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Blu Tuesday: The Gambler, Inherent Vice 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 Gambler”

WHAT: After falling into debt with a pair of dangerous men, college English professor and degenerate gambler Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is given seven days to pay or else. When his mother (Jessica Lange) gives him the money to clear his debt, only to blow it at the casino instead, Jim is put in a precarious position when one of the loan sharks (Michael K. Williams) threatens the lives of his two students.

WHY: Rupert Wyatt’s “The Gambler” is a curious beast. It’s based on a film that’s just obscure enough that a remake wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers, yet is well-regarded by those who have seen it. In other words, the 1974 original starring James Caan isn’t exactly holy ground, but there’s not much to improve on either, which makes this Mark Wahlberg vanity project feel every bit as irrelevant as the story it’s trying to tell. Wahlberg’s character is such a miserable asshole that it’s very difficult to identify with him, despite some punchy dialogue from writer William Monahan, and to make matters worse, the actor is terribly miscast in the role. At least the gambling scenes are handled with style and verve, dripping in tension and absolutely painful to watch. But while the movie does a great job of illustrating Jim’s self-destructive nature, it never digs any deeper into the root of the problem, which makes it seem fairly hollow as a result. “The Gambler” had all the right ingredients – a great cast, a talented director and source material that’s already proven to work – but it’s a disappointing misfire that fails to capitalize on its intriguing premise.

EXTRAS: There’s a collection of featurettes covering the production process (including the differences between the 1974 original and Rupert Wyatt’s remake, location shooting and costumes), as well as six deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Inherent Vice”

WHAT: Pothead private investigator Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) investigates the disappearance of his free-spirited ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterson) and her real estate mogul boyfriend, Mickey (Eric Roberts), which may be connected to a series of other cases involving a presumed-dead musician (Owen Wilson), the murder of one of Mickey’s bodyguards and a mysterious Indo-Chinese drug syndicate called the Golden Fang.

WHY: After years of toying with my patience, Paul Thomas Anderson has finally made a movie that’s almost impossible to defend. Fans of the director will make excuses for the film’s myriad problems anyway, but the fact that they find it necessary at all only confirms what a giant mess “Inherent Vice” really is. Based on the 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, the so-called inherent vice of Anderson’s slacker noir is the narrative itself. It’s as if the movie, like many of its characters, is in a constant state of a drug-addled high, unable to remain focused or make sense of anything that’s going on. And while that may be the film’s big joke, it’s not a very funny one. It feels complicated for the sake of being complicated, eventually becoming so mired in all the twists and pointless subplots that it doesn’t even know what it’s about anymore. Even worse than the gaps in logic is the punishingly long runtime, which is filled with dense, drawn-out conversations that go nowhere except lead to another similarly long-winded exchange. Joaquin Phoenix nearly holds the whole thing together with his amusingly daffy performance, but he’s the only bright spot in a movie that really should have been a lot more enjoyable.

EXTRAS: There’s a deleted scene and some fluffy promotional material, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Movie Review: “Accidental Love”

Starring
Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Marsden, Catherine Keener, Tracy Morgan, James Brolin
Director
Stephen Greene

“Accidental Love” did not have a smooth production process, and it shows in the stitched-together final product. The comedy was initially a David O. Russell film titled “Nailed,” shot all the way back in 2008. But due to funding issues, the movie never completed principal photography, and what was once Russell’s “Nailed” is now being released under the pseudonym Stephen Greene as “Accidental Love.”

The film centers on Alice Eckle (Jessica Biel), a small-town, roller-skating fast food waitress. On a night out with her boyfriend (played by the always reliable James Marsden), Alice not only gets a ring on her finger, but a nail in her head thanks to a freak accident. Making her situation worse, Alice doesn’t have health insurance, meaning she can’t get the nail taken out unless she magically comes up with $150,000. And until her condition is taken care of, she’ll experience uncontrollable emotions and wild thoughts. Ultimately, Alice heads to the nation’s capital and enlists the help of young congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal), who, with the assistance of a few friends and familiar faces, will try to change the health care system in order to get the nail removed from Alice’s head.

Anyone expecting a sharp political satire will walk away disappointed. “Accidental Love,” which was co-written by former Vice President Al Gore’s daughter, Kristen, is a hugely broad comedy. The film has more in common with a sitcom than movies like “Bulworth” or “Wag the Dog,” but that doesn’t mean “Accidental Love” isn’t without its laughs. When a cast includes James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Kurt Fuller and Bill Hader, not all jokes are going to fall flat. Marsden continues to prove he’s one of the most undervalued comedic actors working today. The former “X-Men” star has no shortage of charisma, so it’s baffling that this guy still isn’t a huge movie star. Marsden is a supporting player here, but he comes away stealing the show, even during the redundant and awkward post-credits sequence. As for Biel, it’s impossible to come away from “Accidental Love” without feeling bad for her. She’s charming and funny in a way audiences haven’t seen from her before, fully committing to the lunacy of this story.

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