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.

 

‘Charlie’s Angels’ Coming to Digital Feb. 18, Disc — Including 4K — March 10

The rebooted Charlie’s Angels will come out on digital Feb. 18 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD March 10 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film earned $68 million at the global box office.

Director Elizabeth Banks takes the helm for the next generation of Charlie’s Angels, Kristen Stewart (Sabina), Naomi Scott (Elena), and Ella Balinska (Jane). The Angels are working for the mysterious Charles Townsend, whose investigative agency has expanded internationally. Under the guidance of Bosley (Banks), the Angels have to protect a revolutionary technology from becoming weaponized.

Bonus materials include a gag reel, five deleted scenes, and four making-of featurettes.

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Brightburn

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Sony Pictures;
Horror;
Box Office $17.3 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $38.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for horror violence/bloody images, and language.
Stars Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Emmie Hunter, Gregory Alan Williams, Annie Humphrey.

The common description of Brightburn paints the film as something of a dark superhero tale, a speculation about what would have happened had Superman turned out to be evil.

Such a summary is a bit of an oversimplification, both in terms of what the movie is trying to achieve and in the implication of what Superman is.

For the most part, though, the film is an effective thriller with a killer hook — what if Superman was the slasher in his own horror film?

The superpowered alien central to Brightburn is not Superman, of course, but a close enough stand-in given the circumstances involved. A childless couple wishes for a baby only to have one fall out of the sky in a spaceship. They adopt the child and raise him as their own, only for him to discover that he possesses wondrous powers.

After living a relatively normal childhood, Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) quickly develops the powers of super strength, flight, superspeed and heat vision. Unlike Superman, he can also emit EM pulses to interfere with electronics.

Brandon’s alien nature has begun to assert itself, and his instincts tell him he was sent to Earth to take it over.

So he slowly embarks on his campaign of terror, first tormenting a young classmate he has a crush on. As the locals begin to shun him for his oddness, he grows more willing to kill in order to conceal his true nature. Even his adoptive father (David Denman) begins to distrust him, though his mother (Elizabeth Banks) refuses to give up on him.

The key difference with Superman, of course, is that Clark Kent was never driven by a preordained alien instinct for dominance. He was simply raised as a child with superpowers, and developed the moral lessons imparted upon him by his adoptive parents into his desire to pursue truth, justice and the American way.

But that’s neither here nor there as far as Brightburn is concerned. Produced by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and written by his brother and cousin, the film relishes its chance to demonstrate how terrifying the prospect of a superpowered child can be once he realizes he is subject to no mortal constraints. Brightburn is creepy, disturbing appropriately gory in the best traditions of practical horror effects (with a modern assist from CGI).

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The idea at the heart of Brandon’s sudden turn toward bloodlust gives rise to the five-minute “Nature vs. Nurture” featurette included with the Blu-ray, which explores the film’s family dynamic and suggests the film is something of a parable for parenting a difficult child.

The sentiment is echoed by director David Yarovesky in a short “social vignette” and the film’s commentary track, in which he recalls his own troubled upbringing and calls the film a tribute of sorts to his mother for putting up with him.

Yarovesky shares the commentary with his wife, Autumn, who serves as the costume designer, and cinematographer Michael Dallatorre. Their lighthearted and often crude discussion comes across like a group of friends making fun of each other and reminiscing on their shared experiences in relating the story of the making of the film. There are some pretty good insights offered for fans interested in knowing more about the film, as well as a fair share of poop jokes.

The five-minute “Hero-Horror!” featurette takes a look at how the film puts a dark twist on the telling of the usual superhero origin story. It’s mostly a standard-issue behind-the-scenes video of the cast and filmmakers discussing the movie, but it doesn’t go much deeper into really analyzing the influences on the film from among the greater pantheon of superhero mythology.

Rounding out the Blu-ray are the aforementioned social vignettes. Labled “Quick Burns Social Vignettes,” they consist of three videos running a total of two–and-a-half minutes. One video features Elizabeth Banks plugging the movie’s virtues, another offers James Gunn singing the praises of director Yarovesky, and the third is the interview with Yarovesky in which he discusses how his background influenced his vision for the film.

Sinister Superhero Flick ‘Brightburn’ Flying to Digital Aug. 6, Disc Aug. 20 From Sony

The superhero horror story Brightburn is coming to digital Aug. 6 and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 20 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Producer James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither) presents a subversive take on the superhero film, asking the question: What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Gunn, Matt Jones and Meredith Hagner star.

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Bonus materials include:

  • three “Quick Burns” vignettes, hosted by Banks, producer James Gunn and director David Yarovesky;
  • the “Hero-Horror!” featurette, in which producer James Gunn and screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn discuss the genre-bending category;
  • the “Nature vs. Nurture” featurette, about what motivates the film’s antihero;
  • and filmmaker commentary with Yarovesky, director of photography Michael Dallatorre, and costume designer Autumn Steed.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

 BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 5/7/19;
Warner;
Animated;
Box Office $105.73 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for some rude humor.
Voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman.

Picking up directly where 2014’s The Lego Movie left off, the sequel finds the Lego characters under siege by the Duplo invaders for five years, eventually forming a post-apocalyptic settlement a la “Mad Max.”

When Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett) and a handful of other characters are whisked away in the latest invasion to a far-off planet in the “Systar System,” it’s up to Emmet (Chris Pratt) to try to rescue them, with the help of an adventurer named Rex he meets along the way.

Lego Movie 2 follows the same conceit as the first film that the adventures of the Lego characters are the manifestations of the imaginations of the children playing with them, with more puns about how real-world situations can threaten their existence (this time they fear ending up in the “Bin of Storage”). The film once again hints at the toys being alive, and idea it can only take so far before it starts to delve into “Toy Story” territory.

The war with the invaders stems from a sibling rivalry, as the little sister of the kid from the first film wants to play with her brother, only to be rebuffed. So, there’s a nice little message about sibling cooperation at the heart of the story for good measure.

The animation is as stylish and colorful as the first film, the story works in a few more catchy songs (many by YouTube star Jon Lajoie, who played Taco on “The League”), and the franchise continues to make smart and funny observations about its nature as essentially a Lego toy commercial. But after following up the first movie with “Batman” and “Ninjago” Lego spinoffs, the concept is a bit played out.

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The Blu-ray features the movie in an “Everything Is Awesome” sing-along mode that showcases facts about the movie, on-screen lyrics, trivia games and more.

There’s also a full-length commentary from director Mike Mitchell, writers/producers Phil Lord and Chritopher Miller, and animation director Trisha Gum.

Additional behind-the-scenes material includes the 9-minute “They Came in Pieces: Assembling The Lego Movie 2,” featuring interviews with the cast and filmmakers.

The Blu-ray also offers 12 minutes of outtakes and deleted scenes, including some interesting footage showing parts of the story from the point of view of the kids playing it out.

Just as a reminder that these are toys you can buy at your local store, there’s a two-minute “Lego Sets in Action” video of animations of the new products featured in the movie, and a three-and-a-half-minute featurette that interviews Lego toy designers about the toys created for use in the movie.

The disc also includes four additional minutes of promotional material, including the actors talking about their characters’ minifigs.

On the musical side, there’s a music video for the “Super Cool” song by Beck, featuring Robyn and comedy team The Lonely Island.

Finally, there’s a three-minute Christmas-themed short film called “Emmet’s Holiday Party.”

The Happytime Murders

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 12/4/18;
Universal;
Comedy;
Box Office $20.71 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material.
Stars Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Michael McDonald.
Voices of Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Drew Massey.

The Happytime Murders continues the glorious tradition of using the tropes of children’s programming as the basis for subversive adult entertainment.

The film is set in a world best described as “Muppets-adjacent,” where felt-skinned puppets are alive and second-class citizens of a society in which humans are pretty openly racist toward them. Some of the puppets end up as performers in movies and TV shows for kids, and when they’re off camera they have to deal with the harsh realities of life like everyone else.

The story involves a puppet named Phil (Bill Barretta), an ex-cop now working as a private investigator. He gets roped into a case involving the former members of a TV show called “The Happytime Gang” getting killed one at a time, and the police ask him to help his former partner (Melissa McCarthy) figure out who’s behind it.

The Happytime Murders could be considered something of a puppet version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit if not for a couple of factors. First, all the puppet characters are generic and created just for this film. Seeing characters from other franchises interact could have helped build the world and establish a sense of nostalgia to better connect audiences to the story. To that end, it’s not surprising that other studios would be reluctant to lend their IP to the project, which owes a lot to the second factor — the film is completely filthy.

Puppets do drugs. Puppets engage in dangerous sex acts. Puppets get ripped apart by dogs and get their heads blown apart by shotguns, leaving fluffy cotton entrails everywhere. An then there’s the excessive use of silly string. It’s pretty much everything you suspected goes on in the after hours of “Sesame Street” but were afraid to ask.

In fact, the film was the basis of an unsuccessful lawsuit from the Sesame Workshop for its tagline of “No Sesame. All Street,” which is still boldly emblazoned on the DVD and Blu-ray box art. But the fact that the puppets are basically off-brand Muppets is no coincidence.

The film’s director is Brian Henson, son of the late Muppets creator Jim Henson. In a commentary on the Blu-ray, Brian helpfully points out that he made sure to include a “Henson Alternative” production banner at the beginning of The Happytime Murders to signal that this movie really isn’t for children. Not that the trailers or any of the marketing wouldn’t have given that away.

The notion of living puppets scheming to commit mayhem brings to mind the “Smile Time” episode from Joss Whedon’s vampire drama “Angel,” which featured several demonic puppets stealing the life force from children. Unsurprisingly, many of the episode’s puppets were realized with the help of a number of Jim Henson Co. puppeteers, including some who worked on this movie.

I also have a feeling that the foul-mouthed Stinky the Grump from the famous “Chappelle’s Show” “Kneehigh Park” sketch would be quite at home in the world of The Happytime Murders as well.

But this isn’t a five-minute sketch. Happytime Murders doubles down on the concept of puppets doing inappropriate things, to the point where it doesn’t seem to have much to say beyond that. Most scenes are structured on the idea of a puppet doing something crude and unexpected, allowing the movie to coast on the juxtaposition of something associated with children acting in an adult way. Which isn’t to say it isn’t entertaining. The film offers a number of clever observations about a hypothetical puppet society, and there are even moments that are laugh-out-loud hilarious. However, the constancy of it is just a bit draining, and the pace of the puppetry must have worn out the filmmakers too given how the story evolves into a lengthy stretch focusing on a couple of the human characters trying to solve the mystery on their own.

More impressive is the film’s visual style, and the extent of the visual effects work involved may surprise some viewers. According to some of the Blu-ray’s behind-the-scenes material, there were a fair amount of puppeteers crouched just off camera to animate the characters. But there is also a lot of CGI involved, too. The disc offers a two-minute featurette about how the filmmakers used virtual environments to gain better control over the action.

More illuminating is a nearly three-minute video about how the visual effects team created a lot of the “puppets” from CGI to begin with. Some might see it as cheating, I suppose, but their work in this regard is amazing, as the level of detail in the texture of the fabric seems completely authentic. At first blush I just assumed many of the scenes of puppets walking around in full view of the camera were done with little people in costumes, so it was a bit of an eye-opener to see how they really did it.

A fuller overview of the visual effects work is on display in a four-minute montage video that shows several scenes at different stages of development.

In addition to the aforementioned audio commentary, in which director Henson is joined by puppeteer/voice actor Barretta, the Blu-ray also includes a three-minute gag reel and a two-and-a-half-minute “Line-O-Rama” of alternate improvisations.

Finally, the disc includes more than 14 minutes of deleted scenes, which expand on a few points and fill in some character details that are touched on in the final film.

Regarding the film’s digital copy, take note that the film is not available for redemption through Movies Anywhere, even though Universal is a signatory studio. The production company is STX Films, which does not have a distribution deal with Movies Anywhere, and as a result the digital code included with the disc is redeemable only through iTunes.

‘The Happytime Murders’ Coming to Digital Nov. 20, Disc Dec. 4 From Universal

The Melissa McCarthy comedy The Happytime Murders is coming to digital Nov. 20 and Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and on demand Dec. 4 from STXfilms and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film made $20.7 million in theaters.

Directed and produced by Brian Henson (The Muppet Christmas Carol) along with producers Jeffrey Hayes, McCarthy (who also stars) and Ben Falcone, the raunchy comedy also stars Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids), Joel McHale (“Community”) and Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect). Set in the underbelly of Los Angeles where puppets and humans coexist, the film follows two clashing detectives — one human (McCarthy) and one puppet — with a shared secret who are forced to work together again to solve the brutal murders of the former cast of a classic puppet TV show.

Bonus features on Blu-ray, DVD and digital include:

  • deleted scenes;
  • a gag reel;
  • “Line-O-Rama”;
  • “Virtual Environments,” in which viewers can go behind the scenes to see the transformation of the film’s virtual environments including visual effects through backdrops, action scenes, and the movements of the puppets themselves;
  • “Avatars Demo,” in whichVFX supervisors discuss how The Happytime Murders created a new realm of puppet movies by using avatars to make the puppets come to life;
  • “VFX Breakdown,” an overview of the impact of visual special effects in the film;
  • theatrical trailers; and
  • feature commentary with Henson and voice actor Bill Barretta.