Kevin Costner cocks the starter pistol, Liam Neeson runs all night, John Travolta fakes it, Colin Firth pops his brolly and Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart Get Hard — but it’s Red Army’s Fetisov who scores on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD, writes Katherine Monk
By Katherine Monk
Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Morgan Saylor. Directed by Niki Caro. Running time: 129 minutes. Parental Guidance.
In sports movies, cliché comes on the side – like coleslaw. You don’t ask for it, and you may not even like it, but there it is: a little white paper cup filled with shredded cabbage, a silent affirmation that you got what you paid for. The coleslaw in McFarland is the idea of the underdog competitor, in this case, a group of Latino high school students in southern California. Jim White (Kevin Costner) used to coach football at a school for privileged white kids, but after he loses his temper, he’s fired and forced to take a job at McFarland high school – a run-down, underfunded institution on the Mexican border where most kids work in the fields before and after school. Coach White tries to whip the football team into shape, but fortunately, the Friday Night Lights references stop in the first act. McFarland will never have a competitive football team, but with a little training and discipline, they could have an elite team of cross-country runners. It’s Chariots of Fire and The Blind Side, with an earnest message about family. But thanks to director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) and the dependable Kevin Costner, the stiffer scripted moments about limited financial opportunities and institutional racism never lose their human touch. As a result, when the big clichés do arrive — the big track meet, the slow-motion running in the sand, the dramatic moment of confrontation – they feel expected and in context, but like coleslaw, we don’t have to eat it unless we really want to.
Special features: McFarland Reflections from the real members of Jim White’s 1987 Cross-Country Track Team.
Run All Night (2015)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Running time: 114 minutes. Restricted.
In Run All Night, Liam Neeson does what Liam Neeson does best these days: He uses his big body to kick bad guy butt and flexes his thespian muscles to infuse macho characters with emotional vulnerabilities. In this brooding man saga, Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, boyhood friend and favoured goon to Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Joined at the hip and eternally loyal to one another, both men thought their BFF status was immutable, but when Jimmy kills Shawn’s son to save his own, happy days are done. Shawn has to kill Jimmy, because that’s how these man clan movies go down: in one giant, gullet-stinging gulp – like a saloon shooter of cheap whiskey. Because Neeson and Harris are two of the more talented actors of their generation, and because both of them are clearly having a good time playing up the rough stuff, Run All Night pulls off the action with a workable film noir edge.
Special features: Ultra-violet features for multi-platform play.
Red Army (2014)
Starring: Viacheslav Fetisov, Scotty Bowman, Anatoli Karpov, Vladisav Tretiak. Directed by Gabe Polsky. Running time: 76 minutes. Parental Guidance.
For Canadians, any movie about Soviet-era hockey would hinge on the historic goal from Paul Henderson that resulted in Team Canada’s victory in the 1972 Summit Series. So cinch up your jockstrap and get ready for a slapshot to the senses, because Red Army doesn’t include Henderson’s goal. Director Gabe Polsky is American, so this look back on the glory days of the Red Army team is as much about hockey as it is about ideology – and how each informs the other. With all-star Viacheslav Fetisov as our central guide, the viewer is treated to first-person accounts of the Soviet program, and how unorthodox it was. From borrowing ballet techniques to nurturing creative puck play, the Soviets had a unique system that reinvented the way the game was played. On one hand, Red Army celebrates a revolutionary approach to sport, but it also shows us the misery of living under a tyrannical regime, where individual happiness wasn’t part of the communist equation. Polsky pokes just enough to scare up the scars of the past, exposing the Cold War side of an already icy game.
Special features: Deleted scenes, interview with Scotty Bowman, Q&A with Gabe Polsky and US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, audio commentary with Polsky and Werner Herzog, Toronto International Film Festival footage.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Mark Hamill. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Running time: 129 minutes. Restricted.
Thanks to the groundwork laid by Ian Fleming, we’ve come to believe the world of international espionage is populated by men in well-tailored tuxedos who speak the Queen’s English. It’s a lovely thought that makes bloodletting and political assassination look classy, but Matthew Vaughn gets his hands dirty in this adaption of The Secret Service graphic novels. Colin Firth stars as old-school Harry, a Bond-type agent who can neutralize a room full of baddies with his trusted umbrella, but Harry needs a new generation of recruits and taps a guttersnipe named Gary Unwin (Taron Egerton) to lead the next wave. Suddenly, political intrigue and stopping madmen from destroying the world take on a hint of class difference, which changes the whole mood. Vaughn pushes too hard in spots and scratches at crass with volleys of sexism and gory violence, but thanks to Firth, we’ve always got one foot on the sidewalk while the other’s in the gutter, and with Samuel L. Jackson as the deliriously funny bad guy, the cartoonish parts of film rescue the endeavor from the grotesque.
Special features, DVD and Blu-ray: Several behind the scenes featurettes on the making of the film, commentary.
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja. Directed by Neill Blomkamp. Running time: 120 minutes. Restricted.
Part Robocop, part Pinocchio, Neill Blomkamp’s latest revolves around an artificial life form who dreams of becoming a real boy – or at least a real Scout. Born an average robot designed to protect the citizens of Johannesburg from thugs, Chappie had no feelings – just a subroutine designed by his creator, Deon (Dev Patel). Deon believes police work depends on emotions and interpersonal skills, but his rival thinks otherwise. Vincent (Hugh Jackman) believes in brute strength, as well as bad haircuts. It’s a nuts and bolts good versus evil debate, with a little bit of Blade Runner thrown in for good measure because Chappie – our little boy droid – has a fixed life span. He wants more time, but endings bring purpose, and Blomkamp knows pathos demands pain. He gets it all in, but some of it never fits together. References to previous films clash with plot points, leaving the whole movie emotionally muddled and Hugh Jackman stranded in a mudflap mullet.
Special features, DVD and Blu-ray: Alternate ending, nine featurettes on the making of the film.
Get Hard (2015)
Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, T.I., Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Ariana Neal, Edwina Findley Dickerson. Directed by: Etan Cohen. Running time: 100 minutes. Restricted.
It certainly looks moronic and offensive, but Get Hard is surprisingly soft in its approach to undeniable social ills, whether it’s the income gap, systemic racism or the very real possibility of experiencing violent sexual abuse in prison. In fact, this buddy comedy featuring the beautifully dissimilar duo of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart feels like a more “mature” version of Superbad – providing the “mature” part applies strictly to the chronological age of the two leads – because the movie is a juvenile study in both male friendship and masculine fear. It’s also a very subtle and rather clever critique of the dominant white culture embodied here by the character of James King (Will Ferrell), a trader at a wealth management firm in Los Angeles. When James is hauled off in handcuffs for insider trading, he enlists the help of Darnell (Kevin Hart) to get him ready for the hoosegow. He just assumed Darnell had done hard time because he’s black. It’s satire that cuts so close to the nail bed, it bleeds, but with Farrell and Hart as mental hangnails, Get Hard is worth a nibble.
Special features: Put Your Lips Together and Blow, Line-O-Rama, the Kevin Hart Workout, Ferrell Fighting and more.
All the Wrong Reasons (2013)
Starring: Cory Monteith, Karine Vanasse, Kevin Zegers, Emily Hampshire. Directed by Gia Milani. Running time: 125 minutes. 14A
Cory Monteith hands in a performance so solid and subtle, it makes his untimely death all the more tragic as we wonder what he might have done after graduating from Glee. Starring opposite Karine Vanasse and a stellar ensemble of Canadian talent, Monteith plays James, manager at a big box store where just about everyone is suffering from an identity crisis. Though they all wear name tags, no one is sure where they fit in. Kevin Zegers plays a firefighter who lost an arm, Vanasse plays a woman who lost a family member and Monteith plays a man who has a lot, but still wants more. Director Milani does a nice job choreographing all these Cinderellas at the ball, and while some of it just feels desperately sad, the big scenes have enough goofy humour to get them over the big bumps.
Special features: Unavailable.
The Forger (2014)
Starring: John Travolta, Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan, Abigail Spencer. Directed by: Philip Martin. Running time: 92 minutes. Restricted.
The allure of an art movie involving master forgers and a big heist is hard to deny, but then you see John Travolta in a goatee holding a paint brush and a palette, and everything goes kerflooey. A somewhat ridiculous script that only gets worse the harder everyone tries, The Forger stars Travolta as the titular faker serving hard time for past art crimes. He’s just about finished his sentence when his kid (Tye Sheridan) gets sick, but the only way he can get out is with the help of an old business acquaintance, who forces him into one last job. He’s got to forge a famous Monet – Woman with a Parasol – and he’s got to do it in record time. The painting scenes are pure comedy because Travolta is laughable as a painter, even with a goatee. Too bad his co-stars, Tye Sheridan and Christopher Plummer, are fantastic because it only makes the movie feel more unbalanced as a composition as it moves from unintentional inanity to edgy drama in the space of a silly whisker.
Special features, home releases: Identify the forger featurette.
Wild Tales (2014)
Starring: Dario Grandinetti, Maria Maruli, Monica Villa, Rita Cortese. Directed by Damian Szifron. Running time: 122 minutes. Restricted.
The opening scene is unsettling because it mirrors recent tragedy: Passengers on a plane realize they all know each other, and they all slighted the same person who just happens to be pilot. As the plane nosedives to the ground, the title comes up. It’s a very dark beginning and while Wild Tales came out theatrically before the Germanwings disaster, it’s hard to dodge the idea that maybe, just maybe, the movie played some kind of role in the tragedy because the whole film is about people who feel screwed over by life. This is about the little people who get picked on by the government, the fiancée who realized the groom was two-timing and the guy who cut you off down the road. We all have revenge fantasies, and here, Argentinian director Damian Szifron plays them all out in graphic fashion. There’s no doubt it’s satisfying to see bad people punished, but everyone in this movie feels a little too human to merit such awful payback, which leaves the viewer sucking on a lollipop of complicity until we get the all clear in the final vignette, pushing us to forgive and forget instead of stewing over old ego bruises.
Special features include: English subtitles.
While We’re Young (2014)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried. Directed by Noah Baumbach. Running time: 97 minutes. Restricted.
You see them at every restaurant opening and Pixies reunion: aging hipsters struggling to stay hip by getting tattoos or trading in wrinkled partners for perky new ones. They wear hats, flat front trousers and often wear a Baby-Bjorn to outdoor concerts – complete with real baby – because who says parenthood means spending the rest of your life in cargo shorts and a golf shirt? Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) have watched their friends embrace middle age and parenting, but they’re not sure if they even want kids – especially since it’s turned their friends into diaper-changing bores. So when they meet childless, 20-something Jamie (Adam Driver) and his girlfriend Darby (Amanda Seyfried), they feel released. The foursome find an easy friendship, but mostly because Jamie is so keen on kissing Josh’s middle-aged butt. Flattered and feeling cool, Josh thinks he’s a mentor. But ego is a cruel master, and by the time Josh realizes he was just being used for his connections, Noah Baumbach’s comedy has already taken a bow at his expense. Because Stiller is so good at being egotistical while affecting self-effacement, and because Adam Driver is so gifted at being a douchebag, While We’re Young is a great study in the art of denial.
Special features: Six behind the scenes vignettes, including The Cast, Working with Noah Baumbach, Generation Tech, Working with Charles Grodin, Ayahuasca Ceremony, Hip-Hop Class.