Blu Tuesday: Creed, 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 Facebook and Twitter with your friends.


WHAT: Determined to get out from under his father’s shadow, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) – the illegitimate son of former boxing champ Apollo Creed – leaves Los Angeles for Philadelphia to train with local legend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). But when Adonis’ secret family history is revealed and he’s offered the chance to fight the reigning world champion, he must prove to himself (and his detractors) that he’s worthy of the Creed name.

WHY: After garnering critical acclaim for his directorial debut, “Fruitvale Station,” the last thing anyone expected from Ryan Coogler’s follow-up was a spin-off/sequel to a movie franchise that’s last meaningful installment was released 30 years ago. But while it may have seemed like a strange career move at the time, “Creed” is an energizing addition to the boxing series that succeeds as a respectful passing of the torch and one of the best “Rocky” films ever made. Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are both excellent in their roles, especially the latter, who delivers his finest work in years with a subtler, more emotional performance than we’re used to seeing from the actor. Coogler, meanwhile, makes the transition from indie to mainstream filmmaking remarkably well; he provides all the usual crowd-pleasing moments without sacrificing the kind of intimate, character-driven storytelling that made “Fruitvale Station” so effective. Though “Creed” follows the 1976 original a little too closely at times, it does enough to stand on its own while still paying homage to the “Rocky” legacy.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes on developing the movie and Michael B. Jordan’s training regime, as well as some deleted scenes.



WHAT: After being abducted as a teenager and spending the past seven years in captivity, Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) – who knows nothing of the outside world – finally gain their freedom following a brave escape. But adapting to life on the outside proves even more difficult for Joy than the impressionable Jack.

WHY: Brie Larson has been quietly making a name for herself over the past few years, but while 2013’s “Short Term 12” may have been her big breakthrough, “Room” confirms that she’s the real deal. Her emotionally-charged role as the abducted teen-turned-mother was one of the best performances of 2015, and though young co-star Jacob Tremblay is also really good as her sheltered son, it’s Larson who holds the movie together, even when her character is dangerously close to falling apart. The film is comprised of two very different halves (the world Joy has made for Jack inside “room” and the outside world), and each section gives its actors a wide range of emotions to play. While Joy’s journey is pretty dark and depressing – and rightfully so, because “Room” is every parent’s worst nightmare – the innocent yet insightful narration that Jack provides as he experiences things for the first time is bursting with optimism, and ultimately, it’s that hopefulness that makes the movie such a rewarding experience.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Lenny Abrahamson, cinematographer Danny Cohen, editor Nathan Nugent and production designer Ethan Tobman, there’s a trio of production featurettes.


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Blu Tuesday: Insurgent, Strike Back 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.


WHAT: When Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) recovers a mysterious box containing a message from the colony’s founding fathers that requires a Divergent to unlock it, she orders her cronies to round up potential candidates to put through the box’s rigorous testing process. Meanwhile, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) unite their Dauntless friends with the factionless rebels – led by Four’s presumed-dead mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts) – to take down Jeanine and the whole faction system.

WHY: Unlike some of the more successful YA book-to-film adaptations, the “Divergent” series has continually failed to prove why Veronica Roth’s trilogy is such a big deal. The first installment was plagued by a troubling lack of excitement, suspense and emotion, and those problems continue with “Insurgent.” Though it boasts some great talent in the form of Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Miles Teller (the latter two of whom are smartly given more to do this time around), it’s not enough to disguise the movie’s numerous issues, especially when it wastes so much time doing nothing. The end of “Divergent” seemed to point towards a move outside the walls surrounding the dystopian city where the story takes place, and yet all of “Insurgent” is set within those very walls, suspending its characters in narrative limbo in order to slog through an entire novel of mostly filler. “Insurgent” could have been the “Catching Fire” of the “Divergent” film series, building on the original premise in bold and fresh new ways, but instead, it’s a sluggish, twiddle-your-thumbs chapter that’s more about the setup than the payoff.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher, a feature-length documentary about making the film, and a quartet of featurettes on adapting the source material, the cast, shooting the train fight sequence and Miles Teller’s character, Peter Hayes.


“Strike Back: The Complete Third Season”

WHAT: After one of their own is killed while working undercover in Beirut, Section 20 agents Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) are forced to cut their vacation short in order to stop a criminal group that is funding terrorists in the Middle East.

WHY: You’d be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable guilty pleasure on television than “Strike Back,” a show that cares so little about logic that you can practically see the writers bending over backwards behind the scenes to come up with new, ridiculous ways to defy it. The Cinemax action series doesn’t pretend to be smart (on the contrary, it almost revels in its shoot-first-think-later absurdity), but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Though Season Three is probably the weakest installment to date, particularly due to some rocky storytelling that jumps from one loosely connected subplot to the next as if they’re making it all up as they go along, Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester boast such great chemistry that it’s easy to look past its obvious flaws. Their characters may have more lives than a cat, so you know they’ll make it out of whatever crazy situation they’ve gotten themselves into unscathed, but that’s part of its allure. Well, that and the fantastic action sequences, because what “Strike Back” lacks in great writing and acting, it more than makes up for with some of the best action on TV.

EXTRAS: There are audio commentaries for three episodes with various cast and crew (including stars Sullivan Stapleton and Phillip Winchester), as well as a collection of playful behind-the-scenes featurettes like “How to Act in Shit,” “How to Drive Through a Minefield,” “How to Interrogate While Driving” and “How to Dangle From a Helicopter.”


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Blu Tuesday: Mother Green and Her Killing Machine

It’s another slow week in terms of major releases, but for those looking to update a few older movies in your collection, there are quite a few catalog titles making their Blu-ray debut, not to mention yet another reissue of a Stanley Kubrick classic. And although most of the big TV shows won’t begin hitting stores until next week, there is one series getting a head start on the competition that action fans will definitely want to check out.

“Full Metal Jacket”

It’s amazing to think that “Full Metal Jacket” is considered one of Stanley Kubrick’s weaker films, because it’s still pretty damn good. In fact, the first half of the movie is just about perfect, thanks mostly to a pair of memorable performances by R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio, both making their feature film debuts. Ermey, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for helping craft what is arguably one of the best opening scenes in cinematic history, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role, despite a different actor being originally cast to play the hard-ass drill sergeant. That might even be why the latter half of the movie feels so disjointed, because Matthew Modine and Arliss Howard’s characters just aren’t as interesting without those other guys to play off. Though the Vietnam War portion does have its moments (like the introduction of Adam Baldwin’s Animal Mother), it’s what ultimately stands in the way of “Full Metal Jacket” being the definitive film on the subject, even if some people might tell you otherwise.

Blu-ray Highlight: The 30-minute documentary “Between Good and Evil” is an excellent retrospective on making the movie, featuring interviews with various cast and crew, as well as a few Kubrick experts, about everything from the casting process, to filming in East London, to the director’s notoriously long shooting schedules and much more.

“Strike Back: Cinemax Season One”

Cinemax’s first foray into original scripted programming isn’t spectacular by any means, but for those still trying to fill the hole left by the conclusion of “24,” “Strike Back” is a pretty decent substitute. Similar to the Fox drama in many ways (not the least of which includes demanding a total suspension of disbelief), it’s a little surprising that “Strike Back” didn’t gain more attention when it premiered in the U.S. last year. A co-production with UK network Sky, this release technically represents the show’s second season, even though Season One never aired over here. Luckily, you don’t need to have seen those episodes to follow along, because the series was essentially rebooted with new characters. It also has a fairly unique format, with each mission divided into two-episode arcs, and a bigger story that serves as the connective tissue. The acting isn’t that great, and the amount of gratuitous violence and sex on display is only bested by Starz’s “Spartacus,” but the two leads have great chemistry and the action is really well done. Not every show on TV needs to be taken seriously, and “Strike Back” is a fun slice of escapist entertainment.

Blu-ray Highlight: There are audio commentaries for five of the ten episodes with executive producer Daniel Percival and actors Sullivan Stapleton, Philip Winchester, Amanda Mealing and Liam Cunningham, and although they offer some decent insight into making the show, it’s something that will most likely only interest diehard fans.


Moviegoers have been complaining about Hollywood’s lack of originality for years now, especially with popular toys like Transformers and Battleship being adapted into big summer blockbusters, but everyone seems to forget that Paramount made a film based on the Parker Brothers board game “Clue” nearly three decades earlier. Though it’s one of the few toy properties in which a movie version actually makes sense, director Jonathan Lynn’s comedic murder mystery is a complete mess. Not only does “Clue” fail to make the most of its talented ensemble cast (including Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean and Madeline Kahn), but with the exception of the always amusing Curry, the actors don’t seem all that interested. The film’s madcap tone certainly doesn’t help matters either, because although there’s some clever wordplay sprinkled throughout, it’s a little too goofy for its own good. Granted, the movie has become somewhat of a cult classic since its release in 1985, but I’d rather play the real thing than ever watch this again.

Blu-ray Highlight: The only bonus material on the disc – if you can even call it that – is the option to watch all three of the film’s surprise endings back-to-back or individually.