Blu Tuesday: Green Room 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.

“Green Room”

WHAT: Down-on-their-luck punk band The Ain’t Rights accept a gig playing at a skinhead hangout on the outskirts of Portland. But when guitar player Pat (Anton Yelchin) accidentally witnesses a murder backstage, the band is thrust into a fight for survival against the club’s ruthless owner (Patrick Stewart) and his gang of backwoods neo-Nazis.

WHY: If Jeremy Saulnier’s slow-burning sophomore effort “Blue Ruin” announced him as a filmmaker to watch, then “Green Room” confirms that he’s the real deal. A brilliantly taut and grisly horror-thriller that defies genre conventions at every turn, “Green Room” is one of the most intense moviegoing experiences in recent years. There’s hardly a single wasted frame in this tightly-paced siege film, turning the screw on its characters (and the audience itself) with some nail-biting tension that doesn’t let up. The violence is gory but never gratuitous, while the lived-in performances – particularly Anton Yelchin’s frightened musician and Patrick Stewart’s surprisingly calm and rational white supremacist – lend an unsettling authenticity to the proceedings. The movie is at its best when the band is trapped inside the titular room, and although the suspense is slightly deflated once the action spills out into the rest of the building, becoming a more visceral affair where duct tape and a box cutter are the primary tools for survival, “Green Room” maintains its vice-like grip on the audience.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: House of Cards 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.

“House of Cards: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: With their marriage on the rocks, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is forced to go on the campaign trail alone while Claire (Robin Wright) starts to make big moves concerning her own political ambitions. But in order to beat young Republican candidate Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) in the upcoming presidential election, Frank needs Claire by his side more than ever.

WHY: The third season of “House of Cards” was a slight disappointment compared to the show’s excellent first two years, and sadly, that trend continues with Season Four, which really pushes the limits of suspension of disbelief. This isn’t the first time that the Underwoods have found themselves backed into a corner, but the storytelling has become so ridiculous that it simply isn’t as captivating as it once was. With that said, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright deliver such great performances in the lead roles that it papers over a lot of the cracks, demonstrating yet again why the characters are more interesting when working together than apart. The rest of the cast isn’t as effective with the limited screen time they’re given, but Joel Kinnaman’s JFK-like governor at least proves a worthy adversary for Frank. Though “House of Cards” remains one of the better dramas on TV, it’s obvious that the show is beginning to run out of ideas, as evidenced by creator Beau Willimon’s decision not to return next season, and if Netflix was smart, they wouldn’t drag it out any longer than necessary.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no bonus material included.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Eye in the Sky 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.

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

WHAT: In 2003, cable news producer Kim Baker (Tina Fey) leaves behind her banal, dead-end life in New York to accept a daring assignment covering the war in Afghanistan. Dropped into a chaotic war zone without the comforts of home, Kim befriends a fellow female reporter (Margot Robbie) and a charming photojournalist (Martin Freeman) to help navigate her strange new surroundings.

WHY: Based on journalist Kim Barker’s 2011 memoir, “The Taliban Shuffle,” about her experiences reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2004-2009, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a tonally confused war satire that struggles to find the right balance between drama and comedy. This isn’t the first movie of its kind to run into that problem, but it handles the juggling of the two genres better than most thanks to a solid script by Tina Fey’s longtime writing partner, Robert Carlock (“30 Rock,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), and some deft direction by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Crazy Stupid Love”). Though the decision to cast non-Afghan actors in prominent roles is disappointing, Christopher Abbott’s local fixer, and the relationship he forms with Kim, is one of the best things about the film. (Alfred Molina’s government official is more problematic, although that has more to do with the character itself than who’s playing him.) “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is equally as hit-and-miss on the whole, but it’s nonetheless a fun if slight tragicomedy that benefits greatly from its talented cast.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a behind-the-scenes look at making the movie, four additional featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Midnight Special 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.

