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: It’s been 30 years since Kal-El was jettisoned to Earth by his father (Russell Crowe) just before their home planet of Krypton was destroyed. Raised as a human named Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and taught to hide his superpowers, Clark eventually accepts his role as Earth’s protector just as Zod (Michael Shannon), the man responsible for his father’s death, arrives on the planet with plans to terraform it into a new Krypton.
WHY: The Superman franchise was practically DOA before Warner Bros. enlisted the aid of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer to press the reboot button, and in doing so showed that the studio is finally starting to think about the bigger picture. One of the main problems with Superman as a character is that he’s pretty dull compared to the likes of Batman. Director Zack Snyder really can’t change that, but he at least manages to make him feel more relatable by depicting him as a bit of an outcast. Henry Cavill proves himself more than capable of carrying the Superman torch with his subtle yet effective performance, while Russell Crowe and Kevin Coster both turn in solid work as Kal-El/Clark’s respective fathers. The best thing about “Man of Steel,” however, is the action. The fight scenes are lightning fast and brutal, playing up the superhuman angle in a way that’s never been done before. The fight between Superman and two of Zod’s soldiers in the streets of Smallville is particularly memorable, delivering everything you’d expect from a modern day Superman film. Granted, it’s not as groundbreaking as what Nolan achieved with “Batman Begins,” but considering Warner’s recent track record with DC Comics characters, it’s a big step in the right direction.
EXTRAS: In addition to a feature called “Journey of Discovery” that tracks the making of the film with interviews, storyboards and other behind-the-scenes footage as the movie plays in the background, the two-disc set includes featurettes on rebooting the franchise, stunts and visual effects. There’s also a faux documentary about Planet Krypton that’s almost as pointless as the “Hobbit” promo that appears in the extras.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Upon arriving in postwar Hong Kong, legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Anthony Wong) begins teaching a new class of pupils amid a backdrop of poverty, labor strikes and police corruption. But when a local crime lord threatens one of his students, Ip Man is called into action once again, despite his attempts to lead a peaceful life.
WHY: There have been so many movies about Ip Man released over the last few years that it’s become overkill, and although “The Final Fight” takes a completely different approach by exploring the martial artist’s later years, it’s the weakest Ip Man film to date. The Donnie Yen movies featured some great action choreography, and Wong Kar-Wai’s “The Grandmaster” looks absolutely gorgeous, but the only thing that “The Final Fight” has going for it is its cast. Anthony Wong turns in a solid performance as Ip Man, handling the action sequences fairly well for an actor with little experience in the genre, while Jordan Chan and Eric Tsang are both good in supporting roles, though I would have liked to see more of both characters. Unfortunately, the film lacks focus, unable to decide whether the story is about Ip Man or his various pupils, constantly shifting attention throughout its sluggish 100-minute runtime. Director Herman Yau does an admirable job of juggling the many subplots, but in the end, it’s the movie’s undoing.
EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and interviews with the cast and crew.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: Armed with nothing more than their imaginations and a simple set of rules, a group of kids participate in a game of Capture the Flag in the woods. But when a few of the players start to take things a little too seriously, the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur.
WHY: This “Lord of the Flies” rip-off sounds a lot better on paper, but it’s a poorly executed film that has one great idea (the kids imagining their twig-and-can props as real weapons) and fails to do much with it. Unlike the William Golding novel, there’s nothing at stake here, and yet many of the kids act like complete psychopaths, resorting to violence, manipulation, and in some cases, torture. Directors Robert Wilson and Jason Lapeyre will surely claim that their make-believe war film has a deeper, allegorical message, but that’s a bit of a stretch when the concept itself is so flimsy. There’s no one worth rooting for (the “good guy” is a total dick, his best friend is an idiot and the villain is positively nuts), and the acting is about as poor as you’d expect. In fact, most of the characters are so disturbed that it would have made more sense if they ended up being patients at a psych ward a la “Sucker Punch.” But perhaps the biggest issue is that anyone thought to drag this out for 93 minutes, because “I Declare War” is short film material at best.
EXTRAS: There are two audio commentaries – one with directors Robert Wilson and Jason Lapeyre, and another with Wilson and the cast – as well as pair of production featurettes.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: After surviving a horrific plane crash that left her entire body covered in burn scars, Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) decides to escape her small, ultra-conservative hometown for a weekend of debauchery in Las Vegas. Bankrolling the trip with money from her insurance settlement, Lamb is befriended by a pair of local bartenders (Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer) who take the innocent girl under their wing.
WHY: Though I consider myself a fan of Diablo Cody’s work (both “Juno” and “Young Adult” made my Top 10 list in their respective years), not even I can defend “Paradise,” which is easily her worst screenplay to date. It’s not nearly as clever as Cody’s other movies (including the mildly entertaining “Jennifer’s Body”), lacking her usual razor-sharp humor and wonderfully eccentric characters. The jabs at religion are cheap and lazy, and the snarky dialogue is a little too on-the-nose, almost as if it was written by someone trying to impersonate Cody’s voice. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, which only makes it more bizarre that she would choose “Paradise” for her directorial debut. Some charismatic turns from Spencer and Brand can’t even make this bland dramedy any easier to swallow, because most of its problems occur at the script level. Cody may be under more pressure these days to replicate her earlier success, but with her name attached to the project as a writer, director and producer, you’d think she would make a better effort.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by writer/director Diablo Cody, as well as a series of interviews with Cody, Julianne Hough, Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP