Blu Tuesday: Passengers 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.

“Passengers”

Developed from one of the hottest scripts in Hollywood and starring two of its most bankable stars, “Passengers” should have been a slam dunk. But while the movie fails to reach its lofty ambitions, it’s still a thought-provoking piece of genre-hopping sci-fi that’s biggest misstep is the way in which it handles the story’s ethical dilemma. The world that director Morten Tyldum and writer Jon Spaihts have created is so captivating that it’s easy to see how their focus may have been derailed, but despite a few cool sequences in the latter half, the setup is much better than the payoff. Although it’s ultimately held together by some fantastic chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, your mileage will vary depending on how you respond to the film’s polarizing plot twist.

Extras include a trio of featurettes on casting, production design and visual effects, as well as some outtakes, deleted scenes and more. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Fences”

Based on August Wilson’s award-winning play of the same name, “Fences” is one of the most faithful stage-to-screen adaptations ever made… which is to say that it doesn’t really feel like a movie at all. Confined largely to one setting and teeming with lengthy monologues, “Fences” operates as a great vehicle for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis’ incredible talents and not much else. Reprising their roles from the 2010 Broadway revival that garnered them both Tony Awards, the two actors deliver some of the best work of their careers, particularly Davis, who steals the show from Washington’s scene-hogging protagonist with subtlety and grace. Though the movie gets a little ham-fisted at times, especially in the final act, “Fences” is a raw and powerful drama that’s worth seeing for the performances alone.

Extras include a behind-the-scenes look at adapting the play for the big screen, profiles on Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, a featurette on location shooting in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and more. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Elle”

Director Paul Verhoeven’s latest thriller – his first feature-length film since 2006’s “Black Books” – has been called “provocative” and “controversial,” but it isn’t nearly as shocking as some would lead you to believe. In fact, while its treatment of sexual assault feels pretty regressive at times (Isabelle Huppert’s rape victim even seems to get a rise out of it as some kind of twisted female empowerment), the movie’s biggest problem is that it’s a bit of a bore. None of the characters are particularly likable, certain storylines go nowhere, and the attempts at black humor mostly fall flat. While Huppert turns in a solid (if somewhat exaggerated) performance as the emotionally cold protagonist, “Elle” is so utterly absurd at times that it’s difficult to become invested in her story.

Extras include a making-of featurette and an AFI tribute to actress Isabelle Huppert. FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Ghost in the Shell”

With the live-action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell” arriving in theaters later this month, there’s no better time to revisit Mamoru Oshii’s popular Japanese anime. An incredibly cerebral piece of hard sci-fi that influenced genre classics like “The Fifth Element” and “The Matrix,” “Ghost in the Shell” has aged surprisingly well over the past 22 years (at least as far as its themes and visions of the future are concerned), but it’s not quite the masterpiece that its reputation suggests. Though the movie features some solid action sequences and a great soundtrack, it gets bogged down by its abstract philosophical musings and sluggish pacing. There’s just not enough to the story to hold your interest, especially when much better films exist that deal with similar subject matter such as Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.”

Sadly, no extras are included, although it does come packaged in a cool SteelBook case with art by Mondo artist Kilian Eng. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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