Aaron Paul and Scott Mescudi in Need For Speed

Blu-ray new releases – August 5 & 12: ‘Need For Speed’, ‘Muppets Most Wanted’

by W. Andrew Powell


Need For Speed
Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Imogen Poots, Ramón Rodríguez, Michael Keaton
Director: Scott Waugh

Rated: 4/10

The “Need For Speed” is something I get. There’s nothing quite like long straightaways on a highway where you can push the pedal down just a bit and feel the pavement fly underneath the tires. For filmmakers–and here I’m especially talking about producers and a few directors–I wish some times they would think a bit more about the “Need For A Good Script” first though, even before they think about the speed, special effects, and everything else.

Of course Need For Speed has some great choreographed action sequences on wheels. It seems like Hollywood has no problem figuring out how to do a great race through highways, cities, and over just about any paved or gravel surface. Technically speaking at least, filmmaking today is in good hands. The cinematographer alone on Need For Speed captures some breathtaking action as the expensive cars fly over the streets. But, does any of that really matter if the story sucks? That’s the real question.

I can turn on my television or click over to YouTube and watch hours of car porn that will dazzle even non-car lovers. Watching Top Gear alone is amazing, but there’s not a whole lot of story behind any of those shows, and if I’m going to watch something as long as Need For Speed–which clocks in at 2 hours and ten minutes–there better be a decent story, or at least something to connect the dots logically.

But, a lot of films–even films made for an estimated $60 million dollars–have no clue what a good story looks like. Or, once they’re making the film, product placements and placing your actors just right are more important considerations than whether the story makes any sense.

Need For Speed is like a lot of video game movies (it’s based on a very popular series of games by Electronic Arts) that just have no idea what they’re doing from scene to scene, and the plot not only flies off in all directions, but it also just doesn’t make any sense as even a bubble-gum movie should, let alone a supposed blockbuster. If you’re not groaning at the screen during half the film, you’re probably watching cars fly by, and after the first wayward 30 minutes, the rest of the movies gets harder and harder to watch as people make unlikely, stupid decisions after even more unlikely, stupid decisions.

The cars are probably the real stars of this film, but for the most part, I liked the main cast, even if their characters are poorly written. Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi (AKA Kid Cudi), Imogen Poots, and Ramón Rodríguez all seem to have fun, which is kind of fun to watch, and despite Cooper’s obvious rich-guy/bad-guy routine, the cast was not too bad. However the scenery-chewing, over-the-top Michael Keaton is a disaster to behold. I didn’t like him in the RoboCop reboot, and I especially don’t like him in Need For Speed where he turns even somewhat believable lines into bad pitches by a used car salesman. His performance drags an already bad film down even lower since his character, Monarch, is on screen way too often.

Instead of watching this terrible film, I’d rather recommend Top Gear, which probably has more plot and story going for it than any given moment in this brainless disaster.

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller
Director: Neil Burger

Divergent is essentially the “In a world…” plot, where the society as we know it has been turned upside down for a really strange concept, but with teenagers of course since it’s 2014. Ever since teen movies seemed to do so well a decade ago, every teen book on store shelves has been optioned for big screen adaptations, and Veronica Roth’s novel was the latest one up for what the producers hoped would be a whole new fansanity.

Of course, we already know the trilogy has been slated for a total of four films already, but it’s safe to say that Divergent is not going to create the buzz we saw around Twilight, or even The Hunger Games, but you can certainly expect three more films over the next few years.

Shailene Woodley stars as Tris, a girl in a dystopian future where the population has been divided in groups based on their abilities and personality. Tris, however, is Divergent, meaning she belongs to more than one group, and apparently, the world of tomorrow doesn’t like the idea that this group even exists, and a plot is underway to destroy them all.

Based on popular criticism of the film, unless you’re under 20, it’s safe to say that you can skip this one, although fans of the novels will appreciate that it’s apparently fairly faithful to the original story.

Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff
Director: Mike Flanagan

As a Doctor Who fan, the horror movie Oculus has one thing going for it in my books, and that’s star Karen Gillan who plays Kaylie, a girl who has to prove the innocence of her brother in a murder case by revealing the supernatural force that is behind the grisly deaths. Yes, really.

Reviews for Oculus were fairly good, especially for a horror film, and most critics enjoyed the old fashioned ghost story that it creates with reality-bending moments that are filled with surprises. Plus, Karen Gillan is in it.

Muppets Most Wanted


Muppets Most Wanted
Starring: The Muppets, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey
Director: James Bobin

Rated: 7/10

Thank-you director James Bobin, and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, for bringing the Muppets back on screen once again in a fresh and original story that pops with great jokes, and lots of eye candy, music, and A-list cameos.

Muppets Most Wanted kicks off right where the last film ended. The extras are going home, the Muppets are excited, but what are they supposed to do next? “How about a world tour?” Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) suggests in an effort to drag them into his criminal master plot, and with that, the gang is off to Europe. Meanwhile, Mr. Badguy is working with Kermit the Frog’s evil look-alike, Constantine, who has just escaped prison and is ready to oust Kermit to take his place and direct the Muppet gang to help him as he plans the biggest robbery in history.

Muppets Most Wanted is simply fun, fun, fun, whether you’re 15 or 51. The songs are catchy, the stars are wonderful, and I never tired of the Muppet gang’s antics.

Gervais, and Tina Fey (who plays Nadya the gulag overseer), are both likeable and funny, but it’s Ty Burrell who steals the show as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon. Burrell does not have a lot of scenes, but I looked forward to every time he appeared, and his comic timing–even next to the Muppets themselves–is perfect.

This sequel is not quite as fun as the 2011 film The Muppets, and the songs aren’t quite as good either, but it’s very, very close, and the film is too fun to miss. After you watch it, the Blu-ray feature “The Longer, Longest Blooper Reel in Muppets History” is also a must-watch, especially if you want to see Gervais flub his lines over and over again, snickering all the way through.

Starring: The grizzly bears of Alaska, John C. Reilly
Director: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey

Rated: 6/10

Narrator John C. Reilly takes us through the lives of three bears in this compelling Disneynature documentary in and around Katmai National Park in Alaska during the Spring and Summer months.

Mother bear Sky has to fend for her two cubs Amber and Scout as she takes them down from the cold and snow of the mountains, to the green pastures of the sea side where they need to contend with male bears, and the constant hunt for food, not to mention a occasional grey wolf.

Although the forced plot of the documentary makes some of the “story” seem a bit unreal, and Reilly’s narration follows that all too much as well, Bears is a beautiful documentary. The scenery and the cinematography are unbelievable, and it feels like you get right up next to the bears in their natural habitat. For kids and families who adore nature, Bears is certainly worth a watch for that reason alone, and it should act as a great reminder about conservation efforts, and the importance of parks like Alaska’s Katmai National Park.

Watch my interview with Toronto Zoo animal supervisor Jeff Young as we discuss the bears, and their environment.

Bitten: Complete First Season
Starring: Laura Vandervoort, Greyston Holt, Greg Bryk, Paul Greene, Steve Lund, Michael Xavier, Genelle Williams

Actress Laura Vandervoort stars as Elena Michaels in Space’s werewolf thriller, Bitten, about a woman who discovers she has a supernatural curse, and the new furry family that she must contend with because of it.

Torn between her new werewolf family and the new city where she lives and works as a photographer, Elena has to figure out if she wants to hide in the city, or run with her pack.

Bitten airs on Space in Canada and SyFy in the United States, has already been renewed for a second season, and it’s based on the novels Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong.

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