Blu Tuesday: Robot Rocky, Cancer Humor and Sex Slaves

Blu-ray enthusiasts have plenty to be excited about this week with MGM’s reissues of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” and a trio of films from Alfred Hitchcock (“Rebecca,” “Notorious” and “Spellbound”). None of these titles arrived in time for review, however, so maybe I’ll do another short column later in the week after I get a chance to check them out. Thankfully, there are several other titles worth discussing, including Shawn Levy’s best movie to date and a comedy about cancer. No, seriously.

“Real Steel”

I didn’t have very high expectations for Shawn Levy’s robot boxing drama when the project was first announced, but after being invited to visit the Detroit set back in August 2010, it became a lot clearer that “Real Steel” was going to be more than just “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie.” That’s not to say that the robot-on-robot action isn’t great, because it’s more fun than your average Transformers melee, but it’s nice to see a movie that doesn’t lose sight of its human characters amidst all the shiny, CGI-fueled action. The father-son relationship between Hugh Jackman’s down-on-his-luck fight promoter and Dakota Goyo’s spritely kid doesn’t just drive the story – it gives the movie its heart, with the actors striking up an excellent onscreen chemistry reminiscent of films like “Paper Moon” and “The Champ.” Granted, it’s just as predictable as every other underdog sports drama ever made, but it doesn’t make “Real Steel” any less the entertaining crowd-pleaser that it aims to be.

Blu-ray Highlight: Although the Second Screen feature offers a lot of great behind-the-scenes info, the last thing I want to do while watching a movie is have an iPad or laptop sitting around to distract me. Instead, I was more impressed by the “Making of Metal Valley” featurette, which offers an in-depth look at the various departments involved in filming the junkyard sequence, including production design, visual effects and stunts.

“50/50″

Jonathan Levine’s “50/50” is everything that Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” aspired and ultimately failed to be – a well-balanced dramedy about the Big C that has you laughing one minute and holding back your tears the next. Though I don’t think that the film is quite as amazing as some would lead you to believe (then again, I also thought that “Bridesmaids” was vastly overrated), it’s a really good movie anchored by some excellent performances. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has hardly put a wrong step forward over the last five years (save for perhaps “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”), and he’s at the top of his game here with an incredibly realistic portrayal of a young man stricken with cancer. Seth Rogen is a lot more tolerable than usual as Gordon-Levitt’s best friend and Anna Kendrick lights up the screen as his grief counselor/love interest, but the real plaudits go to screenwriter Will Reiser, who managed to turn his own bout with cancer into a movie that actually feels sincere.

Blu-ray Highlight: I never received a review copy and therefore couldn’t sample any of the bonus material, but fellow BE critic David Medsker singled out the disc’s audio commentary by Seth Rogen and Will Reiser in his review, claiming that “when you give Rogen and his best friend microphones and press ‘record,’ funny stuff will follow.”

“The Whistleblower”

Sex, torture and violence in Eastern Europe is usually a recipe reserved for the horror genre, but that isn’t the case with “The Whistleblower,” a political thriller that will make you sick to your stomach – not from any graphic visuals, but because it shows humanity at its most vile. Though Larysa Kondracki’s directorial debut is a relatively by-the-numbers message movie, the subject matter – based on the true story of Kathy Bolkovac, a former cop who uncovered a sex trafficking ring in post-war Bosnia involving UN peacekeepers and local police – will make your blood boil. What separates the film from the various made-for-TV and direct-to-DVD movies that cover similar ground is its talented cast, particularly Rachel Weisz as the resolute Bolkovac. Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn also pop up in small supporting roles, but it’s Weisz who makes this otherwise vanilla thriller worth watching with another of the kind of solid yet unflashy performances that she’s built a career around.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s only one special feature on the disc – “Kathy Bolkovac: The Real Whistleblower” – and it’s not exactly what you’d call a highlight. While several of the film’s cast and crew (as well as the real-life Bolkovac) sit down to discuss the movie, they’re unable to go into a whole lot of detail in the paltry five minutes provided.

  

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