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: After his wife (Rachel McAdams) is tragically killed and he spirals out of control, undefeated light heavyweight champion Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) lands himself in trouble with the boxing league, losing his house, his possessions, and most importantly, custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Desperate to keep her out of the foster care system where he spent his childhood, Billy seeks help from a gruff, veteran trainer (Forest Whitaker) to get back what he lost.
WHY: Throughout the years, boxing movies have been synonymous with tales of redemption, and Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw” is no different. But for as clichéd and heavy-handed as the film can be at times, the movie avoids dragging itself too far into melodrama thanks to some excellent performances and a solid screenplay by Kurt Sutter that is as brutal and emotionally charged as you’d expect from the “Sons of Anarchy” creator. Though Sutter originally wrote the lead role for Eminem, Jake Gyllenhaal brings a physicality and intensity to the character that’s beyond the rapper’s abilities. It’s a much more complex role than it appears on the surface, and Gyllenhaal knocks it out of the park. In fact, while “Nightcrawler” features the better performance, “Southpaw” is perhaps his most impressive piece of acting to date, if only because he’s managed to take a fairly standard underdog drama and elevate it on the strength of his shoulders alone. The film isn’t on the same level as the boxing greats, but with Gyllenhaal’s knockout performance front and center, it’s a lot more enjoyable than it probably had any right to be.
EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, a Q&A with the cast, footage of Jake Gyllenhaal’s training regimen for the film and some deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: In 1982, NASA sent a time capsule into space in the hopes of contacting other life forms, but after an alien race misinterprets the message as a declaration of war, they attack Earth in the form of retro video game characters. When the military proves useless, U.S. President William Cooper (Kevin James) enlists the help of best friend Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), along with fellow video game prodigies Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), to save the planet from certain extinction.
WHY: Though it may seem like critics are being overly hard on “Pixels” simply because Adam Sandler is in the movie, it really is a bad film. The premise itself is cool, and director Chris Columbus taps into some of that potential with fun set pieces that look great and play with the mechanics of classic games like Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong, but unfortunately, the screenplay is a mess. It’s no better than the typical Sandler comedy (in fact, frequent collaborator Tim Herlihy is one of the co-writers), fueled by lazy and juvenile humor that falls flat more often than not. The casting of Kevin James as the president isn’t just ridiculous, but downright insulting, while the Q*Bert character shows that Hollywood never learned its lesson from Jar-Jar Binks. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better – Sandler does his usual man-child shtick and Josh Gad is wasted as his conspiracy theorist friend – but Peter Dinklage’s over-the-top performance as the Billy Mitchell-esque gamer is just silly enough to ensure that “Pixels” isn’t a complete disappointment. Still, an idea this good deserved something better.
EXTRAS: There are four featurettes on filming the movie’s video game-inspired set pieces, a look at Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani’s cameo and more.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP