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: When a powerful witch named Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) escapes captivity and sets out to destroy the world, A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) enlists no-nonsense soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to lead a covert team of the world’s most dangerous criminals – including sharpshooter assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), the Joker’s deranged sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) – to stop her.
WHY: Following the disaster of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” moviegoers looked to “Suicide Squad” to get the DC Extended Universe back on track. Unfortunately, while there’s a lot to like about the basic setup, it’s too often hindered by the film’s many flaws and surprising conventionality. The movie doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its colorful roster – especially Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto (as a very different iteration of the Joker), all of whom deliver great work in their respective roles – but while it’s packed with some great character moments, they’re spoiled by the lame plot and even lamer villain. There was a much better story to be told, or at the very least, a better way to tell it, but “Suicide Squad” gets so caught up in trying to compete with DC’s bigger properties that the film loses sight of what made it such a unique and exciting idea from the outset. Although it’s not quite the post-“Batman v Superman” pick-me-up that many people were expecting, there’s enough good to be salvaged from David Ayer’s original vision that it’s not a total failure, either.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a series of featurettes on the characters, boot camp training for the cast, filming the action sequences and the Joker/Harley relationship, as well as a gag reel and the extended cut of the movie, which runs about 13 minutes longer.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: After he’s falsely accused of treason and condemned to a life of servitude by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), now an officer in the Roman army, Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) returns to Jerusalem five years later to exact revenge.
WHY: Timur Bekmambetov’s “Ben-Hur” isn’t quite the disaster that its poor critical reception and box office performance would suggest but rather an incredibly mediocre period piece that doesn’t add anything new to the legend on which it’s based. Though many have questioned why Bekmambetov would even bother with another version of “Ben-Hur” when the 1959 edition is so highly regarded, the reason for its failure has more to do with the decision to market it as a big summer blockbuster when it would have fared better in a less competitive and crowded period like Easter. The movie certainly has its flaws, but Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell turn in solid work as the warring brothers pitted against one another by the Roman Empire, while the climactic chariot race delivers some decent thrills. Granted, it’s still not very good, but for fans of the source material and faith-based stories in general, “Ben-Hur” is a serviceable, if not particularly memorable, historical drama that’s biggest criticism is being so aggressively average.
EXTRAS: There are four featurettes on production, casting, the story’s legacy and filming the chariot race, as well as some deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Risk management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent to a remote, top secret laboratory to determine whether to shut down an experimental genetics program after its latest subject – an artificially created humanoid named Morgan (Anna Taylor-Joy) – violently attacks one of the team members.
WHY: Nepotism is alive and well in Hollywood, and you don’t need to look any further than Luke Scott’s sci-fi thriller “Morgan” for proof. Only the son of Ridley Scott could convince this many talented actors to sign on to such a bad film, many of whom barely have anything to do. The bigger problem, however, is just how stupid these supposedly intelligent characters behave, reaching horror movie levels of idiocy. First, Paul Giamatti’s psychologist is sent in to antagonize the unstable Morgan only two days after she repeatedly stabbed someone in the eye. And then, when she responds poorly to that treatment (spoiler alert: Giamatti isn’t around for long), the rest of the scientists try to rescue her, despite the fact that she’s clearly a dangerous killing machine. Suffice it to say that the second plan doesn’t go so well either, making it incredibly difficult to care about any of the characters. Even the film’s big twist isn’t that surprising if you’re paying attention, although considering just how dull this movie is throughout its mercifully short runtime, you’d be forgiven for losing interest.
EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Luke Scott, a featurette on the science behind the movie, Scott’s short film “LOOM” and deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) has always dreamed of becoming an opera singer, but there’s one thing standing in the way: her terrible voice. Though Florence doesn’t realize just how bad she is, her devoted husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) is determined to protect her from the truth. So when Florence stages a concert at Carnegie Hall, St. Clair and newly hired pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) work together to ensure it’s a success.
WHY: Director Stephen Frears’ last three movies have been based on true stories, but unlike “Philomena” and “The Program,” “Florence Foster Jenkins” isn’t really interesting or important enough to warrant its own film. It’s a funny anecdote at best, and that lack of depth shows in Nicholas Martin’s script, which makes light of Florence’s awful singing voice despite the sad nature of her story. Frears and Martin do their best to make Florence seem heroic for her bravery and dedication to the arts, but the movie is undermined by the fact that it’s all built on a lie. It’s like giving a child a participation trophy for coming in last place, and that kind of unhealthy coddling shouldn’t be celebrated just because Florence was well liked by her peers. In fact, the only reason the movie is remotely enjoyable is due to the performances of its main trio, especially Hugh Grant, whose character could have easily come across as a gold-digging sleaze were it not for the actor’s inimitable charm. Though “Florence Foster Jenkins” isn’t a bad film by any means, it’s as flat as Florence’s singing.
EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on the film’s script, costume design and music, as well as a Q&A with Meryl Streep and some deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT