Blu Tuesday: Straight Outta Compton, Everest 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.

“Straight Outta Compton”

WHAT: The story of influential rap group N.W.A. – comprised of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) – as they rose from the streets of Compton to popularize the gangsta rap movement.

WHY: There’s been a lot of discussion about “Straight Outta Compton” being snubbed for Best Picture in this year’s Oscar nominations, but it’s simply not special enough to warrant inclusion. (To be fair, neither is “Bridge of Spies,” though that’s an argument for another day.) While the film hits all the key beats in N.W.A.’s rise to stardom, it’s no different than a typical music biopic with all the highs and lows, even if it has a tendency to gloss over some of its members’ less flattering moments. Thankfully, the movie is so well-cast that it covers up many of the cracks in Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff’s screenplay. Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins and O’Shea Jackson Jr. deliver excellent performances as the key members of the group, while Paul Giamatti brings his particular brand of passive-aggressive villainy to the role of their manager. “Straight Outta Compton” is a solid biopic that music fans in particular will enjoy, but despite the timely subject matter, it’s too preoccupied with its clichéd story to make a lasting impression.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director F. Gary Gray, a collection of featurettes on the history of N.W.A., casting the group members and filming key sequences in the movie, some deleted scenes and a deleted musical performance.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Everest”

WHAT: Based on the incredible true story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, a climbing expedition to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain is devastated by a ferocious snow storm.

WHY: I’ve never been very fond of movies about people doing stupid things, and climbing Mt. Everest is right up there, especially when the odds are so stacked in Mother Nature’s favor. Still, you have to admire anyone crazy enough to try it once, let alone make a career out of it, and that adventurer mentality shines through in Baltasar Kormákur’s film. But while the movie features an outstanding ensemble cast and impressive visual effects that make it look like the whole thing was shot on the mountain, “Everest” is all spectacle and very little substance. Though it’s not exactly a disaster film in the traditional sense, Kormákur focuses more on delivering thrills than developing the characters; there are so many different personalities vying for screen time that Jason Clarke’s Rob Hall is the only one who has anything resembling a proper arc. Had “Everest” focused more on his story, it likely would have fared better, but as it stands, the two-hour runtime isn’t nearly long enough to give every character the attention they deserve.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Baltasar Kormákur, as well as featurettes on making the film, recreating Mount Everest, climbing/altitude training with the actors and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Bone Tomahawk 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.

“Bone Tomahawk”

WHAT: When his wife is kidnapped by a tribe of cave-dwelling cannibals, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) joins Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), “backup deputy” Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and gunslinger John Brooder (Matthew Fox) on a perilous mission to rescue her.

WHY: S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut has divided audiences since premiering at Fantastic Fest earlier this year, and it’s easy to see why. Though it boasts a solid cast and an intriguing premise, “Bone Tomahawk” is poorly executed, marred by some amateurish direction and terrible pacing. The film is a slow burn in the worst possible way, failing to utilize the quieter moments to build suspense or further develop the characters. In fact, apart from their names and some general background info, there’s very little character development at all, which makes it difficult to care what happens to any of them. The unexpected genre shift from Western to horror in the final act is even more disconcerting, almost as if Eli Roth took over directing duties midway through production, and although it’s a unique twist, it doesn’t quite pay off. “Bone Tomahawk” had the ingredients to be a fun little genre movie, but apart from Kurt Russell’s grisly performance and some excellent comic relief from Richard Jenkins, it never quite comes together.

EXTRAS: In addition to a Q&A with director S. Craig Zahler and the cast from the film’s premiere at Fantastic Fest, there’s a short making-of featurette and a deleted scene.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Hitman: Agent 47″

WHAT: A genetically engineered assassin known only as Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) teams up with a mysterious woman (Hannah Ware) to track down her father – the creator of the Agent program – before the sinister organization Syndicate International finds him first.

WHY: After unsuccessfully adapting the popular “Hitman” video game series with the 2007 film of the same name, 20th Century Fox decided to give it one more go by rebooting the franchise with a brand new cast. (Sound familiar?) But while “Hitman: Agent 47” is an improvement on its predecessor, the first movie was so awful that it’s like comparing a rotten apple to a slightly less rotten apple. Though the film does a better job of capturing the spirit of the “Hitman” franchise with violent, stealth-based action sequences, it’s bogged down by a cheesy and predictable script that shackles its titular character to Hannah Ware’s human MacGuffin for no other reason than because Agent 47 would be an emotionally detached bore on his own. This is the kind of movie that keeps making up rules as it goes along, praying that it will all make sense in the end, and while it will likely deliver some thrills for fans of the video game, they’d be better off playing the real thing.

