Blu Tuesday: Wish I Was Here, Begin Again and Deliver Us from Evil

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.

“Wish I Was Here”

WHAT: Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is a struggling actor whose wife (Kate Hudson) is the sole breadwinner of the family, so when his father (Mandy Pantinkin) becomes sick and is no longer able to pay the children’s private school tuition, Aidan agrees to homeschool the kids (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon). The problem is that Aidan has no idea what he’s doing, so instead, he takes them on a series of “field trips” meant to impart life lessons that help him rediscover his own identity in the process.

WHY: Hating Zach Braff was in fashion long before the actor/director launched a Kickstarter campaign for his long-awaited sophomore effort, but the way he went about funding his follow-up to “Garden State” really got under some people’s skin. While Braff may have been unfairly judged for the way he raised the money to make the film, it’s a wonder why he had to resort to crowdsourcing at all, because “Wish I Was Here” is a confident, funny and heartfelt tragicomedy that proves Braff is more than just a one-hit wonder. The “Scrubs” star does a solid job in the lead role, and Mandy Pantinkin and Joey King both deliver great supporting work, but it’s Kate Hudson who is the movie’s most pleasant surprise, turning in her finest performance since “Almost Famous.” The script is nothing special, even bordering on schmaltzy at times, but there’s an honesty to the material (especially the father-son relationship) that certain people will connect to more than others. “Wish I Was Here” is a much more grown-up film than “Garden State,” exploring a range of themes like morality, sacrifice, family and fatherhood, and although some might be handled in a slightly pandering manner, there’s an innate sweetness to the movie that compensates for its lack of subtlety.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes two audio commentaries (one with co-writer/director/star Zach Braff and co-writer Adam Braff, and another with Zach Braff, director of photography Lawrence Sher and editor Myron Kerstein), as well as some deleted scenes, outtakes and a short behind-the-scenes featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Begin Again”

WHAT: After being fired from the record label he helped found, music producer Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), stumbles into an open mic and discovers what he believes to be a hidden gem in British singer-songwriter named Greta (Keira Knightley). Determined to share her indisputable talent with the rest of the world, Dan convinces Greta to record an album with a live band in different locations across New York City in the hope that he can persuade his former business partner (Mos Def) to sign Greta to their label and rescue his job.

WHY: It’s incredible what can be achieved when you combine music with film, and John Carney exploited that perfect pairing with his musical drama “Once.” Eight years have passed since the small indie’s Cinderella story at the Academy Awards, and in that time, the Irish-born director made a couple movies in his native country that flopped. So while it may seem a tad desperate of Carney to mark his Hollywood debut with another music-driven relationship drama, he’s just playing to his strengths. The overall theme of “Begin Again” is certainly very familiar – like “Once,” it’s less about two people falling in love with each other than the music they make together – but the film is a decidedly more lighthearted affair. With that said, the soundtrack is just as good, featuring an infectious array of bluesy folk-pop songs performed by a surprisingly capable Keira Knightley. For as much as the movie depends on the music, however, it’s just as reliant on its two stars, who form such a delightful chemistry that it’s hard not to get caught up in their fairy tale. “Begin Again” doesn’t have the same magic of “Once,” but it’s a sweet crowd-pleaser highlighted by a pair of great performances and some catchy tunes.

EXTRAS: There’s a pretty decent making-of featurette and four music videos featuring songs from the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Deliver Us from Evil”

WHAT: New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) investigates a series of connected incidents involving a trio of Iraq War veterans. Though Sarchie initially believes that the men have gone crazy as a result of PTSD, he discovers that they may actually be demonically possessed when he teams up with an unconventional priest (Edgar Ramirez) who specializes in exorcisms.

WHY: Here’s hoping that no one at Marvel Studios saw Scott Derrickson’s “Deliver Us from Evil,” because it hardly inspires confidence in his ability to tackle a project as challenging as “Doctor Strange.” Though this isn’t the first time that Derrickson has directed a movie about demonic possessions (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”), he doesn’t really bring anything new to the table apart from the decision to blend supernatural horror with a police procedural. Unfortunately, it’s not very scary or suspenseful, but actually quite boring due to a sluggish two-hour runtime that’s about 30 minutes too long. There’s no need for all the setup, especially when the two leads don’t even join forces until the hour mark. Even more grating, however, is the suggestion that any of this actually happened. The movie is reportedly based on the accounts of the real-life Sarchie, but like most exorcism stories, all of the supernatural events occurred either in his head or while he was alone. In other words, he’s just like every other nut job who believes in this stuff, only he wrote a book about it. Of course, even the most successful exorcism films (like “The Exorcist” and “The Conjuring”) are steeped in bullshit, but unlike “Deliver Us from Evil,” they found a way to be effective pieces of horror regardless of your beliefs.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by writer/director Scott Derrickson, there are featurettes on the real-life Ralph Sarchie, the makeup effects designed for Sean Harris’ character and a behind-the-scenes look at making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to July

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After a mostly disappointing June that saw the release of very few summer tentpole films (and even fewer that were any good), this month seems poised to follow suit with an equally lackluster lineup. There are a couple blockbuster-sized movies on tap in July (like the follow-up to the “Planet of the Apes” prequel and Dwayne Johnson’s long-gestating Hercules film), but everything else feels very un-summery, including a Fourth of July weekend devoid of a big action movie. Instead, America gets to celebrate its freedom with Melissa McCarthy, and that’s pretty telling of just how poor this summer season has been.

“DELIVER US FROM EVIL”

Who: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn and Chris Coy
What: NY police officer Ralph Sarchie joins forces with a priest schooled in the rituals of exorcism to combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city.
When: July 2nd
Why: I know what you’re thinking: yet another horror movie that’s supposedly inspired by real-life events? But while the setup may seem more than a little contrived, Hollywood has proven on numerous occasions that you can still make an excellent horror film no matter how preposterous its claims may be. (Remember a little movie called “The Exorcist”?) Scott Derrickson is also one of the better directors currently working in the genre, and with a cast that includes Eric Bana and the underrated Edgar Ramirez, “Deliver Us from Evil” certainly has the potential to follow in the footsteps of last year’s “The Conjuring” as one of the surprise hits of this summer.

“TAMMY”

Who: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd and Mark Duplass
What: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.
When: July 2nd
Why: Melissa McCarthy clearly didn’t get the memo that her 15 minutes of fame are up, because the actress (who’s essentially a less talented female version of Chris Farley) keeps plugging away with dumb movie after dumb movie. And to make matters worse, studios continue to green light these so-called comedies because they make obscene amounts of money. Then again, so do those god-awful spoof films and just about anything produced by Tyler Perry. If “Identity Thief” and “The Heat” weren’t evidence enough that McCarthy is one of the most annoying, undeserving movie stars in Hollywood, then surely “Tammy” (which she co-wrote with husband/director Ben Falcone) will finally put an end to America’s baffling love affair with her.

“DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES”

Who: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke and Kodi-Smit McPhee
What: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier.
When: July 11th
Why: My expectations were pretty low going into “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which is why it was such a pleasant surprise that the movie was actually good. But while another installment in Fox’s franchise reboot was inevitable, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” seems to have lost a lot of what made the prequel so unique from the rest of the series. It still takes place well before the 1968 original, but now the apes are walking, talking and even riding on horses while firing machine guns. That’s a far cry from Rupert Wyatt’s more down-to-earth prequel, so here’s hoping that director Matt Reeves is able to retain some of the humanity from that film.

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