Archive for November, 2013

Five VHS reels worthy of rewind. The Toxic Avenger & More! Metro. Nov. 29, 2013

The-Toxic-Avenger-Remake-6-4-10-kcVHS tapes fell out of fashion years ago but there are many reasons to love the old school experience of sticking a cassette into that machine with the flashing 12:00. You can fast forward past the legal disclaimer, the covers were cool and if you don’t like the movie that came on the tape, you can record over it.

Here’s five films you best experienced on VHS.

1.) Technology may have killed off VHS but not before a cursed videotape knocked off a few of its own victims. The Ring, an American adaptation of the 1998 Japanese horror film Ringu, stars Naomi Watts as a journalist investigating the urban legend of a tape that kills viewers seven days after popping it into the VCR. “You start to play it, and it’s like somebody’s nightmare!” No, it’s not a badly dubbed copy of Rhinestone, it’s a series of surreal images from a dead girl’s life. The Ring is creepy and atmospheric until the last half-hour, but that’s when the VCR’s fast forward button comes in handy.

2.) Set in Tromaville, New Jersey The Toxic Avenger is the story of a 90-pound weakling who morphs into the lumpy-headed titular title character. Fighting corruption by spilling loads of fake blood, plunging hands into deep fryers and crushing a head, his methods provide unforgettable b-movie cheap thrills. That last effect—it’s a melon in a wig—is a timeless VHS classic and is actually enhanced by watching it on grainy video tape.

3.) A History of Violence makes the list because it was the last movie to be released on VHS in the golden age of video. Viggo Mortensen is Tom, a mild mannered man who must confront his violent past when local townsfolk start asking, “how come he’s so good at killing people?” An unopened copy of it will set you back $10,000 on eBay, but why would you want an unopened copy of one of director David Cronenberg’s best films?

4.) One of the main benefits of VHS tape is that it always stays at the point at which you left it. Snap it off at the twenty-minute mark, go back to it twenty years later and it will still be EXACTLY where you left off. In a way it’s kind of like hair metal, a genre that has loudly and proudly stayed stalled in the 1980s. Fans of bands like Poison and W.A.S.P. will want to rev up a VHS of The Decline of Western Civilization Part II, The Metal Years, because it rocks too hard to be released on DVD.

5.) The 1980s VHS boom gave us the dreaded direct-to-video movie and produced many bad flicks, countless of which had names that closely echoed those of big theatrical hits. In the down-and-dirty world of the actionsploitation genre, for instance, Schwarzenegger’s hit Commando became Strike Commando—”He’s A War Machine on the Warpath!”—only without the Austrian superstar or a budget for the big action scenes. The lurid cover art is better than the movie, but still, when viewed through a scratchy VHS snowstorm it’s a hoot.

Disney’s Frozen: The story of actor Josh Gad, who never gave up on his Disney dreams

frozen1Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf the optimistic snowman in the new Disney animated film Frozen, thanks his mom for some very well timed advice. “My mother, God bless her,” he says, “allowed me to keep dreaming.”

The story starts in 1993.

“I was sitting in a dark theatre watching Aladdin,” he says. “Robin Williams is playing this insane genie character. I’m on the floor, as is the rest of the audience, and I looked over at my mom and said, ‘I want to do that one day,’ meaning, I want to be the comedic relief sidekick in one of these Disney films.”

Cut to a decade later.

“I was about three years out of college and I called my mom up and said, ‘I don’t think I want to do this anymore.’ She started crying. I said, ‘I’m going to go to law school.’ I thought my mother was going to celebrate that she wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore. But she was really disappointed. And I said, ‘Why are you disappointed?’

She said, ‘Because you’ve been dreaming about this for 15 years, but you are only allowing yourself to live out your dream for three years and I think that is unfair to yourself.’ It was very startling to hear her say that.”

“A week later I got my first big break on Broadway doing a show called The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I guess it was at that time I realized I was going to be OK.

“Book of Mormon was the point at which I realized I had reached a new level. That I had made it. I wasn’t a working actor anymore, I was an actor who was a part of something very special and that would allow and afford me more opportunities to do what I had dreamed of.”

Those opportunities include starring in TV shows like 1600 Penn and movies like Jobs, and, of course, making his dream from 1993 come true with Frozen.

“To get that phone call, saying, you are that guy,” he says, “I had to hold the phone down because I was sobbing with joy.”

Olaf, his comedic sidekick snowman, already has at least one fan — Gad’s young daughter.

“She was two-and-a-half when I took her to see her very first movie in a movie theatre, which was Monster’s University. The teaser for Frozen, which featured just my laugh [played before the movie].

“Off of that laugh she turned to me and said, ‘More dada. I want more dada.’ I had to turn away from her because I was embarrassed by the tears.”


Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 9.11.45 AMRichard’s “Canada AM” reviews of “Frozen,” “Oldboy,” “Homefront” and “Philomena.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!


‘Tis the season for awesome movies: Great films to see in December. Metro Nov 29, 2013

moviesSynopsis: The last couple of weeks have offered up the odd little treat at the movies, like an amuse-bouche to get our taste buds primed for the tastier stuff to follow in December. Not only does the 12th month give us Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve, we also get a delicious buffet of great movies. This week the Reel Guys look ahead to the 31 days that sate our appetite for great movies while feeding the voraciously hungry Oscars.

Richard: Mark, people complain that trailers give away too much of the story, but one upcoming movie has been releasing trailer after trailer — usually not a good sign — and has yet to reveal itself. Apparently The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Scorsese (do I have to write his first name? I don’t think so) and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey, is going to clock in at three hours, so no trailer, no matter how long or how many, can give away all the good stuff. All they have done is make me eager to see this stockbroker meltdown story. What’s grabbed you?
Mark: I’m looking forward to The Wolf of Wall Street too. But I’ve already decided that Inside Llewyn Davis, the new Coen Bros movie about the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961, will be my favourite movie of the year. Perhaps I should actually SEE the film before making my decision, but I know, Richard, I just know! I’ve been waiting for someone to make a movie like this for a long time, and who better than the Coen Bros? The trailer looks terrific and Justin Timberlake looks perfect in his orange alpaca cardigan, not that it would influence my decision in the least.

RC: Timberlake is such a conundrum for me. He’s a wildly talented guy whose movies frequently don’t work. My fingers are crossed that for him, Llewyn is more Social Network than Runner Runner. Saving Mr. Banks is another one I’m looking forward to. I’m a sucker for old Hollywood so the story of Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) wooing P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) for the rights to Mary Poppins is up my alley. That, and I’d watch Thompson do anything — bake a chicken, read the phonebook or play an uptight spinster.

MB: Here’s a guilty pleasure: Grudge Match, the story of two aging boxers facing off for the first time in 50 years. Since the boxers are played by De Niro and Stallone, it’s like a dream mash-up: Raging Bull vs Rocky! I’m hoping Will Smith gets a dream sequence cameo as Ali. And let’s not forget American Hustle, David O. Russell’s new film about greed, lust, politics, and the Mafia. Sounds like a perfect title.
RC: Three things make me want to see American Hustle: the trailers (which are awesome), Christian Bale’s beer gut and Jennifer Lawrence’s extravagant hairdos.

MB: Wait! Make that De Niro’s beer gut and Stallone’s hairdo and it’s a Grudge Match!

PHILOMENA: 4 STARS. “a poignant and funny story of forgiveness.”

imagesWe first meet Philomena (Dame Judy Dench) on the fiftieth birthday of the son she never got to know. Born out of wedlock in 1950s Ireland, her boy was whisked away from the Magdalene Laundries where they lived, adopted by an American couple she never met.

Her story finds its way to Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope), a jaded journalist who thinks human-interest stories are for “weak-minded, vulgar people.” He’d rather be writing about Russian history but Philomena’s story is too good to be ignored.

This odd couple approaches the story from opposite sides. Philomena motives are simple and human. “I’d like to know if Anthony Lee ever thought of me,” she says. “I thought of him everyday.”

Martin, however, is angry. He’s a lapsed Catholic who thinks the church’s actions were unconscionable. He’s also looking to uncover the sensational aspects of the story.

“It was a beach birth and they wouldn’t give her drugs for her pain,” says Philomena’s daughter.

“Excellent,” he says, before catching himself. “For the story.”

The journey leads them to Washington, DC and the truth about the son she never knew.

Based on the book “The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee” by the real-life Sixsmith, the story isn’t really about the Church or the issues surrounding the Magdalene Laundries.

“I don’t want to cause any fuss or blame the church in any way,” says Philomena. “I just want to know he is all right.”

Instead it’s a relationship film. Or make that relationships film. It’s about the connection that could have been between mother and son and the mismatched pairing of the kindhearted Irish nurse and the hard-shelled journalist.

It carefully treads a line between touching and humourous, building a story of heartache and loss without ever being maudlin. Dench conveys Philomena’s obvious pain through subtle looks and faraway looks, while Martin’s sarcasm is never far beneath the surface but they also share many funny moments.

Her long winded plot recitations of her romance novels feel endless, almost as bad as when someone starts a conversation with, “I had the weirdest dream last night,” but her enthusiastic retellings of them help endear Philomena to Martin and the audience. It’s within these moments that the movie’s real heart reveals itself.

“Philomena” transcends its roots as a class study, becoming instead a poignant and funny story of forgiveness and the true nature of love.

THE ARMSTRONG LIE: 3 ½ STARS. ” Fascinating stuff but a complex subject.”

9f7e669ac240de837ba1e862f65eb453-The_Armstrong_Lie_-_Main_2-w933h549czLance Armstrong was one of those athletes who transcended his sport. He wasn’t just a cyclist; he became a celebrity known to people who couldn’t even pronounce Tour de France.

When director Alex Gibney embarked on this Lance Armstrong documentary in 2009 it was meant to be a comeback story. After four years away, and seemingly done with the doping scandal that plagued him for years, the racer was planning to not just complete but win the most brutal road race in the world, the 2200 mile Tour de France.

History reminds us that the race wasn’t the comeback he hoped for, marred by a third place finish and new allegations of performance enhancing drugs. Gibney stopped production for several years, returning to the film—with Armstrong’s cooperation—pieced together a portrait of a complex man who allowed hubris and competitive spirit to run amok.

“I didn’t live a lot of lies,” says Armstrong. “I lived one big lie.” It was one huge fib that lasted for his entire career, and arguably made his career. Doping allegations dogged Armstrong his entire career and he did whatever it took, regardless of the repercussions to friends and colleagues, to protect his reputation.

Gibney, an Oscar winner for Taxi to the Dark Side, does a good job at taking us along for the bumpy ride that goes along with being an Armstrong fan. He’s a complicated man who beat cancer and became a hero but whose legacy will be that of a liar who cheated and denied cheating until the weight of evidence was too much to bear.

The movie carefully plots out his downfall, how he is undone by an enormous ego. The bulk of the film takes place during the 2009 race, the beginning of the end for Armstrong’s career, detailing the behavior that leads to one friend suggesting, “doping is bad but abuse of power is worse.”

We all know how “The Armstrong Lie” will end. It’s a portrait of man who lied with a straight face and yet doesn’t seem to quite understand or accept the repercussions of his actions. Fascinating stuff on a complex subject.

Walt Disney: How a legacy can animate the future. Metro. Nov. 27, 2013

disneyAn “everything old is new again” theme emerges when looking at the slate of upcoming Disney films.

A titan in Hollywood and one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, the Mouse House is looking back at their rich history in a very interesting way.

For instance, Get a Horse, the dazzling new short that plays before Frozen in theatres, is the first original Mickey Mouse theatrical cartoon in almost two decades.

But more than simply being a reintroduction to a beloved character, it’s also a deft marriage of old and new techniques that features, through some technical wizardry, the first vocal performance from Walt Disney since the 1960s.

In the live action roster there’s the Oscar hopeful Saving Mr. Banks, the story of the making of the classic Mary Poppins, and Tomorrowland, an epic sci-fi saga that was allegedly inspired by the contents of a mysterious box found in the Disney archives.

The ninety-year-old company has one eye on the past and the other very much on the future.

“We like to think of our legacy as a springboard to the future and not something that anchors us so you can’t move your feet,” says Walt Disney Animation Studios General Manager and Executive Vice President Andrew Millstein.

“There is a great wealth of characters and visual material but in its day the best of Disney was innovative and moved with audiences. We should do the same. Whether it is Get a Horse or Frozen or Big Hero Six, in terms of our approach to stories or animation or technology, we’re building on our legacy for our future.”

So what should audiences can anticipate from Disney in the next few years? Millstein says audiences should, “expect the unexpected.”

“We have to be fiercely original. We have to give audiences things they haven’t seen before. We want to surprise audiences. We want our stories to be compelling, the worlds to be great, the technology and the visuals to be stunning. If we do our jobs well, that is what’s going to happen.”

Millstein knows what he’s talking about. He’s been with Disney since 1997, when he started there as a production executive in the studio’s motion pictures group.

“It makes me feel very proud that I am part of a company that is creating content and films that you know are going to live for a long, long time,” he says. “We’re part of the zeitgeist of modern history.”

FROZEN: 3 STARS. “blueprint for a Broadway show or an Ice Capades extravaganza.”

2013_frozen-wideDon’t have time to see “Frozen,” the new animated Disney film, at the movies? Not to worry. The beautifully animated film takes Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and turns it into a blueprint for a Broadway show or maybe even an all-skating Ice Capades extravaganza that will soon be playing at a theatre or rink near you soon!

Frozen is the story of two royal sisters, the Princesses of Arendelle, Anna, a spirited adventurer (Kristen Bell) and Elsa, a cryokinetic queen (Idina Menzel) with the awesome power to manifest ice and snow. Like Carrie, but colder.

On the night of her coronation an emotional Elsa accidentally unveils her icy power, plunging her kingdom into an endless winter. Shunned by her people and called a “monster” by the haughty Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) Elsa turns a cold shoulder and goes into hiding on the remote North Mountain.

To save the realm from the eternal cold snap Anna sets off with mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer and a sun-worshipping snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad). On the way the Elsa’s ice palace Anna discovers why her sister is cold-hearted, some magical trolls and the true meaning of love.

“Frozen” has all the elements of classic Disney. There are handsome princes, amusing animals, catchy songs and not one, but two princesses. All the fundamentals are in place and perhaps that’s part of the problem with the film. It feels like all these elements banged together to create one whole.

The music, by husband and wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (who also wrote “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q”), are plentiful with Broadway style tunes popping up every couple of minutes. But the songs don’t feel like they fit together as a whole, almost as if they are from different shows. The Celine Dion style show-stopping pop of “Let It Go” is at odds with the goofy fun of “In Summer.”

The songs themselves are top notch, as is the animation and the most of the voice work—luckily Josh Gad spices things up with his unhinged Olaf voice—but the film as a whole doesn’t have the wit or the invention of “Get a Horse,” the short that is scheduled to precede “Frozen” in theatres. In this case the opening act freezes out the lukewarm main attraction.

OLDBOY: 1 STAR. “There is no more manly-man actor than Josh Brolin.”

oldboy-josh-brolin-fighting-01-600-370The plot of “Oldboy,” Spike Lee’s new remake of a cult Korean film from 1993, is labyrinthine, relying on twists, turns and suspension of disbelief.

After seeing the film one has to wonder if “Oldboy” isn’t some elaborate real-world scheme of Lee’s. It occurred to me that the filmmaker, who moonlights as a New York University film professor, might well have gone through the convoluted machinations of bringing the movie to the big screen to teach his students how not to make a remake of a well liked film.

Sure, he calls the exercise a “re-interpretation,” not a remake, in the same way that Miles Davis’s version of “My Funny Valentine” is a transformation of the tune and not a cover version, but instead of elevating “Oldboy” onto a different plane, he hits all the wrong notes.

Josh Brolin is Joe Doucett, an advertising executive with an ex-wife, a three yar old daughter and a crippling addiction to booze. He’s the kind of guy who shows upon your doorstep at 3 am yelling, “No one wants to have fun anymore,” when you don’t let him in.

One night, after a bender he wakes up in a cell—actually more like a bare bones Motel Six with no windows but with a television and a mail slot for room service. From the TV he learns that he is accused of the brutal murder of his ex-wife, but is given no clue as to why he has been locked away.

For twenty years he rots in the room, so starved for human contact he fashions a friend à la Wilson in “Castaway” out of a pillowcase.

He emerges from his two decade sentence cleaned up, looking like a movie star, although a somewhat slightly dazed one, in a box in the middle of a field.

A mysterious stranger (Sharlto Copley) contacts him with a deal. Answer two questions and the entire experience will be explained and he will get to see his daughter. Fail and the mysterious goings on will continue.

Along the way the moonfaced Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen) and bar owner Chucky (Michael Imperioli) try and help Joe get to the bottom of the mystery.

If anyone should have been able to pull this off it should be Josh Brolin. There is no more manly-man actor in the mold of Lee Marvin or Lee Van Cleef working today. You believe him as a slickster with a drink in his hand and a practically indestructible force of nature able to withstand physical punishment that would make Grigori Rasputin look like a wimp.

But yet, in “Oldboy,” you don’t care.

The original movie was an epic tragedy, a twisted story (there will be no spoilers here) driven by revenge and dark secrets. All those elements are in place in Lee’s version, but the focus has shifted to the mystery, which is the least interesting thing about the story.

As a collection of red herrings and mumbo jumbo about “faceless corporations” it’s an incoherent mess of information searching for a form. As a story device it deflects the focus from the mental to the procedural, giving Brolin little to do except glower into the camera.

Add to that a badly botched remounting of the original’s most striking scene—a hammer battle in a long hallway—and you’re left wondering what Miles Davis might have done with this instead of Spike Lee.