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Blu-ray Review: The Mitchells vs. The Machines

January 5, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest animated film from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, following their Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a madcap adventure from Sony Pictures Animation that mixes sci-fi action and zany comedy with sincere family drama about a queer, film-loving teen reconnecting with her more traditional dad.

It’s a mix that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does, but is nicely pulled off by first time feature director Mike Rianda (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Rowe), taking Lord and Miller’s usual hyper pacing and injecting it with moments of genuine heart.

The film was very nearly released in theatres by Sony under the thoroughly generic title Connected, before the pandemic forced them to sell the rights to Netflix, who restored the film’s original title to The Mitchells vs. The Machines. And this is a much more fitting name for the film, with the literal, self-explanatory, and slightly messy quality of the title more accurately reflecting the tone of the movie as well as the mildly dysfunctional family at its centre and the key obstacle they face together.

The film centres around the Mitchells, a Michigan family made up of dad Rick (Danny McBride), mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), their young adult daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobsen), and dinosaur-obsessed young son Aaron (Rianda). The two members of the family who are most at odds are Rick, a nature-lover who hates technology, and Katie, an avid movie buff who is always making quirky, hyper-stylized short films on her computer. Katie has just been accepted into film school in California, and is looking forward to moving out on her own and finding “her people.”

When a father-daughter fight over her artistic dreams leads to a broken laptop, Rick tries to make things right with Katie (and have some quality family bonding time) by cancelling her plane ticket and packing up the old station wagon to drive her to university. But their impromptu family road trip coincides with an announcement from Mark Bowman (Eric André), CEO of the Apple-like PAL Labs, who is unveiling the company’s new robot assistants. When the Siri-inspired voice assistant in his smartphone (Olivia Colman) feels resentful of being replaced, she reprograms the robots to take over the world, leaving the Mitchells to face off against a robot apocalypse.

The film is built around the high concept premise of what would happen if our iPhones gained sentience and tried to take over the world, with Rianda exploring these questions about technology replacing us through the guise of a classic road trip narrative. While the themes about a father and daughter who no longer see eye to eye learning how to reconnect are not entirely new, the film probes the relationship between Rick and Katie in a very heartfelt way. It gets added points for having the character be pretty openly queer, with Katie crushing on a girl at her university that she is excited to meet.

Like Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines has a highly unique animation style that appears somewhere between 2D and 3D. Where as that film looked like a comic book, the look of this one almost recalls the illustrations in a picture book. It’s meant to have a slightly scrappy, homemade quality to it, with some onscreen graphics right out of Katie’s short films. These stylistic touches are occasionally distracting. As with other Lord and Miller productions, the hyperactive impulses of The Mitchells vs. The Machines can overwhelm the senses at times, with the film’s constant need to be hip and cool sometimes feeling like too much.

Still, the film is genuinely funny at times, with some amusing running gags (for all their technological advancements, the robots still can’t quite distinguish if the family’s pug Monchi is a dog, a pig or a loaf of bread). The animation is great to look at, and the film is topped off with a nice, synthy score by Mark Mothersbaugh that recalls the music in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. All in all, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a very enjoyable animated road trip, that offers a good mix of humorous action and a few moments to tug on the heartstrings.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray set, which is dubbed the “Katie Mitchell Special Edition,” boasts a decent amount of bonus features. This includes a secondary cut of the film entitled Katie’s Extended Cinematic Bonanza Cut!, which is introduced by Rianda and features some alternate scenes with less complete animation, running a few minutes longer at 112 minutes.

Furthermore, the menu screen is styled after a Criterion Collection disc, with the discs themselves designed to look like homemade discs that Katie has drawn on with markers. To top it all off, the case includes a mock Criterion essay written by Katie. Since this was a Netflix film, it’s nice to see Sony pulling out all the stops for a physical release. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package.

Dog Cop 7: The Final Chapter (8 minutes, 24 seconds): An all-new short film made with puppets that continues the adventures of Dog Cop seen in the movie. Like all Katie Mitchell productions, it’s a crude mix of sincere and slightly cringey.

Bonus Scenes (25 minutes, 18 seconds): A healthy selection of deleted scenes, presented in storyboard form.

