American Ultra (Blu-ray) (2015)

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Released 6-Jan-2016

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Comedy Audio Commentary
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette
Outtakes
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2015
Running Time 95:43
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Nima Nourizadeh
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Jesse Eisenberg
Kristen Stewart
Topher Grace
Connie Britton
John Leguizamo
Bill Pullman
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $39.95 Music Marcelo Zarvos


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     There is a strange phenomenon in movies especially amongst critics where there are complaints when films are clichéd but they then also criticise films which are not clichéd because they don't follow normal patterns. This film, American Ultra, needs to be applauded for going somewhere different in the action/comedy genre and trying to find a different voice. This does not mean it is a perfect film but it is certainly different and interesting. I did enjoy this film and applaud its enterprise and surprising approach to action comedy. Unfortunately, it pretty much sank without trace at the box office, only doing about $15m globally. Maybe it will find more of an audience on shiny discs and digital download. I can certainly see where fans of films like Kick-Ass would get something from this film. It is certainly interesting to note that the public voted score on IMDB is certainly higher than that given by critics websites like Metacritic.

     The story is set in a small town in West Virginia, where a stoner couple live, happily in love. They are convenience store clerk, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend, Phoebe Larsen (Kristen Stewart). They spend their time being in love and taking drugs, living day by day. Mike decides to surprise Phoebe by taking her to Hawaii, however he is always plagued by panic attacks if he attempts to leave their home town. This plan does not go well, neither does his plan to pop the question to her; he just can't quite find the right time. Little does Mike realise that he is in fact a highly trained assassin, trained and mind controlled by the CIA, waiting to be activated by a predefined set of code phrases. A newly promoted middle manager, Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) at the CIA has decided that the program which created Mike needs to be shut down with all the assets terminated. The woman responsible for the program, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), does not want this to happen. Lasseter rushes to the small town and activates Mike before the hit squad arrives to kill him. Despite not really knowing what is going on, Mike is suddenly a lethal killing machine who defends himself and Phoebe with extreme prejudice. Mayhem ensues.

     Other cast members include John Leguizamo as a local drug dealer and Bill Pullman as a more senior CIA agent. This film is quite entertaining with some funny lines, different situations, baddies that don't act based on clichés and lots of blood spurting, bone crunching action earning its MA rating. It is not perfect with some sequences working better than others, however, it is certainly worth seeing for its inventiveness especially. Jesse Eisenberg is believable both as the stoner and the killer and his relationship with Kristen Stewart works and drives the plot twists. This film is directed by second timer feature director, Nima Nourizadeh, whose first film was Project X. My feeling is that although entertaining there is a better film in this concept which maybe would have come out with a different director or a bigger budget. However, it is also possible that these changes would have resulted in a more formulaic outcome. The story is told in a different way with many moments which could have been clichéd but those clichés were mostly avoided. One moment that stood out in this regard is the hit squad who try to kill Mike in the police station, especially the moment outside.

     In summary this is an imperfect film which is certainly different to other films in the comedy action genre. Well worth a look.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The film was shot digitally which shows in the transfer which although nicely detailed and colourful lacks the clarity and definition of some Blu-ray transfers. There is nothing major wrong with it, it just doesn't 'pop' like some transfers of higher budget films. There is good definition especially in close-ups. It is presented in 1.85:1, the original aspect ratio, at 1080p.

There are subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, subtitles which are clear and easy to read.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     This local Blu-ray release sports a very competent DTS HD-MA 5.1 soundtrack which does a great job of bringing the action in this film to life. The disappointing thing however is that the Region A edition has a DTS:X track (basically the DTS equivalent of Dolby Atmos) which even if you are not enabled for such translates to a DTS HD-MA 7.1 track. Based on reviews I have read of the Region A edition this seems to make a significant difference, producing a sound field that blows others away. Unfortunately, this local version is a step down and although very good does not have the specifications of the overseas one. Having said that most users will not be that bothered as this is a very good soundtrack with some quality surround effects and great sounding music and effects. There is also an Audio Descriptive track available in Dolby Digital 2.0.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     The extras are decent without setting the world on fire.

Menu

     The menu included pictures from the film and music.

Audio Commentary - Director Nima Nourizadeh

     This commentary is nothing special, featuring scene by scene explanations from the director including casting, sets, locations, the story, use of special effects. Nothing he says is overly interesting but it is not terrible either. There are quite a few pauses and ums and uhhhs.

Activating American Ultra (40:23)

     The format of a normal making of featurette just running for 40 minutes. This means there is some more detail but it still feels superficial. The actors, writer and director are interviewed who discuss the tone, comedy juxtaposed with violence, stunts, fights and more. Not bad but too long.

Assassinating on a budget (3:23)

     Fluff piece which adds up the value of items which Mike uses to kill people.

Gag Reel (2:42)

     Stuff up but not really funny.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As I mentioned above the Region A version has a significantly enhanced soundtrack being DTS:X which is unavailable locally. Those who are equipped for it should import, others need to decide if the extra two channels are worthwhile. Region A wins.

Summary

    A violent, different and entertaining action comedy.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is very good but not up to the standard available in other regions.

    The extras are decent.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Friday, January 29, 2016
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DMR-PWT500, using HDMI output
DisplaySharp LC52LE820X Quattron 52" Full HD LED-LCD TV . Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt into amplifier. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationMarantz SR5005
SpeakersMonitor Audio Bronze 2 (Front), Bronze Centre & Bronze FX (Rears) + Sony SAW2500M Subwoofer

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