Blu Tuesday: Inside Llewyn Davis, Homefront and George Washington

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.

“Inside Llewyn Davis”

WHAT: A week in the life of struggling folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), who’s trying to make it as a solo artist after his former partner commits suicide. With no steady income or plans for the future, Llewyn spends his days wandering the city in search of his next gig and his nights crashing on friends’ couches.

WHY: There aren’t many directors that can boast a track record as impressive as the one that Joel and Ethan Coen have enjoyed throughout their 30-year careers, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just another notch on that cinematic belt. Markedly different from a lot of their films in that it’s a much more intimate, character-driven piece, “Inside Llewyn Davis” most closely resembles “A Serious Man” in both tone and execution. Structured more like a loose series of vignettes than anything resembling a plot, much of the movie rests on Oscar Isaac’s shoulders, with the actor delivering a superb performance that manages to make the titular freeloader somewhat likeable. For as good as Isaac is in the role, however, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective without T-Bone Burnett’s excellent soundtrack, especially when such a large chunk of the film is dedicated to the musical performances. It’s not often that a soundtrack plays such a pivotal role in my enjoyment of a movie, but it’s certainly fitting considering just how much the Coens rely on music to provide the backdrop of this bittersweet portrait of personal failure.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a 40-minute making-of featurette that focuses primarily on the planning, rehearsing and recording of the soundtrack.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Homefront”

WHAT: Eager to provide his 10-year-old daughter (Izabela Vidovic) with a normal life, ex-DEA agent Phil Broker retires to a small, idyllic town in Louisiana. But when local drug lord Gator Bodine (James Franco) uncovers Broker’s past as a law enforcement officer, he teams up with a vengeful biker gang to take him down.

WHY: After working together on the “Expendables” films, it’s only natural that Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone would team up again. But what makes their latest collaboration so unique is that Stallone’s involvement is a strictly behind-the-scenes affair, serving as both screenwriter and producer. Though this neo-Western may sound like every other Statham vehicle on the surface, “Homefront” plays more like a gritty thriller than one of the actor’s typical action movies. That’s not to say that there still isn’t a fair share of action, because it’s one of the film’s highlights, but director Gary Fleder seems more interested in exploring the relationships between his characters than the fight scenes that bridge those moments. The story itself isn’t much better than your average ‘90s action movie, but the cast (which includes Winona Ryder as Gator’s biker-chick girlfriend and Kate Bosworth as his meth-head sister) elevates the material, especially James Franco playing the de facto leader of the criminal swamp gang. This isn’t the first time that the actor has gone against the grain in recent years, but it’s refreshing to see someone of his quality take on a role that’s seemingly beneath him, because it’s the difference between an enjoyable film and another direct-to-video dud.

EXTRAS: There’s a small collection of deleted scenes and an EPK-styled fluff piece with interviews from the cast and crew.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“George Washington”

WHAT: Over the course of one hot summer, a group of children from a decaying, rural Southern town are forced to make some difficult choices in order to cover up a tragic accident.

WHY: It’s amazing that the same man behind such stoner comedies as “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness” was responsible for a movie like “George Washington,” because they couldn’t be any more different. David Gordon Green’s directorial debut falls more along the lines of a Terrence Malick film in both style and execution – an irritatingly slow and pretentious cinematic poem that desperately tries to find a deeper meaning in its lyrical imagery. But while the movie’s gorgeous visuals do a great job of portraying the distressed state of the town and its characters, Green fails to deliver a compelling story, instead opting for a non-linear narrative that lacks focus or coherency. The whole thing is terribly dull, and it doesn’t help that the acting (with the exception of Paul Schneider) is every bit as amateur as its cast. “George Washington” is the kind of movie where a bunch of kids (and seemingly uneducated ones at that) wax poetic about philosophy and life like they’re graduate students, and it’s in this attempt to project a false maturity onto his characters where Green fails the hardest.

EXTRAS: There’s a veritable treasure trove of material here, highlighted by an audio commentary with director David Gordon Green, cinematographer Tim Orr and actor Paul Schneider. The Blu-ray also includes two student shorts by Green (“Pleasant Grove” and “Physical Pinball”), a 2001 Charlie Rose interview, Clu Gluager’s 1969 short film “A Day with the Boys” and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Movie Review: “Homefront”

Starring
Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Izabela Vidovic
Director
Gary Fleder

Perhaps of all the genres, action fans often feel the most cheated. If you’re yearning for a post-metrosexual, non-superhero kickass character these days, well, your choices are pretty slim. It’s enough to make you wish there were more Westerns, or for the cast of “The Expendables”… before they were eligible for Medicare. So it seems only fitting that director Gary Fleder and Sylvester Stallone set out to craft a clever and engaging action flick with a Western theme starring today’s hottest star of the genre, Jason Statham, in “Homefront.”

Phil Broker (Statham) is an undercover DEA agent tasked with bringing down a major meth operation run by a ruthless biker gang. Posing as one of the bikers, the feds finally seem to have the gang right where they want them. Converging on the bikers’ lair en masse, the agents soon discover that drug lords tend not to go down so easily. The ensuing gun battle is almost at a stalemate when Statham reveals his identity and shifts the tide of the fight. Meanwhile, the gang’s leader, Lewis (Stuart Greer), makes a break for it with his son Jimmy (Marcus Hester). Broker leads the agents in pursuit and the fight leaves Jimmy with more holes than brain cells. Lewis vows revenge and Broker walks off into the distance.

Broker tries to start life over in rural Louisiana with his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), but while the little girl didn’t inherit daddy’s hairline, she definitely got his butt-kicking gene, as she easily takes down the school bully, Teddy (Austin Craig). Teddy’s mom (Kate Bosworth) enlists her meth-dealing brother (James Franco) to put a scare in Broker, which sets off a series of events filled with revenge, gun battles, meth explosions and an all new reason to avoid Bayou real estate.

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A chat with Jason Statham (“Homefront”)

jason_statham_1

Time really flies when you’re having fun. It seems like yesterday that audiences fell for Jason Statham in Guy Ritchie’s “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” Of course, it’s been 15 years and Statham’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned one iota. The London native has gone from former model and stuntman to arguably the hottest action star around. The man best known for his sarcastic delivery and closed combat action scenes mixes a bit of tenderness in his new role as Phil Broker in “Homefront,” based on the novels and adapted by his “Expendables” castmate Sylvester Stallone. Jason recently sat down with us to discuss the role, Stallone’s influence and the topic of bullying.

Amazing performance in “Homefront,” Jason. How much of it do you attribute to Sly’s script, which he had originally written for himself?

JASON STATHAM: Yes, totally. You can only have a good shot if you’re doing something of quality. If the writing’s no good, then what are you going to do with it? You’ve got good things to say and the situations are right. It’s all about what’s on the page. It goes back to that every time. More often than not, I can’t get Sly right for me. (Laughs)

You’ve done his work before, but how surprised were you with the quality of the writing?

JASON STATHAM: I look back at “Rocky” and it’s a bit of a masterpiece when you look at the writing. It’s just great. I think people tend to forget just how many films he’s written and what a prolific writer he is. He’s done so many. I think he lost sight as to how good this was and I got in there at the right time. I got a bit lucky there. (Laughs) He’d always been giving me advice, saying, “You really need to do something that shows a different side.” I said, “What side?” And he said, “Have a read of this.” And it was almost advice, but here’s how to do it. (Laughs) I remember that as a great moment, as in, “Thanks for the great advice and for showing me how.” He’s great. He’s been a massive influence on me. I’m grateful. I’ve been on a great film with great actors. I’ve been cast with people who used to be hairdressers. Now, I’m cast with James Franco.

It doesn’t seem fair when you see Statham versus Franco. Do you ever think in that adversarial way when you’re cast?

JASON STATHAM: It’s so much more interesting, because he’s so much more dangerous. He’s totally unpredictable and that psychotic nature is much better than me standing in front of a big musclehead and then me having to chop him down like a big tree. He’s manipulating things which means far more. To have your daughter in jeopardy, it can’t get much worse than that. He’s torturing our pets. (Laughs) It’s pretty sick. Once someone starts messing with your animals, the stakes are higher. You need someone who has this eerie kind of weirdness and that unpredictability. It’s a much better choice than someone that’s going to duke it out with me.

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