Blu Tuesday: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and God’s Pocket

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.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

WHAT: When S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised by members within the organization, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is forced to go on the run with fellow operative Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), in order to smoke out the traitors. But standing in their way is a super-powered, metal-armed assassin called the Winter Soldier who looks suspiciously like someone from Steve’s past.

WHY: Hands-down the best Marvel sequel to date, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a major improvement upon the character’s first solo adventure, thanks in large part to a more interesting arc for its titular hero. The whole conspiracy plot not only creates a sense of foreboding and suspense, but in addressing real-world issues like national security, it lends itself to the moral battle that’s been waging inside Rogers since joining S.H.I.E.L.D. in “The Avengers.” That distrust allows Evans to play the character with a lot more complexity than the typical goody two-shoes Boy Scout, though he receives great support from Scarlett Johannsson’s Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon, who all play an important part in the story. The action in the movie is also top-notch, which is somewhat surprising considering Anthony and Joe Russo have virtually no experience in the genre. The sibling duo is just the latest in Marvel’s line of left-field director choices, and they acquit themselves remarkably well, so much so that they’ve already been invited back for another installment. That’s certainly a just reward for the Russos, because “The Winter Soldier” is a superb continuation of its hero’s cinematic evolution that also serves as a natural bridge to next year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the Blu-ray includes a short making-of featurette, a look at the different region-specific versions of Steve Rogers’ notebook, some deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: After miraculously surviving the Battle of New York, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a small team – including civilian hacker Skye (Chloe Benet) – to tackle strange new cases involving superpowers, alien artifacts and other phenomenon deemed too top secret for normal authorities, but not important enough for the Avengers.

WHY: As with most Joss Whedon-created shows, the first season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a bit rocky at times, struggling to find its voice as the small-screen companion to Marvel’s bigger and better movies. But while the first 13 episodes are incredibly hit-and-miss, the series eventually finds its groove in the latter half of the season, delivering the kind of supplemental stories that further enrichens the Marvel cinematic universe. The show feels a little cheesy at times due to the budgetary restraints, and some of the cast members (namely Chloe Benet and Brett Dalton) have a daytime soap opera feel to their performances, but when it’s firing on all cylinders, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a lot of fun. That’s never truer than in the final batch of episodes featuring Bill Paxton as a traitorous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent working for Hydra – a subplot that was introduced concurrently with the theatrical release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” This kind of integrated storytelling is what “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” promised from the very beginning, and although it may seem gimmicky, it allows Marvel Studios to connect the two mediums in a way that expands their cinematic universe without making the show feel essential to understanding the movies.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray set includes cast and crew audio commentaries, five behind-the-scenes featurettes, the “Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe” TV special, a VFX breakdown montage, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“God’s Pocket”

WHAT: When his good-for-nothing stepson (Caleb Landry Jones) is killed while working at a construction site – an act of self-defense covered up to look like an accident – Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) scrambles to raise the money for his funeral.

WHY: John Slattery couldn’t have asked for a better ensemble cast for his directorial debut – including screen veterans like Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins and Eddie Marsan – but sadly, “God’s Pocket” is a prime example of how to make a bad movie with good actors. Though it’s competently shot, the story isn’t particularly interesting and the characters aren’t given a whole to do. The film also fails to establish a consistent tone, sampling a variety of genres (from dark comedy, to crime thriller, to blue-collar drama) like a kid at an ice cream shop who can’t make up his mind. That should come as no surprise to those that saw Lee Butler’s “The Paperboy,” because both movies were based on novels by author Pete Dexter, and much like that film, “God’s Pocket” feels incredibly aimless at times, due in large part to its thinly-scripted story and pointless subplots. Hoffman delivers a typically solid performance as the sad-sack protagonist – though it’s hardly the most fitting end to an otherwise excellent career – while the rest of the actors pretty much phone it in, especially Slattery’s “Mad Men” co-star Christina Hendricks as the grieving mother.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with co-writer/director John Slattery and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Blu Tuesday: The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy 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 Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Co. continue to struggle for survival as they face a whole new set of challenges, including a deadly virus and the vengeful return of the Governor. But when the group is forced to flee the safety of the prison, the survivors get separated from one another and head for a sanctuary called Terminus.

WHY: The fourth season of “The Walking Dead” may be plagued by many of the same problems as previous years, but while its tendency to let plotlines drag on for too long causes the show to grind to a halt at times, the renewed focus on keeping the story moving even when its characters aren’t plays a huge part in its success. Though the first half of the season is bogged down by the silly virus storyline, the Governor’s return (from the pair of episodes detailing his whereabouts, to his eventual assault on the prison) serves as the impetus to the much stronger second half. It was a pretty gutsy move on the part of the writers to split up the group dynamic that makes the series so compelling, but it’s probably the best thing they could have done, because it’s refreshing to spend certain episodes focused on a handful of characters. Not only does it allow for more character development, but it gives some of the more peripheral characters their chance to shine. That may result in less thrills, but Season Four seems to have finally struck the perfect balance between zombie action and human drama, and although audiences love the former, there aren’t many shows that do drama better than “The Walking Dead.”

