Blu Tuesday: About Time, Dallas Buyers Club and Escape Plan

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.

“About Time”

WHAT: When Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) learns that the men on his side of the family have the ability to travel through time, he decides to use his powers to find a girlfriend. Upon meeting the girl of his dreams in American import Mary (Rachel McAdams), Tim is able to perfect every moment in their relationship by doing it over and over again “Groundhog Day”-style, only to discover that there are consequences to altering history.

WHY: Richard Curtis has written and directed some of the most memorable romantic comedies of the past two decades, so it should come as no surprise that his latest movie follows in the same footsteps. Curtis’ films have always been about much more than the superficial meet-cute between boy and girl, aiming for something a lot deeper and more emotionally rewarding, which he delivers in spades with “About Time.” Breakout star Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams work together really well, but it’s the relationship between Gleeson and Bill Nighy (playing the world’s greatest dad) that best serves the story’s central themes and leaves a more lasting impression, especially for anyone who’s ever lost a member of their family. Equally charming, funny and touching, “About Time” is classic Richard Curtis, through and through. And if the rumors about it being his directorial swan song are true, Curtis can take comfort in knowing that he went out on top, because this is not only his most mature and personal work to date, but it’s also one of his finest.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with writer/director Richard Curtis and most of the principal cast (save for Rachel McAdams and Lindsay Duncan), four deleted scenes with intros by Curtis, a blooper reel and four production featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Dallas Buyers Club”

WHAT: When Texas electrician Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) is diagnosed as HIV-positive and given only 30 days to live, he discovers that cheaper and more effective drugs are available in Mexico. Realizing a business opportunity when he sees one, Ron teams up with a transgender prostitute named Rayon (Jared Leto) to create a “buyers club” where they sell memberships and give away the drugs for free, exonerating themselves of any legal trouble.

WHY: Is there an actor who’s had a better last few years than Matthew McConaughey? Though he used to be somewhat of a punch line, known more for his shirtless roles in flaky rom-coms than his promising earlier work, recently McConaughey has been repairing his reputation with a string of outstanding performances in films like “Killer Joe,” “Magic Mike” and “Mud.” And while he earned his share of acclaim for all three roles, the actor’s latest turn as real-life AIDS victim Ron Woodruff might just be the crowning achievement of his career thus far. Though McConuaghey’s dramatic physical transformation has captured most of the headlines, it’s only part of his excellent performance. Ron’s relationship with Rayon is key to the film’s success, not only because of McConaughey, but Jared Leto as well, who reminds you what he’s capable of when given the right material. Sadly, nothing else about “Dallas Buyers Club” is particularly memorable, despite the fact that it deals with hot-button issues like AIDS, the health care industry and homosexuality. That poses a bit of a problem, because although it’s a pretty incredible story with a strong message, apart from McConaughey and Leto, the movie is unremarkably average.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Escape Plan”

WHAT: Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is the foremost expert on prison security – paid to reveal the flaws in prison systems from inside. But when he’s kidnapped and incarcerated in a top secret maximum security prison, Ray must team up with some of his fellow cellmates (including Arnold Schwarzenegger) in order to break out.

WHY: After teasing ‘80s action fans with cameos in the “Expendables” movies, you’d think that Hollywood could do a little better than “Escape Plan” for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s official big screen team-up with Sylvester Stallone. A mostly dull thriller that plods along at a maddeningly slow pace, “Escape Plan” is almost completely devoid of action or humor, making both stars’ involvement questionable. Schwarzenegger fares the better of the two, injecting some personality into his underwritten role, while Stallone seems content with sleepwalking his way through the entire movie. And if the two leads are underserved by the hackneyed script, the supporting cast is treated even more poorly, with respected actors like Sam Neill and Amy Ryan wasted in relatively small roles. The only real appeal is seeing Sly and Arnie on screen together, because although they may be stars in their own right, they really do make a good team. Next time (and you better believe there will be a next time), someone should create a film for these guys from the ground up, because “Escape Plan” doesn’t do them justice.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary with director Mikael Håfström and co-writer Miles Chapman, there’s a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to 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.

“MACHETE KILLS”

Who: Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson
What: The U.S. government recruits Machete to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who wants to launch a weapon into space.
When: October 11th
Why: The first “Machete” wasn’t nearly as entertaining as its gonzo premise suggested, but with Robert Rodriguez taking over full directing duties for the sequel, there’s a part of me that really wants “Machete Kills” to fulfill that potential, especially with a rumored third installment (“Machete Kills Again… In Space!”) already in the works. The sequel looks bigger and better than the original, with a cast that includes Antonio Banderas, Sofia Vergara, Cuba Gooding Jr., Demian Bichir and Charlie Sheen (credited here as Carlos Estevez). And if that wasn’t enough to get you on board, Rodriguez has even managed to enlist Mel Gibson to play the Big Bad. Why his character is dressed like a “Street Fighter” villain is beyond me, but it’s great to see that the actor still has a sense of humor, because it’ll go a long way in repairing his career.

“CARRIE”

Who: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer and Ansel Elgort
What: A shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far.
When: October 18th
Why: Fans of the 1976 original will no doubt cry foul over this latest adaptation of the Stephen King novel, but purists will be pleased to learn that the 2013 edition reportedly sticks closer to the book. And if its R rating is any indication, the film won’t be skimping on the violence and gore either, despite the fact that it’s directed by Kimberly “Boys Don’t Cry” Peirce. She’s certainly a unique choice to helm a horror movie, but if nothing else, it proves that the studio is serious about creating the best version possible. That extends to its cast as well – particularly star Chloe Grace Moretz (one of Hollywood’s more exciting young talents, who’s never been afraid to dip her toes in the genre pool) and Julianne Moore as her ultra-religious mother.

“ESCAPE PLAN”

Who: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel and Vincent D’Onofrio
What: When a structural-security authority finds himself incarcerated in a prison he designed, he must put his skills to escape and find out who framed him.
When: October 18th
Why: Before “The Expendables,” moviegoers had to wait decades for the chance to see action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger side by side on the big screen, but these days, you can’t seem to keep the two apart. It’s a smart move by the actors to piggyback off each other’s popularity, because my interest level probably wouldn’t be quite as high if this was merely a Sly Stallone vehicle. The first two “Expendables” films were nothing more than elaborate teases, but “Escape Plan” feels like the actual dream team-up that action fans were hoping for when Schwarzenegger announced his retirement from politics. Though it looks like he’ll still play a much smaller role compared to Stallone (the part was reportedly beefed up when he signed on to the movie), without Arnie, no one would care.

“12 YEARS A SLAVE”

Who: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti
What: In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
When: October 18th
Why: The way people were talking about “12 Years a Slave” at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, you’d think that the Steve McQueen drama had already won the Oscar for Best Picture. But no matter how effusive the praise may have been, it’s impossible to make those kinds of predictions with several other award contenders still yet to be seen. Nevertheless, “12 Years a Slave” does sound like the quintessential Academy Award movie, from its challenging subject matter (based on a true story, no less) to the incredible ensemble cast. It’s nice to see Chiwetel Ejiofor finally getting the credit he deserves, and between his lead performance and McQueen regular Michael Fassbender’s turn as a villainous slaver owner, it’s easy to see why the film has Oscar gold written all over it.

“THE FIFTH ESTATE”

Who: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Carice van Houten and Alicia Vikander
What: The true story of two men’s quest to expose the corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organization.
When: October 18th
Why: The story behind WikiLeaks is one that seems tailor-made for the big screen treatment – especially with a protagonist as captivating as the website’s enigmatic founder, Julian Assange – so it’s no surprise that the movie is already drawing comparisons to the likeminded “The Social Network.” Similar to that film, “The Fifth Estate” boasts an intriguing tale about an Internet startup and a fantastic cast led by two of the more exciting rising talents working today. In this case, those actors are Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl, and their involvement alone makes the movie worth seeing. Whether director Bill Condon is able to deliver an experience as fascinating as the real-life story is another question, but based on the mixed reaction from its Toronto premiere, it’s going to depend largely on what side of the debate you fall on.

“ALL IS LOST”

Who: Robert Redford
What: After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.
When: October 18th
Why: The talky financial thriller “Margin Call” did a better job of showcasing writer/director J.C. Chandor’s screenwriting skills than his ability behind the camera, but for his sophomore effort, Chandor has bravely removed that variable from the equation. “All Is Lost” is a one-man show in the truest sense, and as such, there’s very little dialogue for Chandor to lean on. Fortunately, he managed to enlist Robert Redford as his leading man, and though the veteran actor hasn’t delivered a noteworthy performance in several years, it would be crazy to think that he won’t earn an Oscar nomination for his work here. The movie was a big hit at this year’s Venice Film Festival, and between its “Life of Pi”-like survival story and Redford’s reportedly triumphant performance, this is one you’ll want to hunt down at your local indie theater.

“THE COUNSELOR”

Who: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem
What: A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.
When: October 25th
Why: It’s been awhile since Ridley Scott’s last great film, but he never fails to attract the best talent possible. Though frequent collaborator Russell Crowe isn’t involved in the director’s latest project, Scott has nevertheless landed an impressive ensemble cast comprised of two former Oscar winners, an Oscar nominee and two Golden Globe nominees. “The Counselor” has the unfortunate distinction of being released during one of the most competitive awards seasons in recent history, but with an original script by Cormac McCarthy, the potential for this one is still pretty high. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to just sitting back and watching these great actors go toe-to-toe without any preconceived expectations that it has to be award-worthy for it to be any good.