Soul

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Disney;
Animated;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD.
Rated ‘PG’ for thematic elements and some language.
Voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, Zenobia Shroff, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett.

A music teacher with dreams of jazz glory nearly unlocks the secrets of the universe in Soul, which is about as profound a rumination on the nature of existence as one is likely to find in an animated movie.

Soul is another film from Pixar, like Inside Out and Monsters, Inc., before it, that explores mysterious aspects of how reality works by breaking ontological concepts down into cute and cuddly characters children can relate to, framed in a story their parents are more likely to appreciate.

Jamie Foxx voices Joe, a middle-aged jazz pianist whose stagnant music career has been supplanted by the routines of a middle school band teacher, leaving him artistically unsatisfied. One day, a former student offers him a gig in the quartet of a well-known jazz performer, which Joe sees as his big break. In his excitement over the opportunity, however, Joe slips into an open manhole, and before he realizes what has happened he finds himself a disembodied soul in a black void floating toward the bright light of the Great Beyond.

Unwilling to accept death just as he’s on the verge of realizing what he considers his purpose in life, Joe runs from the light and winds up in a different part of the spiritual realm, the Great Before, where young souls are nurtured until ready to experience life on Earth. The powers that be mistake Joe for a mentor for the new souls, and assign him a troublesome student named 22 (Tina Fey), who for thousands of years has shown little interest in proceeding to Earth. Learning of Joe’s situation, however, 22 agrees to help him return to his body.

And this is pretty much what the film’s marketing materials made the story out to be. But things get a bit more complicated than a trip through the afterlife. The pair journey to an astral plane where 22 knows a meditating guru who specializes in saving lost souls, but a mishap sends both of them to Earth. When 22 awakes in the hospital in Joe’s body, and Joe in a nearby cat, Soul quickly turns into Pixar’s version of a body-swap movie. As they work to correct the mistake, Joe the cat instructs 22 on getting ready for the gig, while 22 as Joe begins to experience true life and its simple pleasures for the first time.

Here it becomes clear that the film’s integration of jazz into the plot is more than a stylistic choice, but a clever narrative shorthand that builds upon the improvisational nature of the musical form to symbolize and express many of the motifs the film is exploring.

Soul is one of those movies that uses big ideas to teach simple lessons. The way the film depicts the relationship between the real and spiritual worlds might open the door to quite a few questions about just what is going on with Joe’s body, and may even prompt a few frank discussions between parents and children — but as a plot device it’s best not to delve into the mechanics of it too deeply. The film itself knows this, which is why the spiritual constructs are always described as an “illusion” and “hypothetical.”

However, the realm of the Great Before provides a great excuse to depict the kind of colorful setting Pixar excels at. It’s a beautiful, ethereal place of calming blues, serene golden light and soothing new age music. Pixar is no stranger to wistful films, but this is certainly one of its most beautiful, and a terrific reminder to slow down and appreciate the simple pleasures life has to offer.

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The Blu-ray presentation offers a bevy of bonus materials typical of a Pixar release.

Included with the film on the standard-Blu-ray Disc is an informative commentary with director Pete Docter, producer Dina Murray, and co-writer/co-director Kemp Powers. Also included on this disc are a couple of featurettes: the eight minute “Astral Taffy,” about designing the soul world; and the 10-minute “Not Your Average Joe,” about crafting Pixar’s first black lead character.

The 4K disc includes just the film presentation without any extras.

A dedicated standard-Blu-ray bonus disc includes a number of interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes that delve into the challenges of crafting the film’s complex subject matter into a digestible narrative. These include the six-and-a-half-minute “Pretty Deep for a Cartoon,” about the film’s heady themes; the eight-minute “Into the Zone,” about finding the film’s musical identity with Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and John Batiste, the latter helping incorporate jazz into the film’s visual style; the three-minute “Jazz Greats,” in which a number of jazz musicians discuss what music means to them; and the seven-minute “Soul, Improvised,” which chronicles the creative team’s challenges of working from home to finish the film during the pandemic. (The same featurettes are included with the movie on Disney+ as well.)

Also included on the bonus disc are 22 minutes of deleted sequences showcasing earlier, different concepts for telling the story, providing some good insights into the story process, plus several of the film’s trailers in various languages.

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Elysium

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/9/21;
Sony Pictures;

Sci-Fi;
$30.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence and language.
Stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner.

This 2013 dystopian science-fiction film — written, directed, and co-produced by Neill Blomkamp (District 9) — crafts a world that seems a bit more ominous in our current circumstances.

The film is set in the year 2154, when there are two classes of people living in different worlds: the ultra-wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. The rich have access to all the luxuries money can buy, including top-notch healthcare delivered by a pod that can detect and cure illness in minutes.

Max (Matt Damon) — after a childhood yearning to reach Elysium — is now resigned to his fate as a lowly factory worker on Earth after serving a prison sentence for stealing cars. A twist of fate forces him to revisit his mission to go to the idyllic world in the sky, and he enlists the help of criminal friends to get there. Along the way, he reencounters a childhood friend whose daughter has cancer, and she, too, wishes to go to Elysium.

Out to thwart Max’s efforts and keep all undesirables out is Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster in an icily evil turn). A conservative and ruthless defense leader at the space station, she enlists the help of a psychopathic mercenary (Sharlto Copley, who gleefully portrays his character’s relish for violence and delivers snappy, menacing one liners) to keep Max and others from breaching the sky fortress.

The haves and the have nots, exclusive access to healthcare for the wealthy, a coup attempt, environmental degradation — all of this seems to be a bit more conceivable future in 2021 than when this film first came out, giving it a new relevance.

The film is chockfull of action, from gun fights to explosions to blood splattering gore — all of which look (sometimes ickily) realistic in 4K.

“I’m interested in dudes exploding,” Blomkamp says in one of the extras.

Yep, anyone who watches Elysium can attest to that.

The director is enthusiastic about in-camera, on-set effects without the use of computers, making the extras more interesting that usual. It’s always more intriguing to watch special effects teams create actual explosions and blood splatters, and miniatures are more visually interesting than a world created on a computer screen.

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Extras on the 4K Ultra HD disc include “Exoskeletons, Explosions and the Action Choreography of Elysium,” about the special effects; “The Hero, The Psychopath and the Characters of Elysium,” about the storyline and characters; “The Art of the Elysium Miniatures,” about a crucial crash scene; “Bugatti 2154,” about how a spaceship version of the luxury car brand made it into the film; and theatrical trailers.

For those interested in delving deeper, the standard Blu-ray Disc in the combo pack includes more hours of bonus content, including an extended scene and several additional featurettes: “Collaboration: Crafting the Performances in Elysium”; “Engineering Utopia: Creating a Society in the Sky”; “Visions of 2154 — An Interactive Exploration of the Art and Design of Elysium”; “In Support of the Story: The Visual Effects of Elysium”; “The Technology of 2154”; and the three-part documentary “The Journey to Elysium.”

The New Mutants

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

20th Century;
Horror;
Box Office $23.8 million;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violent content, some disturbing/bloody images, some strong language, thematic elements and suggestive material.
Stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga, Adam Beach.

Reflecting its comic book source material, The New Mutants offers a horror-infused take on the “X-Men” franchise and its penchant for finding people with bizarre superpowers.

As a spinoff of the “X-Men” comics, the “New Mutants” series focused more on younger mutants — the people born with genes that evolved to give them superpowers — who might one day be developed into full-fledged X-Men. The book’s style took on more surreal elements than the rest of the brand, though over the years it was the book that introduced characters such as Deadpool, Cable and Domino.

The New Mutants film moves away from “X-Men” style action and leans more into the realm of Stephen King thrillers and psychological horror. The story centers on a group of teenagers locked up in an asylum for evaluation of their powers, which manifest at the onset of puberty. But they seem to be under attack by an unseen force that takes that form of what terrified them as children. As discussed by director Josh Boone in the bonus materials, the film’s story draws particular inspiration from the “Demon Bear” storyline, in which one of the kids manifests her fears into a giant bear that attacks everyone.

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The film is taut in its execution and the cast is likable, but the film’s primary obstacle is its ‘PG-13’ rating, which doesn’t allow the filmmakers to take the story as extreme as it perhaps needs to go, resulting in the intended frightfest coming off as rather bland.

They also minimize any connection to the greater “X-Men” franchise, aside from a few generalized references. That it serves mostly as a standalone film is just as well, considering the film was delayed for so long its ownership in the interim transferred to Disney through its Fox studio purchase, making this the final “X-Men” film of the old regime, aside from more “Deadpool” movies that Disney-owned Marvel Studios might want to produce.

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The Blu-ray includes 11 minutes of deleted scenes that are pretty much more of the same of what the film delivers.

There are also two featurettes running just over seven minutes: “Origins & Influences,” about how the original comic book influenced the filmmakers, and “Meet the New Mutants,” a profile of the characters and the cast behind them.

Finally, the disc includes a commentary track in which Boone interviews Bill Sienkiewicz, the comic book artist who worked on the “New Mutants” story arcs being adapted. It’s an interesting conversation about the artistic pathways taken by each man, but it’s not synched in any way to the movie itself.

Disney Sets Home Release Date for ‘The New Mutants’ After $21 Million Domestic Theatrical Run

Disney Media Distribution has set a Nov. 17 home release date for The New Mutants, the 13th and final installment in 20th Century’s “X-Men” franchise.

The film, released theatrically in August despite many theaters still being closed, earned a domestic box office gross of just over $21 million.

The film will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Disc and DVD, as well as through digital retailers.

The New Mutants focuses on five young people with special powers who are forced to undergo treatment at a secret institution — allegedly to cure them of the dangers of their powers. But it’s soon clear that their containment is part of a much bigger battle between the forces of good and evil.

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The film was directed by Josh Boone from a screenplay he wrote with Knate Lee. The cast includes Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt and Henry Zaga.

Bonus features on the 4K Ultra HD and regular Blu-ray include:

  • “Origins & Influences” — Legendary comic artist Bill Sienkiewicz and the filmmakers explore the origins and influences behind The New Mutants;
  • “Meet the New Mutants” — Cast members share their experiences while filming and reveal how they bonded as a family, much like the characters in the film;
  • Deleted scenes.