Blu Tuesday: Vice Principals 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.

“Vice Principals: The Complete First Season”

The newest show from Danny McBride and Jody Hill, the team behind the HBO cult comedy series “Eastbound & Down,” probably won’t win over too many new fans, but it’s a decidedly more mature piece of storytelling that only gets better over the course of its first season. While McBride plays another boorish man-child in the same vein as Kenny Powers, the character isn’t nearly as annoying or unsympathetic; in fact, he really starts to grow on you. Walton Goggins’ nasty rival turned collaborator doesn’t fare quite as well, but the two actors strike up a good partnership that results in many of the show’s best moments. Though “Vice Principals” suffers from the same unevenness that plagued McBride and Hill’s last project, it does just enough to keep you invested.

Extras include Extras include cast and crew audio commentaries on all nine episodes, deleted scenes and a blooper reel. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Loving”

It’s hard to believe that not many people (myself included) were familiar with the story of Richard and Mildred Loving prior to director Jeff Nichols’ latest film, because their interracial marriage served as the basis of one of the most important civil rights cases of the past century. Though Nichols wisely avoids the typical courtroom drama in order to focus on the relationship between his two subjects, the movie could do with a little bit of excitement. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga deliver great work in the lead roles, but the performances are so understated that they never feel like fully developed characters. While “Loving” isn’t as emotionally affecting as a result, it’s still a well-made drama that succeeds in spite of its flaws.

Extras include Extras include an audio commentary by writer/director Jeff Nichols and a series of short behind-the-scenes featurettes. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“American Pastoral”

Based on Phillip Roth’s celebrated novel about a seemingly perfect all-American family whose daughter becomes swept up in the 1960s anti-war movement, “American Pastoral” is a contrived and heavy-handed mess that is completely lacking in subtlety. It’s so melodramatic that it borders on parody at times, particularly the scenes between Ewan McGregor’s father and Dakota Fanning’s wannabe activist. Though McGregor turns in some good work in front of the camera, the rest of the cast simply isn’t up to par, falling flat more often than not. McGregor probably would have been better off choosing a less ambitious story for his directorial debut, because while he certainly gives it his best effort, “American Pastoral” proves that not every good novel deserves to be adapted for the screen.

Extras include Extras include an audio commentary by director/star Ewan McGregor and a pair of making-of featurettes. FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Desierto”

Director Jonás Cuarón’s sophomore effort may not have much to say politically, but its story about a rifle-toting American who hunts down a group of illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border certainly feels timely in today’s political climate. Although it’s a pretty barebones premise that fails to give its two leads much development (despite offering hints that Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s gunman has experienced some prior trauma), Morgan and Gael García Bernal both deliver solid work in their respective roles. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to save “Desierto” from its shortcomings. Cuarón generates some decent suspense and gorgeous visuals (though to be fair, he had a world-class mentor in father Alfonso), but the lack of any engaging characters prevents the film from rising above its B-movie thrills.

Extras include an audio commentary by director/co-writer Jonás Cuarón. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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