Blu Tuesday: Midnight Special 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.

“Midnight Special”

WHAT: On the run from the government, as well as religious zealots who covet his son Alton’s (Jaeden Lieberher) mysterious powers, Roy (Michael Shannon) enlists the help of his wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) to get the young boy to an undisclosed location on a specific date. He’s not sure why, other than that it will help Alton achieve his true purpose.

WHY: Director Jeff Nichols has a predilection for telling simple stories that focus heavily on character, but “Midnight Special” is almost too simple in execution, lacking the required substance to sustain its 112-minute runtime. Though the opening act is packed with tension and mystery, the story grinds to a halt in the middle as its characters become stuck in a holding pattern of sorts, only to eventually limp towards its disappointing conclusion. Nicholas has never been very good at sticking the landing, but “Midnight Special” contains his most uninspired ending yet. The movie is also mind-numbingly slow at times, weighed down by subplots that go nowhere and entire scenes where nothing happens. Fortunately, the acting is so good that it just barely manages to keep your interest, particularly Nichols regular Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver as an NSA agent helping to track down the fugitives. It’s a shame to see this much talent wasted on such a mediocre film, because while there was certainly a great movie within reach, “Midnight Special” stumbles too often to fulfil its potential.

EXTRAS: There are profiles on the five main characters and a making-of featurette.

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Missing Reels: “Fulltime Killer” (2001)

Missing Reels examines overlooked, unappreciated or unfairly maligned movies. Sometimes these films haven’t been seen by anyone, and sometimes they’ve been seen by everyone… who loathed them. Sometimes they’ve simply been forgotten. But in any case, Missing Reels argues that they deserve to be seen and admired by more people.

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Hong Kong has long been the source of lots of great action, from the Shaw Brothers’ kung fu epics, to John Woo’s ultra-cool crime stories of the ’80s and ’90s. But while many people may think that the action scene has moved on to other parts (mostly Thailand and South Korea, plus a mini-boom of excellent American direct-to-video films like “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” and its ilk), there’s still a lot to offer from the once reigning king of cinematic punches and gunshots. Johnnie To is most famous for his “Election” films, gripping crime dramas about rival gangs and who controls them, but before he made those, he directed a film (with Wai Ka-Fai) that oozes charm, a clever narrative structure and excellent action sequences.

2001’s “Fulltime Killer” is the story of two rival assassins: O (Takashi Sorimachi) is a methodical and utilitarian killer for hire who dispatches his targets with a cold, emotionless disconnect; Lok (Andy Lau) is a flamboyant slayer of men who is inspired by western action flicks and makes each kill an operatic masterpiece of mayhem. O is the top assassin in Asia, given the big paying jobs because he always gets them done and remains steps ahead of Interpol. Lok is sick of living in O’s shadow and decides to target the top dog by first integrating himself into O’s life, then by taking out O’s targets himself, before eventually directly confronting the killer. It’s a blend of the cool of John Woo’s “The Killer,” the tense buddy relationship at the heart of “Hard Boiled,” mixed with the self-reflective skin of a Tarantino bloodbath.

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Movie Review: “Central Intelligence”

Starring
Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul
Director
Rawson Marshall Thurber

There is a really good movie just within reach of “Central Intelligence.” The casting is impeccable (no joke, Dwayne Johnson has never been better), and the premise is a strangely beautiful marriage of “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “True Lies,” with a few jabs at Facebook for good measure. They even used their PG-13, one-time-only F-bomb to tell Mark Zuckerberg to, well, you know.

Unfortunately, the dialogue reads like it was written by horny tweens who are really, really into toilet humor. It also falls prey to the age-old movie cliché that the most highly skilled soldiers in the world happen to all be lousy shots. No, no, no.

It is 1996, and Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is riding high as a high school senior and multi-sport all-star. In the middle of his speech at the last assembly of the year, Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson), an awkward, overweight, overlooked kid, is thrown into the gym, naked as a jailbird, by a group of bullies. Calvin offers him his letterman jacket so he can cover himself up, and Robbie is eternally grateful. Twenty years later, Calvin is an accountant but frustrated that he, in his mind, peaked too soon. A day before his 20-year high school reunion, Calvin receives a Facebook friend request from a Bob Stone and accepts it. Bob Stone turns out to be Robbie, only now he’s tall and ripped, and he hasn’t forgotten that Calvin offered to help him during the most humiliating experience of his life.

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Movie Review: “Finding Dory”

Starring
Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Hayden Rolence, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Idris Elba, Dominic West
Director
Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

Well, this is disturbing: Pixar, which for years was the most creative, most consistent studio in Hollywood (that includes live-action films and animation), has five films in various stages of production, and four of them are sequels. If you go back to 2010, Pixar has produced seven sequels, as opposed to four films based on new ideas. Three of those four new-idea films have been released. One of them (“Inside Out,” one of only a handful of reviews I’d like to rewrite after misinterpreting a key plot point) has already ascended to classic status. The other two were two of Pixar’s weakest efforts (“Brave” and “The Good Dinosaur”). The fourth one, “Coco,” is inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is the exact setting for Fox’s 2014 film “The Book of Life.” Ahem.

The first of the five films in production is “Finding Dory,” the follow-up to 2003’s “Finding Nemo,” far and away Pixar’s most successful film until “Toy Story 3” made over $1 billion worldwide in 2010. Thirteen years is a long time to be away, and Pixar is clearly mindful of the gap, because the story structure is part sequel, part remake. Several jokes from the first film are rehashed, with diminishing returns from all but one (the sea lions). For the most part, the film plays it maddeningly safe, and then the third act arrives, at which point all hell breaks loose in the most glorious, adorable way possible. In addition, it appears they even threw in an homage to “Inception” for the adults.

After a cute but heartbreaking sequence involving a toddler Dory and her parents, then later lost tween and adult Dory trying to find her parents, the story eventually settles a year after the events of “Nemo,” where Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has a sudden urge to, yep, find her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). With a vague memory that she was raised off the coast of California, Dory, Marlin (Albert Brooks), and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) enlist the help of an old friend (no spoilers) to take them on the roughly 7,000-mile journey. Shortly upon arrival, Dory is snagged in a plastic six-pack ring and picked up by employees of the local marine institute, which treats marine life for release back into the ocean. Dory recalls living in one of the exhibits and convinces a standoffish mimic octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill, in a bit of inspired casting) to help her. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo are concerned that without them, Dory will forget where she is and why she’s there, and embark on their own adventure to save their friend.

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Repeat Offenders: Why comedy sequels fail so often

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“City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold.” “Caddyshack 2.” “Ghostbusters 2.” “The Hangover 2.” “The Hangover 3.” The “Austin Powers” series. Why do so many comedy sequels fail so hard? What is it about comedies that makes franchises so stale and the films so bad? In theory, it should work, right? Affable actors, known characters, familiar situations; it could easily be more of the same as the first installment. But the problem is that comedy doesn’t work with “more of the same.” If you’ve known someone for a long time, you’ve probably heard a particular anecdote multiple times. The first time it was hilarious, the second time you knew what to expect, so the impact is inherently less humorous, and each subsequent time it loses some of its punch. The same can be said of comedy sequels. It’s not that they can’t succeed, but when they fail, it’s usually a matter of poor execution and lazy filmmaking that makes them so disappointing and terrible.

Let’s break it down a bit further. Most comedies are situation-based. True, there are funny characters reacting to the situation, but it is still a predicament of some sort that drives the story and the humor. “The Hangover,” for example, has a funny cast, but they are thrust into a comic milieu because of the situation of not remembering what happened the night before and piecing it all together while reacting to each new discovery with a signature personality. The problem in the sequels is that the novelty of the situation has already been squandered; we’ve already seen them have a problem with a lost night out, so why are we watching it again? Furthermore, it strains whatever credulity the plot already had by simply saying, “Here we go again.” What are the odds the same outrageous thing happens to the same people multiple times like that? If familiarity breeds contempt, then redundant and overwrought plots breed unhappy audiences.

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