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: The true story of the 1976 Formula One racing season and the heated rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and reigning World Champion Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), the latter of whom was involved in a near-fatal accident, only to miraculously return to competition six weeks later despite suffering severe burns to his face and body.
WHY: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Ron Howard and Peter Morgan love history. The latter, in particular, is responsible for writing some of the best historical dramas of the past decade, but sadly, “Rush” is not one of them. Though there’s a lot to like about the duo’s latest movie – particularly the chemistry and performances of its two leading men – it’s not nearly as captivating as their last collaboration (“Frost/Nixon”). One thing that the film does do a good job of is giving Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth equal screen time, but the best moments are the scenes they share together. The actors play off each other wonderfully, although Brühl has the juicier role due to his character’s more dramatic story arc. What’s perhaps most impressive about “Rush,” though, is the way that Howard and Morgan have crafted the story so that both men “win” in the end. It’s a tricky proposition, but they pull it off, and that goes a long way in making up for the lack of exciting race sequences. F1 racing fans will no doubt be disappointed, but “Rush” is still a well-acted drama that’s biggest problem is perhaps being a tad too conventional.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, a behind-the-scenes look at the real-life story that inspired the film, a profile on director Ron Howard and some deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been friends for nearly 60 years, so when Billy announces that he’s finally getting married, the guys decide to take a break from their stagnant day-to-day lives and throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas.
WHY: “Last Vegas” may sound like the geriatric version of “The Hangover,” but apart from being about a quartet of friends attending a bachelor party in Vegas, the two films don’t have very much in common. For starters, “Last Vegas” isn’t nearly as crazy and over-the-top as the Todd Phillips comedy, instead resigned to more conventional humor that’s better suited to its veteran actors. It also has a tendency to get a little overly sentimental at times due to its subject matter, but that’s not to say it isn’t funny. Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro may not get as many opportunities to earn laughs due to their more dramatic subplots, but Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline pick up the slack, especially Freeman, who plays a great drunk. Though the old man jokes get a bit tiresome and the cookie cutter storyline is pretty lame, “Last Vegas” thrives thanks to its impressive cast. You’d be hard-pressed to assemble a better group of screen legends than these four, and just seeing them on screen together makes it well worth your time.
EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Jon Turteltaub and writer Dan Fogelman and six short production featurettes, three of which are Blu-ray exclusives.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: After his wife dies and his daughter is sent back to prison, 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) is tasked with driving his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) from Nebraska to North Carolina to deliver him to his father.
WHY: The “Jackass” movies have always made me laugh, but I’ve never been a fan of the Irving Zisman character, so when Paramount announced that Johnny Knoxville would be making an entire movie as the dirty old man, it seemed like a pretty dumb idea. And for the most part, “Bad Grandpa” is dumb, but it also made me laugh louder than a majority of the comedies released last year. Clearly inspired by Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” in its attempt to structure various pranks around a scripted story, “Bad Grandpa” is better off when Knoxville is just allowed to do his thing. Whether getting squished by a faulty adjustable bed at an estate sale, causing a ruckus at a local bingo center, stealing food from a corner store or hitting on ladies (and then performing) at an all-black male strip club, the Knoxville-led pranks hit their mark more often than not. The stuff with Jackson Nicoll isn’t nearly as entertaining – except for the final sequence where Irving and Billy crash a child beauty pageant – but “Bad Grandpa” earns enough big laughs along the way to make up for its shortcomings.
EXTRAS: In addition to an unrated cut of the film, there’s over an hour of bonus material, including deleted scenes, alternate real-life reactions and some behind-the-scenes antics.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: The story of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose Internet upstart worked with anonymous whistleblowers to expose some of the world’s biggest secrets, including corruption within the U.S. government.
WHY: The whole WikiLeaks saga may be tailor-made for the big screen – especially with a protagonist as captivating as the enigmatic Assange – but unfortunately, Bill Condon’s techno-thriller isn’t nearly as exciting or interesting as the real-life events. Part of the problem is that the film is based on the accounts of former WikiLeaks staffer Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), whose book has been discredited by Assange himself. As a result, “The Fifth Estate” really only tells one side of the story, and it’s hard to discern between fact and fiction, making both men unreliable as protagonists. Condon’s film also completely skims over the well-publicized rape allegations against Assange, and although that would have made an already unfocused narrative even more so, it’s an important piece to the puzzle. In spite of this, Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Assange is excellent, nailing his accent and physical tics with surprising accuracy. But it’s just not enough to make “The Fifth Estate” an enjoyable experience. For a movie about intrigue and espionage, it’s not very suspenseful, and you’d be better off watching Alex Gibney’s WikiLeaks documentary “We Steal Secrets” instead.
EXTRAS: There’s a trio of production featurettes on the film’s visual effects, in-camera graphics and musical score by Carter Burwell.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is given the opportunity of a lifetime when he gets a job working for his idol, famous inventor Chester V (Will Forte). But when he learns that his infamous machine is still operational, creating food-animal hybrids that are taking over his island hometown, he embarks on a mission to stop it for good.
WHY: “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was a clever and funny adaptation of the popular children’s book, but it was also a box office success, which unfortunately meant that it was only a matter of time before Sony Pictures Animation greenlit a sequel, despite the fact that there was really nowhere for the story to go. And just as expected, that’s precisely the problem with “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.” Though the food-animal hybrid plot results in some pretty cool visuals, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For instance, why did Flint’s machine suddenly start introducing animals into the equation? It’s never explained, probably because the writers were too busy coming up with witty food puns like tacodile and shrimpanzee. But while they clearly think it’s hilarious, the barrage of puns quickly becomes unberry-able (see how lame and annoying that is?), especially when that becomes the go-to joke almost every time. The whole thing is rather bland, lacking the energy and creativity of the original film, and the absence of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller likely played a role in that.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a commentary with directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, a collection of featurettes, deleted scenes and four mini-movies.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP