Venom: Let There Be Carnage

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/14/21;
Sony Pictures;
Action;
Box Office $212.5 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99, Blu-ray, $45.99 UH BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, some strong language, disturbing material and suggestive references.
Stars Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu.

The follow-up to 2018’s Venom is even more bizarre than its predecessor.

The sequel finds journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) continuing to co-exist with Venom, the alien symbiote from Marvel Comics that has bonded with him and occasionally takes over his body. Brock is asked to interview death-row inmate Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who was introduced at the end of the last film, and with Venom’s help is able to uncover where Kasady hid the bodies of his murder victims.

During one meeting, Venom is provoked into attacking Kasady, who bites Brock’s hand and absorbs some of the symbiote, which evolves into a new being named Carnage.

During Kasady’s lethal injection, Carnage emerges and helps him escape from prison. Kasady then seeks out his long-lost love Frances (Naomie Harris), who was separated from him when they were kids because she can scream destructive sonic blasts, earning her the nickname Shriek.

Meanwhile, Venom and Brock have a fight because Venom needs to eat human brains and Eddie won’t let him chow down on bad guys, so Venom detaches from Eddie and starts exploring the world with other hosts, though they aren’t as compatible with him as Eddie was and burn out quickly.

As Brock helps the police track own Kasady, Carnage and Kasady vow to destroy Brock and Venom, setting up a brutal final showdown.

Let There Be Carnage doubles down on all the quirks of the first film, particularly Hardy’s offbeat performance.

Directing duties for the sequel were taken over by Andy Serkis, and the process of making the film is covered in the seven-minute “Let There Be … Action” featurette on both the DVD and Blu-ray editions of the movie.

The Blu-ray also includes several additional interesting featurettes, such as the 10-minute “Eddie & Venom: The Odd Couple,” the five-and-a-half-minute “Sick and Twisted Cletus Kasady,” and the four-and-a-half-minute “Concept to Carnage,” about designing the new villain. Also included is the five-minute “A Fine Romance: Cletus & Shriek,” and the four-and-a-half-minute “Tangled Web: Easter Eggs,” which tracks the films’ references to the comic book source material.

The Blu-ray also includes a three-minute blooper reel, eight-and-a-half-minutes of select scene pre-vis sequences, and six deleted scenes that run a total of nine-and-a-half minutes, mostly including alternate and extended versions of scenes, and an alternate ending.

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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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Cop Thriller ‘Black and Blue’ Due Digitally Dec. 31, Disc Jan. 21

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release the action-thriller Black and Blue through digital retailers Dec. 31, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Jan. 21.

The film is about a rookie cop (Naomie Harris) who inadvertently captures the murder of a young drug dealer on her body cam. After realizing that the murder was committed by corrupt cops, she teams up with the one person from her community who is willing to help her (Tyrese Gibson) as she tries to escape the criminals out for revenge and the police who are desperate to destroy the incriminating footage.

The cast includes Frank Grillo, Mike Colter, Reid Scott and Beau Knapp.

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Extras include deleted scenes; a “Line of Fire” featurette in which director Deon Taylor discusses his vision for the film, how it implements body cameras and what sets it apart from other police-lead thrillers; and a “Be the Change in the Big Easy,” in which Harris and Gibson discuss their roles, filming in New Orleans and the poser of unspoken words.

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Rampage

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 7/17/18;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $98.58 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures.
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Movies based on video games often run into trouble when the screenwriters deconstruct the original premise of the game to the point where it either barely resembles the source material or loses the sense of fun that made the game popular to begin with.

On the other hand, some arcade games have a premise that is so basic that a convoluted screenplay is almost required to translate it into a movie.

Rampage, based on the 1980s Midway smash-em-up game that gave players the option to play as one of three mutant creatures attacking a city, manages to find a balance between the two extremes, using an evil corporation storyline to explain how a gorilla, a wolf and an alligator mutate into giant monsters and lay waste to Chicago.

The film jettisons the game’s notion that there are people who morph into the creatures — an aspect of the game’s constant replayability — in favor of a storyline involving a gorilla expert (Dwayne Johnson) caught up in a corporate conspiracy to weaponize genetic engineering.

The script doesn’t delve too deeply into the tropes it needs to use to get to the meat of what the game is about, and that’s giant creatures attacking everything around them, eating people, destroying buildings and causing all-around mayhem.

Johnson is pretty much settled into his generic action-star persona at this point, to the degree that his character has a name but it doesn’t much matter what it is. This is his third collaboration with director Brad Peyton, following Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas, and the pair demonstrates a reliable confidence in delivering audience-pleasing action that doesn’t rely on over-complicating the storyline.

Likewise, Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t doing much more than a more benevolent take on his smarmy Negan character that made him a popular mainstay on “The Walking Dead.” But, again, it’s all in service to the central concept of getting the giant animals to a big city and trashing it.

And once they do get to Chicago, oh the destruction is glorious. It almost serves as a preview of the eventual King Kong vs. Godzilla movie. The filmmakers also took care to layer in several subtle references to the game mechanics, as revealed in one of the Blu-ray’s behind-the-scenes featurettes, the six-minute “Not a Game Anymore.”

Other featurettes, running between 10 and 12 minutes each, include a look at the stunts, the designs of the monsters, the attack on Chicago and the development of the Gorilla, George.

The Blu-ray also includes a nearly three-minute gag reel and more than 10 minutes of deleted scenes, including an excised cameo from San Andreas co-star Alexandra Daddario.