Future shock: ‘Elysium’
Owls Head — Elysium (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 109 min.). Director Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”) returns to two of his favorite themes: poverty in a ghetto-like setting; and science fiction. The year is 2154 and the wealthy live on the manmade space station Elysium, while the masses live in slums on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. There are many attempts to sneak onto Elysium, because it has machines that will cure any illness. These scenes remind one of illegal immigrants trying to sneak across the border from Mexico to the United States -- just one of the many political themes in the movie. There also is the whole idea of creating a utopia and whether it would be sustainable.
Matt Damon plays Max DaCosta, one of the few on Earth with a job. He works for the arms and robot-manufacturing company Armadyne, run by John Carlyle (William Fichtner). Carlyle is drawn into a plot by Elysium’s hard-nosed Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster with a hardness we have rarely seen in her), whose take-no-prisoners approach to protecting Elysium is being threatened by the president and council. She asks Carlyle to develop a computer program that will reboot Elysium, putting her in charge. Meanwhile, there is an accident at the plant and Max received a lethal does of radiation. He is given five days to live, so he must find a way to Elysium and a healing machine. The price he has to pay for his passage is to steal Carlyle’s secrets by loading them directly into his own brain. Complicating things is that Delacourt has sent a rogue agent (Sharlto Copley as Kruger) after Max.
Thought-provoking and imaginative, the film still has plenty of action. Damon is right-on in his portrayal and his character gets a bit of help in a mechanical exoskeleton, drilled onto his body. Blu-ray extras include a very well done, three-part making-of (45:49); an extended scene involving Kruger; an interactive exploration of the film’s art and design; and looks at the visual effects (10:34) and the future technology (10:13). Both the Blu-ray and standard versions have a look at the casting and performances (13:18) and engineering the space station (11:43). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Fast & Furious 6 (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR/PG-13, both 131 min.). The recent death of star Paul Walker in a car accident affects how one views this film now; it even gives new meaning to the lyrics of the song over the opening credits. Beyond that, though, it is a satisfying entry in the film series that has evolved from a drag-racing film to an action franchise. The group is assembled again to bring down Owen Shaw (a strong Luke Evans), who is using a very similar gang of fast car drivers to steal components for a device that would be able to electronically shut down a country.
Setting things in motion is returning Dwayne Johnson as Special Agent Hobbs. Dom Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) crew decides to go along for the full pardons that are promised. Dom’s reasons are more personal, as Hobbs has photos of the until-now-believed-dead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) as part of Shaw’s crew. Letty had been Dom’s girlfriend back when she was sent undercover by then-policeman Brian O’Conner (Walker) and then supposedly died in a fiery crash. Most of the action takes place in London, including some street racing that one not only would think the police would shut down, but also that would be quite dangerous on the crowded streets. There are some spectacular crashes in London; however, the two main set pieces are set abroad. First, there is an extensive chase sequence on an expressway that has Shaw in a tank, driving over cars and innocent civilians with abandon. Then there is the climax set on what appears to be the world’s longest runway. as Shaw tries to escape in a plane. Although highly implausible at times, the film is constantly entertaining, and has a surprising amount of rather brutal fisticuffs.
Blu-ray extras include detailed audio commentary by director Justin Lin; a series of cast interviews (19 min.); a 27-minute making-of feature; three short deleted scenes; a 24-minute look at four action scenes; a close-up look at the cars (15 min.); a look at the fight sequences (10 min.); and a 2-minute look at the planned seventh film, which currently has its production halted as the filmmakers decide what to do with Walker’s character. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3.5 stars
Despicable Me 2 (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 98 min.). The Minions are still cute and once more steal the film. Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has given up his life of crime to raise his three little girls, and his longtime scientist friend Dr. Navarro (Russell Brand) is now developing jellies and jams in the underground lair beneath Gru’s house. This relative calm -- with Minions around, things are never truly calm -- is broken when the Anti-Villain League abducts Gru and recruits him to find the mystery criminal who has stolen a dangerous mutagen. The thief is believed to be operating out of a mall, so Gru is set up with a bakery shop, Bake My Day, and his abductor (Kristen Wiig as Lucy Wild) is assigned to be his partner.
It does not take Gru long to suspect that the Mexican restaurant owner, Eduardo Perez (Benjamin Bratt), might be the thought-to-be-dead super villain El Macho, even though the Anti -Villain League centers on another suspect. Worse for Gru is that his daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) has fall for Perez’s slick-acting son, Antonio. And back home, his Minions have started to disappear. The film may take the easy way out in plot, but it still is very funny. Blu-ray extras include audio commentary with directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin; looks at the gadgets and three girls; three new mini-movies (20 min., plus 6-minute making-of); and seven really short looks at characters. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Prisoners (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 153 min.). I began this film with no idea what it was about, although the cover photo of Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal gave me a suspicion … that was completely wrong! Neither plays a prisoner. The morally ambiguous, and quite disturbing film, is actually about the abduction of two young girls and the methods used to find them before it is too late. Jackman plays Keller Dover, one of the fathers, whose response once the police let the leading suspect (Paul Dano as the simple-minded, but creepy Alex Jones) goes beyond what should be acceptable. Terrence Howard plays the other father, who is more passive and is dragged along by Dover.
Gyllenhaal plays driven detective Loki, equally determined to find the two girls before it is too late, but bound by operating within the law. He is hamstrung by a boss who does not care enough. Dover, who will learn is a survivalist, loses it often, particularly when he feels Dano is taunting him by saying, “They didn’t cry until I left them,” during a confrontation in the police parking lot after his release. We also see how grief affects other family members, including Maria Bello as Grace Dover, the mother, who becomes almost catatonic as she slips into use of pills. The intense performances by Jackman and Gyllenhaal are rivetingg.
The film is unexpectedly long and pulls no punches during its first two-thirds. The ending may be a bit more conventional, but it also does throw in trace of religious fanaticism. That only furthers the many questions the film stirs up. The director is Denis Villeneuve and the often haunting cinematography is by Roger Deakins. The only extras are a behind-the-scenes look with cast interviews (9:24) and what is basically and extended trailer. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars
Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (BBC, 3D/Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 75 min.). The wonderful -- no, make that brilliant -- Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, which often brought tears to my eyes, is available on home video with two mini-episodes, including one which is quite key and should be watched first. The special episode brought together Matt Smith and Jenna-Louis Coleman as the Eleventh Doctor and his companion Clara with David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor and John Hurt as the War Doctor. (In the short, we see that the War Doctor is the regenerated Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann.) Also returning is Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.
The crucial role the previously-only-mentioned-once War Doctor had was to end the war between the Daleks and the Time Lords by destroying them both, along with the planet of Gallifrey. Here, though, he is reconsidering that action before taking it, helped by Rose, who would be a future companion at that point. (Yes, there is a lot of timey wimey stuff here, but it soon all makes sense.) As three different time periods play out, with see the Tenth Doctor’s dalliance with Queen Elizabeth I and a current invasion by the long-missing, shape-shifting Zygons. There also is one special cameo well worth waiting for. Other extras include a behind-the-scenes look (13:43) narrated by Colin Baker, who played the Sixth Doctor; and a look at the Doctor’s 50 years (46:45), with interviews of actors who have played the Doctor, other cast members, writers and show runners. Grade: special 4 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Mary Poppins 50th anniversary edition (Disney, Blu-ray, G, 139 min.). With the currently in release “Savings Mr. Banks” being about the making of this film, it is a fitting time for the magical Disney classic to make its Blu-ray debut, with an all-new digital restoration. This collaboration by director Robert Stevenson, screenwriters Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi and songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (nearly every song so memorable) is one of Disney’s best, combining a little animation (chimney sweep Bert, played by Dick Van Dyke, gets to dance with penguins) with live action that borders on the magical. Julie Andrews plays the exceptional title nanny, and she took home one of the film’s five Academy Awards (it was nominated for 13). The other Oscars were for Best Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”), Best Special Visual Effects, Best Editing and Best Original Score.
The Banks family consists of no-nonsense banker George (David Tomlinson), suffragette wife Winifred (Glynis Johns) and children Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber). Not only does Mary Poppins entertain the children with just about everything she pulls out of her seemingly limitless bag, but she also helps the adults re-find love and compassion. The film remains a delight. New extras include a 14-minute conversation between composer Richard Sherman and actor Jason Schwartzman (he plays Sherman in “Saving Mr. Banks”) about writing songs for the film and the troubled pre-production and a new Mary-oke sing-along (8 min.). Extras from previous releases include audio commentary by composers/lyricists the Sherman Brothers and actors Andrews, Van Dyke and Dotrice (actually recorded in three different locations); a 48-minute look at the film’s adaptation for Broadway; the deleted song “Chimpanzoo”; eight Backstage Disney supplements, including a 51-minute making-of feature; four music-themed extras, including a reunion of Andrews, Van Dyke and Richard Sherman (17 min.); and the short, “The Cat That Looked at a King, with Andrews telling a story while leading two children in chalk drawing. Grade: film and extras 4 stars
Lifetime 12 Films of Christmas (Lionsgate, 6 DVDs, NR, 16 hours 12 min.). If you are in the mood for a holiday film, here are a dozen of them. They include “The Road to Christmas,” in which Claire (Jennifer Grey), preventing by a snowstorm from making it to her wedding, hitches a ride with single dad Tom (Clark Gregg) and his daughter; “Recipe for a Perfect Christmas,” in which a daughter makes a deal with a restaurant owner to take her estranged but vivacious mother out on a date, only to fall for the restaurateur herself; “Home By Christmas,” in which newly-divorced Julia Bedford (Linda Hamilton) and her daughter end up homeless before unexpected help arrives; and “A Christmas Wedding,” in which Ben (Eric Mabius) is left alone to handle the last-minute wedding plans and everything spins out of control.
Also included are “Holiday Switch,” in which Paula (Nicole Eggert) is magically transported to a world where she is married to her wealthy high school boyfriend; “A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride,” in which a wedding planner decides to take control of her mother’s wedding after being unable to stop the event; “Under the Mistletoe,” in which a local radio station takes over Susan Bell’s (Jaime Ray Newman) love life after a call from her 8-year-old son; “Holiday Wishes,” in which two girls from different worlds magically switch bodies and wake up as the other -- Britney (Britt McKillup) in an orphanage and Rachel (Katie Keating) at Britney’s family mansion; “Christmas in Paradise,” in which an ex-wife spoils a holiday vacation; “Deck the Halls,” in which young Ben (Josh Hayden) believes his new neighbor is Santa Claus; “His & Her Christmas,” in which Liz (Dina Meyer) creates a Christmas column to save her small newspaper, only to have the bigger town paper assign Tom (David Sutcliffe) to write a rival column; and “Will You Marry Me?,” in which Henry (Tommy Lioutas) and Rebecca (Vikki Krinsky) decide to marry and then experience each other’s families’ very different holiday traditions.