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Blu Tuesday: Olympus Has Fallen, Girls 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.

“Olympus Has Fallen”

WHAT: When former Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) gets trapped inside the White House following a terrorist attack, he must rely on his special skills to rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart) from his captors before they detonate the country’s entire nuclear stockpile on domestic soil.

WHY: Antoine Fuqua may have beat Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down” to the punch by being the first Presidential action flick out of the gate, but not without the final product suffering as a result. The special effects, in particular, look a little unpolished (undoubtedly due to its tight post-production schedule), and although it features an excellent cast, many of the actors are wasted, perhaps none more so than Eckhart, who’s given very little to but grimace and grit his teeth. It’s also completely ridiculous in just about every way, from an unidentified Black Hawk flying straight into Washington, D.C. (when it would have been shot down as soon as it entered U.S. airspace), to North Korean terrorists overtaking one of the country’s most heavily guarded buildings in a matter of minutes. The film takes a while to get going, but once Banning gets into full stealth mode, “Olympus Has Fallen” becomes quite enjoyable – a poor man’s “Die Hard” in the best sense possible.

EXTRAS: In addition to a making-of featurette titled “Under Surveillance,” there are four more featurettes on the cast, special effects, stunts and the Black Hawk sequence, as well as a short blooper reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Girls: Season Two”

WHAT: The further adventures of Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) and her group of twenty-something friends – Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) – as they traverse the ups and downs of adulthood in New York City.

WHY: I had a very love-hate relationship with the first season of “Girls,” but Season Two is such a complete train wreck that it made me want to stop watching the show altogether. Dunham has created one of the most unlikable protagonists on TV (between her coke-fueled meltdown and the Patrick Wilson episode, she hits an all-time low), and Williams’ laughably insecure Marnie isn’t too far behind. In fact, the female characters have so few redeeming qualities – even Mamet’s lively Shoshanna resorts to some bad behavior this season – that it’s a wonder how the audience is supposed to keep rooting for them. Thankfully, their male co-stars at least make “Girls” tolerable. Season One standout Adam Driver continues his strange but endearing performance as Hannah’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, while Alex Karpovsky seizes his expanded role with aplomb. Unfortunately, the show isn’t called “Boys,” although as far as spinoff ideas go, giving Driver and Karpovsky their own series sounds infinitely better than whatever Dunham cooks up next.

EXTRAS: There’s certainly no shortage of bonus material here, highlighted by cast and crew audio commentaries on seven episodes. Also included is a series of deleted scenes, Inside the Episode featurettes, a table read for Episode 5, a Charlie Rose interview with Lena Dunham, a making-of featurette, a roundtable discussion with the show’s male co-stars, and if you can believe it, much more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to March

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After suffering through the doldrums of winter, it’s encouraging to see that the quality (and selection) of movies will improve along with the weather. Though many of this month’s films probably won’t be remembered by the time summer rolls around, there are a few indie flicks with real cult potential and a pair of tentpole-type movies based on popular properties that will benefit from opening during a less competitive time of year.

“JACK THE GIANT SLAYER”

Who: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy
What: When a young farmhand unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants, he must fight for his kingdom and the princess he loves.
When: March 1st
Why: It’s been awhile since Bryan Singer directed a movie that I was genuinely excited about, and unfortunately, “Jack the Giant Slayer” doesn’t break that trend. Though the fantasy film sounds great in theory, the trailers don’t look very promising, particularly in regards to its uneven tone (is it for children, adults or the whole family?) and cartoonish CGI. It doesn’t even bare much resemblance to the fairy tales on which it’s based, and while the cast is filled with some great actors (Nicholas Hoult appears to be the real deal), there’s probably a good reason why the original summer release date was axed.

“STOKER”

Who: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and Jacki Weaver
What: After India’s father dies, her Uncle Charlie comes to live with her and her unstable mother, only to discover that he has ulterior motives.
When: March 1st
Why: Continuing the Korean invasion that kicked off in January with Kim Ji-woon’s “The Last Stand,” Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut hits theaters in time for U.S. audiences to get accustomed to the director’s unique style ahead of the long-awaited remake of his 2003 cult hit “Oldboy.” It’s taken longer than expected for Park to export his talents to Hollywood, but “Stoker” is the perfect project if there ever was one. It’s also clear from the cast he’s assembled that the director is well-admired within the industry, and all three leads don’t seem to be holding back. Early buzz has been mostly positive, drawing comparisons to Hitchcock, and that alone should be enough to get you excited.

“OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”

Who: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff
What: A small-time magician with questionable ethics arrives in a magical land and must choose between becoming a good man or a great one.
When: March 8th
Why: Disney is putting a lot of faith in Sam Raimi’s “Wizard of Oz” prequel, no doubt hoping that it can reach “Alice in Wonderland” levels of success, but was anyone really clamoring for another movie? It’s not even based on any of L. Frank Baum’s novels, despite the fact that Disney owns the rights to nearly every book in the Oz series, and though it’s supposedly inspired by his works, the risk of upsetting fans of the original film doesn’t seem worth it. Then again, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is exactly the kind of franchise-ready cash cow that Disney loves to produce (i.e. “Pirates of the Caribbean”), and while it’s depressing to see Raimi wasting his talents, at least it’s in good hands.

“DEAD MAN DOWN”

Who: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper and Terrence Howard
What: In New York City, a crime lord’s right-hand man is seduced by a woman seeking retribution against his boss.
When: March 8th
Why: Park Chan-wook isn’t the only foreign director making his English-language debut this month, as Niels Arden Oplev follows up his award-winning Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” with a new film that reunites him with star Noomi Rapace. This is one of those movies that flew completely under my radar until it came time to start planning the preview, but from what I’ve seen so far, “Dead Man Down” has the potential to be the big surprise of March. Colin Farrell is capable of delivering great work with the right material, and Terrence Howard is an excellent choice to play the silky-smooth villain, but more than anything else, this could be Oplev’s coming out party as a director now that he’s no longer stuck in the shadow of Stieg Larsson’s popular novel.

“THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE”

Who: Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde and James Gandolfini
What: After magician Burt Wonderstone splits from his longtime stage partner, he sets out to rediscover what made him love magic in the first place.
When: March 15th
Why: “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” may sound like comedy gold on paper, but it’s hard to get past that terrible trailer, which almost certainly doesn’t do the movie justice. Though pairing Steve Carell and Jim Carrey together in a film would have been a brilliant stroke of casting five years ago, neither actor has done anything of note recently. It’s also a little strange that the movie will be opening South by Southwest this year, because it doesn’t seem to have the type of comic edge I’ve come to expect from the Austin-based film festival. Then again, if it’s good enough for SXSW, then I’m willing to remain cautiously optimistic that it won’t be nearly as bad as the early trailers suggest.

“OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”

Who: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Rick Yune
What: Disgraced Secret Service agent Mike Banning must rescue the President after he’s held hostage by terrorists inside the White House.
When: March 22nd
Why: Over the past 20 years, there has been a bizarre trend of likeminded disaster movies opening within months of each another, so it seems only natural that director Roland Emmerich (who’s no stranger to this phenomenon) is involved in Hollywood’s latest instance of copycat action thrillers. Though his similarly plotted “White House Down” won’t arrive in theaters until June, “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua has beaten him to the punch. Both movies will probably be pretty interchangeable in terms of plot and action, but while “White House Down” features the more box office-friendly duo of Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, I’d take Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart any day of the week. For those waiting for a “24” movie, this could be the next best thing.

“ADMISSION”

Who: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, Michael Sheen and Gloria Reuben
What: A Princeton admissions officer takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who might be the son she gave up years ago.
When: March 22nd
Why: Despite its sitcomy premise, “Admission” has one thing going for it that most romantic comedies don’t: Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. The two stars are not only some of Hollywood’s most likeable comic actors, but they tend to make everything they’re in more enjoyable. Fey hasn’t appeared on the big screen since 2010’s “Date Night,” but now that “30 Rock” is over, here’s hoping that audiences will see more of her in the future, because she’s the kind of leading lady that could reinvigorate the rom-com genre. Director Paul Weitz has had his share of flops in recent years, but he’s proven with “About a Boy” and “In Good Company” that he’s capable of making a great movie.

“SPRING BREAKERS”

Who: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and James Franco
What: Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant to fund their spring break vacation find themselves in the debt of a drug and arms dealer.
When: March 22nd
Why: Guaranteed to be one of the most controversial films released all year, Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” is the kind of movie that people are either going to really love or really hate. I’m not sure which group I’ll end up in, but Korine has definitely perked my interest with his sumptuous visuals and timely social satire. The big story, however, is the cast, which includes former Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez trying to break free from their squeaky clean images with more adult roles, and James Franco continuing his bizarre acting career with a turn as a cornrowed, gold-toothed wannabe gangster that should make the movie worth seeing whether it’s good or not.

“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION”

Who: Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum, Ray Park and Adrianne Palicki
What: The G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.
When: March 29th
Why: The quasi-sequel to 2009’s ill-fated “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” has had a pretty bump road on its way to theaters after its initial summer 2012 release date was pushed back nearly a year amid reports that Paramount wanted to convert the film to 3D. Of course, the real reason for the delay was some not-so-secret reshoots with Channing Tatum, whose reported death in the beginning of the movie didn’t go down well with test audiences. Regardless of what the finished product looks like now, it would be pretty hard to do any worse than Steven Sommers’ first film. And between the addition of guys like Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis and director John M. Chu’s professed love for the property, “Retaliation” could be just what the franchise needs to get it back on track.

“THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES”

Who: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne
What: A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks to provide for his lover and new child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop.
When: March 29th
Why: I wasn’t crazy about Derek Cianfrance’s anti-rom-com “Blue Valentine,” but his second outing with Ryan Gosling looks much better, despite the fact that some people are already lazily comparing it to “Drive.” The movie premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival to glowing reviews, and there’s a good chance that Gosling and Bradley Cooper will earn Oscar nominations for their work here. Both men have proven themselves capable of delivering excellent performances, and it’s only a matter of time before they win the big prize. What really makes the film stand out, though, is that it doesn’t seem to be your average crime thriller. There’s something smarter and more emotional about the story being told, and that’s usually the sign of a great movie.

  

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