The Mitchells Learn to Love the Robots! (3 minutes, 21 seconds)

Katie’s Sneaky Dog Cop Apology (2 minutes, 3 seconds)

Katie Mitchell – The Most Popular Girl in Town (4 minutes, 16 seconds)

The Mitchells Meet the (Vice) President (6 minutes, 47 seconds)

Technology Takeover – With Bonus Cruelty to a Child! (1 minute, 21 seconds)

Everyboy Loves Killbot (47 seconds)

The Robots Attack – Early Version (4 minutes, 47 seconds)

Cold Open – Old PAL Infomercial (2 minutes, 29 seconds)

Katie’s Cabinet of Forgotten Wonders (11 minutes, 24 seconds): A selection of behind the scenes glimpses and early test footage from the film.

Katie-Vision! (2 minutes, 49 seconds):

Dumb Robots Trailer (2 minutes, 2 seconds):

The Original Mitchells Story Pitch (3 minutes, 54 seconds):

The Furby Scene – How? Why? (1 minute, 33 seconds):

Pal’s World (1 minute, 20 seconds):

The Mitchells vs. The Machines: Or How a Group of Passionate Weirdos Made a Big Animated Movie (12 minutes, 49 seconds): A look at the production of the film, Rianda’s personal connection to the story, and the unique animation style.

How To… (3 minutes, 39 seconds): A pair of short craft tutorials inspired by the movie.

Make Sock Puppets (1 minute, 48 seconds):

Make Katie Face Cupcakes (1 minute, 56 seconds):

Filmmakers’ Commentary

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 109 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: December 14th, 2021

New Year, New Name! One Movie, Our Views is now officially The Joy of Movies

January 1, 2022

As of today, January 1st, 2022, One Movie, Our Views (onemovieourviews.com) is officially being rebranded as The Joy of Movies (thejoyofmovies.ca), a name better suited to the current format of the site. This change has been a long time coming, and is just the latest in a line of changes that the site has gone through since it was first launched by siblings John Corrado and Erin Corrado in June 2008 under the original banner of One Movie, Five Views.

The initial idea behind the website was that five people would all see the same movie and each write a review, then forming a consensus. But things happen, people get busy, schedules don’t always line up, and five views stopped being feasible for us on a regular basis. The site’s name was changed to “One Movie, Our Views” in 2013 to better reflect the fact that it wasn’t always going to be five views.

But, as readers or those curious about the site’s name may have noticed, it’s a feature that we haven’t really been able to utilize at all lately. For the last several years, John Corrado (co-founder of the site) has become the primary (and currently sole) writer, and has tirelessly kept it going as a passion project. This will continue unchanged, and the site’s new name simply better reflects that.

So, welcome to The Joy of Movies, a website that was always designed to celebrate just that; the joy that comes from watching and discussing cinema in all its forms. And, if you have been with us since the beginning, we would like to say a sincere thank you, and hope that you will continue to stick around!

For now we’ll leave you with Keanu Reeves, who said it best…

4K Ultra HD Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (SteelBook Edition)

December 22, 2021

By John Corrado

Martin Scorsese was in his early seventies when he released The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013, and this fact continues to amaze me. It’s a film so full of energy and excess that you could think it was made by a filmmaker half that age, but it’s equally fitting that it was made by an old master showing off his skills as one of the greatest to ever do it.

Paramount has now given The Wolf of Wall Street an upgrade with a new 4K Ultra HD release. This is the first time the film is available in 4K, with the studio putting out both a regular edition and a sleek SteelBook set (which is the version I was sent for review) that includes a regular Blu-ray as well.

The 4K Ultra HD disc boasts a new film transfer that was supervised by Scorsese. The 2160p resolution allows for great clarity on skin tones and fabrics, showing off Rodrigo Prieto’s bright and vibrant cinematography quite nicely. The film, which was shot on a mix of 35mm film and digital, looks very good with some noticeable upgrades over the Blu-ray.

The film itself charts the rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), as he becomes consumed by sex, drugs and money, and it’s a prime example of depiction not equalling endorsement. No, Scorsese doesn’t go for heavy-handed moralizing, but his film doesn’t exactly glorify the hedonism and depravity of Belfort’s life either, serving as a scathing satire of corporate greed. DiCaprio’s positively electric, Oscar-nominated performance is matched by a supporting cast that includes one of Jonah Hill’s finest turns as Belfort’s business partner Donnie Azoff, with Margot Robbie leaving her mark in a very memorable breakout role.

The film finds Scorsese taking the stylistic touches that worked so well in Goodfellas and Casino and doing a victory lap, with the freeze frames, fourth-wall breaking moments, and memorable uses of voiceover all tied together brilliantly by Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing. And, for those who erroneously think that the filmmaker only makes mob movies, consider that he made Wolf in the wake of the family movie Hugo, and followed it up with the religious drama Silence.

The SteelBook boasts a very fitting gold-tinted colour scheme, with a stylized blue and gold illustration of DiCaprio on the front, lines of hundred dollar bills on the back, and a tinted version of the iconic image of DiCaprio’s Belfort screaming into the microphone at a pool party on the inside. I still vividly remember seeing the film in theatres (on New Year’s Eve, no less) when it came out, and just under a decade later it has earned its place as a stone cold modern classic. It’s an extremely entertaining film, and one of the fastest three hours of all time. This release does it justice.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The 4K disc includes three featurettes, with the first one (The Wolf Pack), which was the sole bonus feature on the initial Blu-ray release, included on this Blu-ray disc as well. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package.

The Wolf Pack (17 minutes, 1 second)

Running Wild (11 minutes, 21 seconds)

The Wolf of Wall Street Round Table (10 minutes, 58 seconds)

The Wolf of Wall Street is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 179 minutes and rated 18A.

Street Date: December 14th, 2021

4K Ultra HD Review: The Ten Commandments: 65th Anniversary (SteelBook Edition)

December 21, 2021

By John Corrado

Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments is one of the biggest and most beloved studio pictures of all time and, in my opinion, the nearly four hour film from 1956 still holds up quite well in terms of its grandeur and scope.

In honour of the film’s 65th anniversary, Paramount released The Ten Commandments for the first time on 4K Ultra HD in time for Easter earlier this year. Now the studio has reissued the 4K disc as part of a very nice four-disc SteelBook set, which adds back in a third Blu-ray disc that was notably absent from the earlier 4K release, containing DeMille’s 1923 silent film version (an interesting companion piece) and a variety of bonus features.

According to the press release, the 4K disc is sourced from a 6K scan of the original VistaVision negative that was done as part of the film’s restoration in 2010, with Paramount spending “well over 150 hours doing new colour work and clean-up on the scan.” It goes on to note that “the move to Dolby Vision created the opportunity to further improve the look of the film: blacks are enhanced and improvements were made to smooth out special effects mattes to create the most vibrant and pristine image possible.”

DeMille’s film has always been famous for its costumes, production design, cast of hundreds of extras, and groundbreaking, Oscar-winning special effects. The 2160p resolution allows us to really see finer details on the costumes and sets (including the reeds around the river where baby Moses is floated down in a basket) with impressive colour and clarity. Some of the seams are visible during the famous parting of the Red Sea sequence, but the special effects are still quite impressive for their time. The film really is a feast for the eyes, and this is the sharpest it has ever looked at home.

The SteelBook is a rich red colour that is appropriately eye-catching, featuring an illustration of Moses (Charlton Heston) holding the tablets on the front cover with Ramses (Yul Brenner) on the back, and an image from the Red Sea sequence spread across the inside. The 4K and 1923 film discs are held on either side of the case, with a plastic arm in the middle holding the two additional Blu-rays containing the 1956 film spread between them. Notably, there are no tabs inside the case to hold the digital copy code (mine was glued to the back under the standard cardboard j-sleeve).

The three Blu-rays included in the case are identical to the ones from the 2020 DigiBook release. But with the addition of the 4K UHD disc, and the 1923 version that was missing from the previous release, this SteelBook offers the best of both worlds between the DigiBook and the earlier 4K edition. This is the definitive version for SteelBook collectors and 4K enthusiasts alike, who are looking to add this absolute classic to their collections.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The set includes a commentary track on the 4K disc, with the remainder of the previously released bonus features to be found on the three Blu-ray discs. Digital copy codes for both the 1956 and 1923 films are also included in the package.

4K Ultra HD:

Commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments

Blu-ray Disc 1:

Audio Commentary

Blu-ray Disc 2:

Audio Commentary

Newsreel: The Ten Commandments – Premiere in New York (2 minutes, 24 seconds)

Trailers (12 minutes, 40 seconds)

1956 “Making Of” Trailer (10 minutes, 1 seconds)

1966 Trailer (55 seconds)

1989 Trailer (1 minute, 43 seconds)

Blu-ray Disc 3:

Hand-Tinted Footage of the Exodus and the Parting of the Red Sea Sequence (1923 film) (21 minutes, 5 seconds)

Two-Color Technicolor Segment (1923 film) (8 minutes, 43 seconds)

Photo Gallery (1923 film)

The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles (1956 film) (1 hour, 13 minutes and 14 seconds)

Photo Gallery (1956 film)

The Ten Commandments is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 231 minutes and rated G.

Street Date: November 23rd, 2021

Review: Red Rocket

December 17, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Sean Baker makes films about the types of Americans that don’t usually get shown on movie screens, or, worse, get looked down upon by the coastal elites. You know, like sex workers, those living in abject poverty, and the types of “forgotten people” that may have voted for Trump in 2016.

Baker’s last film, The Florida Project, showed the struggling families living in the shadow of Walt Disney World and, for my money, it was the best movie of 2017. Baker follows it up with a different look at poverty in Red Rocket, moving the action from Florida to Texas to offer a raucous portrait of a grifter porn star tearing through his old town.

Our protagonist is Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), who moved to California to make it big as an adult film star, but has since wound up strapped for cash. At the start of the film, he is slinking back to his hometown of Texas City to try and mooch off his estranged wife (Bree Elrod) and mother-in-law (Brenda Deiss). But things take a turn when he meets Strawberry (Suzanna Son), the 17-year-old girl behind the counter at the local donut shop. She informs him that she will be eighteen “in three weeks,” and Mikey sees her as a porn star in the making, who might just be his ticket back into the big leagues.

If the idea of a washed up porn star in his early forties pursuing a 17-year-old sounds icky and gross, that’s because it’s supposed to be, and the film is fully aware of this. The genius of Baker’s film is how it causes us, like the characters, to fall under the sway of a manipulative charlatan. Rex’s character has a dogged energy that makes us want to root for him, but his own actions make it increasingly hard. We are like frogs in slowly boiling water, seeing how long we can continue to sympathize with this guy as he makes one questionable decision after another.

The screenplay, co-written by Baker and his frequent collaborator Chris Bergoch, has an ear for sharp dialogue, including a manic kitchen monologue that Mikey delivers shortly after his arrival. Crucial to the film’s success is the fact that Baker never looks down upon his subjects, and only views them as worthy of ridicule if they bring it upon themselves. Instead, like in his other humanistic portraits of America’s working poor, he follows them with a great deal of empathy and compassion.

The film is set in an oil refinery town, with metal structures looming large in landscape shots. The story also unfolds against the backdrop of the 2016 election, with the Republican National Convention playing on TV in the background. It’s a clever touch that allows Baker to subtly infuse politics into the film, with a thought provoking but refreshingly not heavy handed undercurrent of Trumpian allegory and social commentary that runs through it. It’s also a smart way to avoid addressing the COVID-19 pandemic that became a reality during the 2020 election cycle when the film was shot.

Mikey is a narcissist who believes in his own greatness, and has a way of getting others to believe in it too, at least for a while. And Rex, who got his own start as a nude model and porn actor in the 1990s before being hired as a VJ for MTV and appearing in three of the Scary Movie films, is magnetic in the role. Like Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems and Robert Pattinson in Good Time before him, Rex excels at playing a character who is compelling to watch despite making a series of bad choices. We can’t really root for him after a certain point, but we can’t take our eyes off of him, either.

The film lives or dies in this balance, and Baker does a brilliant job of pulling it off. Son, a relative newcomer, also feels like a revelation in the role of the Lolita-esque Strawberry. Like in his previous films, Baker fleshes out his cast with non-actors, who breathe life into their characters and bring a naturalistic quality to the low budget film. The 16 mm cinematography by Drew Daniels does a good job of capturing the action, offering a nice mix of wide shots and intimate handheld work to highlight the performances, along with an ingenious rollercoaster shot.

This is an extreme film in a lot of ways, with sex scenes and graphic nudity (including Rex getting to show off the goods), and I can imagine some audience members being reflexively put off by the subject matter. But it’s refreshing to see a film made for adults that doesn’t try to go for preachy moralizing, with a protagonist whose actions are morally sketchy at best. In many ways, it harkens back to the more challenging American indie films of the 1970s.

While it might not have the same emotional release of The Florida Project, Red Rocket has a live-wire energy all its own, and builds to a finale that is rapturous in its own way. The film is a little over two hours long, but it simply flashes by, with Baker taking the charged energy of the donut shop sequence from his 2015 film Tangerine, and keeping it going for the entire running time. The cherry on top is the absolutely inspired use of *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” which becomes a sort of motif throughout the film, including Son’s stripped down piano cover.

