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.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 5/23/23;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $57.64 million;
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, $39.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of action and violence, and language.
Stars Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Rachel Zegler, Grace Caroline Currey, Ross Butler, Ian Chen, D.J. Cotrona, Jovan Armand, Meagan Good, Faithe Herman, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou, Helen Mirren, Marta Millans, Cooper Andrews.

If ever there were a poster child for a studio undercutting its own IP, it’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

It’s not that it’s a bad film — it’s fun and highly entertaining. But in the leadup to its theatrical release, the newly constituted Warner Bros. Discovery announced plans to reboot the entirety of the DC Comics film franchise — of which the sequel to 2019’s well-regarded Shazam! was a part. On top of that, the character’s historic comic book arch-nemesis, Black Adam, got his own solo movie just a few months earlier, amid widespread rumors that its star, Dwayne Johnson, was so adamant about downplaying any connection to Shazam that he nixed any potential crossover cameos.

Such PR negativity so dampened enthusiasm for any remaining DC sequels still tied to the old continuity that the studio’s marketers decided to spoil one of the film’s major cameos in a TV spot in a desperate attempt to reignite fan interest. It didn’t work, with Fury of the Gods generating about one-third the box office of its predecessor four years earlier.

The pandemic probably didn’t help matters either; taking two years off the timeline of when a potential sequel could come out doesn’t do any favors to maintaining audiences’ familiarity with a relatively niche character in the DC Comics canon.

The shame of it is, this is a decent, if imperfect, sequel to one of the more irreverent superhero properties to hit the big screen in a while.

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Picking up a couple years after where the previous film left off, Shazam (Zachary Levi), the adult superhero form of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), is joined by his family of foster brothers and sisters in a full-fledged superhero team of kids who turn into adults imbued with the powers of the mythological gods when they say the word “Shazam.” And they are apparently horrible at it, being lambasted in the media for causing more harm than they try to prevent. On top of that, Billy’s best friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is having too much fun in his superhero form (Adam Brody), often going on solo adventures to the chagrin of Billy.

In the midst of the Shazam Family trying to find its balance, a trio of sisters visits Earth from the Realm of the Gods in order to reclaim the Shazam powers, which they say were stolen from them by the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who gave Billy his powers in the first film. The Daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler) also seek the means to restore life to their own realm through a golden apple hidden somewhere in the Rock of Eternity, which happens to be the Shazam Family’s headquarters.

To force Shazam’s cooperation, the Daughters kidnap Freddy and remove his powers, having retrieved the magical staff that empowered the team in the first film. But they imprison Freddy in the same cell as the Wizard, and the interplay between Grazer and Hounsou as the pair plot their escape is among the film’s best material.

The sisters also encase Shazam’s home city, Philadelphia, in an impenetrable magic dome, which at least explains why other DC heroes aren’t getting involved in the fight. One downside to storytelling in a shared universe is that if the villain’s plot registers on a global scale, it raises the question of why the other established heroes of the franchise aren’t all showing up to try to stop it as well (a prime example of this is Marvel’s Eternals, in which the potential destruction of the Earth apparently drew the curiosity of zero Avengers).

To save Freddy, free the city and prevent the Daughters’ from unleashing monsters upon the Earth, Billy must figure out how to retrieve the staff and return the sisters to their realm.

Levi continues to have all the fun as a teenager inhabiting a middle-aged adult’s body, though he seems to be even more immature as Shazam than the teenage Billy, who is nearing 18 and demonstrates more self-awareness than his adult self. The film at least has other characters call out how Shazam’s shtick is getting old, pointing out that the “S” in his name is supposed to represent Solomon’s wisdom — a trait he has been lacking thus far.

Also a bit weird is that the film has retained all the adult/kid cast from the first film, with the exception that Grace Caroline Currey is now playing the adult hero version of Mary in addition to her younger form. The filmmakers cite the character now being over 18 as the reason for the change, as Michelle Borth played the older form of Mary in the previous film. It’s a bit weird visually just compared with all the other characters changing actors in their superhero forms (especially considering they reshot a flashback to the first film, but used Currey instead of Borth, and this film’s updated costume designs). As the film establishes that both Billy and Freddy are about to turn 18, this logic would have Angel and Grazer playing their own Shazam versions in any future installments instead of Levi and Brody, which doesn’t seem a likely direction for the filmmakers to go in (not that any more sequels are likely forthcoming given this film’s dire box office pronouncements).

However, the film’s best running gag, at least for anyone with an appreciation for comic book history, involves the Shazam Family trying to figure out superhero names, since they can’t just introduce themselves as “Shazam” without turning their powers on and off. That’s because their superhero names in the comics were variations of Billy’s original alter ego — Captain Marvel, a moniker now controlled by DC’s rival, Marvel Comics, thanks to a complicated legal history.

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The film looks great in 4K and on Blu-ray, filled with some dazzling visual effects and an amazing array of mythological creatures with designs that draw inspiration from Ray Harryhausen.

The disc and digital editions of the film offer a number of good bonus materials. In the 4K combo pack, all the extras are on the regular Blu-ray, not the 4K disc.

Both the Blu-ray and 4K disc do offer an informative commentary track with director David F. Sandberg, who discusses how the production sidestepped a number of challenges in the visual effects and editing of the film.

Sandberg refers to a lot of material cut out of the film, many of which are included among the deleted, alternate and extended scenes, 29 of them totaling 31 minutes.

The Blu-ray also includes more than an hour of making-of featurettes.

The primary behind-the-scenes video is the 25-minute “Shazam! Let’s Make a Sequel,” which offers a nice overview of the production in general. The four-minute “The Zac Effect” focuses on the film’s star and his impact on the film, while the five-minute “Shazamily Reunion” shines a light on the other members of Team Shazam, and the eight-minute “Sisterhood of Villains” details the creation and portrayal of the Daughters of Atlas. “The Rock of Eternity: Decked Out” is a nearly six-minute featurette about how the Shazam Family have decorated their lair. The five-minute “Mythology of Shazam! Fury of the Gods” chronicles the real Greek myths that inspired much of the film’s premise.

Rounding out the extras is “Shazam! Scene Deconstruction,” a 10-minute video about the making of five action sequences.

 

The King’s Man

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/22/22;
20th Century;
Action;
Box Office $37.11 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for sequences of strong/bloody violence, language, and some sexual material.
Stars Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joel Basman, Valerie Pachner.

After two movies focused on the adventures of the spy agency known as Kingsman, writer-director Matthew Vaughn explores the origins of the organization in The King’s Man.

Set against the backdrop of World War I, the prequel weaves a clever tale centered on a conspiratorial cartel whose mastermind, The Shepherd, manipulates Europe into the devastating conflict. The cabal consists of several villainous figures from world history during the time period, including Rasputin, Mata Hari and Lenin. The war itself is explained as the extension of a childhood feud between three cousins who would grow to be King George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

In an inspired bit of casting, all three rulers are played by Tom Hollander, who previously played George V in the British miniseries The Lost Prince, as well as his great-great-grandfather George III in the John Adams miniseries.

At the center of it all is Orlando, the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), a pacifist and humanitarian who vows to use his resources to do what the governments of the world cannot — to expose the hidden villain behind the war and restore a measure of peace.

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Vaughn’s highly fictionalized retelling of World War I is a fun romp through history that incorporates actual events into its greater narrative. While the twists and turns sometimes make for a weirdly paced film, it does offer some thrilling action sequences and eventually gets where it needs to, layering some references to the previous films along the way.

The Blu-ray includes a comprehensive hour-and-a-half behind-the-scenes documentary called “The Great Game Begins.” There’s also a 16-minute breakdown of the silent knife fight sequence that takes place on a battlefield at night.

The 26-and-a-half-minute “Remembrance and Finding Purpose” is a heartfelt look at organizations that help wounded veterans re-adjust to society through art and sport.

Finally, the disc includes the film’s red-band trailer.

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Walmart is selling an expanded 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack with an exclusive DVD bonus disc containing two additional 15-minute featurettes. “Spymaster: Conspiring With Matthew Vaughn” offers the cast singing the praises of their director and his approach to filmmaking, while “Weaponized Cinema: Film Propaganda in World War I” offers a historical look at how film evolved into a political tool during the first World War.

A Quiet Place Part II

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 7/27/21;
Paramount;
Horror;
$29.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $34.99 UHD BD;
Box Office $157.52 million;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for terror, violence and bloody/disturbing images.
Stars Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski, Scoot McNairy.

Director John Krasinski delivers another eerily effective thriller predicated on silence in his follow up to the surprise 2018 hit film A Quiet Place.

The sequel actually begins as a bit of a prequel, showing how the alien creatures that prey on sound first arrived on Earth, giving Krasinski an opportunity to make a brief appearance as Lee Abbott, the father who in the first film sacrificed himself to distract the aliens and save his family.

The film then cuts to the immediate aftermath of the first film, as Lee’s wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), is left to fend for survival with their newborn baby, son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds). Regan’s hearing aid proved deadly to the aliens, emitting a frequency that disturbs their super hearing and makes them possible to kill.

The Abbotts set off to seek new shelter after theirs was pretty much destroyed by the alien attacks of the first film. They end up crossing into the booby-trapped land of their neighbor Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who wants them to leave so as not to squander the few resources he has.

However, they pick up a radio signal of someone broadcasting the song “Beyond the Sea,” which Regan intuits is a message to find a conclave of survivors living on an island, since the aliens don’t like water.

With Marcus injured by a bear trap (in a horrifying sequence involving a lot of screaming), and Evelyn forced to tend to him, Regan sets off to find a boat to get to the island, joined by a reluctant Emmett, who slowly starts to realize that perhaps there are still things to hope for in this otherwise dangerous world.

Naturally, the sound parasites are a constant threat to all the characters.

While the 4K disc includes just the film in Ultra HD, the Blu-ray edition includes several behind-the-scenes featurettes.

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Charlie’s Angels (2019)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/10/20;
Sony Pictures;
Action;
Box Office $17.8 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $40.99 UHD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for action/violence, language and some suggestive material.
Stars Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Nat Faxon, Patrick Stewart.

As a staple of “Jiggle TV” in the 1970s and early 1980s, “Charlie’s Angels” delighted audiences with the sex appeal of a trio of female private investigators solving crimes in skimpy outfits on a weekly basis.

The latest reinvention of the franchise comes courtesy of Elizabeth Banks, who not only produced, wrote and directed the new film version, but also stars as the new Bosley, the manager of the Charles Townsend Agency who supports the girls on their missions.

Banks delivers a smart but relatively straightforward espionage-thriller sanitized for the #MeToo era, a long way from the original TV show or the over-the-top action-comedy stylings of the 2000 and 2003 “Charlie’s Angels” movies.

The new Charlie’s Angels feels more like Kingsman infused with girl power and mixed with a touch of Men in Black (minus the aliens, of course).

The story, surprisingly enough, is a continuation of the world established by the original TV show and the first two movies, offering several references to those previous adventures (though no allusions are made to the short-lived 2011 reboot TV series). In the update, the Townsend Agency has expanded to become an international security and detective firm, recruiting an army of angels and a batch of “Bosleys” to train and watch over them, with “Bosley” becoming a rank of leadership within the organization.

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The latest adventure comes on the heels of the retirement of the original Bosley (Patrick Stewart, who it seems is meant to be playing the same character as David Doyle on the TV show and Bill Murray in the first movie), paving the way for Banks’ Boz to assume more authority in the organization. Meanwhile, the agency sends a pair of angels (Kristen Stewart and Ella Balinska) to help a computer programmer (Naomi Scott) stop the product launch of a new home assistant A.I. device with a design flaw that could allow it to be weaponized to kill whomever uses it.

This naturally attracts the attention of a team of international criminals and assassins, leading to some effective action sequences as the girls fight to survive the mission without being quite sure who they can trust to actually help them.

Banks’ screenplay, from a story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn, offers some clever plot twists and funny riffs on action-movie tropes. However, given the times in which we live, Banks can’t help but pepper the film with a slew of “men are horrible” clichés to try to give the film a bit more feminist street cred.

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Unlike the earlier films, in which the core trio were already a unit, the new film uses its story as an excuse to show a trio of angels coming together to form their team, getting past the lingering personality conflicts and personal baggage that arrived with them.

The formation of the new cast is the focus of one of the four behind-the-scenes featurettes included with the Blu-ray. The others focus on the stunts, the costumes, and Banks’ take on the material, and taken together equal about 25 minutes of making-of footage.

Other Blu-ray bonuses include five fun deleted scenes running a bit more than five minutes, a three-minute gag reel, and a four-minute “Don’t Call Me Angel” music video by Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey.

 

Captain Marvel

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 6/11/19;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $425.98 million;
$39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language.
Stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Clark Gregg.

The 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel, is the most entertaining backstory for a pager you’re likely to see.

First and foremost, the film answers the question of who Nick Fury was contacting in the post-credits sequence of Avengers: Infinity War as half of all life in the universe was turning to dust as a result of Thanos’ snap. And in doing so, it provides the introduction of a key hero who would otherwise be considered little more than a deus ex machina in Avengers: Endgame.

The film serves as a prequel for the rest of the MCU (aside from the World War II setting of Captain America: The First Avenger), and its 1995 setting is a big indicator of what direction the humor and soundtrack are going to go.

It starts off as something of a space opera, shades of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” focused an alien task force that includes the warrior Vers (Brie Larson). The team is helping the Kree Empire (the blue aliens seen in other MCU movies and the TV series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) fight a war against the shape-shifting Skrulls.

When a mission goes awry and Vers finds herself captured by the Skrulls, she escapes to Earth, where the Skrulls are searching for a mysterious power source.

After encountering S.H.I.E.L.D., she learns she is really Carol Danvers, a human test pilot believed killed several years before in a crash that in actuality was an attack that left her with superpowers and no memory of her previous self.

Carol’s abilities in the film have been frequently compared with a hero from” rival DC Comics: Superman, which is interesting considering that Danvers” is also the last name of Supergirl’s human alter ego. She also wouldn’t even be the first Captain Marvel to be compared with Superman — that would be the Fawcett Comics Captain Marvel from the 1940s that was eventually acquired by DC Comics and renamed Shazam to avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics version of the character. (That the Shazam! movie would finally hit screens just a month after Captain Marvel is one of cinema’s great coincidences.)

Captain Marvel attempts to fiddle with the tropes of the superhero origin story by using a flashback mystery structure, which is a nice exercise in technique even if Vers’ true identity will only be a mystery to anyone who hasn’t seen the film’s trailers beforehand or has any passing familiarity with her comic book history (or has already seen the movie, of course). There are other surprises to be had and some subversion of expectations, which balances it all out.

It’s a perfectly entertaining adventure that doesn’t rise beyond more than mid-level Marvel at best (which in the greater scheme of things is still pretty good). It has fun filling in some pieces of the larger Marvel franchise, though it could use a lesson in subtlety.

The film is at its strongest when it involves Carol on her mission, be it as part of the Kree Starforce, or paired with the younger version of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, effectively de-aged by the magic of computers) in a kind of buddy cop movie.

The film is ultimately a piece of bright, cheery fun that will light up HD TV screens with warm colors and the kind of razzle-dazzle we’ve come to expect from Marvel’s cosmic adventures.

This was also the first MCU movie released after the death of Marvel legend Stan Lee, and contains one of his best cameos in the franchise, calling back to what he was actually up to in 1995. That’s in addition to the touching opening tribute that presents the Marvel Studios logo with video from his various cameos over the years.

These are the only tributes to Stan Lee on the Blu-ray, though, as there isn’t a separate bonus feature devoted to it, aside from a mention in the commentary track from co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Otherwise, the commentary is a fairly typical back-and-forth in which they discuss various behind-the-scenes challenges, story points and their enjoyment of working with certain actors.

The movie also comes with an optional two-minute introduction by the directors.

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The Blu-ray includes a two-minute gag reel, nine minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, and six behind-the-scenes featurettes that total about 24 minutes of viewing time.

The seven-minute “Becoming a Super Hero” and three-and-a-half-minute “Big Hero Moment” deal with Larson taking on the role and the significance of having a superhero movie fronted by a female lead, while “The Dream Team” is a three-minute video about the directors.

“The Skrulls and the Kree” offers a three-and-a-half-minute primer on the primary conflict of the film.

The three-and-a-half-minute “The Origin of Nick Fury” gets MCU stars from other movies to discuss his character’s appearance over the years.

Finally, there’s “Hiss-sterical Cat-titude,” a tongue-in-cheek three-and-a-half-minute propaganda video about the cat named Goose that serves a central role in the story.

The digital copy of the film includes a seven-minute visual effects featurette, and a five-minute exploration about crafting an action scene for a Marvel movie. There are also galleries of set photos and concept art.

Vudu has an additional digital exclusive, a three-minute vignette called “Her Story,” which seems like a promotional piece cobbled together from video used in the other featurettes.