Blu Tuesday: Inside Out 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.

“Inside Out”

WHAT: When young Riley (Kaitlyn Davis) is uprooted from Minnesota and moved to San Francisco for her father’s new job, her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) – struggle to adjust to her new life, creating havoc inside her mind where her memories and personalities are stored.

WHY: For a movie studio founded on innovation, it’s been awhile since Pixar has created something truly original, which is why it’s so great to see the animation outfit return to those roots with “Inside Out.” Featuring all the touchstones of a typical Pixar film – it’s funny, charming, clever and touching, often at the same time – “Inside Out” is one of the studio’s most unique features to date, and arguably its most mature as well. Though it borrows generously from the Woody/Buzz road-trip plot of the original “Toy Story,” the movie is incredibly sophisticated, dealing with big-picture ideas that kids may not completely understand on a conceptual level, but can still identify with thanks to the way co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have deconstructed it. Amy Poehler is also smartly cast as the voice of Joy, although surprisingly, it’s Phyllis Smith (best known for her role on “The Office”) who is the real standout as Sadness. The other voice actors aren’t given as much to do, and the film has a habit of oversimplifying its treatment of Riley’s emotions (which were clearly inspired by the work of Robert Plutchik), including some manufactured conflict that’s a bit flimsy, but it makes up for those minor blemishes with boundless levels of creativity that win out every time.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by co-directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen and producer Jonas Rivera, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the movie’s evolution, featurettes on sound design, film editing and creating the emotions and the inside of Riley’s mind, as well some deleted scenes, the short film “Lava” and an all-new short titled “Riley’s First Date?”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Vacation”

WHAT: When Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) realizes that his family’s annual vacation is in desperate need of a little shakeup, he finds inspiration from his own childhood and plans a cross-country road trip to Walley World. But just like his vacation to America’s favorite family fun park as a kid, things don’t go exactly as planned, as the Griswolds must contend with thieving rednecks, psychotic truck drivers and their own extended family.

WHY: Though the original “Vacation” featured its share of lowbrow comedy, the 2015 sequel/reboot is so embarrassingly dumb that it makes the Harold Ramis/John Hughes classic seem decidedly highbrow by comparison. Nothing that happens in this film makes a shred of sense, while the Griswolds themselves are so naïve that it’s a miracle they’re able to function in their daily lives. In fact, they’re such miserable company that it’s hard to recall a single laugh in the movie earned by any of the family members. Fortunately, the supporting cast steps up to save the film from being a complete waste of time. Chris Hemsworth and Charlie Day are both funny in their respective roles, while a scene involving a standoff between the different state police officers in charge of patrolling the Four Corners Monument is the funniest bit in the entire movie. It hardly makes up for the stupidity on display in the rest of the film, however, because “Vacation” goes for the cheap and easy joke every time, and although some work well, most of them are so lame that it’ll make you wish the franchise stayed dead after “Vegas Vacation.”

EXTRAS: In addition to a making-of featurette and interviews with the cast about honoring the legacy of the franchise, there are some deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Final Girls”

WHAT: On the anniversary of her mother’s death, Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends attend a special screening of “Camp Bloodbath,” the ‘80s slasher film that starred Max’s mom (Malin Akerman). But when the theater suddenly catches fire and Max cuts through the projector screen in order to escape, the group is mysteriously sucked into the cult horror classic where they must team up with the movie’s fictional characters in order to battle its machete-wielding killer.

WHY: There’s been a surge of meta horror films released over the last few years, but while Todd Strauss-Schulson’s “The Final Girls” boasts a really clever premise and a solid cast, it doesn’t succeed on the same level as other recent entries like “The Cabin in the Woods” and “You’re Next.” Though it has a lot of fun playing with slasher tropes and cinema in general (showing the way Max and her friends are affected by elements like musical cues, monochromatic flashback sequences and slow motion within the fictional movie), the film isn’t funny or scary enough, ultimately becoming a victim of its own satire due to its insistence on preserving the genre’s traditionally bad acting and writing. Additionally, the movie only follows its established rules when it’s convenient for the story, creating several plot holes in the process, while the funniest cast members are killed off too early. Diehard horror fans will still find plenty to love about “The Final Girls” in spite of these flaws, but it’s definitely not as good as it could have been.

