Blu Tuesday: Man of Steel, Ip Man 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.

“Man of Steel”

WHAT: It’s been 30 years since Kal-El was jettisoned to Earth by his father (Russell Crowe) just before their home planet of Krypton was destroyed. Raised as a human named Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and taught to hide his superpowers, Clark eventually accepts his role as Earth’s protector just as Zod (Michael Shannon), the man responsible for his father’s death, arrives on the planet with plans to terraform it into a new Krypton.

WHY: The Superman franchise was practically DOA before Warner Bros. enlisted the aid of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer to press the reboot button, and in doing so showed that the studio is finally starting to think about the bigger picture. One of the main problems with Superman as a character is that he’s pretty dull compared to the likes of Batman. Director Zack Snyder really can’t change that, but he at least manages to make him feel more relatable by depicting him as a bit of an outcast. Henry Cavill proves himself more than capable of carrying the Superman torch with his subtle yet effective performance, while Russell Crowe and Kevin Coster both turn in solid work as Kal-El/Clark’s respective fathers. The best thing about “Man of Steel,” however, is the action. The fight scenes are lightning fast and brutal, playing up the superhuman angle in a way that’s never been done before. The fight between Superman and two of Zod’s soldiers in the streets of Smallville is particularly memorable, delivering everything you’d expect from a modern day Superman film. Granted, it’s not as groundbreaking as what Nolan achieved with “Batman Begins,” but considering Warner’s recent track record with DC Comics characters, it’s a big step in the right direction.

EXTRAS: In addition to a feature called “Journey of Discovery” that tracks the making of the film with interviews, storyboards and other behind-the-scenes footage as the movie plays in the background, the two-disc set includes featurettes on rebooting the franchise, stunts and visual effects. There’s also a faux documentary about Planet Krypton that’s almost as pointless as the “Hobbit” promo that appears in the extras.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Ip Man: The Final Fight”

WHAT: Upon arriving in postwar Hong Kong, legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Anthony Wong) begins teaching a new class of pupils amid a backdrop of poverty, labor strikes and police corruption. But when a local crime lord threatens one of his students, Ip Man is called into action once again, despite his attempts to lead a peaceful life.

WHY: There have been so many movies about Ip Man released over the last few years that it’s become overkill, and although “The Final Fight” takes a completely different approach by exploring the martial artist’s later years, it’s the weakest Ip Man film to date. The Donnie Yen movies featured some great action choreography, and Wong Kar-Wai’s “The Grandmaster” looks absolutely gorgeous, but the only thing that “The Final Fight” has going for it is its cast. Anthony Wong turns in a solid performance as Ip Man, handling the action sequences fairly well for an actor with little experience in the genre, while Jordan Chan and Eric Tsang are both good in supporting roles, though I would have liked to see more of both characters. Unfortunately, the film lacks focus, unable to decide whether the story is about Ip Man or his various pupils, constantly shifting attention throughout its sluggish 100-minute runtime. Director Herman Yau does an admirable job of juggling the many subplots, but in the end, it’s the movie’s undoing.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and interviews with the cast and crew.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: White House Down, Parkland 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.

“White House Down”

WHAT: While on a tour of the White House with his daughter (Joey King), Capitol policeman John Cale (Channing Tatum) is forced into action when the building is invaded by a group of paramilitary mercenaries looking to kidnap the President of the United States (Jamie Foxx).

WHY: When it was announced that there were two movies in production about the White House coming under attack, I would have put my money on Roland Emmerich to deliver the more entertaining film. But while “White House Down” is amusing in an over-the-top sort of way, Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen” just barely edges it for me. Whereas that movie was a little more practical with its premise, Emmerich’s film wears its craziness on its sleeve, perhaps best illustrated by an outlandish chase sequence on the White House lawn. It also features more moles than a season of “24,” leading to some pretty impracticable twists. However, “White House Down” does benefit from some great chemistry between Tatum and Foxx, and the supporting cast is excellent, even if many of the actors are wasted in throwaway roles. At the end of the day, though, the two films are actually quite different despite their similar setups. While “Olympus Has Fallen” owes a lot to stealthy action thrillers like “Die Hard,” “White House Down” is a balls-out explosion extravaganza that’s the epitome of popcorn filmmaking.

EXTRAS: There’s no shortage of bonus material on the Blu-ray release, with 13 short featurettes – ranging from production, to casting, to special effects – and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Parkland”

WHAT: On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This is the story of the individuals involved in that tragic day, including the hospital staff at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital, the Secret Service and FBI, the unwitting cameraman (Paul Giamatti) who captured it on film, and the family of Lee Harvey Oswald.

