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: There are only a few things that New Jersey bachelor Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) really cares about in life: his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls and his porn. When he starts dating the gorgeous but bossy Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), however, he’s forced to rethink his porn addiction and the unrealistic expectations that it brings.
WHY: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the most talented actors of his generation, and the fact that he was able to write and direct such a smartly funny movie on his first attempt is enough to make anyone feel unaccomplished by comparison. But it’s hard to be jealous of someone as charming, modest and hard-working as Gordon-Levitt, whose immensely likeable screen presence even bleeds into his title role as the womanizing, porn-addicted guido. The actor was wise to keep things simple for his directorial debut, and though “Don Jon” starts to feel a bit repetitive by the third act, that’s mostly due to the story’s structure, which uses repetition for comedic purposes, from the familiar boot-up sound of his Macbook, to the weekly church visits for confession. It’s much harder to pull off than it looks, but between his razor-sharp script and the strong performances from his cast (including Tony Danza as Jon’s stereotypical Italian father), Gordon-Levitt makes it seem almost effortless.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, four additional featurettes and a trio of HitRECord short films.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: When his pregnant wife is killed by a mysterious assassin, ninjitsu master Casey Bowman (Scott Adkins) tracks down the man responsible in order to exact his revenge, uncovering a Japanese drug ring along the way.
WHY: Scott Adkins is probably one of the most talented martial artists working in Hollywood today, and if you’re wondering why he’s not a bigger star by now, it’s because he’s a terrible actor. “Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear” is exactly the type of B-movie that Adkins will spend the rest of his career making, and that’s a shame, because it features some of the best fight sequences of the year. There’s no wire work or CG involved, and director Isaac Florentine doesn’t resort to close-ups or quick cuts either, instead giving each fight plenty of room to breathe so that you can fully appreciate the incredible skill on display. Adkins impresses in every action sequence, but unfortunately, the movie comes to a screeching halt any time he opens his mouth. The rest of the acting isn’t much better, and the dumb-as-rocks storyline doesn’t help matters, but for fans of old school action films (one of the producers also bankrolled the “American Ninja” movies), “Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear” might as well have been discovered in a time capsule from the ‘80s.
EXTRAS: There’s a short making-of featurette, cast and crew interviews and some behind the scenes footage from production.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: After a couple moves into a haunted house in New Orleans, expectant mother Vanessa (Leslie Bibb) becomes possessed by a demon spirit, prompting her husband Jack (Rob Corddry) to call on the services of the Vatican’s elite exorcism team.
WHY: I’m absolutely flabbergasted that “Hell Baby” not only managed to get into this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but that some people actually liked it, because it’s easily one of the worst movies of 2013. Written and directed by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (“Reno 911,” “The State”), who also co-star as a pair of Vatican exorcists with some of the worst Italian accents in cinema history, “Hell Baby” doesn’t really work as a comedy or a horror movie. Though Rob Corddry earns a few laughs as the straight man of the ensemble, and Keegan-Michael Key is amusing as the couple’s interloping neighbor, most of the jokes fall horribly flat. The film feels like it was thrown together over the course of a few days, with no mention that the titular hell baby even exists until it emerges from Vanessa’s womb in the final act. The whole thing is incredibly stupid, relying on gags that are drawn out so long that even the mildly entertaining ones (like the po’ boy scenes) become annoying after a while. Avoid this movie like the plague.
EXTRAS: There’s a large collection of deleted scenes and two gag reels, but that’s all.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP