The Matrix Resurrections

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 3/8/22;
Warner;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $37.69 million;
$19.99 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray, $29.99 UHD DVD;
Rated ‘R’ for violence and some language.
Stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

The fourth “Matrix” movie has a lot of fun with the idea of serving as a meta-commentary on the original trilogy. When it actually has to zero in on being a “Matrix” movie, it kind of hits a wall, but at least it opens the door for more movies.

At the end of the third movie in 2003, Neo and Trinity (Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Annie Moss) seemingly sacrificed themselves to bring peace between the remnants of humanity and the machines that sought to enslave them. Resurrections opens with the idea that the original story might have been a video game created by Thomas Anderson  Reeves). Then word comes down that his gaming studios’ parent company, Warner Bros., wants a fourth “Matrix,” and will do one with or without the original creative team. This is pretty much what happened in real life when the studio starting planning for a reboot of the franchise before director Lana Wachowski and Reeves signed on. So Resurrections is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek title referencing both the return of the characters thought killed off, and the long-dormant franchise itself.

Anderson is getting therapy to deal with thoughts of his life just being a computer simulation like his games, before events similar to the opening of the “Matrix” start to unfold to once more lead him back to reality (while using flashbacks to clips from the original trilogy to hammer home the point that it’s all connected).

This leads to some lengthy exposition and a healthy dose of philosophical ruminations about the nature of consciousness and free will, since it wouldn’t be a “Matrix” movie without it. Then the second half of the film is essentially an extended sci-fi action scene to hit the reset button on the premise so that Neo and Trinity can lead a new crop of characters in the fight against the machines. However, the lack of popular legacy characters such as Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus is likely to leave a lot of fans cold.

Matrix Resurrections is entertaining in parts and has some intriguing ideas, but if there are future sequels they will have a lot of heavy lifting to do to prove there’s still life left in the franchise beyond running in circles.

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The Blu-ray includes several behind-the-scenes featurettes, including a nine-minute video of various cast members awkwardly recapping the story of the original trilogy. In act many of the featurettes are somewhat introspective about examining the film within the context of the franchise.

The primary behind-the-scenes featurette is the 31-minute “Resurrecting the Matrix,” which delves into revisiting the franchise after 18 years and crafting the new installment to expand the mythology (described at one point as not another box in a series of boxes, but a box that encases the previous ones).

The eight-minute “Neo & Trinity: Return to the Matrix” gives Reeves and Moss a chance to reflect on their characters’ journeys and their own personal friendship. The eight-and-a-half-minute “Allies & Adversaries: The Matrix Remixed” features supporting cast members reflecting on the expansion of the franchise, while the six-minute “Matrix for Life” features more reflections on the franchise from the cast and filmmakers. The five-minute “I Still Know Kung-Fu” explores the making of some of the action scenes.

Rounding out the bonus materials are “The Matrix Reactions,” a series of nine videos totaling nearly 49 minutes in which members of the cast and production team discuss individual scenes.

Overall, the extras, with almost two hours of combined footage, present a pretty thorough examination of the making of the film.

Originally published as a streaming review Dec. 27, 2021.

‘Candyman’ Horror Film Due on Digital Nov. 2, Disc Nov. 16

The horror sequel Candyman will be released for home audiences in November by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment with a never-before-seen alternate ending and over an hour of bonus content, including a roundtable discussion on the impact of black horror.

The film will be released through digital retailers on Nov. 2 and become available on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray two weeks later, on Nov. 16.

Candyman was released in U.S. theaters in August, more than a year after its originally scheduled release in June 2020. The date was postponed three times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film wound up grossing more than $61 million in U.S. theaters.

Directed by Nia DaCosta, the film is a direct sequel to the 1992 film of the same name. The cast includes Vanessa Williams, Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd, reprising their roles from the original film. New cast members include Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo and Kyle Kaminsky.

The film is set in the same Chicago housing project as the original film and takes place 27 years later.  A visual artist (Abdul-Mateen II) begins to explore the macabre history of Candyman, not knowing it would unravel his sanity and unleash a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.

Bonus features include:

    • Alternate ending;
    • Deleted and extended scenes;
    • “Say My Name,” a featurette in which filmmakers and cast discuss how the horror at the center of Candyman is both timely and timeless;
    • “Body Horror,” an exploration of director DaCosta’s influences in the subgenre of body horror, and what Anthony’s physical transformation means to the story;
    • “The Filmmaker’s Eye: Nia DaCosta,” which takes a closer look at the director;
    • “Painting Chaos,” in which filmmakers reveal how  Anthony’s artwork evolves throughout the film and how they strived for authenticity in recreating Chicago’s vibrant art scene;
    • “The Art of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe,” in which the composer reveals some of the unconventional methodology he used to create the unique and haunting soundscapes sounds of the film;
    • “Terror in the Shadows,” a  behind-the-scenes look at how the analogue shadow puppetry scenes were created and an unpacking of why this ancient artistic medium was the most conceptually relevant for depicting the legends’ cycle of violence; and
    • “Candyman: The Impact of Black Horror,” a roundtable discussion moderated by Colman Domingo about the relationship black Americans have with Candyman, the horror genre and the overall idea of monsters and victims.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Drama;
Rated ‘R’ for language throughout, some violence, bloody images and drug use.
Stars Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Alex Sharp, Danny Flaherty, Noah Robbins, Ben Shenkman, John Doman, J.C. MacKenzie, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton.

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin demonstrates his continued mastery of the craft of filmmaking with this docudrama about the court trial of the leaders of the violent anti-war protests that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

While Sorkin’s screenplay does play a bit fast and loose with the chronology of actual events, the subject matter plays to his strengths as a writer with its political overtones and eclectic cast of characters. This is most emphatically not a documentary, but like Sorkin’s other historical re-creations, such as The Social Network, Steve Jobs and Molly’s Game, it provides a framework for him to tell a compelling story while highlighting the foibles, actions and heroic deeds of the people involved he considers relevant to his examination of the human condition.

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Sorkin treats the trial conducted in federal court from 1969 to 1970 as a farce, as the newly installed Nixon administration wanted to make an example of the leaders of various movements opposed to the Vietnam War. The end result is an actors’ showcase — a well-balanced array of humor and drama mixed with a bit of between-the-lines ruminations on modern America.

Standouts include Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, who delivers his lines as if they were written for Bradley Whitford 20 years ago, and Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, whose irreverence provides the film with one of its key sources of comedy. Mark Rylance gives an appropriately steady performance as William Kunstler, their lawyer, while Frank Langella shines as the judge who seems intent on doing everything he can to aid the prosecution.

Sorkin manages to keep a brisk pace thanks to some crisp editing by Alan Baumgarten, jumping between the trial and flashbacks to the Chicago riots at the center of it, as numerous undercover cops testify as to what happened.

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The attempts to demonstrate the alleged overzealousness of the police certainly draws parallels to modern times, but Sorkin seems to undercut the fervor of some of his points with depictions of evidence that contradicts them.

Still, even viewers who disagree with Sorkin’s sentiments can appreciate the sharpness of his dialogue and the skill with which his assembled cast delivers it.

Aquaman

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/26/19;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $334.52 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.
Stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ludi Lin, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison.

It’s a bit amazing to think that the Justice League member so often derided as “the one who talks to fish and is useless on land” is now the subject of the highest-grossing movie based on a DC Comics character at the worldwide box office.

Already a regular target of parody shows such as “Robot Chicken,” the Aquaman character was famously used as the centerpiece of a storyline on HBO’s “Entourage” involving a blockbuster movie version directed by James Cameron — poking fun at both Cameron’s penchant for water movies and the idea that anyone would ever make an Aquaman movie.

Well, the real film, directed by James Wan, certainly dispels any notion that Aquaman isn’t suited for the big screen. Coincidentally, with this film and Furious 7, Wan became the only director other than Cameron (with Avatar and Titanic) to guide two films from separate franchises into the global box office’s billion-dollar club.

Jason Momoa takes on the title role, his third film appearing as the character, after a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and an expanded presence in Justice League. His larger-than-life persona and carefree attitude serve the film well by helping the audience accept the bizarreness of the worlds being created without the need to take it too seriously.

Arthur Curry (Momoa) is the product of the unexpected love of a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) who ends up at his shore when she escapes an arranged marriage. Arthur’s unique heritage gives him superhuman abilities, such as strength, invulnerability, the ability to swim fast and a telepathic bond with sea creatures.

With his reputation as a hero established in Justice League, Arthur is sought out by the princess Mera (Amber Heard) to claim the throne of Atlantis from his half-brother (Patrick Wilson), who wants to destroy the surface world.

To do that, he and Mera must embark on a quest to locate a mythical weapon that will allow him to assert his claim as the rightful king of Atlantis.

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The story will draw a lot of comparisons with Black Panther in that both deal with heroes introduced in earlier films, with their own films focused on tying their origins into storylines involving taking control of their hidden kingdoms away from maniacal family members who want to conquer the outside world. Tonally, the film is more like Thor: Ragnarok, which also deals with a battle for the throne of a powerful kingdom. These recent superhero movies have certainly embraced that Shakespearean power dynamics motif lately (which may just speak to how most comic books can be reduced to a few fundamental tropes before all the personality and detail that makes them popular are added).

Aquaman

Between the “Game of Thrones”-esque political intrigue and “Indiana Jones”-style adventure subplot, much of the film’s success owes to its sense of fun and its willingness to depict absolutely anything on screen despite how absurd it is while treating it as epic. Wan fills almost every frame with fantastic imagery awash in vibrant color that really shines through in its high-definition Blu-ray presentation. Many of the scenes look as if Wan pulled them directly from a comic book, and even makes Aquaman’s traditional orange and green costume look cool, which should no doubt please fans of the character.

The Blu-ray includes more than an hour-and-a-half of featurettes detailing all the aspects of the production, from Momoa’s casting, to the stunt work, to the development of the depictions of the undersea kingdoms that comprise the Atlantean realms.

One of the more interesting videos in this regard is the “Kingdoms of the Seven Seas,” a profile of underwater politics hosted by Dolph Lundgren, who plays the ruler of one of them. Between this and his recent turn in a “Rocky” retrospective on the Creed II Blu-ray, Lundgren has been pretty busy on the Warner lot hosting bonus videos.

Another interesting tidbit comes during an analysis of the film’s memorable sequence involving the devolved creatures of the Trench, which plays to Wan’s horror roots. At one point, an excited Wan suggests the Trench should be the basis of its own movie. Unsurprisingly, a Trench spinoff has already been announced.

Finally, the disc includes a three-minute scene from the upcoming Shazam! movie.