Blu Tuesday: Show Me a Hero 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.

“Show Me a Hero”

WHAT: As the newly elected mayor of Yonkers, New York, rising politician Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac) is thrown in at the deep end when he’s forced to deal with a controversial, court-ordered plan to build public housing within the mostly white, middle-class side of town.

WHY: After spending five years exploring the socioeconomic landscape of Baltimore with the HBO series “The Wire,” it’s fitting that David Simon would want to tackle this true story about racial and political tensions in Yonkers during the late 80s and early 90s. The six-part miniseries boasts a fantastic lead performance from Oscar Isaacs and great supporting turns by Catherine Keener, Winona Ryder and Alfred Molina, but unfortunately, it just isn’t as compelling as Simon’s previous work. For starters, there are no real heroes in this story, despite what the title (a play on the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote) might suggest. Though Wasicsko may have been responsible for pushing through the housing legislation, he only did so out of compliance and fear of bankrupting the city, not because he felt like it was the right thing to do. Additionally, while the attempts to show both sides of the conflict are commendable, the minority characters aren’t afforded the same depth as their political counterparts. “Show Me a Hero” is either too long or not long enough, because in trying to juggle so many different storylines, it lacks the focus that would have made it truly excellent.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Our Brand Is Crisis”

WHAT: Disgraced campaign strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is hired by an elite management team representing Bolivian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) as a last-ditch attempt to save his campaign. Despite the seemingly impossible odds, Jane agrees to take the job after discovering that the competition has hired its own American strategist, longtime rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who she’s never defeated.

WHY: For a movie about selling lies through a carefully crafted message, “Our Brand Is Crisis” feels hopelessly thrown together. There’s a complacency to the storytelling that prevents the film from ever moving outside its comfort zone, even though that’s exactly what it should be doing, while the talented ensemble cast is squandered in marginal roles. Even Sandra Bullock’s character is pretty one-dimensional, although at least she has the benefit of sharing the screen with Billy Bob Thornton’s reptilian sleazeball, who is hands-down the highlight of the movie. Thornton excels at playing the self-righteous asshole, and the ensuing tête-à-têtes between him and Bullock result in some entertaining moments of political puppetry. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to mask the film’s many flaws. “Our Brand Is Crisis” could have been a biting satire about U.S. politics and our insistence on forcing American culture on other countries, but it takes the easy Hollywood route instead – one more concerned about its protagonist’s contrived journey to redemption than the millions of people being affected by her actions.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on Sandra Bullock’s development of the lead character, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Burnt and Goosebumps

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.

“Burnt”

WHAT: Former bad boy chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) seeks to put his life back together and earn a coveted third Michelin star when he convinces his old business partner, Tony (Daniel Brühl), to take over his languishing London restaurant and turn it into one of the world’s best.

WHY: John Wells’ culinary drama was ripped apart by critics upon its theatrical release, and although the criticisms weren’t completely unfair, “Burnt” is far from disastrous. In fact, if you enjoy foodie shows like “Top Chef,” the kitchen-based sequences offer a pretty fascinating look behind the curtain of the restaurant world, even if it seems a bit more glamorous than in real life. Where the movie starts to fall apart is outside the kitchen with the clichéd personal drama and strained romantic subplot between Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. It’s all too safe for a film about a guy who used to live on the edge, especially when his redemption arc lacks the required emotional punch. There’s enough quality among the ensemble cast (including all-too-brief cameos by Alicia Vikander and Uma Thurman) to hold your interest, but much like Cooper’s last chef-inspired project, the short-lived TV series “Kitchen Confidential,” it’s a little undercooked.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director John Wells and chef consultant Marcus Wareing, deleted scenes, highlights from a cast Q&A and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Goosebumps”

WHAT: After he breaks into his neighbor’s house to investigate a distress call, teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) discovers a bookshelf filled with “Goosebumps” manuscripts that have been mysteriously sealed with a lock. When Zach unwittingly opens one and unleashes the monster trapped inside – setting off a chain reaction in the process – he must team up with R.L. Stine (Jack Black) and his daughter (Odeya Rush) to stop the author’s creations from wreaking havoc on their small town.

WHY: “Goosebumps” is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a lot of fun with its premise, which takes a very meta approach to the source material. If anyone was going to make a “Goosebumps” movie, this was the way to do it. Unfortunately, while the film is much better than the cheesy, mid-‘90s TV series, nothing about it really stands out apart from Jack Black’s amusing performance as the macabre author. The visual effects are solid, if a little cartoony, and although Darren Lemke’s screenplay nails the spooky/funny tone of the typical “Goosebumps” tale, it’s riddled with plot holes. In spite of its obvious flaws, however, the spirit of “Goosebumps” is very much alive in director Rob Letterman’s movie. Fans of the YA book series will find more to love than most, but it’s a harmless slice of family entertainment that evokes the goofy humor and PG-rated scares of other Halloween classics like “Hocus Pocus.”