EXTRAS: There’s a brief making-of featurette, a look at the stunts, an onscreen counter of all the movie’s kills, some deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Heist”

WHAT: Unable to pay his daughter’s growing medical bills, casino dealer Vaughn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) partners with a hotheaded co-worker (Dave Bautista) to rob their gangster boss, Pope (Robert De Niro). But when the heist goes horribly wrong, they hijack a city bus filled with hostages in order to fend off the police and Pope’s right-hand man (Morris Chestnut).

WHY: Robert De Niro may be choosing better scripts these days, but he’s not immune to appearing in bad movies, as evidenced in this direct-to-video thriller that plays like a mix between “Speed” and “John Q.” Director Scott Mann and writer Stephen Cyrus Sepher have created an incredibly predictable crime flick that uses just about every cliché in the book, from the desperate father trying to save his child, to the villain with a crisis of conscience. There’s even a twist ending that, no matter how clever it may seem in the moment, doesn’t make a shred of sense. Of course, neither does the fact that the hostages are more than willing to help the robbers despite not knowing any of the details regarding Vaughn’s situation. It’s an illogical mess made even worse by some second-rate acting and a lack of genuine thrills. De Niro and journeyman actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan class up the film just enough to make it watchable, but “Heist” isn’t nearly as exciting as it could have been.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Scott Mann, writer Max S. Adams and actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as well as a making-of featurette, additional cast and crew interviews, and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Mission: Impossible and Ted 2

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.

“Misson: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

WHAT: When the U.S. government shuts down IMF just as Ethan Hawke (Tom Cruise) is close to proving the extistence of the international terrorist organization known as the Syndicate, Ethan and his team must work alongside undercover MI6 operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to take down the Syndicate’s leader: rogue British intelligence agent Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

WHY: The “Mission: Impossible” series has a history of hiring a different director for each installment, and while that’s worked brilliantly thus far, Christopher McQuarrie has made a strong case for retaining his services on the next sequel with “Rogue Nation.” Granted, he doesn’t quite know what to do with Jeremy Renner’s character (who’s relegated to the sidelines yet again), but Rebecca Ferguson is a great addition to the team, while comic relief Simon Pegg demonstrates why he’s just as essential to the series as Tom Cruise. But make no mistake about it: this is Cruise’s movie as usual, and when he pulls off crazy stunts like hanging from a military cargo plane while in the air, all you can do is sit back and watch in awe. “Rogue Nation” starts to drag a bit in the end as it gets bogged down by one too many twists, but it’s yet another solid entry in the franchise that proves there’s plenty of gas left in the tank.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise, there’s a short making-of featurette, a trio of additional featurettes on the film’s incredible set pieces, character profiles and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Ted 2″

WHAT: When newlywed couple Ted (Seth MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) decide to have a baby in order to fix their failing marriage, their application for adoption is flagged by the U.S. government, which claims that Ted isn’t an actual person. With his human rights stripped away, Ted and his best friend, John (Mark Wahlberg), team up with a young, hungry lawyer (Amanda Seyfried) to fight the decision in a court of law.

WHY: As a fan of Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted,” it’s hard not to feel disappointed by the inevitable follow-up, because it’s a prime example of why sequels to comedies rarely work. Basing the film around the debate of whether a talking teddy bear should be considered human is an interesting concept, but the story is so sloppily thrown together that its flaws are a lot more noticeable, particularly the bloated runtime. “Ted 2” takes nearly 40 minutes to get going, and when it finally does find its groove, MacFarlane seems resigned to relying on lazy references to other Universal properties. Additionally, the decision to bring back Giovanni Ribisi’s character was completely unnecessary, turning the final 20 minutes into a complete retread of the original film’s ending. “Ted 2” has more than its share of funny bits, but when compared to all the dead space, misfired jokes and surprising lack of charm, it’s simply not enough.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director/co-writer Seth MacFarlane, co-writers Alec Sulkim and Wellesley Wild, and co-star Jessica Barth, as well as featurettes on the making of three particular sequences (Comic-Con, the opening musical number and the road trip), a look at the film’s various cameos, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Blu Tuesday: Ant-Man and Minions

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.

“Ant-Man”

WHAT: Ex-convict Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is given a chance at redemption when genius inventor Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) enlists his help to break into his company’s research facility and stop former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from weaponizing Pym’s groundbreaking particle technology. In order to do so, Scott must assume the mantle of the Ant-Man using a suit that grants its wearer increased strength while microscopic and the ability to telepathically control ants.

