Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 8/1/23;
Disney/Marvel;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $358.95 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements.
Stars Chris Pratt, Zoë Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Maria Bakalova, Linda Cardellini, Nathan Fillion, Sylvester Stallone.

The release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 represents the end of an era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With writer-director James Gunn jumping ship to lead rival DC’s production slate, the MCU loses one of its strongest creative voices, and the results are becoming evident.

As the MCU flounders trying to regain the narrative momentum it had prior to Avengers: Endgame, Gunn’s concluding chapter to his “Guardians” trilogy caps off what is probably Marvel’s last reliable sub-franchise in terms of consistent quality. (Losing a key player off the bench should make Disney all-the-more desperate to secure a deal with Sony for more Tom Holland “Spider-Man” movies, but time will tell).

Picking up after last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Gunn’s latest tale of the ragtag group of offbeat interstellar adventurers delves into the backstory of the wisecracking talking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Rocket turns out to be the result of the cruel experiments of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a megalomaniacal geneticist cursed with delusions of godhood who dreams of creating perfect societies. As Rocket was his only creation to ever develop the gift of technological inventiveness, the Evolutionary wants to study him to learn how to use that spark of insight to create the perfect life form.

However, when Rocket is critically injured by the efforts of the Evolutionary’s minions to capture him, the Guardians’ only hope to save him is to steal the Evolutionary’s proprietary technology, setting up a cataclysmic final battle that could destroy the entire team.

The premise provides not only for some emotional character dynamics, but allows Gunn to indulge his penchants for inventive but unconventional visual designs. The film is equal parts bright and colorful and gooey and grotesque, providing for a splendid 4K experience. And of course there are plenty of opportunities for laughs despite the heavy subject matter.

The “Guardians” movies are also known for their iconic needle-drop soundtracks of classic 1970s rock, and while the third film isn’t as memorable in that regard, it still offers a great array of tunes, this time expanding the selection into the 2000s.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Gunn in the bonus materials delves into how each film in the trilogy relates to the theme of family. With Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord’s mother and father weighing heavily on the events of the first two films as the Guardians come together to form their own ersatz family unit, the third film deals with each coming to terms with their own sense of self — particularly Rocket, whose story is told in flashbacks as he lies dying on a medical bed.

The highlight of the extras is the full-length commentary with Gunn, who provides a lot of insight into the story and characters, and how much it meant for him to be able to close out a franchise that has defined his life for a decade.

Fans will also be interested in checking out the deleted scenes. There are eight included on the Blu-ray, each running about a minute. They include a number of interesting character interactions, including what might be Kraglin’s funniest line (as delivered by James’ brother Sean Gunn) in the series. Also included is the cameo appearance by Pete Davidson that was ultimately cut for stalling the momentum of the final act (the commentary details how Davidson ended up being given a CGI alien head after his dialogue was cut).

There’s also a fun five-minute gag reel, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes that contextualize the making of the film within the trilogy as a whole. The nine-and-a-half-minute “Creating Rocket Raccoon” looks at the process of bringing the character to life, while the 11-minute “The Imperfect, Perfect Family” focuses on the legacy of all the characters.

All told, the behind-the-scenes footage is a bit sparse considering what was being released online during the film’s theatrical run. And it would have been nice if the studio found a way to include the Holiday Special as part of the package, given how much it sets up this film. But maybe it will find its way onto disc eventually as part of a “Guardians” boxed set, since keeping it relegated to a Disney+ exclusive just accentuates the hole that exists in fans’ physical media collections.

Glass Onion

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Mystery;
Box Office $13.3 million;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content.
Stars Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Noah Segan.

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s second Benoit Blanc mystery, Glass Onion, may be an even more satisfying viewing experience than the first, 2019’s Knives Out.

While the film’s structure still relies on misdirecting the audience and flashbacks to add context, the fundamental mystery itself is better crafted and not so dependent on questionable character interactions.

The story this time around involves a tech billionaire (Edward Norton) who invites a close circle of friends to a retreat on a secluded island, where he has planned an elaborate murder mystery game for them to solve. Somehow an invitation makes its way to celebrity detective Blanc (Daniel Craig), despite him having never met any of the participants.

Blanc’s presence turns out to be fortuitous when one of the guests actually ends up dead, prompting the detective to peel back the layers of the other guests’ friendships to reveal how any number of them have a motivation for murder, while some aren’t even who they claim to be.

This isn’t the type of mystery that the audience can play along with since several details are deliberately hidden from viewers thanks to a non-linear presentation. Scenes presented from one perspective in the set-up are revisited later from a different character’s point of view, changing the context of how viewers are supposed to interpret the plot.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The film’s biggest downside might be how it anchors the story in the midst of the pandemic, when such a setting seemingly has no bearing on the proceedings aside from how it sets up a ballsy plot point that pays off in the resolution. Including such specific touchstones of the era such as masks only to have the characters ditch them early on for a wealthy soiree with no consequences might be a subtle commentary on privilege, but could end up dating the film in unfortunate ways.

Otherwise, the film’s only limitation is the same as with any mystery story — how many repeat viewings would be warranted once the secrets are revealed. That’s when films such as this have to rely on its performances, quirky characters and humor, and on those fronts Glass Onion conducts itself rather well.

The film is completely unrelated to Knives Out, aside from being another case for Blanc to solve in the great tradition of fictional detectives. The earlier film isn’t even referenced, aside from Netflix slapping the subtitle “A Knives Out Mystery” on the poster (it does not appear onscreen). Wanting to make sure the marketing helps the audience understands this is a follow-up to the earlier hit film is one thing, but perhaps “A Benoit Blanc Mystery” would have made more sense.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Sci-Fi Comedy;
Not rated.
Stars Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Kevin Bacon, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Maria Bakalova, Michael Rooker, The Old 97’s.

Checking in on the Guardians of the Galaxy’s adventures within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is usually a fun time, and their new Disney+ holiday special is no exception.

Written and directed by the Guardians guru himself, James Gunn, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special avoids the cheesy pitfalls of most Christmastime larks, while still managing to inject a dose of sweet sentimentality thanks to Gunn’s offbeat sense of humor and a story that stays true to the characters.

It also serves as a bit of a preview for next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, as it was made as a side project during production of the film. It quickly gets the audience up to speed on what the Guardians have been up to since their last appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder, as well as introduces Maria Bakalova as the voice of Cosmo the Spacedog, heretofore a background character but sure to be an audience favorite.

Just because the Guardians are the stars doesn’t mean the special isn’t packed with Christmas cheer. The focus is primarily on Mantis and Drax (Pom Klementieff and Dave Bautista), who decide that their leader, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) needs some cheering up, as he is overwhelmed with work since the Guardians took over administration of Knowhere, the space colony inside a giant alien head as seen in the first “GOTG” film. Their plan is to travel to Earth to kidnap Kevin Bacon, one of Quill’s childhood idols, whom they believe is a true hero and not just a movie actor. Drax and Mantis are a good pairing within the group, and their misadventures on Earth as they search for Kevin Bacon (who plays himself) are hysterical.

Gunn has delivered one of the MCU’s better forays into television, complete with a hilarious new Christmas song (imagine the holiday as interpreted by weird aliens), and a soundtrack infused with solid holiday tunes.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Dune: Part One

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $107.35 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material.
Stars Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem.

Efforts to adapt Frank Herbert’s landmark 1965 sci-fi novel Dune have been met with mixed results over the years.

The 1970s saw Alejandro Jodorowsky envision a 10-hour movie version, and when that fell through, producer Dino De Laurentiis grabbed the rights and hired Ridley Scott to give it a go as a follow-up to Alien, though the scope of the project proved too daunting for him as well.

Then David Lynch came on board, choosing to adapt Dune over, among other projects, directing Return of the Jedi. His version finally arrived in 1984 after a troubled production and massive edits to bring his three-hour initial cut to a bit over two hours for the theatrical release, a running time that so crammed Herbert’s story that it was generally panned by critics for being incomprehensible.

The Sci-Fi Channel in the early 2000s had a bit better luck with a pair of miniseries based on Dune and a few of Herbert’s sequels to it, earning ratings success while leaving fans of the books to continue to clamor for a worthy big-screen version.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s interpretation seems to have met those aspirations.

Villeneuve’s Dune presents the narrative as a sweeping epic of galactic politics and feuding families, marked by stunning visual splendor and scope.

Covering roughly half of the first book, Dune: Part One, as it is announced on screen, tells the story of a desert world named Arrakis, thousands of years into the future when humanity has colonized the vast expanses of outer space and formed an empire to control it, led by wealthy and influential families. The planet’s sands provide the only known source of the spice Melange, a substance with mind-altering properties that makes celestial navigation possible.

The Emperor has ordered the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) to take over administration of Arrakis from Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård). Leto’s son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), begins having visions of living among the Fremen, remnants of the tribes that originally inhabited the planet.

The Fremen are experts at surviving the harsh desert environment and dealing with the giant native sandworms that roam beneath the surface, both depositing the spice and menacing the efforts to extract it. Paul is rumored to be a prophesized messiah to the Fremen.

The Atreides will not have an easy time of it on Arrakis, however, as it quickly becomes apparent that their appointment to govern the planet is a trap by the Emperor and the Harkonnens to diminish their power, if not eliminate them altogether by a full-scale assault on the planet.

Villeneuve places the emphasis on the human and character aspects of the story, rather than the more bizarre sci-fi elements that seemed to fuel Lynch’s version.