WHY: For as many times as the JFK assassination has been covered in cinema, it’s refreshing to see a film that offers a unique perspective on the matter, much in the same way that Emilio Estevez did with “Bobby.” Unfortunately, “Parkland” is a tale of two halves, and while the former is comprised of some powerful moments as the doctors, Secret Service agents and others scramble amid the chaos of the situation, the latter portion focusing on the days after the shooting isn’t nearly as interesting. The movie’s biggest problem is that there are so many characters that none of them are ever fully developed, though Giamatti’s Abraham Zapruder and James Badge Dale’s Robert Oswald are given more to do than most. With that said, it’s pretty incredible at how many great actors writer/director Peter Landesman was able to cast in the film – some of whom play such small, peripheral roles that they’re only in a scene or two – because it’s the quality of the talent that makes “Parkland” worth watching.

EXTRAS: There’s a director commentary and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: R.I.P.D. and Byzantium

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.

“R.I.P.D.”

WHAT: When Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds), a dirty Boston cop with a guilty conscience, is killed during a major drug bust, he’s given the chance to redeem himself by joining the Rest in Peace Department – a group of deceased lawmen from throughout history who protect the living world from those who have escaped Hell.

WHY: As much as I wanted to like this movie, “R.I.P.D.” just isn’t very good. Though it’s based on a comic book of the same name, the film feels eerily like the “Men in Black” series, both in tone and the dynamic between its lead characters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work nearly as well as its high-concept premise suggests, despite a cast that includes Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker. Bridges, in particular, is the only reason the movie is even remotely watchable, camping it up as a hootin’ and hollerin’ Western lawman that’s partnered with Reynolds’ morose cop. Parker has a few bright moments as their boss, but for the most part, “R.I.P.D.” represents a pretty big waste of talent on several fronts. It’s also incredibly corny, formulaic and features some awful special effects for a summer blockbuster. Still, at a brisk 96 minutes, the movie is almost worth suffering through just to see Bridges do his thing. Almost.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, two alternate openings, a gag reel and several Blu-ray exclusive featurettes, including “Anatomy of a Shootout.”

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Byzantium”

WHAT: Mother-daughter vampires Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saorise Ronan) are forced to flee to an English coastal town when they attract some unwanted attention from their own kind. After years of keeping her story a secret, Eleanor finds solace in a sulky teenager named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), unaware of the grave consequences that doing so will have.

WHY: Neil Jordan may be responsible for adapting one of the most popular vampire stories of the modern age (“Interview with a Vampire”), but that doesn’t give him license to ruin the genre with a film that completely rewrites the classic mythology. That’s because no matter how hard he tries, “Byzantium” doesn’t feel like a vampire movie at all. Fangs have been replaced by a sharp nail that extends to puncture victims’ necks, sunlight is fair game (though they don’t sparkle), and the method of turning into a vampire is terribly unsexy, unfrightening and anticlimactic. More than anything else, though, the film is just really boring. None of the characters are particularly interesting, and the brief flashbacks explaining Clara and Eleanor’s transformation feels like an afterthought. It’s a shame to see actors like Saorsie Ronan and Johnny Lee Miller trapped in such a dull movie, because “Let the Right One In” proved that it’s possible to make a great vampire film that defies conventions; “Byzantium” just isn’t one of them.

EXTRAS: There’s over an hour of interviews with various members of the cast and crew, but that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: The Way Way Back, Only God Forgives 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 Way, Way Back”

WHAT: 14-year-old loner Duncan (Liam James) has been dragged by his mom (Toni Collette) to a Massachusetts beach home to spend the summer with her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter (Zoe Levin). While the adults party like they’re on spring break, Duncan finds solace at the local water park, where he meets an unexpected friend and mentor in easygoing manager Owen (Sam Rockwell).

WHY: Earlier this year, “The Way, Way Back” made waves at the Sundance Film Festival when Fox Searchlight bought the crowd favorite for a near-record $10 million, and though that may sound like a lot for an indie movie, it was worth every penny. Much like “Little Miss Sunshine” (another Sundance darling), “The Way, Way Back” succeeds due to its winning script and talented cast. James holds his own alongside some really great performers, and Carell proves once again that he may be a stronger dramatic actor than a comedian. But it’s Rockwell who completely owns the movie as the fast-talking king of the water park, channeling Bill Murray from “Meatballs” with an immensely charming and hilarious performance. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who won an Oscar for penning the 2011 tragicomedy “The Descendants”) also deserve a lot of credit for writing a movie that’s as smart, funny and sweet as it is incredibly heartbreaking at times, because although their coming-of-age story follows an all too familiar journey, they manage to make it feel like an entirely fresh experience.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette exclusive to the Blu-ray, a trio of behind the scenes featurettes (including a tour of the water park) and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Only God Forgives”

WHAT: After his brother is killed as revenge for raping and murdering a teenage girl, drug smuggler Julian (Ryan Gosling) is pressured by his domineering mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to track down and kill the Bangkok police lieutenant (Vithaya Pansringarm), who the locals refer to as the Angel of Death, responsible for authorizing the retaliation.

WHY: Those expecting another “Drive” will be sadly disappointed by “God Only Forgives,” because director Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film is a very different animal – an abstract and morally ambiguous neo-noir dealing with classic themes like vengeance, justice and loyalty that is almost dreamlike in its execution. Though Refn’s artistic flourishes do more harm than good, turning the barebones story into a daring exercise in expressionism, the movie still managed to hold my interest, thanks in part to its great cast. Gosling has such a strong screen presence that he barely needs to utter a word, while Thomas delivers a memorable turn playing against type as the bitchy queen bee. But it’s Thai actor Pansringarm that is the biggest surprise, nearly stealing the show as the bloodthirsty lawman with a God complex. The film isn’t for everyone, but between Larry Smith’s stunning cinematography and Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score, “God Only Forgives” is an amazing sensory treat that deserves to be seen for the experience alone.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn, a behind the scenes featurette, a look at Cliff Martinez’s score, and additional interviews with Refn.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Pacific Rim, The Heat 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.

“Pacific Rim”

WHAT: Set in the not-too-distant future, giant beasts called kaiju have emerged from an inter-dimensional rift below the Pacific Ocean to wreak havoc on the planet. In response, the world’s governments came together to build giant robots called jaegers to combat these monsters, but when the program is shut down, commanding officer Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba) recruits a retired pilot named Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) to spearhead one final attack in the fight for humanity’s survival.

WHY:Pacific Rim” is about as close to a Transformers/Godzilla mash-up as you’ll ever see, so it’s not surprising why fanboys were quick to jump on the bandwagon of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film. But while the marketing campaign focused almost entirely on the robots vs. monsters angle, the action is a pretty big letdown. While it’s hard to deny the gleeful sensation of watching giant robots pummel giant monsters, it starts to get a little repetitive and would have benefited greatly from more distinct battles and creatures. As it is, every major fight sequence takes place either at night in the pouring rain, or underwater where it’s just as murky, and that makes it really difficult to see things clearly, especially when del Toro relies so heavily on extreme close-ups and quick cuts. After all, if you’re going to promise robots vs. monsters, then you should at least be able to make out what’s going on. There’s more than enough CGI-fueled destruction on display to categorize “Pacific Rim” as a fun popcorn flick, but it’s lacking the substance that you would normally expect from a filmmaker like del Toro.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes an audio commentary by director Guillermo del Toro, five Focus Points featurettes, deleted scenes and a blooper reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Heat”

WHAT: Straight-laced FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is up for a big promotion, but while she’s the perfect candidate on paper, Sarah hasn’t earned the respect of her peers. To prove that she’s a team player and the right person for the job, Sarah’s boss (Demian Bichir) sends her to Boston, where she must partner up with an uncouth and unconventional local detective named Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) to bring down a ruthless drug lord.

WHY: Though fans of “Bridesmaids” will likely enjoy Paul Feig’s latest R-rated romp with Melissa McCarthy, anyone that wasn’t already sick and tired of the actress definitely will be after sitting through two more hours of her annoyingly boorish and over-the-top brand of humor. “Identity Thief” should have been the final nail in the coffin of America’s love affair with McCarthy, but if her irritating performance in “The Heat” doesn’t put an end to that reign, then the moviegoing public deserves more lowbrow comedies just like it. “Bridesmaids” may be overrated, but at least it has some genuine moments of laughter and a decent story at its core. “The Heat,” meanwhile, never merits more than a few chuckles, and a major reason for that is the overdependence on McCarthy’s loud-mouthed buffoon. It’s supposed to be hilarious, except that it’s not. You know what would have been funny? If Sandra Bullock and McCarthy had switched roles. At least then we could have seen both actresses do something a little different for once, and it probably would have led to a more entertaining movie. Instead, we got “Miss Congeniality 3: Boston Boogaloo.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy, the Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette, a collection of deleted and extended scenes, two more commentary tracks (one with the original “Mystery Science Theater 3000” guys and another with the Mullins family), a blooper reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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