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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F9: The Fast Saga

Universal;
Action;
Box Office $173.01 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, and language.
Stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron.

By continuing the trend of its predecessors, the latest entry in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is a contender for one of the most absurd movies of all time. In addition to the franchise’s repeated assaults on the laws of physics, F9 adds long-lost family members and yet another character’s return from the dead.

Marking the 20th anniversary of The Fast and the Furious, F9 is the 10th film in the franchise, but the ninth in the main storyline, with 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw being a spinoff. It also features the return to the director’s chair of Justin Lin, who previously directed the third through sixth entries. Lin had previously directed the 2002 crime drama Better Luck Tomorrow, which could be considered the unofficial 11th film in the franchise as it introduced the character of Han (Sung Kang), who went on to appear in all of Lin’s “FF” movies and makes his return here, bringing the franchise’s main arc full circle as it prepares for its finale.

The story finds Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) living in seclusion with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and son, but he’s called back into action when it turns out his brother, Jakob (John Cena) is the leader of a clandestine group trying to steal a device that can hack into every computer on the planet. So the usual “FF” gang reunites for another round of car chases, explosions and quips from Tyrese.

The screenplay injects some pathos into the mix by exploring the sibling relationship between Dom and Jakob, in the form of flashbacks to when they were teenagers and their father was killed in a race, for which Dom blames Jakob. The flashbacks account for the “saga” aspect of the title as the film tries to connect nearly every character and plot thread from all the earlier films.

Once upon a time, these were movies about thieves in a street racing gang before it became about international missions to save the world. Now the characters are basically acknowledging they’re in a movie, joking about how they always survive against impossible odds, and pointing out the structure of the plot as a reason to switch sides for a third-act swerve.

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The film’s home video editions include a director’s cut that runs about six minutes more and improves the movie with important character moments, as well as another scene in Cardi B’s cameo.

Lin provides a good commentary track in which he discusses his return to the franchise, his desire to provide some weight to whatever drama exists in the franchise’s margins, and hints at future revelations.

The Blu-ray also includes a three-and-a-half-minute gag reel and more than 70 minutes of comprehensive behind-the-scenes featurettes.

There’s also a three-and-a-half minute featurette on the “Justice for Han” movement that influenced the film, and the fun four-and-a-half-minute “John Cena: Supercar Superfan,” in which the wrestler-turned-actor shows off several high-performance cars, including some used in the film.

The 4K disc contains the same bonus content as the regular Blu-ray.

 

 

Goldie Hawn Comedy ‘Overboard’ and Spanish Horror Films ‘Cannibal Man’ and ‘No One Heard the Scream’ Due on Disc From MVD Aug. 24

The Eloy de la Iglesia horror films The Cannibal Man and No One Heard the Scream, as well as the 1987 classic Goldie Hawn comedy Overboard, are due on disc Aug. 24 from Severin Films and MVD Entertainment Group.

Overboard will be available on DVD and Blu-ray. The romantic comedy stars Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell in a riches-to-rags love story about a snobby yacht-owning socialite (Hawn) whose accidental amnesia presents the perfect opportunity for a widowed local carpenter (Russell) to convince her she’s his wife and mother to his four out-of-control kids. Edward Herrmann, Katherine Helmond and Roddy McDowall co-star in the classic from director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, The Princess Diaries) and screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Mrs. Doubtfire), now scanned in 2K for the first time. Extras include an interview with Dixon and the original theatrical trailer.

From subversive Spanish writer/director Eloy de la Iglesia comes the notorious shocker of the ’70s The Cannibal Man on DVD and Blu-ray. In the film, when a slaughterhouse worker accidentally kills a man during a fight, it triggers a desperate descent into madness and mass murder. Also known as The Apartment on the 13th Floor and Week of the Killer, the film is presented in both the International and extended Spanish version newly scanned from the original negatives for the first time. Extras include “Cinema at the Margins,” with Stephen Thrower and Dr. Shelagh Rowan-Legg on Eloy de la Iglesia; “The Sleazy and the Strange,” an interview with Carlos Aguilar; deleted scenes; and the original theatrical trailer.

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One year after his international breakthrough with The Cannibal Man, Basque filmmaker de la Iglesia co-wrote and directed the twisted thriller No One Heard the Scream, due on DVD and Blu-ray, his last under Spain’s repressive Franco regime. In the film, when a woman spies her neighbor disposing of his wife’s corpse, she crosses the line from witness to accomplice to something far more depraved. The release features an HD scan from the original negative.

