Blu Tuesday: Fantastic Beasts 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.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

As a fan of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels and the movies they inspired, it’s hard not to feel disappointed by her highly anticipated return to the Wizarding World. Though “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” serves as an interesting deviation from the typical Potter tale, it lacks the magic that made the previous films so great. None of the new characters are very memorable (save for Alison Sudol’s delightful Queenie), while the dueling narratives cause some minor identity problems, especially because Rowling seems more interested in the “B” story than her main protagonist’s journey. “Fantastic Beasts” isn’t exactly a bad movie – it retains a lot of the series’ charm and shows great promise for future installments – but it’s a rare misfire from a franchise that seemed incapable of doing wrong.

Extras include a making-of featurette, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s characters, creatures and locations, some deleted scenes and more. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Life”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare
Director
Daniel Espinosa

Daniel Espinosa’s “Life” is a lean, mean studio B-movie that knows how to move. Right from the start, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick don’t waste time. The sci-fi thriller’s simplicity and brevity is one of its many strengths, in addition to some compelling performances, a genuinely nasty alien and a third act that finishes strong.

Calvin is the name given to the film’s antagonist, a deadly little organism (and the first sign of life discovered on Mars) that grows larger and more lethal over the course of the story. The alien wreaks havoc aboard an International Space Station inhabited by a team of scientists, including Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Katerine Golovkin (Olga Dihovichnaya). They’re all given personalities at an extremely efficient pace, so once the number of crew members begins to decline, it doesn’t feel like candy being tossed aside. The stakes are monumental in “Life,” and you can definitely feel it as the crew floats around in zero gravity trying to figure out how to kill this thing before it finds a way of reaching (and destroying) Earth.

“Life” is a pretty straightforward genre flick, but it isn’t thin. In fact, the simplicity that Reese and Wernick have achieved with movies like “Zombieland,” “Deadpool” and now “Life” is exhilarating in this day and age of bloated blockbusters. There’s not a single ounce of filler in these three films. They pick up and start running immediately, which Espinosa communicates in a lengthy opening take that is sometimes dazzling and sometimes a little obvious and strained. It’s the only scene where you’re aware of the filmmaker’s hand, but the sequence still has its moments. With the rest of the movie, Espinosa serves up an increasingly tense experience.

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Blu Tuesday: Live by Night 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.

“Live by Night”

Ben Affleck’s directorial career suffers its first major setback with “Live by Night,” a gorgeously crafted gangster film that doesn’t really add anything new to the genre. It’s basically a hodgepodge of much better movies, and while it features some great action and performances, the execution itself is pretty clunky. Working once again from a novel by Dennis Lehane, Affleck is unable to condense the sprawling crime drama into a cohesive two-hour film; he simply tries to do too much, tackling serious themes like race and religion while also juggling a number of subplots that could have easily been excised. Though fans of Affleck’s previous movies will still find plenty to enjoy here, “Live by Night” is easily his weakest directorial effort to date.

Extras include an audio commentary by director/writer/star Ben Affleck, a series of featurettes on the characters, author Dennis Lehane and the car chase sequence, and deleted scenes with optional commentary. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Beauty and the Beast”

Starring
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Director
Bill Condon

As sweet and lovely as Disney’s 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast” is, the story has some, um, inconsistencies. Belle somehow manages to get an injured, beaten Beast up on a horse to bring back to the castle. There is a painting of an adult Prince that could not possibly have been painted. And how is it that the local village has no knowledge of an enchanted castle just a short ride away? All of these issues, thankfully, are addressed in the live-action remake of the film, and the emotional stakes are raised quite a bit in the finale (though not in the manner that you might think). The production design is gorgeous, Belle’s yellow dress is as stunning as Cinderella’s blue dress in the 2015 remake of that film, and Emma Watson is an inspired choice to play Belle, and is quite the singer as well.

The movie takes a while to find its rhythm, though. The three biggest musical numbers in the movie’s first half bite off more than they can chew, as if Disney had told director Bill Condon, “Just ask yourself: what would Baz Luhrmann do? And then ask us if we think Baz would do that, and we’ll tell you whether or not you’re right.” Condon captures the excessiveness of a Luhrmann number but not its energy, and that is a very important distinction. The movie’s second half, though, is much better. The relationship between Belle and the Beast comes into focus, and one small cameo makes a world of difference in the end.

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Movie Review: “T2 Trainspotting”

Starring
Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald
Director
Danny Boyle

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the fact that “T2 Trainspotting” is one of the most unnecessary sequels the world has ever seen. Instead, let’s discuss my pitch for what that sequel would look like:

Sick Boy and Begbie find Renton and spend the entire film beating him to death. Roll credits.

As it turns out, that is not far off from the reality. “T2 Trainspotting” is the culmination of a lifetime of bad decisions and the influence that they have on a person even when they know it’s time to make better ones. If “Trainspotting” was equal parts tragic and upbeat, “T2” is mostly pathetic, capped by a long-overdue dose of karma. That it still manages to be entertaining despite looking, sounding and feeling exactly like the original film is to the great credit of director Danny Boyle, with slightly less credit to screenwriter John Hodge for reasons which will soon become apparent.

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to his childhood home of Edinburgh for the first time after stealing £16,000 from his junkie friends 20 years earlier. Life for those friends, sadly, is more of the same. His former bestie Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller) is working extortion schemes with the help of pretty Bulgarian Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), while Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner), having recently lost his job, is attempting suicide via overdose when Mark visits and subsequently saves him, much to Spud’s chagrin.

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