Blu Tuesday: The Expendables 3, The Giver and What If

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 Expendables 3″

WHAT: When a former Expendable turned war criminal (Mel Gibson) resurfaces years after his supposed death, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) puts together a new, younger team to take him down. But after their mission is compromised and his teammates are captured, Barney must rely on the former members to help him finish the job.

WHY: The “Expendables” films have never exactly been subtle, but that’s part of their charm. The other part is seeing the world’s greatest action stars share the screen like a kid playing with all of his favorite action figures at the same time. The best thing about this model is that it allows for fresh additions with each new installment, and the third movie takes full advantage with another round of dream casting. Though the “new blood” (including Kellan Lutz, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and boxer Victor Ortiz) fare just fine alongside their larger-than-life counterparts, the real treat is seeing old-timers like Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas back on the big screen. Not only do they belong on this team (even more so than Randy Couture and Terry Crews), but they don’t waste any time proving it, with Banderas stealing every scene he’s in as the motor-mouthed new recruit. Harrison Ford also seems to be having fun as Bruce Willis’ replacement, while Mel Gibson’s funny but ruthless villain is easily the best in the series. (Take that, Jean-Claude Van Damme.) Unfortunately, you have to suffer through a bunch of terrible one-liners and puns, generic PG-13 action and an overlong 126-minute runtime just to get to the good bits, and despite the talent involved, there aren’t enough to make it worth your time.

EXTRAS: There’s a pretty substantial making-of featurette, profiles on the new recruits, a behind-the-scenes look at filming some of the action scenes, and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Giver”

WHAT: Set in a dystopian future without emotion, color or choice, a young man named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected to become the new Receiver of Memory – the person in charge of storing all past memories before the period of Sameness – and begins his training under the previous receiver (Jeff Bridges). But when he realizes that their community is a shadow of what existed before, Jonas sets out to unlock those repressed memories and restore order.

WHY: Stuck in Development Hell for nearly two decades despite being a passion project for co-star Jeff Bridges, “The Giver” probably would have languished there forever were it not for the recent success of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” Though the 1993 novel by Lois Lowry has become a mainstay on many middle school reading lists over the years, “The Giver” is a tricky book to adapt for the big screen, not only in the way that its protagonist begins to experience more of the old world, but the heavy themes that it broaches along the away. For what it’s worth, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job, but the problem with director Philip Noyce’s adaptation is that for a movie about the dangers of uniformity, it’s strikingly vanilla, with barely an original idea to be found. Bridges delivers a solid performance as the title character (you can tell that the source material means a lot to him), but the rest of the cast – from its wooden leading man to Meryl Streep’s chief elder – is as underwhelming as the story itself. This is one book that would have been better left untouched.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray releases includes an interactive study guide, a featurette on adapting the book for the screen, highlights from the original script reading, footage from the press conference, an interview with author Lois Lowry and a deleted scene.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“What If”

WHAT: More than year after a messy break-up, med school dropout Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) hits it off with a cute animator named Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at the house party of a mutual friend (Adam Driver). Although Chantry already has a serious boyfriend (Rafe Spall), Wallace decides that he’s okay with just being friends… until he realizes that his feelings are a little more complicated.

WHY: Though its premise is somewhat unique in that one of the characters is already in a relationship when the movie begins, “What If” is a pretty formulaic romantic comedy that follows all the beats you expect and rarely strays off course. Luckily, director Michael Dowse has assembled a fantastic ensemble cast that elevates the material beyond its genre conventions. Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis and Rafe Spall are all good in supporting roles, but it’s the two leads – and their chemistry with one another – that makes “What If” better than the typical rom-com. Zoe Kazan has carved out a nice little niche as the indie love interest (the girl next door who’s cute and attainable, but with just enough edge to ensure she’s never boring), while Daniel Radcliffe radiates charm in one of the best roles of his post-Potter career. Some of the humor is a bit over-the-top, but for the most part, it boasts a playfully sarcastic tone that provides Kazan and Radcliffe with plenty of fun banter. “What If” doesn’t revolutionize the genre in any way, but if you enjoyed “(500) Days of Summer,” there’s a good chance you’ll like this as well.

EXTRAS: In addition to a behind-the-scenes look at making the film, there are three brief (but very similar) featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August

august

This has been one of the worst summer movie seasons in recent memory, and while it would take something really special to turn it all around, there are a few new releases this August that could at least make it a little less forgettable, including Marvel Studio’s most ambitious film to date, new installments of “The Expendables” and “Sin City,” and the return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen.

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”

Who: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel
What: When space adventurer Peter Quill steals an orb coveted by a treacherous villain, he must find a way to rally a quartet of ragtag rivals to save the universe.
When: August 1st
Why: A few months ago, most people had never even heard of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but that’s quickly changed following the launch of the film’s marketing campaign, which suggests that director James Gunn (perhaps Marvel Studio’s biggest risk yet) has absolutely nailed the offbeat tone of the comic book. This has been on my must-see list ever since it was announced, and that excitement has only grown with each new reveal, from the casting of Chris Pratt in the lead role, to landing Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper to voice the movie’s CGI characters, to the strong buzz emerging from early screenings that have pegged it as one of the studio’s best films to date. In other words: get ready to be pleasantly surprised.

“GET ON UP”

Who: Chadwick Boseman, David Andrew Nash, Nelsan Ellis and Viola Davis
What: A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history.
When: August 1st
Why: The music biopic is one of the most formulaic subgenres. They’re essentially all the same – a rags to riches story where the subject overcomes some kind of personal demon, usually drug addiction) – and Taylor Tate’s “Get on Up” doesn’t appear to buck that trend. The fact that the script was written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the sibling duo responsible for the excellent “Edge of Tomorrow”) instills some hope that it won’t be a complete waste of time, but James Brown’s life doesn’t really interest me, and the decision to cast Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul feels a little weird after playing another black icon so recently in “42.” What’s next for the actor? Movies about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Owens?

“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES”

Who: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub
What: Four mutant warriors fight to save their city from an evil kingpin.
When: August 8th
Why: There’s plenty of reason to be concerned about the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film – after all, we’ve seen what producer Michael Bay did to the “Transformers” franchise and director Jonathan Liebesman doesn’t have a very good track record – but the kid in me still can’t wait to see the Turtles back in action on the big screen, even if they don’t exactly look like the ones from my childhood. In fact, they look downright ugly with those oversized frog lips, leading me to wonder how that design ever made it out of the concept stage. The decision to cast a Caucasian actor as Shredder is also a bit worrying, as is Megan Fox’s involvement, but maybe, just maybe, it won’t be so bad.

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