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Blu-ray Review: Last Night in Soho

January 19, 2022

By John Corrado

Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, which is being released on Blu-ray this week, finds the British filmmaker, who is best known for his genre mashups, playing around in the sandbox of psychological thriller.

The film follows Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), an aspiring fashion designer who is obsessed with the culture of the 1960s. She finds her dreams coming true when she starts being transported back to London in the 1960s, becoming entangled with an aspiring singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). But all is not as it seems.

Wright uses this premise to explore the dark side of nostalgia, crafting an ultra-stylish, neon-soaked tribute to Giallo films and London in the Swinging Sixties. The film proved to be somewhat divisive with viewers, especially the sinister turns that it takes in the second half. But I actually enjoyed the slightly off the rails, funhouse ride feel of the last act, as Wright and his co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns allow the story’s elements of murder mystery and ghost story to collide in a visceral way.

I greatly enjoyed Last Night in Soho. It’s a film that hit all the right buttons for me, from the excellent dual performances of McKenzie and Taylor-Joy, to Chung-hoon Chung’s hypnotizing cinematography, and the truly impressive production and costume design elements. The film didn’t bring in enough of an audience in theatres, with disappointing box office returns that can partially be blamed on the ongoing pandemic, but it’s one that deserves to find a second life on Blu-ray.

For more on the film itself, you can read my original review from TIFF right here.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray comes packed with over ninety minutes of bonus material, including five very substantial featurettes, deleted scenes, and various other goodies. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package, which ships with a sleek black slipcover.

Meet Eloise (10 minutes, 5 seconds): Wright, Wilson-Cairns and McKenzie discuss the character of Eloise, and the performance given by the young New Zealand actress who, like the character, was 18 at the time of filming.

Dreaming of Sandie (9 minutes, 5 seconds): Like the previous featurette, this one offers a deeper look at the character of Sandie. Wright discusses how he initially thought of casting Taylor-Joy as Eloise before realizing she was perfect for this role, as well as the choice to have her sing that haunting cover of “Downtown.”

Smoke and Mirrors (12 minutes, 36 seconds): Wright and members of the crew break down the film’s extensive use of makeup, special effects and clever camera moves, exploring how they did the mirror shots using double sets, and how they pulled off that incredible switcheroo dance scene entirely in-camera through carefully orchestrated choreography. The “witness cam” footage of the dance scene from above is referenced, which is included in full as its own bonus feature.

On the Streets of Soho (8 minutes, 36 seconds): A look at the importance of shooting on-location in Soho, and how the production design team recreated the look of the 1960s.

Time Travelling (10 minutes, 45 seconds): A deeper look at recreating the look and feel of the 1960s, through the song choices, costumes and sets. Wright talks about balancing his own nostalgia for the decade with the acknowledgement that it wasn’t all good.

Deleted Scenes (9 minutes, 16 seconds)

Ellie Gets Conned (1 minute, 4 seconds)

Hidden Nightmares (1 minute, 3 seconds)

The Bridge (2 minutes, 22 seconds)

Alleys and Shadows (3 minutes, 28 seconds)

You Know Where to Find Me (47 seconds)

Extended Chase (30 seconds)

Animatics (13 minutes, 6 seconds)

First Dream (7 minutes)

Shadow Men (1 minute, 40 seconds)

Murder (3 minutes, 11 seconds)

Final Confrontation (1 minute, 12 seconds)

Hair & Makeup Tests (7 minutes, 26 seconds)

Lighting & VFX Tests (6 minutes, 20 seconds)

Wide Angle Witness Cam (1 minute, 54 seconds)

Acton Town Hall Steadicam Rehearsal (1 minute, 24 seconds)

Steadicam Alternative Take (1 minute, 45 seconds)

“Downtown” Music Video (5 minutes, 27 seconds)

Trailers (4 minutes, 48 seconds)

Domestic Trailer 1 (2 minutes, 13 seconds)

International Trailer (2 minutes, 29 seconds)

Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Edgar Wright, Editor Paul Machliss and Composer Steve Price

Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Edgar Wright and Co-Writer Krysty Wilson Cairns

Last Night in Soho is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 117 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 18th, 2022

Blu-ray Review: No Time to Die

January 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

No Time to Die is the 25th film in the James Bond franchise, and the fifth one starring Daniel Craig, ending his tenure as Ian Fleming’s iconic character and completing a story arc that began with Craig’s first appearance as Bond in Casino Royale way back in 2006.

The Craig Bond films presented new territory for the spy franchise, building a continuous narrative that unfolded over the five films, instead of just serving as a series of one-off adventures. As such, No Time to Die has a lot of loose ends to tie up, something that director Cary Joji Fukunaga (a newbie to the series) handles with aplomb.

The story begins right after the end of Spectre. Bond is trying to live a quiet life with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), but things don’t go according to plan. He retires to Jamaica, with another MI6 agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), taking over his 007 number. But Bond gets pulled back into the game by CIA officer Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who enlists his help to rescue kidnapped scientist (David Dencik), who has invented a bioweapon using nanobots that become encoded with a target’s DNA. This gets them entangled with terrorist leader Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a formidable and chilling Bond villain who has a vendetta.

Despite running for 163 minutes, No Time to Die offers a mostly well-paced action film that delivers basically everything you want from a globe-trotting Bond adventure, with some deeper emotional payoffs. The film features solid cinematography by Linus Sandgren (a shot of agents scaling down the side of a building with them being reflected in the glass is particularly striking), and some interesting production design elements, including Safin’s Brutalist-influenced concrete lair.

There is a grounded, visceral quality to the film’s various action sequences and car chases that feels refreshing in a landscape of CGI-laden blockbusters. Fukunaga does an excellent job of staging a number of exciting set-pieces, from a chilling opening flashback in Norway, to a chase through the streets of Matera, and a sequence in Cuba that allows Ana de Armas to kick ass in a brief but satisfying supporting role as young CIA agent Paloma.

Flashback to before the release of Casino Royale when Craig’s casting was first announced, and people questioned the prospect of having a blonde, blue-eyed Bond. Now it’s safe to say that Craig has cemented himself in the upper echelon of actors to take on the role, and the choice to have him be a grittier Bond who has been allowed to bleed and age over the course of these five films really pays off here.

While No Time to Die can’t quite reach the heights of series standout Skyfall, it rectifies the mistakes of Spectre, and ends up ranking right in the middle of Craig’s five films. It’s an entertaining, exciting and emotionally satisfying sendoff for Craig’s Bond, that doubles as an all-around well crafted piece of blockbuster filmmaking.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

I was sent the Blu-ray for review, which comes with a second disc holding about 35 minutes of bonus material. A regular DVD is also included in the 3-disc set, which ships with a slipcover.

Anatomy of a Scene: Matera (11 minutes, 32 seconds): An in-depth look behind the scenes of the set-piece in Matera, from jumping motorcycles to setting explosive charges in the side of the buildings timed to the spinning Aston Martin.

Keeping It Real: The Action of No Time to Die (6 minutes, 15 seconds): Looks at several of the film’s set-pieces, and how the production team pulled them off using practical effects.

A Global Journey (7 minutes, 50 seconds): Looks at different filming locations around the world from Norway to Matera, including returning Bond to Jamaica where original author Ian Fleming lived.

Designing Bond (11 minutes, 4 seconds): A look at the film’s costumes and production design, including building the entire Cuba set in Jamaica, and designing Safin’s lair.

No Time to Die is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 163 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: December 21st, 2021

Review: Being the Ricardos

January 17, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, following his Oscar-nominated courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7, Being the Ricardos is a surprisingly enjoyable biopic of actress Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and her real life husband Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), who starred alongside her as Ricky Ricardo in the classic sitcom I Love Lucy.

Sorkin’s film takes place over a particularly fraught week in the show’s production history in 1952, as the two stars face growing scandals in the media. Lucy’s past membership in the communist party has been made public by journalist Walter Winchell. Despite her being privately cleared by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the accusations threaten to destroy her position as America’s most beloved TV star if the public turns on her.

Desi assures worried producers that his wife simply “checked the wrong box” on her voter registration years earlier. After all, how could a woman married to a man who escaped the Bolsheviks in Cuba be a supporter of communism? Lucy insists that she joined the party in the 1930s as a way to honour her grandfather’s involvement in the labour movement, but has no current allegiance to them. She is more concerned by growing tabloid reports of her husband’s infidelity, with stories of his rumoured dalliances becoming front page news.

Sorkin’s screenplay counts down the days to a live taping of I Love Lucy on Friday night, that will make or break the show. To top it all off, Lucy announces that she is pregnant, putting her and Desi in a heated battle with the network to let them write her pregnancy into the story instead of hiding it. The film itself is structured around fake “interviews” with show runner Jess Oppenheimer (John Rubinstein) and lead writers Madelyn Pugh (Linda Lavin) and Bob Carroll (Ronny Cox), who reflect on the events of this one week. It’s meant to give the film a sort of documentary feel, but all three figures are deceased, so it’s a choice that feels slightly manipulative.

It’s in the flashbacks to the show’s production (where Oppenheimer, Pugh, and Carroll are portrayed by Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy, respectively) that the film really comes alive. The “behind the scenes” drama also extends to growing tension between co-stars William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), who play Lucy and Ricky’s neighbours Fred and Ethel Mertz, but don’t get along in real life. The film shows Frawley’s drinking and Vance’s dieting becoming a concern on set, with Ball having to act as mediator. Despite his own personal dislike of communism, the gruff Frawley has her back (as he informs Arnaz, he hates communists, but hates the committee even more).

Sorkin is primarily known for his writing, and Being the Ricardos does have his usual rat-a-tat dialogue, with some of the best moments coming during the table reads and rehearsals for the show. But I still think he is a better writer than director, and the best films that have his name on them are the ones directed by other people like David Fincher (The Social Network) and Danny Boyle (Steve Jobs). While there are some handsome production design elements of the old TV studio, the film itself is not the most visually dynamic, and has somewhat of a cable movie look to it (the same could be said of Netflix movie The Trial of the Chicago 7).

The film at times feels like a miniseries squashed into a roughly two hour running time, with Sorkin also working in flashbacks to Lucy’s early career as a contract actor for RKO Radio Pictures, and how she first met Desi on set. But, some structural issues aside, Being the Ricardos is carried by its solid dialogue and performances. Kidman is good here. She is basically playing two versions of Lucille Ball, both the real person and her onscreen character, and it’s in the scenes recreating classic moments from the show that her impression becomes almost uncanny.

Bardem is an example of an actor who bears little resemblance to his real life counterpart (the Spanish actor isn’t even of the same ethnic background as the Cuban Arnaz, and is much older than he was when he played Ricky on the show), but still manages to give an interesting performance that includes singing and playing the bongo drums. Simmons and Arianda are also both standouts of the supporting cast, with their spot-on portrayals of Frawley and Vance.

I wasn’t entirely sold on the film’s trailers, but I actually enjoyed Being the Ricardos more than I thought I would. Yes it’s Oscarbait, but I found the performances engaging and there are rousing moments throughout. I used to watch old re-runs of I Love Lucy as a kid, so I was able to pick up on the references (at times it’s almost like fan service for a decades old sitcom), and I think it does a decent and entertaining job of shedding light on these behind the scenes aspects of the show’s production.

Being the Ricardos is now available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

Review: The Tragedy of Macbeth

January 14, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Denzel Washington doing Shakespeare. That’s the pitch for The Tragedy of Macbeth, which finds the actor returning to the pool of William Shakespeare following his supporting turn in Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, to take on the plum leading role of Macbeth.

Washington’s charismatic screen presence has made him one of our most compelling performers over the past few decades, from his Oscar-winning role as a crooked cop in Training Day (“King Kong ain’t got shit on me!”) to his delivery of the monologues in his August Wilson adaptation Fences.

These things make him a natural fit for the words of the Bard, especially the soliloquies of the Scottish Play, and the film itself is a unique adaptation that places the performances front and centre. Directed by Joel Coen (working solo for the first time without his brother Ethan), The Tragedy of Macbeth is perched somewhere between cinema and theatre, with the film having been shot entirely on sound stages on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California.

The sparse, minimalistic sets, with their imposingly high walls and foreboding passageways, aren’t supposed to capture the look of 16th century Scotland, but rather provide an impressionistic backdrop for the performances. The end result feels like something between a movie and a filmed version of a stage play, captured by Bruno Delbonnel’s striking black-and-white cinematography. Delbonnel frames everything in a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, allowing the actors to come into the centre of the frame for vivid closeups.

Coen’s directorial choices allow the performers to remain at the forefront of his film, as they would on stage. There are ways this role could be overplayed, but Washington imbues his portrayal of Macbeth with a simmering rage and a fierceness to his line deliveries, despite barely raising his voice. Frances McDormand breathes new life into the role of his ambitious wife Lady Macbeth, delivering an older variation on the character who has been unable to give her husband an heir, with an “out damn spot” sleepwalking monologue that is one for the ages.

