Blu Tuesday: Neighbors 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 social media with your friends.

“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

WHAT: When a progressive, hard-partying sorority (led by Chloe Grace Moretz) moves in next door and threatens to derail the impending sale of their house, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) join forces with their former adversary, Teddy (Zac Efron), to take them down.

WHY: Though 2014’s “Neighbors” was a box office hit, there weren’t many people clamoring for a sequel, mainly because it didn’t feel like there was anywhere else to go with the story. That didn’t stop Universal from green-lighting this blatant cash grab, however, resulting in a sloppy, pseudo-feminist rehash of the original that follows the same beats without many of the laughs. Not only is it more unbelievable than its predecessor (nothing that happens in this film is even remotely realistic), but unlike the Delta Psi guys played by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, the sorority girls aren’t very likeable; in fact, they’re straight-up idiots with almost no redeeming qualities. Unfortunately, that extends to many of the returning characters as well. Despite his fun turn as the villain in the first movie, Efron is wasted as the emotionally stunted sidekick, while Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne seem to be on auto-pilot. There are a few giggles here and there, but for the most part, “Neighbors 2” is a giant waste of talent and, more importantly, your time.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Nicholas Stoller and producer James Weaver, there’s a making-of featurette, a behind-the-scenes look at filming the tailgate sequence, deleted scenes, alternate takes, a gag reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Summer Schooled: What the summer season at the movies meant in 2016

summer_schooled

From May to August, the summer movie season is in full swing, a cavalcade of blockbusters designed by large corporations to bring in as much money as possible by appealing to as many people as they can. And if those studios just so happen to produce a good film in the process? Well, that’s a bonus. As opposed to the dumping grounds of January and February, or the prestige-filled months at the end of the year, summer is the awkward middle child attempting to overachieve and set new box office records. But what can filmgoers learn about the state of the movie nation based on what was a success this year? And was there a huge disparity between what was popular and what was critically praised? I looked at the numbers and took the pulse of 2016’s summer movie season, and I found some surprising trends.

First, to make sure we’re all working from the same math, here are the top ten films, by box office for May to August, along with their Rotten Tomatoes critic scores and audience scores:

summer-movies

So what are we to draw from this? A few things…

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Movie Review: “Snowden”

Starring
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melisssa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson
Director
Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone has been more hit than miss as a filmmaker over the past few years, but even his most successful work sometimes leaves a little more to be desired. Stone is a filmmaker that likes to take big swings with his movies – the ending of “Snowden” being a perfect example – and sometimes they don’t always payoff. In the case of “Snowden,” however, most of them do, making this biopic/thriller the director’s most consistent movie he’s made since 1999’s “Any Given Sunday.”

With this true story, Stone tackles one of recent history’s most divisive figures: Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the man who exposed the NSA’s illegal surveillance of American citizens. The film opens several years before those events, when he was a proud Republican and patriot who wanted to fight in the Iraq War, only to be discharged after breaking his legs in basic training. In 2006, Edward meets and falls in love with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), and shortly thereafter, begins working in the CIA’s global communications division, where he immediately questions his orders. For a while, he keeps his mouth shut and his concerns to himself, but after working on the NSA’s massive cyberforce project, Edward can no longer keep what he’s doing a secret while unsuspecting Americans are spied on by their own government. In 2013, Edward travels to Hong Kong with a hard drive containing classified documents exposing the NSA, which he shares with Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), as well as the documentary filmmaker behind “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo). Once the story breaks, Snowden becomes a fugitive without a home.

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Blu Tuesday: Captain America: Civil War 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 social media with your friends.

“Captain America: Civil War”

WHAT: After a mission to retrieve a biological weapon in Nigeria results in collateral damage, the United Nations proposes a law to regulate the Avengers, which creates a rift among the team’s members. So when his old friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is framed for a terrorist attack, Captain America (Chris Evans) goes rogue in order to protect him, leaving Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) no other choice but to hunt them both down.

WHY: “Civil War” has been jokingly referred to as “Avengers 2.5,” and for good reason, because while the movie may be a Captain America sequel in name, it’s a continuation of several different story threads from “Winter Soldier,” “Age of Ultron” and more. Though the film feels a bit crowded at times with all of the various characters and cameos (including the introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man), they never overshadow the central conflict. Unlike “Batman v Superman,” “Civil War” actually gives its characters a reason for fighting, and that goes a long way in legitimizing the ideological and physical clash between its opposing heroes. The movie isn’t perfect – Daniel Brühl’s villainous Zemo is underserved, and the filmmakers ignore a key argument in favor of the anti-registration side – but it does such a good job of balancing the emotionally-charged narrative with some excellent action sequences and fan service that those flaws seem trivial in comparison. “Civil War” is perhaps Marvel’s darkest and most mature film to date, but it still knows how to have fun, and that’s paramount to its success.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by directors Anthony and Joe Russo, there’s a two-part making-of featurette, a look at Captain America and Iron Man’s respective journeys across the MCU, deleted scenes, a gag reel and an exclusive sneak peek at “Doctor Strange.”

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Finding Footing with Found Footage: Why the toolset works when used correctly

blair_witch

The term “found footage” can easily evoke eye rolling from genre fans. After a glut of terrible movies using the gimmick as a way to cheaply make films with minimal scares, it’s easy to understand why so many people are hesitant to embrace the tool as a way to tell the story. And it makes sense: it is less expensive to use every day cameras; there’s less attention needed to detail for shot framing and audio control; and lazy scriptwriting can be easily passed off as verisimilitude of how people would talk in a situation. But while there have been many, many terrible films made using the found footage gimmick, there have been enough good films that understand how to use it and showcase why this cinematic tool has survived for over 40 years. With a new “Blair Witch” film on the horizon, using the same technique as the first, it’s time to reflect on how found footage works so well and why people should embrace it (when it’s done right).

As previously stated, there have been multiple good films that use found footage correctly: “Cannibal Holocaust,” “The Last Broadcast,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfield,” parts of “V/H/S 2,” “REC” and the “WNUF Halloween Special.” True, for each of these films, there are probably 10 terrible ghost story movies that rely on cheap startling moments without any character development or interesting narrative moments. What sets these films apart from the slogfests of the “Paranormal Activity” imitators are that they are made by people with clear intent, an understanding of tone and atmosphere, and a real investment in telling a story. While others cash in on the “craze” of found footage, these films were made to tell a story using the medium to highlight characterizations and provide a fresh perspective on well-worn territory. So to dismiss this technique outright because of all the weak entries is akin to not watching “Jaws” because of all the hackneyed “man vs. nature” films that came after it.

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