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Blu Tuesday: A Hard Day’s Night, 300: Rise of an Empire 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.

“A Hard Day’s Night”

WHAT: The Beatles travel from Liverpool to London for a live television performance, with Paul’s mischievous grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) tagging along on the trip.

WHY: The first of many feature-length films starring the iconic rock group, “A Hard Day’s Night” is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s one that fans of the Beatles will undoubtedly enjoy. Though the movie drags a little in the second half as the band prepares for their concert (the Ringo subplot is especially sluggish), there’s so much great material in the scenes leading up to it that it’s easy to forgive. The opening 30 minutes in particular are chockfull of laughs, fully embracing the zany humor of the band members with such manic energy that it’s almost impossible to keep up at times. (The infamous Lennon/Coke bit is practically treated like a throwaway gag.) And as you’d expect from a film starring the Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” also features some excellent musical performances, with director Richard Lester wisely shooting each one in a different style so that they don’t become stale by the time the big finale rolls around. But while it’s always a joy to see the Beatles perform, the movie works first and foremost as a comedy with musical bits in between. And running. Lots and lots of running.

EXTRAS: Criterion has packed this release with a treasure trove of bonus material, including a cast and crew commentary, a brand new behind-the-scenes featurette, Walter Shenson’s 1994 making-of documentary, the 2002 documentary “Things They Said Today” and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“300: Rise of an Empire”

WHAT: As King Leonidas and the brave 300 hold their ground at the Battle of Thermopylae, Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads his own army into combat against the invading Persian forces, which are commanded by Xerxes’ right-hand woman, the vengeful Greek warrior Artemisia (Eva Green).

WHY: It’s been so many years since the original “300” hit theaters that it’s hard to imagine many people still care about this long-gestating prequel/sequel, even if the very idea of a spinoff was ridiculous from the start. With that said, credit to writer Frank Miller for coming up with an idea that actually complements the first film, because “Rise of an Empire” would feel even more like a silly cash grab without a decent story in place. The CGI blood looks really fake, the dialogue is dreadful, and the attempts at providing a backstory for Xerxes are pointless. Plus, every time the movie flashes back to events from “300” or introduces some new connective tissue (like the returning Lena Headey), it only makes you wish you were watching that film instead. “Rise of an Empire” isn’t a complete waste of time, but that’s mostly thanks to Eva Green’s magnetic performance as the female villain, who uses her skills on the battlefield as well as in the bedroom (in one of the most awkward sex/fight scenes in cinematic history) to destroy the Greeks. The movie is almost worth watching for that scene alone. Almost.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a four-part featurette on the making of the film, a look at the real-life leaders and legends involved in the Greek/Persian wars, and additional featurettes on the female characters and the cast’s intense training regime.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Enemy”

WHAT: When a sullen history teacher named Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) notices an actor in the background of a movie who looks – and as he later discovers, sounds – exactly like him, he decides to track down the doppelganger, unaware of how much their lives are intertwined.

WHY: On the surface, “Enemy” is the kind of art house film that people will either love or despise. But the more you begin to peel back the layers of its true meaning, the more admiration you’ll earn for what Denis Villeneuve has accomplished. Though I’m not usually a fan of movies that need to be explained to be understood, “Enemy” got under my skin so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it, racking my brain for hours and reading theories from other confused fans in order to put together the pieces. It doesn’t help that there are several conflicting theories about the film, but one thing’s for certain: there is a very smart movie underneath all the weirdness and ambiguity, although to say any more would ruin some of its biggest surprises. You might even need another viewing to fully appreciate it, as the hints that Villeneuve drops like cookie crumbs are much more apparent the second time around, but if you like your thrillers cerebral and with an extra dose of WTF, you won’t find a more satisfying moviegoing experience (or a better performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, for that matter) than “Enemy.”

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, but that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Winter’s Tale”

WHAT: Set in a mythical New York City in 1916, a burglar (Colin Farrell) falls in love with a beautiful heiress (Jessica Brown Findley) plagued by a fatal disease, only to discover that he may have the power to save her. But a dangerous crime lord/demon from Hell (Russell Crowe) intends on stopping his former protégé from completing the miracle for fear that it will tip the balance between good and evil.

WHY: Akiva Goldsman has written some pretty bad movies in his career, but “Winter’s Tale” is perhaps the worse of the lot, compounded by the fact that he also directed this tone-deaf adaptation of Mark Helprin’s widely praised novel, which one can only assume bears little resemblance to the film version. Suffice it to say that it might be a while before Goldsman steps behind the camera again, because his directorial debut is every bit as absurd and laughably bad as it sounds. And to think that doesn’t even include mention of the flying magical horse, Will Smith as Lucifer, or the scene where Findley’s character (who must keep her body temperature cool to survive) essentially dies from contact with Farrell’s warm penis. I shit you not. It’s hard to believe that the actors were able to show up to work every day with a straight face, because “Winter’s Tale” is an absolute farce. The acting is really poor, the story lacks a single interesting character and none of it makes a lick of sense. It feels like a really elaborate April Fool’s joke (especially with a tagline like, “This is not a true story. This is true love.”), only it’s not.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes (on the characters and adapting Mark Helprin’s book for the big screen) and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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