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Blu Tuesday: Mad Max, Star Wars Rebels 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.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

WHAT: Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is just barely surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland when he’s captured by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and forced to serve as a human blood bank for his diseased minions. But when a chance meeting between Max and war-rig driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – who’s trying to rescue a group of female sex slaves that Joe plans to use for repopulation – results in his miraculous escape, he reluctantly agrees to help get the girls to safety.

WHY: George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest and most badass action movies in ages. Though “Fury Road” looks absolutely gorgeous, with John Seale’s stunning cinematography providing a painterly quality to the visuals, the real reason to see it is for the action. Conceived as one long car chase, the film is packed with some of the most amazing action sequences you’ll ever see. It’s a minor miracle that no one died during the making of this movie, because Miller’s high-adrenaline set pieces are so visceral and unbridled that you genuinely fear for the lives of the actors and stuntmen with each explosion, car flip and crash. The overcranked, sped-up look works better in some places than others, but for the most part, the gonzo vehicular mayhem is a jaw-dropping assault on the senses that gets weirder as it goes along. Every minute of action is pure cinematic magic, though the dead space in between proves troublesome. Tom Hardy does what’s required of him as the mysterious, soft-spoken Max, but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the only character who’s given any actual development, bringing a humanity to her performance that stands head and shoulders above the rest. While the movie would have benefited from a tighter runtime and falls short of the worship-like praise that many people have heaped upon it, this is easily Miller’s best “Mad Max” film yet.

EXTRAS: In addition to a fairly extensive making-of featurette, there’s an interview with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron about their experiences on the movie, a look at designing the cars and other props, some behind-the-scenes footage from filming the action sequences and three deleted scenes.


“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One”

WHAT: In the wake of the Clone Wars, the Galactic Empire rules the galaxy with an iron fist. But a group of rebels – including Jedi-in-hiding Kanan, Twi’lek pilot Hera, Mandalorian weapons expert Sabine, Lasat honor guard Zeb and astromech droid Chopper – take a stand against their oppressors with the help of newest member Ezra Bridger, a teenage pickpocket with the ability to control the Force.

WHY: Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and subsequent announcement that more “Star Wars” films were on the way, it only seemed natural to launch a new animated series as part of the hype machine. Though “Star Wars Rebels” doesn’t have anything to do with the upcoming movies (at least, not that we know of yet), it is part of the franchise’s official canon, set between the events of the “Clone Wars” animated series and the original trilogy. Unfortunately, the show is a little confused tonally as a result of trying to cater to both younger audiences and older fans. So while there are some things to really enjoy about “Rebels” (like the action and Ralph McQuarie-inspired designs), I’m not crazy about the jokier, PG-rated bits with Ezra, Zeb and Chopper. Additionally, the endless barrage of cameos featured in the first season (from C3P0 and R2D2, to Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader) is an unnecessary attempt to connect the “Rebels” crew to more familiar characters when it should be trying to exist as its own entity. The allure of that type of fan service is understandable, but it gets to the point where it makes the show feel beholden to the past when it should be looking ahead to the future.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes 14 behind-the-scenes featurettes, a collection of short films, a sneak peek at the upcoming second season and more.


“Good Kill”

WHAT: U.S. drone pilot Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) begins to question the ethics of his job when the CIA takes over control of the program, leading to further problems in his already troubled personal life at home.

WHY: Hollywood has produced a number of movies about the 9/11 terrorist attacks and resulting War on Terror over the past decade, but none of them have focused on drone warfare quite as intensely as Andrew Niccol’s “Good Kill,” which provides an intriguing look behind the scenes of the U.S. drone program. Though Niccol isn’t afraid to shine a light on the U.S. military’s hypocrisy regarding drone warfare, the film isn’t overly biased either, as it contains characters who represent both sides of the argument – and in the case of Bruce Greenwood’s commanding officer, someone who hates what he does, but understands why he needs to do it. Unfortunately, the movie circles around the same themes throughout its 102-minute runtime without ever really accomplishing anything, and along the way, it stumbles into the typical military cliché about the alcoholic family man whose home life suffers because of the war. All of the actors are solid in their respective roles (even January Jones, who delivers one of her better performances as Ethan Hawke’s wife), but while “Good Kill” makes some positive contributions to the ongoing drone debate, its secondary story prevents the film from being as effective as it could have been.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes featurette, but that’s all.


“The D Train”

WHAT: When schlubby loser Dan Landsman (Jack Black) sees one of his old high school classmates, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), in a Banana Boat commercial on TV, he devises a plan to fly out to Los Angeles and convince Oliver to attend their upcoming 20-year-reunion in the hope that it’ll earn him the respect of his peers. But when a wild night of partying takes an unexpected turn, Dan becomes strangely infatuated with the struggling actor.

WHY: Just because your movie plays at Sundance doesn’t mean it’s any good, and that’s certainly the case with Andrew Mogul and Jarrad Paul’s directorial debut, “The D Train.” Though it boasts a pair of bankable stars in Jack Black and James Marsden, and features a surprising twist that’s better left unspoiled, this dark comedy about how far someone is willing to go to become popular falls disappointingly flat. The two actors are both fine in their respective roles, but neither Dan nor Oliver are very likable characters, which poses a problem that the film is never able to solve. Additionally, although the movie embraces its darker side in the final act as Dan begins to exude a creepy, stalkerish vibe, it doesn’t feel like Mogul and Paul are pushing the envelope as far as they could. The script is so thinly plotted that it never fully explores Dan’s obsession with Oliver, and by the time “The D Train” has anything important to say (albeit at the cost of some poorly conceived, mildly homophobic jokes), the shock of the central plot device has worn off.

EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and some deleted scenes.