Blu Tuesday: Stoners, Shakespeare and the Meaning of Life

Following last week’s barrage of new releases, it’s relatively quiet on the Blu-ray front this week, with only a handful of movies and TV shows (like the PBS series, “Downton Abbey”) to choose from. I haven’t gotten around to watching the award-winning period drama, but I’ve heard good things about it. Disney is also releasing “The Lady & the Tramp” for the first time on Blu-ray, and although I remember loving it as a kid, it’s been so long since I’ve seen the film that I honestly don’t know what I could say about it. But don’t fret, because there are a few Blu-rays out today that I’ve actually seen this decade.

“A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas”

Harold and Kumar’s second outing, “Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” was such a major letdown that I wasn’t really looking forward to another installment. But thankfully, the stoner buds’ third adventure is a much-improved sequel that hews a lot closer to the spirit of the original film – which is to say that despite all the absurdity, it isn’t without a certain level of tact. Stars John Cho and Kal Penn have an undeniable chemistry that’s great fun to watch, and if the pair wanted to, they could probably make these movies for the rest of their lives. I’m sure the exact same thing was said about Cheech and Chong back in their heyday, but that stoner duo wasn’t fortunate enough to have a secret weapon like Neil Patrick Harris, who once again steals the show in an extended cameo as himself. And although it’s the last movie you’d expect to see in 3D, director Todd Strauss-Schulson utilizes the technology so effectively that it’s arguably one of the best 3D movies since the gimmick’s revival.

Blu-ray Highlight: Warner Bros. has offered up a few extras – including an extended cut of the movie and some deleted scenes – but there’s not a single one that’s worth your time. A featurette about the film’s 3D effects would have been a nice addition, or at the very least, an audio commentary by John Cho and Kal Penn, but that clearly wasn’t in the budget. Heck, they couldn’t even afford to put the DVD version on a separate disc.

“Anonymous”

Say what you will about Roland Emmerich’s ludicrous piece of revisionist history, because while the conspiracy theory at the center of his film may be a load of bullshit, it doesn’t make “Anonymous” any less entertaining. Okay, maybe a little, but the period drama is still an incredibly well-acted movie that features some great performances by Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford (and the supposed true author of Shakespeare’s work) and Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave as a younger and older version of Queen Elizabeth I, respectively. The film is also so passionate about trying to convince the audience that there’s some truth to the story that you almost want to believe it; and Emmerich might have succeeded if the movie didn’t devolve into a Shakespearean tragedy itself in the final act. Whether or not you buy into the director’s speculation is a moot point, however, because “Anonymous” is a lavishly-produced guilty pleasure that you’ll enjoy whether you’re a history buff or not.

Blu-ray Highlight: I didn’t receive a review copy in time, but I have to imagine that the audio commentary with director Roland Emmerich and writer John Orloff will be worth a listen, especially for those interested in hearing the reasoning behind the duo’s theory.

“The Sunset Limited”

HBO has an incredible track record when it comes to their original films, but I certainly didn’t think that a movie about two guys sitting around an apartment talking for 90 minutes could be so compelling. Based on the Cormac McCarthy stage play of the same name, “The Sunset Limited” is an example of a stage-to-screen adaptation done right, retaining its stripped-down production values in order to keep the spotlight on the actors themselves. Though I’ve never seen the play performed onstage before, it’s hard to imagine anyone outshining the fantastic performances that Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed the film) and Samuel L. Jackson deliver in this acting masterclass. In fact, the two screen veterans are so great in their respective roles that it’s kind of surprising they haven’t received more recognition. Some people probably won’t like the bleak subject matter (it’s essentially one big debate on God, culture and the meaning of life), but at least it makes you think.

Blu-ray Highlight: The audio commentary featuring director/co-star Tommy Lee Jones, co-star Samuel L. Jackson and writer Cormac McCarthy isn’t as fascinating as I had hoped, but despite getting off to a fairly slow start, the trio eventually settles into a nice groove with talking points ranging from philosophy to various aspects of the production.

  

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