Soul

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Disney;
Animated;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD.
Rated ‘PG’ for thematic elements and some language.
Voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, Zenobia Shroff, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett.

A music teacher with dreams of jazz glory nearly unlocks the secrets of the universe in Soul, which is about as profound a rumination on the nature of existence as one is likely to find in an animated movie.

Soul is another film from Pixar, like Inside Out and Monsters, Inc., before it, that explores mysterious aspects of how reality works by breaking ontological concepts down into cute and cuddly characters children can relate to, framed in a story their parents are more likely to appreciate.

Jamie Foxx voices Joe, a middle-aged jazz pianist whose stagnant music career has been supplanted by the routines of a middle school band teacher, leaving him artistically unsatisfied. One day, a former student offers him a gig in the quartet of a well-known jazz performer, which Joe sees as his big break. In his excitement over the opportunity, however, Joe slips into an open manhole, and before he realizes what has happened he finds himself a disembodied soul in a black void floating toward the bright light of the Great Beyond.

Unwilling to accept death just as he’s on the verge of realizing what he considers his purpose in life, Joe runs from the light and winds up in a different part of the spiritual realm, the Great Before, where young souls are nurtured until ready to experience life on Earth. The powers that be mistake Joe for a mentor for the new souls, and assign him a troublesome student named 22 (Tina Fey), who for thousands of years has shown little interest in proceeding to Earth. Learning of Joe’s situation, however, 22 agrees to help him return to his body.

And this is pretty much what the film’s marketing materials made the story out to be. But things get a bit more complicated than a trip through the afterlife. The pair journey to an astral plane where 22 knows a meditating guru who specializes in saving lost souls, but a mishap sends both of them to Earth. When 22 awakes in the hospital in Joe’s body, and Joe in a nearby cat, Soul quickly turns into Pixar’s version of a body-swap movie. As they work to correct the mistake, Joe the cat instructs 22 on getting ready for the gig, while 22 as Joe begins to experience true life and its simple pleasures for the first time.

Here it becomes clear that the film’s integration of jazz into the plot is more than a stylistic choice, but a clever narrative shorthand that builds upon the improvisational nature of the musical form to symbolize and express many of the motifs the film is exploring.

Soul is one of those movies that uses big ideas to teach simple lessons. The way the film depicts the relationship between the real and spiritual worlds might open the door to quite a few questions about just what is going on with Joe’s body, and may even prompt a few frank discussions between parents and children — but as a plot device it’s best not to delve into the mechanics of it too deeply. The film itself knows this, which is why the spiritual constructs are always described as an “illusion” and “hypothetical.”

However, the realm of the Great Before provides a great excuse to depict the kind of colorful setting Pixar excels at. It’s a beautiful, ethereal place of calming blues, serene golden light and soothing new age music. Pixar is no stranger to wistful films, but this is certainly one of its most beautiful, and a terrific reminder to slow down and appreciate the simple pleasures life has to offer.

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The Blu-ray presentation offers a bevy of bonus materials typical of a Pixar release.

Included with the film on the standard-Blu-ray Disc is an informative commentary with director Pete Docter, producer Dina Murray, and co-writer/co-director Kemp Powers. Also included on this disc are a couple of featurettes: the eight minute “Astral Taffy,” about designing the soul world; and the 10-minute “Not Your Average Joe,” about crafting Pixar’s first black lead character.

The 4K disc includes just the film presentation without any extras.

A dedicated standard-Blu-ray bonus disc includes a number of interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes that delve into the challenges of crafting the film’s complex subject matter into a digestible narrative. These include the six-and-a-half-minute “Pretty Deep for a Cartoon,” about the film’s heady themes; the eight-minute “Into the Zone,” about finding the film’s musical identity with Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and John Batiste, the latter helping incorporate jazz into the film’s visual style; the three-minute “Jazz Greats,” in which a number of jazz musicians discuss what music means to them; and the seven-minute “Soul, Improvised,” which chronicles the creative team’s challenges of working from home to finish the film during the pandemic. (The same featurettes are included with the movie on Disney+ as well.)

Also included on the bonus disc are 22 minutes of deleted sequences showcasing earlier, different concepts for telling the story, providing some good insights into the story process, plus several of the film’s trailers in various languages.

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Pixar’s ‘Soul’ Coming to Disc and Digital Sellthrough March 23

Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution will release the animated movie Soul on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, and through digital retailers March 23.

Directed by Academy Award winner Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers and produced by Academy Award nominee Dana Murray, Soul tells the story of Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), who lands the gig of his life at the best jazz club in town. But one misstep lands Joe in a fantastical place: The Great Before. There, he teams up with soul 22 (Tina Fey), and together they find the answers to some of life’s biggest questions.