The result is one of the most wildly entertaining movies of the year, with a propulsive, indefatigable energy to it that is encapsulated in Simon Rex’s firecracker performance.

Red Rocket is now playing in limited release.

Review: Nightmare Alley

December 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Nightmare Alley is Guillermo del Toro’s followup to his surprise Oscar winner The Shape of Water. It serves as both a remake of the 1947 film noir of the same name and a new adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel from a year earlier, with the beloved filmmaker delivering an expertly acted and beautifully crafted take on the source material.

Del Toro’s version is a lengthy but absorbing film that very much operates in the space of classic noir, telling a very dark, character-driven story that is rich with deception and double crossings. It’s not a horror film, despite some elements of the genre, but rather a psychological thriller, and one that has been brought to life with immaculate production design and cinematography that fully transports us into its world.

The film is set in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and the story unfolds around a man named Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), who is first seen dragging a body into the floorboards of an old house and setting it alight. Stanton is an enigma, a man of few words, when he stumbles into an old carnival run by Clem Hoately (Willem Dafoe). He is put to work in the geek pit, an exploitative and cruel sideshow attraction featuring a desperate alcoholic plied with booze and drugs to devour live chickens in front of paying audiences.

Because geek shows have been outlawed, the carnival is constantly on the run and able to pack up and move on a moment’s notice to evade authorities. Stanton’s shameless carny sensibilities make him an ideal right hand man for Clem. When Stanton starts falling for Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), who has an act involving electricity, he decides to start his own mystic show with her, using tricks that he learns from the carnival’s resident psychic Zeena Krumbein (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn).

From here, Nightmare Alley sort of morphs into a different movie, turning into a two-hander between Stanton and Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychiatrist that he tries to pull into his schemes by convincing her to give him clients to dupe. Their scenes together are the highlights of the film, with a dark, psychosexual tension running through them. Despite the soft snow that we see falling through her office window, we can feel the heat inside.

The whole ensemble does solid work. Cooper really sells his character’s transformation over the course of the film, and Blanchett is ravishing as an icy cool femme fatale. Del Toro uses the rest of his all-star cast sparingly but wisely, with actors like Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins, who show up as two of Stanton’s targets, able to leave their mark despite limited screen time. For his part, Dafoe delivers a mesmerizing scene where he explains the process of hiring a geek, and Collette shares a very memorable scene with Cooper beside a bathtub.

The performances are complimented by the film’s outstanding visual style. Like The Shape of Water, much of the film was shot right in and around Toronto, with del Toro and his production design team recreating an old carnival on the Markham fairgrounds. It’s a living, breathing set, allowing the actors to walk through it and exist in the space in a way that adds another level of immersion to the film. In one sequence, Stanton goes to retrieve the runaway geek in a classic funhouse with eyes and spirals adorning the walls, and we can feel him moving through the location.

Dan Laustsen’s cinematography further draws us in, with a constantly moving camera that appears to float through the frame as it tracks from side to side. Laustsen also stages several classic noir shots, including an all-timer of Cooper looking up from under his fedora, his blue eyes seeming to appear in the darkness. This is all topped off with a very good musical score by Nathan Johnson (a late replacement for Alexandre Desplat). It’s also worth noting that the entire production had to be shutdown in March 2020 and go on hiatus for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but these behind the scenes troubles are not at all evident in the finished film.

The first hour of the film takes place at the carnival, before shifting focus for the latter two-thirds, and there are some pacing issues in this first stretch that make the film feel a little lopsided. The film is long at two and a half hours, though I’m not sure what scenes could have been cut from it. The last act, when things all start to come full circle and click into place, is the most classically action-driven, leading to a great final scene that includes some of the finest few minutes of screen acting this year.

The 1947 film, which starred Tyrone Power in the role that now goes to Cooper, is one of the most cynical studio pictures of its time, and del Toro is able to capture this darkness. His film delivers a handful of genuinely chilling and disturbing moments, that del Toro and his editor Cam McLauchlin hold on just long enough to leave a lasting impact, culminating in the haunting final frame.

Nightmare Alley opens in theatres on December 17th.

4K Ultra HD Review: Infinite

December 14, 2021

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite is a sci-fi action flick that imagines a world of reincarnated souls where a group of people called Infinites have the ability to remember their past lives. Within this group, there are two subgroups; the “believers,” who view their ability as a gift, and “nihilists” who see it as a curse and want the cycle to stop.

It’s a high concept premise that sounds mildly intriguing, but Fuqua’s film, a big swing and miss for the director, is a convoluted mess that squanders it with ridiculous dialogue and one-note performances, playing out like a bargain basement take on a Nolan or Wachowski film.

The film does show some early promise with a prologue set in “the past life” that finds a man (Dylan O’Brien) on a high speed car chase through Mexico City. It’s a fairly well orchestrated sequence that provides initial excitement, but it’s all downhill from here. We cut to “the present life” and start following Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg), a diagnosed schizophrenic with the mysterious ability to make traditional Japanese swords.

Evan is struggling to earn enough money to pay for his medication, when he gets taken by a group of Infinites who tell him that his hallucinations are not really in his head but actually flashes of memories from his past lives. They need Evan’s help, and the unique abilities he has obtained from these past lives, to stop one of the “nihilists,” Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor), from acquiring an egg-shaped weapon that has the ability to unwind DNA. Bathurst intends to use it to stop his own reincarnations for good, by ending all life on Earth.

The screenplay by Ian Shorr, which is loosely based on D. Eric Maikranz’s book The Reincarnationist Papers, offers some pseudo-spiritual talk but not much else, with its premise and characters feeling underdeveloped. Instead of really grappling with its big ideas, the whole film instead seems like a pretty awkward metaphor for mental illness. We also get some needless voiceover from Wahlberg’s character that feels like it is over explaining things that we find out anyway through dialogue.

At the centre of it all is a pretty wooden performance by Wahlberg, who phones in his line deliveries and sounds disinterested in the material. Tony Mantzoukas shows up partway through and tries to breathe some life into the film as the Artisan, a possibly non-binary scientist with crazy hair, a leather apron and black nail polish. But Mantzoukas, who leans heavily into camp territory with his portrayal, feels like he fell out of an entirely different movie.

The cinematography by Mauro Fiore is generally decent, including a handful of well framed shots, and there are a couple of okay action sequences (including the aforementioned opening car chase between a Ferrari and an Aston Martin). The film also boasts pretty good sets and production design, but little else about it really works aside from these few aesthetic highlights. What we are left with is a film that fails to really do much with its brainy premise, and instead devolves into a subpar and derivative action movie marred by ham-fisted dialogue.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The 4K disc includes a selection of four “behind the scenes” featurettes. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which ships with a standard slipcover.

They Call Themselves Infinites (7 minutes, 43 seconds): A general look at the making of the film, from the overall story concept, to the production design and sets that were built for it.

The Kinetic Action of Infinite (8 minutes, 56 seconds): An in-depth look at the logistics of shooting the opening car chase in Mexico City. It’s interesting to hear how they pulled it off.

Anatomy of a Scene – Police Station & Forest (12 minutes, 55 seconds): A breakdown of two key set-pieces; the chase through a police station, which was done using a real Aston Martin and breakaway walls, and a last act chase through a forest in Scotland.

Infinite Time (5 minutes, 11 seconds): Starts as a look at the film’s themes, and becomes about the visual effects in the climax, including the use of a camera spinning 360 degrees around Wahlberg.

Infinite is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 106 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: December 7th, 2021

Blu-ray Review: Harold and Maude (1971)

December 13, 2021

By John Corrado

Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude flopped upon its release in theatres on December 20th, 1971, with its unique tone and delicate subject matter being a tough sell for mainstream audiences, before steadily gaining status as a beloved cult classic for these very same reasons.

The film, which brilliantly mixes humour that is as droll and dark as it comes with heartache and piercing emotion, went on to become a countercultural touchstone of its time. It’s one that has inspired many other filmmakers, and continues to touch new generations of viewers who discover it.

The film is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Paramount Home Entertainment is marking the occasion with a new Blu-ray edition that has been remastered and restored from a 4K scan of the original negative, including colour correction and cleanup.

Directed by Ashby from a screenplay by Colin Higgins, the film is a love story between Harold (Bud Cort), a troubled young man who stages elaborate fake suicides as a cry for help to try and get a response out of his self-involved mother (Vivian Pickles); and Maude (Ruth Gordon), a near-octogenarian whose joie de vivre and rebellious spirit hasn’t yet faded. It’s set to an iconic soundtrack of Cat Stevens songs that always work to compliment the story, and take on new life through the film.

The performances of the two leads couldn’t be better. Cort’s inherent strangeness reveals layers of buried emotion within his troubled character, and Gordon does lovely and finally heartbreaking work as a woman who hides her emotion in a different way. The film is beautifully captured by cinematographer John Alonzo (including that incredible several minute tracking shot set to a diegetic use of “Don’t Be Shy” that opens the movie, hiding Cort’s face until the last possible moment), with some immaculate framing choices.

Ashby masterfully controls the tone of the piece, from the disturbing nature of Harold’s graphic and bloody “suicides,” to the deep sense of poignancy that runs throughout the entire thing. The film also started an incredible run for Ashby, one of the finest American filmmakers of his time, that included The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory and Coming Home, and culminated at the end of the 1970s with Being There.

Like that existentialist masterwork, there is a great deal of wisdom on life to be found in Harold and Maude. This is an example of a film that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does, but reveals itself to be something quite tender and beautiful as it goes along. It’s a film about two lost souls at different life stages somehow finding solace in each other, and it’s one that still manages to leave quite an impact fifty years later.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

This release follows in the footsteps of the Criterion Collection edition that was put out nearly a decade ago. None of those extras are included, but the Paramount Blu-ray does have a couple of new bonuses, including its own commentary track with screenwriter Larry Karaszewski and writer-director Cameron Crowe, who were both inspired by the film. A code for a digital copy is also listed as being included, though there was notably none in the copy I was sent for review here in Canada.

Commentary by Larry Karaszewski and Cameron Crowe

Yusuf/Cat Stevens on Harold and Maude (5 minutes, 48 seconds): Yusuf/Cat Stevens reflects on his songs being used in the film, including demos of “Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want to Sing Out” and his mixed feelings on Gordon’s rendition of the latter, in this short but worthwhile new featurette.

Theatrical Trailer #1 (2 minutes, 49 seconds)

Theatrical Trailer #2 (3 minutes, 3 seconds)

Harold and Maude is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 91 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: December 7th, 2021

Blu-ray Review: Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)

December 13, 2021

By John Corrado

The MTV animated series Beavis and Butt-Head was a pop culture staple of the 1990s, following the misadventures of two idiot teenaged slackers voiced by the show’s creator, Mike Judge.

A feature length film, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, was released in theatres at the height of the show’s popularity on December 20th, 1996 and was very successful, debuting atop the box office and having the biggest December opening of its time (a record that was incidentally broken by Scream 2 a year later). Now Paramount is celebrating the movie’s 25th anniversary with a new Blu-ray edition.

The film begins with couch potatoes Beavis and Butt-Head waking up to find their TV stolen. In their attempts to get it back, they end up being hired by a drunk hitman (Bruce Willis) to “do” his wife (Demi Moore) in Las Vegas. Thinking they are gonna “score” with a babe, Beavis and Butt-Head end up on a plane and bus trip across America, inadvertently becoming wanted fugitives smuggling a dangerous bio-weapon. Along the way, the boys encounter an ATF agent (Robert Stack) with a penchant for cavity searches, and a nice old lady (Cloris Leachman) who is hard of hearing.

There’s also, of course, the emergence of Beavis’ caffeine-induced alter-ego Cornholio. Yeah, it’s a lot, but Beavis and Butt-Head Do America moves at a fast-pace and is still pretty amusing in a juvenile sort of way. The film mixes the show’s crude drawing style and even cruder humour, as the two disaffected youth at its centre move through the plot making scatological jokes and giggling over funny words, with little clue or care about the havoc they are causing in their wake.

It’s all incredibly stupid but also kinda clever in that Mike Judge sort of way. Judge, who would go on to make the live action satires Office Space and Idiocracy, both cult classics in their own right, uses Beavis and Butt-Head’s puerile and single-minded journey to offer some sly commentary on a generation raised on television, with selfishness and stupidity seen as virtues. I think it holds up pretty well two-and-a-half decades later, and fans of the film and characters should be quite happy with this Blu-ray release.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray ports of a variety of legacy bonus features, which compliment the film quite nicely. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package.

Commentary by Mike Judge and Yvette Kaplan

The Big Picture (22 minutes, 42 seconds): Mike Judge, animation director Yvette Kaplan and other members of the production team reflect on the making of the film, and its surprise box office success, in this archival featurette. Judge talks about adapting the show for movie screens with fuller animation, how MTV initially wanted to do it in live action, how they got celebrities (Willis, Moore, Leachman and Stack) to voice supporting characters, and the Rob Zombie hallucination scene.

