Blu Tuesday: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Eye in the Sky 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.

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

WHAT: In 2003, cable news producer Kim Baker (Tina Fey) leaves behind her banal, dead-end life in New York to accept a daring assignment covering the war in Afghanistan. Dropped into a chaotic war zone without the comforts of home, Kim befriends a fellow female reporter (Margot Robbie) and a charming photojournalist (Martin Freeman) to help navigate her strange new surroundings.

WHY: Based on journalist Kim Barker’s 2011 memoir, “The Taliban Shuffle,” about her experiences reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2004-2009, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a tonally confused war satire that struggles to find the right balance between drama and comedy. This isn’t the first movie of its kind to run into that problem, but it handles the juggling of the two genres better than most thanks to a solid script by Tina Fey’s longtime writing partner, Robert Carlock (“30 Rock,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), and some deft direction by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Crazy Stupid Love”). Though the decision to cast non-Afghan actors in prominent roles is disappointing, Christopher Abbott’s local fixer, and the relationship he forms with Kim, is one of the best things about the film. (Alfred Molina’s government official is more problematic, although that has more to do with the character itself than who’s playing him.) “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is equally as hit-and-miss on the whole, but it’s nonetheless a fun if slight tragicomedy that benefits greatly from its talented cast.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a behind-the-scenes look at making the movie, four additional featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Midnight Special 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.

“Midnight Special”

WHAT: On the run from the government, as well as religious zealots who covet his son Alton’s (Jaeden Lieberher) mysterious powers, Roy (Michael Shannon) enlists the help of his wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) to get the young boy to an undisclosed location on a specific date. He’s not sure why, other than that it will help Alton achieve his true purpose.

WHY: Director Jeff Nichols has a predilection for telling simple stories that focus heavily on character, but “Midnight Special” is almost too simple in execution, lacking the required substance to sustain its 112-minute runtime. Though the opening act is packed with tension and mystery, the story grinds to a halt in the middle as its characters become stuck in a holding pattern of sorts, only to eventually limp towards its disappointing conclusion. Nicholas has never been very good at sticking the landing, but “Midnight Special” contains his most uninspired ending yet. The movie is also mind-numbingly slow at times, weighed down by subplots that go nowhere and entire scenes where nothing happens. Fortunately, the acting is so good that it just barely manages to keep your interest, particularly Nichols regular Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver as an NSA agent helping to track down the fugitives. It’s a shame to see this much talent wasted on such a mediocre film, because while there was certainly a great movie within reach, “Midnight Special” stumbles too often to fulfil its potential.

EXTRAS: There are profiles on the five main characters and a making-of featurette.

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Blu Tuesday: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Eddie the Eagle 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.

“10 Cloverfield Lane”

WHAT: After she’s blind-sided by a truck and knocked unconscious, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) fears the worst when she wakes to find herself in a strange bunker. Her captor Howard (John Goodman) insists that he saved her from a chemical attack that has rendered the outside world uninhabitable, but while a fellow survivor (John Gallagher Jr.) is able to corroborate the story, Michelle can’t shake the feeling that Howard is still hiding something.

WHY: Audiences expecting a major connection to the 2008 found footage movie “Cloverfield” will undoubtedly be disappointed by Dan Trachtenberg’s debut film, but the J.J. Abrams-produced “blood relative” is still an extremely well-crafted thriller that doesn’t waste a single moment. It’s nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat stuff that’s heightened by the claustrophobic setting and nonstop tension. Essentially a three-handed chamber piece between Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., “10 Cloverfield Lane” hinges on the performances of its cast. Thankfully, they’re all fantastic in their roles, particularly Goodman, who steals the show as the creepy, domineering Howard; it’s a deliciously wicked turn that will make your skin crawl. You’ve never seen the veteran actor quite like this before, but by casting him against type, it strengthens the overall mystery that is so essential to the movie’s success. Though the 11th-hour twist nearly undoes all that good work with its abrupt (and unnecessary) change in tone, “10 Cloverfield Lane” manages to deliver a riveting experience that’s even better than the film that inspired it.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Dan Trachtenberg and producer J.J. Abrams, there’s a collection of production featurettes, a look back at “Cloverfield” and a tour of the film’s bunker.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Eddie the Eagle”

WHAT: When he fails to make the final squad chosen to represent Great Britain at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, downhill skier Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) switches focus to ski jumping when he learns that he only needs to qualify in order to compete. Though that’s easier said than done, Eddie defies all odds through sheer determination and the help of washed-up American champion Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman).

WHY: Disney may be king of the underdog sports drama, but actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher beats the studio at its own game with this inspirational true story that’s equal parts “Rudy” and “Cool Runnings.” Much like the characters in those films, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards is such a larger-than-life personality – a misfit characterized by his Coke-bottle glasses and goofy underbite – that he’s difficult not to cheer on. Taron Egerton does an excellent job in the title role, perfectly capturing Eddie’s mannerisms and infectious optimism, while Hugh Jackman turns in a reliably charming performance as his fictitious coach. Peary isn’t the only fictional element in the film – not by a longshot – but in spite of the many liberties that the movie takes, it retains the spirit of Eddie’s story, which is just as important. Though it’s a pretty formulaic underdog tale that checks off all the usual sports movie clichés, “Eddie the Eagle” is nevertheless an enjoyable feel-good film that wears its heart (and humor) on its sleeve just like its charismatic subject.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a three-part documentary about making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: 13 Hours, Zootopia 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.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

WHAT: On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamic militants in Benghazi attacked the poorly guarded compound where the U.S. Ambassador resided, prompting a six-man security team led by Tyron Woods (James Badge Dale) to launch a perilous rescue attempt before returning to the nearby CIA annex to defend against wave after wave of rebel attacks until support arrived.

WHY: Michael Bay has wasted the better part of the last decade making shitty “Transformers” films, so it’s nice to see him return to form with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” an exhilarating and surprisingly apolitical military thriller that reconfirms why he’s one of the best action directors in the business. It takes nearly an hour before the first attack occurs, but Bay uses that time to establish the characters, provide an overview of the geopolitical landscape and build tension, because once it kicks into action mode, Bay rarely lets his foot off the gas, pummeling the audience with one explosive firefight after the next. This is Bay’s bread and butter, and he doesn’t disappoint with some expertly shot action sequences that drop the audience right into the middle of the combat. Though the movie isn’t without the typical Bayisms (from the overuse of slow motion and lingering shots of the American flag, to the corny dialogue), “13 Hours” is a marked improvement compared to his recent output that harkens back to earlier films like “The Rock.”

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on adapting the source material, filming the battle sequences and the CIA’s real-life Global Response Staff.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Zootopia”

WHAT: After proving her detractors wrong by becoming the first rabbit police officer in the animal city of Zootopia, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) must team up with a con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to uncover a conspiracy that’s causing some of the city’s predators to revert back into savage beasts.

WHY: “Zootopia” might just be the best Pixar movie that Pixar never made. It’s smart, funny and works both as a delightful family film on the surface and a rich allegory for race relations on a much deeper level. In fact, it handles the subject of racism and prejudice better than most live-action movies, and that in itself is really impressive. The dynamic between Ginnifer Goodwin’s go-getting bunny and Jason Bateman’s sardonic fox is excellent, while the vibrant world that directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”) have created is incredibly imaginative, opening up numerous possibilities for sequels that would not only be warranted but welcome as well. Though the movie runs a little long at 108 minutes, there are so many great moments littered throughout that it’s hard to imagine another animated film providing much competition at next year’s Oscars. Sister studio Pixar may get all the love, but recently, Walt Disney Animation has been on a real winning streak, and “Zootopia” is its finest achievement yet.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette hosted by star Ginnifer Goodwin, three additional featurettes on developing the story, finding inspiration from real-life animals, and composing the score, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s many Easter eggs and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Triple 9, Race 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.

“Triple 9″

WHAT: When a group of bank robbers is blackmailed by the Russian mafia to pull off an impossible heist, dirty cop Marcus (Anthony Mackie) suggests killing his new partner Chris (Casey Affleck) – thus initiating a 999, police code for “officer down” – in order to draw every responding cop to the other side of town. But as loyalties are tested and the criminals begin to turn on each other, the whole plan threatens to unravel.

WHY: Director John Hillcoat (“The Road,” “Lawless”) specializes in bleak storytelling, so it makes sense why he would gravitate towards a gritty crime thriller like “Triple 9.” Though the movie isn’t totally bereft of clear-cut heroes and villains, most of the characters (from Chiwetel Ejiofor’s bank robber to Anthony Mackie’s conflicted cop) operate somewhere in between. The complex relationships bred from that moral ambiguity is likely what helped Hillcoat attract so much great talent, but while the film boasts a killer cast from top to bottom, only a few (like Casey Affleck and Mackie) really stand out. Ejiofor’s talents are wasted on an underdeveloped character, Aaron Paul mines familiar territory as a troubled drug addict, and Kate Winslet is miscast as the ruthless wife of a Russian mob boss. “Triple 9” is pulled in so many different directions that it’s unable to provide the focus that each subplot deserves, and although that prevents the movie from reaching the heights of Michael Mann’s “Heat,” it’s still a fairly solid crime thriller thanks to some exhilarating set pieces and an excellent cast.

EXTRAS: There are two short featurettes and a handful of deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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