Blu Tuesday: Superpowers, Hungry Wolves and More

It’s been a while since I’ve had this many new releases to choose from, but it looks like things are beginning to really pick up as we head into summer, which is great news. Though I didn’t have time to check out all of the week’s Blu-rays, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t limit yourself to the ones featured below. Criterion’s release of “Being John Malkovich” would be an excellent addition to any cinephile’s collection, while Western fans will probably enjoy the first season of the AMC drama “Hell on Wheels.”

“Chronicle”

With the exception of “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield,” the whole found-footage craze has generally failed to impress me as a viable storytelling device, usually because most of the movies in the subgenre are plagued by terrible scripts and bad acting. But director Josh Trank’s debut feature doesn’t run into any of those problems, and it’s exactly because the script and acting are so good that he’s able to utilize the low-budget gimmick to his benefit, delivering a fresh take on found-footage and superhero movies in the process. Additionally, the idea to tell the superhero origin story from the villain’s point of view is pretty ingenious, particularly because his fall from grace is a lot more complex than the typical hero’s tale. Though the format does yield a few nagging questions – like, for instance, why anyone would still bother recording any of this after all hell has broken loose – the cameras are integrated so cleverly into the story that it helps the movie a lot more than it hurts it.

Blu-ray Highlight: I didn’t receive a copy in time for review, but I’m curious to check out the proposed director’s cut to see if any cool stuff was left on the cutting room floor.

“The Grey”

The trailers for Joe Carnahan’s survival thriller may have promised one thing (namely, a showdown between Liam Neeson and a big bad wolf) and delivered something else entirely, but it’s still a solid adventure film with plenty of action. Though you pretty much know how it’s going to end as soon as the first few guys succumb to the deadly triumvirate of the punishing weather, dangerous terrain and hungry predators, Carnahan manages to hold your interest by taking the time to develop his characters, humanizing them beyond simple wolf fodder. Neeson and character actor Frank Grillo, in particular, deliver some really strong performances, with the latter even managing to outshine his co-star. “The Grey” can get a bit too philosophical at times when you’d rather just watch Neeson punch a wolf in the face, but while that would have certainly delivered the kind of instant adrenaline rush we all expected, it’s the bleak realism of the movie that stays with you long after it’s finished.

Blu-ray Highlight: Though Joe Carnahan has a tendency to be a bit of a tool when it comes to talking about his movies, the director’s commentary with editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellmann is nonetheless an engaging discussion about making the film that covers a range of topics like the cast, special effects and shooting in the Arctic.

“One for the Money”

I’ve never read the book that “One for the Money” was adapted from, but based solely on my impressions of the movie, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, no matter how many fans of Janet Evanovich’s long-running series insist that it’s worth checking out. Nothing against Katherine Heigl’s portrayal of Jersey girl turned bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, but she’s a walking rom-com cliché who’s perhaps the least interesting character in the entire film. Worse yet, the two male leads have zero chemistry with Heigl (although I would have liked to see more of Daniel Sunjata), and the story is about as predictable as a Nancy Drew mystery. There’s just nothing about this movie that works on any level, and it really makes you wonder how it even got made. This is the kind of source material that would have fared better as a TV series, because as it stands, it’s highly unlikely that the studio will get the chance to adapt the entire Plum series, let alone the follow-up “Two for the Dough.”

Blu-ray Highlight: Bad movies typically don’t have good special features, and “One for the Money” is no different. But while all of the extras related to the film (the making-of, deleted scene and gag reel) are pretty forgettable, “Kicking Ass in the Bail Bonds Industry” is a somewhat interesting but brief look at real-life female bounty hunters.

“Albert Nobbs”

The term “Oscar bait” gets thrown around a lot these days, and I feel like it’s lost some of its meaning as a result. There’s a difference between the movies that deserve Oscar love and the ones that think they deserve it, and “Albert Nobbs” falls into the latter category – a supposed passion project of star Glenn Close that doesn’t radiate a single ounce of genuine passion. It feels like something that was created for the sole purpose of winning awards (“Look, it’s a woman playing a man!”), and although it contains some great performances by the cast, the encompassing story is so dull that you never become fully invested in the characters. Furthermore, so much time is wasted on a silly romantic subplot between Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson that Nobbs’ story is practically treated as an afterthought. If you’re looking for a slice of upstairs/downstairs life without all the cross-dressing melodrama, you’d be better off just tuning into a few episodes of “Downton Abbey.”

Blu-ray Highlight: Glenn Close and director Rodrigo Garcia’s audio commentary may be a little lacking in enthusiasm, but it’s still an informative conversation about making the film, including the few changes that were made from George Moore’s short story.

  

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