prey is the fifth instalment in the Predator franchise (seventh if you count the spinoffs Alien vs. Predator and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem). The twist is that it’s actually a prequel to the 1987 original, that is set in the Comanche Nation circa the 1700s and centres around a Native American heroine.

Serving as an “origin of the species,” if you will, for the original Predator, Prey is meant to show when the alien killer first landed on Earth. And it works as a visceral, stripped down action movie that offers enough nods to the original to please fans, while also functioning pretty well on its own terms.

The central character is Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young warrior who wants to prove that she is just as skilled a hunter as her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), with other members of their tribe mocking her for wanting to take on more traditional male roles. When Naru notices that something has been killing and skinning other animals, they tell her that it’s the work of a lion or a bear, but she is convinced that whatever is doing it is not human and suspects the mythic monster she was warned about in old stories.

As we know from the franchise that Prey is a part of, the strange killings are actually the work of a technologically advanced alien creature (played by Dane DiLiegro, taking over for Kevin Peter Hall in the first two) that has infrared vision and can turn invisible. The creature’s arrival comes with a flaming ball of light that Naru witnesses falling from the sky. Working from an effective, back-to-basics screenplay by Patrick Aison, Trachtenberg’s film mirrors the 1987 film in a lot of ways and follows a similar formula, while still feeling like its own thing.

The Comanche angle in particular gives Prey an interesting perspective, with the film being led by a mostly Indigenous cast. Midthunder is tasked with carrying the film on her shoulders (which was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s role in the original), and she proves herself to be a formidable action star, delivering a solid leading performance that builds upon the promise that she showed in The Ice Road.

The plot goes in a fairly straight line from point-A to point-B, but offers a decent and satisfying character arc for Midthunder’s Naru, and functions as a gnarly little survival story. Shot in Alberta, which provides a rugged and striking backdrop for the film, Prey offers moments of suspense and ruthless kills that are matched with plenty of gore. Trachtenberg stages several white-knuckle set-pieces throughout, including a thrilling chase scene involving a bear that turns predator into prey.

The one downside to Prey is that the film is being released directly on Disney+ in Canada (the studio acquired it from 20th Century Fox, and it’s being sold as a Hulu Original in the United States), but it seems tailor-made to be seen on the big screen with an audience, something that a streaming-only release doesn’t exactly allow. It feels like the kind of late-summer blockbuster that would have been a fun surprise in theatres. Regardless of release strategy, Prey still works as a solid prequel that is worth seeing for its strong action and engaging survival story.

Prey is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+ in Canada.

VOD Review: Mr. Malcolm’s List

August 2, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Mr. Malcolm’s List is a romantic dramedy set in the 1800s that mainly serves as a sincere tribute to Jane Austen (I would say “fan fiction,” but that perhaps has a more negative connotation than what I wish to convey here), offering a fairly enjoyable entry into the oeuvre of lighthearted period pieces.

Filmed in Ireland, standing in for England in 1818, the film centres around the romantic exploits of Jeremiah Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), a dashing figure who is highly sought after but refuses to settle. Mr. Malcolm is the most eligible bachelor in London at the time, mainly due to his high standards in choosing a bride.

Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) is perpetually single, and has yet to find (and keep) the right suitor. When she faces the humiliation of being publicly rejected by him following a disastrous trip to the opera, she decides to get revenge.

Julia finds out through her cousin, Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), that Mr. Malcolm keeps a list of what he is looking for in a woman, including things like being able to hold an intelligent conversation and possessing musical or artistic abilities. So she calls upon her childhood friend Selina Dalton (Frieda Pinto) to pose as the perfect prospect, working from his own list. The plan is for her to give him a taste of his own medicine by rejecting him at the last minute, but Julia’s scheme goes astray when Mr. Malcolm and Selina start developing real feelings for each other.

One of the most unique aspects of the film is that it assembles a racially diverse cast of actors to play high society folks in 19th Century England (Dirisu is Black, Pinto is of Indian descent, etc.), characters who historically would have been white. The film is not quite radical enough to make a deeper statement with its “colour blind” casting, but it still adds an interesting and refreshing layer to the storytelling.

The film is based on the 2009 book of the same name by Suzanne Allain, a self-published novel which the author adapted into a screenplay that made its way onto the Black List, where it was discovered by director Emma Holly Jones. The story was adapted into a short film in 2019 produced by Refinery29, which provides the basis for this feature version, with many of the cast members reprising their roles.

The story is predictable to a tee, and ultimately follows the typical romantic comedy tropes, with a script that doesn’t go that deep (the film also opens with voiceover narration that gets quickly abandoned). But Mr. Malcolm’s List still serves as a handsome production that is kept enjoyable to watch thanks to its fine performances and period costumes. Jones keeps the film moving with a breezy tone, building towards an expected but thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is now available on a variety of Digital/VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

Review: Ali & Ava

July 29, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Ali & Ava, the latest film from British writer-director Clio Barnard, is a low-key love story between Ali (Adeel Akhtar) and Ava (Claire Rushbrook), two lonely working class folks in the United Kingdom who come from different backgrounds (him British-Pakistani and her Irish-born), but form a close bond between them.

Ali is a former DJ and landlord who has become friends with the Slovakian family renting one of his properties, even taking their young daughter Sofia (Ariana Bodorova) to school. This is where he meets Ava, who works as a teaching assistant in the girl’s classroom.

It’s raining when he comes to pick Sofia up, and Ali offers Ava a ride. She politely refuses, he gently insists, and she gets in the car with him and Sofia. It’s a “meet cute” of sorts that, like everything else in this tender film, feels grounded in reality.

Ali is in the final stages of a relationship with Runa (Ellora Torchia), who still lives with him while she finishes her studies, but they are all but separated, including sleeping in different rooms. Ava is a mother of five and young grandmother with her own troubled past in terms of relationships. He loves punk rock and dance music, while she exclusively listens to country and folk, but they bond over dancing and develop a mutual trust with each other.

Set in Bradford, West Yorkshire, the story of Ali & Ava was inspired by a pair of real people that Barnard met while filming two of her previous features (The Arbor and The Selfish Giant) in the town, and there is an authentic, lived-in quality to the film. Barnard’s screenplay finds its most impactful moments in the ways that it subtly explores racism, grief, trauma and abuse, weaving these themes into a naturalistic romance. The naturalism of the film carries through in the impressive performances of the leads.

Akhtar’s Ali is spirited and full of life, but the actor does a moving job of revealing the grief that invades the edges of his psyche (including the evocative imagery of Ali dancing atop his station wagon to music in his headphones, a mix of freedom and anguish in his movements). Rushbrook delivers a sensitive portrayal of a woman who is tentative in allowing herself to get close to another person, including small moments when she opens up in Ali’s presence.

The result is a gentle and bittersweet film (though not one without several moments of upheaval), that allows the relationship between its characters to slowly and naturally grow over the course of a quietly engaging, character-driven story that builds to a touching conclusion.

Ali & Ava is now playing in limited release in select cities, including at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. It’s being distributed in Canada by Game Theory Films.

4K Ultra HD Review: The Lost City

July 26, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum team up in the romantic adventure comedy The Lost City, and it’s an example of a film that is actually surprisingly kinda good, simply because it delivers exactly what we want.

Bullock’s Loretta Sage is a romance novelist, who has channelled her genuine interest in archeology and lost civilizations into wildly popular erotic adventure books following the exploits of her fictional proxy, Dr. Angela Lovemore.

Tatum’s Alan Caprison is the cover model for her novels, representing fearless adventurer and fictional love interest Dale McMahon. When we first meet Loretta in the film, she has been struggling to write following the death of her archeologist husband.

This makes her latest Dash and Lovemore adventure, The Lost City of D (an obvious play on words) a hot commodity, with her publisher (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) insisting on sending her out on a book tour with Dale, who is nothing like his fictional counterpart, to promote the book. But the tour gets cut short when Loretta is kidnapped by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), an insecure billionaire who believes that she can help him find the real lost city and treasure that she wrote about in her book. Fairfax flies her to a remote island in the Atlantic where he has been excavating the ruins of an ancient civilization, and Alan goes after her, desperate to prove himself as more than just a pretty face.

The cast is a big part of why The Lost City is kept enjoyable to watch. The film marks Bullock’s long-awaited return to the rom-com genre, and the role is very much in her wheelhouse. Tatum is an affable comic presence who gets to do his dimwitted beefcake routine, while Radcliffe has fun chewing up the screen as the maniacal, possibly queer-coded villain. But it’s Brad Pitt who is the real scene-stealer. He practically walks away with the film in what amounts to an extended cameo as an ex-military tracker named Jack Trainer whom Alan hires to help him find Loretta, with his character springing into action during a well staged sequence set to Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand.”

