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Blu Tuesday: Elysium, Kick-Ass 2 and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Elysium”

WHAT: The year is 2154 and ex-con Max De Costa (Matt Damon) lives on a ruined Earth with most of the population while the wealthy reside on a space station where any disease can be cured in seconds. But when Max gets radiation poisoning during an accident at work and is given only five days to live, he accepts a suicide mission to hijack some important data that could topple Elysium’s government and save his life.

WHY: Following Neill Blomkamp’s 2008 surprise hit “District 9,” people couldn’t wait to see what the South African-born director would do next. But while “Elysium” showcases the same great visuals and action as its predecessor, it’s just not as good. Part of the problem is the story itself, which practically begs comparisons to “District 9” between the likeminded aesthetics and socio-political undertones. Blomkamp also doesn’t get much help from his big Hollywood stars; Matt Damon is fine in the lead role, but a lesser known actor probably would have been more effective, while Jodie Foster delivers a laughably bad performance as Elysium’s Secretary of Defense. It’s some of the worst acting of the year, and a perfect example of why you shouldn’t give an actor too much control, no matter how many Oscars they’ve won. Thankfully, “District 9” star Sharlto Copley is immensely entertaining as the sadistic, katana-wielding mercenary assigned to stop Max, and he alone makes the film worth watching in spite of its more annoying flaws.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette devoted to the three stages of production, additional featurettes on the cast, visual effects and technology of “Elysium,” and an interactive exploration of the film’s art and production design.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Kick-Ass 2″

WHAT: Two years have passed since Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took down mob boss Frank D’Amico, and in that time, hundreds of superheroes have begun to pop up across the country. But when Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) is forced to retire her masked alter-ego, Dave (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) joins a superhero team called Justice Forever. Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) plots his revenge as the world’s first-ever supervillian, assembling an army of criminals and crazy devotees to wreak havoc on the city.

WHY: Though it seemed unlikely that Universal would even greenlight a sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s punk-rock satire of the superhero genre due to the more sadistic nature of the story, director Jeff Wadlow has done an admirable job adapting it for the big screen. Not only has he toned down some of the darker moments by mining them for laughs instead of shock value, but he’s managed to combine two volumes’ worth of source material into a more streamlined narrative. And it works for the most part, creating a sequel that, although it lacks the provocative originality of its predecessor, maintains the same sense of fun and over-the-top absurdity that made the first film such a blast. Unfortunately, it’s not without its faults. “Kick-Ass 2” has so much story that all three leads are off doing their own thing for most of the movie, while the tone is stuck somewhere between subversive satire and falling into the very conventions that it’s sending up. But while it may fall short of living up to the original, the characters are so entertaining and uniquely charming – with solid performances from its three lead actors – that they make Mark Millar’s madcap universe worth revisiting a second time.

EXTRAS: There’s no shortage of bonus material here, highlighted by an audio commentary by writer/director Jeff Wadlow and actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as well as some extended scenes, an alternate opening and seven featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Prisoners”

WHAT: Neighborhood friends Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) are facing every parent’s worst nightmare: their young daughters have suddenly gone missing. When the detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) in charge of the investigation is unable to find any evidence to arrest their key suspect (Paul Dano), Keller takes matters into his own hands by taking the young man hostage and torturing him until he talks.

WHY: “Prisoners” is one of those crime thrillers where the lead detective is made to look like a complete idiot for missing clues so obvious that the audience is always a few steps ahead. Jake Gyllenhaal’s cop is supposed to be really good at his job, and yet the script constantly finds ways to slow down the investigation in order to keep the mystery alive. But while the film is a little too dependent on conveniently poor police work and plot holes, it’s still a fairly suspenseful morality tale about how far you would go to protect the people you love. The religious undertones feel incredibly forced, and it’s about 30 minutes too long, but the performances make up for its shortcomings. Hugh Jackman and Gyllenhaal, in particular, both deliver solid work here, with the former turning in one of the most emotionally affecting roles of his career. And though Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and Maria Bello are mostly wasted in supporting roles, just having actors of their quality involved makes “Prisoners” better than the material deserves.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes – one about the relationship between Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters, and another on the cast – but that’s it.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Lone Ranger”

WHAT: When his train is attacked by a band of outlaws who’ve come to break their cannibalistic leader Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) out of custody, attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) joins his Texas Ranger brother in tracking him down. But when they’re ambushed in the desert and John is left for dead, he’s nursed back to life by a Comanche Indian named Tonto (Johnny Depp), eventually joining forces with the mysterious native in order to bring Cavendish to justice.

WHY: After enjoying so much success with the Johnny Depp-led “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, it’s easy to see why Disney was so eager to build another franchise around the actor. They even brought back most of the core creative team for this big screen adaptation of the classic radio serial, resulting in a film that’s basically “Pirates of the Caribbean” meets the Wild West. In fact, it’s almost too much like the “Pirates” movies, dragged down by an overly complex story that crams a bunch of unnecessary junk into its bloated 149-minute runtime at the expense of character development and pacing. The latter issue could have been remedied if director Gore Verbinski had removed the pointless framing device featuring an elderly Tonto narrating the tale, but the overindulgent script is beyond repair. “The Lone Ranger” has its share of great moments – including some lively opening and closing set pieces and fantastic chemistry between Depp and Armie Hammer – but they’re not enough to save the movie from mediocrity, because unlike the first “Pirates of the Caribbean,” it doesn’t leave you wanting more.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set doesn’t have much for a movie its size, but there are three production featurettes – on location shooting, filming the train chase sequence and cowboy boot camp – as well as a deleted scene and blooper reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Family”

WHAT: New York mobster Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) has been in witness protection for the better part of the last decade after snitching on his mafia family. Unable to stay out of trouble wherever he goes, Giovanni is relocated to a small, quiet town in Normandy, France with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their two kids. But when Giovanni’s old mafia don is tipped off to their location, a team of hitmen is sent to Normandy to exact revenge on his family.

WHY: If Tony Soprano had turned rat and been whisked away to Europe with Carmela and the kids, it would probably look a lot like “The Family,” a farcical homage to the mobster genre that’s played for darkly comical laughs. Though the movie is more than a little ridiculous at times – especially the contrived manner in which the mafia learns of Giovanni’s whereabouts – that’s to be expected from director Luc Besson, who excels at the absurd. (After all, this is the same guy that has managed to squeeze not one, but two sequels from “Taken,” and convinced Liam Neeson it was a good idea.) That absurdity is also where a lot of the script’s pitch-black humor is born, and it works for the most part thanks to the chemistry between the four leads. “The Family” isn’t as memorable as Besson’s earlier films, not to mention a major departure from the testosterone-fueled action movies that he’s best known for, but it’s an enjoyable guilty pleasure best viewed with your brain turned off.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and a look at “The Many Meanings of FU*%!”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters”

WHAT: After Camp Half-Blood’s protective barrier is poisoned, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) embarks on a quest to the Sea of Monsters with Annabeth (Alexandria Daddario) and his Cyclops half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith) to retrieve the mythical Golden Fleece and restore their dying safe haven before it’s too late.

WHY: The first Percy Jackson film wasn’t amazing by any means, but it at least showed some promise in launching a potential franchise that could take over where the Harry Potter series left off. Unfortunately, any hope of that happening has effectively been squashed by “Sea of Monsters,” a half-baked sequel that feels like the kind of kiddie movie Robert Rodriguez knocks out over a few weekends in his backyard. The bewildering dearth of sea monsters is the least of the film’s problems, bogged down by a boring plot, cheesy jokes and an incredibly annoying new character that’s crammed down the audience’s throat. It doesn’t have that sense of fun and adventure, or the camaraderie between its three leads, that made the first movie enjoyable, nor does it feature the same quality of cameos. Nathan Fillion steals the entire film in his lone scene as Hermes, but the likes of Anthony Head (replacing Pierce Brosnan) and Stanley Tucci are wasted in throwaway roles – just one of the many reasons to avoid “Sea of Monsters.”

EXTRAS: In addition to a trio of production featurettes, there’s a Tyson motion comic and some collectible character cards.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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