Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Sci-fi;
Not rated.
Stars Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Vivien Lyra Blair, Moses Ingram, Rupert Friend, Sung Kang, Indira Varma, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Kumail Nanjiani, Grant Feely, Joel Edgerton, Bonnie Piesse, Jimmy Smits.

Shortly after Disney bought the rights to “Star Wars” and announced a series of spinoff films, the character fans most wanted to see return was Obi-Wan Kenobi as played by Ewan McGregor, to see what the Jedi master was up to in the decades between the prequels and the original trilogy.

So, naturally, Disney didn’t do that, instead making Rogue One, about the Rebels stealing the Death Star plans, and a movie about a young Han Solo that no one seemed interested in.

When Solo underperformed at the box office, Disney put all the spinoff movies on hold, including a rumored Kenobi trilogy, according to writer Stuart Beattie.

Had Disney started with the Kenobi movie in the first place, it might have established a solid foundation for the studio to make whatever spinoffs it wanted. Then again, given the lackluster writing of the sequel trilogy, maybe its delay was for the best.

Instead, “Star Wars” spinoffs were repurposed into fodder for the Disney+ streaming service following the massive success of “The Mandalorian.”

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Presented in six parts, the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series tells the story of Obi-Wan 10 years following his exile in Revenge of the Sith. Living in squalor on Tatooine under the name Ben, he has abandoned the Force and seems resigned to his fate under the reign of the Empire, carrying out perfunctory duties to keep an eye on young Luke Skywalker. While he pays lip service to the idea of one day training Luke to become a Jedi to oppose the Emperor, he seems to have no real plan to accomplish it, with his biggest obstacle being Luke’s uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton).

As the last remnants of the Jedi are hunted by Imperial Inquisitors, Obi-Wan remains in hiding, refusing to help. Yet he is guilted into action by his old friend Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) when Luke’s sister Leia is kidnapped from Alderaan. Leaving Tatooine to rescue the other twin who is key to future plans to defeat the Empire, Obi-Wan soon learns not only that her abduction was part of an Inquisitor’s plan to draw him out, but that his former student, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), survived their duel and is terrorizing the galaxy as Darth Vader.

To reclaim his purpose, Obi-Wan is forced to once again confront Vader.

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The “Obi-Wan” series plays a bit like “Star Wars” books did in the 1990s and early 2000s, filling in gaps in the storytelling of the movies. The show not only bridges the span between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, but also seeks to explain some other inconsistencies between the original trilogy and the prequels (while possibly creating a few more along the way, but that’s easy enough to overlook). It is mostly successful in that regard, though the writing and direction isn’t as polished as it might have been had the project stayed a theatrical feature. When binged, the series runs about three hours and 45 minutes, not counting recaps and credits, feeling like a lengthy movie, but more like a fan film than a true epic.

Another letdown is the music. While John Williams returned to provide a marvelous theme for Ben that does most of the heavy lifting, the rest of the score by other composers feels more like generic action music, when there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate other existing themes from the “Star Wars” canon that aren’t really exploited until the final episode.

McGregor shines as Kenobi, delivering the emotion and pathos of a man dealing with the guilt of failing to stop the rise of the Emperor. It’s also great to see Christensen back as Anakin, and the scenes with Darth Vader are some of the best to feature the character in the entire “Star Wars” saga. The standout is Vivien Lyra Blair as li’l Leia, who demonstrates the sass and smarts of her future self but with a childlike curiosity about the universe. Pairing Leia with Ben proves to be an inspired choice, if for no other story reason than it explains why she would name her son after him despite having limited contact in the original films.

Eternals

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/15/22;
Disney/Marvel;
Sci-Fi Action;
Box Office $164.87 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality.
Stars Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok, Harish Patel, Bill Skarsgård.

For 25 films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe gradually adapted disparate concepts from various comic books that wouldn’t seem to mesh in a live-action setting and somehow made it seem to it together cohesively.

But the 26th film, Eternals, pushes the boundaries of the franchise’s formula so far that it almost seems too bizarre even for the MCU. Following the massive “Infinity Saga,” Eternals is something of a restart for the MCU, telling a story that challenges what audiences already knew about it.

Based on characters from Jack Kirby, who had a knack for outlandish cosmic adventures, Eternals tells the story of 10 alien heroes sent to Earth thousands of years ago to protect humanity from predators called Deviants. They were sent on this mission by Arishem, a god-like being called a Celestial who tells them that allowing life to flourish on Earth is the key to the creation of a new Celestial who will in turn go on to create new stars and planets.

