Blu Tuesday: Seventh Son and The Loft

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.

“Seventh Son”

WHAT: When the evil witch queen, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), escapes from the pit she was imprisoned in decades ago by professional monster hunter Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), killing his young apprentice in the process, Gregory must train a new recruit – the seventh son of a seventh son, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) – to help stop her before Malkin’s power is fully restored by the forthcoming blood moon.

WHY: Much like “The Loft” (see below), “Seventh Son” was the victim of a messy behind-the-scenes divorce that resulted in the film’s release date getting bumped several times over a two-year period. While that certainly didn’t make marketing the movie any easier, Sergey Bodrov’s English-language debut is plagued by many of the same problems as most foreign filmmakers who go too big, too soon. Based on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s “The Wardstone Chronicles,” “Seventh Son” is just another lifeless YA movie with very few original ideas and a crippling overdependence on CG-heavy spectacle. Though it boasts an impressive cast that includes two Oscar winners, the film wastes their talents with dull and poorly written material. Jeff Bridges does his Rooster Cogburn shtick for the third time running in the Obi-Wan mentor role, while Julianne Moore hams it up with a dreadful performance that, while not quite as terrible as recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in “Jupiter Ascending,” is hardly flattering. And considering that the movie was initially delayed to polish the visual effects, they’re wildly inconsistent, ranging from pretty good (the dragons) to alarmingly bad (almost everything else). “Seventh Son” could have been something special, but in failing to push itself beyond the typical fantasy fare, it’s more than deserving of the critical bashing it received.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, an alternate ending, deleted scenes, a visual effects gallery and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Loft”

WHAT: Five married friends agree to share a penthouse loft in the city where they can cheat on their wives in private, but when they discover the dead body of a woman in their secret hideaway, friendships and loyalties are tested as the guys begin to suspect one another for the murder.

WHY: Director Erik Van Looy’s U.S. remake of his own Dutch-language erotic thriller was filmed back in 2011 before getting shelved for three years, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about whether or not the movie is any good. Though “The Loft” boasts a solid cast led by the usually reliable Karl Urban and James Marsden, that’s probably the only reason it was spared the embarrassment of being released straight to video. Wentworth Miller and Matthias Schoenaerts (reprising his role from the original) are both fine in their respective parts, but the addition of Eric Stonestreet (no doubt trying to distance himself from his “Modern Family” character with edgier, more adult material) is very much a case of “one of these things is not like the other.” The actor doesn’t fare any worse than his fellow co-stars, but he sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s the least of the film’s problems, however, because for an erotic thriller, “The Loft” isn’t particularly erotic or thrilling. Additionally, none of the characters are very likeable, and though Wesley Strick’s screenplay is jam-packed with twisty plot turns, by the time it gets even remotely interesting, you’ll likely have already tuned out.

EXTRAS: Nothing. Not even a trailer for the film.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Movie Review: “Poltergeist”

Starring
Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Kennedi Clements
Director
Gil Kenan

“Poltergeist” is the worst kind of remake. Director Gil Kenan’s film is neither terrible nor good, but rather flat-out uninspired. This is a remake that brings nothing new to the table. Instead of updating the classic 1982 film, it’s a stale and safe retread. The story is almost exactly the same, and although most horror remakes don’t usually stray too far from the source material, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole”) hardly ever makes this version feel fresh. Beat by beat, “Poltergeist” is a lame cover song.

After falling on hard times, Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) has to move his family – his wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), and their three children – to a cheap neighborhood. The neighborhood is actually quite nice from the looks of it, but there’s a catch: the house they bought is built on an old graveyard, and the bodies in the ground rise up to terrorize the Bowen family. After the abduction of the Bowens’ youngest daughter, it’s obvious why the family has to stay in their haunted house – they can’t call the cops or just leave her there – but this is still a horror movie where characters make incredibly stupid mistakes, and these decisions never come across as believable character traits or flaws, but instead, cheap tricks to achieve scares or move the plot along.

The film mostly consists of expected jump scares. Kenan and his DP, Javier Aguierresarobe, try to build an unnerving atmosphere with roaming camerawork, but they never build any real tension. Technically speaking, their work is more than competent, but none of their aesthetic choices ever add up to more than a few pretty frames, all serving a lifeless purpose. The third act comes close to conjuring up some scares, but by that point, it’s impossible to get invested in anything that’s happening on screen.

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Movie Review: “Tomorrowland”

Starring
George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Pierce Gagnon
Director
Brad Bird

“Tomorrowland” does not play by the usual ‘Disney PG movie’ rules. It hits harder, makes the audience uncomfortable, and has an alarmingly high body count. When we finally discover the movie’s endgame, this makes perfect sense, but it might be a shock up front to parents who see that the DreamWorks Animation movies are all PG, and therefore assume that “Tomorrowland” will be no different. It is drastically different – this film is a call to arms. It may take its name from a 60-year-old section of Disney World, but this movie is as right here, right now as it gets.

And while the movie is undoubtedly better than it would have been without writer/director Brad Bird’s involvement, the fact of the matter is that this is Bird’s weakest film, but let’s put that into perspective. He directed three animated masterpieces in “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” as well as the very good “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” “Tomorrowland” is enjoyable; it just doesn’t measure up against Bird’s other films. It uses a jerky narrative device at the beginning that never works, and actually leaves the audience unprepared for what follows. It also has no business being 130 minutes long.

Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a high school science prodigy who spends her free time sabotaging the NASA site where her father (Tim McGraw, yes, that Tim McGraw) works in an attempt to delay his eventual layoff. One night she gets caught and arrested, and while retrieving her things after getting released on bail, she finds a pendant that, when she touches it, briefly transports her to another world with technology that far exceeds our own. In her quest to discover what this place is, Casey gains the help of a girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who leads her to Frank Walker (George Clooney), who has also visited “Tomorrowland” but was exiled. Frank reveals to Casey that something bad is coming, and nothing can stop it. Casey convinces the jaded Frank to believe that they can avoid the inevitable, but soon they have another problem: a group of “Secret Service agents” seek to permanently close the bridge between our world and Tomorrowland, with extreme prejudice.

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Blu Tuesday: American Sniper and Cymbeline

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.

“American Sniper”

WHAT: After witnessing the 1998 U.S. embassy attacks in Africa, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) enlists in the Navy SEALS, eventually getting deployed to Iraq where he earns the nickname, The Legend, after becoming the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. But while Chris feels at home on the battlefield, he struggles to maintain a normal life with his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids while on leave from his numerous tours of duty.

WHY: For someone as prolific and revered as Clint Eastwood, six years is a long time to go without making a really good film (2008’s “Gran Torino” was his last), and sadly, “American Sniper” only extends that streak. It’s far from a bad movie, but there’s nothing really special that makes it stand out, either. Apart from Kyle’s impressive record, this is a story that’s been told countless times before, and in some cases, much better. Though it’s based on real-life events, a lot of what happens seems incredibly exaggerated, especially the ongoing battle of wits between Kyle and an Olympic medal-winning Syrian sniper, which feels like something you’d expect to see in a Jason Bourne film. The action sequences are handled really well, but the domestic drama is so boring and repetitive that the movie loses steam every time Kyle returns home. Part of the problem is that, with the exception of Bradley Cooper’s strong performance, the rest of the cast is underserved, especially Sienna Miller as his wife. “American Sniper” wants to have it both ways – as a war-on-terror fantasy and poignant PTSD drama – but while it doesn’t shy away from the physical and psychological horrors of battle, the movie is so heavy on pro-military propaganda that it doesn’t realize its dramatic potential until it’s too late.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a pair of featurettes about making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Cymbeline”

WHAT: When Briton Motorcycle Club leader Cymbeline (Ed Harris) discovers that his daughter (Dakota Johnson) has secretly married humble orphan Posthumus (Penn Badgley) – despite already being promised to stepbrother Cloten (Anton Yelchin) – he banishes Posthumus from the outlaw biker gang, setting into a motion a series of events that threaten Cymbeline’s criminal empire amid a mounting turf war between the Britons and the crooked Roman police force.

WHY: Writer/director Michael Almereyda may have had minor success with his contemporary adaptation of “Hamlet” back in 2000, but this modernization of one of Shakespeare’s less popular works is an absolute failure. Not only has “Sons of Anarchy” already done the whole “outlaw bikers meets Shakespeare” thing, but there’s a reason why “Cymbeline” isn’t as well-known as the Bard’s other plays, and that’s because it’s not terribly engaging. Though it treads familiar Shakespearean territory with an array of secret affairs, false deaths, crossdressing women and betrayals galore, the story doesn’t make much sense in the context of its modern setting, especially with the preservation of the original dialogue. The movie boasts an excellent cast that includes Ed Harris, Ethan Hawke, Delroy Lindo, Anton Yelchin and John Leguizamo, but many of them are wasted in insignificant roles, including a messy-haired Bill Pullman, who appears in exactly one scene. No amount of talent could improve “Cymbeline,” although Almereyda certainly tries, because while it’s easy to see why the actors would be attracted to such material (they get to perform Shakespeare without the commitment of theater), the film version is an even bigger mess than the play itself.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Michael Almereyda and actor Ethan Hawke, a behind-the-scenes featurette and additional interviews with the cast and crew.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Movie Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Starring
Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Director
George Miller

George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest, ballsiest and most badass action movies in ages. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has been decades in the making, and that passion shows in the final product. Though Mel Gibson was originally considered to reprise the titular role when Miller first hatched the idea back in 1998, after production was stalled by a series of financial and political difficulties (not to mention Gibson’s own well-publicized personal issues), “Fury Road” slipped into development hell for many years until Miller eventually got to make his movie. With the entire film famously storyboarded before a script was even written, “Fury Road” is about as nontraditional as a big-budget studio movie gets, surviving on its sheer originality, audacity and no-holds-barred attitude.

Set in the year 2060 and loosely following the events of the first three installments, “Fury Road” finds former cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) just barely surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. When he’s captured by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and forced to serve as a human blood bank for his diseased male minions, known as the War Boys, Max’s fate appears to be sealed. But after one of Joe’s war rig drivers, the bionic-armed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), suddenly goes off course during a routine fuel run, Joe’s massive army chases after her – including sickly War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who’s so desperate not to miss out on the action that he straps Max to the hood of his car, connected only by a chain and IV tube, so he can continue to heal. It turns out that Furiosa is trying to rescue a group of female captives that Joe plans to use to repopulate the world in his image, and when Max eventually crosses paths with them following a miraculous escape, he reluctantly agrees to help get them to safety.

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