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REVIEW: The Mitchells vs. the Machines.

REVIEW: The Mitchells vs. the Machines.

Many worthy films for all audiences flew under the pop culture radar in 2021, released with some fanfare but overshadowed by current events. Take the animated Connected, for example. Announced by Sony for 2020, it briefly arrived in theaters in April before hitting Netflix under the name The Mitchells vs. the Machines.

Now available in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack, the film is well worth your time and attention. First of all, it’s funny and good for the entire family to enjoy together. Second, it has some fine messages underneath the frenetic pace and stuffed visuals.

Rick (Danny McBride) loves nature and is a bit of a technophobe, setting up a conflict with his daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson), who is about to attend film school. When their visions clash one more time, he cancels her flight and decides to pack the family into their old station wagon and drive across the country. His wife Linda (Maya Rudolph) and young son Aaron (Mike Rianda) don’t necessarily want to interrupt their lives but off they go.

As they ride the highway, the evil tech genius Mark Bowman (Eric André), having had his PAL (cute) AI declared obsolete, enacts his revenge by having the next generation of PAL programmed to capture all of mankind and launch them into space. Our heroic family narrowly avoids this and it’s up to them to save the world from technology gone wild.

On the macro level, we have the obvious save the world plot, but underneath it, Rick is trying to save not only his family but his relationship with his eldest. The film is stuffed with other characters with an impressive vocal cast with John Legend and Chrissy Teigen playing married neighbors, whose daughter Abbey (Charlyne Yi) is the object of Aaron’s adolescent desire; and a series of PALs, led by Olivia Colman, clearly having fun.

The animation is impressive as it blends the hand-drawn with CGI overlays, letting director/co-writer Mike Rianda pack plenty of action, comedy, and commentary.

The 1080p high-definition transfer is excellent

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, capturing all the colorful nonsense and keeping things crisp. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is fine but struggles to keep up in places.

The combo pack has delightfully creative liner notes worth a read. The disc contains not only the theatrical release but Katie’s Extended Cinematic Bonanza Cut! (1:52:48) adding about two minutes of extended/alternate scenes without the CGI enhancements. It also comes with an intro from Rianda.

Special Features include Dog Cop 7: The Final Chapter (8:24), Katie’s student film; Bonus Scenes! (25:18), a collection of deleted and extended scenes; Katie’s Cabinet of Forgotten Wonders (11:24): Katie-Vision!; Dumb Robots Trailer; The Original Mitchells Story Pitch; The Furby Scene – How? Why?; and Pal’s World; The Mitchells vs. The Machines: Or How a Group of Passionate Weirdos Made a Big Animated Movie (12:49); How To… : Audiences learn how to Make Sock Puppets (1:48) and Make Katie Face Cupcakes (1:56); and Audio Commentary: Director Mike Rianda, Visual Effects Supervisor Miks Lasker, Production Designer Lindsey Olivares

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, Co-Writer/Co-Director Jeff Rowe, Producer Kurt Albrecht, Head of Animation Alan Hawkins, and Head of Story Guillermo Martinez —with so many creators chatting, it’s a fun review of their ambitions and reflections.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Available on Digital Tuesday, 4K UHD, Blu-ray & DVD 2/1

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Available on Digital Tuesday, 4K UHD, Blu-ray & DVD 2/1

SYNOPSIS

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
From director Jason Reitman and producer Ivan Reitman comes the next chapter in the original Ghostbusters universe. In Ghostbusters: Afterlife

, when a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather, an original Ghostbuster, left behind. The film is written by Gil Kenan & Jason Reitman.

GHOSTBUSTERS ULTIMATE COLLECTION 4K ULTRA HD SET
Featuring GHOSTBUSTERS, GHOSTBUSTERS II and GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE on 4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, plus two discs full of special features! Includes over 20 hours of rare behind-the-scenes and must-see archival gems, including the full Preview Cut of the original movie and much, much more! Presented in collectible “ghost trap” packaging with lights, and includes a full 220-page reprint of the rare 1985 “Making GHOSTBUSTERS” book! Also includes digital versions of GHOSTBUSTERS, GHOSTBUSTERS II, GHOSTBUSTERS: ANSWER THE CALL and GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE.  

BONUS MATERIALS 

 
GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE

BLU-RAY™, 4K Ultra HD™ and Digital

  • We Got One! Easter Eggs Revealed
  • Ghostbusters: A Look Back
  • A Look Ahead
  • Bringing Ecto-1 Back to Life
  • The Gearhead’s Guide to Ghostbusters Gadgets
  • Special Effects: The Ghosts of Afterlife
  • Deleted Scene: Is It Ever Too Late?
  • Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters: Afterlife

DVD

  • Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters: Afterlife
     

THE GHOSTBUSTERS ULTIMATE COLLECTION

Theatrical Trailers

CAST AND CREW

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
Directed By: Jason Reitman
Written By: Gil Kenan & Jason Reitman
Produced by: Ivan Reitman
Executive Producers: Dan Aykroyd, Gil Kenan, Jason Blumenfeld, Michael Beugg, Aaron L. Gilbert and Jason Cloth
Cast: Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson and Paul Rudd.

GHOSTBUSTERS
Produced and Directed By: Ivan Reitman
Written By: Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
Executive Producer: Bernie Brillstein
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis

GHOSTBUSTERS II
Produced and Directed By: Ivan Reitman
Written By: Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd
Executive Producers: Bernie Brillstein, Joe Medjuck, Michael C. Gross
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts
 
GHOSTBUSTERS: ANSWER THE CALL
Directed By: Paul Feig
Produced By: Ivan Reitman, Amy Pascal
Written By: Katie Dippold & Paul Feig
Executive Producers: Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Dan Aykroyd, Tom Pollock, Joe Medjuck, Ali Bell, Michele Imperato Stabile
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams and Chris Hemsworth
 

SPECS
GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (4K Ultra HD™, BLU-RAY™, DVD)
Run Time: 124 minutes
Rating: PG-13
4K Ultra HD: Feature: 2160p Ultra High Definition 2.40:1 | Audio: 5.1 Dolby Atmos (Dolby True HD 7.1 compatible)
Blu-ray™: Feature: 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 | Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital
DVD: Feature: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen | Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital

Sex Criminals, Vol. 6: Six Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

So I’m a year late here: I was going to point out that this series took longer to complete than I expected, and so I was not as invested in this book as I could have been. But one whole year of the delay is on me, so mentioning that a comic that started in September 2013 and only ran thirty-one issues probably shouldn’t have taken seven years might not come across well.

Or maybe I’ll passive-aggressively say I’m not going to do that. Pointless passive-aggression is pretty on-brand for a discussion of Sex Criminals, right?

Anyway, Six Criminals  is the sixth and last collection of the comic: it includes the final story arc (well

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, the five issues in which the story ends; it was all one “arc,” basically) and the fantabulous extra issue #69, in which two minor characters have a destination wedding a few years later and all of the surviving characters show up to celebrate and bounce off each other one last time in a vastly lower-stakes way. Like the rest of the series, it was written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Chip Zdarsky. (See my post for volume five

, or drop back to the first one if you have no idea about the series.)

(Consumer Note: references to this book say it contains issues #26-69, which is technically true but deeply misleading. They mean issues #26-30 and #69. There is nothing in between.)

My reaction to it was pretty muted, and I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe I waited too long, and the previous volumes had gotten fuzzy in memory. Maybe I was secretly hoping for the Big Ending to go a different way – though I think it works just fine, is constructed well, entirely fits the characters as we know them, and is satisfying. Maybe it’s just me.

This book does fulfill the promises of the previous collection, where all of the sex-powered people we’d met join forces and start talking about taking down the big bad, a probably borderline-sociopathic business magnate who, we learn in this book, has been stealing all of Our Heroes’ precious bodily fluids (well

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, energy) in order to power what he hopes is a time machine. Yes, that’s very weird: Sex Criminals has kept digging new levels of weird from the initial some-people-freeze-time-when-they-come premise, as it finds new possibilities for sex-based superpowers.

