Brave New World

STREAMING REVIEW:

Peacock;
Sci-Fi;
Not rated.
Stars Alden Ehrenreich, Jessica Brown Findlay, Harry Lloyd, Kylie Bunbury, Nina Sosanya, Joseph Morgan, Sen Mitsuji, Hannah John-Kamen, Demi Moore.

Among the signature originals of NBCUniversal’s new Peacock streaming service is this sexed-up, modernized adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian 1932 novel about a futuristic society that achieves the illusion of utopia through population control and psychological manipulation.

“Brave New World” the series takes place in a technologically advanced future society in which all children are genetically engineered, adults are drugged into happiness, people are ranked by the importance of their role in society, and all privacy and monogamy is prohibited.

One of the administrators, Bernard (Harry Lloyd) begins to question the system when one of the lower-ranking janitors commits suicide, and he begins having insecurities about fitting in. He befriends a lower-ranked genetic scientist, Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay), whom he previously chastised for carrying on an exclusive sexual relationship with another high-ranking citizen, calling their actions selfish for refusing to share each other’s bodies with the rest of society.

They take a trip to the Savage Lands, an amusement park set up to re-create the way humanity used to live (essentially the show spoofing our current way of life). The less-sophisticated residents of the Savage Lands, however, don’t take kindly to being gawked at by the intellectual elite, and begin planning a violent revolution. Among them is John (Alden Ehrenreich), the propmaster who decides to spice up an enactment of a shotgun wedding by adding live ammunition.

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While story elements and characters are derived from the source material, the show itself with its ample nudity, graphic violence and slick production values comes across more like HBO’s “Westworld” but with actual people instead of robots, and less-convoluted plotting. The series had been in development since 2015 for the less-risqué Syfy network, another NBCUniversal subsidiary, so it’s easy to see why Peacock would poach it in an attempt to grab a piece of the “Westworld” and “Handmaid’s Tale” audiences.

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The first two episodes are available on Peacock’s free ad-supported level. For the remaining seven episodes, viewers must upgrade to one of Peacock’s paid plans.

Ant-Man and The Wasp

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 10/16/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $216.42 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for for some sci-fi action violence.
Stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas.

The 20th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrived in a somewhat awkward position for the franchise. Coming off the dire circumstances of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp offers more of the lighthearted, fun romp first served up in 2015’s Ant-Man. It’s certainly a shift in tone for dedicated Marvel watchers, but also serves as a satisfactory palate cleanser for the despair that “Avengers” movie dished out.

Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man wasn’t in Infinity War, and this movie delves into what he was up to as Thanos was preparing to battle the rest of the Avengers. Under house arrest as a result of the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Rudd) is once again recruited by the father-daughter science whiz team of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly), who are now fugitives because Lang used their shrinking technology to help Captain America fight Iron Man.

Hank needs Scott’s help to locate his wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the quantum realm, where she vanished 30 years ago after going too microscopic to return. Hope, meanwhile, has become The Wasp, fulfilling the setup from the first film for her to don a shrinking suit of her own.

However, their efforts have attracted some unwanted attention in the form of a criminal (Walton Goggins) who wants to get his hands on their technology, and a girl (Hannah John-Kamen) who needs energy from the quantum realm to reverse the effects of an accident that is causing her to phase out of existence.

Scott, meanwhile, has to avoid getting caught by the authorities by making sure he’s back home before they stop by for an inspection, lest he be sent back to prison for 20 years.

Director Peyton Reed takes advantage of the size-shifting premise to present both some very funny gags and some inventive action sequences. Reed says in an introduction to the film and his feature-length commentary that one of his main goals on the sequel was to really take advantage of the different perspectives that shrinking and growing can offer, much more than he did in the first film.

The film also sets up how Rudd will make his way into the fourth “Avengers” film, leaving even more clues with which fans can speculate about how the whole Thanos saga will be resolved next year.

