Blu Tuesday: The Fisher King and My Dinner with Andre

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.

“The Fisher King”

WHAT: Three years after giving some misguided advice on the radio led to a tragic event, former shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) gets a chance at redemption when he meets – and subsequently helps – a homeless man (Robin Williams) who was an unwitting victim of Jack’s mistake.

WHY: With the one-year anniversary of Robin Williams’ untimely death just around the corner, Criterion has given fans another excuse to celebrate the actor’s remarkable career by revisiting this 1991 dramedy that easily ranks as one of the finest live-action performances of Williams’ career. Though it’s about 20 minutes too long and a bit of a mess narratively, “The Fisher King” also happens to be one of director Terry Gilliam’s best films, not to mention his most accessible. The movie isn’t without Gilliam’s typical offbeat visual flair and penchant for the fantastical (as evidenced by the hallucinatory Red Knight sequences), but at its core is a sweet and occasionally funny story about humanity that’s difficult not to enjoy. Of course, none of it would work without Williams and Jeff Bridges, who form such a great chemistry that every scene they share together is fascinating to watch. Mercedes Ruehl also turns in some solid work as Bridges’ undyingly loyal girlfriend, though it’s hardly deserving of the Academy Award that the actress earned for the role. “The Fisher King” may be remembered more for those three performances than the film as a whole, but that doesn’t make it any less of a charming adult fairy tale.

EXTRAS: This Criterion release is packed with bonus material, including an audio commentary with director Terry Gilliam, new interviews with the cast and crew, a 2006 interview with actor Robin Williams, a new video essay featuring Jeff Bridges’ on-set photographs, deleted scenes with optional commentary and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“My Dinner with Andre”

WHAT: Actor and playwright Wallace Shawn sits down with his friend, theater director Andre Gregory, at a French restaurant in New York’s Upper West Side for a philosophical discussion about life, death and everything in between.

WHY: Louis Malle’s 1981 art-house classic has its share of admirers, but sadly, no amount of complimentary pieces written about the movie can change the fact that I’m not one of them. Though the idea of filming an entire dinner conversation between two friends is loaded with potential (and Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” films probably come the closest to realizing that potential), the discussion at the center of “My Dinner with Andre” is perhaps the worst pseudo-intelligent dinner conversation ever recorded… unless you’re a pretentious, bohemian twat like Andre Gregory. Watching the film is like being cornered at a party by the most annoying person there, because Gregory’s New Age bullshit is so dry and uninteresting that it’ll have you thinking about ways to kill yourself. The usually charismatic Wallace Shawn hardly gets a word in edgewise, and when he finally does offer his response in the final 30 minutes, challenging all the philosophical crap that’s been spewed up until that point, it makes you wish that the rest of the movie wasn’t so horribly one-sided – or at the very least, that the elderly waiter serving Gregory’s blowhard would just drown him in a bowl of potato soup.

EXTRAS: In addition to a 2009 interview with actors/co-writers Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory conducted by filmmaker Noah Baumbach, there’s a 1982 episode of the BBC show “Arena” in which Shawn interviews director Louis Malle, as well as a booklet with an essay by film critic Amy Taubin and the prefaces written by Gregory and Shawn for the published version of the screenplay.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Movie Review: “Inside Out”

Starring
Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Directors
Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen

“Inside Out” has a sweet, entertaining story at its core, but it requires one of the characters to act like a complete idiot in order to set it into motion, and no matter how enjoyable the rest of the movie may be – and thankfully, it is – those acts will linger in the back of your mind, which, come to think of it, the filmmakers might find ironically funny. It’s not, though; it’s a shortcut, the kind of thing Pixar steadfastly avoided in their storytelling for well over a decade, and now that they have been getting their asses kicked by their peers at Disney Animation (“Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6”) for the last three years, you’d think that they would come up with a better story than this. And to be fair, they came up with a good concept; it just has a bad setup.

As Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) is born, we see her emotions being “born,” as it were, in her head. The first two, as one might imagine, are Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), but they are soon joined by Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black, in the part he was born to play), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Most of the time, Joy is in charge of Riley’s emotions because Riley lives a charmed life, but when Riley’s father moves the family from Minnesota to San Francisco for a work opportunity, Riley’s emotions are all out of whack, a problem that is worsened when Sadness continues to taint core memories so that they turn from happy ones to sad ones in Riley’s mind. In her attempt to stop this from happening, Joy tries to take control of the situation, but in the process, she and Sadness accidentally get transferred to Riley’s long-term memory and far away from the control panel, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge. Riley becomes an emotional wreck, and the longer Joy is away, the worse things get.

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Movie Review: “The Overnight”

Starring
Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godrèche
Director
Patrick Brice

The early hype surrounding writer/director Patrick Brice’s “The Overnight” has it pegged as one of the funniest films of the year. But unfortunately for the Sundance favorite, which garnered rave reviews on the festival circuit before becoming the subject of a late-night bidding war in Park City, it’s a victim of its own exaggerated buzz. This has been a recurring theme in a number of my reviews lately, and it’s not so much the movie’s fault as those responsible for overselling it, because even though “The Overnight” features a promising premise and solid work from its lead quartet, it falls well short of the acclaim that it’s received. The film isn’t even that funny, relying on a series of uncomfortable situations that drive the underlying drama more than the comedy.

Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are a young, sexually frustrated married couple that has recently moved from Seattle to Los Angeles for Emily’s career. Alex has graciously agreed to stay at home to raise their son, RJ, but the complete lack of a social life has made it difficult to find new friends. When their family attends a birthday party in the park one afternoon, RJ begins playing with a similarly-aged boy named Max, which leads to an introduction to the boy’s father, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), who invites Alex, Emily and RJ over to his house for dinner to meet his beautiful French wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), and welcome them to the neighborhood. The two couples immediately hit it off, but what starts out as a fun get-together becomes increasingly more bizarre as the night goes on, causing Alex and Emily to question their hosts’ true intentions.

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Blu Tuesday: Chappie, Run All Night 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.

“Chappie”

WHAT: In a near-future Johannesburg overrun by crime, a mechanized police force has been introduced to clean up the streets. When the droids’ creator (Dev Patel) steals a decommissioned unit and reprograms the A.I. so it can think for itself, the newly named Chappie (Sharlto Copley) falls into the hands of a trio of criminals who want to exploit him for their own profit.

WHY: Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” was a disappointment on a number of levels, and there was a lot of pressure on the director to bounce back with “Chappie.” Unfortunately, while his third sci-fi outing has plenty to admire, much like “Elysium,” it’s a fantastic concept that’s hindered by a messy execution. It’s as if Blomkamp wanted to cram so many ideas into the film that he was unable to edit the material into a more cohesive story. Casting South African rap duo Die Antwoord as the gangsters who “raise” Chappie was certainly an interesting choice, but while the sweet-voiced Yo-Landi Visser fares well in her first acting role, her male counterpart, Ninja, is pretty awful. The movie also spends too much time with their characters, leaving Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman (playing against type as the villain and sporting a glorious mullet) little to do. Thankfully, Sharlto Copley’s mo-cap performance as the titular robot is too good to ignore. Not only is it a remarkable piece of acting that perfectly captures the innocence and impressionability of a child, but the visual effects are flawless, seamlessly inserting Chappie into the world as if there’s an actual robot interacting with the actors. It’s truly next-level stuff, and it’s ultimately what saves “Chappie” in spite of the film’s many flaws.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes nine featurettes – covering a range of topics like the cast, stunts, visual effects, production design, location shooting in Johannesburg and A.I – as well as an alternate ending, an extended scene and a concept art gallery.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Run All Night”

WHAT: After law-abiding limo driver Michael Conlon (Joel Kinnaman) witnesses the murder of some clients by the sleazebag son of local crime boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), Shawn sends childhood friend/mob enforcer Jimmy “The Gravedigger” Conlon (Liam Neeson) to prevent Michael from going to the police. But when Jimmy shoots Shawn’s son in order to protect his own, Shawn swears to kill them both as retribution, forcing the estranged father/son duo to go on the run until they can clear Michael’s name.

WHY: It’s a shame that director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson already made a movie called “Non-Stop,” because while “Run All Night” is a fitting title, the former more appropriately describes the overall tone of the duo’s third collaboration. There’s quite a bit of setup in the opening act, but once Jimmy and Michael are marked for death, it barely takes a minute to stop and catch its breath, jam-packed with wall-to-wall action featuring a cornucopia of fist fights, gunfights and car chases. Collet-Serra does a great job of keeping the story moving along, and though it’s entertaining at first, the non-stop action becomes such a sensory overload that it all starts to blend together. Because of this action-first mentality, there isn’t much room for anything else, although Collet-Serra does try to shoehorn in some clichéd father-son drama. The only reason the relationship works at all is because it has two strong actors in the roles. Neeson does his thing as the tough-as-nails hitman, bringing gravitas to an otherwise stock character, while Kinnaman delivers some of his best work to date as the angry son who wants nothing to do with the family business. “Run All Night” will surely entertain those who walk into a Liam Neeson movie these days knowing exactly what to expect, but it’s so incredibly predictable and formulaic that it sucks out all trace of suspense.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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2015 Father’s Day Gift Guide: Entertainment

Everyone loves watching a great movie or TV series, so we’ve compiled some of our favorite releases from the past few months that most guys will enjoy. And for more great suggestions, be sure to check out the other categories in our Father’s Day gift guide.

The Wire: The Complete Series

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Now that “Breaking Bad” has completed its remarkable five-year run, there’s a good chance that some people are rethinking their decision to christen “The Wire” as the best show in television history, but for our money, the HBO crime drama still owns the top spot. A gritty, intelligent, complex and well-acted series that fired on all cylinders throughout most of its five seasons, “The Wire” represents TV drama at its finest, anchored by a fantastic ensemble cast that rivals “Game of Thrones” in its sheer size and ability to squeeze great performances out of even the smallest roles. Digitally re-mastered in a new 16:9 widescreen ratio and broadcast in its entirety earlier this year, the complete series makes its Blu-ray debut just in time for Father’s Day. Though some have argued that the change from the original 4:3 ratio disrespects the show’s intended visual composition, it’s something that will likely only bother a select few, because it looks absolutely stunning. Many of the included extras have been carried over from the previous DVD release, but there is a brand new cast and crew Q&A from the Paley Center for Media’s reunion panel that’s a must-watch for all fans of the show.

Frank Sinatra: Five Film Collection

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It’s not the first time that a studio has released a Frank Sinatra movie collection in conjunction with his birthday, but Warner Bros.’ five-disc set – which spans two decades in the singer-turned-actor’s film career – is the first one to ever be released on Blu-ray. Featuring some of Sinatra’s finest work in front of the camera, the collection includes a trio of musicals (“Anchors Aweigh,” “On the Town” and “Guys and Dolls”) and two of the best crime movies of the era (“Ocean’s 11” and “Robin and the 7 Hoods”), three of which have been newly re-mastered for their Blu-ray debut. Though the fact that it only contains Warner Bros.-owned titles means that it’s not a definitive collection by any stretch of the imagination, this is still a great gift for any fan of the Chairman of the Board. Plus, it comes with hours of bonus material, like vintage MGM shorts and cartoons, audio commentary by Frank Sinatra Jr. on “Robin and the 7 Hoods” and “Ocean’s 11” (alongside Angie Dickinson), featurettes for “Guys and Dolls,” and a 32-page photo book with movie stills and behind-the-scenes photos from each film.

Goodfellas: 25th Anniversary Edition

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Though Martin Scorsese finally won his first Oscar for the 2006 crime thriller, “The Departed,” after decades of being snubbed, it should have happened 16 years earlier with “Goodfellas,” which is hands-down one of the greatest gangster movies ever made. The film has it all – sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, and even a little violence – but what’s most impressive is the manner in which Scorsese pieces it all together, breaking a number of traditional filmmaking rules along the way. Everything about the movie is top-notch, from Scorsese’s daring direction, to Nicholas Pileggi’s hard-hitting script (an adaption of his book, “Wiseguy”), to the rock-influenced soundtrack, to some fantastic performances by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of psychotic gangster Tommy DeVito. The two-disc 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray includes all of the previous extras from the 2010 release – including a pair of audio commentaries and a behind-the-scenes featurette – as well as an all-new retrospective, a 36-page photo book with an accompanying essay, and a letter from Scorsese.

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