Barbie

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Comedy;
Box Office $635.68 million;
DVD $19.99, Blu-ray $24.99, UHD BD $29.99;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for suggestive references and brief language.
Stars Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Kate McKinnon, Will Ferrell, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Alexandra Shipp, Emma Mackey, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa, Scott Evans,Rhea Perlman, Helen Mirren.

The Barbie doll, when introduced by Mattel in 1959, was initially intended as a platform to sell clothes and accessories for girls to dress it up. Other characters followed, and backstories were created as Barbie’s circle of friends and family grew, but the driving force for their popularity remained the ways the girls playing with them could unlock their own imaginations. This is reflected in many of the “Barbie” animated movies that project the characters into various preexisting fairy tales and other adventure stories.

For a live-action film based on Barbie, director Greta Gerwig could have chosen any number of approaches, not the least of which would have been a conventional narrative depicting the lives of the “Barbie” characters as if they were real people working in the fashion industry or something mundane. But Gerwig has made a career of bucking convention, so her vision of Barbie is something much more complex — a movie about the doll’s relationship with the real world.

Interestingly, her screenplay (co-written with her partner, Noah Baumbach) employs a story structure that pays homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey of all things, and not just with a prologue that directly parodies Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic.

As fourth-wall-breaking narrator Helen Mirren explains, the introduction of Barbie shifted the landscape of playing with dolls away from girls practicing for motherhood to fostering ambitions of achieving any goal in life despite background or hardship.

And thus it is that the Barbies seem to exist in their own pocket dimension in which women run society, but all the variants of “Barbie” and “Ken” and other associated characters represent that type of doll in the real world, and some sort of metaphysical psychic link between them can influence what happens in either reality.

Actually, though, any attempt to parse logic from the cause-and-effect of how Gerwig’s Barbie universe works is a futile gesture, as even the characters in the film joke about how warped the story’s reality is. It’s only the genuine emotional connection the characters have with each other that provides structure to the various story arcs and keeps it all from spinning out of control — an impressive achievement of directorial balance on Gerwig’s part.

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In Barbieland, a fantasy realm dominated by plastic and pink, where the backdrops are painted and all the buildings are designed like Barbie playsets, Margot Robbie plays the “stereotypical” Barbie — the Barbie that first comes to mind when one thinks of Barbie. Her life is an idiosyncratic routine of perfect days enjoying visits with the various professional Barbies and hanging out at the beach with Ken (Ryan Gosling). Nights are filled with disco parties.

The various Kens only exist to seek the attention of the Barbies, and seem to have no other purpose. Where they actually live is a question raised but never actually answered, since the Barbies don’t really care.

When Robbie’s Barbie begins to experience anxiety and symptoms of aging imperfectly, she is told she must venture into the real world to confront the girl playing with her in this manner. Gosling’s Ken joins her on this convoluted journey, and while Barbie finds those responsible for her unwanted emotions, Ken discovers a world in which men have purpose and respect.

When Barbie is taken back to Mattel headquarters, because that’s the kind of Meta this movie is, Ken returns to Barbieland with the intention of introducing the patriarchy and improving his and the other Kens’ lot in life.

And thus Barbie and some newfound friends must return home to restore balance to the matriarchy that Barbieland has always known.

In framing Barbie as both an individual living in her own reality and a concept with influence in the real world, Gerwig has crafted a film that tries to meet several conflicting expectations for what a Barbie movie could be.

Gerwig’s Barbie is presented as both iconic and problematic. The behind-the-scenes interviews with Gerwig included with the home video extras show a director who reveres the nostalgia of what Barbie meant to her childhood, while the film’s story seems to lament that the lessons gleaned from Barbie’s worldbuilding didn’t reflect her worldview.

So we get the lavishly designed, fantastic-looking Barbieland sets of life-sized dollhouses that give the film most of its visual flair. We get intricate musical numbers that speak to the stream-of-consciousness fantasy nature of Barbieland’s existence. But we also get a treatise on the relationship between feminism and the patriarchy, using Ken’s journey to satirize a kind of over-the-top interpretation of toxic masculinity. The end result isn’t so much a film about Barbie as it is Metaphor: The Movie.

Regardless of what the filmmakers’ intent was, the exploration of these competing attitudes blended with a storytelling style that borders on expressionism gives the viewer some leeway to imprint whatever message they want to take away from the film, which may account for its massive success despite complains of overt political messaging. Ultimately, the film is as much a comedy poking fun at the Barbie brand’s eccentricities as it is a loving tribute to its legacy.

The aforementioned Barbie home video extras include six bonus featurettes totaling 45 minutes of typical behind-the-scenes material.

The 12-minute “Welcome to Barbie Land” covers the creation of the real-life Barbie Dream Houses, and the seven-and-a-half-minute “Playing Dress-Up” focuses on the costumes. The six-and-a-half-minute “Becoming Barbie” deals with how Robbie and other performers approached playing the legendary doll, while the five-minute “All-Star Barbie Party” marvels at the assembled cast. “Musical Make-Believe” is a nine-minute featurette about the film’s musical sequences. Finally, the five-minute “It’s a Weird World” examines Kate McKinnon’s quirky “Weird Barbie” character.

The extras are offered with both the digital and disc versions of the film. However, the disc versions aren’t offered as multidisc combo packs, with the 4K and regular Blu-ray versions configured separately (though each includes access to a digital copy, while the DVD version does not).

 

Lionsgate Acquires ‘Silk Road’ for U.S. Theatrical, Digital, VOD Release Feb. 19, Disc Release Feb. 23

Lionsgate has acquired the crime thriller Silk Road for U.S. theatrical, digital and VOD release Feb. 19 and Blu-ray and DVD release Feb. 23.

Written for the screen and directed by Tiller Russell, the film stars Jason Clarke, Nick Robinson, Alexandra Shipp, Jimmi Simpson, Katie Aselton, Lexi Rabe, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Daniel Stewart and Paul Walter Hauser.

Based on true events, Silk Road focuses on the young, affluent, and highly motivated entrepreneur Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson), whose ambitious goal is to launch the Internet’s first completely anonymous and unregulated marketplace. With Ulbricht’s passion for the possibilities his invention offers the world, his site — the Silk Road — becomes the world’s fastest-growing drug market, catching the focus of disgraced DEA agent Rick Bowden (Clarke). A dinosaur with a habit for substance abuse and blowing cases, Bowden once had street savvy in dark corners but is unprepared for the dark web as he struggles through tutorials on how to use the Internet. As both men’s private lives erode, with Bowden in over his head and Ross’s growing paranoia driving unthinkable choices, they cling to their jobs in an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse that have both men asking how far their idealism can take them.

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Silk Road is based on the Rolling Stone article “Dead End On Silk Road” by David Kushner. Years after the legal conclusion of the investigation, the Silk Road saga continues to make headlines, as it was recently reported that $1 billion in bitcoin connected to the site was recently moved for the first time in years — a signal that the criminals who operate in the darkest corners of the internet have not gone away.

Silk Road is a thrilling story with the kind of stranger-than-fiction details that can only come from a true story,” Lionsgate VP of acquisitions Lauren Bixby said in a statement. “This movie will keep audiences riveted by its cat and mouse game of a criminal mastermind being tracked by a hot-headed narc.”

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Fox;
Action;
Box Office $65.85 million;
$29.99 DVD, $37.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language.
Stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jessica Chastain.

With Dark Phoenix, the Fox era of “X-Men” movies comes to an end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Of course, looking back at the franchise, while it has left its mark on the landscape of superhero cinema, the films have never really been the most consistent in terms of quality. And a lot of that might owe to the filmmakers’ dubious relationship with not just the source material, but the other films in the franchise as well.

Some have been standouts — X2, Days of Future Past, Deadpool and Logan being the biggest highlights on most lists — and some, such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, were forgettable enough that even the film that used time travel to reset the timeline ignored it.

Going in, the 12th “X-Men” movie, Dark Phoenix, had a few factors to overcome. It would be following up the disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse with a first-time director, Simon Kinberg, albeit someone who was at least familiar with the franchise having written several of the previous films. And it would be coming out amid Disney’s takeover of the Fox studio, meaning that future “X-Men” movies would likely come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and feature a whole new cast and creative team and have nothing to do with the Fox movies. That lack of a narrative future combined with the release date for Dark Phoenix getting pushed back further and further left an impression that it was more of a remnant of a bygone era than an entry audiences could really care about.

In that regard, at least it made it to theaters. Fox also left over a New Mutants film that still needs a final polish if it is to ever see the light of day.

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Even so, the signs are evident within Dark Phoenix of a franchise on its last legs even without the intrigue of inter-studio transition (much of this carrying over from Apocalypse).

For his part, Kinberg wanted a second chance to take on the “Dark Phoenix Saga,” one of the most famous “X-Men” storylines from the comics, and one that was adapted somewhat in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, which Kinberg co-wrote. But where it was just one of several storylines serving that muddied third “X-Men” movie, the reboot that came with Days of Future Past would allow Kinberg to spend an entire movie on it.

Dark Phoenix also picks up the tradition begun in 2011’s First Class of setting subsequent “X-Men” movies in a new decade. So the action picks up in 1992, nine years after the events of Apocalypse. Now seen by the world as heroes, the X-Men conduct a mission to rescue a space shuttle crew from a mysterious space cloud, which ends up being absorbed by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner).

The power contained within the cloud ends up unlocking hidden secrets involving Jean, which puts her at odds with Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the rest of the X-Men. As she sets out on her own, she is pursued by an alien leader (Jessica Chastain) who wants the power for herself.