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on four episodes, the Blu-ray set includes “Inside ‘The Walking Dead’” and “The Making of ‘The Walking Dead’” featurettes for each episode, some deleted scenes and additional featurettes on the parallels between the comic book and TV series, visual effects and more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Sons of Anarchy: Season Six”

WHAT: Just as Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is beginning to legitimatize the motorcycle club’s business ventures, SAMCRO is targeted by a tough-as-nails district attorney (CCH Pounder) when the weapon used in a school shooting is traced back to them. Meanwhile, Clay (Ron Perlman) attempts to save his skin by striking a deal with the Irish, and Gemma (Katey Sagal) and Tara (Maggie Siff) butt heads once again.

WHY: Why: Ask any “Sons of Anarchy” fan what their least favorite season is and many will probably list the oft-criticized third season (AKA the Ireland one). But while the series has had enough crazy plotlines over the years to justify why some might view the show as nothing more than a male soap opera, it’s always backed them up with great characters and writing. That is, until Season Six, when it finally became too ridiculous for its own good. Though the biker drama’s penultimate season has plenty of things worth celebrating (including a larger role for Mark Boone Junior and excellent guest stars like CCH Pounder, Donal Logue and Walton Goggins), a lot of the conflict this time around seems to be less about driving the narrative than shocking the audience, none more so than the death of Maggie Siff’s Tara. While fans have been waiting to see Clay’s demise for years (and rightfully so), Tara’s murder-by-carving-fork comes across more like a desperate attempt at a cool cliffhanger than a fitting end to her season-long arc. Tara was destined to die, but not like this, and the treatment of that character is just one of the reasons why this season is the most disappointing to date.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes cast and crew commentaries on the season premiere and finale, deleted scenes, a gag reel, character goodbyes and all three episodes of the post-show specials “Anarchy Afterword.”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Only Lovers Left Alive and Rosemary’s Baby

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 Amazing Spider-Man 2″

WHAT: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) faces his biggest challenge yet as Spider-Man when an Oscorp employee named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is transformed into the supervillain Electro and wreaks havoc on New York City. Meanwhile, Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is tested just as his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home seeking Peter’s help in curing a deadly disease.

WHY:The Amazing Spider-Man 2” isn’t nearly the disappointment that some have painted it as, but it doesn’t capitalize on the promise of its predecessor either. The problem with the film is that it’s bursting at the seams with material, and although there’s some cool world building along the way, just like “Iron Man 2,” it spends more time looking ahead to the future than focusing on telling the best story possible. But for as messy as the movie may be from a narrative standpoint, the performances are strong enough to keep you entertained, especially stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. The former really seems to understand what makes Peter Parker and Spider-Man tick, and his chemistry with real-life girlfriend Stone continues to sparkle with charisma, even if the film wastes a lot of time reestablishing the Peter/Gwen romance. And while Jamie Foxx makes for a pretty dull villain (through no fault of his own), Dane DeHaan is fantastic as Norman Osborn, swinging between vulnerable and menacing, often in the same scene. It’s just too bad that Webb isn’t as adept at handling the superhero elements as he is with the human drama, because that’s one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the franchise’s continued success: making the costumed hero as interesting as the man under the mask.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a six-part making-of featurette that runs just over 100 minutes, an audio commentary with writers Alex Kurtzman and Jeff Pinkner and producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad, seven deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes look at scoring the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Only Lovers Left Alive”

WHAT: Reclusive, depressed vampire Adam (Tom Hiddleston) has grown tired of living in a world populated by “zombies,” and sensing that he may be worse for wear, his centuries-old lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) leaves her home in Tangier to visit him in Detroit. But when Eve’s rambunctious sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up uninvited, she threatens to ruin the pair’s idyllic lifestyle.

WHY: I’ve never been a big fan of Jim Jarmusch’s work, but “Only Lovers Left Alive” is definitely one of the director’s better films. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but while the movie doesn’t work for me as a whole, there are bits and pieces that are actually quite good. In fact, the film gets off to a pretty solid start as Jarmusch explores the unconventional but fascinating relationship between Adam and Eve, going so far as to dress one in black and the other in white to symbolize their yin and yang bond. Unfortunately, the paper-thin plot becomes more noticeable in the second half, especially when Mia Wasikowska’s juvenile troublemaker enters the story. Wasikowska’s character doesn’t serve much purpose other than to create a problem that Adam and Eve must solve, which causes Jarmusch’s script to feel like it’s being stretched beyond its limits. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are both great in their respective roles, and the pitch black humor delivers some unexpected laughs, but while “Only Lovers Left Alive” presents a unique and interesting take on the vampire genre, much like its immortal protagonists, the movie outlives its welcome.

EXTRAS: In addition to a 50-minute video production diary focusing on director Jim Jarmusch, there’s some deleted and extended scenes and a music video.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Rosemary’s Baby”

WHAT: When Rosemary (Zoe Saldana) and her husband Guy (Patrick J. Adams) move to Paris for an incredible job opportunity, they’re befriended by a wealthy couple who present them with an offer they can’t refuse: an apartment at the most prestigious address in the city. But as Rosemary learns more about its haunted past, she begins to suspect her new friends are Satan worshippers hell bent on taking the baby she’s carrying.