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of featurettes on the film’s creatures, there’s an alternate ending and opening, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Blu Tuesday: Straight Outta Compton, Everest 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.

“Straight Outta Compton”

WHAT: The story of influential rap group N.W.A. – comprised of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) – as they rose from the streets of Compton to popularize the gangsta rap movement.

WHY: There’s been a lot of discussion about “Straight Outta Compton” being snubbed for Best Picture in this year’s Oscar nominations, but it’s simply not special enough to warrant inclusion. (To be fair, neither is “Bridge of Spies,” though that’s an argument for another day.) While the film hits all the key beats in N.W.A.’s rise to stardom, it’s no different than a typical music biopic with all the highs and lows, even if it has a tendency to gloss over some of its members’ less flattering moments. Thankfully, the movie is so well-cast that it covers up many of the cracks in Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff’s screenplay. Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins and O’Shea Jackson Jr. deliver excellent performances as the key members of the group, while Paul Giamatti brings his particular brand of passive-aggressive villainy to the role of their manager. “Straight Outta Compton” is a solid biopic that music fans in particular will enjoy, but despite the timely subject matter, it’s too preoccupied with its clichéd story to make a lasting impression.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director F. Gary Gray, a collection of featurettes on the history of N.W.A., casting the group members and filming key sequences in the movie, some deleted scenes and a deleted musical performance.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Everest”

WHAT: Based on the incredible true story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, a climbing expedition to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain is devastated by a ferocious snow storm.

WHY: I’ve never been very fond of movies about people doing stupid things, and climbing Mt. Everest is right up there, especially when the odds are so stacked in Mother Nature’s favor. Still, you have to admire anyone crazy enough to try it once, let alone make a career out of it, and that adventurer mentality shines through in Baltasar Kormákur’s film. But while the movie features an outstanding ensemble cast and impressive visual effects that make it look like the whole thing was shot on the mountain, “Everest” is all spectacle and very little substance. Though it’s not exactly a disaster film in the traditional sense, Kormákur focuses more on delivering thrills than developing the characters; there are so many different personalities vying for screen time that Jason Clarke’s Rob Hall is the only one who has anything resembling a proper arc. Had “Everest” focused more on his story, it likely would have fared better, but as it stands, the two-hour runtime isn’t nearly long enough to give every character the attention they deserve.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Baltasar Kormákur, as well as featurettes on making the film, recreating Mount Everest, climbing/altitude training with the actors and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Bone Tomahawk 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.

“Bone Tomahawk”

WHAT: When his wife is kidnapped by a tribe of cave-dwelling cannibals, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) joins Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), “backup deputy” Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and gunslinger John Brooder (Matthew Fox) on a perilous mission to rescue her.

WHY: S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut has divided audiences since premiering at Fantastic Fest earlier this year, and it’s easy to see why. Though it boasts a solid cast and an intriguing premise, “Bone Tomahawk” is poorly executed, marred by some amateurish direction and terrible pacing. The film is a slow burn in the worst possible way, failing to utilize the quieter moments to build suspense or further develop the characters. In fact, apart from their names and some general background info, there’s very little character development at all, which makes it difficult to care what happens to any of them. The unexpected genre shift from Western to horror in the final act is even more disconcerting, almost as if Eli Roth took over directing duties midway through production, and although it’s a unique twist, it doesn’t quite pay off. “Bone Tomahawk” had the ingredients to be a fun little genre movie, but apart from Kurt Russell’s grisly performance and some excellent comic relief from Richard Jenkins, it never quite comes together.

EXTRAS: In addition to a Q&A with director S. Craig Zahler and the cast from the film’s premiere at Fantastic Fest, there’s a short making-of featurette and a deleted scene.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Hitman: Agent 47″

WHAT: A genetically engineered assassin known only as Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) teams up with a mysterious woman (Hannah Ware) to track down her father – the creator of the Agent program – before the sinister organization Syndicate International finds him first.

WHY: After unsuccessfully adapting the popular “Hitman” video game series with the 2007 film of the same name, 20th Century Fox decided to give it one more go by rebooting the franchise with a brand new cast. (Sound familiar?) But while “Hitman: Agent 47” is an improvement on its predecessor, the first movie was so awful that it’s like comparing a rotten apple to a slightly less rotten apple. Though the film does a better job of capturing the spirit of the “Hitman” franchise with violent, stealth-based action sequences, it’s bogged down by a cheesy and predictable script that shackles its titular character to Hannah Ware’s human MacGuffin for no other reason than because Agent 47 would be an emotionally detached bore on his own. This is the kind of movie that keeps making up rules as it goes along, praying that it will all make sense in the end, and while it will likely deliver some thrills for fans of the video game, they’d be better off playing the real thing.

EXTRAS: There’s a brief making-of featurette, a look at the stunts, an onscreen counter of all the movie’s kills, some deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Heist”

WHAT: Unable to pay his daughter’s growing medical bills, casino dealer Vaughn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) partners with a hotheaded co-worker (Dave Bautista) to rob their gangster boss, Pope (Robert De Niro). But when the heist goes horribly wrong, they hijack a city bus filled with hostages in order to fend off the police and Pope’s right-hand man (Morris Chestnut).

WHY: Robert De Niro may be choosing better scripts these days, but he’s not immune to appearing in bad movies, as evidenced in this direct-to-video thriller that plays like a mix between “Speed” and “John Q.” Director Scott Mann and writer Stephen Cyrus Sepher have created an incredibly predictable crime flick that uses just about every cliché in the book, from the desperate father trying to save his child, to the villain with a crisis of conscience. There’s even a twist ending that, no matter how clever it may seem in the moment, doesn’t make a shred of sense. Of course, neither does the fact that the hostages are more than willing to help the robbers despite not knowing any of the details regarding Vaughn’s situation. It’s an illogical mess made even worse by some second-rate acting and a lack of genuine thrills. De Niro and journeyman actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan class up the film just enough to make it watchable, but “Heist” isn’t nearly as exciting as it could have been.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Scott Mann, writer Max S. Adams and actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as well as a making-of featurette, additional cast and crew interviews, and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Mission: Impossible and Ted 2

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.

“Misson: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

WHAT: When the U.S. government shuts down IMF just as Ethan Hawke (Tom Cruise) is close to proving the extistence of the international terrorist organization known as the Syndicate, Ethan and his team must work alongside undercover MI6 operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to take down the Syndicate’s leader: rogue British intelligence agent Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

WHY: The “Mission: Impossible” series has a history of hiring a different director for each installment, and while that’s worked brilliantly thus far, Christopher McQuarrie has made a strong case for retaining his services on the next sequel with “Rogue Nation.” Granted, he doesn’t quite know what to do with Jeremy Renner’s character (who’s relegated to the sidelines yet again), but Rebecca Ferguson is a great addition to the team, while comic relief Simon Pegg demonstrates why he’s just as essential to the series as Tom Cruise. But make no mistake about it: this is Cruise’s movie as usual, and when he pulls off crazy stunts like hanging from a military cargo plane while in the air, all you can do is sit back and watch in awe. “Rogue Nation” starts to drag a bit in the end as it gets bogged down by one too many twists, but it’s yet another solid entry in the franchise that proves there’s plenty of gas left in the tank.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise, there’s a short making-of featurette, a trio of additional featurettes on the film’s incredible set pieces, character profiles and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Ted 2″

WHAT: When newlywed couple Ted (Seth MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) decide to have a baby in order to fix their failing marriage, their application for adoption is flagged by the U.S. government, which claims that Ted isn’t an actual person. With his human rights stripped away, Ted and his best friend, John (Mark Wahlberg), team up with a young, hungry lawyer (Amanda Seyfried) to fight the decision in a court of law.

WHY: As a fan of Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted,” it’s hard not to feel disappointed by the inevitable follow-up, because it’s a prime example of why sequels to comedies rarely work. Basing the film around the debate of whether a talking teddy bear should be considered human is an interesting concept, but the story is so sloppily thrown together that its flaws are a lot more noticeable, particularly the bloated runtime. “Ted 2” takes nearly 40 minutes to get going, and when it finally does find its groove, MacFarlane seems resigned to relying on lazy references to other Universal properties. Additionally, the decision to bring back Giovanni Ribisi’s character was completely unnecessary, turning the final 20 minutes into a complete retread of the original film’s ending. “Ted 2” has more than its share of funny bits, but when compared to all the dead space, misfired jokes and surprising lack of charm, it’s simply not enough.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director/co-writer Seth MacFarlane, co-writers Alec Sulkim and Wellesley Wild, and co-star Jessica Barth, as well as featurettes on the making of three particular sequences (Comic-Con, the opening musical number and the road trip), a look at the film’s various cameos, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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