The cast is rounded out by Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan, Corey Hawkins as Macduff, and, in a stroke of casting genius, British theatre actress Kathryn Hunter as all three of the witches. Hunter’s introduction comes with the camera swooping down on her curled up like a rock, her double-jointed limbs unfurling from behind her. It’s an incredibly physical performance that has the power of being both mesmerizing and genuinely unnerving, and is absolutely captivating to watch.

I’ve watched the film twice now (the first time in IMAX at one of the free Shakespeare at the Cinema event screenings and the second time streaming on my 4K TV), and both times found it to be a unique viewing experience. The film almost defiantly exists as more of an artistic achievement than mainstream entertainment, but serves as an undeniably impressive feat of directing, acting, cinematography and production design.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is now available to stream exclusively on Apple TV+.

Review: Licorice Pizza

January 13, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza opens with a tracking shot through a high school that introduces us to its two protagonists; the 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and the 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim).

It’s picture day. Gary is a child actor who is there to get his photo taken. Alana is helping with the photoshoot. He asks her out to dinner at the establishment that he frequents. She tells him he’s a kid. They banter back and forth like this for a couple of minutes, and the film’s two leads, a pair of screen newcomers who both deliver star-making turns, make it a joy to watch.

This is the setup for Licorice Pizza, a delightful coming of age story that takes us back to California’s San Fernando Valley in the year 1973, and could best be described as a hangout movie in the same vein as American Graffiti or Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (and its “spiritual sequel” Everybody Wants Some!!). It doesn’t have much of a plot, per se, but that’s okay, especially since we are in the hands of a master like Anderson behind the camera, and in the company of two effervescent leads.

Gary is a cocky, over-confident kid who oscillates between seeming like a naive teen boy and a thirty year old car salesman who is always after his next business venture. Alana is a wayward, immature adult who is weirdly flattered by his attention, and starts hanging out with him against her better judgement. Gary discovers waterbeds and strikes a deal to start selling them to celebrities, hooking Alana into his latest get rich quick scheme. The film unfolds through a series of vignettes like this that range from comic to serious, as Gary and Alana’s misadventures allow them to bump into a variety of real life figures and characters inspired by real people.

Gary’s claim to fame is his supporting role in a fictitious family comedy called Under One Roof. In one early sequence, Gary travels to New York with Alana as his chaperone so that he can perform on an Ed Sullivan-inspired variety show with the lead actress Lucille Doolittle (Christine Ebersole), an obvious stand-in for Lucille Ball. It’s worth noting that Licorice Pizza is loosely based on the life of producer and former child actor Gary Goetzman, who starred with Ball in Yours, Mine and Ours, which also happens to be the name of the song the Lucy stand-in performs in the film.

Goetzman, a friend of Anderson’s, really did have his own waterbed business, and even sold one to film producer Jon Peters. An extreme version of Peters is portrayed here by Bradley Cooper, who damn near steals the movie with his brief but memorable supporting role. The cast is rounded out by appearances from a number of familiar faces, including Sean Penn as a movie star inspired by William Holden, and Tom Waits as a film director. One of the film’s most thematically rich subplots involves the mayoral run of closeted councilman Joel Wachs, a real life politician portrayed here by Benny Safdie, who shares a devastating scene with actor Joseph Cross.

Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman whom Anderson directed to some of his best performances, has a major screen presence in what is remarkably his first onscreen role, bringing the right mix of swagger and boyish charm to his portrayal of Gary. Alana Haim, youngest of the three sisters who make up the indie rock band HAIM (who all have cameos here, along with their real life parents), is a complete natural onscreen, effortlessly making the switch from singer to actress.

I do feel compelled to address the elephant in the room, which is the social media controversy that has blown up over the sizeable age gap between the film’s two leads. Yes, it would clearly be inappropriate for a 15-year-old and a 25-year-old to be together in real life. But Gary and Alana’s relationship (if you can even call it that) in the movie is not sexual, and what happens is honestly pretty chaste.

I can respect that the age gap might make some viewers uncomfortable. But the feverish discourse around the film is a bit much, especially considering that it’s basically about a precocious teen with a crush on an immature older woman, who is kinda flattered by the attention and becomes friends with him. It feels Rushmore-esque, with Gary reminiscent of a more grounded version of that film’s wiser than his years protagonist Max Fisher. Anything that happens here seems purely like wish-fulfillment fantasy shown from the perspective of a teenager.

