Blu Tuesday: Ghostbusters, The Legend of Tarzan 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.


WHAT: When childhood friends/physicists Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) experience an actual paranormal sighting, they team up with oddball nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and street-smart MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to capture a ghost as proof that they exist. Meanwhile, a bullied hotel janitor named Rowan (Neil Casey) has begun planting devices around the city that amplify paranormal activity in the hopes of opening a portal to a ghostly dimension, and the only ones capable of stopping him are the newly formed Ghostbusters.

WHY: One of the main reasons why the original “Ghostbusters” was such a huge success was the camaraderie among its four leads, and though the characters in Paul Feig’s gender-swapped reboot have their individual moments to shine (particularly “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon), the team chemistry isn’t nearly as strong. However, that’s just the start of the film’s problems, because it’s also marred by an incredibly lame villain and an underdeveloped script that results in many jokes falling flat. The movie isn’t without its charms – the action sequences deliver the thrills that you’d expect from a modern “Ghostbusters” film, and Feig does a solid job of weaving horror and sci-fi elements throughout – but it’s never allowed to completely be its own thing. Any time the movie tries to pay homage to the 1984 version, it loses whatever momentum it’s built up to that point. That ultimately proves to be its undoing, because while “Ghostbusters” is an occasionally entertaining and mostly harmless reboot, it lacks the nuance and comic energy that made its predecessor an instant classic.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries (one with director/co-writer Paul Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold, and the other with Feig and various crew members), there’s a series of production featurettes covering things like casting, creature design and visual effects, over an hour of deleted/extended scenes, alternate takes and two different gag reels.


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Movie Review: “The Birth of a Nation”

Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Gabrielle Union, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Jacke Earle Haley
Nate Parker

“The Birth of a Nation” is sometimes an oddly inconsistent film, but it’s a movie that’s never without passion. Nat Turner’s story, as depicted by actor, writer, producer and first-time director Nate Parker, is often a moving experience. Though the Turner biopic has garnered controversy recently, as past rape allegations against an acquitted Parker have come to light, there’s no denying that Parker’s directorial debut is an emotional piece of work.

When Nathaniel “Nat” Turner (Parker) was a boy, he had a vision of his ancestors marking him as a future leader. This isn’t the only vision that comes to Turner, who, from a young age, was taught to read and the word of God by Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller), the wife to his present slave owner and mother to his future slave owner, Samuel (Armie Hammer). Turner grows into a strong, baptist preacher, speaking the word of God to the slaves on the plantation. When Samuel, who falsely believes he’s better than other slave owners because of his rare moments of empathy, has Turner start preaching on other plantations, he can no longer stand the horrors he sees. The slave owners hope a preacher discussing peace could help prevent insurrection, but their plan has the opposite effect, as Turner’s visions – including one of a crop filling up with blood – propel Turner to lead a violent rebellion.

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Movie Review: “The Girl on the Train”

Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Allison Janney
Tate Taylor

Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train” instantly drew comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” thanks to the use of multiple viewpoints, but let’s make something clear: as enjoyable as “Train” was to read, it doesn’t come close to plumbing the emotional depths that Flynn wrote into the truly psychotic Amy Dunne. At the same time, this works in the favor of the film version of “The Girl on the Train.” Erin Cressida Wilson’s script puts a higher percentage of the source material into the film (the one thing book fanatics complain about the most), and the story’s main obstacle (recovering a lost memory) is a tried and true film device. Ask anyone who saw “Jason Bourne” earlier this year.

Films, however, reveal things that books do not, and that is what prevents “The Girl on the Train” from hitting the next level. It is competently made, with some outstanding performances, but the book is capable of concealing things that the film cannot. And with that, we will say no more.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a sad, drunk divorcee, taking the train five days a week to a job she no longer has. The train takes her by the house she once lived in, the one her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) now shares with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby daughter. A couple of houses down, Rachel sees a younger couple that seems blissfully in love. Recognizing that they have what she’s lost, she becomes obsessed with them, giving them fake names and occupations while she spies on them for a few seconds each day. One day, Rachel sees what appears to be a betrayal on a member of the happy couple, and when one of them disappears shortly after, she offers what she thinks she knows to the police, only to discover that in doing so, she has made herself the prime suspect.

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Vaudeville Villains: Why Hollywood has a villain problem


Stories are only as good as the problems their protagonist must overcome. The dramatic conflict that arises must truly be an interesting and formidable opponent that stops the hero from living a peaceful life or seeing his dreams fulfilled. To know a story is to know that central conflict, and in those stories where the conflict is perpetrated or predicated on the actions of another character, those are truly big shoes to fill for the antagonist. Or, put another, simpler way: stories are only as good as their villains.

True, the protagonists must be understandable and sympathetic to some regard, and their dreams must be easily grasped and shared by the audience. To have a blank slate as a hero is to have a large gap at the center of plot. But assuming that the hero is easily drawn and understood, their actions come about and their characters are revealed when drawn into conflict (and contrast) with the villain. It’s a pretty central tenet of storytelling, and yet one that has woefully been forgotten by Hollywood in the past few years. There have been exceptions, but by and large, while studios have been able to show a villain’s threat with greater ease thanks to CGI, rendering that villain interesting and memorable has proven far more difficult.

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Blu Tuesday: X-Men: Apocalypse, The Purge: Election Year 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.

“X-Men: Apocalypse”

WHAT: When a powerful mutant named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) reawakens in 1983 after thousands of years in hibernation, he recruits Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and three other mutants to join his side as he attempts to destroy the world and remake it in his image. Standing in his way his Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men, including Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and new students Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).

WHY: “The third one is always the worst.” That’s an actual line of dialogue from Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” and though it’s technically referring to “Return of the Jedi,” it could just as easily be applied to the latest installment in the long-running superhero franchise. Messy, overstuffed and generally dull, there’s so much wrong with “X-Men: Apocalypse,” beginning with its titular villain. Not only is the all-powerful mutant surprisingly unimposing, but the movie completely wastes Oscar Isaac by burying him under layers of makeup and giving him very little to do. The same goes for stars Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence, none of whom look particularly interested this go-around, as well as the young X-Men, who are well-cast but get lost in the shuffle of the crowded ensemble. What initially seemed like the franchise’s biggest asset (its deep roster) has quickly become its Achilles’ heel. There just isn’t enough time to service all of these characters, and yet that doesn’t stop Singer from cramming as many as possible into the story. Although “X-Men: Apocalypse” has a few good moments (including yet another fun Quicksilver set piece), it’s so far behind what Marvel is doing with their movies that Fox would be better off handing over creative control (see: Sony and Spider-Man) and reaping the benefits.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Bryan Singer and writer/producer Simon Kinberg, there’s an hour-long making-of documentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.


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