Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

april

With the exception of Marvel’s Captain America sequel, the directorial debut of longtime Christopher Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister, and yet another Kevin Costner sports drama, April is suspiciously lacking in many big releases. Before theater chains are inundated with all the summer blockbusters, this month’s slate is mostly comprised of smaller independent films, many of which are actually quite promising.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”

Who: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie
What: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
When: April 4th
Why: The first Captain America movie may not have been one of Marvel’s best, but it was a solid and completely necessary introduction to the character that helped pave the way for the awesomeness that was “The Avengers.” And just like that film marked the beginning of the end of Phase One, “The Winter Solider” serves a very similar purpose for Phase Two. Loosely based on the popular storyline from the comics featuring the title character, Cap’s second solo adventure is shaping up to be everything fans wanted and more. The action looks fantastic and the cast is stacked – including the return of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, as well as the introduction of another famous face from the Marvel universe with Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (AKA The Falcon) – so it’s easy to see why expectations are so high.

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“DOM HEMINGWAY”

Who: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir and Emilia Clarke
What: After spending 12 years in prison, notorious safe-cracker Dom Hemingway is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he’s owed.
When: April 4th
Why: It’s been nine years since writer/director Richard Shepherd burst onto the scene with the hugely entertaining black comedy “The Madator,” and with the exception of his underseen 2007 follow-up (“The Hunting Party”), he’s spent most of that time as a hired gun for various TV series. But he’s finally back with a new movie featuring a character that could rival Jonathan Glazer’s “Sexy Beast” for the title of Most Polarizing British Gangster, which is quite the feat considering that the British crime genre is jam-packed with loud, ballsy and over-the-top characters. Jude Law has always been one of my favorite actors, so it’s great to see him playing against type here as the larger-than-life criminal, much in the same way that Pierce Brosnan shocked audiences in “The Matador.” Though the film has received fairly mixed reviews since its UK debut, Law’s unhinged performance looks like reason enough to catch this in theaters.

“DRAFT DAY”

Who: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Dennis Leary, Chadwick Boseman and Sam Elliot
What: The General Manager of the Cleveland Browns struggles to acquire the number one draft pick for his team.
When: April 11th
Why: Between “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “Tin Cup” and “For the Love of the Game,” it’s safe to say that Kevin Costner and sports movies go together like peanut butter and jelly, so perhaps the only surprising thing about “Draft Day” is that it’s about football instead of America’s favorite pastime. Filmed in Cleveland where it takes place, locals are no doubt hoping that this film can provide a much-needed reversal of fortune for their precious Brownies in the upcoming season. Whether it will be any good is another matter entirely. You’d have to go all the way back to the early ‘90s to find director Ivan Reitman’s last great movie, though it’s certainly encouraging that “Draft Day” seems to be more along the lines of “Moneyball” than “Major League,” because the behind-the-scenes stuff is far more engaging than anything that happens on the field.

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Blu Tuesday: Anchorman 2, 47 Ronin and Knights of Badassdom

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.

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”

WHAT: After he’s fired from his gig co-anchoring the national news with his wife Veronica (Christina Applegate), Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is given a chance to become part of the first-ever 24-hour news channel. But when Ron butts heads with star anchorman Jack Lime (James Marsden) upon his arrival, he makes a bet with him that he’ll get bigger ratings, despite the fact that his news team has been saddled with the graveyard shift.

WHY: For years, Will Ferrell has resisted the urge to make a sequel to any of his films, but if there’s one character from his repertoire deserving of a second helping, it’s Ron Burgundy. Unfortunately, while “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” aims to match the original’s absurdist tone, it just doesn’t compare. The movie is at times funnier than its predecessor, but it’s also wildly inconsistent, bouncing aimlessly between gut-busting hilarity and entire sequences that miss their mark. Part of the reason is the movie’s nearly two-hour runtime, which is plagued by several long stretches where nothing funny happens, including a bizarre third act twist that comes across as being ridiculous purely for the sake of it. Even more troubling is how poorly the supporting cast is utilized this time around. While Ferrell is excellent once again as the mustachioed anchorman, Paul Rudd and David Koechner are pushed to the sidelines for much of the film, while Steve Carell’s simple-minded weatherman is given a romantic subplot with Kristen Wiig’s similarly awkward secretary that isn’t as funny as intended. Still, while it’s not as quotable as the first movie, “Anchorman 2” has more than enough laughs that it’s an enjoyable, albeit uneven and incredibly gonzo, comedy.

