Blu Tuesday: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Hobbit

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 Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

WHAT: In 1963, during the height of the Cold War, the United States and Russia agree to temporarily put aside their differences and combine forces when they learn that a secret criminal organization has kidnapped former Nazi scientist Udo Teller to build an atom bomb. The CIA and KGB assign their top agents – Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), respectively – to infiltrate the cabal and prevent a global disaster.

WHY: Hollywood hasn’t been shy about its love for sequels, reboots and remakes this year, but as far as big screen adaptations of mildly popular television shows go, you could do a lot worse than “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” In fact, though director Guy Ritchie has admitted that he wasn’t overly familiar with the 1960s TV series before signing on to the project, it’s the ideal property for a filmmaker like Ritchie to tackle, because it allows him to cherry-pick the show’s best bits and put his own spin on the material without worrying about stepping on too many toes. It worked well for “Sherlock Holmes,” and it has a similar effect here. While Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer may not sound like the most exciting duo on paper, they form a surprisingly charming team with lots of great banter between them. It’s the kind of polite but playful English wit that’s present in most of Ritchie’s films, and it allows the movie to be self-aware without resorting to winking satire “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” runs a little long despite its relatively straightforward plot, and the half-baked romance between Hammer and Alicia Vikander’s characters never really takes off, but it’s an entertaining homage to retro spy films that makes up for what it lacks in substance with plenty of laughs and undeniable style.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes six featurettes highlighted by a behind-the-scenes look at production and recreating the music, costumes and props of the 1960s.


“The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies – Extended Edition”

WHAT: After successfully defeating Smaug, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and the surviving citizens of Lake-town head to the Lonely Mountain seeking refuge. Thorin (Richard Armitage), who’s since been consumed by the dragon sickness, refuses to help, leading the humans and elves to declare war on the dwarves. But when Azog the Defiler and his battalion of orcs attack the dwarven stronghold, the three armies must fight together in order to stop them.

WHY: Splitting “The Hobbit” into three movies has been a point of contention among fans since it was first announced, and the futility of that decision has never been more evident than with “The Battle of the Five Armies,” a 144-minute marathon of masturbatory excess in which the titular set piece – one that’s contained within a single chapter in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel – makes up almost half of its bloated runtime. (The new extended edition tacks on an additional 20 minutes of footage, including more from the actual battle, that only adds to the film’s pacing issues.) Though the movie has its share of great moments just like the first two installments, they’re surrounded by a lot of extraneous filler that pushes its main hero even further into the background. But while “The Battle of Five Armies” is arguably the weakest entry in the series, it’s a nonetheless fitting end to a trilogy that’s biggest problem was taking so long to get there. Could it have been better? Absolutely, especially when measured against the far superior “Lord of the Rings” films, but fans will love it regardless, and that’s to the credit of the fantastic ensemble cast, incredible visuals and Peter Jackson’s limitless creativity.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens, there are two discs filled with over nine hours of supplemental material that covers virtually every aspect of production.



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