‘Detour’ petrifies, ‘Flashes’ scores and ‘Olympus’ rises on DVD

Among the movies that became available Tuesday, Aug. 13 on Blu-ray and DVD at retail stores and rental outlets throughout the Valley are a single-setting thriller about a man buried alive in his own vehicle, a sports comedy starring five underutilized actresses and the far better of the year’s two White House hostage crisis actioners.

The Angels’ Share

Paul Brannigan plays a new dad who, narrowly avoiding jail, vows to turn over a new leaf. A visit to a whiskey distillery inspires him and his mates to seek a way out of their hopeless lives. (NR – 96 minutes)

Although it really refers to the 2 percent of alcohol that disappears into thin air each year during the Scotch whiskey maturation process, it is almost ironic that “The Angels’ Share” title suggests something spiritual. Director Ken Loach’s new Scottish dramedy, which was written by his “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” collaborator Paul Laverty, has a social conscience that is kind of confusing. What starts out as a charming and almost fairytale-like story about unfair working class contraventions takes a tonal turn in the third act and suggests that two wrongs may actually make a right after all. (Thumbs Down!)

The Big Wedding

Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton play a long divorced couple who are once again forced to play the happy husband and wife for the sake of their adopted son’s (Ben Barnes) wedding after his ultra conservative biological mother (Patricia Rae) unexpectedly decides to fly halfway across the world to attend. (R – 89 minutes)

“The Big Wedding” really is big – the biggest waste of talent that you will see all year, that is. Granted, writer/director Justin Zackham’s new comedy may not have come across as such a colossal disaster if it had starred a bunch of unknowns – or even lesser-knowns. But with a cast of A-list actors that includes Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried and Ben Barnes, one can only shake their head in disbelief of its ineptitude. Such a simple-minded script populated with cardboard-like characters should have been left at the alter. (Thumbs Down!)

The Company You Keep

Robert Redford plays a wanted man and former member of the revolutionary militant group the Weather Underground who goes on the run after a journalist (Shia LaBeouf) outs him. (R – 125 minutes)

Seeing Robert Redford, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Elliott – or what is essentially a parade of cinematic legends – walk across the silver screen in “The Company You Keep” is a bewildering blast from the past but at some point it all just seems superficial. The sensation is only amplified by the thriller’s spineless story, which lacks any suspense whatsoever and is quite confusing thanks to the unnecessarily high number of players involved. It does not help matters much that none of these characters are particular worth rooting for. (Thumbs Down!)

Detour

Neil Hopkins plays a man who, trapped inside his car by a mudslide with no hope of rescue, must defy the odds – battling Mother Nature for his survival. (NR – 87 minutes)

Single-setting thrillers (think elevators ala “Devil” and ski chairlifts ala “Frozen”) are a tough nut to crack. They are even tougher when a single actor is responsible for carrying the entire movie on his shoulders alone (think Ryan Reynolds in “Buried” and James Franco in “127 Hours”). However, writer/director William Dickerson and star Neil Hopkins have done exactly that with “Detour” – and on an indie filmmaker’s production budget no less. The film features all of the claustrophobia, desperation and pure panic that you could possibly want in a motion picture, taking you on an emotional and psychological roller-coaster ride without ever leaving the confines of a car. (Thumbs Up!)

Emperor

Matthew Fox plays a general who, as the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, is tasked with deciding if Emperor Hirohito will be hanged as a war criminal. Tommy Lee Jones also stars. (PG-13 – 98 minutes)

At one point during the new post-WWII drama “Emperor,” Tommy Lee Jones retorts, “I don’t need a history lesson.” My thoughts exactly – especially one as devastatingly dull as director Peter Weber’s new motion picture. There are mere glimpses of a remotely fascinating film found here and there – namely the scenes shared by Matthew Fox and Eriko Hatsune, who plays his character’s love interest – but said scenes are fighting a losing battle with a story so scant on style and padded with pokerfaced performances that you will be willing to fall on your own sword to escape it. (Thumbs Down!)

The Hot Flashes

Brooke Shields, Virginia Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Wanda Sykes and Camryn Manheim play an unlikely group of middle-aged women who challenge the high school girls’ state basketball champs to raise money for a mobile breast cancer screening truck to continue its work. (R – 99 minutes)

“The Hot Flashes” is a good-natured film about refusing to be sidelined due to one’s age – especially when the incentive is a bit bigger than a championship trophy. Having said that, the new sports comedy plays strictly by the genre’s rules – shot for three-point shot – and thus cannot really be called original much less groundbreaking. Moreover, the scenes on the court are not exactly nail-biting (or even authentic for that matter). But that is why director Susan Seidelman’s motion picture is so universally appealing; it scores with its humongous heart as opposed to its superficial skills. (Thumbs Up!)

Olympus Has Fallen

Gerard Butler plays a disgraced former presidential guard who, when the White House is captured by a terrorist mastermind (Rick Yune) and the President (Aaron Eckhart) is kidnapped, helps retake the White House, save the President and avert an even bigger disaster. (R – 118 minutes)

“Olympus Has Fallen” is explosively exciting, exceptionally suspenseful and has everything that one could possibly want in an entire season of “24” condensed into two intense hours. It is hard to believe that director Antoine Fuqua’s new action-thriller was not initially conceived as an mission for Jack Bauer because it seems tailor-made for him. However, Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning is a spectacular stand-in, single-handedly saving the day in such a way that ensures viewers a really riveting time from the moment the White House comes under crowd attack to the last-ditch effort to protect the president’s life and simultaneously stop America’s apocalypse. (Thumbs Up!)

What Maisie Knew

Onata Aprile plays a 6-year-old girl who, while struggling for grace in the midst of her parents’ (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) bitter custody battle, navigates ever-widening turmoil with innocence, charm and generosity of spirit. (R – 93 minutes)

“What Maisie Knew” is a touching and triumphant exercise in point-of-view filmmaking but it fails to add any new insight to it sadly familiar story. We already knew what Maisie knew – divorces and domestic squabbling do spectacular damage to young hearts that soak up negative emotions like a sponge and are robbed of childhood’s playful impunity. The modern-day cinematic adaptation of Henry James’s 1897 novel shows its 6-year-old star reacting to things we have seen on the screen a thousand times. The tragedy of it all is felt within the first minute. However, for some reason, we are asked to stick around for 92 more. (Thumbs Down!)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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