- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2018

Here’s a pair of butt-kicking movies recently released in the Blu-ray format.

Walking Tall: Special Edition(MVD Visual, rated PG-13, 86 minutes, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, $29.95) — Director Kevin Bray’s 2004, loose reimagining of a classic 1973 movie about the exploits of real-life Sheriff Buford Pusser returns to Blu-ray format in a sort of a new edition.

Starring a very young but always affable Dwayne Johnson, the story never even mentions Sheriff Pusser but instead follows Special Forces soldier Chris Vaughn returning home to his small town in the Pacific Northwest.

He quickly learns from a corrupt sheriff (Michael Bowen) and old friend (Johnny Knoxville) that bad guy Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) has shut done the town’s wood mill and built a casino ripe with criminal activity.

Multiple violent encounters with Mr. Hamilton’s goons agitate Mr. Vaughn enough to run for and win the job of sheriff. Wielding a makeshift cedar bat, he now becomes a nearly one-man wrecking crew hell-bent on taking his town back.

This version of “Walking Tall” is a way too short, but it’s still an entertaining, machismo-driven drama that may be best remembered for helping to transform Mr. Johnson into a box-office-busting action star.

It’s worth noting that a surprisingly clean visual presentation offers minimal grain, fairly sharp clarity and bursts of color (reference the reds in some old, rusted beams near the mill).

In fact, the movie looks as sharp as any high-definition video sourced release, with the outdoor mountainous backdrops and a fiery truck explosion certainly catching a viewer’s eye.

Additionally, pop culture geeks may notice a quick appearance by Cobie Smulders (S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in the “Avengers” movie series) as the villain’s eye candy.

Best extras: Well, I’m still not sure what’s so special about this edition. Viewers do get the entire bonus content culled from the 2011 Blu-ray/DVD release but MVD Visual offers nothing new.

Now the 2011 set stuffed all of the extras on the DVD so maybe moving them all to the Blu-ray disc is what’s so “special”?

Still, the highlight is a pair of optional commentary tracks. The first delivers a solo track with Mr. Johnson, and it is one of the more entertaining that I have heard in some time.

His enthusiasm is bubbling throughout as he quickly remarks that he wants to entertain the viewer and does so with plenty of humorous, off-the-cuff remarks.

To his own amusement, he lovingly refers to actor John Beasley (his dad in the film) as being boxer George Foreman; mentions the catcalls he heard from theater-goers during his shirtless scene; mocks the makeup artist for his  tattoos; lets us know about Mr. McDonough’s steel-blue eyes and nice butt; and gushes about his love of Tim Hortons’ doughnuts.

Less entertaining, but way more informational, with respect to the production detail and comparisons to the original film, was the second commentary with Mr. Bray, editor Robert Ivison and cinematographer Glen Macpherson (who showed up late to the session).

Other extras include a lame blooper reel, an alternate ending to the movie, an 8-minute featurette on the intense fight scenes, and a trio of unnecessary deleted scenes.

Upgrade(Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated R, 100 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $34.98) — The critically acclaimed, low-budget, sci-fi-infused revenge drama from writer/director Leigh Whannell (“Saw” and “Insidious”) and Blumhouse Productions (“Get Out” and “The Purge”) arrives on Blu-ray to allow audiences a chance to catch a movie that they probably missed in theaters.

Set in a near future filled with surveillance drones, self-driving cars and high-tech homes, the story centers around Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), a man turned into a quadriplegic after a violent mugging that also killed his wife.

With little chance of police catching his spouse’s murderers and having a difficult time adapting to his wheelchair-bound life, he gives up hope until a quirky tech billionaire offers him an option.

Specifically, his medical team implants an artificial intelligence device called STEM into the back of Mr. Trace’s  neck that not only restores the use of his limbs but gives him superhuman agility and strength.

He also gets the helpful, non-emotional voice of STEM guiding him on how to avenge his spouse’s murder in some of the most brutal ways possible.

“Upgrade” easily could have been a cheesy “Robocop”-infused “Death Wish,” but it keeps audiences riveted through an emotional story, a couple of clever twists, and a satisfying performance by Mr. Marshall-Green who wholeheartedly buys into the premise and his mission.

Best extras: I was so hoping for some bonus background on this entertaining film, but Universal offers nothing on the disc.

Instead, owners get a digital code for the movie that when used with the Movies Anywhere streaming service and iTunes offers access to an informative, optional commentary track with a very chatty Mr. Whannell.

It’s worth watching the movie again to hear the amusing director reflect on the production as he promises to deliver plenty of factoids straight away and no meandering introductions.

The Aussie loves every part of movies, especially long opening shots, and it’s funny to hear him busting on critics for such things as complaining about the character’s name and calling his film “derivative.”


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