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Blu Tuesday: American Hustle, Frozen and More

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.

“American Hustle”

WHAT: When con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are caught selling fake loans by an ambitious FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), they’re wrangled into working with him on an undercover sting targeting dirty politicians. But despite their deep mistrust in each another, the one thing that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down is Irving’s wildly unpredictable wife (Jennifer Lawrence).

WHY: David O. Russell has always been a quality filmmaker, but he’s quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with thanks to movies like “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and this farcical con-artist caper. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ‘70s, “American Hustle” is immensely entertaining and features some of the best acting of the year. Forty pounds heavier and rocking the most elaborate comb-over you’ve ever seen, Christian Bale delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance as the straight man of the bunch. The other cast members aren’t quite as committed physically, but they’re just as good, including Amy Adams’ sexy and cunning partner in crime, Bradley Cooper’s short-tempered federal agent, and scene stealer Jennifer Lawrence, who’s an absolute riot as Bale’s unpredictable wife. The whole movie is also a lot funnier than you’d expect due to Russell and Eric Singer’s darkly comic script, and though some have argued that it’s too long, the characters are so richly developed and crackling with personality that I would have gladly spent another hour in their messed-up world.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette and some deleted and extended scenes, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Frozen”

WHAT: When her sister Elsa’s icy powers inadvertently ensnare the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter, Anna (Kristen Bell) teams up with a rugged mountain man (Jonathan Groff) and a talking snowman (Josh Gad) to retrieve Elsa (Idina Menzel) from her self-imposed isolation and prove that she’s not the evil witch the townspeople believe her to be.

WHY: In a year of underwhelming animated films, it’s hardly fair to place Disney’s “Frozen” so high on a pedestal, even if it is one of the best things that the Mouse House has produced in almost 20 years. But while “Frozen” is undoubtedly a good movie, it’s not quite as great as the recent love-fest would suggest. It’s also not nearly as progressive, with the lead heroine falling in love with one male character mere minutes after meeting him, and relying on the help of another shortly after. Then there’s the issue of those silly troll rock thingies that threaten to derail the film in the third act, not to mention the fact that it features of the lamest and least threatening villains in memory. With that said, “Frozen” isn’t without its charms. It has a few catchy tunes (particularly the Oscar-winning “Let It Go”), some excellent laughs and a solid voice cast led by Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and the scene-stealing Josh Gad. It’s the kind of movie that has likely empowered young girls around the world, all while selling billions of dollars in merchandise. That’s what you call a win-win.

EXTRAS: There’s a short featurette about the 75-year journey to bring Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” to the big screen, a music video parodying the lack of an actual making-of featurette, some deleted scenes and the short “Get a Horse!”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

WHAT: Based on the autobiography of the same name, which chronicles the life of Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) from his early years as a lawyer, to his marriage to Winnie Madikizela (Naomie Harris), to his 27-year prison sentence, to being elected the president of South Africa.

WHY: There have been a lot of films featuring Nelson Mandela over the past few years – including “Invictus,” “Endgame” and even a pair of movies centered on his wife Winnie – but “Long Walk to Freedom” is undoubtedly the most comprehensive biopic about the celebrated revolutionary turned politician. Though it’s not without its faults, the film boasts an excellent lead performance from Idris Elba – hardly the first person you’d think of to play Mandela, but an incredibly talented actor who thrives in the role. Elba may not resemble the man much at all, but director Justin Chadwick was smart not to cover his star in layers of makeup, because what he lacks in physical likeness, he makes up for in spirit and presence. Unfortunately, Elba is underserved by a script that grazes over a lot of material in order to squeeze everything in. And therein lies the problem with “Long Walk to Freedom”: there’s too much story for a single movie, even one that runs 141 minutes long. It works just fine as a CliffsNotes-styled summary of his life, but you’d need an HBO miniseries to give it the justice it deserves.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Justin Chadwick, there’s a 22-minute retrospective on Nelson Mandela’s life, four behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a collection of interviews with famous personalities discussing Mandela.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Saving Mr. Banks”

WHAT: After Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) purchases the rights to her Mary Poppins book series, author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) flies to Hollywood to ensure that the big screen adaptation lives up to her impossibly high expectations.

WHY: Considering the subject matter and the talent involved, “Saving Mr. Banks” should have been an awards season slam dunk, but instead, it’s a mildly disappointing piece of Oscar bait rescued by some fantastic performances from Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. Though the insider story about the making of “Mary Poppins” is interesting for a number of reasons, the decision to intercut it with flashbacks from Traver’s childhood results in a movie that not only drags, but is a little too melodramatic for its own good. The point of those flashbacks, of course, is to explain why Travers has become so emotionally guarded in her adult life, but the scenes with her father (played by Colin Farrell) are absolutely miserable to sit through, and it’s hard to believe that Disney actually thought it would be appropriate for young audiences. The present-day portion with Thompson and Hanks, on the other hand, is refreshingly entertaining. Hanks, in particular, is a perfect fit to play the charming and outspoken Disney, while supporting turns from Paul Giamatti and Jason Schwartzman round out the otherwise excellent cast.

EXTRAS: There’s a retrospective on Walt Disney Studios, a clip of the cast and crew singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” on the final day of filming, and two deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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