Blu Tuesday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 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.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

WHAT: New York City is being terrorized by a criminal organization called the Foot Clan under the command of a shadowy figure known as The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). But there’s a group of vigilantes silently serving as the city’s protectors, and ambitious news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is determined to uncover their identities… only to find that the mystery men aren’t men at all, but rather oversized mutant turtles skilled in the art of ninjitsu.

WHY: Jonathan Liebesman’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot isn’t nearly the disaster that many people feared. In fact, it’s actually quite entertaining at times provided you check your brain at the door and don’t mind that the film is basically feeding off the fumes of your childhood. The movie has its share of problems – from its assembly-by-committee script, to the generic action sequences – but the four actors who play the Turtles make up for some of those shortcomings by really capturing their spirit and brotherly camaraderie. The visual effects wizardry that’s been applied to their mo-cap performances is top-notch as well, proving once again why this technology is incredibly useful in not only creating more realistic CG characters, but giving them a human element that could never be achieved by men in rubber suits. There are some fun in-jokes for adult fans who grew up watching the Turtles as kids, but “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is essentially a live-action cartoon and should be judged accordingly. It’s far from a great film, but it also doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is, and if that means going easier on the film, then so be it, because that’s a perfectly acceptable cost of a little nostalgia.

EXTRAS: There are five featurettes covering a range of topics, including the digital evolution of the Turtles, the technical aspects of 3D, scoring the film and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“This Is Where I Leave You”

WHAT: When their father passes away, four siblings (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) return to their childhood home to fulfill his dying wish by sitting shiva. Forced to live under the same roof for a week with their loquacious mother (Jane Fonda), each child must deal with their respective personal problems and the ghosts of their past.

WHY: Adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his book of the same name, “This Is Where I Leave You” represents an interesting change of pace for Shawn Levy, who’s best known for big blockbusters like the “Night at the Museum” films. But while it’s always great to see a director explore new territory, Levy seems to be a little out of his comfort zone with this family dramedy, never quite sure how to handle the more serious moments when there’s always another joke right around the corner. It was smart to cast actors that could handle both comedy and drama, but sadly, the material wastes a lot of their talents. Though Jason Bateman is solid as the middle brother, Tina Fey is miscast as his protective sister, Corey Stoll’s eldest brother barely registers as a three-dimensional character, and Jane Fonda’s mother is given giant breast implants… and not much else. Adam Driver and Rose Byrne are the only two bright spots, but even their characters are majorly underserved. To be fair, movies like this are a difficult balancing act, and even more so with such a large cast of characters, but despite Levy’s best efforts, “This Is Where I Leave You” falls disappointingly flat.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of production featurettes, there are outtakes of Ben Schwartz as Rabbi Boner and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Magic in the Moonlight”

WHAT: World-renowned magician Wei Ling Soo has a bag of tricks, but his biggest trick of all is that it’s just a ruse – the terribly racist stage persona of grumpy Englishman Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), who despises charlatans that give his profession a bad name. So when longtime friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) asks for his assistance in debunking a young spiritualist named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), whom he believes is scamming the heir of the wealthy Catledge family, Stanley heads to their mansion to catch Sophie red-handed.

WHY: Woody Allen has made some real stinkers over the course of his 50-year career, and though “Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t quite bad enough to be included among the director’s absolute worst films, it’s not very good either. While Allen has proven that he’s still capable of delivering a good movie on occasion, he seems more concerned with maintaining his yearly output no matter what the cost, and that quantity-over-quality way of thinking only underlines the many problems with his latest comedy. At the top of that list is the complete lack of romantic chemistry between Colin Firth and Emma Stone, which proves to be detrimental, since so much of the film depends on their playful interactions. Both actors are usually very charming, but they look hopelessly lost in their roles due to a half-baked script that goes around in circles. Everything about this movie seems like it was rushed, from the stupid title, to the horrible poster, to the uninspired direction by Allen, who fails to provide an engaging story beyond the initial premise. “Magic in the Moonlight” doesn’t make you believe in magic, or love, or anything, really, although maybe that’s just the cynic in me, eager to expose the film as the fraud that it is, because the whole thing feels less like a genuine Woody Allen comedy than a pale imitation.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette and footage from the premiere.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Movie Review: “This Is Where I Leave You”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Connie Britton
Director
Shawn Levy

Shawn Levy wants a do-over. The man who carved out a very successful career as a director that, as the Onion A/V Club once joked, you didn’t know you hated, now wants people to take him seriously. Levy actually turned some heads with the underrated “Real Steel” (his best movie by a country mile), but then followed that with last year’s “The Internship” (you had already forgotten about that one, didn’t you?), and in two months, he unleashes a third “Night at the Museum” film upon a public that thought two “Night at the Museum” films was more than enough, thank you. He’s typecast, and he doesn’t like it one bit. In other words, he now knows how it feels to be nearly every actor or actress who’s ever appeared in one of his films.

