Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Think Like a Man Too’

Gus (Ansel Elgort), left, and Hazel (Shailene Woodley) make a connection in “The Fault in Our Stars.”  Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Gus (Ansel Elgort), left, and Hazel (Shailene Woodley) make a connection in “The Fault in Our Stars.”

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

After several slow weeks we have a number of high-profile theatrical releases transitioning to the small screen. These include a big-budget monster movie and an intimate drama about kids struggling with cancer.

The Fault in Our Stars

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download

Adapting a book to the screen is a dicey affair, and the task is particularly daunting with a bestseller, like John Green’s 2012 novel, “The Fault in Our Stars.” Fortunately for fans, director Josh Boone skillfully dodges the pitfalls that have caused so many literary works to fail in theaters. Boone’s “Fault in Our Stars” is, like the book, a tearjerker, but it is also thoughtful, sweet and often funny. This seems appropriate for a story that, above all else, reminds viewers that the sick are not merely waiting to die. Rather, they are living, and often doing a better job of it than those of us caught up in the minutiae that dominates our daily lives.

Boone’s movie, like Green’s novel, focuses on Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a 16-year-old girl who has been battling terminal thyroid cancer for three years. Hazel tells viewers, in voiceover, that it is death, not cancer, that leads to depression in patients. Although it’s difficult to argue with her rationale, Hazel’s mother (Laura Dern) is determined to cheer her daughter up. So, she insists that Hazel attend a cancer-support group.

Although she is reluctant, Hazel’s second outing introduces her to Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort). He is a handsome, cheerful, former basketball star who lost a leg to bone cancer, and his effervescent personality draws Hazel in. Since he is also attracted to her, they form a tight friendship that blossoms during the movie.

At its most basic, “The Fault in Our Stars” is a romance, but this isn’t a simple film. The love story at the center of the plotting is underscored by a complex meditation on mortality, a commentary on the way survivors deal with loss and a constant reminder that the terminally ill are every bit as alive as the “healthy” people surrounding them.

Boone deserves credit for threading these ideas through the film while maintaining a brisk pace. Although the picture is talky, Boone uses the dialogue wisely, allowing Woodley, Elgort and Nat Wolff (who plays another cancer patient) to build deep relationships with each other and the audience. Because of this, it hurts to see the characters suffer, and it feels wonderful when they are happy.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is meant to be an emotional experience and – for viewers who let their guard down – it will be. Illness is something all human beings face, but we rarely talk about it. Boone and company force the conversation, and viewers reap the benefits.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a variety of promotional featurettes and an audio commentary by Boone and Green.

 

Godzilla

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
Warner Brothers
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, digital download and on demand

Warner Brothers’ reboot of the long-running Godzilla franchise was a hit in theaters, grossing more than $200 million in the U.S. alone. It will make even more on video, but newcomers may be disappointed by the relatively small role the title character plays.

Although Godzilla’s huge, dinosaur-like frame graces the cover of the Blu-ray, the screenplay is more interested in a couple additional monsters that the human characters call MUTOs, as in Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms.

The picture starts when a Japanese nuclear power plant is destroyed in the wake of strange seismic activity. Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) escapes but only after watching his wife die. Fifteen years later, Joe’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is forced to fly to Japan when his old man is arrested for trespassing. When they meet, Joe tells his boy there was something fishy about the power plant’s destruction and his mother’s death. Although Ford wants to move on, his father convinces him to revisit their old, Japanese home, which is located next to the ruins of the power plant. During their visit, the first MUTO goes on a rampage.

Along with killing a bunch of humans, the MUTO inexplicably awakens Godzilla, who pops out of the ocean intent on a massive-monster smackdown. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), an expert on the creatures, utters some nonsense about their motivation to fight, but the only real explanation is that director Gareth Edwards wanted Godzilla to face something bigger than fighter jets.

Once the creatures surface, they begin a chase across the Pacific Ocean and, conveniently, land in the population center of Honolulu. Because Ford is a military man, he joins the desperate human effort to prevent them from trashing the island.

Since the biggest selling point of a monster film is mayhem, Ford is only moderately successful. The MUTOs ultimately terrify the populations of two U.S. cities, destroying millions of dollars of property in the process. All of this leads to an epic showdown between the three monsters.

Folks who like this sort of thing should enjoy the special effects, and Edwards moves the plot briskly enough to allow charitable viewers to forgive its stupidity. Whether they’ll forgive the fact that Godzilla gets less screen time than the MUTOs is another story.

With a smarter plot, it might have made sense to relegate the title character to a supporting role. But, in a feature that so clearly values spectacle over intellect, Godzilla’s presence is missed.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a number of behind-the-scenes features, including several dedicated to the creation of the monsters.

 

Think Like a Man Too

1½ stars
Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content including references, partial nudity, language and drug material
Sony
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Director Tim Story’s original “Think Like a Man” is a simple-minded battle-of-the-sexes comedy that has cute moments but little originality. This sequel reunites the cast and sends its characters on another derivative adventure.

These days, any comedy set in Las Vegas recalls “The Hangover,” and “Think Like a Man Too” is too similar for a favorable comparison. Cedric (Kevin Hart) narrates, explaining that the characters from the first film are gathering in Vegas for the wedding of Michael (Terrence J) and Candace (Regina Hall). Before the nuptials, both the women and men plan a wild night on the town, and they get more than expected.

“Think Like a Man Too” has a lot of great players, including Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Taraji P. Henson, Jerry Ferrara, Gabrielle Union and Wendi McLendon-Covey. This crew does its best to milk laughs from the bland screenplay, but it’s tough because Story does little more than follow his characters through typical Vegas party scenes. There’s drinking. There’s gambling. There are strip clubs. And there’s the moment when everything gets out of hand.

The plotting would have been generic before “The Hangover,” but that adjective seems too kind today. One can easily imagine this cast making a great film, but not within this franchise.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes and two featurettes on the making of the movie.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“About a Boy” – Season One: This NBC TV series is the second screen adaptation of Nick Hornby’s like-titled novel. David Walton stars as Will Freeman, a freewheeling bachelor whose life changes when a single mom (Minnie Driver) and her 11-year-old son move in next door.

“Sleepy Hollow” – The Complete First Season: First 13 episodes in Fox’s supernatural series about Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), an 18th century soldier who is mysteriously reborn in the present day. Although flustered, Crane spends his time helping a police lieutenant (Nicole Beharie) battle supernatural forces.

“The Big Bang Theory” – The Complete Seventh Season: This sitcom, about two geeks who live next door to a beautiful blonde, is one of CBS’s biggest successes, and the eighth season debuts at the end of September. That gives fans a handful of days to digest the 24 episodes presented here.

“Eraserhead”: Fresh, digital restoration of writer-director David Lynch’s 1977 surrealist movie about a man (Jack Nance) living in an industrialized wasteland.

“Hawaii Five-O” – The Fourth Season: The continuing adventures of an elite law enforcement unit operating in the state of Hawaii. Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park star.

“Grimm” – Season Three: This supernatural drama’s fourth season will kick off just before Halloween. In the meantime, fans can revisit the 22 episodes on this set.

“Arrow” – The Complete Second Season: Twenty-three episodes of The CW hit focused on Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), a tortured billionaire who fights crime as the masked superhero Green Arrow.

“CSI – Crime Scene Investigation” – The Fourteenth Season: CBS’s long-running drama about Las Vegas criminalists just keeps chugging. Ted Danson, Elisabeth Shue and George Eads star.

“Mustang – The First 50 Years”: Two-DVD set focused on the evolution of the Ford Mustang, a car that generations of Americans love.

 

– 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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