Blu Tuesday: Lights Out, Nerve 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.

“Lights Out”

WHAT: When her little brother (Gabriel Bateman) begins experiencing the same visions that haunted her as a kid – a terrifying, supernatural entity with a connection to their mentally unstable mother (Maria Bello) – Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) attempts to unlock the mystery behind its existence in order to rid their family of the demonic spirit for good.

WHY: Based on David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name, “Lights Out” is a fresh take on an age-old phobia – specifically, being afraid of the dark – that boasts some effective scares throughout its well-paced 81-minute runtime. (New rule: no horror movie should be more than 90 minutes long). Where the movie falters is with its mythology, which creates an entire backstory for the spirit that’s not only absurd but never really fleshed out beyond one scene. Sandberg also fails to introduce a fixed set of rules for his villain, which are constantly evolving as it becomes necessary or convenient to the story. The acting is about as good as you’d expect from the genre, though Teresa Palmer and newcomer Alexander DiPersia are both solid in their roles, while the creature effects are pretty cool for a character that spends most of the film bathed in darkness. There have been better horror movies released this year, but “Lights Out” is a decent addition to the genre that will please a certain subset of fans.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes some deleted scenes, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: The Night Of 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.

“The Night Of”

WHAT: After picking up a young woman in the city and returning to her Upper West Side townhouse to have some fun, Pakistani-American college student Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) wakes up to find her stabbed to death. In a moment of panic, Naz flees from the scene and is eventually captured and charged for murder. While all evidence points towards him, defense attorney John Stone (John Turturro) believes that Naz is telling the truth about his innocence and offers to help clear his name… or at the very least, get rich off the trial.

WHY: “The Night Of” was originally supposed to star James Gandolfini before the actor’s untimely death, but within the first few episodes of the HBO limited series, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than John Turturro in the role. The veteran character actor is so riveting as the down-on-his-luck attorney that it seems a near-certainty he’ll walk away with an Emmy for his performance. He’s that good, and the same could be said for the rest of the cast, including co-star Riz Ahmed and supporting players like Bill Camp, Michael Kenneth Williams and Peyman Moaadi. However, what really elevates “The Night Of” beyond the typical crime drama is the superb writing by co-creators Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, which delivers a probing examination of the systemic problems in the U.S. criminal justice system (from the police, to the prisons, to the lawyers) and how one crime can affect the lives of not only the accused but the people connected to them as well. Though the actual investigation feels a bit rushed, and the series doesn’t hit as many highs in the later episodes, “The Night Of” is an excellent piece of filmmaking that challenges the way we watch television and tell stories.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Ghostbusters, The Legend of Tarzan 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.

“Ghostbusters”

WHAT: When childhood friends/physicists Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) experience an actual paranormal sighting, they team up with oddball nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and street-smart MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to capture a ghost as proof that they exist. Meanwhile, a bullied hotel janitor named Rowan (Neil Casey) has begun planting devices around the city that amplify paranormal activity in the hopes of opening a portal to a ghostly dimension, and the only ones capable of stopping him are the newly formed Ghostbusters.

WHY: One of the main reasons why the original “Ghostbusters” was such a huge success was the camaraderie among its four leads, and though the characters in Paul Feig’s gender-swapped reboot have their individual moments to shine (particularly “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon), the team chemistry isn’t nearly as strong. However, that’s just the start of the film’s problems, because it’s also marred by an incredibly lame villain and an underdeveloped script that results in many jokes falling flat. The movie isn’t without its charms – the action sequences deliver the thrills that you’d expect from a modern “Ghostbusters” film, and Feig does a solid job of weaving horror and sci-fi elements throughout – but it’s never allowed to completely be its own thing. Any time the movie tries to pay homage to the 1984 version, it loses whatever momentum it’s built up to that point. That ultimately proves to be its undoing, because while “Ghostbusters” is an occasionally entertaining and mostly harmless reboot, it lacks the nuance and comic energy that made its predecessor an instant classic.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries (one with director/co-writer Paul Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold, and the other with Feig and various crew members), there’s a series of production featurettes covering things like casting, creature design and visual effects, over an hour of deleted/extended scenes, alternate takes and two different gag reels.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: X-Men: Apocalypse, The Purge: Election Year 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.

“X-Men: Apocalypse”

WHAT: When a powerful mutant named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) reawakens in 1983 after thousands of years in hibernation, he recruits Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and three other mutants to join his side as he attempts to destroy the world and remake it in his image. Standing in his way his Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men, including Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and new students Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).

WHY: “The third one is always the worst.” That’s an actual line of dialogue from Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” and though it’s technically referring to “Return of the Jedi,” it could just as easily be applied to the latest installment in the long-running superhero franchise. Messy, overstuffed and generally dull, there’s so much wrong with “X-Men: Apocalypse,” beginning with its titular villain. Not only is the all-powerful mutant surprisingly unimposing, but the movie completely wastes Oscar Isaac by burying him under layers of makeup and giving him very little to do. The same goes for stars Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence, none of whom look particularly interested this go-around, as well as the young X-Men, who are well-cast but get lost in the shuffle of the crowded ensemble. What initially seemed like the franchise’s biggest asset (its deep roster) has quickly become its Achilles’ heel. There just isn’t enough time to service all of these characters, and yet that doesn’t stop Singer from cramming as many as possible into the story. Although “X-Men: Apocalypse” has a few good moments (including yet another fun Quicksilver set piece), it’s so far behind what Marvel is doing with their movies that Fox would be better off handing over creative control (see: Sony and Spider-Man) and reaping the benefits.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Bryan Singer and writer/producer Simon Kinberg, there’s an hour-long making-of documentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: Warcraft, Central Intelligence 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.

“Warcraft”

WHAT: When an evil sorcerer named Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) sends a small war party of orcs through a portal to the peaceful realm of Azeroth in the hopes of conquering the land, the human forces – led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper), heroic warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and powerful magician Medivh (Ben Foster) – scramble to defend their kingdom with the help of Garona (Paula Patton), a human/orc half-breed who must decide where her true loyalty lies.

WHY: Hollywood has a pretty awful track record with video game adaptations, so when it was announced that director Duncan Jones would be bringing the mega-popular “Warcraft” franchise to the big screen, many people believed that he would finally break the curse. Sadly, it doesn’t even come close. Any hope that “Warcraft” would be the first great video game adaptation is promptly squashed within the opening 30 minutes, and it only gets worse from there as the audience is forced to suffer through the incredibly convoluted and disjointed plot. Although Paula Patton and Toby Kebbell (as conflicted orc warrior Durotan) deliver fine performances in their respective roles, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare quite as well, unable to rise above the hackneyed script and two-dimensionality of their video game counterparts. There are some enjoyable bits scattered throughout, and the motion capture technology is truly remarkable, but while that may be enough to please its legion of diehard fans, everyone else will see “Warcraft” exactly for what it is: just another bad video game film.

EXTRAS: In addition to a six-part making-of featurette that covers everything from pre-production and casting to visual effects and stunts, there’s a look at the Madame Tussauds exhibit created in promotion of the film, the supplemental motion comic “Bonds of Brotherhood,” deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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