Another week, another great selection of Blu-rays. It’s too bad that every month isn’t as prolific as this, because it would sure make my job a whole lot easier. Although there are a few missing titles as usual (like the awful found footage comedy “Project X,” the inspirational drama “Big Miracle,” and the latest seasons of the FX comedies “Louie” and “Wilfred”), you’re not really missing anything. And on that note, let’s get started.
The so-called mumblecore movement is an interesting approach to filmmaking, because a director never really knows what kind of movie he’s going to end up with until it’s completely finished; which is probably why the Duplass brothers’ latest film is so different from what most people expected. Though it certainly had the right ingredients for a great comedy, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is instead a surprisingly heartfelt and meditative dramedy about the importance of family and finding one’s place in the world. It may not be as funny as advertised, but thanks to some naturalistic performances by sitcom stars Jason Segel and Ed Helms (both of whom prove perfectly adept at drama), the film still works, albeit on a whole different level. Mark and Jay Duplass have always been more interested in getting good performances out of their actors than the story, and that’s never been more evident than it is here, because without their core cast, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” would be an absolute bore.
Blu-ray Highlight: Believe it or not, Paramount’s Blu-ray release has no bonus material whatsoever. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s a disappointment nonetheless.
I’ve never really understood the appeal of the David Wain-directed cult classic “Wet Hot American Summer,” so it’s no surprise that I didn’t like his latest comedy, because it feels like a more grown-up version of that film. Of course, just because the characters are more mature doesn’t mean that the humor isn’t still juvenile, and unless you’re a fan of Wain’s previous work, you probably won’t find much to laugh at here. Most of the supporting cast is wasted playing broad stereotypes that are weird just for the sake of being weird, while the script falls back on the same hippie clichés that we’ve seen many times before. Justin Theroux is one of the few actors who doesn’t completely embarrass himself as the alpha hippie who takes a liking to Jennifer Aniston’s closeted free spirit, and Paul Rudd has a few moments of improv genius, but it’s not enough. Though the film shows some promise early on, “Wanderlust” stalls out almost as soon as Rudd and Aniston’s characters arrive at the commune, and once Wain backs himself into that corner, it’s a lost cause.
Blu-ray Highlight: The making-of featurette “God Afton!” does a pretty good job of balancing the generic EPK-style material (like a breakdown of all the major characters and actors) with more detailed bits on things like Joe Lo Truglio’s prosthetic penis, turning Justin Theroux into a master guitarist, and the many stunts involved in the film.
Jason and Brandon Trost’s intentionally campy homage to classic underdog sports movies like “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid” (as well as other films ranging from “The Warriors” to John Carpenter’s 80s oeuvre) is one of the strangest movies you’ll ever see. Although I regret missing the chance to see the film with an audience when it premiered at SXSW last year, it still would have been a waste of time, because it’s not nearly as awesome as the first 20 minutes would lead you to believe. “The FP” gets off to a great start, mainly due to the actors’ commitment to playing the absurd premise totally straight, but the Trost brothers are unable to sustain the joke for the length of an entire movie. Lee Valmassy has a lot of fun letting loose as the gleefully farcical villain (a mohawked, golden-grilled gangster who only wears jumpsuits), and Art Hsu turns in a scene-stealing performance as the hero’s duck-loving sidekick, but while fans of bad movies might appreciate what “The FP” has to offer, it’s not exactly the ready-made cult classic that it’s so desperately trying to be.
Blu-ray Highlight: Although the commentary by the Brothers Trost covers a lot of the same material, the three-part featurette “Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished” provides an interview-driven look at making the film (from expanding the original short, to the challenges of working on such a limited budget), as well as additional sections devoted to sister Sarah Trost’s costume design and George Holdcroft’s musical score.
A fairly clichéd dramedy with all the markings of an indie film, Brian Crano’s directorial debut nonetheless manages to carve out an identity of its own thanks to a great script and cast. Crano was very lucky to get the actors that he did, because it’s hard to imagine “A Bag of Hammers” working quite as well without them. Jake Sandvig and Jason Ritter form a funny comedic duo, and Rebecca Hall makes the most of a role that requires her to wear a silly hat and perform an even sillier dance, but the real standout is Carrie Preston of “True Blood” fame, who delivers an incredibly heartbreaking performance. Although the constantly shifting tone between quirky comedy and grim family drama could have easily proven disastrous, Crano handles it remarkably well, especially after the movie enters some pretty dark territory midway through the story and never looks back. It’s just a shame that he felt obligated to end the movie on such a happy note, because “A Bag of Hammers” would have been even better had he stuck with the more realistic finale that’s teased right before it.
Blu-ray Highlight: There’s only one extra on the disc – a behind-the-scenes featurette where the cast and crew discuss the origins of the film, casting the various roles, and the deliberate decision to make the sexuality of its two lead characters ambiguous.