Blu Tuesday: 13 Hours, Zootopia 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.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

WHAT: On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamic militants in Benghazi attacked the poorly guarded compound where the U.S. Ambassador resided, prompting a six-man security team led by Tyron Woods (James Badge Dale) to launch a perilous rescue attempt before returning to the nearby CIA annex to defend against wave after wave of rebel attacks until support arrived.

WHY: Michael Bay has wasted the better part of the last decade making shitty “Transformers” films, so it’s nice to see him return to form with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” an exhilarating and surprisingly apolitical military thriller that reconfirms why he’s one of the best action directors in the business. It takes nearly an hour before the first attack occurs, but Bay uses that time to establish the characters, provide an overview of the geopolitical landscape and build tension, because once it kicks into action mode, Bay rarely lets his foot off the gas, pummeling the audience with one explosive firefight after the next. This is Bay’s bread and butter, and he doesn’t disappoint with some expertly shot action sequences that drop the audience right into the middle of the combat. Though the movie isn’t without the typical Bayisms (from the overuse of slow motion and lingering shots of the American flag, to the corny dialogue), “13 Hours” is a marked improvement compared to his recent output that harkens back to earlier films like “The Rock.”

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on adapting the source material, filming the battle sequences and the CIA’s real-life Global Response Staff.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Zootopia”

WHAT: After proving her detractors wrong by becoming the first rabbit police officer in the animal city of Zootopia, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) must team up with a con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to uncover a conspiracy that’s causing some of the city’s predators to revert back into savage beasts.

WHY: “Zootopia” might just be the best Pixar movie that Pixar never made. It’s smart, funny and works both as a delightful family film on the surface and a rich allegory for race relations on a much deeper level. In fact, it handles the subject of racism and prejudice better than most live-action movies, and that in itself is really impressive. The dynamic between Ginnifer Goodwin’s go-getting bunny and Jason Bateman’s sardonic fox is excellent, while the vibrant world that directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”) have created is incredibly imaginative, opening up numerous possibilities for sequels that would not only be warranted but welcome as well. Though the movie runs a little long at 108 minutes, there are so many great moments littered throughout that it’s hard to imagine another animated film providing much competition at next year’s Oscars. Sister studio Pixar may get all the love, but recently, Walt Disney Animation has been on a real winning streak, and “Zootopia” is its finest achievement yet.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette hosted by star Ginnifer Goodwin, three additional featurettes on developing the story, finding inspiration from real-life animals, and composing the score, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s many Easter eggs and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

Read the rest of this entry »

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Unsaved Progress: The failure of video game adaptations in film

unsaved_progress

It should be a slam dunk – a known property with recognizable characters, an established story and plenty of excuse for spectacle. So why has it been so hard for Hollywood to successfully adapt a video game into a good film? Since 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.,” movie studios have tried to capitalize on the billions of dollars of success of video games by bringing them to the big screen. Yet time and again, what lands is a loud thud of a movie, boring to major audiences and befuddling to the devoted fanbase.

Despite the constant critical and/or financial drubbings the films take upon release, producers continue to attempt to adapt video games into successful franchises. “The Angry Birds” movie opened well, but was generally despised by critics, and soon there will be movie versions of “World of Warcraft,” “Assassin’s Creed” and a revamping of “Tomb Raider” franchise. It makes sense why filmmakers and companies are chasing these properties, for all the reasons stated above, but why have they always been such terrible dreck with only occasional flashes of innovation?

The first issue is that video games are immersive properties. Gamers are actively participating in these adventures, instead of watching them unfold passively on the screen. That creates the first hurdle for these films to overcome: how do you create something engrossing enough that it wraps people up in the events and makes it feel like it’s happening to them? Even the best blockbusters struggle with this ability to get audiences to identify and empathize with what’s happening on screen, let alone those made simply for cash-in purposes. Therefore, in order to do justice to these video game properties, filmmakers are already facing an uphill climb.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Movie Review: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”

Starring
Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Gary Anthony Williams, Sheamus, Brad Garrett
Director
Dave Green

Contrary to the harshly negative reviews that it received, Jonathan Liebesman’s 2014 reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” wasn’t that bad. The product of a misguided adaptation that was course-corrected with extensive reshoots, the film doesn’t hold up as well on repeat viewings, but it’s still a better-than-average franchise-starter that got enough things right to warrant a sequel. Though “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” isn’t necessarily better or worse, you have to hand it to the filmmakers for actually listening to the fans, because the new movie is such a nostalgia-fueled throwback to the original animated series (the holy grail for adult fans) that it atones for many of the first film’s blunders.

One year after stopping The Shredder from unleashing a deadly virus on New York City – an achievement that news cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has gladly taken credit for to protect the real heroes’ identities – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) continue to watch over the city from the shadows. But when Shredder (Brian Tee) escapes police custody and teams up with mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to open a portal to Dimension X, thereby allowing the nefarious, brain-like alien General Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) to invade Earth with his world-destroying war machine the Technodrome, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) calls in the Turtles for help. This time around, however, Shredder has enlisted a pair of dimwitted mutant henchmen named Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and WWE wrestler Sheamus, respectively) to do his dirty work for him.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Movie Review: “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”

Starring
Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Chris Redd
Director
Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone

Following the 2007 oddball comedy “Hot Rod,” audiences were eager to see what The Lonely Island – the comedy trio comprised of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer – would cook up next. But while the group found great success with their ongoing series of “SNL” Digital Shorts and Grammy-nominated albums, it’s taken nearly a decade for them to return to the big screen. Their latest film, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” is a funny but flawed “Behind the Music”-style mockumentary that, although it aims to match the comic genius of Rob Reiner’s similarly themed cult classic “This Is Spinal Tap,” doesn’t quite reach the same heights.

Samberg stars as pop superstar Conner4Real, a former member of the hip-hop group the Style Boyz who launched a successful solo career after falling out with lyricist/childhood friend Lawrence (Schaffer). The group’s other member, Owen (Taccone), decided to stick by Conner’s side as his official DJ, watching from the background as Conner rose to the top of the music world with his debut album Thriller, Also. But when Conner agrees to film a documentary centered on the release of his upcoming sophomore effort, the cameras are there to capture his meltdown when the album spectacularly flops (Rolling Stone gives it a poop emoji out of four stars) and his celebrity lifestyle is threatened. Desperate to win back the public’s affection, Conner implements a number of increasingly silly gimmicks into his concert tour with disastrous results while his new opening act, rising talent Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), begins to upstage him.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Blu Tuesday: Triple 9, Race 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.

“Triple 9″

WHAT: When a group of bank robbers is blackmailed by the Russian mafia to pull off an impossible heist, dirty cop Marcus (Anthony Mackie) suggests killing his new partner Chris (Casey Affleck) – thus initiating a 999, police code for “officer down” – in order to draw every responding cop to the other side of town. But as loyalties are tested and the criminals begin to turn on each other, the whole plan threatens to unravel.

WHY: Director John Hillcoat (“The Road,” “Lawless”) specializes in bleak storytelling, so it makes sense why he would gravitate towards a gritty crime thriller like “Triple 9.” Though the movie isn’t totally bereft of clear-cut heroes and villains, most of the characters (from Chiwetel Ejiofor’s bank robber to Anthony Mackie’s conflicted cop) operate somewhere in between. The complex relationships bred from that moral ambiguity is likely what helped Hillcoat attract so much great talent, but while the film boasts a killer cast from top to bottom, only a few (like Casey Affleck and Mackie) really stand out. Ejiofor’s talents are wasted on an underdeveloped character, Aaron Paul mines familiar territory as a troubled drug addict, and Kate Winslet is miscast as the ruthless wife of a Russian mob boss. “Triple 9” is pulled in so many different directions that it’s unable to provide the focus that each subplot deserves, and although that prevents the movie from reaching the heights of Michael Mann’s “Heat,” it’s still a fairly solid crime thriller thanks to some exhilarating set pieces and an excellent cast.

EXTRAS: There are two short featurettes and a handful of deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts