Blu Tuesday: The Martian 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.

“The Martian”

WHAT: During a manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind by his crew after he seemingly dies in a storm. But when it turns out that Watney has survived, he must use his skills and intelligence to keep himself alive on the barren planet long enough to make contact with NASA and await rescue.

WHY: Although it’s the third film in as many years about astronauts in distress, “The Martian” is a smart, captivating and humorous adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel that covers very different narrative and emotional territory than “Gravity” and “Interstellar.” For starters, it’s a lot more uplifting than most sci-fi fare, eschewing the usual doom-mongering for a story about the power of optimism and perseverance that also doubles as one heckuva recruitment video for NASA. (Who knew science and math could be this much fun?) Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the Everyman astronaut forced to “science the shit” out of his seemingly impossible predicament, while the supporting cast – including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejifor and Jessica Chastain – is absolutely stacked with talent. This is hands down Ridley Scott’s best movie since “Gladiator,” and it owes a lot to Drew Goddard’s screenplay, which takes a lighthearted approach to the high-stakes drama in order to produce one of the most purely entertaining crowd-pleasers in years.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of production featurettes, there are some fictional promo videos made for the film and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Mr. Robot: Season One”

WHAT: Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a cyber security engineer who suffers from social anxiety disorder, is recruited by a mysterious hacker named Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) to help take down an evil corporation that he believes is destroying the world.

WHY: USA Network hasn’t garnered much acclaim with its recent crop of original series, so when “Mr. Robot” debuted last summer to rave reviews, audiences were quick to stand up and take notice. Though the psychological thriller isn’t quite as groundbreaking as many have suggested – largely because its big twists have been executed better before – it gets off to a strong start thanks to Rami Malek’s breakout performance and a solid supporting cast. The hacker elements are really compelling, but once the show starts to dive more into Elliot’s psyche, it begins to unravel. Not only is Elliot an incredibly unreliable protagonist, giving the writers free reign to do whatever they want with little consequences, but the drastic change in direction midway through the season is so sudden that it feels like creator Sam Esmail got impatient allowing the story to develop organically. He burns through nearly two seasons’ worth of story in only 10 episodes, and while some viewers will appreciate that type of gung-ho attitude, a more disciplined approach would have resulted in a more rewarding payoff.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

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As if the winter months weren’t already miserable enough, the January movie slate definitely won’t be one to remember. Though recent years have seen a slight increase in the quality of films being released during this time, 2016 will remind audiences why it’s long been considered a dumping ground for bad movies. There a few potential surprises from the likes of Michael Bay and Gavin O’Connor, but you’d be better off catching up on all the awards contenders (and maybe seeing “Star Wars” a third or fourth time) instead.

“The Forest”

Who: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa and Eoin Macken
What: A young woman searches for her twin sister in a Japanese forest, only to find herself surrounded by paranormal forces.
When: January 8th
Why: Believe it or not, “The Forest” isn’t a remake of a Japanese horror flick, but rather an original story whose makers somehow thought it would be a good idea to cast mostly white actors in a movie about a real-life problem in Japan. Cultural insensitivity aside, “The Forest” looks like your typical supernatural horror film circa 2005, when retooling Asian genre movies for American audiences was all the rave. Though it’s nice to see Natalie Dormer in her first Hollywood leading role, the “Game of Thrones” actress is far too talented to be wasting her time on low-rent projects like this.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Who: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber and David Costabile
What: An American ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.
When: January 15th
Why: Michael Bay’s “smaller” movies always interest me more than his effects-driven blockbusters, like this adaptation of bestselling author Mitchell Zuckoff’s book about the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Though Bay’s romanticism of the U.S. military can be a little irritating at times, he’s one of the best action directors around, and “13 Hours” is shaping up to his own personal “Black Hawk Down.” The film also boasts a solid ensemble cast led by John Krasinski and journeyman actor James Badge Dale, but its success will depend largely on whether Bay can tone down the pro-American flag-waving and just focus on telling a good story.

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Blu Tuesday: Sicario, The Walk 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.

“Sicario”

WHAT: FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited by a government task force led by Department of Defense consultant Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to help bring down a Mexican drug cartel whose grisly business has bled over into the U.S. But Graver and his mysterious colleague, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), operate under a completely different set of rules, leading Kate to wonder what she’s gotten herself into.

WHY: “Sicario” isn’t the first movie to tackle the illegal drug trade along the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s easily one of the best, a relentlessly suspenseful crime thriller that offers a merciless look behind the curtain of the real War on Drugs. The film rarely takes its foot off the gas, continuing director Denis Villeneuve’s excellent form with a masterclass in building tension that will tie your stomach in knots. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is as stunning as ever, somehow finding the beauty in an ugly situation, but it’s the performances from the three leads that really elevate the material. Benicio Del Toro is especially good, delivering his best work in over a decade as the silent but deadly consultant – a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing who eventually bares his teeth and claws in the explosive final act. Though a few missteps prevent “Sicario” from true greatness, it’s an outstanding, white-knuckle thriller that will leave you mentally and physically exhausted in the best way.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on the film’s origins, its visual design and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, as well as some interviews with the cast and crew.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“The Walk”

WHAT: When Paris street performer Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sees a concept photo of the Twin Towers in a magazine, he immediately becomes obsessed with walking between them on a high wire. Several years later, Philippe’s dream comes true when he travels to New York City with a small team of conspirators and they sneak into the under-construction buildings to pull off the artistic crime of the century.

WHY: Philippe Petit’s death-defying walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974 was previously spotlighted in James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary, “Man on Wire.” But for as compelling as that film was, it lacked a key element: actual footage of Petit’s performance. Recognizing an opportunity to recreate that once-in-a-lifetime moment on the big screen, director Robert Zemeckis gives Petit’s famous high-wire act the Hollywood treatment with this adaptation of the unbelievable true story. Though “The Walk” is far from a perfect movie – the fourth-wall-breaking narration is distracting and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cartoonish French accent takes some getting used – when it’s time to deliver the goods, Zemeckis doesn’t disappoint. The planning and execution of the “heist” makes for some thrilling moments, but it’s the titular climax that’s the obvious highlight, and Zemeckis squeezes every drop of tension and delight out of it, redefining the phrase “end on a high note” with a sequence that will leave you breathless and wanting more.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes featurettes on the film’s visual effects, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wire-walking training and the supporting cast, as well as a handful of deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

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Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: December may normally be all about awards season, but this year, the real draw is “Star Wars.” Although there are several major contenders – from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell and Alejandro González Iñárritu – scheduled for release at the end of the month, the highly anticipated seventh installment in the “Star Wars” film series is what everyone will be talking about during the holidays. For the few people that don’t care about “Star Wars,” there are plenty of great movies to discover this month, but for everyone else, it’s going to be awfully hard to concentrate until after December 18th.

“Krampus”

Who: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman and David Koechner
What: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.
When: December 4th
Why: Michael Dougherty’s 2007 horror anthology “Trick ‘r Treat” is one of the most underrated movies in the genre, but sadly, it doesn’t look as if “Krampus” will be following in its footsteps. While his directorial debut relied on a smart mix of humor and horror, Dougherty’s new film seems genuinely confused about what kind of movie it wants to be. The trailer doesn’t really establish a definitive tone, swinging from one extreme to the other, and that could ultimately prove problematic for its marketing campaign, which already has the unenviable task of selling a horror movie during the holiday season.

“In the Heart of the Sea”

Who: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw
What: Based on the 1820 event that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” a whaling ship is preyed upon by a sperm whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days.
When: December 11th
Why: It’s not very often that you see a film’s release date moved to a more competitive time of year, but Warner Bros.’ decision to push “In the Heart of the Sea” from last March to December (one week before the release of “The Force Awakens”) speaks volumes of the studio’s confidence in the Ron Howard-directed historical epic. Though Chris Hemsworth has yet to prove himself as a viable leading man without the built-in audience of the Marvel movies, his latest collaboration with Howard promises to showcase what he’s really capable of as an actor, provided the CG-heavy thrills don’t get in the way.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

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The holidays are just around the corner, which means that it’s officially time for awards season, even if a number of studios got an early start last month. Although there aren’t as many options as you would expect from November, the release schedule is packed with promising titles, including Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bender, Oscar hopefuls starring Steve Carrell and Benedict Cumberbatch, and the penultimate installment of the “Hunger Games” series.

“Interstellar”

Who: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Wes Bentley
What: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to travel through space in search of an inhabitable planet for the human race.
When: November 7th
Why: Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi flick has been so shrouded in secrecy that it seems rude to even talk about it, and therefore, I’d actually recommend skipping this entry altogether. But if you’ve already seen the trailer or have been following your favorite movie blogger on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that “Interstellar” has reached “OMG Best Movie Ever” levels of excitement. Of course, it’s that kind of ridiculous hyperbole that has made me super cautious about my own expectations for the film, because while Nolan has proven that he’s one of the best directors in the game, and star Matthew McConaughey can seemingly do no wrong at the moment, chances are that although “Interstellar” will be really good – great, even – it won’t be the cinema-defining masterpiece that some are expecting.

“Big Hero 6″

Who: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez and T.J. Miller
What: Child prodigy Hiro Hamada and his plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
When: November 7th
Why: Pixar may be taking the year off, but Disney wasn’t going to loosen its grasp on the Best Animated Featured category without putting up a fight, although it’s hard to see “Big Hero 6” competing with likes of “The LEGO Movie.” Based on the little-known Marvel comic of the same name, the film certainly looks impressive with its stylish art design, while the cute and cuddly Baymax (whose robotic influences range from WALL*E to C3PO) will likely make Disney millions of dollars based on toy sales alone. Though “Big Hero 6” doesn’t pique my interest nearly as much as the studio’s 2012 hit “Wreck-It Ralph,” here’s hoping that it’s a giant success, if only because it may lead to more animated versions of other forgotten Marvel properties in the future.

“The Theory of Everything”

Who: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox and Emma Watson
What: A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
When: November 7th
Why: It’s actually pretty surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to make a proper biopic about Stephen Hawking (not counting the 2004 TV movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, of course), especially considering his prominence not only in the scientific world, but pop culture as well. Director James Marsh’s first narrative feature, “Shadow Dancer,” may not have received the same attention as his documentaries (“Man on Wire” and “Project Nim”), but his follow-up is guaranteed to be in the awards mix thanks to some early buzz following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The same goes for star Eddie Redmayne, whose performance as Hawking has already garnered praise as the one to beat at this year’s Oscars. And though it’s still early, the trailer does a damn good job of backing up those comments.

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