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DVD Column: That Awkward Moment, Non-Stop, Pompeii, Falling Skies

Posted by bsimon On June - 23 - 2014 0 Comment

“That Awkward Moment,” another bro-tastic laffer which attempts to thread the needle between twentysomething sexual exploration and acting out and relationship comedy (read: accepted “male” and “female” genres) is an awkward mash-up, and in the end represents nothing more than a momentary, wholly understandable blip on the respective filmographies of its talented young cast. A stab at blended “American Pie” and “Swingers”-type antics, writer-director Tom Gormican’s film banks heavily on the ample chemistry of its players, to intermittent but largely unmemorable effect.

The movie unfolds in New   York City, and centers around a trio of guys who are best friends. Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller), who work together at a publishing house designing book covers, are your classic player-types; they enjoy the bar scene and take extraordinary measures to develop a rotation of girls and avoid being pinned down in a relationship. When their doctor pal Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) discovers his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) has been cheating on him and wants a divorce, Jason and Daniel vow to reintroduce him to single life, and enter into a pact to avoid getting into a relationship with any whiffs of exclusivity.

Things get complicated, however, when Daniel tumbles into the sack with his female wingman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), who’s apparently smitten by all his witty talk of receiving blowjobs from other girls. Jason, meanwhile, meets cute with Ellie (Imogen Poots) and, after their first night together ends in sex, transcends the awkwardness of mistakenly thinking she’s a prostitute. The more he gets to know her, the more Jason likes her. But when unexpected tragedy befalls Ellie, Jason blanches at comporting himself in the manner of a boyfriend, and jeopardizes a shot at maintaining a place in Ellie’s life. Can any of these guys grow up and find happiness in a monogamous relationship?

In his feature debut, Gormican basically serves jointly as ringmaster and a turbo-charged pace car, pushing his actors through rat-tat-tat dialogue and hoping that the movie’s high-volume joke quotient wins over viewers. In a game cast — especially the talented Teller, who wins the day — the director has a lot going for him, but the script offers up more of a vessel for breezy banter, confidence and energy than a cogent, well-rooted narrative.

Daniel and Chelsea’s burgeoning relationship doesn’t really pass the smell test, and Mikey seems most defined by shaking his head at Daniel and Jason and telling them that they’re idiots, which he does at least a half dozen times. Overall, the film seems inordinately preoccupied with proving its bawdy bona fides, by way of a good bit of cock-centric humor. Some of this works (Jason showing up at what he thinks is a costume party in a compromising guise, only to discover it’s a tony affair), but many other bits (I’m looking in your direction, confusion of self-tanner with hand lotion) feel like hijackers of tone, robbing the movie of any honest momentum or flow. It does not help that Gormican seems afraid or unable to focus on honest emotion for too long, and when he contrives to deposit four of his characters in a bathroom at a Thanksgiving party — the scene most emblematic of “That Awkward Moment”‘s unfortunate unraveling — it becomes robustly apparent that his film is yet another example of a modestly smart movie felled by adherence to formula and dictums that don’t align with its raison d’être.

“That Awkward Moment” comes to DVD presented in 2.40:1 anamophic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. In addition to the requisite chapter stops and trailer material, its bonus features consist of nine minutes of cast interview material in which Efron, Teller and Jordan discuss their characters appears, as well as a four-minute gag reel with flubbed lines and the like.

For fans of martial arts action cinema, programmatic Japanese import “Bushido Man: Seven Deadly Battles” delivers plenty of square-jawed fisticuffs and roundhouse kicks, even if its plot seems to lose something in translation. Director Takanori Tsujimoto’s film centers on warrior Toramaru (a brooding Mitsuki Koga), the leading proponent and master-in-waiting of an all-around martial arts discipline known as the Cosmic Way, who returns from a pilgrimage across feudal Japan with tales of an array of epic battles against some of the country’s most legendary fighters. Part of his philosophy dictates that a warrior “know his enemy” by eating his food, and so Toramaru’s reminiscences to his mentor are preceded by elaborately staged presentations of regional cuisine. There isn’t a lot of nuance here, but Tsujimoto and his team choreograph and deliver the action as a variety of beautiful, kinetic slivers, locating some of the veins of the darkly poetic in hand-to-hand combat.

“Bushido Man: Seven Deadly Battles” comes to Blu-ray housed in a standard keepsake case, in turn stored in a complementary cardboard slipcover. The film’s 1080p 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is solid, and the DTS-HD master audio 5.1 aural track more than adequately handles the fairly straightforward sound design of all the wood-splintering and neck chops contained herein. In addition to chapter stops and an automatic-start trailer, extras consist of a brief making-of featurette.

The best thing one can realistically say about “Pompeii,” the utterly ridiculous, CGI-addled slice of romance/disaster porn pie from “Resident Evil” filmmaker Paul W. S. Anderson, is that it elicits a genuine curiosity to learn more about the first-century Roman city felled by volcanic eruption, since one has so much free time to ponder the narrative’s legitimate historical underpinnings whilst letting waves of inanity wash over them. Borrowing liberally (and not that imaginatively) from “Gladiator,” “Titanic” and “Volcano,” this empty, air-quote epic embodies the worst instincts of disposable Hollywood storytelling, reducing mass-scale tragedy to nothing more than a backdrop for cheap, boilerplate villainy and romance.

“Pompeii” unfolds in 79 AD, where Celtic Briton Milo (Kit Harington) is a slave, and has been since he was orphaned as a child. His horse-whispering ways catch the attention of Cassia (Emily Browning), the well-off daughter of an upper-crust merchant couple (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss). Cassia has recently returned to her coastal hometown, disenchanted, from a trip to Rome, where she inadvertently picked up an unwanted suitor in the form of Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), a sleazy and corrupt senator who, wouldn’t you know it, murdered Milo’s family in front of him so many years ago.

Milo and Cassia making eyes at one another does not at all please Corvus, who seems really focused on putting a ring on it (it being Cassia). Placed on the gladiator track, Milo is slated for a lethal showdown with Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the reigning champion of local deathsport-entertainment. Before they can have at one another, however, they fall under the spell of manly begrudging respect. Oh, and then the gurgling volcano overlooking Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, erupts, meaning Milo has to fight his way out of the public arena and through a city raining down hellfire, in order to save Cassia and settle his emotional tab with Corvus.

Taken of a piece and by itself, a sequence like the one in which Milo and Atticus band together with other slave-fighters to fend off an ordained gladiatorial execution has a certain cathartic charge. And advances in technology allow for an engaging and detailed aerial portrait of Pompeii, which Anderson further indulges with some high-angle, 3-D representations of city life.

But “Pompeii” overall exhibits such a staggering misappropriation of time and focus as to almost defy belief. The characters here are all tissue-paper-thin, and the dialogue hammy and tone-deaf; screenwriters Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson seem hell-bent on concentrating solely on the least interesting and most ridiculous aspects of their hodgepodge. (Watching “Pompeii,” one would think that Milo and Atticus’ uneasy friendship spelled the end of any and all racial tensions for all of humankind.) The wrong-side-of-the-tracks love story? A snooze. Generic political intrigue? Boring. The sociopathic need on the part of Corvus to get very specifically up in the garments of a young woman not interested in him? Even more yawn-inducing.

And yet that, along with the overly familiar sword-and-sandal slave stuff, accounts for around 70 minutes of “Pompeii.” In history books there’s a volcano that unleashed rivers of lava and destroyed an entire vibrant city of around 20,000, but here it’s reduced to just one big concluding set piece to underscore Corvus’ assholishness, and rendered to boot in overly slick tones that neuters any sense of gobsmacked doom. It’s arguable as to whether this story would have by default been better served with a R rating, but one thing is absolutely certain — “Pompeii” is a preposterous movie whose self-seriousness and time spent dawdling on irrelevant diversions makes it a dreary, wearying experience. Viewers know the ending already (or should, at least), and the way that Anderson orchestrates things, it can’t come soon enough in this misbegotten mishmash.

“Pompeii” comes to home video in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that includes both separate 3-D high-definition and digital HD versions of the movie — the latter playable on portable devices, obviously. Cast chats on their characters, a feature-length audio commentary track with Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt, and a special effects featurette anchor the normal slate of bonus material, which is also available on a trimmed-down release. Exclusive to the Blu-ray, however, are 20 deleted scenes running over 23 minutes, short but engaging special featurettes on the movie’s costumes and stunt work, and a stand-alone, 24-minute look at the real, historical tragedy of Pompeii. Housed in a regular Amaray case in turn stored in a complementary cardboard slipcover, this is an attractively packaged release of a hopelessly boring movie. Unless you or yours is a historical epic completist, there’s little need to visit “Pompeii.”

Throughout its first three seasons on TNT, “Falling Skies,” from executive producer Steven Spielberg, has very quietly been one of the highest-rated series on basic cable — a consistent Sunday night summer hit among key adult demos. It doesn’t hurt, certainly, that there’s likely a good bit of residual affection for Noah Wyle, left over from his long stint on “ER,” one of the more enduringly popular small screen dramas of the past two decades.

The series chronicles the chaotic aftermath of an alien attack that leaves most of the world completely wrecked. In the roughly 18 months since the landmark event, reality has set in on this new world. The show’s third season opens seven months after the characters upon which it focuses have arrived in Charleston. Battle-tested Tom Mason (Wyle) has been elected political official of the area, but he has his hands full as the resistance continues to battle the Espheni alien invaders. Among his controversial decisions is an alliance with a new alien race, which gives humanity some strategic advantages, but is met with pushback in some quarters.

The show’s cast is quite solid (Will Patton, Gloria Reuben, Doug Jones, Robert Sean Leonard and Colin Cunningham are of special note), and in addition to the expected payoffs with respect to spectacle and more pointed physical conflict, “Falling Skies” also delves a bit into allegorical xenophobia and the like. Survivalist fans of “The Walking Dead” could do much worse than to glom onto this series as a nice stopgap measure between seasons of that AMC smash hit.

“Falling Skies: The Complete Third Season” comes to DVD spread out over three discs, stored in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a nice, foil-enhanced cardboard slipcover. Among the two-and-a-half hours of bonus features are nine episodes of the recap and discussion show “Second Watch,” hosted by Wil Wheaton and featuring most of the principal cast. There is also a 20-minute featurette on Cochise, a friendly alien character played by the lanky, chameleonic Jones, as well as “Karen: The Overlord Next Door,” a 21-minute featurette that delves into Jessy Schram’s Espheni leader. For more information on the series, visit www.FallingSkies.com.

“Non-Stop,” starring Liam Neeson as an air marshal who during a trans-Atlantic flight has a Very Bad Day of the decidedly action movie variety, starts off fairly intriguingly. Its protagonist is brusque and distracted; before boarding his flight he takes a swig of booze to let us know he’s an alcoholic and help signify his tragic past, true, but then he smokes a cigarette after a few pops of breath spray, indicating a different pathology. Eventually, though, “Non-Stop” runs out of interesting little character quirks and recognizable names and faces stuffed into supporting roles to pump up the guessing-game as to its guilty party/parties, succumbing to less interesting, jerry-rigged thrills and payoffs that will play fine with a popcorn and soda but immediately dissipate upon exiting a theater, and leave one feeling a bit empty.

Neeson stars as William Marks, a government lawman who seems ill-suited for his job, given his fear of lift-off. Not long after his plane is airborne, Marks starts receiving text messages on his secure-line phone, making a few personal cracks and announcing that a passenger will die every 20 minutes unless and until $150 million is wire-deposited into a bank account. It turns out Marks has a fellow federal agent (Anson Mount) on board with him, whom he immediately suspects. Naturally, though, things turn out to be a lot thornier, and as Marks tries to get the flight attendants (Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o) to keep everyone calm and cooperative, an array of passengers and even the pilots (a group which includes Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll, Nate Parker, Linus Roache and Shea Whigham) come in and out of focus as suspects. Of course, it doesn’t help or look good for Marks when the account is revealed to be in his name, and passengers watching in-flight TV begin seeing him identified as the hijacking culprit.

“Non-Stop”‘s screenplay, by first-timers John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle, suffers from the sort of contortionist aches that fairly commonly plague studio genre fare; the scribes take a purposefully ridiculous but entertaining conceit and then, rather than invest deeply and honestly in characters and the tension of how things will turn out, they expend a lot of time and energy on head feints and red herrings and capital-T twists and turns. Re-writes and different writers are of course common in Hollywood, but screenplays of this sort aren’t shaped so much by honest story notes, one gets the feeling, as directives to make the current movie more like that other movie from two years ago, but less like this film from earlier in the year from a competing studio, though maybe with a pinch of the same thing that was in that other successful movie starring the same actor in this movie. Sure, “Non-Stop” exists because the “Taken” films and 2011′s “Unknown” made an obscene amount of money — we all know that. But we could aim for a little more than 10 to 15 percent of gradient differentiation in our cash grabs, couldn’t we?

Editor Jim May and director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously collaborated with Neeson on the aforementioned “Unknown,” bring a straightforward economy to the action beats, but also fail to come up with a more compelling way to mark the passage of time. Normally that would be the job of the script, but here it’s so consumed with whodunit? head games (bound to be a letdown or shrug for most) as to ignore the basic question of what it might feel like to be a passenger on such a flight. (It certainly doesn’t help that, 30 minutes into the film, there’s a dead body in a bathroom that no one happens to come across.) That’s the real and potentially unique element of “Non-Stop,” but it’s brushed aside to allow for Neeson’s swaggering redemption. In comparison to “Pompeii,” “Non-Stop” is a worthwhile alternative, it’s true. But that doesn’t make it good in its own right.

“Non-Stop” comes to home video in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that also includes codes to iTunes and Ultraviolet digital HD viewing copies of the movie. Stored in a regular Blu-ray plastic keep case in turn slotted in a cardboard slipcover, “Non-Stop” is presented in a 1080p 2.40:1 widescreen transfer free of grain or any edge enhancement issues, and with an English language DTS-HD 5.1 audio track that exhibits a solid, dynamic range. Bonus features consist of an eight-minute, very perfunctory behind-the-scenes featurette in which Neeson, Moore, Collet-Serra and producer Joel Silver talk about making the movie, plus a five-minute featurette in which Collet-Serra, Neeson and Silver all discuss the challenges of action staging, along with stunt choreographer Mark Vanselow, in such a tightly prescribed, 20×30 space. Chapter stops and trailers for other Universal releases are also included, naturally.

Written by: Brent Simon

That Awkward Moment DVD Column: That Awkward Moment, Non Stop, Pompeii, Falling Skies

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