WHY: “Ant-Man” may have been a decade in the making, but despite its troubled production, director Peyton Reed has produced a funny and fast-paced standalone adventure that weaves in small references to the MCU without feeling slavish to the material. In keeping with Marvel’s tradition of exploring different genres with each new movie, “Ant-Man” is primarily a heist film that strikes a nice balance between comedy, action and drama. It’s also a movie that has serious daddy issues, featuring parallel father/daughter stories that drive the overall narrative, add some emotional weight and strengthen the connective tissue of Marvel’s expansive cinematic universe. Though it’s difficult to know exactly how much of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s original script was retained in the final version, the former’s fingerprints are all over the film, especially the climactic third-act battle that takes place entirely inside of a little girl’s bedroom. Still, while “Ant-Man” isn’t quite as out there as Wright’s version likely would have been (even for a movie about a guy who talks to ants), it’s an undeniably unique comic book film that’s loaded with charm.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Peyton Reed and star Paul Rudd, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the movie, a visual effects featurette and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Minions”

WHAT: Set in the late 1960s, before their introduction to the despicable Gru, the Minions send Stuart, Kevin and Bob on a journey to find their tribe an evil boss to serve. They’re eventually recruited by supervillain Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock), who plans to steal the Queen of England’s royal crown and take over the world.

WHY: After emerging as the unexpected stars of “Despicable Me,” it was only a matter of time before the Minions were given a movie of their own. Unfortunately, what anyone at Universal failed to realize is that the yellow, gibberish-speaking henchmen only work in small doses. Or maybe they did but simply didn’t care, because “Minions” is an uninspired cash grab that feels more like an attempt to sell branded merchandise than create a film that actually contributes something to the franchise. Nobody cares what the Minions were up to before meeting Gru, including the movie’s writer, who can’t even produce a mildly interesting story about the creatures’ origins. And when your protagonists don’t have any distinct personalities or character-defining arcs, no amount of silly, pantomimed humor changes the fact that without someone to truly invest in, it’s a pretty one-dimensional experience.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes three new shorts starring the Minions, a series of featurettes about making the movie, and an interactive map with fun facts about each location visited by the Minions in the film.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Fear the Walking Dead, Mississippi Grind 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.

“Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: When a mysterious outbreak causes Los Angeles to go into complete meltdown, a dysfunctional blended family led by high school guidance counselor Madison (Kim Dickens) and her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis) is forced to band together in order to survive the chaos.

WHY: Why: It’s easy to understand why AMC would be attracted to the idea of producing a companion series to “The Walking Dead” (after all, it’s the most-watched show in cable TV history), but there was always the risk that it would have an adverse effect on their flagship drama. Thankfully, the poorly titled “Fear the Walking Dead” distances itself enough from the original series that it doesn’t tarnish the brand, even if the new show pales in comparison. Not only is the writing heavy-handed, but the characters and their various relationships just aren’t as interesting. Though it makes sense that Madison and Co. wouldn’t be as savvy as anyone on “The Walking Dead” due to the story taking place during the early stages of the zombie outbreak, the characters come across as being especially whiny and foolish. Additionally, although the first season only contains six episodes, it’s a very slow burn that doesn’t hit its stride until the penultimate hour. If there’s any reason to stick around, it’s for Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis, both of whom are such good actors that they manage to hold your interest even when you’ve given up hope that the show will improve. But while Season Two promises bigger and better things, whether anyone will still be watching is another matter entirely.

EXTRAS: There are two brief featurettes about the series and the characters.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Mississippi Grind”

WHAT: Down-on-his-luck gambling addict Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) owes everybody in town, and instead of paying off his debts, he continues to dig himself further into a hole. But his fortune begins to change when he meets a charismatic drifter named Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), who agrees to accompany Gerry on a road trip down the Mississippi River to play in a high stakes poker game in New Orleans.

WHY: After making a splash with the emotional one-two punch of “Half Nelson” and “Sugar,” writers/directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden were unable to replicate that success with their first studio project, the lackluster “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” It’s been five years since Fleck or Boden did anything of significance, but the duo has bounced back nicely with their latest movie, a character-driven drama that plays like a gritty mash-up of “Rounders” and “Sideways” and is bolstered by a pair of fantastic performances. This is arguably the best that Ryan Reynolds has ever been, showcasing a subtler, more mature side that’s been missing in his previous work, while Ben Mendelsohn proves that he’s not just an amazing character actor, but a viable leading man as well. Both of their characters are deeply flawed, and it’s to their credit (as well as the script, which crackles with wit and heart) that you care about them even when they seem beyond all help. “Mississippi Grind” starts to drag in the final act, exposing its barebones plot in the process, but Reynolds and Mendelsohn have such great chemistry that it’s rarely boring.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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