Blu Tuesday: Triple 9, Race 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 social media with your friends.

“Triple 9”

WHAT: When a group of bank robbers is blackmailed by the Russian mafia to pull off an impossible heist, dirty cop Marcus (Anthony Mackie) suggests killing his new partner Chris (Casey Affleck) – thus initiating a 999, police code for “officer down” – in order to draw every responding cop to the other side of town. But as loyalties are tested and the criminals begin to turn on each other, the whole plan threatens to unravel.

WHY: Director John Hillcoat (“The Road,” “Lawless”) specializes in bleak storytelling, so it makes sense why he would gravitate towards a gritty crime thriller like “Triple 9.” Though the movie isn’t totally bereft of clear-cut heroes and villains, most of the characters (from Chiwetel Ejiofor’s bank robber to Anthony Mackie’s conflicted cop) operate somewhere in between. The complex relationships bred from that moral ambiguity is likely what helped Hillcoat attract so much great talent, but while the film boasts a killer cast from top to bottom, only a few (like Casey Affleck and Mackie) really stand out. Ejiofor’s talents are wasted on an underdeveloped character, Aaron Paul mines familiar territory as a troubled drug addict, and Kate Winslet is miscast as the ruthless wife of a Russian mob boss. “Triple 9” is pulled in so many different directions that it’s unable to provide the focus that each subplot deserves, and although that prevents the movie from reaching the heights of Michael Mann’s “Heat,” it’s still a fairly solid crime thriller thanks to some exhilarating set pieces and an excellent cast.

EXTRAS: There are two short featurettes and a handful of deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

WHAT: In 19th century England, a mysterious plague has swept across the country, turning many of its citizens into flesh-eating zombies. Though the Bennett sisters are some of the fiercest zombie slayers in Hertfordshire, their mother insists that they find a husband and settle down. But when the headstrong Elizabeth (Lily James) refuses an arranged marriage, only to meet her match in the equally stubborn Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), the pair must put aside their differences to stop the zombie threat… and perhaps fall in love along the way.

WHY: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is every bit the gimmicky, one-joke affair you’d expect it to be, but the film isn’t without its charms. Much of the humor derives from hearing Jane Austen’s language in a completely different context, lampooning the manners and customs of the period by drawing attention to how ridiculous it sounds, and though it begins to wear thin by the midway point, the cast holds your interest with some fine performances. But while the actors embrace the silliness of the mashup by playing it totally straight, writer/director Burr Steers attempts to juggle so many different genres – comedy, action, romance, horror – that it constantly feels at odds with itself. Curiously, the one thing that distinguishes the movie from Austen’s novel – the zombies – is what ultimately derails it. Steers is clearly more interested in the period drama elements than author Seth Grahame-Smith’s contributions, and rightly so, because the best moments are those retained from the original text. Though adding zombies to the mix makes the story appealing to a larger audience, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” fails to find a way to have its brains and eat them too.

EXTRAS: In addition to featurettes on the cast, adapting the novel for the big screen and creating the zombie effects, there are some deleted scenes, alternate line readings from Matt Smith and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Race”

WHAT: After Jesse Owens (Stephan James) gains national recognition with the Ohio State University track and field team under the guidance of coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), he’s chosen to compete at the 1936 Olympics, where he must overcome extreme prejudice in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany to prove he’s the best in the world.

WHY: It’s a little surprising that it’s taken this long for Hollywood to make a film about four-time Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens – one of the most famous athletes in U.S. history – but if Stephen Hopkins’ “Race” is the best that anyone can do, they shouldn’t have even bothered. Bland and disappointingly safe for a movie about race relations in the 1930s, “Race” doesn’t even feel like a proper Jesse Owens biopic. The first half of the film is split between Jesse’s rise at OSU (which, admittedly, isn’t strong enough to stand on its own) and the behind-the-scenes drama in Berlin during the lead-up to the Olympic Games, while the second half is dedicated to the Games themselves. Owens is still very much the protagonist of the story, but the movie is constantly exploring other subplots as well, and as a result, Stephan James isn’t given enough to really sink his teeth into. It’s a solid performance in an otherwise mediocre drama, but the Owens legacy deserved far better.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of brief featurettes on making the film, Stephan James’ lead performance and the surviving Owens family members involved in the project.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Gods of Egypt”

WHAT: On the day that King Osiris (Bryan Brown) plans to crown his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as Egypt’s newest ruler, his jealous brother Set (Gerard Butler) stages a royal coup, killing Osiris and defeating Horus in battle. Set ultimately shows mercy to Horus by letting him live, but not before plucking out his magic eyes, the source of his god-like abilities. As Egypt is thrust into darkness, Horus teams up with a young thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) to exact revenge and reclaim his rightful spot on the throne.

WHY: You have to respect any studio daring enough to give director Alex Proyas – who hasn’t made a movie in over seven years – $140 million dollars to produce an adventure/fantasy film that isn’t based on a preexisting property. Unfortunately, that respect means very little when the money is wasted on a movie as dumb as “Gods of Egypt,” an Egyptian-themed “Clash of the Titans” with some truly gonzo moments. Though the scope of the film is impressive, covering a wide spectrum of Egyptian mythology, Proyas tries to cram too much into one movie. The problems don’t end there, either. The visuals effects range from unpolished to downright cheesy, while Gerard Butler is covered in so much bronzer that he’s practically in brownface (and with his Scottish accent intact). The rest of the cast fares a little better, but the film is such a poorly written mess that even the world’s finest actors couldn’t make it exciting. “Gods of Egypt” is really that bad, rivaling “Jupiter Ascending” as the most embarrassing wannabe blockbuster in recent years.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a collection of featurettes that run the gamut of production – the cast, costumes and makeup, stunts, visual effects and filming in Australia – as well as some deleted storyboards.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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