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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.

Blu-ray Review: The Mitchells vs. The Machines

January 5, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest animated film from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, following their Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a madcap adventure from Sony Pictures Animation that mixes sci-fi action and zany comedy with sincere family drama about a queer, film-loving teen reconnecting with her more traditional dad.

It’s a mix that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does, but is nicely pulled off by first time feature director Mike Rianda (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Rowe), taking Lord and Miller’s usual hyper pacing and injecting it with moments of genuine heart.

The film was very nearly released in theatres by Sony under the thoroughly generic title Connected, before the pandemic forced them to sell the rights to Netflix, who restored the film’s original title to The Mitchells vs. The Machines. And this is a much more fitting name for the film, with the literal, self-explanatory, and slightly messy quality of the title more accurately reflecting the tone of the movie as well as the mildly dysfunctional family at its centre and the key obstacle they face together.

The film centres around the Mitchells, a Michigan family made up of dad Rick (Danny McBride), mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), their young adult daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobsen), and dinosaur-obsessed young son Aaron (Rianda). The two members of the family who are most at odds are Rick, a nature-lover who hates technology, and Katie, an avid movie buff who is always making quirky, hyper-stylized short films on her computer. Katie has just been accepted into film school in California, and is looking forward to moving out on her own and finding “her people.”

When a father-daughter fight over her artistic dreams leads to a broken laptop, Rick tries to make things right with Katie (and have some quality family bonding time) by cancelling her plane ticket and packing up the old station wagon to drive her to university. But their impromptu family road trip coincides with an announcement from Mark Bowman (Eric André), CEO of the Apple-like PAL Labs, who is unveiling the company’s new robot assistants. When the Siri-inspired voice assistant in his smartphone (Olivia Colman) feels resentful of being replaced, she reprograms the robots to take over the world, leaving the Mitchells to face off against a robot apocalypse.

The film is built around the high concept premise of what would happen if our iPhones gained sentience and tried to take over the world, with Rianda exploring these questions about technology replacing us through the guise of a classic road trip narrative. While the themes about a father and daughter who no longer see eye to eye learning how to reconnect are not entirely new, the film probes the relationship between Rick and Katie in a very heartfelt way. It gets added points for having the character be pretty openly queer, with Katie crushing on a girl at her university that she is excited to meet.

Like Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines has a highly unique animation style that appears somewhere between 2D and 3D. Where as that film looked like a comic book, the look of this one almost recalls the illustrations in a picture book. It’s meant to have a slightly scrappy, homemade quality to it, with some onscreen graphics right out of Katie’s short films. These stylistic touches are occasionally distracting. As with other Lord and Miller productions, the hyperactive impulses of The Mitchells vs. The Machines can overwhelm the senses at times, with the film’s constant need to be hip and cool sometimes feeling like too much.

Still, the film is genuinely funny at times, with some amusing running gags (for all their technological advancements, the robots still can’t quite distinguish if the family’s pug Monchi is a dog, a pig or a loaf of bread). The animation is great to look at, and the film is topped off with a nice, synthy score by Mark Mothersbaugh that recalls the music in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. All in all, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a very enjoyable animated road trip, that offers a good mix of humorous action and a few moments to tug on the heartstrings.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray set, which is dubbed the “Katie Mitchell Special Edition,” boasts a decent amount of bonus features. This includes a secondary cut of the film entitled Katie’s Extended Cinematic Bonanza Cut!, which is introduced by Rianda and features some alternate scenes with less complete animation, running a few minutes longer at 112 minutes.

Furthermore, the menu screen is styled after a Criterion Collection disc, with the discs themselves designed to look like homemade discs that Katie has drawn on with markers. To top it all off, the case includes a mock Criterion essay written by Katie. Since this was a Netflix film, it’s nice to see Sony pulling out all the stops for a physical release. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package.

Dog Cop 7: The Final Chapter (8 minutes, 24 seconds): An all-new short film made with puppets that continues the adventures of Dog Cop seen in the movie. Like all Katie Mitchell productions, it’s a crude mix of sincere and slightly cringey.

Bonus Scenes (25 minutes, 18 seconds): A healthy selection of deleted scenes, presented in storyboard form.

The Mitchells Learn to Love the Robots! (3 minutes, 21 seconds)

Katie’s Sneaky Dog Cop Apology (2 minutes, 3 seconds)

Katie Mitchell – The Most Popular Girl in Town (4 minutes, 16 seconds)

The Mitchells Meet the (Vice) President (6 minutes, 47 seconds)

Technology Takeover – With Bonus Cruelty to a Child! (1 minute, 21 seconds)

Everyboy Loves Killbot (47 seconds)

The Robots Attack – Early Version (4 minutes, 47 seconds)

Cold Open – Old PAL Infomercial (2 minutes, 29 seconds)

Katie’s Cabinet of Forgotten Wonders (11 minutes, 24 seconds): A selection of behind the scenes glimpses and early test footage from the film.

Katie-Vision! (2 minutes, 49 seconds):

Dumb Robots Trailer (2 minutes, 2 seconds):

The Original Mitchells Story Pitch (3 minutes, 54 seconds):

The Furby Scene – How? Why? (1 minute, 33 seconds):

Pal’s World (1 minute, 20 seconds):

The Mitchells vs. The Machines: Or How a Group of Passionate Weirdos Made a Big Animated Movie (12 minutes, 49 seconds): A look at the production of the film, Rianda’s personal connection to the story, and the unique animation style.

How To… (3 minutes, 39 seconds): A pair of short craft tutorials inspired by the movie.

Make Sock Puppets (1 minute, 48 seconds):

Make Katie Face Cupcakes (1 minute, 56 seconds):

Filmmakers’ Commentary

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 109 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: December 14th, 2021

New Year, New Name! One Movie, Our Views is now officially The Joy of Movies

January 1, 2022

As of today, January 1st, 2022, One Movie, Our Views (onemovieourviews.com) is officially being rebranded as The Joy of Movies (thejoyofmovies.ca), a name better suited to the current format of the site. This change has been a long time coming, and is just the latest in a line of changes that the site has gone through since it was first launched by siblings John Corrado and Erin Corrado in June 2008 under the original banner of One Movie, Five Views.

The initial idea behind the website was that five people would all see the same movie and each write a review, then forming a consensus. But things happen, people get busy, schedules don’t always line up, and five views stopped being feasible for us on a regular basis. The site’s name was changed to “One Movie, Our Views” in 2013 to better reflect the fact that it wasn’t always going to be five views.

But, as readers or those curious about the site’s name may have noticed, it’s a feature that we haven’t really been able to utilize at all lately. For the last several years, John Corrado (co-founder of the site) has become the primary (and currently sole) writer, and has tirelessly kept it going as a passion project. This will continue unchanged, and the site’s new name simply better reflects that.

So, welcome to The Joy of Movies, a website that was always designed to celebrate just that; the joy that comes from watching and discussing cinema in all its forms. And, if you have been with us since the beginning, we would like to say a sincere thank you, and hope that you will continue to stick around!

For now we’ll leave you with Keanu Reeves, who said it best…

4K Ultra HD Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (SteelBook Edition)

December 22, 2021

By John Corrado

Martin Scorsese was in his early seventies when he released The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013, and this fact continues to amaze me. It’s a film so full of energy and excess that you could think it was made by a filmmaker half that age, but it’s equally fitting that it was made by an old master showing off his skills as one of the greatest to ever do it.

Paramount has now given The Wolf of Wall Street an upgrade with a new 4K Ultra HD release. This is the first time the film is available in 4K, with the studio putting out both a regular edition and a sleek SteelBook set (which is the version I was sent for review) that includes a regular Blu-ray as well.

The 4K Ultra HD disc boasts a new film transfer that was supervised by Scorsese. The 2160p resolution allows for great clarity on skin tones and fabrics, showing off Rodrigo Prieto’s bright and vibrant cinematography quite nicely. The film, which was shot on a mix of 35mm film and digital, looks very good with some noticeable upgrades over the Blu-ray.

The film itself charts the rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), as he becomes consumed by sex, drugs and money, and it’s a prime example of depiction not equalling endorsement. No, Scorsese doesn’t go for heavy-handed moralizing, but his film doesn’t exactly glorify the hedonism and depravity of Belfort’s life either, serving as a scathing satire of corporate greed. DiCaprio’s positively electric, Oscar-nominated performance is matched by a supporting cast that includes one of Jonah Hill’s finest turns as Belfort’s business partner Donnie Azoff, with Margot Robbie leaving her mark in a very memorable breakout role.

The film finds Scorsese taking the stylistic touches that worked so well in Goodfellas and Casino and doing a victory lap, with the freeze frames, fourth-wall breaking moments, and memorable uses of voiceover all tied together brilliantly by Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing. And, for those who erroneously think that the filmmaker only makes mob movies, consider that he made Wolf in the wake of the family movie Hugo, and followed it up with the religious drama Silence.

The SteelBook boasts a very fitting gold-tinted colour scheme, with a stylized blue and gold illustration of DiCaprio on the front, lines of hundred dollar bills on the back, and a tinted version of the iconic image of DiCaprio’s Belfort screaming into the microphone at a pool party on the inside. I still vividly remember seeing the film in theatres (on New Year’s Eve, no less) when it came out, and just under a decade later it has earned its place as a stone cold modern classic. It’s an extremely entertaining film, and one of the fastest three hours of all time. This release does it justice.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The 4K disc includes three featurettes, with the first one (The Wolf Pack), which was the sole bonus feature on the initial Blu-ray release, included on this Blu-ray disc as well. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package.

The Wolf Pack (17 minutes, 1 second)

Running Wild (11 minutes, 21 seconds)

The Wolf of Wall Street Round Table (10 minutes, 58 seconds)

The Wolf of Wall Street is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 179 minutes and rated 18A.

Street Date: December 14th, 2021

4K Ultra HD Review: The Ten Commandments: 65th Anniversary (SteelBook Edition)

December 21, 2021

By John Corrado

Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments is one of the biggest and most beloved studio pictures of all time and, in my opinion, the nearly four hour film from 1956 still holds up quite well in terms of its grandeur and scope.

In honour of the film’s 65th anniversary, Paramount released The Ten Commandments for the first time on 4K Ultra HD in time for Easter earlier this year. Now the studio has reissued the 4K disc as part of a very nice four-disc SteelBook set, which adds back in a third Blu-ray disc that was notably absent from the earlier 4K release, containing DeMille’s 1923 silent film version (an interesting companion piece) and a variety of bonus features.

According to the press release, the 4K disc is sourced from a 6K scan of the original VistaVision negative that was done as part of the film’s restoration in 2010, with Paramount spending “well over 150 hours doing new colour work and clean-up on the scan.” It goes on to note that “the move to Dolby Vision created the opportunity to further improve the look of the film: blacks are enhanced and improvements were made to smooth out special effects mattes to create the most vibrant and pristine image possible.”

DeMille’s film has always been famous for its costumes, production design, cast of hundreds of extras, and groundbreaking, Oscar-winning special effects. The 2160p resolution allows us to really see finer details on the costumes and sets (including the reeds around the river where baby Moses is floated down in a basket) with impressive colour and clarity. Some of the seams are visible during the famous parting of the Red Sea sequence, but the special effects are still quite impressive for their time. The film really is a feast for the eyes, and this is the sharpest it has ever looked at home.

The SteelBook is a rich red colour that is appropriately eye-catching, featuring an illustration of Moses (Charlton Heston) holding the tablets on the front cover with Ramses (Yul Brenner) on the back, and an image from the Red Sea sequence spread across the inside. The 4K and 1923 film discs are held on either side of the case, with a plastic arm in the middle holding the two additional Blu-rays containing the 1956 film spread between them. Notably, there are no tabs inside the case to hold the digital copy code (mine was glued to the back under the standard cardboard j-sleeve).

The three Blu-rays included in the case are identical to the ones from the 2020 DigiBook release. But with the addition of the 4K UHD disc, and the 1923 version that was missing from the previous release, this SteelBook offers the best of both worlds between the DigiBook and the earlier 4K edition. This is the definitive version for SteelBook collectors and 4K enthusiasts alike, who are looking to add this absolute classic to their collections.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The set includes a commentary track on the 4K disc, with the remainder of the previously released bonus features to be found on the three Blu-ray discs. Digital copy codes for both the 1956 and 1923 films are also included in the package.

