Joker

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 1/7/20;
Warner;
Drama;
Box Office $333.5 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.
Stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, Douglas Hodge, Josh Pais, Leigh Gill.

In DC Comics, the Joker has been Batman’s primary nemesis for 80 years, and part of the reason he remains such a fascinating character is the mystery surrounding his origins and motivations.

That isn’t to say that there haven’t been versions of a Joker origin story over the years, most often tailored to a specific story being told. There just hasn’t been a definitive one as clean as his counterpart’s, the boy who grew up to fight crime after the murder of his parents. The tale of the Joker is often messy and contradictory, which only adds to his intrigue and popularity.

With the movie aptly named Joker, director Todd Phillips brings a new interpretation of the character. The script by Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver is mostly a gritty, disturbing character study about what could push a man to reject society and embrace chaos; calling it Joker, as Phillips admits in the bonus materials, just gives comic book fans an excuse to see it.

But that’s not quite a fair assessment, as the story, while not directly adapting any of the myriad source material available, does touch upon several classic elements associated with Joker and Batman from the comics, particularly the notion that all it takes is “one bad day” to push a man over the edge.

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The film is anchored by Joaquin Phoenix’s immersive performance as Arthur Fleck, an anti-social, mentally ill loner and aspiring stand-up comedian who fantasizes about being accepted by a society that has little use for him. The film is set in 1981 in a moody version of Gotham City that threatens to burst at the seams at any moment, as corrupt bureaucrats leave public services underfunded while the wealthiest citizens, including Thomas Wayne, seem to have no interest in alleviating the tension.

While the story takes some violent turns and the film has courted controversy with its disturbing tone and sympathetic portrayal of a homicidal iconoclast, it nonetheless became a massive it. The film’s version of its title character has struck a nerve, becoming something of an anti-establishment champion of the downtrodden.

Phillips himself as even hinted that maybe Fleck isn’t the villain who ultimately confronts Batman, but is more of an inspiration for whomever that may be. But that’s a debate for fans and potentially a sequel that was never intended but may become a reality due to the film’s success.

Even so, there’s no requirement that this version of Joker be tied to any of the other versions of DC characters being displayed on the big screen at the moment. The look and style of the film is heavily inspired by Martin Scorsese crime dramas of the 1970s and ’80s, particularly Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, which is perfectly in line with graphic novels that reimagine characters in different settings, something DC’s Elseworlds imprint did all the time. So, this movie is basically just what if the Joker were a Scorsese antihero.

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The bonus materials for his initial home video release of Joker are somewhat sparse given its impact. The primary extra is “Joker: Vision & Fury,” a pretty good 22-and-a-half-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with many of the filmmakers and cast discussing how they sought to present their distinct vision of the character and his circumstances.

The other three featurettes are short highlight reels. “Becoming Joker” is a minute-and-a-half montage of Phoenix test footage; “Please Welcome … Joker!” is a nearly three-minute compilation of alternate takes of Joker’s entrance onto the late-night talk show that plays a central role in the story; and “Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos” is little more than a three-minute slideshow of photos from the movie.

A commentary with Phillips is available exclusively through copies of the film on iTunes, which owners of the Blu-ray can access as a result of the Movies Anywhere redemption code included with the disc.

Animated Elseworlds Adventure ‘Superman: Red Son’ Flying to Home Video in 2020

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the DC Universe animated superhero adventure Superman: Red Son through digital retailers Feb. 25, 2020, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 17.

The film is an adaptation of the 2003 graphic novel Superman: Red Son, part of DC Comics’ “Elseworlds” imprint that provides alternate histories and settings for some of the company’s famous characters. The story takes place in an alternate reality in which the spaceship bearing the last survivor of Krypton crash lands not in America, but in Stalinist Russia, and is raised to defend the ideas of the Soviet Union.

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The cast includes Jason Isaacs as the Soviet Superman, Diedrich Bader as Lex Luthor, Amy Acker as Lois Lane, Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman, Phil Morris as James Olsen, Paul Williams as Brainiac, Roger Craig Smith as Batman, Sasha Roiz as Hal Jordan, Phil LaMarr as John Stewart, Jim Meskimen as John F. Kennedy, Travis Willingham as Superior Man, William Salyers as Joseph Stalin, and Winter Ave Zoli as Svetlana.

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The Blu-ray and digital versions will include the new DC Showcase animated short Phantom Stranger, by Bruce Timm. Set in the 1970s, the short follows young adult Jess as she joins her friends at a party in a dilapidated mansion hosted by the mysterious Seth, when odd things begin to happen. Peter Serafinowicz voices Phantom Stranger, and Michael Rosenbaum provides the voice of Seth. The voice cast also includes Natalie Lander, Grey Griffin and Roger Craig Smith.