The voice cast also includes Phylicia Rashad, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Angela Bassett, Daveed Diggs, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Wes Studi, Fortune Feimster, Zenobia Shroff, Donnell Rawlings and June Squibb.

The latest feature from Pixar Animation Studios was held back from its planned domestic theatrical release as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and instead was made available to subscribers of the Disney+ streaming service on Christmas for no additional charge. In limited release internationally it made $85.2 million at the global box office.

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Extras on the disc and digital versions (subject to retailer) include filmmaker commentary; deleted scenes with introduction; and several featurettes:

  • “Not Your Average Joe” — About how filmmakers crafted the story of Joe, Pixar’s first black leading character;
  • “Astral Taffy” — A look at the artistry and technical innovation that went into creating the sets and characters in the world of Soul;
  • “Pretty Deep for a Cartoon” — An examination of the philosophical questions posed by the film;
  • “Into the Zone: The Music and Sound of Soul” — An exploration of how the film uses music to enhance Joe’s journey;
  • Soul, Improvised” — A look at how the filmmakers finished the film during the pandemic;
  • “Jazz Greats” — Giants of the jazz world who consulted on Soul share their passion and wisdom about what music is and does for us all.

 

Soul will also be available as a collectible Steelbook at Best Buy, and packaged with a limited-edition gallery booklet at Target.

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‘Collateral’ Traveling to 4K Ultra HD Dec. 8

Director Michael Mann’s thriller Collateral arrives in a 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray combo  Dec. 8 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Remastered under the supervision of the director, the new 4K Ultra HD presentation features HDR. The Blu-ray in the combo pack is also remastered.

The film stars Tom Cruise as Vincent, a cool, calculating contract killer at the top of his game. Jamie Foxx received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Max, a cabbie with big dreams and little to show for it.  Max transports Vincent on his next job — one night, five stops, five hits and a getaway. And after the fateful night, neither man will ever be the same.

Collateral was released theatrically in 2004 and racked up a domestic gross of $101 million, with a worldwide take of nearly $217 million.

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The 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray combo includes access to a digital copy of the film, as well as the following previously released bonus content: commentary by director Michael Mann;  “City of Night: The Making of Collateral”;  “Special Delivery”; a deleted Scene with commentary; “Shooting on Location: Annie’s Office”; “Tom Cruise & Jamie Foxx Rehearse”; and “Visual FX: MTA Train.”

Drama ‘Just Mercy’ Coming to Home Video From Warner

The drama Just Mercy, based on a true story, arrives on digital March 24 and Blu-ray and DVD April 14 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) and Oscar winners Jamie Foxx (Ray, Baby Driver, Django: Unchained) and Brie Larson (Room, Short Term 12, Captain Marvel) star in the story of young lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan (Jordan) has his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson). One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Foxx), who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the main testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings, as well as overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds — and the system — stacked against them.

The film, which earned $45.1 million at the global box office, is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle, Short Term 12) from a screenplay he co-wrote, based on Bryan Stevenson’s bestselling memoir.

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The cast also includes Rob Morgan (Mudbound, TV’s “Stranger Things”) as Herbert Richardson, a fellow prisoner who also sits on death row awaiting his fate. Tim Blake Nelson (Wormwood, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) as Ralph Myers, whose pivotal testimony against Walter McMillian is called into question. Rafe Spall (The Big Short, The Ritual) as Tommy Chapman, the district attorney who is fighting to uphold Walter’s conviction and sentence. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) as Anthony Ray Hinton, another wrongly convicted death row inmate whose cause is taken up by Bryan, and Karan Kendrick (The Hate U Give, Hidden Figures) as Walter’s wife, Minnie McMillian, who stands by her husband.

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Special features on Blu-ray include “Making Mercy,” “This Moment Deserves,” “The Equal Justice Initiative” and deleted scenes. The DVD includes “Making Mercy.”

(UPDATE 3-17-2020: Warner moved up the digital release date to March 17)

Warner’s ‘A Star Is Born’ Shoots to No. 1 on Redbox Charts

It may have picked up just one Academy Award (Best Original Song) from its eight nominations, but A Star Is Born triumphed on both Redbox charts the week leading up to the Oscar ceremony Feb. 24.

Warner’s 2018 update of the classic film story landed at No. 1 on both the Redbox kiosk chart, which tracks DVD and Blu-ray Disc rentals at the company’s more than 40,000 red vending machines, and the Redbox On Demand chart, which tracks transactional video-on-demand (TVOD), both electronic sellthrough (EST) and streaming, the week ended Feb. 24.

The film, which earned $210.9 million at the box office and debuted on disc Feb. 19, stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga — both nominated for Oscars for their performances — as two musicians who come together on stage and in life in a complex journey through the beauty and heartbreak of a relationship struggling to survive.

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Four other new releases appeared on the Redbox disc chart for the week. Lionsgate’s Robin Hood, another retelling of a classic story, starring Taron Egerton as Robin Hood and Jamie Foxx as Little John, debuted at No. 2. Paramount Pictures’ Overlord, a story produced by J.J. Abrams about a team of American paratroopers who encounter Nazi super-soldiers, entered the chart at No. 4. Lionsgate’s Backtrace, an action thriller starring Sylvester Stallone, debuted at No. 8. And 20th Century Fox’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? — which earned three Oscar noms, for Best Actress (Melissa McCarthy), Best Supporting Actor (Richard E. Grant) and Best Adapted Screenplay — entered the disc chart at No. 10.

Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which won all but one of the five Oscars for which it was nominated, including Best Actor for Rami Malek, finished its second week in disc release at No. 3, falling from No. 1.

On the digital chart, Bohemian Rhapsody fell one spot to No. 2, behind A Star Is Born, which shot up the chart from No. 10 the previous week. Robin Hood took the third spot, followed by Paramount’s Tyler Perry comedy Nobody’s Fool at No. 4 (from No. 2 the previous week), Overlord at No. 5 and Can You Ever Forgive Me? at No. 6.

Interestingly, two titles released in the fall of last year appeared on the digital chart. Sony Pictures’ Nov. 13 release Searching, which stars John Cho as a distraught father who sifts through his missing daughter’s digital footprint determined to find her, appeared at No. 9. And Universal Pictures’ Sept. 25 release Skyscraper, an actioner starring Dwayne Johnson, came in at No. 10.

 

Top DVD and Blu-ray Disc Rentals, Redbox Kiosks, Week Ended Feb. 24:

  1. A Star Is Born (2018) (New) — Warner
  2. Robin Hood (2018) (New) — Lionsgate
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody — Fox
  4. Overlord (New) — Paramount
  5. The Grinch — Universal
  6. Nobody’s Fool — Paramount
  7. Widows — Fox
  8. Backtrace (New) — Lionsgate
  9. The Girl in the Spider’s Web — Sony
  10. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (New) — Fox

 

Top Digital, Redbox On Demand, Week Ended Feb. 24:

  1. A Star Is Born (2018) — Warner
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody — Fox
  3. Robin Hood (2018) — Lionsgate
  4. Nobody’s Fool — Paramount
  5. Overlord — Paramount
  6. Can You Ever Forgive Me? — Fox
  7. The Grinch — Universal
  8. Widows — Fox
  9. Searching — Sony
  10. Skyscraper — Universal

Lionsgate Bringing ‘Robin Hood’ Remake With Taron Egerton Home in February

Lionsgate will release the Robin Hood remake starring Taron Egerton as the title hero digitally Feb. 5, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Feb. 19.

The cast also includes Jamie Foxx as Little John,  Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Eve Hewson as Maid Marian and Jamie Dornan as Will Scarlet.

Bonus material includes the seven-part documentary “Outlaws and Auteurs: Reshaping Robin Hood,” plus outtakes and deleted scenes.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack will include Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio.

Netflix Closes First European Overall Series Deal

Netflix has inked an exclusive multi-year overall series deal with the creators of one of the most-watched entirely non-English shows on Netflix, “Dark,” the company announced.

Under the terms of the deal, Germans Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar will produce new series and projects for Netflix’s 125 million members around the world.

“The promise of Netflix is entertainment transcending borders; where a hit show can come from anywhere in the world,” said Erik Barmack, VP, international originals, Netflix, in a statement. “We’re tremendously happy to announce our overall deal that continues our collaboration with Bo and Jantje, whose invigorating work has engaged and thrilled audiences globally. We thank both for their trust and are beyond excited to support their vision and art as storytellers.”

“We are thrilled and extremely happy to further expand our partnership with Netflix,” said Odar and Friese in a statement. “It is unlike any other opportunity in our career to experience how our stories and vision are understood and loved globally. We are excited to embark on our next journey with Netflix, keep pushing boundaries and challenging viewers with new ideas. We have plenty of surprises in store for them.”

Friese and Odar, both graduates of the University of Television and Film Munich, have been working together since Odar’s directing debut The Silence. Their most recent feature film is Who Am I — No System Is Safe with Tom Schilling and Elyas M’Barek, a thriller that was awarded three German Film Awards and the Bambi for Best German Film. Odar, who was included in the list of “Ten Directors to Watch” by Variety, made his Hollywood debut with Sleepless, starring Jamie Foxx, which premiered on March 9, 2017. After writing and directing all 10 episodes of Netflix’s first German original series, “Dark,” Friese and Odar are currently working on the second season of the drama and will produce new series and projects exclusively for Netflix.