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REVIEW: The Northman
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REVIEW: The Northman

There’s much that is fascinating about the Viking culture, largely because of its organized barbarism while feeling incredibly familiar given how much of their legacy has seeped into world culture. Television has certainly explored these people through several series, but it’s been a long time since we had a good, sweeping Viking saga on the silver screen.

Robert Eggers had long been interested in the Viking culture and when he and actor Alexander Skarsgård began discussing working together, it became clear that the Vikings were the appropriate subject matter. Like the director, whose work I was unfamiliar with before now, Skarsgård was deeply interested in these people.

Working with historian/writer/poet Sjón, Eggers crafted a story drawn from the actual legends, a tale of revenge similar to the Viking tale that inspired Hamlet. Set in the waning years of the ninth century, The Northman opens with young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) in a ceremony to prepare him to succeed his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke). The next day, the king is murdered by his bastard brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang) and Amleth flees.

Grown to manhood, Amleth (Skarsgård) is a force to be reckoned with. After an encounter with the He-witch Olga (Ana Taylor-Joy), he learns his mother Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) has married Fjölnir and given birth to his half-brother Gunnar (Elliott Rose). It’s time to go home and set things to right, but it’s an action-packed, violent homecoming.

Toss in Willem Dafoe as the jester and Bjork as a sorceress, you have a strong cast, all of whom rise to the strength of the material, filled as it is with prophecies, magic, enchanted swords, and complex family relations.

The film got terrific reviews but performed poorly at the box office, having more to do with Covid-19 and the economy than its merits. Available now on disc from Universal Home Entertainment, this is a highly recommended viewing experience. You can find it in the usual assortments including the 4K, Blu-ray, Digital HD code combo pack.

The 4K Ultra HD transfer is pristine, perfectly maintaining the color palette with rich blacks. It helps that the film was shot in 4K digital, so everything from skin tones to subtle magical effects are well captured. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is also near-perfect, with a terrific sub-woofer beat, underscoring the film. The audio track captures the loud violent clashes and the hushed sounds of the wilderness.

The Special Features are a nice assortment with a recommended Audio Commentary from Eggers, with some nice insights into the production process. Additionally, there are Deleted And Extended Scenes (12:28); An Ageless Epic (11:17); The Faces Of Vikings (10:27); Amleth’s Journey To Manhood (3:56); Shooting The Raid (4:10), with director of photography Jarin Blaschke discussing this complex set-piece; Knattleikr Game (2:42), the violent “ball game” is explained; and, A Norse Landscape (4:43).

Saint Cole by Noah Van Sciver
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Saint Cole by Noah Van Sciver

There is no Saint Cole. No one was ever canonized under that name – there is a Saint Colette, but given the subject of Noah Van Sciver’s graphic novel, there’s no chance that’s the reference meant. It is not the name of a town. It is not metaphorical; there is no one named Cole in the book.

“Saint Cole” is a random squawk, emitted by a minor character whose whole point is that he’s mentally damaged. It is meaningless. I have no idea why it’s the title of this book. There is something vaguely ironic that the story of a man named Joe who is deeply unsaintly is named Saint Cole , but 99% of life is that ironic to begin with. It’s not much to hang a story on.

Saint Cole is the story of an alcoholic, a loser who thinks he isn’t a loser, a bad man who thinks he’s pretty good. I find that I have less and less sympathy for characters like that every year, so I may not be giving Joe his due here.

But, to be honest, Joe isn’t due much. Sure, he works long hours, but he’s a jerk who drinks too much, has no aims or plans, and is unpleasant to everyone around him pretty much continually. Just working hard doesn’t buy you anything.

Joe is a waiter at the restaurant New Yorkies, in some minor city somewhere: it’s roughly walkable, so it’s not deep suburbia, and Joe lives in an apartment with a parking lot. He’s in his late twenties, living with his girlfriend Nicola and their baby son. They’re just barely making it: Joe takes every last shift he can, working every single day, and Nicole stays home with the baby, which Joe resents. Over the course of four days, starting on a Saturday, Joe…well, I shouldn’t give it away. But Joe is a loser and a fuck-up, so he fucks up and he loses things. Take that as read.

