Blu Tuesday: Straight Outta Compton, Everest 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.

“Straight Outta Compton”

WHAT: The story of influential rap group N.W.A. – comprised of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) – as they rose from the streets of Compton to popularize the gangsta rap movement.

WHY: There’s been a lot of discussion about “Straight Outta Compton” being snubbed for Best Picture in this year’s Oscar nominations, but it’s simply not special enough to warrant inclusion. (To be fair, neither is “Bridge of Spies,” though that’s an argument for another day.) While the film hits all the key beats in N.W.A.’s rise to stardom, it’s no different than a typical music biopic with all the highs and lows, even if it has a tendency to gloss over some of its members’ less flattering moments. Thankfully, the movie is so well-cast that it covers up many of the cracks in Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff’s screenplay. Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins and O’Shea Jackson Jr. deliver excellent performances as the key members of the group, while Paul Giamatti brings his particular brand of passive-aggressive villainy to the role of their manager. “Straight Outta Compton” is a solid biopic that music fans in particular will enjoy, but despite the timely subject matter, it’s too preoccupied with its clichéd story to make a lasting impression.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director F. Gary Gray, a collection of featurettes on the history of N.W.A., casting the group members and filming key sequences in the movie, some deleted scenes and a deleted musical performance.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Everest”

WHAT: Based on the incredible true story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, a climbing expedition to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain is devastated by a ferocious snow storm.

WHY: I’ve never been very fond of movies about people doing stupid things, and climbing Mt. Everest is right up there, especially when the odds are so stacked in Mother Nature’s favor. Still, you have to admire anyone crazy enough to try it once, let alone make a career out of it, and that adventurer mentality shines through in Baltasar Kormákur’s film. But while the movie features an outstanding ensemble cast and impressive visual effects that make it look like the whole thing was shot on the mountain, “Everest” is all spectacle and very little substance. Though it’s not exactly a disaster film in the traditional sense, Kormákur focuses more on delivering thrills than developing the characters; there are so many different personalities vying for screen time that Jason Clarke’s Rob Hall is the only one who has anything resembling a proper arc. Had “Everest” focused more on his story, it likely would have fared better, but as it stands, the two-hour runtime isn’t nearly long enough to give every character the attention they deserve.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Baltasar Kormákur, as well as featurettes on making the film, recreating Mount Everest, climbing/altitude training with the actors and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Intern”

WHAT: When 70-year-old retiree Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) applies for a senior internship program at a flourishing online fashion site, he’s assigned to be the personal intern to workaholic founder Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Ben enters Jules’ life just when she needs it most, gradually breaking down her hard shell to become a mentor figure as she faces life-changing decisions in the office and at home.

WHY: Nancy Meyers makes movies for a particular kind of audience, but 2009’s “It’s Complicated” took her brand of wish-fulfillment fantasy to gag-inducing levels, so it’s refreshing to see the writer/director strive for something a bit more genuine with “The Intern.” Granted, the film still looks like it came out of a Pottery Barn catalog, but thanks to some charming performances from its two stars, it’s a relatively enjoyable workplace comedy that’s marred only by its bipolar script. While the first half of the movie plays out like a sweet, fish-out-of-water story, it takes a sudden detour into more serious territory midway through and never quite recovers. Jules’ struggle as a successful career woman trying to balance work and family is ripe with dramatic conflict, but it’s not nearly as entertaining as Ben’s journey. Nevertheless, “The Intern” does enough early on to convince you to buy into its ridiculous premise, and that goes a long way in making the film a lot more watchable than even Meyer’s most fervent detractors would care to admit.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the film, a featurette on production design and an interview with co-stars Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman and Jason Orley.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Inside Llewyn Davis”

WHAT: A week in the life of struggling folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), who’s trying to make it as a solo artist after his former partner commits suicide. With no steady income or plans for the future, Llewyn spends his days wandering the city in search of his next gig and his nights crashing on friends’ couches.

WHY: There aren’t many directors that can boast a track record as impressive as the one that Joel and Ethan Coen have enjoyed throughout their 30-year careers, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just another notch on that cinematic belt. Markedly different from a lot of their films in that it’s a much more intimate, character-driven piece, “Inside Llewyn Davis” most closely resembles “A Serious Man” in both tone and execution. Structured as a loose series of vignettes, much of the movie rests on Oscar Isaac’s shoulders, with the actor delivering a superb performance that manages to make the titular freeloader somewhat likeable. For as good as Isaac is in the role, however, it wouldn’t be as effective without T-Bone Burnett’s excellent soundtrack, especially when a large chunk of the film is dedicated to the musical performances. It’s not often that a soundtrack plays such a pivotal role in my enjoyment of a movie, but it’s certainly fitting considering just how much the Coens rely on music to provide the backdrop of this bittersweet portrait of personal failure.

EXTRAS: In addition to the making-of documentary included on the original Blu-ray release, there’s a new audio commentary by writers Robert Christgau, David Hajdu and Sean Wilentz, a conversation between directors Joel and Ethan Coen and Guillermo del Toro, a documentary about the “Inside Llewyn Davis” tribute concert, a pair of featurettes on folk music, the 1961 documentary “Sunday” and an essay by film critic Kent Jones.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Jem and the Holograms”

WHAT: When her YouTube video goes viral and she draws the attention of Starlight Music CEO Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), shy but talented singer-songwriter Jerrica Benton (Audrey Peeples) is thrust into superstardom under the alter ego Jem.

WHY: Just because something was popular once before doesn’t mean it will still be popular decades later, and director Jon M. Chu learned that the hard way with his live-action adaptation of the cult 1980s animated series, “Jem and the Holograms,” which fizzled out of theaters quicker than you can say, “It’s showtime, Synergy!” Though the movie isn’t nearly as terrible as the flurry of critical hate might suggest, it’s still pretty bad due to the cheesy and clichéd script, bizarre use of fan-made videos and poor attempts at shoehorning in ideas from the cartoon, including a beat-boxing robot named S1N3RG.Y that sends Jem and the girls on a pointless scavenger hunt from her dead father. In fact, “Jem and the Holograms” doesn’t really have anything in common with its animated namesake apart from the title, and for a film that spends its two-hour (!) runtime touting its message of non-conformity, it’s not very original, either. “Jem and the Holograms” is a well-intentioned failure, but it’s a failure all the same.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director/producer John M. Chu, a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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