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

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Blu Tuesday: Jupiter Ascending, Focus and McFarland, USA

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.

“Jupiter Ascending”

WHAT: When Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) discovers that she’s the reincarnation of intergalactic royalty, she becomes the target of a power play between her former self’s three feuding siblings, who all want her for their own selfish reasons. Saved by a disgraced solider named Caine (Channing Tatum), Jupiter must take control of her destiny if she hopes to save Earth from its terrible fate.

WHY: It’s been 16 years since “The Matrix,” but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of money Warner Bros. continues to flush down the toilet with Andy and Lana Wachowski’s string of commercial and critical failures. “Cloud Atlas” should have been the final straw, but instead, the studio took yet another chance on the directing duo with “Jupiter Ascending,” and although the Wachowskis’ commitment to creating original sci-fi stories is commendable, it’s their worst movie to date. A garbled mess of half-baked ideas (some good, some bad) that never have the chance to fully develop due to an overwhelming mythology that delivers too much information, too quickly over the course of its 127-minute runtime, “Jupiter Ascending” was a disaster waiting to happen. It wouldn’t surprise me if a much longer cut of this movie existed, because the current version feels like it’s been chopped up and pieced back together to include all the essential material without any consideration for how it works as a whole. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The film is also plagued by poor attempts at humor and some truly awful performances, none more so than Eddie Redmayne as the eldest of the royal siblings. Despite some impressive visual effects, “Jupiter Ascending” is groan-inducingly bad – a massive swing-and-miss that could spell the end of the Wachowskis’ charmed partnership with Warner Bros.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release contains seven featurettes covering a variety of topics, including production and creature design, filming the action sequences, as well profiles on the Wachowskis and the movie’s lead characters.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Focus”

WHAT: Veteran conman Nicky (Will Smith) agrees to help coach a promising grifter named Jess (Margot Robbie) when he brings her in on his large-scale operation. After Jess gets burned by Nicky at the end of the job, the two go their separate ways until they cross paths again three years later when Nicky is hired by a wealthy racing team owner (Rodrigo Santoro) to help ruin his competitors. But while Nicky wants to make amends after the way he left things, Jess is unable to trust him, convinced that he must be working some kind of angle. The real question is whether Jess is too.

WHY: Films about con artists are almost as difficult to pull off as an actual con. They need to be clever enough to outsmart and entertain the audience without being overly complex or resorting to narrative cheats. “Focus” is definitely entertaining at times, a flashy crime drama highlighted by a pair of movie star performances from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, but it also commits the aforementioned offenses in order to arrive at its twist ending. However, that’s not the film’s biggest problem, but rather the fact that “Focus” is basically two movie stitched together by the same connective tissue, and only one of the halves is any good. While the first half is a fun and fizzy con movie that’s capped off by a terrifically tense sequence featuring BD Wong as a high-stakes gambler, the second half isn’t nearly as engaging, partly because Smith and Robbie don’t have strong enough chemistry to sell the romance at the center of the story. The script’s playful tone remains intact throughout, but it never quite clicks the same way, bogged down by scene after scene of exposition that’s all setup for the big payoff. Although it’s refreshing to see a major studio take a gamble on a modestly budgeted film targeted towards adults, “Focus” is so passively mediocre that you can understand why other studios have been afraid to pull the trigger.

EXTRAS: In addition to a featurette about the art of misdirection, there are profiles on Will Smith and Margot Robbie, as well deleted scenes and an alternate opening.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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The Playful Drug Marijuana Remains A Liability

yoga on the beach

There are many people in recovery from hard-core addictions who do not care if there is a scientifically provable link between marijuana and stronger drugs.

These are simply addicts who know that marijuana was part of their addiction-oriented lifestyle. They also remember that marijuana frequently includes symptoms of anxiety and paranoia. This lends itself to taking a sedative and an alcoholic beverage is often the sedative that is easiest to reach. So, marijuana and alcohol are not linked from a specific biological cause and effect, but the link is still viable enough for someone facing a life in recovery knows enough to avoid marijuana use if they want to stay clean and sober.

Just as coffee is not biologically linked to smoking a cigarette, those who smoke frequently say they combine the two and that sitting down with a cup of coffee – if they manage to quit smoking – frequently gives them the urge to smoke.

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Blu Tuesday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 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.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

WHAT: New York City is being terrorized by a criminal organization called the Foot Clan under the command of a shadowy figure known as The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). But there’s a group of vigilantes silently serving as the city’s protectors, and ambitious news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is determined to uncover their identities… only to find that the mystery men aren’t men at all, but rather oversized mutant turtles skilled in the art of ninjitsu.

WHY: Jonathan Liebesman’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot isn’t nearly the disaster that many people feared. In fact, it’s actually quite entertaining at times provided you check your brain at the door and don’t mind that the film is basically feeding off the fumes of your childhood. The movie has its share of problems – from its assembly-by-committee script, to the generic action sequences – but the four actors who play the Turtles make up for some of those shortcomings by really capturing their spirit and brotherly camaraderie. The visual effects wizardry that’s been applied to their mo-cap performances is top-notch as well, proving once again why this technology is incredibly useful in not only creating more realistic CG characters, but giving them a human element that could never be achieved by men in rubber suits. There are some fun in-jokes for adult fans who grew up watching the Turtles as kids, but “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is essentially a live-action cartoon and should be judged accordingly. It’s far from a great film, but it also doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is, and if that means going easier on the film, then so be it, because that’s a perfectly acceptable cost of a little nostalgia.

EXTRAS: There are five featurettes covering a range of topics, including the digital evolution of the Turtles, the technical aspects of 3D, scoring the film and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“This Is Where I Leave You”

WHAT: When their father passes away, four siblings (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) return to their childhood home to fulfill his dying wish by sitting shiva. Forced to live under the same roof for a week with their loquacious mother (Jane Fonda), each child must deal with their respective personal problems and the ghosts of their past.

WHY: Adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his book of the same name, “This Is Where I Leave You” represents an interesting change of pace for Shawn Levy, who’s best known for big blockbusters like the “Night at the Museum” films. But while it’s always great to see a director explore new territory, Levy seems to be a little out of his comfort zone with this family dramedy, never quite sure how to handle the more serious moments when there’s always another joke right around the corner. It was smart to cast actors that could handle both comedy and drama, but sadly, the material wastes a lot of their talents. Though Jason Bateman is solid as the middle brother, Tina Fey is miscast as his protective sister, Corey Stoll’s eldest brother barely registers as a three-dimensional character, and Jane Fonda’s mother is given giant breast implants… and not much else. Adam Driver and Rose Byrne are the only two bright spots, but even their characters are majorly underserved. To be fair, movies like this are a difficult balancing act, and even more so with such a large cast of characters, but despite Levy’s best efforts, “This Is Where I Leave You” falls disappointingly flat.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of production featurettes, there are outtakes of Ben Schwartz as Rabbi Boner and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Magic in the Moonlight”

WHAT: World-renowned magician Wei Ling Soo has a bag of tricks, but his biggest trick of all is that it’s just a ruse – the terribly racist stage persona of grumpy Englishman Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), who despises charlatans that give his profession a bad name. So when longtime friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) asks for his assistance in debunking a young spiritualist named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), whom he believes is scamming the heir of the wealthy Catledge family, Stanley heads to their mansion to catch Sophie red-handed.

WHY: Woody Allen has made some real stinkers over the course of his 50-year career, and though “Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t quite bad enough to be included among the director’s absolute worst films, it’s not very good either. While Allen has proven that he’s still capable of delivering a good movie on occasion, he seems more concerned with maintaining his yearly output no matter what the cost, and that quantity-over-quality way of thinking only underlines the many problems with his latest comedy. At the top of that list is the complete lack of romantic chemistry between Colin Firth and Emma Stone, which proves to be detrimental, since so much of the film depends on their playful interactions. Both actors are usually very charming, but they look hopelessly lost in their roles due to a half-baked script that goes around in circles. Everything about this movie seems like it was rushed, from the stupid title, to the horrible poster, to the uninspired direction by Allen, who fails to provide an engaging story beyond the initial premise. “Magic in the Moonlight” doesn’t make you believe in magic, or love, or anything, really, although maybe that’s just the cynic in me, eager to expose the film as the fraud that it is, because the whole thing feels less like a genuine Woody Allen comedy than a pale imitation.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette and footage from the premiere.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Hundred-Foot Journey and Kite

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.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

WHAT: A decade after the events of the last film, the Simian Flu (a virus spread by Will Rodman’s Alzheimer’s drug) has wiped out most of humanity, while the apes continue to thrive in their forest community outside the city. But when a small group of humans (led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm) accidentally wanders onto the apes’ home turf while searching for a hydroelectric dam capable of bringing power back online, their arrival re-ignites the feud between leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and right-hand ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), who have vastly different opinions on how to handle the trespassers.

WHY: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2011, but while Matt Reeves’ much darker sequel aims to hit the same emotional notes of its predecessor, it falls a bit short. Like that movie, “Dawn” touches on some interesting themes of power, trust and gun control, though the script isn’t exactly subtle about it, hammering the audience over the head to the point of exhaustion. The story is also fairly predictable, populated with characters we’ve all seen a hundred times before, and as a result, it’s just not as engaging on a dramatic level. What it lacks in originality, however, it makes up for in sheer visual spectacle. The action sequences look amazing, but it’s the relationships between man and ape, as well as ape and ape, that are the driving force behind the film, and they wouldn’t be as effective without the groundbreaking technology on display. Andy Serkis is excellent once again as Caesar, but with so many ape characters fighting for face time this time around, the gimmick loses some of its “wow” factor. Even with those flaws, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is still a damn good sequel that, while not as smart and poignant as the 2011 sequel, is still a step up from most summer blockbusters.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Matt Reeves, there are some deleted scenes (with optional commentary) and seven production featurettes covering a range of topics including the cast, special effects, motion capture and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Hundred-Foot Journey”

WHAT: Following a family tragedy, the Kadam clan leaves India for Europe, eventually settling in a small town in southern France where they open a restaurant directly across from a Michelin-starred eatery operated by the snooty Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). But when the two establishments become embroiled in a childish war, the Kadams’ star-in-the-making chef (Manish Dayal) seeks to unite them through the power of food.

WHY: Movies like “The Hundred-Foot Journey” have been Disney’s bread and butter for years, although they’re usually packaged in the form of an underdog sports drama. But while the story (based on Richard C. Morais’ novel) has nothing to do with sports, the film follows the same basic formula of the subgenre, and the results are uninspired to say the least. Swap out the restaurant world for professional baseball and you could make the exact same movie about a talented but unorthodox minor league pitcher who rises through the ranks against all odds. You need only to watch the trailer to know how the film is going to play out, populated with stock characters that are as one-dimensional as the story itself. The performances aren’t anything special either, including Helen Mirren, who seems to be on auto-pilot for most of the movie, even if she’s easily the best thing about it. But while there’s definitely an audience for these kinds of cheesy, feel-good films (if there wasn’t, director Lasse Hallstrom would be out of a job), “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is so afraid to step out of its comfort zone that it isn’t just predictable – it’s pedestrian.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette, a discussion with producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, a tour of the set with Oprah and a recipe for Coconut Chicken.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Kite”

WHAT: After her parents are murdered, a young woman named Sawa (India Eisley) teams up with her cop father’s ex-partner (Samuel L. Jackson) to take down a human trafficking cartel run by the same man responsible for making her an orphan.

WHY: Based on the ultraviolent 1998 anime of the same name, “Kite” is about as good as you’d expect for a movie that was dumped into theaters (likely due to a contractual obligation) with little fanfare. In other words, not very. Despite being somewhat of a cult hit within the anime community, the original film wouldn’t be nearly as memorable if not for its controversial graphic content. But in a post-Hit-Girl world, that stuff just isn’t as shocking as it once was, especially when the violence and sex is as watered down as it is in the live-action version. Though the filmmakers were smart to attach a big name (and self-professed anime fan) like Samuel L. Jackson to the project, the actor is unable to rescue the movie from a poor script, amateur direction and some terrible performances by his co-stars. More than anything else, though, it’s just incredibly boring. The uncut version of Yasuomi Umetsu’s anime was only 60 minutes long, so the fact that anyone thought that taking an already paper-thin plot and expanding it into a 90-minute movie was a good idea probably shouldn’t be making films in the first place.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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