Blu Tuesday: Cops, Call Girls and Pulp Fiction

January has been pretty disappointing for movie fans thus far, both in theaters and on home video, but that cold streak appears to be finally coming to an end thanks to this week’s collection of new releases. Most of them aren’t particularly high profile titles (except maybe “End of Watch”), but they’re all worth seeing for one reason or another.

“End of Watch”

“Training Day” ranks pretty high on my list of the best cop movies ever made, so when I learned that writer/director David Ayer (who wrote the screenplay) would be returning to the genre with a found footage film, it definitely perked my interest. But while the idea is great in theory, “End of Watch” doesn’t work quite as well as you’d hope. The biggest problem is that Ayer isn’t fully committed to the found footage gimmick that he forces on the story, often relying on shots that clearly weren’t captured by any of the characters, surveillance cameras or dash cams, and it spoils the experience as a result. There really wasn’t a need to shoot the movie this way either, or at the very least, not draw so much attention to the fact that its heroes and villains are carrying around cameras the whole time. Despite these annoyances, however, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are so incredibly committed to their roles – striking an excellent chemistry and delivering some of the best work of both their careers – that it’s worth seeing for their performances alone.

Blu-ray Highlight: In addition to some short promos and deleted scenes, writer/director David Ayer sits down for a mostly enjoyable commentary track where he discusses the cast’s dedication to the project, criticisms about the found footage cheats and more.

“For a Good Time, Call…”

Continuing the recent trend of R-rated female comedies, “For a Good Time, Call…” is like a stick of cotton candy – it’s fluffy and sweet, but doesn’t have very much substance. Unlike the sugary treat, however, the film is harmless fun. The story is pretty formulaic, and you probably won’t remember much about the movie when it’s over, but it’s an enjoyable slice of mindless entertainment that’s anchored by a pair of likeable performances by Ari Graynor and co-writer Lauren Anne Miller. Though I’m a little surprised that the comedy wasn’t raunchier, it’s nice to see an R-rated film that doesn’t feel like it has to resort to crude humor for laughs. That doesn’t mean it’s not raunchy at times, but Miller and Katie Anne Naylon’s script nicely balances those moments with the charming relationship between its two leads. The film also features some great cameos by Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith and Ken Marino, and though that doesn’t make it any less forgettable, it’s not a bad way to spend two hours.

Blu-ray Highlight: The included audio commentary features director Jamie Travis, stars Ari Graynor and Lauren Anne Miller, and co-writer Katie Anne Naylon in an enthusiastic discussion about making the movie, but it’s not particularly informative or entertaining.

“The Paperboy”

I’m one of the few critics that didn’t fall head over heels for “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” when it was released four years ago, and a major reason for that was director Lee Daniels’ poor execution of the material. Not only does his Oscar nomination seem like a complete joke in hindsight, but based on the reaction to his latest movie, it appears that he’s finally been found out with yet another appalling effort. “The Paperboy” is bad filmmaking through and through, from its ugly, slapdash script to the dreadful acting by its cast. You know something’s wrong when Macy Gray delivers the best performance, and though everyone involved is pretty bad (even Matthew McConaughey, who’s had a really good year), Zac Efron is the worst of the bunch. Nicole Kidman, meanwhile, just makes a complete fool of herself, whether it’s peeing on Efron or miming fellatio while John Cusack’s convict jizzes in his pants. There doesn’t seem to be a point to anything that happens over the course of the film, and even the outrageous stuff is dull. If you’re looking for a great pulp thriller that doesn’t pull its punches, watch “Killer Joe” instead.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s not a lot to choose from here, but the interviews with the cast and crew – including director Lee Daniels and actors Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron – do shine some light on the making of the film.

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

The summer movie season may be finally over, but awards season is just around the corner, and Hollywood typically uses September as a time to catch its breath between all the madness. But while there aren’t many high-profile releases on tap for the month, there are still plenty of promising titles worth checking out, including the latest from visionary directors P.T. Anderson and Rian Johnson and the return of Clint Eastwood.

“THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY”

Who: Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver and Veronica Echegui
What: After his family is kidnapped, a young Wall Street trader is confronted by the people responsible: intelligence agents looking to recover a mysterious briefcase.
When: September 7th
Why: Despite a starring role in last year’s underwhelming Greek epic “Immortals,” British actor Henry Cavill has failed to demonstrate why he was chosen to don the iconic red and blue suit for Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Man of Steel.” And though his latest vehicle was delayed earlier this year due to reportedly bad test screenings, “The Cold Light of Day” will give him another shot to convince audiences that he’s the right choice to play Superman. With that said, however, not even the involvement of Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver makes this action thriller look any less like a Jason Bourne rip-off. After all, there’s usually a pretty good reason when a film’s release date gets pushed back, and it’s hard to imagine that any amount of re-editing will fix that.

“THE WORDS”

Who: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Irons
What: A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man’s work.
When: September 7th
Why: CBS Films doesn’t exactly have a very good track record, but compared to their past projects, “The Words” seems to be a step in the right direction. Though it received mixed reactions when the movie premiered earlier this year at Sundance, the concept is intriguing enough that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The ensemble cast certainly doesn’t hurt its chances, although it’s not the first time that the studio has used big stars to disguise a turd. And while Bradley Cooper is an actor that I admire, and it’s always a pleasure to see Jeremy Irons no matter how small the role, it’s a little worrying that “The Words” might follow suit, especially in the hands of first-time directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, the writing duo behind the disappointing “TRON: Legacy.”

“BACHELORETTE”

Who: Kristen Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, Rebel Wilson and James Marsden
What: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.
When: September 7th
Why: It may seem awfully convenient that another R-rated comedy about bridesmaids behaving badly is being released only a year after Paul Feig’s Oscar-nominated film became the surprise hit of last summer, but that’s about where the similarities end. In fact, those who claim the movie is just a rip-off might be surprised to discover that Leslye Headland’s directorial debut (which screened at Sundance this past January) is based on her 2010 off-Broadway play of the same name. Though it hasn’t gotten quite the same acclaim as “Bridesmaids,” I’m actually looking more forward to this darker, meaner wedding comedy, namely due to its awesome cast. Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher can be great with the right material, while Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson are two very funny women with very different brands of humor that deserve more recognition.

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