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October 13, 2011

DVD Tuesday: ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Horrible Bosses’

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DVD Tuesday: ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Horrible Bosses’
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

New this week on DVD and Blu-ray: Ryan Reynolds suits up for a comic book adventure in the Green Lantern; Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day take on the people who make their lives hellish in Horrible Bosses; plus a look at Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil – Season 1 on DVD.

Green Lantern [October 14]
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Jay O. Sanders
Director: Martin Campbell
Rated: 6/10

Superhero movies are more than a little thick on the ground these days, and they’ve been piling up ever since Marvel managed to prove that comic books could be a source of legitimate box office smash hits.

Not all superheroes–or their movies–are created equal though, and Green Lantern ranks as one of the weaker heroes to arrive on screen since X-Men Origins: Wolverine or the Superman remake.

The film starts with a seemingly epic introduction where we learn that the universe is divided into more than 3000 sectors that are each protected by one guardian. These guardians are fearless creatures who use the energy of willpower–stored in their own personal ring and lantern–which they harness to keep their region of space safe from evil.

Of all the challenges the universe has faced, the worst was a being known as Parallax, a creature which feeds on the power of fear to destroy everything in its path. The creature was imprisoned, thanks to the greatest of the Lanterns, Abin Sur, but as we see in the opening, Parallax finds a way to escape and attacks the hero, gravely wounding him as he escapes.

Enter Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds, a reckless fighter pilot who has a near-death experience right before a big green ball of energy grabs him and sends him to meet a nearly dead Abin Sur, who has landed on Earth to find a successor before he dies.

As Hal stumbles along, trying to decide what to do with the ring and lantern he has been given, he eventually says the oath that binds him to the ring, which sends him rocketing into space to visit the homeworld of the Green Lanterns where he will be trained.

Meanwhile, Hector Hammond, played by Peter Sarsgaard, has been called in by a government agency to inspect Abin Sur’s body, and in the process of carrying out an autopsy the doctor is infected by a remnant of Parallax, which starts to change him into a crazed, mind-reading, telekinetically powered monster.

Hal will learn about his abilities, which allow him to create nearly anything with the power of his will, while Hector slowly turns quite evil, and Parallax moves to destroy the power of the Green Lanterns and their homeworld.

Featuring a run-of-the-mill romance between Hal and his boss, Carol Ferris, played by Blake Lively, plus a silly, little-used sidekick, and a callous father figure, Green Lantern is a hodge-podge of archetypes and storylines that will seem familiar to anyone who has ever seen a superhero film before. At times the archetypes can be quite good, as Hal discovers his abilities and tries to stand up and be fearless, but at other times, as with the relationship between Hector and his father, the whole film gets bogged down in stereotypes that don’t work all that well.

The biggest problem with the film, however, is that it never maintains a clear tone, and the film goes from high-energy scenes to turgid expositions without much effort to make the film move at a reasonable pace.

I also can’t help but compare Green Lantern to another film. Say what you will, but Green Lantern is effectively The Mask of the comic book world, and they even like the same colour. The only difference is that the Green Lantern doesn’t make ridiculous faces, but all his imagined weapons and creations bear a certain resemblance to those of The Mask, which makes it very difficult to take Hal’s epic quest at all seriously. The Green Lantern may have come first in the comic book world, but in terms of movies, this one bears an ugly resemblance to Jim Carrey at times.

As tough as I am on the film, I won’t deny it is still fun and lively, generally, and although Reynolds could have used a stronger character, he’s not a bad Green Lantern, at least in the mostly kid-friendly way he’s been rendered. Like his hero, director Martin Campbell just needed a little bit more imagination to bring this story to life, while avoiding some of the silliness inherent in the character.

Horrible Bosses
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Day, Jamie Foxx
Director: Seth Gordon
Rated: 8.5/10

No matter how old you are or what jobs you’ve had, at one point or another everyone has had a bad boss that inspired dread, fear, and loathing, which is what makes director Seth Gordon’s Horrible Bosses such a hilarious romp.

Featuring three of the worst bosses to step foot on planet Earth, Horrible Bosses asks the question: what if you couldn’t take it any more and had to get rid of your evil boss once and for all?

For Nick, played by Jason Bateman, his horrible boss is Mr. Harken, played by Kevin Spacey, a vicious, conniving overlord who inspires fear in all his employees. Convincing him for months that Nick was about to get a big promotion, Harken then does the unthinkable, absorbing the title into his own job and taking the wage increase with it while he warns Nick that he’s stuck with his job forever.

Meanwhile Dale, played by Charlie Day, is a dental assistant who is about to be married, but his boss is the sexually obsessed Dr. Julia Harris, played by Jennifer Aniston, who frequently takes advantage of the patients and desperately wants to have sex with Dale. For a while, Dale can take it, but when she lures Dale’s fiancÈ into the office and puts her under for some dental work, while trying to have sex with him on top of her, Julia has finally gone too far.

Finally, there’s Kurt, played by Jason Sudeikis, the happiest employee you could meet, until his perfect boss has a heart attack which propels his horrible cocaine-snorting son, Bobby, played by Colin Farrell, into command. Bobby is exactly the worst person to run his family business and just wants to freeload on the company’s earnings, party with strippers in his office, and fire anyone he considers fat or weird.

Joking at first that the three of them should band together and kill their bosses, Nick, Kurt and Dale quickly realize they have to do something before they turn into simpering losers, and since the job market is horrifying and their prospects are non-existent, the only answer seems to be to go ahead with murder.

Searching for someone who can help them, the trio of friends stumble upon Dean ‘MF’ Jones, played by Jamie Foxx, a man who agrees to be their “murder consultant” to help them get the job done. His suggestion is simple; they should kill each other’s bosses so it’s less likely they will be suspected, which means Nick will take care of Bobby, Kurt has Julia, and Dale has to handle Mr. Harken.

The guys have their work cut out for them, but the worst problem may be that they’ve seriously underestimated Mr. Harken, who could end up getting them all thrown in jail.

Featuring a comically committed, perfect cast, hilarious jokes, and just a hint of spice thanks to the ever-sexy Jennifer Aniston, Horrible Bosses is by far the funniest film I’ve seen this year. Between the screenplay and Gordon, the film moves briskly, but it does miss some opportunities. For one, Aniston is sexy, funny, rude and a great evil boss, but she still feels moderately wasted. Likewise, Farrell is scummy and twisted, but again, not quite as funny as he should have been in this film.

Between Bateman, Sudeikis, Foxx, and especially Day and Spacey, Horrible Bosses springs along at every vengeful step, and keeps the entire mood light and silly, even as bullets fly, someone dies, and the police come in hot pursuit. Whether you hate your boss or not, Horrible Bosses is just plain funny, but you may walk out wondering how Day stole the show from an actor as funny as Jason Bateman.

Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil – Season 1
Starring: Alex House, Maggie Castle, Billy Turnbull, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

Welcome to Crowley High, your average high school in a small town that just happened to be founded by Satan-worshipping weirdos that have somehow lost their cursed magical tome: the Book of Pure Evil. Enter Todd and Curtis, played by Alex House and Billy Turnbull, two buddies who mistakenly discover the book and realize it’s power, and how it must be stopped.

The first season has the two guys and their friends, played by Maggie Castle and Melanie Leishman, fighting off all manner of weird, disgusting and obnoxious monsters as the school’s janitor, Jimmy, played by the one and only Jason Mewes, cheers them on and offers sage advice.

Weird, funny, and surprising in nearly every way, Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil is a very rare treat that’s proudly Canadian, and it’s happy to revel in being lewd, crude, and totally funny. The show is not for everyone, but if you like your comedy a la Army of Darkness, except maybe a little cruder, this is the show for you.



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October 11, 2011

Film Friday: ‘Real Steel’ and ‘The Ides Of March’

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Film Friday: ‘Real Steel’ and ‘The Ides Of March’
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

New releases in theatres this weekend: Hugh Jackman shows off his parenting and boxing skills opposite his young co-star Dakota Goyo in Real Steel; and George Clooney and Ryan Gosling star in the intense political drama, The Ides Of March.

Real Steel [IMAX]
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anthony Mackie, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis
Director: Shawn Levy
Rated: 7.5/10

Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy ventures in a new direction with the metal-fisted next generation sports drama, Real Steel, about a father and son forced together for a few months as they try to earn some cash at the brawling sport of robot boxing.

Set mostly among the grimy lower echelons of the robot boxing leagues, where robots don’t seem to walk away from the matches, Real Steel is technically a fight to the death for its warriors, which can be a costly venture for the down-and-out veteran boxer, Charlie, played by Hugh Jackman.

The film opens with our lowly friend Charlie, who seems to have left his best days behind him, bringing his monolithic-looking robot boxer to a state fair where the fight is against–get this–a bull. Somehow this is the kind of fight that would only seem fair in the southern states, perhaps, because by all accounts it’s a fight that looks all wrong to me while the cowboy-hat totting crowd in the film eats it up. This heralds Charlie’s further descent into absolute moral and financial poverty that sees him sell his newly discovered son, Max, played by Dakota Goyo, to a relative.

All Charlie has to do to collect his money is spend the next few weeks with Max, so Charlie uses his devilishly earned cash to buy a new robot boxer, and then heads off on the road with Max in tow.

On the dirty road trip, the father and son find some common ground taking care of their fighter, especially when they end up stumbling upon a stalwart older model machine named Atom, who is a little different than all the other robot boxers, and makes Max think he can take on any opponent with his new-found toy.

Based on the concept, and maybe even the trailers, the surprise is that the boxing takes a bit of a back seat to the story of Charlie and Max bonding and facing new challenges toegther. It’s a father-son drama mixed up with some comedy and a little rock ‘em, sock ‘em action in the ring.

Featuring Evangeline Lilly as Bailey, Charlie’s best friend and would-be girlfriend, and Kevin Durand as the moderately villainous Ricky, Real Steel is much more about the people than the robots, but it’s a little muddled because it’s trying to be a few too many things at once. Singly, the drama, comedy and action coome across quite strong, but as a film the story doesn’t flow perfectly.

The bigger problem with Real Steel though is that, for all the punch it packs, it’s written for the teenagers out there more than anyone else, and the dialogue can be a bit hard to sit through. What saves the film is that, not only is Jackman brilliant as this muddled character, but Goyo is absolutely a scene-stealer. Together they’re a fantastic combo that makes even the weaker scenes all right. Watching Goyo, it’s easy to see why he was picked for this role since he seems to sweep you along with his character thanks to his remarkable charm.

Although I still wish Levy had found more reality to ground Real Steel in, especially in terms of dialogue, this is a well-above average action drama, and it’s a surprisingly fresh as well.

The Ides Of March
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Director: George Clooney

Actor-turned-director George Clooney pulls double-duty once again in the political drama, The Ides Of March, a gritty, scandal-ridden tale of one politician and his bid in the presidential race.

Clooney stars as Governor Mike Morris, a candidate who has a shining public image, but behind closed doors there is a scandal brewing and his fresh faced press secretary, Stephen, played by Ryan Gosling, will have to get his hands dirty if he wants to make it through the tough world of election politics, not to mention if he wants to get his boss elected.

Debuting last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, with all the stars in attendance on the red carpet, the film has some fantastic buzz going for it and is already expected to pull in a few Oscar nominations.

Rex Reed of the New York Observer wrote of the film, “Like the nonfossil fuel alternatives Mr. Clooney pushes in his campaign rhetoric, the adrenalin rush of The Ides of March provides a sexy alternative to most mainstream political movies about dirty politics. Others dip. This one soars.”

Steven Rea was likewise impressed, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “The Ides of March wields its searchlight over our political landscape and finds a battlefield: a bloody ground of cynicism and fatal compromise.”



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October 5, 2011

DVD Tuesday: ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Scream 4′

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DVD Tuesday: ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Scream 4′
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

New releases this week on Blu-ray and DVD: The Lion King debuts on Blu-ray for the first time; Neve Campbell stars in the horror sequel Scream 4; Vin Diesel and Paul Walker push the pedal to the metal one more time in Fast Five; plus a look at Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition and African Cats.

The Lion King [Blu-ray]
Starring: Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella
Directors: Rob Minkoff & Roger Allers
Rated: 9/10

Disney has a vault filled with classics, and over the last twenty plus years, very few films have been as influential as The Lion King.

First released in 1994, The Lion King recently enjoyed a two-week re-release in theatres that saw the film in 3D for the first time. Now, available on Blu-ray for the first time, the film has been spectacularly converted to high definition, and the colours explode on the screen along with this carefully told, iconic coming-of-age story.

For the uninitiated who have missed the Lion King so far, the classic animated film follows the young Simba, voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a young cub and Matthew Broderick when he’s older, who is learning to be the prince in his great father’s kingdom. Simba is unfortunately and unwittingly drawn into the family feud between his evil uncle, Scar, voiced by Jeremy Irons, and his father, Mustafa, voiced by the great James Earl Jones, which changes Simba’s life in an instant.

While Scar’s first plot fails to hurt Simba, it’s the second attempt that forever changes the young lion’s life, forcing him into exile away from his mother, best friend, and the rest of the pride, and leading him to live in the jungle with a meerkat and a warthog, voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, respectively.

Blending humour, fart jokes, lots of heart and a mythical story, The Lion King is one of Disney’s greatest films in recent memory, and one of the top ten best films they have ever made. On Blu-ray the film also pops like never before, with amazing depth and colour and more extras than you will likely watch in one sitting.

Those features include a wonderful new 38-minute HD featurette on the film’s legacy and making, all of the original standard definition extras, plus deleted scenes, sing-along mode, “bloopers” and a commentary track with co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff.

Overall the film looks perfect, and this is a great package and it’s a must-own release for animation fans.

Scream 4
Starring: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin
Director: Wes Craven
Rated: 6/10

Director Wes Craven has resurrected the Scream franchise once again, bringing familiar and new faces together as the masked killer Ghostface returns to Woodsboro for a bloody killing spree as Sidney Prescott, played by Neve Campbell, comes home for a visit.

Co-starring David Arquette and Courteney Cox once more, as Dewey and Gale, the Ghostface of Scream 4 has changed since the last time, and the killer is now twisting up film references with horror remakes and modern slasher movies, while forcing the survivors to band together to try and defeat the maniacal killer.

All I can say is, really, what year is it? 1996? That’s the only way I can explain how Canada’s own Neve Campbell has top billing on a new film. She’s a wonderful actress, but after vanishing from the movies for so many years at a time it’s a little odd to see her in this role again.

On top of that, can someone remind me what happened in Scream 2 and 3, because everything since the original film is pretty much a blur now, and the film does nothing to make up for that. In fact, the film rejoices in being utterly meta, as the film’s characters point out early on, and while the point seems to have been to make fun of itself, and horror films in general, that doesn’t change the fact that the film does exactly what we expect. If we’re surprised, it’s rare because the movie revisits the original plot far too frequently.

Yes, the original Scream was a blast, but at this point the films feel threadbare. If you can forgive the lack of originality, Scream 4 is a pretty breezy, slasher adventure that pokes fun at everything from itself to the every bloody killer movie that have come out since the original.

While not the worst horror film out there–not even close–Scream 4 overstays its welcome and needed more than just fresh blood–it also needed some fresh ideas.

The DVD has a hand full of basic features including bloopers, a solid commentary track with the director and key cast, plus a ten-minute making-of featurette.

Fast Five
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris
Director: Justin Lin
Rated: 7.5/10

The Fast and the Furious franchise has been anything but what you would call an action masterpiece, but it has been popular enough to keep the fans interested, the actors paid, and the sequels coming one after another. The surprise this time out is that somehow director Justin Lin finally got the formula right with the first critically well-received release since the original.

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker star once again as Dominic and Brian, the ex-con and ex-cop duo who are on the run with Mia, played by Jordana Brewster. With no where else to go, the three outlaws have escaped to Rio de Janeiro where they’re aiming to pull off one last job that could earn them their freedom.

Working with a team of drivers, their goal is to take down the man who wants to kill them, and at the same time they have to elude the agent who is chasing them from one end of the country to the other. Racing across Brazil, Dom and Brian will have the fight of their lives to stay out of the reach of the agent’s task force that is chasing hot on their tails while they work to finish this last, epic job that could finally change their lives.

Lin is of course not new to the Fast and the Furious, he’s helped drive the franchise into the ground with two of the worst reviewed films in the series, Fast & Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Somehow though, he and screenwriter Chris Morgan have turned things around for Fast Five, and this one just works because it’s ballsy enough to go for guts and glory at all costs, including logic.

The script has a firm “physics schmisics” kind of mentality where anything is possible and it works on pure testosterone, like a muscle car of an action movie that Lin has tuned up with his team to near epic proportions.

Of course the visuals and stunts verge on the ridiculous, but the film never looks back and Diesel and Walker make it all seem like a walk in the park, pulling it all together with their attitude alone.

The Blu-ray combo comes with the DVD and digital copy, but not much else unless you really, really love this ridiculous franchise. While I enjoyed this film, the extras were mostly skippable. Long-run fans will likely be more interested in all the on-set features, the commentary by Lin, and of course the bloopers.

Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition [Blu-ray]
Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers
Directors: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Rated: 9/10

Coming out the same week as The Lion King, one of Disney’s other great animated classics from the 90s returns to Blu-ray for the Diamond Edition release that comes packed with no less than five discs of extras and features including the film’s debut in glorious Blu-ray 3D.

The film retells the age old fairytale about a young prince who has been forced into the shape of a terrible beast until he can find true love that loves him in return with Paige O’Hara voicing Belle, a strong and self-sure woman who is happy to take care of herself. When she meets the strange and enigmatic beast, with his house filled with his servants, who have been turned into the objects that represent their jobs, Belle begins to get closer to the man as she also discovers the secret of his curse.

Thanks to the film’s beautiful animation, and, more importantly, timeless story, Beauty and the Beast is another of Disney’s top ten movies of all time, and on Blu-ray it’s well worth watching again. There is also an unbelievable number of extras spread over the five disc package, including a stunning documentary on the film, a sing along track, deleted scenes, and a lot more for fans of Disney and this incredible movie.

African Cats
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey
Rated: 7.5/10

Lastly, Disneynature’s animal documentary about the “kings of the savanna” also debuts on home video this week. Looking in on the lives of cheetahs and lions, African Cats is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and gives each of the animals names and a story. There’s Mara, the lion cub who is trying to emulate her mother’s strength; Sita, the cheetah, the mother of five spirited babies; and Fang, the leader of a pride who is also protecting his family from a banished lion.

Directed by Alastair Fothergill, who also directed Earth, and Keith Scholey, African Cats is meant to show the real lives of these proud animals with a bit of humour and creative storytelling. Featuring beautiful cinematography, the film was shot on location in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, but it’s worth noting that while it doesn’t feature gruesome imagery, it is a somewhat honest portrayal of the hardships of life on the savanna.

The Blu-ray really shows off the cinematography beautifully, and the film is a marvellous glimpse of animals we don’t get to see in their natural habitat, but the failing of the documentary is simply that there’s not a very cohesive story to tell. These big cats are stunning to watch, but the film feels like it meanders too much, and is just a notch too long.



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September 29, 2011

DVD Tuesday: ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’

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DVD Tuesday: ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

September proves to be another quiet month for home video releases, with just a few major releases coming out on DVD and Blu-ray this week. The big arrivial, Michael Bay’s bombastic Transformers: Dark of the Moon, comes out on Friday, September 30, and I take a look at a few other releases available today.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon [Friday, September 30]
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Director: Michael Bay
Rated: 8/10

If you survived the last Transformers movie, you’re either a diehard Transformers fan, or a very forgiving moviegoer. Either way, the next instalment of this franchise is upon us and the good news is that it’s easily the best Transformers movie to date, even if the script is still laughably ridiculous.