(Sidebar: Say, do you think Sex Criminals was originally pitched as “Chew , but about fucking”? If not, why not?)

There is a reasonably happy ending for the world in general, if not for Suze and Jon’s relationship, which has looked intermittently doomed the entire length of the series. (Jon in particular has never been the most stable of people.) In the end, it’s still basically Suze’s story, as it started out, though focus wanders around among the rest of the cast, as it must when you have that many people. That part is very realistic, and I appreciated it: so many stories, in comics and out of it, slam the two main characters together at the end even if that’s an inherently bad idea.

I bet this all reads better if you run through it all relatively quickly; I read the first volume back in 2014 and have never re-read older issues before hitting new ones. It’s all good stuff, and adult in both the under-the-counter (it’s about sex! you see nudity and sexual stuff on the page!) and the grown-up (people have relationships that grow and change! those relationships are often weird or nonstandard!) ways. It’s definitely worth reading, if you are old enough to do so legally in your jurisdiction.

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

A Shining Beacon by James Albon

In some world that is not precisely our own – maybe the near future, maybe an alternate present – an island nation has an autocratic, near-fascist government. There is, of course, a revolutionary group aiming to overthrow that regime, which includes violent activities.

It is not the UK, exactly. But it is very much like the UK, more than it’s like any other nation on earth.

The regime is building a major public-works project in the capital: a large sports facility with a huge swimming pool at its center. And the Department of Culture needs to find an artist to paint a giant mural over that pool. The mural must be uplifting but not political, lovely but not challenging, colorful but not incorporating any imagery or ideas from the rebels or anyone else hostile to the regime, artistically powerful but without any deep or hidden messages, and entirely approved by various top ministers.

This is of course impossible. It’s also demanded, and must happen.

Functionaries at the Department of Culture, after several metropolitan candidates are rejected, settle on Francesca Saxon, a youngish woman from the North of the country, an artist with a relatively provincial career so far and no hint of the wrong politics. She is summoned to the capital and set up in a luxury hotel to create that mural. She never applied for the job, or really had a moment to decline it.

She might perhaps have preferred to return home and work in her own studio, but those are not the regime’s plans. And the whole point of autocracy is that it demands everything conforms to its plans, even if those plans change instantly.

Francesca’s mural, or perhaps the sports centre in general, is meant to be A Shining Beacon  for the entire nation; that phrase repeats throughout the graphic novel, and clearly was originated by some very high power in the autocracy.

We don’t know who that was; we don’t get names for most of the characters and we never see or understand the top level of this government. Instead, people are known by their function – minster of this, secretary of that – or seen doing what they do. If there is a dictator or politburo over it all, we know nothing of that.

The rebels place someone close to Francesca; she doesn’t realize this for a long time. The rebels perhaps have a strong case against the regime – it is brutal and repressive and murderous – but they are no better themselves

, and it’s not clear that this nation would be any better if they were to seize power.

Francesca struggles to make the mural the government demands, as their demands shift almost daily and every one of her sketches is found deficient in some new way. Rebel imagery crops up in some of those sketches as Francesca becomes more frustrated by her gilded cage, and she evades her armed government minder more and more often. She also comes to know that minder better on a personal level along the way; her frustration in being guarded by him is mirrored by his frustration in how she makes his work harder by sneaking away. And this regime is not kind to people who fail it

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, whether that failure is related to making art or guarding artists.

It all ends in violence and destruction, as always happens in a repressive regime: violence is the tool those regimes know best, and the best tool their enemies have against them.

James Albon tells this story calmly, straightforwardly, in watercolors highlighted by bright, almost day-glo colors on darker backgrounds – Francesca’s blonde hair in particular pops in every panel she appears. His lettering is organic, the slightest bit rough, an unexpected touch for a book so driven by dialogue. His camera flies in and out from panel to panel, to share focus between the architecture and the people: both are equally important here.

It comes across something like a historical document: A Shining Beacon reads a bit like the chronicles of something that happened, not that long ago, in a nation not far away from our own. There is an inevitability to all of its plot twists; this is how it all had to happen, and how it would always happen.

It is both not a political book and deeply a political book. It makes no specific points, and never names the ideology of the regime. But then, regimes like this have the same core ideology anyway, no matter what their public statements say. It’s all about holding onto power, nothing more. Albon, I think, would not characterize it as a warning about anything: that’s not what A Shining Beacon does. It is a story, about one person in an impossible situation, and how she tries to navigate it and eventually sees how impossible it always was.

It does that very well. It may have lessons for those who engage deeply with it. And it may have warnings to those of us who see aspects of Albon’s fictional regime in our own nations.

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

New Images from Catwoman: Hunted

New Images from Catwoman: Hunted

Only Catwoman would be so clever as to hide in plain sight – at a Leviathan costume party with a Super Hero/Villain theme – while crashing the event on the arm of Black Mask. Such are the hijinks of Catwoman: Hunted, the feature-length, anime-style film produced by Warner Bros. Animation, DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. The film comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray and Digital on February 8, 2022.

You can practically see the strategic cunning – not to mention a hint of mischief in the eyes of Catwoman in this close-up from the opening moments of Catwoman: Hunted. Elizabeth Gillies (Dynasty, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Vacation) leads the star-studded voice cast as Catwoman.

If you’re going to crash a party, you might as well go all the way – by sweet-talking obviously-interested Black Mask into bringing you along as his guest in the opening scene from Catwoman: Hunted. Elizabeth Gillies (Dynasty, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Vacation) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) provide the voices of Catwoman and Black Mask, respectively.

Catwoman strolls into a party – that is filled with members of the villainous coalition, Leviathan – surrounded by Black Mask and his henchman in the opening scene of Catwoman: Hunted. Elizabeth Gillies (Dynasty, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Vacation) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) give voice to Catwoman and Black Mask

, respectively.

And in related news, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has shifted the release date of the Emmy Award-winning The Batman: The Complete Series to March 1, 2022 on Blu-ray+Digital ($69.99 SRP) in the United States, and a Blu-ray only package ($79.98 SRP) in Canada. 

This is the first time the fully-remastered, 65-episode series has been distributed on Blu-ray. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC, the six-time Emmyâ Award-winning series follows 20-something-year-old Bruce Wayne’s early adventures as he balances his daytime persona as a bachelor billionaire with his nighttime guise as a caped crimefighter. Along the way

, Batman is joined by allies Robin and Batgirl as they combat Gotham City’s Rogues’ Gallery, including updated versions of his familiar foes as well as a bevy of rarely seen villains like Killer Moth and The Everywhere Man. Join one of the most complex and intriguing character in comic book history for action-packed super heroic adventures that test the limits of this legendary character’s extraordinary physical prowess and super-sleuthing skills.

The date change was made in order to enhance the visibility of the box set in retail outlets.

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash by Dave McKean

You know what’s weird? Reading a book about an artist with no examples of that artist’s work – but pages filled with art by somebody else. It might be inherent in the form – a graphic novel about an artist who’s been dead about seventy years – but it’s still weird.

It would be fine if the artist the book was about was someone world-famous – someone’s whose style was instant recognizable, and could be called to mind by any of us. Oh, it would still be at least a little weird to have a book all about an artist with art by someone else, but it would be the kind of weird that happens every day.

Paul Nash, though, is not world-famous. He was a British gallery painter in the first half of the 20th century, formed strongly by his fighting in the Great War, and noted as a surrealist for the rest of his life. Art historians know him, devotees know him, probably a lot of museum-goers do – but he’s no Picasso or Monet or even Turner, to live in the minds of millions every day.

