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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Blu Tuesday: Zoolander 2 and The Finest Hours

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.

“Zoolander 2″

WHAT: Fifteen years after saving the Malaysian prime minister’s life, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) are lured back into the world of modeling by trendy fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kristin Wiig), only to discover that it’s all part of an elaborate scheme designed by Zoolander’s arch-nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

WHY: Fans of the original “Zoolander” have been clamoring for a sequel for more than a decade, so it’s not like director/co-writer Ben Stiller didn’t have the time to ensure that it lived up to his 2001 cult comedy. Unfortunately, “Zoolander 2” is such a complete and utter embarrassment that it boggles the mind how it got made. Though there are a handful of laughs scattered throughout the film’s painfully slow 102-minute runtime, most of the movie is predicated on lazy gags and a rapid-fire series of celebrity cameos – a few that are funny (Justin Bieber, Kiefer Sutherland), one that is really awful (Benedict Cumberbatch as a transgender model named All), and a majority of which are incredibly pointless. It’s just one bad thing after the other, from the terrible subplot involving Zoolander’s son, to Kristin Wiig’s entirely superfluous villain, to the surprising lack of chemistry between Stiller and Owen Wilson. While it’s no secret that comedy sequels are notoriously difficult to pull off, “Zoolander 2” is so dreadful that it feels like a poorly made parody of its predecessor.

EXTRAS: There’s a handful of featurettes on the “Zoolander” legacy, shooting in Rome and co-creator Drake Sather, but nothing of real substance.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Finest Hours”

WHAT: When a T-2 oil tanker off the coast of Cape Cod is ripped in half during a massive storm in 1952, trapping its surviving crew members on the sinking stern, Coast Guard captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) leads a daring rescue attempt into perilous waters while the tanker’s chief engineer, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), improvises to buy his crew more time.

WHY: With the exception of the 2007 indie, “Lars and the Real Girl,” director Craig Gillespie’s filmography is pretty underwhelming, and his latest movie is no different. “The Finest Hours” feels very much a product of its time – the kind of wholesome, self-effacing true story that Disney excels at making – but unfortunately, it’s also incredibly cheesy and dull. There’s exactly one thrilling sequence in the entire film, and even that doesn’t seem to properly capture the danger and improbability of the rescue. Instead, the movie just plods along to its inevitable conclusion without any personality or emotional heft, dragged down by a pair of unengaging protagonists and a subplot involving Webber’s fiancée that could have been cut entirely. Chris Pine and Casey Affleck look positively bored by the material, while the rest of the cast (including Ben Foster, Eric Bana, John Ortiz and Michael Raymond-James) are wasted in throwaway roles. “The Finest Hours” is supposed to be about one of the greatest rescues in Coast Guard history, but you wouldn’t know it from this forgettable period drama.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette about the true story that inspired the film, interviews with the cast about making the movie, a pair of U.S. Coast Guard promotional videos and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Dirty Grandpa and The Witch

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.

“Dirty Grandpa”

WHAT: When his recently widowed grandpa Dick (Robert De Niro), whom he used to be close with as a kid, needs someone to drive him to his Florida vacation home, uptight corporate lawyer Jason (Zac Efron) grudgingly volunteers. But as he soon discovers, Dick has ulterior motives for their road trip – namely, to get laid – and takes them on a detour through Daytona Beach to soak up the spring break festivities.

WHY: Robert De Niro has proven himself adept at comedy over the years, but he’s almost always played the straight man, which is what makes “Dirty Grandpa” an interesting choice for the actor, because it allows him to let loose in ways that audiences have never seen before. Though there’s something wrong about watching a screen legend like De Niro acting so raunchy, it’s also part of the film’s strange appeal. It would all be quite embarrassing if De Niro and Efron didn’t appear to be having such a good time, but the two actors form a great team, elevating the juvenile material just enough to earn a few chuckles. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that “Dirty Grandpa” is an incredibly stupid movie fueled by a never-ending stream of bad language, insults and frat humor that’s shocking for the sake of shock value. The film progressively gets worse the lower it sinks (wasting its supporting cast in the process), and yet despite its indefensible badness, “Dirty Grandpa” is still marginally entertaining, if only because De Niro makes it so.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Dan Mazer and writer John Phillips, a behind-the-scenes look at making the movie, three more featurettes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Witch”

WHAT: In 1630s New England, a devout Christian family is exiled from its village and builds a homestead on the outskirts of an eerie forest. But when their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops suddenly die, the family members begin to turn on each other.

WHY: Praised as the best horror movie in years upon its debut at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, “The Witch” is a decent but wildly overrated period drama masquerading as a genre flick. Though first-time director Robert Eggers creates an unsettling sense of dread that looms over the entire film, there’s nothing very scary about the events that transpire apart from a few choice moments, like the possession sequence with the family’s middle child, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw). “The Witch” is an incredibly slow burn that boasts some beautiful imagery and fantastic atmosphere, but there’s so little to the actual story that it’s easy to lose interest during its many lulls. Thankfully, the cast delivers such compelling performances – especially newcomer Anna Taylor-Joy – that it’s never as boring as it could have been. While “The Witch” is definitely worth experiencing once, the movie has too many issues (for instance, the manner in which it plants the seed of paranoia within the family) to warrant the kind of acclaim that’s been thrust upon it.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Robert Eggers, a making-of featurette, a Q&A with Eggers and star Anna Taylor-Joy, and a photo gallery.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Blu Tuesday: Deadpool 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.

“Deadpool”

WHAT: After he’s diagnosed with cancer, mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) agrees to participate in an experimental treatment that grants him special healing abilities but horribly scars his body in the process. Upon escaping the secret facility, Wade sets out to exact revenge on the deranged mutant (Ed Skrein) responsible for both saving and ruining his life.

WHY: The road to bringing “Deadpool” to the big screen may have been riddled with challenges, but it only makes the finished product that much more satisfying, because it’s a fresh and wildly entertaining action-comedy that demonstrates why studios should take more risks. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s screenplay nails the dark, twisted and juvenile tone of the wisecracking antihero, and the decision to dole out his backstory in bits and pieces via flashback is a clever way of getting around the tediousness of the typical superhero origin story. The film also completely earns its “R” rating with enough violence and foul-mouthed language to please diehard fans. But while “Deadpool” has clearly been made with those fans in mind, the movie stretches beyond sheer fan service thanks to the strength of the script and Ryan Reynolds’ pitch-perfect performance (completely atoning for the bastardized version of the character in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) to deliver a hilariously self-aware take on the genre that audiences unfamiliar with Deadpool will enjoy as well.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries (one with director Tim Miller and Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld, and the other with star Ryan Reynolds and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick), there’s a making-of featurette, five production galleries, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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