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.
WHAT: Drug addict Mia (Jane Levy) is taken to a remote cabin in the woods by her brother (Shiloh Fernandez) and three friends to help kick the habit. But when one of them unknowingly summons an evil spirit from the Book of the Dead, the demon possesses Mia and turns her against the others.
WHY: “Evil Dead” is one of the few remakes that’s not only a success, but actually improves upon the original in certain departments. Though Sam Raimi’s version will forever be the “Evil Dead” of choice for horror purists, director Fede Alvarez has done an admirable job of preserving the tone of Raimi’s film while making it just different enough to stand on its own. The whole drug angle was a really smart way of introducing the characters into the story, and although they still make their share of bad decisions (particularly Lou Taylor Pucci’s Eric, whose stupidity will drive you crazy), for the most part, they’re much more developed than the typical cast of horror victims. Where Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” really flourishes, however, is the gore factor, because there’s absolutely no shortage of the red gooey stuff throughout the film’s brisk 91-minute runtime, and for horror fans, that’s surely music to their ears.
EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary with director Fede Alvarez, writer Rodo Sayagues and stars Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci and Jessica Lucas, there’s a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews with the cast and crew about remaking the horror classic and more.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: In 1947, African-American baseball players were relegated to their own Negro League, but that all changed when Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) made the bold decision to break the color line and offer Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) the chance to make history as the first professional black player in the National League.
WHY: The story of Jackie Robinson is pretty much the ultimate civil rights tale, so it’s surprising that only one other film has been made on the subject, and that movie starred the famous athlete as himself. It’s probably because no matter how inspiring Robinson’s story may be, he’s not a particularly interesting figure, and that’s something that director Brian Helgeland constantly wrestles with in “42,” a conservative and slightly cheesy sports drama that feels like a product of its 1940s setting. Though Robinson makes for a dull protagonist, Helgeland surrounds him with a cast of colorful characters, including Christopher Meloni as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, Alan Tudyk as racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman and Harrison Ford in a standout performance as Branch Rickey. It’s the veteran actor’s involvement that just barely tips the scale in the favor of “42,” because while the movie is an enjoyable tribute to one of baseball’s biggest heroes, it’s not as memorable as the source material warrants.
EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes featurette on training the actors to play baseball and recreating the old stadiums with special effects, another featurette on Boseman and Ford getting into character, and a brief retrospective on Robinson’s legacy.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: When his partner is killed following their latest job, New Orleans hitman Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) teams up with a Washington, D.C. detective (Sung Kang) to track down the ruthless businessman (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) responsible and bring him to justice. Of course, their ideas of justice are very different.
WHY: Walter Hill earned a reputation for making what he likes to refer to as the anti-buddy cop movie (see: “48 Hrs.), but any attempt at recapturing that earlier success with “Bullet to the Head” is an unmitigated failure. The whole old guy/young guy shtick isn’t nearly as funny as Hill seems to think it is, and the chemistry between Sly Stallone (who looks so bored that he might as well be sleeping) and Sung Kang (who’s not given much to work with) is almost nonexistent. Kang plays what might be the dumbest movie cop in recent memory, and as a result, he’s unable to tap into that cool guy charm that made him such a great part of the “Fast and Furious” series. Jason Momoa injects a little energy into the film as the villain’s right-hand man, but save for a cool axe fight between him and Stallone in the final act, “Bullet to the Head” isn’t any better than the typical straight-to-video release.
EXTRAS: The two-disc release is a nearly barebones affair, with only one making-of featurette that focuses on the action and stunts in the film.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: Ex-CIA agent Ben Logan (Aaron Eckhart) is forced to go on the run with his estranged daughter (Liana Liberato) when his employers erase records of his existence and target him for termination to cover up a corporate conspiracy. Hot on Ben’s trail is former colleague Anna Brandt (Olga Kurylenko), who played a part in his release from the agency.
WHY: There’s a reason why the direct-to-video market has exploded in recent years, and that’s because it provides a stage for movies that normally wouldn’t get made, as long as there’s one or two big names involved. Unfortunately, most of the films that debut on this format are either really bad or incredibly generic, and “Erased” falls into the latter category. There’s not a single original idea in this movie, but because it stars Aaron Eckhart, you’re tricked into thinking that it might be good. But you would be wrong. Though Eckhart is a decent substitute for Liam Neeson (who’s made a variation of this film several times in the last few years), he’s not exactly helped by Arash Amel’s clichéd script or Philipp Stölzl’s uninspired direction. In keeping with the Neeson comparison, it’s more “Unknown” than “Taken,” and if you’ve seen both movies, then you know that’s not exactly the highest compliment.
EXTRAS: The only bonus material on the disc is a short behind-the-scenes featurette, but that’s hardly surprising.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: Released on parole after 8 years in prison, Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) arrives home to find that his two sons, Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams), have been abandoned by their mother. Forced into reassuming custody of the kids, Bill must risk going back to prison when Jimmy gets himself into trouble with his dad’s old drug-dealing friends.
WHY: The British movie industry produces an obscene amount of gritty crime flicks every year, so it’s refreshing to see one that turns the genre on its head by taking the archetypal gangster character and dropping him in the middle of a domestic drama. Even then, “Wild Bill” still relies on some of the same tired conventions, but actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher manages to deliver a surprisingly poignant family portrait with the help of his incredible cast, which includes cameos by friends like Jason Flemyng and Andy Serkis. The film wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does if it weren’t for Charlie Creed-Miles’ subtle but effective performance as the title character, and rising star Will Poulter continues to prove that he’s one of the UK’s brightest young talents with his turn as Bill’s eldest son. “Wild Bill” isn’t without its problems, but it’s a solid start to Fletcher’s directing career and enough to earn him a second crack behind the camera.
EXTRAS: There’s a decent making-of featurette, a handful of deleted scenes, and a rapid-fire montage of interviews with the cast and crew naming their favorite films.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT