This week’s home video releases include an animated sequel, a comedy by the “Jackass” crew and a thrilling drama about auto racing.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
Despite excellent reviews during its theatrical run and a number of awards-season honors, director Ron Howard’s “Rush” was shut out of the Academy Awards competition. Considering the quality of the production, this is one of the year’s more noteworthy snubs, and it speaks to the politicking that has long surrounded the Oscars. It also speaks to the fact that awards for artistic accomplishments are inherently flawed.
Comparing “Rush” to “12 Years a Slave” is a bit like pitting the Beatles against the Rolling Stones. It may be fun to argue about which band is better, but there is no objective way to determine a winner. Ultimately, it’s best to throw one’s hands in the air and admit that great artists – unlike great athletes – aren’t devoted to head-to-head competition.
Interestingly, “Rush” has much to say about the things that drive men to compete. The film relates the real-life story of the 1976 Formula One rivalry between English driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian racer Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).
The film is loaded with drama both because of the racing backdrop and because Hunt and Lauda are presented as polar opposites. Hunt is depicted as a fast-living playboy who delights in the attention that racing affords him. Lauda, on the other hand, is a detail-oriented clinician who milks every ounce of power from his vehicles.
Although much of “Rush” takes place on race tracks, Howard takes care to show Hunt and Lauda outside of their cars, and this humanizes them. It also allows viewers to invest in their quest for greatness.
Both actors are perfectly cast, and they draw viewers into their roles. Hemsworth bestows Hunt with a charisma and carefree demeanor that makes him easy to cheer for. Brühl’s stoic, calculating depiction of Lauda makes the Austrian more difficult to embrace, but viewers should still understand and respect him.
The cinematography is brilliant throughout the movie, and Howard has crafted some of the greatest race sequences put to screen. Too often, car chases are choppy and difficult to follow. Howard avoids this pitfall while capturing the excitement that makes live auto racing such a thrill.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include a feature on Howard and a collection of deleted scenes.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
Johnny Knoxville and his “Jackass” crew have always produced movies that revel in crass humor involving bone-crunching stunts, injured genitalia and dirty language. Although some people find this sort of comedy off-putting, it has a loyal fan base, and “Bad Grandpa” injects the “Jackass” sensibility into traditional storytelling with mixed results.
The film is centered on Irving Zisman, a foul-mouthed, senior citizen who gets laughs by making obtuse remarks and engaging in other shocking behavior. In reality, Zisman is a heavily made-up Knoxville, and the humor comes from the fact that most of the people he interacts with have no idea he’s an actor. Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine gathered much of their footage using hidden cameras, leading to authentic reactions to bizarre situations.
This same filmmaking technique was famously applied by Sacha Baron Cohen in “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” and “Bad Grandpa” offers a similar – if less polished – experience. There are a number of excellent gags, although most will appeal only to those willing to embrace their inner child, and “Bad Grandpa” ignores the broader social issues addressed in “Borat.”
Knoxville’s movie is concerned only with shock value, and that leads to bits where Zisman joins a male strip act, hits on women at a bingo hall, and has a bout of diarrhea. Some of the resulting footage is laugh-out-loud funny. Some is just disgusting.
The movie’s biggest problem is not the tasteless nature of most of the jokes. It’s that Tremaine and Knoxville attempt to tie the disparate, hidden-camera gags into a plot-driven feature. This simply doesn’t work.
The frail story begins with Zisman learning that his wife has died. Soon after, his daughter informs him that she is heading to jail and he is now responsible for her son, Billy (Jackson Nicoll). This prompts Zisman to contact Billy’s father and drive the boy across the country for a father-son reunion. The stunts are awkwardly incorporated throughout the journey, leading to a dull mishmash that never gels.
Despite the problems, Knoxville is good as Zisman, and his makeup is so well crafted that one can see why people would buy into his octogenarian persona. In fact, “Bad Grandpa” makeup artist Steve Prouty received an Oscar nomination for his work in the film. This makes the movie the first “Jackass” project to receive such a weighty honor. It does not, however, make it a good film.
The DVD release contains no significant extras. The Blu-ray has a collection of deleted scenes, a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes and extra hidden-camera reactions.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2
Rated PG for mild rude humor
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, digital download and on demand
The original “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” movie transformed Judi and Ron Barrett’s short, children’s picture-book into a feature-length, animated spectacle about a downtrodden inventor named Flint Lockwood. He creates a machine that drops food from the sky like rain, and he becomes the toast of Swallow Falls, the small island that he calls home. Alas, the machine is abused until it starts producing food storms with catastrophic consequences.
In “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn continue the saga, which now has little resemblance to the original book. The action is set after Flint and his friends have successfully saved the world from his out-of-control invention. Although the immediate danger has passed, there is still plenty of work to be done, most notably the cleanup of what used to be Swallow Falls.
Flint is excited to learn that one of his childhood heroes, TV personality and inventor Chester V, is sending a crew to help. He is even more excited when Chester offers him a job at the massive tech company Live Corp. Unbeknownst to Flint, Chester’s mission is not altruistic. He believes Flint’s dangerous, food-generating invention has survived, and he is determined to procure it for Live Tech.
Chester’s plans go awry, however, when his work groups are attacked by living food. This prompts Flint and his friends to return to Swallow Falls in hopes of destroying the invention once and for all.
Despite limited ties to the book, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” was a colorful, well-animated romp with likable characters and a reasonably good story. In “Cloudy 2,” everything feels contrived.
The animation is sharp, and the 3D effects are impressive, meaning anyone with a Blu-ray 3D setup will enjoy a stunning video presentation. The film also has an impressive voice cast with Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg and Neil Patrick Harris reprising their roles from the original film. This is a talented group, but it can only do so much with the uninspired material.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include a music video by Cody Simpson, two mini-movies, a collection of making-of featurettes and an audio commentary by Cameron and Pearn.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Last Vegas”: Comedy starring Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline as long-time friends who travel to Las Vegas to celebrate the upcoming marriage of their pal (Michael Douglas). Directed by Jon Turteltaub (“National Treasure,” “Phenomenon”).
“The Fifth Estate”: Director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” “Gods and Monsters”) shines his lens on the controversial WikiLeaks website and its editor and founder Julian Assange. Benedict Cumberbatch stars.
“The Long Day Closes”: Freshly restored Criterion Collection transfer of writer-director Terence Davies’ 1992 drama about a lonely, 11-year-old boy growing up in 1950s Liverpool.
“Treme” – The Complete Series: This drama about New Orleans life in the wake of Hurricane Katrina concluded its TV run in December. For long-time fans, HBO is releasing the complete fourth season in a standalone package. For folks who would rather watch the series in its entirety, there’s an impressive boxed set that includes every episode.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.