At around two-and-a-half-hours, he also takes 20 more minutes than Lynch to tell half the story, allowing it to breathe by not trying to cram the density of the first book into a single movie, as the 1984 version did.

To make sure viewers who didn’t read the book are not left completely baffled, long early stretches of the film are very heavy in exposition, explaining who the families are, the Fremen and the culture of Arrakis. But this is all necessary worldbuilding endemic to any good sci-fi franchise and should continue to pay off with future installments.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Savvy viewers may have noticed the influence the original novel had on countless burgeoning sci-fi franchises in the years it took to get a movie adaptation off the ground, with “Star Wars” and its desert world of Tatooine being the most notable example. Because of this, some fans might find a lot of similarities between this latest Dune movie and some recent “Star Wars” shows set on Tatooine, such as “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.”

The exposition provided in the film is expanded upon in the Blu-ray bonus materials, with an eight minute featurette about the Royal Houses, and 10-and-a-half-minutes of video encyclopedia entries similar to the ones Paul watches in the film in order to learn about Arrakis.

The Blu-ray also includes nearly an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes as well, with individual videos focused on the usual things like production design, cinematography, costumes and visual effects

Some dig deeper, such as a creating the makeup effects used to create the Baron’s bloated physique. Another looks at the fighting styles used to give the battle scenes a heightened since of verisimilitude. Others show how the visual effects team pulled off the film’s unique vehicles, as well as the giant worm attacks; the longest is an 11-minute examination of the film’s distinctive sound design and Hans Zimmer’s musical score.

Collectively, they demonstrate the precision and craftsmanship that went into constructing the film.

Zack Snyder’s ‘Army of the Dead’ Will Also Get Prequel and Anime Series at Netflix

Zack Snyder’s new zombie action heist film Army of the Dead, scheduled to debut on Netflix in 2021, is spawning a film prequel and anime series at the SVOD service.

“I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity to partner with Netflix again as we expand the Army of the Dead universe with both an international prequel, as well as exploring the visually dynamic world of animation,” Snyder said in a statement. “It’s been a great collaboration and we are thrilled that Netflix sees this as as big of an IP as we do.”

Army of the Dead follows a group of mercenaries into a zombie infested Las Vegas who try to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted. It stars Dave Bautista,  Ella Purnell, Ana De La Reguera, Theo Rossi, Huma Qureshi, Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro, Hiroyuki Sanada, Garret Dillahunt, Matthias Schweighöfer, Raúl Castillo, Nora Arnezeder and Samantha Win.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The anime series, “Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas,” chronicles the origin story of Scott (Bautista) and his rescue crew during the initial fall of Vegas as they confront the mysterious source of the zombie outbreak. Snyder will direct two episodes of the anime series. In addition to Bautista, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro, Omari Hardwick and Ella Purnell will reprise their roles in the anime series.

Follow us on Instagram

Shay Hatten, one of the writers of the screenplay for Army of the Dead, will write the prequel as well as the anime series. The prequel will be directed by and star Grimme Award winner Schweighöfer and will follow his Army of the Dead character Ludwig Dieter.

“It has already been a great pleasure to be part of this wonderful ensemble around Zack Synder — a fascinating project. I am happy that it is now being developed on so many different levels,” Schweighöfer said in a statement.

‘Stuber’ Motors to Digital Oct. 1, Disc Oct. 15 Including 4K From Fox

The comedy Stuber travels to digital Oct. 1 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 15 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The buddy comedy follows a mild-mannered driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani, “Silicon Valley”) who picks up a passenger (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy) who turns out to be a cop hot on the trail of a brutal killer. Stu is thrust into a harrowing ordeal in which he desperately tries to hold onto his wits, his life and his five-star rating.

The cast also includes Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”), Iko Uwais (The Raid: Redemption), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite), Jimmy Tatro (“American Vandal”), Natalie Morales (“Abby’s”) and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy).

The film earned $22.4 million at the domestic box office.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Bonus features include deleted scenes, a gag reel, audio commentary with director Michael Dowse (Goon) and Kumail Nanjiani.

Third ‘Escape Plan’ Due July 2 From Lionsgate

Lionsgate will release Escape Plan: The Extractors on Blu-ray, DVD and digital 4K Ultra HD July 2.

Sylvester Stallone returns as Ray Breslin in the third film of the “Escape Plan” franchise. The original film was released in 2013 and earned $25 million at the domestic box office. Escape Plan 2: Hades was released direct-to-video in 2018.

Dave Bautista and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson also reprise their roles from the sequel, as the trio break into an impenetrable Latvian prison to rescue Breslin’s girlfriend (Jaime King) and a tech mogul’s daughter. New cast members include Devon Sawa and Daniel Bernhardt.

Extras include a commentary with director John Herzfeld, Stallone, Sawa, and Bernhardt; and the featurette “The Making of Escape Plan: The Extractors.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!