Blu Tuesday: Hell or High Water 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.

“Hell or High Water”

WHAT: When a divorced father (Chris Pine) desperate to provide for his two sons learns that the bank is going to foreclose on his family’s ranch, he teams up with his ex-con brother (Ben Foster) to pull off a series of robberies at the bank’s various branches across Texas. Hot on their trail is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an aging lawman who would rather go down in a blaze of glory than be forced into retirement.

WHY: For as old-fashioned as “Hell or High Water” feels at times, it’s a movie that deals with some incredibly timely themes, especially in a post-election America still reeling from the last economic depression. Following his little-seen 2013 gem “Starred Up,” director David Mackenzie delivers yet another engaging family-centric story (based on a script by “Sicario” writer Taylor Sheridan) that excels in its simplicity. It’s gorgeously shot, displaying both the beauty and sadness of its picturesque landscape, and features a trio of excellent performances by Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. Nobody does unhinged quite like Foster, and this is easily Pine’s best work in years, but the movie ultimately belongs to Bridges, who’s devilishly funny as the veteran Texas Ranger, trading affectionately racist barbs with his Mexican/Native American partner played by Gil Birmingham. Though the film follows a pretty standard cops-and-robbers formula, it does so with such razor-sharp proficiency and well-drawn characters that it succeeds not just as a terrific genre film but a modern American classic in the same vein as “No Country for Old Men.”

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on the characters, performances and visual style of the movie, footage from the red carpet premiere and a filmmaker Q&A.


“Kubo and the Two Strings”

WHAT: In feudal Japan, a one-eyed boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) takes care of his sick mother in their remote mountain home. But when he fails to heed her warning and stays out past dark one night, Kubo inadvertently summons his evil twin aunts (Rooney Mara), who have been sent by his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), to steal his other eye. With the help of a guardian monkey (Charlize Theron) and a cursed man-beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo embarks on a quest to retrieve the fabled gold armor of legendary samurai Hanzo in order to defeat his vengeful family.

WHY: “If you must blink, do it now,” warns the narrator of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a wildly inventive adventure movie that’s so confident in its eye-popping visuals and brilliant storytelling that it knows you won’t want to miss a single moment. It’s advice you’ll definitely want to follow, because while Laika has never failed to impress with its use of stop-motion animation, the studio has really outdone itself this time. Every single frame is extremely detailed, bursting with personality and so tactile that it feels like you could reach out and touch it. Though the film isn’t as kid-friendly as most animated movies due to Laika’s typical gothic leanings, director Travis Knight does such a good job of balancing the darker elements with humor that they’re not as frightening as they could be. And that’s important, because despite being a fairly serious film about love, loss and family, “Kubo and the Two Strings” goes about telling its simple but layered story with such child-like optimism that it resonates even stronger as a result.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Travis Knight, there’s a series of featurettes on making the film (from animating the monsters and water effects to composing the score), a closer look at the Japanese inspiration for the story and more.


“War Dogs”

WHAT: In 2005, Miami arms dealer Efraim Diverol (Jonah Hill) takes advantage of a government initiative allowing small businesses to bid on U.S. military contracts. After reconnecting with childhood pal David Packouz (Miles Teller) at a mutual friend’s funeral, Efraim offers him a job helping with day-to-day operations, and within six months, the pair lands its biggest deal yet. But when that contract leads to a more lucrative opportunity with the Pentagon to supply weapons and ammo to the Afghan army, David and Efraim quickly find themselves in over their heads.

WHY: Based on the 2011 Rolling Stone article “The Stoner Arms Dealers,” director Todd Phillips’ latest movie is a measured attempt to showcase his more serious side à la “The Big Short.” But while “War Dogs” occupies a similar space as Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning dramedy, it doesn’t really have anything important to say – or rather, the important stuff feels like an afterthought compared to the dramatized events at the center of the film. When the movie focuses on David and Efraim’s hustle, “War Dogs” is really enjoyable. Where it falters is in its reliance on familiar plot turns (the concerned girlfriend, the inevitable screw-up), as well as a surprising lack of commentary on the war itself. While the movie delivers some interesting insight into the world of arms dealing and even takes a few jabs at the Bush administration, it’s never as effective as the films that it’s clearly aping. It works just fine as popcorn entertainment, but for a movie called “War Dogs,” it’s all bark and no bite.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes on production and the real-life events that inspired the film, as well as an animated short detailing how David and Efraim were able to exploit the system.


“Hands of Stone”

WHAT: The story of hotheaded Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez), who rose to the top of the sport during the 1970s with the help of legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), culminating in a pair of fights against American sports icon Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) that would both make and break his career.

WHY: Most boxing fans know the name Roberto Duran, but for someone who’s widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time, he lacks the mainstream recognition to back it up. Director Jonathan Jakubowicz seeks to remedy that with “Hands of Stone,” but while the film plays like a greatest hits of Duran’s life, it doesn’t offer anything different from the dozens of other boxing movies before it. The film is at its best when exploring the relationship between Duran and Arcel, mainly because the two performances are so good. Ramirez has the movie star charisma and devil-may-care glint in his eyes to pull off Duran’s bravado, while De Niro delivers a refreshingly subtle turn as the father figure Duran never had. Unfortunately, the film is constantly getting in its own way. Though it’s nice to see a biopic whose affection for its subject shines through in the final product, “Hands of Stone” tries to cram so much into the tightly-paced, 105-minute runtime that it fails to demonstrate what makes his story special.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes featurett and some deleted scenes.



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