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.
WHAT: After giving up her dreams to help take care of her family, Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) gets a second chance to make something of herself when she invents a self-wringing mop that has the potential to launch a business empire… if only her destructive family would get out of the way.
WHY: Writer/director David O. Russell could seemingly do no wrong after the one-two-three punch of “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” but that hot streak has finally ended with this surprisingly joyless dramedy that’s all over the place. Though his films have always been slightly offbeat, Russell’s latest effort is a tonally inconsistent mess that bounces between family farce and soap opera, sometimes quite literally. The first 30 minutes are particularly bad as it figures out what kind of movie it wants to be, and while “Joy” eventually finds its groove once the titular character gets her big break at QVC, it makes you wish that more of the film was set within that world. Jennifer Lawrence is great as usual, showcasing her full range of talent, but the rest of the cast is hindered by shallow, underwritten characters. There’s a really great movie in here somewhere (perhaps one that more closely follows co-writer Annie Mumolo’s original biopic idea about HSN queen Joy Mangano), but unfortunately, this isn’t it.
EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and a TimesTalk interview with director David O. Russell and star Jennifer Lawrence.
The next month is an interesting mixed bag of some would-be summer blockbusters, a few festival favorites and a couple of very promising comedies. Will “Captain America: Civil War” live up to its hype and buzz when it hits theaters? Can an “Alice in Wonderland” sequel actually be entertaining and not some Hot Topic-infused nightmare like its predecessor? Whether you’re interested in social commentary, buddy cop shenanigans or large cataclysmic affairs with things that go boom, there’s a little something for everyone.
“Captain America: Civil War”
Who: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner and Daniel Brühl What: Political interference in the Avengers’ activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man. When: May 6th Why: After their impressive work on “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the Russo brothers return with this culmination of two Captain America films and two Avengers films. The storyline finds the Marvel Cinematic Universe at a crossroads and alliances tested on a personal level, while the action in the trailers looks larger in scope with many moving parts. This film also features the introduction of both the Black Panther (Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to the MCU, and based on early reviews, promises to be a thrilling ride that offers real emotional stakes for the audience. Plus, who doesn’t love superhero on superhero fisticuffs?
Who: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell and Dominic West What: Financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty are put into an explosive situation when an irate investor takes over their studio. When: May 13th Why: While this topic, taking Wall Street and its subcultures to task for their hubris, may be a little stale eight years out from the market crash, it’s sadly still relevant today for many people in the country. The trailer seemingly gives away most of the film, but it looks like a serious take on the repercussions of politics and financial institutions failing the common people, but with a real-time ticking clock (attached to a bomb) involved to make the tension even more palpable. Plus, it’s been five years since Jodie Foster last directed a film, so it’ll be interesting to see how she fares with this stellar cast and potentially hot-button topic.
Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Jason Mitchell, Will Forte, Nia Long
After gaining popularity with their eponymous Comedy Central sketch show, it was only a matter of time before Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele made the jump to the big screen. The duo’s debut feature “Keanu,” co-written by Peele and frequent collaborator Alex Rubens, may not be as steeped in political and racial humor as some of their funnier skits, but it’s an enjoyable and often hilarious action-comedy that serves as the perfect showcase for Key and Peele’s excellent onscreen chemistry. Apart from perhaps Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, there isn’t a better comedy team in the business, and when combined with a cute-as-a-button tabby kitten that looks adorable even while dodging bullets amid a deadly gangland shootout, it’s no surprise that “Keanu” leaves you with a big smile plastered on your face.
The audience first meets the titular feline during the aforementioned massacre, barely escaping after his drug lord owner is killed by a pair of silent assassins and eventually landing on the doorstep of recently dumped stoner Rell (Peele), whose spirits are quickly lifted by the lovable kitten, which he renames Keanu. A few weeks later, Rell returns home from a night out with his cousin Clarence (Key) to find his place ransacked and Keanu stolen. Following up on a tip from Rell’s drug dealer neighbor (Will Forte), whose apartment was the intended target, the cousins go undercover as a pair of hardened thugs named Tectonic and Shark Tank to retrieve Keanu from the gang responsible for the robbery. Their leader Cheddar (Method Man) has already taken a shine to the kitten, but he agrees to give him up if Rell and Clarence – whom he mistakes for the Allentown Brothers (also played by Key and Peele), the assassins from the opening – tag along with his crew on an upcoming drug deal. Meanwhile, the real Allentown Brothers, who have fallen for the kitten as well (did I mention he’s really cute?), are hot on their trail.
Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Mark Webber, Macon Blair
Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore feature “Blue Ruin” established him as a director to keep an eye on. The revenge tale was a brutal, dramatically rich and intense thriller. With his third feature, “Green Room,” Saulnier dials things up a few notches, delivering his most propulsive and unshakeable experience yet.
Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) are members of the punk rock band The Ain’t Rights, a group barely scraping by to get from gig to gig. After an embarrassing performance at a Mexican restaurant, the group gets desperate and, against their better judgement, end up playing at a bar packed with white supremacists, led by the imposing but calm Darcy Banker (Sir Patrick Stewart). After the band members witness a murder in the green room (a.k.a. the waiting room for musicians), they must fight to survive the night with the assistance of Amber (Imogen Poots), a mysterious but incredibly capable and violent friend of the deceased.
With a brisk 95-minute runtime, Saulnier’s film is a well-oiled thriller without a single ounce of fat on it. Every scene, every shot and every character helps build this driving energy, which manages to keep growing throughout the film. There are no narrative pit stops in “Green Room” — it’s just mean and lean storytelling, rarely ever allowing the characters to catch their breath and collect their thoughts. This story is always on the move, even when the lead ensemble is stuck in the green room for a large portion of the film.
Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, Jeremy Irons, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes
Producer Jeremy Thomas has been trying to bring J.G. Ballard’s acclaimed novel, “High-Rise,” to the big screen for almost 40 years, despite many claiming that the book was unfilmable. He probably should have heeded those warnings, because while Thomas finally got his wish with the help of director Ben Wheatley, the resulting product is a stylish but empty adaptation that doesn’t resonate as much today as it would have in the late 1970s, the dystopian setting of Ballard’s Thatcher-era satire. In many respects, it feels like a movie lost in time. Though Wheatley has shown great potential with some of his earlier films, “High-Rise” is yet another disappointment following the tedious, psychedelic head trip of “A Field in England” that hooks you with its intriguing premise but slowly loses its grasp as the story spirals out of control.
Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Robert Laing, the newest resident of a luxury apartment building that has all the conveniences and commodities of modern life without ever having to go outside. But while the high-rise seems like paradise on the surface, Laing notices a simmering tension between the upper-class tenants who live on the top floors and the middle-class tenants confined to the lower levels. The building’s reclusive architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), chalks it up to “teething problems,” but when an increasing series of power outages and structural flaws begin to affect the standard of living – particularly among the poorer residents – that tension boils over, leading to a literal class war that devolves into a barbaric wasteland of debauchery and destruction. Oh, and the odd barbecued dog’s leg as well.