Blu Tuesday: Elysium, Kick-Ass 2 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.

“Elysium”

WHAT: The year is 2154 and ex-con Max De Costa (Matt Damon) lives on a ruined Earth with most of the population while the wealthy reside on a space station where any disease can be cured in seconds. But when Max gets radiation poisoning during an accident at work and is given only five days to live, he accepts a suicide mission to hijack some important data that could topple Elysium’s government and save his life.

WHY: Following Neill Blomkamp’s 2008 surprise hit “District 9,” people couldn’t wait to see what the South African-born director would do next. But while “Elysium” showcases the same great visuals and action as its predecessor, it’s just not as good. Part of the problem is the story itself, which practically begs comparisons to “District 9” between the likeminded aesthetics and socio-political undertones. Blomkamp also doesn’t get much help from his big Hollywood stars; Matt Damon is fine in the lead role, but a lesser known actor probably would have been more effective, while Jodie Foster delivers a laughably bad performance as Elysium’s Secretary of Defense. It’s some of the worst acting of the year, and a perfect example of why you shouldn’t give an actor too much control, no matter how many Oscars they’ve won. Thankfully, “District 9” star Sharlto Copley is immensely entertaining as the sadistic, katana-wielding mercenary assigned to stop Max, and he alone makes the film worth watching in spite of its more annoying flaws.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette devoted to the three stages of production, additional featurettes on the cast, visual effects and technology of “Elysium,” and an interactive exploration of the film’s art and production design.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Kick-Ass 2″

WHAT: Two years have passed since Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took down mob boss Frank D’Amico, and in that time, hundreds of superheroes have begun to pop up across the country. But when Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) is forced to retire her masked alter-ego, Dave (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) joins a superhero team called Justice Forever. Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) plots his revenge as the world’s first-ever supervillian, assembling an army of criminals and crazy devotees to wreak havoc on the city.

WHY: Though it seemed unlikely that Universal would even greenlight a sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s punk-rock satire of the superhero genre due to the more sadistic nature of the story, director Jeff Wadlow has done an admirable job adapting it for the big screen. Not only has he toned down some of the darker moments by mining them for laughs instead of shock value, but he’s managed to combine two volumes’ worth of source material into a more streamlined narrative. And it works for the most part, creating a sequel that, although it lacks the provocative originality of its predecessor, maintains the same sense of fun and over-the-top absurdity that made the first film such a blast. Unfortunately, it’s not without its faults. “Kick-Ass 2” has so much story that all three leads are off doing their own thing for most of the movie, while the tone is stuck somewhere between subversive satire and falling into the very conventions that it’s sending up. But while it may fall short of living up to the original, the characters are so entertaining and uniquely charming – with solid performances from its three lead actors – that they make Mark Millar’s madcap universe worth revisiting a second time.

EXTRAS: There’s no shortage of bonus material here, highlighted by an audio commentary by writer/director Jeff Wadlow and actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as well as some extended scenes, an alternate opening and seven featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Prisoners”

WHAT: Neighborhood friends Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) are facing every parent’s worst nightmare: their young daughters have suddenly gone missing. When the detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) in charge of the investigation is unable to find any evidence to arrest their key suspect (Paul Dano), Keller takes matters into his own hands by taking the young man hostage and torturing him until he talks.

WHY: “Prisoners” is one of those crime thrillers where the lead detective is made to look like a complete idiot for missing clues so obvious that the audience is always a few steps ahead. Jake Gyllenhaal’s cop is supposed to be really good at his job, and yet the script constantly finds ways to slow down the investigation in order to keep the mystery alive. But while the film is a little too dependent on conveniently poor police work and plot holes, it’s still a fairly suspenseful morality tale about how far you would go to protect the people you love. The religious undertones feel incredibly forced, and it’s about 30 minutes too long, but the performances make up for its shortcomings. Hugh Jackman and Gyllenhaal, in particular, both deliver solid work here, with the former turning in one of the most emotionally affecting roles of his career. And though Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and Maria Bello are mostly wasted in supporting roles, just having actors of their quality involved makes “Prisoners” better than the material deserves.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes – one about the relationship between Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters, and another on the cast – but that’s it.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT
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Movie Review: “The Family”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diane Agron, John D’Leo, Tommy Lee Jones
Director
Luc Besson

Luc Besson is best known for his testosterone-fueled action thrillers, so the dark comedy “The Family” represents a major departure for the French-born multi-hyphenate. It’s also his first English-language film in over a decade, not counting the numerous action franchises (like “The Transporter” and “Taken”) that he helped shepherd as a writer/producer. Though many of Besson’s past movies have had shades of humor, this is the first one he’s helmed that could be described as a comedy. Adapted from Tonino Benacquista’s novel “Malavita” (renamed “Badfellas” for the English translation), “The Family” is a surprisingly funny fish-out-of-water tale that succeeds thanks to its excellent cast.

Robert De Niro stars as Giovanni Manzoni, a respected member of the New York mob who’s been in witness protection for the better part of the last decade after snitching on his mafia family. Unable to stay out of trouble wherever he goes, Giovanni is relocated to a small, quiet town in Normandy, France with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their two kids, Belle (Diane Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo). But before they’ve even unpacked, the incognito Blake family doesn’t waste any time in reverting to their old ways. Maggie blows up the local supermarket after being treated poorly by the staff; Belle teaches some horny teenagers a lesson in how to treat a woman; and Warren sets up several rackets at school. When Giovanni’s old mafia don is tipped off to their location by pure chance, however, a team of hitmen is sent to Normandy to exact revenge on him and his family mob-style.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

september_movies

Now that summer is officially over, moviegoers are bound to see a greater variety of films arriving in theaters beyond the usual barrage of action flicks and comedies. Though the September release slate isn’t as promising as it’s been in past years, there are a few potential Oscar nominees among the pack, as well as new movies from A-list stars like Robert De Niro, Hugh Jackman and Gwyneth Paltrow.

“RIDDICK”

Who: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine and Karl Urban
What: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick teams up with a new breed of mercenary against an alien race of predators.
When: September 6th
Why: Though “Pitch Black” was a cool sci-fi thriller that introduced the world to Vin Diesel, director David Twothy’s 2004 follow-up, “The Chronicles of Riddick,” failed to convince audiences that the character warranted additional adventures. That hasn’t stopped Diesel from moving forward with a third installment anyway, and after the blockbuster success of the last two “Fast and Furious” movies, Universal was hardly in a position to say no. But whereas the sequel bit off more than it could chew with its grand space battles and expansive mythology, especially after the more character-based first film, “Riddick” seems to fall somewhere in the middle, and it’s that balance that could help transform the series into the franchise Diesel always envisioned.

“INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2″

Who: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell and Lin Shaye
What: The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.
When: September 13th
Why: James Wan may be the reigning king of horror, but I’m not exactly sure what to think about the sequel to his 2010 sleeper hit. That movie ended with Patrick Wilson’s character supposedly becoming possessed by the demon that haunted him as a child, and yet “Chapter Two” gives the impression that Wilson is now leading a happy life with his family. So what happened between the two films? And will it even be addressed in the sequel? That seems to be one of the biggest questions leading into the movie, and unless Wan and writing partner Leigh Whannell have come up with a doozy of an explanation, prepare to be disappointed.

“THE FAMILY”

Who: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones and Diane Agron
What: A notorious mafia family is relocated to France under the witness protection program, where fitting in soon becomes challenging as their old habits die hard.
When: September 13th
Why: It’s been awhile since Luc Besson last directed an action film (though he’s kept busy over the years as a writer/producer on the “Transporter” and “Taken” franchises), and he couldn’t have picked a better movie for his return to the genre than “The Family.” Besson has never had trouble attracting big names to his films, but that doesn’t make the involvement of Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer (both returning to their mob roots here) any less exciting. Though the veteran actors have been in films together before (2007’s “Stardust” and 2011’s “New Year’s Eve”), this marks the first time that they’ll actually share the screen, and that alone gives me hope that “The Family” will be just as much fun as it sounds.

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