Writer Taylor Sheridan’s ‘American Frontier Trilogy’ Headed to Blu-ray Oct. 18

Three action films written by Taylor Sheridan (the writer behind TV’s “Yellowstone”) will be available in one collection in the American Frontier Trilogy, which arrives on Blu-ray plus digital Oct. 18 from Lionsgate.

In this trilogy of films written by Sheridan, an idealistic FBI agent teams up with a shady consultant to bust a drug lord (Sicario), a rookie FBI agent and a game tracker work to solve a girl’s murder on a remote reservation (Wind River), and a desperate father decides to rob the bank that’s trying to take his family’s land (Hell or High Water).

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Stars in the $19.99 three-film collection include Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, Avengers: Endgame), Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart), Academy Award  nominee Josh Brolin (Dune, Avengers: Endgame), Golden Globe Winner Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, The Devil Wears Prada, The Adjustment Bureau), Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, The Usual Suspects, Guardians of the Galaxy), Primetime Emmy Award nominee Elizabeth Olsen (“Avengers” franchise, “WandaVision”), Chris Pine (“Star Trek” franchise, Wonder Woman, A Wrinkle in Time) and Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, The Messenger).

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 7/26/22;
Disney/Marvel;
Action Fantasy;
Box Office $411.2 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language.
Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams.

Now deeply entrenched in its fourth phase, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is meandering a bit. While the first phase established a core group of heroes, and phases two and three built up to the battle against Thanos, phase four seems to be about introducing a new generation of Avengers to carry on in the aftermath of that fight.

Thus, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the 28th MCU film, features the debut of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager from a parallel reality who has the power to travel between the worlds of the multiverse. Living out her own personal version of “Sliders,” America accidentally opened a portal that caused her and her parents to be lost in separate worlds. Unable to control her powers, she continues to search for her parents and find a way home.

But wait, this is a Doctor Strange movie, isn’t it? The movie begins with America being pursued by a malevolent force that wants to steal her power. Defending her is an alternate reality version of Strange, as they seek a magical artifact that will defeat their attacker. When their quest seems hopeless and Defender Strange is killed, she manages to end up in the MCU, where our Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) carries on her fight.

Hoping to recruit some magical reinforcements, he turns to Wanda Maximoff, who is in a self-imposed exile following the events of “Wandavision” in which she dealt with the grief of Vision’s death by turning a small town into a sitcom reality and giving herself two sons, ultimately learning that she’s the embodiment of an ancient force called the Scarlet Witch.

Strange gets more than he bargained for asking for Wanda’s help, leading him and America on a world-hopping adventure that gives the film a chance to indulge the audience with all sorts of fun cameos.

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Given that Strange had just appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which offered its own dalliance into the multiverse, the natural assumption going in would be that this movie’s story would have carried on from those events, but Strange’s experiences with the multiverse in these consecutive appearances are largely just coincidental.

Still, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is fun for what it is, a mostly standalone adventure infused by director Sam Raimi with a strong dose of horror elements and some imaginative uses of the premise (though not using it quite enough), before finally giving way to some awkward post-credit sequences to set up future movies.

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The Blu-ray includes a fun and informative commentary from Raimi, writer Michael Waldron, and producer Richie Palmer, as they discuss the challenges of making the film and other possibilities for the story.

Also included are three short behind-the-scenes featurettes. The 11-minute “Constructing the Multiverse” is a general retrospective on the making of the movie with interviews from the cast and filmmakers; the three-and-a-half-minute “Introducing America Chavez” focuses on the origins of that character and bringing her to life; and the five-minute “Method to the Madness” explores Raimi’s impact on the film.

Rounding out the extras are a two-and-a-half-minute gag reel, and three deleted scenes that run a total of about three minutes — one is a flashback to Strange’s days as a surgeon, while the other two expand on Bruce Campbell’s guest appearance as a street vendor.

 

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Set for Disc Release July 26

Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution will release Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray July 26. The film will be available for digital purchase a month earlier, on June 22, the same day as its previously announced premiere on the Disney+ streaming service.

Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Doctor Stephen Strange, Marvel’s master of the mystic arts, fresh off helping Spider-Man deal with an incursion of alternate realities in Spider-Man: No Way Home. In Multiverse of Madness, he meets America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenage girl from a parallel world who has the power to travel between the multiverses. But she is being pursued by an entity who seeks to control her power, leading Doctor Strange to vow to protect her. However, when he turns to fellow magic user Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) for help, he discovers a danger he never expected, sending him on a journey through parallel realities to protect his charge.

The film also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams, and was directed by Sam Raimi. It has earned $391 million at the domestic box office, and $912.6 million globally.

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The home video editions will include an audio commentary by Raimi, screenwriter Michael Waldron and co-producer Richie Palmer, plus three featurettes:

  • “Method to the Madness” — The film’s production team and other Marvel employees discuss their love of Raimi and all the details of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness that make one of his quintessential films”.
  • “Introducing America Chavez” — A profile of the character from the comic books, and the actress who plays her.
  • “Constructing the Multiverse” — Waldron delves into the challenges of crafting the story.

 

Also included will be a gag reel and three deleted scenes:

  • “A Great Team” — a journalist questions Doctor Strange’s integrity;
  • “Pizza Poppa” — a street vendor played by Bruce Campbell is relieved when a spell cast by Doctor Strange ends;
  • “It’s Not Permanent” — Bruce tries to accuse Doctor Strange of being an imposter.

 

Availability of the bonus materials with the digital version will vary by retailer.

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HBO Max Orders True Crime Series ‘Love and Death’ Starring Elizabeth Olsen

HBO Max has ordered the limited series “Love and Death,” starring Elizabeth Olsen  and written by David E. Kelley.

Inspired by the book Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs and a collection of articles from Texas Monthly (“Love & Death in Silicon Prairie,” Part I & II), the series, directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, is about two churchgoing couples enjoying small town family life in Texas until somebody picks up an axe.

The series is produced by Lionsgate, and executive produced by David E. Kelley through David E. Kelley Productions; Nicole Kidman and Per Saari through Blossom Films; Lesli Linka Glatter; Scott Brown and Megan Creydt through Texas Monthly; Matthew Tinker; Michael Klick and Helen Verno.

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“This is a gripping story about the frustrations and desires of two women in a small town that culminates in a terrible act of violence,” Sarah Aubrey, head of original content for HBO Max, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to be partnering with David, Lesli, Nicole and Per, and incredibly fortunate to have Elizabeth at the center of our story to bring out all the layers of Candy that make this story so unforgettable.”

“We cannot imagine a more perfect artist to play the leading role of Candy than Elizabeth Olsen,” Kevin Beggs, chairman of Lionsgate Television Group, said in a statement. “Her talent, charisma and energy can bewitch audiences like no other. We’re proud to be collaborating with a world-class creative team of Lesli, David and Nicole on this thrilling and intriguing series and to bring another exciting premium property to our partners at HBO Max.”

WandaVision

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Disney+/Marvel;
Sci-Fi/Fantasy;
Not rated;
Stars Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kat Dennings, Josh Stamberg, Julian Hilliard, Jett Klyne, Evan Peters.

The way it plays out, WandaVision could leave viewers both glad to welcome the return of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after a year-and-a-half hiatus, and cautiously optimistic about its future following the events of Avengers: Endgame.

However, it’s definitely a fitting choice for Marvel Studios’ first direct foray into television with MCU content (previous shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Netflix “Defenders” group were supposedly set in the MCU as well, but they were produced by a different studio division and their canon-status has fallen into doubt).

Due to the pandemic, the last MCU release before this was Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019. Since then, Marvel has been preparing a slate of Disney+ shows, but its schedule has been rearranged a bit, most notably the delay of the Black Widow movie for more than a year.

Thus it is that “Phase Four” of the MCU kicks off with WandaVision on the small screen.

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WandaVision embraces its television origins, as several episodes pay homage to classic sitcoms of the past. Right off the bat, viewers are treated to what sounds like a typical 1950s family sitcom theme song, revealing that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and The Vision (Paul Bettany) of the Avengers are now married and moving into a house in the suburbs. This of course raises many questions, as Vision died in Avengers: Infinity War.

In fact, the first three episodes are devoted to parodying the sitcom format, from the 1950s in episode one, to the 1960s in episode two, and the 1970s in episode three, complete with bespoke title tunes and elaborate credit sequences. There are hints of the outside world trying to break into whatever reality we’re watching before we finally get a sense of what’s happening in episode four. It’s a slow burn, but worth it. Heck, the stylings of classic TV should be enough of a draw, especially for viewers who enjoy identifying all the tropes on display and guessing where the show’s creators drew inspiration. My favorite is the 1980s-style in episode five, particularly the pitch-perfect ’80s-style theme song.

For the rest of the nine episodes, the limited series slips back and forth between TV parody and the outside world trying to figure out why an energy field has turned a small town in New Jersey into an evolving sitcom. The team trying to figure things out involves a number of established MCU characters, from Randall Park as FBI Agent Jimmy Woo from Ant-Man and The Wasp, to Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis from the “Thor” movies, and Teyonah Parris as the grown up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel.

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The show will likely take a few rewatches for fans to truly appreciate it, especially when placed in the context of the future movies and TV shows it sets up. Some mixed reaction after its finale probably stems from the usual debate over releasing streaming shows for bingeing or week-to-week. As with all its shows, Disney+ released WandaVision as a weekly over the course of two months, allowing the mystery to build up and the audiences questions to mount as so many plot twists and revelations episode-to-episode fueled fan speculation about what was going on and who the new characters would turn out to be. Given the rabid expectations that had been built up for the ending, what turns out to be a low-key finale may not have sated the appetites of hardcore fans, and leaves a few questions hanging. Maybe they will be addressed when this story supposedly picks up in the next “Spider-Man” and “Doctor Strange” movies over the next couple of years. Maybe not. But there is no doubt that the show’s craftsmanship is impeccable.

I suspect those bingeing WandaVision going forward will not have the same issues with the slow buildup, since they won’t be waiting the whole week for answers, and the show will play more like a five-hour movie.

