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: Marooned on a sun-scorched planet, notorious fugitive Riddick (Vin Diesel) activates an emergency beacon at a mercenary outpost in the hopes of hijacking a ship from whoever comes to collect the price on his head. But when two mercenary crews are alerted to his location, they discover that the real threat isn’t Riddick himself, but rather the race of alien predators that inhabit the planet.
WHY: Is there anyone other than writer/director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel that actually wanted another Riddick movie? Because after the disastrous 2004 sequel to the sci-fi/horror cult classic “Pitch Black,” it seemed like Diesel’s grand plans to build a franchise around the character had more or less sputtered out. Granted, the latest Riddick adventure is a mild improvement on his last outing, but just barely, ultimately serving as yet another reminder why the character isn’t franchise material. A pale imitation of the first film that boasts some terrible acting and even worse writing – and that doesn’t even include the laughably misogynistic undertones that crop up once Katee Sackhoff’s lone female character is introduced – “Riddick” doesn’t really progress the overall story any further, leading one to question why another movie was necessary at all. There are a few cool action beats, and one particularly amazing death scene, but at times, it doesn’t even feel like a Riddick movie, with the title character gone missing for most of the second act. And if you’re going to call your film “Riddick,” you damn well better make sure he’s in it the entire time.
EXTRAS: There’s an unrated cut of the film that runs an additional six minutes, as well as a collection of short production featurettes and a motion comic prequel that bridges the gap between “The Chronicles of Riddick” and this movie.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: While celebrating their parents’ anniversary at an isolated vacation home in the country, the Davison family is attacked by a gang of deadly intruders. As the houseguests are murdered one by one, unlikely hero Erin (Shari Vinson) surprises everyone – including the killers themselves – when she begins to fight back, proving that she’s the most dangerous of them all.
WHY: Though it hardly boasts the most original story, “You’re Next” is a much-needed shot in the arm for the horror genre that succeeds thanks to a clever mix of black humor and brutal violence. Despite some well-placed laughs, however, the film is not a horror comedy by any means. And though it’s not jump-out-of-your-seat scary either, it does squeeze a good deal of suspense from the legitimately frightening home invasion setup. Like most horror movies, it starts out slow, but once director Adam Wingard gets rid of all the dead weight and Vinson’s heroine clicks into survival mode, the film never looks back. There are some really inventive kills on display, and the “Home Alone”-esque traps that Erin sets for the masked assailants makes you wish that more horror victims were as smart and resourceful as she is. The acting isn’t that great, the characters have their share of blonde moments, and the twists are a little predictable for anyone paying attention, but genre fans could only wish that more horror movies were as much fun to watch as this.
EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries (one with director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, and another with Wingard, Barrett and actors Sharni Vinson and Barbara Crampton), there’s a fairly decent making-of featurette.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: When his longtime girlfriend dumps him, hard-partying high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) hooks up with resident nice girl Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). Though she’s nothing like the girls he usually dates, Aimee’s unwavering positive attitude might be just what Sutter needs to get his life back on track.
WHY: It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that “The Spectacular Now” was written by the same duo behind the excellent “(500) Days of Summer,” because both films are really well-crafted relationship dramas that don’t pull their punches. Though I’m getting a little tired of seeing Teller play the same Vince Vaughn-type wild child, he’s perfectly cast in the role, making Sutter just likable enough to root for him, despite the fact that he’s a bit of an asshole and pretty clueless about his alcohol problem. It certainly helps that Woodley was cast as his romantic counterpart, because the actress is almost angelic-like in the way that she radiates life. Granted, it’s a little ridiculous to have someone as gorgeous as Woodley play the unpopular girl, but if nothing else, she proves here that her award-nominated role in “The Descendants” wasn’t a fluke. The movie also features some great supporting performances – especially Kyle Chandler in a short but effective cameo – but without Teller and Woodley in the lead roles, it wouldn’t be quite so, well, spectacular.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with director James Ponsoldt, some deleted scenes and a four-part making-of featurette.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: During his 34-year tenure as a butler at the White House, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) served seven different presidents, witnessing some of the most important moments in U.S. history, including the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
WHY: I’ve yet to watch a Lee Daniels movie that I liked, but if it’s any consolation, “The Butler” is probably the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, it’s still not very good, marred by some unfocused storytelling that blazes through more than 30 years of U.S. history with the attention span of a child. Like Daniels’ other work, it’s also incredibly melodramatic. Though it certainly makes sense to frame the story around the civil rights movement – not only did it take place during Gaines’ employment, but there are some convenient parallels to be drawn between the two – it feels too heavy-handed, especially the stuff with Gaines’ rebellious son (played by David Oyelowo). To make matters worse, Daniels’ stunt casting of the various presidents blows up in his face, with only Alan Rickman’s Ronald Reagan coming across as anything other than a pale imitation of the real man. “The Butler” treats its source material the same way, determined to make things more interesting by dramatizing the events, but it’s just as dull as any other movie would be about a life story as undeserving of a biopic as this one.
EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, a short piece on the original Freedom Riders, about 20 minutes of deleted scenes and a gag reel.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: While out hunting deer in the woods one morning, John Moon (Sam Rockwell) accidentally shoots a young woman and discovers a box of cash by her body. But when he decides to conceal the killing and keep the money, he unwittingly enters into a game of cat-and-mouse with a group of backwater criminals looking for retribution.
WHY: It wouldn’t be the first time that a movie has wasted so many great actors, but “A Single Shot” does so in such a manner that you have to wonder why director David M. Rosenthal even bothered casting some of them in the first place. William H. Macy is in exactly two scenes, while Jeffrey Wright is so incomprehensible as John’s perpetually drunk friend that you need subtitles just to understand what he’s saying. It’s always nice to see Sam Rockwell mixing it up with his choice of roles, but while he delivers some solid (and surprisingly subtle) work here, his performance is undone by a predictable and contrived story that moves at such a molasses-slow pace that the moody atmosphere practically lulls you to sleep. Rosenthal is clearly going for something a little more artistic than your run-of-the-mill thriller, but when you go so far as to include a scene where your character literally can’t climb out of a hole he dug, you’re trying too hard. This could have been another great hillbilly noir in the same vein as “Winter’s Bone,” but it’s just not terribly exciting.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette and cast and crew interviews.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP