Blu Tuesday: Warcraft, Central Intelligence 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.

“Warcraft”

WHAT: When an evil sorcerer named Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) sends a small war party of orcs through a portal to the peaceful realm of Azeroth in the hopes of conquering the land, the human forces – led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper), heroic warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and powerful magician Medivh (Ben Foster) – scramble to defend their kingdom with the help of Garona (Paula Patton), a human/orc half-breed who must decide where her true loyalty lies.

WHY: Hollywood has a pretty awful track record with video game adaptations, so when it was announced that director Duncan Jones would be bringing the mega-popular “Warcraft” franchise to the big screen, many people believed that he would finally break the curse. Sadly, it doesn’t even come close. Any hope that “Warcraft” would be the first great video game adaptation is promptly squashed within the opening 30 minutes, and it only gets worse from there as the audience is forced to suffer through the incredibly convoluted and disjointed plot. Although Paula Patton and Toby Kebbell (as conflicted orc warrior Durotan) deliver fine performances in their respective roles, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare quite as well, unable to rise above the hackneyed script and two-dimensionality of their video game counterparts. There are some enjoyable bits scattered throughout, and the motion capture technology is truly remarkable, but while that may be enough to please its legion of diehard fans, everyone else will see “Warcraft” exactly for what it is: just another bad video game film.

EXTRAS: In addition to a six-part making-of featurette that covers everything from pre-production and casting to visual effects and stunts, there’s a look at the Madame Tussauds exhibit created in promotion of the film, the supplemental motion comic “Bonds of Brotherhood,” deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Central Intelligence”

WHAT: When former high school superstar Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) reconnects with bullied fat kid Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson) on the eve of their 20-year class reunion, he unwittingly gets dragged into the world of international espionage after Robbie – who has since transformed himself into a muscle-bound CIA agent named Bob Stone – requests his help in stopping a mysterious arms dealer. The only problem is that Bob’s own agency is hunting him down for the very crime that he told Calvin he was trying to prevent.

WHY: If you’ve seen one Kevin Hart buddy comedy, you’ve seen them all, though at least “Central Intelligence” is somewhat entertaining, thanks in large part to the decision to cast Dwayne Johnson opposite the fast-talking comedian. It’s the best odd-couple pairing since “21 Jump Street”; Hart is much more enjoyable when his over-the-top antics are restrained, while Johnson is clearly having a blast playing the daffy CIA agent. Unfortunately, the script fails them with very few genuine laughs and some lackluster action. It just barrels along from one set piece to the next in the hopes that you won’t notice the many plot holes, which raise more questions than co-writers Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen care to answer. Though “Central Intelligence” works fine as the kind of brainless entertainment you put on in the background while doing other things, considering the level of talent involved (on both sides of the camera), it really should have been better. As it stands, it’s a slight improvement on Hart’s “Ride Along” movies.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director Rawson Marshall Thurber and editor Michael L. Sale, deleted scenes, alternate line readings, a gag reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Shallows”

WHAT: While surfing on a secluded beach in Mexico, American tourist Nancy (Blake Lively) finds herself stranded in the middle of the ocean when she’s attacked by a great white shark. In order to survive, Nancy must outwit her deadly predator and make it back to shore.

WHY: In a summer filled with superheroes, sequels and other movies based on preexisting properties, it’s nice to see an original film like “The Shallows” come along to prove that bigger isn’t always better. Featuring a simple premise and barebones cast, director Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest feature is a taut, well-paced survival horror flick that earns its thrills the old-fashioned way. Like most suspense movies, it takes a while to get going, but once the killer shark enters the picture, “The Shallows” grabs hold and doesn’t let go. Collet-Serra effectively captures the fear and visceral nature of the nightmarish situation, while Blake Lively does a great job of selling it with her realistic performance. Although the film gets a little preposterous in the final act as Nancy goes mano a mano with the shark, it does so with such sincerity that it doesn’t cheapen the experience. Granted, “The Shallows” is never as good as the movies that clearly influenced it (“Jaws,” “127 Hours”), but it sets out to do one thing and does it really well.

EXTRAS: There are four featurettes detailing various facets of production (like filming on Lord Howe Island and creating the CGI shark), as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Neon Demon”

WHAT: Aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams, but as she swiftly rises up the ranks of the fashion industry, Jesse makes enemies with a pair of fellow models (Belle Heathcote and Abbey Lee) who feel threatened by her youth and beauty.

WHY: Nicolas Winding Refn was one of the hottest directors in the business following his 2011 crime drama “Drive,” but in recent years, he’s failed to make good on that potential, first with the middling thriller “Only God Forgives” and again with “The Neon Demon.” Refn’s excessively literal satire of the cutthroat world of modeling sure looks pretty thanks to some stunning visuals, but there’s no real story to latch onto. It sort of just meanders about for two hours, introducing characters (like Keanu Reeves’ seedy motel manager or Karl Glusman’s would-be photographer) that don’t have any significant influence on the plot or development of its main protagonist. The movie seems incapable of rising above its music video aesthetic to evolve into anything truly substantial, like an experimental student film made by someone trying to emulate Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.” It’s as vapid as the industry that it’s critiquing, and while that may well be the point, it doesn’t make “The Neon Demon” any less of a disappointment.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director/co-writer Nicolas Winding Refn and star Elle Fanning, as well as a pair of featurettes on production and the soundtrack.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Valley of the Dolls”

WHAT: Wide-eyed ingénue Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) leaves her small New England town for an exciting job opportunity in New York City working as an assistant at a theatrical agency. Alongside her two friends, rising star Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) and beautiful model Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), Anne must navigate the ups and downs of the glamorous but cutthroat world of show business.

WHY: Mark Robson’s 1967 adaptation of the wildly popular bestselling novel by Jacqueline Sussan may be considered a cult classic in some corners, but “Valley of the Dolls” has lost most of its campy appeal over time. Though the first hour or so is actually quite good, once it devolves into a full-fledged soap opera, the movie becomes almost unbearable to watch. Even Patty Duke, who is hands-down the best part of the film, succumbs to some dreadful overacting as the story begins to pile on the melodrama. Though Duke’s early scenes are a nice reminder of why audiences fell in love with the actress in the first place, her charming performance is undone by the clichéd substance abuse subplot that follows. There’s definitely a good movie hidden somewhere within the bones of Sussan’s novel (one that does a better job of handling its feminist agenda), but Robson’s direction is so amateurish that it’s amazing “Valley of the Dolls” wasn’t laughed out of theaters when it was originally released.

EXTRAS: There’s the 2006 audio commentary by actress Barbara Parkins and journalist Ted Casablanca, a new interview with Vanity Fair writer Amy Fine Collins, a video essay by film critic Kim Morgan, footage from the 2009 gala tribute to Patty Duke, screen tests, a pair of promotional movies and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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