Blu Tuesday: House of Cards 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.

“House of Cards: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: With their marriage on the rocks, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is forced to go on the campaign trail alone while Claire (Robin Wright) starts to make big moves concerning her own political ambitions. But in order to beat young Republican candidate Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) in the upcoming presidential election, Frank needs Claire by his side more than ever.

WHY: The third season of “House of Cards” was a slight disappointment compared to the show’s excellent first two years, and sadly, that trend continues with Season Four, which really pushes the limits of suspension of disbelief. This isn’t the first time that the Underwoods have found themselves backed into a corner, but the storytelling has become so ridiculous that it simply isn’t as captivating as it once was. With that said, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright deliver such great performances in the lead roles that it papers over a lot of the cracks, demonstrating yet again why the characters are more interesting when working together than apart. The rest of the cast isn’t as effective with the limited screen time they’re given, but Joel Kinnaman’s JFK-like governor at least proves a worthy adversary for Frank. Though “House of Cards” remains one of the better dramas on TV, it’s obvious that the show is beginning to run out of ideas, as evidenced by creator Beau Willimon’s decision not to return next season, and if Netflix was smart, they wouldn’t drag it out any longer than necessary.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no bonus material included.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“I Saw the Light”

WHAT: The story of the meteoric rise and tragic fall of country western singer Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston), who died at the tender age of 29 from heart failure.

WHY: If you’ve seen one music biopic, you’ve seen them all. At least, that’s how it feels watching director Mark Abraham’s “I Saw the Light,” a movie so predictable that you don’t even need to be familiar with Hank Williams to know exactly what’s going to happen. The film plays like an awkwardly edited clip show of highlights from his troubled life and career – complete with all the booze, drugs and womanizing that’s become commonplace in the subgenre – jumping from scene to scene with little direction or purpose. Though Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen deliver solid performances as Williams and his first wife Audrey Mae, respectively, and the movie earns points for not glossing over the musician’s less flattering traits, “I Saw the Light” fails to dig deep enough into its subject to make you care. Yes, Hiddleston does his own singing, and he’s actually pretty good, but that doesn’t count for much when the rest of the film is a boring slog.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Marc Abraham, there’s a making-of featurette, a live performance by Tom Hiddleston, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Mermaid”

WHAT: When real estate tycoon Liu Xuan (Deng Chao) purchases a marine reserve that he intends to develop by using sonar technology to get rid of all sea life in the area, the secret race of merpeople who inhabit the cove send young mermaid Shan (Jelly Lin) to seduce and assassinate Liu. But the plan hits a snag after Shan unexpectedly falls in love with him.

WHY: China is the second largest film market in the world, so when a homegrown movie like “The Mermaid” bulldozes the Hollywood competition on its way to becoming the country’s most successful film of all-time, it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. Despite its remarkable box office performance, however, “The Mermaid” is very hit or miss. Director Stephen Chow has made better films in the past (“Shaolin Soccer,” “Kung Fu Hustle”), and although his latest effort is chockful of brilliant slapstick humor (from Shan’s failed assassination attempt, to Show Luo’s half-man/half-octopus cooking his own tentacles), it’s marred by some awful CGI. Some of it is deliberately cartoonish, but the other moments are so distracting that it pulls you out of the movie every time. The third act is also pretty heavy-handed with its eco-friendly message, abandoning its delightfully goofy tone and ending on a real low. While there’s still quite a bit to enjoy about “The Mermaid,” its flaws prevent the film from being as good as its enormous popularity suggests.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and additional behind-the-scenes footage.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The In-Laws”

WHAT: As his daughter’s wedding day draws near, mild-mannered dentist Sheldon Kornpett (Alan Arkin) finally meets the groom’s father, Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk), at a dinner party hosted at Sheldon’s house. But when the mysterious and possibly lunatic Vince inadvertently drags Sheldon into a dangerous mission for the CIA, the pair embarks on a series of misadventures across New York and Central America.

WHY: Arthur Hiller’s “The In-Laws” may have had its reputation slightly bruised by the 2003 remake of the same name, but it’s an enjoyable odd-couple comedy that succeeds thanks to the great chemistry between stars Alan Arkin and Peter Falk. This is easily one of the best performances of Arkin’s career, earning a majority of the laughs as the neurotic straight man to Falk’s volatile wise guy. There aren’t many actors who can do deadpan humor quite like Arkin, but it’s to the credit of Falk (who underplays the madness of his character) that it works as well as it does. The movie also features a number of great character actors in early roles, including David Paymer and Ed Begley Jr., although none do so much with so little as James Hong, who shines in an amusing sequence as the co-pilot of a puddle jumper transporting Vince and Sheldon to Central America. Nothing rivals the famous “Serpentine” gag, of course, but there’s enough hilarity packed into Andrew Bergman’s script that it’s surprising the film isn’t better known.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes the 2003 audio commentary by director Arthur Hiller and stars Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, new interviews with Arkin and co-stars Ed Begley Jr., Nancy Dussault, James Hong and David Paymer, and an essay by comedy writer Stephen Winer.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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