Movie Review: “Sex Tape”

Starring
Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz, Rob Lowe, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper
Director
Jake Kasdan

The screenplay credit may reveal more about “Sex Tape” than it cares to admit. Karen Angelo gets both a story and screenplay credit (yep, this movie was a woman’s idea), with lead actor Jason Segel and his writing partner Nicholas Stoller sharing a joint screenplay credit as well. For the sake of Segel and Stoller’s reputations as writers, we are going to hope that they went into production with Angelo’s draft of the script, only to have Segel and Stoller punch it up once they realized it wasn’t working, and then realizing that there wasn’t enough time to get it completely right, so they settled for this. That is the only way to explain how Segel and Stoller would be part of something so emotionally tone-deaf. The characters in “Sex Tape” don’t have personalities: they have quirks. That’s not the same thing, by a damned sight.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Segel) are harried with children, with neither the time nor the energy to invest in their sex life as they did when they were younger and childless. Both recognize that this is a problem, and they decide to make up for all of the missed opportunities by making a video of them performing every position in the 1972 book “The Joy of Sex.” The plan is for Jay to delete the video in the morning, only he doesn’t. Later the next day, Jay receives a text from an unknown number, telling him that they’ve seen the video. It went out after Jay did a group sync of the contents of his iPad (that was the camera) with several other iPads that he has recently given away to friends and colleagues. Annie is naturally embarrassed, but worse, she gave one of those iPads to Hank (Rob Lowe), who’s considering buying Annie’s mommy blog.

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Movie Review: “The Purge: Anarchy”

Starring
Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez
Director
James DeMonaco

The first “Purge” movie was an incredibly stupid horror-thriller dragged down by its comically far-fetched concept, cardboard villains and idiotic characters, but it also made a lot of money on a micro-sized budget, so it was hardly a surprise when Universal greenlit another installment. As you might expect from a sequel written and directed by the same guy responsible for the original, “The Purge: Anarchy” is plagued by many of the same issues, although it’s a slight improvement thanks to the decision to move the action out into the city rather than stay contained within a single household. In fact, unlike the home invasion plot of the first film, “Anarchy” has shed itself almost entirely of all horror elements, aiming for something more along the lines of a retro John Carpenter movie, only not as good.

In an attempt to lower the national crime rate and control overpopulation, the country’s newly elected government – the New Founding Fathers of America – have enacted an annual holiday known as The Purge, a 12-hour period where all crime (including theft, murder and rape) is completely legal. It’s designed to provide citizens with an outlet for their repressed urges, and it actually works, but only if you’re lucky enough to be on the right side of the poverty line. Those who can’t afford protection are easy targets, like single mother Eva (Carmen Ejogo), who’s just trying to make it through another Purge alive with her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul). When a well-armed group of assailants raid their apartment building and take them outside to be executed in the streets, they’re saved by a mysterious stranger (Frank Grillo) seeking revenge on the man who killed his son. Along the way, they’re joined by a married couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) that’s been stranded in the city after their car breaks down on the highway, and they must work together to survive the night against psychotic gangs, twisted one-percenters and the government’s personal hit squad.

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Movie Review: “Planes: Fire & Rescue”

Starring
Dane Cook, Teri Hatcher, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Julie Bowen, John Michael Higgins, Brad Garrett, Regina King
Director
Roberts Gannaway

Movies like “Planes: Fire & Rescue” are the bane of a movie critic’s existence, but not for the reasons you might suspect. It has a rock-solid moral center, preaching the virtues of bravery and self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, and those are important things for young children to learn in the event that their real-life role models aren’t teaching them those things already. It also has some inspired voice work by a well-chosen cast, and some impressive visuals. However, in order to make said point about the virtues of bravery and self-sacrifice, the story line and dialogue are stripped of nearly all nuance, and in the end we are left with a Message Movie, and a straight-to-video Message Movie at that. (That might sound harsh, but last year’s “Planes” was originally meant to go straight to video.) Even Disney knows that these movies are second class to films like “Frozen” and “Wreck-It-Ralph.” It’s a place filler until they unveil their next tentpole release. Easily consumable and earnest, but knowingly lacking, and absolutely not worth paying extra cash to see in 3D.

Newly crowned race champion Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is enjoying his moment in the sun as the It Boy of aerial racing, but his mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher) advises him that he has a part that is both faulty and irreplaceable, and if he continues to push the limits, he will crash. Of course, he does exactly that, and sets off a chain of events that exposes the airport he calls home as being unsafe. They need another rescue vehicle and, realizing that his racing days are all but over, Dusty volunteers to be the rescue vehicle. Fire truck Mayday (Hal Holbrook) sends Dusty up to train with Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), and Dusty quickly, and repeatedly, learns that this job is much harder than it looks.

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Movie Review: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Starring
Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Gary Oldman, Kirk Acevedo
Director
Matt Reeves

It’s always a great feeling to walk into a movie with low expectations and come out pleasantly surprised, as was the case with Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a prequel that no one was really clamoring for apart from the franchise’s most diehard fans. And yet by proving that it was possible to make a great “Planet of the Apes” film, it raised the bar in the process, creating a whole new set of obstacles for any movie that followed, including whether it could live up to or even surpass its predecessor. But while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” stands above and beyond the original films, as well as most of the other movies released this summer, Matt Reeves’ much darker sequel is unable to match the emotional resonance of the previous installment, although it certainly tries.

Set a decade after the events of the first prequel, “Dawn” opens in a very different San Francisco from when we last saw it. The Simian Flu (a contagious virus spread by the Alzheimer’s drug that James Franco’s scientist created in “Rise”) has wiped out most of humanity, while the apes continue to thrive in their forest community located on the outskirts of 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. Caesar agrees to allow Malcom and his team to stay and repair the generator in order to keep the peace between mankind and apes, but Koba’s deep mistrust leads him to discover that the human survivors have stockpiled weapons in their downtown sanctuary, and fearing that they’ll attack first, he betrays Caesar and leads an all-out assault against the humans.

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Blu Tuesday: The Raid 2, Bad Words and Nymphomaniac

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.

“The Raid 2″

WHAT: In order to protect himself and his family from being targeted for retaliation, honest cop Rama (Iko Uwais) agrees to go undercover to find the source of corruption in the city’s police force. After making friends with the son of a respected crime boss, Rama is hired as an enforcer for the syndicate, only to find himself smack dab in the middle of a turf war between his boss and the Japanese yakuza.

WHY: It would have been all too easy for Gareth Evans to deliver a rinse-and-repeat sequel to his 2012 cult classic, so it’s refreshing to see the filmmaker take a risk with such a strikingly ambitious follow-up like “The Raid 2,” a slower, operatic crime saga with a lot more moving parts than its predecessor. The first movie was a non-stop action-fest with very little room for anything else, but while the added depth and drama is greatly appreciated this time around, Evans never forgets that he’s making an action film, sprinkling some bone-crunching, blood-spurting set pieces into each act. Many of the action scenes aren’t as memorable as the ones from the original, but they’re all ridiculously entertaining, including a fight inside a moving car that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Though the movie is a bit long at 150 minutes, the runtime is mostly justified considering the vast scope of the story. Some fans will undoubtedly be disappointed at how different it is from the original, but that’s exactly what makes it so great, because although “The Raid 2” may not provide the same adrenaline rush of its faster-paced, more contained predecessor, but it’s a richer and more sophisticated action-thriller that ranks among the best crime films ever made.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Gareth Evans, the Blu-ray release includes a short making-of featurette, a pair of more in-depth featurettes on location shooting and action choreography, a lengthy Q&A session with Evans, star Iko Uwais and composer Joe Trapanese and an ultra-violent deleted scene.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Bad Words”

WHAT: After middle-aged loser Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) uncovers a loophole in the spelling bee bylaws that allows him to participate in – and win – his regional tournament, he’s begrudgingly invited to the prestigious Golden Quill national spelling bee. But while Guy has ulterior motives for taking part in the competition, his endgame is threatened when he befriends a precocious 10-year-old contestant (Rohan Chand) willing to do whatever it takes to win.

WHY: If “Bad Words” sounds like the 2003 comedy “Bad Santa,” you’re not alone. But while the comparisons are inevitable, “Bad Words” isn’t nearly as crude or edgy as the holiday cult classic. That’s not to say that Jason Bateman’s directorial debut doesn’t have a mean streak, because it relishes every opportunity to be naughty, but the film also feels like it’s playing it safe at times so as to not completely alienate its protagonist. Guy is hardly a saint (his motives are not only selfish, but pretty juvenile), but he also isn’t as bad as he appears on the surface, as evidenced in the big brother-little brother bond that he forms with Chand’s pint-sized sidekick. The child actor is excellent opposite his director/co-star, but this is Bateman’s show, with Andrew Dodge’s script playing to the actor’s strengths so well that you’d think it was written specifically for him. It’s not easy making a jerk like Guy seem likable, but Bateman does a solid job of pushing boundaries without going too far over the line. That’s a credit to his work behind the camera as well, because although the story is a little undercooked and the big “twist” is entirely predictable, “Bad Words” delivers enough hilarious, foul-mouthed mischief to deserve its title.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by Jason Bateman, a making-of featurette and some deleted and extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II”

WHAT: When she’s found beaten in an alley by a scholarly gentleman (Stellan Skarsgard) and taken into his home to tend to her wounds, self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her sexually depraved life story, from adolescence to adulthood.

WHY: Split into two parts for its U.S. release, probably because it would have been unbearable to watch in one sitting, “Nymphomaniac” is almost maddeningly pretentious, even for a director like Lars von Trier. This is a film with its head so far up its own ass – stretching to draw parallels between Joe’s sexual misadventures and subjects ranging from fly fishing to music theory) that it’s hard to discern whether von Trier is just fucking with the audience. “Nymphomaniac” is neither as intelligent nor as darkly comical as it pretends to be, and it’s also surprisingly anti-erotic for a movie largely about sex, although in the case of the latter, that might actually be the point. Unfortunately, that message is lost amid the dense screenplay, the lack of a compelling protagonist and some terrible acting by Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater and others. Newcomer Stacy Martin delivers a fearless and assured debut as the young Joe, but she’s one of the few highlights in an otherwise ugly and uninteresting film. So when her character weepingly declares, “I don’t feel anything,” at the end of Volume One, it’s easy to relate, especially with another (and worse) volume still left to slog through.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes fluff piece produced for AXS TV and a trio of featurettes about the film’s characters, director and sex scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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