Men in Black: International

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

 Street Date 9/3/19;
Sony Pictures;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office: $79.66 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson.

The fourth film in the “Men in Black” franchise was supposed to freshen up the franchise with a new cast and creative team. But old habits are hard to break, and Men in Black: International ends up coming across as a bland rehash of the formula established by the original film.

It’s not the fault of the cast, who are doing their best to milk laughs out of the material. And the film looks great, with all the weird aliens, slick gadgets and kooky visual effects one would expect from a “Men in Black” movie.

The issue is that the “MIB” movies don’t seem concerned with the kind of worldbuilding needed to create a viable sci-fi mythology, like establishing a set of rules for how things work. Instead they rely on familiar gags and situations that hint at a bigger picture but ultimately don’t yield many consequences for the characters or the fictional organization they work for that is tasked with secretly defending the Earth from intergalactic threats.

The fourth film kicks off with not one but two flashbacks. In one, a young girl witnesses her parents’ memories erased by MIB agents, causing her to become obsessed with learning the secrets of the organization, which she finally stumbles upon decades later and earns a chance to prove herself as an agent. Played as an adult by Tessa Thompson, she’s dubbed agent M and assigned to the London branch, where MIB boss O (Emma Thompson) thinks something’s not quite right with the operation.

The London branch is run by High T (Liam Neeson), who a few years earlier (in the other flashback) joined agent H (Chris Hemsworth) in fighting off an alien invader named The Hive, and once you hear why they’re called that it pretty much telegraphs every potential plot twist in the movie.

Anyway, back in the present, M and H work together to investigate a potential new threat from the Hive, involving a pair of alien assassins who are looking for a superweapon on Earth, taking them on an adventure through exotic locales in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

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Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth work well together, as we’ve seen in the “Thor” and “Avengers” movies. But their pairing here seems more an attempt to coast off that buzz than come up with fresh ideas.

The shift to London, the globetrotting story and addition of Hemsworth as a suave secret agent are undoubtedly meant to give the film a “James Bond meets Men in Black” vibe, which might have been better served if the film embraced the tone such a mashup would imply, rather than lazily resorting to the familiar buddy cop vs. aliens boilerplate we’ve seen before.

The bonus materials on the Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions mostly reinforce the notion that this is merely the next iteration of a familiar franchise, with a half-hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes about the cast, stunts, production design and gadgets showing how “MIB” is being taken to the next level. But nostalgia isn’t left behind, as there’s a three-minute video recapping the earlier movies.

There’s also a bizarre three-minute NBA crossover video in which M and H discover a number of top NBA superstars are actually aliens. While these were produced as promos for the NBA playoffs around the time of the film’s theatrical run, without that context they play more as a prequel for a “Space Jam”-type movie.

The home video editions also come with a two-minute gag reel.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray are 11-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes, some of which shed new light on elements in the movie. There’s also a pair of amusing faux commercials for “MIB”-style products, one for a consumer-approved memory-wiping neuralyzer, and another for a parody ancestry website for people to discover their alien heritage. However, the Alien-cestry.com URL just leads back to the Sony Pictures home page.

‘Men In Black: International’ Due Digitally Aug. 20, on Disc Sept. 3

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release the sci-fi comedy Men in Black: International through digital retailers Aug. 20, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Sept. 3.

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson star in the fourth “Men in Black” film as the newest agents to take on an apocalyptic alien threat to Earth.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, the cast also includes Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson.

The film earned $78.6 million at the domestic box office.

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The Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions will include a gag reel and several featurettes: “In Case You’ve Been Neuralyzed: MIB Recap,” a look back at the previous films; “New Recruits, Classic Suits,” a profile of the new cast; “Let’s Do This! Inside the Action & Stunts”; “Look Right Here: Gadgets, Weapons & Rides”; “Expanding the Universe of MIB”; “Frank & Pawny’s Peanut Gallery,” in which two supporting characters share their thoughts on key scenes; “Les Twins Leave It on the Floor,” about how dance sensations Les Twins devised their alien moves; and “The MIB Meet the NBA.”

Exclusive extras with the Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray combo pack include deleted scenes; an “Alien-cestry.com” game to let viewers trace their alien ancestry; and a neuralyzer infomercial called “Neuralyzer: Like It Never Even Happened.”

 

Creed II

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/5/19;
Warner/MGM;
Drama;
Box Office $115.7 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality.
Stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, Andre Ward, Russell Hornsby, Florian Munteanu, Dolph Lundgren.

Given the premise used in 2015’s Creed to restart the “Rocky” franchise, this sequel is more or less exactly the movie the series’ fans were waiting for.

The eighth film in the “Rocky” franchise continues the story of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the young boxer who is still haunted by the legacy of his father, Apollo. Adonis faces a new challenge in the form of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of former Russian champion Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) famously defeated in 1985’s Rocky IV.

The fact Apollo died as a result of an exhibition match against Ivan Drago gives Adonis added motivation, as he seeks retribution for his family name. But Rocky doesn’t think the match is worth it, pointing out Adonis has bigger priorities in his life now, such as starting a family with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Creed II

While the film serves as a natural sequel to both Rocky IV and Creed, it borrows a lot from Rocky III in terms of story structure. While much of the plotting fits in well with the “what happens next” soap opera flow of the “Rocky” movies in general, the film is bound together by the motif of legacy, in particular the influence parents and children can have on each other that transcends generations.

In fact, two of the featurettes included with the Blu-ray are built upon this idea. The first is “The Rocky Legacy,” a 15-minute history of the “Rocky” films hosted by Lundgren that examines why the franchise has endured. The second is the seven-minute “Fathers and Sons” featurette, which takes a deeper look at how the desire to build a legacy impacts the characters involved.

Interestingly, the film adds depth to the Drago character beyond his role as the cookie-cutter villain from Rocky IV. He blames Rocky for his loss of stature following their match, and through his son he seeks a measure of revenge as well, against the fighter now seen as Rocky’s protégé.

There’s a six-minute featurette devoted to the casting of amateur boxer Munteanu as the younger Drago, and he certainly casts an intimidating shadow when standing next to Jordan’s Creed (not unlike seeing Lundgren’s towering frame over Stallone 33 years prior).

The six-minute “The Women of Creed II” focuses on the other side of the equation, Thompson as Bianca and Phylicia Rashad as Adonis’ mother representing the impact his professional struggles have on his personal life.

Finally, there are four deleted scenes running a total of 10 minutes, and a couple of them will be of particular interest to longtime “Rocky” fans.

One features the funeral of Spider Rico, who was the first boxer Rocky was seen fighting during a sparring session in the first film back in 1976. This scene adds a bit of context to one of the film’s plot developments.

Another scene serves as an epilogue to the main story, as the characters encounter each other in the locker room after the climactic fight.

While the business of Hollywood is such that it would be unwise to rule out another sequel, the conclusion of Creed II leaves the characters and viewers in a place where it would be a satisfying conclusion to the series if the particulars involved chose to leave it at that.

At least, until 2045, when the next entry sees Mickey’s great-great-grandson challenge the grandson of Clubber Lang to an MMA fight. Stay tuned, fight fans.

Second Season of ‘Westworld’ on Disc Dec. 4

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Westworld: Season Two — The Door on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on Dec. 4.

The HBO series was recently nominated for 21 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series.

In the 10-episode second season, the futuristic theme park’s robotic hosts have become aware of their existence and plot their liberation and retaliation against humankind. The cast includes Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden and Tessa Thompson.

The season will be released through digital channels July 23 with new bonus content. The Blu-ray editions will also include a digital copy of the season.

Digital and Blu-ray extras include three “Bring Yourself Back Online” featurettes: “Reflections on Season Two — Dolores, Teddy and Bernard; “Of Love and Shogun — Maeve, Hector and Lee”; and “Journeys and Technology — Stubbs, Logan and Clementine.” Also included will be the featurettes “The Buzz: On the Red Carpet” and “Return To Westworld.” Additional featurettes will be grouped under “Creating Westworld’s Reality” — “An Evocative Location,” “Fort Forlorn Hope,” “The Delos Experiment,” “Shogun World,” “Inside the Cradle,” “Chaos In The Mesa,” “Ghost Nation,” “Deconstructing Maeve,” “The Valley Beyond” and ‘The Drone Hosts.”

The Blu-ray will also include the featurettes “Paved With the Best Intentions: The Evolution of the DELOS Corp.” and “Violent Delights Have Violent .”

The limited-edition UHD Blu-ray will feature Dolby Vision. The UHD and Blu-ray editions will feature Dolby Atmos soundtracks remixed specifically for the home theater environment.

 

 

Annihilation

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $32.73 million;
$25.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.
Stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, Oscar Isaac.

Director Alex Garland is settling into a nice niche making deliberate, thought-provoking science-fiction films that defy the usual tropes of the genre.

His 2015 directorial debut Ex Machina made waves for its exploration of artificial intelligence and the nature of identity and what it means to be alive, and Annihilation deals with some of those themes as well.

Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is a sublime mix of alien invasion movie, psychological thriller and horror film. In the disc’s bonus materials, Garland discusses his apprehension in trying to adapt the source material, before settling on the strategy of, as he cleverly phrases it, adapting his subjective reaction to his reading of the book, rather than attempting a straight linear narrative.

The film stars Natalie Portman as a member of a team of scientists who explore a strange barrier that has surrounded an area of Southern swampland and continues to expand, distorting the biological processes of all life within it. The team encounters a litany of bizarre occurrences, such as different species of animals merging together. They find videos left by previous teams that explored the region, including Portman’s character’s husband, and watch their descent into madness. And the women soon realize the area is beginning to change them as well, adding urgency to the need to uncover what is happening and how to stop it.

The film is visually stunning, both for its reinterpretation of nature and also, in a twisted way, the very artistic ways the production crew has re-created the aftermath of some of the violent deaths of previous explorers. The film’s rich subtext and visual details will require multiple viewings to fully absorb Garland’s vision.

The Blu-ray includes six featurettes grouped into three categories, which all told equate to a comprehensive and insightful 75-minute behind-the-scenes documentary.

Paramount Brings ‘Annihilation’ Home in May

Paramount Home Media Distribution will release Annihilation digitally May 22 and on Blu-ray and DVD May 29.

Directed by Alex Garland, the sci-fi film stars Natalie Portman as a biologist who leads a team to investigate a beautiful but mysterious phenomenon that threatens all life on Earth. Annihilation, which earned $32.7 million at the domestic box office, also stars Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny.

The Blu-ray includes a digital copy of the film and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Thor: Ragnarok

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 3/6/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $314.97 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch.

As with any movie franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become adept and finding formulas that work and sticking to them.

As a case in point, the first two standalone “Thor” movies are generally regarded as among the weaker of the Marvel films. It’s not that they’re bad per se, it’s just that they really didn’t establish themselves much beyond a general space-fantasy epic that connected to elements of the larger Marvel films. As a character, Thor worked better in the “Avengers” films, when he had other heroes to play off of and the films could take advantage of his other-worldly nature for moments of levity and comic relief.

Over the course of 10 years, the MCU as a whole has tended to take itself less seriously, embracing the sense of fun that a comic book movie franchise should have without sacrificing the emotional connection the audience needs to have with its characters.

One of the major contributors to this change in attitude since the second “Thor” movie landed in 2013 was the arrival of two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, which are not only the most comedy-driven of the Marvel films, but they also tread in the cosmic setting that should have been Thor’s bread and butter. Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming further demonstrated that the MCU could embrace a lighter tone while still remaining true to the source material and the overarching storylines being established for the crossover films.

So, it should really come as no surprise to see Thor: Ragnarok really deconstruct the elements of the MCU’s success, what has worked for Thor in the past, and let director Taika Waititi throw them into a blender to whip up his own unique cocktail for a hilarious big screen comic book thrill ride.

The secret ingredient, as far as Waititi is concerned, it seems, is a healthy pinch of 1970s and 1980s nostalgia, as Thor is essentially re-imagined as a Saturday morning cartoon hero akin to “He-Man” accompanied by a rockin’ techno-synth soundtrack, (from Mark Mothersbaugh, whose name popping up in the credits as the composer certainly elicits a “yeah, that makes sense” reaction).

Waititi does a masterful job of re-focusing the efforts of the “Thor” films while both wrapping up previous storylines (without much fuss) and positioning the characters for the next big crossover, Avengers: Infinity War, which arrives April 27.

Thor himself is now much more irreverent, with the script playing to Chris Hemsworth’s natural comedic talents. As for finding others for Thor to play with, this film offers a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, but really hits a home run by pairing Thor with Hulk, taking advantage of a long-running rivalry between the two characters. A battle between Thor and Hulk in the gladiator pit of an alien world (inspired by the popular “Planet Hulk” comic book storyline) perfectly positions this film as a counterpoint to Captain America: Civil War, in which neither character appeared (as they were off conducting adventures in space, it would appear).

Thor’s only fighting Hulk, though, in order to escape from confinement and recruit a team to take back Asgard from his sister, Hela, the goddess of death. Hela (Cate Blanchett in a juicy performance that borders between menacing and sexy) had been imprisoned by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for being too cruel, but manages to escape to claim her father’s throne.

The setting of the gladiator planet lets the filmmakers indulge themselves in the colorful renderings of legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby’s designs, and also provide an excuse to just insert Jeff Goldblum into the film (as the Grandmaster of the games) and allow him to just be his zany self, much to the delight of the audience.

The film is a visual spectacle, reminiscent of cult favorites such as Flash Gordon or Heavy Metal, and would be a spectacular showcase for home theater 3D effects were the format not being phased out (at least in the United States. All-region 3D Blu-rays are available from overseas markets such as Europe and Australia).

The home video offers extensive bonus materials, with some exclusive to the digital versions.

The highlight of the presentation on all platforms is probably the six-minute “Team Darryl” short film, the third installment in a spoof series about Thor’s roommate on Earth. This time, with Thor off the planet, Darryl’s new roommate is the Grandmaster, and any excuse for more Goldblum in any setting is a good one.

Also included are about 40 minutes of behind the scenes featurettes, with a three-minute video about the Thor-Hulk relationship presented as a digital exclusive. Other featurettes profile the new female characters, and look at many of the new elements this film brings to the franchise. There’s also a five-minute appreciation of the 10th anniversary of the MCU.

Offering digital exclusives is fine in this case, since the disc comes with access to the digital copies, but the extras are structured differently depending on where you try to watch them, particularly where the deleted scenes are concerned.

On disc, the deleted scenes are pretty straightforward, offered one at a time. Many of them are extended sequences from an earlier conception of the film before story elements were streamlined. So the glimpse of that alternate version is fascinating on its own. The deleted scenes run about 15 minutes, compared with less than six minutes on the disc.

Note that Vudu presents the deleted scenes as a single featurette with them strung together, ending with the fun Easter Egg reference to another Marvel movie that has created some online buzz.

Lastly, there’s an introduction and solo commentary by Waititi, in which he offers a few insights about the making of the film, but mostly maintains the jokey nature he often displays in public. He describes many scenes with tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, hypes up his own skills as both a director and actor, and spends considerable time allowing his young daughter onto the microphone and reacting to her rather than what’s on the screen. No doubt fans of Waititi’s brand of performance art will eat this up, but for general MCU fans, it seems like a missed opportunity to offer a good, in depth discussion about the film.