Blu Tuesday: Rush, Last Vegas 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.

“Rush”

WHAT: The true story of the 1976 Formula One racing season and the heated rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and reigning World Champion Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), the latter of whom was involved in a near-fatal accident, only to miraculously return to competition six weeks later despite suffering severe burns to his face and body.

WHY: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Ron Howard and Peter Morgan love history. The latter, in particular, is responsible for writing some of the best historical dramas of the past decade, but sadly, “Rush” is not one of them. Though there’s a lot to like about the duo’s latest movie – particularly the chemistry and performances of its two leading men – it’s not nearly as captivating as their last collaboration (“Frost/Nixon”). One thing that the film does do a good job of is giving Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth equal screen time, but the best moments are the scenes they share together. The actors play off each other wonderfully, although Brühl has the juicier role due to his character’s more dramatic story arc. What’s perhaps most impressive about “Rush,” though, is the way that Howard and Morgan have crafted the story so that both men “win” in the end. It’s a tricky proposition, but they pull it off, and that goes a long way in making up for the lack of exciting race sequences. F1 racing fans will no doubt be disappointed, but “Rush” is still a well-acted drama that’s biggest problem is perhaps being a tad too conventional.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, a behind-the-scenes look at the real-life story that inspired the film, a profile on director Ron Howard and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Last Vegas”

WHAT: Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been friends for nearly 60 years, so when Billy announces that he’s finally getting married, the guys decide to take a break from their stagnant day-to-day lives and throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas.

WHY:Last Vegas” may sound like the geriatric version of “The Hangover,” but apart from being about a quartet of friends attending a bachelor party in Vegas, the two films don’t have very much in common. For starters, “Last Vegas” isn’t nearly as crazy and over-the-top as the Todd Phillips comedy, instead resigned to more conventional humor that’s better suited to its veteran actors. It also has a tendency to get a little overly sentimental at times due to its subject matter, but that’s not to say it isn’t funny. Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro may not get as many opportunities to earn laughs due to their more dramatic subplots, but Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline pick up the slack, especially Freeman, who plays a great drunk. Though the old man jokes get a bit tiresome and the cookie cutter storyline is pretty lame, “Last Vegas” thrives thanks to its impressive cast. You’d be hard-pressed to assemble a better group of screen legends than these four, and just seeing them on screen together makes it well worth your time.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Jon Turteltaub and writer Dan Fogelman and six short production featurettes, three of which are Blu-ray exclusives.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”

WHAT: After his wife dies and his daughter is sent back to prison, 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) is tasked with driving his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) from Nebraska to North Carolina to deliver him to his father.

WHY: The “Jackass” movies have always made me laugh, but I’ve never been a fan of the Irving Zisman character, so when Paramount announced that Johnny Knoxville would be making an entire movie as the dirty old man, it seemed like a pretty dumb idea. And for the most part, “Bad Grandpa” is dumb, but it also made me laugh louder than a majority of the comedies released last year. Clearly inspired by Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” in its attempt to structure various pranks around a scripted story, “Bad Grandpa” is better off when Knoxville is just allowed to do his thing. Whether getting squished by a faulty adjustable bed at an estate sale, causing a ruckus at a local bingo center, stealing food from a corner store or hitting on ladies (and then performing) at an all-black male strip club, the Knoxville-led pranks hit their mark more often than not. The stuff with Jackson Nicoll isn’t nearly as entertaining – except for the final sequence where Irving and Billy crash a child beauty pageant – but “Bad Grandpa” earns enough big laughs along the way to make up for its shortcomings.

EXTRAS: In addition to an unrated cut of the film, there’s over an hour of bonus material, including deleted scenes, alternate real-life reactions and some behind-the-scenes antics.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “The Fifth Estate”

Starring
Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci
Director
Bill Condon

One would think that the group that turned modern-day journalism on its ear would have a much more interesting story to tell, or at least a more original story, than the one that drives “The Fifth Estate.” As it is, we have the age-old morality play about the man who sets out to bring justice to the oppressed but is ultimately undone by his own ego, played out by people on laptops. (Hollywood has tried again and again to make hacking look sexy. It’s not.) This is not to say that “The Fifth Estate” is dull, because it’s teeming with interesting bits and the possibilities for more. The problem is the execution, both from a story structure standpoint and a directorial standpoint. You will be hard pressed to find a movie this year as overly directed as this one.

IT guru Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl) meets Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) at a tech conference. Assange has created a site that guarantees anonymity for whistle blowers with the intent of bringing large-scale wrongdoers to justice, and he recruits Daniel to help him get the message out. Their site WikiLeaks quickly finds an audience, but Assange grows resentful of Berg getting an ounce of credit for the site’s success, while Berg’s girlfriend grows resentful of her widow status as Assange calls on Berg at all hours of the day and night. Things come to a head when Assange plans on releasing a bunch of top secret US government files without redacting the names of informants in the field. Assange views redaction as bias. Berg views it as responsible journalism.

One question repeatedly sprang to mind while watching this movie: where did the money come from? We see multiple shots of Assange and Berg globetrotting for what seems like years before the subject of donations to WikiLeaks is even mentioned, meanwhile neither has a day job and Assange and Berg talk of how strapped for cash they are to increase their server space once they realize that demand is greater than their bandwidth can supply. If they’re both so broke, how were they able to travel the world seemingly at will?

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October

october

October has never been a particularly strong month for movies in the past, but that could all be about to change with the exciting crop of titles scheduled for release this year. Though there’s still the usual cluster of genre films (“Machete Kills,” “Carrie”), this month also features an extraordinate amount of quality, boasting no fewer than five movies with genuine Oscar potential. It seems award season is beginning a little early this year, and compared to what October typically brings, it’s hard to complain.

“GRAVITY”

Who: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
What: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space
When: October 4th
Why: Alfonso Cuaron hasn’t made a feature-length film since 2006’s underrated tour de force “Children of Men,” but if the early buzz surrounding “Gravity” is to be believed, then it was well worth the wait. The sci-fi drama has been in development for what seems like years, and Warner Bros. deserves a lot of credit for taking the chance on such a daring project. It definitely helps when you have actors like Sandra Bullock and George Clooney attached, but with audiences constantly lamenting the lack of originality in the Hollywood system, it’s refreshing to see that studios haven’t completely abandoned this type of filmmaking. “Gravity” probably won’t make a ton of money at the box office, but it should be at the top of everyone’s must-see lists.

“RUNNER RUNNER”

Who: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackie
What: When a poor college student who cracks an online poker game goes bust, he arranges a face-to-face with the man he thinks cheated him.
When: October 4th
Why: If “Runner Runner” sounds like the unofficial sequel to “Rounders,” that’s because it was written by the same duo, Brian Koppelman and David Levien. Obviously, gambling is just the gateway into the world of their latest film, but fans of the 1998 poker thriller should be encouraged by their involvement, because they clearly know their way around the subject. Whether or not they strike gold twice remains to be seen, but “Runner Runner” has a good enough cast to pull it off. Justin Timberlake is a natural entertainer who’s only gotten better with experience, and though Ben Affleck appears to be hamming it up a bit as the villain, he’s proven that he can deliver great work with the right material and director.

“CAPTAIN PHILLIPS”

Who: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener and Max Martini
What: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama.
When: October 11th
Why: There’s an inordinate amount of films based on true stories being released this year (even more so than usual), and Tom Hanks stars in two of them. But while moviegoers may be excited at the prospect of seeing the veteran actor play Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks,” the Paul Greengrass-directed “Captain Phillips” is the more intriguing of the pair. Many people don’t know much about the real-life events that inspired the movie, and that’s only going to work in its favor. Add to that Greengrass’ knack for dramatizing true stories (as evidenced in “Bloody Sunday” and “United 93”) and what looks like yet another Oscar-worthy performance by Hanks, and there’s no reason why “Captain Phillips” won’t be part of the conversation come awards time.

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