Blu Tuesday: The Newsroom, Hercules 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 Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Newsroom: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: Following an exclusive report on a top-secret U.S. drone strike that turns out to be untrue, the “News Night” staff becomes embroiled in a legal battle when the producer responsible for the story sues the network for wrongful termination. Meanwhile, Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) goes on the campaign trail with the Romney press bus and Maggie (Alison Pill) deals with the aftermath of a traumatic trip to Uganda.

WHY: Some people really love to hate “The Newsroom,” and for the life of me, I don’t understand why. Though the show can be a tad exaggerated at times (both dramatically and comically), it has great characters and the kind of clever, rapid-fire dialogue that’s become synonymous with every Aaron Sorkin production. Season Two isn’t as strong as its debut season – due to the more focused, season-long drone storyline and certain subplots that remove key characters from the very environment they thrive best – but with the exception of the new title sequence, it’s the same old “The Newsroom,” particularly when taking on real-life topics like the 2012 Elections, Occupy Wall Street and Trayvon Martin. Sorkin’s writing dazzles as always, but it’s the performances by the ensemble cast (from stars Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, to supporting players like Sam Waterson, Olivia Munn, Dev Patel and Thomas Sadoski) that makes it such a joy to watch. It’s a shame that more people didn’t feel the same way, because although the series is returning for a shortened third season, it still feels like a loss, especially with so few great shows left on HBO outside of “Game of Thrones.”

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray set includes four audio commentaries with various cast and crew, the usual collection of “Inside the Episode” featurettes and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Hercules”

WHAT: After enduring his legendary 12 labors, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and his band of mercenaries are hired by the King of Thrace (John Hurt) to protect his people from a tyrannical warlord, only to discover that he may be fighting on the wrong side.

WHY: It’s actually quite surprising that someone hasn’t tried making a Hercules movie with Dwayne Johnson sooner, because it’s a role that he was born to play. But while the film is marginally better than Renny Harlin’s “The Legend of Hercules,” it’s rooted even less in the original myth, instead using Steve Moore’s comic book series as its inspiration, which suggests that Hercules wasn’t a demigod at all, but rather a mortal man whose legend far exceeds his abilities. Johnson does a good job in the title role, though he doesn’t have a lot to work with, and Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell (as fellow swords-for-hire) add some color to the otherwise drab story, but there’s nothing really special that sets it apart from the many other sword-and-sandal movies. The action sequences are incredibly generic, the twists aren’t surprising at all, and although the story offers a unique interpretation of the Hercules tale, it’s hard not to feel disappointed by the bait-and-switch approach to the material. After all, would you rather see a movie about the Hercules from Greek mythology, or one about an ordinary guy named Hercules who just happens to be stronger than most? Exactly.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Brett Ratner and producer Beau Flynn, there’s an introduction to the film from Ratner and Dwayne Johnson, featurettes on the characters, weapons and specials effects, a behind-the-scenes look at filming one of the major actions sequences and 15 deleted/extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Maleficent”

WHAT: When she’s tricked by her human friend, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) – who steals her wings in exchange for a place on the throne – vengeful fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) curses the king’s newborn daughter with a spell that will take effect on her 16th birthday. Sent away to a remote cabin for her protection, Maleficent comes to care for Princess Aurora (played as a teen by Elle Fanning) after realizing that she may be the land’s only hope for peace.

WHY: Hollywood loves a good fad, and two of the more popular trends these days are fairy tales and villains, so it’s not surprising that Disney would want in on the act, especially after the mild success of Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Just like that movie, “Maleficent” attempts to humanize its iconic baddie by turning her into a misunderstood antihero whose fall from grace wasn’t entirely of her own making. But just like every other cinematic villain to get the revisionist treatment (from Dracula to the Evil Queen), Maleficent is stripped of everything that made her such a great character in the process, and perhaps even more troubling, as the victim of a creepy drug rape that’s never addressed. Angelina Jolie has the physicality and talent required for the role, but while she does a good job with the material provided, it would’ve been more fun to see her play a full-fledged villain compared to the morally gray character here. Though “Maleficent” is an admirable attempt at breathing new life into a classic tale, there are so many problems with the story and supporting characters that it would have made more sense to go the direct route and make a live-action “Sleeping Beauty” movie instead.

EXTRAS: There are five short featurettes – including a look at Elle Fanning’s involvement in the film, Maleficent’s costume design and the various stages of the writing process – as well as a handful of deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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DVD Review: “WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series”

wkrp

Cult classic sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” now making its complete series DVD debut, takes viewers to a much different time – a time before iPods and Sirius, when AM radio was still a very real thing that people listened to and relied on for news and entertainment. Yes, radio once upon a time had character, and helped dictate and define our culture, pop and otherwise. Running for four seasons on CBS, from 1978 to ‘82 – a time of major transition in America – “WKRP” was a wacky workplace comedy that helped pave the way for shows like “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation” today. To discuss what makes the series tick, one must first understand its lunatic cast of characters, who are at the root of every episode, every laugh and every plot development. There are eight principles that can be broken down into three categories.

Management: Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) is WKRP’s sometimes bumbling but always good-hearted station manager, also known affectionately as “The Big Guy.” Though from time to time he appears to possess a modicum of business acumen, for the most part, he’d rather not be bothered with the day-to-day operations of the station, instead focusing on his hobbies, which include fishing and model trains. The series kicks off with Carlson’s hiring of Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) as the station’s new program director. The level-headed center of the bunch, Travis has been living town to town, up and down the dial, and doesn’t see WKRP as anything more than another stop in his career of rebranding stations and making them profitable. Soon enough, he’ll discover there’s something special about this station that keeps him from moving on to the next one. Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson), Carlson’s bombshell-with-brains secretary, shouldn’t technically fit under management, and yet as the series progresses, it becomes all too clear that without the glue that is Jennifer, the entire enterprise would fall to pieces.

The Disc Jockeys: Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is the station’s morning drive man. Like Travis, Johnny’s worked at more stations than he can remember, though that may have more to do with years of drug and alcohol use, which is more hinted at than ever explored. Fever is the show’s wild card, and “WKRP” never shies away from throwing bizarre, unpredictable plotlines in his path. Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) is Andy’s first move upon changing the station’s format to rock and roll, hiring the jock “away from a station in New Orleans.” Shrouded in a mysterious past, Venus takes care of the evening shift, playing soothing, laid-back tunes for the greater Cincinnati area. “WKRP” peels away the Venus onion, giving him a little more backstory every season, and one of the show’s very last episodes (“The Creation of Venus”) brilliantly redefines his introduction way back in the two-part pilot.

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Your Next SUV: Facts You Should Know Before You Shop

2015-Cadillac-Escalade-004-medium

SUVs offer greater performance, added safety, and enough room for more than a few passengers. It’s why SUVs and truck/car hybrids lead in automobile sales.

It doesn’t take much to decide on an SUV, but you need specifics before making a final decision on a manufacturer and model. Here are some things to roll over before you park your dollars on a specific SUV.

Price

You can find a certified used or privately-owned SUV for under 20,000 or spare no cost in finding a luxury model that handles like a full-sized truck, costing an upward of $80,000.

A range of models, manufacturers, and vendors are reason to be a bit patient, yet given the digital and human resource tools available to today’s consumer, you can drive off the lot today after a bit of thinking.

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Movie Review: “Wish I Was Here”

Starring
Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Pierce Gargnon, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Jim Parsons
Director
Zach Braff

Hating Zach Braff was in fashion long before the actor/director launched a Kickstarter campaign for his long-awaited sophomore effort, but the way he went about funding his follow-up to 2004’s “Garden State” really got under some people’s skin. (Oddly enough, Rob Thomas’ “Veronica Mars” movie received infinitely less criticism despite starting the whole fad.) But while Braff may have been unfairly judged for the way he raised the money to make the film, it’s a wonder why he had to resort to crowdsourcing at all, because “Wish I Was Here” is a confident, funny and heartfelt tragicomedy that, although not without its blemishes, proves Braff is more than just a one-hit wonder.

Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor whose wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is the sole breadwinner of the family, supporting him and their two children (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) with her drab, government job while he’s off pursuing his dream. But when his father (Mandy Pantinkin) is no longer able to pay the children’s private school tuition because he needs the money for an experimental cancer treatment, Aidan agrees to homeschool the kids rather than place them in the city’s awful public school system. The problem is that Aidan isn’t exactly fit to be a teacher (hence the grammatical error in the film’s title), so instead, he takes them on a series of “field trips” meant to impart life lessons that help him rediscover his own identity in the process.

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Praying for poker

There’s a new kind of bible in town – and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.

We all know games of cards for what they are – a social pastime that can get men and women together in a variety of situations, from informal game nights to fighting to the death poker rounds. Poker, by its very nature, is a game, and is often overlooked in the media, save for a few references in Robert DeNiro movies.

Lights, camera, action

This is to become a thing of the past however, as the geniuses over at Titan Poker have added a new facet to their world of online gambling. The poker addicts have fused the controversial topics of religion and gambling, coming up with a recipe for laughter – the poker bible.

As its blurb states, The Poker Bible is a humorist book made up for poker fans connecting both the world of the Bible and its scripts and that of the poker game. The Bible, as it is so blasphemously known, has also been transformed into a tongue in cheek cartoon movie, with a trailer voice over so familiar you might just think you’re listening to Morgan Freeman.

Watch this trailer and you might just think you’re watching Morgan Freeman.

Not quite so black and white

So how exactly can the chalk and cheese topics of gambling and religion be married up into a new fad? Well it would appear that the two are not quite so different after all. In fact, many people think that poker evolved just 150 years ago, when in reality, the game has been proven to have dated back to biblical times.

Keeping everything very tongue in cheek, Titan Poker’s Poker Bible mirrors the words and phrases of the original Christian bible, and even has its own set of commandments by which to live (for the really keen poker players among us.) ‘Thou shall not bluff frequently against thine neighbor’ is just one of the cheeky rules, others of which include ‘honor your dealer’ and ‘remember to play the right cards and keep them holy.’

poker-and-the-bible-cover-1

While it may not get you into heaven, the Poker Bible is the poker fan’s go to guide for the rules and regulations of poker, without having to get too bogged down in the details. If good old fashioned praying and church attending isn’t working out for you, you may just find yourself a little more fortunate in life if you stick to this good book.

  

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