Directed by brothers Adam and Aaron Nee, starting from a decent screenplay that they worked on with writers Oren Uziel and Dana Fox, The Lost City mostly strikes a good balance between romance, comedy and adventure, with some more bittersweet moments along the way. It’s nothing major, but The Lost City delivers exactly what you pay for, and serves as an entertaining film carried by fun performances from its cast, with the 4K disc offering expected clarity on skin tones and foliage in the jungle.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The 4K disc boasts “over 50 minutes of hilarious bonus content.” A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which ships with a standard slipcover.

Dynamic Duo (4 minutes, 42 seconds): The filmmakers and lead actors talk about making an escapist film, and balancing different tones.

Location Profile (7 minutes, 9 seconds): Cast and crew talk about the challenges and benefits of shooting on an island in the Dominican Republic, after having to move the production last minute from the Canary Islands due to COVID travel restrictions.

Jungle Rescue (6 minutes, 25 seconds): Looks at crafting two of the film’s set-pieces; a jungle rescue atop a moving vehicle with Tatum doing his own stunts, and Pitt’s big scene.

The Jumpsuit (3 minutes, 41 seconds): Costume designer Marlene Stewart discusses designing the bright, sequined jumpsuit that Bullock wears in the film, inspired by the star’s own love of jumpsuits.

Charcuterie (3 minutes, 32 seconds): How the production team went about using giant fans to blow around copious amounts of meat and cheese for Radcliffe’s big introductory scene.

The Villains of The Lost City (5 minutes, 29 seconds): Focuses on Radcliffe’s villainous role in the film, and the casting of his henchmen.

Building The Lost City (7 minutes, 23 seconds): An expanded look at shooting the entire film on location in the Dominican, including building sets. Features production designer Jim Bissell and set decorator Karen Frick.

Deleted Scenes (Play All – 8 minutes, 52 seconds): A selection of eight cut scenes. There are some good moments here, and I actually think all of them could have been kept in the film.

Spying on Fairfax (44 seconds)

Beth Looks for Loretta (1 minute, 23 seconds)

The Climb (14 seconds)

Allison’s Dance (53 seconds)

Hammock (53 seconds)

Navigates Drone (43 seconds)

Loretta Calls Nana (3 minutes, 26 seconds)

Trainer Has a Headache (32 seconds)

Bloopers (5 minutes, 33 seconds): A standard blooper reel.

The Lost City is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 111 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: July 26th, 2022

Review: Nope

July 22, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Nope, the third film written and directed by Jordan Peele, completes the trifecta of modern genre movies that he started with Get Out and Us, and continues his winning streak as a filmmaker.

While it’s worth addressing up front that Nope doesn’t have the same type of social commentary as Get Out or even Us (though there are still some deeper layers here that I’ll get to later on), that’s also not really what Peele is going for here.

This is simply a really entertaining and expertly crafted mix of summer blockbuster and sci-fi spectacle that pays tribute to the king of them, Steven Spielberg. Peele’s latest is blockbuster filmmaking in its purest form, a massive movie that is made to be seen on the big screen with its immersive visuals and sound design.

The film takes place on a ranch in California that rents out horses for Hollywood productions. When their father (Keith David, in what is basically a cameo role) dies in a freak accident involving bits of metal falling from the sky, siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) are left to run the ranch. With business struggling, OJ has started selling off the horses to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star who runs a local amusement park called Jupiter’s Claim.

But the brother and sister soon realize that there’s something in the skies above their ranch, which they become obsessed with capturing on video. Enter Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), a salesman at the local electronics store who helps them install high tech security cameras on the property, and, well, stuff starts to happen. This is Peele doing his version of a UFO monster movie, and it’s as exciting and interesting as it sounds.

The first act is all Spielbergian buildup, with teases and hints at what’s to come. This allows Peele to show off his expertise at establishing tone and building tension. The last act delivers awesome payoff, with one of the most ridiculously entertaining sequences of the year. This is, in many ways, Peele’s most ambitious film yet, at least in terms of scope. Working with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, the film looks incredible, especially in IMAX. It was shot using IMAX film cameras, and features footage designed for the format that allows us to gaze up at the screen as the image stretches out from top to bottom.

