Jackie Chan vehicle out-actions Wonder Woman

By Tom Von Malder | Apr 05, 2021
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Chris Pine and Gal Gadot return in "Wonder Woman 1984."

Owls Head — Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Bros., 4K + Blu-ray or Blu-ray + DVD, PG-13, 151 min.). There are things to like in “WW84,” especially the prologue and the return of Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, but the movie is seriously overstuffed and could have done without the Cheetah subplot entirely. Directed once again by co-writer Patty Jenkins (2017’s “Wonder Woman”) and once more starring the luminous Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/ Wonder Woman, the film is set in the middle of Ronald Regan-era heightened consumerism, but yields the cautionary thought that life is good as it is and not all of one’s wishes need to be fulfilled.

That greed and avarice is portrayed in a fun way in the recreation of a three-story mall – with all 65 stores totally decked out – and more centrally in the character of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal of Disney’s “The Mandalorian”), who steals an ancient dream stone and then makes his one wish that he become the dream stone to others. The mall scene in which Wonder Woman does a lot of lasso work to thwart some jewelry store robbers is a lot of fun, but it also is one of several instances of the film’s excess. Lord starts as a TV pitchman for his Black Gold Corp. via an everywhere infomercial, but it really is a Ponzi scheme, as all the oil well sites he has bought have come up empty. However, once Lord has his hands on the citrine or dream stone, he is able to make all his dreams come true, and then the dreams of others, with him taking some of their wealth in return for granting their wish.

The jewelry store in the mail ran a behind-the-scenes black market in antiquities, one of which was the citrine, which is then turned over to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. for research and appraisal. Klutzy Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig of “Bridesmaids”) is new at the Smithsonian, where Diana has been hiding out, with occasional Wonder Woman rescues on the side (think early Superman). Barbara is given the stone to study, but Lord charms her into letting him have it and his plans towards ultimate power commence.

While they handle the stone, Barbara and Diana both inadvertently make wishes that come true. Barbara’s is that she could be more like Diana, whose composure and popularity she admires, while Diana wishes for her long-lost, deceased love, pilot Steve. Barbara gets more than she wished for because being like Diana means she also has Wonder Woman’s strength, and her interactions and even protection of Lord lead to her transformation into Cheetah and a swinging-through-the-air showdown with Diana. Diana’s surprise is much sweeter, as her dead boyfriend is back in another man’s body, only she and the audience see him played by Pine.

There are three central relationships here. One is the friendship between Barbara and Diana, who basically has stayed by herself since Steve’s death back in 1917. There is the strained, but loving relationship between Lord and his young son, whom he only occasionally has custody of. That relationship seems merely to serve to humanize Lord. The third and most endearing is between Diana and Steve, and the growing understanding that she will eventually have to renounce her wish, as Steve’s presence has meant she is losing some of her strength. Having Steve back, by the way, means the audience gets to see all his reactions to all the “amazing” advancements over the last six decades, including parachute pants.

A highlight of the movie, although really an unnecessary sequence, is the wonderful 11-mionute prologue in which young Diana competes against adult Amazons in a multi-part race. The sequence really flows and 10-year-old Lilly Aspell, who plays young Diana and does all her own stunt work, is truly amazing.

The extras are good and include a look at the making of the film, which includes co-writer Geoff Johns, producer Charles Roven, director Jenkins, cast members, set designer and costumer (36:23). There also are induvial looks at how the open road/ convoy attack (6:11) and mall (5:03) scenes were put together – Jenkins should be applauded for going with in-camera and real stunt work wherever possible. One featurette looks at Aspell as young Diana on Themyscera (10:44), while another looks at Gadot and Wiig in the film (5:10), plus they do two fun video shorts (1:12) and are prominent in the gag reel (6:26). A DC FanDome virtual chat (21:28) includes the mostly Amazon actors and some crew heads. Other shorts are a retro mix of the “Wonder Woman” song set to scenes from the film (1:40) and Lord’s Black Gold TV commercial (1:38). Grade: film and extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Vanguard (China, Lionsgate, Blu-ray or DVD, PG-13, 107 min.). There is a lot more concentrated action, and plenty of eye-pleasing fighting that includes a lot of leg work, in this film that has Jackie Chan play Huating Tang, the chief executive officer of Vanguard, a world-wide security firm. At first, I thought we were only going to see Chan stuck behind a desk, but his character eventually gets involved in the action, which is to rescue an animal rights/ anti-poacher activist (the beautiful Ruohan Xu as Fareeda, who also models), who has been kidnapped to force her father (Jackson Lou as Qin Guoli) to reveal the whereabouts of the late Maasym’s gold horde, as the Brotherhood of Vengeance wants to use the gold to buy a weapon of mass destruction.

The film was written and directed by Stanley Tong’s whose last film was “Kung Fu Yoga” (2017), also starring Chan. He also directed Chan in “Rumble in the Bronx” (1995), “Jackie Chan’s First Strike” (1996), “Supercop” (1992) and “Supercop 2” (1993).

The opening sequence takes place in London, where Qin and his wife are targeted by an Arctic Wolves team, led by Broto (Brahim Chab). The kidnap attempt is almost thwarted by Vanguard agents Lei Zhenyu (the very handsome Yang Yang of “The King’s Avatar,” “Love 020”) and Zang Xaixuan (Lun Ai of “Never Say Die,” “The Human Comedy”).

The film is briskly paced and includes car chases – some involving a car that turns into a boat and another that involves six cars made of gold – and a Jet Ski-boat chase heading towards a waterfall, plus lots of gunplay and hand-to-foot combat. Even good-guy hoverboards are used in one attack, and they have spy drones disguised as birds and bees. Some of the car stunts are incredible. Chan is not involved in the fighting as much as in past films, but, after all, he is 66 now. The locations are used well and colorful, covering nine cities in five countries, including the Brotherhood of Vengeance’s fortress city of Jiadebala (fictional, but in Zambia) and the closing sequence in Dubai. There even is a brief jungle interlude with quite the animal photography hideaway.

There are outtakes and behind-the-scenes filming looks during the closing credits. The bonus feature is a brief making-of (7:51), with director Tong speaking in English. Vanguard’s female agent is MI Yas, played by Miya Muqi, who trained for three years for the action role. Grade: film 3 stars; extra 1 star

Our Friend (2019, Universal, DVD, R, 126 min.). The film is very well acted, but ultimately too long and depressing. Based on a 2015 award-winning Esquire article by Matthew Teague, the film tells the true story of his wife Nicole’s terminal cancer diagnosis and the effect it had on their family and how the couple’s best friend, Dane Faucheux, came to stay with them and help with Nicole’s care and taking care of the Teagues’ two daughters. The screenplay is by Brad Ingelsby (“The Way Back” with Ben Affleck) and the film is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, with the two choosing needlessly to continually go back and forth in time.

The ovarian cancer diagnosis comes in 2012. The film goes from 2013 to 2000 to 2012 to 2008 to 2013 to 2010 to 2013 to 2011 to 2014. It really is too much fracturing of the narrative.

This film stars the other Affleck, Casey (“Manchester By the Sea,” “Gone Baby Gone”) as Matthew, with Dakota Johnson (the “Fifty Shades” trilogy) as Nicole and Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “The Muppets”) as Dane. Affleck’s Matthew, who becomes a magazine war correspondent, is moody and brooding. He suffers in silence a lot, but is prone to fainting in moments of stress. Despite his life overseas, he is faithful to Nicole. Nicole is warm and giving, with a strength that helps her succeed as an actress. Dane is a bit lost, stuck in a sporting goods store job that everyone says should only be temporary, but he has become good friends with both Matthew and Nicole, having first been Nicole’s stage manager, who once asked her out on a date, not knowing she was married. Dane is particularly good interacting with the two girls, Molly (Isabella Kai of TV’s “Pretty Little Liars”) and younger Evie (Violet McGraw of “Doctor Sleep,” “Ready Player One”).

The film is best at the little details of how a family copes with a terminal cancer situation and it addresses the seldom-talked-of subject of caregiver fatigue. It also touches on the breakdown of Nicole’s personality and her psychosis as the end nears.

The sole bonus feature is a behind-the-scenes look with the cast and the real Matthew Teague (16:17). Grade” film 3 stars; extras 1.5 stars

The Bermuda Depths (1978, Warner Archive, Blu-ray, NR, 97 min.). Intended as a theatrical release, this film “about the giant turtle” debuted on the TV screen in America, although it had a short Japanese theatrical run. It stars veteran TV actor Leigh McCloskey (“Rich Man, Poor Man,” “Dallas,” “Santa Barbara,” “General Hospital”) as Magnus Dens, who returns to the Bermuda island where he grew up with his biologist father so he can find out more about his father’s death.

