Blu Tuesday: Exodus, Top Five 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.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings”

WHAT: Raised as an Egyptian alongside future pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), natural leader Moses (Christian Bale) is exiled by his brother-in-arms after it’s revealed that he’s actually a Hebrew. But when Moses receives a message from God, he returns to Egypt to lead 600,000 slaves to freedom by escaping Ramses’ rule and a cycle of plagues.

WHY: Though it’s nice to see a director ballsy enough to make a Golden Age-style epic like “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Ridley Scott’s latest film is a beautiful disaster – astonishing in its scope and unwavering dedication to the classic Hollywood spectacle, but overly long and dull. It’s also terribly miscast, from the whitewashing of Joel Edgerton as Ramses, to supporting actors like Aaron Paul (as Moses’ eventual successor, Joshua) and Sigourney Weaver (as Ramses’ mother, Tuya), who have less than a dozen lines of dialogue between them. Weaver only appears in two or three scenes, but Paul is basically the movie’s third lead, and yet he spends most of the time in the background simply reacting to Christian Bale, who brings his trademark intensity to the role of Moses, but sadly, isn’t provided the material to do much beyond that. As with last year’s other Biblical epic, “Noah,” Scott takes some liberties with the source material, and while they work for the most part (especially the way he stages the various plagues), it doesn’t make the proceedings any more exciting. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” was likely envisioned as a return to the big, glossy cinema of yesteryear, but it only serves as a reminder why those kinds of films have gone extinct.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director Ridley Scott and co-writer Jeffrey Caine, a feature-length trivia track, a pair of historical featurettes, some promotional featurettes and nine deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Top Five”

WHAT: Stand-up comedian turned movie star Andre Allen (Chris Rock) wants nothing more than to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor, so on the eve of his marriage to reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), Andre agrees to let New York Times journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) follow him for the day to write a profile piece.

WHY: It’s been eight years since Chris Rock’s last stint behind the camera (2007’s “I Think I Love My Wife”), and considering how poorly received that movie was – not to mention his directorial debut, “Head of State” – it’s easy to see how the comedian might have become disillusioned with the whole Hollywood system. “Top Five” is a marked improvement upon those films, but while the partly biographical, Woody Allen-esque dramedy plays to Rock’s strengths as a writer and performer, it’s also a tad self-indulgent in the way that it mirrors his own aspirations for a more serious career. Ironically, while most people would probably rather Rock just stick to comedy, it’s the serious bits that work best, particularly the subplot involving Andre and Chelsea’s sobriety. I’m still not sure what the title – a reference to an ongoing discussion that Rock’s character has with his friends and fellow celebrities about their top five rappers – has anything to do with the rest of the movie, but the fact that both Jay-Z and Kanye West are barely mentioned, despite being credited as executive producers, might just be the funniest thing about the film.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director/star Chris Rock and co-star JB Smoove, some outtakes from Andre’s stand-up act and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Annie”

WHAT: Happy-go-lucky foster kid Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) has dreams of being reunited with her parents one day, but for the time being, she’s stuck living with drunken grouch Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) with a handful of other girls. But when cell phone tycoon and mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) saves Annie from being hit by a car on the street, he takes advantage of the situation by inviting her to come live with him in the hope it will benefit his campaign.

WHY: On the surface, Will Gluck’s “Annie” looked like a seemingly harmless update of the 1982 original, swapping out curly-haired redhead Aileen Quinn for wild-afroed cutie Quvenzhané Wallis, but the longer you sit through this soulless piece of family entertainment, the more its cracks begin to show. From the auto-tuned musical numbers, to the bland direction by Gluck, “Annie” feels more like an over-glossed product manufactured on an assembly line than a movie made by actual human beings. The film’s problems aren’t immediately evident, but the hints are definitely there, beginning with Cameron Diaz’s Razzie-worthy performance as Ms. Hannigan. The actress is horrendously miscast as Annie’s foster mom, and the rest of the cast isn’t much better, save for Rose Byrne, who almost looks embarrassed to be involved. Wallis earned rave reviews (and an Oscar nomination) for her acting debut in 2012’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and at that time, I expressed my skepticism as to whether someone that young was even acting or just being coached, and “Annie” proves my point, because while there’s no denying her charm, Wallis looks a little out of her depth. She’s far from the worst thing about the movie, however, and at a wearisome two hours long, there’s plenty of more deserving targets to choose from.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Will Gluck, there’s a making-of featurette, a look at the auditions and training camp for the kid actors, a day on-set with Quvenzhané Wallis, a behind-the-scenes featurette about the fake movie “MoonQuake Lake,” a deleted musical number, and sing-along tracks for five of the film’s songs.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Halo: Nightfall”

WHAT: While investigating potential terrorist activity on the colony world of Sedra, ONI agent Jameson Locke (Mike Colter) exposes a plot to eliminate the human race using a biological weapon. Teaming up with the local military, Locke and his team plan to destory the source of the element used in the bombing, only to discover something much more dangerous awaiting them.

WHY: It’s a shame that fans of the “Halo” video game series will probably never get the movie that they deserve, because if “Halo: Nightfall” is any indication, Microsoft is perfectly happy making these low-budget fan films instead. (There’s been talk of a Steven Spielberg-produced TV series, but the lack of any news on that front doesn’t bode well for its chances.) Originally debuting as a five-part web series, “Nightfall” shows promise early on thanks to some decent special effects and production design, but it lacks any quality writing, acting or direction, quickly devolving into a cheap copycat of “Pitch Black.” Stars Mike Colter and Christina Chong fare the best among the cast, though that’s hardly a compliment considering just how bad everyone else is. Better movies have been made with considerably less money, and “District 9” (arguably one of the best sci-fi films of the past 20 years) cost only three times the $10 million budget of “Nightfall”… with at least ten times as many special effects shots. This was a great chance for Microsoft to show that they mean business about turning the “Halo” franchise into a viable movie and TV juggernaut, but they failed big time, letting their fans down in the process.

EXTRAS: There are over 35 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and supplemental story material, including confidential ONI transmissions.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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