Blu Tuesday: Dexter Gets Biblical and More

It’s been awhile since Blu-ray fans have had one of those weeks where you could drop an entire paycheck on new releases, so hopefully you’ve been saving up since then, because there are several must-own titles on tap this week, including the new season of Showtime’s flagship series, the Blu-ray debut of the original summer blockbuster, and one of the best action movies of the last decade. And let’s not forget about “The Hunger Games” or Criterion’s release of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” neither of which were available for review, but are definitely films that would complement any collection.

“Dexter: The Sixth Season”

By the time that most TV series reach their sixth season, it’s only inevitable that a few cracks begin to show, and that’s certainly the case with Showtime’s flagship drama “Dexter,” which would be wise to start planning its swan song sooner than later. Though the show’s latest season isn’t bad by any means, it does mark a considerable drop in quality compared to previous years. Certain characters get a lot less face time (although I wish LaGuerta was written off the show entirely), while others don’t act like themselves – especially Dexter, who’s surprisingly reckless for someone that lives by such a strict set of rules. Even the guest stars aren’t as great as usual. Mos Def turns in a solid performance in a multi-episode arc as a reformed criminal who becomes a religious mentor of sorts to Dexter, but the season’s main antagonists (played by Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos) fail to make a lasting impression. The religion angle is interesting, though not quite enough to drive an entire season, and the finale’s many cliffhangers show promise, but it’s hard to deny that while “Dexter” isn’t running on fumes just yet, it’s the beginning of the end.

Blu-ray Highlight: The sole bonus material on the three-disc box set is a collection of interviews with the cast, but because it can only be accessed via BD-Live (a stupid system that plagues most Showtime series), they weren’t available in time for review.

“Jaws”

It seems fitting that Universal planned the release of its digitally remastered and fully restored version of “Jaws” for the summer of the studio’s 100th anniversary, because the film is not only worthy of the celebration, but it’s widely considered to be the original summer blockbuster. The movie also holds up really well, and that’s largely thanks to the fact that director Steven Spielberg was unable to show as much of his man-eating shark – which he referred to as the “great white turd” due to the constant mechanical breakdowns throughout production – as originally planned. That shark prop looks pretty cheesy by today’s standards, so it was a bit of a blessing in disguise that he was forced to leave so much to the audience’s imagination, because it only intensified the suspense. But while the shark got most of the attention when it scared an entire generation of moviegoers out of the water back in 1975, the film’s legacy owes a lot to the performances of its stars – Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw – who turned what could have been a standard monster movie into the funny and thrilling classic that everyone remembers so well.

Blu-ray Highlight: In addition to Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent 1995 documentary on the making of “Jaws,” the disc contains a brand new documentary titled “The Shark is Still Working” about the impact and legacy of the film. Narrated by Roy Scheider and featuring interviews with the cast, crew and other filmmakers, the documentary is divided into sections on the production (including casting, shooting on the open sea and ad-libbing on set), the marketing campaign and theatrical release, its international success, merchandising, John Williams’ theme, and of course, the mechanical shark.

“The Raid: Redemption”

There had already been a lot of praise heaped upon director Gareth Evans’ Indonesian action film “The Raid: Redemption” before I’d even had the chance to see it at this year’s SXSW, but it deserved every word, because movies don’t get much cooler or more exhilarating than this. A bone-crunching, testosterone-pumping freight train of destruction that barely lets the audience catch its breath once it gets going, “The Raid” delivers the closest thing to non-stop, wall-to-wall action that I’ve ever seen, and a big part of what makes it so jaw-droppingly awesome is the amazing fight choreography, including what is easily some of the best close-quarters combat committed to film. Every fight is more inventive, more complex and more intense than the last, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, Evans launches into yet another bloody battle. Being exposed to this much action would normally get tiresome after a while, but the director shoots each sequence with such visual flair (with the camera itself becoming a part of the choreography) that it’s like watching a ballet being performed – only, you know, with machine guns and machetes.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a lot of great stuff on the disc (including a funny Claymation short parodying the film), but the audio commentary by Gareth Evans is entertaining and extremely informative, with the writer/director talking about the movie’s inception, its various influences, and the challenges in filming many of the action sequences.

  

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SXSW Film Fest 2012: Day Three

This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.

