Blu Tuesday: Snowden 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.

“Snowden”

WHAT: The true story of controversial whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the former NSA employee who leaked thousands of classified documents regarding the agency’s illegal surveillance activities to the public.

WHY: It’s been years (decades, really) since Oliver Stone made a great film, and although “Snowden” sadly continues that trend, it’s still a solid biopic that fits nicely into the director’s oeuvre. Cutting back and forth between Snowden’s rise through the ranks of the intelligence community and his 2013 covert meeting with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, the movie loses a bit of suspense as a result of its nonlinear structure, but it holds your interest throughout thanks to some good performances from Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Rhys Ifans. Though the film goes too far out of its way to paint Snowden as a loyal patriot, it wisely takes its time in revealing how he became disillusioned with his government (After all, this wasn’t an overnight decision but something that troubled him for years.) Whether or not you agree with what Snowden did, he clearly believed that he was doing the right thing, and if nothing else, Stone’s movie conveys that message effectively.

EXTRAS: In addition to a Q&A panel with Edward Snowden (via satellite), director Oliver Stone, and actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, there’s a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“In a Valley of Violence”

WHAT: While on his way to Mexico, a mysterious drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) stops for supplies in the forgotten town of Denton, where he has a physical altercation with brash troublemaker Gilly Martin (James Ransone). The local sheriff (John Travolta), who also happens to be Gilly’s father, orders Paul to leave town immediately and forbids Gilly from any retaliation. But when Gilly and his friends fail to heed that warning, killing Paul’s canine companion and leaving him for dead, he returns to town to exact revenge.

WHY: The Western has enjoyed a resurgence over the past few years thanks to movies like “The Hateful Eight,” “Slow West” and “The Magnificent Seven,” and Ti West keeps that streak alive with his latest effort, “In a Valley of Violence.” Although the writer/director is best known for his work in the horror genre, his appreciation for the Western is on full display in this simple yet effective tale laced with absurdist humor. But despite its similarities to the Keanu Reeves shoot-‘em-up “John Wick,” the film isn’t nearly as violent as you’d expect, lacking the big and bloody payoff that it seems to be heading towards. Nevertheless, it’s still a really solid movie with good performances from Ethan Hawke (who missed his calling as a Western star), John Travolta (delivering his finest work in years) and James Ransone (doing what James Ransone does best). Though Karen Gillen and Taissa Farmiga’s bickering sisters are a little too daffy, almost as if they know they’re characters in a Western film, “In a Valley of Violence” is a fun homage to the genre that’s biggest mistake is not being truer to its title.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a behind-the-scenes look at making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“American Honey”

WHAT: An impoverished teenage girl named Star (Sasha Lane) joins a hard-partying group of misfits who travel across the Midwest selling magazine subscriptions door to door. Along the way, she gets caught up in a whirlwind romance with charismatic alpha dog Jake (Shia LaBeouf), much to the disapproval of their cutthroat boss (Riley Keough).

WHY: Andrea Arnold’s latest film is a unique and (sometimes) immersive slice-of-life look at American youth culture, but while the first half is quite good, it doesn’t know when to call it quits. Clocking in at almost three hours (162 minutes, to be exact), “American Honey” just keeps going, and going, and going without ever really exploring any new territory. Though there’s a certain charm to the way in which Arnold lets her tale unravel, embracing the shapeless, anecdotal nature of life on the road, it gets to the point where the errant plot threads become a hindrance rather than an asset. Shia LaBeouf turns in some great work as the rat-tailed Lothario who convinces Star to join the ragtag crew, but newcomer Sasha Lane’s breakout performance is the heart and soul of the film. It’s just too bad that Arnold refused to trim some of the fat to make its runtime more manageable, because if the movie was even 30 minutes shorter, “American Honey” would be a contender for one of the year’s best.

EXTRAS: There’s an interview with actors Sasha Lane and Riley Keough.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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