Blu Tuesday: Snowpiercer, Sex Tape 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.

“Snowpiercer”

WHAT: The year is 2031 AD, and after a failed global-warming experiment has frozen the planet, killing off nearly all life in the process, the lucky few survivors live aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that perpetually travels around the globe. With a class system in place that divides the population by train car, lower-class passenger Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a rebellion against the oppressors in an attempt to take control of the engine and the fates of his fellow people.

WHY: Fans of Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“The Host”) have been awaiting his English-language debut for quite some time, and that wait was extended even longer when The Weinstein Company delayed its U.S. release over a dispute about the film’s original cut. In the end, Bong was successful in protecting his vision, which is a major victory for both the filmmaker and his would-be audience, especially for a movie as refreshingly unique as “Snowpiercer.” Though it’s not the sci-fi masterpiece that many have lauded it as, the film is one of the better post-apocalyptic thrillers in recent memory. A lot of that credit actually goes to the creators of the French graphic novel on which its based, but Bong brings plenty to the table as well, including some gorgeous visuals and the casting of frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho in a vital role. Chris Evans also turns in a solid performance as the de facto leader of the lower class rebels, while Tilda Swinton steals the show with an amusingly quirky turn as the right-hand woman of the train’s mysterious engineer. The blending of art house sensibilities with mainstream appeal makes for a really intriguing finished product, but the ending is so disappointing that it undermines the ambition and imagination of everything that precedes it.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by film critics like Scott Weinberg, James Rocchi and Jen Yamato, a documentary about the making of the movie, additional featurettes on the production process, an interview with Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, a behind-the-scenes look at the promotional tour, concept art galleries and an animated prologue.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Sex Tape”

WHAT: Desperate to add a little spice back into their life, married couple Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) decide to make a sex tape trying out every position from “The Joy of Sex.” But when they wake up the next day to discover that the video was accidentally uploaded to the iPads that Jay gifted to various family and friends, they go on a frantic search to track them all down before anyone has a chance to see it.

WHY:Sex Tape” is an infuriating movie to watch, especially if you don’t like characters that have no common sense. Despite being one giant commercial for the iPad (at one point, Segel’s character even declares how well constructed it is), it doesn’t understand the technology behind the device. Anyone with a basic knowledge of smartphones, tablets and the Cloud knows that Jay’s videos wouldn’t automatically sync to the other iPads unless they were still connected to his Apple account, but there’s absolutely no reason the recipients would do this, because it would essentially render their devices useless. Worse yet, the identity of the mysterious “villain” blackmailing Jay and Annie is an absolute joke, threatening them with putting the video on a popular internet porn site unless they pay a hefty bounty. Jay could just call the website and have them take it down, but they chose a much more excessive method because it seems funnier, even though it’s really not. Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel fail to display a fraction of the chemistry that they had in “Bad Teacher,” and although there are some amusing comments on parenthood in the opening act, once the hunt for the sex tape kicks into gear, the film nosedives quicker than a kamikaze fighter pilot.

EXTRAS: In addition to a selection of deleted scenes, alternate takes and bloopers, there’s a featurette on the chemistry between director Jake Kasdan and his two leads, as well as a discussion with psychotherapist Dr. Jenn Berman about the film.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: Edge of Tomorrow, A Million Ways to Die in the West 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.

“Edge of Tomorrow”

WHAT: When he’s ordered onto the front lines as part of a synchronized attack against alien invaders, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is killed in action… only to discover that he’s been infected with the aliens’ ability to control time. Stuck in an infinite loop where he must repeat the same day over and over again (with his death serving as the reset button), Cage teams up with a celebrated war hero (Emily Blunt) to track down the alien hive and end the war.

WHY: Though it shares a similar plot device as “Groundhog Day” and “Source Code,” Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow” is a truly original piece of science fiction that Hollywood should make more often. Clever, fun and surprisingly bold, it also happens to be ultimate Tom Cruise movie. Those who like the actor will enjoy watching him thrive in one of his best roles in years, while those who hate Cruise get to watch him die about 50 times over the course of the film. Emily Blunt is also in top form as the face of the war effort – a total badass who wields a helicopter blade as a sword and is nicknamed Full Metal Bitch – and Bill Paxton delivers a hilarious supporting turn as a scene-chewing Master Sergeant in charge of Cage’s military unit. In fact, the movie as a whole is much funnier than you might expect, using comedy to break up the monotonous nature of the story, and it works remarkably well thanks to a combination of smart writing, great actors and pitch-perfect editing by James Herbert. “Edge of Tomorrow” isn’t without its faults – the script has some logistical problems and the final act is pretty generic – but those are minor annoyances for a film that proves to be such a satisfying breath of fresh air.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of documentary, dedicated featurettes on the exo-suits, alien creatures and filming the Operation Downfall sequence, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“A Million Ways to Die in the West”

WHAT: When cowardly sheep farmer Albert (Seth MacFarlane) challenges his ex-girlfriend’s new beau (Neil Patrick Harris) to a duel in the hopes of winning her back, a beautiful stranger (Charlize Theron) agrees to help him become a better gunfighter, falling for the lovable loser in the process. But what Albert doesn’t realize is that the woman is married to a dangerous outlaw named Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), who rides into town upon hearing of his wife’s infidelity to kill the man that stole his woman.

WHY: There’s a reason why there aren’t many comedy Westerns, and even fewer that are any good, and that’s because the subgenre as a whole is very difficult to pull off. So you have to credit Seth MacFarlane for not only having the cojones to follow up “Ted” with such an offbeat film, but actually succeeding where so many others have failed. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is probably his most ambitious project to date, and although that may sound strange for a man who made a movie about a talking teddy bear, it’s nice to see a filmmaker with that kind of confidence. By setting the film in the 1800s, MacFarlane has effectively forced himself to eschew from his usual pop culture references in favor of more observational humor about the general horribleness and idiosyncrasies of the American frontier. Not every joke works, and the toilet humor is totally unnecessary, but there’s a lot of great material. The movie starts to drag in the latter half as it meanders towards its conclusion (there’s no reason this needed to be almost two hours long), and it would have benefited from some stronger supporting characters, but “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a really solid comedy with more than enough laughs to offset its minor shortcomings.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director/co-writer/star Seth MacFarlane, co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild and actress Charlize Theron, there’s a short making-of featurette, an alternate opening and ending, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Transformers, Chef and Third Person

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.

“Transformers: Age of Extinction”

WHAT: Following the Battle of Chicago, a CIA black ops team led by the ruthless Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has begun hunting down the surviving Autobots and Deceptions in order to destroy them. When wannabe inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) discovers Optimus Prime hiding as a beat-up semi-truck, the Autobot leader must protect the Yeager family from Attinger and a mercenary Transformer called Lockdown.

WHY: The most important thing you need to know about “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is that it clocks in at a ridiculously bloated 164 minutes. That’s not a typo, and worse yet, the first half is all just setup to the overly complex plot. Why Michael Bay thought that audiences wanted another “Transformers” film, let alone one that’s nearly three hours long, is anyone’s guess, because “Age of Extinction” is every bit as terrible as the last two installments. The bad dialogue and shameless product placement are to be expected, and the dynamic between the three lead human characters is pretty annoying, but Bay can’t even get the action right in this one, settling for unintelligible set pieces that evade logic almost as much as the story. At this point in the franchise, you’d think that Bay would have a better understanding of what works versus what doesn’t, but he makes many of the same mistakes, including a few new ones. Even the visual effects look less polished than past installments, and if you’re going to surround your action with dull human drama, the least Bay could have done is make it look good.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a ton of bonus material for “Transformers” fans to dive into, beginning with the two-hour documentary “Evolution Within Extinction. There’s also a featurette where director Michael Bay discusses some key shots from the film, a behind-the-scenes look at production and a trip to Hasbro headquarters.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Chef”

WHAT: After quitting his comfy restaurant job due to creative differences with the owner, Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) does the unthinkable by starting up a food truck to revive his passion for the craft. While driving the truck cross-country from Miami to Los Angeles, Carl attempt to mend his relationship with his estranged son (Emjay Anthony), who accompanies him on the trip.

WHY: After the critical and commercial failure of “Cowboys & Aliens,” it’s nice to see Jon Favreau getting back to his roots with a small character-driven piece like “Chef.” Of course, that hasn’t stopped him from filling the movie with lots of great actors, including Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. and Dustin Hoffman in cameo roles. The crux of the film, however, falls on Favreau and Emjay Anthony, who work really well together as the father-son duo, while John Leguizamo rounds out the food truck team (as Carl’s dutiful line cook) with his best part in a long time. The feel-good nature of the story means that it’s a fairly predictable journey for Carl, but Favreau takes a timely approach to the material with the whole food truck angle and the incorporation of social media. Though far from the big-budget extravaganza of the first two “Iron Man” films, what the indie comedy lacks in spectacle it makes up for with a great cast, a warm and funny script, and some mouth-watering food porn. Seriously, don’t watch this movie on an empty stomach. You’ve been warned.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with writer/director Jon Favreau and co-producer Roy Choi, as well as some deleted scenes and outtakes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Third Person”

WHAT: Three connecting stories that take place in three different cities. In Paris, an esteemed author (Liam Neeson) begins an affair with a fellow writer (Olivia Wilde); in New York, a mother (Mila Kunis) struggles to regain visitation rights of her child; and in Italy, a businessman (Adrian Brody) helps an immigrant woman (Moran Atias) rescue her daughter from a human trafficker.

WHY: It’s incredible how much can change over the course of just a few years, and no one knows that better than Paul Haggis, who went from being one of the most sought-after writer/directors in Hollywood to a filmmaker who hasn’t done anything noteworthy in almost a decade. In fact, it appears that Haggis is still living off the 10-year-old fumes of “Crash,” because his latest multi-story drama also hinges on a narrative device, although to lesser effect. Discussing the silly gimmick in any detail would risk major spoilers, but let’s just say that watching different variations of the same bad story is even worse than sitting through it once. “Third Person” is without a doubt one of the most joyless moviegoing experiences of the year – a convoluted mess filled with insufferable characters and dull stories where nothing really happens. Don’t let the star-studded cast fool you, either, because while Liam Neeson delivers solid work as usual, the rest of the actors are either really poor or look bored out of their minds. Maybe they were promised the chance to be a part of the next “Crash,” but sadly, “Third Person” doesn’t even come close to replicating the excellence of the Oscar winner.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by writer/director Paul Haggis (along with several of his cast and crew), there’s a short making-of featurette and a 32-minute Q&A with Haggis moderated by film critic Pete Hammond.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Godzilla and Arrow

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.

“Godzilla”

WHAT: 15 years after the mysterious demolition of a nuclear power plant in Japan, American scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) remains adamant that it was more than just an earthquake, and he’s determined to prove it. But before he can convince the government that it’s about to happen again, a pair of insect-like monsters burst from their cocoons to wreak havoc on the planet, awakening the long-dormant Godzilla, whom Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) believes has been created by nature to restore balance.

WHY: How can a movie about giant monsters be so boring? That’s the biggest question surrounding Hollywood’s latest attempt to bring the King of the Monsters stateside. Though not as bad as Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version, “Godzilla” is a bewildering piece of blockbuster filmmaking, stuck somewhere between an old-school monster extravaganza and a po-faced thriller that’s afraid to have too much fun. Director Gareth Edwards delivers some great money shots by the end, but it’s a long, mostly dull slog to get there, relying more on the one-dimensional human drama and generic MUTOs to drive the action. In fact, just about everyone gets more screen time than Godzilla, who takes nearly an hour to make his first, full-fledged appearance before going MIA again until the final climactic battle. There’s nothing wrong with teasing the audience using a slow burn approach (“Jaws” does it masterfully), but you need actual suspense and interesting characters for it to be successful, and “Godzilla” has neither, instead packed with a bunch of unnecessary filler that does nothing to further the story. The one thing that Edwards gets right is Godzilla himself. He looks and sounds incredible, and you’re left wanting more when it’s all over. Sadly, that’s not because the movie is any good, but rather because you see so little of Godzilla that it feels more like an appetizer than the main course.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes featurettes on creature design, the HALO jump sequence and the Godzilla legacy, as well as some fictional videos about Project Monarch that provide additional backstory.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Arrow: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: Following the destruction of the Glades, Oliver (Stephen Arnell) ditches his vigilante ways to become the protector that Starling City so desperately needs. But when his old friend Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), whom he thought had perished on the island, resurfaces under the guise of Deathstroke, Oliver becomes the target of his vengeful plot.

WHY: It’s hard to imagine anything good coming out of The CW, but other networks should take note, because “Arrow” is exactly how you adapt a comic book character for the small screen. Though the first season was pretty hit-and-miss, the series really starts to find its groove in Season Two, focusing more on the superhero elements than the silly love triangles and soapy subplots. Granted, they’re not done away with completely (otherwise there’d be nothing for characters like Moira, Thea and Laurel to do on the show), but this season feels much more like the comic book series that fans were promised than just another a CW drama that happens to be about a superhero, which is an important distinction to make. Stephen Arnell continues to shine as the green-hooded protagonist, and David Ramsey and Emily Bett Rickards provide excellent support, but the show’s real MVP isn’t an individual at all, but rather the rotating cast of characters plucked from Green Arrow’s rich, 60-year history. The stunt work is also some of the best on TV, and the production team does a really good job of grounding everything in reality. “Arrow” still manages to be a little cheesy at times, but it’s almost always good fun, and that’s all you can ask for from a series like this.

EXTRAS: In addition to a featurette on Oliver’s character arc for the season, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the show’s visual effects and stunts, the 2013 Comic-Con panel, a recap of Season One, some deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Blu Tuesday: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and God’s Pocket

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.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

WHAT: When S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised by members within the organization, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is forced to go on the run with fellow operative Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), in order to smoke out the traitors. But standing in their way is a super-powered, metal-armed assassin called the Winter Soldier who looks suspiciously like someone from Steve’s past.

WHY: Hands-down the best Marvel sequel to date, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a major improvement upon the character’s first solo adventure, thanks in large part to a more interesting arc for its titular hero. The whole conspiracy plot not only creates a sense of foreboding and suspense, but in addressing real-world issues like national security, it lends itself to the moral battle that’s been waging inside Rogers since joining S.H.I.E.L.D. in “The Avengers.” That distrust allows Evans to play the character with a lot more complexity than the typical goody two-shoes Boy Scout, though he receives great support from Scarlett Johannsson’s Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon, who all play an important part in the story. The action in the movie is also top-notch, which is somewhat surprising considering Anthony and Joe Russo have virtually no experience in the genre. The sibling duo is just the latest in Marvel’s line of left-field director choices, and they acquit themselves remarkably well, so much so that they’ve already been invited back for another installment. That’s certainly a just reward for the Russos, because “The Winter Soldier” is a superb continuation of its hero’s cinematic evolution that also serves as a natural bridge to next year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the Blu-ray includes a short making-of featurette, a look at the different region-specific versions of Steve Rogers’ notebook, some deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: After miraculously surviving the Battle of New York, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a small team – including civilian hacker Skye (Chloe Benet) – to tackle strange new cases involving superpowers, alien artifacts and other phenomenon deemed too top secret for normal authorities, but not important enough for the Avengers.

WHY: As with most Joss Whedon-created shows, the first season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a bit rocky at times, struggling to find its voice as the small-screen companion to Marvel’s bigger and better movies. But while the first 13 episodes are incredibly hit-and-miss, the series eventually finds its groove in the latter half of the season, delivering the kind of supplemental stories that further enrichens the Marvel cinematic universe. The show feels a little cheesy at times due to the budgetary restraints, and some of the cast members (namely Chloe Benet and Brett Dalton) have a daytime soap opera feel to their performances, but when it’s firing on all cylinders, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a lot of fun. That’s never truer than in the final batch of episodes featuring Bill Paxton as a traitorous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent working for Hydra – a subplot that was introduced concurrently with the theatrical release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” This kind of integrated storytelling is what “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” promised from the very beginning, and although it may seem gimmicky, it allows Marvel Studios to connect the two mediums in a way that expands their cinematic universe without making the show feel essential to understanding the movies.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray set includes cast and crew audio commentaries, five behind-the-scenes featurettes, the “Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe” TV special, a VFX breakdown montage, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“God’s Pocket”

WHAT: When his good-for-nothing stepson (Caleb Landry Jones) is killed while working at a construction site – an act of self-defense covered up to look like an accident – Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) scrambles to raise the money for his funeral.

WHY: John Slattery couldn’t have asked for a better ensemble cast for his directorial debut – including screen veterans like Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins and Eddie Marsan – but sadly, “God’s Pocket” is a prime example of how to make a bad movie with good actors. Though it’s competently shot, the story isn’t particularly interesting and the characters aren’t given a whole to do. The film also fails to establish a consistent tone, sampling a variety of genres (from dark comedy, to crime thriller, to blue-collar drama) like a kid at an ice cream shop who can’t make up his mind. That should come as no surprise to those that saw Lee Butler’s “The Paperboy,” because both movies were based on novels by author Pete Dexter, and much like that film, “God’s Pocket” feels incredibly aimless at times, due in large part to its thinly-scripted story and pointless subplots. Hoffman delivers a typically solid performance as the sad-sack protagonist – though it’s hardly the most fitting end to an otherwise excellent career – while the rest of the actors pretty much phone it in, especially Slattery’s “Mad Men” co-star Christina Hendricks as the grieving mother.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with co-writer/director John Slattery and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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