Levy’s latest attempt to rebrand himself is “This Is Where I Leave You,” a dysfunctional family dramedy that is filled with rapid-fire jokes (funny ones, too) and boasts a pitch-perfect cast. The biggest problem with the movie, sadly, is Levy himself. He seems out of his depth, and derails the momentum at odd times, lingering too long on a shot here and overdoing the camera work there. A director more experienced with the genre would have fared only marginally better, yes, but Levy had a chance to prove himself here, and he comes up short.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is not having a good year. Not long after walking in on his wife cheating on him with his boss (Dax Shepard), his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls to inform him that their father has died. The family isn’t close – their mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) aired the kids’ dirty laundry in the form of a best-selling novel – so the news that their father’s dying wish was for the family to sit Shiva, keeping all four siblings and their significant others in the same house for seven days, is not warmly received. In those seven days, hearts mend, hearts are broken, sibling rivalries both real and imagined rear their ugly heads, and Hilary talks way too openly about, well, everything.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

september

The fall movie season is always pretty hit and miss, but this September features one of the most unpredictable lineups in quite a while. Though there aren’t many big releases apart from Antoine Fuqua’s adaptation of “The Equalizer,” there are several big names headlining smaller films, like Tom Hardy in “The Drop,” Liam Neeson in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and the star-studded cast of “This Is Where I Leave You.” It’s too early to say whether any of the movies have a genuine shot at Oscar gold, but they’re just a few of the promising new releases this month.

“NO GOOD DEED”

Who: Taraji P. Henson, Idris Elba, Leslie Bibb and Kate del Castillo
What: When a charming escaped convict shows up at her door claiming car trouble, a suburban mother finds herself fighting for survival when the man invades her home.
When: September 12th
Why: “No Good Deed” may sound like your garden-variety home invasion thriller, but while it doesn’t appear to offer anything new to the genre, it at least features a pair of great actors in Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson. Elba, in particular, has such an incredible star quality that it’s amazing he’s not headlining his own major franchise by now (Marvel Studios, take note), while Henson has proven on numerous occasions that she’s no slouch either. If nothing else, their involvement provides hope that the movie will be entertaining as a pulpy genre flick, but unless there’s more to the story than the trailer hints at, chances are that “No Good Deed” will be as forgettable as the hundreds of other likeminded thrillers just like it.

“THE DROP”

Who: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini and Matthias Schoenaerts
What: Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into his neighborhood’s past.
When: September 12th
Why: Though it comes with the undesirable label of being James Gandolfini’s final movie, “The Drop” has all the makings of a dark horse awards contender. Adapted by esteemed crime writer Dennis Lehane from his own short story, and directed by Michael R. Roskam, who first gained attention in 2011 with his Oscar-nominated film “Bullhead,” “The Drop” also boasts an excellent international cast led by Tom Hardy. Obviously, Gandolfini is the main draw, and he looks to be at the top of his game here, but Hardy has been quietly building an impressive body of work for years, and if we’ve learned anything from the last few Lehane adaptations, they always bring out the best in actors. Could this finally be the year that Hardy nabs a nomination?

“THE MAZE RUNNER”

Who: Dylan O’Brian, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario and Thomas Brodie-Sangster
What: When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of boys, he must join forces with some of the other captives in order to escape.
When: September 19th
Why: Every studio in Hollywood wants their own “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” but the fact of the matter is that most movies based on young adult novels are massive failures. (Just ask the casts of “The Mortal Instruments,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host” and “Vampire Academy,” all of which were released in the past 18 months.) With that said, first-time director Wes Ball’s “The Maze Runner” is one of the more intriguing YA adaptations in recent memory. Though its “Hunger Games”-meets-“Lord of the Flies” premise is every bit as uninspired as most of the novels permeating the genre, there’s something about its blend of mystery and science fiction that’s piqued my interest. 20th Century Fox hasn’t had much luck with these types of films, but this could be the one that finally breaks their duck.

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