Movie Review: “The Visit”
Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Kathryn Hahn, Peter McRobbie
M. Night Shyamalan
It has been a rough decade for M. Night Shyamalan. The once promising filmmaker behind the chilling smash hit, “The Sixth Sense,” and its beautifully somber and superior follow-up, “Unbreakable,” hasn’t connected with audiences for a long time now. “The Last Airbender,” “After Earth” and “Lady in the Water” failed to connect with critics, audiences and plenty of the director’s own vocal supporters. This year, though, marks the return of a new and improved Shyamalan, who has delivered an unpretentious, darkly funny horror movie with “The Visit.”
Spending a week with grandma and grandpa – what could possibly go wrong? But in this story, it turns out that the answer is “everything.” Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Style (Ed Oxenbould) don’t know what to expect when they arrive at the home of their grandparents, Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan). The kids’ mother (Kathryn Hahn) hasn’t talked to her parents in years because of a heated disagreement they once had, and this is their chance to finally get to know their grandparents, which aspiring filmmaker Becca is documenting with her camera. Soon after their visit starts, however, the two kids realize that something is very, very wrong with grandma and grandpa.
“The Visit” is a refreshing found footage movie. Technically, the label doesn’t apply, since it’s not exactly “found footage,” but nonetheless, it plays with the form in some creative ways. Most found footage movies are bafflingly polished, with seamless cuts and the camera often in the right place at the right time. In this case, the camerawork makes sense. When a character holds a camera in a tense sequence, it makes sense: Becca is a filmmaker who wants to capture everything about this vacation. There’s only one scene that screams, “Drop the camera already!”
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Movie Review: “Sleeping with Other People”
Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Andrea Savage, Jason Mantzoukas, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Natasha Lyonne
Writer/director Leslye Headland’s debut feature, “Bachelorette,” was an incredibly cruel and unfunny dark comedy filled with selfish people doing horrible things, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that her follow-up, “Sleeping with Other People,” hardly has a mean-spirited bone in its body. Granted, the characters aren’t exactly saints, but for the most part, they’re likable human beings with very real flaws that you actually care about. That’s a welcome change from the insufferable assholes that populated Headland’s first film, and it helps solidify “Sleeping with Other People” as a sweet and candid romantic comedy that ranks as one of the more enjoyable entries in the genre in quite some time.
It’s been more than a decade since Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) first met as students at Columbia University, where they lost their virginities to one another on the roof of Jake’s college dorm before seemingly vanishing from each other’s life forever. They haven’t had a healthy relationship since that night, with Jake resigned to playing the field as a perpetual bachelor and Lainey’s love life stunted by her obsession with college crush, Matthew Sobvechik (Adam Scott). But when Jake and Lainey cross paths at a sex addicts meeting in New York City, they pick up right where they left off. Though the attraction between them is palpable, they agree to keep things strictly platonic because sex has always played a part in their failed relationships. However, as they spend more time together and begin to act like a real couple, Jake and Lainey must decide whether to break things off and save themselves the heartache or risk giving romance a shot.
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“The Bastard Executioner” has killer potential, despite its slow start
Those still saddened by the end of Kurt Sutter’s outlaw biker drama, “Sons of Anarchy,” didn’t have to wait too long for his return to television, which sees him trade guns and Harleys for swords and horses in the new FX series, “The Bastard Executioner,” debuting September 15th with a special two-hour premiere. But while the show represents a radical change of setting compared to Sutter’s last outing, it carries many of the same themes – particularly loyalty, revenge and redemption – which will make it feel very familiar to fans of “Sons of Anarchy,” provided they’re willing to stick around past the first hour.
Set in the early 14th century, “The Bastard Executioner” tells the story of Wilkin Brattle (newcomer Lee Jones), a former knight in King Edward I’s army who makes a vow to lay down his sword when he receives a divine message beseeching him to lead a peaceful life. But when his idyllic world is shattered by a cruel English lord, Wilkin is forced to pick up his sword once again, although this time under the guise of a journeyman executioner, in order to exact his revenge amid the backdrop of a political rebellion in Northern Wales.
It’s not exactly the most original story, but Sutter’s writing elevates the material beyond the typical medieval tale, wasting no time in shaking up the status quo with shocking deaths, secrets and betrayals that will undoubtedly continue to stack up as the season progresses. Though “The Bastard Executioner” operates more like historical fiction than fantasy (with a few tweaks, it could easily pass as “Braveheart: The TV Series”), there are hints of supernatural elements (black magic, divine intervention, etc.) that suggest there’s more to the show’s mythology than Sutter is initially letting on.
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Blu Tuesday: Gotham: The Complete First Season
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.
“Gotham: The Complete First Season”
WHAT: In the wake of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders, idealistic Gotham City police detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) makes a vow to young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to capture his parents’ killer, all while dealing with corruption within the police department and Gotham’s burgeoning criminal underworld.
WHY: Bruno Heller’s “Rome” is one of the most underrated TV series of the past decade, so when it was announced that he was producing a crime drama centered around a young James Gordon in pre-Batman Gotham City, that’s pretty much all it took to get me onboard. Unfortunately, despite Heller’s insistence that “Gotham” isn’t about Batman, the numerous villains that pop up throughout the first season suggests otherwise, turning the series into something quite different than even Heller himself probably intended. The allure of exploring the various origin stories of Batman’s rogues’ gallery (arguably the best in all of comics) was undoubtedly too enticing to pass up, so it should come as no surprise that the villains are the stars of the show. Robin Lord Taylor and Jada Pinkett Smith are the obvious standouts as Penguin and new creation Fish Mooney, respectively, while Carmen Bicondova delivers a star-making turn as young Selina Kyle. Ben McKenzie also fares well as Gordon, as does Donal Logue as his morally corrupt partner, but their characters often suffer due to some really shoddy writing. And that’s the biggest problem with “Gotham” – it’s an incredibly mixed bag that succeeds as often as it fails. For every great episode, there are two more that fall flat, and although the show starts to find its groove in the latter half, that inconsistency prevents Season One from being anything more than a mildly enjoyable experiment that still needs to iron out a few wrinkles if it ever hopes to make the most of its potential.
EXTRAS: In addition to a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the series, there are three additional featurettes on the show’s production design, Penguin’s story arc and making the pilot episode, as well as footage from DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014, character profiles, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
“Disney Infinity 3.0″ is the best installment yet, and here are five reasons why
Just like the Marvel Universe was a natural fit to headline last year’s edition of Disney’s “toys-to-life” video game franchise, it was a forgone conclusion that the “Star Wars” universe would play a key role in “Disney Infinity 3.0,” especially with the new film coming out later this year. But while George Lucas’ space adventure saga is undoubtedly the main draw, there’s a lot to love about the latest installment, which makes some big strides towards improving the game’s all-around experience, as well as its future potential.
1) Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars
“Star Wars” is sort of like the cinematic version of The Beatles – everyone likes it, but we all have our favorite movie/album and character/band member. Thankfully, that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the team at Disney Interactive. Though it’s a little strange that the original trilogy isn’t featured in the game’s official Starter Pack – instead, you get prequel characters Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano along with the “Twilight of the Republic” Play Set – Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia will be getting their own playable adventure (“Rise Against the Empire”) at the end of September. In addition to those four characters, you can purchase other figures individually, including fan favorites like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Darth Maul, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and most of the “Star Wars Rebels” crew, all of which are compatible with any “Star Wars”-themed Play Set.
Those with a PS4 or PS3 don’t even have to wait to play “Rise Against the Empire” thanks to an exclusive Saga Bundle that includes both Play Sets and an advanced copy of the Boba Fett figure, but if you’re in the Xbox One or Wii U camp, don’t fret, because “Twilight of the Republic” is still loads of fun. In fact, it’s a marked improvement upon the Avengers Play Set from “Disney Infinity 2.0,” with more exciting gameplay and improved combat mechanics, that basically operates like a greatest hits of locations and characters from the prequels and “Clone Wars” animated series.
2) Upgraded Toy Box features
One of the biggest complaints about previous iterations of the Toy Box was that, despite trumpeting all of the great things you can do with the software, it was incredibly confusing to use. Version 3.0 fixes most of those issues by including a central hub with specialized guides that help you along the way, as well as introduces some new tools, like farming crops that give your sidekicks abilities; a Path Creator that can be used to build theme park rides, parades and more; and a Toy Dispenser that provides instant access to toys you would otherwise have to unlock through gameplay. Additionally, there’s a new online matchmaking system located inside Flynn’s Arcade, as well as an in-game access point at the famous El Capitan Theatre for uploading and downloading customized Toy Boxes.
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