EXTRAS: Paramount really went above and beyond with this Blu-ray release, which includes three different versions of the film: the original theatrical cut, an unrated cut and a super-sized R-rated cut that runs a whopping 143 minutes and contains 763 new jokes, among other new material. Additionally, there’s an audio commentary with director Adam McKay and the cast, a making-of featurette, four more production featurettes, a lengthy gag reel, deleted, extended and alternate scenes, clips from the table read, and if you can believe it, much more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“47 Ronin”

WHAT: Following the death of their master, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek revenge on the treacherous warlord (Tadanobu Asano) and evil witch (Rinko Kikuchi) responsible with the help of an enslaved half-breed (Keanu Reeves) who was raised by demons.

WHY: For a director packing as much style as Carl Rinsch, it seemed only natural that “47 Ronin” would at least be pretty to look at, even if it lacked the necessary substance to be any good. But unfortunately, Rinsch’s feature film debut fails in both departments, resulting in a disappointingly dull samurai flick that ranks among one of the most forgettable big-budget movies of last year. You’d think that co-writers Chris Morgan (the “Fast & Furious” franchise) and Hossein Amini (“Drive”) could squeeze a little fun out of the premise, but it’s an incredibly somber affair that takes things far too seriously considering the fantasy elements involved in the story. Though Rinsch deserves some credit for convincing a major studio to green light a Keanu Reeves vehicle with Japanese screen veteran Hiroyuki Sanada, and not Reeves, playing the main lead, the actor’s presence ultimately proves to be more of a distraction than an advantage. History buffs will appreciate the story of the 47 ronin getting the Hollywood treatment, but instead of wasting time on this movie, do yourself a favor and check out Rinsch’s commercial and short film work instead.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a brief making-of featurette, a pair of additional featurettes on the fight choreography and visual FX, and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Knights of Badassdom”

WHAT: After getting dumped by his longtime girlfriend, aspiring musician Joe (Ryan Kwanten) is persuaded by his two best friends (Steve Zahn and Peter Dinklage) to join them at their weekend live-action role-playing event. But when they accidentally conjure up a demon from Hell, the players must band together to stop it.

WHY: When “Knights of Badassdom” was first announced a few years ago, it sounded like it could be a fun little movie, especially with the talent involved. Ryan Kwanten was starring on one of the hottest shows on television (“True Blood”), Peter Dinklage had just won an Emmy for his outstanding work on “Game of Thrones,” and Summer Glau already had plenty of geek cred to her name between “Firefly” and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” But as the years passed, so did any hope that the film would ever see the light of day, mainly due to some messy behind-the-scenes drama between director Joe Lynch and the original financiers. And it’s easy to see why, because “Knights of Badassdom” is downright terrible – a clunky, half-baked horror-comedy that doesn’t even come close to fulfilling its potential. There are very few laughs throughout the movie’s brisk 86-minute runtime, and the visual effects look unfinished in most cases, particularly the main creature, which is just a man in a really shoddy rubber suit. It’s hard to imagine how stoned someone would need to be to enjoy “Knights of Badassdom,” because with the exception of some amusing performances by Dinklage and Jimmi Simpson, it’s a pretty joyless experience.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes featurette, interviews with Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage and Summer Glau, and footage from the San Diego Comic-Con panel.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Movie Review: “Noah”

Starring
Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Anthony Hopkins
Director
Darren Aronofsky

Just as the Bible speaks in many ways to many people, so does Darren Aronofsky’s epic “Noah,” a story about a man, his giant ark and the lengths a family will go to when facing the world’s first apocalypse.

Tackling a story of pre-apocalyptic earth in the before and after stages is nothing new, but Aronofsky knew that he had to pull out all the stops in dealing with the planet’s first biblical disaster. Luckily, he had Russell Crowe to work with. After a brief but eye-catching history lesson (via fast motion) from the time of creation through the questionable dietary choices in the Garden of Eden, to the slaying of Abel by Cain, we arrive at the tenth generation of man, where a young Noah (Dakota Goyo) witnesses his father being killed just as he is about to bestow his birthright, a glowing snakeskin sleeve, upon him.

Years later, an adult Noah (Crowe) is living a happy but isolated life with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons, Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth) and Japheth (Leo Carroll). But if life (and Twitter 3:16) has taught us anything, it’s that you can avoid people, but not their mistakes. Noah receives a vision, one of great death by flooding. The Creator (The “G-word” is never said in the film) has decided that his experiment with mankind has gone completely off the rails, as everyone is a poster child for the worse sins imaginable against the planet and themselves.

Unfortunately, visions aren’t the same as having a phone call, Skype or even text messages, so Noah seeks out clarification from his granddad Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Thanks to his guidance, and getting slipped a mickey, Noah gets a clearer vision: the planet is about to be destroyed by a flood. He is to construct a giant ark with a sample of the planet’s animals and witness the first-ever heavenly version of a reboot. Aiding him in his quest is Ila (Emma Watson), an injured orphan girl who becomes his adopted daughter and love interest of Shem. He’s also greatly assisted by fallen angels turned giant stone creatures called the Watchers, who also sinned against the Creator and seek redemption.

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Movie Review: “Sabotage”

Starring
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau
Director
David Ayer

Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t wasted any time since announcing his return from retirement, cranking out movies with the prolificacy of someone who knows that the clock is ticking on his Hollywood career. But despite recent appearances in “The Expendables 2,” “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan,” Schwarzenegger has yet to make a film that measures up to some of his more iconic roles. The actor’s latest project, “Sabotage,” certainly had the promise to be that movie. Directed by David Ayer, who’s pretty much become Hollywood’s go-to guy for gritty cop films, this modern-day twist on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” shares the same basic premise used for one of Schwarzenegger’s biggest hits, “Predator.” It also boasts one hell of an ensemble cast for a seemingly generic action thriller, which is why it’s so disappointing that that’s exactly what “Sabotage” turned out to be.

Schwarzenegger stars as John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of an elite DEA task force that’s taken down some of the biggest drug lords in the world. His team is comprised of some colorful characters – each with their own silly codename like Monster (Sam Worthington), Grinder (Joe Manganiello) and Sugar (Terrence Howard) – but they’re the best at what they do, oozing with so much confidence that they manage to steal $10 million during their latest raid on a Mexican cartel safe house. When they go back to retrieve the hidden money, however, they discover that it’s missing, replaced by a single, ominous bullet. Before long, members of Breacher’s team start to get picked off one by one, with homicide detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) assigned to track down those responsible. But while the brutal murders appear to be the work of the cartel, the surviving agents begin to suspect that someone from within their own ranks is hunting them.

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A chat with Iko Uwais (“The Raid 2″)

Indonesian-born Iko Uwais may not be a household name yet, but he’s breaking down boundaries as quickly as his characters break bones. Action fans were blown away by his starring role as Rama in the 2011 martial arts extravaganza “The Raid: Redemption,” where he played a naïve cop fighting against a corrupt boss. In the meantime, he also paired with another martial arts icon in last year’s “Man of Tai Chi,” directed by and co-starring Keanu Reeves. This week, he returns in one of the most awaited sequels of the year (sorry, Cap) in “The Raid 2,” written and directed by his good friend, Gareth Evans. He recently sat down to discuss working with Reeves, his relationship with Evans, as well as bringing appreciation of his martial art form, pencak silat, to audiences around the globe.

BULLZ-EYE: How did you go about improving as an actor from your time in the original “Raid”?

IKO UWAIS: I learned a lot, especially from Gareth, because he knows the characters and the role. I took it into my heart, integrated everything and I played along. It happened naturally after that.

BULLZ-EYE: How does the Indonesian martial arts differ from other styles?

IKO UWAIS The basic moves are the same. The difference is that there are many types of pencak silat, Indonesian martial arts in Indonesia. From pencak silat alone, there are many different schools. Thousands of schools. In choreographing for this movie, I combined some moves from different schools.

BULLZ-EYE: How was it working with Keanu Reeves in last year’s “Man of Tai Chi?”

IKO UWAIS: I can’t explain, because I was really happy. I was happy to work with him. He was very wise. He was very friendly and he also directed the movie. He always told me what he wanted. Usually, there’s a relationship between the director and the actors. He approached the actors.

BULLZ-EYE: The fighting in the film is as breathtaking as it is violent. Does pencak silat also stress a spiritual side as well?

IKO UWAIS: Yes, absolutely. In pencak silat, especially, the spiritual aspect is very dominant.

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