A sampling of this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of capsule reviews.
Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not. [Note: The U.S. release date for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was August 8.]
Likely spurred from HBO’s game-changing (pun not intended) Game of Thrones, Warner Bros., who produced one of the all-time great Arthurian epics with Excalibur, attempted to get back on the knights/medieval warfare bandwagon with Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. Originally envisioned to be the first of SIX films, a resounding box office flatlining ensured that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword would be the first and last word on that particular front…until it’s inevitably rebooted 6-8 months from now. (He’s a public domain character, so have at it, the entire world!)
Sons of Anarchy put new Arthur Charlie Hunnam on the map, which has allowed him to try on several different kinds of roles (two for Guillermo Del Toro alone), and one by the severely underrated James Gray in The Lost City of Z. Not a strong actor per se, it was through his seven-season performance as SOA’s Jax Teller, during which he was granted seven years to find that character and perfect how to play him, that got him the kinds of attention he, in that respect, did deserve, and which catapulted him onto the A-list. (His highly publicized refusal of the Christian Grey role in Fifty Shades of Yeah, Him was probably the most high-profile thing he’s ever done.) So, with SOA now behind him, Hunnam has been offered yet one more chance to play the hero and lead an action epic… and again, his unconvincing performance makes one wonder if his successful turn on SOA was nothing more than a fluke. Hunnam is a likable actor and personality, and his earnestness comes across in every performance he offers, but unfortunately, earnestness just ain’t enough, especially when taking on one of the most iconic characters in literary history. With respect to Ritchie’s interpretation of the character, Hunnam should theoretically play an ideal Arthur – a bad-ass “gentleman, hunk, and rebel” — but it simply doesn’t come together.
I often wonder why Guy Ritchie continues to get work, even when he hasn’t had a well-liked film in theaters since 2001’s Snatch. (I’m morbidly curious to see how badly he botches Disney’s live-action Aladdin, being that the Mouse House has been on a hot streak up to this point with re-envisioning their animated classics with talented directors to tremendous results.) Really, beyond that 2001 Brad Pitt crime caper comedy, and its predecessor Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie has released one underwhelming film after another, which have achieved neither cult nor critical appreciation. With King Arthur, Ritchie seems more interested in the mythology surrounding the King Arthur story more than anything else, focusing on the epic and fantastical – and either through his own directive or the studio’s (Warner Bros.), he seems pretty intent on 300-ing it up (a film released by…Warner Bros.). These bigger-than-life sequences are fun to watch, sure, and Ritchie manufactures some interesting visuals, but all of it feels very wrong – to the point that you expect King Leonidas to streak across the screen in his brass g-string sword fighting a mutant. Having said that, and if nothing else, this IS Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur – the “Arthur grows up” montage set to the rockfish instrumental score by Daniel Pemberton proves that – so if you’re one of those who really enjoyed Ritchie’s rebooted Sherlock Holmes, then all of this might play well for you.
Following more than a decade after the silver screen’s last attempt to forge ahead with a King Arthur film, which starred Clive Owen and Kiera Knightley, and about which you’ve totally forgotten, audiences have again spoken, deciding that HBO is currently fulfilling their current need for knights, violence, and puzzling regional accents. Critical reactions were lukewarm, but the audience ultimately said, “No thanks.”
I know I did.
PICTURE & SOUND:
The bright spot here is the video and audio presentations, both of which are fantastic – not surprising, being that Warner Bros. has consistently pulled out the higher-quality Blu-ray releases in recent years (in terms of PQ and AQ – they still need to do something about their terrible Windows DVD Maker-style main menus). You knew King Arthur was going to look great and sound great in theaters, and those presentations transition well to home video. Ritchie’s visuals do look admittedly very good, especially the fiery, sparky, chaotic opener. And the audio is equally impressive, sounding thunderous and clear and even intimidating at times.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Arthur with Swagger – Charlie Hunnam is a gentleman, a hunk and a rebel, setting new standards as king and new rules with the ladies.
- Sword from the Stone – Director Guy Ritchie as he breathes 21st Century life and luster into England’s most iconic legend and he creates Camelot for a new audience!
