Blu Tuesday: Elysium, Kick-Ass 2 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.

“Elysium”

WHAT: The year is 2154 and ex-con Max De Costa (Matt Damon) lives on a ruined Earth with most of the population while the wealthy reside on a space station where any disease can be cured in seconds. But when Max gets radiation poisoning during an accident at work and is given only five days to live, he accepts a suicide mission to hijack some important data that could topple Elysium’s government and save his life.

WHY: Following Neill Blomkamp’s 2008 surprise hit “District 9,” people couldn’t wait to see what the South African-born director would do next. But while “Elysium” showcases the same great visuals and action as its predecessor, it’s just not as good. Part of the problem is the story itself, which practically begs comparisons to “District 9” between the likeminded aesthetics and socio-political undertones. Blomkamp also doesn’t get much help from his big Hollywood stars; Matt Damon is fine in the lead role, but a lesser known actor probably would have been more effective, while Jodie Foster delivers a laughably bad performance as Elysium’s Secretary of Defense. It’s some of the worst acting of the year, and a perfect example of why you shouldn’t give an actor too much control, no matter how many Oscars they’ve won. Thankfully, “District 9” star Sharlto Copley is immensely entertaining as the sadistic, katana-wielding mercenary assigned to stop Max, and he alone makes the film worth watching in spite of its more annoying flaws.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette devoted to the three stages of production, additional featurettes on the cast, visual effects and technology of “Elysium,” and an interactive exploration of the film’s art and production design.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Kick-Ass 2″

WHAT: Two years have passed since Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took down mob boss Frank D’Amico, and in that time, hundreds of superheroes have begun to pop up across the country. But when Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) is forced to retire her masked alter-ego, Dave (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) joins a superhero team called Justice Forever. Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) plots his revenge as the world’s first-ever supervillian, assembling an army of criminals and crazy devotees to wreak havoc on the city.

WHY: Though it seemed unlikely that Universal would even greenlight a sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s punk-rock satire of the superhero genre due to the more sadistic nature of the story, director Jeff Wadlow has done an admirable job adapting it for the big screen. Not only has he toned down some of the darker moments by mining them for laughs instead of shock value, but he’s managed to combine two volumes’ worth of source material into a more streamlined narrative. And it works for the most part, creating a sequel that, although it lacks the provocative originality of its predecessor, maintains the same sense of fun and over-the-top absurdity that made the first film such a blast. Unfortunately, it’s not without its faults. “Kick-Ass 2” has so much story that all three leads are off doing their own thing for most of the movie, while the tone is stuck somewhere between subversive satire and falling into the very conventions that it’s sending up. But while it may fall short of living up to the original, the characters are so entertaining and uniquely charming – with solid performances from its three lead actors – that they make Mark Millar’s madcap universe worth revisiting a second time.

EXTRAS: There’s no shortage of bonus material here, highlighted by an audio commentary by writer/director Jeff Wadlow and actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as well as some extended scenes, an alternate opening and seven featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Prisoners”

WHAT: Neighborhood friends Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) are facing every parent’s worst nightmare: their young daughters have suddenly gone missing. When the detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) in charge of the investigation is unable to find any evidence to arrest their key suspect (Paul Dano), Keller takes matters into his own hands by taking the young man hostage and torturing him until he talks.

WHY: “Prisoners” is one of those crime thrillers where the lead detective is made to look like a complete idiot for missing clues so obvious that the audience is always a few steps ahead. Jake Gyllenhaal’s cop is supposed to be really good at his job, and yet the script constantly finds ways to slow down the investigation in order to keep the mystery alive. But while the film is a little too dependent on conveniently poor police work and plot holes, it’s still a fairly suspenseful morality tale about how far you would go to protect the people you love. The religious undertones feel incredibly forced, and it’s about 30 minutes too long, but the performances make up for its shortcomings. Hugh Jackman and Gyllenhaal, in particular, both deliver solid work here, with the former turning in one of the most emotionally affecting roles of his career. And though Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and Maria Bello are mostly wasted in supporting roles, just having actors of their quality involved makes “Prisoners” better than the material deserves.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes – one about the relationship between Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters, and another on the cast – but that’s it.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT
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Blu Tuesday: Fast & Furious 6, Man of Tai Chi 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.

“Fast & Furious 6″

WHAT: Laying low in Spain following their latest heist, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is visited by DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) with news that his old flame, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), is not only alive, but is working with a British soldier turned criminal named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) who’s planning to steal a top secret computer chip worth billions. With the promise of full pardons for anyone that helps stop him, Dom enlists the rest of the crew and heads to London to face off against Shaw and his own team of street racing criminals.

WHY: The “Fast and Furious” franchise is like popcorn movie kryptonite, because for as cheesy, soapy and utterly preposterous as the movies can get at times, they’re also incredibly entertaining, especially following director Justin Lin’s retooling of the series. Though the sixth installment doesn’t quite live up to 2011’s “Fast Five,” which took the franchise to new heights in more ways than one, it still delivers everything that fans have come to expect over the years. One of main reasons the last film worked as well as it did was the excellent chemistry between its ensemble cast, and that’s still the case here. Of course, the real reason anyone watches these films is the action, and “Fast & Furious 6” doesn’t disappoint, with a series of excellent set pieces that somehow manage to outdo the previous movies in excess and sheer ridiculousness. The over-the-top nature of the “Fast and Furious” franchise has always been its greatest asset and its biggest criticism, and there’s no better example of that than in some of the gleefully amusing “Oh my god, I can’t believe that just happened” insanity that takes place in the film. Bigger and dumber but still tons of fun, “Fast & Furious 6” may have you rolling your eyes even more than usual, but that’s part of what make the series so great.

EXTRAS: There’s a wealth of bonus material on the Universal’s Blu-ray release, including an audio commentary by director Justin Lin, a four-part making-of featurette, interviews with the cast and crew, three more production featurettes, deleted scenes and an exclusive (but haunting) first look at “Fast & Furious 7.”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Man of Tai Chi”

WHAT: Against his master’s wishes, Tai Chi student Chen Lin-Hun (Tiger Chen) competes in a local martial arts competition to prove the style’s effectiveness. After attracting the attention of wealthy businessman Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves), Chen is offered the chance to compete in an underground fight club with the promise of making enough money to save his temple. But when he discovers the true purpose behind the fights, Chen teams up with an ambitious police detective (Karen Mok) to bring Mark down.

WHY: Conceived by Keanu Reeves as a starring vehicle for friend/stuntman Tiger Chen, whom he met while working on the “Matrix” trilogy, “Man of Tai Chi” is a throwback to classic martial arts films, right down to Reeves’ over-the-top villain. But while the story is pretty generic and the acting is only marginally better than the movies that it’s paying homage to, it features some incredible fight choreography from fellow “Matrix” alumnus Yuen Woo-ping. The early fights that take place inside the mirror room are not only some of the best in recent memory, but they really showcase Chen’s talent as a martial artist. The final battle between Marks and Tiger isn’t quite as memorable from a technical standpoint, but just seeing how much Reeves towers over his pint-sized co-star makes for a visually interesting sequence that evokes the Bruce Lee/Kareem Abdul Jabbar fight in “Game of Death.” Though the performances are surprisingly weak for a director that also plies his trade as an actor, “Man of Tai Chi” is nonetheless a solid debut from Reeves who smartly lets the action speak for itself.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director/co-star Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen, the Blu-ray includes a behind-the-scenes look at making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Battle of the Year”

WHAT: Desperate to reinvigorate interest in B-Boy culture in America, hip-hop mogul Dante Graham (Laz Alonso) convinces childhood friend and former basketball coach Jason Blake (Josh Holloway) to recruit a B-Boy dream team to compete against other elite dance crews from around the world in the upcoming Battle of the Year competition.

WHY: I’m not really sure what Hollywood’s obsession is with dance movies (apart from the fact that they’re super cheap to produce), but here’s hoping that “Battle of the Year” puts an end to this strange fad, because it’s one of the worst dance films yet. The premise is absurd, particularly in its lame attempts to validate B-Boy dancing as anything other than a niche subculture, though that doesn’t stop director Benson Chen from pimping his 2007 documentary, “Planet B-Boy,” every chance he gets. It’s hard to believe that Josh Holloway is finding it so hard to get work after the success of “Lost” that he’d have to resort to this, but it goes without saying that he’s the only thing that makes this movie even remotely watchable. Usually, the dancing sequences make these films easier to sit through, but everything is edited so poorly that you can’t even enjoy the amazing technique on display. It also runs an ungodly 110 minutes long, features more product placement than should be legally allowed, and has enough split-screen montages to make you wonder if you’re watching a movie or a music video. Need I say more?

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a look at B-Boy culture and signature moves, as well as rehearsal footage and some extended dance sequences.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: The Wolverine, Drinking Buddies 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 Wolverine”

WHAT: Still grieving the death of Jean Grey, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is visited by a mysterious Japanese girl (Rila Fukushima) who invites him to Tokyo to pay his respects to her master, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a dying billionaire whose life he once saved during WWII. Yashida claims to have the technology to free Logan of his mutant curse, but when he refuses and the old man dies, Logan reluctantly agrees to protect Yashida’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto) from the local yakuza, despite losing his healing ability after being poisoned by a snake-like mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).

WHY: Hugh Jackman was pretty vocal about atoning for the disappointment of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but while his second solo adventure is a slight improvement, it’s still plagued by some of the same problems (and a few new ones), ultimately resorting to an all-too-familiar formula in the end. Major liberties have been taken with the source material, and there are so many different villains in the story, each with his/her own agenda, that none of them are properly developed. Jackman is still a lot of fun to watch in the role, but the rest of the cast (save for Fukushima’s bright red-haired warrior) leaves much to be desired. At times, even Wolverine himself proves to be a little dull, like when he’s busy moping about Jean Grey, whose appearance here is totally unnecessary. This was supposed to be a standalone movie for Wolverine, and yet writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank can’t help but muddy the waters with references to the earlier “X-Men” films, making a further hash of the cinematic timeline in the process. “The Wolverine” is an enjoyable character piece thanks to Jackman’s series-best performance, but it’s hardly the definitive Wolverine movie fans were promised.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an alternate ending, a production featurette titled “The Path of the Ronin” and a set tour of “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” If you stump up for the Unleashed Extended Edition, you’ll also get an unrated extended cut of the film and a commentary by director James Mangold.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Drinking Buddies”

WHAT: Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) are co-workers at a Chicago craft brewery who spend their days drinking beer and hanging out. The two are perfect for each other, but they’re both already in committed relationships. When Kate’s boyfriend suddenly breaks up with her, however, things between the flirtatious friends get complicated.

WHY: I’m not a very big fan of the so-called mumblecore movement, because more often than not, the movies are constrained by the very freedom the style seemingly provides. Take for instance: “Drinking Buddies.” Though it’s a charming little indie that doesn’t follow the conventional rom-com route (and should be applauded for doing so), it suffers due to the lack of an actual screenplay. All of the dialogue is improvised by the actors, resulting in some pretty awkward scenes where the characters either ramble on for too long or don’t have anything really interesting to say. There’s something to admire about the authenticity that you gain from this method, but the film feels almost too rough around the edges at times. Thankfully, the cast is great, particularly Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde, who have such excellent chemistry that it seems like they’ve been best friends for years. Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston are also good as their significant others, but without Johnson and Wilde’s lively performances, “Drinking Buddies” would fall flatter than day-old beer.

EXTRAS: There’s actually quite a bit of bonus material here, including a commentary with writer/director Joe Swanberg, interviews with the four leads, deleted scenes and a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”

WHAT: When teenager Clary Fray (Lily Collins) discovers that she descends from a line of demon-hunting warriors called Shadowhunters, she must join forces with others like her to track down the Mortal Cup, a legendary artifact of power that an evil Shadowhunter named Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is trying to recover. Taken under the wing of fellow hunter Jace Lightwood (Jamie Campbell Bower), Clary is the only person who knows the whereabouts of the Cup besides her mother, whom Valentine has just kidnapped.

WHY: “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is every bit the bland “Twilight” wannabe that you’d expect. There’s not a single original idea to be found, going so far as to blatantly steal from one of the most popular movies in pop culture history and pretend like no one will notice. Heck, it’s not even the only fantasy series that it rips off. From the overly complex mythology, to the torturous 130-minute runtime, the movie is such an absolute disaster that you have to wonder how the book it’s based on ever got published. “City of Bones” is everything that’s wrong with YA literature. Instead of focusing on writing a good story with interesting characters, it just regurgitates everything that worked before (including more supernatural beasties than an entire season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and sees what sticks. The two leads have absolutely no chemistry (although that’s fitting considering the big “twist”), and the acting is so awful that you’d think it was meant to be a parody. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, which only makes sitting through this film that much more of a soul-crushing experience.

EXTRAS: In addition to an interactive lineage tracker, the Blu-ray includes some deleted scenes and a host of production featurettes on things like the cast, adapting the book for the big screen, stunts, special effects and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: RED 2, Jobs 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.

“RED 2″

WHAT: Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is trying to lead a quiet, domestic life with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) when he learns that he’s being framed as a domestic terrorist involved in a ludicrous Cold War plot to sneak a portable WMD into Moscow. But it turns out the nuke is real, so Frank must team up with Marvin (John Malkovich) once again to recover the bomb and prove his innocence, all while being pursued by a deadly assassin.

WHY: Robert Schwentke’s “RED” was such a surprise hit at the box office that you can hardly blame Summit Entertainment for wanting to fast-track a sequel, and although it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as its predecessor, “RED 2” is still a lot of fun thanks to its star-studded cast, including series newcomers Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins. Like most sequels, it tries and fails at one-upping the original, and while the action isn’t as memorable this time around, it’s every bit as playful. “RED 2” also lacks the breezy pace of the first movie, instead bogged down by an overcomplicated plot for seemingly no other reason than to pack as much talent into the film as possible, but then again, that’s part of its charm. By all accounts, the movie shouldn’t be so entertaining – it’s formulaic, unfocused and almost too silly for its own good – but when you have a cast this great, having this much fun, it’s hard not to enjoy.

EXTRAS: There’s a four-part featurette called “The ‘RED 2’ Experience” that covers various aspects of the movie (from the cast, to weapons and stunts), some deleted scenes and a short gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Jobs”

WHAT: The story of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher), tracking his journey from college dropout in the early 70s, to the founding of Apple Computers a few years later, to being forced out of the company in the mid-80s, to his eventual return and success as one of the most admired entrepreneurs of the 20th century.

WHY: There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs’ remarkable life is tailor-made for the movies, but it’s not really done justice in this slight biopic by Joshua Michael Stern, which would have felt more at home on the small screen. Perhaps a better title for the movie would have been “Apple Begins,” because it’s more about the rise (and fall) of the company than Jobs himself, although he obviously figures pretty heavily into the story. Ashton Kutcher does a solid job playing the Apple co-founder, and the rest of the cast is peppered with great actors like Josh Gad and Dermot Mulroney, but it never feels like Stern has a good enough handle on his subject, and as a result, Jobs is either portrayed as a visionary genius or an asshole perfectionist, with nothing in between. As a film about the creation of Apple, it’s a fairly interesting look behind-the-scenes of a tech start-up, but as story about Jobs the man, it falls disappointingly short.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with director Joshua Michael Stern, a trio of short featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: The World’s End, 2 Guns 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 World’s End”

WHAT: It’s been over 20 years since Gary King (Simon Pegg) and his high school friends embarked on a quest to finish The Golden Mile, a 12-pub crawl through their peaceful town of Newton Haven. Desperate to relive those glory days, Gary gets the gang back together under false pretensions to complete the illustrious pub crawl, only to inadvertently uncover a secret invasion by robot-like beings that have assimilated most of the town’s inhabitants.

WHY: For fans of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” the final installment in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy couldn’t come soon enough. Of course, it’s not even a real trilogy in the traditional sense, but any time that Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost join forces is cause for celebration. Best described as “The Big Chill” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The World’s End” is more of a group effort than their previous movies, with all five actors – Pegg, Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine – in fine form. In fact, their chemistry is so good that some of the funniest scenes take place when they’re just sitting around the table talking. The action sequences, however, are pretty hit and miss, which is a shame considering Wright’s outstanding work in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” and the sci-fi setting seems to be working against the story at times. Still, while expectations were undoubtedly high for their third (and hopefully not last) cinematic outing, Wright, Pegg and Frost have produced another excellent comedy that, although it falls a little short of their previous films, still delivers all the laughs that we’ve come to expect from the trio.

EXTRAS: Following in the footsteps of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” Universal has packed this Blu-ray release with an unbelievable amount of bonus material, including three audio commentaries (one with Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, one with Wright and director of photography Bill Pope, and one with Pegg, Nick Frost and Paddy Considine), a U-Control storyboard picture-in-picture track, a 48-minute making-of featurette and a 28-minute stunt and FX featurette. There’s also a pop-up trivia track, 10 mini-featurettes covering various areas of production, deleted scenes, alternate takes, outtakes, a montage of the film’s hidden Easter eggs and more, if you can believe it.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“2 Guns”

WHAT: When DEA agent Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and naval intelligence officer Michael Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) fail to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel, they decide to rob a bank that they believe contains evidence incriminating the cartel’s boss. But the $42 million they make off with actually belongs to the CIA, and to make matters worse, neither one knows that the other is working undercover.

WHY: It’s hard to believe that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were originally tapped to play the two leads in this throwback to late 80s and early 90s buddy cop films, because while a lot of the dialogue sounds like it was written with the “Wedding Crashers” duo in mind, they’re not exactly convincing action stars. Credit to director Baltasar Kormakur, then, for casting Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in the roles instead, because while “2 Guns” is a pretty average action-comedy that’s riddled with decades-old clichés and plot holes, the actors make it much more enjoyable. Not only can they handle the physical stuff, but they’re also both incredibly charismatic, forming the kind of effortless rapport that directors only dream about. The rest of the cast isn’t quite as memorable – though Bill Paxton has some fun as a crooked CIA agent – and the plot is beyond ridiculous, but Washington and Wahlberg have such great chemistry that it’s just fun watching the odd couple bicker while blowing away bad guys.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with director Baltasar Kormakur and producer Adam Siegel, a 30-minute making-of featurette and some deleted/extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“We’re the Millers”

WHAT: After low-level drug dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) loses his entire stash and personal savings to a group of thugs, his boss (Ed Helms) offers him the chance to make amends by smuggling a shipment of marijuana across the Mexican border. Knowing that he’ll draw attention on his own, David convinces his neighbors – stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), dork Kenny (Will Poulter) and runaway Casey (Emma Roberts) – to pose as his fake family.

WHY:We’re the Millers” is every bit as formulaic as the typical road trip movie, but the cast makes up for those generic story beats with some winning performances, and they all pull their weight equally. In fact, although Sudeikis is technically the film’s lead, he’s actually the weakest link of the bunch, relying too much on his one-note wisecracking to realize that he’s being outshined by the rest of his “family.” Aniston should tap into her naughty side more often, because the actress delivers one of her more enjoyable roles to date as the stripper-turned-housewife, while Poulter steals nearly every scene he’s in. What’s perhaps most surprising about the movie, however, is that the trailers haven’t ruined all the good bits, which is very telling of just funny the movie is at times. It’s also oddly sweet in the way that the Millers gradually evolve into a real family over the course of the film, even if you can see that twist coming from a mile away. Still, “We’re the Millers” could have been a lot worse, because though it drags on for a little too long, it’s one of the year’s better comedies.

EXTRAS: In addition to an extended cut of the movie featuring 9 minutes of new material, there’s a collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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