The week of February 24 is a very big week if you are a cinephile, as recent Oscar winners Big Hero 6 and Whiplash are among the big titles making their debuts on Blu-ray.
Big Hero 6 (PG, Walt Disney Pictures, 108 minutes) was recently bestowed the honor of Best Animated Film at the 87th Academy Awards. Last year it went to Frozen, a film that little girls still can’t let go. The film is also the studio’s first non-Marvel Studios venture to adapt an existing Marvel Comics property. Big Hero 6 is a superhero tale about young inventor Hiro Hamada (voice of Ryan Potter) and his robot, a plus-sized health-care droid named Baymax (Scott Adsit). His immense size makes the Michelin Man look puny by comparison.
While the film takes its cues from a comic book, it shares a dynamic as seen in Brad Bird’s 1999 animated gem The Iron Giant. The big separation is that this here is the origin tale for a group of misfit superheroes-cum-scientific geniuses (Genesis Rodriguez, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., and T.J. Miller). Together they battle a mysterious supervillain who played a role in the death of Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi.
Taking a setup that has worked well for Disney princess movies in the past, Big Hero 6 telegraphs its plot progression to a noble fault. However, unlike recent Marvel superhero movies, the animated release doesn’t have the characterization to back up the bombastic action. The best character is easily Baymax, by a wide margin.
A hero whose power is health care, Adsit of 30 Rock fame provides the great big marshmallow some depth despite limited mobility. The film ventures into dark territory that I’m sure most audiences weren’t expecting when it became a hit in theaters last fall. But through the darkness, and beyond the superhero action, Big Hero 6 covers a number of different themes, such as overcoming tragedy and the importance of friendship. The Hiro-Baymax relationship is one of the more interesting pairings of recent memory.
Released as a “Collector’s Edition,” the Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack comes loaded with supplemental material. Extras include theatrical short Feast (which won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film), deleted scenes and the featurettes “The Origin Story of Big Hero 6: Hiro’s Journey” and “Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters.” If that’s not enough, you can also find a hidden Easter egg about “Big Hero Secrets.”
Whiplash (R, Sony Pictures Classics, 106 Minutes) comes from 29-year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle and in a word it is spine-tingling. No other 2014 release had me on the edge of my seat quite like this one. Nominated for Best Picture and winner of three Academy Awards, including Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and J.K. Simmons’s stirring portrait of Terrence Fletcher, a tightly coiled serpent of a music teacher.
Running his classroom as if he were a prison warden or drill sergeant, Simmons systematically breaks down an overly ambitious student who dreams of becoming one of the best jazz drummers of all time. Miles Teller, as the pupil Andrew Neyman, may not have had the showier performance, but the degree of difficulty goes unabated.
Literally bleeding for his dreams of being elite, Teller’s portrayal as a rising talent makes Whiplash a spiraling tale of obsession and just how far one is willing to go to be the best. Extras include commentary with Chazelle and Simmons and a Q&A from the Toronto International Film Festival with Teller, Simmons, and Chazelle. The Blu-ray also comes with the original short film (winner of 2013’s Short Film Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival), plus a deleted scene and “Timekeepers,” a 42-minute documentary where famous drummers like Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Peter Erskine, and more discuss the craft and passion for drumming.
Horrible Bosses 2 (R, Warner Bros., 108 minutes): Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day return three years after their original foray as amateur delinquents who resort to crime once again to strike back at someone who has gotten the better of them. At the time, I rated Horrible Bosses quite highly because who else hasn’t felt like wanting to get back at his/her boss? However, the sequel feels like a non-event.
Not only are the three leads the horrible bosses (because of their ineptitude and lack of job smarts) this time, the plot has lazy gambits and off-putting jokes. Listen, I’m all for crudeness in restricted comedies, but date-rape jokes just don’t work. The best moments involve Charlie Day and his neurotic behavior when trying to make points, plus Kevin Spacey in a singular scene where he upstages everybody. The three leads have fun chemistry that keep the comedy progressing along, which is saddled with an iPod shuffle playlist for a soundtrack selection (featuring artists like Toto, Jason Derulo, The Clash, Katy Perry, and N.W.A.), but ultimately Horrible Bosses 2 is an unwarranted sequel, much like what we got with the second and third parts of The Hangover.
Blu-ray-only extras include an extended cut that runs eight minutes longer, the Shower Buddy infomercial, and EPK-style featurettes like “Let The Sexual Healing Begin,” “Who Invented the Shower Buddy,” “Nick Kurt Dale INC: Employee Testimonials,” “High Speed Crash Course,” and “Off the Cuff: One Liners You Didn’t See.”
Also available this week: Beyond the Lights (music drama in the vein of The Bodyguard starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker), Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse (direct-to-video fantasy adventure sequel featuring the voice of Ben Kingsley as the dragon), Watership Down and Fellini Satyricon (animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ children’s novel and Federico Fellini classic, both from The Criterion Collection), The Majestic (Frank Darabont’s amnesic tale of Hollywood’s blacklist starring Jim Carrey), Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee’s Oscar-nominated tale of a widower Chinese chef and his three unmarried daughters), plus genre flicks The Beyond (Grindhouse Releasing), 52 Pick-Up (Kino), New Year’s Evil (Scream Factory), and God Told Me To (Blue Underground)
Television Series: Sons of Anarchy: The Final Season (or the complete series gift set), Midsomer Murders, Set 25 (five feature-length British mysteries from Acorn Media), Royal Rumble 2015 (World Wrestling Entertainment)
Best Titles of the Week: Whiplash, Big Hero 6
Better to Rent: Horrible Bosses 2, Beyond the Lights
Best New Catalog Titles: Watership Down, Eat Drink Man Woman, The Majestic
[Image via Roger Ebert’s Far Flung Correspondents]