Blu Tuesday: Lone Survivor, RoboCop and True Blood

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.

“Lone Survivor”

WHAT: In June 2005, a quartet of Navy SEALs (Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch) set out on a mission to kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. But when they encounter some goat farmers in the mountains and agree to let them go, knowing full well that they’ll alert the Taliban to their presence, the SEALS are forced engage in a fight for their lives.

WHY: Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” might be the worst military recruitment video ever made, which is a marked departure from the current crop of war movies. Though the story of Marcus Luttrell’s incredible survival is tailor-made for the big screen, and Berg does a good job of highlighting the soldiers’ brotherhood and courage under fire, it’s hard to find any pleasure or entertainment value from watching the characters (real-life men whose family and friends are still living with that loss) get brutally slaughtered. It’s incredibly harrowing stuff, and perhaps the reason why Berg went with such a spoilerific title, because it would have been that much harder to watch if you didn’t already know how it ended. But like many of Berg’s recent films, “Lone Survivor” is unwaveringly pro-American, almost to a fault. It never digs very deep into the problems surrounding the ill-fated operation (from a lack of air support to faulty communications equipment), and the final act feels a bit too Hollywoodized for what comes before. There’s a lot to admire about the movie thanks to some strong performances from the four actors, but your mileage will vary depending on how you feel about watching these fathers, husbands and sons die before your very eyes.

EXTRAS: In addition to a fairly lengthy profile on Marcus Luttrell (which also doubles as a making-of featurette), the Blu-ray includes three additional production featurettes, an intimate look at the men who died in Operation Red Wings and an interview with Mohamad Gulab, the man who helped save Luttrell’s life.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“RoboCop”

WHAT: When Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured in a car bombing, he’s offered the chance to take part in an experimental procedure that rebuilds his body with robotic prosthetics, turning him into the ultimate law enforcement agent. But after his overseers program his brain to act more like a machine, Alex’s human side begins to fight back as he investigates his own murder.

WHY: Believe it or not, the new “RoboCop” isn’t nearly as bad as people feared. In fact, it boasts a better cast, better effects and a better story, even if the 1987 original – which is admittedly pretty cheesy by today’s standards – is still the better movie. Jose Padhila’s update actually starts surprisingly well, but it begins to drag in the middle and never quite recovers. The problem is twofold. With the exception of Kinnaman, Gary Oldman and Jackie Earle Haley in a fun supporting role, most of the other talent is wasted, and the lack of a standout villain doesn’t help matters either. Additionally, while the action scenes aren’t terrible, they’re not as exciting as you’d expect from a modern day “RoboCop” movie. This was Padilha’s big opportunity to compensate for the much-derided PG-13 rating, but between the annoying shaky cam and his tendency to cut away from the action too early, many of the set pieces are scattershot at best. The fact that it’s not a complete failure will feel like a win to some fans, but while this slick and overproduced update could have been much worse, its inability to capitalize on the promise that it shows early on is perhaps the biggest disappointment.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes (on the differences between the original and the reboot, the weapons used in the film and designing the suit), as well as some deleted scenes and faux product announcements from OmniCorp.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“True Blood: The Complete Sixth Season”

WHAT: As Bill (Stephen Moyer) comes to terms with his newfound powers, Louisiana Governor Truman Burrell (Arliss Howard) declares war on vampires, capturing and detaining them in a concentration camp. Meanwhile, Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Jason (Ryan Kwanten) face off against the ancient and powerful vampire responsible for murdering their parents.

WHY: “True Blood” has been in steady decline for several years now, but Season Six is so goddamn awful – the final nail in the proverbial coffin, if you will – that it wasn’t much of a surprise when HBO announced that it would be ending the series after its upcoming seventh season. The supernatural drama was never particularly great, but it had its moments as a pulpy and fun guilty pleasure that helped introduce audiences to the likes of Alexander Skarsgard, Ryan Kwanten, Joe Manganiello, Deborah Ann Woll and many more. Unfortunately, that sense of fun is completely missing from the sixth season, which somehow manages to be even more ridiculous than usual. The departure of creator/showrunner Alan Ball was the perfect opportunity to reinvigorate the series, but instead, it only made things worse, to the point that I finally stopped watching midway through the season after threatening to do so for two years. After all, there’s only so much stupid one can take, and when a show has more short-lived love triangles in a single season than interesting characters, that’s a pretty good indicator that it’s lost its bite.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray set includes cast and crew audio commentaries on five of the 10 episodes, “Inside the Episode” mini-featurettes and a pair of interactive features called “Vamp Camp Files” and “True Blood Lines.”

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Movie Review: “RoboCop”

Starring
Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Samuel L. Jackson
Director
Jose Padliha

At the rate that Hollywood is plowing its way through Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi catalog, you’d expect Vegas bookies to start slashing the odds on an eventual “Starship Troopers” remake. Though it’s only been two years since fanboys got their panties in a bunch over Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall” reboot, many of those same fans have been dreading the release of the new “RoboCop.” It will probably come as a surprise, then, that the film isn’t nearly as bad as people feared it would be. In fact, it boasts a better cast, better effects and a better story, even if the 1987 original – which is admittedly pretty cheesy by today’s standards – is still the better movie. So why bother with this remake? For starters, because it’s not really a remake at all, instead taking the basic premise and carving its own path that falls more in line with current politics.

The year is 2028, and with the exception of the United States, the rest of the world is now policed by a robot military force operated by technology giant OmniCorp. The government has blocked the use of robots in the U.S. due to the belief that they can’t be held accountable for killing, so OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) decides to give the American public someone they can identify with by putting a man in a machine. And it’s not long before they find the perfect subject when Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured in a car bombing after he’s targeted by a local drug kingpin. With the help of Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), a pioneer in robotic prosthetics, Sellars convinces Alex’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), that the procedure is the only way to keep him alive. But the very thing that makes Alex unique (his emotions) also affects his performance in the field, and when Norton tries to counteract that by programming his brain to act more like a machine, Alex’s human side begins to fight back as he investigates his own murder.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

february

If February is known for anything, it’s the barrage of romantic films released in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. And in keeping with tradition, there are several to choose from this year. But while past Februarys haven’t been very promising from a guy’s point of view, there’s plenty to look forward to in the 2014 edition, with no less than four action movies (including a remake of an ‘80s cult classic) and the latest from George Clooney and an animated film that’s just as much for adults as it is for kids.

“THE LEGO MOVIE”

Who: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman
What: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
When: February 7th
Why: It’s not very often that I get excited about an animated film, but as a closeted LEGO fanatic, “The LEGO Movie” is one of my most anticipated releases of the year. The fact that it’s taken this long to make a film based on the hugely popular toy brand is shocking, not only because it’s a dream project from a marketing standpoint, but because the very nature of LEGOs provides an almost endless supply of creative possibilities. This could have easily been ruined in the hands of someone else, but based on the materials released so far, it appears that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “21 Jump Street”) have struck the perfect chord in making a kid-friendly movie that adults can enjoy as well.

“THE MONUMENTS MEN”

Who: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman and Bill Murray
What: An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked with rescuing art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their owners.
When: February 7th
Why: On paper, “The Monuments Men” has Oscar bait written all over it. In addition to being based on a true story (set during World War II, no less), the film features some of the best acting talent in the business and was also co-written and directed by star George Clooney. So why the decision to push the movie back from its original holiday release to this February? No one knows for sure, but considering the competition that it would have been up against, it was probably the right move. After all, while “The Monuments Men” certainly has the makings of a crowd-pleaser (the two-second sales pitch is “‘Ocean’s Eleven’ meets ‘Inglourious Basterds’”), it doesn’t really seem like awards material. Still, with that cast, you never know. It could be great or it could be another “The Good German.”

“VAMPIRE ACADEMY”

Who: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Sarah Hyland and Olga Kurylenko
What: 17-year-old half-human/vampire Rose Hathaway is dragged back to her boarding school to protect a race of peaceful vampires from the bloodthirsty Strigoi.
When: February 7th
Why: If “Vampire Academy” comes across as just another young adult book series turned into a film, it’s because it is – a sort of supernatural mashup of “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” But while the Richelle Mead novel on which it’s based sounds about as fun as a trip to the dentist’s office, the movie version looks a lot more enjoyable thanks to the involvement of sibling duo Mark and Daniel Waters. The former directed the hilarious 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” while the latter wrote the screenplay for the precursor to that film, “Heathers.” And if the trailer is anything to go by, “Vampire Academy” strikes a very similar tone, albeit with the added benefit of some action. For every successful YA book adaptation, however, there are five failures, so history certainly isn’t on its side.

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