The film, written by William Overgard (“The Last Dinosaur,” TV’s “Thundercats”) from a story by producer Arthur Rankin Jr. (the animated “The Hobbit,” “The Year Without Christmas,” as well as “The Last Dinosaur,” “Thundercats”), was directed by Tom Kotani (”The Last Dinosaur,” “The Bushido Blade”) and is hypnotic and hazy. It is a bit sleepy at times too, saving the actual monster until near the very end.

While on the beach, Magnus reconnects with Jennie Haniver (Connie Sellecca of TV’s “The Greatest American Hero,” “Hotel”), whom he believes is the same little girl he used to play on the beach with and whose initial, along with his, he carved of the baby turtle they watched hatch. However, Jennie, who has her own theme song by the way, is also the name of a local legend, a woman who sold her soul to the devil beneath the Bermuda Triangle for eternal beauty and so she would not die in a storm. On the other hand, Magnus’ father was killed when a storm destroyed their oceanside cottage.

Returning to the island, Magnus, who is said to have had psychiatric care, meets up with old friend Eric (Carl Weathers of “Predator,” two “Rocky” films), who is using his boat to aid Dr. Paulis (singer Burl Ives of producer Rankin Jr.’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”), a former associate of Dr. Dens who is continuing their study of gigantism in ocean life. Overall, the story is kind of weak, but the means of telling it has its moments.

The film is presented in a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, with the option of watching it in two formats: the open-matte version shown on TV or the widescreen 1.85:1 version only shown in Japanese theaters. The TV version comes with audio commentary by author/film historian Amanda Reyes and Kindertrauma Website founder Lance Vaughan, who is louder and contributes some extraneous noises (maybe he is on speakerphone?). They point out the Adam and Eve parallels, and apple iconology, in the film. Grade: film and extras 2 stars

Journeys Through French Cinema (France, Cohen Media Group, 2 Blu-rays, NR, 459 min.). This eight-part series is filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier’s follow-up to his Cesar-nominated, 210-minute tour through French cinema, “My Journey Through French Cinema” (2017). In this new series, the acclaimed director of such films as “Coup de Torchon” and “‘Round Midnight” guides the viewer through a roster of filmmakers both influential and forgotten, explores how his country’s cinema was shaped by the German occupation, including its impact on the Resistance, and changed again through the New Wave, spotlights little-known female filmmakers, and more. Subjects include: René Clément, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Julien Duvivier, Henri Decoin, Claude Autant-Lara, as well as composers who made movie music an art in and of itself, far from the Hollywood spotlight.

He begins with the somewhat forgotten Jean Gremillon, who made films in the 1940s and 1950s, but had many unfinished projects as he did not get along with producers, according to Tavernier. The first two episodes cover Tavernier’s “go-to filmmakers.” After discussing Gremillon’s films, with brief clips, he talks about the composers Gremillon worked with. Episode three is about “Les Chansons, Julien Duvivier,” going even deeper into film music. Grade: series 4 stars

4K upgrades

The Ten Commandments (1956, Paramount, 4K Ultra HD + 2 Blu-rays, G, 231 min.). This Easter time staple was one of the crowning achievements of director Cecil B. DeMille career with its story of the life of Moses. The film was restored in 2010, being scanned in 6K, with those files becoming the basis of this brand-new, gorgeous Dolby Vision version, which shows off the full beauty of the original VistaVision negative. Paramount spent more than 150 hours doing new color work and clean-up on the scan.

This version includes an introduction by DeMille, an intermission, an overture/exit music card and an entr’acte card, along with a DTS-HD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. An audio commentary is provided by Katherine Orrison, author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic ‘The Ten Commandments.’” The commentary is on both the 4K and Blu-ray versions. Also, the Blu-ray has newsreel footage of the film’s New York premiere and a 10-minute making-of trailer.

Moses story, of course, is very familiar, with the infant sent down the Nile in a basket. Here, the adult is played by Charlton Heston (“Planet of the Apes,” “Ben Hur”), who has been raised by Pharoah Ramses I’s daughter Bithiah (Nina Foch). Moses becomes an excellent military leader, winning victory in Ethiopia. On his return, he falls in love with Nefretiri (Anne Baxter of “All About Eve,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” TV’s “Hotel”), who is destined to wed the next pharaoh, which would be Ramses (Yul Brynner of “The Magnificent Seven,” “The King and I,” “Westworld”). When Ramses learns of Moses’ Hebrew origin, he has his father exile Moses, who already has begun working to correct the captive Hebrews’ plight.

The film won an Oscar for Best Effects, Special Effects for John P. Fulton. It received six other Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Recording and Best Film Editing. Heston was nominated for a Golden Globe.

Godzilla (2014, Warner Bros., 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, PG-13, 123 min.). Directed by Gareth Edwards (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”), the film represented a return and a reboot for the world’s most famous movie monster. It also spawned the less successful sequel, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019). “Godzilla vs. Kong” has just been released. This version comes with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

According to the film, 15 years ago, two chrysalises were discovered by Project MONARCH scientists Drs. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins). One of them is empty and a trail leads to the open ocean nearby. Meanwhile, supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston of TV’s “Your Honor,” “Breaking Bad”) of Japan's Janjira nuclear power plant detects unusual activity underground and sends a team, including his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche of “The English Patient”), to investigate. Before long, a full-on catastrophe befalls the plant and surrounding area as the Brodys' son Ford looks on in horror. In the present day, an adult Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of “Nowhere Man,” two “Kick-Ass” films) has returned from military duty to his own wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde). Ford has little contact with his estranged father, who is convinced that a cover-up ruined his life and career. Then, the unusual activity returns.

Carried over from the previous Blu-ray are a three-part “MONARCH Declassified” (14 ½ min.) and a four-part look at Godzilla (39 ½ min.).

Gattaca (1997, Sony Steelbook, 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, PG-13, 106 min.). In this limited edition Steelbook release of the science fiction film, Ethan Hawke (“Training Day,” the “Before” trilogy) plays Vincent Freeman, considered a mistake in his society where those born naturally and without the aid of genetic engineering are relegated to a substandard social class, while Individuals who have been selectively bio-engineered are considered valid. Being the child of a natural birth, Vincent's abilities are looked over and he is judged on his pre-disposition to myopia and heart disease, both of which have been nearly eradicated from the population. As an "in-valid," Vincent is forced to work as a manual laborer and has been given a life expectancy of only 30 years.

However, Vincent had a childhood dream of being an astronaut. He decides to take on the identity of Jerome (Jude Law of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Young Pope,” “The New Pope”), a valid with a perfect pedigree, but who has suffered a spinal injury and is confined to a wheelchair. Vincent infiltrates the ranks of the Gattaca Aerospace Corp. space program, where he excels and is quickly slated to pilot a mission to Saturn. Then, a murder within the space program puts Vincent's identity in question and threatens his mission a week before launch.

In addition to Vincent's story, the movie’s main thrust is its dystopian depiction of the future and the moral debate that brings up.  The carried over bonus features are deleted scenes, a blooper reel, a “Do Not Alter?” documentary, a substance test outtake and a “Welcome to Gattaca” featurette.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (2016, Sony, 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, PG-13, 115 min.). This animated film features the voices of Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad,” “Need for Speed”), Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones,” “300”) and Sean Bean (“Game of Thrones,” “Snowpiercer,” “Sharpe,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy). The magical kingdom of Lucis is home to the hallowed Crystal, but the menacing empire of Niflheim will stop at nothing to make it theirs. War has raged between the two for as long as most can remember. King Regis of Lucis (Bean) commands an elite force of soldiers dubbed the Kingsglaive. Wielding their king's magic, Nyx Ulric (Paul) and his fellow glaives stand before the crown city of Insomnia, fighting to stay the inexorable advance of Niflheim's imperial army. Before the overwhelming military might of the empire, King Regis can only salvage his kingdom by accepting an ultimatum that he cedes all lands outside the crown city, and see his son, Prince Noctis, wed to Lady Lunafreya (Headley), the former princess of Tenebrae now captive of Niflheim. As the war of wills rages, the machinations of Niflheim transform Insomnia into an awe-inspiring battleground, pulling Nyx into a struggle for the very survival of the kingdom.

The film is based on the iconic game, which has sold nearly 9 million copies since its launch. It features outstanding visuals. Carried over Blu-ray extras are a making-of featurette and a behind-the scenes look at the voice cast, as well as a look at the music score by John R. Graham and a look at the motion-capture technology that was used.

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