- Parry and Bleed – Charlie Hunnam and other cast members get a crash course in swordplay. Vikings versus Saxons style!
- Building on the Past – Londinium comes to life with a new design of Medieval Urban life, built from scratch.
- Inside the Cut: The Action of King Arthur – Join stunt choreographer Eunice Huthart as she teams with Director Guy Ritchie to create the mind-blowing action of King Arthur
- Camelot in 93 Days – Friendships and romances strengthen and fray as the realities of a 93 day shoot set in.
- Legend of Excalibur – The world’s most famous sword is brought to life for a new generation.
- Scenic Scotland – Wrapping a monumental production on location in glorious Scotland.
Those hoping King Arthur: Legend of the Sword would be followed by King Arthur II: The Return of Vortigern, King Arthur III: Die, Arthur, Die, and three more sequels, well, sorry – it ain’t happening. But for those (few) of you overly enamored with this latest take, the excellent PQ, AQ, and comprehensive special features make this Blu-ray release an easy recommendation. If you haven’t seen it, stream it.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn get more action than they bargained for in the mother of all comedies! After her boyfriend dumps her on the eve of their exotic vacation, impetuous dreamer Emily Middleton (Schumer) persuades her ultra-cautious mom, Linda (Hawn), to travel with her to paradise. When the trip takes an unexpected turn, the polar opposite mother/daughter duo realize they must settle their differences and work together to escape the outrageous jungle adventure they’ve fallen into. [Note: The U.S. release date for Snatched was August 8.]
Amy Schumer, who has blown up in recent years as one of the world’s most well-known comedians, is coming close to falling victim to the same trap as Seth Rogen: playing herself instead of a character. This was somewhat evident in Trainwreck, her collaboration with Judd Apatow (and which she also co-wrote), but now Snatched has kicked that can a bit further down the road. It sees her playing another woman-child intent on not really growing up – dating a jerk for seemingly the sole reason that he’s in a band, fighting with her brother elementary school style, and using her iPhone like it’s her own personal cheerleader. Part of her personality seems to be purposely overbearing and bullheaded, which has really clicked with millennials (and that’s fine), but in Snatched that’s somewhat dialed down. In some ways she’s like the rest of us: confused by abrupt changes in our relationships, wary of our parents (and their presence on social media), and not convinced we’re worthy of attention when the attractive stranger at the bar flashes us a smile.
What makes Snatched much more notable is the presence of Goldie Hawn, absent from acting for a staggering fifteen years, her last feature film being one half of The Banger Sisters alongside Susan Sarandon. She perfectly plays so many of our mothers: adorable but embarrassing; corny but endearing; someone we love fiercely, but sometimes we fail to acknowledge. Hawn and Schumer works very well, and it doesn’t take long for their on-screen chemistry to feel genuine, and it’s a large part of what makes Snatched so watchable. Without these or a similarly engaging pair of leads, it would have been a slog, relying on now-familiar, “You look like XXX with a XXX,” Madlibs-type joke that Apatow and co. have popularized and, to be more specific, the ironic, slow-motion dance club scene. Jonathan Levine, who burst onto the scene following his nostalgic, ‘90s rap-driven dramedy The Wackness, has since relied on safer fare, which includes the zombie love story Warm Bodies and the Christmas stoner comedy The Night Before. None of these films could be termed complete successes, but they all contain an inherent and very specific quirkiness. Snatched ditches that in favor of broader comedy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Snatched is funny at times, slightly amusing at others, and horrific in small bits (that tape worm scene though…), which results in an uneven experience. Given her long absence, it may sound like small praise, but it’s certainly Hawn’s most entertaining film since 1992’s Death Becomes Her. (1992…eek.)
PICTURE & SOUND:
Snatched is set in Ecuador but shot in Hawaii (which looks only a little obvious), so the video presentation on hand is an effortlessly attractive one. Very bright and vibrant colors, and with excellent clarity and detail. The before mentioned club scene, set during (exterior) evening time, is particularly note-worthy, punctuated with torch light. Typical to films like these, the audio presentation is peppered with slightly ironic soundtrack selections from the likes of Run the Jewels and M.I.A., which all sounds pretty great and thunderous. Dialogue isn’t hampered by any of this or additional environmental ambiance.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Extended and Alternate Scenes
- Gag Reel
No one will be calling Snatched their new favorite film, but it’s certainly entertaining enough, if a bit familiar, and does offer enough content to make it a good candidate for the occasional re-watch. Supplements are a little light (Fox missed the boat in not making Goldie Hawn’s return to the comedy genre she helped pioneer a bigger deal with her own interview or retrospective), but PQ and AQ are excellent. Recommended purchase if you can get it on sale.
Distributor: Paramount Pictures/IFC Films
Liev Schreiber gives an extraordinary and committed performance as Chuck Wepner, the man who went fifteen rounds in the ring with Muhammad Ali and became the real-life inspiration for Rocky Balboa. But before all that, Chuck was a liquor salesman and father with a modest prizefighting career whose life changed overnight when, in 1975, he was chosen to take on The Greatest in a highly publicized title match. It’s the beginning of a wild ride through the exhilarating highs and humbling lows of sudden fame—but what happens when your fifteen minutes in the spotlight are up?
The boxing movie is coming dangerously close to eclipsing the baseball movie as the most prominent sport depicted in cinema. There have been the major or minor classics (most of them starring Sylvester Stallone), the very okay (starring…Sylvester Stallone) to the downright pitiful. (Um….yep.) But between the first and most recent Rocky films, there has been the well-made and sappy Cinderella Man, the well-made but overwrought Million Dollar Baby, and…whatever Grudge Match was. (Besides terrible). They have been founded on true stories, semi-true stories, or complete works of fiction. What sets Chuck off from the pack is that it’s a boxing film that doesn’t focus much on boxing, instead more interested in focusing on lead pugilistic Chuck Wepner, whose reputation as a “bleeder” in the boxing world, as well as his somewhat stunted presentation (Whoo! New Jersey!) would inspire Stallone not just to write Rocky, but to fashion his Rocky Balboa character after him. And that’s where Chuck’s conflict comes into play. While one might argue that every boxing film is about your hero fighting him or herself, this more obviously plays out when he or she fights an insurmountable foe by film’s end, declaring victory either in or out of the ring. But that’s what makes Chuck different from those that came before, even if the titular boxer did inspire those that came before. Chuck looks at Chuck, the man, not Chuck, the boxer. It looks at a man suddenly struggling with his own identity after the fictionalized version of him has been washed across silver screens and earned a multitude of Academy Awards. Chuck doesn’t culminate in that final fight against the insurmountable foe because the insurmountable foe he fights the entire film is himself – his demons, his reckless lifestyle, his selfishness, and his sense of worth.
Chuck features an eclectic ensemble of actors, all of whom do absolutely phenomenal work, from the lead performance by Liev Schreiber all the way down to comedian Jim Gaffigan, who appears only in a handful of scenes. Character actor Ron Perlman, face shaved and beneath a bald cap, delivers a small performance that allows him to go beyond just being Ron Perlman. Elizabeth Moss, too, excels as Wepner’s wife, Phyllis, nailing both the Jersey accent as well as the attitude. And then there’s Naomi Watts, nearly unrecognizable beneath the wig and the fake boobs, stealing every scene in which she appears. (And yes, Stallone – or rather, Chuck’s version of Stallone – also appears, portrayed by Morgan Spector, who nails the actor’s voice and intonation, but not quite the look – mullet notwithstanding.)
Chuck’s tone, too, helps set it off, as right off the bat it’s clearly more interested in being an American Hustle-style boxing film rather than just another overly dramatic story about the successful underdog. Marrying together genuine footage from Wepner’s career, along with recreations seamlessly weaved within, Chuck tells a story that you think might be familiar because you know the Rocky series by heart, but by film’s end, you’ll realize you don’t know anything about the real fighter who went the distance.
PICTURE & SOUND:
Chuck is presented purposely with a heavy grain field, though it was shot digitally – to match the occasional and even grainier stock footage and recreated sequences from Wepner’s career, as well as to settle comfortably into the late-‘70s during when the story takes place. Image offers a reasonable amount of clarity and detail, and colors look fine, so the least bit muted – even in the vibrant club where Wepner meets Watts’ Linda for the first time, which is awash in flashing red light. The audio presentation is excellent, allowing dialogue top prominence (with Schreiber offering a punch-drunk mumble that will sound familiar to Rocky enthusiasts), along with a fun soundtrack of era-appropriate selections.
Despite the featurette’s title offering a comprehensive background on the film, “All About Chuck” runs just over three minutes and sits down with Schreiber as he offers a crash course on why he wanted to make the film and what it was like working with certain cast members. This is the only supplement included on this release.
Despite the impressive ensemble, Chuck is one of those films that’s easy to write off before giving it a chance – “inspired by a true story” has become the new go-to for marketing films that have even a casual connection to reality – but Chuck impresses with its excellent performances and its reliance on a boxer’s fight against himself rather than a larger, meaner foe. It’s not taking things as seriously as the best Rocky films did, but it doesn’t pull any punches, either.
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
Bruce Willis plays Venice Beach P.I. Steve Ford: a detective who’s good with the ladies, bad with the punches, and wild about his dog, Buddy. But when his beloved pet is stolen by local thugs, Steve makes a questionable alliance with their devious leader, Spyder (Jason Momoa). Teaming up with his best friend (John Goodman), Steve pulls out the big guns in search of Spyder’s stolen cocaine and cash in order to set things straight and get Buddy back where he belongs.
At what point did Bruce Willis give up? Even in the films in which he appears that still manage to catch on with moviegoers and critics, such as Looper or Moonrise Kingdom, he has become an utter bore to watch – someone fully intent on going through the motions, delivering his lines, and reaching for his rubber stamp to sign his next fifteen contracts. After all, he gets paid either way – so why exert all that energy on that thing called “effort”? Is The Sixth Sense to blame, the film during which he played the very understated role of Dr. Malcolme Crowe and which garnered him an Academy Award nomination? Did he think, “Jeeze, I guess I should dial it down for the rest of my life; people seem to really like that”? Even his John McClane – his most celebrated role, and which allowed him to throw everything at the screen in beautifully profane glory (no one says “fuck” like Bruce Willis) – has become exhausted in recent years, following the okay Live Free or Die Hard and the inexorable A Good Day to Die Hard.
Once Upon a Time in Venice is the next film in the small but very much alive cinema movement reacting to the ultimate pro-dog film, John Wick, that sees Willis’s private detective getting caught up in all kinds of mayhem because dog. And, okay, I’m not one to normally avoid seeing a film just because its concept has been done before, or even overdone to death (I can watch Insidious over and over, even if it is just Poltergeist), but I’m happy to rail against one of these films if it seems perfectly fine with being uninspired. The humor hardly ever lands, Willis can’t manage to bring life to his character even when he’s skateboarding buck naked down a busy city street for a long…long…time, and there’s a detectable sense of laziness that seems to derive from the film’s awareness that it has an excellent cast it just does not deserve. I’m not exactly sure how such an excellent cast, which includes John Goodman, Aquaman himself Jason Momoa, and Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch, was assembled for a film that’s essentially gone quietly to video – and one not especially good. (Also appearing are a former Jean Gray, Fammke Janssen, and the Hebrew Hammer himself, Adam Goldberg, who this time goes by “Lou the Jew.”) And considering the very public take down Cop Out director Kevin Smith gave Willis for being an incredible bastard on set, and not doing his fair share of promotion, it’s a little surprising that Cop Out writer, Mark Cullen, who directs Venice, would be so willing to work with Willis again. But, though asleep he may have been the last twenty years, Willis still sells tickets and clicks, and here we are.
PICTURE & SOUND:
Venice offers pretty standard video image as far as clarity goes, capturing detail and background textures, but there’s something just the least bit unattractive about the overall look. The colors look a little off, and the entire picture slightly dim. Even the film’s opener, which has Willis monologuing to a bunch of kids (funny!) about how life is a hell hole, takes place in the bright exterior of Venice Beach, but looks detectably drab anyway. It’s not an awful video presentation by any stretch, but something about it is the just the least bit off putting. Audio, however, is totally fine, even if the “this scene’s funny!” musical score by Jeff Cardoni can become a little much at times.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- “Behind the Scenes” look at Once Upon a Time in Venice