Blu Tuesday: Dirty Grandpa and The Witch

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.

“Dirty Grandpa”

WHAT: When his recently widowed grandpa Dick (Robert De Niro), whom he used to be close with as a kid, needs someone to drive him to his Florida vacation home, uptight corporate lawyer Jason (Zac Efron) grudgingly volunteers. But as he soon discovers, Dick has ulterior motives for their road trip – namely, to get laid – and takes them on a detour through Daytona Beach to soak up the spring break festivities.

WHY: Robert De Niro has proven himself adept at comedy over the years, but he’s almost always played the straight man, which is what makes “Dirty Grandpa” an interesting choice for the actor, because it allows him to let loose in ways that audiences have never seen before. Though there’s something wrong about watching a screen legend like De Niro acting so raunchy, it’s also part of the film’s strange appeal. It would all be quite embarrassing if De Niro and Efron didn’t appear to be having such a good time, but the two actors form a great team, elevating the juvenile material just enough to earn a few chuckles. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that “Dirty Grandpa” is an incredibly stupid movie fueled by a never-ending stream of bad language, insults and frat humor that’s shocking for the sake of shock value. The film progressively gets worse the lower it sinks (wasting its supporting cast in the process), and yet despite its indefensible badness, “Dirty Grandpa” is still marginally entertaining, if only because De Niro makes it so.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Dan Mazer and writer John Phillips, a behind-the-scenes look at making the movie, three more featurettes and a gag reel.


“The Witch”

WHAT: In 1630s New England, a devout Christian family is exiled from its village and builds a homestead on the outskirts of an eerie forest. But when their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops suddenly die, the family members begin to turn on each other.

WHY: Praised as the best horror movie in years upon its debut at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, “The Witch” is a decent but wildly overrated period drama masquerading as a genre flick. Though first-time director Robert Eggers creates an unsettling sense of dread that looms over the entire film, there’s nothing very scary about the events that transpire apart from a few choice moments, like the possession sequence with the family’s middle child, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw). “The Witch” is an incredibly slow burn that boasts some beautiful imagery and fantastic atmosphere, but there’s so little to the actual story that it’s easy to lose interest during its many lulls. Thankfully, the cast delivers such compelling performances – especially newcomer Anna Taylor-Joy – that it’s never as boring as it could have been. While “The Witch” is definitely worth experiencing once, the movie has too many issues (for instance, the manner in which it plants the seed of paranoia within the family) to warrant the kind of acclaim that’s been thrust upon it.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Robert Eggers, a making-of featurette, a Q&A with Eggers and star Anna Taylor-Joy, and a photo gallery.



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The Buddy System: How Shane Black has continually reinvigorated and redefined the buddy cop film


While usually thought of as a hackneyed cliché from the ’70s and ’80s, the buddy cop film has actually been around a lot longer than that. Some trace its roots back to Kurosawa’s 1949 film “Stray Dog,” with early adopters being the politically charged “In The Heat of the Night” (1967) and the “I Spy” TV show in 1965. But it really grew legs with such films as “Hickey & Boggs” (1972), “Freebie and the Bean” (1974) and “48 Hrs.” (1982), each adding to the genre its own flair and nuance. (Please note: while the term is “buddy cop,” in this post the genre includes films with people that aren’t necessarily police officers; rather it’s just two, usually mismatched, partners joined together to solve a mystery.) So although it’s not as if famed filmmaker Shane Black invented the buddy cop film, for the past four decades, he has reinvented and reinvigorated an otherwise predictable and tired genre by using recurring tropes, witty banter and impressive action.

After “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon” is easily the most influential action film of the last 35 years. The spawn of homages and knockoffs that came after it is staggering, using Black’s template of the loose cannon and his straight-laced partner who engage in comic repartee while also delivering explosive violence. But many of the imitators that followed, including the “Lethal Weapon” films where Black isn’t involved (although he originally scripted the 1989 follow-up, it was heavily rewritten), missed that special mystery ingredient he brought to the first entry. “Lethal Weapon” is unique not just for its go-for-broke take on action, but also because it begins the type of story and archetypal characters that Black would revisit time and again over his career.

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Movie Review: “Money Monster”

George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito
Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster‘s last directorial effort, the Mel Gibson-led drama “The Beaver,” is a slightly unconventional and often brutal movie. The film proved to be a commercial failure, but then again, it’s hardly a commercial movie. Whether or not it connected with audiences, there was an honesty to “The Beaver” that’s not always present in Foster’s latest feature, the real-time thriller “Money Monster.” Although it’s more of a conventional crowd-pleaser, the film fails to resonate as strongly as it should.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the loud, fast-talking host of “Money Monster,” a finance show in the same vein of “Mad Money.” One day, the show’s filming is interrupted when Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) sneaks onto the set and holds Gates hostage at gunpoint. Kyle partially blames Gates for a bad stock tip that resulted in the loss of his life savings after Ibis Clear Capital inexplicably lost $800 million overnight. Nobody has answers, including Gates, and nobody is asking the important questions until Kyle shows up. With the help of his producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), Gates will do everything he can to get to the bottom of what happened, re-discovering his humanity in the process.

That last line sounds cheesy, I know, and it slightly is in execution. It’s not because of the performances or directing, but because the script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf is treading such familiar territory that character revelations and the big dramatic moments are sometimes more calculated than human. The script is refreshingly efficient — a story that’s cleanly under 100 minutes, especially during the summer, is always a blessing — but it’s almost always serving a formula. Every once in a while, like when Kyle talks to his wife, the story takes a surprising turn, only to find itself back on track towards an inevitable conclusion.

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Blu Tuesday: Deadpool 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.


WHAT: After he’s diagnosed with cancer, mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) agrees to participate in an experimental treatment that grants him special healing abilities but horribly scars his body in the process. Upon escaping the secret facility, Wade sets out to exact revenge on the deranged mutant (Ed Skrein) responsible for both saving and ruining his life.

WHY: The road to bringing “Deadpool” to the big screen may have been riddled with challenges, but it only makes the finished product that much more satisfying, because it’s a fresh and wildly entertaining action-comedy that demonstrates why studios should take more risks. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s screenplay nails the dark, twisted and juvenile tone of the wisecracking antihero, and the decision to dole out his backstory in bits and pieces via flashback is a clever way of getting around the tediousness of the typical superhero origin story. The film also completely earns its “R” rating with enough violence and foul-mouthed language to please diehard fans. But while “Deadpool” has clearly been made with those fans in mind, the movie stretches beyond sheer fan service thanks to the strength of the script and Ryan Reynolds’ pitch-perfect performance (completely atoning for the bastardized version of the character in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) to deliver a hilariously self-aware take on the genre that audiences unfamiliar with Deadpool will enjoy as well.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries (one with director Tim Miller and Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld, and the other with star Ryan Reynolds and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick), there’s a making-of featurette, five production galleries, deleted scenes and a gag reel.


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