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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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

Can you smell that? No, not the pumpkin pie-scented potpourri that your grandmother bought you last Christmas – it’s the smell of awards season starting to heat up. Though November is typically a pretty eclectic month for movies, you can always expect a fair share of family films and Oscar hopefuls competing for the attention of your box office dollars, and this year is no exception. You also might notice that a few major releases – like the Adam Sandler-in-drag comedy “Jack and Jill” and the latest installment in the “Twilight” saga – have been left out of this preview. That’s no mistake. I wanted to save myself the trouble of writing about them and you the embarrassment of reading about them. After all, there are more than enough good options this month that no one should have to damage any more brain cells by seeing one of those movies.

“A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS”

Who: John Cho, Kal Penn, Paula Garces, Thomas Lennon and Neil Patrick Harris
What: After Harold and Kumar accidentally set fire to Harold’s father-in-law’s prize Christmas tree, the duo embark on yet another weed-fueled adventure to replace it.
When: November 4th
Why: Though I refuse to believe that the 3D revolution is going to stick around for much longer, this is one of those times where I actually don’t completely hate the idea. That’s probably because director Todd Strauss-Schulson is really embracing the gimmicky nature of the technology, but who doesn’t love making fun of 3D? Though Harold and Kumar’s last adventure was a bit ridiculous for its own good, writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg appear to have reined things in for the third (and likely final) installment in the stoner bud series. Toss in some Claymation and the return of Neil Patrick Harris and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a fun theater experience.

“TOWER HEIST”

Who: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck and Téa Leoni
What: A group of employees at a luxury condominium enlist the aid of a career criminal to help them steal $20 million from the investor that emptied out their pension plans.
When: November 4th
Why: When I first heard that Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy were teaming up with director Brett Ratner for what can be best described as a blue-collar “Ocean’s 11,” I responded accordingly, with a witty comment and a cynical roll of the eyes. But something strange happened between then and now – I saw the trailer for the film, and amazingly, it doesn’t look half-bad. Perhaps it’s just because my expectations are so low for those involved in the movie, but this actually looks like it could be pretty enjoyable, and even somewhat of a return to form for Murphy, who hasn’t been funny in a really long time.

“J. EDGAR”

Who: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench
What: A biopic about the founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, whose 50-year reign as the face of law enforcement was threatened by the many secrets in his personal life.
When: November 9th
Why: Everything about this film has “future Oscar nominee” written all over it, including star Leonardo DiCaprio, director Clint Eastwood and co-star Armie Hammer, who’s landed the plum role of Hoover’s lifelong friend and rumored lover Clyde Tolson. It’ll be interesting to see how a mild conservative like Eastwood handles the mysterious relationship between the two men, especially with gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black behind the script, because dodging the issue completely won’t sit well with the usually liberal-minded Academy. The person that stands the most to gain from all of this, of course, is Hammer, who is pretty much a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination after just barely missing out last year for his incredible work in “The Social Network.”

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