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TIFF 2019 Capsule Reviews: 'Pain and Glory' and 'Bad Education'

Two terrific yet polar opposite depictions of the middle-aged gay perspective.
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Both Pain and Glory and Bad Education are completely different films, yet they’re connected by their depictions of middle-aged gay protagonists. Even if one has slightly more quality than the other, both pictures still showcase gay men in their complicated glory. Speaking of the word “glory,” Pain and Glory certainly lives up to the latter half of its title. Pedro Almodovar’s latest picture is a gem about the power of art being used as a form of catharsis. Acting as a stand-in for Almodovar, Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker facing a career decline. As he questions where

The Chairman Blu-ray Review: Mr. Peck Goes to China

Gregory Peck and J. Lee Thompson team up for a third and final time in this dullard of a spy flick.
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For their third and final collaboration director J. Lee Thompson and Gregory Peck made The Chairman, a spy thriller about an anti-violence academic sent to Communist China to steal a plant enzyme. It is just exactly as exciting as that sounds. Peck plays John Hathaway, a Nobel Prize-winning professor who used to do a little espionage on the side. He gave that and violence up altogether when his wife died in a car crash that caused him to realize all life is precious. But when the President calls asking him to go to China because they’ve developed a secret enzyme

The Beatles: Made on Merseyside DVD Review: Offers Little New Information

New or casual Beatles fans may find the documentary to be interesting only if they are largely unfamiliar with the group's history.
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In 1964, Americans viewed the Beatles as seemingly coming out of nowhere, rapidly scoring hits and inciting Beatlemania. In reality, the group painstakingly learned their craft, toiling in Liverpool and Hamburg clubs until finally signing with the EMI label in 1962. The documentary The Beatles Made on Merseyside attempts to trace this early period, following them from teen years through 1962. Now available on DVD, the film may appeal to casual Beatles fans, but hardcore enthusiasts will find little new information. Wisely dispensing with narration, The Beatles Made on Merseyside relies on interviews with Beatles insiders and archival footage. Beatles

Echo in the Canyon Blu-ray Review: You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears

An important chapter in the history of rock is examined by those involved with it and those influenced by it.
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The “canyon” in question is Laurel Canyon, located in the Hollywood Hills of Southern California. With Jakob Dylan as host, Andrew Slater's documentary looks back at some of the musicians who lived, thrived, and influenced each other in that neighborhood, creating the folk-rock California Sound of 1965-67. The oral history is told through interviews of those who were there, such as David Crosby, Michelle Phillips, and producer Lou Adler; the next generation of musicians who were influenced by them, such as Tom Petty and Jackson Brown; and later generations who appreciate their accomplishments, such as Beck and Regina Specktor. The

The Case of Hana & Alice Blu-ray Review: An Animated Slice of Life

GKids brings us this animated prequel to Shunji Iwai's Hana & Alice which is a lovely, episodic, charming day in the life of a burgeoning friendship.
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In 2004 Japanese director Shunji Iwai made Hana & Alice, a live-action movie about two high school students who both fall in love with the same boy. Slightly more than a decade later, he made The Case of Hana & Alice which is the story of how those two began their friendship. Rather than cast two different actresses to portray the protagonists younger selves in this prequel, Iwai decided to animate the film and keep the actresses for their voices. Fourteen-year-old Tetsuko Arisugawa, who will later get nicknamed “Alice” (YĆ» Aoi ) moves to the suburbs (or the “sticks” as

The Quiller Memorandum Blu-ray Review: Next Time Make It a Mission Statement

A stacked cast can't make this limp anti-Bond spy thriller the least bit interesting.
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With the success of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, in 1962 there was a mad rush of spy films trying to cash in on the Bond phenomenon. Many of these films were quite clearly ripping off the Bond series with similar plots, similar aesthetics, and spies called Charles, Bind, James Tont, and the like. It got so bad in Italy that United Artists threatened legal action over the use of the 007 designations (which only caused them to switch it to similar numbers like 077). This, in turn, created the anti-Bond sub-genre of films that threw out all

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Dev Patel Dazzles in 'The Personal History of David Copperfield'

A work of uplifting, majestic art.
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One way to describe The Personal History of David Copperfield is that it's a change of pace. It's a stretch for director Armando Ianucci who is best known for his razor sharp satire. Also, it features color-blind casting that should set a new template for period dramas going forward. It’s an old-fashioned story about a man whose ordinary life became an extraordinary tale. Yet, it proves to be effective while properly utilizing the star power of lead actor Dev Patel. Based on the acclaimed novel by Charles Dickens, The Personal History of David Copperfield follows the titular protagonist from his

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Riz Ahmed is a Powerhouse in 'Sound of Metal'

Incredibly rhythmic with an awards-worthy turn from Riz Ahmed.
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Sound of Metal is definitely my tempo. One key reason is that it’s a starring vehicle for Riz Ahmed. He’s been a consummate supporting player in films such as Nightcrawler and Rogue One. Now, he gets an opportunity to show he’s leading man material and effortlessly seizes it. As Ruben, a drummer that loses his ability to hear, Ahmed is a complete powerhouse. Because drumming is all Ruben knows, it feels like his world is starting to crumble. His struggle is an encapsulation of what happens when an artist is deprived of their canvas. How is the artist able to

TIFF 2019 Capsule Reviews: 'Jojo Rabbit' and 'Knives Out' Allow Change in Directorial Pace

Two solid examples of auteur directors using franchise cache to make bold, original material.
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One major plus of being in a franchise is using your clout to make bold, original material. Whether you’re an actor or a director, getting involved in a tentpole property gives you enough cache to make a smaller passion project, allowing the “one for them, one for me” model to continuously formulate. Interestingly, two of the last three films I saw at Toronto involved directors doing just that. Thankfully, both pictures had pretty spectacular results. First off is the WWII satire Jojo Rabbit directed by Taika Waititi. Helming the comical Thor: Ragnarok allowed Waititi to make a satire that walks

True Believer (1989) Blu-ray Review: Blisteringly Performed Courtroom Drama

Briskly paced, excellent acted late 80s drama stars a disillusioned James Woods and a young, idealistic Robert Downey Jr.
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True Believer has been released on Blu-ray in one of Mill Creek's Retro VHS Look packages. While it's the same dimensions as a Blu-ray case, the slip-case over the disc has an old VHS cover on it, complete with a fake genre sticker attached. True Believer's says "Drama" and harkens from an era where drama was one of the dominant genres for motion pictures, back when it was assumed that an actual adult might, under some circumstance, accidentally wander into a movie theater and want to watch something that might arrest their intelligence. And True Believer is one of those

John Carpenter's Vampires Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review: Put a Stake in It

Were this directed by anyone but John Carpenter, it would be a cult classic, but as it is one can only wonder what went wrong.
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An armored van pulls up to a dilapidated house. A group of scruffy-looking men and a priest get out. The van is full of weapons: guns, knives, stakes, and crossbows. The men arm themselves. Out front stands Jack Crow (James Woods). He takes a crossbow, barks orders, and looks cool in his sunglasses. Inside the house is a nest of vampires and this crew has been hired by the Vatican to kill them. The priest blesses them and then it's in for some stabbing. The guns don’t seem to hurt the vamps but they do knock them around. Shots are

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' Is Incredibly Wondrous

A meticulously crafted tribute to the kindness of a beloved icon.
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Just last year, the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? offered a heart wrenching look at the life of the iconic Mister Rogers. Because it covered quite a bit of his legacy, it begs the question of how the new biopic, A Beautiful Day on the Neighborhood, could offer any newer insight into Mister Rogers’s life. As it turns out, Beautiful Day isn’t much of a Mister Rogers biopic. Instead, it’s more about the power of his uncanny kindness and the ability to see the good in the most troubled souls. Souls like journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who begrudgingly

Reap the Wild Wind Blu-ray Review: An Antebellum Epic of Thrilling Adventure and Questionable Romance

For those seeking classic Hollywood adventure, Reap the Wild Wind will fit the bill.
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Based on Thelma Strabel's story that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Cecil B. DeMille's Reap the Wild Wind is an Antebellum epic filled with thrilling adventure but a puzzling love triangle, but the former makes up the latter. Set in 1840, the dangers of seafaring are revealed as the Jubilee, with Captain Jack Stuart (John Wayne) knocked out, wrecks along the rocks off Key West, Florida. Ships head out to save the cargo and crew. Loxi (Paulette Goddard), much more independent than the other women of her era, has taken over her late father's salvage business, though she develop

Chained for Life (2019) Movie Review: Unchained Filmmaking

A darkly funny and scathing examination on how Hollywood treats disability.
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As history has proven time and time again, Hollywood is not always the kindest place for certain people. All of those who want to pursue acting can give it their all and still come up short. And the answer to why they can’t make it simply lies in the fact that they don’t fit the Hollywood mold. Or a certain something about them can only limit them to playing one type. And yet, the big executives are too afraid to really say the truth and simply resort to the usual “You aren’t what we’re seeking” excuse. Even going back into

TIFF 2019 Capsule Reviews: Two Cannes Favorites Make a Big Splash

Two Cannes prize winners from NEON prove to be TIFF highlights.
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At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, we’ve gotten two Cannes premieres from foreign directors exercising films that are simultaneous departures from their usual style and an example of their respective singular visions. Furthermore, they’re both handled by NEON and potential Oscar hopefuls for Best International Feature Film (formerly titled Best Foreign Language Film). Those masterpieces are Parasite by Bong Joon-ho and Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Celine Sciamma. Parasite isn’t a work of science fiction like Okja or Snowpiercer. Yet, it still retains themes involving class division and capitalism present in those two films from Bong Joon-ho.

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: 'Waves' Is Emotionally Shattering and Immersive

A poetically visceral indie gem.
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Given how Waves is a coming-of-age story about an African-American male growing up in south Florida made by A24 Films, comparisons between this and Moonlight feel inevitable. However, the comparisons end right there. Instead, Waves is a poetically visceral gem about masculinity, forgiveness, and family. Even when it gets hard to watch, it still becomes hard to look away. Partially because of the kaleidoscopic cinematography by Drew Daniels, this look at the life of Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), a teenager dealing with his turbulent house life along with particular girlfriend troubles, becomes a marvel to glance at even as it’s

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Jennifer Lopez Is Oscar Worthy in 'Hustlers'

A solid crime dramedy that acts as a tremendous showcase for Jennifer Lopez.
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While Jennifer Lopez has proven herself to be a successful movie star, it feels like it’s been a while since she’s starred in a film as good as her. She’s always been terrific yet hasn’t always tackled challenging roles that solidify how great of an actress she can be. Her latest film Hustlers has relievingly changed that. It’s easily her best performance since her breakout turn in Selena and if we lived in a just world, she’d be an Oscar frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress. In Hustlers, Lopez plays Ramona, a veteran stripper who takes newcomer Destiny (Constance Wu) under

The Snake Pit Blu-ray Review: One of the First and Best Motion Pictures to Bring Mental Illness to Life

A controversial, watershed classic that taps into a relatable topic that afflicts many of us.
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The topic of mental illness today is still a really prickly issue that may people refuse to discuss with others. Either they are dealing with it and don't want anyone else to know, or that they may have someone in their family that's suffering from it. However, there are modern films, such as One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest (1975), A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Melancholia (2011) that depict in their own way, the confusion and misunderstandings that comes with mental illness. Way before all of those films, the 1948 classic The Snake Pit, directed by Anatole Litvak, was one

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx are the Strong Force of 'Just Mercy'

An old-fashioned courtroom drama with strong political urgency and exemplary performances.
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When Destin Daniel Cretton arrived with Short Term 12, he announced himself as a humanistic voice in the indie world. While his voice didn’t quite shine through in his follow-up feature, The Glass Castle, it certainly shines in Just Mercy, his latest film. Just Mercy has the makings of a typical studio courtroom drama, but it still thrives thanks to its political urgency and central performances. Based on a true story, Just Mercy follows the life story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a former Harvard Law School graduate looking to represent people poorly oppressed by the legal system. His

The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Gentle Ozu Comedy

Grandmaster filmmaker Ozu's minor, observant comedy about the growing differences between a middle-aged married couple.
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The first thing to get used to in an Ozu film is the camera perspective. He never (or at least rarely) does the normal over-the-shoulder shot and counter shot for conversations. Ozu tends to shoot things from a constant upward angle. It has been analogized to a POV from someone sitting, in traditional Japanese style on a mat, legs folded underneath. The view is tilted slightly upward, never straight on or from above. The second element of Ozu's filmmaking that has to be taken into consideration is the secondary nature of the plot. There are stories in all of his

The Lavender Hill Mob / The Man in the White Suit Blu-ray Reviews: An Alec Guinness Two-Fer

Alec Guinness shows off his comedic side in the two classics from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
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This weekend I caught a Fathom events screening of Lawrence of Arabia. That is a movie made for the big screen and I was thrilled to finally see it in that format. Alec Guinness plays a relatively minor, yet important role in that film and it made me think of his long career. Today, he is probably best known as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise old Jedi in Star Wars. After that, he’s likely known for his performances in David Lean epics like the aforementioned Lawrence, or The Bridge on the River Kwai. He is such an impressive dramatic actor it

The Koker Trilogy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Rise of Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami’s mid-career trio of films announced him to the international film community
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This series of Iranian films is a trilogy in only the loosest sense, as they don’t share overlapping casts or themes. Their only real common denominators are their writer/director, Abbas Kiarostami, and their filming location of Koker in a remote, rural area of northern Iran. The later films are influenced by the first film, especially since they explore the effects of a devastating earthquake that occurred after the first film, but there is no narrative throughline tying them together. Taken as a whole, they paint a picture of a region in transition, grappling with modernization and disaster recovery as old

Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy Blu-ray Review: New Wave Filmmaking, Naked Ladies

Challenging, evocative films from the Japanese New Wave that contemplate aspects of the Buddhist religion, with lots of sex.
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It's difficult to put a modern film-fan in the mind of a viewer from the past, because of the nature of the medium. Editing and compositional techniques that were once avant-garde become incorporated into the language of cinema so quickly that it can be hard to appreciate how mold-breaking films could be, since the most effective techniques of the vanguard rapidly become the de riguer filmmaking of the commercial set. Jump cuts and non-linear narrative used to be wildly experimental - just a decade later they're regularly used in network television, the most staid and crowd-friendly of visual entertainment. This

Alps Blu-ray Review: Weird, Wild, and Confusing

Yorgos Lanthimos' follow-up to Dogtooth is an obtuse, obfuscated, thrilling piece of filmmaking that is worth the watching even if you come out of it completely confused.
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Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos often makes movies about insular groups of people who live in absurdist worlds that create and uphold outlandish rules. Yet he somehow makes them seem real and often surprisingly sympathetic. Coming off the festival circuit success of Dogtooth - in which two parents keep their three children locked inside a compound teaching them the outside world is full of violence and make up new definitions for common words - he wrote and directed Alps about a group of people who, for a fee, pretend to be the recently deceased for their grieving relatives. It is just

Kind Hearts and Coronets Blu-ray Review: An Influential Cinema Landmark

The 1949 black comedy masterpiece from Ealing Studios gets a new upgrade, courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
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I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I prefer British comedy over American comedy. The British have a lock on deadpan humor; you either get or you don't. There are themes of class, wealth, and sexual mores that surface every level of this type of humor, that there is a certain reality to it all. Director Robert Hamer's 1949 celebrated satrical classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets, just may be the best of them all, and also the greatest that Ealing Studios produced during the golden age of British cinema. Loosely based on a novel by

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am Movie Review: A Quiet Passion for Life, for Knowledge, and for Words

The documentary examines the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author's life through interviews and archival footage.
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The Pieces I Am, Timothy Greenfield-Sander’s straightforward documentary about the late Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, consists (mostly) of Morrison talking directly to the camera as she discusses her work and her life. Other interviewees include Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Fran Lebowitz, screenwriter Russell Banks, and poet Sonia Sanchez. The documentary also shows clips from interviews Morrison did with Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers, and oters. There’s footage of the author receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, and other archival clips. Morrison passed away at the age of 88 in early August, leaving behind a body of

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) Blu-ray Review: Long Live the King

Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah join the Monsterverse franchise in a global battle royale that is heavy on CGI fighting and destruction.
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Director/co-writer Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which takes its name (minus the exclamation point) from the re-edited American version of Godzilla (1954) is the third installment in Legendary's MonsterVerse. With their existence hinted at during the post-credit sequence of Kong: Skull Island, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah join the new franchise in a global battle royale that is heavy on CGI fighting and destruction. Set five years after the events of Godzilla (2014), quite a few monsters, dubbed “Titans,” are unleashed upon the world and battle for supremacy. On a smaller scale, a fractured family is dealing with

The Banana Splits Movie Blu-ray Review: The Bananas 'Dole' out Some Death

Take a live-action kids show from the '60s and throw in some creative murders with lots of gore, and it’s a win-win! Right?
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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided Ron Ruhman with a free copy of the Blu-ray reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions shared are his own. The Banana Splits Adventure Hour premiered on NBC as part of their Saturday morning line-up in September of 1968 and featured the fictional rock group The Banana Splits. The group was comprised of four costumed characters: Fleegle, a dog; Bingo, an ape; Drooper, a lion; and Snorky, an elephant. Not a banana in the bunch. They had a clubhouse where they held meetings and rocked out, while introducing animated segments such as The Arabian Knights

Ready or Not Movie Review: A Brilliantly Scathing Horror Satire

A killer game of hide-and-seek with more going on underneath.
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Getting married can be absolutely terrifying. It’s not just scary because of the nuptials or the uncertainty of what lies ahead after the ceremony. It’s dealing with in-laws that can be frightening. Especially in-laws that force you to take part in a fight for survival. Thankfully, not many people can say they’ve had those types of run-ins after they’ve gotten married. However, Ready or Not still serves as an absurd yet thrilling allegory for how discomforting in-laws can be. When Grace (Samara Weaving) marries Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), she thinks she’s found a great catch. Someone who’s a decent

Vita & Virginia Movie Review: Disappointingly Dry with Committed Lead Performances

Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki wonderfully elevate a biopic hampered by contrivances.
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When Vita and Virginia first opens, Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) explains the gender roles expected within her time period. Despite being a novelist, women like her are supposed to be viewed as subordinate and cherish their titles as "wife" and "mother." However, Vita has a rebellious spirit that is reflective of the film itself. Vita and Virginia attempts to break free from biopic standards even as it nearly becomes handicapped by them. The story follows Vita and her forbidden romance with famed author Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). During their blissful period, Vita became the eventual inspiration for Orlando, Woolf’s most

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