Peele’s screenplay introduces a lot of different ideas and plays around with structure in some interesting ways, keeping us engaged with a story that we never really know where it is going. Early on, he sets up an intriguing subplot with flashbacks to a violent incident involving a chimp on a TV set, which builds to a chilling sequence that doubles as one of the film’s most intense and genuinely unsettling moments, but leaves us scratching our heads as to how exactly it ties back into the main plot (though the theme of animals being exploited for entertainment offers a key). These seeming “loose ends” will prove to be among the most divisive aspects of Nope, but they also add to the overall mysterious feel of it.

While Nope is predominantly a sci-fi film with some horror overtones, the other, perhaps more surprising genre Peele plays around with here are classic Westerns. It’s a genre that was historically unforgiving to people of colour, and Peele subtly works in some deeper themes about the history of cinema and exploitation in the film industry. OJ and Emerald claim to be descendants of the Black jockey seen riding a horse in the first ever collection of moving images shot by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878, though the man in the real two-second clip remains unidentified. The film also serves as a tribute to moviemaking, and the obsessive art of trying to get that one perfect shot.

Palmer’s charisma helps carry the film, while Kaluuya continues to impress with another brooding performance. Michael Wincott also delivers compelling supporting work as a cinematographer who is very committed to his craft. It’s topped off with a Western-inspired score by composer Michael Abels that adds another layer to Nope. This is Peele confidently taking us on a cinematic ride, delivering a bold, ambitious, and at times genuinely beguiling film that leaves us with some questions but keeps us thoroughly satisfied and entertained by the massive spectacle of it all.

Nope is now playing exclusively in theatres.

Blu-ray Review: Ambulance (Collector’s Edition)

July 21, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Michael Bay’s Ambulance is a refreshingly back-to-basics film from the director, that sees him stepping away from the increasing tedium of the Transformers franchise to offer a fairly straight forward but entertaining chase movie set on the streets of Los Angeles.

The film still features the over the top action and, well, “Bayhem” that the filmmaker’s name is synonymous with, but it’s presented in a more grounded way that at least puts some focus on its human characters.

The film follows Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Danny Sharp (Jack Gyllenhaal), two adopted brothers who steal an ambulance following a horribly botched bank robbery. To complicate matters, there’s an injured cop (Jackson White) and an EMT (Eiza González) riding in the back, who become unwitting hostages in their getaway.

And that’s it. That’s the plot. Bay’s film essentially unfolds as a couple of extended set-pieces that find Will and Danny careening the emergency vehicle through the streets of LA following the initial robbery, as a growing number of cop cars and helicopters follow them in pursuit. And you know what? It kinda delivers exactly what you want from this sort of movie.

The screenplay by Chris Fedak, which was adapted from the 2005 Danish thriller Ambulancen, keeps things fairly simple with its A-to-B plot, while adding enough complications that arise along the way to keep us in suspense. Sure, several of the character beats feel underdeveloped, and the tongue-in-cheek dialogue borders on camp (“it’s cashmere!,” Danny disdainfully proclaims after his sweater gets sullied, and at another point casually references having herpes).

But Ambulance has enough going for it in terms of pure adrenaline to keep us hooked, with the cinematography by Roberto De Angelis (who worked as a camera operator on a couple of Bay’s previous movies) thrillingly capturing the action. The main attraction are the cutting-edge drone shots that allow the camera to swoop around and give us dizzyingly unique vantage points, whether whizzing down the side of buildings or flying under bridges and right beside police cars.

The performances are also generally solid, with the actors doing a good job of keeping us engaged in the film’s basic story. Abdul-Mateen II impresses in his more sympathetic performance as an increasingly desperate veteran with a sick wife (Moses Ingram) and baby at home who are being failed by the medical establishment, while Gyllenhaal has fun chewing up the screen in one of his menacing, anti-hero roles.

There is a bit of a throwback quality to Ambulance that I found mostly appealing (the characters even reference Bay’s 1996 movie The Rock), and it already feels like a watch it on Saturday afternoon when it comes on TV sort of movie. It’s a piece of pure, classic “Bayhem,” but also one that doubles as a pretty solid and well crafted action movie, and you can’t really argue with that.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray contains a selection of six bonus featurettes. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

Bayhem (6 minutes, 14 seconds): Bay talks about doing his version of a “character piece,” while the cast members gush over what it was like working with him.

