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Blu Tuesday: The Newsroom, House of Cards and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Newsroom: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: Following a mandatory leave of absence after a political tirade goes viral, news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Bridges) returns to find that most of his staff has quit. Seeing an opportunity to rebrand the nighttime program, his boss (Sam Waterson) hires Will’s ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), to executive produce a show that values quality news over ratings-driven infotainment.

WHY: Aaron Sorkin’s last TV project (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) may not have been his best work, but he’s hit a homerun with this HBO drama, which uses actual news stories (the BP oil spill, the death of Osama Bin Laden, etc.) to ground the show (and by extension, its characters) in reality. The writing is every bit as snappy, whip-smart and funny as we’ve come to expect from Sorkin, while the cast is littered with great performances from veterans like Bridges, Mortimer and Waterson, as well as up-and-comers like John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill and, quite surprisingly, Olivia Munn.

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on half the episodes, the four-disc set also includes all of the “Inside the Episode” recaps, a handful of deleted scenes, and a 25-minute roundtable discussion with Sorkin, Daniels, Mortimer, Waterson and directors/producers Greg Mottola and Alan Poul about making the show.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“House of Cards: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: After Senator Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the House Majority Whip, is passed over for the Secretary of State position, he exacts revenge on those who betrayed him by exploiting his devoted wife (Robin Wright), a young reporter (Kate Mara) and a troubled congressman (Corey Stoll) to help do his dirty work.

WHY: Based on the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, “House of Cards” is an enthralling and immensely addicting drama that boasts the kind of top-shelf quality we’ve come to expect from networks like HBO and AMC. In addition to being produced by David Fincher (who also directed the first two episodes), there’s not a single weak link in the cast. Kevin Spacey delivers his finest performance since “American Beauty” as the calculating politician, while Robin Wright is the perfect complement as his stone-cold marriage partner in crime. Corey Stoll also delivers some fine work as the congressman who gets ensnared in Underwood’s puppet strings. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the series is partly based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “Richard III,” because there are so many political power plays in each episode that it has the Bard’s fingerprints all over it.

EXTRAS: Sadly, no bonus material has been included.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Oz the Great and Powerful”

WHAT: When carnival magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is swept away by a tornado to the magical land of Oz, he meets a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes he’s the prophesized wizard that will defeat the terrorizing Wicked Witch. But after Theodora’s older sister (Rachel Weisz) tries to trick Oscar into killing Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams), he becomes embroiled in a fight for the kingdom.

WHY: For someone who supposedly counts “The Wizard of Oz” as one of his favorite films, Sam Raimi’s prequel doesn’t resemble it all, nor does the story add much to the mythology. It’s a messy hodgepodge of half-baked ideas and tongue-in-cheek references that mostly fall flat. “Oz the Great and Powerful” isn’t without its charms – Williams is perfectly cast as Glinda and Zach Braff turns in an entertaining performance as the voice of a friendly flying monkey – but Raimi seems so concerned with hitting all the familiar hotspots (like the Emerald City and Dark Forest) that he completely glosses over the fact that the story is a bore.

EXTRAS: James Franco’s behind-the-scenes documentary “My Journey in Oz” is arguably the highlight of the two-disc set, but there’s also a great look at Walt Disney’s history with the Oz books, a quartet of production featurettes and a blooper reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Enter the Dragon”

WHAT: A Shaolin disciple (Bruce Lee) is recruited by the British Intelligence to infiltrate a martial arts tournament being held by a crime lord (Kien Shih) suspected of drug trafficking and prostitution. He’s joined at the tournament by a gambling-addicted playboy (John Saxon) and black activist (Jim Kelly), both of whom are on the run for different reasons.

WHY: It seems a little unfair to refer to “Enter the Dragon” as Bruce Lee’s masterpiece, because he was just starting to hit his stride at the time of his unfortunate death, but it’s definitely one of the best martial arts movies ever made. Though incredibly cheesy at times and unabashedly inspired by “Dr. No,” the film serves as a great reminder why Lee was such an incredible entertainer. His martial arts skills may take center stage in the action scenes, including the iconic mirror room fight versus Han, but it’s his remarkable charisma (unrivaled by any other martial arts star to this day) that keeps you watching, and that’s why he was one of a kind.

EXTRAS: The 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition boasts many of the same extras from previous releases, as well as a few new ones, including featurettes on Lee’s legacy, the locations used during filming and the art of Wing Chun.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Snitch”

WHAT: After his estranged son (Rafi Gavron) is imprisoned for accepting a delivery of drugs on behalf of his friend, John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) strikes an agreement with the U.S. District Attorney (Susan Sarandon) to go undercover for the DEA and bring down a local drug dealer in exchange for his freedom.

WHY: Films like “Snitch” are meant to infuriate you about the supposed injustice of our legal system, but instead, it fails to generate any emotional response apart from boredom. A social issue movie disguised as a paint-by-numbers crime thriller, “Snitch” is reportedly based on a true story, but the events have been so distorted that hardly any details from the original news story remain. Johnson delivers a surprisingly subtle performance in the lead role, but he’s not given a whole lot to chew on. In fact, Barry Pepper’s scraggly goatee – which looks like something you’d find clogging a drain pipe – is probably the most interesting thing about the film, and though there have been far worse movies this year (see below), none have been so miserably tedious that an actor’s facial hair steals the show.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary with co-writer/director Ric Roman Waugh and editor Jonathan Chibnall, there’s also a fairly in-depth making-of featurette and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”

WHAT: Picking up where the fairly tale ended, orphaned siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have grown up to become famous witch hunters. Hired to retrieve some missing children from a small village, they discover that a dark witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen) plans to sacrifice them during the upcoming Blood Moon in an attempt to make all witches immune to fire.

WHY: After being shuffled from one release date to the next, Tommy Wirkola’s Hollywood debut shocked everyone when it made over $225 million worldwide, sparking talks of a potential sequel. Hopefully, that won’t come to pass, because anyone that actually sat through this movie can tell you just how horrible it really is – and not in a so-bad-it’s-good way either. The dialogue is dreadful, the acting isn’t much better, and the special effects are so cheap that there’s a troll character played by a guy in a goofy costume. It’s honestly hard to believe that Renner and Arterton were able to keep a straight face while making this B-movie garbage, because if the studio did anything right, it was delaying the film’s release as long as it did.

EXTRAS: While the original theatrical cut appears on the included DVD, the Blu-ray contains an unrated version of the movie with an additional 10 minutes of footage. There’s also a trio of featurettes on the various stages of production, creating the look of the witches and bringing the troll character to life.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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