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.
WHAT: After a mission to retrieve a biological weapon in Nigeria results in collateral damage, the United Nations proposes a law to regulate the Avengers, which creates a rift among the team’s members. So when his old friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is framed for a terrorist attack, Captain America (Chris Evans) goes rogue in order to protect him, leaving Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) no other choice but to hunt them both down.
WHY: “Civil War” has been jokingly referred to as “Avengers 2.5,” and for good reason, because while the movie may be a Captain America sequel in name, it’s a continuation of several different story threads from “Winter Soldier,” “Age of Ultron” and more. Though the film feels a bit crowded at times with all of the various characters and cameos (including the introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man), they never overshadow the central conflict. Unlike “Batman v Superman,” “Civil War” actually gives its characters a reason for fighting, and that goes a long way in legitimizing the ideological and physical clash between its opposing heroes. The movie isn’t perfect – Daniel Brühl’s villainous Zemo is underserved, and the filmmakers ignore a key argument in favor of the anti-registration side – but it does such a good job of balancing the emotionally-charged narrative with some excellent action sequences and fan service that those flaws seem trivial in comparison. “Civil War” is perhaps Marvel’s darkest and most mature film to date, but it still knows how to have fun, and that’s paramount to its success.
EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by directors Anthony and Joe Russo, there’s a two-part making-of featurette, a look at Captain America and Iron Man’s respective journeys across the MCU, deleted scenes, a gag reel and an exclusive sneak peek at “Doctor Strange.”
FINAL VERDICT: BUY
WHAT: Publicly embarrassed by the Amityville case after it was revealed to be an elaborate hoax, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Loraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are sent by the Catholic Church to London to look into the alleged demonic possession of a young girl named Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe).
WHY: James Wan’s “The Conjuring” is one of the best horror films of the 21st century, so it’s only natural that moviegoers would approach its sequel with equal parts excitement and trepidation. As it turns out, those mixed emotions were completely warranted, because while the movie doesn’t feature quite as many highs as its predecessor, “The Conjuring 2” is a mostly successful follow-up that benefits from Wan’s ability to balance atmospheric scares with genuine emotion and character-based storytelling. Madison Wolfe is great as the young girl at the center of the haunting, but the film wouldn’t work without Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who play the real-life ghost hunters with such earnestness that it lends credibility to the material. Although “The Conjuring 2” isn’t without its flaws (the fantastical elements don’t work as well as the stuff grounded in reality, and it’s much too long at 135 minutes), Wan has delivered yet another effectively creepy horror flick that earns its scares thanks to some chilling visuals and inventive set pieces.
EXTRAS: There’s a series of featurettes on production, visual effects, the score and the real-life story that inspired the film, as well as some deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: After leaving his hip-hop trio the Style Boyz, which he founded with childhood friends Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) and Owen (Jorma Taccone), to launch a successful solo career, pop superstar Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) invites a film crew to follow him around and document the release of his upcoming sophomore effort. But when the album flops badly, Conner tries to win back the public’s affection by implementing a number of gimmicks into his concert tour with disastrous results.
WHY: Following their 2007 oddball comedy “Hot Rod,” audiences were eager to see what the comedy trio known as The Lonely Island would cook up next. But while they found great success with their ongoing series of “SNL” Digital Shorts and Grammy-nominated albums, it’s taken nearly a decade for the group to return to the big screen. Their latest film, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” is a surprisingly insightful satire on the vapid, celebrity-obsessed pop music scene that riffs on everything from corporate sponsors, to chronic oversharing on social media, to low-rent gossip sites like TMZ (one of its best recurring gags). Not every joke lands, and the movie begins to lose steam in the final act, but “Popstar” does just enough to keep you entertained with its goofy but catchy songs, musician cameos and a solid lead performance by Andy Samberg, who channels Derek Zoolander as the clueless, self-confident popstar. Though it doesn’t match the comic genius of Rob Reiner’s similarly themed cult classic, “This Is Spinal Tap,” it’s certainly the closest that any other music parody has ever come.
EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by co-writer/star Andy Samberg and co-writers/directors Akiva Shaffer and Jorma Taccone, interview outtakes, music videos, deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: After drifting through space in stasis for 57 years, Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is finally rescued and brought back home. But when contact is lost with a terraforming colony on LV-426, the moon where the USCSS Nostromo originally encountered the alien eggs, Ripley is persuaded into accompanying a group of battle-hardened marines on a mission to investigate the disturbance, fully aware of what awaits them below.
WHY: There aren’t many great sequels, and even fewer that rival the original movie, but James Cameron’s “Aliens” is one of the rare films that ticks both those boxes. Building upon the success of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror classic, “Aliens” is everything that a great sequel should be: it’s bigger, different and expands the mythology in exciting new ways. In fact, one could argue that there would be no “Alien” franchise without this movie. Though it retains the horror elements of the first film, Cameron’s quasi-war flick builds on that with some excellent action sequences and the introduction of an even cooler villain with the Alien Queen. It also benefits from a more charismatic cast, including Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser, all of whom make Cameron’s cheesy dialogue sound better than it should. The movie isn’t without its flaws – for instance, there isn’t enough narrative meat to justify its 137-minute runtime (let alone the even longer director’s cut) – but it’s packed with so many great thrills that it’s not surprising why “Aliens” remains as popular as ever 30 years later.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes both versions of the film (the 1986 theatrical cut and the 1991 special edition), as well as an audio commentary by director James Cameron and various cast and crew, the making-of documentary “Superior Firepower,” deleted scenes, pre-production galleries and an all-new featurette (only available online) about the movie’s origins.
FINAL VERDICT: BUY
WHAT: When a group of elite bank robbers executes the perfect heist, FBI agent Jonathan Montgomery (Christopher Meloni) and his team (including Adrian Grenier and Dave Bautista) launch an investigation into the burglary. But as they begin to dig deeper, a conspiracy is uncovered involving the bank’s shady owner (Bruce Willis).
WHY: Director Steven C. Miller’s “Marauders” is a true-blue direct-to-video flick; it boasts a largely B-list cast of TV actors, as well as a marquee appearance by Bruce Willis, who’s only in the movie for about 10 minutes despite receiving second billing. It’s the ultimate paycheck role, so disinterested in what’s going on around him that he looks like he just woke up from a nap. The rest of the acting is pretty over the top (partially due to the hackneyed screenplay), save for Dave Bautista, who lightens up the grim tone in his limited screen time. The film’s biggest problem, however, is the messy and overly complex narrative, which tries spinning several different subplots into an intricately woven crime thriller but falls flat on its face in the process. The big twist is evident from the get-go, rendering Johnathon Schaech’s corrupt cop/red herring completely worthless and making the other characters look stupid for not realizing it. “Marauders” deserves points for aiming high, but sadly, it doesn’t make the movie any better.
EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Steven C. Miller and cinematographer Brandon Cox, a making-of featurette, cast and crew interviews, and deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP