Blu Tuesday: About Time, Dallas Buyers Club and Escape Plan

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.

“About Time”

WHAT: When Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) learns that the men on his side of the family have the ability to travel through time, he decides to use his powers to find a girlfriend. Upon meeting the girl of his dreams in American import Mary (Rachel McAdams), Tim is able to perfect every moment in their relationship by doing it over and over again “Groundhog Day”-style, only to discover that there are consequences to altering history.

WHY: Richard Curtis has written and directed some of the most memorable romantic comedies of the past two decades, so it should come as no surprise that his latest movie follows in the same footsteps. Curtis’ films have always been about much more than the superficial meet-cute between boy and girl, aiming for something a lot deeper and more emotionally rewarding, which he delivers in spades with “About Time.” Breakout star Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams work together really well, but it’s the relationship between Gleeson and Bill Nighy (playing the world’s greatest dad) that best serves the story’s central themes and leaves a more lasting impression, especially for anyone who’s ever lost a member of their family. Equally charming, funny and touching, “About Time” is classic Richard Curtis, through and through. And if the rumors about it being his directorial swan song are true, Curtis can take comfort in knowing that he went out on top, because this is not only his most mature and personal work to date, but it’s also one of his finest.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with writer/director Richard Curtis and most of the principal cast (save for Rachel McAdams and Lindsay Duncan), four deleted scenes with intros by Curtis, a blooper reel and four production featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Dallas Buyers Club”

WHAT: When Texas electrician Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) is diagnosed as HIV-positive and given only 30 days to live, he discovers that cheaper and more effective drugs are available in Mexico. Realizing a business opportunity when he sees one, Ron teams up with a transgender prostitute named Rayon (Jared Leto) to create a “buyers club” where they sell memberships and give away the drugs for free, exonerating themselves of any legal trouble.

WHY: Is there an actor who’s had a better last few years than Matthew McConaughey? Though he used to be somewhat of a punch line, known more for his shirtless roles in flaky rom-coms than his promising earlier work, recently McConaughey has been repairing his reputation with a string of outstanding performances in films like “Killer Joe,” “Magic Mike” and “Mud.” And while he earned his share of acclaim for all three roles, the actor’s latest turn as real-life AIDS victim Ron Woodruff might just be the crowning achievement of his career thus far. Though McConuaghey’s dramatic physical transformation has captured most of the headlines, it’s only part of his excellent performance. Ron’s relationship with Rayon is key to the film’s success, not only because of McConaughey, but Jared Leto as well, who reminds you what he’s capable of when given the right material. Sadly, nothing else about “Dallas Buyers Club” is particularly memorable, despite the fact that it deals with hot-button issues like AIDS, the health care industry and homosexuality. That poses a bit of a problem, because although it’s a pretty incredible story with a strong message, apart from McConaughey and Leto, the movie is unremarkably average.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Escape Plan”

WHAT: Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is the foremost expert on prison security – paid to reveal the flaws in prison systems from inside. But when he’s kidnapped and incarcerated in a top secret maximum security prison, Ray must team up with some of his fellow cellmates (including Arnold Schwarzenegger) in order to break out.

WHY: After teasing ‘80s action fans with cameos in the “Expendables” movies, you’d think that Hollywood could do a little better than “Escape Plan” for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s official big screen team-up with Sylvester Stallone. A mostly dull thriller that plods along at a maddeningly slow pace, “Escape Plan” is almost completely devoid of action or humor, making both stars’ involvement questionable. Schwarzenegger fares the better of the two, injecting some personality into his underwritten role, while Stallone seems content with sleepwalking his way through the entire movie. And if the two leads are underserved by the hackneyed script, the supporting cast is treated even more poorly, with respected actors like Sam Neill and Amy Ryan wasted in relatively small roles. The only real appeal is seeing Sly and Arnie on screen together, because although they may be stars in their own right, they really do make a good team. Next time (and you better believe there will be a next time), someone should create a film for these guys from the ground up, because “Escape Plan” doesn’t do them justice.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary with director Mikael Håfström and co-writer Miles Chapman, there’s a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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2013 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

year_end

If you haven’t been to the movie theater over the past few months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 2013 wasn’t a very good year for film. In fact, my own year-end list was looking pretty suspect before October, but as is usually the case, the awards season blitz was jam-packed with enough great movies to fill more than the customary ten spots. That made compiling this year’s best-of list a little more challenging than in years past, especially with so many popular choices relegated to honorable mentions or missing entirely. With that said, after much deliberating, flip-flopping and even revisiting certain films, the following represents what I believe to be the best of 2013.

Best Movies of 2013

1. “GRAVITY

It’s been six years since Alfonso Cuarón’s last feature film – the criminally underrated “Children of Men” – but his outer space survival thriller was well worth the wait. “Gravity” is the kind of movie that will likely change the way films are made in the future. From the stunning, single-take opening sequence that lasts more than 12 minutes, to the numerous set pieces throughout, “Gravity” is such a technical marvel that it looks like Cuarón shot the whole damn thing in space. Though the story is ridiculously simple, not a single second of its 91-minute runtime is wasted, extracting so much suspense from the film’s terrifying setup that the brief injections of comedy (courtesy of George Clooney’s easygoing astronaut) are a welcome reprieve from the almost unrelenting intensity. Sandra Bullock delivers one of the best performances of her career as the rookie astronaut caught up in a seemingly impossible situation, but the real star of “Gravity” is Cuarón himself, and he deserves every bit of praise for creating what can only be described as pure movie magic.

