Blu Tuesday: The Girl on the Train 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.

“The Girl on the Train”

WHAT: Still reeling from her divorce from Tom (Justin Theroux), who left her for another woman (Rebecca Ferguson) and started a family, Rachel (Emily Blunt) has become a raging alcoholic prone to blackouts. Despite losing her job in the city, she still rides the train every morning, fantasizing about the relationship between Tom’s neighbors, Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Hayley Bennett), from the train window. But when Megan suddenly goes missing and Rachel fears that she may have been involved, she becomes entangled in the investigation to discover the truth.

WHY: It’s easy to see how the producers of “The Girl on the Train” thought they were making the next “Gone Girl”; in addition to being based on a bestselling crime thriller that features multiple narrators, it has a twist ending that you’re not supposed to see coming. The problem, however, is that you do see it coming in director Tate Taylor’s big screen adaptation, which deflates most of the tension in the story. Whereas “Gone Girl” had several layers to peel back and explore, “The Girl on the Train” is a fairly straightforward mystery made to seem more complicated by the disjointed timeline. It also has one of the worst opening acts in recent memory, boring you into submission with its one-dimensional characters and terrible pacing. Though the movie improves significantly in the second half as the storylines begin to converge, the damage has already been done. Emily Blunt delivers an extraordinary performance in the lead role (rather than simply acting drunk, she plays Rachel as an alcoholic desperately trying to look sober), but it feels like she’s in a different film – one that isn’t marred by soapy plot turns and Taylor’s messy direction.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Tate Taylor, there’s a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Bullz-Eye’s 2017 Alternative Film Awards

non_awards

‘Tis the season for various critics groups and professional organizations to hand out their annual movie awards, recognizing various achievements in acting, writing and other areas of film production. These awards are prestigious but ultimately lacking in diversity and what audiences are truly seeking when they go to their local theater. To remedy that, we here at Bullz-Eye have created the Alternative Film Awards, which celebrates some lesser-acknowledged movies and performances that also shone bright in 2016. (Warning: Some mild spoilers follow.)

Best Action Sequence

The airport fight in “Captain America: Civil War”

There were more technically impressive action scenes in 2016, but what the Russo brothers captured so well with this set piece is spectacle and emotion. It highlighted the best parts of serialization and an expanded cinematic universe, and because audiences know these characters and care about them (possibly even siding with both parties as they each make excellent points), they are invested in seeing what happens when they clash. Add to that the fact that the sequence imitated the type of big, splash-page brawls often found in comic books (with multiple skirmishes happening at once), not to mention the admittedly cool sight of Spider-Man and Giant Man squaring off, and it’s no surprise why the moment was hailed as an instant classic among fans.

Runner-Up: The entirety of “Kill Zone 2″

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Blu Tuesday: Deepwater Horizon and The Accountant

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.

“Deepwater Horizon”

WHAT: On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, located just off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, explodes after BP executives bypass an important safety measure due to the project falling behind schedule. Stranded on the platform as it becomes engulfed in flames, chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and his fellow crew members must fight their way through the chaos in order to survive.

WHY: Everyone remembers the images of the BP oil spill that dominated the TV news cycle back in 2010, but not many people know the details of what actually happened. It remains one of the largest man-made disasters in U.S. history, and director Peter Berg recreates the tragic event with stunning authenticity. If there’s one thing that Berg clearly prides himself on, it’s the remarkable attention to detail in his films, and “Deepwater Horizon” is no different, from the technical jargon that drives the first half of the story to the brutally realistic action sequences that make up the latter half. Unfortunately, while “Deepwater Horizon” is an effective disaster movie with some decent thrills, solid performances and enough explosions to make even Michael Bay jealous, it doesn’t seem to have a purpose, forgoing the opportunity to examine the aftermath of the spill in greater detail. The film works just fine as a dramatic reenactment of corporate greed gone horribly wrong, but unlike the real-life incident, it will quickly be forgotten.

EXTRAS: In addition to a series of interviews focusing on the five main cast members (Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and Dylan O’Brien), there’s a behind-the-scenes look at designing and building the rig, a profile on director Peter Berg, on-set footage of production and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Accountant”

WHAT: Small-town accountant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) has always been better with numbers than people, moonlighting as a freelancer for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. Determined to stay one step ahead of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes division, Christian accepts a seemingly innocuous job auditing a high-profile robotics company after an accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick) discovers a discrepancy in the finances. But as Christian gets closer to exposing the truth, he’s targeted by a contract killer (Jon Bernthal) who’s been hired by someone within the company to contain the leak.

