Blu Tuesday: The Martian 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 Martian”

WHAT: During a manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind by his crew after he seemingly dies in a storm. But when it turns out that Watney has survived, he must use his skills and intelligence to keep himself alive on the barren planet long enough to make contact with NASA and await rescue.

WHY: Although it’s the third film in as many years about astronauts in distress, “The Martian” is a smart, captivating and humorous adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel that covers very different narrative and emotional territory than “Gravity” and “Interstellar.” For starters, it’s a lot more uplifting than most sci-fi fare, eschewing the usual doom-mongering for a story about the power of optimism and perseverance that also doubles as one heckuva recruitment video for NASA. (Who knew science and math could be this much fun?) Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the Everyman astronaut forced to “science the shit” out of his seemingly impossible predicament, while the supporting cast – including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejifor and Jessica Chastain – is absolutely stacked with talent. This is hands down Ridley Scott’s best movie since “Gladiator,” and it owes a lot to Drew Goddard’s screenplay, which takes a lighthearted approach to the high-stakes drama in order to produce one of the most purely entertaining crowd-pleasers in years.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of production featurettes, there are some fictional promo videos made for the film and a gag reel.


“Mr. Robot: Season One”

WHAT: Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a cyber security engineer who suffers from social anxiety disorder, is recruited by a mysterious hacker named Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) to help take down an evil corporation that he believes is destroying the world.

WHY: USA Network hasn’t garnered much acclaim with its recent crop of original series, so when “Mr. Robot” debuted last summer to rave reviews, audiences were quick to stand up and take notice. Though the psychological thriller isn’t quite as groundbreaking as many have suggested – largely because its big twists have been executed better before – it gets off to a strong start thanks to Rami Malek’s breakout performance and a solid supporting cast. The hacker elements are really compelling, but once the show starts to dive more into Elliot’s psyche, it begins to unravel. Not only is Elliot an incredibly unreliable protagonist, giving the writers free reign to do whatever they want with little consequences, but the drastic change in direction midway through the season is so sudden that it feels like creator Sam Esmail got impatient allowing the story to develop organically. He burns through nearly two seasons’ worth of story in only 10 episodes, and while some viewers will appreciate that type of gung-ho attitude, a more disciplined approach would have resulted in a more rewarding payoff.

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


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Blu Tuesday: Sicario, The Walk 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.


WHAT: FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited by a government task force led by Department of Defense consultant Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to help bring down a Mexican drug cartel whose grisly business has bled over into the U.S. But Graver and his mysterious colleague, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), operate under a completely different set of rules, leading Kate to wonder what she’s gotten herself into.

WHY: “Sicario” isn’t the first movie to tackle the illegal drug trade along the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s easily one of the best, a relentlessly suspenseful crime thriller that offers a merciless look behind the curtain of the real War on Drugs. The film rarely takes its foot off the gas, continuing director Denis Villeneuve’s excellent form with a masterclass in building tension that will tie your stomach in knots. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is as stunning as ever, somehow finding the beauty in an ugly situation, but it’s the performances from the three leads that really elevate the material. Benicio Del Toro is especially good, delivering his best work in over a decade as the silent but deadly consultant – a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing who eventually bares his teeth and claws in the explosive final act. Though a few missteps prevent “Sicario” from true greatness, it’s an outstanding, white-knuckle thriller that will leave you mentally and physically exhausted in the best way.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on the film’s origins, its visual design and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, as well as some interviews with the cast and crew.


“The Walk”

WHAT: When Paris street performer Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sees a concept photo of the Twin Towers in a magazine, he immediately becomes obsessed with walking between them on a high wire. Several years later, Philippe’s dream comes true when he travels to New York City with a small team of conspirators and they sneak into the under-construction buildings to pull off the artistic crime of the century.

WHY: Philippe Petit’s death-defying walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974 was previously spotlighted in James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary, “Man on Wire.” But for as compelling as that film was, it lacked a key element: actual footage of Petit’s performance. Recognizing an opportunity to recreate that once-in-a-lifetime moment on the big screen, director Robert Zemeckis gives Petit’s famous high-wire act the Hollywood treatment with this adaptation of the unbelievable true story. Though “The Walk” is far from a perfect movie – the fourth-wall-breaking narration is distracting and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cartoonish French accent takes some getting used – when it’s time to deliver the goods, Zemeckis doesn’t disappoint. The planning and execution of the “heist” makes for some thrilling moments, but it’s the titular climax that’s the obvious highlight, and Zemeckis squeezes every drop of tension and delight out of it, redefining the phrase “end on a high note” with a sequence that will leave you breathless and wanting more.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes featurettes on the film’s visual effects, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wire-walking training and the supporting cast, as well as a handful of deleted scenes.


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Blu Tuesday: Bone Tomahawk 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.

“Bone Tomahawk”

WHAT: When his wife is kidnapped by a tribe of cave-dwelling cannibals, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) joins Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), “backup deputy” Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and gunslinger John Brooder (Matthew Fox) on a perilous mission to rescue her.

WHY: S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut has divided audiences since premiering at Fantastic Fest earlier this year, and it’s easy to see why. Though it boasts a solid cast and an intriguing premise, “Bone Tomahawk” is poorly executed, marred by some amateurish direction and terrible pacing. The film is a slow burn in the worst possible way, failing to utilize the quieter moments to build suspense or further develop the characters. In fact, apart from their names and some general background info, there’s very little character development at all, which makes it difficult to care what happens to any of them. The unexpected genre shift from Western to horror in the final act is even more disconcerting, almost as if Eli Roth took over directing duties midway through production, and although it’s a unique twist, it doesn’t quite pay off. “Bone Tomahawk” had the ingredients to be a fun little genre movie, but apart from Kurt Russell’s grisly performance and some excellent comic relief from Richard Jenkins, it never quite comes together.

EXTRAS: In addition to a Q&A with director S. Craig Zahler and the cast from the film’s premiere at Fantastic Fest, there’s a short making-of featurette and a deleted scene.


“Hitman: Agent 47″

WHAT: A genetically engineered assassin known only as Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) teams up with a mysterious woman (Hannah Ware) to track down her father – the creator of the Agent program – before the sinister organization Syndicate International finds him first.

WHY: After unsuccessfully adapting the popular “Hitman” video game series with the 2007 film of the same name, 20th Century Fox decided to give it one more go by rebooting the franchise with a brand new cast. (Sound familiar?) But while “Hitman: Agent 47” is an improvement on its predecessor, the first movie was so awful that it’s like comparing a rotten apple to a slightly less rotten apple. Though the film does a better job of capturing the spirit of the “Hitman” franchise with violent, stealth-based action sequences, it’s bogged down by a cheesy and predictable script that shackles its titular character to Hannah Ware’s human MacGuffin for no other reason than because Agent 47 would be an emotionally detached bore on his own. This is the kind of movie that keeps making up rules as it goes along, praying that it will all make sense in the end, and while it will likely deliver some thrills for fans of the video game, they’d be better off playing the real thing.

EXTRAS: There’s a brief making-of featurette, a look at the stunts, an onscreen counter of all the movie’s kills, some deleted scenes and more.



WHAT: Unable to pay his daughter’s growing medical bills, casino dealer Vaughn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) partners with a hotheaded co-worker (Dave Bautista) to rob their gangster boss, Pope (Robert De Niro). But when the heist goes horribly wrong, they hijack a city bus filled with hostages in order to fend off the police and Pope’s right-hand man (Morris Chestnut).

WHY: Robert De Niro may be choosing better scripts these days, but he’s not immune to appearing in bad movies, as evidenced in this direct-to-video thriller that plays like a mix between “Speed” and “John Q.” Director Scott Mann and writer Stephen Cyrus Sepher have created an incredibly predictable crime flick that uses just about every cliché in the book, from the desperate father trying to save his child, to the villain with a crisis of conscience. There’s even a twist ending that, no matter how clever it may seem in the moment, doesn’t make a shred of sense. Of course, neither does the fact that the hostages are more than willing to help the robbers despite not knowing any of the details regarding Vaughn’s situation. It’s an illogical mess made even worse by some second-rate acting and a lack of genuine thrills. De Niro and journeyman actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan class up the film just enough to make it watchable, but “Heist” isn’t nearly as exciting as it could have been.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Scott Mann, writer Max S. Adams and actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as well as a making-of featurette, additional cast and crew interviews, and deleted scenes.



Blu Tuesday: Pan and Dragon Blade

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.


WHAT: 12-year-old orphan Peter (Levi Miller) is kidnapped and taken to the magical world of Neverland to work as a slave for the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). When he manages to escape with the help of fellow captive James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peter embarks on an adventure to uncover the secret of his true identity.

WHY: Director Joe Wright has made some great films over the past decade, but “Pan” is definitely not one of them. In fact, it’s so different from a majority of his work that it’s hard to believe he’s even responsible for this piece of family-friendly garbage. Following in the footsteps of movies like “Dracula Untold” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Pan” is yet another unnecessary origin story filled with an insufferable amount of foreshadowing and self-aware winking at the audience. The cast at least seems to be having fun playing in Wright’s imaginative world of flying pirate ships and exotic creatures (no one more so than a gothic, mustache-twirling Hugh Jackman), but the movie is all over place, including one truly bizarre sequence where Blackbeard and his crew sing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for no reason whatsoever. Wright deserves credit for taking such a terrible script and turning it into something visually interesting, but sadly, that’s about all “Pan” has to offer.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Joe Wright, there’s a trio of featurettes that cover the casting of the title role, the character of Blackbeard and connecting the story to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”


“Dragon Blade”

WHAT: When corrupt Roman leader Tiberius (Adrien Brody) travels to China with his large army to seize control of the Silk Road trading route, peacekeeping warrior Huo An (Jackie Chan) and defected Roman general Lucius (John Cusack) must combine their forces to stop him.

WHY: Just when you thought John Cusack’s fall from grace couldn’t get any more embarrassing, the actor sells out completely by starring in this atrocious historical epic from director Daniel Lee. Though the movie features a few decent action sequences, they’re overshadowed by a terrible script that plays fast and loose with the real-life events that supposedly inspired the story, as well as some amateurish performances including one of the worst child actors ever recorded. Cusack and co-star Adrien Brody are either huge Jackie Chan fans or they really needed the money, because it’s difficult to imagine any other explanation for their involvement. Cusack has the look of someone just trying to earn his paycheck by keeping his head down and delivering his lines, but Brody takes a different approach, hamming it up as the mustache-twirling villain to the point that he’s actually entertaining in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. “Dragon Blade” is hardly the best worst movie of the year, but it’s certainly up there.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the movie, extended interviews with the cast and crew, and some music videos featuring Jackie Chan.



Blu Tuesday: Mission: Impossible and Ted 2

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.

“Misson: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

WHAT: When the U.S. government shuts down IMF just as Ethan Hawke (Tom Cruise) is close to proving the extistence of the international terrorist organization known as the Syndicate, Ethan and his team must work alongside undercover MI6 operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to take down the Syndicate’s leader: rogue British intelligence agent Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

WHY: The “Mission: Impossible” series has a history of hiring a different director for each installment, and while that’s worked brilliantly thus far, Christopher McQuarrie has made a strong case for retaining his services on the next sequel with “Rogue Nation.” Granted, he doesn’t quite know what to do with Jeremy Renner’s character (who’s relegated to the sidelines yet again), but Rebecca Ferguson is a great addition to the team, while comic relief Simon Pegg demonstrates why he’s just as essential to the series as Tom Cruise. But make no mistake about it: this is Cruise’s movie as usual, and when he pulls off crazy stunts like hanging from a military cargo plane while in the air, all you can do is sit back and watch in awe. “Rogue Nation” starts to drag a bit in the end as it gets bogged down by one too many twists, but it’s yet another solid entry in the franchise that proves there’s plenty of gas left in the tank.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise, there’s a short making-of featurette, a trio of additional featurettes on the film’s incredible set pieces, character profiles and more.


“Ted 2″

WHAT: When newlywed couple Ted (Seth MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) decide to have a baby in order to fix their failing marriage, their application for adoption is flagged by the U.S. government, which claims that Ted isn’t an actual person. With his human rights stripped away, Ted and his best friend, John (Mark Wahlberg), team up with a young, hungry lawyer (Amanda Seyfried) to fight the decision in a court of law.

WHY: As a fan of Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted,” it’s hard not to feel disappointed by the inevitable follow-up, because it’s a prime example of why sequels to comedies rarely work. Basing the film around the debate of whether a talking teddy bear should be considered human is an interesting concept, but the story is so sloppily thrown together that its flaws are a lot more noticeable, particularly the bloated runtime. “Ted 2” takes nearly 40 minutes to get going, and when it finally does find its groove, MacFarlane seems resigned to relying on lazy references to other Universal properties. Additionally, the decision to bring back Giovanni Ribisi’s character was completely unnecessary, turning the final 20 minutes into a complete retread of the original film’s ending. “Ted 2” has more than its share of funny bits, but when compared to all the dead space, misfired jokes and surprising lack of charm, it’s simply not enough.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director/co-writer Seth MacFarlane, co-writers Alec Sulkim and Wellesley Wild, and co-star Jessica Barth, as well as featurettes on the making of three particular sequences (Comic-Con, the opening musical number and the road trip), a look at the film’s various cameos, deleted scenes and a gag reel.



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