HBO Max Meets Troubled Times With ‘A World of Calm’ Series

WarnerMedia’s SVOD service HBO Max has ordered the 10-episode “A World of Calm,” a TV experience that combines mesmeric imagery with narration by stars — including Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Lucy Liu, Cillian Murphy and Keanu Reeves.

HBO Max’s first project in the health and wellness space, “A World of Calm” is the result of a collaboration between the makers of Calm, the app for sleep, meditation and relaxation, and Nutopia, the team behind Nat Geo’s series “One Strange Rock.”

“A timely antidote for our modern lives, each half-hour episode takes audiences on an immersive visual journey into another world,” according to the press release.

“Building on Calm’s Sleep Stories — bedtime stories for grown-ups with more than 250 million listens — each relaxing tale is designed to transform how you feel,” the release states. “Transporting the viewer into tranquility through scientifically-engineered narratives, enchanting music and astounding footage, to naturally calm your body and soothe the mind, each story is brought to life by a different iconic voice.”

“With the considerable amount of stress and chaos we are all experiencing at this particularly challenging time, we could all use a bit of guided relaxation and ‘A World of Calm’ is here to help,” Jennifer O’Connell, EVP of non-fiction and kids programming for HBO Max, said in a statement. “With soothing imagery and tranquil narration, this is one HBO Max original that we hope becomes part of your daily routine.”

“We are thrilled to work with such amazing partners as HBO Max and Calm for this new cutting edge endeavor,” Nutopia CEO and founder Jane Root said in a statement. “Although this collaboration has been in the works for many months, this series has been entirely created during quarantine using Nutopia’s worldwide network of award-winning cinematographers and filmmakers. We hope this series of serene stories will bring a sense of much needed calm to audiences.”

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“Calm started life as a meditation app but the brand has evolved far beyond that,” Calm co-founder and co-CEO Michael Acton Smith said in a statement. “We are delighted to bring the magic behind our audio Sleep Stories to the screen for the first time.  These experiences are visual Valium and will help people relax and unwind during these stressful times.”

The series is co-produced by Calm and Nutopia with Root, Nicola Moody, Smith and Chris Advansun serving as executive producers, and Sara Brailsford and Fiona Caldwell as co-executive producers.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 3/19/19;
Sony Pictures;
Animated;
Box Office $189.87 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language.
Voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoë Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine.

One of the Holy Grails of adapting a comic book to film is the idea of evoking the feeling of reading a comic while watching the story play out. Filmmakers have tried different techniques over the years to achieve this, such as brighter colors or hyper-stylized action, to varying effect, with the best results often focusing on just telling the story in a way that brings the spirit of the work into a different medium.

Animation would seem to be closer to the artistic foundations of comic books, but often present challenges of their own.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is probably the closest a movie has come to finding that sweet spot between telling a comic book story while immersing the viewer in the fantastic art that is often unique to the panel-to-panel format.

Its innovative animation style, layering hand-drawn animation over CGI, combined with a thrilling story of self-discovery are just a few of the reasons Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.

The film is a deft blending of self-parody with an ambitious attempt by Sony Pictures to explore new aspects of the Spider-Man concept while the live-action version of the character is on loan to Marvel Studios.

In particular, the film is an adaptation of the Miles Morales version of the character, a mixed-race teenager who gains the powers of Spider-Man in an alternate reality in which Peter Parker is killed.

In the film, Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore), stumbles upon a plot by the villainous gangster Kingpin (Live Schreiber) to open a portal into alternate dimensions in search of replacement versions of his recently deceased wife and son. The plan goes awry when versions of Spider-Man from a variety of realities began to appear, and they team up to help Miles learn how to control his new powers and figure out how to return home before Kingpin’s machine damages the multiverse.

The alternate versions of Spider-Man really let the creative team shine with the parody aspects of the film by introducing characters in a variety of styles. There’s a late-30s Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) who has become depressed after years of being a hero has left his personal life in shambles; there’s Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage girl version of Spidey; there’s Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a black-and-white private detective from the 1930s; there’s an anime version involving a little girl and her pet robot from the future; and there’s Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), essentially Porky Pig in a Spider-Man costume.

The combination of the various versions offers not only some of the best laughs ever to be had with a superhero movie, but make for a terrific tribute to what has made Spider-Man such an iconic character over the years. There’s also a post-credits sequence that really takes it up a notch in that regard.

It’s enough to thrill longtime fans of the character, particularly the Miles Morales version, while providing enough nods to the aspects of the mythology that most average viewers would already be familiar with so as not to need to be an avid comics reader to follow along.

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The Blu-ray is loaded with a ton of bonus material, including the new animated short “Spider-Ham: Caught in a Ham,” which serves as a prequel to the film in showing us a Spider-Ham adventure that was interrupted when he gets pulled into Miles’ reality.

In addition, there’s an “Alternate Universe Mode” for the movie in which some scenes are replaced with storyboards of earlier concepts, as a way for the filmmakers to ponder how the film could have turned out. It runs about 26 minutes longer than the theatrical cut (which comes in at 117 minutes) and even starts with the Spider-Ham short.

The regular version of the film includes a commentary with the filmmakers, which is a nice guide to how the various creative decisions evolved to get to the final movie, including casting decisions and the re-imagining of certain well-known characters.

Many of the topics are covered in specific featurettes as well.

The eight-minute “We Are Spider-Man” examines the key messages of the film, while the five-minute “Spider-Verse: A New Dimension” deals with the animation style and techniques for adapting the comics.

The 15-minute “The Ultimate Comics Cast” showcases the actors involved in the film and what makes them such a good fit for their characters. The two-part “Designing Cinematic Comics Characters” offers an eight-minute look at the design of the heroes, and five-minutes devoted to the creation of the villains.

“The Spider-Verse Super-Fan Easter Egg Challenge” is a five-minute video that points out some of the references hidden throughout the film, while inviting viewers to look for more.

There’s also the eight-and-a-half-minute “A Tribute to Stan Lee & Steve Ditko,” the co-creators of Spider-Man who both passed away in 2018. Stan Lee recorded one of his famous cameos for the film.

Finally, the disc includes music lyric videos for two songs, “Sunflower” and “Familia.”

There are also some digital-exclusive bonus featurettes. The three-minute “Another, Another Times Square” provides a primer on the concept of alternate realities, the minute-and-a-half “Meanwhile, in a Gassy Universe” is a juvenile montage of various clips from the film with dialogue replaced by fart sounds (no doubt the work of Spider-Ham).

Vudu has a minute-long “An All-Star Cast” promotional video, while Movies Anywhere provides videos for how to draw Miles and Gwen, about three minutes for each character.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Warner Releasing ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ Digitally Feb. 15, on Disc March 12

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald digitally Feb. 15, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 12.

The film is the 10th entry in the “Wizarding World” franchise, a sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and a prequel to the “Harry Potter” films.

The Blu-ray and the 4K UHD Blu-ray combo pack will include a digital download of an extended cut of the film with more than seven minutes of additional footage.

The film was written by “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling and directed by David Yates. The story involves Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruiting Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to stop the threat of the recently escaped magical criminal Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) from raising an army of pure-blood wizards to rule over non-magical beings.

The cast also includes Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Carmen Ejogo and Poppy Corby-Tuech.

Crimes of Grindelwald earned $158.5 million at the domestic box office.

Home video extras include an audio introduction by Yates, deleted scenes; the featurettes “J.K. Rowling: A World Revealed,” “Wizards on Screen, Fans in Real Life” and “Distinctly Dumbledore”; and “Unlocking Scene Secrets” featurettes including “The Return to Hogwarts,” “Newt’s Menagerie,” “Credence, Nagini and the Circus Arcanus,” “Paris and Place Cachée,” “Ministere des Affaires Magiques” and “Grindelwald’s Escape and the Ring of Fire.”

The 4K edition will feature Dolby Vision HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.