Blu Tuesday: Veronica Mars, Son of Batman and The Art of the Steal

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.

“Veronica Mars”

WHAT: It’s been years since Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) walked away from her life as a teenage private eye, now living in New York City with the hopes of landing a job at a major law firm. But when her former flame, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), becomes the lead witness in a murder case, Veronica flies back to her hometown to help clear his name.

WHY: If you didn’t know what Kickstarter was prior to March 13, 2013, then there’s a pretty good chance that you were awakened to its existence after a campaign to fund a “Veronica Mars” movie reached its $2 million goal in only 10 hours. That’s how badly fans of Rob Thomas’ cult TV drama (which ran from 2004-2007 on The CW) wanted to see their favorite show revived on the big screen, even if that meant footing the bill themselves. This is the kind of thing that every fanboy dreams about, and also the reason why “Veronica Mars” is almost exclusively a fans-only affair. The chances that you’ll become a fan of the show after seeing the film is certainly possible, but it’s not likely, especially when the movie clearly panders to the existing audience. It’s the ultimate fan service, complete with the return of some familiar faces and in-jokes that only a Marshmallow would understand. As an outsider, that makes it a lot easier to identify the film’s faults (like the TV-grade production value, Scooby-Doo plot and wooden leading man), but Kristen Bell is so enjoyable in the title role that it’s easy to see why so many people fell in love with the character in the first place.

EXTRAS: In addition to a 56-minute making-of featurette, the Blu-ray release includes some interviews with the cast and crew, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Son of Batman”

WHAT: After the League of Shadows’ fearless leader, Ra’s al Ghul, is killed by a former student, his daughter Talia (Morena Baccarin) flees to Gotham City with her son Damian (Stuart Allen) to seek protection from Batman (Jason O’Mara), who is actually the young boy’s father. But when Damian proves to be more trouble than expected, Batman agrees to help track down Ra’s al Ghul’s killer – the power-hungry Deathstroke – as long as they play by his rules.

WHY: The DC Universe animated movies won’t replace their live-action counterparts any time soon, but they’re perfectly adequate distractions that generally clock in at a brisk 80 minutes or less. They also give the company the chance to tell stories that wouldn’t necessarily be considered for the big screen, even if their short runtimes don’t allow for very much character development or emotion – and in the case of those adapted from popular comic book arcs (like with “Son of Batman”), the same level of complexity. The voice acting could be better, and the amount of blood on display is astounding for a PG-13 animated movie, but it’s still pretty entertaining at times (especially the action sequences), despite the fact that it comes at the expense of any real substance. “Son of Batman” certainly isn’t the Dark Knight’s finest DC Universe adventure, but it explores one of the character’s more unique storylines of the past decade, ushering in an exciting new era for Batman and his pint-sized sidekick that has a certain Big Daddy/Hit-Girl feel to the whole partnership.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a trio of featurettes, a sneak peek at the upcoming movie “Batman: Assault on Arkham” and some bonus DC cartoons.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Art of the Steal”

WHAT: Following a five-and-a-half-year stint in prison after his sleazy half-brother Nicky (Matt Dillon) rats him out to save his own ass, art thief-turned-motorcycle daredevil Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) is persuaded into reuniting with Nicky and the rest of their crew – including newcomer Francie (Jay Baruchel) – to steal a valuable Gutenberg book.

WHY: A north-of-the-border crime caper that plays like a poor man’s “Ocean’s Eleven” (right down to the jazzy musical score and fast-cut montages), “The Art of the Steal” is not only incredibly forgettable, but it offers nothing new to the genre. Writer/director Jonathan Sobol’s biggest mistake is thinking that his movie is much hipper and cleverer than it really is, bogged down by so many needless twists and double-crosses that it becomes increasingly less plausible by the minute. Despite its overly complex plot, Sobol manages to keep the runtime short and snappy, and he’s assembled an immensely likeable cast, headlined by Kurt Russell, who for my money is still one of the most charismatic leading men working today. Lately, Russell’s relationship with Hollywood has been flirtatious at best, and that’s a real shame, because even though his roles have been limited over the past decade, he’s an actor whose presence lights up the screen. Seeing him front and center again is reason enough to watch “The Art of the Steal,” even if the movie is every bit as mediocre as its initial VOD rollout suggests.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Jonathan Sobol and producer Nicholas Tabarrock, a fairly extensive making-of featurette and a behind-the-scenes look at the Mona Lisa sequence.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to March

march

After what can only be described as a fairly lackluster start to 2014, moviegoers will be happy to discover that there are several promising titles scheduled for release throughout March. In addition to new films from Wes Anderson and Darren Aronofsky, this month marks the return of Veronica Mars, the debut of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series and the arrival of a new challenger to the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”

Who: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Edward Norton, Adrian Brody and Saoirse Ronan
What: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
When: March 7th
Why: At this point in Wes Anderson’s career, you either like his movies or you don’t, which is good news for fans of the eccentric director, because “The Grand Budapest Hotel” looks very much like more of the same. While not every one of his films is an instant classic (“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” remains his worst effort), audiences usually have a pretty good idea of what to expect from a typical Anderson project, and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is no different. Quirky dialogue? Check. Even quirkier characters? Check. Whimsical production design painted in vibrant colors? Check and check. And if that’s not enough to get you on board, the director’s ever-expanding pool of talent adds a few new faces to the mix with Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law and Saoirse Ronan, making this perhaps his most impressive ensemble to date.

“300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE”

Who: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro and Lena Headey
What: Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and his vengeful commander Artemisia.
When: March 7th
Why: It’s been so long since the original “300” hit theaters that it’s hard to imagine many people still care about this prequel/sequel, even if the very idea of a spinoff was ridiculous from the start. With that said, credit to Frank Miller for coming up with an idea that complements the first film instead of feeling like a silly cash grab. Though Sullivan Stapleton will have a tough time living up to Gerard Butler’s Leonidas (especially if you’ve seen his work on “Strike Back”), he fulfills the beefcake quotient, while Eva Green is already earning positive reviews for her turn as the female baddie. Seeing Noam Murro behind the camera of a big action movie like “Rise of an Empire” may be a little perplexing considering his only other credit is the indie dramedy “Smart People,” but judging from the trailers, he’s nailed the look and feel of Zack Snyder’s universe.

“NEED FOR SPEED”

Who: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi and Michael Keaton
What: Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross-country race with revenge in mind.
When: March 14th
Why: It’s amazing that it took this long for another studio to exploit the success of the “Fast and Furious” franchise with a racing movie of its own, but considering that Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed” video game series (from which the film gets its name) predates the original “The Fast and the Furious” by several years, you can hardly blame DreamWorks for wanting a piece of the pie. Casting Aaron Paul, hot off his Emmy-winning role on “Breaking Bad,” as the leading man is a surefire way to win support, though the involvement of director Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”) is certainly cause for concern. One of the things that make the “Fast and Furious” movies so entertaining is that they don’t take themselves seriously, and if “Need for Speed” is unable to tap into that childish sense of fun, then it’s already lost before the race has begun.

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HS TV 101: 12 Great Shows Set In or Around High School

High school: it’s a rite of passage we all must endure. Some of us weep when it’s over, others can’t wait to say goodbye forever, but for better or worse, it’s an experience that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The same goes for some of the many TV series that have been set in high school. Here at Bullz-Eye, we’ve polled our writers for their favorite shows within the genre, and the end result is, not unlike high school itself, a mixture of both comedy and drama.

12. Life As We Know It (ABC, 2004 – 2005): Lasting only 11 episodes before ABC unceremoniously yanked it from the air, “Life As We Know It” premiered during perhaps the most cancel-happy era in television. Developed by two of the producers of “Freaks and Geeks” (maybe the writing was already on the wall), the series may have ultimately been undone by poor ratings, but the Parents Television Council’s campaign against the show’s sexual themes certainly didn’t help. Then again, when you green light a series based on a controversial young-adult novel called “Doing It” that follows the exploits of a trio of best friends (Sean Faris, Jon Foster and Chris Lowell) navigating the highs and lows of adolescence, you can hardly pretend to be surprised when its characters discuss sex on a fairly regular basis.

Featuring a great cast of young up-and-comers that also included Missy Peregrym and Kelly Osbourne (yes, that Kelly Osbourne, who’s never been cuter than she was here), “Life As We Know It” certainly wasn’t perfect by any means, but it easily outshined similar shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.,” particularly in its handling of its adult characters. The series wasn’t without the usual high school clichés, but the writers never shied away from edgier material, either – like a student having a secret affair with his teacher or a star jock dealing with performance issues – resulting in a smart, sweet and incredibly honest look at how sex changes everything. – Jason Zingale

11. Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC, 1975 – 1979): Despite suffering through remedial classes and acting far more rebellious than was deemed socially acceptable, Gabe Kotter (played by the suspiciously similarly-named Gabe Kaplan) still somehow managed to graduate from James Buchanan High School, but who would have thought that the dreams that were his ticket out would lead him back there? (John Sebastian did, of course, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.) With his teacher certification tucked into his back pocket, Kotter returns to his alma mater and takes on the challenge of trying to educate the new generation of remedial students. Oh, sure, their names have all changed since he hung around – now they’re called Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) – but they’re still “sweathogs” all the way.

Most would likely agree that “Welcome Back, Kotter” was at its best when it was still the original four Sweathogs, i.e. before Travolta slipped away from television, put on a white suit, and found big-screen success on the dance floor, but even at its funniest, few would probably describe it as the most realistic look into high school life.

“I don’t think anyone was trying to replicate the high school experience so much as they were trying to service those particular characters and write stories about them,” said Mark Evanier, who served as a story editor for the show. “If you could get a good joke out of it, great…though there were times I think we settled for a decent catch-phrase.”

While the words “up your nose with a rubber hose” lend credence to Evanier’s theory, the Marx-Brothers-inspired chemistry between the Sweathogs helps their slapstick shenanigans hold up nonetheless. And, besides, who needs realism when you’ve got Gabe Kaplan doing Groucho? – Will Harris

10. Glee (Fox, 2009 – present): Is it telling that one of the most popular current shows on TV came it at only the #10 spot? If nothing else, maybe it proves we here at Bullz-Eye aren’t prone to fads. Except that maybe we are, as “Glee” has made it onto our TV Power Rankings lists time and again since its debut. But this list isn’t about what entertains us in the broader sense; it’s about great high school shows. As entertaining as “Glee” can be, it has almost nothing real to say about the high school experience, and in fact most of the high school kids I know find it to be pretty nonsensical.

The one area that it seems to excel in as far as capturing the high school experience is in its ability to play romantic musical chairs with its cast of teenage characters. These kids are fickle, and the only guarantee that seems to come with a relationship on “Glee” is that sooner or later it’s going to end. Some props should probably also be given for their attempt to zero in on the bullying issue that so seems to afflict kids today, but “Glee” chose to unfortunately treat the topic with kid gloves rather than say something truly meaningful. None of this is to say that “Glee” isn’t one hell of an entertaining series, because it is, but anyone looking for something a little deeper would do best to dust off their old DVD of “The Breakfast Club.” – Ross Ruediger

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