Blu Tuesday: Show Me a Hero 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.

“Show Me a Hero”

WHAT: As the newly elected mayor of Yonkers, New York, rising politician Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac) is thrown in at the deep end when he’s forced to deal with a controversial, court-ordered plan to build public housing within the mostly white, middle-class side of town.

WHY: After spending five years exploring the socioeconomic landscape of Baltimore with the HBO series “The Wire,” it’s fitting that David Simon would want to tackle this true story about racial and political tensions in Yonkers during the late 80s and early 90s. The six-part miniseries boasts a fantastic lead performance from Oscar Isaacs and great supporting turns by Catherine Keener, Winona Ryder and Alfred Molina, but unfortunately, it just isn’t as compelling as Simon’s previous work. For starters, there are no real heroes in this story, despite what the title (a play on the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote) might suggest. Though Wasicsko may have been responsible for pushing through the housing legislation, he only did so out of compliance and fear of bankrupting the city, not because he felt like it was the right thing to do. Additionally, while the attempts to show both sides of the conflict are commendable, the minority characters aren’t afforded the same depth as their political counterparts. “Show Me a Hero” is either too long or not long enough, because in trying to juggle so many different storylines, it lacks the focus that would have made it truly excellent.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Our Brand Is Crisis”

WHAT: Disgraced campaign strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is hired by an elite management team representing Bolivian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) as a last-ditch attempt to save his campaign. Despite the seemingly impossible odds, Jane agrees to take the job after discovering that the competition has hired its own American strategist, longtime rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who she’s never defeated.

WHY: For a movie about selling lies through a carefully crafted message, “Our Brand Is Crisis” feels hopelessly thrown together. There’s a complacency to the storytelling that prevents the film from ever moving outside its comfort zone, even though that’s exactly what it should be doing, while the talented ensemble cast is squandered in marginal roles. Even Sandra Bullock’s character is pretty one-dimensional, although at least she has the benefit of sharing the screen with Billy Bob Thornton’s reptilian sleazeball, who is hands-down the highlight of the movie. Thornton excels at playing the self-righteous asshole, and the ensuing tête-à-têtes between him and Bullock result in some entertaining moments of political puppetry. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to mask the film’s many flaws. “Our Brand Is Crisis” could have been a biting satire about U.S. politics and our insistence on forcing American culture on other countries, but it takes the easy Hollywood route instead – one more concerned about its protagonist’s contrived journey to redemption than the millions of people being affected by her actions.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on Sandra Bullock’s development of the lead character, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

february

2016 got off to a pretty dire start last month, but thankfully, Hollywood has put together one hell of an apology with what is quickly shaping up to be the most promising February in a very long time – if ever. Though there are still a few duds littered throughout the month (here’s looking at you, “Gods of Egypt”), there are also some really exciting new releases, including the long-awaited Deadpool movie and the latest from directors Joel and Ethan Coen and John Hillcoat.

“Hail, Caesar!”

Who: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes and Scarlett Johansson
What: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.
When: February 5th
Why: It’s been awhile since the Coen brothers made a straight-up comedy, instead focusing on more dramatic fare like “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “True Grit,” but the writing/directing duo appears to be back to their screwball best with this period piece set during the latter years of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Though the Coens’ goofier films have always been hit-and-miss (for every “Raising Arizona,” there’s an “Intolerable Cruelty”), the footage released thus far has been pretty encouraging, particularly an extended clip with Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich squabbling over a line of dialogue that perfectly encapsulates the farcical tone of the movie.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Who: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Lena Headey and Charles Dance
What: Jane Austen’s classic tale of tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge: an army of undead.
When: February 5th
Why: How do you make “Pride and Prejudice” exciting? Add zombies. That was the secret sauce in Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestselling mashup novel, which transformed the literary classic into a blood-stained horror comedy. But that was seven years ago, so it’ll be interesting to see whether anyone still cares now that it’s finally being adapted for the big screen. After all, the last Grahame-Smith novel to receive the Hollywood treatment, 2012’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” was a massive flop, and although “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” has a cleverer concept, it’s just as one-note, which doesn’t bode well for its audience, whoever that’s supposed to be.

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Movie Review: “The Finest Hours”

Starring
Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger
Director
Craig Gillespie

It’s easy to see why studios are drawn to stories like the one behind “The Finest Hours,” where four Cape Cod Coast Guardsmen braved impossible weather to rescue the 33 men trapped on a severed oil tanker. By all rights, every one of them should have died a cold, miserable death that night in early 1952, but they didn’t, and it is still considered one of the greatest rescues in Coast Guard history, which is why someone thought, “We should make a film about this.” That in itself is not a bad idea. The bad idea is when the film they make about this incredible story looks like every other film ever made about a similar story. This is a pity; the water sequences are breathtaking, but it’s hard to get emotionally invested in any of the characters, not for a lack of effort on Casey Affleck’s part.

Coast Guard Boatswain Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is about to meet, for the first time, the girl he has spent the last four weeks talking on the phone. He’s nervous about how she’ll feel about him, even though a) she’s taken his calls for four weeks, and b) he looks like Chris Pine. The girl, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), likes him just fine, and a few months later, unsung feminist pioneer Miriam asks Bernie if he’ll marry her. Almost immediately after he says yes (in the most awkward, bumbling manner possible), Miriam gets a taste of life as the wife of a Guardsman.

A nasty Nor’easter splits two oil tankers in half off the Massachusetts coast. Bernie, who works in nearby Chatham Station on Cape Cod, is instructed to look for the SS Pendleton, even though there has been no contact from the Pendleton, the Chatham office only has an educated guess where the Pendleton is due to a malfunctioning radar, and there’s a good chance that Bernie’s crew will get stranded on a sand bar before reaching the deep blue sea. The de facto captain of the Pendleton is Ray Sybert (Affleck), an unpopular engine room lifer who knows the ship better than anyone on board, and must convince the crew that he can lead them, or at least keep them alive the longest.

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Movie Review: “Kung Fu Panda 3″

Starring
Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, Kate Hudson, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Jackie Chan
Directors
Alessandro Carloni & Jennifer Yu

It would be fitting if this turned out to be the final installment in the “Kung Fu Panda” series, because the moral of “Kung Fu Panda 3” is “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Those were the last words of the last song on Abbey Road, the last album the Beatles made together. (Yes, there is a snippet of a song after it called “Her Majesty,” but that was the engineer’s doing, and was never supposed to be on the final master tape.) It’s an excellent piece of advice, and makes for a very touching finale, but there is a sameness to these films that cannot be denied. Po is the animated, martial arts equivalent of Dr. Gregory House, the one who continues to get it wrong before finally getting it right.

There is a great disturbance in the spirit realm, as the ox Kai (J.K. Simmons), a onetime friend of the recently deceased Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), is vanquishing all departed kung fu masters in order to steal their chi (think of it as channeling the energy of the universe) and use it to cross over to the mortal realm and continue his reign of terror. Oogway chose Po (Jack Black) to be the Dragon Warrior knowing that this was coming, though no one in the mortal realm has much faith that Po will succeed.

Po also receives a visit from his biological father Li (Bryan Cranston), much to the consternation of his adoptive father Ping (James Hong). Li lives with a group of pandas in a hidden location, and he brings Po (and Ping, reluctantly) back with him to learn the art of chi, as well as how to be a proper panda. Po doesn’t have much time, though; soon after crossing over to the mortal realm, Kai makes short work of the Furious Five, save Tigress (Angelina Jolie), and is coming for Po.

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Blu Tuesday: Burnt and Goosebumps

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.

“Burnt”

WHAT: Former bad boy chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) seeks to put his life back together and earn a coveted third Michelin star when he convinces his old business partner, Tony (Daniel Brühl), to take over his languishing London restaurant and turn it into one of the world’s best.

WHY: John Wells’ culinary drama was ripped apart by critics upon its theatrical release, and although the criticisms weren’t completely unfair, “Burnt” is far from disastrous. In fact, if you enjoy foodie shows like “Top Chef,” the kitchen-based sequences offer a pretty fascinating look behind the curtain of the restaurant world, even if it seems a bit more glamorous than in real life. Where the movie starts to fall apart is outside the kitchen with the clichéd personal drama and strained romantic subplot between Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. It’s all too safe for a film about a guy who used to live on the edge, especially when his redemption arc lacks the required emotional punch. There’s enough quality among the ensemble cast (including all-too-brief cameos by Alicia Vikander and Uma Thurman) to hold your interest, but much like Cooper’s last chef-inspired project, the short-lived TV series “Kitchen Confidential,” it’s a little undercooked.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director John Wells and chef consultant Marcus Wareing, deleted scenes, highlights from a cast Q&A and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Goosebumps”

WHAT: After he breaks into his neighbor’s house to investigate a distress call, teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) discovers a bookshelf filled with “Goosebumps” manuscripts that have been mysteriously sealed with a lock. When Zach unwittingly opens one and unleashes the monster trapped inside – setting off a chain reaction in the process – he must team up with R.L. Stine (Jack Black) and his daughter (Odeya Rush) to stop the author’s creations from wreaking havoc on their small town.

WHY: “Goosebumps” is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a lot of fun with its premise, which takes a very meta approach to the source material. If anyone was going to make a “Goosebumps” movie, this was the way to do it. Unfortunately, while the film is much better than the cheesy, mid-‘90s TV series, nothing about it really stands out apart from Jack Black’s amusing performance as the macabre author. The visual effects are solid, if a little cartoony, and although Darren Lemke’s screenplay nails the spooky/funny tone of the typical “Goosebumps” tale, it’s riddled with plot holes. In spite of its obvious flaws, however, the spirit of “Goosebumps” is very much alive in director Rob Letterman’s movie. Fans of the YA book series will find more to love than most, but it’s a harmless slice of family entertainment that evokes the goofy humor and PG-rated scares of other Halloween classics like “Hocus Pocus.”

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of featurettes on the film’s creatures, there’s an alternate ending and opening, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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