Babylon

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/21/23;
Paramount;
Drama;
Box Office $15.35 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $35.99 UHD BD, $44.99 4K Steelbook;
Rated ‘R’ for strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, bloody violence, drug use, and pervasive language.
Stars Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, P.J. Byrne, Lukas Haas, Olivia Hamilton, Max Minghella, Rory Scovel, Katherine Waterston, Tobey Maguire, Flea, Jeff Garlin, Eric Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Samara Weaving, Olivia Wilde, Spike Jonze.

Just in case the trailers hadn’t fully prepared viewers for what they are in for with Babylon, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s lavish tale of Hollywood excess in the silent-movie era, the film’s opening moments will set a tone that is not for the faint of heart.

In the first scene, a day laborer is sprayed with dung by an elephant he’s helping transport to a fancy party. A minute later, a corpulent attendee of said rave is shown being urinated on during a dalliance with a flapper (a clear reference to the Fatty Arbuckle scandal).

And that’s just the first five minutes of a film whose three-hour runtime will test viewers’ patience as much as its fluidic humor will test their gag reflexes. Babylon is a beautiful paradox of a film in which the glitz and glamour of grand villas, magnificent costumes and epic setpieces are counterbalanced by grotesque orgies, mind-numbing narcotics and underground freak shows.

A former jazz drummer, Chazelle seemed to have a found a nice filmmaking niche at the intersection of music and cinema with films such as Whiplash and La La Land. But then he made First Man, turning the inherently patriotic journey of America’s first voyage to the moon into a depressing treatise on grief. So, who can blame him for going for broke with Babylon?

The film is an Altman-esque portrait of a handful of archetypal characters navigating their way through Hollywood in the late 1920s, when the advent of talkies revolutionized the motion-picture industry. Brad Pitt plays Jack Conrad, an aging star rejected by audiences once they hear him recite the insipid dialogue he’s asked to perform. Margot Robbie is the stereotypical “It” girl who seeks nothing but superstardom and a perpetual party. Jovan Adepo plays a black jazz musician whose career is transformed by shorts of him playing the trumpet, and just as easily curtailed by racist attitudes. The list goes on.

The central thread weaving these stories together is Manny Torres (Diego Calva), as close as a stand-in for the audience there could be for this picture. He’s a Mexican migrant who dreams of working for the studios, and gets his chance thanks to being in the right place at the right time. He quickly rises through the ranks until he learns the quintessential lesson of Hollywood: There is no dream that can’t be shattered by bad timing and loving the wrong person.

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The transition from silents to sound was also the focus of 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain, a film that has had a rather obvious influence on Chazelle’s creative perspectives. He made his grand love story musical with La La Land, and now covers the Hollywood history aspects of Singin’ in the Rain with Babylon. Given there are several direct references to Singin’ in the Rain within Babylon, Chazelle isn’t being subtle with the parallels.

Chazelle’s opus is certainly not lacking for ideas, and as muddled as it is at times, Babylon is long enough to indulge most of them (there’s another nine minutes of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray). The production values are impeccable, the boisterous jazz-infused score by Justin Hurwitz is fantastic, and the character journeys themselves are not altogether uncompelling (one of the film’s better running jokes is that Conrad seems to have a different new wife in every scene).

But these characters aren’t singing in rain. They usually end up dancing in poop and piss and vomit, a visual metaphor for how Hollywood will shit on anyone for the sake of meaningless profligacy.

Dramatizing the days before workplace protections and safety regulations, Babylon depicts people literally dying on sets for the sake of art, an uncontrolled chaos that seems less concerning to the filmmakers of the day than getting the perfect shot before the sun goes down. Characters are less interested in their future well being than in maintaining the delusion that the good times will continue forever. Even when confronted with the reality that all things must end, they are offered the comfort of film itself being the source of immortality, its stars the ghosts of a bygone era.

Of course, there’s a question unspoken by the film that lingers above the overindulgence: Was it worth it? Around 90% of the films shot during the silent era are now considered lost — ghosts with no one left to haunt.

Chazelle skirts this issue with a thesis that the silent era and its response to the advent of sound in films served as an important foundation for the industry to come, and its countless technological leaps forward. And in that regard, he becomes yet another filmmaker presenting an ode to the magic of going to the movies — even the ones that symbolically spray feces on the audience.

