Netflix Orders ‘The Sandman’ Series Based on Neil Gaiman Comics

Netflix has ordered 10 episodes of the Warner Bros. Television series “The Sandman” based on Neil Gaiman’s DC comic book series.

A blend of modern myth and fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are interwoven, “The Sandman” follows the people and places affected by Morpheus, the Dream King, as he mends the cosmic — and human — mistakes he’s made during his vast existence.

The writer/showrunner/executive producer will be Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman, “Grey’s Anatomy”) with Gaiman (Good Omens, Coraline) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, “Krypton”) writing and executive producing. Gaiman, Heinberg and Goyer will co-write the first episode.

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“We’re thrilled to partner with the brilliant team that is Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg to finally bring Neil’s iconic comic book series ‘The Sandman ’ to life onscreen,” said Channing Dungey, VP of original series at Netflix, in a statement. “From its rich characters and storylines to its intricately built-out worlds, we’re excited to create an epic original series that dives deep into this multi-layered universe beloved by fans around the world.”

‘Shazam!’ Flying to Home Video in July From Warner

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the DC Comics superhero movie Shazam! digitally July 2, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray July 16.

The film tells the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teenager in foster care who is empowered by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to become the superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi) to defend the realms of magic from the evil Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong).

The cast also includes Jack Dylan Grazer, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews.

The film earned $138.2 million at the domestic box office.

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The character first appeared in comic books published by Fawcett in 1940 under the name Captain Marvel, and was later acquired by DC.

To avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics character of Captain Marvel (whose own movie will be available for digital download May 28 and on disc June 11), DC eventually changed the character’s name to Shazam, the word Billy says to transform into the adult superhero (also the name of the Wizard who gives Billy his powers).

Shazam is an acronym derived from the names of the six mythological heroes from which the character draws his power: the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.

The Shazam! Blu-ray and special-edition DVD will include an exclusive Shazam motion comic, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a breakdown of the carnival scene, and the featurettes “The Magical World of Shazam,” “Super Fun Zac,” “Shazamily Values” and “Who is Shazam?”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of Shazam! will feature Dolby Vision HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

A 3D Blu-ray is listed for preorder at WBshop.com as well.

‘Aquaman’ Swimming to Home Video in March

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the DC Comics adaptation Aquaman through digital retailers March 5, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 26.

The sixth installment in the interconnected series of films based on DC Comics, Aquaman picks up with the title character’s adventures after his appearance in 2017’s Justice League. While Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is content on using his abilities to help people, he is summoned to Atlantis by Mera (Amber Heard), who urges him to assert his birthright as the true king of the undersea kingdom to prevent his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) from waging a war against the surface world. To do this he must set off on a quest across the realms of the seven seas to recover the ancient artifact that will allow him to unite the oceans and fulfill his destiny as Aquaman.

The cast also includes Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison and Ludi Lin.

Directed by James Wan, the film has earned $325 million at the domestic box office, and $1.1 billion worldwide.

All versions of Aquaman will include a three-minute preview of Shazam, the upcoming live-action adaptation starring Zachary Levi as the DC superhero, due in theaters April 5.

The Blu-ray and DVD editions of Aquaman will also include scene study breakdowns and several featurettes: “Going Deep Into the World of Aquaman,” “Becoming Aquaman,” “James Wan: World Builder,” “Aqua Tech,” “Atlantis Warfare,” “The Dark Depths of Black Manta,” “Heroines of Atlantis,” “Villainous Training,” “Kingdoms of the Seven Seas,” “Creating Undersea Creatures” and “A Match Made in Atlantis.”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of Aquaman will feature Dolby Vision HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

Venom

Tom Hardy brings the fan-favorite antihero Venom to life in this entertaining throwback to the wild sensibilities of the comic book movies of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Blu-ray is loaded with bonus materials that should satisfy fans of both the character’s history and his film adaptation.

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Sony Pictures;
Action;
Box Office $213.03 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.
Stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott, Melora Walters, Woody Harrelson.

The character of Venom’s journey to the big screen shares a lot of parallels with Deadpool, in that both were introduced as a villain in another character’s poorly received movie before getting a second chance after years of development hell to get a movie of their own.

Venom was originally introduced in the 1980s as an alien entity that served as an antagonist for Spider-Man before his increasing popularity led writers to shift him into the role of an anti-hero (often dubbed the “lethal protector”). He’s essentially a living black goo known as a symbiote, which merges with a human host to create a hulking beast with super abilities and a voracious appetite.

The character’s big-screen debut came in 2007 via a much-maligned appearance in the awful Spider-Man 3, when he was shoehorned into the story allegedly at the behest of studio executives looking to make a spinoff. (Likewise, Deadpool first appeared in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in which all of his fan-favorite traits were removed — a blunder subsequently lampooned in the mega-successful “Deadpool” solo movies that were only made after the popularity of leaked test footage pressured a reluctant Fox into greenlighting the project.)

When the “Spider-Man” franchise was rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, plans emerged for Venom to be included in a Sony Spider-Man cinematic universe, only for the poor reception of 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to put a hold on that as well.

Then Sony made a deal with Marvel Studios to include Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and when that proved successful Sony felt confident in moving forward with Spider-Man-related side projects, including Venom and the animated Into the Spider-Verse.

But, with the live-action Spider-Man on loan to Marvel’s creative team, Sony had to develop Venom without using Spider-Man in his origin story, as the two characters are intricately connected in the comic books. Originally, the symbiote bonded with Peter Parker before moving on to a better-suited host, Peter’s journalistic rival Eddie Brock, to finally become Venom. This paved the way for the expansion of the symbiote concept and the introduction of characters such as Carnage and Riot who could serve as villains for Venom.

So, in the Venom movie, the symbiotes are discovered on a comet and brought to Earth by a space mission funded by megalomaniacal rich guy Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). But the ship crashes and some of the symbiotes get loose before Drake’s cronies can round up the rest for experimentation.

Drake realizes they need human hosts to survive on Earth, so he kidnaps homeless people to test out his theories. This arouses the suspicions of Web reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), whose attempts to investigate Drake’s lab cause him to come into contact with the Venom symbiote, which takes over his body.

The symbiote is able to communicate telepathically with its host, and we learn that symbiotes need to have a good match with their hosts for the pairing to work, and apparently Eddie is well matched for Venom.

Of course, with Venom/Eddie on the loose, Drake sends out a private army to kill him, leading to several action sequences around the streets of San Francisco. Drake wants to send another rocket to the comet to bring back more symbiotes, a plan that Eddie/Venom vows to stop, even if it means fighting other symbiotes who support Drake’s mission. (This being a comic book movie, a finale featuring the main character battling the evil version of himself is almost a foregone conclusion.)

The best aspect of the movie is the interaction Hardy has with, well, himself — the interplay between Brock and the Venom voice in his head that wants him to find food and that he has to convince to stop eating people.

Part action, part horror, part buddy comedy, the film shifts tone at will in its efforts to stay faithful to the character while maintaining the commercial appeal of a ‘PG-13’ movie. It feels a lot like a throwback to a 1990s or early 2000s comic book movie that would try anything to entertain its audience. The visual effects are appropriately over the top, awash in CGI flair as gooey symbiotes launch tendrils and ooze across the room in attacking whomever is nearby.

The Blu-ray comes with a “Venom Mode” that offers pop-up trivia about the character and production while the movie plays. The information is low-key and unobtrusive, but often relates facts that might not be as interesting as answering questions that might pop into a viewer’s head during a given scene.

Three deleted scenes offer some more insights about the Venom character — one features Eddie talking to himself in a cab, another shows Venom’s hilarious response to an annoying car alarm, and the third is an extended version of a post-credits scene that teases a potential villain for the sequel.

Also included are about an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes, highlighted by the 20-minute “From Symbiote to Screen,” a good primer on the history of the Venom character. The three-minute “Symbiote Secrets” unveils some of the hidden references in the film.

In addition, there’s a gallery of visual-effects progressions from storyboard to finished film.

The disc also offers a bonus scene from the recently released Spider-Man: Into the Universe, both tacked on to the end of the movie and included separately. This is in addition to the Spider-Verse trailer that plays when the disc loads.

Finally, the disc includes two music videos: one for Eminem’s Venom title track, and another for an Into the Spider-Verse song, “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee.

Venom

Avengers: Infinity War

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 8/14/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $678.11 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, William Hurt, Winston Duke.

If the first “Avengers” film was the superhero movie equivalent of an all-star game, then Avengers: Infinity War has got to be the genre’s Super Bowl. This isn’t just a few heroes uniting for a fight to save the Earth from the megalomaniacal villain of the moment. This is a massive intergalactic brawl with nothing less than the fate of the entire universe at stake.

Though nominally the third film of the “Avengers” brand, Infinity War is really a sequel to the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with the original Iron Man in 2008. Infinity War is the 19th film in the mega-franchise, while the 20th is the recent Ant-Man and the Wasp, whose characters are mentioned but aren’t directly involved here.

What makes Infinity War stand out, however, is how much it deconstructs the traditional “hero’s journey” arc of a typical fantasy adventure to wring suspense from the audience’s expectations of how the story will play out.

The film pits the Avengers against the alien warlord Thanos, who has made minor appearances in previous films as the mastermind behind a quest to collect the six Infinity Stones, gems of immense power that when combined can give the holder nearly godlike abilities.

Thanos is motivated by a desire to wipe out half the population of the universe in order to preserve resources and improve the quality of life for those who remain. Tired from untold years of pursuing his agenda planet-by-planet and earning countless enemies along the way, Thanos realizes that obtaining the Infinity Stones will allow him to complete his goals with the snap of his fingers. It’s not every day a comic book movie can inspire debate over the morality of Malthusian ethics.

The Avengers, on the other hand, are scattered across the cosmos and not much of a threat to Thanos following the events of Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok. While Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) can organize their own factions on Earth, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is able to bring the Guardians of the Galaxy into the fight, which pretty much finally connects all the quadrants of the MCU.

One of the strengths of directors Joe and Anthony Russo in their previous MCU films has been their ability to tell bold, complex stories with efficiency without sacrificing exciting action or engaging character dynamics. As if finding a way to involve a dozen heroes in Civil War without it feeling overstuffed weren’t enough of an achievement, with Infinity War they pull off one of the greatest balancing acts in cinematic history. Each character serves a function without seeming extraneous, while adding enough to the story to satisfy fans of each particular sub-franchise.

The plot weaves between action and quieter character moments to heighten the emotional impact of a powerful conclusion that unsurprisingly had fans lauding the film as the MCU equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back.

While it may be technically possible to follow along without having seen the previous films, one of the great joys of Infinity War is the chance to see so many of these characters that were established in earlier movies interact with each other for the first time. New viewers who want something of a primer without fully committing to the MCU should at least check out the “Avengers” movies, the “Captain America” movies, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and Thor: Ragnarok.

Infinity War’s visual style offers an eye-popping array of color that really looks spectacular on an HD screen. It should be noted that the entirety of the film is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio that doesn’t shift for the scenes that were specifically engineered for the film’s Imax theatrical presentation.

The visual effects are well rendered without overwhelming the senses, even though there is often a lot to take in, especially in the battle sequences (compared with, say, the stretched-to-the-screen’s-edge details of Ready Player One). Infinity War is as much of a science-fiction epic as anything, but in keeping with previous Marvel films, the presentation veers toward the hyper-real, fittingly evoking the feeling of fun comic book art rather than something more true-to-life.

The Blu-ray includes a nice smattering of extras that give a good sense of the scope of making the film but don’t really dive too deeply into specifics aside from a few key scenes.

The five-minute “Strange Alchemy” looks at the fun of uniting the various characters and why some were grouped together the way they were. The six-minute “The Mad Titan” focuses on Thanos and how his history in the films has led to his actions here.

Two “Beyond the Battle” featurettes explore the making of two key sequences, with nearly 10 minutes devoted to team Iron Man and the Guardians fighting Thanos on the planet Titan, and 11 minutes looking at Captain America’s and Black Panther’s squads joining forces to battle the armies of Thanos in Wakanda.

There are four deleted scenes that run a total of about 10 minutes each. Each contain unfinished visual effects but for the most part serve as fun little short films that provide some additional insights about the characters. “Happy Knows Best” features the hilarious cameo by Jon Favreau that was cut from the film. “Hunt for the Mind Stone” is an extension of the fight between Vision, Scarlet Witch and Thanos’ goons. “A Father’s Choice” offers some more Thanos backstory. And “The Guardians Get Their Groove Back” pokes a little fun at the “Guardians” films’ penchant for classic rock soundtracks. These are accompanied by an amusing two-minute gag reel.

Finally, the Blu-ray includes a feature-length commentary from the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. This is a great discussion as they share all sorts of tidbits about the construction of the film, from pulling together many of the loose threads of the MCU to organizing the screenplay in a way to effectively tell the story while still giving all the characters their due.

Digital editions of the film, which can be accessed through Movies Anywhere and participating retailers using the code provided with the Blu-ray, have an exclusive half-hour roundtable discussion with eight directors of several of the MCU films. This is a great discussion about the art of collaboration on a massive franchise such as this, and how the various directors were able to evolve various characters’ storylines to the point where Infinity War could pay of so much of them. The participation of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn in the discussion does make the featurette a bit of a victim of some awkward timing, considering how recent revelations over his past Twitter postings have clouded his role role within the MCU.

The Ultra HD edition includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack but none of the bonus features, which are on the regular Blu-ray Disc included with the combo pack.

Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ Coming to Home Video in May

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will release the box office phenomenon Black Panther through digital home entertainment retailers May 8, followed by a Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release May 15.

The Marvel Studios film is the top-earning solo superhero movie ever, having taken in more than $665 million in American theaters as of April 10 to become the No. 3 domestic release of all time, and $1.3 billion worldwide to place on the global top 10.

The 18th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as the title character, the new king and defender of the technologically advanced but hidden African nation of Wakanda, who faces a challenge to his throne in the form of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). The film also stars Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke and Sterling K. Brown.

The Blu-ray includes an introduction and commentary by director Ryan Coogler. Other extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and several featurettes: “From Page to Screen: A Roundtable Discussion”; “Crowning of a New King”; “The Warriors Within” about the female warriors of Wakanda and the actors who portray them; “The Hidden Kingdom Revealed”; and “Wakanda Revealed: Exploring the Technology.” The disc also includes an exclusive sneak peek at the upcoming Ant-Man and The Wasp (in theaters July 6) and the featurette “Marvel Studios the First Ten Years: Connecting the Universe.”

Select bonus material may also be available with the digital versions depending on the retailer. Digital exclusives include in-world Wakanda tourism ads.

The Black Panther character made his screen debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and next appears in Avengers: Infinity War, which hits theaters April 27 and, according to the trailers, has significant portions of the action set in Wakanda.

Thor: Ragnarok

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 3/6/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $314.97 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch.

As with any movie franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become adept and finding formulas that work and sticking to them.

As a case in point, the first two standalone “Thor” movies are generally regarded as among the weaker of the Marvel films. It’s not that they’re bad per se, it’s just that they really didn’t establish themselves much beyond a general space-fantasy epic that connected to elements of the larger Marvel films. As a character, Thor worked better in the “Avengers” films, when he had other heroes to play off of and the films could take advantage of his other-worldly nature for moments of levity and comic relief.

Over the course of 10 years, the MCU as a whole has tended to take itself less seriously, embracing the sense of fun that a comic book movie franchise should have without sacrificing the emotional connection the audience needs to have with its characters.

One of the major contributors to this change in attitude since the second “Thor” movie landed in 2013 was the arrival of two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, which are not only the most comedy-driven of the Marvel films, but they also tread in the cosmic setting that should have been Thor’s bread and butter. Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming further demonstrated that the MCU could embrace a lighter tone while still remaining true to the source material and the overarching storylines being established for the crossover films.

So, it should really come as no surprise to see Thor: Ragnarok really deconstruct the elements of the MCU’s success, what has worked for Thor in the past, and let director Taika Waititi throw them into a blender to whip up his own unique cocktail for a hilarious big screen comic book thrill ride.

The secret ingredient, as far as Waititi is concerned, it seems, is a healthy pinch of 1970s and 1980s nostalgia, as Thor is essentially re-imagined as a Saturday morning cartoon hero akin to “He-Man” accompanied by a rockin’ techno-synth soundtrack, (from Mark Mothersbaugh, whose name popping up in the credits as the composer certainly elicits a “yeah, that makes sense” reaction).

Waititi does a masterful job of re-focusing the efforts of the “Thor” films while both wrapping up previous storylines (without much fuss) and positioning the characters for the next big crossover, Avengers: Infinity War, which arrives April 27.

Thor himself is now much more irreverent, with the script playing to Chris Hemsworth’s natural comedic talents. As for finding others for Thor to play with, this film offers a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, but really hits a home run by pairing Thor with Hulk, taking advantage of a long-running rivalry between the two characters. A battle between Thor and Hulk in the gladiator pit of an alien world (inspired by the popular “Planet Hulk” comic book storyline) perfectly positions this film as a counterpoint to Captain America: Civil War, in which neither character appeared (as they were off conducting adventures in space, it would appear).

Thor’s only fighting Hulk, though, in order to escape from confinement and recruit a team to take back Asgard from his sister, Hela, the goddess of death. Hela (Cate Blanchett in a juicy performance that borders between menacing and sexy) had been imprisoned by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for being too cruel, but manages to escape to claim her father’s throne.

The setting of the gladiator planet lets the filmmakers indulge themselves in the colorful renderings of legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby’s designs, and also provide an excuse to just insert Jeff Goldblum into the film (as the Grandmaster of the games) and allow him to just be his zany self, much to the delight of the audience.

The film is a visual spectacle, reminiscent of cult favorites such as Flash Gordon or Heavy Metal, and would be a spectacular showcase for home theater 3D effects were the format not being phased out (at least in the United States. All-region 3D Blu-rays are available from overseas markets such as Europe and Australia).

The home video offers extensive bonus materials, with some exclusive to the digital versions.

The highlight of the presentation on all platforms is probably the six-minute “Team Darryl” short film, the third installment in a spoof series about Thor’s roommate on Earth. This time, with Thor off the planet, Darryl’s new roommate is the Grandmaster, and any excuse for more Goldblum in any setting is a good one.

Also included are about 40 minutes of behind the scenes featurettes, with a three-minute video about the Thor-Hulk relationship presented as a digital exclusive. Other featurettes profile the new female characters, and look at many of the new elements this film brings to the franchise. There’s also a five-minute appreciation of the 10th anniversary of the MCU.

Offering digital exclusives is fine in this case, since the disc comes with access to the digital copies, but the extras are structured differently depending on where you try to watch them, particularly where the deleted scenes are concerned.

On disc, the deleted scenes are pretty straightforward, offered one at a time. Many of them are extended sequences from an earlier conception of the film before story elements were streamlined. So the glimpse of that alternate version is fascinating on its own. The deleted scenes run about 15 minutes, compared with less than six minutes on the disc.

Note that Vudu presents the deleted scenes as a single featurette with them strung together, ending with the fun Easter Egg reference to another Marvel movie that has created some online buzz.

Lastly, there’s an introduction and solo commentary by Waititi, in which he offers a few insights about the making of the film, but mostly maintains the jokey nature he often displays in public. He describes many scenes with tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, hypes up his own skills as both a director and actor, and spends considerable time allowing his young daughter onto the microphone and reacting to her rather than what’s on the screen. No doubt fans of Waititi’s brand of performance art will eat this up, but for general MCU fans, it seems like a missed opportunity to offer a good, in depth discussion about the film.