So in that description lies the elements for a big, sprawling epic — space adventure, mysterious superpowers, alien invasions. And yet, instead of going big, Kinberg chooses to go small, trimming the potential for more world-building in favor of focusing on Jean’s personal struggles to deal with her new abilities and what that means to Charles. And the aliens are treated as little more than another nuisance for the mutants to handle, rather than the film realizing that this is the first time these films have had to deal with cosmic matters.

This could have been the Avengers: Endgame of Fox’s “X-Men” franchise, but its scope is so limited it ends up feeling more like a direct-to-video sequel.

According to Kinberg in both the feature-length commentary and several behind-the-scenes featurettes, this was by design, as the constraints of a psychological drama more more appealing to the kind of director he wanted to be. So while it’s very much the film he wanted to make, and any director would still have had his script as a starting point, the question of whether his directorial sensibilities were the right fit will always loom over the final product. (And, to be fair, the question of who else they could have gotten to direct also is fair, especially considering how much of a Hollywood pariah franchise stalwart Bryan Singer turned out to be.)

A couple of other factors contribute to the film’s sense of disconnect from the rest of the franchise. First, despite the time jump from the previous film, there is very little sense of character development in the interim. The team is the same as it was at the end of the previous movie, and any new characters are reduced to little more than fan service cameos (a complaint that could be lodged against a number of the previous movies too). Kinberg in one of the featurettes mentions thinking of this film as more of a reboot with the same cast, rather than a continuation of previously established plot threads. This isn’t the first time this kind of approach seems to have been applied to the “X” movies, as numerous potential story points and character relationships are hinted at only to be ignored later, it does seem more in force with Dark Phoenix, which is a shame.

And while musical consistency has never been a strength of this franchise, the previous “X” movies at least demonstrated a musical progression through the themes that composer John Ottman originally introduced in X2. All of that is abandoned here though in favor of the generic synth tones of Hans Zimmer and his musical score factory. It serves Kinberg’s low-key approach but does nothing for sparking the sense of nostalgia this film could have used to send this particular iteration of the franchise out on a higher note.

Of course, getting pushed to a summer release date didn’t do Dark Phoenix any favors, as it simply invited comparisons to Endgame, which traded heavily on its sense of nostalgia for the characters, especially in how it presented the music for them.

The important lesson here is that in adapting a particular comic book storyline into a long-running series (films or TV), is that the ongoing storylines should be serviced by, not sacrificed to the adaptation. The movie, show or franchise still needs to stand on its own, and the best adaptations are able to appease both longtime fans of the material and new viewers unfamiliar with it, often by adhering to the spirit of the work if not a literal re-creation of it.

That doesn’t mean Dark Phoenix is unwatchable. Just the notion of revisiting the “Dark Phoenix Saga” makes the film a curio, if only to compare it to The Last Stand. And make no mistake, there are quite a few echoes of that previous film here.

In addition, there are plenty of dazzling visual effects when the film bothers with them, and the film looks great, particularly during the shuttle rescue sequence.

And it’s still good to see the cast return, even if the story isn’t quite sure how best to utilize them. Ultimately, the film does provide enough of a sense of closure to the Fox era, particularly the four films of the “First Class” continuity.

The Blu-ray is also fascinating in how the bonus materials demonstrate the clear disconnect between how the film unfolds in the filmmakers’ minds, and what it ended up being.

In addition to Kinberg’s commentary (shared with producer Hutch Parker), the Blu-ray also includes three-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes that mostly offer redundant information to what’s established in the film, but also provide an alternate ending of sorts.

The centerpiece of the extras is the five-part documentary “Rise of the Phoenix: The Making of Dark Phoenix,” which runs about 81 minutes in total and offers a comprehensive view of the production. Supplementing it is a 13-minute scene-breakdown of the creation of a battle on New York’s 5th Avenue (re-created on a stage in Montreal).

Rounding out the package is a lighthearted two-minute video of Beast (Nicholas Hoult) teaching viewers how to fly the X-Jet.

 

 

Latest ‘Shaft’ Movie Coming Home in September

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the 2019 edition of Shaft digitally Sept. 10, and on Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 24.

In the fifth film in the “Shaft” franchise, cyber-security expert John Shaft Jr. (Jessie T. Usher) investigates his best friend’s death and gets a lesson in street smarts from his legendary father, John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson).

The cast also includes Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp, Matt Lauria, Titus Welliver, Cliff “Method Man” Smith and Richard Roundtree, the original John Shaft.

Directed by Tim Story, the film earned $21.4 million at the domestic box office.

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The film is a sequel to the franchise’s 2000 installment, also called Shaft, which itself was a remake/sequel to the 1970s “Shaft” films starring Roundtree: 1971’s Shaft, 1972’s Shaft’s Big Score! and 1973’s Shaft in Africa.

The DVD and Blu-ray will include a “Can Ya Dig It? The Making of Shaft” featurette.

The Blu-ray will also include deleted scenes, a gag reel and the three-part documentary A Complicated Man: The Shaft Legacy, comprised of “Part One: A Bad Mother Born,” “Part Two: No Questions Asked” and “Part Three: A Legend of His Time.”