Blu Tuesday: Boyhood, Get On Up 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.

“Boyhood”

WHAT: A coming-of-age tale that follows a boy named Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrone) from grade school to his first day of college and examines his relationship with his divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) as he matures into a young man.

WHY: In an industry driven by innovation, it’s incredible that no one thought to make a movie like “Boyhood” before Richard Linklater embarked on his 12-year journey, because it’s a really great idea with even better execution. A cinematic time capsule of sorts in that you’re essentially watching a kid (both the character and the actor playing him) grow up before your very eyes, the film has some very poignant things to say about adolescence, parenting and life in general. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke deliver a pair of solid performances as Mason’s divorced parents, but sadly, Ethan Coltrone is terrible as the main character, emitting almost no emotion throughout the course of the film. It’s always a gamble when you cast young actors for a lengthy project like this (the “Harry Potter” franchise was extremely lucky with all three leads), but you’d think that Coltrone would have at least gotten a little better over the years. He doesn’t, and that’s one of my biggest problems with the movie, which makes it a lot easier to admire than love as a result. There’s no question that “Boyhood” is a technical achievement and one-of-a-kind piece of filmmaking that demands to be seen, but whether it deserves the many accolades that have followed is debatable.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette called “The 12 Year Project” and a Q&A with writer/director Richard Linklater and the cast, but sadly, no audio commentary.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Get On Up”

WHAT: The rise of James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) from an impoverished child who was abandoned by his parents, to a young man in trouble with the law, to one of the most influential musicians in history.

WHY: As my colleague David Medsker said in his review of the film, “no one misses the biopic,” and he couldn’t have been more right. But if Hollywood was going to make a movie about any musical icon from the past 50 years, James Brown certainly made the most sense, not only because of his contributions to the industry, but because he’s a flashy, larger-than-life character with a catalog of catchy tunes. In fact, the musical sequences are the highlight of the film, but the whole thing wouldn’t work without Chadwick Boseman’s incredible performance as the Godfather of Soul, holding the audience’s attention even as the movie continuously jumps back and forth in time with a funked-up chronological order that would make Quentin Tarantino’s head spin. Though it’s nice to see someone stray from the usual biopic formula, it’s far too messy and difficult to follow, as if director Tate Taylor had so much great material to mine that he didn’t know how else to present it. And that’s the problem with “Get on Up”: it feels more like a greatest hits of classic James Brown moments than an examination of the artist himself, barely scratching the surface of what was clearly a very complex man.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Tate Taylor, there are some deleted/alternate scenes, full and extended song performances, and a series of short behind-the-scenes featurettes about the making of the movie.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Guest”

WHAT: A recently discharged soldier named David Collins (Dan Stevens) shows up at the doorstep of the Peterson household claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. But after he’s welcomed into their home, the family’s daughter (Maika Monroe) becomes suspicious of David following a sudden chain of murders in town.

WHY: After taking the festival circuit by storm with their home invasion thriller, “You’re Next,” the writer-director duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett seemed poised to deliver another cult classic with this low-budget genre flick. Many people would even argue that they’ve done just that, but while “The Guest” certainly had the potential to be great, it falls disappointingly short. The acting is pretty poor with the exception of Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”), who does an excellent job straddling the line between well-mannered nice guy and stone-cold killer. He’s the only thing that keeps the movie afloat, because although the first half builds some nice tension as David infiltrates the Peterson’s family dynamic, all of that hard work is wasted in the final act when it devolves into a silly B-movie that favors violence over subtlety, falling victim to the typical slasher film conventions with some incredibly strange and odd-placed moments of humor. I really wanted “The Guest” to be as good as everyone said it was, but it’s a fairly mediocre thriller that takes its leading man’s star-making performance for granted.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, some deleted scenes and an interview with star Dan Stevens.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Get on Up”

Starring
Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd, Craig Robinson
Director
Tate Taylor

Every movie trend has its fans. Monster movies, disaster movies, chick flicks, tearjerkers, conspiracy thrillers, they all have people who love them regardless of their financial viability at the box office. No one, however, misses the biopic, films based on the life of a famous person. In fact, after “Walk the Line” and “Ray,” people were so done with biopics that most people passed on arguably the best biopic of that era, even though it expertly lampooned the biopic structure and had a damned good soundtrack to boot (“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” we still love ya, baby). To further prove this point, earlier this year, Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” sank like a stone, despite the fact that the musical of the same name sells out everywhere it goes, and last year’s Princess Diana film starring Naomi Watts fared even worse. No one misses the biopic.

Everyone misses James Brown, though, which is why “Get on Up: The James Brown Story” has something those other movies didn’t: instant swagger. It actually has a couple of things the others don’t, namely a non-linear timeline that would give Doctor Who pause, and it does the unthinkable by occasionally breaking the fourth wall, at times to hilarious effect. The story line is too slight, opting for depth of event coverage over depth of character, but thanks to a, um, showstopping performance by Chadwick Boseman, “Get on Up” is quite entertaining despite its flaws. It is also genius counterprogramming to this weekend’s box office juggernaut, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Someone at Universal should get a bonus for that decision alone.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August

august

This has been one of the worst summer movie seasons in recent memory, and while it would take something really special to turn it all around, there are a few new releases this August that could at least make it a little less forgettable, including Marvel Studio’s most ambitious film to date, new installments of “The Expendables” and “Sin City,” and the return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen.

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”

Who: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel
What: When space adventurer Peter Quill steals an orb coveted by a treacherous villain, he must find a way to rally a quartet of ragtag rivals to save the universe.
When: August 1st
Why: A few months ago, most people had never even heard of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but that’s quickly changed following the launch of the film’s marketing campaign, which suggests that director James Gunn (perhaps Marvel Studio’s biggest risk yet) has absolutely nailed the offbeat tone of the comic book. This has been on my must-see list ever since it was announced, and that excitement has only grown with each new reveal, from the casting of Chris Pratt in the lead role, to landing Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper to voice the movie’s CGI characters, to the strong buzz emerging from early screenings that have pegged it as one of the studio’s best films to date. In other words: get ready to be pleasantly surprised.

“GET ON UP”

Who: Chadwick Boseman, David Andrew Nash, Nelsan Ellis and Viola Davis
What: A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history.
When: August 1st
Why: The music biopic is one of the most formulaic subgenres. They’re essentially all the same – a rags to riches story where the subject overcomes some kind of personal demon, usually drug addiction) – and Taylor Tate’s “Get on Up” doesn’t appear to buck that trend. The fact that the script was written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the sibling duo responsible for the excellent “Edge of Tomorrow”) instills some hope that it won’t be a complete waste of time, but James Brown’s life doesn’t really interest me, and the decision to cast Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul feels a little weird after playing another black icon so recently in “42.” What’s next for the actor? Movies about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Owens?

“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES”

Who: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub
What: Four mutant warriors fight to save their city from an evil kingpin.
When: August 8th
Why: There’s plenty of reason to be concerned about the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film – after all, we’ve seen what producer Michael Bay did to the “Transformers” franchise and director Jonathan Liebesman doesn’t have a very good track record – but the kid in me still can’t wait to see the Turtles back in action on the big screen, even if they don’t exactly look like the ones from my childhood. In fact, they look downright ugly with those oversized frog lips, leading me to wonder how that design ever made it out of the concept stage. The decision to cast a Caucasian actor as Shredder is also a bit worrying, as is Megan Fox’s involvement, but maybe, just maybe, it won’t be so bad.

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