We’re Gonna Score! Scoring Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (10 minutes, 57 seconds): A surprisingly interesting featurette that finds composer John Frizzell talking about his use of music in the film, his ironic choice to do a big orchestral score for an animated comedy, and taking inspiration from Elmer Bernstein.

The Smackdown (2 minutes, 33 seconds): A highlight reel of various smacks, slaps and punches from the film.

MTV News Celebrity Shorts: Kurt Loder hosts these brief celebrity “interviews,” which aired on MTV in 1996 as part of a “moronathon” to advertise the release of the movie. It’s like a blast from the past.

Jennifer Tilly (1 minute, 8 seconds)

Steve Buscemi (1 minute, 38 seconds)

Snoop Dogg (48 seconds)

Trailers

Teaser Trailer 1 (35 seconds)

Teaser Trailer 2 (46 seconds)

TV Spots (6 minutes, 10 seconds): A dozen TV spots from the time of the film’s release, with the first few featuring Judge “directing” the two stars on set.

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 80 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: December 7th, 2021

Review: West Side Story

December 11, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

In his five decades of making feature films, Steven Spielberg has never directed a full-on musical, but his visual style and cinematic sense of scope has always suggested he would be good at one.

This all changes with West Side Story, his long-gestating remake of the 1961 Oscar-winning film, that serves as a slightly updated but still faithful adaptation of the original 1957 Broadway musical with songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

I’ll admit I was skeptical about the need to remake the classic Best Picture winner, but I think Spielberg has pulled it off, and, well, I hope that he makes another musical. Because West Side Story is dazzling in terms of spectacle, and worth seeing for its excellent cinematography, production design and choreography alone.

Right from the opening scene, as the constantly moving camera appears to float through the rubble of partially torn down buildings in a 1950s New York neighbourhood that is in the process of being gentrified, the film is a visually stunning experience. The cinematography by Spielberg’s longtime collaborator Janusz Kaminski is often breathtaking, setting up one eye-popping composition after another, and making memorable use of light and shadow.

These few city blocks have become the flashpoint for a turf war between two street gangs, the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. This rivalry provides the dramatic backdrop for a love story between two young people from different backgrounds; the white Tony (Ansel Elgort) and the Puerto Rican María (Rachel Zegler), who lives with her brother Bernardo (David Alvarez) and his girlfriend Anita (an energetic Ariana DeBose). But their relationship causes trouble on both sides, with Bernardo being a member of the Sharks, and Tony a former member of the Jets who is still friends with their leader Riff (Mike Faist, a cast standout who brings surprising depth to the role).

The screenplay by Tony Kushner makes a few small updates, including fleshing out the tensions between the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets are made up of the poor white people who weren’t wealthy enough to move out of the slums, causing them to grow resentful of the Puerto Rican immigrants coming in who they see as taking over their businesses. Kushner’s script really leans into the themes of gentrification and racial violence, which were present in the original as well, as the story follows the same structure of building to a massive rumble between the two gangs and its tragic aftermath.

The biggest upgrade in this version of West Side Story is the film’s racially authentic casting of the Latino characters (there’s none of the original’s outdated “brownface”), led by young newcomer Zegler who landed the role through an online casting call. Rita Moreno, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Anita in the original film sixty years ago, also returns to portray new character Valentina, a refashioned version of mentor figure Doc. At 90-years-old, Moreno shines in the role, including a heart-wrenching rendition of “Somewhere.”

Spielberg and Kaminski do a great job of staging the musical numbers, including a vibrant and colourful take on “America,” with longer takes that actually allow us to enjoy the dancing and choreography by Justin Peck, with the free-flowing camera complimenting the movement onscreen. The use of lighting is also notable, including in the gorgeously photographed set-piece when María and Tony first meet during a dance in the high school auditorium, which features some tasteful lens flares.

At its heart, West Side Story is an urban take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, telling a story about the futility of violence and how it moves in cycles once it starts. Yes, the narrative beats remain basically the same, and the 1961 film will always hold a special place in my heart. But this new West Side Story is a vibrant piece of filmmaking in its own right, that allows us to experience the classic musical numbers in a new way.

Spielberg updates the material in a few subtle ways, but his West Side Story mainly works as a glorious and colourful “they don’t make ’em like they used to” movie musical. I guess the moral of the story is to never doubt Steven Spielberg, who is still at the top of his game, making a splash delivering his first musical fifty years into an incredible career.

West Side Story is now playing exclusively in theatres.

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