THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
All hail Lionsgate. First the company gave us “The Hunger Games,” parlaying Suzanne Collins’ novels into multi-million dollar boxoffice bonanzas. Now they’ve handed us “Divergent,” the first movie in a four-part saga based on the “Divergent” book series by Veronica Roth. Like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” stars an up-and-coming young actress who’s just starting to make her mark as a dramatic star in Hollywood; in this case it’s Shailene Woodley, who got excellent notices for her work in 2011’s “The Descendants” and 2013’s “The Spectacular Now” and this years’s “The Fault in Our Stars” (need we remind you that Jennifer Lawrence knocked people out in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” well before “The Hunger Games”?). But the similarity stops there. While “Games” Katniss Everdeen is a self-confident warrior going up against the system, in “Divergent” — which postulates a dystopian future in which society is divided into five factions that each represent a different virtue — Tris Prior (Woodley) is basically a naif who, when tested to determine which group she should enter, discovers she doesn’t fit into any group — she’s a Divergent. Lacking confidence, she decides to join the militant Dauntless faction (the futuristic police force), where she develops her inner and outer strength, uncovers a mind-bending conspiracy, and finds the courage to foster a mini-rebellion. Unlike “Hunger,” “Divergent” kind of ambles along at a slower pace, taking a bit too long to develop its backstory before getting to the meat of the matter: a government takeover by a totalitarian group (course, this futuristic society isn’t too sweet to begin with). And, unlike Lawrence fitting perfectly into Katniss’ role, we found Woodley a little too tenuous as Tris; she’s too hesitant in accepting her role. (Audiences, too, were hesitant; “Divergent” pulled in about $150 million compared to the first “Games'” $400 mil.) Still, it’s a fun outing, with enough action, romance and intrigue to make you want to see the next installments (The next three installments — “Insurgent” and “Allegiant Parts 1 & 2” — will be released theatrically on March 20, 2015, March 18, 2016 and March 24, 2017, respectively). Joining Woodley are Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn as Tris’ parents and Kate Winslet as the requisite villain. Meager extras include commentary and a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
“Need For Speed”:
For Aaron Paul’s first starring vehicle after five years of “Breaking Bad,” the just-turning-35-year-old actor choose a role certainly familiar to the TV series’ fans: an angst-ridden, existential hero who will fight against all odds for loyalty and justice (either above or behind the law) and gets stepped on by the powers-that-be. Here he plays a blue-collar mechanic who races muscle-cars on the side in an unsanctioned street-racing circuit while struggling to keep his family-owned garage afloat. To make ends meet, he reluctantly partners with a wealthy and arrogant ex-NASCAR driver and past rival (Dominic Cooper) who frames him for the death of his best friend in a disastrous car race. Fresh out of jail, he teams up with his old crew and a female exotic car broker (a delightful Imogen Poots) to enter a high stakes supercar race in San Francisco to take his nemesis down — but he first has to run a gauntlet of cops and bad guys from coast to coast. It’s all pretty predictable, with Paul reprising his Jesse Pinkman moves, grunts and asides and not really stepping out into the spotlight. The true stars of the film are the million-dollar sports and GT cars, as well as the racing and, of course, spectacular crashes. And then there’s the beautiful Poots. “Need For Speed” is based on the best-selling video game series. Extras include several interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes on the cars and the crashes. From Disney.
Also due this week is “God’s Not Dead” and “Oculus.”
THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS:
There’s a lot of oldies but goodies due this week:
For those of you not yet in the Blu-ray world, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release this week a remastered DVD version as well as a digital download of William Friedkin’s overlooked “Sorcerer” (1977), starring Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou, and featuring an incredible soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. According to Warners, they decided to release the DVD version due to the overwhelmingly positive reception of the April remastered Blu-ray edition. For Blu-ray fans, Shout! Factory will release a Blu-ray version of Brian De Palma’s overlooked gem “Phantom of the Paradise” (1974), starring Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham. As the title would suggest, the film revolves around a rock impresario (Williams) haunted by the spectre of a disfigured musician (Paul Williams) whose music he ripped off. Extras include new interviews with Brian De Palma, Paul Williams; new audio commentary with producer Jack Fisk; new audio commentary with Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham; and a DVD of additional bonus content including a new interview with producer Edward R. Pressman, a new featurette on the neon poster art, more … “Without Warning” (1980)is about as cheesy a sci-fi thriller as you’ll get from the cheesy 1980s, with stunted acting, corny effects and muddled direction. But it is a lot of fun … especially when you check out the great cast slumming here for a paycheck: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Cameron Mitchell, Neville Brand, Sue Ane Langdon, Ralph Meeker and Larry Storch. Earth is the new hunting ground for an alien life form that tracks and kills humans (in a precursor to 1987’s “Predator”). A group of teenagers head out to a lake for a relaxing camping trip in the mountains but things go terribly wrong when they run into the extraterrestrial, who throws deadly discs that suck the blood of their victims, including a young David Caruso. The two survivors — Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson — head back to a local truck stop for help from an eclectic group of nutty residents, including a crazy war veteran (Martin Landau) and a determined hunter (Jack Palance). In a Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Scream Factory/Shout! Factory.
BUZZIN’ THE ‘B’S:
Ex-child star Joel Osment hasn’t had much of a big-screen career since his rise to fame in “The Sixth Sense “(1999) and “A.I.” (2001), spending a lot of time on voiceovers for animations and video games, and the lackluster sci-fi adventure “I’ll Follow You Down” (2013) certainly won’t help change that situation. The muddled story line — about a scientist (Rufus Sewell) who creates a time machine to go back in time to chat with Einstein and mysteriously disappears, leaving behind his wife (Gillian Anderson) and son (Osment), who grows up to also become a time-traveling scientist who decides to go into the past to rescue his dad — flounders around with a script and direction that has more wormholes than the sixth dimension. Sadly, Osment can’t carry the film with his limited range, and the whole endeavor brings down the talented Anderson and Sewell. A disappointment. On DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA … One of the few survivors of the Great Siege of Rochester Castle fights to protect his family’s estate from fierce Celtic raiders in “Ironclad: Battle for Blood” (2014), starring Michelle Fairley, Tom Austen, Tom Rhys Harries and Roxanne McKee. On DVD and Blu-ray from XLrator Media … A man with the ability to enter peoples’ memories takes on the case of a brilliant, troubled 16-year-old girl to determine whether she is a sociopath or a victim of trauma in “Anna” (2013), starring Mark Strong, Brian Cox and Taissa Farmiga. From Vertical Entertainment.