The “Eloy De La Iglesia’s Quinqui Collection” will also be available on Blu-ray. Short for quincallero (delinquent) and pronounced “kinky,” it was a brutal sub-genre of juvenile gang dramas produced in ’70s and ’80s Spain. For Basque writer/director de la Iglesia, these three Cine Quinqui classics would become the most successful, controversial and tragically defining films of his entire career. José Luis Manzano — the charismatic street kid discovered by de la Iglesia — stars in this graphic neorealist trilogy that depicts the crime, violence and drug abuse that ravaged the post-Franco nation, and led to the filmmaker and actor’s real-life addictions to heroin — and each other — that would ultimately destroy them both. Navajeros, El Pico and El Pico 2 are scanned in HD from the original negatives with all-new special features created especially for the collection.

Kurt Russell Thriller ‘Breakdown’ Traveling to Blu-ray Sept. 21 as Part of ‘Paramount Presents’ Line

The 1997 Kurt Russell thriller Breakdown will travel to Blu-ray as part of the “Paramount Presents” line on Sept. 21 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Featuring a director-approved remaster from a new 4K film scan, the film is presented in a limited-edition Blu-ray Disc with collectible packaging featuring a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie moments.

In Breakdown, Russell is Jeff Taylor, headed toward a new life in California with his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan). When their car dies on a remote highway, a seemingly helpful trucker (J.T. Walsh) offers Amy a ride to the local diner while Jeff waits with the car. Then Jeff discovers his vehicle was deliberately tampered with, and by the time he gets to the next town, his worst fears are about to come true.

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The Blu-ray includes new bonus content, including a look at the never-before-seen alternate opening, a new “Filmmaker Focus” with director Jonathan Mostow, commentary by Mostow and Russell, a featurette with actress Kathleen Quinlan, an isolated track of Basil Poledouris’ score, and access to a digital copy of the film.

Cinemark Screening Netflix’s ‘The Christmas Chronicles 2’ in Select Theaters

Cinemark Theatres has quietly begun screening The Christmas Chronicles 2, the Netflix movie sequel to the 2018 original that saw 20 million subscribers stream the Kurt Russell-starring holiday fare in its first week of release.

Netflix will begin streaming the sequel on Nov. 25 as part of an agreement with Cinemark, which recently inked a PVOD deal with Universal Pictures in exchange for allowing the studio to abbreviate the theatrical window to 17 days on select movies.

The 1-hour-51-minute adventure family comedy sequel — which is playing in select theaters in Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, again features Russell as a brash-talking (and singing) Santa Claus, with real-life partner Goldie Hawn playing Mrs. Claus in a more prominent role.

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“In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis,” the the nation’s third-largest movie theater chain said in a statement. “We are pleased to collaborate with Netflix on this limited three-market test.”

 

Escape From L.A. — Collector’s Edition

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Action;
$34.93 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for violence and some language.
Stars Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Cliff Robertson, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Bruce Campbell, Valeria Golino, Georges Corraface, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Peter Jason.

Nowadays, a character such as Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken would be tagged for franchise potential and, if his first outing shows a modicum of success, thrust into a series of sequels (e.g. John Wick). But fans of 1981’s Escape From New York had to wait 15 years before director John Carpenter would bring the character back to the big screen.

Such a gap between sequels might not seem like such a big deal anymore, with studios frequently greenlighting follow-ups to popular movies from 20 to 30 years ago, or longer (case in point, the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick getting made 34 years after the original).

Carpenter and Russell certainly didn’t end their creative partnership following Escape From New York, collaborating on other cult classics such as 1982’s The Thing and 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China (both receiving their own Scream Factory special-edition Blu-rays).

The delay in getting a Plissken sequel off the ground wasn’t for lack of trying. Russell reportedly wanted to play the character again, and a script had been in development since the mid 1980s. The project suffered additional setbacks after the original film’s distributor went bankrupt and rights to the sequel bounced around, eventually ending up with Paramount. (Distribution rights for the original film ended up with MGM, making a DVD bundle of the two films problematic —though perhaps Shout! Factory can remedy that now that it has been able to release both films on separate Blu-rays).

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The film finally hit theaters in 1996, just a year before the “futuristic” setting of the original film, in which Snake had to rescue the U.S. president from the island of Manhattan, which had been turned into a lawless maximum security prison.

The sequel takes the obvious approach to a follow-up to a movie called Escape From New York, and transfers the setting to Los Angeles. Aside from that, the film is essentially a beat-for-beat remake of the first film, with a few details mixed around for good measure. Most of the new characters Plissken meets correspond to characters from the first movie, from the head of the police force that recruits him for an impossible mission, to the leader of the gangs on the prison island where he’s sent.

In the years since Snake’s first escape, a massive earthquake strikes California in the year 2000, causing the greater Los Angeles area to break off from the mainland. A presidential candidate (Cliff Robertson) who happened to predict the disaster is subsequently swept into office, and he oversees a series of Constitutional amendments, including one giving him a lifetime term. He outlaws all religions but Christianity, and anyone who violates the new U.S. moral code is deported to the island of Los Angeles, which is monitored by a national police force.

In 2013, however, the president’s daughter (A.J. Langer) falls in love with a revolutionary, steals a top-secret weapons control system, and exiles herself to the island. When the rescue team fails to find her, the president recruits Plissken, who has experience with this sort of thing (even eliciting a comment from Snake about how familiar it all is).

Plissken has a day to infiltrate the island and recover the weapons system, which is apparently America’s only defense against an imminent invasion from the rest of the world the president has managed to tick off. The invasion will be led by Che Guevara wannabe Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), who now possesses the weapon thanks to the First Daughter, and plans to use it against the U.S.

So, as with New York, Snake must navigate a series of unsavory characters and dangerous situations to recover the items of national importance and return to the authorities for the cure to the deadly ailment they secretly gave him to motivate him to go on the mission.

Where Escape From New York mostly treats its setting as a generic burned-out urban sprawl, Escape From L.A. puts more emphasis on re-creating the dystopian version of specific recognizable Los Angeles landmarks, and revels in extrapolating a lawless world from a number of L.A. tropes, from a gang of mutant plastic surgeon victims led by a doctor (Bruce Campbell) trying to keep them fresh, to the aging surfer (Peter Fonda) who helps Snake get around town by riding the waves.

And in one of the film’s best gags, a character implies that Disney has somehow gone bankrupt by 2013. In the real timeline, that would have been a year after they bought Lucasfilm.

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Escape from L.A. plays a bit like what Carpenter would have done with the first movie if he had an actual budget to work with. Where the first film felt gritty and was quite effective in making the most out of its limited resources, the sequel seems a bit too polished. The film makes extensive use of computer animation for its visual effects, but they haven’t aged well, looking more like video game graphics than anything that exists in the real world.

Still, its fun to get a sense of the future version of L.A. that Carpenter was going for. The Blu-ray features a new 4K scan of the original negative that makes it easy to enjoy the film’s production design, even if it doesn’t do many favors for the visual effects.

Where the previous Paramount Blu-ray of the film offered no bonus materials, the new single-disc Scream Factory edition presents more than an hour’s worth of newly recorded interviews with some of the cast and filmmakers. They are presented as six separate videos, one for each subject.

Among the actors showcased here are Stacy Keach, who plays the police commander, and Peter Jason, who plays another police official, in addition to Campbell and Corraface. The behind-the-scenes guys include special effects artist Jim McPherson and visual effects artist David Jones. The discussions don’t always stick to Escape From L.A. as the topic and hand and at times veer into the subjects’ careers in general.

Rounding out the package are the trailer, TV spots and a still gallery. While a better offering than the original Blu-ray, it’s a far cry from the two-disc Escape From New York collection that included several audio commentaries and deleted scenes in addition to behind-the-scenes interviews.

Carpenter and Russell reportedly had additional sequels planned, but the underwhelming critical and box office response to Escape From L.A. put an end to that. One potential sequel supposedly ended up being turned into Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars.

Scream Factory Releasing ‘Escape From L.A.’ Collector’s Edition Blu-ray May 26

Scream Factory, the horror imprint of indie distributor Shout! Factory, will release a collector’s edition of director John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A. on Blu-ray May 26.

The film is a sequel to Carpenter’s 1981 film Escape From New York, which starred Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, the anti-hero tasked with rescuing the U.S. President from Manhattan, which in the future has been converted into a walled off prison.

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In 1996’s Escape From L.A., Russell returns as Plissken, who this time is forced to rescue the president’s daughter from Southern California, which in the future has been rendered an island wasteland by a massive earthquake.

The cast also includes Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Bruce Campbell, Peter Fonda, George Corraface, Peter Jason, Cliff Robertson and Pam Grier.

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The Blu-ray will offers the film with a new 4K scan from the original negative, and new interviews with Keach, Campbell, Jason, Corraface, special effects artist Jim McPherson and visual effects artist David Jones. Other extras include a still gallery, the theatrical trailer and TV spots.

A bare-bones Blu-ray edition of Escape From L.A. was previously released by Paramount in 2010. A Scream Factory Blu-ray of Escape From New York was released in 2015.