What works so well about Licorice Pizza is the vibe that Anderson captures. The film unfolds through free-flowing long takes starting with that wonderful opening tracking shot, with Anderson once again acting as his own director of photography following Phantom Thread (this time sharing the credit with Michael Bauman). The camerawork is matched by an excellent soundtrack of classic songs from the era that provide an evocative backdrop to the film, tied together by Jonny Greenwood’s wistful score.

I don’t really know how else to say it, but there is a floaty, walking on a cloud feeling that I got from watching Licorice Pizza. I loved the laid back ‘70s vibe of the piece, which not only captures a youthful sense of adventure and endless possibilities, but also a bittersweet nostalgia for the past. The film clocks in at a breezy 133 minutes, and it’s just so enjoyable getting to exist in this world for a couple of hours that I honestly could have watched it for even longer than that.

Licorice Pizza is now playing in theatres where they are open. I was lucky enough to see it at in 70mm at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto just before the current theatre shutdown in Ontario.

Blu-ray Review: Halloween Kills

January 12, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Halloween Kills is technically the twelfth film in the slasher movie franchise (counting the two Rob Zombie remakes), but chronologically it follows the surprisingly good 2018 legacy sequel Halloween, which was itself a direct continuation of John Carpenter’s 1978 original.

Like the 2018 film, Halloween Kills is once again directed by David Gordon Green, and it has a lot to live up to in terms of continuing the new story set up in that decades later sequel, which ignored plot details from the other franchise entries in order to forge its own path forward. As such, Halloween Kills is only mildly successful.

It functions as an okay (and very bloody) slasher, but doesn’t reach the heights of either of its direct predecessors, with the story beginning right where the 2018 film ended. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is en route to the hospital with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), having survived the latest Halloween night killing spree of Michael Myers, with the masked assailant now burning to a crisp in her basement. Or is he?

As Laurie is being taken to the hospital, Michael escapes from the burning house to continue his massacre, determined to tie up loose ends. Through this, Green (who co-wrote the script with Danny McBride and Scott Teems) brings back a variety of characters from the 1978 original, including the kids that Laurie was babysitting, Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), and Michael’s old nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), to explore how the town of Haddonfield is facing their collective trauma from that night forty years earlier.

This is not a bad premise and, at its basest level, Halloween Kills does deliver the gory kills that the series is known for, with a visceral brutality to much of it. If gnarly kills are all you are looking for, this movie delivers. But it’s not as solid overall as the 2018 film. The plot feels messier and less focused as it branches off into a number of subplots involving thinly written side characters, with inconsistent dialogue and Laurie frustratingly confined to the hospital for much of it.

The film also bites off a bit more than it can chew when trying to introduce some deeper themes about mass hysteria, the formation of mobs, and how mob rule can cause good people to do evil things. With Michael on the loose, the public panics, allowing Tommy to form a violent mob whose rallying cry of “evil dies tonight” signifies their salacious bloodlust. This leads to a very unsettling sequence at the hospital, but Green stops short of truly grappling with these ideas.

The film does deliver some impressively staged flashbacks to 1978 featuring Jim Cummings and Thomas Mann as cops, which retcon a few elements but are pulled off with a great eye for detail by Green and his production team. There is some decent cinematography by Michael Simmonds, and we also get another unsettling synth score by John Carpenter, his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, that builds upon and reworks the iconic original theme.

But the film as a whole ends up feeling a bit basic, playing out more like a collection of fan service moments and brutal kills one after another. Which is fine, in theory, but I wanted more. Halloween Kills ultimately feels very much like a middle chapter, simply designed to keep the momentum going from the first film and set things up for the big finale. It doesn’t all work on its own, but is also the sort of film that will likely need to be reevaluated as part of the whole trilogy when Halloween Ends gets released later this year, which I’m still hoping will be a banger.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray includes both the theatrical version of the film and an “extended cut” that adds an extra scene at the end, which isn’t entirely needed but provides a nice little coda to lead into the final movie. It’s backed up by a decent assortment of bonus material. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package, which ships with an embossed slipcover.

Gag Reel (3 minutes, 12 seconds): Typical footage of the cast goofing off and messing up their lines. Your enjoyment will depend on how much you enjoy gag reels.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (3 minutes, 21 seconds)

Allyson Meets Brackett (31 seconds)

Sondra’s Drone Finds The Shape (1 minute, 48 seconds)

Protestors Rock Outside Hospital (1 minute)

Haddonfield’s Open Wounds (7 minutes, 15 seconds): Looks at building upon the first film, and bringing back a variety of old characters from the town.

The Kill Team (11 minutes, 2 seconds): Looks at what went into bringing several of the film’s set-pieces to the screen, and the practical gore effects that were used for some of the most brutal kills.

Strode Family Values (3 minutes, 37 seconds): Explores the three generations of Strode women, and how the film continues their story.

1978 Transformations (5 minutes, 50 seconds): A fascinating look at how they faithfully recreated elements of the 1978 film for the flashback sequence, including bringing back one iconic character using makeup and the set’s construction manager.

The Power of Fear (4 minutes, 28 seconds): A brief overview of the themes of mob rule and mass hysteria in the film.

Kill Count (53 seconds): A highlight reel of all the brutal kills in the film, with an onscreen counter.

Feature Commentary by Director/Co-Writer David Gordon Green and Stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer

Halloween Kills is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 105 minutes and rated 18A.

Street Date: January 11th, 2022

4K Ultra HD Review: Juice: 30th Anniversary

January 11, 2022

By John Corrado

The directorial debut of Ernest R. Dickerson (Spike Lee’s cinematographer), the 1992 drama Juice follows Q (Omar Epps), Bishop (Tupaac Shakur), Raheem (Khalil Kain) and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), four friends in Harlem who are after the power they call “juice.”

Following the 25th anniversary Blu-ray release in 2017, Paramount has now given Juice a 4K Ultra HD upgrade, with a brand new edition being released in honour of the film’s 30th anniversary this month.

The main tension in the story is between Q, who wants to make it as a DJ, and Bishop, who sees a quicker way to get money and power through armed robbery, using a DJ competition as their alibi.

In the same vein as a Spike Lee or John Singleton film, Dickerson offers a gritty look at inner-city gang life. The screenplay, co-written by Dickerson and Gerard Brown, tells a still-relevant story about poverty and seemingly endless cycles of violence that builds to a powerful ending. The film features an intense performance by Tupac, as well as a soundtrack that boasts choice cuts of early-’90s hip hop. It’s a good movie that offers a number of tragic, dramatic turns and plays with a decent amount of suspense, especially on first viewing.

The 2160p presentation on the 4K disc offers a decent upgrade that is most noticeable during the outdoor daytime scenes, with colourful items like Raheem’s red jacket and a red car really popping on screen. It’s a good release for fans of the film or those looking to upgrade from the Blu-ray, though the content of the disc remains the same as that release, making a double dip feel slightly less necessary aside from the obvious benefits of 4K.

For more on the film itself, you can read my full review of the 25th anniversary Blu-ray right here.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The 4K disc ports over the same bonus features – a commentary track and four featurettes – from the 25th anniversary edition (minus the photo gallery). There is no Blu-ray in the package, but a code for a digital copy is also included.

Commentary by Director Ernest R. Dickerson

You’ve Got the Juice Now (19 minutes, 11 seconds)

Wrecking Crew (23 minutes, 43 seconds)

Sip the Juice: The Music (12 minutes, 50 seconds)

Stay in the Scene: The Interview (22 minutes, 42 seconds)

Juice is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 94 minutes and rated 18A.

Street Date: January 11th, 2022

4K Ultra HD Review: Dune

January 11, 2022

By John Corrado

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, the filmmaker’s adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel, was one of the biggest movies of 2021. It’s a massive film in terms of scope that delivers immersive visuals and rich world-building, brought to life with an all-star cast.

This is the definition of a film that was made to be experienced on the biggest screen possible, and Villeneuve has been very vocal about his intention for people to see it in theatres. But it was always going to have to live on through home entertainment, and now Warner Bros. is releasing the film on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD this week.

The good news is that I think Dune still provides a very satisfying viewing experience at home. I first saw the film in IMAX at the Cinesphere during TIFF, so watching it again on a smaller screen was obviously a different experience. But I was still quite impressed by the huge scale of Dune seeing it on my fifty inch 4K TV, and the crystal clarity of 4K really is the way to go.

The 2160p transfer allows us to appreciate the textures on the film’s sets and costumes, while offering nice detail on faces in closeups. The only thing missing from the disc is that it doesn’t utilize the IMAX aspect ratio for scenes that were shot in the format, instead playing out entirely at 2.39:1, with black bars on the top and bottom. The locked off widescreen aspect ratio does work for the film, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is another edition sometime down the line that restores the IMAX scenes which expanded to show more height.

It’s the sheer spectacle of Dune that makes it an impressive watch, from Grieg Fraser’s cinematography with sweeping shots of the desert landscapes on the planet Arrakis, to Hans Zimmer’s booming score. I also think this is a film that rewards subsequent viewings (I initially had a bit of trouble keeping up with the exposition-heavy first half, but this wasn’t an issue for me on second viewing), with Villeneuve doing a fine job of bringing the classic hero’s journey of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) to the screen.

The one downside of the film is that it ends somewhat abruptly and feels very much like a first half, making the wait of Dune: Part Two in 2023 somewhat long. But Dune: Part One still functions as a rich and visually spectacular space epic that was made for movie theatres, though still holds up surprisingly well at home, especially in 4K Ultra HD.

For more on the film itself, you can read my original review from TIFF right here.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

There are no bonus features on the 4K disc, but a regular Blu-ray is included as well that boasts over an hour of behind the scenes material. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which ships with a shiny slipcover.

The Royal Houses (8 minutes, 12 seconds): Villeneuve and the film’s cast members offer a good primer on the main characters and the different houses that they hail from.

Filmbooks (10 minutes, 27 seconds): Extended versions of the educational filmbooks that Paul watches in the film, explaining the four main tribes and the powerful “spice” they are all after.

House Atreides (2 minutes, 8 seconds)

House Harkonnen (1 minute, 51 seconds)

The Bene Gesserit (2 minutes, 23 seconds)

The Fremen (2 minutes, 12 seconds)

The Spice Melange (1 minute, 51 seconds)

Inside Dune (12 minutes, 24 seconds): Three featurettes focusing on the logistics behind specific scenes in the film.

The Training Room (5 minutes, 7 seconds): Focuses on the choreography between Chalamet and Josh Brolin in the training sequence.

The Spice Harvester (3 minutes, 12 seconds): Looks at the design and special effects of the spice harvester on the planet Arrakis.

The Sardaukar Battle (4 minutes, 4 seconds): A look at the choreography and swordplay behind Jason Momoa’s big hallway fight.

Building the Ancient Future (6 minutes, 26 seconds): A closer look at the design elements of different rooms in the film.

My Desert, My Dune (4 minutes, 50 seconds): Explores the design of the different worlds and shooting on location in Jordan and on a soundstage in Budapest.

Constructing the Ornithopters (5 minutes, 38 seconds): Looks at designing the dragonfly-like flying machines on Arrakis, and how they worked from the descriptions in Herbert’s book to come up with designs that were both cool and functional, including building practical versions of them to film in on hydraulic rigs.

Designing the Sandworm (5 minutes, 40 seconds): Explores how the visual effects team brought the iconic sandworms to screen in a believable way, from their baleen teeth, to the sounds they make, and how they displace the sand around them.

Beware the Baron (5 minutes, 0 seconds): A fascinating look at the very impressive makeup and prosthetics work that was done to turn Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård into the Baron.

Wardrobe from Another World (2 minutes, 52 seconds): A brief but interesting look at the different costumes designed by Robert Morgan and Jacqueline West, and how they wanted to give the outfits an otherworldly quality inspired by both the distant past and far off future.

A New Soundscape (11 minutes, 12 seconds): The first half features sound editors Mark Mangini and Theo Green talking about their organic sound design and recording in the desert, and the second half focuses on Hans Zimmer’s score and his drive to create new sounds for the film, as a lifelong fan of the book. The featurette also looks at how the two elements – sound design and score – bleed into each other in the film.

Dune is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 155 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 11th, 2022

Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home

January 10, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 27th film in the episodic Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the eighth live action Spider-Man solo movie in two decades with the third actor to take on the role, Spider-Man: No Way Home has a lot of mythology to draw upon and has to bring together a lot of different story threads.

And the fact that it works so well on its own is impressive in and of itself. The result is a film that feels like a culmination of the three different live action Spidey franchises, all coming together in highly satisfying ways. It’s got fun moments for the fans, but also genuine emotional payoffs, delivering basically everything you want from a comic book movie of this magnitude.

The film begins right after the end of the last movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has had his identity as Spider-Man revealed by conspiracy vlogger J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). A segment of the public has turned against the New York high schooler, blaming him for the death of that film’s villain, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who some have turned into a sort of folk hero. This film follows Peter as he struggles to balance his normal high school life with his newly revealed identity as Spider-Man.

This includes trying to shield his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) from the newfound media attention. With them all facing the consequences of being publicly linked to Spider-Man, Peter enlists the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell that will make everyone forget his superhero alter-ego. But the spell goes wrong and a portal ends up being opened that draws in villains from other dimensions, including the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and Electro (Jamie Foxx).

So, yeah, Spider-Man: No Way Home does the whole “multiverse” thing that was already done so well in the animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, as it incorporates elements from the other live action franchises. Director Jon Watts is not only tasked with completing his own Spider-Man trilogy of Homecoming and Far From Home, but also building upon Sam Raimi’s original trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, and Marc Webb’s two Amazing Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield as well.

Watts has some pretty big shoes to fill in connecting back to the Raimi films in particular (Spider-Man 2 still remains one of the greatest comic book films of all time), and the fact that he pulls it off is no small feat. The film does have a bit of that greyscale Marvel look to it at times, but makes up for it with well executed set-pieces, including an early sequence on a bridge where the other villains start to appear.

It helps that the whole cast brings their A-game. The appeal of Holland’s Spider-Man is that he is still very much a kid, who gets scared and tries to do the right thing but messes up along the way, and this may be the actor’s best performance yet, as Spidey or otherwise. Molina does a good job of reprising his incredibly memorable role as Doc Ock, one of the best comic book movie villains of all time, and Dafoe steals every scene as both Norman Osbourne and the Green Goblin. Dafoe goes hard, turning it up to eleven to give the best performance in a movie where everybody else is already good.

I won’t spoil the other surprises that are in store, but needless to say they provide for incredibly satisfying moments when they arrive. This really is the Avengers: Endgame of the Spider-Man Cinematic Universe. It’s a massive movie in a lot of ways, but still manages to tell its own cohesive (if not really standalone) story. Yes, a lot of this is fan service. But it’s often done so well that it’s hard to really mind (it’s not dissimilar to the recent Ghostbusters: Afterlife in this way), punctuated by character moments that make it feel grounded.

This is not only an entertaining Spider-Man story, but a satisfying Peter Parker one as well. It’s the film’s conversations about what it means to be Spider-Man, and the responsibility that comes from trying to protect your loved ones while also being expected to save the world, that elevate Spider-Man: No Way Home into the top tier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is now playing in theatres where they are open. I was lucky enough to see it just before the current theatre shutdown in Ontario.

VOD Review: June Again

January 7, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The opening scene of writer-director JJ Winlove’s Australian dramedy June Again tries to put us in the mind of its protagonist, June Wilton (Noni Hazlehurst), a woman suffering from vascular dementia following a stroke five years earlier.

People around her seem to appear and disappear as the camera angles change, creating a sort of disorientation that sets the stage for the film. She is living in a home on a locked floor, but barely remembers her surroundings, until one morning when she wakes up with her memories seemingly intact.

The doctor (Wayne Blair) concludes that she is having a rare moment of lucidity, but it may only last a few hours, so he warns her to stay put. Instead, the feisty June bolts from the home to spend the day reconnecting with her family and her past.

It’s an interesting premise that requires a number of tonal shifts, as the film finds June discovering how much around her has changed over the five years that she has been “gone.” The bulk of the story focuses on her trying to save the family’s failing wallpaper business, and bring her estranged children Ginny (Claudia Karvan) and Devon (Stephen Curry) back together, before her memory fades again. Much of June’s frustration comes from realizing all of the ways that Ginny and Devon have strayed from the paths she set out for them, and she isn’t about to give up the opportunity to set them right.

Because of its subject matter, and close proximity in terms of release, comparisons to Florian Zeller’s Oscar-winning The Father are almost inevitable. Winlove’s film foregoes the utter devastation of Zeller’s drama, which remains the gold standard for cinematic depictions of dementia with its heart-wrenching Anthony Hopkins performance, and plays out more like a family dramedy.

Winlove doesn’t play June’s condition for laughs, but his film certainly has a more lighthearted feel to it at times. He doesn’t quite nail all of the tonal shifts, and the film’s somewhat overly sunny disposition, including Christopher Gordon’s distractingly upbeat, TV movie musical score, can clash with the subject matter. But June Again has enough heartfelt moments to make up for the more predictable and heavy-handed ones.

The glue that holds it all together is Hazlehurst, who delivers a very good performance as a woman rediscovering elements of her life that have been forgotten, doing a subtle and moving job of showing her character’s shifts in awareness and cognitive ability throughout the film. Her sensitive performance elevates the film, making June’s journey an often emotional one to watch.

June Again is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

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