Blu Tuesday: The Knick, Unfriended 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.

“The Knick: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: In New York City during the turn of the 20th century, the extremely talented Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) takes over as chief surgeon at the Knickerbocker Hospital (dubbed The Knick) after his mentor/boss commits suicide. While Thackery and his staff attempt to overcome the medical limitations of the era by making new discoveries of their own, they’re forced to deal with major issues like race relations, class warfare, sexism, drug addiction and more.

WHY: When Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from filmmaking, it seemed a bit premature for someone so young. But while the director has remained true to his word as far as the big screen is concerned, he’s taken his talents to the small screen in the interim, most notably with this excellent period drama from Cinemax. Loosely based on real-life events and people, “The Knick” is different from traditional (and more contemporary) medical dramas in that the surgical procedures actually serve the characters and story, not to mention offer a fascinating look at just how far the medical field has come since then. The supporting cast is great, particularly Andre Holland and Michael Angarano as two of the surgeons on Thackery’s team, but the series succeeds largely thanks to Clive Owen’s commanding lead performance. And because Soderbergh directed and shot every episode, it’s also one of the best-looking shows on television. Though the first season starts to drag in the last few episodes due to lackluster subplots involving Typhoid Mary and a jealous surgeon dealing with problems at home, “The Knick” is a well-acted prestige drama that deserves to be on a much bigger stage like HBO.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes cast and crew audio commentaries on three episodes (although sadly, both Clive Owen and Steven Soderbergh are absent), as well as “Post-Op” recap featurettes for every episode but the first.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Unfriended”

WHAT: On the one-year anniversary of the death of classmate Laura Barns, who committed suicide after being cyberbullied due to an embarrassing video posted on the web, a group of friends are stalked by a mysterious intruder on their Skype call claiming to be the vengeful spirit of Laura.

WHY: Technology has become so integral to our daily lives that it was only a matter of time before someone made a film that unfolds entirely on a computer screen, and though “Unfriended” isn’t the first to employ this gimmick, you can be certain it won’t be the last. But while there’s a lot to admire about the concept and technical skill required to pull off such a seamless visual trick, the movie is constantly getting in its own way. For a film made for tech-savvy teenagers who can juggle multiple apps with their eyes closed, there’s a maddening amount of hand-holding that takes place, from the way its main character hovers over text with her cursor to ensure the audience is following along, to the time it takes her to perform a simple task. The movie builds some nice tension with delayed chat messages, slow-moving download status bars and the worst Skype connection in history, but it doesn’t have any genuine scares. Though “Unfriended” should be applauded for addressing such a serious issue in today’s culture of anonymity-driven public shaming, it’s surrounded by so much stupidity – including the same poor writing, tired clichés and shallow characters that constantly plague the horror genre – that it only weakens its message.

EXTRAS: No bonus material is included.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Hot Pursuit”

WHAT: Inept police officer Rose Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) is assigned to serve as the police-mandated female escort for Danielle Riva (Sofia Vergara), the wife of an important witness in a case against notorious cartel boss Vincent Cortez. But when her husband is killed by intruders, Cooper must protect Mrs. Riva from crooked cops and cartel hitmen looking to finish the job so that she can testify the next day in place of him.

WHY: “Hot Pursuit” is bad. Like, really bad; the kind of movie where the blooper reel attached to the end credits is funnier than the film itself. Though it looks like Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara at least had fun making the movie, sitting through it isn’t quite as pleasurable. In fact, it sets female-driven comedies back several decades. There’s not a subtle bone in its body, relying on lowest-common-denominator jokes that tactlessly exploit the characters’ sexuality and femininity, not to mention a running gag about Cooper’s height and Riva’s age that isn’t funny the first time around. It’s as if co-writers David Feeney and John Quaintance watched every buddy cop comedy from the 1980s and 90s and recycled their favorite moments by reversing the gender identities without bothering to update them for present day. It doesn’t help that almost every other line of dialogue is delivered like it’s being screamed through a megaphone, and although that’s pretty much the extent of the shrill-voiced Vergara’s acting ability, Witherspoon is too good of an actress to stoop to that level. Women in Hollywood may be desperate to prove that they can be funny too, but “Hot Pursuit” is so painfully dull, mind-numbingly stupid and just plain lazy that it doesn’t exactly help their cause.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara’s onscreen chemistry, their difficulty speaking each other’s languages and the film’s action sequences, as well as an alternate ending.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“I Am Chris Farley”

WHAT: A documentary about the life of comedian Chris Farley.

WHY: Everybody has their favorite Chris Farley moment, whether it’s from his five-year stint on “Saturday Night Live” or his numerous film appearances, but one thing is certain: he was an incredibly gifted performer whose tragic death came far too soon. Directed by Brent Hodge and Derik Murray, “I Am Chris Farley” is a competently made documentary that operates less like a “Behind the Music” exposé on the actor than a celebration of his life with the help of people who clearly loved the guy. Using interviews with his siblings, college friends, “SNL” castmates (most notably Adam Sandler and David Spade) and other co-stars, the film tracks Farley’s life from his childhood in Madison, Wisconsin, to his time performing at Second City in Chicago, to his quick rise to fame on “SNL” and in Hollywood with movies like “Tommy Boy” and “Black Sheep.” But while “I Am Chris Farley” is an enjoyable tribute that will make you want to spend the next few hours watching old “SNL” skits and film clips on YouTube, the documentary feels like it’s just barely scratching the surface at times, especially in regards to Farley’s struggle with substance abuse. It was the right decision by Hodge and Murray to focus more on the good than the bad, but in doing so, it only highlights just how little the movie has to say.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on Chris Farley’s siblings, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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