Catching up: 'Riddick,' 'Rush'
Owls Head — Riddick (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR/R, 127/119 min.). The fourth entry in the Vin Diesel-starring science fiction series is lean, mean and effective, much more so than the previous "Chronicles of Riddick." The Blu-ray edition includes both the theatrical version and an 8-minute-longer director's cut that is a better film.
The film starts with Riddick (Diesel) alone on a very hostile world. It is a world of mostly yellows and browns, and several species of very deadly creatures. I really liked the opening sequences that show Riddick trying to survive and adapting to his environment. We see him actually make a pet of one of the ferocious dog-like creatures, and how he prepares to combat the venom-spewing horrors that live in water and block his access to the rest of the planet. In a flashback (much longer in the extended version), we revisit the time of the last film, when Riddick was Lord Marshall of the Necromongers. We see his betrayal by Commander Vaako (Karl Urban of TV's "Almost Human").
Riddick eventually finds an empty mercenary station, learns there is a bounty on himself (the amount is doubled if he is dead) and sets off the distress signal anyway as it would be his only way off the planet. His plan is to take over the bounty winter's ship. Two different crews -- 11 hunters in all -- arrive, making his task easier. The most recognizable of the hunters is Katee Sackhoff ("Battlestar Galactica"). Her character is on the crew headed by the more level-headed Boss Johns (Matt Noble). The other mercenary are led by high-speed Santana (Nordic Molla). What follows is a fun cat-and-mouse game, then a rewarding action sequence, as the planet's creatures threaten them all.
Exclusive to Blu-ray are the director's cut and featurettes on the mysterious planet (not Furya as Riddick was expecting), the tech of the film and why director David Twohy decided to make the film. Both forgets include looks at Riddick and the mercenaries, and a 5-minute motion comic. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.5 stars
Rush (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 123 min.). Director Ron Howard tells the mid-1970s tale of the rivalry between two Grand Prix Formula 1 auto racing drivers. One is glamorous British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth); the other is methodical Austrian Niki Lauda (a very good Daniel Bruhl). Their bad feelings begin during their Formula 3 racing days. In 1975, Lauda wins the Formula 1 championship; much of the film -- in fact, it's whole better second half -- is devoted to the two going wheel-to-wheel for the 1976 crown. The multi-camera racing sequences are exciting and put the viewer right into the action. The final race in Japan, will all the rain, is almost haunting.
Both main actors take turns narrating early in the film. We learn their different temperaments, and what drives each to succeed. We see their off-the-track lives, including Hunt's ultimately failed marriage to model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde), who becomes involved with actor Richard Burton, and Lauda's marriage to Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara). The cars are described as 170 miles per hour bombs on wheels, and early on it is pointed out that the circuit has only 25 drivers, two of which, on average, die each year.
Most interesting is how the viewer's opinion of the two drivers changes during the film. I ended up rooting for Lauda. The release lacks an audio commentary, but Blu-ray exclusives include a 32-minute making-of documentary and a 19-minute look at the real-life story behind the film. Both editions include 10 inconsequential, short deleted scenes, and a look at Howard's approach as a director. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Closed Circuit (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 95 min.). This is a London-based conspiracy thriller about a legal case that should be simple, but proves to be anything but simple. Farroukh Erdogin (Denis Moschetto) is accused of being part of the plot to set off a truck bomb in the Borough Market, which killed 120 people. He rented his garage to the deceased bomber. However, because an act of terrorism is involved, his trial is basically divided into two (this strange concept takes some time to wrap one's mind around).
His public defense falls to Martin Rose (Eric Bana), after the first defense attorney commits suicide. However, there also will be a locked, secret trial, with Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) as the special advocate. She gets to argue that the secret evidence should be available to the defense attorney and usable at the trial. Once she has seen the secret material, she cannot communicate with Rose, who just happens to be an ex-lover of hers. Or was their previous relationship part of the plan? And was the suicide really murder to get Rose involved with the case?
And just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not watching you (they being MI-5 in this instance). What is cool about the movie is its many shots with views from surveillance cameras. The opening bombing sequence multiplies from two views to 15 views, for example. Unfortunately, the script is a bit muddled, spending too much time on the legal aspects. And most of the twists are well telegraphed. Cairan Hinds plays Rose's helper Devlin, who might as well be wearing a sign around his neck, reading, "I am working for them." Julia Stiles has a small part as a New York Times journalist. Jim Broadbent plays the Attorney General. The sole extra is a clip-laden, short behind-the-scenes look. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extra 0.5 stars
Runner Runner (Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 91 min.). Singer Justin Timberlake plays Princeton grad student Richie Furst, who is an affiliate of an online gambling site. He gets paid for each referral. When one student complains to the Dean, Furst is shut down. Since Furst owes $60,000 for tuition, he takes the $17,000 he has and gambles it on the online site Midnight Black. When he is up to $50,000, he suddenly starts losing in a statistically improbable manner.
Convinced he has been cheated, he heads to Costa Rica to confront the site's owner, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), believing Block will be grateful to learn the news and act to preserve the reputation of his gambling site. Block seems impressed by Furst's skills and hires him and two of Furst's college friends. Of course, Block is not as nice as he seems and things start to go wrong when First is sent to payoff an official and gets beaten. Gemma Arterton plays love interest Rebecca Shafran and John Heard plays Furst's father.
The film collapses toward the end, which is a bit confusing. Both versions have seven deleted scenes, a couple of which fill out unclear points. The Blu-ray also has a look at online poker. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 2stars
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 95 min.). The animated sequel brings all the characters back for a very colorful adventure. It may not be as refreshing as the first film, but it's visual details are fun and very inventive.
After an opening that incorporates the plot of the first film, we see Chester V's workers arrive to clean up Swallow Falls and the island after inventor Flint Lockwood's food-making machine, which was to transform water into food, instead caused cheeseburger rain and spaghetti tornadoes, among other bad things. Lockwood (voiced by Bill Heder) always wanted to be one of Chester V 's Thinkanauts. He is elated when hired by Live Corp. and given the chance to contend for the honor. However, Lockwood's machine was not destroyed and when it repaired itself, it created an island full of living food, such as cheeseburger spiders (French fries for legs) and tacodiles, among dozens of other foodimals. Lockwood and friends go back to the island to stop his machine.
Bonus features on the standard DVD include audio commentary, looks at the foodimals, production design, and a music video. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars