Blu Tuesday: Chappie, Run All Night 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.

“Chappie”

WHAT: In a near-future Johannesburg overrun by crime, a mechanized police force has been introduced to clean up the streets. When the droids’ creator (Dev Patel) steals a decommissioned unit and reprograms the A.I. so it can think for itself, the newly named Chappie (Sharlto Copley) falls into the hands of a trio of criminals who want to exploit him for their own profit.

WHY: Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” was a disappointment on a number of levels, and there was a lot of pressure on the director to bounce back with “Chappie.” Unfortunately, while his third sci-fi outing has plenty to admire, much like “Elysium,” it’s a fantastic concept that’s hindered by a messy execution. It’s as if Blomkamp wanted to cram so many ideas into the film that he was unable to edit the material into a more cohesive story. Casting South African rap duo Die Antwoord as the gangsters who “raise” Chappie was certainly an interesting choice, but while the sweet-voiced Yo-Landi Visser fares well in her first acting role, her male counterpart, Ninja, is pretty awful. The movie also spends too much time with their characters, leaving Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman (playing against type as the villain and sporting a glorious mullet) little to do. Thankfully, Sharlto Copley’s mo-cap performance as the titular robot is too good to ignore. Not only is it a remarkable piece of acting that perfectly captures the innocence and impressionability of a child, but the visual effects are flawless, seamlessly inserting Chappie into the world as if there’s an actual robot interacting with the actors. It’s truly next-level stuff, and it’s ultimately what saves “Chappie” in spite of the film’s many flaws.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes nine featurettes – covering a range of topics like the cast, stunts, visual effects, production design, location shooting in Johannesburg and A.I – as well as an alternate ending, an extended scene and a concept art gallery.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Run All Night”

WHAT: After law-abiding limo driver Michael Conlon (Joel Kinnaman) witnesses the murder of some clients by the sleazebag son of local crime boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), Shawn sends childhood friend/mob enforcer Jimmy “The Gravedigger” Conlon (Liam Neeson) to prevent Michael from going to the police. But when Jimmy shoots Shawn’s son in order to protect his own, Shawn swears to kill them both as retribution, forcing the estranged father/son duo to go on the run until they can clear Michael’s name.

WHY: It’s a shame that director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson already made a movie called “Non-Stop,” because while “Run All Night” is a fitting title, the former more appropriately describes the overall tone of the duo’s third collaboration. There’s quite a bit of setup in the opening act, but once Jimmy and Michael are marked for death, it barely takes a minute to stop and catch its breath, jam-packed with wall-to-wall action featuring a cornucopia of fist fights, gunfights and car chases. Collet-Serra does a great job of keeping the story moving along, and though it’s entertaining at first, the non-stop action becomes such a sensory overload that it all starts to blend together. Because of this action-first mentality, there isn’t much room for anything else, although Collet-Serra does try to shoehorn in some clichéd father-son drama. The only reason the relationship works at all is because it has two strong actors in the roles. Neeson does his thing as the tough-as-nails hitman, bringing gravitas to an otherwise stock character, while Kinnaman delivers some of his best work to date as the angry son who wants nothing to do with the family business. “Run All Night” will surely entertain those who walk into a Liam Neeson movie these days knowing exactly what to expect, but it’s so incredibly predictable and formulaic that it sucks out all trace of suspense.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Newsroom: The Complete Third Season”

WHAT: Five months have passed since the debacle of the Genoa story, but just as ACN begins to win back the trust of its viewers, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and his news team become the center of an FBI investigation after Neal (Dev Patel) illegally obtains confidential documents from a government source. Meanwhile, CEO Leona Lewis (Jane Fonda) fights for control of the cable network from her ex-husband’s children, who plan to sell their minority share to the highest bidder.

WHY: Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” never quite got the respect that it deserved, so it’s sad to see the show end in a whimper with this shortened final season. Over its three-year run, the HBO drama was constantly evolving in an attempt to appease the angry mob of detractors, despite the fact that there was an audience that already enjoyed the show for what it was. Season One may have received its share of criticism, but it was probably my favorite of the bunch, mainly due to its lighter tone and smaller, more contained stories. The final season is only comprised of six episodes, which explains the decision to focus on a few larger plotlines, but while it still contains great work from the ensemble cast and writing team, watching it felt more bitter than sweet. After all, “The Newsroom” should have been one of HBO’s flagship programs, but instead, it was treated more like the redhead stepchild, and Season Three is a disappointing reminder of that. People are going to miss it a lot more than they realize, because even when it was tripping over its own feet, “The Newsroom” was still better than a majority of shows on television.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by executive producers Aaron Sorkin and Alan Poul on the series finale, the Blu-ray includes the previously released “Inside the Episode” featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Wild Tales”

WHAT: Six standalone stories connected by a common theme of revenge, including a case of road rage turned horribly violent; a demolitions expert fed up with an unjust bureaucracy; a wealthy father’s attempt to cover up an accidental hit-and-run; and the best/worst wedding reception ever.

WHY: If I had seen Damián Szifrón’s Oscar-nominated “Wild Tales” last year, it probably would have ended up on my annual Top 10 list, because it’s a darkly comic, cleverly scripted and well-acted film that showcases what’s possible using the anthology format. There’s not a single dud among the included segments, and while that’s pretty impressive on its own, the fact that every story was written and directed by the same person (something you don’t normally see in the genre) helps to maintain a consistent tone throughout. “Wild Tales” isn’t about just any kind of revenge, but more specifically, people who’ve faced a perceived injustice that pushes them to their breaking point. Some stories are better than others, and everyone will have their personal favorites, but they’re all solid additions with their own strengths and deliciously deranged twists. The second segment (“The Rats”) is probably the weakest of the bunch, but that’s partially because the opening vignette is so damn good, while the road rage story will make you think twice about mouthing off to a nearby motorist the next time you’re driving in a remote area alone. However, the less you know about “Wild Tales,” the better, so avoid watching the spoiler-filled trailer and just take my word for it.

EXTRAS: There’s a pretty substantial making-of featurette, as well as a short Q&A with writer/director Damián Szifrón from the Toronto International Film Festival.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Welcome to Me”

WHAT: Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), an Oprah-obsessed woman with multiple personality disorder, wins $83 million in the lottery and decides to use the money to bankroll her very own television program on a local TV station. But unlike traditional chat shows, Alice wants to talk exclusively about herself, alienating those around her in the process.

WHY: Try as she might to prove herself as a serious actress, Kristen Wiig’s dramatic career hasn’t been as successful as her comedy work, and “Welcome to Me” is just the latest in a long line of disappointments. Though there’s a kernel of a good idea in the development of Alice’s accidentally oddball TV chat show, Eliot Laurence’s script doesn’t seem to know where to go with the story from there, constantly jumping back and forth between wannabe dark comedy and straight drama. The problem is that Alice isn’t particularly interesting (she’s just another version of the eccentric underdog Wiig usually plays), and the few funny moments the movie does have never elicit more than a chuckle. Also, despite a great supporting cast that includes Linda Cardellini, James Marsden, Joan Cusack and Tim Robbins, their characters are so thinly written that it’s difficult to see what attracted them to the material in the first place. “Welcome to Me” had a unique opportunity to create a funny but realistic portrayal of mental health, but it gets so caught up in being weird that it never comes together to create a compelling story.

EXTRAS: The only included bonus material is a brief behind-the-scenes featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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