WHY: Setting aside the popularity of Roman Polanski’s 1968 cult classic, this TV version of “Rosemary’s Baby” isn’t just a bad adaptation or remake, but a bad film period. Though presented as a two-part miniseries in an attempt to make it feel like more of an “event,” the bloated 170-minute runtime is completely unwarranted, as none of the new material adds anything to the story. The acting is also pretty dreadful for the talent involved, particularly Zoe Saldana, whose wooden performance only adds to the fact that her character is incredibly annoying. Rosemary’s constant mood swings (from hysterical in one scene, to abnormally calm in the next) occur without any explanation, and her decision-making skills are so terrible that she’s extremely difficult to root for. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better, save for Carole Bouquet, who delivers an enjoyably creepy turn as the maternal coven leader. Unfortunately, Bouquet is about the only good thing that this version of “Rosemary’s Baby” has going for it, which makes me wonder why anyone thought it would be a good idea to remake such a famous movie in the first place, especially one entirely lacking any sort of suspense.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and a look at the film’s production design.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Adam Pally wants you to touch his beard: An interview with the newest Philips Norelco spokesman

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He’s inhaled the sweet scent of Elisha Cuthbert and worked alongside one of the funniest women in the business with Mindy Kaling. What is Adam Pally’s secret, you ask? His sex-drenched beard. Yes, a beard dripping in sex, that has recently been trimmed and styled by the Click and Style from Philips Norelco.

The star of revered sitcom “Happy Endings” and the newest piece of man-meat on Kaling’s “The Mindy Show” is here to “shave” a secret with you.

That secret? The Philips Norelco Click & Style is a complete all-in-one system equipped with three attachments that are easy to click on and off for shaving, styling and grooming.

We spoke to Pally about his, ahem, “partnership” with Philips Norelco, days spent poolside imbibing on Mad Dog 20/20 and why Elisha Cuthbert is to blame for the untimely death of “Happy Endings.”

What’s up buddy? What are you doing?

“I am talking to you right now. And grooming my beard.”

Well, it doesn’t look like it needs much grooming if you know what I mean. It’s perfect.

“Oh, well, thanks to the Norelco Click & Style, dawg.”

Is it weird to have another man tell you how great your beard and/or hair is?

“No, no. I mean, I know that’s one of my strengths.”

Well then, let me tell you how great your beard and/or hair is.

“Oh, thanks man. But what does make it weird is your extremely slow and creepy delivery.”

I just wanted to make sure you were picking up what I was puttin’ down, if you smell me?

“No, no I don’t.”

So, how did you hook up with Philips Norelco? 

“I had been using the Click & Style, because I am such a hairy beast with so much Israeli blood, on “Happy Endings” and “The Mindy Project” and was familiar with it. They said they were making some funny videos and it sounded like fun.”

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A chat with Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family”)

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Eric Stonestreet is America’s favorite homosexual, even though he isn’t gay – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Stonestreet plays Cam on the hit television show “Modern Family” and has won two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series as a result.

But before the breakthrough role, Stonestreet spent over a decade acting on notable TV shows like “Monk,” “CSI,” “Malcom in the Middle,” “Party of Five” and “ER.” We had the chance to chat with Stonestreet recently about his new partnership with Swiffer, playing Cam on “Modern Family” and fielding questions about Sofia Vergara.

Is “Stonestreet” your real last name? Because that’s a badass last name.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty good last name. When I was a kid, I used to get made fun of for it.  And then I became an actor and everyone wanted to know if I made it up.”

It’s sort of like the Simpsons episode where Homer changes his name to “Max Power,” a real heavy-handed last name. You could be an NFL linebacker if the TV stuff doesn’t work out.

“Yes, absolutely perfect – for my age. A 42-year-old rookie middle linebacker.”

Tell me about your collaborative effort with Swiffer and the “Swiffer Effect” video with your mom.

“The Swiffer Effect campaign is letting people know that roles are changing in families and in respect to cleaning as well. With the Swiffer Effect, they’re trying to get the word out that Swiffer is more effective and more fun than the old dust pan and broom. So, they asked me to team up with my mom. Check out the viral video so people can see a little humor with their cleaning.”

Hashtag let’s go viral, Eric.

“Hashtag let’s do it.”

Can we talk about the groupies, Eric? Do women just throw themselves at you now that you’re everywhere?

“I guess you could say that, but I don’t really take advantage of it like most guys would. You have to keep a bit of a classy demeanor. But yeah, things changed once I got on TV.”

As far as the sexual aspect of your character Cam, how difficult is that to play as someone who isn’t gay?

“It’s not that much of a deal because I’m an actor and play all kinds of roles. The fact Cam is gay doesn’t have much to do with anything. I played bad guys on TV before, other guys before, so it’s a character I get to play and never really thought too much about it.”

How many Sofia Vergara questions do you field in an average day?

“Uh, well, so far five today.”

Are you on your average for this point of the day? Or are you low?

“When I’m doing media, that’s how it usually goes. But she is an awesome person, she’s a force. She’s a cool lady.”

  

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