Blu Tuesday: The Knick, Keanu 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.

“The Knick: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: After he’s rescued from the primitive rehab center that used heroine to treat his cocaine habit, Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) returns to the Knick with a new obsession: finding a cure for addiction. Meanwhile, Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland) and Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) continue to butt heads; Bertie (Michael Angarano) goes to work at a competing hospital; and Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) investigates a mysterious death connected to her family’s shipping company.

WHY: The first season of “The Knick” was a slow-moving but nonetheless compelling period drama highlighted by some fantastic performances and gorgeous visuals, which makes it all the more disappointing to see the show suffer through such a terrible sophomore slump. Several key players, particularly Andre Holland’s Dr. Edwards and Eve Henson’s Lucy, have been saddled with half-baked storylines that barely form anything resembling an arc, while Clive Owen’s Thackery is gradually built up over the course of the season just so he can be torn down again. It’s all handled very sloppily, but that’s Season Two in a nutshell. Though the surgery sequences are still fascinating to watch, and the scene-stealing Chris Sullivan is rewarded with a bigger role, just when “The Knick” seems to be finding its groove, it pivots to less worthy characters like Dr. Gallinger and the sleazy Herman Barrow, both of whom are given far too much screen time this season. The change in direction is mind-boggling to say the least, because what started as a fairly promising prestige drama has deteriorated into a series that’s hardly worth continuing at all.

EXTRAS: In addition to three audio commentaries with various cast and crew, there’s a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes on the season’s main themes, an in-depth look at some of the medical procedures, a walking tour of the set, and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: The Knick, Unfriended 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 Knick: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: In New York City during the turn of the 20th century, the extremely talented Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) takes over as chief surgeon at the Knickerbocker Hospital (dubbed The Knick) after his mentor/boss commits suicide. While Thackery and his staff attempt to overcome the medical limitations of the era by making new discoveries of their own, they’re forced to deal with major issues like race relations, class warfare, sexism, drug addiction and more.

WHY: When Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from filmmaking, it seemed a bit premature for someone so young. But while the director has remained true to his word as far as the big screen is concerned, he’s taken his talents to the small screen in the interim, most notably with this excellent period drama from Cinemax. Loosely based on real-life events and people, “The Knick” is different from traditional (and more contemporary) medical dramas in that the surgical procedures actually serve the characters and story, not to mention offer a fascinating look at just how far the medical field has come since then. The supporting cast is great, particularly Andre Holland and Michael Angarano as two of the surgeons on Thackery’s team, but the series succeeds largely thanks to Clive Owen’s commanding lead performance. And because Soderbergh directed and shot every episode, it’s also one of the best-looking shows on television. Though the first season starts to drag in the last few episodes due to lackluster subplots involving Typhoid Mary and a jealous surgeon dealing with problems at home, “The Knick” is a well-acted prestige drama that deserves to be on a much bigger stage like HBO.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes cast and crew audio commentaries on three episodes (although sadly, both Clive Owen and Steven Soderbergh are absent), as well as “Post-Op” recap featurettes for every episode but the first.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Unfriended”

WHAT: On the one-year anniversary of the death of classmate Laura Barns, who committed suicide after being cyberbullied due to an embarrassing video posted on the web, a group of friends are stalked by a mysterious intruder on their Skype call claiming to be the vengeful spirit of Laura.

WHY: Technology has become so integral to our daily lives that it was only a matter of time before someone made a film that unfolds entirely on a computer screen, and though “Unfriended” isn’t the first to employ this gimmick, you can be certain it won’t be the last. But while there’s a lot to admire about the concept and technical skill required to pull off such a seamless visual trick, the movie is constantly getting in its own way. For a film made for tech-savvy teenagers who can juggle multiple apps with their eyes closed, there’s a maddening amount of hand-holding that takes place, from the way its main character hovers over text with her cursor to ensure the audience is following along, to the time it takes her to perform a simple task. The movie builds some nice tension with delayed chat messages, slow-moving download status bars and the worst Skype connection in history, but it doesn’t have any genuine scares. Though “Unfriended” should be applauded for addressing such a serious issue in today’s culture of anonymity-driven public shaming, it’s surrounded by so much stupidity – including the same poor writing, tired clichés and shallow characters that constantly plague the horror genre – that it only weakens its message.

EXTRAS: No bonus material is included.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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