For the here and now, though, the Ant-Man and The Wasp Blu-ray includes more than 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes with some good insights about establishing the characters in this new story, plus how the production design team mixed practical and CG effects to create sets and sequences that immerse the viewer into a world where the scale of everyday items is often out of whack.

The Blu-ray also includes two deleted scenes running about a minute each, which are interesting on their own but weren’t essential to the overall story. Then there are about four minutes of gag reels, including a minute of Stan Lee’s outtakes trying different lines for his cameo.

The digital editions include an exclusive eight-minute retrospective on the concept artists of the now 10-year-old MCU, plus a minute-long commercial for a company at the center of one of the film’s key running gags. Vudu also offers a two-and-a-half-minute featurette about Reed.

Ready Player One

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 7/24/18;
Warner;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $137.02 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $34.99 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD.
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.
Stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, Hannah John-Kamen.

In its quote displayed on the cover of Ernest Cline’s nostalgia-inspired novel Ready Player One, USA Today described the book as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” And despite a significant number of elements changing in the translation from page to screen, that’s an apt description for director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation as well. (Unless you want to subscribe to Red Letter Media’s theory that an episode of “Danny Phantom” serves as a better inspiration, but that’s a conclusion you’ll have to reach for yourself.)

Like the book, the film is a love letter to 1980s pop culture, so it seems apt for Spielberg, whose films helped define 1980s pop culture, would take on the task of directing it. Even more interesting is how Spielberg toned down the references to his own works, not wanting the film to appear too self-serving.

The focus on a very specific slice of the zeitgeist, especially with a story set in 2045, might not seem to make much sense (after all, it’s not as if 1950s pop culture dominates today), but the narrative presents a certain logic as to why this would be the case.

In the world of the film, humanity has become obsessed with a virtual online world called the OASIS, whose creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) grew up in the 1970s and ’80s and was himself obsessed with the pop culture of the era. Upon his death in 2040, he left a series of clues within the OASIS that would lead to three keys that, when collected, would unlock the portal to a golden egg, giving whomever discovers it wealth beyond belief and complete control of the OASIS. Solving the clues requires studying the things that Halliday loved, and thus a resurgence of decades-old pop culture references within the OASIS among those seeking the top prize.

Among the egg hunters (known as “Gunters”) are 18-year-old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who worships Halliday almost as if he were a god, and the freedom fighter Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who wants to find the egg to make sure the OASIS doesn’t fall into the hands of the IOI corporation, led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who wants to exploit it by selling ads everywhere.

The film is a fun adventure with some eye-popping visual effects and enough background details to require several viewings to spot them all. And looking beyond the pop culture references, beneath it all is a typical Spielberg parable about the value of teamwork versus the destructive nature of greed, and how it’s not exactly healthy to ignore the real world to spend all your time watching movies and playing video games.

The movie also makes some great use of music, beginning with Van Halen’s “Jump,” a song that resonates throughout the film as the story asks the game’s participants to “take a leap” when it comes to finding a connection with other people.

The Blu-ray includes six featurettes running nearly two hours in total. The bulk of it is the 57-minute “Game Changer: Cracking the Code,” which is the primary behind-the-scenes look, focusing on the writing, casting and filming — much of which involved the actors in motion-capture suits.

That leads into the 25-minute “Effects for a Brave New World,” about creating the digital world of the OASIS as well as enhancing the real-world scenes.

The eight-minute “Level Up: Sound for the Future” deals with the sound effects team led by industry veteran Gary Rydstrom.

Film music fans will enjoy the 10-minute “High Score: Endgame,” about how composer Alan Silvestri, who has worked on numerous Spielberg-produced movies, stepped in to work with director Spielberg for the first time (as longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams was off doing The Post).

Rounding out the bonus materials are the five-and-a-half-minute “The ’80s: You’re the Inspiration,” and “Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure,” in which Texans Cline and Sheridan re-unite in Austin for a fun discussion about the film just before its premiere.