Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

april

The upcoming summer movie season promises to be one of the biggest in years, so it’s a bit of a surprise that studios are limping (rather than sprinting) into that period with such a humdrum selection of films. Not even the few blockbusters that have smartly moved away from the summer madness – “The Jungle Book” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” – are very enticing, and that pretty much sums up all you need to know about April’s new releases. See a matinee if you must, but you’d be better off saving that money for the busy months ahead.

“The Boss”

Who: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kristen Schaal and Kathy Bates
What: After she’s arrested for insider trading, Michelle Darnell emerges from prison ready to rebrand herself as America’s new sweetheart.
When: April 8th
Why: The last time Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone collaborated on a movie, it resulted in the groan-inducingly bad “Tammy,” and there’s not much evidence to suggest that “The Boss” – which sounds like a raunchy remake of the 1989 comedy, “Troop Beverly Hills” – will be any better. If you’re a fan of McCarthy’s over-the-top antics, then you’ll probably love her latest character, because it’s basically just another variation of the same obnoxious and mean-spirited jerk that she’s been playing for years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very funny the first time, and no amount of ridiculous outfits or wigs is going to change that.

“Demolition”

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper and Heather Lind
What: A successful investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash.
When: April 8th
Why: Jake Gyllenhaal has really turned around his career over the past few years with films like “Nightcrawler” and “Prisoners,” so it only seems fitting that he would team up with Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian-born director partially responsible for Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Reese Witherspoon’s (“Wild”) recent career revivals. Though early reviews for “Demolition” have been mixed, this looks like yet another great showcase for Gyllenhaal as he continues to reinvent himself as a serious actor who’s willing to take risks. The April release date will likely kill any chances for an awards run, but it’s still the month’s best prospect.

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Blu Tuesday: The Hateful Eight 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.

“The Hateful Eight”

WHAT: In post-Civil War Wyoming, renowned bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is forced to take shelter at a haberdashery in the mountains when a blizzard prevents him from transporting wanted murder Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock. Trapped in a room with six other strangers he doesn’t trust – at least one of whom he believes is in cahoots with Daisy – John must uncover the mole before they make their move.

WHY: Quentin Tarantino’s first crack at making a Western may have resulted in the slightly disappointing “Django Unchained,” but his second attempt is a much-improved genre piece that represents his most accomplished work behind the camera to date. While Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins all deliver excellent work, Samuel L. Jackson’s show-stopping turn is the real standout, chewing up scenery with every juicy monologue and sly look. Granted, the first half of the film moves like molasses as Tarantino gets all of his pieces on the board, but the pacing is intentional, slowly building to a boil that spills out into a flurry of violence in the final hour. Though “The Hateful Eight” is filled with the same self-indulgent tendencies that fans have come to expect from the director’s movies, this Agatha Christie-styled whodunit is a lot of fun thanks to a smartly crafted script, some outstanding camerawork that benefits from the 65mm film format, and riotous performances from the cast.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a short behind-the-scenes featurette and a closer look at the movie’s 70mm presentation.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Concussion”

WHAT: When Nigerian-born pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who have suffered repeated concussions, he publishes his findings in the hope that it will help save lives. However, the NFL sees Omalu as a threat to its multibillion-dollar industry and attempts to discredit him.

WHY: Much like writer/director Peter Landesman’s previous films (“Kill the Messenger,” “Parkland”), “Concussion” is a middling, fact-based story that feels disconnected from its own material. While the movie is about a fairly important event in modern medicine – the discovery and recognition of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a very real problem within the sport of football – it’s told in such a dull, straightforward manner that its message doesn’t resonate. Will Smith delivers his best work in over a decade as the real-life Omalu, completely throwing himself into the role, but the rest of the cast isn’t given as much to work with, particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whose talents are squandered as his wife. The whole thing feels more like a TV movie due to the pedestrian writing and direction, and although it’s worth seeing for Smith’s passionate performance, “Concussion” isn’t compelling enough to incite the kind of reform within the NFL (and the sport as a whole) that’s desperately needed.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Peter Landesman, a pair of featurettes on making the movie and the true story that inspired it, and deleted scenes.

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Movie Review: “I Saw the Light”

Starring
Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Maddie Hasson
Director
Marc Abraham

It was only last week that Stephen Frears’ formulaic biopic, “The Program,” arrived in theaters, and hot on the heels of that film, writer-director Marc Abraham delivers a similarly distant and uninvolving biographical drama, this time about troubled country musician Hank Williams. Once again, despite a compelling performance leading the way, “I Saw the Light” is yet another biopic that doesn’t dig deep enough into its subject.

Narratively, “I Saw the Light” is a collection of greatest hits that covers Williams’ (Tom Hiddleston) short and tragic life. Much of Abraham’s script focuses on the singer and songwriter’s testy relationship with his first wife, Audrey Mae Williams (Elizabeth Olsen). Audrey Mae isn’t exactly in the same league as her husband musically, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to sing along with him. She’s also not the healthiest of influences in Hank’s life, which involves plenty of alcoholism and infidelity.

For the first half of “I Saw the Light,” Hank’s marriage makes for a relatively focused glimpse into the singer’s life, but the film soon turns into the rise-and-fall biopic we’re far too accustomed to. Abraham only seems to graze the surface of Williams’ story, which is rarely as emotional as it sounds.

Watching the young Hank Williams waste away his life, family and talent should be dramatic. However, because the movie is just going through the motions, much of the drama comes across as routine. The third act, especially, could’ve been potentially excruciating, but instead, Williams’ death just sort of happens.

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Movie Review: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

Starring
Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Scoot McNairy, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane
Director
Zack Snyder

It’s an idea that sounds like a slam dunk on paper: Pit two of the world’s biggest superheroes against one another in a cinematic battle for the ages and force the audience to choose sides. But while we all wait to see how that fight unfolds in “Captain America: Civil War,” moviegoers can get their fix sooner by trudging through the similarly themed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a disjointed mess of a movie that is occasionally exhilarating, but mostly disappointing. Though it’s scary to think that Warner Bros. is betting the future of its entire DC Comics film slate on this highly-anticipated clash of superhero icons, the real loser is the audience itself.

The warning signs were there for everyone to see in the movie’s convoluted title, but even diehard comic book fans will be surprised by just how overlong, overstuffed and unfocused the film is for such a seemingly straightforward affair. This is Batman versus Superman, for crying out loud – it doesn’t require any extra dressing, and it certainly didn’t need to be turned into a moody rumination on the responsibilities of power that nearly sucks the fun out of its killer premise. After all, didn’t director Zack Snyder already make that movie?

Eighteen months have passed since Superman (Henry Cavill) destroyed half of Metropolis fighting General Zod (Michael Shannon), and while some people have embraced him as a god-like hero, others believe that he’s a dangerous alien who should be held accountable for his actions. Having witnessed the collateral damage first-hand after one of his company’s buildings was destroyed in the battle, Gotham City industrialist Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) – now a seasoned crime-fighter who spends his nights dealing out justice as the vigilante Batman – is terrified of what Superman could do with that kind of power and becomes obsessed with stopping him by any means possible. Meanwhile, billionaire tech genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is building his own weapon to combat the alien threat using a piece of Kryptonite uncovered at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. But when Bruce steals the green rock in an attempt to level the playing field against Superman, Luthor decides to use Batman to do his dirty work for him.

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Blu Tuesday: The Hunger Games and Daddy’s Home

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 Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2″

WHAT: After Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) sneaks into the Capitol against direct orders, she’s assigned to a specialized military unit, which also includes Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and a mentally unstable Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), to shoot more propaganda videos on the war-torn streets of the city. But Katniss has other plans – namely, to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and end the fighting once and for all.

WHY: Amid the glut of YA book-to-film adaptations, “The Hunger Games” has always stood head and toe above the competition. That’s what makes “Mockingjay: Part 2” such a hard pill to swallow, because while it seemed like the stage was set for an exciting finale after the tedious third installment, it’s yet another incredibly slow burn that underlines just how bad the final book is in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian saga. Apart from a couple well-staged action sequences, the movie never really gets going. It hits all the major moments within Collins’ grim novel, but there’s very little emotion to it, as if director Francis Lawrence is just ticking off boxes as he goes along. Even Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t appear particularly enthused about having to slog through this downer of a finale, and it’s hard to blame her, because instead of going out on a high note like the franchise and its loyal fans deserved, my first thought when the film ended was, “Thank God it’s finally over.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, there’s an eight-part making-of documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at the “Hunger Games” exhibition and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Daddy’s Home”

WHAT: Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) has always dreamed of being a father, and ever since marrying the lovely Sara (Linda Cardellini), he’s gone above and beyond to win the affection of her two children. But when their deadbeat biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) suddenly arrives in town looking to make up for lost time, the two men engage in a battle of wits to prove who is the better dad.

WHY: “Daddy’s Home” is one of the worst studio comedies in recent years – it’s lazy, unfunny and so farfetched that even the few sincere moments ring false. After all, this is a movie where Will Ferrell’s mild-mannered stepdad crashes a motorcycle through the second story of his house and somehow walks away with barely a scratch. It’s a completely ridiculous gag that treats violence like a “Looney Tunes” cartoon, and the film only goes downhill from there. Though Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg worked really well together in Adam McKay’s “The Other Guys,” the decision to pit them against each other as adversaries isn’t as effective, squandering their natural chemistry. The supporting cast doesn’t fare any better, although Hannibal Burress does earn a few laughs as a laidback handyman who becomes an honorary member of the family. Unfortunately, that’s about all the movie has to offer, because while there’s definitely a good comedy to be made from such a relatable premise, “Daddy’s Home” is a big swing and a miss.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, a series of additional featurettes that focus on specific elements of the film, and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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