It’s another fantastic week for movie fans, with some pretty major titles hitting Blu-ray today, and a few more (like “Les Miserables” and “This Is 40”) being released on Friday. Though I didn’t really like Tom Hooper’s big screen adaptation of the popular stage musical or Judd Apatow’s quasi-sequel to “Knocked Up,” there are still plenty of new releases worth checking out, including one of 2012’s best films and the most anticipated prequel since “The Phantom Menace.”
It was never going to be an easy job adapting “The Hobbit” for the big screen, especially after the success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and although that likely played a part in Peter Jackson’s initial decision to let another director take the reins, at the end of the day, it just wouldn’t have felt right with anyone else behind the camera. Not only does Jackson know the source material inside and out, but in keeping with the same tone and breathtaking visuals from the original trilogy, the movie feels like it’s part of a bigger story. Granted, “An Unexpected Journey” only covers about a third of Tolkien’s novel, and as a result, there are times when the movie seems to be holding back in fear that it’s covering too much too soon. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as the young Bilbo, and Ian McKellan effortlessly slides back into the role of Gandalf, but the dwarves are another matter, with Richard Armitage’s leader the only one to really distinguish himself from the pack. However, the film’s real MVP is Andy Serkis, who delivers his best work as Gollum in perhaps the most memorable scene of all four movies. “An Unexpected Journey” still falls a bit short of “The Lord of the Rings” in the end, but it’s a delightfully fun trip back to Middle-earth whose biggest flaw is not knowing when enough is enough.
Blu-ray Highlight: It’s a bit disappointing that the only bonus material Warner Bros. saw fit to include on the Blu-ray are the two hours’ worth of video blogs that were already made available online in the lead-up to the film’s release. With that said, it’s an impressively in-depth look at the making of the first movie (back when it was only two parts), from location filming in New Zealand, to shooting in 3D and 48 fps, to the dwarves’ intricate makeup and costumes, and much more. Some newer extras would have been nice, but with the inevitable Extended Edition in the pipeline, it’s not much of a surprise either.
Regardless of how you feel about torture techniques or the controversial release of classified information to writer Mark Boal about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, it’s hard not to be totally engrossed by “Zero Dark Thirty,” especially since it represents a major moment in U.S. history. Jessica Chastain is brilliant as the CIA agent whose obsession with tracking down bin Laden helped lead to his eventual death, while Jason Clarke also delivers a standout performance as a fellow agent working the case. Though this ridiculously in-depth account of the CIA’s search for the al-Qaeda leader could have been an extremely dull affair in someone else’s hands, director Kathryn Bigelow injects the film with the same level of intensity and suspense that made “The Hurt Locker” so riveting. It certainly makes for some fascinating viewing material, and the final 20 minutes – comprised of the climactic attack on bin Laden’s Pakistan compound – are some of the most exciting of any movie released this year.
Blu-ray Highlight: The lack of an audio commentary by director Kathryn Bigelow or writer Mark Boal stings a little bit, and none of the included extras are necessarily must-see, but together they form a decent collection of bonus material that covers the construction of bin Laden’s compound, the authenticity of the SEAL Team 6 equipment (including the top secret stealth helicopters), and Jessica Chastain’s lead character.
It may seem a little suspect releasing another R-rated comedy about bridesmaids behaving badly so soon after Paul Feig’s Oscar-nominated film became a box office hit, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end between “Bachelorette” and “Bridesmaids.” In fact, those claiming that the former is just a cheap rip-off might be surprised to discover that Lesyle Headland’s directorial debut is actually based on her pre-“Bridesmaids” stage play of the same name. Unfortunately, despite its excellent cast and my indifference for the overrated Kristen Wiig comedy, “Bachelorette” is actually worse. For starters, there’s not a single likable character in the entire movie, and most of them are selfish, emotionally-stunted individuals who wouldn’t know how to exist in the real world. Though it’s great seeing Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan reunited after the cancellation of “Party Down,” that’s about all the film has to offer. “Bachelorette” isn’t just mean-spirited and completely unfunny – it’s surprisingly boring as well. Maybe the story works better on the stage, because the film version isn’t nearly as entertaining as its cast seems to think.
Blu-ray Highlight: There’s not much in the way of special features, but if you don’t mind sitting through the movie a second time, writer/director Lesyle Headland’s audio commentary is worth a listen, especially for any aspiring filmmakers interested in what it’s like to shoot your first feature.