Blu Tuesday: Creed, Room 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.

“Creed”

WHAT: Determined to get out from under his father’s shadow, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) – the illegitimate son of former boxing champ Apollo Creed – leaves Los Angeles for Philadelphia to train with local legend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). But when Adonis’ secret family history is revealed and he’s offered the chance to fight the reigning world champion, he must prove to himself (and his detractors) that he’s worthy of the Creed name.

WHY: After garnering critical acclaim for his directorial debut, “Fruitvale Station,” the last thing anyone expected from Ryan Coogler’s follow-up was a spin-off/sequel to a movie franchise that’s last meaningful installment was released 30 years ago. But while it may have seemed like a strange career move at the time, “Creed” is an energizing addition to the boxing series that succeeds as a respectful passing of the torch and one of the best “Rocky” films ever made. Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are both excellent in their roles, especially the latter, who delivers his finest work in years with a subtler, more emotional performance than we’re used to seeing from the actor. Coogler, meanwhile, makes the transition from indie to mainstream filmmaking remarkably well; he provides all the usual crowd-pleasing moments without sacrificing the kind of intimate, character-driven storytelling that made “Fruitvale Station” so effective. Though “Creed” follows the 1976 original a little too closely at times, it does enough to stand on its own while still paying homage to the “Rocky” legacy.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes on developing the movie and Michael B. Jordan’s training regime, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Room”

WHAT: After being abducted as a teenager and spending the past seven years in captivity, Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) – who knows nothing of the outside world – finally gain their freedom following a brave escape. But adapting to life on the outside proves even more difficult for Joy than the impressionable Jack.

WHY: Brie Larson has been quietly making a name for herself over the past few years, but while 2013’s “Short Term 12” may have been her big breakthrough, “Room” confirms that she’s the real deal. Her emotionally-charged role as the abducted teen-turned-mother was one of the best performances of 2015, and though young co-star Jacob Tremblay is also really good as her sheltered son, it’s Larson who holds the movie together, even when her character is dangerously close to falling apart. The film is comprised of two very different halves (the world Joy has made for Jack inside “room” and the outside world), and each section gives its actors a wide range of emotions to play. While Joy’s journey is pretty dark and depressing – and rightfully so, because “Room” is every parent’s worst nightmare – the innocent yet insightful narration that Jack provides as he experiences things for the first time is bursting with optimism, and ultimately, it’s that hopefulness that makes the movie such a rewarding experience.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Lenny Abrahamson, cinematographer Danny Cohen, editor Nathan Nugent and production designer Ethan Tobman, there’s a trio of production featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Night Before”

WHAT: For the past 14 years, best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent every Christmas Eve together, a tradition started after Ethan lost his parents in a car accident. Now in their early 30s, the guys have agreed to end the annual tradition due to growing responsibilities, but not before one final night on the town.

WHY: There’s not much of a plot to “The Night Before,” and what little there is doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. After all, Christmas Eve is only one night a year, so the idea that Isaac and Chris suddenly can’t hang out with their best friend anymore is not only ridiculous, but downright shitty of them. They don’t waste any time kicking Ethan to the curb, either, as Isaac spends most of the night in a drug-fueled state of weirdness and paranoia, while Chris obsesses over impressing his NFL teammates. The three characters have such wildly different personalities that their friendship doesn’t feel believable, and to make matters worse, the actors never click as a group. As a result, the film just isn’t as funny as it should be, despite some amusing cameos by Michael Shannon and “Broad City” star Ilana Glazer. Though fans of Rogen’s previous movies will be more forgiving of its flaws, even they may find that “The Night Before” is surprisingly short on honest-to-goodness laughs.

EXTRAS: In addition to a making-of featurette, there are deleted scenes, alternate takes from Michael Shannon, a gag reel and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Strike Back: Season Four”

WHAT: When they’re sent to Thailand to rescue the British ambassador’s kidnapped daughter, Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) uncover a much larger terrorist plot orchestrated by the North Korean crime syndicate, Office 39.

WHY: It’s difficult to review a new season of “Strike Back” without sounding like a broken record, but the Cinemax action series is pretty darn repetitive, bound so much by its rinse-and-repeat formula that even the major deaths aren’t shocking anymore. The character development, or lack thereof, is even less surprising at this point. After all, this is the kind of show where a character mourns the death of his girlfriend in one episode, and then in the very next episode has sex with another colleague. Despite its second-rate writing, however, “Strike Back” is a mostly enjoyable guilty pleasure that revels in its supercharged absurdity. Though Michelle Yeoh is an excellent addition as the season’s main villain, it’s the chemistry between stars Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester, along with the well-choreographed action sequences, that make it worth sticking around through the end. The series finale is a little too happily-ever-after for everything that proceeds it – a Butch and Sundance-style shootout would have been more fitting – but it will satisfy longtime fans nonetheless.

EXTRAS: The three-disc set includes a behind-the-scenes look at filming on location in Thailand and Hungary, as well as five additional featurettes on the season’s biggest and most action-packed sequences.

FINAL VERDICT:RENT

“Don Verdean”

WHAT: Self-proclaimed biblical archeologist Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell) is hired by a small-town pastor (Danny McBride) to dig up sacred relics from the Holy Land in order to boost attendance at his church. But when finding the artifacts proves more challenging than expected, Don must get creative.

WHY: Writer/director Jared Hess has been riding the success of his debut feature, “Napoleon Dynamite,” for so long that it’s a wonder he’s still making movies. His latest effort is yet another dull and unamusing comedy that gives the equally dreadful “Gentlemen Broncos” a run for its money. Though “Don Verdean” isn’t quite as moronic as its predecessor – there’s a kernel of a good idea in its mocking depiction of religious commercialism – the film squanders the talents of Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement and Amy Ryan. Hess tries to wring some laughs from the satirical premise, but despite his usual array of eccentric characters, it’s just not very funny. The movie seems to think that it can get by solely on its inherent strangeness when that’s simply not the case – a fact made abundantly evident within the first 15 minutes. In the hands of a more capable filmmaker, “Don Verdean” might have been better, but as it stands, it’s a joke without a punchline.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director/co-writer Jared Hess and a pair of production featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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