All that hit me, as I got to the end of Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash , a 2016 graphic novel by Dave McKean. I realized I really didn’t know what Paul Nash’s art looked like. I now knew how McKean drew Nash, and how McKean interpreted Nash’s life, but not what an actual Nash painting looked like. If you’re in a similar situation, the Tate (I assume the London museum) has a Paul Nash page with some of his art, a potted bio, and other details.

Unsurprisingly, he looks to my post-Black Dog eye a lot like a Dave McKean precursor, angular figures (very occasionally) in muted landscapes filled with heaped objects. His work, from the little I’ve seen now, is awfully quiet and still for what I’m told is a war artist: Nash’s stuff looks almost frozen to me, pictures in which usually nothing is moving and often it looks like nothing will ever move.

I have no idea what Dave McKean sees in Nash’s work: I assume entirely different things

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, since that’s how art works.

Black Dog is a biographical story: it doesn’t tell Nash’s whole life, or even the whole of his service in the war. Instead, it focuses on a recurring series of dreams he had, about a black dog, starting in childhood and ending around the end of the war. This is a book about the war, but mostly elliptically: not the flow of lives in the war, or the mass deaths, or stories of fighting, or troop movements, but individual, small moments, mostly as remembered afterward. The thoughts of someone who survived the war. But then all stories are from those who survived their wars.

I wanted to read this because I’m a fan of McKean. I missed it for five years because I suspected it was mostly for people who already knew Nash, or at least more about the Great War art scene in the UK. I was not wrong: this book was commissioned by a festival and by a project to commemorate the war a century later; it’s a book by one person for his own reasons, but it’s also a work of public art for a public purpose, made as part of public commemorations.

Many of McKean’s characters are ciphers; Nash is another one of them. We do get some answers, but much of what we see in his dreams is strange and inexplicable because they are dreams. So the more you know about Nash, and the war, and the UK at the time going in to this book

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, the better.

This is a fine thing to exist, but it is a bit chilly and a bit official, like so much public art is. It can’t shake the fact that it was commissioned, that it has a place in the world because of arts bureaucracy and a rollover of the calendar. If, like me, you knew nothing about Paul Nash going into this book, you won’t get all that much out of it.

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

Thomas Jane’s Punisher gets 4K Steelbook in Jan.

Thomas Jane’s Punisher gets 4K Steelbook in Jan.

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

One of the most popular Marvel vigilantes, The Punisher arrives January 25 on 4K Ultra HD™ SteelBook from Lionsgate, exclusively at Best Buy. Featuring Golden Globe® Award nominee Thomas Jane (2012, Best Television Actor – Musical/Comedy Series, Hung), Academy Award® nominee John Travolta (1994, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Pulp Fiction), Will Patton (Armageddon, The Postman, No Way Out), and Academy Award® nominee Roy Scheider (1979, Best Actor in a Leading Role, All That Jazz). Featuring all-new artwork from Orlando Arocena, The Punisher will be available on 4K Ultra HD™ SteelBook at Best Buy for the suggested retail price of $27.99.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS

The Punisher walks through the world we all know, a world darkened by war, crime, cruelty, and injustice. He has no superpowers to battle the evil he sees — only his fierce intelligence, his years of combat experience and, above all, his iron determination to avenge those wronged by society’s villains.

4K ULTRA HD SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan Hensleigh
  • Deleted Scenes (with Optional Director Commentary)
  • Keepin’ It Real: The Punisher Stunts
  • Army of One: The Punisher Origins
  • War Journal: On the Set of The Punisher
  • Music Video – “Step Up” Performed by Drowning Pool
  • Drawing Blood: Bradstreet Style

CAST

Thomas Jane                          Boogie Nights, Deep Blue Sea, The Mist

John Travolta                          Pulp Fiction

, Grease, Saturday Night Fever

Will Patton                               Armageddon, The Postman, No Way Out

Roy Scheider                          Jaws, All That Jazz, The French Connection

PROGRAM INFORMATION

Year of Production: 2004

Title Copyright: The Punisher © 2004 Film & Entertainment VIP Medienfonds 2 GmbH & Co. KG

