Blu Tuesday: Show Me a Hero 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.

“Show Me a Hero”

WHAT: As the newly elected mayor of Yonkers, New York, rising politician Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac) is thrown in at the deep end when he’s forced to deal with a controversial, court-ordered plan to build public housing within the mostly white, middle-class side of town.

WHY: After spending five years exploring the socioeconomic landscape of Baltimore with the HBO series “The Wire,” it’s fitting that David Simon would want to tackle this true story about racial and political tensions in Yonkers during the late 80s and early 90s. The six-part miniseries boasts a fantastic lead performance from Oscar Isaacs and great supporting turns by Catherine Keener, Winona Ryder and Alfred Molina, but unfortunately, it just isn’t as compelling as Simon’s previous work. For starters, there are no real heroes in this story, despite what the title (a play on the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote) might suggest. Though Wasicsko may have been responsible for pushing through the housing legislation, he only did so out of compliance and fear of bankrupting the city, not because he felt like it was the right thing to do. Additionally, while the attempts to show both sides of the conflict are commendable, the minority characters aren’t afforded the same depth as their political counterparts. “Show Me a Hero” is either too long or not long enough, because in trying to juggle so many different storylines, it lacks the focus that would have made it truly excellent.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Our Brand Is Crisis”

WHAT: Disgraced campaign strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is hired by an elite management team representing Bolivian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) as a last-ditch attempt to save his campaign. Despite the seemingly impossible odds, Jane agrees to take the job after discovering that the competition has hired its own American strategist, longtime rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who she’s never defeated.

WHY: For a movie about selling lies through a carefully crafted message, “Our Brand Is Crisis” feels hopelessly thrown together. There’s a complacency to the storytelling that prevents the film from ever moving outside its comfort zone, even though that’s exactly what it should be doing, while the talented ensemble cast is squandered in marginal roles. Even Sandra Bullock’s character is pretty one-dimensional, although at least she has the benefit of sharing the screen with Billy Bob Thornton’s reptilian sleazeball, who is hands-down the highlight of the movie. Thornton excels at playing the self-righteous asshole, and the ensuing tête-à-têtes between him and Bullock result in some entertaining moments of political puppetry. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to mask the film’s many flaws. “Our Brand Is Crisis” could have been a biting satire about U.S. politics and our insistence on forcing American culture on other countries, but it takes the easy Hollywood route instead – one more concerned about its protagonist’s contrived journey to redemption than the millions of people being affected by her actions.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on Sandra Bullock’s development of the lead character, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Burnt and Goosebumps

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.

“Burnt”

WHAT: Former bad boy chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) seeks to put his life back together and earn a coveted third Michelin star when he convinces his old business partner, Tony (Daniel Brühl), to take over his languishing London restaurant and turn it into one of the world’s best.

WHY: John Wells’ culinary drama was ripped apart by critics upon its theatrical release, and although the criticisms weren’t completely unfair, “Burnt” is far from disastrous. In fact, if you enjoy foodie shows like “Top Chef,” the kitchen-based sequences offer a pretty fascinating look behind the curtain of the restaurant world, even if it seems a bit more glamorous than in real life. Where the movie starts to fall apart is outside the kitchen with the clichéd personal drama and strained romantic subplot between Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. It’s all too safe for a film about a guy who used to live on the edge, especially when his redemption arc lacks the required emotional punch. There’s enough quality among the ensemble cast (including all-too-brief cameos by Alicia Vikander and Uma Thurman) to hold your interest, but much like Cooper’s last chef-inspired project, the short-lived TV series “Kitchen Confidential,” it’s a little undercooked.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director John Wells and chef consultant Marcus Wareing, deleted scenes, highlights from a cast Q&A and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Goosebumps”

WHAT: After he breaks into his neighbor’s house to investigate a distress call, teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) discovers a bookshelf filled with “Goosebumps” manuscripts that have been mysteriously sealed with a lock. When Zach unwittingly opens one and unleashes the monster trapped inside – setting off a chain reaction in the process – he must team up with R.L. Stine (Jack Black) and his daughter (Odeya Rush) to stop the author’s creations from wreaking havoc on their small town.

WHY: “Goosebumps” is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a lot of fun with its premise, which takes a very meta approach to the source material. If anyone was going to make a “Goosebumps” movie, this was the way to do it. Unfortunately, while the film is much better than the cheesy, mid-‘90s TV series, nothing about it really stands out apart from Jack Black’s amusing performance as the macabre author. The visual effects are solid, if a little cartoony, and although Darren Lemke’s screenplay nails the spooky/funny tone of the typical “Goosebumps” tale, it’s riddled with plot holes. In spite of its obvious flaws, however, the spirit of “Goosebumps” is very much alive in director Rob Letterman’s movie. Fans of the YA book series will find more to love than most, but it’s a harmless slice of family entertainment that evokes the goofy humor and PG-rated scares of other Halloween classics like “Hocus Pocus.”

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of featurettes on the film’s creatures, there’s an alternate ending and opening, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Blu Tuesday: Straight Outta Compton, Everest 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.

“Straight Outta Compton”

WHAT: The story of influential rap group N.W.A. – comprised of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) – as they rose from the streets of Compton to popularize the gangsta rap movement.

WHY: There’s been a lot of discussion about “Straight Outta Compton” being snubbed for Best Picture in this year’s Oscar nominations, but it’s simply not special enough to warrant inclusion. (To be fair, neither is “Bridge of Spies,” though that’s an argument for another day.) While the film hits all the key beats in N.W.A.’s rise to stardom, it’s no different than a typical music biopic with all the highs and lows, even if it has a tendency to gloss over some of its members’ less flattering moments. Thankfully, the movie is so well-cast that it covers up many of the cracks in Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff’s screenplay. Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins and O’Shea Jackson Jr. deliver excellent performances as the key members of the group, while Paul Giamatti brings his particular brand of passive-aggressive villainy to the role of their manager. “Straight Outta Compton” is a solid biopic that music fans in particular will enjoy, but despite the timely subject matter, it’s too preoccupied with its clichéd story to make a lasting impression.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director F. Gary Gray, a collection of featurettes on the history of N.W.A., casting the group members and filming key sequences in the movie, some deleted scenes and a deleted musical performance.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Everest”

WHAT: Based on the incredible true story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, a climbing expedition to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain is devastated by a ferocious snow storm.

WHY: I’ve never been very fond of movies about people doing stupid things, and climbing Mt. Everest is right up there, especially when the odds are so stacked in Mother Nature’s favor. Still, you have to admire anyone crazy enough to try it once, let alone make a career out of it, and that adventurer mentality shines through in Baltasar Kormákur’s film. But while the movie features an outstanding ensemble cast and impressive visual effects that make it look like the whole thing was shot on the mountain, “Everest” is all spectacle and very little substance. Though it’s not exactly a disaster film in the traditional sense, Kormákur focuses more on delivering thrills than developing the characters; there are so many different personalities vying for screen time that Jason Clarke’s Rob Hall is the only one who has anything resembling a proper arc. Had “Everest” focused more on his story, it likely would have fared better, but as it stands, the two-hour runtime isn’t nearly long enough to give every character the attention they deserve.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Baltasar Kormákur, as well as featurettes on making the film, recreating Mount Everest, climbing/altitude training with the actors and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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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.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“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.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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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.

“Sicario”

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.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“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.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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