‘Big Trouble in Little China’ Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Coming Dec. 3 From Scream Factory

Indie home entertainment distributor Shout! Factory’s horror imprint, Scream Factory, is bringing director John Carpenter’s 1986 cult classic Big Trouble in Little China back to Blu-ray in a big way Dec. 3 with a new collector’s edition and a number of packaging options for fans.

Kurt Russell stars as tough-talking truck driver Jack Burton, who gets pulled into a supernatural adventure to rescue his best friend’s fiancée from a dangerous, magical world beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown. The cast also includes Kim Cattrall, James Hong and Dennis Dun.

Scream Factory’s two-disc Blu-ray set includes a trove of new bonus material.

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The first disc will include the film with a new audio commentary by producer Larry Franco, a new commentary by special effects artist Steve Johnson moderated by filmmaker Anthony C. Ferrante, and the legacy commentary with Carpenter and Russell from previous home video releases. An isolated score track also will be available. The disc also includes previously released material such as deleted and extended scenes, an extended ending, a vintage audio interview with John Carpenter, electronic press kit interviews and profiles, theatrical trailers, TV spots, a gag reel, a music video and photo galleries.

The second disc will include a vintage featurette and an interview with visual effects artist Richard Edlund from previous disc releases; interviews with Carpenter, Russell, Franco, director of photography Dean Cundey and stuntman Jeff Imada; and hours of new interviews, including actors Dun, Hong, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong and Al Leong, writers W.D. Richter and Gary Goldman, associate producer/martial arts choreographer James Lew, The Coupe De Ville’s member Nick Castle, second unit director/The Coupe De Ville’s member Tommy Lee Wallace, and movie poster artist Drew Struzan.

The Shout! Factory store at ShoutFactory.com is offering fans five different special offers for preorders of the title.

One is the collector’s edition Blu-ray with an exclusive 18-inch x 24-inch rolled poster of the new cover art by Laz Marquez.

‘Big Trouble in Little China’ Steelbook

The second is the collector’s edition in limited-edition Steelbook packaging.

The third is the Steelbook with an exclusive 28.5-inch x 16.5-inch rolled lithograph of the new Steelbook artwork by Nat Marsh, and a 7-inch green vinyl record by Sacred Bones, featuring music composed by John Carpenter and recorded by him, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, with a slipcase with new art by frequent Carpenter collaborator Chris Bilheimer. Limited to 2,500 copies, the A-side includes the 2017 version of the main theme, “Porkchop Express (Big Trouble in Little China),” and the B-side contains a never-before-released recording of “The Alley War,” recorded in 2019.

The fourth bundle includes the Blu-ray with slipcover, rolled poster and green vinyl album.

The fifth option includes both the standard and Steelbook Blu-rays of the collector’s edition, the artwork posters for both editions, and the limited-edition record.

Preorders of the collector’s edition or Steelbook bundled with a purple vinyl variant of the 7-inch record are available from Sacredbonesrecords.com.

Netflix: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston Comedy ‘Murder Mystery’ Sets Biggest Opening Weekend with 30.8 Million Views

Netflix June 18 disclosed that its new Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston original comedy, Murder Mystery, set an all-time weekend streaming record with 30.87 million views.

The second Netflix comedy movie starring Sandler and Aniston — which launched June 14 — generated 13.37 million views in the United States and 17.5 million worldwide through June 15.

Netflix disclosed the info on Twitter.

The SVOD behemoth, which is typically reticent disclosing viewership data, has opened up this year revealing streaming data on select original movies, including Will Smith’s Bright with 11 million views; Bird Box with Sandra Bullock (45 million views) and The Christmas Chronicles (25 million) with Kurt Russell.

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Netflix Says Record 45 Million People Streamed Original Movie ‘Bird Box’ During First Week

Netflix Dec. 28 disclosed that 45 million people streamed post-apocalyptic original movie Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock, since its Dec. 21 launch. The tally is the largest-ever over a seven-day period for the subscription streaming video pioneer.

Netflix, which does not disclose viewer statistics as a matter of policy, previously revealed that 20 million people streamed The Christmas Chronicles, starring Kirk Russell.

“Took off my blindfold this morning to discover that 45,037,125 Netflix accounts have already watched Bird Box — best first 7 days ever for a Netflix film!” Netflix tweeted.

The service didn’t say whether viewer households were global or just domestic. Netflix ended the most-recent fiscal period with 130 million paid subscribers worldwide.

Bird Box, directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, and co-starring Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich and Jacki Weaver, among others, features Bullock as a single mom attempting to save her family from a mysterious force that makes people kill themselves if they see it. Bullock and her kids are forced to escape wearing blindfolds.

Netflix has high hopes for film, agreeing to give it a limited exclusive theatrical run to appease industry awards voters.