Pedal to the Metal (9 minutes, 34 seconds): Looks at the challenges of filming in the back of an ambulance, with Falck providing a dozen real ambulances for use in the film, which they expected back in one piece. The cast also offers feedback on Abdul-Mateen II’s driving, and the experience of shooting some scenes on sound stages with the vehicles on rigs.

Aerial Assault (5 minutes, 8 seconds): This featurette focuses on the film’s insane use of FPV (first person video) drones that can fly up to 100 mph, and the prodigious young drone pilots who were brought in to fly them using VR goggles.

Finding Ambulance (5 minutes, 34 seconds): Screenwriter Chris Fedak talks about adapting the original Danish film into what is described as “Heat meets Speed,” with Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II talking about their characters and forming a brotherly bond.

Chase Capital of the World (3 minutes, 58 seconds): A look at the importance of shooting the film on location in Los Angeles.

A Tribute to First Responders (6 minutes, 54 seconds): Cast and crew members talk about the importance of paying tribute to real first responders and portraying them accurately and respectfully, including working closely with them on the film to ensure its authenticity.

Ambulance is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 137 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: June 14th, 2022

Blu-ray Review: The Northman (Collector’s Edition)

July 19, 2022

By John Corrado

Please note that this is primarily a review of the Blu-ray release. For my full thoughts on the film itself, you can read my original theatrical review of The Northman right here.

Robert Eggers’ Viking epic The Northman, one of the best movies of the year so far, is being released on Blu-ray this week from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Based on the legend of Amleth (the story that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet), the film follows Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) as he returns to avenge the death of his father (Ethan Hawke) at the hands of his uncle (Claes Bang), spurred on by his hypnotic mantra of “I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.”

As I wrote in my review, The Northman is “a muscular piece of filmmaking.” In terms of Eggers’ filmography, this is both his biggest creative swing and possibly his best film yet, following up the one-two punch of The Witch and The Lighthouse with a full-on Viking epic.

Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography is often staggering, the action sequences are exciting, and the attention to period detail is impressive. Skarsgård leads the cast, which is is rounded out by memorable turns from Anya Taylor-Joy as a Slavic slave, Willem Dafoe as the fool, and Nicole Kidman as Amleth’s mother, who delivers a killer monologue partway through. Brutal, visceral, and at times dream-like, The Northman is an all-around excellent piece of work that deserves an audience at home if you missed it in theatres. As a final note, I was sent the Blu-ray for review, though have heard exceptional things about the 4K release as well.

Film Rating: ★★★½ (out of 4)

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray comes with a solid selection of bonus features. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (Play All – 12 minutes, 28 seconds)

Fjölnir and Hallgrímr at the Slave Shed (48 seconds)

Yule Mummer Dance and Aurvandil’s Speech (1 minute, 46 seconds)

Vikings Hide Langskips (33 seconds)

Fjölnir’s Dream (2 minutes, 44 seconds)

Bosa Saga Extended (1 minute, 30 seconds)

Aurvandil’s Ghost (1 minute, 6 seconds)

Fjölnir and Gudrún (1 minute, 55 seconds)

Gudrún Tucks Gunnar In (44 seconds)

Hel’s Gate Open (1 minute, 22 seconds)

An Ageless Epic (11 minutes, 17 seconds): This featurette provides a good overview of the story that the film draws from, Eggers’ attention to detail in bringing it to the screen, and his heavy focus on period authenticity.

Amleth’s Journey to Manhood (10 minutes, 27 seconds): Eggers and the different cast members talk about their characters.

Shooting the Raid (4 minutes, 10 seconds): A closer look at the raid sequence, and how Blaschke conceived it as a single take.

Knattleikr Game (2 minutes, 42 seconds): A brief look at the ball game played in the film, shooting the sequence, and the role it plays in the story.

A Norse Landscape (4 minutes, 43 seconds): A look at the challenges the cast and crew faced as they battled the elements shooting in Northern Ireland, standing in for Iceland.

Feature Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Robert Eggers

The Northman is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 137 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: July 19th, 2022

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