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: When former Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) gets trapped inside the White House following a terrorist attack, he must rely on his special skills to rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart) from his captors before they detonate the country’s entire nuclear stockpile on domestic soil.
WHY: Antoine Fuqua may have beat Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down” to the punch by being the first Presidential action flick out of the gate, but not without the final product suffering as a result. The special effects, in particular, look a little unpolished (undoubtedly due to its tight post-production schedule), and although it features an excellent cast, many of the actors are wasted, perhaps none more so than Eckhart, who’s given very little to but grimace and grit his teeth. It’s also completely ridiculous in just about every way, from an unidentified Black Hawk flying straight into Washington, D.C. (when it would have been shot down as soon as it entered U.S. airspace), to North Korean terrorists overtaking one of the country’s most heavily guarded buildings in a matter of minutes. The film takes a while to get going, but once Banning gets into full stealth mode, “Olympus Has Fallen” becomes quite enjoyable – a poor man’s “Die Hard” in the best sense possible.
EXTRAS: In addition to a making-of featurette titled “Under Surveillance,” there are four more featurettes on the cast, special effects, stunts and the Black Hawk sequence, as well as a short blooper reel.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: The further adventures of Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) and her group of twenty-something friends – Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) – as they traverse the ups and downs of adulthood in New York City.
WHY: I had a very love-hate relationship with the first season of “Girls,” but Season Two is such a complete train wreck that it made me want to stop watching the show altogether. Dunham has created one of the most unlikable protagonists on TV (between her coke-fueled meltdown and the Patrick Wilson episode, she hits an all-time low), and Williams’ laughably insecure Marnie isn’t too far behind. In fact, the female characters have so few redeeming qualities – even Mamet’s lively Shoshanna resorts to some bad behavior this season – that it’s a wonder how the audience is supposed to keep rooting for them. Thankfully, their male co-stars at least make “Girls” tolerable. Season One standout Adam Driver continues his strange but endearing performance as Hannah’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, while Alex Karpovsky seizes his expanded role with aplomb. Unfortunately, the show isn’t called “Boys,” although as far as spinoff ideas go, giving Driver and Karpovsky their own series sounds infinitely better than whatever Dunham cooks up next.
EXTRAS: There’s certainly no shortage of bonus material here, highlighted by cast and crew audio commentaries on seven episodes. Also included is a series of deleted scenes, Inside the Episode featurettes, a table read for Episode 5, a Charlie Rose interview with Lena Dunham, a making-of featurette, a roundtable discussion with the show’s male co-stars, and if you can believe it, much more.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: When a member of a 1970s antiwar protest group is arrested for her involvement in a murder 30 years earlier, a daring reporter (Shia LeBeouf) uncovers the group’s leader, Jim Grant (Robert Redford), working as a lawyer in New York. Forced to go on the run from the FBI, Jim sets out to track down his former colleagues in order to clear his name once and for
WHY: Robert Redford the actor/director and Robert Redford the activist have become virtually interchangeable over the past decade, so it’s not surprising to see his name attached to a movie like “The Company You Keep.” But while the film is a pretty run-of-the-mill political thriller with some minor pacing issues and a surprising lack of suspense, it’s boosted by some great acting. Redford pulls double duty as a single father looking to escape his secretive past, while LaBeouf delivers what is arguably his best performance in years. What really makes the movie sizzle, however, is its ensemble cast – the kind that only someone of Redford’s repute has the influence to assemble. Julie Christie. Nick Nolte. Susan Sarandon. Chris Cooper. Sam Elliot. Brendan Gleeson. Richard Jenkins. Stanley Tucci. And the list goes on. Each actor only appears in a few scenes, but their involvement elevates the material beyond mediocrity. Plus, what are the chances you’ll ever see this many great actors in a single film again?
EXTRAS: There’s a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, footage from the red carpet premiere, and a press conference with Robert Redford, Stanley Tucci and Brit Marling.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: When their family reunites for the weekend to celebrate the wedding of adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes), long-divorced couple Don (Robert De Niro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) must pretend to still be married for the sake of Alejandro’s ultraconservative biological mother, despite the fact that Don has since shacked up with Ellie’s best friend, Bebe (Susan Sarandon).
WHY: Justin Zackham’s screwball rom-com is one of the worst movies of the year, an embarrassing waste of talent (including four Academy Award winners) that’s entirely devoid of laughs and even a modicum of dignity. There’s nothing redeeming about this film, from its sad and unsuccessful attempts at raunchy sex jokes, to the contrived melodrama involving Katherine Heigl’s older sister, whose big secret is just as predictable as the rest of the movie. Every single character in the film is a walking stereotype, and in typical rom-com fashion, they’re mostly white – including the Colombian-born Alejandro, played by British actor Barnes – and extremely privileged. But perhaps more upsetting is the degree to which screen veterans like De Niro and Keaton humiliate themselves, although to be fair, the latter has been doing that for years. “The Big Wedding” wouldn’t be so horrible if some of the jokes actually worked, but they’re either terribly outdated or miss their mark completely, resulting in one of the most joyless comedies in quite some time.
EXTRAS: Considering how poorly the movie was received, it’s no surprise that the only extra included is a making-of featurette.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: After Japan’s surrender brings an end to World War II, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) arrives in the country to spearhead the recovery effort, placing General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) in charge of an investigative task force to decide whether Japan’s beloved emperor is guilty of any war crimes.
WHY: As far as WWII movies go, this stodgy historical drama is pretty forgettable, dragged down by a sappy, East-meets-West romantic subplot that’s become all too common with these types of films. History buffs may enjoy some of the finer details of the story, but “Emperor” is executed so poorly that it barely passes as entertainment. It’s a dull and generic procedural made even duller by the involvement of Matthew Fox, whose stiff performance only adds to the movie’s problems. Though the actor is terribly miscast in the role, he’s hardly to blame for some of the script’s more perplexing decisions – like having his character narrate the story as if he’s a detective in a film noir, or the fact that he barely speaks a lick of Japanese despite being the military’s expert on the local culture. Tommy Lee Jones swoops in every once and awhile to add a little class to the proceedings, but it’s not enough to make “Emperor” any less of a bore.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with director Peter Webber and producer Yoko Nakahasi, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and a pair of photo galleries.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: A young girl named Maisie (Onata Aprile) finds herself the victim of a bitter custody battle between her rock star mother (Julianne Moore) and art dealer father (Steve Coogan), both of whom are too self-centered to realize how their behavior is affecting their daughter.
WHY: “What Maisie Knew” is one of those movies that’s so infuriating at times that you just want to reach through the screen and slap some sense into the characters. A simple but no less moving drama about how divorce hurts the child the most, there’s a strange kind of beauty in the unflinchingly raw approach to its subject matter. You’d be hard-pressed to find a pair of more rotten and selfish people than the ones played by Moore and Steve Coogan – who treat their daughter almost like an accessory – and not only do you feel bad for poor Maisie (imbued with adorable innocence by newcomer Aprile), but also the replacement spouses/babysitters stuck in the middle. It doesn’t take long to realize that Coogan’s nanny-turned-mistress (Joanna Vanderham) and Moore’s boy toy (Alexander Skarsdard) are much better parents to Maisie than her biological ones, and though it’s difficult to watch her endure the abuse, there’s an underlying sweetness that makes the film a lot more enjoyable than you might expect.
EXTRAS: There are some deleted scenes, as well as an audio commentary with directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT