2012

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Sony Pictures;
Sci-Fi;
$30.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense disaster sequences and some language.
Stars John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson
.

There’s nothing like a Roland Emmerich disaster film to brighten your day during a pandemic, making our current situation look rosy by comparison.

The director (The Day After TomorrowIndependence Day) has given us many an epic about the end of the world, but none perhaps so gloriously catastrophic as 2012, in which we watch cities collapse and continents crumble as John Cusack mugs his way through the chaos famously predicted by the ancient Mayans. Basically, it’s something about planets aligning, solar flares, the center of the Earth heating up and the world ending in 2012 (Transpose the last two numbers and you get 2021. Hmmm…). But honestly Emmerich fans don’t really dwell too much on the whys and hows of it all. They’re too busy waiting for the next earthquake, volcano explosion and tsunami to wipe out America and the world. Iconic shots include Los Angeles sliding into the ocean, St. Peter’s Basilica rolling over worshippers, and the John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier toppling onto the White House — all of which look disastrously wonderful in 4K with HDR.

Woody Harrelson offers some scene-chewing dark humor as a conspiracy theorist waiting at Yellowstone National Park for the explosion of the super volcano. The president (Danny Glover) and his daughter, a scientist who predicts it all, a Russian oligarch and his mistress, and a plane-flying stepdad all make appearances, but at the core of the film is Jackson Curtis (Cusack), a struggling writer and limo driver who is trying to save his ex-wife and children from pending doom. The actors add to the fun with performances that are, as always in an Emmerich film, bordering on the cartoonish, but just convincing enough to keep audiences relishing the action and going with the premise.

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The 4K disc features Dolby Atmos sound and the Discovery Channel’s 2012 Apocalypse featurette, which speculates on the likelihood of the disastrous events in the film using footage from the movie. Actually, the featurette is interesting because it answers some of the scientific questions one might have about how probable this all is. (Basically, it’s not. Whew!)

Bonus features on the Blu-ray in the combo pack include an interactive Mayan calendar; five featurettes on bringing the epic to life; deleted scenes; an alternate ending; “Picture-in-Picture: Roland’s Vision”; feature commentary; and an Adam Lambert music video.

2012 is one of those 4K discs that enthusiasts are going to want pop into their player to show off their home theater.

The Social Dilemma

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Documentary;
Not rated.

If you’ve got a kid constantly glued to their phone (which is just about every kid), this documentary may be very frightening.

The Social Dilemma, much like another Netflix doc The Great Hack (nominated for an Emmy), explores the insidious nature of social media — and how it may be controlling us. While The Great Hack looked at election manipulation, The Social Dilemma examines how algorithms are attempting to control our minute-by-minute attention — all in order to serve advertisers looking to attract eyeballs — with dangerous consequences.

Through interviews with former employees of the big tech companies and dramatic scenarios, the documentary lays out the case that social media, in its conquest to capture our attention (much like a drug), is manipulating our actions and our very perception of the world around us. To monopolize viewers’ attention, algorithms serve up a warped world that is only designed to do just that — keep us engaged. The content that it delivers is inconsequential to the impersonal algorithm (dramatically portrayed by actor Vincent Kartheiser, who many may remember from “Mad Men”), which doesn’t care how violent, slanted or downright untrue that content is. In fact, the more incendiary or untruthful, the more engaging that content is. All the algorithm (Kartheiser) cares about is how long it can keep a subject’s attention.

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The fictional sections of this hybrid doc — in which actors portray the effects of social media — work to dramatize digital control, but not always to a great effect. Some of the scenarios seem a bit overdrawn. Still, the actors help illustrate the real-world implications of social media, and in the case of Kartheiser (playing the algorithm trying to get the actors’ attention), personify the intentions of an abstract concept that many may find hard to understand.

Indeed, it is control that the algorithm wants — control of our time. And, in taking that control, the algorithm pushes our thinking and actions in directions that they might not have gone otherwise.

One of the most shocking moments in the documentary is when a tech exec — who admits to being addicted to social media — says he won’t let his children have screen time.

If social media is so dangerous that its creators won’t let their own children use it, why should we?

The Umbrella Academy: Season 2

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Action;
Not rated.
Stars Ellen Page, Tom Hooper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Colm Feore, Justin H. Min, Ritu Arya, Yusuf Gatewood, Marin Ireland, Kate Walsh.

Season two of the Netflix series “The Umbrella Academy,” which debuted July 31, is a binge-worthy, action-packed, emotional roller coaster, although it suffers from a few contrived plot points.

As the season begins, the time jump that left us on the edge of our seats at the end of season one goes awry and scatters the superhero siblings in time in and around Dallas over a three-year period starting in 1960. Some, having been stuck in the past for years, have built lives and moved on, certain they’re the only ones who have survived.

The villains this time around are a trio named “The Swedes” who are there to prevent Five from again changing the timeline as it seems the siblings brought the apocalypse back with them. “The Swedes” fulfill the same role as the iconic Hazel and Cha-Cha from season one, but they lack the same charm and comedy that made the original duo such a great part of the show. This new trio seems to have a greater history that unfortunately doesn’t get explored, leaving us with little attachment to their story.

While we may not get much in terms of backstory on “The Swedes,” season two isn’t lacking in expanded history for the members of the Umbrella Academy. We get to see more background behind the interpersonal connections of the different siblings, as well as how it affects their interactions now. The characters we already grew to love in the first season only become more fleshed out.

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However, the plot sometimes bogs down in order to present the emotional aspect of the show. Some episodes seem stretched to fill the season, as certain conflicts feel unnecessarily manufactured.

Still, despite a few weaknesses, season two is a satisfying continuation to season one of the comic book-based series, and it leaves us waiting in anticipation for the future of the Hargreeves siblings and the Umbrella Academy.

Season Two of “The Umbrella Academy” (Christos Kalohoridis/Neflix)