Street Date 10/18/22;
Box Office $103.1 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality.
Stars Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock.
Director David Leitch’s latest hyperkinetic actioner is an amusing bit of fluff about a thief who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Brad Pitt plays said thief, code name Ladybug, who is tasked with stealing a briefcase full of cash being transported on one of Japan’s famed bullet trains. However, Ladybug is filling in for a criminal colleague who thought the assignment was beneath him, and quickly discovers the train is filled with mercenaries and assassins who take turns trying to kill each other with a wide array of weapons of choice, including a snake.
Caught up in the mayhem, Ladybug quickly realizes he’ll have to overcome more than a streak of bad luck in order to survive the trip.
As with former stuntman Leitch’s other directorial efforts, such as John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, Bullet Train is loaded with colorful characters and even more colorful sets, punctuated by bright bursts of neon.
Based on a 2010 Japanese novel, Bullet Train should prove an entertaining-enough diversion for action fans.
The primary extra on the Blu-ray is an audio commentary with Leitch, producer (and also Leitch’s wife) Kelly McCormick, and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz. It’s a good commentary about the challenges of filming an intense action movie during COVID, though the biggest insights are provided by the writer when he points out how much the final product either expanded upon or ignored what was actually written in the script.
The commentary is the only extra offered on the 4K disc in the combo pack. The rest of the extras are on the regular Blu-ray Disc, including three minutes of outtakes and bloopers, plus five short behind-the-scenes featurettes.
The six-minute “Mission Accomplished: Making of Bullet Train” details the origins of the film and the production in general; the five-minute “All Aboard the Pain Train: Stunts” is about staging action in a small space; the seven-minute “Trained Professionals: The Cast” delves into the performances, from the all-star cast to several cameos; the four-minute “Catch What You Missed: Easter Eggs,” which highlights some of the pop culture references and influences in the film; and four minutes of stunt pre-vis sequences.
Rounding out the disc is “Bullet Train Goes Off the Rails,” a four-and-a-half-minute montage of promotional spots featuring NBA players made to air during the NBA playoffs.
Street Date 2/15/22; Disney/Marvel;
Box Office $164.87 million; $29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD; Rated ‘PG-13’ for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality. Stars Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok, Harish Patel, Bill Skarsgård.
For 25 films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe gradually adapted disparate concepts from various comic books that wouldn’t seem to mesh in a live-action setting and somehow made it seem to it together cohesively.
But the 26th film, Eternals, pushes the boundaries of the franchise’s formula so far that it almost seems too bizarre even for the MCU. Following the massive “Infinity Saga,” Eternals is something of a restart for the MCU, telling a story that challenges what audiences already knew about it.
Based on characters from Jack Kirby, who had a knack for outlandish cosmic adventures, Eternals tells the story of 10 alien heroes sent to Earth thousands of years ago to protect humanity from predators called Deviants. They were sent on this mission by Arishem, a god-like being called a Celestial who tells them that allowing life to flourish on Earth is the key to the creation of a new Celestial who will in turn go on to create new stars and planets.
These concepts aren’t presented metaphorically. The Celestials are shown as literally creating new stars and solar systems and constructing the cosmos as if it were a Lego playset.
Having aided in the development of human civilizations since the dawn of written history, the Eternals survive into modern times awaiting news that they can return home, despite seemingly defeating the Deviants hundreds of years prior and having gone their separate ways to integrate into humanity. However, when the return of the Deviants seems to portend apocalyptic news for Earth, the Eternals must reunite to stop them once again.
The Eternals themselves each have unique powers reflective of archetypal superhero abilities: flight, super speed, super strength, energy blasts, etc.
Director Chloé Zhao, coming off an Oscar win for Nomadland, has crafted a beautiful-looking comic book movie that honors Kirby’s legacy. The story, on the other hand, is often ponderous on the verge of being dull, as if the MCU suddenly decided to get so pretentious about its own success that it’s trying to win a dare about its ability to put anything on screen.
A big problem is that in trying to be its own thing and setting up a bold new direction for the MCU, Eternals raises a lot more questions than it answers about how it fits in with the previously established storylines. Why the Eternals didn’t intervene in the battle against Thanos, for example, gives rise to a tepid explanation at best. A bigger issue fans might have is, when the Earth is seemingly endangered, why the Eternals alone must deal with it without a single one of the remaining Avengers turning up to investigate what is going on.
And it’s not as if audiences don’t know those other heroes are still hanging around out there, since the MCU has already presented other movies and TV shows about what some of the established characters have been doing following Avengers: Endgame. These projects, owing to dealing with the more familiar aspects of the MCU, have been better received by fans, with the massive success of the 27th MCU film, Spider-Man: No Way Home being the epitome of that. One can only imagine Eternals being better received over time as its revelations about the history of the MCU begin to bear fruit.
The Blu-ray and digital editions include a smattering of extras, starting with four deleted scenes that total about six minutes but don’t really add much to the story.
The making of the film is covered in the eleven-minute “Immortalized” featurette, supplemented by a commentary with director Chloé Zhao and visual effects supervisors Stephan Ceretti and Mårtin Larsson that provides an insightful look at the technical craft employed in making the film.
Less useful is the five-minute “Walks of Life” featurette in which the filmmakers and cast pat themselves on the back over the diversity of the cast, gushing over having a superhero team that reflects the demographics of the modern world despite the characters being aliens who are thousands of years old.
Rounding out the package is a two-and-a-half-minute gag reel.
Street Date 6/15/21;
Box Office $100.1 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD; Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language. Stars Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir.
The title fight between two monster-movie heavyweights delivers pretty much what one might expect from such a premise: a lot of spectacle, flashy visual effects, rampaging destruction on a massive scale, and a completely disposable story to provide the flimsiest of excuses to set it all up.
The clash between Godzilla and King Kong is a rematch of sorts, the pair having faced off in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, a Japanese production from the “Godzilla” creative team (and the third “Godzilla” movie to that point). But this is their first encounter in the new “Monsterverse” franchise that began with 2014’s Godzilla remake, which got a sequel in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters featuring Godzilla battling several of his traditional enemies. This Kong was introduced in 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, a 1970s-set adventure film in which humanity discovered the giant ape and all the strange creatures of his mysterious homeland.
Godzilla vs. Kong is under no illusions that it exists for any reason other than to put the two titans together. It even structures the opening credits as a tournament bracket showing which creatures each defeated in the previous movies.
The story, such as it is, involves Godzilla attacking research facilities of a company called Apex and putting the local population in danger. Apex wants to access the power source of the mythical “Hollow Earth” (a hidden underground world) to power a defense against Godzilla, and recruits a scientist named Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to lead the expedition. To access Hollow Earth, they need two things: special vehicles that can withstand the gravitational fluxes of the subterranean barrier, and a Titan to locate an entrance. Lind knows a scientist (Rebecca Hall) who runs a facility on Skull Island where in the past 40 years they’ve managed to entrap Kong and keep him contained in a giant dome.
Anyway, the plan is to take Kong to Antarctica to locate a portal. But since Godzilla can sense the presence of other Titans, he can track Kong once the ape leaves the dome. So Godzilla attacks the fleet transporting Kong, and the Titans have their first throwdown on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and it’s pretty awesome.
Meanwhile, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) from King of the Monsters joins up with a conspiracy podcaster to investigate why Godzilla would be attacking cities again, since she believes Godzilla is meant to protect the world. So they look into Apex and discover the company is building Mechagodzilla, the famed giant robot version of Godzilla, which the original Godzilla doesn’t like.
Through some more plot mechanics, Kong ends up in Hollow Earth and finds his ancestral homeland and an ancient axe his ancestors once used to fight Godzilla’s ancestors in some ancient war between the Titans. The axe allows Kong to harness the same radiation Godzilla uses, which evens the playing field a bit since Godzilla is a lizard that can fire nuclear blasts from his mouth, while Kong isn’t much more than a big monkey.
But Kong turns out to be pretty smart, and to speed things along the movie treats Kong as another protagonist, communicating with a little deaf girl from his island in order to join forces with the humans against Godzilla.
So, Godzilla attacks the Apex facility that is building Mechagodzilla, and Kong returns to the surface to fight him again, and glorious destruction of many neon buildings ensues. It’s quite a sight to behold. And the facility is in Hong Kong, because of course King Kong has to end up in Hong Kong or else what is even the point of it all?
The Blu-ray of the film is loaded with more than an hour of featurettes exploring the history of Godzilla and Kong and the making of their epic clash. Many of the featurettes are also available with copies from select digital retailers.
The extras are broken down by character, so there are two focused on Godzilla, four focused on Kong, and one on Mechagodzilla. There are also three featurettes covering the major fight scenes, one for each.
For the Godzilla featurettes, “Godzilla Attacks” is a six-and-a-half-minute look at the character’s use in this particular story, while the 10-minute “The Penomenon of Gojira, King of the Monsters” is a look at the history of the creature in film, featuring interviews from cast members and filmmakers from all the Monsterverse movies.
The Kong featurettes mostly deal with visual effects and production design, with one, the eight-and-a-half-minute “The Evolution of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World,” is a history of King Kong as told through interviews with Monsterverse filmmakers. In a not altogether unexpected move, only clips from Warner-owned Kong movies are shown; the 1976 (Paramount( and 2005 (Universal) remakes are mentioned briefly without any clips from them being played.
The regular Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray editions include an exclusive commentary track by director Adam Wingard. Much of his discussion centers on technical details, but Wingard is also a fan of the characters and admits that part of his motivation for making the movie was to follow up on debates he had in second grade about who would win in a fight by making sure the character he had always picked would end up winning.
Originally published as a streaming review April 19, 2021.
Street Date 3/19/19; Sony Pictures; Animated; Box Office $189.87 million; $30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD; Rated ‘PG’ for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language. Voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoë Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine.
One of the Holy Grails of adapting a comic book to film is the idea of evoking the feeling of reading a comic while watching the story play out. Filmmakers have tried different techniques over the years to achieve this, such as brighter colors or hyper-stylized action, to varying effect, with the best results often focusing on just telling the story in a way that brings the spirit of the work into a different medium.
Animation would seem to be closer to the artistic foundations of comic books, but often present challenges of their own.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is probably the closest a movie has come to finding that sweet spot between telling a comic book story while immersing the viewer in the fantastic art that is often unique to the panel-to-panel format.
Its innovative animation style, layering hand-drawn animation over CGI, combined with a thrilling story of self-discovery are just a few of the reasons Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.
The film is a deft blending of self-parody with an ambitious attempt by Sony Pictures to explore new aspects of the Spider-Man concept while the live-action version of the character is on loan to Marvel Studios.
In particular, the film is an adaptation of the Miles Morales version of the character, a mixed-race teenager who gains the powers of Spider-Man in an alternate reality in which Peter Parker is killed.
In the film, Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore), stumbles upon a plot by the villainous gangster Kingpin (Live Schreiber) to open a portal into alternate dimensions in search of replacement versions of his recently deceased wife and son. The plan goes awry when versions of Spider-Man from a variety of realities began to appear, and they team up to help Miles learn how to control his new powers and figure out how to return home before Kingpin’s machine damages the multiverse.
The alternate versions of Spider-Man really let the creative team shine with the parody aspects of the film by introducing characters in a variety of styles. There’s a late-30s Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) who has become depressed after years of being a hero has left his personal life in shambles; there’s Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage girl version of Spidey; there’s Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a black-and-white private detective from the 1930s; there’s an anime version involving a little girl and her pet robot from the future; and there’s Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), essentially Porky Pig in a Spider-Man costume.
The combination of the various versions offers not only some of the best laughs ever to be had with a superhero movie, but make for a terrific tribute to what has made Spider-Man such an iconic character over the years. There’s also a post-credits sequence that really takes it up a notch in that regard.
It’s enough to thrill longtime fans of the character, particularly the Miles Morales version, while providing enough nods to the aspects of the mythology that most average viewers would already be familiar with so as not to need to be an avid comics reader to follow along.
The Blu-ray is loaded with a ton of bonus material, including the new animated short “Spider-Ham: Caught in a Ham,” which serves as a prequel to the film in showing us a Spider-Ham adventure that was interrupted when he gets pulled into Miles’ reality.
In addition, there’s an “Alternate Universe Mode” for the movie in which some scenes are replaced with storyboards of earlier concepts, as a way for the filmmakers to ponder how the film could have turned out. It runs about 26 minutes longer than the theatrical cut (which comes in at 117 minutes) and even starts with the Spider-Ham short.
The regular version of the film includes a commentary with the filmmakers, which is a nice guide to how the various creative decisions evolved to get to the final movie, including casting decisions and the re-imagining of certain well-known characters.
Many of the topics are covered in specific featurettes as well.
The eight-minute “We Are Spider-Man” examines the key messages of the film, while the five-minute “Spider-Verse: A New Dimension” deals with the animation style and techniques for adapting the comics.
The 15-minute “The Ultimate Comics Cast” showcases the actors involved in the film and what makes them such a good fit for their characters. The two-part “Designing Cinematic Comics Characters” offers an eight-minute look at the design of the heroes, and five-minutes devoted to the creation of the villains.
“The Spider-Verse Super-Fan Easter Egg Challenge” is a five-minute video that points out some of the references hidden throughout the film, while inviting viewers to look for more.
There’s also the eight-and-a-half-minute “A Tribute to Stan Lee & Steve Ditko,” the co-creators of Spider-Man who both passed away in 2018. Stan Lee recorded one of his famous cameos for the film.
Finally, the disc includes music lyric videos for two songs, “Sunflower” and “Familia.”
There are also some digital-exclusive bonus featurettes. The three-minute “Another, Another Times Square” provides a primer on the concept of alternate realities, the minute-and-a-half “Meanwhile, in a Gassy Universe” is a juvenile montage of various clips from the film with dialogue replaced by fart sounds (no doubt the work of Spider-Ham).
Vudu has a minute-long “An All-Star Cast” promotional video, while Movies Anywhere provides videos for how to draw Miles and Gwen, about three minutes for each character.