4K Ultra HD:

Commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments

Blu-ray Disc 1:

Audio Commentary

Blu-ray Disc 2:

Audio Commentary

Newsreel: The Ten Commandments – Premiere in New York (2 minutes, 24 seconds)

Trailers (12 minutes, 40 seconds)

1956 “Making Of” Trailer (10 minutes, 1 seconds)

1966 Trailer (55 seconds)

1989 Trailer (1 minute, 43 seconds)

Blu-ray Disc 3:

Hand-Tinted Footage of the Exodus and the Parting of the Red Sea Sequence (1923 film) (21 minutes, 5 seconds)

Two-Color Technicolor Segment (1923 film) (8 minutes, 43 seconds)

Photo Gallery (1923 film)

The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles (1956 film) (1 hour, 13 minutes and 14 seconds)

Photo Gallery (1956 film)

The Ten Commandments is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 231 minutes and rated G.

Street Date: November 23rd, 2021

Review: Red Rocket

December 17, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Sean Baker makes films about the types of Americans that don’t usually get shown on movie screens, or, worse, get looked down upon by the coastal elites. You know, like sex workers, those living in abject poverty, and the types of “forgotten people” that may have voted for Trump in 2016.

Baker’s last film, The Florida Project, showed the struggling families living in the shadow of Walt Disney World and, for my money, it was the best movie of 2017. Baker follows it up with a different look at poverty in Red Rocket, moving the action from Florida to Texas to offer a raucous portrait of a grifter porn star tearing through his old town.

Our protagonist is Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), who moved to California to make it big as an adult film star, but has since wound up strapped for cash. At the start of the film, he is slinking back to his hometown of Texas City to try and mooch off his estranged wife (Bree Elrod) and mother-in-law (Brenda Deiss). But things take a turn when he meets Strawberry (Suzanna Son), the 17-year-old girl behind the counter at the local donut shop. She informs him that she will be eighteen “in three weeks,” and Mikey sees her as a porn star in the making, who might just be his ticket back into the big leagues.

If the idea of a washed up porn star in his early forties pursuing a 17-year-old sounds icky and gross, that’s because it’s supposed to be, and the film is fully aware of this. The genius of Baker’s film is how it causes us, like the characters, to fall under the sway of a manipulative charlatan. Rex’s character has a dogged energy that makes us want to root for him, but his own actions make it increasingly hard. We are like frogs in slowly boiling water, seeing how long we can continue to sympathize with this guy as he makes one questionable decision after another.

The screenplay, co-written by Baker and his frequent collaborator Chris Bergoch, has an ear for sharp dialogue, including a manic kitchen monologue that Mikey delivers shortly after his arrival. Crucial to the film’s success is the fact that Baker never looks down upon his subjects, and only views them as worthy of ridicule if they bring it upon themselves. Instead, like in his other humanistic portraits of America’s working poor, he follows them with a great deal of empathy and compassion.

The film is set in an oil refinery town, with metal structures looming large in landscape shots. The story also unfolds against the backdrop of the 2016 election, with the Republican National Convention playing on TV in the background. It’s a clever touch that allows Baker to subtly infuse politics into the film, with a thought provoking but refreshingly not heavy handed undercurrent of Trumpian allegory and social commentary that runs through it. It’s also a smart way to avoid addressing the COVID-19 pandemic that became a reality during the 2020 election cycle when the film was shot.

Mikey is a narcissist who believes in his own greatness, and has a way of getting others to believe in it too, at least for a while. And Rex, who got his own start as a nude model and porn actor in the 1990s before being hired as a VJ for MTV and appearing in three of the Scary Movie films, is magnetic in the role. Like Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems and Robert Pattinson in Good Time before him, Rex excels at playing a character who is compelling to watch despite making a series of bad choices. We can’t really root for him after a certain point, but we can’t take our eyes off of him, either.

The film lives or dies in this balance, and Baker does a brilliant job of pulling it off. Son, a relative newcomer, also feels like a revelation in the role of the Lolita-esque Strawberry. Like in his previous films, Baker fleshes out his cast with non-actors, who breathe life into their characters and bring a naturalistic quality to the low budget film. The 16 mm cinematography by Drew Daniels does a good job of capturing the action, offering a nice mix of wide shots and intimate handheld work to highlight the performances, along with an ingenious rollercoaster shot.

