The French Dispatch

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Disney/Searchlight;
Comedy;
Box Office $16.05 million;
$19.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language.
Stars Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Christoph Waltz, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston.

Writer-director Wes Anderson’s penchant for quirky storytelling is on full display in The French Dispatch, an ode to journalism and the eclectic practitioners of the profession.

The film is an anthology structured like the format of a magazine, in this case a journal for the fictional French town of Ennui. The magazine, called The French Dispatch, is the local arm of a newspaper in Kansas. The vignettes shown in the film represent the final issue of the magazine, which is shut down upon the sudden death of its editor (Bill Murray), whose life story is presented through his obituary.

The tribute issue begins with a roving reporter (Owen Wilson) giving a brief recap of the history of Ennui, where little has changed culturally in 200 years.

The main story concerns an artist (Benicio del Toro) sentenced to prison for murder, whose paintings are inspired by a guard (Léa Seydoux) with whom he has fallen in love. His work catches the eye of a corrupt art dealer (Adrien Brody), while the tale is recounted by an indulgent lecturer for the gallery that ended up with the prisoner’s work.

Next up is the story of a student protest whose leader (Timothée Chalamet) inspires the writer of the piece (Frances McDormand) to break her objective coverage of the situation and help him write his manifesto while they enjoy a love affair.

The final segment involves a food journalist (Jeffrey Wright) whose examination of a new type of cuisine specially designed for police officers is interrupted when the town’s criminal syndicates kidnap the son of the police commissioner.

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The sketches are infused with Anderson’s usual eccentricities, such as varying aspect ratios, an intermixing of color and black-and-white, charming personalities, sharp wit, spitfire dialogue, rapid editing, and the precise framing of each scene with imagery evocative of a snapshot.

The set designs and visual style make the film seem like somewhat of a spiritual cousin to The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Blu-ray doesn’t include any bonus materials, but since it’s a Wes Anderson movie there’ll probably be a Criterion Collection release in a few years offering a smattering of supplements.

No Time to Die

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/21/21;
Universal/MGM;
Action;
Box Office $158.62 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material.
Stars Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear, Dali Benssalah.

After nearly 60 years of cinematic history, audiences have a certain expectation of what a James Bond movie is supposed to be. No Time to Die defies a lot of those tropes.

The 25th film in the EON Productions Bond canon, No Time to Die serves as a coda to the Daniel Craig era of the character, a five-film arc that began with 2006’s Casino Royale. As such, it plays very much like a series finale, wrapping up a number of loose threads that interconnected the Craig’s films.

Most notably, the film finds Bond with the same love interest from the previous film, a first for the franchise. In this case, 2015’s Spectre had Bond retire from the British Secret Service and run away with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). No Time to Die picks up with their attempts to build a life together, a prospect hampered by her complicated past being the daughter of a top Spectre agent. When Bond assumes she arranged for Spectre to attack him on vacation, he puts her on a train and vows to never see her again.

Cut to five years later, and Bond is living in seclusion in Jamaica (a location iconic to the Bond franchise) when his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) recruits him to help retrieve a missing Russian scientist who is responsible for a biological weapon that can target the DNA of specific bloodlines.

Bond has a run-in with the British agent (Lashana Lynch) who took over his 007 number, and learns the weapon was originally developed by the British government. It has fallen into the hands of a man named Safin (Rami Malek), who wants to use it to cleanse the world of people he considers detrimental to his utopian vision. What’s worse, the answers to retrieve it seem to lie with Bond’s Spectre nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and Madeleine.

Director Cary Fukunaga has delivered an entertaining Bond adventure filled with splendid action sequences, beautiful visuals and amazing set designs that evoke the great over-the-top villain lairs of yesteryear.

As both a capper to the Craig era and a milestone film for EON, No Time to Die is loaded with references to several previous Bond films dating back to the beginning of the series with 1962’s Dr. No, as well as Bond creator Ian Fleming’s novels. The film draws particular influence from 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, from Hans Zimmer’s terrific score quoting some of its music to Craig uttering the immortal line “We have all the time in the world,” which Bond fans know always foreshadows trouble ahead.

The Easter eggs should provide a serious blast of nostalgia for Bond fans without being distracting for viewers not intimately familiar with the entire history of the franchise.

Craig himself puts a memorable cap on a unique run for the character, in that all five of his films more or less tell a larger story of the life of a British superspy and his complicated love life. One interesting aspect of No Time to Die is that it is almost framed as a story told from Madeleine’s perspective, evoking the essence of Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me novel if not the plot itself.

The experiment of serializing the Bond movies certainly had its ups and downs, with the biggest complaint being that the films were too reliant on tracking Bond through missions that had a personal connection to him, from seeking revenge for fallen lovers to uncovering long-lost family secrets. While in retrospect the Craig saga plays fine for what it is, it’s hard to argue that the two best films in the sequence aren’t Casino Royale and 2012’s Skyfall, the only two films of the five that could be considered standalone adventures. Detractors will say the interconnectedness is just an attempt to modernize Bond by aping the Bourne movies. Fans would just as soon see Bond get back to duty carrying out just protecting the free world with fantastical missions he otherwise has no personal stake in.

While this is Craig’s swan song in the role, the movie does carry on the franchise tradition of promising that “James Bond Will Return,” which begs the question of where the series goes from here. I for one would be interested in seeing the series returning to its roots by going retro with Bond immersed in the Cold War in the 1960s.

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The No Time to Die Blu-ray presentation is a bit unusual in how the extras are presented. The 4K combo pack offers the extras on the 4K disc alongside the film, which the regular Blu-ray that is included has no extras. Most discs typically employ the reverse strategy, with minimal extras on the 4K disc and all of them on the Blu-ray.

The included extras consist of four behind-the-scenes featurettes and the 47-minute Being James Bond documentary that was previously released in the lead-up to No Time to Die and provides an intimate look at Craig’s history with the character. Being James Bond is exclusive to the 4K edition.

The making-of material totals about 35 minutes and gives a succinct EPK-style glimpse at the production. The longest is the 11-and-a-half-minute “Anatomy of a Scene: Matera,” which deconstructs one of the film’s pre-credits action scenes. The six-minute “Keeping it Real: The Action of No Time to Die” focuses on the film’s stuntwork, the eight-minute “A Global Journey” looks at the film’s shooting locations, and the 11-minute “Designing Bond” details the building of the film’s sets and costumes.

The standard Blu-ray combo pack and the DVD editions it seems have the supplements included on a separate bonus disc. Even keeping Being James Bond as a 4K exclusive, it’s only a handful of featurettes that would need to be included so it’s a bit baffling why they weren’t stacked onto the same Blu-ray disc as the film.

Also note that the included digital copy code is listed as redeemable through Apple TV/iTunes, but not Movies Anywhere, as MGM is not a signatory to the digital locker service.

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What If…?

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Animated;
Not rated.
Voices of Jeffrey Wright, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hayley Atwell, Lake Bell, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth, Kurt Russell, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson.

This Disney+ animated series explores what could have happened to the Marvel Cinematic Universe had certain moments gone differently.

The nine episodes are narrated by Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, an omniscient being of immense power who observes the various worlds of the multiverse (which was supposedly created by the events of “Loki”).

Most episodes offer the creators a chance to indulge themselves with references to the comics they couldn’t make before, or just have fun with character confrontations that haven’t been seen before (such as an epic battle between Thor and Captain Marvel when the Asgardian wants to turn Earth into a 24-hour party planet).

The first episode offers a fun twist on Captain America: The First Avenger, as Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) ends up as the super soldier, while still-skinny Steve Rogers gets a massive Iron Man-type suit of armor.

Another episode is a dark tale about a man’s inability to let go, as it shows how dangerous Doctor Strange can be if he turns his powers toward selfish interests.

Other episodes feature alternate versions of The Avengers, and of course there’s an episode (based on a popular comic book storyline) that basically turns all the heroes into zombies.

Among the most bittersweet episodes are those that feature Chadwick Boseman in his final performances as T’Challa, recorded prior to his death from cancer. One speech in particular hits hard as he discusses the afterlife as a new beginning.

The animation style is crisp and colorful, though not always the best in capturing the appearance of the actors who play them in live-action.

Overall, the show is mostly a love letter to longtime MCU fans, who should appreciate the mostly fun but often dark chance to see the franchise in a different light.

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Season Two of ‘2 Dope Queens,’ ‘Jane Fonda in Five Acts,’ ‘O.G.’ Among Titles Coming in March From HBO Home Entertainment

Season two of “2 Dope Queens,” Jane Fonda in Five Acts and O.G. are among the titles coming in March from HBO Home Entertainment.

Available for digital download March 11 is Swiped: Hooking Up in the Digital Age, which looks at online dating, offering revelations about the billion-dollar industry. The film features interviews with, among others, Jonathan Badeen, co-founder and CSO of Tinder; Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Hinge; and Mandy Ginsberg, CEO of Match Group, which owns Tinder, OkCupid and other dating sites.

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Available March 25 for digital download is O.G. Filmed in Indiana’s Pendleton Correctional Facility, an active maximum-security prison, O.G. follows Louis (Jeffrey Wright), once the head of a prominent prison gang, in the final weeks of his 24-year sentence. His impending release is upended when he takes new arrival Beecher (Theothus Carter), who is being courted by gang leadership, under his wing. Coming to grips with the indelibility of his crime and the challenge of reentering society, Louis finds his freedom hanging in the balance as he struggles to save Beecher.

Season two of “2 Dope Queens” will also be available for digital download March 25. The two return in four specials with some of their favorite stand-up comedians, including Rory Scovel, Solomon Georgio, Bowen Yang, Jamie Lee and Pat Brown, along with celebrity guests, to talk music, nostalgia and fashion.

Available for digital download March 25 and on DVD March 26 is Jane Fonda in Five Acts, about the Oscar-winning actress who has lived a life marked by controversy, tragedy and transformation in the public eye. Fonda has been vilified as Hanoi Jane, lusted after as Barbarella and heralded as beacon of the women’s movement.

Finally, due on DVD March 26 is Camping, starring Jennifer Garner and David Tennant as Kathryn and Walt, a not-so-happily married couple. A meticulously planned outdoor trip to celebrate Walt’s 45th birthday is derailed by uninvited guests and forces of nature, turning the weekend in a test of marriage and friendships.

Second Season of ‘Westworld’ on Disc Dec. 4

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Westworld: Season Two — The Door on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on Dec. 4.

The HBO series was recently nominated for 21 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series.

In the 10-episode second season, the futuristic theme park’s robotic hosts have become aware of their existence and plot their liberation and retaliation against humankind. The cast includes Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden and Tessa Thompson.

The season will be released through digital channels July 23 with new bonus content. The Blu-ray editions will also include a digital copy of the season.

Digital and Blu-ray extras include three “Bring Yourself Back Online” featurettes: “Reflections on Season Two — Dolores, Teddy and Bernard; “Of Love and Shogun — Maeve, Hector and Lee”; and “Journeys and Technology — Stubbs, Logan and Clementine.” Also included will be the featurettes “The Buzz: On the Red Carpet” and “Return To Westworld.” Additional featurettes will be grouped under “Creating Westworld’s Reality” — “An Evocative Location,” “Fort Forlorn Hope,” “The Delos Experiment,” “Shogun World,” “Inside the Cradle,” “Chaos In The Mesa,” “Ghost Nation,” “Deconstructing Maeve,” “The Valley Beyond” and ‘The Drone Hosts.”

The Blu-ray will also include the featurettes “Paved With the Best Intentions: The Evolution of the DELOS Corp.” and “Violent Delights Have Violent .”

The limited-edition UHD Blu-ray will feature Dolby Vision. The UHD and Blu-ray editions will feature Dolby Atmos soundtracks remixed specifically for the home theater environment.