Blu Tuesday: The Flash, Arrow 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 Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Flash: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: When Central City forensic investigator Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) gains super-human speed after he’s struck by electricity during a failed science experiment, he teams up with Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) and his two assistants – Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) – to stop criminals and other “metahumans” created from the explosion who don’t use their powers for good.

WHY: The idea of a “Flash” TV series didn’t sound very promising when the Barry Allen character was initially introduced in the second season of “Arrow,” but co-creator Greg Bertlanti quickly proved me wrong by delivering an immensely enjoyable (and much lighter) superhero drama that only got better as the season progressed. Much like its sister show, “The Flash” thrives primarily due to its awesome ensemble; everyone has a purpose, and they all bounce off one another incredibly well. Grant Gustin is perfectly cast as the titular hero, Tom Cavanagh handles the dual role of mentor and villain with ease, and Carlos Valdes provides great comic relief as the Q-like inventor/superhero expert of the group. Even the villains aren’t nearly as cheesy as they could have been, with Cavanagh’s Reverse-Flash, Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold and Mark Hamill’s return as the Trickster among the standouts. The romantic subplot between Barry and childhood friend Iris West (Candice Patton) suffers from the same problems that plagued the first season of “Arrow” (namely, it’s just not as interesting as the superhero stuff), but “Flash” makes up for it with some sci-fi heavy mythology that isn’t afraid of alienating viewers by leaning on its comic book roots.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg on the pilot episode, four production featurettes, footage from DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014, deleted scenes and a gag reel.


“Arrow: The Complete Third Season”

WHAT: After defeating Slade Wilson and being accepted as a hero by the citizens of Starling City, Oliver Queen/The Arrow (Stephen Amell) struggles to keep his family together while facing off against a terrible new threat in the form of Ra’s al Ghul (Matthew Nable). Meanwhile, Laurel (Katie Cassidy) assumes the mantle of Black Canary after Sara is brutally murdered, Thea (Willa Holland) begins her training under Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), and Queen Consolidated is taken over by wealthy businessman/aspiring hero Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh).

WHY: Despite making some huge strides in its sophomore year, “Arrow” suffered a bit of a slump during Season Three due to a number of factors. Though the superhero drama has had a problem maintaining the same level of energy and quality over the course of each 22-episode season, it’s especially noticeable here, in large part because the accompanying flashback storyline (which trades the deserted island setting for Hong Kong) isn’t very compelling. Additionally, the show’s insistence on making nearly everyone in Oliver’s life a crime-fighting member of Team Arrow not only defies logic (there’s no way Laurel, Roy and Thea got that good in such a short amount of time), but gives Oliver less to do as a result. Laurel, in particular, is so lame as the new Black Canary that it’s almost as if the writers were trying to find ways to make her character even more annoying. Thankfully, Season Three isn’t a complete disaster. The group dynamic remains one of its best assets, the crossover episodes with the Flash are a lot of fun, and both Brandon Routh and Matthew Nable prove strong additions to the cast. “Arrow” doesn’t play to its strengths as often as it should, but when it does, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better comic book show on TV, other than “The Flash,” of course.

EXTRAS: The four-disc set includes a pair of audio commentaries by executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle, featurettes on costume and production design, a behind-the-scenes look at the Atom’s first fight, deleted scenes and a gag reel.


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Blu Tuesday: Furious 7, The Jinx 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 Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Furious 7″

WHAT: When Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and company for putting his younger brother in a coma, they must team up with a shadowy government agent named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to recover a tracking device capable of locating anyone in the world and gain the upper hand.

WHY: The “Fast and Furious” movies have always been about fast cars, beautiful women and ridiculous stunts, but the seventh installment in the long-running series has a weight on its shoulders unlike any sequel/prequel before it. The untimely death of Paul Walker not only affected the film’s production, but the manner in which he died cast a morbid shadow over the project. Thankfully, director James Wan was able to turn a horrible tragedy into a respectful and fitting farewell for Walker that adds a layer of emotion to “Furious 7” that resonates throughout the movie, and now, the entire franchise. Though the plot doesn’t always make sense, partially due to some last-minute rewrites to work around Walker’s absence, it’s easily one of the most entertaining “Fast and Furious” installments yet. There are four great fight scenes (Dwayne Johnson vs. Statham, Walker vs. Tony Jaa, Michelle Rodriguez vs. Rhonda Rousey, and Diesel vs. Statham), as well as more gravity-defying stunts that feature cars dropping out of cargo planes and hopping skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. The whole thing is every bit as ridiculous as you’d expect, but thanks to some incredibly entertaining action and the ever-charming ensemble cast (which adds original badass Kurt Russell to the mix), “Furious 7” is an absolute blast.

EXTRAS: In addition to eight featurettes that explore the cars, stunts, fight choreography and evolution of the franchise, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the new Fast & Furious ride at Universal Studios and some deleted scenes.


“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”

WHAT: Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki examines the life of Robert Durst, the brilliant but eccentric heir to a New York real estate empire who was accused of three murders over 30 years.

WHY: A chilling and immensely fascinating piece of true crime that was nearly a decade in the making, HBO’s six-part docuseries takes the phrase “stranger than fiction” to dizzying new heights. Utilizing interviews with law enforcement officers, lawyers, the friends and family of Durst’s alleged victims, and in his first public interview, Durst himself, Jarecki’s investigation shines a light on one of the strangest stories in modern history. It’s no secret that Durst has since been arrested (though not yet found guilty) for one of the murders, partially due to new evidence uncovered by Jarecki and his team, but that doesn’t make “The Jinx” any less captivating, because it pulls you in from the opening minutes and never loosens its grasp. Durst is either the unluckiest guy on the planet or a total sociopath, and judging from the case presented against him, including some very telling moments during his interview sessions with Jarecki, the evidence certainly points toward the latter. Of course, this only makes “The Jinx” all the more entertaining, as Durst plays the role of the elitist villain to perfection, practically daring the authorities to outsmart him. Though Jarecki does mess with the chronology of certain events for dramatic effect, and probably could have trimmed some fat off each episode, “The Jinx” is so good that it’ll make you fall in love with detective stories all over again.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no bonus material.


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“The Bastard Executioner” has killer potential, despite its slow start


Those still saddened by the end of Kurt Sutter’s outlaw biker drama, “Sons of Anarchy,” didn’t have to wait too long for his return to television, which sees him trade guns and Harleys for swords and horses in the new FX series, “The Bastard Executioner,” debuting September 15th with a special two-hour premiere. But while the show represents a radical change of setting compared to Sutter’s last outing, it carries many of the same themes – particularly loyalty, revenge and redemption – which will make it feel very familiar to fans of “Sons of Anarchy,” provided they’re willing to stick around past the first hour.

Set in the early 14th century, “The Bastard Executioner” tells the story of Wilkin Brattle (newcomer Lee Jones), a former knight in King Edward I’s army who makes a vow to lay down his sword when he receives a divine message beseeching him to lead a peaceful life. But when his idyllic world is shattered by a cruel English lord, Wilkin is forced to pick up his sword once again, although this time under the guise of a journeyman executioner, in order to exact his revenge amid the backdrop of a political rebellion in Northern Wales.

It’s not exactly the most original story, but Sutter’s writing elevates the material beyond the typical medieval tale, wasting no time in shaking up the status quo with shocking deaths, secrets and betrayals that will undoubtedly continue to stack up as the season progresses. Though “The Bastard Executioner” operates more like historical fiction than fantasy (with a few tweaks, it could easily pass as “Braveheart: The TV Series”), there are hints of supernatural elements (black magic, divine intervention, etc.) that suggest there’s more to the show’s mythology than Sutter is initially letting on.

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Blu Tuesday: Gotham: The Complete First Season

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.

“Gotham: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: In the wake of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders, idealistic Gotham City police detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) makes a vow to young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to capture his parents’ killer, all while dealing with corruption within the police department and Gotham’s burgeoning criminal underworld.

WHY: Bruno Heller’s “Rome” is one of the most underrated TV series of the past decade, so when it was announced that he was producing a crime drama centered around a young James Gordon in pre-Batman Gotham City, that’s pretty much all it took to get me onboard. Unfortunately, despite Heller’s insistence that “Gotham” isn’t about Batman, the numerous villains that pop up throughout the first season suggests otherwise, turning the series into something quite different than even Heller himself probably intended. The allure of exploring the various origin stories of Batman’s rogues’ gallery (arguably the best in all of comics) was undoubtedly too enticing to pass up, so it should come as no surprise that the villains are the stars of the show. Robin Lord Taylor and Jada Pinkett Smith are the obvious standouts as Penguin and new creation Fish Mooney, respectively, while Carmen Bicondova delivers a star-making turn as young Selina Kyle. Ben McKenzie also fares well as Gordon, as does Donal Logue as his morally corrupt partner, but their characters often suffer due to some really shoddy writing. And that’s the biggest problem with “Gotham” – it’s an incredibly mixed bag that succeeds as often as it fails. For every great episode, there are two more that fall flat, and although the show starts to find its groove in the latter half, that inconsistency prevents Season One from being anything more than a mildly enjoyable experiment that still needs to iron out a few wrinkles if it ever hopes to make the most of its potential.

EXTRAS: In addition to a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the series, there are three additional featurettes on the show’s production design, Penguin’s story arc and making the pilot episode, as well as footage from DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014, character profiles, deleted scenes and a gag reel.



Blu Tuesday: Mad Max, Star Wars Rebels 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 Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

WHAT: Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is just barely surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland when he’s captured by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and forced to serve as a human blood bank for his diseased minions. But when a chance meeting between Max and war-rig driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – who’s trying to rescue a group of female sex slaves that Joe plans to use for repopulation – results in his miraculous escape, he reluctantly agrees to help get the girls to safety.

WHY: George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest and most badass action movies in ages. Though “Fury Road” looks absolutely gorgeous, with John Seale’s stunning cinematography providing a painterly quality to the visuals, the real reason to see it is for the action. Conceived as one long car chase, the film is packed with some of the most amazing action sequences you’ll ever see. It’s a minor miracle that no one died during the making of this movie, because Miller’s high-adrenaline set pieces are so visceral and unbridled that you genuinely fear for the lives of the actors and stuntmen with each explosion, car flip and crash. The overcranked, sped-up look works better in some places than others, but for the most part, the gonzo vehicular mayhem is a jaw-dropping assault on the senses that gets weirder as it goes along. Every minute of action is pure cinematic magic, though the dead space in between proves troublesome. Tom Hardy does what’s required of him as the mysterious, soft-spoken Max, but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the only character who’s given any actual development, bringing a humanity to her performance that stands head and shoulders above the rest. While the movie would have benefited from a tighter runtime and falls short of the worship-like praise that many people have heaped upon it, this is easily Miller’s best “Mad Max” film yet.

EXTRAS: In addition to a fairly extensive making-of featurette, there’s an interview with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron about their experiences on the movie, a look at designing the cars and other props, some behind-the-scenes footage from filming the action sequences and three deleted scenes.


“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One”

WHAT: In the wake of the Clone Wars, the Galactic Empire rules the galaxy with an iron fist. But a group of rebels – including Jedi-in-hiding Kanan, Twi’lek pilot Hera, Mandalorian weapons expert Sabine, Lasat honor guard Zeb and astromech droid Chopper – take a stand against their oppressors with the help of newest member Ezra Bridger, a teenage pickpocket with the ability to control the Force.

WHY: Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and subsequent announcement that more “Star Wars” films were on the way, it only seemed natural to launch a new animated series as part of the hype machine. Though “Star Wars Rebels” doesn’t have anything to do with the upcoming movies (at least, not that we know of yet), it is part of the franchise’s official canon, set between the events of the “Clone Wars” animated series and the original trilogy. Unfortunately, the show is a little confused tonally as a result of trying to cater to both younger audiences and older fans. So while there are some things to really enjoy about “Rebels” (like the action and Ralph McQuarie-inspired designs), I’m not crazy about the jokier, PG-rated bits with Ezra, Zeb and Chopper. Additionally, the endless barrage of cameos featured in the first season (from C3P0 and R2D2, to Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader) is an unnecessary attempt to connect the “Rebels” crew to more familiar characters when it should be trying to exist as its own entity. The allure of that type of fan service is understandable, but it gets to the point where it makes the show feel beholden to the past when it should be looking ahead to the future.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes 14 behind-the-scenes featurettes, a collection of short films, a sneak peek at the upcoming second season and more.


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