This is an extreme film in a lot of ways, with sex scenes and graphic nudity (including Rex getting to show off the goods), and I can imagine some audience members being reflexively put off by the subject matter. But it’s refreshing to see a film made for adults that doesn’t try to go for preachy moralizing, with a protagonist whose actions are morally sketchy at best. In many ways, it harkens back to the more challenging American indie films of the 1970s.

While it might not have the same emotional release of The Florida Project, Red Rocket has a live-wire energy all its own, and builds to a finale that is rapturous in its own way. The film is a little over two hours long, but it simply flashes by, with Baker taking the charged energy of the donut shop sequence from his 2015 film Tangerine, and keeping it going for the entire running time. The cherry on top is the absolutely inspired use of *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” which becomes a sort of motif throughout the film, including Son’s stripped down piano cover.

The result is one of the most wildly entertaining movies of the year, with a propulsive, indefatigable energy to it that is encapsulated in Simon Rex’s firecracker performance.

Red Rocket is now playing in limited release.

Review: Nightmare Alley

December 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Nightmare Alley is Guillermo del Toro’s followup to his surprise Oscar winner The Shape of Water. It serves as both a remake of the 1947 film noir of the same name and a new adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel from a year earlier, with the beloved filmmaker delivering an expertly acted and beautifully crafted take on the source material.

Del Toro’s version is a lengthy but absorbing film that very much operates in the space of classic noir, telling a very dark, character-driven story that is rich with deception and double crossings. It’s not a horror film, despite some elements of the genre, but rather a psychological thriller, and one that has been brought to life with immaculate production design and cinematography that fully transports us into its world.

The film is set in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and the story unfolds around a man named Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), who is first seen dragging a body into the floorboards of an old house and setting it alight. Stanton is an enigma, a man of few words, when he stumbles into an old carnival run by Clem Hoately (Willem Dafoe). He is put to work in the geek pit, an exploitative and cruel sideshow attraction featuring a desperate alcoholic plied with booze and drugs to devour live chickens in front of paying audiences.

Because geek shows have been outlawed, the carnival is constantly on the run and able to pack up and move on a moment’s notice to evade authorities. Stanton’s shameless carny sensibilities make him an ideal right hand man for Clem. When Stanton starts falling for Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), who has an act involving electricity, he decides to start his own mystic show with her, using tricks that he learns from the carnival’s resident psychic Zeena Krumbein (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn).

From here, Nightmare Alley sort of morphs into a different movie, turning into a two-hander between Stanton and Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychiatrist that he tries to pull into his schemes by convincing her to give him clients to dupe. Their scenes together are the highlights of the film, with a dark, psychosexual tension running through them. Despite the soft snow that we see falling through her office window, we can feel the heat inside.

The whole ensemble does solid work. Cooper really sells his character’s transformation over the course of the film, and Blanchett is ravishing as an icy cool femme fatale. Del Toro uses the rest of his all-star cast sparingly but wisely, with actors like Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins, who show up as two of Stanton’s targets, able to leave their mark despite limited screen time. For his part, Dafoe delivers a mesmerizing scene where he explains the process of hiring a geek, and Collette shares a very memorable scene with Cooper beside a bathtub.

The performances are complimented by the film’s outstanding visual style. Like The Shape of Water, much of the film was shot right in and around Toronto, with del Toro and his production design team recreating an old carnival on the Markham fairgrounds. It’s a living, breathing set, allowing the actors to walk through it and exist in the space in a way that adds another level of immersion to the film. In one sequence, Stanton goes to retrieve the runaway geek in a classic funhouse with eyes and spirals adorning the walls, and we can feel him moving through the location.

Dan Laustsen’s cinematography further draws us in, with a constantly moving camera that appears to float through the frame as it tracks from side to side. Laustsen also stages several classic noir shots, including an all-timer of Cooper looking up from under his fedora, his blue eyes seeming to appear in the darkness. This is all topped off with a very good musical score by Nathan Johnson (a late replacement for Alexandre Desplat). It’s also worth noting that the entire production had to be shutdown in March 2020 and go on hiatus for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but these behind the scenes troubles are not at all evident in the finished film.

The first hour of the film takes place at the carnival, before shifting focus for the latter two-thirds, and there are some pacing issues in this first stretch that make the film feel a little lopsided. The film is long at two and a half hours, though I’m not sure what scenes could have been cut from it. The last act, when things all start to come full circle and click into place, is the most classically action-driven, leading to a great final scene that includes some of the finest few minutes of screen acting this year.

The 1947 film, which starred Tyrone Power in the role that now goes to Cooper, is one of the most cynical studio pictures of its time, and del Toro is able to capture this darkness. His film delivers a handful of genuinely chilling and disturbing moments, that del Toro and his editor Cam McLauchlin hold on just long enough to leave a lasting impact, culminating in the haunting final frame.

Nightmare Alley opens in theatres on December 17th.

4K Ultra HD Review: Infinite

December 14, 2021

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite is a sci-fi action flick that imagines a world of reincarnated souls where a group of people called Infinites have the ability to remember their past lives. Within this group, there are two subgroups; the “believers,” who view their ability as a gift, and “nihilists” who see it as a curse and want the cycle to stop.

It’s a high concept premise that sounds mildly intriguing, but Fuqua’s film, a big swing and miss for the director, is a convoluted mess that squanders it with ridiculous dialogue and one-note performances, playing out like a bargain basement take on a Nolan or Wachowski film.

The film does show some early promise with a prologue set in “the past life” that finds a man (Dylan O’Brien) on a high speed car chase through Mexico City. It’s a fairly well orchestrated sequence that provides initial excitement, but it’s all downhill from here. We cut to “the present life” and start following Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg), a diagnosed schizophrenic with the mysterious ability to make traditional Japanese swords.

Evan is struggling to earn enough money to pay for his medication, when he gets taken by a group of Infinites who tell him that his hallucinations are not really in his head but actually flashes of memories from his past lives. They need Evan’s help, and the unique abilities he has obtained from these past lives, to stop one of the “nihilists,” Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor), from acquiring an egg-shaped weapon that has the ability to unwind DNA. Bathurst intends to use it to stop his own reincarnations for good, by ending all life on Earth.

The screenplay by Ian Shorr, which is loosely based on D. Eric Maikranz’s book The Reincarnationist Papers, offers some pseudo-spiritual talk but not much else, with its premise and characters feeling underdeveloped. Instead of really grappling with its big ideas, the whole film instead seems like a pretty awkward metaphor for mental illness. We also get some needless voiceover from Wahlberg’s character that feels like it is over explaining things that we find out anyway through dialogue.

At the centre of it all is a pretty wooden performance by Wahlberg, who phones in his line deliveries and sounds disinterested in the material. Tony Mantzoukas shows up partway through and tries to breathe some life into the film as the Artisan, a possibly non-binary scientist with crazy hair, a leather apron and black nail polish. But Mantzoukas, who leans heavily into camp territory with his portrayal, feels like he fell out of an entirely different movie.

The cinematography by Mauro Fiore is generally decent, including a handful of well framed shots, and there are a couple of okay action sequences (including the aforementioned opening car chase between a Ferrari and an Aston Martin). The film also boasts pretty good sets and production design, but little else about it really works aside from these few aesthetic highlights. What we are left with is a film that fails to really do much with its brainy premise, and instead devolves into a subpar and derivative action movie marred by ham-fisted dialogue.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The 4K disc includes a selection of four “behind the scenes” featurettes. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which ships with a standard slipcover.

They Call Themselves Infinites (7 minutes, 43 seconds): A general look at the making of the film, from the overall story concept, to the production design and sets that were built for it.

The Kinetic Action of Infinite (8 minutes, 56 seconds): An in-depth look at the logistics of shooting the opening car chase in Mexico City. It’s interesting to hear how they pulled it off.

Anatomy of a Scene – Police Station & Forest (12 minutes, 55 seconds): A breakdown of two key set-pieces; the chase through a police station, which was done using a real Aston Martin and breakaway walls, and a last act chase through a forest in Scotland.

Infinite Time (5 minutes, 11 seconds): Starts as a look at the film’s themes, and becomes about the visual effects in the climax, including the use of a camera spinning 360 degrees around Wahlberg.

Infinite is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 106 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: December 7th, 2021

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