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 Starfleet is attacked by a dangerous terrorist known as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise embark on a mission to track down the one-man killing machine and bring him to justice, only to discover that the situation is a lot more complicated than originally believed.
WHY: I don’t typically revisit many films so soon after their theatrical release unless I really enjoyed them, but in the case of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness,” I wanted to give it another chance after my first screening was spoiled by a terrible 3D projection. And I’m glad that I did, because although some of my issues with the movie still exist (like the “Wrath of Khan” copycatting and blasé wastefulness of its supporting cast), there are quite a few things to love about it. For starters, Cumberbatch absolutely kills it as Khan, bringing a level of strength and ruthlessness to the character that was never apparent in the Ricardo Montalban version. Simon Pegg also gets more to do this time around (albeit at the expense of co-stars like Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin), and there’s a really good balance of action, drama and comedy throughout. It’s actually a bit puzzling why the sequel received so much flak from fans, because while it definitely has some problems, the film is just as much fun as its predecessor.
EXTRAS: In all their infinite wisdom, Paramount decided to make several extras (including a director commentary) exclusive to various retail chains, making it impossible for fans to dig into all the goodies unless they buy multiple versions of the film. The Blu-ray does come with seven short production featurettes, but it doesn’t make the studio’s actions sting any less.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Set over a ten-year period that intersects World War I, nobleman Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) is stuck in a loveless marriage with manipulative socialite Sylvia (Rebecca Hall). After being publicly embarrassed by his wife, Christopher finds comfort in a young suffragette named Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens), but refuses to give into their mutual passion as he clings onto values of a bygone era.
WHY: “Parade’s End” had several things working in its favor – most notably HBO, which has produced some of the best miniseries of the past decade, and an incredible ensemble cast – but that doesn’t make this five-part miniseries (based on a quartet of novels by Ford Madox Ford) any easier to watch. In fact, although a lot of material has clearly been lost in the translation between book and screen – not surprising when you consider that writer Tom Stoppard has attempted to squeeze four novels’ worth of story into five hours of television – I couldn’t even make it past Part Two due to extreme boredom and, in some cases, utter confusion over the vague subplots and time jumps. If you like your period pieces overly stuffy and melodramatic, then “Parade’s End” might be just for you, but despite some solid performances from its cast (especially Cumberbatch, Hall and Clemens), they’re unable to make their dull characters, and by extension Stoppard’s script, even the least bit interesting.
EXTRAS: The only bonus material on the disc is an interview with writer Tom Stoppard from his visit to KCRW’s “The Treatment” hosted by Elvis Mitchell.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: Gay club owner Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and his drag queen lover Albin (Michel Serrault) agree to hide their sexual identities for the sake of Renato’s grown-up son (Remi Laurent) when his new fiancée’s ultraconservative parents drive down to St. Tropez for a dinner meeting before they’ll agree to the marriage.
WHY: Though the movie was decades ahead of its time with its social message and treatment of LGBT characters, “La Cage aux Folles” is one of those rare films where the Hollywood remake is actually better than the original. That’s not to say that Edouard Molinaro’s movie – based on the stage play by Jean Poiret – isn’t any good, but Mike Nichols’ American version is even better, thanks in large part to the hilarious performances by stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. There are still some laughs in “La Cage aux Folles” (namely from Michel Galabru’s prudish government official), but a lot of the humor is pretty mild compared to the sheer outrageousness of the 1996 film, especially for those already familiar with the story. Of course, “The Birdcage” wouldn’t have been possible without Molinaro’s Franco-Italian comedy, and between its forward-thinking story and entertaining performances, fans of Nichols’ rendition (or the Harvey Fierstein Broadway musical) should probably see it at least once.
EXTRAS: Like most Criterion releases, they haven’t skimped on bonus material, including new interviews with director Edouard Molinaro and author Laurence Senelick (“The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre”), behind the scenes archival footage, and a booklet featuring an interview with critic David Ehrenstein.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT