Blu Tuesday: The Revenant, Veep and Silicon Valley

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 Revenant”

WHAT: During a hunting expedition in the early 1800s, fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) miraculously survives a bear mauling and is left for dead by members of his group. When one of the men responsible (Tom Hardy) kills Hugh’s half-Native American son after he protests about leaving his father to die, Hugh conjures up the strength to navigate the rough terrain and weather in order to seek vengeance.

WHY: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to “Birdman” is an unflinchingly brutal tale of survival and revenge that completely immerses you in the rugged conditions of early frontier life. Iñárritu does his best Terrence Malick impression with this gorgeous drama filmed largely in the Canadian wilderness, reteaming with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to deliver more of the same great visuals and signature tracking shots, which amplify the realism of the never-ending suffering that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character endures throughout the story. The much talked about grizzly bear mauling may be one of the most intense sequences ever captured on film, but it’s only a small piece of the actor’s raw and physically demanding performance. Though Tom Hardy is absolutely electric as the villain, DiCaprio has the tougher role, and he makes you feel every bit of blood-curdling agony. “The Revenant” is the classic battle of man vs. nature at its cruelest, and save for some pacing issues (at 156 minutes, it’s way too long), it doesn’t disappoint.

EXTRAS: There’s a 44-minute documentary on making the movie and the social responsibilities of portraying Native American people and their culture in film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Star Wars and Mojave

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.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

WHAT: Three strangers from different backgrounds – orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), conflicted Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) – join forces to stop the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order, which has risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire.

WHY: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an exciting return to form for the franchise that recaptures the childlike sensation of watching the original trilogy for the first time. It’s thrilling, funny and surprisingly emotional. While the inclusion of familiar faces like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia is great fan service that also functions as a passing of the torch to the new characters, director J.J. Abrams never lets you forget that this is their movie. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all shine in their respective roles, although it’s playful droid BB-8 who ultimately steals the show. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Abrams packs too many characters into the story, resulting in several unanswered questions that are dangled in front of the audience like a carrot on a stick. But those kinds of mysteries have always been a part of the “Star Wars” ethos, and “The Force Awakens” is “Star Wars” to the core, blending the old with the new to produce an excellent continuation of the saga that leaves you wanting more.

EXTRAS: In addition to a feature-length documentary on the making of the movie, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the cast table read, featurettes on creature design, visual effects and shooting the climactic lightsaber battle, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Mojave”

WHAT: After melancholy filmmaker Tom (Garrett Hedlund) has a dangerous encounter with a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac) in the desert, he’s pulled into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse when the stranger follows him back to Los Angeles and continues to stalk him.

WHY: William Monahan may have an Oscar for writing “The Departed,” but you wouldn’t know it based on this pseudo-intellectual thriller, which is both a giant waste of time and talent. Though Oscar Isaac keeps things mildly interesting with a performance that’s so over the top it feels like he’s in a completely different movie, the rest of the cast looks absolutely bored out of their minds. Mark Wahlberg must have owed Monahan a favor; Walton Goggins has maybe five lines of dialogue; and Garrett Hedlund proves yet again why he’s one of the most overrated actors of his generation. The real faults, however, lie in Monahan’s aimless script and some poor pacing. It’s not that the film’s philosophical ideas are lost on me, either – “Mojave” just doesn’t do a very good job of presenting them in an engaging or coherent manner. Perhaps something got lost in translation along the way, but as writer and director, the only person Monahan has to blame is himself.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: The Hateful Eight 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 Hateful Eight”

WHAT: In post-Civil War Wyoming, renowned bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is forced to take shelter at a haberdashery in the mountains when a blizzard prevents him from transporting wanted murder Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock. Trapped in a room with six other strangers he doesn’t trust – at least one of whom he believes is in cahoots with Daisy – John must uncover the mole before they make their move.

WHY: Quentin Tarantino’s first crack at making a Western may have resulted in the slightly disappointing “Django Unchained,” but his second attempt is a much-improved genre piece that represents his most accomplished work behind the camera to date. While Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins all deliver excellent work, Samuel L. Jackson’s show-stopping turn is the real standout, chewing up scenery with every juicy monologue and sly look. Granted, the first half of the film moves like molasses as Tarantino gets all of his pieces on the board, but the pacing is intentional, slowly building to a boil that spills out into a flurry of violence in the final hour. Though “The Hateful Eight” is filled with the same self-indulgent tendencies that fans have come to expect from the director’s movies, this Agatha Christie-styled whodunit is a lot of fun thanks to a smartly crafted script, some outstanding camerawork that benefits from the 65mm film format, and riotous performances from the cast.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a short behind-the-scenes featurette and a closer look at the movie’s 70mm presentation.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Concussion”

WHAT: When Nigerian-born pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who have suffered repeated concussions, he publishes his findings in the hope that it will help save lives. However, the NFL sees Omalu as a threat to its multibillion-dollar industry and attempts to discredit him.

