Blu Tuesday: Riddick, You’re Next 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.

“Riddick”

WHAT: Marooned on a sun-scorched planet, notorious fugitive Riddick (Vin Diesel) activates an emergency beacon at a mercenary outpost in the hopes of hijacking a ship from whoever comes to collect the price on his head. But when two mercenary crews are alerted to his location, they discover that the real threat isn’t Riddick himself, but rather the race of alien predators that inhabit the planet.

WHY: Is there anyone other than writer/director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel that actually wanted another Riddick movie? Because after the disastrous 2004 sequel to the sci-fi/horror cult classic “Pitch Black,” it seemed like Diesel’s grand plans to build a franchise around the character had more or less sputtered out. Granted, the latest Riddick adventure is a mild improvement on his last outing, but just barely, ultimately serving as yet another reminder why the character isn’t franchise material. A pale imitation of the first film that boasts some terrible acting and even worse writing – and that doesn’t even include the laughably misogynistic undertones that crop up once Katee Sackhoff’s lone female character is introduced – “Riddick” doesn’t really progress the overall story any further, leading one to question why another movie was necessary at all. There are a few cool action beats, and one particularly amazing death scene, but at times, it doesn’t even feel like a Riddick movie, with the title character gone missing for most of the second act. And if you’re going to call your film “Riddick,” you damn well better make sure he’s in it the entire time.

EXTRAS: There’s an unrated cut of the film that runs an additional six minutes, as well as a collection of short production featurettes and a motion comic prequel that bridges the gap between “The Chronicles of Riddick” and this movie.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“You’re Next”

WHAT: While celebrating their parents’ anniversary at an isolated vacation home in the country, the Davison family is attacked by a gang of deadly intruders. As the houseguests are murdered one by one, unlikely hero Erin (Shari Vinson) surprises everyone – including the killers themselves – when she begins to fight back, proving that she’s the most dangerous of them all.

WHY: Though it hardly boasts the most original story, “You’re Next” is a much-needed shot in the arm for the horror genre that succeeds thanks to a clever mix of black humor and brutal violence. Despite some well-placed laughs, however, the film is not a horror comedy by any means. And though it’s not jump-out-of-your-seat scary either, it does squeeze a good deal of suspense from the legitimately frightening home invasion setup. Like most horror movies, it starts out slow, but once director Adam Wingard gets rid of all the dead weight and Vinson’s heroine clicks into survival mode, the film never looks back. There are some really inventive kills on display, and the “Home Alone”-esque traps that Erin sets for the masked assailants makes you wish that more horror victims were as smart and resourceful as she is. The acting isn’t that great, the characters have their share of blonde moments, and the twists are a little predictable for anyone paying attention, but genre fans could only wish that more horror movies were as much fun to watch as this.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries (one with director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, and another with Wingard, Barrett and actors Sharni Vinson and Barbara Crampton), there’s a fairly decent making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Spectacular Now”

WHAT: When his longtime girlfriend dumps him, hard-partying high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) hooks up with resident nice girl Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). Though she’s nothing like the girls he usually dates, Aimee’s unwavering positive attitude might be just what Sutter needs to get his life back on track.

WHY: It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that “The Spectacular Now” was written by the same duo behind the excellent “(500) Days of Summer,” because both films are really well-crafted relationship dramas that don’t pull their punches. Though I’m getting a little tired of seeing Teller play the same Vince Vaughn-type wild child, he’s perfectly cast in the role, making Sutter just likable enough to root for him, despite the fact that he’s a bit of an asshole and pretty clueless about his alcohol problem. It certainly helps that Woodley was cast as his romantic counterpart, because the actress is almost angelic-like in the way that she radiates life. Granted, it’s a little ridiculous to have someone as gorgeous as Woodley play the unpopular girl, but if nothing else, she proves here that her award-nominated role in “The Descendants” wasn’t a fluke. The movie also features some great supporting performances – especially Kyle Chandler in a short but effective cameo – but without Teller and Woodley in the lead roles, it wouldn’t be quite so, well, spectacular.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with director James Ponsoldt, some deleted scenes and a four-part making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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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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A chat with John Cusack of “The Raven”

The really fun part of setting up an interview with John Cusack is telling people about it and getting their reaction. The still boyish star of such classics like “Say Anything,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Grifters,” “Being John Malkovich,” and recent ‘plex-fare like “2012” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” is one popular guy, and not only with women.

Now in his mid-40s, the former teen rom-com leading man is also something of a paradox in that he’s been able to keep the details of his private life private while also being unafraid of a little controversy. He maintains a direct connection with his fans via his well-known Twitter feed that often touches bluntly on his strongly left-of-center politics. We interviewed Mr. Cusack back in 2008 about his somewhat underrated satirical broadside, “War, Inc.,” and he makes some revealing comments about its production below. He has nevertheless avoided becoming a Sean Penn-style right wing whipping boy, though his recent election-year bashing of the Obama administration’s civil liberties failings on “CBS This Morning” attracted some attention from conservative outlets.

The fact of the matter is that Cusack, still best remembered by many as idealistic aspiring kickboxer Lloyd Dobler, is the closest thing modern audiences have to a Jimmy Stewart. He’s a low-key, yet charismatic and highly energetic actor who never seems to act at all. That’s high praise, but it does make him a slightly counterintuitive choice for the role of Edgar Allen Poe, the flamboyant, floridly romantic author who largely invented modern horror and crime fiction.

Directed by James McTeigue of “V for Vendetta,” “The Raven” has the master of the macabre trying to solve a “Se7en”-style killing spree inspired by his own stories. Critics have not been impressed by the film and the crowded opening weekend box office returns have been kind of dismal, but that won’t have been for any lack of effort on John Cusack’s part. The actor spent weeks promoting the film everywhere from “The View” to our humble selves. He did, however, take a moment to receive a very special Hollywood honor.

Bullz-Eye: It’s been a good day for you; you just got your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

JC: Yeah man, thanks.

BE: What’s that like at your relatively young age?

JC: I don’t know. I’ve never got one before so I don’t know. It was pretty surreal; pretty cool. I liked that I was right next to the Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry. That was pretty cool.

BE: That is cool.

JC: I was right across from Musso and Frank’s, so I thought that was pretty damn cool. That’s such a great place. I’m also next to this great book store, so I’m well represented. I liked it.

BE: Speaking of books — a great segue there — I know that one of the reasons that you took on “The Raven” is it gave you an excuse to read up on Edgar Allan Poe. Why do you think he has remained kind of contemporary all of these years?

JC: I think he’s this classic sort of archetype for all of the shadow parts of ourselves that we don’t want to admit out loud or you’re not supposed to admit in polite company or society. You know, all of these terrors and fears and phobias and anguishes and torments, and also this kind of grave, deep love of language and poetry. I think he’s a genuine genius and he spoke to the language of the subconscious and he was a great poet and artist. A great storyteller; a wild creator of different genres and hybrids of genres and mash-ups of genres. He was a pretty talented man, and he was also just wired way too tight, so it was a volatile mix.

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