Blu Tuesday: The Hateful Eight 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 Hateful Eight”

WHAT: In post-Civil War Wyoming, renowned bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is forced to take shelter at a haberdashery in the mountains when a blizzard prevents him from transporting wanted murder Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock. Trapped in a room with six other strangers he doesn’t trust – at least one of whom he believes is in cahoots with Daisy – John must uncover the mole before they make their move.

WHY: Quentin Tarantino’s first crack at making a Western may have resulted in the slightly disappointing “Django Unchained,” but his second attempt is a much-improved genre piece that represents his most accomplished work behind the camera to date. While Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins all deliver excellent work, Samuel L. Jackson’s show-stopping turn is the real standout, chewing up scenery with every juicy monologue and sly look. Granted, the first half of the film moves like molasses as Tarantino gets all of his pieces on the board, but the pacing is intentional, slowly building to a boil that spills out into a flurry of violence in the final hour. Though “The Hateful Eight” is filled with the same self-indulgent tendencies that fans have come to expect from the director’s movies, this Agatha Christie-styled whodunit is a lot of fun thanks to a smartly crafted script, some outstanding camerawork that benefits from the 65mm film format, and riotous performances from the cast.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a short behind-the-scenes featurette and a closer look at the movie’s 70mm presentation.



WHAT: When Nigerian-born pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who have suffered repeated concussions, he publishes his findings in the hope that it will help save lives. However, the NFL sees Omalu as a threat to its multibillion-dollar industry and attempts to discredit him.

WHY: Much like writer/director Peter Landesman’s previous films (“Kill the Messenger,” “Parkland”), “Concussion” is a middling, fact-based story that feels disconnected from its own material. While the movie is about a fairly important event in modern medicine – the discovery and recognition of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a very real problem within the sport of football – it’s told in such a dull, straightforward manner that its message doesn’t resonate. Will Smith delivers his best work in over a decade as the real-life Omalu, completely throwing himself into the role, but the rest of the cast isn’t given as much to work with, particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whose talents are squandered as his wife. The whole thing feels more like a TV movie due to the pedestrian writing and direction, and although it’s worth seeing for Smith’s passionate performance, “Concussion” isn’t compelling enough to incite the kind of reform within the NFL (and the sport as a whole) that’s desperately needed.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Peter Landesman, a pair of featurettes on making the movie and the true story that inspired it, and deleted scenes.

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Blu Tuesday: The Hunger Games and Daddy’s Home

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 Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2″

WHAT: After Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) sneaks into the Capitol against direct orders, she’s assigned to a specialized military unit, which also includes Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and a mentally unstable Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), to shoot more propaganda videos on the war-torn streets of the city. But Katniss has other plans – namely, to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and end the fighting once and for all.

WHY: Amid the glut of YA book-to-film adaptations, “The Hunger Games” has always stood head and toe above the competition. That’s what makes “Mockingjay: Part 2” such a hard pill to swallow, because while it seemed like the stage was set for an exciting finale after the tedious third installment, it’s yet another incredibly slow burn that underlines just how bad the final book is in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian saga. Apart from a couple well-staged action sequences, the movie never really gets going. It hits all the major moments within Collins’ grim novel, but there’s very little emotion to it, as if director Francis Lawrence is just ticking off boxes as he goes along. Even Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t appear particularly enthused about having to slog through this downer of a finale, and it’s hard to blame her, because instead of going out on a high note like the franchise and its loyal fans deserved, my first thought when the film ended was, “Thank God it’s finally over.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, there’s an eight-part making-of documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at the “Hunger Games” exhibition and more.


“Daddy’s Home”

WHAT: Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) has always dreamed of being a father, and ever since marrying the lovely Sara (Linda Cardellini), he’s gone above and beyond to win the affection of her two children. But when their deadbeat biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) suddenly arrives in town looking to make up for lost time, the two men engage in a battle of wits to prove who is the better dad.