WHY: Much like writer/director Peter Landesman’s previous films (“Kill the Messenger,” “Parkland”), “Concussion” is a middling, fact-based story that feels disconnected from its own material. While the movie is about a fairly important event in modern medicine – the discovery and recognition of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a very real problem within the sport of football – it’s told in such a dull, straightforward manner that its message doesn’t resonate. Will Smith delivers his best work in over a decade as the real-life Omalu, completely throwing himself into the role, but the rest of the cast isn’t given as much to work with, particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whose talents are squandered as his wife. The whole thing feels more like a TV movie due to the pedestrian writing and direction, and although it’s worth seeing for Smith’s passionate performance, “Concussion” isn’t compelling enough to incite the kind of reform within the NFL (and the sport as a whole) that’s desperately needed.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Peter Landesman, a pair of featurettes on making the movie and the true story that inspired it, and deleted scenes.

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Blu Tuesday: The Hunger Games and Daddy’s Home

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 Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2″

WHAT: After Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) sneaks into the Capitol against direct orders, she’s assigned to a specialized military unit, which also includes Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and a mentally unstable Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), to shoot more propaganda videos on the war-torn streets of the city. But Katniss has other plans – namely, to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and end the fighting once and for all.

WHY: Amid the glut of YA book-to-film adaptations, “The Hunger Games” has always stood head and toe above the competition. That’s what makes “Mockingjay: Part 2” such a hard pill to swallow, because while it seemed like the stage was set for an exciting finale after the tedious third installment, it’s yet another incredibly slow burn that underlines just how bad the final book is in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian saga. Apart from a couple well-staged action sequences, the movie never really gets going. It hits all the major moments within Collins’ grim novel, but there’s very little emotion to it, as if director Francis Lawrence is just ticking off boxes as he goes along. Even Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t appear particularly enthused about having to slog through this downer of a finale, and it’s hard to blame her, because instead of going out on a high note like the franchise and its loyal fans deserved, my first thought when the film ended was, “Thank God it’s finally over.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, there’s an eight-part making-of documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at the “Hunger Games” exhibition and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Daddy’s Home”

WHAT: Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) has always dreamed of being a father, and ever since marrying the lovely Sara (Linda Cardellini), he’s gone above and beyond to win the affection of her two children. But when their deadbeat biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) suddenly arrives in town looking to make up for lost time, the two men engage in a battle of wits to prove who is the better dad.

WHY: “Daddy’s Home” is one of the worst studio comedies in recent years – it’s lazy, unfunny and so farfetched that even the few sincere moments ring false. After all, this is a movie where Will Ferrell’s mild-mannered stepdad crashes a motorcycle through the second story of his house and somehow walks away with barely a scratch. It’s a completely ridiculous gag that treats violence like a “Looney Tunes” cartoon, and the film only goes downhill from there. Though Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg worked really well together in Adam McKay’s “The Other Guys,” the decision to pit them against each other as adversaries isn’t as effective, squandering their natural chemistry. The supporting cast doesn’t fare any better, although Hannibal Burress does earn a few laughs as a laidback handyman who becomes an honorary member of the family. Unfortunately, that’s about all the movie has to offer, because while there’s definitely a good comedy to be made from such a relatable premise, “Daddy’s Home” is a big swing and a miss.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, a series of additional featurettes that focus on specific elements of the film, and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Game of Thrones, The Big Short 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.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season”

WHAT: After Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) flees to Meereen to support Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) bid for the Iron Throne, Cersei (Lena Headey) must contend with a new threat within King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) struggles to unite the Night’s Watch and the Wildings; Arya begins her training at the House of White and Black; and Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) travels to Dorne to rescue Myrcella from House Martell.

WHY: “Game of Thrones” fans were extremely critical of the show’s fifth season, but as the HBO drama enters its final stretch, transitioning from the superb second act of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic was always going to be difficult, especially with so many moving parts. The fact that creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were able to pull it off without sacrificing quality is a small miracle. Granted, Daenerys’ storyline is pretty dull until Tyron joins the group, and the less said about the Dorne subplot the better, but for the most part, Season Five does an excellent job of advancing the narrative while digging even deeper into the world’s rich mythology. It also serves up some of the series’ best moments thus far, including the Battle of Hardhome, Cersei’s walk of shame, and of course, the apparent murder of Jon Snow. Though it won’t go down as the most memorable season of “Game of Thrones,” it could end up being the most important.

EXTRAS: In addition to 12 commentary tracks with various cast and crew, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the “Mother’s Mercy” episode, a two-part featurette on the historical events that inspired George R.R. Martin’s novels, a Season Five production diary, deleted scenes and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“The Big Short”

WHAT: The true story of a group of investment bankers that predicted what many thought was impossible – the always-sturdy housing market collapsing – and then bet against (or shorted) the big banks to profit off their greed.

WHY: The 2008 housing market crash was no joke, which is why it might come as a surprise that “The Big Short” was directed by the same man responsible for goofball comedies like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” But while Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a movie about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he’s produced a darkly humorous examination of a nationwide disaster so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to laugh. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph do a great job of breaking down the complex financial jargon into something the average moviegoer can understand, turning what could have been a dull and dense PowerPoint presentation on mortgage loans into an entertaining lesson about just how messed up the whole financial crisis really was. McKay’s docudrama approach isn’t entirely successful, but the movie’s flaws are offset by some solid performances and a steady stream of humor that makes the infuriating subject matter a little easier to swallow, even if we seem doomed to repeat those same mistakes again.

EXTRAS: There are five featurettes on topics like casting, director Adam McKay and creating the look of the film, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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