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In addition to six deleted and extended scenes, the Blu-ray offers three informative behind-the-scenes featurettes. The 31-minute “A Panoramic Canvas Called Babylon” is a comprehensive look at the production as a whole, supplemented by the three minute “The Costumes of Babylon,” which is self-explanatory, and the two-minute “Scoring Babylon,” about Hurwitz’s Oscar-nominated music.

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

DIGITAL REVIEW:

Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $28.14 million;
$19.99 VOD, $24.99 Digital Purchase;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language.
Stars Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah.

Fans of “G.I. Joe” know four traits about Snake Eyes, the mysterious black-clad commando of the team, that tend to stay consistent throughout the various iterations of the lore: He doesn’t talk, he wears a mask because he’s disfigured, he was an American soldier before joining G.I. Joe, and he trained in martial arts with the Arashikage ninja clan alongside Storm Shadow, who would go on to join Cobra.

This prequel look at Snake Eyes’ origins doesn’t bother with three of them and instead focuses solely on the ninja stuff.

What we do get is enough of a departure from established lore that it’s hard to tell who exactly this movie is for. Fans won’t be interested in a Snake Eyes movie in which he talks and doesn’t wear a mask, and for mainstream audience the movie plays more like a generic fantasy about a ninja family feud. References to the counter-terrorist team G.I. Joe fighting the global terror group Cobra are at least shoehorned in to connect it to the franchise’s main storyline.

Another common trait in previous depictions of Snake Eyes in comic books, cartoons and the earlier “Joe” movies was that he was a white serviceman who took up with the Arashikage clan, making for something of a cultural dichotomy (not unlike The Karate Kid).

It’s a heck of a legacy for a character that started off as an action figure molded in pure black as a cost-saving measure to round out the first wave of a collection of soldiers in the early 1980s.

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But, fearful of any hints of cultural appropriation in these hyper-sensitive times, in this movie he’s played by Henry Golding, who is half Asian (Malaysian on his mother’s side, British on his father’s). Snake Eyes is presented as the son of a spy who is murdered, taking his name from a set of loaded dice rolled by his father’s killer to determine his fate.

Growing up seeking revenge, Snake Eyes is recruited into the Yakuza by Kenta (Takehiro Hira). In a scene reminiscent of Batman Begins, Kenta orders Snake Eyes to kill a man caught spying on the Yakuza, but Snake Eyes instead spares his life and helps him escape. That man, Tommy (Andrew Koji), is the heir to the leadership of the Arashikage clan, and also the cousin of Kenta, who was cast out by the clan and seeks revenge of his own.

Tommy welcomes Snake Eyes into the clan and trains him in the ways of the ninja. The clan’s mission is to guard an ancient magical stone that can burn people with the power of thought, a weapon that Kenta wants to get his hands on so much that he’s aligned with the Cobra agent the Baroness (Ursula Corbero). She’s being tracked by “G.I. Joe” trooper Scarlett (Samara Weaving), thus providing Snake Eyes a connection to his future team.

The plot turns on a series of betrayals and double crosses, and there’s plenty of action to make this a decent run-of-the-mill martial arts movie. But with the “G.I. Joe” label slapped on, the character at the center of it doesn’t feel much like the Snake Eyes fans know.

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Among the extras included with the digital version of the film, and which also will be available with the future disc release, are five deleted scenes that run about 30 seconds each — too short to have much impact.

There are also four featurettes: the nine-and-a-half-minute “Enter Snake Eyes,” a look at the making of the film; “A Deadly Ensemble,” about the cast and the characters they play; a seven minute look at the Arashikage clan; and a three-minute short film about the history of Snake Eyes’ sword, Morning Light. Interwoven throughout is an interview with Larry Hama, the comic book writer who created the original storylines for most of the characters.

Snake Eyes arrives on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 19. Note that the 4K edition does not include a regular Blu-ray copy.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 11/10/20;
Warner/MGM;
Sci-Fi Comedy;
Box Office $3.4 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some language.
Stars Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor, Kid Cudi, William Sadler, Jillian Bell, Hal Landon Jr., Beck Bennett, Amy Stoch.

The third “Bill & Ted” movie, coming 29 years after the second, turns the lengthy gap between sequels into an asset while bringing fans back into the familiar world of the franchise.