WHY: “Daddy’s Home” is one of the worst studio comedies in recent years – it’s lazy, unfunny and so farfetched that even the few sincere moments ring false. After all, this is a movie where Will Ferrell’s mild-mannered stepdad crashes a motorcycle through the second story of his house and somehow walks away with barely a scratch. It’s a completely ridiculous gag that treats violence like a “Looney Tunes” cartoon, and the film only goes downhill from there. Though Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg worked really well together in Adam McKay’s “The Other Guys,” the decision to pit them against each other as adversaries isn’t as effective, squandering their natural chemistry. The supporting cast doesn’t fare any better, although Hannibal Burress does earn a few laughs as a laidback handyman who becomes an honorary member of the family. Unfortunately, that’s about all the movie has to offer, because while there’s definitely a good comedy to be made from such a relatable premise, “Daddy’s Home” is a big swing and a miss.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, a series of additional featurettes that focus on specific elements of the film, and some deleted scenes.



Blu Tuesday: Game of Thrones, The Big Short 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.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season”

WHAT: After Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) flees to Meereen to support Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) bid for the Iron Throne, Cersei (Lena Headey) must contend with a new threat within King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) struggles to unite the Night’s Watch and the Wildings; Arya begins her training at the House of White and Black; and Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) travels to Dorne to rescue Myrcella from House Martell.

WHY: “Game of Thrones” fans were extremely critical of the show’s fifth season, but as the HBO drama enters its final stretch, transitioning from the superb second act of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic was always going to be difficult, especially with so many moving parts. The fact that creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were able to pull it off without sacrificing quality is a small miracle. Granted, Daenerys’ storyline is pretty dull until Tyron joins the group, and the less said about the Dorne subplot the better, but for the most part, Season Five does an excellent job of advancing the narrative while digging even deeper into the world’s rich mythology. It also serves up some of the series’ best moments thus far, including the Battle of Hardhome, Cersei’s walk of shame, and of course, the apparent murder of Jon Snow. Though it won’t go down as the most memorable season of “Game of Thrones,” it could end up being the most important.

EXTRAS: In addition to 12 commentary tracks with various cast and crew, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the “Mother’s Mercy” episode, a two-part featurette on the historical events that inspired George R.R. Martin’s novels, a Season Five production diary, deleted scenes and much more.


“The Big Short”

WHAT: The true story of a group of investment bankers that predicted what many thought was impossible – the always-sturdy housing market collapsing – and then bet against (or shorted) the big banks to profit off their greed.

WHY: The 2008 housing market crash was no joke, which is why it might come as a surprise that “The Big Short” was directed by the same man responsible for goofball comedies like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” But while Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a movie about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he’s produced a darkly humorous examination of a nationwide disaster so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to laugh. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph do a great job of breaking down the complex financial jargon into something the average moviegoer can understand, turning what could have been a dull and dense PowerPoint presentation on mortgage loans into an entertaining lesson about just how messed up the whole financial crisis really was. McKay’s docudrama approach isn’t entirely successful, but the movie’s flaws are offset by some solid performances and a steady stream of humor that makes the infuriating subject matter a little easier to swallow, even if we seem doomed to repeat those same mistakes again.

EXTRAS: There are five featurettes on topics like casting, director Adam McKay and creating the look of the film, as well as some deleted scenes.


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Blu Tuesday: In the Heart of the Sea and Macbeth

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.

“In the Heart of the Sea”

WHAT: In 1850, author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) convinces the last surviving member of the Essex whaling ship to recount the story of its rumored capsizing by a giant sperm whale 30 years earlier while under the command of Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth).

WHY: Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” might be one of the most boring literary classics ever published, yet that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from going back to the source material time and time again. Though Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea” technically isn’t an adaptation of “Moby Dick,” but rather the real-life events that inspired Melville’s seafaring adventure, it doesn’t make the film any less dull. A well-intentioned cross between the nautical drama of “Master and Commander” and the against-all-odds survival elements of “Unbroken,” “In the Heart of the Sea” is an instantly forgettable movie that squanders the talents of Howard and his cast, including Chris Hemsworth, who still hasn’t found a starring vehicle outside the Marvel universe to showcase his leading man potential. However, that’s not nearly as troubling as its surprising lack of thrills, because while “In the Heart of the Sea” was never going to be the action-packed adventure film that it was falsely marketed as, a story this epic deserved better.

EXTRAS: In addition to a 10-part production diary called “Captain’s Log,” there are five featurettes and a hefty collection of deleted scenes.



WHAT: After receiving a prophecy from a trio of witches that he will one day become King of Scotland, loyal soldier Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is goaded by his wife (Marion Cotillard) into murdering the beloved King Duncan (David Thewlis) and taking the throne for himself.

WHY: William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” has led a pretty charmed life on the big screen, with heavy hitters like Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosawa all producing their own versions of the play, but it’s been awhile since a really good adaptation came along. Enter director Justin Kurzel, whose dark and gritty take on the classic tragedy is one of the best Shakespearean movies in recent years. The film is impressive on a technical level alone, especially the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw, which gives the visuals a painterly quality that enhances Macbeth’s nightmarish descent into madness. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are also excellent in the lead roles, delivering a pair of complex, layered performances that shows just how great Shakespeare can be when entrusted to actors of their ability. Granted, “Macbeth” isn’t without its flaws – the pacing is a bit slow and it’s difficult to understand at times – but Kurzel’s mostly faithful adaptation breathes new life into a story that’s gotten rather stale in its old age.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and a Q&A with actor Michael Fassbender.



Blu Tuesday: Creed, Room 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: Determined to get out from under his father’s shadow, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) – the illegitimate son of former boxing champ Apollo Creed – leaves Los Angeles for Philadelphia to train with local legend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). But when Adonis’ secret family history is revealed and he’s offered the chance to fight the reigning world champion, he must prove to himself (and his detractors) that he’s worthy of the Creed name.

WHY: After garnering critical acclaim for his directorial debut, “Fruitvale Station,” the last thing anyone expected from Ryan Coogler’s follow-up was a spin-off/sequel to a movie franchise that’s last meaningful installment was released 30 years ago. But while it may have seemed like a strange career move at the time, “Creed” is an energizing addition to the boxing series that succeeds as a respectful passing of the torch and one of the best “Rocky” films ever made. Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are both excellent in their roles, especially the latter, who delivers his finest work in years with a subtler, more emotional performance than we’re used to seeing from the actor. Coogler, meanwhile, makes the transition from indie to mainstream filmmaking remarkably well; he provides all the usual crowd-pleasing moments without sacrificing the kind of intimate, character-driven storytelling that made “Fruitvale Station” so effective. Though “Creed” follows the 1976 original a little too closely at times, it does enough to stand on its own while still paying homage to the “Rocky” legacy.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes on developing the movie and Michael B. Jordan’s training regime, as well as some deleted scenes.



WHAT: After being abducted as a teenager and spending the past seven years in captivity, Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) – who knows nothing of the outside world – finally gain their freedom following a brave escape. But adapting to life on the outside proves even more difficult for Joy than the impressionable Jack.

WHY: Brie Larson has been quietly making a name for herself over the past few years, but while 2013’s “Short Term 12” may have been her big breakthrough, “Room” confirms that she’s the real deal. Her emotionally-charged role as the abducted teen-turned-mother was one of the best performances of 2015, and though young co-star Jacob Tremblay is also really good as her sheltered son, it’s Larson who holds the movie together, even when her character is dangerously close to falling apart. The film is comprised of two very different halves (the world Joy has made for Jack inside “room” and the outside world), and each section gives its actors a wide range of emotions to play. While Joy’s journey is pretty dark and depressing – and rightfully so, because “Room” is every parent’s worst nightmare – the innocent yet insightful narration that Jack provides as he experiences things for the first time is bursting with optimism, and ultimately, it’s that hopefulness that makes the movie such a rewarding experience.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Lenny Abrahamson, cinematographer Danny Cohen, editor Nathan Nugent and production designer Ethan Tobman, there’s a trio of production featurettes.


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