Blu Tuesday: Selma, Black Sea 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.

“Selma”

WHAT: When Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) and the Southern Christian Leadership Council are invited to Selma, Alabama to stage their latest fight in the civil rights movement, they organize a series of non-violent protests in the hopes that it will force President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass the Voting Rights Act.

WHY: Who would’ve thought that a movie that takes place nearly 50 years ago would feel so relevant today? And yet while the parallels between Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” and the current racial tension across the country are indisputable, the film deserves to be judged on its own merits, because it’s a deftly made drama that takes a page from Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” by focusing on a single (but very important) chapter in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. To DuVernay’s credit, she manages to make almost every moment – from the backroom politics, to King’s rousing speeches – as riveting as the last, and a big part of that success falls on the casting, even those in bit roles. David Oyelowo is fantastic as the pastor turned civil rights activist, playing him with an expected gracefulness, but also a hint of exhaustion and self-doubt that reveals the toll his crusade for equality has taken on him. It’s hard to imagine the film being nearly as effective with another actor in the role, because it’s Oyelowo’s powerful performance that transforms “Selma” from yet another stuffy biopic into a stirring political drama worthy of Dr. King’s legacy.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries – one with director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo, and another with DuVernay, cinematographer Bradford Young and editor Spencer Averick – there are behind-the-scenes featurettes on the film’s origins and production, some deleted scenes, a collection of newsreels and photos from the period, and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Black Sea”

WHAT: After he’s fired from his job at a marine salvage company, submarine captain Robinson (Jude Law) assembles a group of former employees (half British, half Russian) to search the Black Sea for a Nazi U-boat rumored to be carrying approximately 80 million dollars in gold.

WHY: Submarines are the perfect setting for a thriller – they’re dark, claustrophobic and offer no hope of escape – which is why it’s so surprising that there aren’t more films that take advantage of them. Granted, there are probably more than you think, but very few are any good, and “Black Sea” can count itself among that exclusive group. Not only is the movie a welcome return to form for director Kevin Macdonald, who sort of fell off the map after his 2009 remake of “State of Play,” but it reaffirms why Jude Law is one of the most underrated actors in the business. Law delivers yet another excellent performance as the under-pressure captain who sees the mission as his last chance at redemption, and he’s surrounded by a cast of reliable supporting players like Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn and Michael Smiley. The “us vs. them” mentality between the British and Russian crew members provides plenty of suspense as their greed and paranoia builds throughout the film, and while certain character actions don’t exactly make sense (as things go from bad to worse, the wrong people are blamed), “Black Sea” manages to stay afloat thanks to its engaging premise, solid performances and taut direction.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Kevin Macdonald and a short making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

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January used to be a place where studios could dump their worst films like an orphan on the front steps of a church, but over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable improvement in the quality of the releases. For the most part, the movies still suck, but following the box office success of films like “Taken” and “Ride Along,” the studios seem more willing to give higher-profile titles a chance to perform against the weaker competition. It doesn’t make much difference in the long run, but if you’re able to catch just one good film that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen during a busier season, then it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

“Taken 3”

Who: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen
What: After he’s accused of a ruthless murder he didn’t committed, Bryan Mills goes on the run in order to find the true killer and clear his name.
When: January 9th
Why: Thankfully, no one’s been taken this time around, because that would have been too ridiculous even for this series, which already requires a willing suspension of disbelief not seen since the days of “24.” Though it’s unclear if the men framing Mills in this movie are connected to the bad guys from the first two films, the real draw of “Taken 3” (other than the action, of course) is its “Fugitive”-like storyline, which finally gives Liam Neeson a worthy co-star in Forest Whitaker. And if Neeson truly is done with the series after this installment, Luc Besson could easily keep it going with Whitaker’s federal agent. That is, provided he’s not the villain.

“Blackhat”

Who: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang and John Ortiz
What: A hacker is released from prison to help American and Chinese authorities pursue a mysterious cyber criminal.
When: January 16th
Why: It’s been awhile since Michael Mann made a great film, and though it’s unlikely that will change with “Blackhat,” the techno-thriller at least looks more entertaining than his last few movies. Plus, it comes with the added bonus of being released on the heels of the highly publicized Sony hacks, which gives it a sense of timeliness that Mann couldn’t have planned better himself. Though Chris Hemsworth doesn’t exactly look like your typical hacker, he’s proven that he has the charisma and talent to be a really good leading man, and it’s the collaboration between actor and director that gives me hope that, if nothing else, “Blackhat” will be a fun distraction.

“The Wedding Ringer”

Who: Josh Gad, Kevin Hart, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and Alan Ritchson
What: A shy young groom needs to impress his in-laws, so he turns to a best-man-for-hire to help him out.
When: January 16th
Why: Kevin Hart has become to January what Will Smith used to be to Fourth of July weekend: box office gold. Simply put, the guy is on fire, and Screen Gems, the studio behind three of his most recent hits, is milking him for everything he’s worth. But while both Hart and Josh Gad can be funny with the right material, there’s no getting around the fact that “The Wedding Ringer” – which is basically “Hitch” meets “I, Love You Man” – looks pretty dumb. There are a few good bits in the trailer (especially that “Goonies” line), but if that’s the best the marketing team could find, you’d be wise to steer clear.

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