Blu Tuesday: Transcendence, Sabotage 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.

“Transcendence”

WHAT: When anti-technology extremists assassinate Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) – a renowned scientist in the field of artificial intelligence – as part of a series of synchronized attacks, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) uploads his consciousness to a supercomputer. But once Will achieves transcendence, he proves to be far more dangerous than those trying to stop him.

WHY: It’s difficult to pinpoint where “Transcendence” went so horribly wrong, because it’s a colossal mess of a movie that is neither entertaining nor inspires the kind of thought-provoking discussion that it likely intended. Though Jack Paglen’s screenplay topped the 2012 edition of the Black List (an annual survey of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood), whatever made people so excited about it must have been lost in translation. That blames mostly falls on Wally Pfister, who doesn’t seem to have a very good grasp on what to do with Paglen’s sophisticated premise. Pfister may be one of the best cinematographers in the game, but he probably should have chosen something a little less ambitious for his directorial debut, because he bit off more than he could chew with this high-concept techno-thriller, which moves like molasses and isn’t terribly engaging. Maybe he thought that assembling an impressive ensemble cast would be enough to hide the film’s narrative flaws, but the performances are just as poor, especially Johnny Depp, who phones in his performance as the ghost in the machine. “Transcendence” certainly had the makings of an excellent cerebral thriller, but instead, it will only give you a headache thinking about all the wasted potential.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a quartet of mini-featurettes on things like Wally Pfister’s creative process and the potential of artificial intelligence, as well as some viral videos from the film’s marketing campaign.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Sabotage”

WHAT: An elite DEA task force steals $10 million during a drug raid on a cartel safe house, but when they go back to retrieve the hidden money, they discover that it’s missing. As members of the team start to get picked off in brutal fashion, their leader John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) joins up with a homicide detective to track down the people responsible, with the surviving agents suspecting it could be someone from within their own ranks.

WHY: Arnold Schwarzenegger has been hard at work since his return from retirement, but he’s still yet to make a film that measures up to his more iconic roles. “Sabotage” certainly had the potential to be that movie, but this modern-day twist on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” is just another disappointing genre flick. More of a slow-burning crime thriller than the action-packed film the trailers suggested, “Sabotage” represents an interesting change of pace for Schwarzenegger. This is the most subdued that the actor has ever been, but he’s just not as entertaining without his larger-than-life charisma to fall back on, with his co-stars constantly upstaging him. In fact, the movie’s best moments come from the frat-like camaraderie between the task force members, so when they start dropping like flies, so does the enthusiasm earned from the high-octane set piece that opens the film, eventually devolving into a dull whodunit. The route that David Ayer and Skip Woods’ script takes wouldn’t feel so anticlimactic if it weren’t lacking so badly in any sort of tension, because there’s nothing about “Sabotage” that’s even remotely surprising, except perhaps for the fact that a movie with such a cool premise and awesome cast could be this boring.

EXTRAS: There’s a short making-of featurette, a pair of alternate endings and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts