Eternals

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/15/22;
Disney/Marvel;
Sci-Fi Action;
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.

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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.

‘Nomadland’ Director’s Debut Feature, Four Other Films Arriving on Disc Oct. 5 from Kino Lorber

Kino Lorber has announced five films arriving on disc Oct. 5, two on Blu-ray Disc and three on DVD. The order deadline for retailers is Sept. 7

Arriving on Blu-ray Disc are Songs My Brother Taught Me and, from the Cohen Media Group, The Awakening.

Songs My Brother Taught Me is the 2015 debut feature from Chloé Zhao, the Academy Award-winning director of Nomadland (2020). A portrait of modern day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the film explores the bond between a brother (John Reddy) and his younger sister (Jashaun St. John), who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the
meaning of home.

The Awakening is a British horror film centered on the death of a child at a boarding school. When the death is blamed on a ghost, hoax exposer Florence Cathcart is certain that science and reason can explain it. But the truth she discovers is more terrifying than she could ever imagine, and soon the ghost hunter becomes the hunted. The Awakening stars Rebecca Hall (The Town), Dominic West (“The Wire”) and Imelda Staunton (“Harry Potter” films).

DVD releases that become available Oct. 5 include Playing Frisbee in North Korea, Virgil Films’ Heaven and Greenwich Entertainment’s Not Going Quietly.

Playing Frisbee in North Korea is the first documentary produced and directed by an African-American female filmmaker from inside North Korea. The idea began at a conference on Korean re-unification organized by General Colin L. Powell and the Colin Powell Center, where director Savanna Washington was a graduate Fellow. Through verité footage from inside North Korea, interviews with North Korean refugees, long-time aid workers, scholars, and experts on the topic, this documentary provides an authentic, on the ground perspective of the lives, struggles, and humanity of the people of North Korea.

Heaven is a faith-based film inspired by the book Heaven: The Adventure Begins, by Alan Duprey. The film tells the story of Jonathan Stone (Angus Benfield), a middle-aged paramedic who struggles to find meaning in the midst of his everyday life, until he wakes up one day in heaven and discovers that his life had more meaning than he could ever have imagined.

Not Going Quietly is a documentary about a rising star in progressive politics and a new father, 32-year-old Ady Barkan, whose life is upended when he is diagnosed with ALS. But after a confrontation with powerful Sen. Jeff Flake on an airplane goes viral, catapulting him to national fame, Barkan and a motley crew of activists ignite a political movement called “Be a Hero.” Together, they barnstorm across the country and empower people to confront their elected officials with emotional, personal stories to demand healthcare justice.

Nomadland

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 4/27/21;
20th Century;
Drama;
Box Office $2.14 million;
$29.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for some full nudity.
Stars Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Bob Wells, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Tay Strathairn.

Director Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland gives audiences a gorgeous tour of the American West through the stark lens of the so-called “nomad” movement that popped up after the “Great Recession” of 2008.

The trend involves predominantly older individuals who, after their companies shut down, took to a minimalist, transient lifestyle, driving from city to city in vans and RVs in search of seasonal work to get by.

The film is based on journalist Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, which was optioned by Frances McDormand, who both co-produces and stars in the film. After being brought on board to direct, Zhao also wrote the screenplay and edited the film, in addition to serving as one of the co-producers as well.

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McDormand plays Fern, who has been living in a van since the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada, closed in 2011 and the town was largely abandoned. She takes a variety of seasonal jobs, including at an Amazon fulfillment center, and begins to learn about the nomad lifestyle, which she refers to as being “houseless” but not homeless. The film plays almost like a documentary, with Fern as the focal point to bring the audience on the journey. Many of the people Fern encounters in the film are actual nomads, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, who were chronicled in Bruder’s book. Among them is Bob Wells, who acts as sort of the guru of the nomads and leads sermons on the lifestyle where he conveys his economic philosophies while people learn tips on how to survive on the road and keep their vehicles in working order. Through it all, the nomads are often compared to the pioneers of old. The film’s wisftul presentation of the vast landscapes they visit aptly demonstrates why the life might appeal to those engaged in it.

The film isn’t political or preachy, instead presenting the people and their lives as it finds them, and letting viewers come to their own conclusions. Some live the life out of necessity, with nowhere else to turn. Others live it by choice, not wanting to be bogged down by the rote requirements of suburban life. McDormand gives a quiet, unflinching performance as one of the latter, treating the natural wonders of America’s great outdoors as her playground, even when the harsh realities of her circumstances catch up to her.

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The film’s critical success comes at a fortuitous time for Zhao, whose next project is Marvel Studios’ big-budget Eternals, which is already in the can and slated for theaters Nov. 25.

The Nomadland Blu-ray includes a few modest but insightful extras. The 13-and-a-half-minute featurette “The Forgotten America” offers a general making of the film with several interviews with the cast and filmmakers, including Bruder. There’s also 15 minutes of footage from a Q&A with Zhao, McDormand and some of the nomads at the film’s drive-in premiere held Sept. 11, 2020, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., staged as a pop-up adjunct of the canceled Telluride Film Festival.

Finally, there are two deleted scenes totaling three minutes.