Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

DIGITAL REVIEW:

Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $28.14 million;
$19.99 VOD, $24.99 Digital Purchase;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language.
Stars Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah.

Fans of “G.I. Joe” know four traits about Snake Eyes, the mysterious black-clad commando of the team, that tend to stay consistent throughout the various iterations of the lore: He doesn’t talk, he wears a mask because he’s disfigured, he was an American soldier before joining G.I. Joe, and he trained in martial arts with the Arashikage ninja clan alongside Storm Shadow, who would go on to join Cobra.

This prequel look at Snake Eyes’ origins doesn’t bother with three of them and instead focuses solely on the ninja stuff.

What we do get is enough of a departure from established lore that it’s hard to tell who exactly this movie is for. Fans won’t be interested in a Snake Eyes movie in which he talks and doesn’t wear a mask, and for mainstream audience the movie plays more like a generic fantasy about a ninja family feud. References to the counter-terrorist team G.I. Joe fighting the global terror group Cobra are at least shoehorned in to connect it to the franchise’s main storyline.

Another common trait in previous depictions of Snake Eyes in comic books, cartoons and the earlier “Joe” movies was that he was a white serviceman who took up with the Arashikage clan, making for something of a cultural dichotomy (not unlike The Karate Kid).

It’s a heck of a legacy for a character that started off as an action figure molded in pure black as a cost-saving measure to round out the first wave of a collection of soldiers in the early 1980s.

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But, fearful of any hints of cultural appropriation in these hyper-sensitive times, in this movie he’s played by Henry Golding, who is half Asian (Malaysian on his mother’s side, British on his father’s). Snake Eyes is presented as the son of a spy who is murdered, taking his name from a set of loaded dice rolled by his father’s killer to determine his fate.

Growing up seeking revenge, Snake Eyes is recruited into the Yakuza by Kenta (Takehiro Hira). In a scene reminiscent of Batman Begins, Kenta orders Snake Eyes to kill a man caught spying on the Yakuza, but Snake Eyes instead spares his life and helps him escape. That man, Tommy (Andrew Koji), is the heir to the leadership of the Arashikage clan, and also the cousin of Kenta, who was cast out by the clan and seeks revenge of his own.

Tommy welcomes Snake Eyes into the clan and trains him in the ways of the ninja. The clan’s mission is to guard an ancient magical stone that can burn people with the power of thought, a weapon that Kenta wants to get his hands on so much that he’s aligned with the Cobra agent the Baroness (Ursula Corbero). She’s being tracked by “G.I. Joe” trooper Scarlett (Samara Weaving), this providing Snake Eyes a connection to his future team.

The plot turns on a series of betrayals and double crosses, and there’s plenty of action to make this a decent run-of-the-mill martial arts movie. But with the “G.I. Joe” label slapped on, the character at the center of it doesn’t feel much like the Snake Eyes fans know.

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Among the extras included with the digital version of the film, and which also will be available with the future disc release, are five deleted scenes that run about 30 seconds each — too short to have much impact.

There are also four featurettes: the nine-and-a-half-minute “Enter Snake Eyes,” a look at the making of the film; “A Deadly Ensemble,” about the cast and the characters they play; a seven minute look at the Arashikage clan; and a three-minute short film about the history of Snake Eyes’ sword, Morning Light. Interwoven throughout is an interview with Larry Hama, the comic book writer who created the original storylines for most of the characters.

Snake Eyes arrives on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 19.

Rom-Com ‘Last Christmas’ Home Release Announced by Universal

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release the romantic-comedy Last Christmas through digital retailers Jan. 21, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Feb. 4.

The film stars Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) as Kate, who works as an elf at a year-round holiday shop and faces an endless streak of bad luck and poor decision-making until she meets Tom (Henry Golding), a kind-hearted man with a mysterious past who challenges her cynical world view. The cast also includes Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson.

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Directed by Paul Feig, and co-written by Thompson and Greg Wise, the film earned $35 million at the domestic box office. The film features the music of George Michael, including a never-before-heard track.

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Home video extras include an alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; a blooper reel; a Feig solo commentary; a commentary with Feig and Thompson; a full performance of George Michael’s “Last Christmas”; and several featurettes:

  • “Director in Vision” — Feig offers directorial tips and fashion advice;
  • “It’s All So Cold” — how Clarke and Golding’s stayed warm while filming in chilly London;
  • “Try Not to Laugh” — Clarke and Thompson come down with a severe case of the giggles;
  • “A Legacy Revealed” — how the song “Last Christmas” was developed into a film;
  • “Pure Golding” — A profile of Henry Golding;
  • “Emilia Recording Session” — a recording session with Emilia Clarke;
  • “Love Letter to London” — Feig and some of the cast explore London;
  • “Santa and Her Elf” — a behind the scenes look at the quirky relationship between Kate and “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh);
  • “12 Days of Production” — a chronicle of the production;
  • “Paul Feig Takes Over the Tram” – Before Feig became a director he was a Universal Studios tram tour guide in 1981. Hop on the tram and experience part of the tour as Paul takes over the ride.

 

A Simple Favor

While a movie based on a dark mystery thriller novel might seem like an odd choice for a director known primarily for comedy, Paul Feig is able to deliver an entertaining adaptation of Darcey Bell’s A Simple Favor filled with plenty of twists and turns, driven by a pair of winning performances from his leading ladies, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively.

 

 

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Lionsgate;
Thriller;
Box Office $53.55 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $42.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence.
Stars Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, Rupert Friend, Bashir Salahuddin, Joshua Satine, Ian Ho.

A Simple Favor exists in a strange Venn diagram where the dark mystery thriller aspects of Darcey Bell’s source material novel intersect with the broad comedic sensibilities of the film’s director, Paul Feig. The result is an oddly compelling mystery filled with its fair share of plot twists, intrigue and genuine laughs.

Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, an all-too-sincere mommy blogger who runs a DIY video channel and seems to embody the usual quirks of a Kendrick character. Her worldview is suddenly challenged when she meets the bitchy Emily (Blake Lively), mother of her son’s schoolmate, and the two ladies unexpectedly hit it off over martinis.

One day, Emily asks Stephanie to watch her son after school, and promptly disappears. Days later, Emily’s body seemingly turns up in a lake near her childhood home, setting off all sorts of question about what she was up to. Stephanie, meanwhile, consoles Emily’s husband (Henry Golding), and as they grow closer, they seem to be haunted by Emily, who, it turns out, may not be so dead after all.

In his first directorial effort after the misstep of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Feig largely succeeds in maintaining a darkly comic tone throughout, buoyed by a strong cast. Kendrick and Lively give terrific performances as the unlikely friends. Lively in particular dominates the screen in her early scenes, establishing the kind of dominant personality necessary to draw out Stephanie’s meekness and force her to come into her own.

Feig’s intention to make a “fun thriller” ensures the film is never as dark or serious as similar fare such as Gone Girl. If anything, it could almost be seen as a parody of the absurdity of such stories if it weren’t taking itself just seriously enough. Still, in the various bonus materials in which Feig is quite ubiquitous he seems rather flippant about some of his directorial choices, none more so than his alternative to a big, Bollywood-style dance number meant to play during the credits.

The bonus section includes three separate commentaries, and Feig is involved in all of them. The first is the director by himself, relating his own experiences of making the film. The second is Feig with members of the cast, including Kendrick, Lively, Jean Smart (who plays Lively’s mom) and Bashir Salahuddin, who plays a detective. A third commentary finds Feig with screenwriter Jessica Sharzer, producer Jessie Henderson, cinematographer John Schwartzman and costume designer Renée Ehrlich Kalfus.

The filmmaker commentary obviously delves into more of the technical aspects of the production, while the cast commentary is more of a fun discussion about the making of the film, and thus is the more enjoyable of the three.

Having a comedic director such as Paul Feig adapt a mystery thriller novel seems like an odd choice

The disc also includes more than 16 minutes of deleted scenes, including the aforementioned dance scene that was cut for essentially trivializing a story about two strong female characters.

There’s also a three-and-a-half minute gag reel and eight behind-the-scenes featurettes running about an hour in total.

A Simple Favor