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Blu-ray Release: Spy

October 6, 2015

By John Corrado

Spy Blu-rayLast week, 20th Century Fox released the hit summer comedy Spy on Blu-ray.  Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a desk bound analyst at the CIA, constantly relegated to giving directions to field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through an earpiece.  But when the identities of their other agents are compromised, she volunteers to go undercover and travel to Europe, to stop a deadly arms dealer (Rose Byrne) from selling a nuclear weapon.

Directed by Paul Feig and featuring Melissa McCarthy in one of her finest performances, continuing their comedic winning streak after past collaborations Bridesmaids and The Heat, Spy is very funny and a lot of fun, delightfully riffing on espionage thrillers while also becoming a solid entry into the genre in its own right.

Motormouthed in her delivery of the fast paced dialogue, and more than holding her own in the action scenes, Melissa McCarthy is in top form throughout, and there are few things funnier than watching her trade insults with Rose Byrne.  Jason Statham is also surprisingly hilarious in a supporting role as a rival agent.  Delivering big laughs, alongside some expertly choreographed fight scenes and gleefully over the top set pieces, Spy is a rousing success that offers exactly what you want from an action comedy.

The Blu-ray includes both theatrical and unrated versions of the film, commentary with the filmmakers, deleted and alternate scenes, gag reels and outtakes, and multiple featurettes on the production.

Spy is 120 minutes and rated 14A.  The extended cut is 130 minutes and rated 18A.

DVD Release: Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!)

October 6, 2015

By John Corrado

Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown DVDParamount is releasing the 1980 animated feature Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!) for the first time on DVD today, for fans to revisit before The Peanuts Movie opens in a few weeks.  The film follows Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty and Marcie as they travel to Europe as exchange students, getting into plenty of misadventures along the way, with Snoopy and Woodstock in tow to enjoy the pampered lifestyle.

The fourth theatrically released film to feature Charles Schulz’s beloved characters, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!) is a frequently entertaining comic travelogue, that still holds up from when I first saw it as a child.  It’s especially worth seeing for the wonderful interludes involving Snoopy and Woodstock, who are in mischievous and adorable top form.

The DVD also includes a new featurette on the production.

Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!) is 76 minutes and rated G.

Review: The Martian

October 2, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The Martian Poster“I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this,” Mark Watney (Matt Damon) deadpans at one point during The Martian, and watching the resourceful astronaut do just that provides one of the greatest moviegoing experiences of the year, in a rare blockbuster that manages to be smart, inspiring and effervescently cool.

Adapting Andy Weir’s bestselling novel for the screen, this is also director Ridley Scott’s best work in years, a remarkable return to form for the filmmaker who first got his start in the science fiction genre.  It’s simply that good.

Left stranded and presumed dead on Mars, after Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of his six person crew are forced to make the tough decision to leave without him in the wake of an unexpected storm, Mark Watney must figure out a way to survive by himself on the red planet.

Putting his degree in botany to good use, and figuring out a way to grow his own potatoes to go alongside the limited rations, the stranded astronaut struggles to make contact with his team back on earth, coming to terms with his sudden solitude and possible mortality.  Meanwhile, NASA chief Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his scientific advisor Venkat Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are struggling to work through all of the corporate red tape and complex manoeuvring needed to send a rescue mission, while trying to keep things out of the media spotlight, lest the astronaut doesn’t make it home.

Left on his own for pretty much all of his scenes, Matt Damon commands the screen in one his absolute best performances, tough and resourceful in his fear of not being found, but with all of his usual charm still intact.  The internal monologues of the book are brought to life through voiceover and video logs, and the actor excels at delivering both the sharp quips and moments of emotional reflection.  The supporting cast of familiar faces is also uniformly excellent, with a refreshing amount of both gender and racial equality between them.  Even the bit players, like Kristen Wiig as the public relations boss and Donald Glover as a young science nerd, are given plenty of memorable moments.

Drew Goddard’s screenplay is filled with sharp dialogue, as the story finds ingeniously clever solutions to its character’s increasing obstacles, priding itself on intelligence every step of the way, and making science and math look oh so cool.  Ridley Scott directs with a genuine eye for visual effects, conjuring up some spectacular images and seeming utterly confident behind the camera, delivering a space epic that deserves to be mentioned alongside his previous science fiction classics Alien and Blade Runner.  This is all set to a great soundtrack that offers its own “Awesome Mix” of pumping 1970s hits.

Thrilling, visually stunning and above all else extremely entertaining, The Martian is an incredible achievement by all involved, offering a shining and bighearted example of the absolute best that modern blockbuster filmmaking has to offer.  And with the recent discovery of water on Mars, there’s simply no better place to hang out for a couple of hours.

Review: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

October 2, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead PosterAfter playing at Hot Docs, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon opens at the Bloor Cinema this weekend, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Through interviews and archival footage, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon entertainingly charts the promising rise and tragic fall of the popular humour magazine in the 1970s and ’80s, giving overdue recognition to the brilliantly twisted minds behind the crude and satirical publication.

The magazine branched off into popular radio and stage shows that helped launch the careers of comic greats like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Jim Belushi, before Saturday Night Live snatched them up.  The publication also paved the way for cinematic classics like Animal House, Caddyshack and Vacation, and provided a much needed platform for the early writing of John Hughes, who revealed his own filthy streak through short stories.

Director Doug Tirola has put together a smoothly edited package that transports us right back to this drug-fuelled era, filled with great stories and some genuinely hilarious moments, underscored by a surprisingly touching sense of nostalgia for this bygone era of uncensored comedy.  Although some of the magazine’s more extreme humour might seem sexist or politically incorrect by current standards, it’s all very representative of the time period, and often admittedly quite funny.

Profane and fearlessly outspoken in its no holds barred recounting of a crucial moment in comedic history, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is not only one of the most wildly entertaining documentaries of the year, it’s also among the absolute best.

Review: Finders Keepers

October 2, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Finders Keepers PosterAfter playing at Hot Docs, Finders Keepers is opening at the Bloor Cinema this weekend, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

The truth really is stranger than fiction in Finders Keepers, a compellingly absurd and surprisingly emotional documentary, that recounts the entirely bizarre story of two men in South Carolina who were both fighting over the same amputated leg, in a heated battle that eventually took them to court.

John Wood is the rightful owner of the missing body part, having lost the leg in a tragic plane crash, and deciding to keep it as a way to memorialize his father, who died in the accident.  But when he lost his home and was unable to pay the bills on the storage locker where the decaying leg was being kept in an old smoker grill, all of his possessions were sold at auction.

The foot ended up in the hands of small town entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who always dreamed of being famous and found what he thought was his golden opportunity when he purchased that grill, fashioning the leg into a tourist attraction and claiming ownership over the severed body part.  As John battles drug addictions and long buried survivor’s guilt in his fight to reclaim the amputated leg, and Shannon faces the sensationalistic approach of the media, forcing him to start coming to terms with his constantly dashed dreams of being famous, we become invested in their oddly poignant plight.

Directors Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel capture all of the weird twists and turns of their stories, moving seamlessly between pitch black comedy and gutting tragedy.  Both darkly funny and often strangely moving, Finders Keepers is a unique and well made documentary that successfully balances absurd entertainment and genuine heartbreak, offering an engaging and surprisingly layered human drama, that is both respectful of and empathetic towards the larger than life characters involved.

Blu-ray Release: Avengers: Age of Ultron

October 2, 2015

By John Corrado

Age of Ultron Blu-rayThis weekend, the recent summer blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron is being released on Blu-ray.  When Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) resurrects his old peacekeeping program in a desperate attempt to keep his teammates safe, the result is a powerful force of artificial intelligence known as Ultron (James Spader), that takes the form of a broken down android, wreaking havoc on humanity in an attempt to jumpstart the next phase of evolution.

Although Avengers: Age of Ultron is a largely overblown sequel that never quite matches the rousing success of its 2012 predecessor, the film still modestly delivers in terms of sheer spectacle and easygoing fun, elevated once again by the excellent cast and entertaining characters.  The Blu-ray comes easily recommended for fans, and you can read our three views of the film right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with writer-director Joss Whedon, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, a “making of” featurette, a tour of the locations where the film was shot, and a brief overview of the six Infinity Stones for those less versed in comic lore.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is 141 minutes and rated PG.

Criterion Release: Moonrise Kingdom

September 29, 2015

By John Corrado

Moonrise Kingdom Blu-rayWes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was rereleased on Blu-ray last week, through the Criterion Collection.  Narrated by Bob Balaban, the film follows Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and young booklover Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a pair of twelve year olds who fall in love and run away together, prompting a search party to try and find them, under the dedicated guidance of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).

Having never hit a wrong note throughout his unique body of work, Wes Anderson deserves recognition as one of our finest filmmakers, and Moonrise Kingdom is among his most beloved films, a delightful adventure and touching romance that has resonated deeply with both critics and audiences since it was first released in 2012.

With memorably unique characters, a great cast all performing in perfectly choreographed unison, and frame after frame of gorgeously composed visuals that masterfully evoke feelings of nostalgia, this is a true work of art, that ranks as one of the most unforgettable coming of age films in recent memory.  A natural fit for the Criterion Collection, that continues their proud tradition of doing justice to Wes Anderson’s films, this beautifully packaged set really is the definitive edition of Moonrise Kingdom, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.  My original review of the film can be found right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a new commentary track featuring Wes Anderson, co-writer Roman Coppola and cast members Bill Murray and Edward Norton, a series of home movies that Edward Norton filmed on set, and multiple other featurettes.  The package also comes with a nicely illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a selection of comments from various young writers, as well as a foldout map of New Penzance Island, where the film takes place.

