The Suicide Squad

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/26/21;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $55.8 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Stars Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Alice Braga, Peter Capaldi, Taika Waititi, Jai Courtney, Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg, Pete Davidson, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Jennifer Holland, Sylvester Stallone, Dee Bradley Baker.

Writer-director James Gunn’s subversive follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad resets the franchise by embracing the absurdity inherent in comic book movies.

Like its predecessor, The Suicide Squad is based on the DC Comics series about a team of supervillains who are blackmailed into conducting black ops for the American government through the threat of an explosive chip in their head. The 2016 edition, while a financial success, was panned by critics and audiences after it was infamously re-edited by a trailer company into essentially a series of vignettes set to popular music, trying to capture some of the magic that made Guardians of the Galaxy work so well.

So, for the sequel, DC just brought in Gunn, writer-director of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. The hire came shortly after Gunn was fired by Marvel over some questionable tweets in his past, only to be re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which he’s working on now.

The Suicide Squad is just another example of why he’s such a good fit for these kinds of movies: a keen understanding of the source material, and a willingness to poke fun at it without undermining the credibility of the story. Here, Gunn assembles a team of some of the silliest comic book concepts ever created, gives their characters emotional depth, and makes it all work.

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This is one of the bloodiest comic book movies ever made, but also one of the funniest, with Gunn expertly finding the balance between the two extremes, beginning with an absolutely insane opening sequence that will leave audiences without a clue of what to expect from this movie.

The story involves the team heading to a tropical island to dispose of a top secret project before the new military dictatorship can expose U.S. involvement in its development. Idris Elba grounds the mission as Bloodsport, a weapons expert. He has a bit of a rivalry with the team’s other weapons expert, Peacemaker (John Cena), as they try to outdo each other running up the movie’s body count. With his earnest penchant for killing anything that stands in his way to achieve “peace,” Peacemaker would seem to be Gunn’s metaphor for American foreign policy (though Gunn found the character appealing enough to write an eight-episode TV spinoff about him, set to debut on HBO Max in 2022).

Other standouts on the team include King Shark, literally a walking, talking man-eating shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone; Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), who uses her deceased father’s technology to control the minds of rats; Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who was experimented on by his mother with an interdimensional virus that gives him the power to expel dots of deadly energy; and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), one of the few holdovers from the first movie, along with team commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the government agent who will detonate their heads if they disobey her.

Like the first movie, the sequel has plenty of songs, but thanks to Gunn, they are well integrated into the structure of the film, rather than seemingly played at random.

The Suicide Squad is fun, vibrant and visually distinctive like a graphic novel come to life, though its hard-‘R’ sensibilities may not appeal to everybody.

The Blu-ray edition of The Suicide Squad comes loaded with hours of insightful bonus material about the making of the film, including a good solo commentary with Gunn.

There are also about 17 minutes of deleted scenes that don’t amount to much, so it’s easy to see why they were cut.

Also included are three fun retro trailers done in the style of 1960s war movies, 1970s horror movies and 1980s buddy cop movies.

The regular Blu-ray Disc of the film contains all the extras. The 4K disc includes just the commentary and one featurette, a seven-minute breakdown of Harley Quinn’s violent escape sequence.

Originally published as a streaming review Aug. 9, 2021.

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.

 

 

Mallrats (Limited Edition)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

MVD/Arrow;
Comedy;
$39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong language, including sexual dialogue, and for some scenes of sexuality and drug content.
Stars Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London, Jason Lee, Claire Forlani, Michael Rooker, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Renee Humphrey, Ehtan Suplee, Priscilla Barnes, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee.

A box office bomb upon its release, director Kevin Smith’s second feature, 1995’s Mallrats, has since developed a huge cult following for an embrace of a nerd culture that was well ahead of its time.

Smith had already introduced his pop culture proclivities with the previous year’s indie darling Clerks, but Mallrats was his first big-studio effort, though aimed at the same basic target audience. (In fact, Smith recounts in one of the new interviews included with this Blu-ray that he pitched it as “Clerks at a mall”).

Though one of the film’s producers considered it ahead of its time, the financial and critical drubbing endured by Mallrats led Smith back into the realm of indie production, where he’s pretty much spent his entire feature directorial career since (the exceptions being 2010’s Cop Out for Warner, his only film he didn’t also write, and directing for television, mostly episodes of Warner’s Arrowverse here and there).

With Mallrats, Smith began to lay the foundation for his own cinematic universe, long before Marvel Studios came along. In addition to the return of Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith), there are references to other characters and events mentioned in Clerks. And Smith would continue to mine the Mallrats cast for his future projects, reteaming with the core trio of Ben Affleck, Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams two years later for Chasing Amy, his heartfelt return to the indie fold.

What Mallrats is perhaps best known for, however, is the lengthy cameo by comic book icon Stan Lee. While the former Marvel Comics publisher had made a handful of movie and TV appearances beforehand, his role in Smith’s film is generally considered the genesis of a cinematic tradition that saw him appear in nearly every Marvel movie since — so much so that in one of his final cameos, for the ’90s set MCU prequel Captain Marvel, Lee is seen rehearsing his lines for Mallrats.

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The new Arrow Video edition of the film is a big step up from the previous Blu-ray released by Universal in 2014, which was basically just a re-creation of the 10th anniversary DVD set from 2005.

Arrow has restored both the 95-minute theatrical cut and the half-hour longer extended edition that first appeared on that earlier DVD. The new Blu-ray also adds a third version: the 85-minute TV-suitable cut featuring some amusing overdubbing of Jay’s dialogue with a noticeably different voice since Mewes didn’t show up to re-record his dialogue.

The always loquacious Smith provides new introductions for the theatrical and TV cuts, while he and producer Scott Mosier’s introduction for the extended cut comes from the old DVD (and Blu-ray).

Other new extras include an informative half-hour reflection from Smith about the making of the film; a 13-minute remembrance by Smith of producer Jim Jacks, who was the one who predicted the film’s audience would eventually grow to find it; a 10-minute retrospective from Mewes, who expected to be fired from the role he originated in Clerks due to his acting inexperience (Smith recounts the studio wanting Seth Green or Breckin Meyer to play Jay); a six-minute interview with cinematographer and frequent Smith collaborator Dave Klein; and Hollywood of the North, a 10-minute animated documentary about the local crew that worked on the film when it was shot in Minnesota.

The two-disc set also includes nearly two hours of footage from the film’s dailies, plus an extensive photo gallery.

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Carryovers from the previous releases include an hour of deleted scenes, eight minutes of outtakes, nine minutes of on-set cast interviews, a 22-minute archive making-of, a 10th anniversary Q&A with Smith running nine minutes, a “Build Me Up Buttercup” music video, and a featurette about the soundtrack.

The disc also comes with an essay booklet and a reversible slipcover containing both new box art and the classic poster art.

Not everything carried over, however. Among the missing extras from previous releases are a 10th anniversary cast reunion Q&A, a 10-year retrospective featurette, and a collection of vignettes offered as Easter eggs. So, collectors may want to hold onto that 2014 Blu-ray, but between that and the new version, Arrow’s edition is the one to get.

 

Days of Thunder

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Drama;
$29.99 Blu-ray, $29.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Nicole Kidman, Michael Rooker, Cary Elwes, John C. Reilly, Fred Dalton Thompson.

Almost immediately upon its release in 1990, Days of Thunder was labeled by critics as a car racing version of Top Gun, a reputation that isn’t exactly unearned.

Days of Thunder shares the same production team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, the same director in Tony Scott, and also stars Tom Cruise, who plays another hotshot looking to fulfill his need for speed with reckless abandon.

In this case, Cruise’s character is named Cole Trickle, an Indy circuit washout looking to make a name for himself in NASCAR. He takes on the mentorship of a master pit crew chief played by Robert Duvall, but a devastating crash shakes his confidence.

Robert Towne’s screenplay (with Cruise sharing a story credit) throws not one but two rivals at Trickle. First is Michael Rooker’s Rowdy Burns, the top dog of the circuit whose career is cut short in the same wreck that impairs Cole. When they become fast friends due to shared misfortune, Rowdy asks Cole to take over his racing team, setting up the showdown with rival No. 2, another rookie driver named Russ Wheeler, played by Cary Elwes, whose blink-and-you’ll-miss-it introduction obscures a rise through the ranks so unexpectedly rapid that one wonders why the movie isn’t about him.

The requisite love interest, which like with Top Gun comes with professional complications, is Cole’s and Rowdy’s neurologist, played by Nicole Kidman, who was 22 at the time of filming lest anyone wish to question the likelihood of her character’s medical credentials. The swirling rumors of the day suggested Cruise became enamored with Kidman after seeing her in 1989’s Dead Calm and arranged for her to be in Days of Thunder so they could meet. When 1990 began he had been married to Mimi Rogers, but divorced her in February. Cruise and Kidman were married from December 1990, six months after Days of Thunder hit theaters, to 2001.

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For the most part, Days of Thunder comes across as a series of exciting racing scenes and establishing shots of NASCAR speedways strung together with a by-the-numbers plot and some perfunctory dialogue. Duvall is as good as he usually is, while Cole Trickle is such a stock character in the Tom Cruise mold that naming him is more a screenwriting formality than a necessity of the story.

This new edition of Days of Thunder is presented as both a standalone Blu-ray under the “Paramount Presents” label, as well as a 4K Ultra HD disc with digital copy. The 4K version doesn’t come with a separate Blu-ray Disc, which is something of a break from the industry norm of 4K/Blu-ray combo packs, so consumers will have to pick whether they want the higher-definition resolution of the 4K version or the fancy Paramount Presents slipcover with fold-out movie poster. The film looks great either way, particularly because the racing footage is so good.

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The new Days of Thunder Blu-ray seems to have avoided the fate of most of the other titles in the Paramount Presents line, which to this point has offered Blu-ray re-releases with most of the bonus materials from previous editions left out this go-around (it seems anything previously available only in SD got the axe, with maybe a new short retrospective featurette to replace it).  That’s because the previous Days of Thunder Blu-ray from 2008 had zero extras on it aside from the film’s trailer, so anything offered here is a step up. The extras, sparse as they may be, are the same on both the Blu-ray and 4K discs.

The new discs don’t include the trailer, but they do have a seven-minute “Filmmaker Focus” featurette which is essentially a retrospective interview with Bruckheimer interspersed with clips from the movie.

There’s also an isolated audio track containing just Hans Zimmer’s musical score, his first of many collaborations with the Bruckheimer/Simpson team. Zimmer’s music is a highlight of the movie, but compared with the rest of Zimmer’s works it comes across as one of the more generic efforts in a career built on establishing a baseline sound for reliable action cues.

‘Fantasy Island’ Unrated Edition Traveling to Digital April 14, Disc May 12

The horror adaptation Fantasy Island will emerge on digital April 14 and Blu-ray and DVD May 12 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

A Blumhouse horror reimagining of the TV show, Fantasy Island follows the enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) who makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come  true  at  a  luxurious  but  remote  tropical  resort. When the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island’s mystery in order to escape with their lives.

The film also stars Maggie Q, Lucy Hale and Michael Rooker.

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Blu-ray, DVD and digital special features include deleted scenes, unrated and theatrical versions of the movie, unrated commentary by director Jeff Wadlow and the cast (on the unrated version only).

Bram Stoker’s ‘Shadowbuilder’ Due on Blu-ray for First Time Aug. 28 From MVD

MVD Entertainment Group will release the Bram Stoker horror story Shadowbuilder for the first time on Blu-ray Aug. 28 as part of its MVD Rewind collection.

Shadowbuilder front cover

In the film, a demon is summoned to take the soul of a young boy, who has the potential to become a saint. If the demon succeeds, it will open a doorway to hell, blazing a terrifying trail of destruction, possession and mayhem and destroying humanity. The fate of the world hinges on the final outcome of a renegade priest’s battle with the soul-eating Shadowbuilder.

The cast that includes Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy), Leslie Hope (Crimson Peak), Kevin Zegers (Dawn of the Dead) and Tony Todd (Candyman).

Shadowbuilder reversible cover art

Bonus materials include the original 2.0 stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray); audio commentary from director Jamie Dixon; a new “Making of Shadowbuilder” featurette with director Jamie Dixon, writer Michael Stokes, and stars Andrew Jackson (The Shadowbuilder) and Todd (Covey); a new “Shadowbuilder: Visual Effects” featurette; a new “Shadowbuilder: Kevin Zegers” featurette; reversible, two-sided artwork; Spanish subtitles; the original theatrical trailer; and a collectible poster.