EXTRAS: There are three different audio commentaries – one with director Todd Strauss-Schulson, another with the cast and crew, and a third with writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller – as well as featurettes on visual effects and previsualization, and some deleted scenes and alternate endings with optional director commentary.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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Blu Tuesday: Southpaw, Pixels and Army of Darkness

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.

“Southpaw”

WHAT: After his wife (Rachel McAdams) is tragically killed and he spirals out of control, undefeated light heavyweight champion Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) lands himself in trouble with the boxing league, losing his house, his possessions, and most importantly, custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Desperate to keep her out of the foster care system where he spent his childhood, Billy seeks help from a gruff, veteran trainer (Forest Whitaker) to get back what he lost.

WHY: Throughout the years, boxing movies have been synonymous with tales of redemption, and Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw” is no different. But for as clichéd and heavy-handed as the film can be at times, the movie avoids dragging itself too far into melodrama thanks to some excellent performances and a solid screenplay by Kurt Sutter that is as brutal and emotionally charged as you’d expect from the “Sons of Anarchy” creator. Though Sutter originally wrote the lead role for Eminem, Jake Gyllenhaal brings a physicality and intensity to the character that’s beyond the rapper’s abilities. It’s a much more complex role than it appears on the surface, and Gyllenhaal knocks it out of the park. In fact, while “Nightcrawler” features the better performance, “Southpaw” is perhaps his most impressive piece of acting to date, if only because he’s managed to take a fairly standard underdog drama and elevate it on the strength of his shoulders alone. The film isn’t on the same level as the boxing greats, but with Gyllenhaal’s knockout performance front and center, it’s a lot more enjoyable than it probably had any right to be.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, a Q&A with the cast, footage of Jake Gyllenhaal’s training regimen for the film and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Pixels”

WHAT: In 1982, NASA sent a time capsule into space in the hopes of contacting other life forms, but after an alien race misinterprets the message as a declaration of war, they attack Earth in the form of retro video game characters. When the military proves useless, U.S. President William Cooper (Kevin James) enlists the help of best friend Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), along with fellow video game prodigies Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), to save the planet from certain extinction.

WHY: Though it may seem like critics are being overly hard on “Pixels” simply because Adam Sandler is in the movie, it really is a bad film. The premise itself is cool, and director Chris Columbus taps into some of that potential with fun set pieces that look great and play with the mechanics of classic games like Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong, but unfortunately, the screenplay is a mess. It’s no better than the typical Sandler comedy (in fact, frequent collaborator Tim Herlihy is one of the co-writers), fueled by lazy and juvenile humor that falls flat more often than not. The casting of Kevin James as the president isn’t just ridiculous, but downright insulting, while the Q*Bert character shows that Hollywood never learned its lesson from Jar-Jar Binks. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better – Sandler does his usual man-child shtick and Josh Gad is wasted as his conspiracy theorist friend – but Peter Dinklage’s over-the-top performance as the Billy Mitchell-esque gamer is just silly enough to ensure that “Pixels” isn’t a complete disappointment. Still, an idea this good deserved something better.

EXTRAS: There are four featurettes on filming the movie’s video game-inspired set pieces, a look at Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani’s cameo and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: Jurassic World 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.

“Jurassic World”

WHAT: Twenty-two years after the disastrous events of the original Jurassic Park, Isla Nubar is now home to a fully functioning dinosaur theme park called Jurassic World. In an attempt to raise public interest, the park has genetically engineered a brand new dinosaur called Indominus Rex, but when it gets loose and goes on a killing spree, operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) enlists the help of raptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt) to hunt it down before it wreaks havoc on the park’s attendees.

WHY: Though it doesn’t hold a candle to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original, “Jurassic World” is the sequel that fans have wanted (and deserved) for decades – a big, summer spectacle that understands the DNA of the franchise and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The first act is admittedly a bit messy as director Colin Trevorrow gets all of his pieces on the board, but the story really picks up once the Indominus Rex breaks free from confinement, turning into a full-fledged adventure film with no shortage of dinosaur-caused destruction. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both solid in their respective roles, while Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan and Jake Johnson round out the excellent cast. Even the two kid actors (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are pretty likable, and that’s saying something. Granted, the movie isn’t without its flaws (particularly when it comes to basic common sense and logic, like in the climactic dino battle at the end), but it’s an entertaining piece of fan service that makes up for having to suffer through the last two sequels. And if the film’s box office domination is any indication, “Jurassic World” is just the beginning, although it’s difficult to imagine how John Hammond’s dream could possibly live on after yet another public catastrophe.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a pair of featurettes on making the film, a behind-the-scenes look at the visual effects, a tour of the park’s Innovation Center, a discussion between director Colin Trevorrow and star Chris Pratt, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Z for Zachariah”

WHAT: After a nuclear war wipes out most of humanity, a young woman named Ann (Margot Robbie) endures on her own, miraculously isolated from the fallout. But when two men – scientist Dr. John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejifor) and mysterious stranger Caleb (Chris Pine) – arrive on her family’s farm, the three survivors form a precarious bond that threatens to unravel when jealousy sets in.

WHY: Director Craig Zobel’s latest drama may be a marked improvement upon the vile and moronic “Compliance,” but it actually shares many of the same themes, including morality, trust and the weight of one’s actions. All three actors deliver solid performances – especially Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who are given more time to develop their characters – but unfortunately, not a lot happens over the course of the film’s 98-minute runtime that’s particularly compelling. There are some really good moments littered throughout, like Ann’s introduction to Dr. Loomis, or the tense face-off between Loomis and Caleb in the movie’s closing minutes, but they’re surrounded by long periods of nothingness that test your patience. The arrival of Chris Pine’s character adds some much-needed conflict to the proceedings, although it takes the story into more predictable territory, while the religious undertones (from the Eden-like valley, to Caleb’s snake-like instigator) are laid on a bit thick. Though “Z for Zachariah” isn’t quite as boring as it could have been thanks to its outstanding cast, the film never rises above mediocrity, ultimately squandering its promising, post-apocalyptic premise.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and interviews with director Craig Zobel, writer Nissar Modi and actors Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F'”

WHAT: Two surviving members of the Frieza Force travel to Earth in search of the Dragon Balls so that they can resurrect their leader. When their wish is granted and the galactic tyrant returns more powerful than before, Frieza sets out to exact his revenge on Goku, who is training off-world with Whis after his fight with Beerus the Destroyer.

WHY: 2013’s “Battle of the Gods” may have been the first “Dragon Ball Z” movie produced in almost 20 years, but while that film served as a sufficient appetizer for fans of the series, “Resurrection F” is the main course, higlighted by the long-awaited rematch between Goku and Frieza. Though Goku has faced off against much tougher adversaries, there’s a reason why Frieza is still the most iconic villain in the franchise, and his fight with Goku doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it more than makes up for the anti-climactic battle in the last movie. “Resurrection F” also improves upon its predecessor by giving the supporting characters more to do. Piccolo, Gohan, Krillin, Tien and even Master Roshi get in on the action, fighting off the first wave of Frieza’s attack as they await Goku’s return, and although Vegeta is once again relegated to the sidelines, at least he gets to land a punch this time around. “Resurrection F” follows the typical “Dragon Ball Z” formula to a tee, so there aren’t any major surprises, but it boasts great animation, some killer action beats and plenty of fan service for longtime viewers of the anime.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes look at recording the voices for the U.S. release and some interviews with the cast.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Blu Tuesday: Furious 7, The Jinx 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.

“Furious 7″

WHAT: When Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and company for putting his younger brother in a coma, they must team up with a shadowy government agent named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to recover a tracking device capable of locating anyone in the world and gain the upper hand.

WHY: The “Fast and Furious” movies have always been about fast cars, beautiful women and ridiculous stunts, but the seventh installment in the long-running series has a weight on its shoulders unlike any sequel/prequel before it. The untimely death of Paul Walker not only affected the film’s production, but the manner in which he died cast a morbid shadow over the project. Thankfully, director James Wan was able to turn a horrible tragedy into a respectful and fitting farewell for Walker that adds a layer of emotion to “Furious 7” that resonates throughout the movie, and now, the entire franchise. Though the plot doesn’t always make sense, partially due to some last-minute rewrites to work around Walker’s absence, it’s easily one of the most entertaining “Fast and Furious” installments yet. There are four great fight scenes (Dwayne Johnson vs. Statham, Walker vs. Tony Jaa, Michelle Rodriguez vs. Rhonda Rousey, and Diesel vs. Statham), as well as more gravity-defying stunts that feature cars dropping out of cargo planes and hopping skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. The whole thing is every bit as ridiculous as you’d expect, but thanks to some incredibly entertaining action and the ever-charming ensemble cast (which adds original badass Kurt Russell to the mix), “Furious 7” is an absolute blast.

EXTRAS: In addition to eight featurettes that explore the cars, stunts, fight choreography and evolution of the franchise, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the new Fast & Furious ride at Universal Studios and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”

WHAT: Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki examines the life of Robert Durst, the brilliant but eccentric heir to a New York real estate empire who was accused of three murders over 30 years.

WHY: A chilling and immensely fascinating piece of true crime that was nearly a decade in the making, HBO’s six-part docuseries takes the phrase “stranger than fiction” to dizzying new heights. Utilizing interviews with law enforcement officers, lawyers, the friends and family of Durst’s alleged victims, and in his first public interview, Durst himself, Jarecki’s investigation shines a light on one of the strangest stories in modern history. It’s no secret that Durst has since been arrested (though not yet found guilty) for one of the murders, partially due to new evidence uncovered by Jarecki and his team, but that doesn’t make “The Jinx” any less captivating, because it pulls you in from the opening minutes and never loosens its grasp. Durst is either the unluckiest guy on the planet or a total sociopath, and judging from the case presented against him, including some very telling moments during his interview sessions with Jarecki, the evidence certainly points toward the latter. Of course, this only makes “The Jinx” all the more entertaining, as Durst plays the role of the elitist villain to perfection, practically daring the authorities to outsmart him. Though Jarecki does mess with the chronology of certain events for dramatic effect, and probably could have trimmed some fat off each episode, “The Jinx” is so good that it’ll make you fall in love with detective stories all over again.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Gotham: The Complete First Season

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.

“Gotham: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: In the wake of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders, idealistic Gotham City police detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) makes a vow to young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to capture his parents’ killer, all while dealing with corruption within the police department and Gotham’s burgeoning criminal underworld.

WHY: Bruno Heller’s “Rome” is one of the most underrated TV series of the past decade, so when it was announced that he was producing a crime drama centered around a young James Gordon in pre-Batman Gotham City, that’s pretty much all it took to get me onboard. Unfortunately, despite Heller’s insistence that “Gotham” isn’t about Batman, the numerous villains that pop up throughout the first season suggests otherwise, turning the series into something quite different than even Heller himself probably intended. The allure of exploring the various origin stories of Batman’s rogues’ gallery (arguably the best in all of comics) was undoubtedly too enticing to pass up, so it should come as no surprise that the villains are the stars of the show. Robin Lord Taylor and Jada Pinkett Smith are the obvious standouts as Penguin and new creation Fish Mooney, respectively, while Carmen Bicondova delivers a star-making turn as young Selina Kyle. Ben McKenzie also fares well as Gordon, as does Donal Logue as his morally corrupt partner, but their characters often suffer due to some really shoddy writing. And that’s the biggest problem with “Gotham” – it’s an incredibly mixed bag that succeeds as often as it fails. For every great episode, there are two more that fall flat, and although the show starts to find its groove in the latter half, that inconsistency prevents Season One from being anything more than a mildly enjoyable experiment that still needs to iron out a few wrinkles if it ever hopes to make the most of its potential.

EXTRAS: In addition to a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the series, there are three additional featurettes on the show’s production design, Penguin’s story arc and making the pilot episode, as well as footage from DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014, character profiles, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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