These concepts aren’t presented metaphorically. The Celestials are shown as literally creating new stars and solar systems and constructing the cosmos as if it were a Lego playset.

Having aided in the development of human civilizations since the dawn of written history, the Eternals survive into modern times awaiting news that they can return home, despite seemingly defeating the Deviants hundreds of years prior and having gone their separate ways to integrate into humanity. However, when the return of the Deviants seems to portend apocalyptic news for Earth, the Eternals must reunite to stop them once again.

The Eternals themselves each have unique powers reflective of archetypal superhero abilities: flight, super speed, super strength, energy blasts, etc.

Director Chloé Zhao, coming off an Oscar win for Nomadland, has crafted a beautiful-looking comic book movie that honors Kirby’s legacy. The story, on the other hand, is often ponderous on the verge of being dull, as if the MCU suddenly decided to get so pretentious about its own success that it’s trying to win a dare about its ability to put anything on screen.

A big problem is that in trying to be its own thing and setting up a bold new direction for the MCU, Eternals raises a lot more questions than it answers about how it fits in with the previously established storylines. Why the Eternals didn’t intervene in the battle against Thanos, for example, gives rise to a tepid explanation at best. A bigger issue fans might have is, when the Earth is seemingly endangered, why the Eternals alone must deal with it without a single one of the remaining Avengers turning up to investigate what is going on.

And it’s not as if audiences don’t know those other heroes are still hanging around out there, since the MCU has already presented other movies and TV shows about what some of the established characters have been doing following Avengers: Endgame. These projects, owing to dealing with the more familiar aspects of the MCU, have been better received by fans, with the massive success of the 27th MCU film, Spider-Man: No Way Home being the epitome of that. One can only imagine Eternals being better received over time as its revelations about the history of the MCU begin to bear fruit.

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The Blu-ray and digital editions include a smattering of extras, starting with four deleted scenes that total about six minutes but don’t really add much to the story.

The making of the film is covered in the eleven-minute “Immortalized” featurette, supplemented by a commentary with director Chloé Zhao and visual effects supervisors Stephan Ceretti and Mårtin Larsson that provides an insightful look at the technical craft employed in making the film.

Less useful is the five-minute “Walks of Life” featurette in which the filmmakers and cast pat themselves on the back over the diversity of the cast, gushing over having a superhero team that reflects the demographics of the modern world despite the characters being aliens who are thousands of years old.

Rounding out the package is a two-and-a-half-minute gag reel.

Murderville

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Comedy;
Not rated.
Stars Will Arnett, Haneefah Wood, Lilan Bowden, Phillip Smithey, Conan O’Brien, Marshawn Lynch, Kumail Nanjiani, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone, Ken Jeong.

The hilarious new comedy series “Murderville” offers a spoof of police procedurals with a twist. Each episode, homicide detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett) takes on a new trainee partner in the form of a celebrity guest star playing themselves. The catch is, the celebrities haven’t been given a script to let them know what’s going on, forcing them to improvise their way through the scenes, leading up to them choosing which of the episode’s three suspects they think is the killer.

Think of it as “Law & Order” meets “Police Squad” with touches of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and one of those murder mystery party games, as the premise, inspired by the British TV series “Murder in Successville,” serves as an excuse to subject the celebrity guest to humiliating scenarios while distracting them from trying to notice clues.

For instance, the first episode ensnares Conan O’Brien in a situation in which he has to keep eating a sloppy joe even as Arnett keeps pouring hot sauce on it. Another set-up sees former NFL star Marshawn Lynch pretending to be the mirror image of a suspect he looks nothing like because the two-way mirror in the interrogation room is missing.

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There are also running gags that flow through all six of the episodes, giving sharp-eyed viewers plenty to appreciate. Arnett shines as the detective at the center of it all, acting as ringleader to egg on the celebrities while guiding them through each case, not to mention the audience, who can play along at home.

You know you’re dealing with an elevated level of silliness when one of the secondary objectives seems to be trying to make the actor playing the corpse crack up (and a couple of times it almost works). Even the skilled performers guest starring or playing suspects aren’t immune to breaking from time to time, which just contributes to the dumb fun.

Comedy ‘The Lovebirds’ Flies to DVD and Digital June 8 From Paramount

The comedy The Lovebirds is coming out on DVD, digital and on demand June 8 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick, “Silicon Valley”) and Issa Rae (“Insecure”) star as a couple who experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery. As their journey to clear their names takes them from one extreme circumstance to the next, they must figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.

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Featuring a never-before-seen, unrated cut of the film, the DVD and digital releases also include the original theatrical cut, as well as exclusive bonus content, including a gag reel, deleted scenes, a “Line-O-Rama,” interviews with the cast and a Lovebirds quiz.

‘Stuber’ Motors to Digital Oct. 1, Disc Oct. 15 Including 4K From Fox

The comedy Stuber travels to digital Oct. 1 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 15 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The buddy comedy follows a mild-mannered driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani, “Silicon Valley”) who picks up a passenger (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy) who turns out to be a cop hot on the trail of a brutal killer. Stu is thrust into a harrowing ordeal in which he desperately tries to hold onto his wits, his life and his five-star rating.

The cast also includes Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”), Iko Uwais (The Raid: Redemption), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite), Jimmy Tatro (“American Vandal”), Natalie Morales (“Abby’s”) and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy).

The film earned $22.4 million at the domestic box office.

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Bonus features include deleted scenes, a gag reel, audio commentary with director Michael Dowse (Goon) and Kumail Nanjiani.

Men in Black: International

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

 Street Date 9/3/19;
Sony Pictures;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office: $79.66 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson.

The fourth film in the “Men in Black” franchise was supposed to freshen up the franchise with a new cast and creative team. But old habits are hard to break, and Men in Black: International ends up coming across as a bland rehash of the formula established by the original film.

It’s not the fault of the cast, who are doing their best to milk laughs out of the material. And the film looks great, with all the weird aliens, slick gadgets and kooky visual effects one would expect from a “Men in Black” movie.

The issue is that the “MIB” movies don’t seem concerned with the kind of worldbuilding needed to create a viable sci-fi mythology, like establishing a set of rules for how things work. Instead they rely on familiar gags and situations that hint at a bigger picture but ultimately don’t yield many consequences for the characters or the fictional organization they work for that is tasked with secretly defending the Earth from intergalactic threats.

The fourth film kicks off with not one but two flashbacks. In one, a young girl witnesses her parents’ memories erased by MIB agents, causing her to become obsessed with learning the secrets of the organization, which she finally stumbles upon decades later and earns a chance to prove herself as an agent. Played as an adult by Tessa Thompson, she’s dubbed agent M and assigned to the London branch, where MIB boss O (Emma Thompson) thinks something’s not quite right with the operation.

The London branch is run by High T (Liam Neeson), who a few years earlier (in the other flashback) joined agent H (Chris Hemsworth) in fighting off an alien invader named The Hive, and once you hear why they’re called that it pretty much telegraphs every potential plot twist in the movie.

Anyway, back in the present, M and H work together to investigate a potential new threat from the Hive, involving a pair of alien assassins who are looking for a superweapon on Earth, taking them on an adventure through exotic locales in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

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Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth work well together, as we’ve seen in the “Thor” and “Avengers” movies. But their pairing here seems more an attempt to coast off that buzz than come up with fresh ideas.

The shift to London, the globetrotting story and addition of Hemsworth as a suave secret agent are undoubtedly meant to give the film a “James Bond meets Men in Black” vibe, which might have been better served if the film embraced the tone such a mashup would imply, rather than lazily resorting to the familiar buddy cop vs. aliens boilerplate we’ve seen before.

The bonus materials on the Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions mostly reinforce the notion that this is merely the next iteration of a familiar franchise, with a half-hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes about the cast, stunts, production design and gadgets showing how “MIB” is being taken to the next level. But nostalgia isn’t left behind, as there’s a three-minute video recapping the earlier movies.

There’s also a bizarre three-minute NBA crossover video in which M and H discover a number of top NBA superstars are actually aliens. While these were produced as promos for the NBA playoffs around the time of the film’s theatrical run, without that context they play more as a prequel for a “Space Jam”-type movie.

The home video editions also come with a two-minute gag reel.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray are 11-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes, some of which shed new light on elements in the movie. There’s also a pair of amusing faux commercials for “MIB”-style products, one for a consumer-approved memory-wiping neuralyzer, and another for a parody ancestry website for people to discover their alien heritage. However, the Alien-cestry.com URL just leads back to the Sony Pictures home page.