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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: An Actor Prepares

“Slender Man” and “The Spy Who Dumped Me” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Titling a movie “An Actor Prepares” is a bold move and a bit misleading. This title also belongs to a famous a famous acting training book from 1936 by Konstantin Stanislavski, which has influenced generations of method actors since its publication. It’s easy to assume that a movie with this title would be an adaptation of sorts that delves deep and explores what it means to be a method actor.

Well, if that is what you assumed, you’d be wrong. “An Actor Prepares” is a road trip movie about an estranged father and son. The father is Atticus Smith, played by Jeremy Irons. He’s a chain-smoking, hard drinking womanizer whose decades of fast living have finally caught up with him. Early on, we see him get drunk at a party in his honor and have a heart attack. This is bad news for his agent Jimmy (Ben Schwartz), who just got Atticus cast in a role playing God. The part is in danger if he doesn’t get timely heart surgery. Adding to the deadline pressure is the fact that his daughter Annabelle (Mamie Gummer) is getting married in New York. One problem: He is in Los Angeles and cannot fly across the country due to his heart condition.

Luckily, son Adam (Jack Huston) lives in Los Angeles. Adam is the exact kind of self-loathing, guilt-ridden man often produced by having a bad role model for a dad. He’s a self-proclaimed male feminist—one of the deluded ones who stupidly believes that feminism cares about men’s issues too—who teaches a class on women in film and has spent years of his life trying to put together an agenda-pushing documentary. Adam gets news that his father, who he hasn’t seen or spoken to in 15 years, has had a heart attack so he rushes to the hospital. After a tense reunion, the decision is made: Atticus and Adam have to drive across country together to get to Annabelle’s wedding and get Atticus heart surgery in time to make the start date for his next movie.

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Sure, there have been countless movies about two opposites being thrown together and forced to spend time traveling with each other. There have also been movies made before about parents and children who are estranged, and a tragic event forces them together to reconcile their differences. “An Actor Prepares” doesn’t exactly re-invent the wheel. What it does do is take those two common movie types and meld them together, and it does so in an engaging way. The energetic, straightforward, hedonistic Atticus and the touchy, uptight, overly sensitive Adam have a large emotional chasm between them. As their journey physically progresses further and further through some beautiful American landscapes, the bridge they build over that chasm brings them closer to one another.

I have to say that what really hooked me into “An Actor Prepares” is the performance of Jeremy Irons. I know of him from decades past as a serious actor, and it’s fun to see him shed that persona for something less grounded and a bit crazy. It’s a brave choice for him, too. After all, we know he can do heavy drama and costume pieces. But can he do comedy? I think “An Actor Prepares” shows us that yes, he can. Rent it.

Also New This Week

Slender Man

I knew “Slender Man” would be a slog right from the opening credits. They move along very slowly, with low, rumbling music playing underneath them. Right then and there I had my suspicions that the story would be thin and the run time is being padded to get to just over ninety minutes. My suspicions were confirmed when at several times during the movie, slow motion is used unnecessarily. Note to director Sylvain White: If your movie is garbage, end it quickly. Don’t stretch it out. You’re just prolonging the pain of the innocent viewers watching this nonsense.

The movie is about four teenage girls--Wren (Joey King), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair), and Katie (Annalise Basso)—who accept a daring challenge to call upon the Slender Man, a mythical being who lives in the woods, drives people insane, and steals children. Their goal is to prove that Slender Man is just a hoax and nothing happens if you call on him.

Of course things do start happening, but none of it is particularly exciting, suspenseful, or original. It’s not even all that great to look at. This movie is extremely dark (I mean that literally, as in there is hardly any light in some scenes). The problem with a movie being lit too darkly is that everything looks black and muddled. Movies like this work much better when there is just enough light to see a bit more clearly without losing mood or atmosphere. German Expressionist director F.W. Murnau perfected this lighting scheme and did a wonderful job playing with shadows in silent movies he made in the 1920s. For a more recent example of how light, shadow, and color can work to create the right mood in a horror movie, check out Dario Argento’s 1977 classic “Suspiria.” He contrasted primary colors against the dark and created what is arguably the most visually stunning color horror movie ever made. How is it that horror movie visuals have gone from such great artistic expression to black and bland? Perhaps with “Slender Man” it’s to hide the super cheesy, low budget visual effects they used.

We also need to talk about Slender Man himself. He’s not scary. He’s a tall, thin man in a business suit who has no face. I’m not sure if it’s the expressionlessness of his countenance or the fact that a strong wind would blow him straight to Oz, but I have a hard time looking at him and taking him as a serious threat. The only serious threat that this “Slender Man” movie poses is one to your time. Save an hour and a half of your life and Skip it.

The Spy How Dumped Me

It seems to me like it’s a good idea for movie makers to ask themselves questions like, “Who is my movie for? Who is it aimed at? Who is the intended audience?” These questions were clearly not asked by the folks behind “The Spy Who Dumped Me.” Is this an action movie? Is it a comedy? If it’s supposed to be an action-comedy, then there needs to be balance. This movie has none. The action is brutal and at times horrifying, but then it is undercut by the attempts at comedy that fall completely flat.

The movie stars Mila Kunis as Audrey and Kate McKinnon as Morgan, two dim bulb roommates looking for love. At least Audrey is looking for love. Morgan is just looking for a good time. Perhaps this why, throughout the entire movie, McKinnon seems like she’s on drugs. The problems start when Audrey’s ex-boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) returns and reveals that he’s a spy. Before they know it, the two women are caught up in a cat and mouse game involving the CIA, MI-6, and a terrorist organization, all of whom want a flash drive that they think was given to the women by Drew.

This cat and mouse game involves a lot of brutal and bloody fights, shootouts, and chases with innocent people getting killed. The level of violence is something you’d see in a “Bourne” movie, except that since this movie is rated R, director Susanna Fogel decided to go the extra mile and include blood spatter effects. Then in one scene, where a dead man’s thumb is needed to unlock a phone, the sound effects are what make it particularly gruesome. There is also some out of place and completely unnecessary nudity that’s included solely for exploitation and a cheap laugh.

Amidst all of the blood and chaos are two of the most vapid, unlikeable protagonists ever thrust on a screen. Their banter is idiotic and unfunny, and their behavior is oftentimes selfish. In this movie’s twisted world, we’re supposed to root for two morons who steal passports from unsuspecting back packers and get innocent cab drivers killed, all the while making ridiculous comments in an attempt to take the edge off. One problem: Nothing of what they say or do is funny. Ever.

There is one scene in “The Spy Who Dumped Me” that did make me laugh, but it had nothing to do with the two leads. An assassin named Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno) is in a clock tower holding a sniper rifle and is told that her assignment is to kill “Two dumb American women.” I let out some laughter as Nadedja looks through the rifle scope and sees multiple choices, as there are various pairs of women doing the stupid things that young American women are known to do, like take selfies while making silly faces and holding a drunk friend’s hair while she pukes. That was it though. The rest of the movie is too horrific for anyone who wants a comedy and too unfunny for anyone who wants an action movie. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Mandy,” about a man who gets revenge on a religious sect for the death of the love of his life, starring Nicolas Cage; “Death of a Nation,” Dinesh D'Souza documentary that draws parallels between Abraham Lincoln's presidency and the presidency of Donald Trump; and “Bill Murray Stories,” a documentary that explores various urban legends around Hollywood's most elusive star, starring Bill Murray, Joel Murray, and Peter Farrelly.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.