Blu Tuesday: Guardians of the Galaxy, Frank 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.

“Guardians of the Galaxy”

WHAT: After stealing a mysterious orb with untold power, intergalactic thief Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) becomes the target of a bloodthirsty alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Captured by the authorities and thrown into prison, Quill teams up with a quartet of fellow misfits – deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven bruiser Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), gun-toting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) – to mount an escape. But when the group discovers the true power of the orb, they agree to stick together in order to prevent it from falling into Ronan’s hands.

WHY: Marvel Studios has a history of taking some big risks, from the men behind the camera to those in front of it, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is perhaps their biggest one yet. Not only is the comic book on which it’s based an unknown quantity to most filmgoers, but James Gunn isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of to direct a big-budget comic book movie. Despite his lack of experience, Gunn repaid the faith that Kevin Feige placed in him by producing one of the most purely fun Marvel films to date, absolutely nailing the offbeat tone of the source material like some kind of punk rock “Star Wars.” Chris Pratt oozes charisma as the Han Solo-like ruffian, and Michael Rooker gets some of the best moments as mohawked space pirate Yondu, but it’s the boisterous Rocket (as voiced by Bradley Cooper) who steals the show in hilarious fashion. Finding that balance where all five characters are represented equally isn’t an easy feat, but Gunn does a good job of giving each one the attention they deserve, both in the action and the more low-key dialogue scenes. The movie isn’t perfect by any means, but if the objective was to make a funny, action-packed and slightly off-kilter space opera that introduced audiences to the Guardians and left them wanting more when it ended, well… mission accomplished.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director/co-writer James Gunn, a pair of production featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel and an exclusive look at “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Frank”

WHAT: A wannabe songwriter named Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to join an eccentric pop band led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a giant fiberglass head wherever he goes. But when Jon becomes obsessed with making the band famous, he threatens to ruin everything that makes the band (and the offbeat Frank, in particular) so special.

WHY: Loosely based on Chris Sievey’s papier-mache-headed alter ego, Frank Sidebottom, “Frank” transcends the kitschy nature of the cult comedy character to tell a story that’s much deeper and funnier than anything the real-life personality ever did. Anyone who’s seen clips of Frank Sidebottom knows that isn’t very difficult, but the film wouldn’t work nearly as well if it wasn’t for Michael Fassbender’s outstanding performance, which takes acting to a whole other level by hiding the one thing that actors rely on the most: their facial expressions. It’s more than just a simple vocal performance, however, as Fassbender works overtime to not only create a three-dimensional character, but one that’s relatable as well… and all while wearing a giant head. Unfortunately, while Fassbender’s Frank is a lot of fun, the rest of the characters are so miserable (especially Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sourpuss bandmate) that it’s hard to enjoy. Director Lenny Abrahamson can’t even decide if Domhnall Gleeson’s protagonist is a calculated jerk or a misguided fool, and though the movie has some important things to say in the end about fame, mental illness and fitting in, they come much too late to have the desired effect. See it for Fassbender and the brief moments of black comedy brilliance, but keep your expectations low.

EXTRAS: There’s a short behind-the-scenes look at the film from AXS TV.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“When the Game Stands Tall”

WHAT: After the De La Salle high school football team has their incredible 151-game winning streak broken at the beginning of the 2004 season, coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) inspires his players to put the past behind them and create their own legacy.

WHY: “When the Game Stands Tall” is yet another underdog sports drama inspired by a true story about a group of young men that must learn to work together… yadda yadda yadda… you get the picture. Though the story is slightly unique in that the De La Salle Spartans were essentially the alpha dogs of their division when the movie opens, their rise from the bottom back to the top plays out like every other film in the genre. In the case of the Spartans, however, you don’t feel the slightest bit bad for them, as they’re just a bunch of over-entitled teenagers who expect to win simply because that’s what the program has done for years. Worse yet, the players themselves are so boring (the only one given an actual character arc is completely fabricated) that director Thomas Carter is forced to pad out the movie with subplots about recently graduated players who have nothing to do with the main story. The heavy-handed nature of the film’s faith-based message is also about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the head, to the point that it seemed like only a matter of time before Kirk Cameron reared his ugly, bigoted head. Thankfully, it never quite comes to that, but unless you’re in the mood for a stealthy Bible lesson, you’d be better off watching “Remember the Titans” instead.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Thomas Carter and real-life coach Bob Ladouceur, there’s a making-of featurette, a look at staging and filming the football sequences, a profile on Ladouceur and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Time Bandits”

WHAT: A boy named Kevin (Craig Warnock) joins a band of time-traveling dwarves on a journey to steal treasure from figures like Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese) and Agamemnon (Sean Connery) using a map stolen from the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson).

WHY: Terry Gilliam has one of the wildest imaginations of any director working today, and if he applied only a fraction of that energy into his storytelling, I’d probably like more of his films. Though “Time Bandits” is a childhood favorite of many, this was my first time seeing the movie, and despite some great moments littered throughout, it’s ultimately undone by the same problems that plague a bulk of his features – namely, that it feels like he’s just making stuff up as he goes along. But while “Time Bandits” is basically a series of sketches cobbled together into a quasi-cohesive story, it’s not quite as maddening as usual. It helps that the first hour boasts a number of great cameos – including Ian Holm, a ferociously funny John Cleese and Sean Connery – and some very Python-esque humor (which has Michael Palin’s fingerprints all over it), but the final act devolves into such a dark and plodding mess that it’s as if Gilliam suddenly changed his mind about what kind of movie he wanted to make. “Time Bandits” is best when fully embracing its gonzo but whimsical premise – like “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” by way of “Lord of the Rings.” Unfortunately, that only accounts for half of the film. The other half is as boring and miserable as Gilliam’s worst.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director/co-writer Terry Gilliam, co-writer Michael Palin and actors John Cleese, David Warner and Craig Warnock, as well as a new featurette on production and costume design, a conversation between Gilliam and film scholar Peter von Bagh, footage from a 1981 episode of “Tomorrow” with Shelley Duvall, and a reproduction of the film’s iconic map with an essay by critic David Sterritt printed on the back.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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