Gran Turismo

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 11/7/23;
Sony Pictures;
Drama;
Box Office $44.16 million;
$34.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense action and some strong language.
Stars David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Archie Madekwe, Darren Barnet, Geri Halliwell Horner, Djimon Hounsou.

Lying at the nexus between video games and sports movies is director Neill Blomkamp’s Gran Turismo, a film with a premise that seems so much like a fantasy that many of the marketing materials have appended the title with “Based on a True Story.”

An adaptation of the racing simulator video game franchise of the same name by way of a biopic of one of its most famous players, Gran Turismo tells the story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), a hardcore gamer recruited to become an actual racecar driver.

While its The Last Starfighter meets Days of Thunder setup invites an unavoidable formulaic approach to the material, the film is nonetheless compelling thanks to its likable characters, engaging performances and thrilling racing scenes.

The film begins with a brief glimpse into the creation of the game, which was conceptualized as a racing simulator so realistic that the player would think they were actually driving at the world’s top tracks.

This leads opportunistic marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) to pose the question: Could the most highly skilled sim racers actually handle themselves on a real track? He organizes the Gran Turismo Academy, which invites the top GT players from around the world to compete for a chance to join the Nissan racing team.

Danny hires former racecar driver Jack Salter (David Harbour) to train the gamers on the ins and outs of real racing. Salter thinks it’s a fool’s errand, as logging hours at a console doesn’t equate to experience in the real world, where drivers can’t just hit the restart button when they crash.

But a few of the recruits prove they have enough skills behind the wheel to get a shot at the racing circuit, with Jann ultimately winning the contract and the chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of racing for real.

However, despite convincing Jack that maybe sim racers can actually drive for real, Jann soon learns that the fierce competition of professional racing is often fraught with tragedy and personal sacrifice.

While the film would have us believe much of this actually happened, most of the scenes inspired by true events have been rearranged to fit a Top Gun -style narrative. For instance, a horrific crash that shakes Jann’s confidence in himself didn’t occur in real life until years after the race that the film depicts as its climax.

Interestingly, the finale is based on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the race in France likely to be familiar to many viewers who otherwise aren’t racing enthusiasts thanks to being featured in 2019’s Ford v. Ferrari.

That, however, was a period piece set in the 1960s, while Gran Turismo takes place mostly within the past decade. As such, Blomkamp employs all the cinematic tricks at his disposal to depict thrilling, pulse-pounding race action, from drone photography to CGI that takes us into Jann’s head as he parses the real tracks through his gaming experience.

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However, the real capper to how amazing Jann’s story is might be that the real Jann, who is still only in his early 30s, was the principal stunt driver for his own character in the film.

This is all showcased in the behind-the-scenes extras included on the Blu-ray, consisting of five featurettes that total nearly a half-hour of footage: the six-minute “The Plan: The True Story of Jann Mardenborough,” the five-minute “The Engine: Driving the Visuals,” the six-minute

“The Wheels: The Fast-Acting Cast,” the five-and-a-half-minute “The Pit Crew: Action and Stunts,” and the five-minute “The Garage: The Amazing Automobiles.”

There are also five deleted scenes that run a total of 12 minutes.

Digital versions of the film offer additional material, such as a brief “Impossible Dream” promotional video about Jann, and the film’s trailers.

Violent Night

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Action;
Box Office $49.72 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references.
Stars David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Leah Brady, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Cam Gigandet, Brendan Fletcher, Beverly D’Angelo.

Director Tommy Wirkola’s Violent Night throws a wrinkle into the debate over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie with an indelible spin on the concept: what if the hero of Die Hard was actually Santa Claus?

Just in case the title doesn’t make it clear how irreverent this action comedy wants to be, the way Violent Night introduces its Santa Claus certainly will: getting sloshed in a bar on Christmas Eve to prepare for the big night ahead of him. The other patrons assume he’s just another washed up mall Santa, until the bartender sees him flying away in his sleigh, just in time for the inebriated giftgiver to hurl a special surprise.

After 1,100 years on the job, this Santa, as played by David Harbour, is cynical and put upon, complaining about the increasing ingratitude of the children to whom he’s tasked with delivering presents. As if that weren’t enough, one of his stops is a mansion that has just been taken over by a team of heavily armed thieves led by John Leguizamo, who is holding the family that lives there hostage while he robs the vault of $300 million in cash from military contracts.

When his reindeer fly away after being spooked by gunfire, Santa is forced to battle his way through an array of holiday-themed bad guys, finding encouragement from Trudy (Leah Brady), the youngest member of the family who manages to escape with a walkie-talkie and reaches out to Santa for help.

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A hilarious send-up of both the action and Christmas genres, Violent Night takes great delight in reimagining Santa tropes to match the action premise, particularly his magical bag of infinite toys, and his power to enter and exit chimneys. Even the character’s backstory is given a neat twist, presenting Santa as a Viking warrior in his human life, which certainly explains his combat skills.

As if the heavy Die Hard vibes weren’t enough, the film also manages to pay homage to Home Alone as well, with Trudy setting up a series of elaborate booby traps to slow down the attackers, only this time the traps are played more for ‘R’-rated blood and gore than ‘PG’ slapstick, which doesn’t make the violence any less amusing. (This is an obvious riff on the meme that the comical traps in the “Home Alone” movies would actually be lethal.)

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The Blu-ray includes a commentary with Wirkola, producer Guy Danella, and writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller, which turns out to be a fun and informative discussion about how ideas for the film evolved into their final form, plus what we might see in a sequel.

There are also 19 minutes of deleted and extended scenes that offer a few more of the Christmas-themed puns that are sprinkled throughout the film.

The Blu-ray also offers three behind-the-scenes featurettes: The six-minute “Santa’s Helpers: The Making of Violent Night” offers a solid overview of the production, while the six-minute “Deck the Halls With Brawls” focuses on the action scenes, and the four-minute “Quarrelin’ Kringle” shines the spotlight on Harbour’s perfect casting as a brawler Santa.

Black Widow

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 9/14/21;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $183.1 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material.
Stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenie, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko.

The 24th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon finally puts the focus on Black Widow, the enigmatic member of the Avengers whose primary character arc has been seeking redemption for past misdeeds from her life as a Russian spy and assassin.

The film is mostly set in between the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, when Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run after betraying Black Panther during the feud between Iron Man and Captain America that shattered the Avengers superhero team.

We also learn more about Natasha’s backstory, thanks to an opening flashback to her youth when she was posing as the daughter for a family of Russian sleeper agents in Ohio. When the mission ends, she and her “sister” Yelena are sent to the Red Room, a secret Russian program that has been re-conditioning young girls into deadly secret agents for decades.

Natasha believes she destroyed the Red Room when she defected from Russia, but soon learns from the adult Yelena (Florence Pugh) that not only does it still exist, but it has refined its methods for brainwashing its army of girls. Yelena has come across a chemical that can restore their free will, but is now on the run herself, pursued by the Taskmaster, the Terminator-esque enforcer of the Red Room.

To stop the Red Room once and for all, Natasha and Yelena must recruit their former “parents” (David Harbour and Rachel Weisz) for an explosive family reunion.

In both style and story, Black Widow positions itself as a sequel to Civil War and a spinoff of the “Captain America” movies. Director Cate Shortland takes a lot of cues from how the Russo Brothers established the espionage thriller tone of their corner of the franchise in both Civil War and 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier.

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While Black Widow has a wealth of comic book source material to draw from, it plays less like a superhero movie and more like a female-centric homage to James Bond, with story points and action sequences that seem directly inspired by the long-running spy franchise (aside from an opening sequence that is more in line with “The Americans”).

This seems to have set off a divide among online fans. A number of comic book fans have been complaining about unfulfilled expectations about adapting the comics lore. Meanwhile, those who might not be as familiar with the comic books and are fans because of the movie side of things are more likely to see this as a fun action thriller, though it’s hard to deny it resorts to some narrative shortcuts in its final act.

Still, it’s a fun movie that looks great and offers some fantastic action. Johansson does a nice job fleshing out a character mostly relegated to a supporting role before now, but the MVP of the film is Pugh, whose Yelena character is now well established to carry forward in the MCU.

Be warned, though. This being the new era of MCU on Disney+ means that viewing the Disney+ Marvel shows will give a better appreciation of how the post-credits scene pushes the new phase of the MCU forward.

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The Blu-ray includes a one-minute introduction to the film from Shortland, who discusses how she wanted to explore Natasha’s character  by giving her a family. To this end, the five-minute featurette “Sisters Gonna Work It Out” explores the relationship between Natasha and Yelena, and the actresses who play them.

The nine-minute “Go Big if You’re Going Home” featurette covers more of the making of the film in general, giving a glimpse of the film’s on-location shooting, its visual effects and its complicated stunts.

The Blu-ray also includes a three-minute gag reel, plus 14 minutes of deleted scenes that offer a few quiet character moments but mostly expand upon concepts that are already in the film.

The extras are contained on the regular Blu-ray Disc of the film included with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack. The 4K disc offers just the movie.

Originally published as a theatrical review July 12, 2021.

Hellboy Resurfaces

Fifteen years after the first film and numerous comic book movies later, producers felt Hellboy was ready for a comeback — with a darker hero, a new focus on adhering to the source material and involvement by creator Mike Mignola.

Lionsgate’s reimagining of Hellboy is available now digitally and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc (with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio) July 23 including deleted scenes and previsualizations. The Blu-ray and digital versions also include the making-of documentary featurette “Tales of the Wild Hunt: Hellboy Reborn.”

“I loved the story, and I loved that it was based very much on the comics,” says David Harbour (Hellboy) in the featurette, adding “it’s a Hellboy with more internal struggle, with more sort of torture.”

“For me it’s actually fun to kind of get a second chance to create Hellboy,” comic creator Mignola, who is also an executive producer on the film, says in the featurette. “We’re doing in some ways some-thing that’s much more close to my material, but we’re creating a new variation on the Mike Mignola Hellboy.”

Based on the Dark Horse comic book created by Mignola, the film finds the half-demon super-hero Hellboy as he is called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants and finds himself confronting an ancient sorceress (Milla Jovovich). The film also stars Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim and Thomas Haden Church.

The 2010 comic anthology Hellboy Vol. 9: The Wild Hunt, which reveals Hellboy’s origin story, is one of the inspirations for the film.

“The story of Hellboy is baked into the story of the Wild Hunt,” producer Lloyd Levin says in the featurette.

Much of the dialog, in fact, is taken directly from the comics.

“It created an opportunity to do a Hellboy movie that was more faithful to what Mike Mignola had created,” he adds.

“This one feels very different than the other films,” Mignola says. “While it’s not a direct adaptation of one of my stories, it’s taken so many pieces of so many of my stories and fit them together in a way that really works.”

McShane, who plays Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm and father figure to Hellboy, also notes the comic influence in his character.

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“They’ve made this character more like the original sort of Indiana Jonesy kind of character that he was when he found Hellboy,” he says in the featurette.

As part of her preparation for her role of Nimue, the Blood Queen, Jovovich went out and bought hardbound editions of several comic collections. “The illustrations are phenomenal,” she says. “I saw how beautifully they were done, and how much heart and soul the stories had, and thought, wow, we could really do something great here.”

Going back to the source was a mantra for the Lionsgate marketing team as well. In keeping with the strategy of staying close to the comics, the team created retail exclusives with unique custom artwork and other extras to harken back to the film’s comic book roots:

BEST BUY:

Hellboy comic creator Mignola designed artwork exclusively for the Best Buy 4K UHD Combo Pack Steelbooks.

WALMART:

With purchase of the 4K UHD  Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack or DVD at Walmart, Hellboy fans receive a PIN on their receipt for the download of Mike Mignola’s comic Hellboy: The Wild Hunt — the inspiration for the film. The comic is redeemable through Walmart’s Kobo e-reader or through Rakuten Kobo’s eBooks app on mobile.

TARGET:

The Target Blu-ray Combo Pack  double-sided Steelbook features  collectible poster art.

‘Hellboy’ Reboot Blazing to Home Video in July

Lionsgate will release the Hellboy reboot digitally July 9, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc July 23.

Based on the Dark Horse comic book created by Mike Mignola, the film finds the half-demon superhero Hellboy (David Harbour) called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants and finds himself confronting an ancient sorceress (Milla Jovovich). The film also stars Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim and Thomas Haden Church.

The film earned $21.9 million at the domestic box office.

The home video editions will include deleted scenes and previsualizations. The Blu-ray and digital versions will also include the three-part making-of documentary “Tales of the Wild Hunt: Hellboy Reborn.”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray will include Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio.

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