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: After barely surviving a zombie outbreak in his hometown of Philadelphia, former United Nations crisis specialist Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) leaves his family aboard a military vessel and heads to the other side of the world to track down the cause of the epidemic before it’s too late.
WHY: “World War Z” may have gone through a battle of its own on the way to theaters – with rumors of a ballooning budget, massive reshoots and more – but you wouldn’t know it from the final product. Staged more like a socio-political thriller than a typical zombie film, even the creatures themselves are unique compared to the classic variety. Not only are they fast and twitchy, but they behave like insects, swarming together to create large, living structures in order to attack helicopters or traverse walls. It’s a really interesting, nature-based approach to the timeworn zombie mythology, and it makes the action sequences even more intense as a result. The movie is also peppered with some great actors in small supporting roles, although it’s essentially the Brad Pitt Show, who’s one of the few guys that can pull off such a star-centric performance without making it feel flashy. Fans of Max Brooks’ bestselling novel will undoubtedly be disappointed by how much was changed from page to screen, but “World War Z” is an immensely entertaining film that’s smarter than your average summer blockbuster.
EXTRAS: Though it was a missed opportunity on Paramount’s part to include the original ending (unless they’re saving it for the rumored sequel), the two-disc set boasts behind-the-scenes featurettes on the movie’s journey to the big screen, the filming of several major set pieces and more.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Based on the autobiography of Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), a veterinarian who had a chance meeting with Liberace (Michael Douglas) at one of his Las Vegas shows, leading to a secretive five-year love affair with the famous piano player from 1977 to 1982.
WHY: Steven Soderbergh marked his early retirement from feature films with this long-gestating biopic about Liberace, and though it works perfectly fine as a TV movie, it’s hard to believe that it got a theatrical release in other countries. Though Douglas and Damon are both really good in their respective roles (the former is practically guaranteed to walk home a winner at this year’s Emmys), the film just isn’t as interesting as you might expect. The first half of the movie recounts the early years of the couple’s relationship, and it provides some great material for both actors, but the latter half is incredibly monotonous, devolving into movie-of-the-week melodrama that, quite frankly, is above Soderbergh and his two leads. The rest of the cast delivers solid performances, but only Rob Lowe makes much of an impact as the perpetually drugged-up plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz. Then again, the other actors aren’t given a whole lot to do, and it’s exactly this cursory treatment of the material that makes “Behind the Candelabra” feel like such a wasted opportunity.
EXTRAS: A making-of featurette with interviews from the cast and crew.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Missing and presumed dead after his yacht gets lost at sea, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Steven Arnell) returns home five years later a changed man. Having learned that his father wasn’t exactly the saint he was led to believe, Oliver vows to clean up Starling City as a hooded vigilante armed with a bow.
WHY: DC Comics may still be light years behind Marvel when it comes to transporting their characters to the big screen, but they seem to have developed a successful formula for TV. Though I never got around to watching “Smallville” during its impressive 10-year run, “Arrow” is a great example of how to adapt a comic book for television. Stephen Arnell is fantastic as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (though he never actually goes by that name), the action sequences are plentiful and entertaining, and the writers have done a really good job of creating grounded, real-world versions of Starling City’s rogues gallery. Where “Arrow” falters, however, are in the soap opera-ish subplots (from silly love triangles to contrived family drama) that are apparently mandatory in every series on The CW. In that respect, the show is really only one-half of a guilty pleasure, but it’s that half that makes the other crap worth suffering through. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray edition includes a featurette on creating the show, a behind-the-scenes look at the fight choreography and visual effects, the 2013 Paleyfest panel with the cast and crew, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Inspired by a true story, the film follows a group of fame-obsessed teenagers living in Los Angeles who use the internet to stalk their favorite celebrities (including Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan) and rob their homes while they’re away.
WHY: Much like “Spring Breakers,” Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” had a lot of potential, but while it offers some interesting views on America’s fame-obsessed youth culture, it’s an incredibly shallow exposé that just barely skims the surface. Coppola doesn’t attempt to dig very deep into the lives of her characters, and she doesn’t seem to care either, instead laser-focused on making everything look glamorous, from the robberies themselves to the late night partying that follows. Emma Watson is the only truly captivating member of the so-called Bling Ring, and while her spot-on performance provides many of the movie’s darkly comical moments, she plays a much smaller role than you might expect. More than anything else, though, the film is incredibly repetitive. It’s barely 90 minutes long, and a shockingly large portion of that is dedicated to the same formula: Google celebrity’s address, steal expensive shit, party like a rock star, rinse and repeat. The movie doesn’t seem to have a point, unless it’s to say that stealing from B-list celebs will make you just as famous, in which case, isn’t it just contributing to the problem?
EXTRAS: Unfortunately, there’s no director commentary, but the Blu-ray does include a making-of featurette, a short documentary about the real-life Bling Ring, and an interview with Paris Hilton and tour of her house.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: Three intersecting stories about searching for a human connection in today’s wired world. The son of a hard-working lawyer (Jason Bateman) attempts suicide after he’s cyber-bullied by some kids at school; an ambitious journalist (Andrea Riseborough) hunts down a career-making story about online teenage sex workers; and a couple’s (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton) relationship is tested when they become victims of financial fraud.
WHY: Though it’s drawn a lot of comparisons to “Crash” (which made this type of multi-narrative drama popular after winning the Oscar for Best Picture), “Disconnect” reminded me more of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” in its general tone and the way that it organically links the various stories. Oftentimes, these kinds of movies either favor one vignette more than others, or have difficulty juggling so many at once, but “Disconnect” does an excellent job of giving all three stories equal attention. And better yet, it never feels like the audience is being force-fed some heavy-handed message that serves a larger agenda; it just lets the drama speak for itself. The film also features some really good performances, especially from Bateman (in a rare dramatic turn), Skarsgard (who’s having a great year between this and the similarly underrated “What Maisie Knew”) and youngster Colin Ford. The middle section drags a little bit, but if you’re not totally invested in the movie by the time the stories climax in a beautiful but tense slo-mo sequence, then you weren’t paying attention.
EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Henry Alex Rubin, there’s also a making-of featurette and a brief look at recording the film’s main theme.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT