Blu Tuesday: Blair Witch, Girls 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.

“Blair Witch”

WHAT: After uncovering new evidence that suggests his missing sister Heather may still be alive, James (James Allen McCune) and his friends venture into the Black Hills Forest – the site of her mysterious disappearance – and come face to face with the legendary Blair Witch.

WHY: When it was revealed that Adam Wingard’s latest movie, originally titled “The Woods,” was actually a direct sequel to the 1999 hit indie film, “The Blair Witch Project,” horror fans were excited to see if Wingard and frequent collaborator Simon Barrett (“The Guest,” “You’re Next”) could revive the would-be franchise. Unfortunately, it turns out that the best thing about “Blair Witch” was the secrecy of its production. The movie itself is pretty unspectacular, filled with many of the same beats as the original, albeit with a much larger budget. Though there are a handful of good moments scattered throughout (including a gruesome death scene involving the iconic stick figures), and it addresses a couple longstanding problems with the found footage genre, “Blair Witch” is unable to recapture the magic of its predecessor. Wingard and Barrett are clearly big fans of the first movie, but despite their attempts at expanding the mythology, the final product is almost as disappointing as the ill-conceived 2000 meta-sequel “Book of Shadows.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, there’s a six-part making-of featurette and a tour of the set.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: Snowden 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.

“Snowden”

WHAT: The true story of controversial whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the former NSA employee who leaked thousands of classified documents regarding the agency’s illegal surveillance activities to the public.

WHY: It’s been years (decades, really) since Oliver Stone made a great film, and although “Snowden” sadly continues that trend, it’s still a solid biopic that fits nicely into the director’s oeuvre. Cutting back and forth between Snowden’s rise through the ranks of the intelligence community and his 2013 covert meeting with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, the movie loses a bit of suspense as a result of its nonlinear structure, but it holds your interest throughout thanks to some good performances from Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Rhys Ifans. Though the film goes too far out of its way to paint Snowden as a loyal patriot, it wisely takes its time in revealing how he became disillusioned with his government (After all, this wasn’t an overnight decision but something that troubled him for years.) Whether or not you agree with what Snowden did, he clearly believed that he was doing the right thing, and if nothing else, Stone’s movie conveys that message effectively.

EXTRAS: In addition to a Q&A panel with Edward Snowden (via satellite), director Oliver Stone, and actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, there’s a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: The Magnificent Seven and Sully

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.

“The Magnificent Seven”

WHAT: When the villainous Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) takes over the small mining town of Rose Creek, vengeful widow Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennet) hires a group of mercenaries – including bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), drunken gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt) and Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) – to put an end to Bogue’s tyranny.

WHY: Remakes are rarely as good as the original, but Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” succeeds where so many have failed by retaining the spirit of its predecessors while also distinguishing itself just enough to stand on its own, beginning with its refreshingly diverse ensemble. Their camaraderie, and the chemistry among the actors themselves, is what keeps you engaged even during the few lulls in the story. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are perfectly cast as the film’s leading men, but it’s the supporting players who steal the show, especially Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee’s delightful double act. Although the first half of the movie is surprisingly light on action save for a well-staged standoff between the mercenaries and Bogue’s men, Fuqua makes up for it with the climactic finale, which delivers everything you could possibly want from a large-scale Wild West shootout. Its unmistakable “Fast and Furious”-like flavor won’t go down well with fans of the original Western, but much like the long-running franchise, “The Magnificent Seven” is good pulpy fun that’s far better than anyone expected.

EXTRAS: In addition to an interactive feature called Vengeance Mode that intercuts the film with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew, there are six featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Sully”

WHAT: On January 15, 2009, commercial airline pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the middle of the Hudson River when the plane struck a flock of geese shortly after takeoff. While Sully and his crew were hailed as heroes by the media, the National Transportation Safety Board quietly launched an investigation into the incident to determine whether it was reckless, casting a shadow of self-doubt on the experienced pilot.

WHY: Clint Eastwood’s latest biopic may not have enough narrative meat to warrant a feature-length film, but it’s such a fascinating story that it survives on the sheer awe factor and a solid performance by Tom Hanks. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting choice to play the modest and mild-mannered pilot, and although he doesn’t get a lot to work with from a character standpoint (Sully is extraordinary only in his ordinariness), the actor makes the most of even the smallest moments. For as great as Hanks is in the role, however, the real highlight is the movie’s gripping reenactment of the Miracle on the Hudson, which is hands-down one of the best sequences of the year. Eastwood doesn’t give up the goods right away, holding back the set piece until nearly an hour into the film’s lean 96-minute runtime, but he revisits the harrowing event multiple times, revealing new details and perspectives. Though “Sully” borders on syrupy sentimentalism at times and could have easily been undone by its own simplicity, the movie ultimately succeeds as an effective and enjoyable tribute to everyday heroism.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a profile on Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, a retrospective on the Flight 1549 incident with Sullenberger, copilot Jeff Skiles and air traffic controller Patrick Harten, and a behind-the-scenes look at creating the movie’s pivotal set piece.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Blu Tuesday: Suicide Squad 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.

“Suicide Squad”

WHAT: When a powerful witch named Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) escapes captivity and sets out to destroy the world, A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) enlists no-nonsense soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to lead a covert team of the world’s most dangerous criminals – including sharpshooter assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), the Joker’s deranged sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) – to stop her.

WHY: Following the disaster of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” moviegoers looked to “Suicide Squad” to get the DC Extended Universe back on track. Unfortunately, while there’s a lot to like about the basic setup, it’s too often hindered by the film’s many flaws and surprising conventionality. The movie doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its colorful roster – especially Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto (as a very different iteration of the Joker), all of whom deliver great work in their respective roles – but while it’s packed with some great character moments, they’re spoiled by the lame plot and even lamer villain. There was a much better story to be told, or at the very least, a better way to tell it, but “Suicide Squad” gets so caught up in trying to compete with DC’s bigger properties that the film loses sight of what made it such a unique and exciting idea from the outset. Although it’s not quite the post-“Batman v Superman” pick-me-up that many people were expecting, there’s enough good to be salvaged from David Ayer’s original vision that it’s not a total failure, either.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a series of featurettes on the characters, boot camp training for the cast, filming the action sequences and the Joker/Harley relationship, as well as a gag reel and the extended cut of the movie, which runs about 13 minutes longer.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Jason Bourne 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.

“Jason Bourne”

WHAT: When former CIA analyst Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) steals top secret files on the agency’s black ops programs and uncovers new details about David Webb’s (Matt Damon) past, the Treadstone agent formerly known as Jason Bourne is dragged out of hiding. Hot on his trail is ambitious CIA cyber division chief Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and a vengeful operative (Vincent Cassel) with a personal grudge against Bourne.

WHY: Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass were pretty adamant about being done with the Jason Bourne franchise after 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum,” but following the disappointment of the Jeremy Renner-led spinoff “The Bourne Legacy,” Universal must have thrown duffle bags of money at the duo to convince them to come back. They should have resisted, because while it’s good to see Damon and Greengrass return to the series that helped make their careers, “Jason Bourne” doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Not even Damon looks particularly excited to be back, speaking as little as possible over the course of the film’s bloated two-hour runtime. Though it boasts an excellent cast (including Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel and Riz Ahmed) and some great action that culminates in a thrilling car chase through the Las Vegas strip where a SWAT truck is used like a battering ram, “Jason Bourne” is so fixated on its titular character’s past (yet again) that it fails to look ahead to the future.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a general making-of featurette, as well as five additional featurettes on filming the major fight scenes and the Athens and Las Vegas chase sequences.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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