Fox Releasing ‘Call of the Wild’ on Disc May 12

The wilderness adventure film The Call of the Wild will arrive on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray May 12 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. It is available now for digital purchase.

Adapted from the novel by Jack London, the film tells the story of Buck, a big-hearted dog (created using CGI animation) whose blissful domestic life is turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Canadian Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail delivery dog sled team — and later its leader — Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime, ultimately finding his true place in the world and becoming his own master.

The film stars Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Cara Gee, Michael Horse, Jean Louisa Kelly, Colin Woodell, Adam Fergus and Abraham Benrubi.

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The Blu-ray and digital editions will include the featurettes “Origins,” “The On-Set Experience,” “State of the Art” and “The World of the Wild.” The featurette “A Man and His Dog” is offered as a digital exclusive.

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Jumanji: The Next Level

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Sony Pictures;
Adventure Comedy;
Box Office $316.83 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito, Colin Hanks, Rhys Darby, Rory McCann.

The creative team behind 2017’s surprise blockbuster Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle returns to deliver a worthy sequel that is just as entertaining as its predecessor.

The new story provides a mostly familiar setting with enough new elements to freshen up the formula a bit without straying too far from what audiences came to love about the previous film.

In the new film, the teenagers who beat the game before have drifted apart a bit as they head off to college, where Spencer (AlexWolff) begins to feel out of place in the world. When he returns home for the holidays to find his grandfather (Danny DeVito) staying in his old room, he yearns to once again become the hero of the video game, which, it turns out, he salvaged from the garbage heap the group left it in at the end of the previous movie.

When his friends come looking for him and discover he re-entered the game, they follow him in to help bring him out, thinking it should be too hard considering they already beat the game and will know what to expect. This time, though, they inadvertently bring bystanders into the game, resulting in many of the players not having the same avatars they had the last time, giving the actors plenty of chances to play each other. As an added complication, the game’s story has changed, with the characters’ abilities shifting to match.

As a result, the audience knows just enough about the rules of the game to have fun anticipating what will come next, while the particulars are just different enough to keep viewers guessing. Like before, a huge part of the film’s charm is the way it spoofs both video games and Indiana Jones-type adventure serials, only this time around the audience’s pre-existing affection for the characters makes watching them take advantage of their experience of having played before all the more satisfying.

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The film also smartly takes the adventure out of the jungle for the most part, changing the scenery to deserts and frozen mountains, which at least gives the film a new visual flair to play with. And there’s also a nice little lesson about friendship and teamwork.

In pushing out two movies, though, the filmmakers have probably milked as much from the concept as they can, which is why the film sets up another sequel that promises to mix things up a bit and take the franchise back to the roots of the original 1995 film.

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The home video editions of the film come with a ton of extras that play on the winning chemistry of the cast. Many of these come in the form of promotional videos, such as the minute-long “Grow Up,” in which Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart learn how to impersonate Dannys DeVito and Glover. “Trick or Treat” features Hart arriving at Johnson’s house at Halloween dressed in The Rock’s sweater and fanny pack from an infamous 1990s photo. Other videos put the cast in a telenovela and tease Awkwafina’s thieving skills. But the most intriguing might be the three-minute “NPC Confessions: Jurgen the Brutal,” an in-depth analysis with candid insights of the film’s new villain, played by Rory McCann of “Game of Thrones” fame.

These are accompanied by a five-and-a-half-minute gag reel.

In a throwback to the extras of the previous movie, “Rhys Darby Wants to Jingle” is a two-and-a-half-minute video in which Darby, who plays the game’s narrator and guide, wants to do his own music video to match the one the cast, sans him, did for the previous film.

Three behind-the-scenes featurettes total about 23 minutes and cover the basics from the story creation to the cast dynamics and the visual effects. The Blu-ray and digital editions also include lengthy breakdowns of the ostrich chase and monkey attack sequences, plus VFX pre-vis reels of the zeppelin battle and ostrich chase compared with the final versions of the scenes. These are about five minutes each.

The Blu-ray includes a fold-out map of Jumanji with an interactive AR game.

Digital versions on Vudu also include a “Get in the Game Mode,” which uses on-screen graphics that pop up as the movie plays to offer such information as trivia, statistics and character power levels during fights. This provides an added bit of fun to the video game spoof aspect of the film.

Avengers: Endgame

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 8/13/19;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $857 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Letitia Wright, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Evangeline Lilly, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rene Russo, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Marisa Tomei, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Michael Douglass, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Josh Brolin.

A satisfying ending is a beautiful thing.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe began as one of the boldest gambits in movie history: a comic book company financing its own movies, based on relatively unknown characters, with the hope of someday uniting them in a crossover.

While no one could have predicted that 2008’s Iron Man would be as big a hit as it was, the other early films of the MCU were much more modestly received, and it wasn’t until the first Avengers film in 2012, the sixth in the MCU canon, that the true potential of what they were trying to pull off came into focus.

With Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in the MCU, that effort has resulted in the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide. Say what you will about the corporate structure of Hollywood and the surging dominance of all things Disney, which owns Marvel, but the industry-shattering creative forces of producer Kevin Feige and his team simply have to be admired for their shear audicity.

Avengers: Endgame brings together just about every notable character to play a role in the previous 21 MCU films to close out a number of storylines that have been weaving through the films for 11 years.

Foremost among them was the aftermath of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which ended with one of the biggest cliffhangers in the history of cinema, as the villainous Thanos (Josh Brolin) assembled all six Infinity Stones and caused half of all life in the universe to disappear with a snap of his fingers.

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Like the best series finales, Endgame manages to capture the essential elements of what fans love most about these films, providing both a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of how far things progressed from the beginning to now, all while giving the characters a sense of closure that honors who they are and what they’ve fought for.

And yet, Endgame is not the end of the MCU. The currently in theaters Spider-Man: Far From Home provides a nice little epilogue to it, and Feige at Comic-Con showed off a roadmap of the MCU’s next phase. However, Endgame is certainly a well-earned conclusion for several chapters of it.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Avengers: Endgame is a testament to narrative efficiency despite its three-hour running length.

The Marvel movies have hit upon a winning formula of consistency, and Endgame is really no different. There are certain things the audience expects of it, but that’s not to say it approaches these goals in expected ways. The screenplay manages to defy expectations in its plot twists but remains true to the characters and provides a number of emotional payoffs that will particularly hit home for fans who have managed to follow the story arcs through all the films. This is simply a level of catharsis that stems from a 20-film journey that simply cannot be matched by most other cinematic achievements.

Endgame perfectly balances its sense of seriousness and tension with appropriate levels of humor and fun, resulting in a brisk pace that keeps the viewer eager to see what comes next. The film also warrants multiple viewings just to absorb the level of detail layered into the film.

The story is something of a love letter to the fans in the way it ingeniously re-visits some of the previous MCU films from a new perspective, deepening those films in small ways retroactively. Yet it wouldn’t be an “Avengers” film if it didn’t also culminate in what has to be the ultimate big-screen superhero battle.

The Russos have become masters of visual storytelling, which is a rather important quality to have when the goal is to adapt a comic book. Endgame is perhaps the biggest comic book movie ever made in terms of its scope, and the Russos are especially adept at framing their shots for maximum impact. It comes as no surprise that the film looks great on Blu-ray, with bright colors and sharp visual effects.

Another challenge brushed off with aplomb is balancing the sheer number of characters involved in a story of this magnitude, especially given the assemblage of performers of the magnitude the MCU has the clout to get. The closing credits of Endgame include the names of at least eight Oscar winners, and five of them appeared together in one of the film’s key scenes. Needless to say, the performances all around do not disappoint.

The film’s effectiveness is also given a huge boost by a phenomenal musical score by Alan Silvestri, who is perhaps the greatest living film composer who has yet to win an Oscar. Unlike Infinity War, in which the primary musical identities were Thanos and the Avengers as a group, Endgame revisits several character themes from the previous films, resulting in a deeply satisfying musical narrative. This approach only heightens the emotional connection between the audience and the characters, particularly when it comes to Captain America (unsurprising, since 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger was Silvestri’s first MCU effort).

These are details that, when combined, make it easy to overlook those parts of the film (and the MCU) in general that probably shouldn’t be thought about too much, and instead appreciate what the film has managed to accomplish.

The Blu-ray provides a great feature-length commentary from the Russos and the screenwriters as they reflect on their long MCU careers, analyze the various moving parts of the franchise, and provide some great insights on the making of the film and the challenges of cleanly telling a story that is complicated by its nature. The Russos also offer a short introduction to the film.

There are also 36 minutes of featurettes, many of which shine a light more on the history of the MCU and how things evolved into this particular film. There are spotlights on the story arcs of Captain America, Black Widow, Thor and Iron Man (the latter also including Robert Downey Jr.’s screen test for the role). The Russos and their impact on the MCU is the subject of another featurette.

There’s a vignette that celebrates the many female heroes of the MCU. Also, the disc includes a seven-minute tribute to Stan Lee and a look back at his many cameos in the MCU movies.

Other extras on the Blu-ray include a funny two-minute gag reel and six deleted scenes, which offer a mix of fun and poignancy, especially the ones that make light of perceived plot holes from earlier movies. The excised footage features unfinished visual effects and runs about five minutes.

Digital versions available at Movies Anywhere and many digital retailers, such as Vudu, offer these extras as well as a six-minute featurette about the relationship between Captain America and his true love, Peggy Carter.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 3/20/18;
Sony Pictures;
Adventure Comedy;
Box Office $400.25 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner.

Whatever misgivings may have emerged over the idea of a follow-up to the 1995 family fantasy Jumanji are quickly dispelled by a very funny sequel that pays homage to the original but shows impressive confidence in its own interpretation of the source material.

The first film, based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, featured the creatures of a mystical jungle-themed board game breaking into the real world, freeing a man, played by the late Robin Williams, who had been trapped in the game since he was a boy.

The new film throws some clever nods to the original while using the premise to poke fun at Indiana Jones-type adventure films. With the game’s attempts to allure a new player faltering amid a modern generation uninterested in board games, it converts itself into a video game. Eventually, a group of high school students encounter it in storage and start to play, getting sucked into the jungle world of the game.

Unlike in the first film, though, where the trapped players went in as themselves, Jumanji 2.0 puts the kids’ personalities into the avatars of the playable game characters, allowing the main cast to earn the credibility of playing the kinds of roles that usually would be associated with them while being forced act against those types.

So Dwayne Johnson plays the main hero, but has the mind of an insecure teenager. Kevin Hart is his diminutive sidekick, but controlled by an alpha-male jock. Karen Gillan is a warrior inhabited by a meek academic. And Jack Black plays a professor who, thanks to a misinterpretation of the character’s name, becomes inhabited by a self-centered, social media-obsessed teenage girl.

It’s essentially a body-switch movie without the cliché of an actual body switch. The main foursome turn out to be a perfectly matched team, oozing with chemistry to spare and milking almost every possible laugh to be had from the set-up. It’s a perfect example of a director, Jake Kasdan in this case, just putting his cast in the field and letting them do their thing. Also lurking around are Nick Jonas as a pilot needed for the later levels, and Bobby Cannavale as the slimy treasure hunter and the main villain of the game.

The script cleverly takes advantage of the rules of video gaming to advance the story, which sets the characters off on a quest to restore a large jewel to a sacred statue before the bad guys can steal it. Success means they will have rescued the land from evil forces and will be sent home. So, in addition to the Indiana Jones element, the film throws in a subtle Wizard of Oz vibe for good measure. There are moments in Henry Jackman’s boisterous musical score in which its seems to echo the famed “Over the Rainbow” refrain in the midst of perfectly establishing the adventurous spirit meant to be evoked by the jungle setting.

Even the side characters get in on the fun, with New Zealand comedian Rhys Darby turning in a brief but stand-out performance as the game’s charming narrator and primary contact for the heroes.

Interestingly, the 1990s cartoon based on the first film was also set mostly in the game’s jungle, but otherwise didn’t follow what was established in the movie, from what I can tell. Mill Creek recently put out a DVD of the complete series if you want to check it out.

As for Welcome to the Jungle, the Blu-ray bonus materials managed to absorb some of the sense of fun that clearly couldn’t be contained by the film itself. The best evidence of this is when Darby shows up, in character, to introduce the segments of the 15-minute making of featurette.

Three more featurettes, running about 15 minutes total, focus on the cast, the stunts and the visual effects. There’s also a five-minute segment that reflects on the spirit of the original film, and how the filmmakers wanted to preserve that in the sequel in order to honor Williams’ legacy. (Though, it should be pointed out, there’s no need to have had seen the first film to enjoy this one.)

Rounding out the extras are a couple more detours into humor, led by a three-and-a-half-minute gag reel. But the best is a two-and-a-half premiere of the music video for the film’s “theme song” by Black and Jonas, the two musicians of the pack, whose bizarre tribute to their characters elicits hilarious bewilderment from their co-stars.

‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ on Home Video in March

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release the runaway hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle on Digital HD March 6 and on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 20.

A follow-up to the 1995 film Jumanji based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg about a board game come to life, Welcome to the Jungle stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan as the avatars of four teenagers who are sucked into a video game version of the Jumanji board game and must work together to beat the game and return home. The film also stars Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale.

The film has earned more than $355 million at the domestic box office and more than $860 million worldwide.

The DVD and Blu-ray packaging for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will feature an augmented reality experience that fans can unlock in stores by scanning the Snapcode with their Snapchat app to bring the jungle to life in front of them. An additional Snapcode to bring the characters to life will be available on an insert inside the package exclusively for those who buy the disc. These AR features can be recorded and shared via social media.

Bonus materials with the DVD, Blu-ray and digital versions include a gag reel; “Jumanji, Jumanji” Music Video by Jack Black and Nick Jonas; and the featurettes “Journey Through The Jungle: The Making of Jumanji,” “Meet the Players: A Heroic Cast” and “Attack of the Rhinos!”

The Blu-ray and digital versions will include two additional featurettes: “Surviving the Jungle: Spectacular Stunts!” and “Book to Board Game to Big Screen & Beyond! Celebrating The Legacy of Jumanji.”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray offers the film with Dolby Vision high dynamic range and Dolby Atmos sound.