- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2015

With the Academy Awards now a memory, here are some of some of the tops picks in Blu-ray home entertainment this week, featuring past and current Oscar winners and nominees, as well as a comedy ready to tickle the mature viewer’s sophomoric funny bone.

And the Oscar goes to …

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated R, $34.99) — The winner of the Academy Award for best picture arrives in Blu-ray, and offers viewers a chance to carefully digest director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s single-shot, manic camera style in a pristine format. Of course, Michael Keaton’s Oscar-nominated performance also shines, complemented by castmates Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts.



The story finds actor Riggan Thomson, once known for portraying an iconic superhero, in desperate need of a career revival. When Thomson’s creative might is applied to handling all facets of his new Broadway show, the result plays out like an ego tornado, as his character takes viewers on an exhilarating as well as surreal adventure.

Extras include a 33-minute overview on the making of the film, with much of the cast gushing about the director, and a 15-minute discussion between Mr. Keaton and Mr. Inarritu. Well, it’s more of a one-sided discussion as the director further talks about his overall vision for the film.

Whiplash (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated: R, $34.99) — A teacher pushes his students to their limits to craft the next great jazz musician in one of the best films of 2014. Winning the Academy Award for his performance, actor J.K. Simmons plays the manic mentor, with his potential drumming protege (a burgeoning maniac on the skins played by Miles Teller) perfectly complementing his fiery personality.

Although the high definition captures every bead of sweat and even blood dripping off the focused musicians, the star of the digital transfer is the sound, offered in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and supporting some powerful musical numbers as well as Mr. Simmons’ booming dialogue.

The extras are equally potent, with a variety befitting a great film. First, viewers get an informative commentary track from director Damien Chazelle and Mr. Simmons (the guy seems a bit too similar to his character, Terence Fletcher). They also get the 18-minute short film “Whiplash” (Jury Award-winner at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival) that became the basis for the full-length movie.

Additionally, and most enjoyable for this drummer, was a 43-minute look at such famed percussionists as Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp), Simon Phillips (The Who), Gina Schock (The Go Go’s) and Doane Perry (Jethro Tull). Each explains their love affair with drums, the challenges of the instrument and their passion for playing music.

Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Home Entertainment, Rated PG, $39.99) — A group of young science nerds, led by the pint-size robotics genius Hiro, banded together to stop an evil genius in Disney’s blockbuster animated epic from last fall.

Based on an obscure 1990s Marvel Entertainment superhero team, the star of this heartwarming, action-packed, Academy Award-winning film is the technological creativity of the digital artists tasked with creating a white, inflatable health care robot named Baymax.

This vinyl, Michelin Man-looking bot gets more intricate and powerful as the film progresses, offering some stunning visuals. One of the best moments to this story of teamwork, friends and family is seeing the digitally animated version of the legendary Stan Lee. Keep up the good work, buddy.

As per other recent Disney animated releases, the computer artisans build such a vibrant universe that it looks three-dimensional without a 3D television or glasses required.

Extras to the Blu-ray disc include a 15-minute look at the collaborative origins of the movie and its sometimes- emotional narrative, along with a much-too-short, six-minute discussion with some of the animation team. Younger viewers and pet owners will also love the included Academy Award-winning cartoon short called “Feast,” starring a way too cute, ravenous pooch.

The Frank Darabont Collection (Warner Home Video, Rated R, $29.99) — Viewers get a glimpse of the diverse directing brilliance of an auteur often associated with the horror genre, including his recent work on the first season of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

A trio of Mr. Darabont’s most famous films arrives in a budget-priced, four-disc set offering an oddly uplifting take on the enduring human spirit.

Best of the bunch is the Academy Award-nominated “The Shawshank Redemption” from 1994 (based on a novella by Stephen King), starring Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, a man wrongly accused of murder and stuck in prison with hardened inmates (including Morgan Freeman). Whether he decides to “get busy living rather or get busy dying” in a seemingly hopeless situation plays out brilliantly in this perennial fan favorite.

Next, and equally potent, is the Academy Award-nominated “The Green Mile” (based on another King story) from 1999, which presents a three-hour-long, heart-wrenching tale of inmates on death row with one particular prisoner displaying a mystical power. It stars Tom Hanks and Michael Clark Duncan, who both deliver tour-de-force performances.

Finally, with a tip of the cap to Frank Capra movie magic, “The Majestic” from 2001 (available for the first time on Blu-ray) stars Jim Carrey as a blacklisted screenwriter who loses everything but finds a path to redemption in an old movie theater and being embraced as a small town’s favorite son.

All three films benefit greatly from digital transfers, while “Shawshank” and “The Green Mile” boast information-packed commentary tracks with the articulate Mr. Darabont.

Best extras include over three hours of documentaries tied to making “The Green Mile” spread out over two discs, plus a 48-minute BBC documentary on the production of “Shawshank.”

Cult comedy

Horrible Bosses 2: Extended Cut (Warner Home Video, Not Rated, $35.99) — Last year’s sequel to a well-received black comedy from 2011 brought back much of the original ensemble cast (including Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston) to explore the complex relationship between proletariat and money-grubbing superiors. Once again, humor remains in the gutter, especially with this extended edition offering about seven minutes more action.

The story presents the three entrepreneurial idiots with a penchant for the potty mouth (Mr. Bateman, Mr. Day and Mr. Sudeikis) inventing an accessory for the shower and quickly getting ripped off in the process. They once again resort to chicanery to get back at a corporate weasel for ruining their lives.

In an amazing feat, the producers were able to cajole three Academy Award winners — the returning Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, plus the debut of Christoph Waltz — to take part in the lunacy.

Fans of the film will need the Blu-ray to revel in extras that include no less than 13 alternate takes of scenes as the actors riff like energetic Second City students to unearth the maximum laughs.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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