Blu Tuesday: 13 Hours, Zootopia 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.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

WHAT: On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamic militants in Benghazi attacked the poorly guarded compound where the U.S. Ambassador resided, prompting a six-man security team led by Tyron Woods (James Badge Dale) to launch a perilous rescue attempt before returning to the nearby CIA annex to defend against wave after wave of rebel attacks until support arrived.

WHY: Michael Bay has wasted the better part of the last decade making shitty “Transformers” films, so it’s nice to see him return to form with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” an exhilarating and surprisingly apolitical military thriller that reconfirms why he’s one of the best action directors in the business. It takes nearly an hour before the first attack occurs, but Bay uses that time to establish the characters, provide an overview of the geopolitical landscape and build tension, because once it kicks into action mode, Bay rarely lets his foot off the gas, pummeling the audience with one explosive firefight after the next. This is Bay’s bread and butter, and he doesn’t disappoint with some expertly shot action sequences that drop the audience right into the middle of the combat. Though the movie isn’t without the typical Bayisms (from the overuse of slow motion and lingering shots of the American flag, to the corny dialogue), “13 Hours” is a marked improvement compared to his recent output that harkens back to earlier films like “The Rock.”

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on adapting the source material, filming the battle sequences and the CIA’s real-life Global Response Staff.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Zootopia”

WHAT: After proving her detractors wrong by becoming the first rabbit police officer in the animal city of Zootopia, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) must team up with a con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to uncover a conspiracy that’s causing some of the city’s predators to revert back into savage beasts.

WHY: “Zootopia” might just be the best Pixar movie that Pixar never made. It’s smart, funny and works both as a delightful family film on the surface and a rich allegory for race relations on a much deeper level. In fact, it handles the subject of racism and prejudice better than most live-action movies, and that in itself is really impressive. The dynamic between Ginnifer Goodwin’s go-getting bunny and Jason Bateman’s sardonic fox is excellent, while the vibrant world that directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”) have created is incredibly imaginative, opening up numerous possibilities for sequels that would not only be warranted but welcome as well. Though the movie runs a little long at 108 minutes, there are so many great moments littered throughout that it’s hard to imagine another animated film providing much competition at next year’s Oscars. Sister studio Pixar may get all the love, but recently, Walt Disney Animation has been on a real winning streak, and “Zootopia” is its finest achievement yet.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette hosted by star Ginnifer Goodwin, three additional featurettes on developing the story, finding inspiration from real-life animals, and composing the score, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s many Easter eggs and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Hail, Caesar!”

WHAT: In 1950s Hollywood, studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) must contend with the sudden disappearance of star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a potential scandal involving leading lady DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), and a foolish attempt to retool the image of Western actor Hobbie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich)… all in the course of one day.

WHY: “Hail, Caesar!” won’t go down as one of the Coen brothers’ best movies, but it’s not a complete disaster either. In fact, it’s a relatively enjoyable film in the moment that’s filled with funny gags, excellent musical numbers (the Channing Tatum-led dance sequence is a highlight) and colorful characters. However, when all is said and done, the assortment of loosely-connected vignettes doesn’t really add up to anything of substance. The subplot involving Baird Whitlock’s abduction by a group of jaded Communist screenwriters is a total bore, while many of the big-name actors (like Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes) only appear in one or two scenes each. They’re great in their limited roles, but it feels like a cheat to give them such prominent billing, especially when Alden Ehrenreich upstages them all with his star-making performance as the good-natured singing cowboy. But while the future Han Solo makes “Hail, Caesar!” worth checking out, it’s unquestionably a lesser entry in the Coens’ filmography.

EXTRAS: There’s a collection of brief featurettes on the cast, working with the Coen brothers, recreating the era and filming two of the movie’s musical numbers.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Vinyl: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: After he reneges on a deal to sell his company, American Century Records, to a German-run competitor, hard-partying record executive Ritchie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) attempts to revive the struggling label by getting back to basics. But when he becomes an accessory to murder and the ensuing paranoia causes him to break his years-long sobriety, Ritchie’s personal and professional life begins to spiral out of control.

WHY: Featuring a great ensemble cast, an awesome soundtrack and a creative dream team that includes Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terrence Winter, HBO’s “Vinyl” should have been a homerun, but instead, it’s a messy, half-baked period drama that tries to skate by on tired clichés and overwrought nostalgia for 1970s New York. The gimmicky references to real-life figures like David Bowie, Elvis Presley and Andy Warhol, all of whom appear in cameos, reeks of look-at-me desperation, while the fictional characters are so unlikeable – each one equally self-destructive and mired in some kind of hilariously manufactured conflict – that it’s hard to know who you’re supposed to be rooting for. Bobby Cannavale does the best he can with the material provided, but much like co-stars Olivia Wilde and Juno Temple, he’s stuck playing a two-dimensional character with nowhere to go but down. “Vinyl” is all sound and fury, with no nuance to anything that happens, and considering the amount of talent involved in the project, that simply isn’t good enough.

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on three episodes, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the show and “Inside the Episodes” mini-featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Rick and Morty: Season Two”

WHAT: Sociopathic scientist Rick Sanchez (Justin Roiland) drags his dimwitted grandson Morty (Roiland), along with the rest of his dysfunctional family – daughter Beth (Sarah Chalke), son-in-law Jerry (Chris Parnell) and granddaughter Summer (Spencer Grammer) – on a series of dangerous intergalactic adventures.

WHY: The first season of Adult Swim’s “Rick and Morty” was one of the hidden gems of 2014, delivering a potent mix of sci-fi, vulgar humor and the kind of clever pop culture references that became synonymous with co-creator Dan Harmon’s “Community.” Though Season Two is only comprised of 10 episodes, there’s not a single weak link among them. Some of the highlights include the season premiere, “A Rickle in Time,” in which Rick, Morty and Summer accidentally create alternate timelines; the sitcom clip show parody “Total Rickall”; and the “Rixty Minutes” sequel, “Interdimensional Cable 2: Tempting Fate,” featuring yet another collection of surreal TV programming from around the galaxy. The latter episode, in particular, is a prime example of just how strange “Rick and Morty” can be at times, but the show seems to thrive on that inherent weirdness. Though it’s definitely not for everyone, if you enjoy animated series like “Adventure Time,” “Archer” and “Futurama,” you won’t find a better adult-minded cartoon on TV at the moment.

EXTRAS: There are audio commentaries and animatics for every episode, as well as some deleted scenes and footage from the show’s premiere party.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Martian: Extended Edition”

WHAT: During a manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind by his crew after he seemingly dies in a storm. But when it turns out that Watney has survived, he must use his skills and intelligence to keep himself alive on the barren planet long enough to make contact with NASA and await rescue.

WHY: Although it’s the third film in as many years about astronauts in distress, “The Martian” is a smart, captivating and humorous adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel that covers very different narrative and emotional territory than “Gravity” and “Interstellar.” For starters, it’s a lot more uplifting than most sci-fi fare, eschewing the usual doom-mongering for a story about the power of optimism and perseverance that also doubles as one heckuva recruitment video for NASA. (Who knew science and math could be this much fun?) Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the Everyman astronaut forced to “science the shit” out of his seemingly impossible predicament, while the supporting cast – including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejifor and Jessica Chastain – is absolutely stacked with talent. This is hands down Ridley Scott’s best movie since “Gladiator,” and it owes a lot to Drew Goddard’s screenplay, which takes a lighthearted approach to the high-stakes drama in order to produce one of the most purely entertaining crowd-pleasers in years.

EXTRAS: In addition to both the theatrical and extended cut of the film (featuring 10 minutes of never-before-seen footage), there’s a brand new collection of bonus material, including an audio commentary by director Ridley Scott, writer Drew Goddard and author Andy Weir, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

  

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