As mentioned in last week’s column, things are finally starting to get back to normal for Blu-ray fans, with several great options arriving in stores today, including an Academy Award winner, a pair of Barbara Streisand films, and the latest from David Chase.
Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. The movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its incredible cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance fully deserving of her recent Oscar win.
Blu-ray Highlight: The making-of featurette, “The Film That Became a Movement,” does a great job of balancing the usual behind the scenes footage with cast and crew interviews promoting mental health awareness, while the Q&A highlights are worth watching for those who want to know more about the film’s production. And though most of the deleted scenes can be easily skipped, the alternate ending is a must-see for any fan of the movie.
You wouldn’t think that it’d be very hard for someone like David Chase – who helped reinvent the TV drama with “The Sopranos” – to get his feature film debut off the ground, but then again, “Not Fade Away” feels so hastily thrown together that it’s not surprising it took five years to do so. A good idea in need of a better script, Chase’s 1960s’set story about a kid trying to follow in the footsteps of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to make it big as a rock n’ roll star doesn’t feature a single likable character. That makes enjoying its anticlimactic story even more difficult, because it’s hard to care what happens to anyone in the film when they’re as naïve, selfish and just plain boring as the characters here. James Gandolfini’s overbearing father is probably the most interesting (and levelheaded) of the bunch, and yet he’s portrayed almost like a villain. The music is good and the tale of failed stardom is more believable than most rock band movies, but that’s also what makes “Not Fade Away” so forgettable.
Blu-ray Highlight: Divided into three sections, “The Basement Tapes” offers a look at various aspects of the filmmaking process, including training the actors to play their respective instruments (with the help of Steven Van Zandt, no less), the 1960s setting and costumes, and the similarities between the story and David Chase’s teen years.
With the exception of her supporting roles in the two “Meet the Parents” sequels, it’s been 16 years since Barbara Streisand actually starred in a film, so it’s a little surprising that she chose “The Guilt Trip” as her highly anticipated return from semi-retirement. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it’s one that left me feeling totally indifferent, and you’d expect more from someone as respected as the veteran actress. There’s just nothing particularly funny about anything that happens to Streisand and Seth Rogen’s characters over the course the film, and that’s mostly due to the fact that the material is really tame. Dan Fogelman’s script is incredibly formulaic, and apart from its somewhat twist ending, there are so few surprises that it would’ve been entirely forgettable without its two stars. You wouldn’t think that Streisand and Rogen would have such great chemistry, but they make the movie a lot more tolerable. Unfortunately, while “The Guilt Trip” may have sounded funnier on paper, it’s a fairly harmless mother-son comedy that fails to leave much of an impression.
Blu-ray Highlight: There aren’t any standout extras on the disc, but there’s a nice collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes and deleted scenes that should please fans of Barbara. If you can’t stand the sound of Seth Rogen’s annoying laugh, though, you might want to steer clear of the gag reel.