Blu Tuesday: Boyhood, Get On Up 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.

“Boyhood”

WHAT: A coming-of-age tale that follows a boy named Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrone) from grade school to his first day of college and examines his relationship with his divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) as he matures into a young man.

WHY: In an industry driven by innovation, it’s incredible that no one thought to make a movie like “Boyhood” before Richard Linklater embarked on his 12-year journey, because it’s a really great idea with even better execution. A cinematic time capsule of sorts in that you’re essentially watching a kid (both the character and the actor playing him) grow up before your very eyes, the film has some very poignant things to say about adolescence, parenting and life in general. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke deliver a pair of solid performances as Mason’s divorced parents, but sadly, Ethan Coltrone is terrible as the main character, emitting almost no emotion throughout the course of the film. It’s always a gamble when you cast young actors for a lengthy project like this (the “Harry Potter” franchise was extremely lucky with all three leads), but you’d think that Coltrone would have at least gotten a little better over the years. He doesn’t, and that’s one of my biggest problems with the movie, which makes it a lot easier to admire than love as a result. There’s no question that “Boyhood” is a technical achievement and one-of-a-kind piece of filmmaking that demands to be seen, but whether it deserves the many accolades that have followed is debatable.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette called “The 12 Year Project” and a Q&A with writer/director Richard Linklater and the cast, but sadly, no audio commentary.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Get On Up”

WHAT: The rise of James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) from an impoverished child who was abandoned by his parents, to a young man in trouble with the law, to one of the most influential musicians in history.

WHY: As my colleague David Medsker said in his review of the film, “no one misses the biopic,” and he couldn’t have been more right. But if Hollywood was going to make a movie about any musical icon from the past 50 years, James Brown certainly made the most sense, not only because of his contributions to the industry, but because he’s a flashy, larger-than-life character with a catalog of catchy tunes. In fact, the musical sequences are the highlight of the film, but the whole thing wouldn’t work without Chadwick Boseman’s incredible performance as the Godfather of Soul, holding the audience’s attention even as the movie continuously jumps back and forth in time with a funked-up chronological order that would make Quentin Tarantino’s head spin. Though it’s nice to see someone stray from the usual biopic formula, it’s far too messy and difficult to follow, as if director Tate Taylor had so much great material to mine that he didn’t know how else to present it. And that’s the problem with “Get on Up”: it feels more like a greatest hits of classic James Brown moments than an examination of the artist himself, barely scratching the surface of what was clearly a very complex man.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Tate Taylor, there are some deleted/alternate scenes, full and extended song performances, and a series of short behind-the-scenes featurettes about the making of the movie.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Guest”

WHAT: A recently discharged soldier named David Collins (Dan Stevens) shows up at the doorstep of the Peterson household claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. But after he’s welcomed into their home, the family’s daughter (Maika Monroe) becomes suspicious of David following a sudden chain of murders in town.

WHY: After taking the festival circuit by storm with their home invasion thriller, “You’re Next,” the writer-director duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett seemed poised to deliver another cult classic with this low-budget genre flick. Many people would even argue that they’ve done just that, but while “The Guest” certainly had the potential to be great, it falls disappointingly short. The acting is pretty poor with the exception of Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”), who does an excellent job straddling the line between well-mannered nice guy and stone-cold killer. He’s the only thing that keeps the movie afloat, because although the first half builds some nice tension as David infiltrates the Peterson’s family dynamic, all of that hard work is wasted in the final act when it devolves into a silly B-movie that favors violence over subtlety, falling victim to the typical slasher film conventions with some incredibly strange and odd-placed moments of humor. I really wanted “The Guest” to be as good as everyone said it was, but it’s a fairly mediocre thriller that takes its leading man’s star-making performance for granted.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, some deleted scenes and an interview with star Dan Stevens.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Bullz-Eye’s 2014 TV Power Rankings

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With “Breaking Bad” wrapping up after five brilliant seasons, the top spot in our annual TV power rankings has finally opened up for the rest of the field. But AMC gets the nod for the best television show again this year as “The Walking Dead” edges out HBO’s “True Detective” on our list.

The list is dominated again by cable TV dramas, which seem to have surpassed movies in popularity. Streaming and binge watching have contributed to this trend, but it all starts with the quality of the programming. You’ll find some of the best writing, directing and acting talent on television these days, and often the quality of the storytelling surpasses the best that a film industry obsessed with blockbusters, superheroes and sequels can muster.

We’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to skip over some of the write-ups if you’re behind on a particular series, as we naturally refer to recent events.

1. “The Walking Dead”

Some fans have complained about the deliberate pace of this show when the gang sought temporary refuge at the farm and prison, but the tension built during these lulls always led to a bigger payoff when all hell inevitably broke loose. In the current fifth season, that payoff came quickly with jarring episodes that kicked off with the battle at Terminus and the confrontation with the hunters. The end of the world offers countless opportunities to explore how survivors might deal with a zombie apocalypse, and the writers have done a great job telling this story over the first five seasons. It’s currently the best and most consistent show on television.

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2. “True Detective”

This was by far the most intriguing and talked about show of 2014, featuring epic performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. It also didn’t hurt to have sexy and provocative turns by beautiful actresses such as Alexandra Daddario, Lili Simmons and Michelle Monaghan. The dark tone was set in part through the use of flashbacks to a 1995 serial killer investigation framed in the context of interviews with the two primary detectives, with McConaughey’s intense Rust Cohle looking and acting like a burned out alcoholic as he told his part of the story. Yet after so much tension and anticipation was built up through the season, the ending was surprisingly predictable in some ways and incomprehensible in others. Still, the letdown at the end didn’t diminish the creepy and fascinating ride along the way.

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3. “Game of Thrones”

This show pretty much has everything, including great action, intrigue, sex and dragons. Our only quibble is the sheer number of characters and storylines, leaving less screen time for favorite characters like Tyrion and Arya. Bran’s character, for example, went from fascinating to boring pretty quickly. All the supernatural stuff surrounding his character will no doubt be important in the long run, but the road to wherever he’s going has been a snoozer of late. Fortunately, there are reports we won’t be seeing him in the upcoming Season Five, though we’ll get a heavy dose of Cersei instead.

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“The Wire” is remastered and back on HBO Signature

“The Wire” marathon is about to start on HBO Signature with remastered episodes. Remastered or not, this is one of the best dramas in television history, so catch it on HBO, on DVD, or any other way you can watch it.

  

The boys are back – first “Entourage” trailer hits

The “Entourage” movie is definitely happening, and now we have the first trailer from next summer’s feature film. It looks like the entire gang is back, along with Emmanuelle Chriqui as Sloan and a slew of new hotties led by Emily Ratajkowski. Rumor is that lovely Alice Eve will make a guest appearance, probably to wrap up the idiotic engagement storyline from the final episodes.

You can check out the official IMDb page for the full cast and check out our “Entourage” fan page for our past coverage of the hit HBO show.

  

2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Television

Television fans must love the holidays, because it’s the one time of year when studios unleash a host of massive box sets collecting their favorite dramas and comedies. This year is no different, with several critically acclaimed shows getting the complete series treatment. But while we like to devour an entire TV show just as quickly as the next person, sometimes a little self-discipline is required, which is why we’ve also included some less time-consuming (and more affordable) suggestions as well.

Click the links to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

The Wonder Years: The Complete Series

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Can it really have been way back in 2006 when we put “The Wonder Years” at the top of our list of the 15 shows that we most wanted to see released on DVD? 2014 has been a damned good year for that list – now that “Batman” and “WKRP” are finally available, the only things left that we’re still waiting to see released are “Sifl & Olly” and “Ed” – but nothing’s made us as happy as the arrival of a miniature locker containing two faux Trapper Keeper notebooks filled with 26 discs worth of “The Wonder Years.” In addition to the 115 episodes, there’s also over 23 hours of bonus material, including footage from the recent cast reunion, tons of interviews with cast, creators and numerous guest stars, 10 newly-created featurettes, and outtakes from the filming of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss…which, in case you didn’t know, was also Fred Savage and Danica McKellar’s first kiss as well! Lastly, when you pop open the locker – don’t worry, there’s no lock, so you don’t need to memorize a combination – you’ll also find a hardcover “yearbook” filled with behind-the-scenes pictures and notes from the cast. It’s so totally worth the wait.

Batman: The Complete Television Series

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Whether you grew up in the late 60s when it originally aired, or watched the reruns that played throughout the following decades, chances are that the “Batman” TV series was a big part of your childhood. One of the best things about the show is that it operates on multiple levels, so whereas you were attracted to the suspense, action and colorful production design as a kid, when revisiting the series as an adult, you’re able to enjoy the subtler, campier aspects. It certainly helped that it had such a game cast, from stars Adam West and Bruce Ward, to its cavalcade of villain guest stars – most notably Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Julie Newmar – all of whom understood exactly what kind of show they were making. “Batman” is one of the few classic TV series that still holds up today, which is why it’s so surprising that it took this long for it to be released on Blu-ray. The new digital restoration looks fantastic for a show that’s nearly 50 years old, with all 120 episodes presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray set also comes with hours of bonus material, including a retrospective on the show’s production and its legacy, a roundtable discussion with West and other Bat-fanatics, the original “Batgirl” pilot, screen tests for West and Ward, as well second-choice Lyle Waggoner (Batman) and Peter Deyell (Robin), and much more. And as if that wasn’t enough, it also comes with a Hot Wheels replica Batmobile, while the box itself plays the “Batman” theme song. Holy Fan Service, Batman!

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