WHY: What if Jason Bourne wasn’t an amnesiac super-soldier but rather a high-functioning autistic man with comparable fighting skills? That’s the general idea behind Gavin O’Connor’s “The Accountant,” a film suffering from such an identity crisis that it’s unclear what kind of movie he was trying to make. Though it starts out as both a generic crime procedural and a zen-like character study about an on-the-spectrum math genius struggling to lead a normal life, it completely changes gears midway through and transforms into a straight-up action thriller. The problem is that “The Accountant” never stops being those other films either, resulting in a convoluted and tonally unbalanced mess that is occasionally entertaining but feels like it’s a few drafts away from a finished product. Though “The Accountant” thrives when it embraces its B-movie roots, the film is so desperate not to be reduced to a silly genre flick that it’s unwilling to let go of the stuff that’s dragging it down. This could have been the next Bourne franchise, but sadly, it doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on the characters, the movie’s portrayal of autism and filming the action sequences.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Hollywood Resolutions for 2017

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With the garbage fire of a year that was 2016 fading away in the rearview, it’s time to look forward at the prospects that 2017 holds. While 2016 was pretty awful in most respects, it did manage to deliver some excellent films, including a few instant classics. But will the studios learn the right lessons from these critical and financial successes, or will the new year simply regurgitate the same wrong-headed mistakes from years prior? To help Hollywood navigate the stormy seas of success, below is a list of five resolutions it should adopt in 2017 (and beyond) to ensure delivery of more great films in the future.

1) Embrace Diversity in Casting (and Behind the Camera, Too)

Two of the biggest successes of the year, “Doctor Strange” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” were populated by a diverse cast of actors that were of different races and genders. And while they weren’t without controversy (the whitewashing of the Ancient One, for example) or their token white saviors (Benedict Cumberbatch and Felicity Jones, respectfully), it was still refreshing to see large studio films actually utilize women and people of color in bigger roles in their tentpole movies. But there needs to be more of this, and it needs to happen behind the camera, too.

The reason why this is so important, especially for blockbusters, is that it helps inspire the next generation of nerds and cinephiles. It’s easy to forget how transformative it can be to “see yourself” up on screen, especially for the white male population, but it really does matter to younger generations to see representations of themselves in movies. Embracing diversity in film helps audiences (particularly non-white, non-male viewers) connect better to what they’re seeing, which helps to inspire their dreams and imaginations, as well as reflects the actual diversity of audiences in today’s world. 2016 did an okay job of inclusiveness, but there are many miles to go before we sleep.

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Movie Review: “Hidden Figures”

Starring
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali
Director
Theodore Melfi

In the wake of famed astronaut John Glenn’s recent death, it seems appropriate that some of the unsung heroes of the Friendship 7 mission (and the NASA space program in general) have finally been given their due in director Theodore Melfi’s new movie, “Hidden Figures.” An incredibly timely and well-told story that serves as a nice counterpart to 1983’s “The Right Stuff,” the film shines a light on the African-American women who helped put Glenn into space during a time when neither African-Americans nor women were given those kinds of opportunities. Though it risks falling into the same traps as other feel-good dramas (after all, it’s basically an underdog sports film for the STEM crowd), “Hidden Figures” rises above its formulaic plot thanks to some terrific performances from the cast.

In the early 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a race to see who could get a man into space first, and with the U.S. desperately lagging behind its Cold War rivals, NASA needed all the brainpower it could get. What most people don’t know is that many of these employees were women (several of them African-American) who worked at the Langley Research Center in Virginia as human computers performing the complex calculations on the agency’s various projects. But because they were black, these brilliant mathematicians were tucked away in a room on the segregated west campus and largely ignored.

That all changes when math whiz Katherine Gobel (Taraji P. Henson) is promoted to the all-white east campus to work under NASA official Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) on the Atlas rocket launch. Though she’s treated like a second-class citizen by her co-workers (not only does she have to run half a mile across campus just to use the colored bathroom, but she can’t even share the same pot of coffee), Katherine quickly proves herself instrumental to the program’s success. Meanwhile, fellow colleagues Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), a headstrong supervisor who takes it upon herself to learn how to operate the IBM computers that will eventually replace her, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), an aspiring engineer who’s stymied by a law that prevents her from attending the classes required to advance in the field, make strides of their own through hard work and determination.

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