Blu Tuesday: Muppets Most Wanted, Locke 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.

“Muppets Most Wanted”

WHAT: After embarking on an international tour arranged by slick talent agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), Kermit the Frog is framed by his evil lookalike, Constantine, and shipped off to a Siberian prison. Meanwhile, Dominic and Constantine plot to steal a series of artifacts that will enable them to pull off the ultimate heist, using the Muppets’ tour to cover their tracks.

WHY: Like many people, I walked into “Muppets Most Wanted” convinced that it would be a colossal disappointment. But while this follow-up to the 2011 Muppets reboot starring Jason Segel doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, the movie comes surprisingly close. In addition to the screenplay by returning director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, which retains the Muppets’ trademark humor, charm and heart, Bret McKenzie provides half a dozen original songs that are incredibly witty and catchy, and among the film’s many highlights. The human co-stars aren’t as developed as Segel’s character, but Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey (as a Siberian prison guard) and Ty Burell (as a Jacques Clouseau-like Interpol agent) all fare remarkably well alongside their respective Muppet partners. If there’s one complaint, it’s that many of the supporting Muppets are relegated to the background in order to make room for all the new faces, though it certainly helps that Constantine is such a fun villain. It’s that sense of playfulness that makes “Muppets Most Wanted” such a success, and considering how bad things could have turned out, that’s a massive win for fans of Jim Henson’s felt-covered friends.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an “unnecessarily extended” cut of the film, a blooper reel, music videos and some other goofy bits, but nothing really substantial.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Locke”

WHAT: Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a dedicated family man and successful construction foreman, but on the eve of the biggest job of his career, he receives a phone call triggering a series of events that threaten to shatter his seemingly perfect life.

WHY: By far one of the most unique moviegoing experiences of the year, Steven Knight’s “Locke” takes a relatively simple premise and squeezes every last drop from its pulpy body, to the point that it’s actually quite incredible just how much the director was able to do with so little. The single-location setting is a bit gimmicky, but it serves a purpose as you watch the life of an otherwise decent man – literally trapped in a horrible situation but determined to make it right the only way he knows how – implode before your very eyes. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking at times, and although the supporting cast (including Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott, who appear as voices over the phone) is essential to making the film work, Tom Hardy is the heart and soul of the movie, delivering an absolutely brilliant performance that will leave you spellbound for the entirety of its taut 84-minute runtime. Though some of the plot turns feel contrived and it starts to drag in the final act, “Locke” is so immersive in its minimalistic approach that even the film’s flaws are more of a nuisance than a distraction.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Steven Knight and a behind-the-scenes featurette on making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Divergent, Need for Speed 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.

“Divergent”

WHAT: In a dystopian future where society has been divided into five factions – Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity and Candor – 16-year-old Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovers that she’s Divergent, one of the rare few with an aptitude for multiple factions. But there are those that feel threatened by her kind, so Beatrice joins Dauntless in an attempt to hide her secret, finding an unlikely ally in trainer Four (Theo James).

WHY: Yet another young adult book series adapted for the big screen, “Divergent” spends so much time trying to educate the audience on all the nuts and bolts of author Veronica Roth’s complex universe that it never quite gets off the ground. The mythology itself is pretty sketchy, with so many unanswered questions about how the faction system operates and the motivation behind certain characters’ actions that it’s difficult to fully invest in the story. Though there’s an interesting concept regarding government and societal classes at its core, “Divergent” ultimately feels like two and a half hours of (mostly boring) exposition – the setup to the bigger story that is seemingly explored in the other books. The problem, however, is that despite assembling a stellar cast of young up-and-comers, Oscar winners and veteran character actors, director Neil Burger fails to make you care enough to want to see those future installments. “Divergent” is apparently very faithful to the source material, and in that regard, fans won’t have much to complain about, but as a potential franchise-starter, it falls disappointingly short.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a pair of audio commentaries (one with director Neil Burger and another with producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher), a making-of documentary, a featurette on the five factions and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Need for Speed”

WHAT: After an illegal racing accident lands small-town mechanic Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) in prison, he emerges determined to exact revenge on the man responsible, former rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), by competing in a top secret, invite-only race called the DeLeon. But before he can get justice, Tobey must race against the clock to get from New York to San Francisco in time for the event, all while evading the various law enforcement authorities hot on his trail.

WHY: It’s amazing that it’s taken this long for another studio to exploit the success of the “Fast and Furious” franchise with a racing movie of its own, but considering that Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed” video game series predates the adventures of Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor by several years, you can hardly blame DreamWorks for wanting a piece of the pie. Unfortunately, apart from casting Aaron Paul in the lead role, there’s not much to like about Scott Walsh’s racing flick, which takes itself a little too seriously compared to the winking self-awareness of the “Fast and Furious” movies. “Need for Speed” is in desperate need of a lot of things – a better script, stronger direction, better pacing – but one thing you wouldn’t think it’d be lacking is excitement, and although the film has more its share of piston-pumping driving sequences, most of them are pretty tame, often dragging on for too long or cutting away to needless reactions from other characters. Gearheads will get some joy out of watching the assortment of beautiful cars speeding around the screen, but “Need for Speed” fails to be a worthy competitor to the “Fast and Furious” series, let alone a potential heir to the grease-streaked throne.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary by director Scott Walsh and actor Aaron Paul, four production featurettes covering things like the car race sequences and sound production, a handful of deleted scenes and a short outtakes reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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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

  

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

  

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