Still, the show is a trove of references to previous MCU movies involving Wanda and Vision, and the comics on which they are based. The performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Elizabeth Olsen as the heart of the series, both the sitcoms that seem built around her and WandaVision itself. She does a great job playing to each period while also bringing depth to her character at those times when the illusions are broken, as Wanda starts to learn the true limits of her powers, which may not have originated from where the audience has been led to believe. 

Kathryn Hahn is a delight as Agnes, Wanda’s nosy neighbor who keeps popping up and opportune times and turns out to be more important to Wanda’s fake reality than it seems. And Evan Peters, who played the “X-Men” movies version of the speedster Quicksilver, Wanda’s brother (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the MCU) provides what could have been Marvel’s most meta cameo ever had the show pushed the implications of it to their natural storytelling conclusions rather than walking it back a bit with subsequent revelations.

And then there’s Paul Bettany, the veteran character actor who took on a small voiceover role as Tony Stark’s computer system in the original Iron Man, which blossomed into one of the key characters on the Avengers, to the strange but satisfying offbeat superhero love story of WandaVision. It just goes to show you never know where the smallest decisions could lead when you’re making it up as you go along. But that’s the kind of thing the MCU excels at, constantly.

‘WandaVision’ to Premiere on Disney+ Jan. 15

Marvel Studios’ new series “WandaVision” will premiere on the Disney+ streaming service Jan. 15, 2021.

The spinoff of the Marvel Cinematic Universe stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprising their roles as the telekinetic Wanda Maximoff and the android Vision, members of the Avengers. The show finds the super-powered couple living the idealized suburban lives of classic television sitcoms, but everything is not as it seems.

The supporting cast includes Kathryn Hahn as their nosy neighbor, Agnes; Kat Dennings reprising her role as Darcy from the “Thor” movies; Randall Park reprising his role as an FBI agent from Ant-Man and the Wasp; and Teyonah Parris as Maria Rambeau, the adult version who previously appeared as a child in the 1990s-set Captain Marvel.

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With the delay of Black Widow to May 7, 2021, as a result of theater restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, “WandaVision” will be the first new MCU content released since Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019, and the story is expected to tie into the plot of planned 2022 movie Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

“WandaVision” is the first of several new MCU tie-in series produced by Marvel Studios for Disney+, a slate that includes “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Loki,” “Ms. Marvel,” “Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk” and the animated “What If…?”

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CEO Zuckerberg: Facebook Watch Going ‘Mainstream’ in 2019

Facebook launched its Watch streaming video platform in 2017 as competition to YouTube and other over-the-top platforms.

Despite initial claims of 50 million monthly viewers, and content spend approaching $1 billion, Watch has reportedly failed to connect with its targeted audience: teenagers.

In fact, just 36% of the desired demo used Facebook in Fall 2018 — down from 52% during the same time period in 2016, according to analyst firm Piper Jaffray.

Indeed, 85% of teens are opting for Instagram (which Facebook owns), followed by Snapchat (84%) and Twitter (47%).

As a result, Facebook is looking to expand the Watch audience while also hoping to further engage younger viewers through social interaction, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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Speaking on the Jan. 30 fiscal call, Zuckerberg said 400 million users now engage with Watch monthly, including about 20 minutes of content daily.

Specifically, the founder/CEO said Facebook has directed Watch users interested in longform video to engage in content more easily through the ‘Watch Party’ app that allows them to share live streams among friends.

“These are all things that make it so the video-watching experience isn’t just about passive consumption but about interaction, and that’s going to, I think, help really drive engagement as well,” Zuckerberg said.

In addition, the social media platform is focusing on content that resonates with wider audiences and thereby enhances monetization opportunities for creators — and Facebook.

Watch has scored hits with Jada Pinkett Smith’s talk show, “Red Table Talk,” critically-acclaimed drama series, “Sorry for Your Loss,” and “Sacred Lies”; interactive reality show, “Confetti,” and next year’s reboot of “MTV’s The Real World.”

“That has allowed us to really increase the amount of video that people are watching without getting in the way of the core mission of what we do, which is helping people interact,” Zuckerberg said.

 

 

Janet McTeer Signed to Facebook Watch Original Series

Upstart over-the-top video service Facebook Watch reportedly has signed two-time Oscar nominee Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds, Albert Nobbs) to original dark comedy, “Sorry For Your Loss,” also staring (and executive produced by) Elizabeth Olsen (Ingrid Goes West, Martha Marcy May Marlene).

McTeer plays a fitness-obsessed, overbearing mother to young widow Olsen trying to deal with grief, among other issues. The series also stars Kelly Marie Tran and Jovan Adepo.

Ad-supported Facebook Watch, which splits revenue (45%/55%) with content creators, launched last August. Facebook reportedly set aside $1 billion for original content production in 2018.

Earlier this week, Facebook Watch hired ex-Pinterest executive Mike Bidgoli to head the video product unit, in addition to Matthew Henick as head of content planning and strategy.

British-born McTeer is also starring in the second season of Netflix original series, “Ozark,” starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as parents of two young children on the run from the drug cartel.

McTeer plays a Chicago based attorney with links to the cartel. In making a deal with the devil, she becomes a potential threat to the Byrde family.