gravity

2. “AMERICAN HUSTLE

David O. Russell has always been a quality filmmaker, but he’s quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with thanks to movies like “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and this farcical con-artist caper. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ‘70s, “American Hustle” is immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and features top-notch acting from the entire cast. Forty pounds heavier and rocking the most elaborate comb-over you’ve ever seen, Christian Bale gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as the straight man of the bunch. His co-stars aren’t quite as committed physically, but they’re just as good. Amy Adams oozes sexiness as Bale’s cunning partner in crime, scene stealer Jennifer Lawrence is an absolute riot as his unpredictable wife, and Bradley Cooper is hilarious as the short-tempered FBI agent in charge of the sting. The whole film is a lot funnier than you’d expect due to Russell and Eric Singer’s darkly comic script, and though some have argued that it’s too long, the characters are so richly developed and crackling with personality that I would have gladly spent another hour in their messed-up world.

american_hustle

3. “ABOUT TIME

Richard Curtis has written and directed some of the greatest romantic comedies of the past two decades, so it should come as no surprise that his latest movie follows in the same footsteps. Curtis’ films have always been about much more than the superficial meet-cute between boy and girl, and “About Time” is no different, aiming for something a lot deeper and more emotionally rewarding than the typical rom-com. Breakout star Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams have some fantastic chemistry, but it’s the relationship between Gleeson and Bill Nighy (playing the world’s coolest dad) that best serves the story’s central themes and leaves a more lasting impression, especially for anyone who’s ever lost a member of their family. Equally charming, funny and touching, “About Time” is classic Richard Curtis, through and through. And if the rumors about it being his directorial swan song are true, Curtis can take comfort in knowing that he went out on top, because this is not only his most mature and personal work to date, but it’s just a really beautiful film.

about_time

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Movie Review: “About Time”

Starring
Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan
Director
Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis has written (and directed, in the case of “Love Actually”) some of the best romantic comedies of the past two decades, so it should come as no surprise that his latest movie follows in the same footsteps. Though Curtis has recently announced that “About Time” will likely be his final film as a director, the movie represents everything that’s great about the kind of romantic comedies Curtis excels at making. That’s because unlike most of the garbage in the genre, his films are about much more than just the superficial meet-cute between boy and girl, aiming for something a lot deeper and more emotionally rewarding, which he delivers in spades with the excellent “About Time.”

Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) has just turned 21, and the day after his family’s customary New Year’s Eve party, his father (Bill Nighy) lets him in on a secret: the men on his side of the family have the ability to travel through time. All he needs to do is go somewhere dark (like a closet or bathroom), clench his fists, and think of the time and place he wants to go back to. There are some caveats to Tim’s newfound powers, but the most important one is that he can only change events in his own life, so he decides to use them to find a girlfriend. It’s hardly the most inspiring use of such an incredible gift, but after moving to London to work as a lawyer, Tim meets the girl of his dreams in American import Mary (Rachel McAdams). He’s able to perfect every moment in their relationship by doing it over and over again “Groundhog Day”-style, but Tim eventually discovers that there are consequences to altering history.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

november

Last month may have been pretty uncharacteristic with the quality of films on display, featuring several Best Picture contenders, but if you thought that it would somehow affect the November release slate, think again. Though audiences will sadly have to wait a little longer to see Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” after the director failed to meet the original date, there are still plenty of great movies on tap, including a few award hopefuls, a pair of blockbuster sequels and more.

“ENDER’S GAME”

Who: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld and Ben Kingsley
What: The International Military recruits and trains a brilliant young boy named Ender Wiggin to lead his fellow soldiers against an alien attack.
When: November 1st
Why: Though “Ender’s Game” has been mired in controversy due to author Orson Scott Card’s recent anti-gay marriage rant, the fact of the matter is that his opinions have nothing to do with the actual movie. Of course, that’s not to say that the film still isn’t fighting an uphill battle. Director Gavin Hood has some making up to do after the disappointment of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but despite some concerns from fans, this big screen adaptation of the beloved sci-fi novel (previously thought to be unfilmable) looks like it could be his ticket to redemption. While it’s surprising that he’d follow up “Wolverine” with another effects-heavy film, it shows that Hood is adamant about proving his critics wrong. And with actors like Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis in supporting roles, he certainly has the right tools to do just that.

“LAST VEGAS”

Who: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline
What: Three sixty-something friends take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal.
When: November 1st
Why: A lot of people are already referring to “Last Vegas” as the geriatric version of “The Hangover,” but apparently, Dan Fogelman’s script was floating around Hollywood years before the Todd Phillips comedy became a box office hit. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that the success of the “Hangover” films didn’t play some part in getting the movie greenlit, and as goofy as the concept sounds (expect plenty of cheap jokes at the expense of its elderly characters), it actually looks pretty fun. The fact that director Jon Turteltaub was able to recruit such accomplished actors like De Niro, Douglas, Freeman and Kline (the latter of whom we haven’t seen much of recently) only helps sell the comedy even more, because if we’re going to watch four old guys make fools of themselves, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better quartet.

“ABOUT TIME”

Who: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy and Lydia Wilson
What: At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can time travel. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think.
When: November 1st
Why: Richard Curtis is responsible for making my favorite romantic comedy of all-time (“Love, Actually”), so to say that I’m excited about his latest (and hopefully not last, if reports are to be believed) directorial effort is a bit of an understatement. For starters, it’s a brilliant approach to the time travel gimmick, eschewing all the usual sci-fi mumbo jumbo in place of a simpler explanation, which allows Curtis to focus on the characters instead of getting wrapped up in the how of Tim’s magical ability. The father/son storyline also appears to be more important than the trailers suggest, and between rising star Domhnall Gleeson and the always dependable Bill Nighy, it’s that relationship (and not the one between Gleeson and Rachel McAdams) that will likely provide the careful balance of laughter and tears that Curtis has perfected so well.

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