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: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) and the band of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) continue their quest to reclaim Erebor. Along the way, they must contend with orcs, giant spiders, humans and the Elvenking himself in order to reach the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) dwells.
WHY: For as much fun as “The Desolation of Smaug” is at times, the film suffers from many of the same problems as its predecessor. Not only are there too many subplots, but the story is bursting at the seams with so many characters (including new faces like Beorn, Bard the Bowman and Tauriel) that not even Bilbo is given very much to do this time around. The dwarves, meanwhile, are treated like background characters, with only a few truly standing out, like Thorin, Ken Stott’s Balin and Aiden Turner’s Kili, who’s part of a Peter Jackson-invented love triangle with Evangeline Lilly’s elven warrior Tauriel and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas. In fact, though it may not have been a popular decision with fans, the Legolas/Tauriel scenes (which are mostly action-oriented) are some of the best in the movie. The barrel escape from the Elvenking’s dungeon, in particular, is even better than the Goblin Town sequence from “An Unexpected Journey.” But if you thought that the first installment was too long, Part Two only further proves that expanding the book into three movies wasn’t the wisest decision. Jackson spends so much time on trivial material that when it comes time for Bilbo and the dwarves’ big showdown with Smaug, you just want him to get on with it.
EXTRAS: The two-disc release includes a documentary hosted by Peter Jackson detailing the daily routine on set, four additional featurettes on shooting pick-ups, post-production and the musical score, the 2013 live event “In the Cutting Room” and Part Two of the location featurette “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth.”
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: 30 years after their last fight, boxing rivals Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) agree to come out of retirement for one final match when boxing promoter Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart) makes them an offer they can’t refuse: the chance to prove who’s the best once and for all.
WHY: The idea of pairing Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in a boxing movie may sound great on paper, but only if it had been made during their “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” days. Watching the two aging actors step back into the ring decades later is not only embarrassing for them, but the audience as well, particularly when the movie is built around a bunch of unfunny old geezer jokes and lame callbacks to their respective boxing characters. The script is also weighed so heavily in Stallone’s favor that you already know who will win before the fight takes place. It certainly doesn’t help that De Niro seems physically incapable of going 12 rounds with Stallone, though to be fair, it’s Kim Basinger who looks the worst of the three, almost as if she’s been in a few fights of her own. The only thing that “Grudge Match” has going for it is Alan Arkin’s wiseass trainer, but it’s not nearly enough to forgive Stallone and De Niro for agreeing to make this humorless piece of fluff.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release boasts a behind-the-scenes look at filming the final fight, interviews with former boxing champs like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Larry Holmes, an alternate opening, two alternate endings, deleted scenes and a pair of featurettes with Kevin Hart.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: When a woman is murdered in the apartment below him, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) sneak into the building at night to investigate. The following morning, Jesse awakens to discover a strange bite mark on his arm, only to learn that he’s been possessed by a demon that makes him do terrible things.
WHY: This is the first “Paranormal Activity” that I’ve bothered to watched since the original was released in 2007, and though they still do good business at the box office for how cheap they are to make, it’s hard to believe that people still waste their time and money on them. The original film was an absolute bore with very few scary moments, and the fifth installment isn’t much better, with the exception of some improved special effects. Fans of the series will surely get a kick out of how “The Marked Ones” ties into the other movies, but that doesn’t validate having to sit through 84 minutes of terrible dialogue and acting to get there. The same problems that plague most films in the found footage genre also exist here, particularly the suggestion that someone would still be filming everything when the supernatural shit hits the fan. Of course, you could spend all day nitpicking a movie like “The Marked Ones,” but it would be a waste of energy, because all you need to know is that it’s every bit as awful as expected from the fifth installment of a low-rent horror franchise.
EXTRAS: There’s some additional found footage not included in the theatrical cut, but that’s the extent of the bonus material.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: Set in England during the 17th Century, a small group of war deserters are captured by an Irish alchemist named O’Neil (Michael Smiley) and forced to dig for a hidden treasure. To make matters worse, the soldiers begin to experience psychedelic visions after consuming some mushrooms found in the field.
WHY: There’s a bunch of exciting new talent coming out of the U.K. these days, and director Ben Wheatley is at the top of that list. But while he’s quickly made a name for himself with dark, low-budget thrillers like “Down Terrance” and “Kill List,” his latest movie represents a major step backward. “A Field in England” is an unabashedly idiosyncratic and experimental film that at times feels pretentious, but is mostly just an incredible bore. Though cinema scholars will debate all the different meanings within the subtext, it doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s not particularly enjoyable to watch. The story is stretched so thin that it would test even the most patient moviegoer, while the 90-minute runtime feels about twice as long. There’s no denying that the film looks really cool – especially all the trippy editing that Wheatley employs in the latter half – and Michael Smiley adds some much-needed energy to the drab proceedings, but unless you’re a fan of avant-garde filmmaking, “A Field in England” will only make you less inclined to check out Wheatley’s work in the future, and that would be a terrible mistake.
EXTRAS: In addition to a commentary by director Ben Wheatley, producer Andy Starke and sound editor Martin Pavey, there’s a 16-page booklet containing an interview with Wheatley and a large collection of featurettes covering the entire production process. The best of the bunch (“Journey of a Scene”) offers an in-depth look at the evolution of one sequence in particular, from rushes, to first assembly, to final cut.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP