Blu Tuesday: Arrow, The Jungle Book 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.

“Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: After defeating Ra’s al Ghul in battle, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) leaves behind his vigilante persona and moves to the suburbs with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) to live a normal life. But when Star City is threatened by a terrorist organization called H.I.V.E., Oliver returns as the newly dubbed Green Arrow to stop the group’s leader Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) – a man with mysterious magical abilities – from destroying what he’s worked so hard to protect.

WHY: The fourth season of “Arrow” is a real low point in the show’s history; it’s as clunky and poorly conceived as Diggle’s awful new helmet. Though past seasons have certainly had their share of criticisms, it’s never been quite this bad. The flashbacks are more pointless than ever, persisting with a plot device that’s no longer necessary, while the Oliver/Felicity romance is horribly mishandled. Even Damien Darhk’s involvement doesn’t seem very well-thought-out. Not only is he too powerful for Oliver and his team, but he only appears when it’s convenient for the plot, going through the same motions over and over until his lame defeat in the finale. However, the biggest problem with “Arrow” (and to a lesser degree, “The Flash”) is that there isn’t enough story to warrant 23 hours of television, resulting in a lot of unnecessary filler. That’s never been more true than in Season Four, and with any luck, it’ll lead to the show receiving a much-needed reset, or at the very least, a return to its grittier, humbler roots.

EXTRAS: In addition to the 2015 Comic-Con panel, there’s a trio of profiles on Damien Darhk, Vandal Savage and Hawkman and Hawkgirl, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Jungle Book”

WHAT: Raised by a pack of wolves since he was a young boy, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is forced to flee his adopted home when the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens to kill him. With the help of his loyal panther friend Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and a happy-go-lucky bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), Mowgli navigates the dangerous jungle in order to survive.

WHY: Disney’s live-action remake of “The Jungle Book” is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises – a visually immersive adventure film that pays homage to the 1967 classic without feeling slavish. Though it’s perhaps a little too dark at times, and newcomer Neel Sethi’s performance is wildly uneven, director Jon Favreau deserves enormous credit for what he’s accomplished. Not only is the movie technically impressive, with such photorealistic CG animals and environments that you forget most of it isn’t even real, but the voice cast is pitch-perfect in their roles, particularly Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Idris Elba. While the inclusion of iconic musical numbers like “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” has varying results (although the former fits the more lighthearted tone of its sequence, the latter feels completely out of place), the animated version is defined so much by these two songs that it would have been a crime not to include them. Just be glad the vultures didn’t make the cut.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Jon Favreau and a trio of featurettes on production, newcomer Neel Sethi and creating the King Louie sequence.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two”

WHAT: As Ezra continues his Jedi training under Kanan, the ragtag crew of the Ghost joins forces with a trio of renegade clone troopers and a secret rebel cell to defeat the Galactic Empire. But despite these powerful new allies, their campaign is met with great resistance by Darth Vader himself, who sends two new Inquisitors to hunt them down.

WHY: The second season of “Star Wars Rebels” is a marked improvement over its debut, but it’s a show that still feels at odds with itself. Though it clearly wants to exist as its own thing within the “Star Wars” universe, it crams in so many references and characters from the live-action movies that it’s a little over dependent on them at times. The writers at least do a better job of making it seem more organic in Season Two, despite the fact that the series really doubles down on the fan service with appearances by Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Darth Maul, Yoda and Lando Calrissian. The problem is that these episodes are substantially better than the ones that rely solely on the core cast, especially the more self-contained, character-driven stories like “The Call,” and that’s because the new characters just aren’t as engaging. Although “Rebels” is still a bit of a mixed bag as a result, the show has become so committed to bridging the gap between the prequels and original trilogy that it’s practically a must-watch for all “Star Wars” fans.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a behind-the-scenes look at all 22 episodes, a featurette on how the season connects to the larger “Star Wars” universe, and an interview with executive producer Dave Filoni about the climactic battle between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Me Before You”

WHAT: When she loses her job at the local bakery, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) accepts a position as the caregiver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a young, wealthy banker who was paralyzed in a traffic accident two years earlier. But while Will would rather be left alone to drown in his sorrows from the privacy of his family’s castle, the cheerful Louisa becomes determined to show him that life is worth living.

WHY: Based on Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel of the same name, “Me Before You” isn’t much different than your typical Hollywood tearjerker; it’s a cloying and all too predictable romantic drama from the school of Nicholas Sparks. But despite falling prey to many of the genre’s conventions, the movie goes about it without any hint of cynicism. Although it’s basically a modern day retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” (right down to Matthew Lewis’ douchey, Gaston-lite boyfriend), it manages to succeed as its own story thanks to a pair of solid performances from its two leads. Emilia Clarke, in particular, is like a walking ray of sunshine, so beautiful and utterly charming as the quirky Louisa that she lights up every scene, while Janet McTeer and Charles Dance also turn in good work as Will’s aggrieved parents. “Me Before You” is ultimately pretty forgettable for how much it tugs on the heart strings, but compared to other films in the genre, it’s ever so slightly a head above the rest.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and outtakes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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