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Blu Tuesday: Return of Xander Cage 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.

“xXx: Return of Xander Cage”

Vin Diesel famously never made a sequel to 2002’s “xXx” because he didn’t believe in them, but that was before he became the go-to franchise guy with the “Fast and Furious” series, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and, to a lesser extent, the Riddick saga. However, it seems unlikely that “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” will reboot the stagnant franchise as intended, despite its blatant attempts to mimic the “Fast and Furious” films. Though it boasts the same over-the-top energy and its own multicultural cast, the movie comes off as nothing more than a second-rate rip-off with some truly ridiculous action sequences. It’s not a complete waste of time thanks to the involvement of Donnie Yen and Ruby Rose, but for a film that borders on so-bad-it’s-good territory for most of its runtime, “Return of Xander Cage” comes up short.

Extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes on Vin Diesel’s return, the supporting cast, location shooting and stunts, as well as a gag reel. FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Movie Review: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Starring
Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen, Eric Bana, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Neil Maskell
Director
Guy Ritchie

Director Guy Ritchie has had a fair amount of success breathing new life into old properties (“Sherlock Holmes,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), but when it was announced that he would be helming an adaptation of the King Arthur legend, something about the pairing seemed off, and it’s a feeling that permeates throughout “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Ritchie’s unique filmmaking style is constantly pushing back against the more traditional elements of a summer tentpole movie, and while that may have worked to good effect in the aforementioned projects, there’s a more noticeable divide here that prevents the film from having a clear identity. “Legend of the Sword” has plenty of great moments, but the sum of those parts is disappointingly mediocre.

The film opens in grand fashion as King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) defends Camelot from an army of giant elephants under the control of the evil sorcerer Mordred (Rob Knighton). Upon his victory, however, Uther is betrayed by his younger brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who murders the king and steals his crown, but not before Uther’s young son Arthur manages to escape down the river. Forced to survive on the tough streets of Londinium, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up to become a small-time criminal who operates out of the very brothel where he was raised.

Meanwhile, Vortigern has become increasingly concerned that Uther’s true heir will return one day to reclaim the throne, so he’s begun rounding up all the men of a certain age and challenged them to pull the magical sword Excalibur, which can only be wielded by a descendant of the Pendragon bloodline, from its resting place. When Arthur actually succeeds, thus revealing himself as the prophesized Born King, Vortigern swiftly orders his execution. Fortunately, Arthur is rescued by a small group of resistance fighters, including Uther’s most trusted knight Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and a mysterious disciple of Merlin (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), who encourage him to accept his destiny and put an end to his uncle’s tyrannical rule.

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Movie Review: “Snatched”

Starring
Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Tom Bateman, Ike Barinholtz, Christopher Meloni
Director
Jonathan Levine

“Snatched” is very light on its feet. Even at 90 minutes, director Jonathan Levine’s comedy can wear thin, but it’s not without some kind-hearted laughs. Plus, as mother and daughter, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn are able to keep the comedy afloat even when it struggles to find momentum.

Emily (Schumer) is a little dissatisfied with her life. After losing her job and getting dumped by her boyfriend, all she has to look forward to is a vacation for two in Ecuador that she was meant to take with her ex. After a funny and relatable exchange with her mother Linda (Hawn) over her single relationship status on Facebook, Emily pays her a visit, which Linda thinks she only does when she wants something. They both love each other but have grown distant since Emily left home. After all her friends turn down the trip, however, Emily asks her mom to come along. Linda is happy to stay at the resort and read her book while her daughter parties with James (Tom Bateman), who she met at a bar earlier that day, but when James takes Linda and Emily out for an adventure, the mother and daughter get kidnapped. They manage to escape, but trouble continues to chase them throughout the jungle.

The film begins with a misleading text that makes us assume Emily and Linda are about to go on an insane adventure, but it never gets as crazy or as funny as one would hope with Schumer and Hawn on the run from criminals. In fact, the R-rated comedy often plays it safe, sometimes feeling more like a PG-13 film, although Emily and her mom’s South American adventure goes to some genuine places.

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Blu Tuesday: Heat 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.

“Heat: Director’s Definitive Edition”

Michael Mann’s 1995 crime thriller is one of the best films in the genre, and it’s aged remarkably well in the 20-plus years since its release. Though the movie is perhaps best known for the iconic diner sequence between stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, whose cat-and-mouse tension permeates the entire film despite only sharing two scenes together, “Heat” has so many memorable moments (including the opening heist and the climactic shootout) that it continues to be imitated to this day. Although there’s nothing different about the director’s cut featured here than the one that appears on the 2009 Blu-ray (for all intents and purpose, this is the official version of the movie), the new 4K remaster that was supervised by Mann is such a treat that it makes this rerelease a must-own for diehard fans.

Extras include an audio commentary by director Michael Mann, a three-part making-of featurette, the 2016 Academy panel with the cast and crew, a Q&A from the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, deleted scenes and more. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Drink of the Week: Born Yesterday (TCM Fest Salute #3)

Born Yesterday. Hey, it’s Cinco de Mayo. Yeah, I know, I just realized it myself! So, no South of the Border-themed drink today, but seriously, have a classic style margarita on me. They’re great. Now on to the real celebration for this cinebuff, my salute to #TCMFest2017…

Directed by George Cukor and reportedly adapted by original playwright Garson Kanin (with a little help from wife Ruth Gordon), “Born Yesterday” is the kind of movie that my mother and I loved but which cinephiles often ignore. Perfectly rendered stage play adaptations might get multiple Oscar nominations and ecstatic reviews the year they’re released, but as time marches on, film snobs have a way of playing down most movies where the word threatens to be more important than the image.

I’m sure a few may also resent “Born Yesterday” in particular because co-star Judy Holiday won the Best Actress Oscar for it against both Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” and Bette Davis in “All About Eve.” It might seem shocking to some, but Ms. Holiday’s performance entirely deserved to be in the same ballpark with those two legendary heavy-hitters. And so does the film as a whole. Seeing “Born Yesterday” again for the first time in probably a couple of decades, I was surprised to find not just a well-rendered, literate and often hilarious rom-com (such things were once relatively common!) but also a sharp satire that is, if anything, almost excruciatingly relevant to our time.

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