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.


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Blu Tuesday: Steve Jobs, Black Mass 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.

“Steve Jobs”

WHAT: An unconventional biopic that follows Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) backstage during three product launches – the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT “black box” in 1988, and the Apple iMac in 1998 – that helped shape his legacy.

WHY: For a movie about one of the most innovative people of the past century, it’s fitting that “Steve Jobs” is as risky and unique as the man himself. Aaron Sorkin was the perfect screenwriter to tackle this material, creating a sharp, funny and often unflattering look at Jobs that moves like a bullet train, despite the dense nature of its three-act structure. Director Danny Boyle stays out of the way for the most part, allowing Sorkin’s script to sing with few distractions, but he brings an electric immediacy to the story that’s reminiscent of live theater. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the title character, blurring the line between fiction and reality with his nuanced portrayal, while the rest of the cast shines in supporting roles. Though “Steve Jobs” will rub some people the wrong way with its prickly depiction of the Apple visionary, it’s an endlessly fascinating film that’s more respectful of its subject than it initially appears.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Danny Boyle, writer Aaron Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham, as well as a making-of featurette.


“Black Mass”

WHAT: When small-time criminal Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) begins to make a name for himself in South Boston, he strikes a deal with childhood friend/FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) to help get rid of the local mob. But as John struggles to cover up Whitey’s growing criminal empire, he unknowingly places himself in the FBI’s crosshairs.

WHY: Much like director Scott Cooper’s first two films, “Black Mass” is a pretty slow burn, and although that comes with the territory of the crime genre, the movie doesn’t have anything new to say (or a new way to say it) that hasn’t been done in countless other gangster flicks. The true-life story is certainly compelling, but it never attains the greatness to match its ambition, despite Johnny Depp’s effectively chilling turn as the notorious Whitey Bulger. It’s not an overly showy piece of acting, servicing the story instead of his own self-indulgence for once. Unfortunately, the rest of Cooper’s top-notch cast (save for Joel Edgerton) is wasted in throwaway roles, which is not unlike the film itself, because for every outstanding setpiece, there are several scenes of tedious filler that grind the movie to a halt. Still, while it doesn’t do enough to earn a spot among the classics, “Black Mass” is a satisfying crime thriller that’s worth watching if only for Depp’s impressive return to form.

EXTRAS: In addition to a documentary about Whitey Bulger’s eventual capture, there’s a making-of featurette and a behind-the-scenes look at Johnny Depp’s transformation.


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Bullz-Eye’s 2013 TV Power Rankings

When we published our first TV Power Rankings in 2005 listing the best shows on television, the revolution in TV viewing habits was well underway with cable shows like “The Sopranos” raising the bar for TV dramas. Meanwhile, DVDs and on-demand viewing started to change the way we watched our favorite programs and discovered new ones. Since then, the changes have only accelerated, and now many teenagers and people of all ages are addicted to streaming TV, watching everything by their own schedules. Many have even “cut the cord” and eliminated their cable TV subscriptions altogether. Water-cooler discussions about “must-see TV” have given way to shows aimed at niche audiences.

With these developments, the quality of the shows has improved dramatically. That may not be true for sitcoms and most of the stuff on network TV, but many have called this the new “golden era of television,” as the cable networks in particular have given talented writers and directors the freedom to create masterpieces like “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.” Now with Netflix triumphantly entering the fray with the excellent “House of Cards,” the bar keeps getting raised even higher. I watch fewer movies these days as the quality rarely matches that of the best TV shows, which also have the advantage of developing characters over a much longer time period.

“Breaking Bad” has been one of our favorites for years, and it tops our list again as it completes its final season. When it’s all said and done, it will be part of every conversation of the best TV shows ever. Our list is dominated by cable TV dramas and we’ve left off reality shows. Some are entertaining, but none match the quality of the programs on our list.

We’ve kept spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to avoid some of the write-ups if you want to avoid learning about plot developments.

1. Breaking Bad

Expectations for the fifth season of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” would’ve been running high anyway, given that Season 4 concluded with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) bringing an explosive end to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) while also revealing just how far he was willing to sink to get things his way. It doesn’t get much lower than poisoning a child to trick your former partner into working for you again, but the knowledge that it truly was the beginning of the end (i.e. the final season) really amped up the adrenaline. With posters for Season 5 showing Walt surrounded by stacks of cash and emblazoned with the tagline “Hail to the King,” the question at hand was whether or not Mr. White would be able to keep his ego in check successfully enough to take over Gus’s meth empire. The answer: not entirely. Although Mike (Jonathan Banks) agreed to join the operation more out of an attempt to help keep Jesse (Aaron Paul) safe, he quickly grew frustrated and tried to bail out, only to end up in a terminal tussle with Walt. Meanwhile, the domestic situation in the White house has reached all new levels of tension, thanks to a power struggle of sorts between Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn). As the first half of Season 5 wrapped up, however, the biggest reveal of all took place, with Walt’s DEA-agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), finally discovering that he’s the infamous Heisenberg. This show has yet to disappoint, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to start now. – Will Harris. Check out our “Breaking Bad” blog here and our Fan Hub page here.

Breaking Bad Mike and Jesse

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Blu Tuesday: Teddy Bears, Super Soldiers and Spoiled Brats

It’s been a few weeks since my last column due to what can only be described as one of the busiest months of my adult life, but I’m finally back with another edition of Blu Tuesday. Thankfully, there weren’t too many must-have Blu-rays released while I was out, but I would suggest picking up the following if you haven’t already: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “ParaNorman,” “Lawless” and the “Tarantino XX” box set. This week’s selection isn’t that much better, but there are a handful of titles worth checking out.


Seth MacFarlane has already built a media empire that currently dominates Fox’s Sunday night line-up, but it was only a matter of time before he moved on to a bigger challenge, and though “Ted” represents the multi-hyphenate’s first foray into feature filmmaking, the movie is such a confident debut that you have to wonder why it took so long to make the jump in the first place. While the film can feel like a live-action version of “Family Guy” at times – featuring trademarks like cutaway gags, a knock-down-drag-out fight, and enough boundary-pushing humor to comfortably earn its R rating – you don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy “Ted.” It certainly wouldn’t hurt, but there are also things that MacFarlane is able to do here that can’t be done in animation, and it creates a more well-rounded movie as a result. Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis are both solid in their respective roles, but it’s MacFarlane who steals the show as the foul-mouthed teddy bear. His decision to perform the motion capture and provide the voice of Ted not only does wonders for the interactions between him and Wahlberg, but it makes him feel like a real, living, breathing thing, and that goes a long way in making the film such an incredibly funny buddy comedy.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a lot of great bonus material for fans to dive into – including an amusing audio commentary with Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg and co-writer Alec Sulkin – but the making-of featurette is the best of the bunch, focusing mainly on visual effects and MacFarlane’s decision to perform Ted live on the set during filming.

“The Bourne Legacy”

I was a little wary when Universal announced that they were continuing the Jason Bourne franchise without Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass (or for that matter, the title character), but “The Bourne Legacy” proves that there’s still life to the series without them. One of the most important factors in its success was the decision to bring Tony Gilroy back to write and direct the fourth installment, because no one knows the Bourne series better than him, and it was likely his idea to design the story so that it runs parallel to the events in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” That way, there’s still some sort of connection between Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross and Damon’s Bourne, even though they never actually cross paths. If they do get around to making another film, that would be the next logical step, but for what’s essentially a spin-off, “The Bourne Legacy” is a lot better than it probably has the right to be. It’s still not as good as the original trilogy, but between its talented cast (which includes heavy hitters like Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton) and superb action sequences, there’s more than enough here to keep you invested in the Bourne saga.

Blu-ray Highlight: Though it’s a little disappointing that none of the film’s cast appears on the audio commentary, the track – which features director/co-writer Tony Gilroy with several of his crew members – is a great conversation about making the movie, with each participant getting the chance to discuss their contribution to the film in detail.

“Girls: The Complete First Season”

“Girls” is one of those shows that makes me question why I continue to tune in every week. Though it’s a big hit with a lot of critics, and there’s invariably something that makes me laugh out loud each episode, the HBO comedy’s quartet of leading ladies doesn’t make it easy to enjoy. Creator Lena Dunham’s Hannah is easily one of the most annoying characters on television; Allison Williams’ Marnie makes more bad decisions than a horror movie victim; Jemima Kirke’s Jessa fails to prove what makes her so alluring to men; and Zosia Mamet’s Shoshanna… well, I don’t actually have anything bad to say about her. That might make “Girls” sound like a pretty insufferable viewing experience (and it is at times), but even with such terrible characters, it manages to deliver some surprisingly biting commentary on this generation’s crop of entitled, self-centered twentysomethings. Still, if it weren’t for breakout star Adam Driver’s hilarious performance as Hannah’s weirdo on-again, off-again boyfriend, there’s a pretty good chance I would have tuned out a long time ago, because he single-handedly makes the show worth watching.

Blu-ray Highlight: HBO doesn’t normally include many extras on their Blu-rays, but the two-disc release of “Girls” is loaded with bonus material, and many of them are really good. In addition to a pair of roundtable-type conversations between Lena Dunham and her female co-stars, and Dunham and producer Judd Apatow, there’s also a cool making-of video diary that goes behind the scenes of several Season One episodes.