Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘Muppets Most Wanted,’ ‘Bears,’ ‘Locke,’ ‘A Haunted House 2’ and ‘Blacklist: Season 1’

The Muppets embark on a world tour in “Muppets: Most Wanted.”  Photo courtesy of Disney

The Muppets embark on a world tour in “Muppets: Most Wanted.”Photo courtesy of Disney

This week’s major home video releases include the first season of a TV thriller as well as two family-friendly Disney movies.

The Muppets Most Wanted

3 stars (out of four) Rated PG for some mild action Disney Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand The Muppets made a triumphant return to theaters in 2011, and most of the creative crew from the first film is back for the sequel. Jason Segel, who co-wrote and starred in the 2011 effort, declined to participate, but co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin took up the slack. “Muppets Most Wanted” picks up where its predecessor left off, with Kermit the Frog and company having saved their theater. Unsure what to do for a sequel, they take the advice of a shady manager named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) and mount a world tour. In the meantime, a notorious criminal named Constantine escapes from a Siberian gulag. Since Constantine looks almost exactly like Kermit, he arranges a frame-up that lands everyone’s favorite frog in prison while he takes charge of the Muppets. The plotting is simplistic and silly, but Stoller and Bobin make the most of it, incorporating many charming gags and several terrific musical numbers. Gervais, who keeps his acerbic wit in check, is wonderful in his role, and other prominent human actors include Tina Fey and Ty Burrell. Of course, the real stars are the Muppets. Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Animal, Scooter, Rowlf the Dog and The Great Gonzo all receive enough screen time to make long-time fans happy, and their characterizations are consistent with past screen outings. Like most sequels, “Muppets Most Wanted” lacks the innovation of its predecessor, but it delivers an engaging story as well as a worthwhile message about loyalty and friendship. Blu-ray and DVD extras include a music video by Brett McKenzie.

Bears

3½ stars Rated G Disney Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand “Bears” is the latest in the excellent Disneynature series of documentaries about our natural world, and it focuses on a mother grizzly bear and her two newborn cubs. John C. Reilly offers excellent narration filled with fascinating facts, including the revelation that about half of all grizzly cubs die during their first year of life. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey (“African Cats”) then demonstrate the dangers they face. Although most people think of grizzlies as huge, lumbering beasts, the cubs in the film are small and require constant protection from their mother. Threats range from a stray wolf to incoming ocean tides, and it’s easy to see how vulnerable these young animals are. “Bears” is not, however, gloomy. Fothergill and Scholey feature plenty of shots of the bears playing, hunting and simply travelling through the gorgeous Alaskan countryside. As with all Disneynature documentaries, the filmmakers carve a story out of their footage, offering a slightly personified look at the bears. Purists might argue that this gives viewers an unrealistic vision of the animals, but there’s little harm. The humanization allows children to easily identify with the creatures, and Reilly provides plenty of factual information to keep things in perspective. Blu-ray and DVD extras include a music video by Olivia Holt.

Locke

3½ stars Rated R for language throughout Lionsgate Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand British actor Tom Hardy delivers one of the most memorable performances of the year in “Locke,” a fascinating exercise in minimalism and great writing. The entirety of the film takes place as lead character Ivan Locke (Hardy) drives his car from Birmingham, England, to London to take care of important personal business. During the journey, he makes and receives a series of calls, each one revealing more about his background and the life-changing nature of his trip. Because nearly all the action takes place in Ivan’s car, Hardy is the only actor seen on screen, but the movie features strong voice performances by a supporting cast that includes Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott and Ben Daniels. It’s difficult to make a movie with a static setting, but writer-director Steven Knight (“Redemption”) makes the film feel lively. Because Ivan’s car is constantly moving, there is a sense of action, and the lighting, editing and brainy screenplay keep viewers engaged. Of course, Hardy deserves much of the credit. As the movie progresses, Ivan faces an increasingly stressful series of phone calls, and Hardy processes them in a dramatic-yet-believable manner. Like “Castaway,” “127 Hours” and “Buried,” “Locke” is a testament to the power of simplicity, and it’s a must-see for serious film lovers. Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of featurette and an audio commentary with Knight.

The Blacklist: The Complete First Season

3½ stars Not rated Sony Available on: Blu-ray and DVD “The Blacklist” was NBC’s top-rated drama during the 2013-14 TV season for a reason. The thriller, centered on a government-agent-turned-fugitive named Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), is filled with interesting characters and twists. It also benefits from an ongoing narrative that weaves through episodes but rarely dominates them. Along with Red, the show follows the adventures of Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a young FBI profiler. In the pilot episode, Red turns himself into the FBI, but insists on speaking only to Keen. Although he is on the bureau’s most-wanted list, Red negotiates a deal to help the FBI capture other criminals that he has “blacklisted” due to their dangers to society. Part of the deal is that he continues working with Keen, and Red’s interest in her is a slowly developing plot thread. Throughout the first season, viewers become better acquainted with Red, Keen and other key characters, most of them FBI agents. The plotting is intense and suspenseful, and most episodes center on the attempted apprehension of a member of the blacklist. These criminals range from terrorists to assassins to weapons manufacturers, and each poses a significant challenge to Keen and her colleagues. In the meantime, producers dribble out bits of Red’s backstory so viewers can unravel the mystery surrounding him. There are convoluted moments, but these are easy to overlook because the show’s overall quality is strong. The acting is solid throughout and Spader, in particular, is outstanding. He paints Red as intense, highly intellectual and charismatic, but also exceedingly dangerous. This makes the character fascinating to watch, and Spader dominates every scene he’s in. Boone’s performance is less exciting, but this is largely by design. As a fledgling agent, Keen is a foil to Red, whose entire life is shrouded in deception and violence. This considered, Boone’s wide-eyed portrayal is appropriate. “The Blacklist” returns for a second season Sept. 22, so binge viewers have time to watch all 22 episodes before it bows. Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature and a producer’s commentary track on the pilot episode.

A Haunted House 2

1½ stars Rated R for crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violent themes Universal Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand Marlon Wayans’ first “Haunted House” film was crude, poorly written and forgettable. Naturally, it spawned a sequel. The entire creative crew is back, meaning Michael Tiddes again directs from a screenplay co-written by Wayans and Rick Alvarez. Unsurprisingly, the resulting sequel is nearly as bad as its inspiration. “A Haunted House 2,” like the original, pokes fun at a variety of horror movies, particularly those in the found-footage genre. Wayans again stars as Malcolm Johnson, the everyday guy who watched his girlfriend, Kisha (Essence Atkins), succumb to demonic possession in part one. After a brief nod to events in the original film, viewers watch as Malcolm moves into a new place with his new girlfriend, Megan (Jaime Pressly). They immediately experience strange events that mirror those in popular movies, including “The Conjuring,” “Sinister” and “Paranormal Activity.” Everything is shot found-footage style, meaning Tiddes can poke fun at that filmmaking convention as well as the movies he, Wayans and Alvarez parody. Unfortunately, there’s nothing vaguely creative about this project. Wayans and company do little more than steal characters from popular horror movies and place them in situations that were already explored in “A Haunted House.” Considering the poor quality of that film, a rehash is painful. Tiddes lands a few more gags this time, but that’s only possible because the bar was set so low initially. Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Wayans, Tiddes and Alvarez.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Filth”: Dramedy starring James McAvoy as a corrupt police detective who starts to lose his grip on reality. Co-written and directed by Jon S. Baird. “Bitten” – The Complete First Season: First 13 episodes of the SyFy series about a female werewolf (Laura Vandervoort) who is torn between the human world and the world of the supernatural. “Frankie & Alice”: Drama featuring Halle Berry as a go-go dancer who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities). Stellan Skarsgård also stars. Directed by Geoffrey Sax. “The Legend of Shelby the Swamp Man” – Season 1: Ten episodes of the History Channel reality series about Shelby Stanga, a colorful, New Orleans logger who was originally featured on the series “Ax Men.”   – Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

NOTE: Blu-rays, DVDs and screening links used to review films are provided at no charge. This enables us to run reviews the day titles become public, but it does not influence the opinions expressed in the copy.
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2 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

2 responses to “Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘Muppets Most Wanted,’ ‘Bears,’ ‘Locke,’ ‘A Haunted House 2’ and ‘Blacklist: Season 1’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    Wow busy week for you! I somehow missed The Muppets Most Wanted but look forward to seeing it on blu-ray (although I am not the biggest Tina Fey fan- I know I’m weird that way!).

    Locke sounds intriguing. I will definitely give that one a rental. I’ve been busy working my way through the Disney Canon. I’m almost done. Would love if you could check it out sometime. http://54disneyreviews.wordpress.com/film-index/

    Like

  2. smilingldsgirl

    Locke is super amazing! Wow!

    Like

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