Director Michael Bay helms the latest sequel alongside producer Steven Spielberg with Shia LaBeouf once again playing the part of the hopeless Sam Witwicky. This time out, Sam has moved on from his previous love and is now miraculously with the successful and sweet Carly, played by model-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Sam is hunting for a job, and some sense of self-worth, as Carly tries to help him make something of himself. It’s not until he lands a job with maniacal boss Bruce Brazos, played by John Malkovich, that Sam stumbles into trouble as the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons heats up again with a secret concerning the moon landing in the sixties.

As it turns out, America was rushing to the moon to explore a crashed ship that was carrying cargo that could have won the Autobots the war on their home planet of Cybertron. Thanks to a quirk of fate, Optimus Prime, voiced once again by the great Peter Cullen, finds out all too late that this fact wasn’t shared with him, but at the same time Sam finds an even darker secret as the Decepticons spring a trap that threatens to flatten Chicago and the world.

Featuring dependable and sometimes hilarious performances by Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, and of course Kevin Dunn and Julie White, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is one of the most poorly written films to have such a big theatrical release in some time, aside from Transformers 2. That doesn’t change the fact that Dark of the Moon is still one of the best action movies of the year, and this film is by far the best eye-candy to come out since the original Transformers film.

Say what you will about the script and even some of the editing, but Bay’s Dark of the Moon is the perfect popcorn film and it is a special effects masterpiece. Bay perfectly blends live-action and digital special effects to make the smashing, exploding, 3D action leap off the screen, both literally and figuratively.

The film could have used a script that didn’t feel like it was ripped out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and the dialogue could have used some grounding, so it didn’t feel like you were constantly listening to someone trying to write snappy dialogue, but if you’re into action films it’s all forgivable.

As pulp action goes, this is the pulpiest.

Other new arrivals:

For campy horror fans, Nightmare on Elm Street 2 & 3 debuts in a Blu-ray combo-pack just in time for the Halloween lead-up; classic film enthusiasts will want to get their hands on the 50th anniversary collector’s edition of Ben-Hur on Blu-ray; and if you’re into alternative music, it doesn’t get much better than Nirvana: Live at the Paramount, which was originally filmed on Halloween night, 1991 for the release of Nevermind. You can also catch the whole show streaming on Vevo at www.vevo.com/nirvana where it will run on October 31 for 24 hours to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show.



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September 22, 2011

DVD Tuesday: ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘Bridesmaids’

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DVD Tuesday: ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘Bridesmaids’
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

Arriving this week on DVD and Blu-ray: the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s debuts on Blu-ray starring Audrey Hepburn as the one-and-only Holly Golightly; Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph joke it up in the comedy, Bridesmaids; Disney’s animated classic, Dumbo, celebrates its 70th anniversary; plus reviews of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal and Thor.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s [Blu-ray]
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Jose Luis de Villalonga, Patricia Neal
Director: Blake Edwards
Rated: 8.5/10

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a quintessential example of the American film classic that somehow managed to meld the story of a quirky young woman’s life in the great New York City with a funny and heartfelt romantic drama.

Written by the great Truman Capote, with superstar Audrey Hepburn as the glimmering Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s gives us a glimpse into the airy life of a young fashion-hungry woman in New York City during the 1960s.

Invited to all of the best parties, with everything bought and paid for by her man du jour, Holly is living a carefree existence with her nameless cat until she meets and starts falling for the handsome new neighbour, Paul, played by George Peppard.

Paul is a writer hoping to make a career for himself, but at the same time he’s a kept man taken care of by a wealthy woman, played by Patricia Neal. As Paul and Holly become closer, they start to fall for one another, but Holly’s acquaintance, Doc, played by Buddy Ebsen, reveals some facts about her that make things just a bit more difficult.

Featuring Oscar-winning music by the great Henry Mancini, and Johnny Mercer’s song “Moon River,” Breakfast at Tiffany’s is dazzling on Blu-ray, and it is a wonderfully written comedic drama. In particular though, Holly Golightly is one of cinema’s greatest characters, and Hepburn is simply delightful in this role, including the innocence she displays, and the subdued guile with which she manages each man in every scene.

Beyond the film, the Blu-ray package is fantastic, featuring a collection of must-watch extras for any new or long-time fans. Standing out from those extras is the 20-minute look at Mancini’s music, the making-of featurette, and the commentary track with producer Richard Shepherd, who examines every moment of the film in detail.

The only notable problem with Breakfast at Tiffany’s is of course the much-discussed “Asian” character, Mr. Yunioshi–Holly’s landlord–who is played by Mickey Rooney. Included on the Blu-ray is a 17-minute-long feature that interviews people about the character and impact, but aside from that it’s hard to do anything more than shake your head each time the character appears on screen.

Bridesmaids
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper
Director: Paul Feig
Rated: 6/10

Bridesmaids may be one of the year’s best reviewed comedies, but I still can’t help but wonder why.

Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, a woman who is set to be her best friend’s maid of honor, but she’s having a hard time with her messed up life, including her boyfriend and her career. She’s a true friend though, and despite her issues she’ll do anything to make her best friend happy for her wedding, and that includes dealing with all of the other bridesmaids, the strange wedding rituals, and everything in between.

Co-starring Maya Rudolph as Annie’s best friend Lillian, plus Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper, Bridesmaids is a pretty rare comedy because it actually gave a few comedic women the chance to behave a little badly on screen for a change. Next to all the films about men going out and ruining their bachelor parties, Bridesmaids is somewhat refreshing for being just generally different.

The bright side of Bridesmaids is that their story feels fresh, and you can’t help but root for Annie as the lonely underdog. Wiig is funny and charming, while also acting completely awkward, and that definitely drew me in to her story.

My problem with Bridesmaids is that it’s simply not a very funny film. There are massive setups for big laughs, but few of them play out all that well, and the gross outs are simply gross, not exactly all that funny.

The film may be refreshing as a female-led comedy, but it lacks the laughs needed to make it work.

Dumbo: 70th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
Starring: Sterling Holloway, Edward S. Brophy, Herman Bing, Verna Felton, Cliff Edwards, Billy Bletcher
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Rated: 9/10

Animated movies have come a long way in 70 years, but after all that time Dumbo is still one of Disney’s most innocent, heart-rendingly wonderful films, and I’m happy to say that it looks beautiful on Blu-ray.

Featuring that famous baby elephant with the gigantic ears, the film is powered by a stunning score and music by Oscar-winners Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace, and tells Dumbo’s story as he adjusts to life under the big top.

Mocked and ridiculed by everyone around him, and taken from his mother who was locked away for trying to protect him, we see Dumbo grow to prove that it’s okay to be different, and that even the smallest friend can be the greatest gift in the world.

Disney has packed the Blu-ray with lots of extras, including 10-minutes of deleted scenes, a picture-in-picture experience with Pixar and Disney experts who look at the history of the film, a featurette on the making of the film, and a number of other bonus items.

Dumbo’s 70th Anniversary Edition release is a tremendous package, and it’s wonderful to see such a revered old classic come to life in high definition.

Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal
Starring: Charles Dance, Richard Coyle, David Suchet, Claire Foy, Tamsin Greig, Ingrid Bols¯ Berdal
Director: Jon Jones
Rated: 8/10

Let me get this out of the way right now: I am a huge, huge fan of Terry Pratchett. I’ve read all but a couple of his dozens of Discworld books, and there are frankly very few writers I admire as much.

And how can you not admire the man? Pratchett has sold tens of millions of books, his books have been translated into numerous languages, and on top of that he was recognized for his contributions to literature and knighted by the Queen of England.

Most of all though, he is just a brilliant, funny, and masterful writer who can turn even the uncanniest themes into thrilling, amusing yarns.

In Going Postal, based on one of Pratchett’s more recent books, we return to the mythical city of Ankh Morpork where a con artist, Moist von Lipwig, played by Richard Coyle, is given a choice: accept death or take on the job of Postmaster of the city’s failed Post Office.

Trying to restore the glory of the post office, which is at odds with another business in town that transmits message through relay towers, Moist has to defend himself against someone that wants him dead while he also battles with his own conscience over his questionable past.

With performances that fit the book’s characters perfectly, especially Coyle and Claire Foy, and Charles Dance as Lord Havelock Vetinari, the film does a great job of bringing Pratchett’s story to life with all the trappings of the otherworldly Discworld intact, including the golems, wizards, and other amusingly odd characters. My only complaint might be the fact that Death was cut from the story, who happens to be one of the main characters to appear in every single Discworld book Pratchett has written.

Although the movie will certainly hit big with Pratchett fans, I would highly recommend the film to genre fans. The Blu-ray also has some fun features, like an introduction by Pratchett, deleted scenes, bloopers, interviews, and a commentary with the director.

Thor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan SkarsgÂrd, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Colm Feore
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Rated: 8/10

Marvel deserves some credit. For the past decade, with a little help from various studios and directors, the comic book company has been turning their top heroes into big screen superheroes, and while they’ve failed to come up with a film you could compare to The Dark Knight, their superhero films have still been a lot of fun.

Maybe fun movies don’t earn a lot of Oscars, but they do earn cash, not to mention a lot more potential for spin-offs, the only trick is having a hero worth transforming for the big screen, and while Thor may not be your usual grade-A character, he’s long overdue for a movie treatment.

Chris Hemsworth stars as our hero, Thor, the arrogant warrior who is kicked out of Asgard, the home of the gods, after he disobeys his father Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins, and renews a fight with their age old enemy, the Frost Giants. Leaping into action to fight the Frost Giants, Thor and his companions are almost defeated, but they’re saved at the last minute when Odin comes to the rescue, effectively breaking the truce that existed between them.

For his rash behavior, Odin tosses Thor down to Earth and bars him from using his precious hammer, Mjolnir, which gives Thor all his power. Meanwhile, Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, discovers that he’s actually the son of the leader of the Frost Giants and seizes the throne of Asgard. Back on Earth, where Thor starts falling for a scientist, played by Natalie Portman, a group of his allies journey to meet him to bring their hero back as Loki sends the ultimate destroyer after them.

Featuring an amusing cast, with a scene-chewing Anthony Hopkins, and Hemsworth as the ideal Thor, Marvel’s latest adaptation is fun, exciting, and filled with eye-candy. It is also a clear and interesting setup for more Thor films, not to mention the upcoming Avengers movie.



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September 15, 2011

TIFF 2011: Canadian films and stars (part 1)

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TIFF 2011: Canadian films and stars
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

Every year the Toronto International Film Festival brings together some of the best films, filmmakers and actors from around the world, and it’s these international stars that get a lot of attention, but as a Canadian, film lovers should also be proud of the incredible local talent that bring their work to the festival each year, and this has been a great year for our home-grown artists.

Topping the list of notable films is David Cronenberg’s German-Canadian co-production, A Dangerous Method, which stars a primarily International cast in the story of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung conflicted years during World War I, and how the two men were emotionally involved with the troubled woman, Sabina Spielrein, played by Keira Knightley.

Actor-turned-director Sarah Polley’s drama, Take This Waltz, also debuts at TIFF this year and stars Michelle Williams and Canada’s own Seth Rogen. Williams plays Margot, a married woman, with her husband played by Rogen, who meets a new man, played by Luke Kirby, and can’t help feeling torn between the two men who both offer her something completely different.

For Polley, this is the second film she has directed in just a few years, and many point to the amazing fact that she is barely over the age of 30.

There are also no less than two Canadian hockey movies at the festival: director Michael Dowse’s Goon, which stars and was co-written by Jay Baruchel, and also co-stars Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber, and Canadian Kim Coates.


Four young actors together (TIFF Rising Stars): Sarah Gadon, Katie Boland, Sarah Allen and Keon Mohajeri.

Perhaps a little more notable though is the Bollywood-meets-hockey movie Breakaway, by Robert Lieberman, and starring Vinay Virmani, Russell Peters, and a cast of new and emerging stars. The film was co-produced by Bollywood celebrity Akshay Kumar, and written by Virmani, who plays a young guy who wants to give up his delivery job so he can play professional hockey. Interspersed with Bollywood-style dance sequences, and musical cameos by Drake and Ludacris, the film is a fun combination of a family-friendly coming-of-age comedy and drama with true International flavour that speaks of Canada’s great diversity, and love of all things hockey.

Other notable films include Mike Clattenburg’s drama, Afghan Luke, starring Nick Stahl, Stephen Lobo and Ali Liebert about a journalist returning to Afghanistan to get the real story about Canadian snipers involved in mutilating corpses; Guy Maddin’s surreal Keyhole, about a gangster exploring rooms in his own home; the teen-vampire horror adaptation, The Moth Diaries, by director Mary Harron; and maybe one of the most exciting sequels in Canadian history, Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo II starring Adrien Dorval, Care Failure, Shannon Jardine and McDonald himself.


David Cronenberg alone and with his daughter Caitlin Cronenberg

Beyond Canadian films, Canadian actors are also involved in some great films that will be coming out over the next few months.

Ryan Gosling, for instance, stars in both the action/crime-drama, Drive, which opens in theatres this Friday, September 16, and the political drama, Ides of March opposite George Clooney.

The Toronto Film Festival also named four rising stars this year as Canadians you should keep an eye on who have or will be appearing in a number of big films. Spotted together at a number of events, including the festival’s official party for the quartet, the four rising stars include Sarah Gadon, Katie Boland, Sarah Allen and Keon Mohajeri.

Although I would love to name every Canadian film and star who appeared or will appear at this year’s film festival, it’s a rather long list, especially once you start looking at the Short Cuts Canada lineup, the list of 30+ Canadian Film Centre alumni who are all involved in the 2011 festival, and the incredible list of stars who have all come out to support Canadian film.

The Toronto International Film Festival is an incredible event for film in general, but as a Canadian, it’s worth showing some pride for the diverse stories our country is helping to create on screen, and making sure to check them out when they open in theatres.



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September 7, 2011

DVD Tuesday: ‘X-Men First Class’ and ‘Hanna’

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DVD Tuesday: ‘X-Men First Class’ and ‘Hanna’
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

Arriving this week on Blu-ray and on DVD: James McAvoy is the young and dashing Charles Xavier trying to save the world from evil mutants in X-Men First Class; Saoirse Ronan stars as a 16-year-old reclusive killer in Hanna; and a look at Brian DePalma’s notorious Scarface on Blu-ray.

X-Men First Class [Friday, September 9]
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Rated: 8/10

Comic book adaptations have come a long way since Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie debuted in 2000, and while there have been a lot of great comic book movies since then, if I’m going to be honest I would have to admit that X2: X-Men United is by far my favorite comic book movie, based primarily on the fact that Singer knew how to tell a story about vivid characters.

The X-Men franchise hit a snag though with the release of the third film, which was sub-par to say the least, so nothing short of a reboot was really going to revive the franchise. Thankfully, as a long-time fan of the X-Men comic books, Matthew Vaughn has created a reboot that has it all: action, sex appeal, and laughs.

Starting out exactly like the first X-Men film, with a reshot opening set in 1944, we meet a young Erik Lehnsherr who is being held at a concentration camp where one man, Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon, is forcing the boy to use his powers by threatening Erikís mother.

From there, we float back and forth between Erik’s hunt for Shaw to meeting CIA agent Dr. Moira MacTaggert, played by Rose Byrne, who is investigating the Hellfire Club, where Emma Frost, played by January Jones, is currently playing host to a United States general and Shaw, who is essentially trying to start a nuclear war for his own gains. As Moira sneaks into the club, she inadvertently witnesses a display of mutant powers, sending her off to find an expert who can help her prove to the CIA that mutants exist.

That search leads her to Professor Charles Xavier, played by the ¸ber talented James McAvoy. As a boy Charles discovered he had the power to read minds, which led him to become a professor of genetics so he could better understand his own condition. By Charles’ side is the beautiful Raven, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who has a secret of her own–she’s a shapeshifter who can make herself look like anyone, and she’s been the professor’s best friend since they were children.

Joining with Moira when Charles realizes that there are dangerous mutants in the world, the trio gathers a young team of mutant cohorts as they meet the head of Division X, played by Oliver Platt, where they also join forces with Erik.

Using the intrigue of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the sixties as a backdrop, X-Men First Class is stylish, witty, and funny, and features a number of cameos, including a brief glimpse of Rebecca Romijn as Mystique, not to mention an equally quick moment with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Vaughn’s film hit all the right points as a fun summer blockbuster, and at home the film satisfies all the necessities for a smart, witty popcorn adventure. I also appreciated the film because, for fans, it very, very faithfully recreates the characters from the original comic books, all the way down to the costumes, and even Beast’s transformation from a brilliant scientist with ape-like feet to a big, blue creature.

Most importantly though, Vaughn has put together a fantastic team of actors, with some of the best casting I could imagine for these characters. McAvoy and Fassbender in particular are the perfect duo to lead the film, and Kevin Bacon plays, at times, a scenery-chewing villain worthy of being a big-screen nemesis. I also loved Lawrence as Mystique, and Jones plays a good Emma Frost, despite the fact that her role is more about looks than acting.

The only major complaint with the film is that the overall script is weak, with a plot that needed to be tightened up, especially in the second half, and the film feels ragged as we jump between story lines. X-Men: First Class is still a fantastic first film in this new trilogy, one that is in fact better than the original X-Men, but I hope the sequels have tighter writing and storylines.

Looking at where the film ends, my guess is that X-Men fans can perhaps expect the sequel to follow the X-Tinction Agenda storyline from the comic books, but that’s just a guess. All I can say is that if you appreciated Bryan Singer’s X-Men films, you need to see Vaughn’s prequel.

Hanna
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Tom Hollander, Jessica Barden
Director: Joe Wright
Rated: 8.5/10

Hanna is a beautiful, edgy, and heart-racing fairy tale thriller by Joe Wright–the same director who brought us the period dramas Pride and Prejudice and Atonement–about a 16-year-old girl who has been trained since birth to be a weapon against one woman, and the CIA.

Eric Bana stars as Erik, an ex-CIA agent living in the wilds of Finland who has raised his daughter, Hanna, played by Saoirse Ronan, to be a perfect killer, honed to seek out the terrifying CIA agent Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett, and kill her.

Deciding that the time is finally right, Erik gives Hanna the device that will signal the CIA, who promptly appear and take the girl away. Of course, they don’t really know what Hanna is capable of, and Hanna is merely biding her time to carry out her own mission. At the same time, Marissa suspects Hanna’s dark side and does everything she can to protect herself.

At the heart of the story is a major secret that Erik has stolen from the organization, and the CIA will do anything to keep it from being revealed to the public. There is also much that Hanna does not know about herself.

Hanna is not your average cat-and-mouse thriller though, although Ronan does play both sides of those roles throughout the film, but Wright’s film is actually more of a coming-of-age story for a character who could have been plucked from the pages of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, which are heavily referenced.

Although the story is moderately weak, and the script could have been stronger in places, Wright sets everything up perfectly so Ronan can be the one and only star of this film, and she easily makes Hanna seem like a lost child in the woods one moment, before she fearlessly cuts someone up the next. Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are well cast opposite Ronan, but they are definitely co-stars next to the young star’s sweet and killer attitude.

Wright also sets Hanna apart from most other films this year thanks to his tremendous filmmaking team, including stunning cinematography by Alwin H. Kuchler, genius editing by Paul Tothill, not to mention art direction, sets and costumes that literally make the film seem almost like a twisted dream. Big kudos also have to go out to The Chemical Brothers, who weave a fantastic score throughout the film that is always present, but never oversteps its place.

The Blu-ray/DVD double pack from Alliance Films has a lot of great features worth checking out, including a superb commentary by Wright that delves deeply into how the film came to be made. There are also four above-average featurettes on the making of Hanna, deleted scenes, and an alternate ending. There could have been a bit more punch to the list of features, but overall a great package for an eye-popping thriller.

Scarface [Limited Edition Steelbook - Blu-ray]
Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon
Director: Brian DePalma
Rated: 9/10

One of Brian DePalma’s greatest filmmaking achievements, and one of the best gangster movies of the eighties, arrives in a new Blu-ray limited edition steelbook this week, giving new and old fans a chance to enjoy one of Al Pacino’s greatest and fiercest performances.

Written with sheer operatic wisdom by Oliver Stone, Scarface stars Pacino stars as Tony Montana, a Cuban criminal banished to Miami where a drug lord picks him up to do his dirty work. As Tony works his way deeper into the cesspool of drugs, murder, and racketeering–not to mention buckets of blood–he quickly finds himself climbing to the top of the empire of criminals that rules Miami, making a few friends, and killing his enemies along the way.

Featuring Robert Loggia as Frank Lopez, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the drug-addicted mistress, Elvira, Scarface endures as a classic but brutal look at organized crime from the over-stylized view of what has become a modern stereotype. That stereotype endures, however, thanks at least in part to DePalma’s violent, legendary film.

Scarface may not be the best crime film ever made, but it’s mesmerizing, disturbing, and still a film that needs to be seen to be believed.

The steelbook Blu-ray package has a lot of extras, including some standard definition ones that have been around before, but the best of the features is by far The Scarface Phenomenon, a documentary that looks back at the film’s release, and what it meant at the time to audiences and critics.



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September 2, 2011

Film Friday: Apollo 18′ and ‘Shark Night’

3:01 pm | No Comments » |

Film Friday: ‘Apollo 18′ and ‘Shark Night’
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

Although I hate to say it, fall must be around the corner since both of the major releases this week are horror films intent on drawing in audiences who are done with summer blockbusters and want to be scared as the temperature dips and kids go back to school. The latest in theatres includes the mockumentary horror film, Apollo 18, about two astronauts who may not survive their trip to the moon, and the creature feature, Shark Night, about a group of young friends who may not survive their cabin adventure thanks to a salt-water lake filled with sharks.

Notably, neither film was screened in advance for critics.

Apollo 18
Starring: Lloyd Owen, Warren Christie
Director: Gonzalo LÛpez-Gallego

You could call it the Blair Witch Project of space films, but whatever you call it, the studio behind Apollo 18 hopes you’ll believe it’s the real story of why no one has been on the moon in nearly 40 years.

Following the last manned mission in 1972, NASA discontinued flights to the moon, but in this horror film two astronauts are sent there once more in 1973 on a secret mission that turns deadly as parasitic organisms start attacking the men.

Discovering the body of a Soviet cosmonaut on the moon, and a deserted Soviet LK Lander, the two astronauts will face this new threat with very little hope of survival, all told as a film that was apparently spliced together from 72 hours of lost footage that was somehow “discovered” by someone online and edited down into this horror thriller.

While the premise is pretty silly, especially since I can’t quite imagine how 72 hours of NASA footage could be found–apparently on the moon no less–and that someone would edit the footage into a thriller, there are some positive reviews from the online community.

“[M]ost of Apollo 18 works,” wrote Hunter Daniels for Collider. “It might be damning the film with faint praise, but it is easily the best Hollywood found footage horror film of the modern era, possibly ever. While the premise overextends itself, there are enough creepy sequences and clever sound tricks to keep viewers alert and there is even a bit of socially relevant subtext that is all the more potent because of the film’s release date.”

Meanwhile, and this is the more common opinion, Drew McWeeny of HitFix wrote, “Apollo 18 stands as one of the worst examples yet of a very, very limited subgenre. It doesn’t matter if this footage was found or manufactured, because the only good thing that could be done with it involves a match and an accelerant.”

Shark Night [3D]
Starring: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Sinqua Walls, Alyssa Diaz, Joel David Moore
Director: David R. Ellis

People threatened by water-dwelling man eaters should probably stick to dry land, but what do you do if you have an injured friend and need to escape to a nearby hospital, and–oh, yeah–you’re staying on a cabin in the middle of a salt water lake?

This is the premise of the dreary Shark Night from director David R. Ellis who pits a small group of young, attractive friends against a lake filled with sharks.

After the friends arrive for a bit of relaxation, the group is enjoying themselves on the picturesque Louisiana lake, at least until their friend loses his arm in a freak accident they can’t quite explain. As it turns out, the explanation is simple enough, someone has released hundreds of huge sharks into the lake and it’s apparently feeding time.

Aside from horror junkies, the film is unlikely to have people rushing out to theatres, and it looks like the few critics who have seen the film agree that it’s not worth your time or money.

Critic Brian Orndorf wrote on his website, “What’s actually here is depressingly unimaginative, artificial (the shark CGI is iffy at best), and occasionally distasteful. Trust me, it’s one long night.”

Upcoming releases…

Here’s a look ahead at some of the films opening in September, including films debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival, and unique releases like the Pearl Jam documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty, opening on September 20, and Kevin Smith’s political horror film, Red State, which plays across Canada for one night only on September 29.

September 8
Toronto International Film Festival begins – follow coverage at www.thegate.ca/tiff/

September 9
Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star
Contagion
Creature
Warrior

September 16
Drive
I Don’t Know How She Does It
Straw Dogs
The Lion King

September 20
Pearl Jam Twenty

September 23
Abduction
Afghan Luke
Dolphin Tale
Killer Elite
Moneyball

September 29
Red State

September 30
50/50
Breakaway
Courageous
Dream House
Machine Gun Preacher
What’s Your Number?



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September 1, 2011

DVD Tuesday: ‘Top Gun’ and ‘The Borgias’

11:35 am | No Comments » |

DVD Tuesday: ‘Top Gun’ and ‘The Borgias’
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

New this week on DVD and Blu-ray: Tom Cruise soars in the 80s classic, Top Gun, which arrives on Blu-ray to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary; and Jeremy Irons stars in the first season of the period television drama, The Borgias.

Top Gun [Blu-ray]
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt
Director: Tony Scott
Rated: 7.5/10

Growing up in the 80s, I came to love a lot of movies from that era, and some of them have left a lasting impression that plays out every time I watch them. Among those 80s classics, there are a few that give me goose bumps within seconds of the opening music starting to play. Some of those films include Superman, Ghostbusters, and maybe a dozen others, and of course, there is Tony Scott’s very memorable Top Gun.

From the moment that slow beat starts playing, and the planes are taking off in the dark, misty morning on the airplane carrier, I remember being a kid, and later a teenager, wishing I could be as cool as Tom Cruise was in that movie. Pretty much every kid I knew growing up at that point gave up on dreams of being a Ghostbuster and promptly dreamed of being a fighter pilot.

And who can blame them? Watching the movie again now on Blu-ray, I want to be a pilot. Tony Scott may stand in his brother’s shadow frequently, but Top Gun is a classic action movie, and while no one will mistake it for one of Shakespeare classics, it is fun, charming, and a fairly action-packed adventure in the skies.

Cruise stars as Lt. Pete Mitchell, better known as Maverick, a pilot who thinks a lot of himself–a character type Cruise has played a lot over the years–who takes the leap into the greatest flight school in the world, better known as “Top Gun.” Trying to win the heart of one of the instructors, civilian Charlotte Blackwood, played by Kelly McGillis, Maverick and his co-pilot Lt. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, played by Anthony Edwards, have to prove themselves against some of the best pilots out of sheer personal pride. In that fight for “Top Gun” Maverick will also take on one low-down competitor who hates his guts, the killer-cool Ice Man, played by Val Kilmer.

Although the script has some rough patches, and the film does falter at times, Top Gun is a totally rewatchable escape movie with some of the best aerial cinematography of any film from the 80s. The dog-fight sequences are not always entirely convincing, but they are big, intense, and well staged all the same, and they look great on Blu-ray.

Overall the entire film looks pretty fantastic on Blu-ray, actually, to the point where you can see every bead of sweat, every line on the planes, and you can bask in the glory of a young Cruise in one of his more memorable, cocky roles. It’s not a perfect transfer, and there are lots of other films from the 80s that look better on Blu-ray, but it’s a vast improvement over anything we’ve seen on home video before.

Extras packed onto the Blu-ray include a fantastic commentary track with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Scott, the screenwriter, and some of the military advisors, which gives some really unique perspectives on how the film was made and brought to life, if you haven’t seen these features before on some of the other packages. There are also multiple standard definition featurettes on the making of the film, and storyboards, to name a few of the main extras.

This is really a great package that celebrates this film that left such a big mark on audiences, and for those who haven’t seen the film in a while, the Blu-ray will surprise you, and show you the film in a whole new light.

The Borgias – The Complete First Season [Blu-ray]
Starring: Jeremy Irons, FranÁois Arnaud, Holliday Grainger, Joanne Whalley

Director Neil Jordan created a series that the studio likes to refer to as “the first crime family,” following the lives of the powerful Borgia family in Italy back in the year 1492.

Jeremy Irons stars as Rodrigo Borgia, otherwise known as Pope Alexander VI, who rose to power through corruption, and eventually had to fight to keep his ill-earned seat as the College of Cardinals started to plot to take him down.

FranÁois Arnaud co-stars as Cesare Borgia, Rodrigo’s son and co-conspirator, with Holliday Grainger playing Lucrezia Borgia, and Joanne Whalley as Vannozza dei Cattanei.

The popular series has set itself up as the replacement for the Tudors, and promises viewers all the tension of age-old politics that show themselves as all too relevant to our modern political stage.



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August 29, 2011

Film Friday: ‘Our Idiot Brother’ and ‘Colombiana’

3:39 pm | No Comments » |

Film Friday: ‘Our Idiot Brother’ and ‘Colombiana’
By: W. Andrew Powell, The GATE

New arrivals in theatres this weekend include: the comedy Our Idiot Brother, starring Paul Rudd as a hapless hippy; the action extravaganza Colombiana, starring Zoe Saldana; plus the horror film, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark with Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes.

Our Idiot Brother
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy
Director: Jesse Peretz

What do you do with a happy-go-lucky but somewhat useless sibling when their life takes yet another nosedive that leaves them homeless and without anywhere to go? For Liz, Miranda and Natalie–played by Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel–they share their homes with him, taking turns at caring for their brother Ned, played by Paul Rudd, who really seems to have no cares in the world, but also can’t seem to take care of himself.

Ned brings with him trouble, of course, as his belief in pure honesty leads to problems for all three sisters, creating conflicts and making the women wonder why Ned can’t just be like everyone else.

As they get to know their brother even better though, it’s possible Ned may have some lessons to teach his sisters, but it could be a tough road to wisdom and happiness.

Earning this weekend’s best reviews–just barely–Our Idiot Brother may not be the funniest film of the year, but as usual, much has been said of Rudd, even if the rest of the film is a little overdone.

“The hippie jokes are as obvious as Ned’s shaggy beard,” wrote Peter Paras for E! Online, “but that’s OK since this story about a painfully nice guy mostly works.”

Katey Rich of CinemaBlend.com was less positive, however, writing: “It’s a shame to see Rudd given a role that lets him hit it out of the park in a movie that never comes close to matching him.”

Colombiana
Starring: Zoe Saldana, Jordi Molla, Lennie James, Amandla Stenberg, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis
Director: Olivier Megaton

From Transporter 3 director Olivier Megaton, and writer/producer Luc Besson comes the latest femme fatale story about the young Cataleya, played by Zoe Saldana, who turned to the life of an assassin after she saw her parents killed when she was a child.

Working with her uncle, she only has one goal, and that’s to bring her parents’ killer, who happens to be a mobster, to justice; whatever it takes.

Following Besson’s other films which focused on deadly-smart killer ladies, most notably La Femme Nikita (although the theme is a popular one for Besson, whether you’re talking about The Fifth Element of Angel A), Colombiana puts Saldana into yet another role that asks little of her acting skills, and much more on her sex appeal. If that’s enough for you, this film might be passable, and the reviews are heavily mixed for and against how the film unspools.

Jim Vejvoda wrote for IGN Movies, “Despite its borderline campiness and arrested adolescent mentality, Colombiana succeeds in delivering the goods as a fun albeit formulaic action flick that’s most notable for Zoe Saldana’s stone-cold yet still sexy performance.”

While Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com wrote, even more enthusiastically, “A movie so addicted to the crack pipe of delirious cinematic badness that it has real potential as a camp classic.”

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
Starring: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Alan Dale, Julia Blake
Director: Troy Nixey

Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes star as Alex and Kim, a new couple working to restore a mansion that seems to have a very dark history. As Alex’s daughter Sally, played by Katie Holmes, explores the old estate, she is drawn further into the building by voices that call to her from somewhere beyond. As she follows the voices, she helps set free a dark force that threatens to consume the home and everyone in it, but as is so often for unfortunate children in horror movies, no one believes her warnings.

Directed by comic book artist-turned filmmaker Troy Nixey, this adaptation of the original made-for-TV movie has mixed reviews, and as Rene Rodriguez wrote for the Miami Herald, “Despite all the care that has been put into it, the film doesn’t transcend its dime-store horror roots.”

Peter Howell similarly dismissed the film, writing for the Toronto Star, “This artless film even approaches child abuse, in the way it crassly reconfigures the protagonist from the besieged adult woman of the original into a neglected and terrified tot.”



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