The film is something of homage to and an amalgam of the first two, which saw an emissary from the future, Rufus (played by the late George Carlin, who gets a tribute in the new film), travel back in time 700 years to put young slackers Bill and Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) on course to bring about universal harmony with the music of their band, Wyld Stallyns.

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In the first film, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Rufus lends them a time machine in the shape of a phone booth to travel into the past to collect historical figures to pass their history report and graduate high school, assuring they can remain together. The second film, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, saw the duo the target of a future warlord who despises that society took inspiration from them. The robots he sends into the past to hunt them down succeed in killing them, but Bill and Ted are able to navigate the afterlife with the help of the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) to return to Earth, stop the robots, and win a battle of the bands on their path to superstardom.

As the third film opens, however, Bill and Ted have yet to write the song that will bring about global unity, and continue their desperate efforts to do so. Their lack of success has begun to tear the fabric of reality apart, leading to another emissary from the future, Rufus’ daughter (Kristen Schaal), to bring them a message from the Great Leader (Holland Taylor) chastising them for not fulfilling the prophecy.

Accordingly, Bill and Ted decide to visit their own future selves to try to find the song they were supposed to have written.

Meanwhile, their grown daughters Billie and Thea (Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving), who were introduced as babies at the end of Bogus Journey, come up with a plan to go back in time to gather the greatest musicians in history to form the ultimate band to help their dads.

Meanwhile, the Great Leader re-interprets the prophecy of how Bill and Ted influence future society, and after coming to the conclusion they have to die to restore reality, sends a robot back in time to do the deed.

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Even under the direction of Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest), Face the Music can’t match the energy levels of the first two films. This isn’t that surprising, though, since the film is dealing with the central theme of trying to live up to your potential even if the ability to do so seems to have passed you by. It’s a fun adventure that should elicit and lot of warm nostalgia smiles.

The Blu-ray comes with a handful of extras, led by the film’s 43-minute Comic-Con@Home panel. Hosted by Kevin Smith, whose Jay and Silent Bob characters drew obvious inspiration from Bill and Ted, the panel features several of the stars and key filmmakers participating through Zoom to discuss the making of the film and the origins of the franchise. The fact that the physical San Diego Comic-Con had to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and replaced by an online one may prove to be something of a boon to Blu-ray and DVD bonus features, as the Virtual panels are yielding a slew of neatly packaged videos ready to plop on a disc or YouTube.

The other extras aren’t so extensive, consisting of four short promotional featurettes ranging from 50 to 80 seconds each.

 

‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’ Due on Disc Nov. 10

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Bill & Ted Face the Music on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Nov. 10. The film, which is currently available for premium VOD rental and purchase from MGM and Orion Pictures, will be released via standard digital sellthrough Oct. 20, and standard VOD Nov. 10.

The third film in the “Bill & Ted” franchise, following 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, finds Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reprising their roles as the time traveling title duo, who are tasked with emissaries from the future with writing the song that will unite humanity for all time.

The film was slated for a wide theatrical release over the summer that was pushed back as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, it was released via PVOD and in a handful of theaters that opened after quarantine restrictions were lifted, earning $3.3 million at the domestic box office.

Directed by Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”) and written by franchise creators Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, Bill & Ted Face the Music also stars William Sadler, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carritan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Hal Landon Jr., Beck Bennett, Amy Stoch, Jillian Bell and Holland Taylor.

The Blu-ray and DVD will include a “Be Excellent to Each Other” featurette. The Blu-ray will also include the featurettes “A Most Triumphant Duo,” “Death’s Crib” and “Social Piece (Excellence),” and the Bill & Ted Face the Music Comic-Con@Home panel.

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‘Ready or Not’ Coming to Digital Nov. 26, Disc Dec. 3

The comedic horror film Ready or Not will come out on digital Nov. 26 and DVD and Blu-ray Disc Dec. 3 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The film earned $28.7 million in domestic theaters.

In the film, a young bride (Samara Weaving) competes in a time-honored tradition with her new husband (Mark O’Brien) and his insanely rich and eccentric Le Domas family (Adam Brody, Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell). The bride’s wedding night takes a turn for the worst when she realizes she is at the center of a lethal game of Hide and Seek and must fight her not-so-loveable in-laws for her own survival.

Special features include a making-of documentary, gag reel and audio commentary by Radio Silence and Weaving.

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