“Midnight Special”

WHAT: On the run from the government, as well as religious zealots who covet his son Alton’s (Jaeden Lieberher) mysterious powers, Roy (Michael Shannon) enlists the help of his wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) to get the young boy to an undisclosed location on a specific date. He’s not sure why, other than that it will help Alton achieve his true purpose.

WHY: Director Jeff Nichols has a predilection for telling simple stories that focus heavily on character, but “Midnight Special” is almost too simple in execution, lacking the required substance to sustain its 112-minute runtime. Though the opening act is packed with tension and mystery, the story grinds to a halt in the middle as its characters become stuck in a holding pattern of sorts, only to eventually limp towards its disappointing conclusion. Nicholas has never been very good at sticking the landing, but “Midnight Special” contains his most uninspired ending yet. The movie is also mind-numbingly slow at times, weighed down by subplots that go nowhere and entire scenes where nothing happens. Fortunately, the acting is so good that it just barely manages to keep your interest, particularly Nichols regular Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver as an NSA agent helping to track down the fugitives. It’s a shame to see this much talent wasted on such a mediocre film, because while there was certainly a great movie within reach, “Midnight Special” stumbles too often to fulfil its potential.

EXTRAS: There are profiles on the five main characters and a making-of featurette.

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Blu Tuesday: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Eddie the Eagle 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.

“10 Cloverfield Lane”

WHAT: After she’s blind-sided by a truck and knocked unconscious, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) fears the worst when she wakes to find herself in a strange bunker. Her captor Howard (John Goodman) insists that he saved her from a chemical attack that has rendered the outside world uninhabitable, but while a fellow survivor (John Gallagher Jr.) is able to corroborate the story, Michelle can’t shake the feeling that Howard is still hiding something.

WHY: Audiences expecting a major connection to the 2008 found footage movie “Cloverfield” will undoubtedly be disappointed by Dan Trachtenberg’s debut film, but the J.J. Abrams-produced “blood relative” is still an extremely well-crafted thriller that doesn’t waste a single moment. It’s nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat stuff that’s heightened by the claustrophobic setting and nonstop tension. Essentially a three-handed chamber piece between Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., “10 Cloverfield Lane” hinges on the performances of its cast. Thankfully, they’re all fantastic in their roles, particularly Goodman, who steals the show as the creepy, domineering Howard; it’s a deliciously wicked turn that will make your skin crawl. You’ve never seen the veteran actor quite like this before, but by casting him against type, it strengthens the overall mystery that is so essential to the movie’s success. Though the 11th-hour twist nearly undoes all that good work with its abrupt (and unnecessary) change in tone, “10 Cloverfield Lane” manages to deliver a riveting experience that’s even better than the film that inspired it.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Dan Trachtenberg and producer J.J. Abrams, there’s a collection of production featurettes, a look back at “Cloverfield” and a tour of the film’s bunker.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Eddie the Eagle”

WHAT: When he fails to make the final squad chosen to represent Great Britain at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, downhill skier Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) switches focus to ski jumping when he learns that he only needs to qualify in order to compete. Though that’s easier said than done, Eddie defies all odds through sheer determination and the help of washed-up American champion Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman).

WHY: Disney may be king of the underdog sports drama, but actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher beats the studio at its own game with this inspirational true story that’s equal parts “Rudy” and “Cool Runnings.” Much like the characters in those films, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards is such a larger-than-life personality – a misfit characterized by his Coke-bottle glasses and goofy underbite – that he’s difficult not to cheer on. Taron Egerton does an excellent job in the title role, perfectly capturing Eddie’s mannerisms and infectious optimism, while Hugh Jackman turns in a reliably charming performance as his fictitious coach. Peary isn’t the only fictional element in the film – not by a longshot – but in spite of the many liberties that the movie takes, it retains the spirit of Eddie’s story, which is just as important. Though it’s a pretty formulaic underdog tale that checks off all the usual sports movie clichés, “Eddie the Eagle” is nevertheless an enjoyable feel-good film that wears its heart (and humor) on its sleeve just like its charismatic subject.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a three-part documentary about making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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