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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Movie Review: “Kick-Ass 2″

Starring
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, John Leguizamo, Morris Chestnut, Donald Faison
Director
Jeff Wadlow

The superhero movie was given the punk-rock treatment in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass,” an irreverent satire of the genre that scored with critics and audiences alike. But while the film was a mild success commercially, the chances of a sequel seemed pretty unlikely, especially for anyone who read the darker and more sadistic second volume of Mark Millar’s popular comic book series, which is borderline distasteful in its attempts to raise the stakes. Thankfully, director Jeff Wadlow (replacing Vaughn) tones down many of those more questionable moments by mining them for laughs instead of shock value, 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 “Kick-Ass” such a blast.

Two years have passed since Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took down mob boss Frank D’Amico, and in that time, hundreds of new superheroes have begun to pop up across the country. Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) continues to wage Big Daddy’s war against crime, but when her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) makes her promise to stop playing vigilante and live a normal childhood as Mindy Macready, Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is left without a partner. As Mindy endures a “Mean Girls”-like nightmare at high school, Kick-Ass joins a superhero team called Justice Forever, led by a former mob enforcer turned born-again Christian named Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) plots his revenge against Kick-Ass for killing his dad, rebranding himself as the world’s first-ever supervillain, The Motherfucker, and assembling an army of criminals and crazy devotees to wreak havoc on the city, which ultimately forces Mindy out of early retirement.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August

august

In recent years, August has typically been the month where studios dump their summer fare that can’t compete with the bigger blockbusters, and although that’s probably true with this year as well, it’s hard to complain with a line-up as great as this, including the latest sci-fi treat from “District 9” director Neill Blomkamp, the sequel to “Kick-Ass” and the final chapter in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.

“2 GUNS”

Who: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton and Edward James Olmos
What: A DEA agent and an undercover Naval Intelligence officer who have been tasked with investigating one another find they have been set up by the mob.
When: August 2nd
Why: It’s hard to believe that “2 Guns” was originally planned as a post-“Wedding Crashers” reunion for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, because they’re hardly the action movie types. Thankfully, that never came to pass, and director Baltasar Kormakur ended up finding an even better onscreen duo in Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, who are just as good at handling action as they are at delivering a quip. And that’s important, since it appears that the humor in Blake Masters’ script has remained mostly intact. Washington and Wahlberg are both incredibly charismatic actors that have the box office power to sell a movie on their names alone, so while audiences may have missed out on the chance of seeing Vaughn and Wilson do their version of “Bad Boys,” “2 Guns” is probably better off for it.

“ELYSIUM”

Who: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley and Alice Braga
What: Set in a future where the wealthy live on a space station while the rest of society resides on a ruined Earth, a man embarks on a mission to bring equality to the worlds.
When: August 9th
Why: Moviegoers have been patiently awaiting Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to “District 9” ever since the 2009 sleeper hit arrived in theaters, and although it’s not a sequel like some were hoping for, it is another sci-fi thriller with a socio-political message. Obviously, getting actors like Matt Damon and Jodie Foster was a huge coup for Blomkamp, but the success of “Elysium” will once again rest on its unique premise, which already has my interest piqued. The South African director proved with his debut that he’s really good at world building, and the same holds true for “Elysium,” which looks like a fully formed piece of science fiction with some great visuals to boot. And with the talent involved, another Oscar nomination certainly isn’t out of the question, though it’s just nice to see such an original voice working in Hollywood.

“WE’RE THE MILLERS”

Who: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter and Ed Helms
What: A veteran pot dealer assembles a fake family as part of his plan to move a huge shipment of weed into the U.S. from Mexico
When: August 9th
Why: It probably won’t be the best comedy you see this year (and quite likely, not even this month), but “We’re the Millers” has the potential to be a lot funnier than it sounds. For starters, the movie is directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (who made the underrated 2004 comedy “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”) and written by the same duo behind “Wedding Crashers,” which means that you can expect plenty of silliness without it going too far over the top. There are better leading men than Jason Sudeikis, who’s usually more effective in supporting roles, but the rest of the cast is great, including Jennifer Aniston (tapping into her naughty side once again after the positive reception from “Horrible Bosses”) and up-and-comer Will Poulter in what promises to be a scene-stealing performance.

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