Moonrise Kingdom is 94 minutes and rated PG.

Blu-ray Release: The Rocky Horror Picture Show: 40th Anniversary Celebration

September 29, 2015

By John Corrado

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Blu-rayLast week, 20th Century Fox released The Rocky Horror Picture Show: 40th Anniversary Celebration on Blu-ray, a sparkly new edition of the 1975 classic.  A mashup of comedy, musical and horror, the film follows Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon), an innocent young couple who get stranded at the isolated residence of transsexual Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), and his latest creation (Peter Hinwood).

Remaining alive and well through midnight shows that encourage audience participation, and yearly viewings around Halloween, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the most successful and enduring cult classics of all time, and this new edition is a real treat for fans.

Building a rich legacy for itself after initially flopping in theatres exactly four decades ago, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has cemented itself as an iconic pop cultural staple, remaining the longest running theatrical release in history.  Filled with themes of sexual liberation that were groundbreaking for the time, and a soundtrack of genuinely catchy songs, this is a darkly funny camp classic that still provides ample entertainment.  Now let’s all do the Time Warp again, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of this landmark musical.

The Blu-ray comes packed with bonuses, including both the US and UK versions of the film, commentary with Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn, a karaoke track, deleted scenes and outtakes, photo galleries, as well as multiple other featurettes on the legacy of the film and midnight showings.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is 100 minutes and rated 14A.

DVD Release: I’ll See You in My Dreams

September 29, 2015

By John Corrado

I'll See You in My Dreams DVDToday, Elevation Pictures is releasing I’ll See You in My Dreams on DVD.  Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) is a former singer still grieving the death of her husband, who has settled into a quiet routine on her own, including frequent bridge games with her trio of friends (June Squibb, Rhea Perlman and Mary Kay Place) at the local retirement home.

But through a budding friendship with her kindhearted pool cleaner Lloyd (Martin Starr), and a burgeoning relationship with the charming and retired Bill (Sam Elliott), she starts to find new perspectives on life.

Director Brett Haley has crafted a heartfelt and all around wonderful little film, with engaging characters brought to life through a uniformly excellent cast, and a beautifully written screenplay that includes moments of delightful humour.  This is a quiet, tender and touching drama about growing older and finding new connections, built around a moving performance from Blythe Danner, who shines in one of the finest roles of her career.

The DVD also includes a brief promotional featurette on the film.

I’ll See You in My Dreams is 97 minutes and rated PG.

Review: Grandma

September 25, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Grandma PosterFor a progressively minded and refreshingly character driven dramedy, that offsets the laughs with some genuinely moving twinges of bittersweetness, Grandma is surprisingly balanced and often quietly remarkable in its approach to the potentially tricky subject matter of its central story.

Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) is an aging feminist and misanthropic poet, still grieving the relatively recent death of her longtime partner, and struggling to reconcile with her daughter (Marcia Gay Harden).  When the film opens, she has just broken up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer), an event that unwittingly launches her headlong into one of the most eventful days of her life.

Shortly after, her estranged granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up on her doorstep, needing to borrow over six hundred dollars for an abortion already scheduled that afternoon.  This quest of sorts sends them both on a journey of old friends and past regrets, desperately trying to track down enough money and get to the clinic on time, to terminate the unwanted teen pregnancy.

Wearing a faded denim jacket and beat up old pair of sneakers, Elle Reid is like a walking representation of a bygone era, a product of the 1960s feminist movement, who is admirably unapologetic in her views and demands our respect because of that.  Lily Tomlin brings this woman to irrepressible life, and even the quirkier touches of the character, like the choice to cut up her credit cards and turn them into a wind chime, feel completely authentic because of her captivating and lived in performance.

Julia Garner more than holds her own and shines brightly as the young charge, and the rest of the ensemble cast is equally solid.  Nat Wolff is amusing as the obligatory loser boyfriend, Laverne Cox leaves her mark as a sympathetic tattoo artist, and Judy Greer nicely fleshes out her few scenes as the unfairly dumped girlfriend.  Sam Elliot brings incredible depth to his brief role as a surprising old flame, displaying an entire range of emotion and heartbreaking shared history over the span of only a few minutes, proving that sometimes all you need is a single scene to craft a memorable character.

At just 79 minutes, Grandma is a small film that leaves a big mark, and it’s also writer-director Paul Weitz’s best work since his Oscar-nominated About a Boy in 2002.  But Lily Tomlin is the real star here, bringing biting humour and emotional nuance to the memorable title relation, shining in one of the best roles of her career.  Like the film itself, her performance and character is entertaining and eminently watchable, while also injecting a powerful sense of underlying pathos to the story.


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