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

  

Blu Tuesday: Muppets Most Wanted, Locke 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.

“Muppets Most Wanted”

WHAT: After embarking on an international tour arranged by slick talent agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), Kermit the Frog is framed by his evil lookalike, Constantine, and shipped off to a Siberian prison. Meanwhile, Dominic and Constantine plot to steal a series of artifacts that will enable them to pull off the ultimate heist, using the Muppets’ tour to cover their tracks.

WHY: Like many people, I walked into “Muppets Most Wanted” convinced that it would be a colossal disappointment. But while this follow-up to the 2011 Muppets reboot starring Jason Segel doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, the movie comes surprisingly close. In addition to the screenplay by returning director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, which retains the Muppets’ trademark humor, charm and heart, Bret McKenzie provides half a dozen original songs that are incredibly witty and catchy, and among the film’s many highlights. The human co-stars aren’t as developed as Segel’s character, but Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey (as a Siberian prison guard) and Ty Burell (as a Jacques Clouseau-like Interpol agent) all fare remarkably well alongside their respective Muppet partners. If there’s one complaint, it’s that many of the supporting Muppets are relegated to the background in order to make room for all the new faces, though it certainly helps that Constantine is such a fun villain. It’s that sense of playfulness that makes “Muppets Most Wanted” such a success, and considering how bad things could have turned out, that’s a massive win for fans of Jim Henson’s felt-covered friends.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an “unnecessarily extended” cut of the film, a blooper reel, music videos and some other goofy bits, but nothing really substantial.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Locke”

WHAT: Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a dedicated family man and successful construction foreman, but on the eve of the biggest job of his career, he receives a phone call triggering a series of events that threaten to shatter his seemingly perfect life.

WHY: By far one of the most unique moviegoing experiences of the year, Steven Knight’s “Locke” takes a relatively simple premise and squeezes every last drop from its pulpy body, to the point that it’s actually quite incredible just how much the director was able to do with so little. The single-location setting is a bit gimmicky, but it serves a purpose as you watch the life of an otherwise decent man – literally trapped in a horrible situation but determined to make it right the only way he knows how – implode before your very eyes. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking at times, and although the supporting cast (including Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott, who appear as voices over the phone) is essential to making the film work, Tom Hardy is the heart and soul of the movie, delivering an absolutely brilliant performance that will leave you spellbound for the entirety of its taut 84-minute runtime. Though some of the plot turns feel contrived and it starts to drag in the final act, “Locke” is so immersive in its minimalistic approach that even the film’s flaws are more of a nuisance than a distraction.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Steven Knight and a behind-the-scenes featurette on making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Divergent, Need for Speed 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.

“Divergent”

WHAT: In a dystopian future where society has been divided into five factions – Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity and Candor – 16-year-old Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovers that she’s Divergent, one of the rare few with an aptitude for multiple factions. But there are those that feel threatened by her kind, so Beatrice joins Dauntless in an attempt to hide her secret, finding an unlikely ally in trainer Four (Theo James).

WHY: Yet another young adult book series adapted for the big screen, “Divergent” spends so much time trying to educate the audience on all the nuts and bolts of author Veronica Roth’s complex universe that it never quite gets off the ground. The mythology itself is pretty sketchy, with so many unanswered questions about how the faction system operates and the motivation behind certain characters’ actions that it’s difficult to fully invest in the story. Though there’s an interesting concept regarding government and societal classes at its core, “Divergent” ultimately feels like two and a half hours of (mostly boring) exposition – the setup to the bigger story that is seemingly explored in the other books. The problem, however, is that despite assembling a stellar cast of young up-and-comers, Oscar winners and veteran character actors, director Neil Burger fails to make you care enough to want to see those future installments. “Divergent” is apparently very faithful to the source material, and in that regard, fans won’t have much to complain about, but as a potential franchise-starter, it falls disappointingly short.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a pair of audio commentaries (one with director Neil Burger and another with producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher), a making-of documentary, a featurette on the five factions and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Need for Speed”

WHAT: After an illegal racing accident lands small-town mechanic Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) in prison, he emerges determined to exact revenge on the man responsible, former rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), by competing in a top secret, invite-only race called the DeLeon. But before he can get justice, Tobey must race against the clock to get from New York to San Francisco in time for the event, all while evading the various law enforcement authorities hot on his trail.

