Blu Tuesday: Die Hard, Zombie Love and More

After last week’s disappointing haul, Blu-ray fans will be pleasantly surprised by the wealth of new releases arriving in stores today. In addition to the movies covered below, you can also pick up other high-profile tiles like “Breaking Bad: Season Five,” “Falling Skies: Season Two,” “Adventure Time: Season Two” and “Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection,” all of which I recommend. Though it’s a bit strange that the studios would release so many great titles in the same week, it just means that you’ll have to be extra mindful of my suggestions.

“A Good Day to Die Hard”

The “Die Hard” series may have proven that it still had some life left in it with 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” but the latest installment is so shockingly dull that the studio would have been better off ending it there. Not only is it the weakest entry in the action franchise, but it’s so generic in just about every way that the only thing that makes it feel like a “Die Hard” movie at all is the inclusion of John McClane, and even he seems like a watered-down version of the character we know and love. After bringing back McClane’s daughter in the last film, it made sense to incorporate his son Jack into the story this time around. But while that dynamic may have sounded great on paper, it doesn’t work as well in execution. A lot of that falls on Skip Woods’ awful script, and between the clichéd plot and recycled jokes, “A Good Day to Die Hard” feels like a direct-to-video action film that’s replaced key characters with members of the McClane family. Director John Moore takes it one step further by sucking almost all the fun out of the experience. Though he clearly takes pride in the sheer ridiculousness of the violent set pieces, it’s mostly just a bunch of noise, and not terribly exciting to watch either.

Blu-ray Highlight: A review copy wasn’t provided in time, but if the list of bonus material is any indication, the extras are probably the best thing on the disc.

“Warm Bodies”

Director Jonathan Levine has tackled some pretty ballsy material in his short career, but “Warm Bodies” is easily his most adventurous and challenging project yet, if only because the subject matter is about as outside-the-box as you can get. Based on Isaac Marion’s young adult novel of the same name, the movie plays out like “Romeo and Juliet” by way of George Romero – a post-apocalyptic fairy tale that takes quite a few liberties with zombie film mythology along the way. One of the biggest changes is that eating someone’s brains now comes with the added effect of absorbing their memories. It doesn’t exactly make sense, but it’s essential to the story that Levine is trying to tell. And for the most part, he gets away with it, thanks mainly to his two leads. Teresa Palmer does a good job playing the love interest (a more proactive damsel in distress who could kick Bella Swan’s butt), while Nicholas Hoult’s performance is nothing short of impressive considering a bulk of his speaking lines are delivered in hilariously self-aware narration. The film drags a bit in the middle, but Levine’s script is bursting with such wry, dark humor that it just barely tips the scales in its favor.

Blu-ray Highlight: Same deal as above, and with a collection of extras that includes a cast and crew commentary and production featurettes on everything from casting and locations, to make-up and stunts, some of it will surely be worth checking out.

“Mad Max Trilogy”

It’s a little embarrassing to admit having never seen any of the “Mad Max” films in their entirety before, but after finally getting around to watching the cult classic trilogy over the weekend, I’m still puzzled as to why they’re so popular. Although it helped launch the careers of star Mel Gibson and director George Miller (who’s currently at work on another sequel), there’s not much more to appreciate beyond the excellent stunt work on display in each movie’s symphony of high-octane vehicular carnage. Gibson’s character doesn’t even play a very big part in the first film, and though he’s given a more traditional leading role in the gonzo, post-apocalyptic sequels, he seldom gets the chance to showcase the kind of movie star charisma that defined his future work. That’s because all three films have little in the way of actual plot or character development, and apart from Gibson, the acting is pretty horrendous too. “Mad Max,” “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” operate quite well as fun midnight movies as a result (partly because the villains are so comical), but that’s about the extent of their entertainment value.

Blu-ray Highlight: Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of extras, although the first movie does include an audio commentary with some of the crew and a retrospective titled “Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon,” while “The Road Warrior” features a commentary with director George Miller and cinematographer Dean Semler.

“It’s a Disaster”

The Mayans may have been wrong about 2012, but that hasn’t curbed Hollywood’s obsession with the end of the world. As if there weren’t enough doomsday-themed films released last year, 2013 will see no less than five different movies on the topic – that is, if you include “World War Z.” But before audiences flock to theaters to watch stars like Brad Pitt and James Franco try to survive the end of days, writer/director Todd Berger’s “It’s a Disaster” offers a darkly comic tale about a group of friends (and one stranger) who are forced into an impromptu therapy session following a biological attack on the city. Unfortunately, between the uneven script and lazily written stereotypes masquerading as characters, the film just isn’t very funny. David Cross earns some laughs as the straight man of the group, but the rest of the actors are pretty awful, even Julia Stiles and America Ferrera. “It’s a Disaster” has enough smirk-worthy moments to prevent people from making any lame jokes about the title, but with movies like “This Is the End” and “The World’s End” on the horizon, this is one apocalyptic comedy that you definitely don’t need to see before you die.

Blu-ray Highlight: In addition to a lively audio commentary with Berger, Cross and co-stars Kevin M. Brennan and Jeff Grace, there’s also a short behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast, footage from the Comic-Con panel, and a trio of videos from Berger’s sketch comedy group The Vacationeers.


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