Angela, Joe’s mother-in-law, moves in with them on the first day, which adds to the friction. He doesn’t like her, for reasons that don’t seem sufficient. But then, Joe hates just about everyone and everything: he doesn’t seem to need reasons. He’s just that kind of young man, fueled by anger and self-loathing and loathing for everything else in equal measure. Oh, and by alcohol. He’s fueled by a lot of alcohol.

Saint Cole is the story of Joe drinking and then fucking things up, to to give a quick log-line. I called him an alcoholic before, but he really comes across as a drunk: a guy who isn’t compelled to drink; he just drinks because he wants to, and he always wants to drink more. That kind of guy can easily turn into an alcoholic, but I don’t think Joe is there yet.

Yet.

Van Sciver draws this in a mostly indy style, more conventional than I remember his The Hypo  being. It’s all thin lines, lots of details of dingy rooms and sad lives: indy in the matter and the style equally.

I’m not a good reader for a book like this, and I can’t really recommend it. If you like stories of self-destructive losers more than I do, you might take a look. It’s smartly written, it looks good, and Van Sciver tells the story well. But it’s an unpleasant story about an unpleasant man, and all I felt at the end was happy that I didn’t have to spend any more time with Joe. 

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Hearts at Sea by Pedrosa
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Hearts at Sea by Pedrosa

Jean-Paul is living in some minor city in France, probably near the German border. He works in his family’s business – something to do with handcrafted wooden toys – and is old enough to have struck out on his own or aimed at his own goals in life. But that has not happened: he’s quiet, and solidly under the (comfortable, friendly, but still smothering) guidance of his mother. His friends seem to be all connected to the business, his life is quiet and circumscribed, there’s no sign he’s ever had a girlfriend or lover despite endless fantasizing about a woman he meets while jogging every day.

One day he snaps, for no obvious reason. He’s supposed to do yet one more thing for his mother and the business, but, instead, goes off on a cruise. It’s not clear where the boat is going – my guess is out in the Atlantic, maybe to the Canaries or Azores? but it could also be the Mediterranean. It’s sunny and warm, and he’s part of a group of mingling singles, which he does not fit into at all.

Hearts at Sea  was (Cyril) Pedrosa’s first solo bande dessinee, published in 2006 after a few collaborative works and a few years in the animation mines. It’s remarkably quiet and assured, entirely focused on Jean-Paul though viewing him entirely from the outside in a naturalistic way. We can assume Pedrosa sympathizes with Jean-Paul – that’s why he’s telling this story, right? –  but we never get into Jean-Paul’s head or entirely understand him.

But then, do we ever understand anyone? I don’t know if I could honest say I understand myself.

This is Jean-Paul’s story, in one album-length book. It takes him from that point where he’s clearly unhappy in his life, and unsure what to do, through an eventful cruise – though not eventful in any of the ways he probably fantasized or hoped for; he’s not good at interacting with other people and not entirely clear on what he wants or how to get it – and to the point where he makes a major life decision at the end.

So it’s a low-key story, entirely on an interpersonal level. There is some action; single cruise ships do lend themselves to some activities, particularly those fueled by intoxicants. But it’s, in the end, a story about people, and mostly this one person.

Pedrosa did bigger stories after this, and became even more assured – Three Shadows, which I still think is a masterpiece, came immediately afterward – but this shows well his strengths. There’s the rumpled people, the precise colors, the creased and individual faces, the occasional visionary sequences, and the deep understanding of people. It was a fine start, and it’s still a fine book.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

80s Classic Real Genius gets 4K Ultra HD Treatment
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80s Classic Real Genius gets 4K Ultra HD Treatment

SYNOPSIS
When a group of crazy college geniuses put their heads together, almost anything can happen. Hold on for a freewheeling, uproarious look at just how much mischief a bunch of high-IQers can concoct. Chris (Val Kilmer) is the top brain who just wants to party, Mitch (Gabe Jarret) is the 16-year-old whiz kid, and Lazlo (Jonathan Gries), America’s number one brain, literally lives in a world of his own…Chris’ closet. Supposedly hard at work on a lab project, they still find time to turn the dorm into an ice-skating rink, and throw a beach party in the auditorium complete with a lagoon and bikini-clad beauties. When the geniuses discover that their unscrupulous mentor Professor Hathaway (William Atherton) has had them working on a secret weapon for the military, they plot an elaborate revenge. Their plan culminates in an incredible scheme that outsmarts the military and convinces the professor that it doesn’t pay to fool with a REAL GENIUS!

DISC DETAILS & BONUS MATERIALS
4K ULTRA HD DISC

  • Feature scanned from the original camera negative and presented in 4K resolution with Dolby Vision, reviewed and approved by director Martha Coolidge
  • All-new Dolby Atmos and 5.1 audio, reviewed and approved by director Martha Coolidge + Original Dolby Stereo


BLU-RAY DISC™

  • Feature presented in High Definition, sourced from the 4K master
  • 5.1 + Dolby Stereo audio
  • Special Features:
    • NEW: “Balloon Chair” Deleted Scene + Raw Takes Montage
    • NEW: TV Version of the film
    • Feature Commentary with Director Martha Coolidge

CAST AND CREW
Directed By: Martha Coolidge
Story By: Neal Israel & Pat Proft
Screenplay By: Neal Israel & Pat Proft and Peter Torokvei
Produced by: Brian Grazer
Executive Producer: Robert Daley
Cast: Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarrett, William Atherton, Patti D’Arbanville

SPECS
Run Time: Approx. 105 minutes 
Rating: PG
4K UHD Feature Picture: 2160p Ultra High Definition, 2.39:1
4K UHD Feature Audio: English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Compatible) | English 5.1 DTS-HD MA | English Stereo Surround DTS-HD MA

Billie Holiday by Munoz and Sampayo
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Billie Holiday by Munoz and Sampayo

I should tell you their first names, though the book doesn’t: Jose Munoz and Carlos Sampayo. Munoz is the artist; Sampayo is the writer. They’re both Argentine, though they mostly worked in Europe, over the past forty-plus years. Both still alive, as far as I know, now in their upper seventies.

Billie Holiday  was written in Spanish, originally published in 1991. It’s had editions in English since then – I have no idea if it’s always been the same translation. This one is from NBM, and came out in 2017. It includes a long discursive introduction about Holiday by Francis Marmande, who I gather is a prominent French writer on jazz. The introduction tells us her story in an in-your-face, demanding style – not unlike the book itself, though in a different way – probably in part because the comics pages themselves will only lightly touch on that story.

This is a biographical graphic novel, or bande dessinee – Holiday was a real person, and this book tells stories from her real life, as true as any other book about historical people. But it’s not her whole life, or a carefully-organized life: it’s scenes from her life, mostly out of context, as understood or experienced much later.

Holiday was a jazz singer, and writer of her own songs – among the best of all time in the former, and not too shabby at the latter. She was Black and a woman in a time when either of those things was a burden and both were an iron cage. She was an addict and a stormy personality, I think – the book and the introduction are more poetic about it – which didn’t help, but who ever min-maxes their own life to be the most successful version of themselves? She achieved a lot. She fought hard. She died young.

This book is about her only at a distance, for all she’s on a majority of the pages. A reporter is working late at night, thirty years after her death (so in 1989 – farther back from our today than Holiday’s death was from his), suddenly having to write a feature article about her for the anniversary, for some unnamed publication that clearly is really bad at planning out their editorial calendar. The book we read is…his thoughts as he writes that article? What he learns about Holiday that long night? Somehow that article as transmuted into comics pages? I’m not sure the frame story actually makes any sense, or is necessary: we don’t need to have Holiday’s story mediated by some white guy thirty years later.

But it’s the way Munoz and Sampayo told this story: it’s the way we get it.

Think of it as a jazz improvisation, I suppose: talented creators stepping up into the spotlight, picking up their instrument, and playing the melody, but doing it their way, however feels right, that night and on that stage.

We only see Holiday as an adult, only after she’s already famous. The scenes are not dated, but seem to be basically in chronological order. Call it mostly the 1950s; the last decade of her life. It’s mostly set at night, mostly at times when things aren’t going well for Holiday. Almost as much about her great collaborator and friend Lester “Prez” Young, as about her alone – maybe what I mean is that it’s largely about his influence on her, though Holiday comes across as someone who would not let herself be influenced, who did what she felt she had to do (songs or men or drugs or whatever) at the time, no matter what the consequences.

Sampayo provides that quirky structure, the story that flows around and through her life, the frame-story of someone presumably not all that different from Sampayo himself, considering this story so many years later. Munoz provides the atmosphere: he’s one of the most distinctive artists in the world, tormented sweaty faces emerging from his blocky, utterly compelling slabs of ink.

This is probably a book largely for people who already know at least the outline of Holiday’s life; you won’t learn things very clearly here. Or, more obviously, for fans of other works by Munoz and Sampayo.

The best way to discover Holiday is through her songs: I’d recommend “Strange Fruit ” or “Crazy He Calls Me ” or “Easy Living ” as places to start.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Firestarter Remake to Light up Homes Next Week
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Firestarter Remake to Light up Homes Next Week

Universal City, California – Blumhouse reignites Firestarter with this explosive adaptation of the classic Stephen King thriller, arriving on Digital June 12, 2022 and on Blu-rayTM and DVD June 28, 2022 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. In this suspenseful thriller, a girl with extraordinary pyrokinetic powers (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) fights to protect her family (Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon) from sinister forces seeking to capture her in Firestarter. Hailed as “ferociously impressive” (Chicago Sun-Times), Firestarter features a never-before-seen Alternate Ending and exclusive bonus content which includes deleted and extended scenes, gag reel, and a feature commentary with the director.

From producers Jason Blum (Halloween Kills, The Invisible Man) and Akiva Goldsman (Doctor Sleep) and director Keith Thomas (The Vigil), Firestarter stars Zac Efron (The Greatest Showman, The Disaster Artist, Neighbors), Ryan Kiera Armstrong (Anne with an E; IT: Chapter II), Gloria Reuben (Mr. Robot, Lincoln, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), Sydney Lemmon (Succession, Helstrom, Fear the Walking Dead), Kurtwood Smith (That ‘70’s Show, 24), John Beasley (The Purge: Anarchy, Rudy) and Michael Greyeyes (Rutherford Falls, True Detective).

Protected by her parents (Efron and Lemmon), Charlie (Armstrong) has lived her childhood on the run and has kept her extraordinary pyrokinetic powers in check. But now that she’s turning 11, the flames are harder to control, and sinister forces are seeking to capture her. Charlie must learn to embrace the fire from within and fight to control it in order to protect her family and freedom.

With the purchase of Firestarter on disc or digital, fans are eligible to earn points towards digital movies via the Universal All-Access Rewards program. Members can redeem their points for digital movies, swag and more! For registration and details please visit www.MyUniversalRewards.com.

BONUS FEATURES on BLU-RAYTM

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, DVD & DIGITAL:
• ALTERNATE ENDING*
• DELETED AND EXTENDED SCENES*
o Andy Reflects in Mirror
o Andy’s Lot Six Nightmare – Extended
o Wanless Gets a Visitor – Extended
o Rainbird Scare/Wildlife Hunt
o Charlie Treks to Find Andy
o Charlie Counts Down “Five, Four, Three, Lies”
o Andy’s Visionary Escape From the Cell
• GAG REEL*
• A KINETIC ENERGY – Filmmakers and cast discuss how stars Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong worked closely with director Keith Thomas to bring this new FIRESTARTER to life.
• SPARK A FIRE – A look at how the story and themes of FIRESTARTER were adapted from the famous novel.
• IGNITING FIRESTARTER – A behind-the-scenes look at how some of FIRESTARTER’s most extreme fire effects and stunts were accomplished.
• POWER STRUGGLE – A breakdown of the physical stunts and practical effects that came together to craft the fight scene between Rainbird and Vicky.
• FEATURE COMMENTARY WITH DIRECTOR KEITH THOMAS*
*Exclusive to Blu-ray, DVD & Digital

