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.
WHAT: After bureaucratic brownnoser Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) orders the termination of an experimental super soldier program, the CIA agent behind the project (Connie Britton) activates one of its subjects – unambitious stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) – to give him a fair shot at survival. Marked for death and forced to go into hiding, Mike must utilize his newly discovered abilities to rescue his girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) when she’s kidnapped by Yates and his team of programmed killers.
WHY: A high-concept movie that’s equal parts “Pineapple Express” and “The Bourne Identity,” “American Ultra” attempts to strike a balance between the pot-driven humor of the former and the super-spy action of the latter, but ends up as a bit of a tonal mess in the process. Though the film works in fits and starts, it never really finds its groove; for every great moment or idea, there are two more that fall flat. The opportunity was certainly there for some biting commentary on the irony of the U.S. government turning a stoner into a stone-cold killer amidst its War on Drugs, but sadly, “American Ultra” doesn’t seem interested in that kind of satire. Thankfully, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have such great chemistry that it saves the movie from being a complete disappointment. Not only do they handle the comedy and action beats with aplomb, but the pair adds an unexpected sweetness to their characters’ romance that you don’t normally find in this type of film. Though “American Ultra” will likely find an audience among the college crowd during late-night showings on cable TV, it’s a half-baked pot brownie of an action-comedy that gives you just enough of a buzz to make you wonder what it could have been in the hands of a more assured filmmaker.
EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Nima Nourizadeh, there are a pair of production featurettes and a gag reel.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
“Shaun the Sheep”
WHAT: Shaun the Sheep decides to take the day off and have some fun, but when his actions inadvertently lead to the Farmer getting injured and deserted in the Big City with no memory, Shaun and the rest of the flock must risk their own safety in order to bring him back.
WHY: Aardman Animation has never been afraid of pushing the envelope when it comes to their stop-motion animated films, but “Shaun the Sheep” is an especially ambitious movie that it doesn’t include any dialogue over the course of its 85-minute runtime. Not even the human characters speak, instead resorting to a type of gibberish that will be very familiar to fans of “The Sims.” Though that might make the animation process a little easier, it’s much more difficult to pull off from a storytelling standpoint, and one that writers/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak do an impressive job of executing. The whole thing plays out like a Buster Keaton silent film, with lots of clever sight gags befitting of Aardman’s trademark humor. Though it could have benefited from a better antagonist than the clichéd animal control officer that chases Shaun and his friends around the city, the movie’s frenetic pacing ensures that there’s never a dull moment. It’s not as great as Aardman’s “Wallace and Gromit” stuff, but it’s a smart and funny animated film that will entertain the whole family.
EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, behind-the-scenes footage of the animation process, character profiles and interviews with the crew.
Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, Graham McTavish
After garnering critical acclaim for his directorial debut “Fruitvale Station,” the last thing anyone expected from Ryan Coogler’s much-anticipated follow-up was a spin-off/sequel to a movie franchise that’s last meaningful installment was released 30 years ago. Coogler is just the latest in an ongoing trend of indie directors (Colin Trevorrow, Josh Trank, etc.) who have been plucked by the studios to revive major Hollywood properties despite their lack of experience, though you wouldn’t know it from watching “Creed.” Reuniting with his “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan, Coogler has created an energizing addition to the “Rocky” series that doesn’t just succeed as a respectful passing of the torch, but as one of the best “Rocky” movies ever made.
Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of former boxing champion Apollo Creed, who was taken in at a young age by Apollo’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), after bouncing around the foster care system as a kid. Born after Apollo was tragically killed in the ring, Adonis grew up never knowing his father (which is why he goes by his mother’s maiden name), but has chosen to follow in his footsteps. When he gives up a promising job at an investment firm to focus on his boxing career, Adonis leaves Los Angeles for Philadelphia in the hopes of convincing local legend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. Though Rocky declines the offer at first, he eventually agrees to take the young Adonis – a self-taught fighter with raw talent, but who’s lacking the refinement of proper training – under his wing. Adonis is adamant about forging his own path without the help of his father’s legacy, but when his secret is revealed and he’s offered a fight against the reigning world champion, he must prove to himself (and his detractors) that he’s worthy of the Creed name.
Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott, Steve Zahn, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand
An unsettling trend is starting to appear in Pixar’s work. When the visuals are more eye-popping than usual, it’s a sign that something more important is lacking (see: “Brave”). “The Good Dinosaur” is visually breathtaking, featuring the most lifelike water that has ever graced an animated film. The story structure, however, is one of Pixar’s weakest, feeling more like old-guard Disney than the kind of thing Pixar normally produces. There are valuable lessons for children to learn here, but there is also a fair amount of trauma. Little Arlo gets his ass handed to him early, then spends the rest of the movie trying to survive.
In “The Good Dinosaur’s” universe, the meteor that is believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs misses Earth. Fast forward a few million years, and Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an Apatosaurus of below average size, is born into a family of farmers. Arlo is also timid, and his father’s attempts to get Arlo over his fears come to a head when Arlo is tasked with killing the critter that keeps eating their winter food supply. The creature is caught, and it’s a little, feral, human child. Arlo can’t bring himself to kill the boy and sets it free. Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) insists on chasing the creature, but they lose the trail in a ravine, and then Arlo loses his father in a flash flood while in the ravine. First rule of Disney: kill at least one of the parents, and if possible, do it in such a way that the child feels guilty about it for the rest of his life.
If you’re planning a man’s night in, there are a number of ingredients you’re going to need to nail to keep your buddies happy. Today, we run you through the most important, from the poker games, right down to what you should be serving to ensure hunger doesn’t distract you from the gambling.
NJOY, the largest independent e-cigarette and vaping company in the US, has unveiled its newest product, the Daily, a superior e-cigarette scientifically developed to deliver quick-and-strong nicotine satisfaction at levels close to an actual cigarette.
The Daily has been crafted for adult smokers who are familiar with e-cigs but have been largely unsatisfied by the products they’ve tried in the past. The Daily represents NJOY’s mission to make the traditional combustion cigarette obsolete. After testing it out ourselves, we have to give props to NJOY on accomplishing exactly what they set out to do. The Daily exceeded all of our expectations and offers a restored faith in those who have given up on e-cigs.
With its lightweight design and soft tip, the Daily feels like an actual cigarette and should provide a full pack’s worth of smoking from a single, ready-to-use disposable unit. It is easy to transport and even easier to use, particularly in situations where you just want a quick drag or two. The Daily produces a thick vapor and offers a strong yet smooth throat hit that is reminiscent to that of a traditional cigarette.
From start to finish, we never experienced a weak drag and were left wanting more. And with its competitive price at only $5.99 (suggested retail price), it really will change the game for e-cigs. There is finally an e-cig that is able to deliver an authentic “smoking” experience thanks to NJOY.
Not to be outdone, another new product NJOY has introduced is their Convenience Vaping System, which consists of a Pre-filled Tank and Battery System. Perfect for day-to-day vaping, it’s so easy to use – we literally took the tank and battery out of their packages, screwed them together and were ready to go.
The Pre-Filled Tank holds 3mL, so you can vape all day, and comes in five unique flavors. The flavors are an amazing standout from other vape products we’ve tried before and is there a lot of vapor and flavor that comes out of that small tank! The product is a winner for sure! Also worth noting, both the tank and battery feature a 510 thread, so they can work with other devices as well.
For more information on the NJOY Daily and Convenience Vaping System, check out www.njoy.com.