Blu Tuesday: Insurgent, Strike Back 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.

“Insurgent”

WHAT: When Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) recovers a mysterious box containing a message from the colony’s founding fathers that requires a Divergent to unlock it, she orders her cronies to round up potential candidates to put through the box’s rigorous testing process. Meanwhile, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) unite their Dauntless friends with the factionless rebels – led by Four’s presumed-dead mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts) – to take down Jeanine and the whole faction system.

WHY: Unlike some of the more successful YA book-to-film adaptations, the “Divergent” series has continually failed to prove why Veronica Roth’s trilogy is such a big deal. The first installment was plagued by a troubling lack of excitement, suspense and emotion, and those problems continue with “Insurgent.” Though it boasts some great talent in the form of Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Miles Teller (the latter two of whom are smartly given more to do this time around), it’s not enough to disguise the movie’s numerous issues, especially when it wastes so much time doing nothing. The end of “Divergent” seemed to point towards a move outside the walls surrounding the dystopian city where the story takes place, and yet all of “Insurgent” is set within those very walls, suspending its characters in narrative limbo in order to slog through an entire novel of mostly filler. “Insurgent” could have been the “Catching Fire” of the “Divergent” film series, building on the original premise in bold and fresh new ways, but instead, it’s a sluggish, twiddle-your-thumbs chapter that’s more about the setup than the payoff.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher, a feature-length documentary about making the film, and a quartet of featurettes on adapting the source material, the cast, shooting the train fight sequence and Miles Teller’s character, Peter Hayes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Strike Back: The Complete Third Season”

WHAT: After one of their own is killed while working undercover in Beirut, Section 20 agents Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) are forced to cut their vacation short in order to stop a criminal group that is funding terrorists in the Middle East.

WHY: You’d be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable guilty pleasure on television than “Strike Back,” a show that cares so little about logic that you can practically see the writers bending over backwards behind the scenes to come up with new, ridiculous ways to defy it. The Cinemax action series doesn’t pretend to be smart (on the contrary, it almost revels in its shoot-first-think-later absurdity), but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Though Season Three is probably the weakest installment to date, particularly due to some rocky storytelling that jumps from one loosely connected subplot to the next as if they’re making it all up as they go along, Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester boast such great chemistry that it’s easy to look past its obvious flaws. Their characters may have more lives than a cat, so you know they’ll make it out of whatever crazy situation they’ve gotten themselves into unscathed, but that’s part of its allure. Well, that and the fantastic action sequences, because what “Strike Back” lacks in great writing and acting, it more than makes up for with some of the best action on TV.

EXTRAS: There are audio commentaries for three episodes with various cast and crew (including stars Sullivan Stapleton and Phillip Winchester), as well as a collection of playful behind-the-scenes featurettes like “How to Act in Shit,” “How to Drive Through a Minefield,” “How to Interrogate While Driving” and “How to Dangle From a Helicopter.”

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.

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August

august

August may officially be part of the summer movie season, but with the exception of a few titles (“Fantastic Four,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), many of the new films being released this month are very un-summer-like. Not that it’s a bad thing, of course, as audiences are likely experiencing blockbuster fatigue at this point in the year, but while there are some promising movies on the schedule, you probably shouldn’t set your expectations too high. After all, in the past five years alone, there have been only a handful that we’d ever want to watch again.

“Fantastic Four”

Who: Miles Teller, Kata Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell
What: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways.
When: August 7th
Why: After going the lighter, more family-friendly route with its first two Fantastic Four movies, Fox has done a complete 180 with this gritty, super-serious reboot from director Josh Trank that surely marks the studio’s last chance to get it right. Unfortunately, that hasn’t shielded the project from the inevitable fanboy criticism, whether it’s the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, or recent rumors of the film’s troubled production. And while the casting debate is a non-starter (not only is Jordan an excellent actor, but he’s a great choice for the role), the latest trailer doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that “Fantastic Four” is going to be any better than its predecessors. Different, yes, but not better.

“Ricki and the Flash”

Who: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan and Kevin Kline
What: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family.
When: August 7th
Why: On paper, “Ricki and the Flash” sounds like a surefire hit. It boasts Oscar-winning talent in the form of star Meryl Streep, director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody, and is perfectly positioned as a clever piece of counterprogramming to the barrage of superhero movies and action films. What’s not to like, right? As it turns out, an awful lot judging from the trailer. Not only has the whole rock star/estranged parent story been done countless times before, but nothing about the film suggests that it’ll bring anything new to the table, either. Though Streep’s recent trend of turning bad movies into awards contenders (see: “Into the Woods, “August: Osage County”) is certainly impressive, it’s hard to imagine that continuing here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pages: 1 2  

Movie Review: “Vacation”

Starring
Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Ron Livingston
Director
John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein

There’s been an overwhelming sense of nostalgia at theaters this summer, with films like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Jurassic World” and “Terminator Genisys” all reviving decades-old franchises on the big screen, and “Vacation” continues that trend with the latest installment in the National Lampoon series that began with Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and a rotating door of actors playing their two kids. Though it isn’t technically a reboot, despite sharing its title with the 1983 original, writers/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein address the issue head-on by conceding that while there are similarities to the first movie, the 2015 edition stands on its own. Unfortunately, that isn’t really the case, because it’s basically just a raunchier, less funny rehash of the Harold Ramis/John Hughes classic that lacks its predecessor’s charm and heart.