Other extras include the featurette “Cold Red War,” two episodes from Superman: Red Son – The Motion Comics, and a preview of the next DC Universe movie, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.

Warner Sets ‘Joker’ for Digital Release Dec. 17, Disc Jan. 7

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the acclaimed blockbuster Joker through digital retailers Dec. 17, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Jan. 7.

Directed, co-written and produced by Todd Phillips, Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix as the title character based on the iconic Batman villain, a man struggling to find his way in Gotham City’s fractured society in the early 1980s.

The cast also includes Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, Douglas Hodge, Josh Pais and Leigh Gill.

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The film has earned $330.5 million at the domestic box office and is the first ‘R’-rated film to earn more than $1 billion worldwide.

Home video extras include the featurettes “Joker: Vision & Fury,” “Becoming Joker,” “Please Welcome … Joker!” and “Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos.”

The Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of Joker will feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

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Warner Releasing ‘Swamp Thing’ DC Universe Series Digitally Dec. 2, on Disc Feb. 11

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Swamp Thing: The Complete Series for digital download Dec. 2, and on Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 11.

The short-lived series ran for 10 episodes on the DC Universe streaming service in the middle of 2019.

Based on the DC Comics characters created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, “Swamp Thing” follows Dr. Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) as she investigates a deadly swamp-born virus in Louisiana and encounters Swamp Thing (Derek Mears), an elemental supernatural force who seeks to return balance to the natural world.

The cast also includes Virginia Madsen, Andy Bean, Henderson Wade, Maria Sten, Jeryl Prescott, Jennifer Beals and Will Patton.

The Blu-ray edition will include a digital copy.

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Warner Releasing ‘Wonder Woman: Bloodlines’ Animated Movie in October

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the latest DC Universe animated movie, Wonder Woman: Bloodlines, digitally Oct. 5, and on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 22.

The film finds Wonder Woman (voiced by Rosario Dawson) helping a troubled young girl against a deadly organization known as Villainy Inc., whose criminal members have their sights set on invading the Amazon warrior’s home island of Themyscira.

The cast includes Jeffrey Donovan as Steve Trevor, Marie Avgeropoulos as Silver Swan, Adrienne C. Moore as Etta Candy, Kimberly Brooks as The Cheetah and Giganta, Courtenay Taylor as Dr. Poison, Constance Zimmer as Veronica Cale, Nia Vardalos as Julia Kapatelis, Michael Dorn as Ferdinand, Cree Summer as Hippolyta, Mozhan Marno as Dr. Cyber, and Ray Chase as Lead Bandit.

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Extras include the “DC Showcase” animated short Death, inspired by Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”; the featurette “The Cheetah: Ferocious Archenemy”; and a sneak peak at the next DC Universe animated movie, Superman: Red Son.

The 4K combo pack will include UHD and Blu-ray versions of the movie and a redeemable digital copy. The Blu-ray combo pack will include the movie on Blu-ray and DVD, plus a digital copy.

 

Strong ‘Aquaman’ Home Entertainment Sales Up Warner Bros. Q2 Operating Income

Strong retail sales of Warner Bros.’ ocean-based superhero Aquaman contributed to the studio increasing second-quarter (ended June 30) operating income 30% to $440 million from operating income of $338 million during the previous-year period.

Video game (which included the Mortal Kombat 11 release) and home entertainment revenue increased nearly 28% to $552 million from $432 million a year ago.

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Theatrical revenue grew 13.4% to $1.52 billion from $1.34 billion last year. Television product revenue decreased almost 15% to $1.31 billion compared to $1.53 billion last year.

The decrease was primarily due to lower licensing revenue as parent company WarnerMedia holds back content from third parties such as Netflix for its pending subscription streaming video service, HBO Max.

Total WB studio revenue increased 2.5% to $3.39 billion compared with $3.3 billion last year.

Shazam!

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 7/16/19;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $140.24 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material.
Stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Meagan Good, Ross Butler, D.J. Cotrona, Michelle Borth, Adam Brody, John Glover.

The movie based on the character now known as Shazam has been one of the pleasant surprises of late in an entertainment landscape crowded with superhero adaptations.

For his 80th anniversary, the filmmakers have magnificently captured the essence of one of the most influential characters in early comic book superhero history while successfully re-contextualizing him for a world that is now littered with many of the very comic book tropes he helped inspire (and which the film has a lot of fun calling out and subverting).

The story involves a foster kid named Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who is summoned into a magical realm by a wizard seeking to empower a new champion to keep the evil forces of the seven deadly sins at bay. When Billy speaks the word “Shazam,” he is transformed into the hero of the same name, though with an adult body.

The name Shazam is derived from the mythological heroes from which he draws his powers: the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.

The older Shazam version of Billy is played by Zachary Levi, whose goofy charm perfectly embodies the notion of a child trying to be a superhero. The film is essentially the superhero movie version of Big, and you can be sure that the film doesn’t miss its chances to reference that fact.

With Billy still possessing a teenager’s mind while learning to deal with his new powers, he seeks the advice of foster brother Freddy Freeman (not to be confused with the Atlanta Braves first baseman). Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a huge fan of superheroes and begins building Shazam’s fan base with YouTube videos showing off his powers, which include flight, superspeed and the ability to shoot lightning bolts from his hands.

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The idea of wish fulfillment is a strong recurring theme in the film, as what kid doesn’t daydream about having fantastic abilities that let them put their worries behind them?

The flipside of Billy’s story is Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who as a child was rejected by the wizard and has spent 45 years seeking artifacts to return him to the wizard’s cave. In doing so, he becomes the champion for the deadly sins, giving him the power to seek retribution against those who tormented him over the years.

Sivana wants the powers of Shazam for himself so that the spirits of the sins will be free to rain havoc upon the world once more. This of course leads to another classic battle between good and evil that no good comic book movie should be without.

The parallel journeys of Billy and Sivana force the film into a tricky balancing act that director David F. Sandberg somehow pulls off. In contrast to the lighthearted superhero romp of Billy and Freddy, Sivana’s story is more like something out of a horror film, with scary monsters lurking in the shadows causing pain and destruction.

Another positive side effect of the film is the spotlight it puts on foster families, and it’s interesting this film came so soon after 2018’s very good Instant Family, which also dealt with the subject. The foster storyline gives Shazam! a lot of its heart, and the kids in Billy’s foster family end up serving the plot in a huge way that ends up producing one of the biggest fist-pumping moments for fans of the Shazam comics.

Speaking of which, the character’s tumultuous publication history is a big factor in what may be one of the oddest cinematic coincidences of recent years.

The character was introduced by Fawcett Comics in 1939 as Captain Marvel and became the top-selling comic book of the 1940s, even more popular than Superman. He even inspired DC Comics to give Superman the power of flight, when before the Man of Steel was simply able to jump long distances. Captain Marvel was also one of the first heroes to inspire a family of sidekicks with similar powers, including a female version of the main hero.

Nonetheless, DC sued Fawcett claiming that Captain Marvel was basically a ripoff of Superman, and by the early 1950s Fawcett discontinued the character.

In the meantime, Marvel Comics created its own Captain Marvel in the 1960s and seized the trademark on the name, so that when DC acquired publishing rights to the original Captain Marvel and revived the character in the 1970s it couldn’t use the character’s original name in comic book titles, which is how he became known as just Shazam.

As it turned out, a movie based on the Marvel Comics version would end up coming out just a month before Shazam!, the dueling “Captain Marvel” properties adding to Hollywood lore of similarly themed movies hitting theaters at the same time, like the rival James Bond movies of 1983, multiple Columbus movies of 1992, and the Armageddon vs. Deep Impact asteroid movies of 1998.

And, as if Shazam not being allowed to use his original name weren’t enough, Marvel’s movie wasn’t even based on the original version of its own Captain Marvel, but a rebooted version with a previously obscure female superhero taking up the mantle.

In another coincidence, both Captain Marvel movies would feature Djimon Hounsou, who plays the wizard in Shazam! and reprises his Guardians of the Galaxy role as a Kree soldier in Captain Marvel.

In fact, Shazam! is something of an amalgamation of the current superhero movie trend. Like Spider-Man: Homecoming, it plays a Ramones song over an animated end credits sequence (though Shazam!’s serves the motifs of the movie better).

Adam Brody and D.J. Cotrona, who in 2007 had been cast in a now-canceled “Justice League” movie, finally get their chance to play superheroes in Shazam!. Mark Strong returns to the DC Comics fold having previously played Sinestro in the awful Green Lantern movie. And with his role as Sivana’s father, John Glover has now played the father of two DC supervillains,, having played Lex Luthor’s father on “Smallville” (he’s also voiced “The Riddler” in Batman cartoons and played a villain in Batman & Robin).

The Shazam! Blu-ray contains a sequel of sorts in the form of a four-minute motion comic called “Superhero Hooky” in which Billy must explain why he and his foster siblings ditched school for a superhero adventure.

The Blu-ray also includes a whopping 16 deleted scenes that run about 37 minutes in total. About half of them are alternate or lesser-developed versions of sequences in the final film, taken from an earlier cut before the story was tweaked to add a bit bigger scale. There are also some fun additional moments featuring the Shazam family, and a tease of a future supervillain to be played by Dwayne Johnson.

Among the behind-the-scenes material, the most comprehensive is the 27-minute “The Magical World of Shazam,” which delves into all aspects of the production. The making of the climactic battle is the focus of a separate 10-minute scene study. The three-minute “Super Fun Zac” puts a spotlight on Levi in the title role, while the six-minute “Shazamily Values” looks into the foster family aspect of the movie.

Finally, the history and identity of the character is touched upon on the six-minute “Who Is Shazam?”

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.”

‘Supergirl’ Season Four on Disc Sept. 17

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Supergirl: The Complete Fourth Season on Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 17 (order date Aug. 13).

The season deals with Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) confronting an anti-alien movement led by Agent Liberty (Sam Witwer), as well as a conspiracy involving a duplicate of Supergirl trained by a hostile foreign government.

The cast also includes Mehcad Brooks, Chyler Leigh, Katie McGrath, Jesse Rath, Nicole Maines, April Parker, David Harewood and Jon Cryer.

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The Blu-ray and DVD includes all 22 episodes, plus highlights from the show’s panel at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a “Villains: Modes of Persuasion” featurette, and a featurette about the season’s “Elseworlds” crossover event with other DC TV series.

The Blu-ray will also include the “Elseworlds” episodes from “The Flash” and “Arrow.”

The fourth season is currently available to own digitally, and a digital copy is included with the Blu-ray.

Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’ Soars Up Digital Originals Chart

“When They See Us,” the controversial miniseries about the Central Park Five that was created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, shot up to No. 2 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals chart the week ended June 8.

The four-episode drama series is based on the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five juveniles – four black and one Latino – were sent to prison for allegedly raping a white woman jogger. They were exonerated after the real rapist confessed, but by then had already served their time.

In the week since the program’s May 31 debut, the number of average daily Demand Expressions soared 170% to 52.5 million, sending the series to No. 2 from No. 13 on the digital originals chart – right behind “Stranger Things,” which remains at No. 1 for the third consecutive week.

Demand Expressions is a proprietary Parrot Analytics metric that draws from a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

A “digital original” is a multi-episode series in which the most recent season was first made available on a streaming platform such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu.

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“When They See Us” has generated a flood of media coverage in recent weeks. Most recently, prosecutor Linda Fairstein, who as head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex-crimes unit played a key role in prosecuting the five young men, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece blasted the series as a “fabrication” and maintained that the suspects’ exoneration doesn’t mean they aren’t guilty of other crimes they were convicted of at the time.

The five were part of a group of about 30 teenagers in Central Park on the evening of April 19, 1989, when several people in the park were robbed and assaulted.

Demand for “Stranger Things” was relatively unchanged from the prior week. “Lucifer,” based on a character from the DC Comics comic-book series “The Sandman,” slipped to No. 3 despite a 4% uptick in demand – likely triggered by word that Netflix has renewed the show for a fifth and final season.

A 68% surge in average daily Demand Expressions sent “Black Mirror” back up to No. 4 from No. 8 the prior week. The British sci-fi anthology series from Charlie Brooker returned to Netflix for a fifth season on June 5.

Rounding out the top five on the weekly digital originals chart was Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” up from No. 6 the prior week with a 39% spike in demand. The dystopian drama’s third season also premiered on June 5.

Two other series made it into the top 10 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals chart with significant increases in demand.

Debuting at No. 6 was Amazon Prime Video’s “Good Omens,” a six-part miniseries starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant as angels seeking to prevent the apocalypse. All six episodes of the series were released on May 31, leading to a 93% gain in average daily Demand Expressions.

Returning to the top 10, at No. 10, was “Swamp Thing,” with a 116% spike in demand. The live-action DC Universe series premiered May 31 and was canceled a week later, with word that there would be no second season.

“Swamp Thing” was the third show to launch on DC Universe after “Titans” and “Doom Patrol” both enjoyed successful launches.

Media Play News has teamed with Parrot Analytics to provide readers with a weekly top 10 of the most popular digital original TV series in the United States, based on the firm’s  proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which measures global demand for TV content through a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.