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DVD Review: SpongeBob SquarePants: The First & Second Seasons and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Third & Fourth Seasons 2-Season Gift Sets

February 5, 2019

By John Corrado

It’s hard to believe that SpongeBob SquarePants – the adventures of a bright yellow sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea – has been on the air for twenty years now, but it’s true. Created by Stephen Hillenburg, who sadly passed away late last year, the show premiered on Nickelodeon in May of 1999, and has become a ubiquitous pop cultural staple over the past two decades.

Now Paramount is releasing SpongeBob SquarePants: The First & Second Seasons and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Third & Fourth Seasons on DVD, a pair of 2-season gift sets that offer consumers an economical way to collect the first several seasons of this beloved animated show.

The first three seasons of the show in particular, which aired between 1999 and 2004 – wrapping up just before the release of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie fifteen years ago – contain the many of the show’s most beloved episodes, which have sparked a plethora of memes along the way. This includes the classic season 2 episode Band Geeks, which got an all too brief tribute during the underwhelming Super Bowl Halftime Show the other night.

These are the episodes that I grew up watching pretty much on repeat when they aired on TV, so looking through what’s included on these discs brings back a lot of good memories, and it’s also fun to revisit them now considering that I haven’t seen most of them in years. This is vintage SpongeBob right here, and these sets come recommend for fans of the show who are looking to fill out their collections.

These gift sets also take up quite a bit less shelf space than the original box sets. Both sets are packaged the same way, with the discs for each of the seasons all neatly assembled in their own plastic snapcases, which are held together by a cardboard slipcover. Because these are essentially just repackages of the old releases, the original bonus features are also included on each of the sets.

SpongeBob SquarePants: The First & Second Seasons and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Third & Fourth Seasons 2-Season Gift Sets are both Paramount Home Media Distribution releases. The first set is rated PG, and the second set is rated G.

Street Date: February 5th

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Blu-ray Review: Mid90s

February 4, 2019

By John Corrado

The directorial debut of actor Jonah Hill, Mid90s is coming to Blu-ray this week, and it’s one of those small gems that absolutely deserves to find more of an audience at home.

Centred around a group of skater kids in the 1990s, this is a funny and touching coming of age film that is sensitively directed by Hill and features excellent performances from its young cast, led by rising star Sunny Suljic.

The film sadly ended up flying under the radar when it was released in theatres last fall, following its world premiere at TIFF, so here’s hoping that more people will discover it now. It’s a wonderful piece of work, and for more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Jonah Hill and director of photography Christopher Blauvelt, as well as a brief selection of deleted scenes and a short collection of promotional cast & crew interviews. While some more bonus features would have been welcome, and perhaps a boutique distributor will pick it up for a special edition in the future, the film itself is strong enough to stand on its own, and is well worth checking out.

Mid90s is a VVS Films release. It’s 85 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: February 5th, 2019

Blu-ray Review: The Grinch

February 3, 2019

By John Corrado

After becoming a smash hit at the box office throughout the holiday season, Illumination’s surprisingly great animated Dr. Seuss adaptation The Grinch is being released on Blu-ray this week.

I really enjoyed this one when I first saw it at a screening back in November, and it’s actually grown on me quite a bit since then. I saw the film twice in theatres, going again just before Christmas, and I’m confident in saying that this is not only the best feature length adaptation of a Dr. Seuss story that we have gotten to date, but also Illumination’s finest production as well.

The animation is beautiful, and Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job of voicing the title character, but the film really succeeds thanks to the genuine feeling that the filmmakers have brought to the story, offering a surprisingly touching study of depression and loneliness that gets to the heart of why the Grinch doesn’t like Christmas and finds it too painful to celebrate. For more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray comes with an array of bonus features, including a trio of brand new mini-movies. First up is Prison Break, which makes great use of physical comedy as two Minions get dragged into an elaborate jail break. Next is The Dog Days of Winter, an almost entirely wordless piece that finds Max venturing out into the snow to get tea for a sick Grinch. It offers a wonderful showcase for Max’s facial expressions, which were one of my favourite touches in the film. Finally, Santa’s Little Helpers amusingly follows a trio of Minions who accidentally end up at the North Pole and pass themselves off as elves, but end up wreaking havoc instead.