All grown up and with a family of his own, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) has remained in the Chicago area working as a pilot for a second-rate regional airline so that he can be close to his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their two sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). When he realizes that the family’s annual vacation to the same boring cabin in Michigan is in desperate need of a little shakeup, he finds inspiration from his own childhood and plans a cross-country road trip to Walley World in the hope that it’ll bring the family closer together. But just like his vacation to America’s favorite family fun park as a kid, things don’t go exactly as planned, as the Griswolds must contend with thieving rednecks, psychotic truck drivers and their own extended family.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Movie Review: “Southpaw”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, Oona Laurence, Naomie Harris
Director
Antoine Fuqua

Throughout the years, boxing movies have been synonymous with tales of redemption – from “Rocky,” to “Raging Bull,” to “The Fighter” – and Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw” is no different. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in the story that hasn’t already appeared countless times before in other boxing films, but despite the clichéd plot, the movie isn’t without its charms. At the top of that list is star Jake Gyllenhaal, who continues his remarkable career reinvention from pretty-boy leading man to serious actor with yet another fantastic performance. It likely won’t earn him the Oscar nomination he was wrongfully snubbed for last year’s “Nightcrawler,” but it builds upon that transformative role with such mature confidence that it only seems like a matter of time before he’s finally rewarded for his work.

The movie opens with undefeated light heavyweight champion Billy “The Great” Hope (Gyllenhaal) successfully defending his title at Madison Square Garden and cementing his status as one of the best boxers in the sport. Everyone wants their chance to go toe-to-toe with him in the ring, including hotshot fighter Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez), but Billy’s levelheaded wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), urges him to make the sensible decision and call it quits while he’s still on top… and before he becomes so punch drunk that he can’t enjoy his success. When Miguel instigates a fight with him at a charity fundraiser and Maureen is shot and killed among the chaos, Billy spirals out of control, landing himself in trouble with the boxing league and losing his house, his possessions, and most importantly, custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Desperate to keep her out of the foster care system where he spent his childhood, Billy seeks help from a gruff, veteran trainer (Forest Whitaker) to get back what he lost.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Movie Review: “Pixels”

Starring
Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin James, Brian Cox, Sean Bean
Director
Chris Columbus

Adam Sandler has said that the goal of “Pixels” was to be a modern-day version of an early-period Amblin Entertainment film (think “The Goonies,” “Gremlins” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”), something entertaining but also absolutely bonkers, and plays by its own rules. By that measure, “Pixels” is a smashing success. This movie is ridiculous, but in watching it, you realize that it’s been a long time since a live-action summer movie had the nerve to be ridiculous. It’s been this superhero movie or that graphic novel, and with the exception of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” they’ve all been deathly serious. “Pixels” revels in its silliness, and in the process gives the audience some wildly entertaining battle and chase sequences as a bonus. This is one absurd, but fun, movie. If it had a theme song, it would be “Weird” Al Yankovic’s “Dare to Be Stupid.” That’s a compliment, for the record.

When Sam Brenner (Sandler) was a teen (in 1982), his future was impossibly bright. He was the best video gamer in town, but his hopes were crushed when smack-talking Eddie Plant came to town and beat him in a tournament. (Eddie is played by Peter Dinklage, who modeled his look after real-life Donkey Kong champion, and “The King of Kong” supervillain, Billy Mitchell. If you have not yet seen this movie, stop reading this and watch it right now. NOW, damn it.) The footage of that tournament was sent into space, where it was received by an alien race…and interpreted to be a declaration of war.

Thirty-three years later, the aliens arrive, in the form of the 8-bit video game characters that were in the video, destroying a US military base in Guam, and then a major international landmark. Sam now installs high-tech audio and video systems, while his teen years buddy Will Cooper (Kevin James) is the President of the United States. President Cooper, once he realizes what they’re up against, brings in Sam, and their onetime gamer friend-turned-conspiracy theorist Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) to advise the military, much to the military’s chagrin, on how to defeat their enemy. Later, when Sam and Ludlow show that they are better soldiers in this war than the actual soldiers, the government makes a deal with the now-incarcerated Eddie to enlist the help of the self-branded “Fireblaster” (that nickname is so very ‘80s, and so very douchey). They’ve already lost the first two battles, though, so using video game logic, if they lose one more, it’s game over for the planet.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts