Blu Tuesday: Dead Man Down, Spring Breakers 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.

“Dead Man Down”

WHAT: After she’s horribly injured in a drunk driving accident, French immigrant Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) seduces and then blackmails a professional killer named Victor (Colin Farrell) into exacting revenge in her name. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that Victor is also the victim of an unforgivable crime who’s spent the past two years plotting his own vengeance.

WHY: After making a name for himself with the Swedish-language adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling for director Niels Arden Opev. But despite a solid cast and a bigger budget, “Dead Man Down” falls disappointingly short of its potential. There’s nothing about this crime thriller that’s even remotely suspenseful, and that’s due in part to some pretty dull characters and a general lack of focus. The subplot revolving around Rapace’s disfigured woman doesn’t add much to the main story, and although it’s nice to see the actress reuniting with her “Dragon Tattoo” director, Rapace’s performance pales in comparison to her award-winning turn as Lisbeth Salander. Terrence Howard and Dominic Cooper fare a little better in supporting roles, but it’s not quite enough to save the movie from mediocrity. Then again, considering “Dead Man Down” was produced by WWE Studios (who have yet to make one good film), that’s not too surprising.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release boasts a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes on the film’s production, cinematography and stunts. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Spring Breakers”

WHAT: After four college girls rob a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation, the quartet’s hard-partying ways land them in prison. But when they’re bailed out by a charismatic drug and arms dealer named Alien (James Franco), the girls are introduced to a criminal lifestyle that’s far more dangerous than they could ever imagine.

WHY: Harmony Korine’s neon-tinged commentary on American youth culture has its fair share of admirers, but I’m definitely not one of them. Though I understand what the director was trying to accomplish with his satirical deconstruction of the typical spring break mindset (a heightened reality where there are no consequences for your actions), it doesn’t change the fact that it’s essentially a badly executed experimental film disguised as a mainstream crime drama. The female characters are excruciatingly one-dimensional (and whether or not that’s the point doesn’t make them any more engaging), and the constant repetition of certain scenes and lines of dialogue is incredibly grating. Sure, the movie looks great, but it’s also really boring – that is, until Franco shows up midway through and completely steals the show with one of the best performances of his career. His rapper-cum-gangster is immensely entertaining, almost hypnotically so, and it’s the only reason why anyone should consider seeking this movie out.

EXTRAS: In addition to a three-part making-of documentary, there’s a commentary with writer/director Harmony Korine, a music featurette, deleted and extended scenes, and a pair of VICE featurettes on the ATL Twins and party culture in Panama City Beach.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Admission”

Starring
Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn
Director
Paul Weitz

There was a time when Paul Weitz used to make great movies. After reviving the teen sex comedy with “American Pie” and adapting the Nick Hornby bestseller “About a Boy” alongside brother Chris, the eldest Weitz stepped out on his own, continuing his fantastic track record with underrated gems like “In Good Company” and “American Dreamz.” In recent years, however, the director’s career has been marred by a series of flops, and though “Admission” is probably the best of his cinematic failures, it’s a failure nonetheless. Not even Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, arguably two of Hollywood’s most likable performers, are able to do much to save Weitz’s latest effort, and that only makes “Admission” even more of a disappointment.

Fey stars as Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton University who spends her days diligently poring over student applications and her nights with her dull, longtime boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen), who also works at the university as an English literature professor. When she receives a call one day from John Pressman (Rudd), a teacher at the alternative academy New Quest, asking her to visit the campus to meet a promising student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), she’s completely blindsided by John’s suggestion that the gifted teen is the child she gave up for adoption nearly 20 years earlier. Though Jeremiah is far from the typical Princeton applicant, he’s a prodigy and self-proclaimed autodidact who wants nothing more than to attend the university. But while Portia comes to appreciate Jeremiah the more time that she spends with him, she faces an uphill battle convincing her peers that he’s worth the risk, all while hiding the fact that he may be her son.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to March

march_preview

After suffering through the doldrums of winter, it’s encouraging to see that the quality (and selection) of movies will improve along with the weather. Though many of this month’s films probably won’t be remembered by the time summer rolls around, there are a few indie flicks with real cult potential and a pair of tentpole-type movies based on popular properties that will benefit from opening during a less competitive time of year.

“JACK THE GIANT SLAYER”

Who: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy
What: When a young farmhand unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants, he must fight for his kingdom and the princess he loves.
When: March 1st
Why: It’s been awhile since Bryan Singer directed a movie that I was genuinely excited about, and unfortunately, “Jack the Giant Slayer” doesn’t break that trend. Though the fantasy film sounds great in theory, the trailers don’t look very promising, particularly in regards to its uneven tone (is it for children, adults or the whole family?) and cartoonish CGI. It doesn’t even bare much resemblance to the fairy tales on which it’s based, and while the cast is filled with some great actors (Nicholas Hoult appears to be the real deal), there’s probably a good reason why the original summer release date was axed.

“STOKER”

Who: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and Jacki Weaver
What: After India’s father dies, her Uncle Charlie comes to live with her and her unstable mother, only to discover that he has ulterior motives.
When: March 1st
Why: Continuing the Korean invasion that kicked off in January with Kim Ji-woon’s “The Last Stand,” Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut hits theaters in time for U.S. audiences to get accustomed to the director’s unique style ahead of the long-awaited remake of his 2003 cult hit “Oldboy.” It’s taken longer than expected for Park to export his talents to Hollywood, but “Stoker” is the perfect project if there ever was one. It’s also clear from the cast he’s assembled that the director is well-admired within the industry, and all three leads don’t seem to be holding back. Early buzz has been mostly positive, drawing comparisons to Hitchcock, and that alone should be enough to get you excited.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”

Who: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff
What: A small-time magician with questionable ethics arrives in a magical land and must choose between becoming a good man or a great one.
When: March 8th
Why: Disney is putting a lot of faith in Sam Raimi’s “Wizard of Oz” prequel, no doubt hoping that it can reach “Alice in Wonderland” levels of success, but was anyone really clamoring for another movie? It’s not even based on any of L. Frank Baum’s novels, despite the fact that Disney owns the rights to nearly every book in the Oz series, and though it’s supposedly inspired by his works, the risk of upsetting fans of the original film doesn’t seem worth it. Then again, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is exactly the kind of franchise-ready cash cow that Disney loves to produce (i.e. “Pirates of the Caribbean”), and while it’s depressing to see Raimi wasting his talents, at least it’s in good hands.

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