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 Lone Ranger”

Starring
Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, Barry Pepper
Director
Gore Verbinski

It’s no secret that the key to the success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies was Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, so you can understand why Disney would be so eager to build another potential franchise around the actor. They’ve even brought back director Gore Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio in an attempt to recapture the success of those films. As a result, some people might be tempted to describe “The Lone Ranger” as “Pirates of the Caribbean” meets the Wild West, and quite frankly, they wouldn’t be too far off. Disney’s big screen adaptation of the classic radio serial is like the “Pirates” movies in many ways, and unfortunately, that includes the bad along with the good.

The year is 1869 and the first transcontinental railroad is nearing completion. As Texas-born attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) travels home from college, his train is attacked by a band of outlaws who have come to break their cannibalistic leader Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) out of custody. John joins his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and the rest of the Texas Rangers to track him down, only to be ambushed by Cavendish in the desert and slaughtered like cattle. Left for dead, John is nursed back to life by a Comanche Indian named Tonto (Depp) – whose life he saved earlier on the train – at the behest of a white spirit horse. Both men want to bring Cavendish to justice for their own reasons, so they decide to team up, with John donning a mask to hide his identity. But on their quest to take down Cavendish and his men, the pair uncovers a larger plot involving railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) that could spell trouble for the native tribes.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to July

july_movies

Audiences have seen quite a few big movies may their way into theaters over the past two months, but the onslaught of summer tentpole films isn’t even close to over. In fact, we’ve just reached the midway point of the season, and as you might expect, there’s plenty more big blockbusters on their way, including a potential new Disney franchise for Johnny Depp, Guillermo del Toro’s answer to Godzilla, and the return of Wolverine.

“THE LONE RANGER”

Who: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner and Helena Bonham Carter
What: Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.
When: July 3rd
Why: Disney may think that they have another ready-made hit on their hands with this big screen adaptation of the popular radio serial, but I don’t know many people that are actually excited about “The Lone Ranger,” and that includes myself. Though Johnny Depp will almost certainly be a riot as the dead-bird wearing Tonto (he’s at his best when playing eccentric characters), Armie Hammer has yet to prove himself as a viable leading man. Additionally, the rumors about the film’s troubled production don’t exactly exude confidence, and although “World War Z” taught us not to take behind-the-scenes drama at face value, there hasn’t been a single trailer released yet that doesn’t make the movie look like one really expensive mess.

“THE WAY, WAY BACK”

Who: Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell and Amanda Peet
What: Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with one of the park’s managers.
When: July 5th
Why: After becoming a smash hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the coming-of-age comedy ignited a bidding war, with Fox Searchlight ultimately acquiring the rights for a near-record $10 million. The indie studio clearly believes that the film can replicate the box office success of “Little Miss Sunshine” (it even features two of the actors from that movie in Steve Carell and Toni Collete), and if the festival buzz is to be believed, an awards campaign might not be too far behind. The film marks the directorial debuts of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who first turned industry heads with their Oscar-winning script for “The Descendants,” and boasts a star-studded cast that also includes Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet. Though it may seem like an odd time of the year to release such a small comedy, it’s actually a smart piece of counterprogramming that could work to its benefit.

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