WHY: It’s amazing that it’s taken this long for another studio to exploit the success of the “Fast and Furious” franchise with a racing movie of its own, but considering that Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed” video game series predates the adventures of Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor by several years, you can hardly blame DreamWorks for wanting a piece of the pie. Unfortunately, apart from casting Aaron Paul in the lead role, there’s not much to like about Scott Walsh’s racing flick, which takes itself a little too seriously compared to the winking self-awareness of the “Fast and Furious” movies. “Need for Speed” is in desperate need of a lot of things – a better script, stronger direction, better pacing – but one thing you wouldn’t think it’d be lacking is excitement, and although the film has more its share of piston-pumping driving sequences, most of them are pretty tame, often dragging on for too long or cutting away to needless reactions from other characters. Gearheads will get some joy out of watching the assortment of beautiful cars speeding around the screen, but “Need for Speed” fails to be a worthy competitor to the “Fast and Furious” series, let alone a potential heir to the grease-streaked throne.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary by director Scott Walsh and actor Aaron Paul, four production featurettes covering things like the car race sequences and sound production, a handful of deleted scenes and a short outtakes reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Noah and The Other Woman

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.

“Noah”

WHAT: Noah (Russell Crowe) receives a message from the Creator to build an ark that will harbor the innocent (his family and the planet’s animals) from the impending apocalyptic flood designed to cleanse the world of wickedness. But when the self-appointed king of mankind, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), learns of Noah’s plans, he leads a massive army to overtake the ark and seek refuge from certain death.

WHY: This isn’t the first time that Darren Aronofsky has tackled something as ambitious as “Noah,” but unlike his experimental time-traveling drama “The Fountain,” this movie already had a built-in audience of sorts with varying ideas of how it should be told. And since Aronofsky has taken more than a few liberties with the source material – including a race of fallen angels called the Watchers that look like stop-motion rock monsters straight out of Ray Harryhausen’s workshop – he’s received a fair share of criticism for his efforts. As someone who isn’t religious, it’s difficult to be too damning of how Aronofsky has interpreted the text, but while it’s not quite the sacrilegious disaster that many feared, it isn’t very good either. Though Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson deliver some good performances, you don’t really care about any of the characters, expect perhaps Watson’s orphaned Ila. The decision to turn the story into an epic adventure movie with a big battle sequence as its centerpiece was likely intended to add a little excitement to the proceedings, but it’s still a fairly dull affair that’s hampered by the lame attempts to make it an allegory for the current state of our planet.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no audio commentary by director Darren Aronofsky, but the Blu-ray does include a two-part featurette on the construction and filming of the ark and a behind-the-scenes look at location shooting in Iceland.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Other Woman”

WHAT: During a surprise visit to her boyfriend’s house, Carly (Cameron Diaz) discovers that he’s already married to suburban housewife Kate (Leslie Mann). The two eventually bond over their shared hatred for Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and when they learn that he’s cheating on both of them with another woman (Kate Upton), they team up with her to plot their revenge.

WHY: “The Other Woman” is one of the worst movies you’ll see this year – the kind of film that gives female-centric comedies such a bad name that it’s no wonder Hollywood doesn’t make them more often. Though not quite as misogynistic as some have claimed, it’s basically just a bunch of girl power drivel that doesn’t empower its women so much as make the two-timing Mark such a massive asshole that his punishment seems justified. (For the record, poisoning someone is not cool, no matter what they’ve done to you.) The movie also thinks so little of its female characters that they’re not given any depth beyond generic labels like “wife,” “lawyer” and “boobs,” while poor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is forced to do some pretty embarrassing stuff involving female hormones and laxatives. The biggest problem, however, is that none of it is funny. Director Nick Cassavetes seems to think that he’s making a light and fun romp about women getting sweet revenge, but there’s nothing entertaining about a couple of insecure women bickering with one another for 109 minutes, especially when it’s as mind-numbingly stupid and boring as this.

EXTRAS: There are some deleted scenes and a gag reel, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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