Blu Tuesday: Joy, The 5th Wave and Easy Rider

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.

“Joy”

WHAT: After giving up her dreams to help take care of her family, Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) gets a second chance to make something of herself when she invents a self-wringing mop that has the potential to launch a business empire… if only her destructive family would get out of the way.

WHY: Writer/director David O. Russell could seemingly do no wrong after the one-two-three punch of “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” but that hot streak has finally ended with this surprisingly joyless dramedy that’s all over the place. Though his films have always been slightly offbeat, Russell’s latest effort is a tonally inconsistent mess that bounces between family farce and soap opera, sometimes quite literally. The first 30 minutes are particularly bad as it figures out what kind of movie it wants to be, and while “Joy” eventually finds its groove once the titular character gets her big break at QVC, it makes you wish that more of the film was set within that world. Jennifer Lawrence is great as usual, showcasing her full range of talent, but the rest of the cast is hindered by shallow, underwritten characters. There’s a really great movie in here somewhere (perhaps one that more closely follows co-writer Annie Mumolo’s original biopic idea about HSN queen Joy Mangano), but unfortunately, this isn’t it.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and a TimesTalk interview with director David O. Russell and star Jennifer Lawrence.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Jane Got a Gun, Ride Along 2 and Krampus

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.

“Jane Got a Gun”

WHAT: When her outlaw husband (Noah Emmerich) returns home riddled with bullets after an altercation with the dastardly John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), Jane (Natalie Portman) recruits her bitter ex-lover (Joel Edgerton) to help protect them once John’s gang comes to finish the job.

WHY: “Jane Got a Gun” had such a rocky road to the big screen – including shakeups in the cast and crew, lawsuits and distribution problems – that it’s a miracle the film survived to see the light of day, let alone turned out as good as it did. Though the movie is a bit of a slow burn, the recurring use of flashbacks helps to break up the tediousness of the present-day action while also providing important backstory for its three lead characters. “Jane Got a Gun” isn’t quite the female empowerment Western that its title suggests, but it’s still a pretty decent genre flick that’s anchored by a top-notch cast. While Ewan McGregor is sadly wasted in the generic villain role, Joel Edgerton and Natalie Portman deliver solid work as the former lovers brought back together under difficult circumstances. Director Gavin O’Connor’s stripped-down approach gives the performances room to breathe, and it’s during these quieter moments, when he’s able to explore the emotional complexities of the central love triangle, that the movie really shines.

EXTRAS: Nothing to see here folks.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Star Wars and Mojave

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.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

WHAT: Three strangers from different backgrounds – orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), conflicted Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) – join forces to stop the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order, which has risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire.

WHY: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an exciting return to form for the franchise that recaptures the childlike sensation of watching the original trilogy for the first time. It’s thrilling, funny and surprisingly emotional. While the inclusion of familiar faces like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia is great fan service that also functions as a passing of the torch to the new characters, director J.J. Abrams never lets you forget that this is their movie. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all shine in their respective roles, although it’s playful droid BB-8 who ultimately steals the show. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Abrams packs too many characters into the story, resulting in several unanswered questions that are dangled in front of the audience like a carrot on a stick. But those kinds of mysteries have always been a part of the “Star Wars” ethos, and “The Force Awakens” is “Star Wars” to the core, blending the old with the new to produce an excellent continuation of the saga that leaves you wanting more.

EXTRAS: In addition to a feature-length documentary on the making of the movie, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the cast table read, featurettes on creature design, visual effects and shooting the climactic lightsaber battle, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Mojave”

WHAT: After melancholy filmmaker Tom (Garrett Hedlund) has a dangerous encounter with a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac) in the desert, he’s pulled into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse when the stranger follows him back to Los Angeles and continues to stalk him.

WHY: William Monahan may have an Oscar for writing “The Departed,” but you wouldn’t know it based on this pseudo-intellectual thriller, which is both a giant waste of time and talent. Though Oscar Isaac keeps things mildly interesting with a performance that’s so over the top it feels like he’s in a completely different movie, the rest of the cast looks absolutely bored out of their minds. Mark Wahlberg must have owed Monahan a favor; Walton Goggins has maybe five lines of dialogue; and Garrett Hedlund proves yet again why he’s one of the most overrated actors of his generation. The real faults, however, lie in Monahan’s aimless script and some poor pacing. It’s not that the film’s philosophical ideas are lost on me, either – “Mojave” just doesn’t do a very good job of presenting them in an engaging or coherent manner. Perhaps something got lost in translation along the way, but as writer and director, the only person Monahan has to blame is himself.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Concussion”

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.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“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.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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