, Film & Entertainment VIP Medienfonds 3 GmbH & Co. KG, and Artisan GmbH. Artwork & Supplementary Materials ®, ™ & © 2022 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Type: Catalog Re-Release

Rating: R for pervasive brutal violence, language and brief nudity.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Closed-Captioned: N/A

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Feature Run Time: 123 minutes

4K Format: 2160p Ultra High Definition 16×9 (2.35:1) Presentation with Dolby Vision

4K Audio: English Dolby Atmos

, Spanish 5.1 Dolby AudioBlu-ray™ Audio: English 6.1 DTS-ES™ Discrete Audio

REVIEW: Venom: Let there Be Carnage

REVIEW: Venom: Let there Be Carnage

After Spider-Man’s black suit was revealed to be an alien symbiote, I lost all interest. I have never cared about Venom or Carnage or their symbiote children. The viciousness and exaggerated fangs and tongue are relics of the 1990s that I wish would just go away.

I was not at all surprised Sony went ahead with a Venom movie, but what surprised me was that it received not only good word of mouth but enough box office to receive a sequel. Venom: Let there Be Carnage has the benefit of being mercifully short. As a buddy movie, with the buddies sharing one body, it has some nice lightweight moments that Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) plays well enough.

But, when Brock interviews Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) on Death Row, things turn decidedly darker as the red-hued symbiote emerges. There’s mayhem and blood everywhere, but not much sympathy for the newer, deadlier villain. Any attempt at that, as he tracks down lover Shriek (Naomie Harris), fails to elicit any emotion. And poor Anne (Michelle Williams) can only watch with growing horror at the world that keeps knocking on her door.

Andy Serkis’s direction is perfectly adequate

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, using his CGI experience to get the most out of Venom and Carnage. But, the story, crafted by Hardy and Kelly Marcel, who went on to write the script, can’t sustain a tone to serve the story. The buddy stuff is entertaining enough but Carnage is under-developed and the romantic elements just feel tacked on. The heart and soul found in the Spider-Man movies, from which these technically spin from, is absent and lessons need to be learned before the Sony Spiderverse grows.

The tone doesn’t work and had they leaned into an out-and-out horror film, it would have been R-rated and perhaps more interesting. Instead, this mess ill-serves its cast and the characters. That the end credit sequence sends Venom to Peter Parker’s world, as seen currently in Spider-Man: No Way Home, is inevitable but disappointing.

The film is out now on disc: 4k, Blu-ray, and DVD combo packages with Digital HD codes. The Blu-ray was reviewed and the 1080p transfer is just fine. It captures the color palette and deep shadows just fine. This edition has a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack while the 4K Ultra HD also has Dolby Atmos. Everything sounds just fine on basic home audio equipment.

There is the usual assortment of Special Features including Let There Be…Action (7:20), Outtakes & Bloopers (3:22); Deleted Scenes (9:33); Eddie & Venom: The Odd Couple (10:18); Tangled Web: Easter Eggs (4:31); Sick and Twisted Cletus Kasady (5:36); A Fine Romance: Cletus & Shriek (5:02); Concept to Carnage (1080p

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, 4:23); Select Scene Previs: Ravencroft Breakout (2:15), San Quentin Carnage (4:10), and Show & Tell (2:23).

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

Comics memoirs don’t have to be about something life-shattering that happened when you were younger. It just seems that way sometimes. And, to be honest, any book should be about something important: one old piece of fiction-writing advice is that a story should be about the most important thing that ever happened to that person. [1]

Of course, not everyone has a father who survived the Holocaust, or fled their birth country when very young because of upheavals, or was unable to speak for months at a time, or had a major intestinal condition as a middle-schooler, or…so on. But everyone’s life was changed, at least once. So everyone has at least that one story to tell.

Hazel Newlevant is a relatively young cartoonist, about a decade into their career. No Ivy League  was their new graphic novel for 2019; my sense is this was a bigger book, maybe more of a breakout book, than Newlevant’s previous work. I could easily be wrong: but the “Comics” page on Newlevant’s site seems to mostly have shorter pieces. My sense is that cartoonists list all of their work until the list gets too long, and then prune down to book-length works and either just “Shorter Stories” or a couple of categories of those shorter pieces.

This is a story about a seventeen-year-old named Hazel. From the afterword, it’s based on Newlevant’s real life, with details changed for everyone else (like so many memoirs). Now, I want to apologize if I screw up pronouns from here on: Newlevant’s site describes theirself as transmaculine and uses they/them pronouns, but the Hazel in the book presents as female and uses she/her. This is not a transition story: it’s a story about a person who later transitioned, and I’m going to try to be precise in talking about Hazel (the seventeen-year-old character in the memoir) and Newlevant (the decade-older person who made the story).

Hazel is a high-achieving homeschooled kid in Portland, Oregon. She seems to be an only child, the kind whose parents poured everything they ever wanted into her upbringing, and that’s the kind of homeschooling she had: the regular-schools-aren’t-good-enough-for-my-awesome-child kind, not the keep-my-brood-away-from-secular-temptations kind. She has a small group of other homeschooled kids she hangs and works with regularly; they’re making videos for a national contest to promote homeschooling with the hope of using that money to go on a road trip the coming fall to see the band Guster in concert.

Another making-money scheme is a summer job: Hazel gets hired into No Ivy League, a youth group that will spend the summer removing invasive ivy from Forest Park, a gigantic semi-wild area in the city. There she’s thrown in with a large group of other kids her age for what may be the first time in a long time: certainly the most mixed group that she’s ben part of

, in race and background and outlook and life experience.

The bulk of the book is about Hazel’s time with that group, for good and bad. She learns to play ultimate frisbee and gets sexually harassed; she works hard and has to deal with people very unlike those she’s used to. There’s no one lesson, no one big thing – she does get sexually harassed, but just once, briefly, and she reports it. The aftermath is messier, since it leads to her harasser being kicked out of the program, and everyone knows it was because of her.

(This is also mildly parallel to a very inappropriate flirting that Hazel carries on – one-sidedly, only from her – with one of the adult leaders. She says things to that leader arguably as bad as what was said to her, and does it over a longer period of time.)

The biggest piece of the experience is Hazel realizing how insulated homeschooling has made her, and how it’s intertwined with her privilege. Like the grind she is, she tries to fix the situation by reading a bunch of books and learning better. (It’s not the worst reaction, certainly! Frankly, it might be about the best possible one.)

No Ivy League is not about A Problem in the way so many memoirs are – or

, if it is, the “problem” is vastly larger and ubiquitous. Hazel can’t solve the problem, and it’s not her problem the way it usually is in comics memoirs. She can learn more, and understand better, but all of her vegan living and good intentions won’t change that most of No Ivy League is made up of “at-risk youth,” and all of the ways that’s coded, and all of the ways all of those kids have not been set up to succeed a tenth of the way she has.

Hazel does learn; she does do better. And one hopes the reader learns alongside her. I’m pretty sure that’s why Newlevant chose this story to tell: it’s a story about a young person learning more

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, and doing better. My sense is that No Ivy League is aimed at people like Hazel – young, well-meaning, probably more privileged than they realize, and in need of something to make them pop their heads up and look around.

Newlevant tells that story in a mostly quiet, naturalistic way. Their lettering is softly rounded, the art is watercolor but mostly in shades of greenish gray, the people are a little bit cartoony but their surroundings are precise and real. This is not a story that will hit you over the head; it will creep around the sides until you’re right in the middle of it without realizing. Even if you’re not a privileged seventeen-year-old, No Ivy League has a lot to offer.

[1] It’s not perfect advice, obviously – what about series characters? But it’s good new-creator advice, to focus on stories that really matter to your characters. And “your characters” are “you” for the autobio cartoonist.

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