Blu Tuesday: Manchester by the Sea 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.

“Manchester by the Sea”

An incredibly intimate and authentic story about a broken man forced to confront his demons, “Manchester by the Sea” is the most devastating, heart-wrenching drama of 2016. Casey Affleck is phenomenal in the lead role, delivering a subtle but powerful performance that showcases an actor at the top of his game, while Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges round out the excellent cast. Though the movie is surprisingly funny at times, it’s primarily a portrait of grief and how it affects everyone differently. There’s no guidebook or one-size-fits-all remedy to mending a broken heart, and writer/director Kenneth Lonergan conveys that point beautifully amid the wintry backdrop of his New England setting. “Manchester by the Sea” is heavy stuff, but for a film that deals in misery, it never feels exploitative, and that goes a long way in earning your attention and respect.

Extras include Extras include an audio commentary by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, a making-of featurette and deleted scenes. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Movie Review: “The Great Wall”

Starring
Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe, Hanyu Zhang
Director
Zhang Yimou

Over the last decade or so, China has grown to become the second largest movie market in the world (and is currently on pace to surpass the U.S. in the next few years), which explains why Hollywood has suddenly shown great interest in the region. But while pairing one of the industry’s biggest stars (Matt Damon) with esteemed Chinese director Zhang Yimou might sound like an exciting idea on paper, it lacks the prestige that such a high-profile collaboration warrants. “The Great Wall” is a fairly generic monster movie at its core (think “Starship Troopers” in Ancient China), and although it boasts some fantastic visuals and rousing action that’s entertaining in the moment, it’s ultimately pretty forgettable.

In 11th century China, European mercenaries William Garin (Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) have ventured deep into the country in search of a mysterious black powder that will bring them riches back home. After surviving a monster attack the night before, they stumble upon a secret garrison of Chinese soldiers called the Nameless Order – each faction divided by brightly colored armor – that’s stationed at a massive wall designed to keep out invaders. Led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu), the Nameless Order serves as the last line of defense against the Tao Tie, a colony of mythical creatures that crashed into China on a meteor 2,000 years ago.

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Movie Review: “Fist Fight”

Starring
Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Dennis Haysbert
Director
Richie Keen

The first two-thirds of “Fist Fight” play like a Ben Stiller movie from the early 2000s. Our hero is kind but doesn’t assert himself and is perceived to be a loser by everyone around him, including the ones he loves (and supposedly love him). This part of the movie is less fun, because from a filmmaking standpoint (and in life), picking on the 98-pound weakling doesn’t take any courage or risks. When our hero finally sticks up for himself, the movie feeds off his adrenaline and begins to soar, culminating in a rather spectacular finish. The path to the ending is littered with dick jokes, but “Fist Fight” makes the early hardships worthwhile. Just barely, though.

It is the last day of the school year and Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is a high school English teacher just trying to get through the day so he can help out his daughter at her talent contest. Andy tries to help Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) get a video started, and when Andy discovers that a student is responsible for the repeated malfunctions, Mr. Strickland loses it, grabbing a weapon from the hallway and terrorizing the students. Andy and Strickland go before the principal, who lays an impossible ultimatum on the two: either one of them confesses or tattles, or they’re both fired. Andy’s wife has already missed her delivery date with their second child, so Andy rats out Strickland to keep his job. Strickland tells Andy that he’s going to fight him after school is out. Andy knows he’s going to get clobbered, so he tries everything he can to back out of it, failing miserably in the process.

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Blu Tuesday: Arrival 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.

“Arrival”

Denis Villeneuve has quietly assembled an impressive body of work over the past few years, and although “Sicario” remains his finest movie to date, “Arrival” isn’t far behind. A deeply cerebral and emotional sci-fi film about the way we communicate with each other, “Arrival” takes a simple, well-worn premise and creates a captivating moviegoing experience led by a terrific Amy Adams. Focusing more on the science of language (and how it can be used to bring people together) rather than the aliens themselves, Villeneuve has produced an incredibly timely movie with real-world significance. Though its slow-boil pacing may test your patience, “Arrival” is a really good film that becomes a great one in the final minutes, leading to some pretty heavy, soul-searching questions that will stick with you long after it’s over.

Extras include Extras include a behind-the-scenes look at making the movie, as well as four additional featurettes on sound design, the score, editing and the film’s scientific concepts. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Rom-Coms That Won’t Make You Vom

vday_rom_coms

The simple fact of the matter is that the vast majority of movies aren’t very good. There are always sterling examples of great films that emerge every year, and some years have a better crop of movies than others, but the reality of the situation is that it’s easy to indict a genre based on its worst examples, especially when there are so many. Perhaps no subgenre has been more maligned than the romantic comedy, as there’s been a plethora of clichéd, subpar and outright terrible entries in the form. But it isn’t the case across the board. Beyond just the classics – like “It Happened One Night,” “The Apartment,” “Splash” and others – there are other prime examples of filmmakers doing interesting and innovative things within the genre.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, here is a list of great romantic comedies that people who aren’t too into the subgenre should check out. Some are classics and some are overlooked gems, but they all make clever decisions that bring out the best in romance and comedy and produce something that has lasted the test of time.

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