Blu Tuesday: Neighbors 2 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.

“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

WHAT: When a progressive, hard-partying sorority (led by Chloe Grace Moretz) moves in next door and threatens to derail the impending sale of their house, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) join forces with their former adversary, Teddy (Zac Efron), to take them down.

WHY: Though 2014’s “Neighbors” was a box office hit, there weren’t many people clamoring for a sequel, mainly because it didn’t feel like there was anywhere else to go with the story. That didn’t stop Universal from green-lighting this blatant cash grab, however, resulting in a sloppy, pseudo-feminist rehash of the original that follows the same beats without many of the laughs. Not only is it more unbelievable than its predecessor (nothing that happens in this film is even remotely realistic), but unlike the Delta Psi guys played by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, the sorority girls aren’t very likeable; in fact, they’re straight-up idiots with almost no redeeming qualities. Unfortunately, that extends to many of the returning characters as well. Despite his fun turn as the villain in the first movie, Efron is wasted as the emotionally stunted sidekick, while Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne seem to be on auto-pilot. There are a few giggles here and there, but for the most part, “Neighbors 2” is a giant waste of talent and, more importantly, your time.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Nicholas Stoller and producer James Weaver, there’s a making-of featurette, a behind-the-scenes look at filming the tailgate sequence, deleted scenes, alternate takes, a gag reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”

WHAT: One year after stopping the Shredder from unleashing a deadly virus on New York City, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) continue to watch over the city from the shadows. But when Shredder (Brian Tee) escapes police custody and teams up with a nefarious alien named General Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) to invade Earth with his world-destroying war machine the Technodrome, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) calls in the Turtles for help.

WHY: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” isn’t any better or worse than Jonathan Liebesman’s 2014 reboot, but it’s such a nostalgia-fueled throwback to the original animated series that it atones for many of the first movie’s blunders. That means more screen time for the titular heroes, as well as the introduction of fan favorite characters like Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman, Krang and Bebop and Rocksteady. But while it gives fans exactly what they wanted, the movie feels overstuffed as a result, unable to provide every character the attention they deserve, especially Shredder, who is woefully underserved. The influx of characters also causes the already complex plot to become more convoluted, which only distracts from the stuff that does work. “Out of the Shadows” is most enjoyable when it plays to its strengths as a fun and frothy spectacle, borrowing so much from the late ’80s cartoon that it practically becomes one itself. The movie still isn’t as good as the series is capable of delivering, but it’s a mildly entertaining diversion that at least suggests it’s heading in the right direction.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes on the returning cast and the film’s new characters, a behind-the-scenes look at designing the Turtle’s underground lair and battle-ready garbage truck, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Beauty and the Beast”

WHAT: When her father is taken captive by a monstrous Beast (Robby Benson) for trespassing into his remote castle in the woods, young maiden Belle (Paige O’Hara) agrees to take his place, unaware that the creature is actually a cursed prince who must earn her love in order to become human again. But as Belle begins to develop feelings for her captor with the help of the castle’s enchanted staff, a narcissistic hunter named Gaston (Richard White) sets out to kill the Beast in order to win Belle’s hand.

WHY: As a child growing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I consider myself fortunate enough to have experienced Disney at the peak of its creative output, first with “The Little Mermaid” in 1989, and then “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” in the years that followed. A major part of those films’ success (except for the latter movie, of course) was the musical duo of legendary composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, perhaps none more so than “Beauty and the Beast.” Although it would still be a solid adaptation of the classic fairy tale without any music, Menken and Ashman’s soundtrack elevates the material to a whole other level, complete with big, theatrical musical numbers like “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” that effortlessly drive the story and further develop the characters. “Beauty and the Beast” isn’t my favorite Menken/Ashman collaboration, but it’s because of their work on the film that it’s one of the best animated movies that Disney has ever produced.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release features three versions of the movie (the theatrical cut, the special edition and the sing-along), as well as an audio commentary by directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, producer Don Hahn and composer Alan Menken. Other extras include the making-of documentary “Beyond Beauty,” a retrospective on the film’s music, a behind-the-scenes look at Walt Disney’s failed adaptations of the story and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Free State of Jones”

WHAT: After witnessing his young nephew killed while fighting on the front line of the Civil War, army medic Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) returns to Mississippi and leads a militia of fellow deserters and runaway slaves in a rebellion against the local Confederate Army.

WHY: The untold story of Newton Knight is so remarkable that it’s almost hard to believe it’s taken this long for someone to make a movie about it, but while there’s no denying that director Gary Ross’ period drama has noble intentions, it lacks the execution that this timely tale of social injustice deserves. The movie is not only too long at 140 minutes, but it’s overstuffed as well, so intent on covering every facet of the years-long conflict that Ross refuses to trim any fat, particularly a needless (and poorly acted) subplot involving the 1948 court trial of Knight’s biracial great-grandson, who was prosecuted for marrying a white woman. Though “Free State of Jones” features strong performances from stars Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mahershala Ali, and there are some really nice moments throughout, it’s constantly hindered by the erratic pacing and unfocused narrative. Civil War buffs will appreciate the film’s painstaking attention to detail, but “Free State of Jones” had the potential (and quite frankly, the responsibility) to be so much more.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the history of Jones County, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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