Blu Tuesday: Star Trek Into Darkness, Parade’s End 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.

“Star Trek Into Darkness”

WHAT: When Starfleet is attacked by a dangerous terrorist known as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise embark on a mission to track down the one-man killing machine and bring him to justice, only to discover that the situation is a lot more complicated than originally believed.

WHY: I don’t typically revisit many films so soon after their theatrical release unless I really enjoyed them, but in the case of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness,” I wanted to give it another chance after my first screening was spoiled by a terrible 3D projection. And I’m glad that I did, because although some of my issues with the movie still exist (like the “Wrath of Khan” copycatting and blasé wastefulness of its supporting cast), there are quite a few things to love about it. For starters, Cumberbatch absolutely kills it as Khan, bringing a level of strength and ruthlessness to the character that was never apparent in the Ricardo Montalban version. Simon Pegg also gets more to do this time around (albeit at the expense of co-stars like Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin), and there’s a really good balance of action, drama and comedy throughout. It’s actually a bit puzzling why the sequel received so much flak from fans, because while it definitely has some problems, the film is just as much fun as its predecessor.

EXTRAS: In all their infinite wisdom, Paramount decided to make several extras (including a director commentary) exclusive to various retail chains, making it impossible for fans to dig into all the goodies unless they buy multiple versions of the film. The Blu-ray does come with seven short production featurettes, but it doesn’t make the studio’s actions sting any less.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Parade’s End”

WHAT: Set over a ten-year period that intersects World War I, nobleman Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) is stuck in a loveless marriage with manipulative socialite Sylvia (Rebecca Hall). After being publicly embarrassed by his wife, Christopher finds comfort in a young suffragette named Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens), but refuses to give into their mutual passion as he clings onto values of a bygone era.

WHY: “Parade’s End” had several things working in its favor – most notably HBO, which has produced some of the best miniseries of the past decade, and an incredible ensemble cast – but that doesn’t make this five-part miniseries (based on a quartet of novels by Ford Madox Ford) any easier to watch. In fact, although a lot of material has clearly been lost in the translation between book and screen – not surprising when you consider that writer Tom Stoppard has attempted to squeeze four novels’ worth of story into five hours of television – I couldn’t even make it past Part Two due to extreme boredom and, in some cases, utter confusion over the vague subplots and time jumps. If you like your period pieces overly stuffy and melodramatic, then “Parade’s End” might be just for you, but despite some solid performances from its cast (especially Cumberbatch, Hall and Clemens), they’re unable to make their dull characters, and by extension Stoppard’s script, even the least bit interesting.

EXTRAS: The only bonus material on the disc is an interview with writer Tom Stoppard from his visit to KCRW’s “The Treatment” hosted by Elvis Mitchell.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“La Cage aux Folles”

WHAT: Gay club owner Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and his drag queen lover Albin (Michel Serrault) agree to hide their sexual identities for the sake of Renato’s grown-up son (Remi Laurent) when his new fiancée’s ultraconservative parents drive down to St. Tropez for a dinner meeting before they’ll agree to the marriage.

WHY: Though the movie was decades ahead of its time with its social message and treatment of LGBT characters, “La Cage aux Folles” is one of those rare films where the Hollywood remake is actually better than the original. That’s not to say that Edouard Molinaro’s movie – based on the stage play by Jean Poiret – isn’t any good, but Mike Nichols’ American version is even better, thanks in large part to the hilarious performances by stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. There are still some laughs in “La Cage aux Folles” (namely from Michel Galabru’s prudish government official), but a lot of the humor is pretty mild compared to the sheer outrageousness of the 1996 film, especially for those already familiar with the story. Of course, “The Birdcage” wouldn’t have been possible without Molinaro’s Franco-Italian comedy, and between its forward-thinking story and entertaining performances, fans of Nichols’ rendition (or the Harvey Fierstein Broadway musical) should probably see it at least once.

EXTRAS: Like most Criterion releases, they haven’t skimped on bonus material, including new interviews with director Edouard Molinaro and author Laurence Senelick (“The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre”), behind the scenes archival footage, and a booklet featuring an interview with critic David Ehrenstein.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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Movie Review: “Star Trek Into Darkness”

Starring
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin
Director
J.J. Abrams

To look back on the controversy circling around J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise is like trying to remember a distant dream: you vaguely recall that the fans of the long-running sci-fi franchise were freaking out about the idea of new actors slipping on the uniforms of James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, but so many Trekkies came to embrace Abrams’ “Star Trek” so quickly that it’s almost like the controversy never happened. Y’know, like pretty much everything that ever happened in the original “Star Trek” series and movies. Or have you forgotten how Nero (Eric Bana), the villain in the 2009 film, went back in time on a mission of vengeance and proceeded to change the course of history?

Of course you haven’t forgotten. And you can be damned sure the Trekkies haven’t, either. Ever since Abrams’ film effectively wiped the slate clean on “Trek” history, theories have been flying by at warp speed about whether the next film would find Kirk and company on an all-new voyage or if the storyline might feature new takes on more classic characters. The answer? A little from Column A and a little from Column B. Thing is, we can’t really tell you much about the bits from Column B. Or, rather, we could, but we don’t want to spoil the fun…even if at least one of those fun bits has been bandied about as a plot possibility for the sequel from the very beginning.

Like its predecessor, “Star Trek Into Darkness” more or less starts off at full throttle, with the crew of the Enterprise in the midst of a mission to a strange new world which hasn’t yet reached the level of technology as the worlds within the United Federation of Planets, putting it under protection of the so-called Prime Directive. If you’re unfamiliar with the “Trek” mythos, this basically means that the planet is supposed to be left alone to develop at its own pace, but even if you barely know “Trek” at all, you still probably know that Kirk’s never been a big fan of following the rules, and as a comparative youngster in Starfleet, he’s still learning that there are significant consequences when the rules are broken. What he’s also learning is that not every officer is cut from the same cloth as Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood); some tend toward the hard-ass method of command, like Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller).

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May

may_movies

It’s not just the studios that get excited about the beginning of the summer movie season, but audiences as well, because the four-month period marks the release of some of the year’s most anticipated films, from action blockbusters to all-star comedies. This summer is particularly exciting, and it kicks off in May with the latest installments of some of Hollywood’s biggest franchises (“Iron Man,” “Star Trek,” “Fast & Furious” and “The Hangover”), as well as a few lower profile features with the potential to make a big impression.

“IRON MAN 3″

Who: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce
What: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, Stark starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
When: May 3rd
Why: “Iron Man 2” may be one of the weaker films in Marvel’s Phase One, but it deserves some slack for shouldering a lot of the groundwork leading up to “The Avengers.” With that said, it’ll be nice to see Tony Stark in a more standalone adventure this time out, which is reportedly based on Warren Ellis’ well-received “Extremis” arc, ushering in a change of status quo for the Iron Man armor. The film also marks a change behind the camera as well, with Shane Black taking over for the departing Jon Favreau, although the trailers suggest that it’s business as usual. That’s great news for fans of the first two films, because with the addition of Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall and Ben Kingsley to the cast, “Iron Man 3” is shaping up to the best of the series.

“THE ICEMAN”

Who: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, James Franco and Ray Liotta
What: The true story of notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski, from his early days in the mob until his arrest for the murder of more than 100 men.
When: May 3rd
Why: Millennium Entertainment doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to releasing small movies with big stars, but the cast of “The Iceman” is almost too good to ignore. Michael Shannon tends to deliver his best work in these types of indie films, while Winona Ryder proved in “Black Swan” that she’s still capable of turning in a good performance with the right material. And it wouldn’t be a crime movie without Ray Liotta popping up at some point, so director Ariel Vromen has that box checked as well. Though most people have probably never even heard of Richard Kuklinski or his true life story, sometimes those ones are the best.

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