Blu Tuesday: Gone Girl 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.

“Gone Girl”

WHAT: When his wife (Rosamund Pike) disappears under mysterious circumstances, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) becomes the prime suspect in the investigation. But while the media and townspeople are quick to vilify him, Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) senses that something isn’t quite right with the case.

WHY: It’s hard to imagine watching a film like “Gone Girl” having already read the Gillian Flynn novel on which it’s based, because the movie is a strikingly bold and unique murder mystery that hinges on the shock-and-awe nature of its dark, twisted story. You’d be hard-pressed to find a director more suitable for the material than David Fincher, and he handles the he-said/she-said dual narratives with razor-sharp precision. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike deliver excellent performances as the two leads (Pike, in particular, is sure to see her career skyrocket as a result), while supporting actors like Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, and yes, even Tyler Perry, are all perfectly cast in their respective roles. That’s to the credit of Fincher as well, who makes even the strangest casting choices (like Perry and Neil Patrick Harris) seem like no-brainers in hindsight. Though the movie is a bit overlong and the ending feels rushed compared to the slow-burning first act, “Gone Girl” is the kind of the movie that you won’t soon forget. It’s not Fincher’s best work, but it’s an engrossing and clever thriller that will make you want to rush out and read Flynn’s novel the minute it’s over.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director David Fincher and an Amazing Amy book titled “Tattle Tale.”

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Men, Women & Children”

WHAT: A collection of intersecting stories about the dangers of the internet, including a middle-aged schlub (Adam Sandler) whose wife (Rosemary DeWitt) cheats on him using a dating website; a former star quarterback (Ansel Elgort) who’s coping with his mother’s desertion through an online role-playing game; a high school cheerleader (Olivia Crocicchia) who posts provocative photos to her modeling site; and a mother (Jennifer Garner) so obsessed with keeping her daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) safe that she tracks her online activity.

WHY: “Men, Women & Children” might as well have come with the subtitle, “Or Why the Internet is Really Bad,” because that’s pretty much the message that Jason Reitman is preaching in his latest film, an enjoyable but flawed drama about communication in the digital age. Of course, this isn’t the first time that the topic has been broached before. The little-seen 2012 drama “Disconnect” tackled similar material in its exploration of the muddled lines between reality and identity on the internet, and that film did a better job, partly because it had fewer storylines to juggle. Reitman handles the interconnected narrative remarkably well, but while “Men, Women & Children” has some interesting things to say, it doesn’t reveal anything that most people with a basic knowledge of the internet didn’t already know. Yes, going online can be dangerous, but there are plenty of beneficial things about it as well, and Reitman seems afraid to touch upon those aspects in fear that it will dilute his message. Is it a little heavy-handed and melodramatic as a result? You bet, but there’s enough good in the film – or at least good intentions – that it’s able to hold your interest even when it’s not firing on all cylinders.

EXTRAS: There are five deleted scenes (including an additional storyline), as well as a short behind-the-scenes featurette and interviews with director Jason Reitman and the cast about the effect of technology on our lives.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Revenge of the Green Dragons”

WHAT: Set in New York City during the late 1980s and early 90s, two Chinese immigrants (Justin Chon and Kevin Wu) are pressured into joining the Green Dragons gang, quickly moving up the ranks as the organization gains notoriety within the community.

WHY: With “Infernal Affairs” director Andrew Lau behind the camera, and Martin Scorsese serving as an executive producer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that “Revenge of the Green Dragons” might actually be decent. Instead, it’s a cliché-ridden gangster film posing as a sprawling crime saga that’s plagued by a lack of character development, unintentionally funny dialogue (sample line: “There’s a storm coming, and I don’t know of any umbrella that can keep the city dry.”), and cheesy guitar riffs that, while they certainly belong to the era, only add to the comedy. One of the big selling points of the movie is that it’s supposedly inspired by real-life events, but the historical bits are shoved to the background in favor of the more generic story involving Chon and Wu’s characters. Neither actor is very good, but Harry Shum, Jr. (“Glee”) takes the cake as the gang’s business-minded boss, whose performance comes across like a low-rate Bruce Lee impersonator. Though Ray Liotta’s appearance as the FBI agent investigating the Green Dragons is meant to lend some credibility to the film, it does the complete opposite, while the last-minute twist reeks so bad of desperation that it’s as if Lau is trying to recapture the success of “Infernal Affairs” for American audiences. The only problem is that Scorsese already beat him to the punch.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by directors Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo, a trio of production featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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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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Blu Tuesday: The Equalizer and The Good Lie

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 Equalizer”

WHAT: When former CIA agent Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) saves a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) from her abusive, mob-connected pimp, the Russian mafia sends in a specialist (Marton Csokas) to track down the men responsible. But after it’s revealed that the seemingly ordinary McCall acted alone, the Russians plan to make an example out of him, unaware of who they’re dealing with.

WHY: Very loosely based on the 1980s TV series of the same name, “The Equalizer” is probably the closest that Denzel Washington will ever get to playing a superhero – a one-man army who takes down his opponents with such Bourne-like precision that he knows exactly how long it will take before he even throws the first punch. While director Antoine Fuqua obsesses a little too much over McCall’s methodical habits, when he just lets Denzel be Denzel, kicking ass and taking names with the poise and gravitas that he brings to each role, the film is all the better for it. Washington could read the dictionary and it would probably be riveting, so it goes without saying that he elevates the material here as well, even if he doesn’t get much help from the supporting cast. With that said, you don’t go to a movie like “The Equalizer” for the story or the acting, and Fuqua is well aware of this, populating the film with some excellent action sequences and unexpected moments of brutal violence on both sides. It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff compared to Fuqua and Washington’s last collaboration (“Training Day”), but it’s a slick crowd-pleaser that provides the escapist entertainment of any good action flick.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary/behind-the-scenes featurette with director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington, as well as additional featurettes on bringing the TV series to the big screen, the fight choreography and stunts, and profiles on Fuqua, Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Good Lie”

WHAT: A group of Sudanese refugees – orphans of the civil war that ravaged their country in the 1980s – are given the chance at a better life when they’re relocated to the United States, aided by an employment counselor (Reese Witherspoon) that takes a personal interest in them.

WHY: “The Good Lie” isn’t the first movie to be made about African immigrants escaping the horrors of their homeland, and it won’t be the last, which is exactly why you shouldn’t waste your time on such a mediocre film when there are much better options available. Though it boasts an A-list actress in Reese Witherspoon, she’s far from the headlining star that Warner Bros. would lead you to believe, instead focusing on the Sudanese refugees (specifically Arnold Oceng’s Mamere) as they struggle to adapt to life in Missouri. It’s a refreshing departure from the typical “white savior” movie, but that doesn’t prevent it from devolving into a generic fish-out-of-water story that appears to have been made using the Disney Guide to Inspirational Family Dramas. “The Good Lie” isn’t a bad film, but it’s not a particularly memorable one either, so safe and vanilla with its dramatization of real-life events that it lacks any genuine surprise. And in the end, the movie gets so caught up trying to hit all the usual beats of a feel-good drama that it forgets to give you anything to actually feel good about.

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

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 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.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

WHAT: New York City is being terrorized by a criminal organization called the Foot Clan under the command of a shadowy figure known as The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). But there’s a group of vigilantes silently serving as the city’s protectors, and ambitious news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is determined to uncover their identities… only to find that the mystery men aren’t men at all, but rather oversized mutant turtles skilled in the art of ninjitsu.

WHY: Jonathan Liebesman’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot isn’t nearly the disaster that many people feared. In fact, it’s actually quite entertaining at times provided you check your brain at the door and don’t mind that the film is basically feeding off the fumes of your childhood. The movie has its share of problems – from its assembly-by-committee script, to the generic action sequences – but the four actors who play the Turtles make up for some of those shortcomings by really capturing their spirit and brotherly camaraderie. The visual effects wizardry that’s been applied to their mo-cap performances is top-notch as well, proving once again why this technology is incredibly useful in not only creating more realistic CG characters, but giving them a human element that could never be achieved by men in rubber suits. There are some fun in-jokes for adult fans who grew up watching the Turtles as kids, but “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is essentially a live-action cartoon and should be judged accordingly. It’s far from a great film, but it also doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is, and if that means going easier on the film, then so be it, because that’s a perfectly acceptable cost of a little nostalgia.

EXTRAS: There are five featurettes covering a range of topics, including the digital evolution of the Turtles, the technical aspects of 3D, scoring the film and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“This Is Where I Leave You”

WHAT: When their father passes away, four siblings (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) return to their childhood home to fulfill his dying wish by sitting shiva. Forced to live under the same roof for a week with their loquacious mother (Jane Fonda), each child must deal with their respective personal problems and the ghosts of their past.

WHY: Adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his book of the same name, “This Is Where I Leave You” represents an interesting change of pace for Shawn Levy, who’s best known for big blockbusters like the “Night at the Museum” films. But while it’s always great to see a director explore new territory, Levy seems to be a little out of his comfort zone with this family dramedy, never quite sure how to handle the more serious moments when there’s always another joke right around the corner. It was smart to cast actors that could handle both comedy and drama, but sadly, the material wastes a lot of their talents. Though Jason Bateman is solid as the middle brother, Tina Fey is miscast as his protective sister, Corey Stoll’s eldest brother barely registers as a three-dimensional character, and Jane Fonda’s mother is given giant breast implants… and not much else. Adam Driver and Rose Byrne are the only two bright spots, but even their characters are majorly underserved. To be fair, movies like this are a difficult balancing act, and even more so with such a large cast of characters, but despite Levy’s best efforts, “This Is Where I Leave You” falls disappointingly flat.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of production featurettes, there are outtakes of Ben Schwartz as Rabbi Boner and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Magic in the Moonlight”

WHAT: World-renowned magician Wei Ling Soo has a bag of tricks, but his biggest trick of all is that it’s just a ruse – the terribly racist stage persona of grumpy Englishman Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), who despises charlatans that give his profession a bad name. So when longtime friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) asks for his assistance in debunking a young spiritualist named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), whom he believes is scamming the heir of the wealthy Catledge family, Stanley heads to their mansion to catch Sophie red-handed.

WHY: Woody Allen has made some real stinkers over the course of his 50-year career, and though “Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t quite bad enough to be included among the director’s absolute worst films, it’s not very good either. While Allen has proven that he’s still capable of delivering a good movie on occasion, he seems more concerned with maintaining his yearly output no matter what the cost, and that quantity-over-quality way of thinking only underlines the many problems with his latest comedy. At the top of that list is the complete lack of romantic chemistry between Colin Firth and Emma Stone, which proves to be detrimental, since so much of the film depends on their playful interactions. Both actors are usually very charming, but they look hopelessly lost in their roles due to a half-baked script that goes around in circles. Everything about this movie seems like it was rushed, from the stupid title, to the horrible poster, to the uninspired direction by Allen, who fails to provide an engaging story beyond the initial premise. “Magic in the Moonlight” doesn’t make you believe in magic, or love, or anything, really, although maybe that’s just the cynic in me, eager to expose the film as the fraud that it is, because the whole thing feels less like a genuine Woody Allen comedy than a pale imitation.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette and footage from the premiere.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Guardians of the Galaxy, Frank 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.

“Guardians of the Galaxy”

WHAT: After stealing a mysterious orb with untold power, intergalactic thief Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) becomes the target of a bloodthirsty alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Captured by the authorities and thrown into prison, Quill teams up with a quartet of fellow misfits – deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven bruiser Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), gun-toting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) – to mount an escape. But when the group discovers the true power of the orb, they agree to stick together in order to prevent it from falling into Ronan’s hands.

WHY: Marvel Studios has a history of taking some big risks, from the men behind the camera to those in front of it, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is perhaps their biggest one yet. Not only is the comic book on which it’s based an unknown quantity to most filmgoers, but James Gunn isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of to direct a big-budget comic book movie. Despite his lack of experience, Gunn repaid the faith that Kevin Feige placed in him by producing one of the most purely fun Marvel films to date, absolutely nailing the offbeat tone of the source material like some kind of punk rock “Star Wars.” Chris Pratt oozes charisma as the Han Solo-like ruffian, and Michael Rooker gets some of the best moments as mohawked space pirate Yondu, but it’s the boisterous Rocket (as voiced by Bradley Cooper) who steals the show in hilarious fashion. Finding that balance where all five characters are represented equally isn’t an easy feat, but Gunn does a good job of giving each one the attention they deserve, both in the action and the more low-key dialogue scenes. The movie isn’t perfect by any means, but if the objective was to make a funny, action-packed and slightly off-kilter space opera that introduced audiences to the Guardians and left them wanting more when it ended, well… mission accomplished.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director/co-writer James Gunn, a pair of production featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel and an exclusive look at “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Frank”

WHAT: A wannabe songwriter named Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to join an eccentric pop band led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a giant fiberglass head wherever he goes. But when Jon becomes obsessed with making the band famous, he threatens to ruin everything that makes the band (and the offbeat Frank, in particular) so special.

WHY: Loosely based on Chris Sievey’s papier-mache-headed alter ego, Frank Sidebottom, “Frank” transcends the kitschy nature of the cult comedy character to tell a story that’s much deeper and funnier than anything the real-life personality ever did. Anyone who’s seen clips of Frank Sidebottom knows that isn’t very difficult, but the film wouldn’t work nearly as well if it wasn’t for Michael Fassbender’s outstanding performance, which takes acting to a whole other level by hiding the one thing that actors rely on the most: their facial expressions. It’s more than just a simple vocal performance, however, as Fassbender works overtime to not only create a three-dimensional character, but one that’s relatable as well… and all while wearing a giant head. Unfortunately, while Fassbender’s Frank is a lot of fun, the rest of the characters are so miserable (especially Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sourpuss bandmate) that it’s hard to enjoy. Director Lenny Abrahamson can’t even decide if Domhnall Gleeson’s protagonist is a calculated jerk or a misguided fool, and though the movie has some important things to say in the end about fame, mental illness and fitting in, they come much too late to have the desired effect. See it for Fassbender and the brief moments of black comedy brilliance, but keep your expectations low.

EXTRAS: There’s a short behind-the-scenes look at the film from AXS TV.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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