Blu-ray Tuesday: ‘FOCUS’, ‘McFARLAND’ & the Godawful ‘JUPITER ASCENDING’

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

FOCUS | 104 min | Rated R
Director: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Rodrigo Santoro

We have seen grifter movies enough times where it no longer has the novel appeal, but with FOCUS, filmmakers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (CRAZY STUPID LOVE) hone in the art of deception with a scintillating narrative that (and I mean this as a compliment) never tries too hard to overwhelm.

Will Smith plays Nicky, a con-man who has all the angles covered at all times– in other words he’s “focused.” After a failed conning by the prodigy Jess (played by Margot Robbie), the duo team up in a mentor/intern dynamic that turns into something more after a high stakes betting scam at the Super Bowl. After Nicky abruptly ends their professional and personal relationship, they unexpectedly cross paths again three years later when they discover they are after the same mark, a double-dealing race-car driver (Rodrigo Santoro).

Where most films of this ilk rely on curtain calls and slight-of-hand to be captivating, FOCUS showcases the jaunty nature of the business while letting the two leads have a fun, breezy relationship. The only issue with the film is Robbie is at times treated as a prize to be won, but this perspective could be result of the voyeur’s perception rather than the filmmakers.

FOCUS is never too clever for its own good, while still managing to be an out of the ordinary film. Luckily, for Smith and Robbie, the duo have an undeniable charm that carries this duplicitous escapade.

– Cole Clay

The Blu-ray Combo Pack Extras Include:

  • Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con
  • Will Smith: Gentleman Thief
  • Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Alternate Opening

McFARLAND, USA | 128 min | Rated PG
Director: Niki Caro
Cast: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Pratts and Morgan Saylor

When it comes to Disney sport films, critics tend to roll their eyes. All too often does Disney play it too safe and try to manipulate our emotions, but hey, their films are made to be seen by a wide audience. So you can’t expect a lot of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. However, since this is a family-friendly zone, McFARLAND, USA is about as good as sports films get.

The story is as follows: After an incident, Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) finds himself having to move his family to the only job at the only school that would hire him. He has his doubts about the town (insert movie title), but after some time goes by he notices that the students of McFarland High School have a unique potential. They may not have the talent to lead a football team, but they can run. So Coach White forms a cross country team and transforms the students into championship contenders.

Costner is a dependable actor for the most part, especially movies with sports set as the background. Even when his movies are terrible, and Costner has been in some terrible movies, he always brings such charm and heart to his roles. But while Costner carries the film in a big way, much of the film’s strength comes from the runners themselves and their unique, individual stories. They each work hard, get up before dawn and support their families by working in the fruit fields. It offers a powerful immersion into their culture and taxing lifestyle that is part of their work.

McFARLAND, USA could have easily been rendered a clichéd portrayal, but Caro has a careful hand that poignantly depicts the harsh reality of life in a migrant community and showcases an awe-inspiring story about a town that came together and had hope. Of the new additions this week, this may be the good-hearted film to see.

– Preston Barta

The Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • McFarland Reflections – Join Kevin Costner with Coach Jim White and members of the 1987 cross-country team as they look back on the bonds they forged and the opportunities they were given.
  • “Juntos” Music Video – Performed by Juanes
  • Inspiring McFarland – See the strength and perseverance that brought a community together.
  • Deleted and extended scenes


JUPITER ASCENDING | 127 min. | PG-13
Director: Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
Stars: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton and Sean Bean

I have to give the Wachowskis some credit— they paint pretty fascinating sci-fi universes. Ever since THE MATRIX they have been creating some of the most visual worlds around. They also have come up with some unique concepts. For instance, in their latest feature, JUPITER ASCENDING, Earth and thousands of other planets are all owned by different families who use them to farm in order to create a forever young potion. There’s something in this idea that draws your interest, but everything else around it causes you to shake your head with frustration.

It’s clear the Wachowskis’ ambitions extend beyond just this one story. With a universe as rich as the one they created here, there are so many directions they can take the story. It’s just unfortunate that their ambition is wasted on a story that doesn’t seem to capitalize on such a universe.

In the film, Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a woman who dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of scrubbing toilets. Sound stupid already? Let’s continue— But when Caine (Channing Tatum), some genetically engineered “pointy-eared bastard,” arrives to Earth to find her, Jupiter begins to feel as though her life was made for something more, which is true. She soon realizes that she is royalty. She is the reincarnation of the mother of some otherworldly rich folk.

You will either find this idea pretty neat or ridiculous. Just depends how you like your sci-fi. With all its aliens, elephant and lizard faced species, there is a lot to admire within (or laugh at). Aesthetically speaking, this is a dazzling feature. Like AVATAR, it’s crazy to imagine how much thought the Wachowskis put into creating all the things they did; that’s the mindblowing aspect. However, one wishes that they would focus their minds on penning a more engaging script and characters.

– Preston Barta

Both the 3D Blu-Ray and Blu-ray Combo Packs include:

  • Jupiter Jones: Destiny Is Within Us
  • Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior
  • The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter
  • Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds
  • Bullet Time Evolved
  • From Earth to Jupiter (And Everywhere in Between)

 

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.