Blu Tuesday: Noah and The Other Woman

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.

“Noah”

WHAT: Noah (Russell Crowe) receives a message from the Creator to build an ark that will harbor the innocent (his family and the planet’s animals) from the impending apocalyptic flood designed to cleanse the world of wickedness. But when the self-appointed king of mankind, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), learns of Noah’s plans, he leads a massive army to overtake the ark and seek refuge from certain death.

WHY: This isn’t the first time that Darren Aronofsky has tackled something as ambitious as “Noah,” but unlike his experimental time-traveling drama “The Fountain,” this movie already had a built-in audience of sorts with varying ideas of how it should be told. And since Aronofsky has taken more than a few liberties with the source material – including a race of fallen angels called the Watchers that look like stop-motion rock monsters straight out of Ray Harryhausen’s workshop – he’s received a fair share of criticism for his efforts. As someone who isn’t religious, it’s difficult to be too damning of how Aronofsky has interpreted the text, but while it’s not quite the sacrilegious disaster that many feared, it isn’t very good either. Though Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson deliver some good performances, you don’t really care about any of the characters, expect perhaps Watson’s orphaned Ila. The decision to turn the story into an epic adventure movie with a big battle sequence as its centerpiece was likely intended to add a little excitement to the proceedings, but it’s still a fairly dull affair that’s hampered by the lame attempts to make it an allegory for the current state of our planet.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no audio commentary by director Darren Aronofsky, but the Blu-ray does include a two-part featurette on the construction and filming of the ark and a behind-the-scenes look at location shooting in Iceland.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Other Woman”

WHAT: During a surprise visit to her boyfriend’s house, Carly (Cameron Diaz) discovers that he’s already married to suburban housewife Kate (Leslie Mann). The two eventually bond over their shared hatred for Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and when they learn that he’s cheating on both of them with another woman (Kate Upton), they team up with her to plot their revenge.

WHY: “The Other Woman” is one of the worst movies you’ll see this year – the kind of film that gives female-centric comedies such a bad name that it’s no wonder Hollywood doesn’t make them more often. Though not quite as misogynistic as some have claimed, it’s basically just a bunch of girl power drivel that doesn’t empower its women so much as make the two-timing Mark such a massive asshole that his punishment seems justified. (For the record, poisoning someone is not cool, no matter what they’ve done to you.) The movie also thinks so little of its female characters that they’re not given any depth beyond generic labels like “wife,” “lawyer” and “boobs,” while poor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is forced to do some pretty embarrassing stuff involving female hormones and laxatives. The biggest problem, however, is that none of it is funny. Director Nick Cassavetes seems to think that he’s making a light and fun romp about women getting sweet revenge, but there’s nothing entertaining about a couple of insecure women bickering with one another for 109 minutes, especially when it’s as mind-numbingly stupid and boring as this.

EXTRAS: There are some deleted scenes and a gag reel, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Blu Tuesday: Transcendence, Sabotage 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.

“Transcendence”

WHAT: When anti-technology extremists assassinate Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) – a renowned scientist in the field of artificial intelligence – as part of a series of synchronized attacks, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) uploads his consciousness to a supercomputer. But once Will achieves transcendence, he proves to be far more dangerous than those trying to stop him.

WHY: It’s difficult to pinpoint where “Transcendence” went so horribly wrong, because it’s a colossal mess of a movie that is neither entertaining nor inspires the kind of thought-provoking discussion that it likely intended. Though Jack Paglen’s screenplay topped the 2012 edition of the Black List (an annual survey of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood), whatever made people so excited about it must have been lost in translation. That blames mostly falls on Wally Pfister, who doesn’t seem to have a very good grasp on what to do with Paglen’s sophisticated premise. Pfister may be one of the best cinematographers in the game, but he probably should have chosen something a little less ambitious for his directorial debut, because he bit off more than he could chew with this high-concept techno-thriller, which moves like molasses and isn’t terribly engaging. Maybe he thought that assembling an impressive ensemble cast would be enough to hide the film’s narrative flaws, but the performances are just as poor, especially Johnny Depp, who phones in his performance as the ghost in the machine. “Transcendence” certainly had the makings of an excellent cerebral thriller, but instead, it will only give you a headache thinking about all the wasted potential.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a quartet of mini-featurettes on things like Wally Pfister’s creative process and the potential of artificial intelligence, as well as some viral videos from the film’s marketing campaign.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Sabotage”

WHAT: An elite DEA task force steals $10 million during a drug raid on a cartel safe house, but when they go back to retrieve the hidden money, they discover that it’s missing. As members of the team start to get picked off in brutal fashion, their leader John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) joins up with a homicide detective to track down the people responsible, with the surviving agents suspecting it could be someone from within their own ranks.

WHY: Arnold Schwarzenegger has been hard at work since his return from retirement, but he’s still yet to make a film that measures up to his more iconic roles. “Sabotage” certainly had the potential to be that movie, but this modern-day twist on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” is just another disappointing genre flick. More of a slow-burning crime thriller than the action-packed film the trailers suggested, “Sabotage” represents an interesting change of pace for Schwarzenegger. This is the most subdued that the actor has ever been, but he’s just not as entertaining without his larger-than-life charisma to fall back on, with his co-stars constantly upstaging him. In fact, the movie’s best moments come from the frat-like camaraderie between the task force members, so when they start dropping like flies, so does the enthusiasm earned from the high-octane set piece that opens the film, eventually devolving into a dull whodunit. The route that David Ayer and Skip Woods’ script takes wouldn’t feel so anticlimactic if it weren’t lacking so badly in any sort of tension, because there’s nothing about “Sabotage” that’s even remotely surprising, except perhaps for the fact that a movie with such a cool premise and awesome cast could be this boring.

EXTRAS: There’s a short making-of featurette, a pair of alternate endings and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: The Raid 2, Bad Words and Nymphomaniac

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.

“The Raid 2″

WHAT: In order to protect himself and his family from being targeted for retaliation, honest cop Rama (Iko Uwais) agrees to go undercover to find the source of corruption in the city’s police force. After making friends with the son of a respected crime boss, Rama is hired as an enforcer for the syndicate, only to find himself smack dab in the middle of a turf war between his boss and the Japanese yakuza.

WHY: It would have been all too easy for Gareth Evans to deliver a rinse-and-repeat sequel to his 2012 cult classic, so it’s refreshing to see the filmmaker take a risk with such a strikingly ambitious follow-up like “The Raid 2,” a slower, operatic crime saga with a lot more moving parts than its predecessor. The first movie was a non-stop action-fest with very little room for anything else, but while the added depth and drama is greatly appreciated this time around, Evans never forgets that he’s making an action film, sprinkling some bone-crunching, blood-spurting set pieces into each act. Many of the action scenes aren’t as memorable as the ones from the original, but they’re all ridiculously entertaining, including a fight inside a moving car that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Though the movie is a bit long at 150 minutes, the runtime is mostly justified considering the vast scope of the story. Some fans will undoubtedly be disappointed at how different it is from the original, but that’s exactly what makes it so great, because although “The Raid 2” may not provide the same adrenaline rush of its faster-paced, more contained predecessor, but it’s a richer and more sophisticated action-thriller that ranks among the best crime films ever made.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Gareth Evans, the Blu-ray release includes a short making-of featurette, a pair of more in-depth featurettes on location shooting and action choreography, a lengthy Q&A session with Evans, star Iko Uwais and composer Joe Trapanese and an ultra-violent deleted scene.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Bad Words”

WHAT: After middle-aged loser Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) uncovers a loophole in the spelling bee bylaws that allows him to participate in – and win – his regional tournament, he’s begrudgingly invited to the prestigious Golden Quill national spelling bee. But while Guy has ulterior motives for taking part in the competition, his endgame is threatened when he befriends a precocious 10-year-old contestant (Rohan Chand) willing to do whatever it takes to win.

WHY: If “Bad Words” sounds like the 2003 comedy “Bad Santa,” you’re not alone. But while the comparisons are inevitable, “Bad Words” isn’t nearly as crude or edgy as the holiday cult classic. That’s not to say that Jason Bateman’s directorial debut doesn’t have a mean streak, because it relishes every opportunity to be naughty, but the film also feels like it’s playing it safe at times so as to not completely alienate its protagonist. Guy is hardly a saint (his motives are not only selfish, but pretty juvenile), but he also isn’t as bad as he appears on the surface, as evidenced in the big brother-little brother bond that he forms with Chand’s pint-sized sidekick. The child actor is excellent opposite his director/co-star, but this is Bateman’s show, with Andrew Dodge’s script playing to the actor’s strengths so well that you’d think it was written specifically for him. It’s not easy making a jerk like Guy seem likable, but Bateman does a solid job of pushing boundaries without going too far over the line. That’s a credit to his work behind the camera as well, because although the story is a little undercooked and the big “twist” is entirely predictable, “Bad Words” delivers enough hilarious, foul-mouthed mischief to deserve its title.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by Jason Bateman, a making-of featurette and some deleted and extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II”

WHAT: When she’s found beaten in an alley by a scholarly gentleman (Stellan Skarsgard) and taken into his home to tend to her wounds, self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her sexually depraved life story, from adolescence to adulthood.

WHY: Split into two parts for its U.S. release, probably because it would have been unbearable to watch in one sitting, “Nymphomaniac” is almost maddeningly pretentious, even for a director like Lars von Trier. This is a film with its head so far up its own ass – stretching to draw parallels between Joe’s sexual misadventures and subjects ranging from fly fishing to music theory) that it’s hard to discern whether von Trier is just fucking with the audience. “Nymphomaniac” is neither as intelligent nor as darkly comical as it pretends to be, and it’s also surprisingly anti-erotic for a movie largely about sex, although in the case of the latter, that might actually be the point. Unfortunately, that message is lost amid the dense screenplay, the lack of a compelling protagonist and some terrible acting by Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater and others. Newcomer Stacy Martin delivers a fearless and assured debut as the young Joe, but she’s one of the few highlights in an otherwise ugly and uninteresting film. So when her character weepingly declares, “I don’t feel anything,” at the end of Volume One, it’s easy to relate, especially with another (and worse) volume still left to slog through.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes fluff piece produced for AXS TV and a trio of featurettes about the film’s characters, director and sex scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: A Hard Day’s Night, 300: Rise of an Empire 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.

“A Hard Day’s Night”

WHAT: The Beatles travel from Liverpool to London for a live television performance, with Paul’s mischievous grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) tagging along on the trip.

WHY: The first of many feature-length films starring the iconic rock group, “A Hard Day’s Night” is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s one that fans of the Beatles will undoubtedly enjoy. Though the movie drags a little in the second half as the band prepares for their concert (the Ringo subplot is especially sluggish), there’s so much great material in the scenes leading up to it that it’s easy to forgive. The opening 30 minutes in particular are chockfull of laughs, fully embracing the zany humor of the band members with such manic energy that it’s almost impossible to keep up at times. (The infamous Lennon/Coke bit is practically treated like a throwaway gag.) And as you’d expect from a film starring the Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” also features some excellent musical performances, with director Richard Lester wisely shooting each one in a different style so that they don’t become stale by the time the big finale rolls around. But while it’s always a joy to see the Beatles perform, the movie works first and foremost as a comedy with musical bits in between. And running. Lots and lots of running.

EXTRAS: Criterion has packed this release with a treasure trove of bonus material, including a cast and crew commentary, a brand new behind-the-scenes featurette, Walter Shenson’s 1994 making-of documentary, the 2002 documentary “Things They Said Today” and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“300: Rise of an Empire”

WHAT: As King Leonidas and the brave 300 hold their ground at the Battle of Thermopylae, Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads his own army into combat against the invading Persian forces, which are commanded by Xerxes’ right-hand woman, the vengeful Greek warrior Artemisia (Eva Green).

WHY: It’s been so many years since the original “300” hit theaters that it’s hard to imagine many people still care about this long-gestating prequel/sequel, even if the very idea of a spinoff was ridiculous from the start. With that said, credit to writer Frank Miller for coming up with an idea that actually complements the first film, because “Rise of an Empire” would feel even more like a silly cash grab without a decent story in place. The CGI blood looks really fake, the dialogue is dreadful, and the attempts at providing a backstory for Xerxes are pointless. Plus, every time the movie flashes back to events from “300” or introduces some new connective tissue (like the returning Lena Headey), it only makes you wish you were watching that film instead. “Rise of an Empire” isn’t a complete waste of time, but that’s mostly thanks to Eva Green’s magnetic performance as the female villain, who uses her skills on the battlefield as well as in the bedroom (in one of the most awkward sex/fight scenes in cinematic history) to destroy the Greeks. The movie is almost worth watching for that scene alone. Almost.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a four-part featurette on the making of the film, a look at the real-life leaders and legends involved in the Greek/Persian wars, and additional featurettes on the female characters and the cast’s intense training regime.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: House of Cards, The LEGO Movie 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.

“House of Cards: Season Two”

WHAT: After being sworn in as the new Vice President, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) continues his quest for absolute power alongside his equally manipulative wife, Claire (Robin Wright). Meanwhile, a team of D.C. journalists investigate Frank’s involvement in Peter Russo’s death, witnessing first-hand the level of corruption at work in their government.

WHY: Season Two of “House of Cards” will likely be labeled a disappointment by some, but while it’s noticeably weaker than the Netflix drama’s debut season, it’s still better than a vast majority of the shows on television. After all, there aren’t many series that would kill off one of its main characters in the first episode, especially in such ruthless and shocking fashion, but it’s a necessary move that signals a change in the direction of the show. The ancillary subplots aren’t nearly as interesting this time around (particularly the stuff between Michael Kelly’s Chief of Staff and Rachel Brosnahan’s reformed call girl), and even the main story feels a bit stretched at times with the constant back and forth between Underwood and Raymond Tusk, but there’s rarely a dull moment thanks to the excellent writing and performances. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are in top form once again as the conniving husband-and-wife duo, while Molly Parker (of “Deadwood” fame) is a welcome addition to the cast as the new House Whip. And when you have characters as brilliantly realized as the ones that populate “House of Cards,” you’re allowed a few missteps every once in a while.

EXTRAS: The four-disc set boasts a quartet of production featurettes (including an examination of the differences between the British and American versions of the show) and a behind-the-scenes look at a table read for two episodes from Season One.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“The LEGO Movie”

WHAT: When an ordinary LEGO construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt) stumbles upon an ancient artifact, he’s declared “The Special” by an underground group of rebels led by the blind prophet Vitruvis (Morgan Freeman), who believes that Emmet is the only one capable of stopping the evil President Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying their world.

WHY: When “The LEGO Movie” was first announced, there were obvious concerns about whether it would just play like one long commercial for the popular toy brand. But while the folks at LEGO have undoubtedly seen a nice bump in business since its release, the film is so much more than that – smart, funny and surprisingly heartfelt. A lot of that credit goes to directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who bring the LEGO universe to life with the sort of boundless imagination that the movie preaches to its audience. Though the script borrows heavily from “The Matrix” (from its main story, to the three leads, to its anti-conformatist message), that’s merely the setup for a much more sophisticated payoff that is equally daring and brilliant. For as great as the film’s ending may be, however, it wouldn’t feel earned if the first two-thirds weren’t so enjoyable. And thanks to some incredible visuals, great voice work (particularly by Chris Pratt) and hilarious gags, “The LEGO Movie” isn’t just one of the best animated films in years, but it’s also one of the best movies of 2014 thus far.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (along with actors Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Alison Brie and Charlie Day) and a host of bonus material like a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes and a series of fun mini-featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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