They are followed by a featurette entitled The Making of the Mini-Movies, which sheds more light on the collaborative process behind the production of these shorts, and how they allow emerging talents at the studio to come into the spotlight. There is also a selection of other bonus features that explore different aspects behind the making of the film itself. First up we have the aptly titled From Green to Screen, an engaging piece that explores how they fleshed out the book to feature length, mainly focusing on the genuine emotion that they brought to this adaptation through the Grinch’s heartbreaking backstory.

Next up, Illuminating the Grinch explores how the animators brought Dr. Seuss’ unique visual style and distinct use of colours and asymmetrical shapes to the screen; My Earliest Grinch Memories features members of the cast and crew sharing their memories of when they were first introduced to the story as children; Grinchy Gadgets looks at some of the many gizmos that the Grinch uses to aid in his holiday heist; and Songs From His Little Heart is a piece about the use of music in the film, mainly focusing on composer Danny Elfman’s wonderful score.

These are accompanied by Any Who Can Draw, which features head of story Mark O’Hare showing us how to draw simple doodles of three of the characters (The Grinch, Max, and Fred); X-Mas Around the World, which offers as a brief look at some of the odder seasonal traditions from different countries; Cindy-Lou’s Yule Log, which is an eight minute video of a blazing fireplace surrounded by decorations that the Grinch keeps popping in and stealing; and finally Production Babies, which is essentially just a list of first names of all the babies who were born during the making of the film.

The lyric videos for the songs “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “I Am the Grinch” by Tyler, the Creator are included as well. Finally, the bonus features section also has a tab marked Who’s Who in Who-Ville, which takes us to a separate menu that offers a substantiative and interactive assortment of character profiles, animation tests and photo galleries devoted to the Grinch, Cindy-Lou Who, Fred & Max, the Head Whos and Cindy-Lou’s Crew, divided into five different chapters.

While Universal will likely reissue The Grinch sometime down the line with more Christmas-themed cover art, this is still a solid release of a surprisingly excellent animated film from last year that I already look forward to revisiting around the holidays. The film is sure to become a perennial favourite in many homes, and it’s well worth adding to your collection.

The Grinch is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 86 minutes and rated G.

Street Date: February 5th, 2019

Blu-ray Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

January 29, 2019

By John Corrado

Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, which is arriving on Blu-ray today following its holiday release back in November, is one of those films that is often beautiful to look at but also feels sort of empty.

It’s not a bad film, but it is a somewhat disappointing one, starting off strong before sort of fizzling out by the end. Still, despite its lacklustre showing at the box office, it’s the sort of thing that might find more of an audience on Blu-ray come next Christmas, and it isn’t without some visually pleasing moments. For more on the film itself, my full review can be found right here.

The Blu-ray also includes five brief deleted scenes (The Stahlbaums Arrive; Follow Your Ribbon; Clara Asks About Her Mother; Left, Left, Left, Left, Left; and Out With the Old), as well as two featurettes. First up is On Pointe: A Conversation With Misty Copeland, which features the acclaimed American Ballet Theatre dancer talking about what went into shooting the film’s centrepiece ballet sequence, joined by choreographer Liam Scarlett.

Next is Unwrapping The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, which offers a broader look at the making of the film. It focuses mostly on the admittedly beautiful art direction and production design, including the impressive sets that were built at Pinewood in London, which utilized classic painted backgrounds to help add depth. The featurette also gives Keira Knightley a chance to explain the acting choices behind her scenery-chewing portrayal of Sugar Plum. To paraphrase, she chose to play her like a drag queen Marilyn Monroe, which I guess kind of puts her relentlessly campy performance into perspective.

Finally, the disc also includes music videos for the original song “Fall On Me” performed by Andrew Bocelli and his son Matteo Bocelli, and “The Nutcracker Suite” performed by acclaimed pianist Lang Lang. Overall, this is a slim but acceptable selection of bonus features.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment release. It’s 99 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 29th, 2019

Blu-ray Review: Jonathan

January 29, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Jonathan (Ansel Elgort) is a young man who seemingly has it all. He’s got a good job at an architectural firm, and a nice apartment. But his life is complicated by the presence of his “brother” John, who happens to share the same body as him through a rare phenomenon known as single body multi-consciousness.

The quiet and more reserved Jonathan gets the first half of the day starting at seven in the morning, before his consciousness shifts at seven in the evening and the more gregarious and outgoing John takes over his body for the overnight shift.

Jonathan and John communicate through videos that they leave for each other, keeping the other one up to date on their lives, to make up for the fact that the two consciousnesses have no recollection of what the other one has done. They have separate phones and separate beds, and follow a strict schedule with a series of rules to live by, including that they aren’t allowed to have a girlfriend. When John starts dating the bartender Elena (Suki Waterhouse), and Jonathan also ends up falling for her, the careful balance of their lives is threatened.

The feature debut of short film director Bill Oliver, who wrote the script with Gregory Davis and Peter Nickowitz, Jonathan is a hard film to pin down. It has elements of science fiction – Jonathan has an implant in his neck to keep his “splits” on schedule, and there is a cold, sterile feel to the production design and cinematography that gives us the sense it takes place in a vaguely futuristic world – but it’s not really sci-fi. There are moments when it seems like the film could segue into psychological thriller territory, but the tone and feel of it always remains a bit too staid for that.

While the premise of Jonathan is intriguing and original, the film itself never quite becomes the head trip that it might have been in the hands of a filmmaker like Charlie Kaufman, whose work Oliver seems to be emulating. The film ultimately functions mostly as a quiet character drama that explores themes of sibling rivalry, albeit in a unique way, but I was left with the feeling that more could have been done with this story, and there are aspects of this character that feel largely unexplored.

The film provides an interesting acting exercise for Elgort, who continues to prove himself as one of our most promising young actors following his heartbreaking work in The Fault in Our Stars and his cool as hell performance in Baby Driver. He is given the challenging task of portraying two separate characters who, despite the fact that they both reside in the same body, retain their own unique personalities, and he does do some interesting things with the role.

But as a whole, Jonathan is never quite as impactful as it could have been, and the film feels strangely limited in scope. While it’s got an intriguing premise and a solid performance from Elgort in the lead, it ultimately doesn’t quite live up to its initial promise, making this more of an interesting curiosity than a true must see.

The Blu-ray includes no bonus features, save for the film’s theatrical trailer.

Jonathan is a Well Go USA release. It’s 101 minutes and not rated.

Street Date: January 22nd, 2019

Review: Chef Flynn

January 25, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Flynn McGarry, the young subject of the documentary Chef Flynn, taught himself to cook at a very young age through cookbooks and YouTube videos. When he was 11 years old, he turned his family’s living room into a makeshift restaurant, with the help of his mother and his friends.

At first, he would cook meals for family and friends who were invited over to their Los Angeles home, but after gaining attention for his prodigious culinary talents, he started serving up elaborate $160 a plate tasting menus for more and more people, gaining the attention of prestigious chefs who invited him to shadow in their kitchens.

But as Flynn starts to receive increasing fame and media attention as a teenager, and prepares for his New York debut, he also faces backlash from some of his critics, who insist that he doesn’t really have the experience at such a young age to call himself a true chef. Because his mother is a filmmaker, who often has her camera trained on her son, Flynn’s life and meteoric ascent into the culinary world has been documented from a young age, and director Cameron Yates uses this footage to help assemble a highly enjoyable glimpse into the life of this young talent.

While Chef Flynn is a somewhat glossy portrait of him, the film also raises some interesting questions about the challenges of finding fame at a young age, while offering a breezy and entertaining look at both prodigious talent and the promising next generation of the fine dining scene. It’s an often delightful film, and a must watch for aspiring chefs.

Chef Flynn is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Hot Docs Film Festival.

Blu-ray Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Collector’s Edition)

January 23, 2019

By John Corrado

The latest title to get the special edition treatment from Shout Select is Frank Oz’s classic 1988 con man comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring the dream team of Michael Caine and Steve Martin.

The film follows Lawrence Jamieson (Caine), a suave English con man who is en route to the fictional town of Beaumont-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, when he runs into Freddy Benson (Martin), a shameless American grifter who is also travelling through Europe and enjoys ripping off women for free meals and petty cash.

The two men clash, as they compete for who can best con the town’s wealthy women, before making a wager to settle who is the best hustler, once and for all. The first one to swindle fifty thousand dollars from a woman wins, and the loser has to leave town and never return. Their mark is Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly), a rich and naive American heiress who happens to be on vacation in Beaumont-sur-Mer.

What struck me most about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when watching it the other night, is that this is still an exceptionally fun movie. Caine and Martin have a lot of great interplay together, and because of the nature of the characters they are playing, they are able to assume multiple different personas throughout the film. Laurence often passes himself off as a foreign prince in need of money for his warring kingdom and, in probably the film’s flat-out funniest sequence, Freddy pretends to be his feral brother Ruprecht, an impersonation that works thanks to Martin’s genuine gifts for physical comedy.

Written by Dale Launer and co-writers Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning, who reworked the screenplay from their own 1964 Marlon Brando and David Niven vehicle Bedtime Story, the film whizzes along at a good pace, offering both sharp dialogue and moments of slapstick humour. The ending is also fiendishly clever, both for the way that it pulls the rug out from under our characters, and for how it completely upends their sexist viewpoints from earlier in the film.

A little more than thirty years later, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is still a riotously funny film, helped along by great comic performances from its central power trio of Caine, Martin and Headly, as well as a classy jazz score that gives it an air of sophistication to match the beautiful French locales. Altogether, this is an immensely enjoyable caper that offers an abundance of delightful scenes and still holds up quite well.

The Blu-ray includes a new 2K scan of the film, a commentary track with Frank Oz, a new interview with writer and executive producer Dale Launer, a vintage featurette from the film’s production, the theatrical trailer for the film, as well as the original teaser trailer which is viewable with and without commentary by Oz and features footage that was shot exclusively for promotional purposes.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Collector’s Edition is a Shout! Factory release. It’s 110 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 22nd, 2019

Blu-ray Review: First Man

January 22, 2019

By John Corrado

Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic First Man is now available on Blu-ray, fresh off receiving Oscar nominations for Visual Effects, Production Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing just this morning

While I do have some issues with the film’s approach to telling this story, First Man is still an impressive technical achievement, that is carried by a strong performance from Ryan Gosling. For more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Chazelle joined by screenwriter Josh Singer and editor Tom Cross, two deleted scenes (House Fire and Apollo 8 Launch), and eight featurettes on different aspects of the production.

First up, Shooting for the Moon focuses on what drew Chazelle to the material and how they approached depicting a national hero in a very grounded and human way; Preparing to Launch is mainly about how they strived to reveal who Armstrong really was as a person; and Giant Leap in One Small Step features Armstrong’s sons reflecting on how their father remained very humble and didn’t really view himself as a hero. Where these three featurettes very much focus on the characters and story, the next five break down more of the technicals behind the film.

Mission Gone Wrong specifically focuses on the lunar training vehicle crash sequence, and how Gosling did his own stunts for the scene; Putting You in the Seat reveals the film’s groundbreaking use of an LED wall to project images behind the simulators, allowing them to shoot most of the space backgrounds in-camera; Recreating the Moon Landing focuses on the climactic lunar landing and moonwalk sequence, which they opted to shoot outside in a grey quarry instead of on a sound stage; Shooting at NASA shows how they incorporated some of the real locations into the film; and Astronaut Training shows how the cast basically went through real life space camp in order to prepare for their roles.

These featurettes are mostly all brief in terms of length, but when viewed together, they do an excellent job of showing the amount of work that went into the film, allowing me to gain a deeper appreciation of the technicals behind it, all other quibbles aside. While First Man was practically made to be seen on an IMAX screen, it’s still worth seeing on Blu-ray if you missed it in theatres.

First Man is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 141 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: January 22nd, 2019

Blu-ray Review: Beautiful Boy

January 22, 2019

By John Corrado

Featuring excellent performances from Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet – who really should have gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor – Felix Van Groeningen’s powerful addiction drama Beautiful Boy is now available on Blu-ray.

While Beautiful Boy has garnered some mixed reviews, this is one of those movies that I had a very guttural emotional reaction to when I first saw it, and it’s stuck with me as one of the most moving films of 2018. This is an extremely well acted piece of work that I absolutely think is worth a look on Blu-ray, and for more on the film itself, you can read my full review right here.

The Blu-ray also includes a bonus featurette entitled Beautiful Boy: The Anatomy of a Crisis, a brief piece featuring members of the cast and crew, as well as the real life subjects David and Nicolas Sheff, talking about the importance of bringing this true story of addiction and recovery to the screen at a time when drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people under fifty.

Beautiful Boy is a VVS Films release. It’s 120 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 22nd, 2019

Blu-ray Review: Venom

January 21, 2019

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

The character of Venom was initially meant to be an adversary to Spider-Man. Now the popular Marvel Comics villain – who was played by Topher Grace in Sam Raimi’s 2007 blockbuster Spider-Man 3 – takes centre stage in the aptly titled Venom, and I’m honestly not exactly sure what to make of the results.

Part of Sony’s latest attempt at building their own shared superhero universe, Venom has gotten a bit of a reputation as a campy, so bad it’s good sort of film since its release in October. And it is mildly entertaining to watch at times, but it’s also a noisy, mindless mess that struggles to nail down a consistent tone throughout.

The film follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a guerrilla reporter who hosts a popular web series and seemingly has it all, living in San Francisco with his fiancée Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), a powerful attorney in her own right. But his life and career are destroyed when he goes up against Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the CEO of a bioengineering corporation called the Life Foundation that Anne’s firm is representing, and confronts him about the company’s unethical research practices during an on-camera interview.

Six months later, Brock is contacted by Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), who works at the Life Foundation and wants him to do a followup story exposing the fact that Drake is currently in the process of trying to morph alien symbiotes with human hosts, and using homeless participants for these experiments. When Brock goes to the lab to gather evidence, he gets infected by one of the symbiotes, a shapeless black blob that needs to morph with a living being in order to take form and survive. And thus, Venom is born, giving Brock a powerful alter-ego with a penchant for biting off human heads.

Working from a script by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel, director Ruben Fleischer mixes elements of action, comedy and body horror, while never quite fully embracing any one of these things. The film isn’t deep enough to work as a character study, so it almost entirely misses its mark in terms of presenting its central character as a nuanced anti-hero, and there is no hero for him to play off of in order to make him a compelling villain. While Carlton Drake could have made for an interesting adversary, he is instead presented as a slithering, one-note bad guy who is evil right from the start.

The main selling point of Venom is Tom Hardy’s gonzo, over the top performance, and it is a sight to behold. The actor throws himself into the role in a way that is often amusing to watch, channelling the sort of character that Jim Carrey would have played in the 1990s. As Venom takes over, Eddie is left talking to himself while conversing with the thundering voice in his head – which makes increasingly ridiculous demands – and Hardy embraces the physical aspects of the role, whether throwing himself around his apartment or climbing into the lobster tank at a restaurant.

It’s a performance that hails from the Nicolas Cage school of acting, and there is some fun to be had in seeing an actor of Hardy’s caliber taking on a role like this, making it possible to enjoy Venom in an ironic sort of way. The romantic scenes between Eddie and Anne are cheesy and laughable, the dialogue is clunky, and the special effects often look dated, adding to the campy feel of it all. At times it does seem like the filmmakers were going for a self-parodying tone, à la Deadpool, but it doesn’t always work.

The film often falls into the curious middle ground of not being good enough to warrant a serious recommendation, while also not quite being bad enough to enter so bad it’s good territory. What we are left with is a mildly amusing time waster, with a handful of meme-worthy scenes here and there, that overall feels like little more than a hot mess. The film also makes the altogether odd choice of gong to credits a full twenty minutes from the end of its close to two hour running time, culminating with an extended clip from Sony’s far superior animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The Blu-ray also includes the option to watch the film in Venom Mode, featuring pop-up trivia, as well as a trio of deleted & extended scenes (Ride to Hospital, Car Alarm and San Quentin Extended), and the six surprisingly informative featurettes From Symbiote to ScreenThe Anti-HeroThe Lethal Protector in ActionVenom VisionDesigning Venom and Symbiote Secrets. There are also animated storyboards for several of the set-pieces.

Finally, the disc includes the music videos for “Venom” by Eminem and “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, as well as the option to watch the extended Spider-Verse clip from the end credits on its own.

Venom is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 112 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 15th, 2019

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