“Frankie Go Boom”

It’s hard to believe that a movie as terrible as “Frankie Go Boom” could boast such a great cast, but that’s what makes it so disappointing. Although there are a number of problems plaguing the film, the most detrimental one is the script itself, which fashions an idiotic plot around a rat race to track down a sex tape made by wannabe director Bruce (Chris O’Dowd) after he secretly films his brother Frankie’s (Charlie Hunnam) latest moment of humiliation in front of a cute girl named Lassie (Lizzy Caplan) that he meets while in town for Bruce’s release from drug rehab. With the exception of Frankie and Lassie, however, the rest of the characters veer dangerously close to parody by acting like complete imbeciles for the sole purpose of progressing the tale. It’s incredibly lazy storytelling on the part of writer/director Jordan Roberts, and as a result, you never really care what happens to anyone. That doesn’t stop the actors from playing along anyway – particularly Ron Perlman as Bruce’s former cellmate, who has since gotten a sex change operation (and believe me when I say that it’s every bit as disturbing as you might imagine) – but it’s all for naught, because no amount of acting prowess can change the fact that “Frankie Go Boom” never had much of a chance with a story as dull and stupid as this.

“The Raid: Redemption”

Action movies don’t get much cooler or more exciting than “The Raid: Redemption.” Whereas Welsh-born writer/director Gareth Evans’ first Indonesian feature “Merantau” had a few cool fight sequences but was an otherwise mediocre film, “The Raid” is an unrelenting, action-packed can of whoop-ass that delivers one of the most crowd-pleasing moviegoing experiences of the past decade. Iko Uwais stars once again, this time as a rookie member of a SWAT team on its way to take down a ruthless crime lord who operates out of an apartment complex populated with other low-life scum. But when the team’s cover is blown and they’re locked inside, the surviving members must shoot, stab, punch and kick their way through an army of thugs in order to get out alive. This is about as close to non-stop, wall-to-wall action that I’ve ever seen, and what makes it so jaw-droppingly awesome is the incredible fight choreography, including what is easily some of the best close-quarters combat ever committed to film. Though I was a little worried that the movie wouldn’t live up to all the hype that it’s amassed on the festival circuit over the last few months, “The Raid” is every bit as good as everyone says it is and not to be missed.

“Extracted”

Nir Paniry’s directorial debut “Extracted” is a sci-fi film in theory, but like most indie movies in the genre, it takes a distinctly low-key approach to the material that actually works in its favor. Sasha Roiz stars as Thomas Jacobs, a scientist who invents a way to revisit someone’s memories from the inside. When his secret financier demands a premature demonstration of the device on a suspected murderer to determine whether he committed the crime, Tom reluctantly agrees, despite his moral trepidations. After the device malfunctions and Tom gets trapped inside the criminal’s consciousness, however, he spends the next four years trying to find a way to escape. It’s a really interesting setup that’s clearly been influenced by a number of other high-concept films in the genre – from “Pi,” to “Source Code,” to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – but Paniry does just enough to differentiate it from the pack. Though the acting is spotty at times (particularly from Dominic Bogart, who plays the heroin-addicted felon) and the twist ending feels a little too cute for its own good, “Extracted” is a smart and enjoyable sci-fi thriller/crime procedural that will eventually find an audience, whether it’s in theaters or on DVD.

  

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to March

Springtime is finally here, and as the weather starts to get a little better, so does your choice of movies. Though March wasn’t always known as a month where you could score big at the box office, Zack Snyder’s “300” changed all that, and since then, the studios have been more open to releasing some of their higher profile films in an attempt to cash in on the pre-summer excitement. If it’s big-budget epics you’re after, or just a great comedy anchored by some big names, then you’ll want to continue reading.

“BEING FLYNN”

Who: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Olivia Thirlby and Julianne Moore
What: While working in a Boston homeless shelter, Nick Flynn re-encounters his estranged father, a con man and self-proclaimed poet.
When: March 2nd
Why: This is the kind of film that you’d normally expect to see during awards season, which is what makes Focus Features’ decision to release it in March so refreshing. Of course, it could just mean that the movie simply isn’t good enough to be Oscar bait, but with actors like Robert De Niro and Paul Dano involved, it seems pretty unlikely. Based on playwright Nick Flynn’s memoir, “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” (a great book title, but hardly one that rolls off the tongue when buying a ticket at the movie theater), “Being Flynn” might just be the film that finally gets De Niro’s acting career back on track. If nothing else, it’s great to see Paul Weitz directing some much headier material following the dreadful “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” and “Little Fockers.”

“JOHN CARTER”

Who: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Dominic West and Mark Strong
What: After a Civil War veteran is inexplicably transported to Mars, he becomes mixed up in a conflict amongst the habitants of the planet.
When: March 9th
Why: I had never even heard of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of pulp fantasy novels when a “John Carter” movie was first rumored a few years ago as a possible directing project for Jon Favreau, but after seeing the initial trailer, I was sold. It’s been awhile since a sci-fi epic has come along that actually looks the part, and a lot of that credit goes to Andrew Stanton, who, although he’s best known for directing Pixar hits like “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E,” is following in the footsteps of colleague Brad Bird with his live-action debut. While it will be interesting to see what Stanton can do outside the realm of animation, however, the film’s success will ultimately depend on whether Taylor Kitsch can prove to be the action star that Hollywood is betting on him to become.

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