Blu Tuesday: Jupiter Ascending, Focus and McFarland, USA

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.

“Jupiter Ascending”

WHAT: When Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) discovers that she’s the reincarnation of intergalactic royalty, she becomes the target of a power play between her former self’s three feuding siblings, who all want her for their own selfish reasons. Saved by a disgraced solider named Caine (Channing Tatum), Jupiter must take control of her destiny if she hopes to save Earth from its terrible fate.

WHY: It’s been 16 years since “The Matrix,” but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of money Warner Bros. continues to flush down the toilet with Andy and Lana Wachowski’s string of commercial and critical failures. “Cloud Atlas” should have been the final straw, but instead, the studio took yet another chance on the directing duo with “Jupiter Ascending,” and although the Wachowskis’ commitment to creating original sci-fi stories is commendable, it’s their worst movie to date. A garbled mess of half-baked ideas (some good, some bad) that never have the chance to fully develop due to an overwhelming mythology that delivers too much information, too quickly over the course of its 127-minute runtime, “Jupiter Ascending” was a disaster waiting to happen. It wouldn’t surprise me if a much longer cut of this movie existed, because the current version feels like it’s been chopped up and pieced back together to include all the essential material without any consideration for how it works as a whole. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The film is also plagued by poor attempts at humor and some truly awful performances, none more so than Eddie Redmayne as the eldest of the royal siblings. Despite some impressive visual effects, “Jupiter Ascending” is groan-inducingly bad – a massive swing-and-miss that could spell the end of the Wachowskis’ charmed partnership with Warner Bros.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release contains seven featurettes covering a variety of topics, including production and creature design, filming the action sequences, as well profiles on the Wachowskis and the movie’s lead characters.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Focus”

WHAT: Veteran conman Nicky (Will Smith) agrees to help coach a promising grifter named Jess (Margot Robbie) when he brings her in on his large-scale operation. After Jess gets burned by Nicky at the end of the job, the two go their separate ways until they cross paths again three years later when Nicky is hired by a wealthy racing team owner (Rodrigo Santoro) to help ruin his competitors. But while Nicky wants to make amends after the way he left things, Jess is unable to trust him, convinced that he must be working some kind of angle. The real question is whether Jess is too.

WHY: Films about con artists are almost as difficult to pull off as an actual con. They need to be clever enough to outsmart and entertain the audience without being overly complex or resorting to narrative cheats. “Focus” is definitely entertaining at times, a flashy crime drama highlighted by a pair of movie star performances from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, but it also commits the aforementioned offenses in order to arrive at its twist ending. However, that’s not the film’s biggest problem, but rather the fact that “Focus” is basically two movie stitched together by the same connective tissue, and only one of the halves is any good. While the first half is a fun and fizzy con movie that’s capped off by a terrifically tense sequence featuring BD Wong as a high-stakes gambler, the second half isn’t nearly as engaging, partly because Smith and Robbie don’t have strong enough chemistry to sell the romance at the center of the story. The script’s playful tone remains intact throughout, but it never quite clicks the same way, bogged down by scene after scene of exposition that’s all setup for the big payoff. Although it’s refreshing to see a major studio take a gamble on a modestly budgeted film targeted towards adults, “Focus” is so passively mediocre that you can understand why other studios have been afraid to pull the trigger.

EXTRAS: In addition to a featurette about the art of misdirection, there are profiles on Will Smith and Margot Robbie, as well deleted scenes and an alternate opening.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Aloha”

Starring
Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, Danny McBride
Director
Cameron Crowe

Thus far, optimism has reigned supreme in this summer of moviegoing. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was about finding hope and redemption in a wasteland, “Tomorrowland” championed positivity, and now the king of sincerity himself, Cameron Crowe, has given us “Aloha.” The director’s latest effort is a Cameron Crowe film through and through – a heartfelt, funny and honest, albeit a little messy, romantic comedy.

Like most of Crowe’s protagonists, Brian Gilchrist (Bradley Cooper) isn’t the man he once was, a washed-up defense contractor looking for a comeback. His boss, famed billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), is planning on launching a satellite out of Hawaii, and it’s Brian’s job to make sure the launch goes according to plan. Professionally and personally, the cynical Brian runs into more problems than he expected. For starters, his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) is now married to John ‘Woody’ Woodside (John Krasinski) and has two kids. Old feelings for Tracy arise when Gilchrist reunites with her, in addition to new ones for his babysitter/partner, Allison Ng (Emma Stone), an ambitious pilot who sees Brian for the man he used to be and the man he could become.

There’s actually more to “Aloha” than that plot description. There are a lot of moving pieces in Crowe’s script, and it takes time for them to become a cohesive unit. The details of Brian’s mission are a tad hazy at first, and his relationship with Allison is initially rushed, as she falls for him a little too quickly. But by the time the second act rolls around, Crowe and the cast are mostly smooth sailing.

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Movie Review: “San Andreas”

Starring
Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi
Director
Brad Peyton

Roland Emmerich would be proud. “San Andreas” is every bit the big, dumb and loud disaster movie that everyone expected it to be, delivering on that promise with some sensational, effects-heavy action that’s practically begging to be turned into a theme park attraction. Though some people will undoubtedly criticize the film for doing exactly what it sets out to achieve, “San Andreas” is pretty upfront about its intentions, doing no more and no less than it needs to in order to get its characters from point A to point B. This is the type of guilt-free popcorn movie that the summer blockbuster season is built around, and while it never amounts to much more than cinematic eye candy, that’s kind of the point.

Dwayne Johnson stars as Chief Ray Gaines, a former military helicopter rescue pilot who now works for the Los Angeles Fire Department saving lives alongside the same crew that served with him overseas. When a big earthquake hits Nevada, tearing apart the Hoover Dam in the process, Ray is forced to cancel a road trip with his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to help with the rescue effort. But Cal Tech seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) predicts that an even bigger earthquake is going to occur along the San Andreas Fault, with San Francisco getting hit the hardest, placing Blake smack dab in the middle of the impending destruction. After rescuing his soon-to-be ex-wife, Anna (Carla Gugino), from a crumbling building in Los Angeles, the pair heads to San Francisco to save their daughter before she becomes another victim of the devastating quake.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to June

preview-june

After a successful start to the summer thanks to surefire hits like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and over-performers like “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the blockbuster movie season continues with a pair of much-anticipated sequels, the big screen debut of an HBO favorite, and a welcome return to originality from the brilliant minds at Pixar. This month also features its share of Sundance favorites, so you’ll have a hard time not finding an excuse to visit your local theater a few times throughout June.

“Entourage”

Who: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrara
What: As his first piece of business as Warner Brothers’ new studio head, former super-agent Ari Gold greenlights Vincent Chase’s directorial debut.
When: June 3rd
Why: It’s been four years since “Entourage” ended its incredible run on HBO, and in that time, there’s been a lot of talk about a potential big screen revival from series creator Doug Ellin, producer Mark Wahlberg and the cast. But now that it’s finally here, does anyone even care? That’s what we’re about to find out, but if “Sex & the City” (which had a similar gap between its series finale and the first movie) is any indication, the studio has nothing to worry about. “Entourage” already has a built-in audience, so the real question is whether non-fans will bother to take the plunge, and perhaps more importantly, how much they’ll need to know about the series to understand the events of the film.

“Spy”

Who: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne and Jude Law
What: A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer and prevent diabolical global disaster.
When: June 5th
Why: Despite starring in some of the worst comedies of the last few years, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of Melissa McCarthy slowing down. For what it’s worth, “Spy” looks like it might be McCarthy’s best starring vehicle to date, although that’s largely due to the other people involved. It’s nice to see Jason Statham finally getting a crack at comedy (even if he’s playing the straight man here), while Jude Law and Rose Byrne are some of the most dependable actors in the business. The movie also played like gangbusters at SXSW earlier this year, and though that’s not exactly the best gauge of its quality, it can’t be any worse than “Tammy.”

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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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