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Blu Tuesday: Mobsters, Mothers and More

After what can only be described as a really lousy last few weeks, things are finally starting to pick up again in the land of Blu-ray, with several key titles (including the 3D edition of “Jurassic Park”) arriving in stores today. Though the selection isn’t as great as it was a few months ago, when compared to the rest of April, it’s hard to complain.

“Gangster Squad”

It’s been a while since Hollywood delivered a truly great mobster movie, and though “Gangster Squad” falls a little short of remedying that, it’s still an entertaining and welcome return to the genre, partially because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Will Beall’s script does a good job of balancing the drama with brief moments of humor, while Sean Penn’s gleefully over-the-top turn as Mickey Cohen is just campy enough without being distracting. The action sequences are also really well done, although the unique visual style that Ruben Fleischer brought to “Zombieland” isn’t as prevalent here as it was in that movie. If there’s one thing that really makes the film worth seeing, however, it’s the killer cast. Josh Brolin is great as the leader of the titular squad, and it’s nice to see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone rekindle their chemistry from “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” even if both parts are poorly underwritten. The other cast members don’t get as much to do, but having top-notch actors like Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Patrick in those supporting roles definitely elevates the material. The story is predictable, and it owes a lot to “The Untouchables,” but “Gangster Squad” is enjoyable in spite of all that.

Blu-ray Highlight: It’s a shame that Warner Bros. didn’t include the original movie theater shootout sequence among the deleted scenes, but the rest of the bonus material is pretty good. “The Gangland Files” collects many of the disc’s extras (including Focus Point mini-featurettes, historical trivia and other bits) into a picture-in-picture track that plays alongside the film, while the audio commentary with director Ruben Fleischer is informative but not terribly engaging.

“The Impossible”

Based on the true story of the Alvarez-Belon family – who were separated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami while vacationing in Thailand, only to overcome incredible odds and be miraculously reunited – the aptly titled “The Impossible” is a stunning second feature by Juan Antonio Bayona that blends physical filmmaking with raw emotion. The tsunami sequence is a remarkable technical feat that perfectly captures the danger and desperation of being caught in the storm, and the scenes that follow are every bit as harrowing and intense as any horror film. That’s because “The Impossible” is essentially a real-life horror movie, although one that features some soul-baring performances by its cast. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor both deliver some of the best work of their careers as the two parents stuck in a difficult situation, while newcomer Tom Holland announces himself to the world with a star-making turn as the couple’s eldest son. The end result is not only an extremely well-made survival thriller, but a poignant celebration of the human spirit that deserves to be seen by all.

Blu-ray Highlight: Though the audio commentary with director J.A. Bayona, writer Sergio G. Sanchez and real-life survivor Maria Belon isn’t nearly as interesting as you’d expect considering the subject matter, there is a short but sweet behind-the-scenes featurette titled “Realizing ‘The Impossible’” that provides a cool look at filming the tsunami sequence using a combination of practical effects, models and CG.

“Pawn”

The direct-to-video market has really improved over the last five years or so, with many films now featuring well-known actors keen to make a quick payday. But while the presence of these stars certainly makes the movies more appealing, there’s usually a good reason why they didn’t get a theatrical release, and in the case of “Pawn,” it’s down to some bad writing. Though the crime thriller starts out fairly promising, it doesn’t take long before the film devolves into a poorly scripted mess filled with stupid characters, contrived plot twists and one of the worst rush job endings you’ll ever see. The movie tries really hard to be clever, but it just comes off as unnecessarily complex, with strange decisions on both sides of the camera. Michael Chiklis, sporting a Cockney accent for some strange reason, is the best thing about the film, but unfortunately, the rest of the big names (like Forest Whitaker, Stephen Lang and Ray Liotta) don’t have nearly as much to do. With a better script, “Pawn” could have been a lot more enjoyable, but instead, it’s just another example of good actors stuck in a bad movie.

Blu-ray Highlight: The only extra on the disc is a 23-minute behind the scenes featurette that’s pretty hard to sit through. Not only does it include the usual self-congratulatory interviews with the cast and crew, but it’s done in such a confident and overenthusiastic manner that you’d think they were making a future Oscar winner.

  

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