Firestarter will be available on Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital.
• Blu-ray™ Combo Pack includes Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital copy.
• Digital lets fans watch movies anywhere on their favorite devices. Users can buy or rent instantly.

REVIEW: Tin Man
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REVIEW: Tin Man

Tin Man
By Justin Madson
Amulet Books, 224 pages, $17.99/$29.99

As coming of age graphic novel go, Tin Man is above average, a fine story of some other version of Earth with a young teen struggling to find his place in the world after the death of his grandmother. His older sister, Solar, has less time for him now that she has an, ugh, boyfriend, who happens to be a jerk. So, Fenn is left to tinker in the garage, hoping to complete a rocket ship and visit space.

While scavenging for spare parts at a junkyard, he meets up with Campbell, a tin woodsman who thinks there is more to life than merely chopping down trees in the forest. They become friends and the adventure takes off.

The book description calls it “equal parts The Iron GiantThe Wizard of OzEdward Scissorhands, and Freaks and Geeks” but it is heavily layered with Oz elements, making it very much an alternate reality from L. Frank Baum’s world. And it doesn’t need to be. In fact, all the reimagining of Oz, the wizard, the witches, etc., are actually distracting. Madson seems almost afraid to create his own story, relying on the Oz tropes to get him through, get him noticed. 

The story of friendship, wanderlust, and growing up is perfectly fine although we’ve seen all these elements before. Madson’s strength is in making us feel for Fenn, Solar, and Campbell. The sibling relationship is one of the freshest aspects of the book as is the family’s easy acceptance of a mechanical being, accepting the other.

Madson’s artwork and color is effective and his dialogue smooth. The book is fine YA addition to the GN library and might get some to go back and sample Baum’s original work.  

Crazy 8 Press Launches PRISM on Vella
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Crazy 8 Press Launches PRISM on Vella

Crazy 8 Press’ latest project, PRISM, takes the 11-year-old publisher in a new direction. This time they are exploring the storytelling possibilities in Amazon Kindle’s Vella program. Five of the ten partners have been working for the last six months on the project, which debuts today.

Hildy Silverman, one of the most recent recruits to the self-publishing hub, helped brainstorm the project and then volunteered to steer it as editor. She is joined by Mary Fan, Russ Colchamiro, and cofounders Aaron Rosenberg and Robert Greenberger.

PRISM supposes that the crew of Apollo 17, the final crewed visit to the moon, found an alien artifact and secretly brought it back to Earth. Over the next decade, other odd pieces of metal began to “activate”. PRISM was formed to find and locate all the pieces to understand how they fit together and what the combined device might do. Of course, others are also interested in these artifacts, so the race is on, taking the agents around the world hoping to secure the pieces before they possibly become weaponized.

The series is set in the mid-1980s and Silverman explains why this period was chosen. “We decided to set our PRISM stories back when investigations couldn’t be quickly conducted and resolved via Internet and/or cellphone, to make locating the shards more of a challenge,” said Silverman. “That way, we could have fun sending our agents off on adventures around the world doing the legwork required to find the shards–and get into all sorts of trouble while they’re at it.”

Each of the authors was given free rein to create the characters for the series

, providing the chance to develop agents and foes of various backgrounds and also tell a wide variety of stories. In the introductory episode,  Greenberger’s “Partners”, readers will meet an established agent, a former New York cop, while Fan’s agent is an 18-year former ballerina.

“We all had fun developing agents of varying ages and personal characteristics at different stages of their careers,” Silverman said. “Their unique backgrounds inform their reactions to missions and interactions with friends and foes alike.”

C8 has released the initial running order of stories:

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June 9             “Partners” by Robert Greenberger

June 16            “The Mind Game” by Hildy Silverman

June 23            “The Junkyard Gambit” by Aaron Rosenberg

June 30             “Sound of the Sea Part One” by Russ Colchamiro

July 7                “Sound of the Sea Part Two” by Russ Colchamiro

July 14              “The Golden Gambit Part One” by Mary Fan

July 21              “The Golden Gambit Part Two: Pointe Blank” by Mary Fan

The Vella system makes the first three installments free to readers and then subsequent episodes are paid for using tokens, each episode charging an amount based on the word count. The stories are available on the web at Vella and in the Kindle app. Readers receive 500 free tokens to use as they please and can then buy additional tokens in bundles starting at 200 for $1.99. Readers also have the option of voting for their favorites and responding to surveys from the authors.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Unveils Bonus Clips
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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Unveils Bonus Clips

To celebrate the release of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, check out these clips from the film’s special features!

Celebrate the world’s hero and prodigal movie star Nicolas Cage when The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent arrives on Digital June 7 and on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (plus Blu-ray and Digital), Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital), DVD, and On Demand June 21 from Lionsgate.
Easter Eggs

I’ll Take It

Playing Nicky

The Amazing Everything, Everywhere All At Once arrives July 5 on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD
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The Amazing Everything, Everywhere All At Once arrives July 5 on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION
The mind-bending action-adventure Everything Everywhere All At Once arrives on 4K Ultra HD™ + Blu-ray™ + Digital, Blu-ray + Digital, and DVD July 5 from A24 and Lionsgate. The film stars Michelle Yeoh as an unlikely hero who must channel newfound powers to fight fearsome dangers from the multiverse. Directed and written by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

, the writing-directing duo collectively known as the Daniels (Swiss Army Man), Everything Everywhere All At Once will be available for the suggested retail prices of $42.99 for 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital, $39.99 for Blu-ray + Digital, and $29.96 for DVD, respectively.
 
OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a flustered immigrant mother, is contacted from a parallel universe and told that only she can save the world. The unlikely hero must learn to channel her newfound powers and fight through the splintering timelines of the multiverse to save her home, her family, and herself in this big-hearted and irreverent adventure. With Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
 
4K ULTRA HD / BLU-RAY / DVD SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Audio Commentary with Writers-Directors Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
  • “Almost Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Everything Everywhere All At Once” Featurette
  • “Putting Everything on a Bagel: Cooking up the Multiverse” Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary
  • Outtakes
  • Music Visual
  • Theatrical Trailer

CAST
Michelle Yeoh                         Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Gunpowder Milkshake,Crazy Rich Asians
Stephanie Hsu                        Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Ke Huy Quan                          Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,  The Goonies,Encino Man
Jenny Slate                             Obvious Child, Zootopia, Gifted
Harry Shum Jr.                       Crazy Rich Asians, Glee, Shadowhunters
with James Hong                    Big Trouble in Little China, Kung Fu Panda, R.I.P.D.
and Jamie Lee Curtis             Halloween, True Lies, Freaky Friday

PROGRAM INFORMATION
Year of Production: 2022
Title Copyright: Everything Everywhere All At Once © 2021 A24 Distribution, LLC. Artwork & Supplementary Materials © 2022 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Type: Theatrical release
Rating: Rated R for some violence, sexual material and language
Genre: Sci-fi, Action, Adventure
Closed-Captioned: N/A
Subtitles: Spanish and Chinese (Traditional), English SDH
Feature Run Time: 139 Minutes
4K Format: 2160p High Definition 16×9 (1.85:1) Presentation with Dolby Vision
4K Audio: English Dolby Atmos
Blu-ray Format: 1080p High Definition 16×9 (1.85:1) Presentation
Blu-ray Audio: English Dolby Atmos
DVD Format: 16×9 (1.85:1) Presentation
DVD Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Audio