Blu Tuesday: Drugs, Politics and Teenage Bourne

It’s been more than a year since I published my last Blu-ray column over at Premium Hollywood, but I’ve decided to revive it here on the Bullz-Eye Blog for the simple reason that I kind of miss doing it. Sure, I used to quietly complain to myself every week about having to actually write the damn thing, and some weeks, I gave in to my frustration by not writing anything at all, but I’m back to give it another go. It certainly helps that there are a couple of good films worth talking about this week or I might have never had this crazy (and almost surely regrettable) idea to begin with. Let’s get started, shall we?

“Traffic”

The last time I watched Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning drama “Traffic” was when it was released in theaters, but the film is just as riveting today as it was back in 2000. Criterion’s Blu-ray release has everything that you’ve come to expect from the cinephile label – including a digitally restored high-definition transfer, hours of bonus material and an excellent essay by New York Times critic Manohla Dargis – but nothing outshines the movie itself. An expertly crafted examination of the illegal drug trade that effortlessly interweaves its many narratives into a searing commentary on the war on drugs, Soderbergh distinguishes each story with a unique color-coded treatment that adds style. And although the cast is overflowing with talent, Benicio del Toro and Michael Douglas are the real standouts. “Traffic” is without a doubt Soderbergh’s best film, and with the recent rumors of his impending retirement, there’s a pretty good chance it will stay that way.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s some really good supplemental material on the disc – like audio commentaries with the movie’s producers, consultants and composer Cliff Martinez, as well as demonstrations on film processing, editing and dialogue editing – but Soderberg and writer Stephen Gaghan’s commentary track is jam-packed with so much great information about making the movie that you’ll definitely want to start there.

“The Ides of March”

George Clooney will probably never be as successful behind the camera as he is in front of it, but his latest directorial effort is still a really solid political thriller that thrives thanks to its fantastic ensemble cast. Ryan Gosling continues to prove why he’s one of this generation’s finest actors with perhaps his most grown-up role to date, while veterans like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei also get in on the fun playing characters whose only real flaw is that they’re not in the movie enough. The scandal at the center of the story may seem a little trite (and as an interview with Clooney and producing partner Grant Heslov reveals, it’s probably the biggest difference between the film version and the Beau Williamson stage play that it’s based on), but you can hardly fault “The Ides of March” for relying on such a tried and trusted premise when real-life politics are just as dirty.

Blu-ray Highlight: Though Clooney and Heslov’s audio commentary is worth a listen, the aforementioned featurette where they discuss adapting “Farragut North” for the big screen will make anyone unfamiliar with the stage play interested in checking it out.

“Abduction”

Taylor Lautner’s first starring vehicle didn’t perform as well as studio execs probably anticipated based on the star’s “Twilight” fame, but you have to wonder if any of them actually watched the movie. Not only is it a blatant rip-off of the Jason Bourne franchise, but it’s a pretty terrible one at that, with Lautner’s complete lack of acting talent even more noticeable than usual. There’s absolutely nothing redeeming about this film. Lautner’s history of martial arts (the one thing that he actually had going for him as an action star in training) is never exploited to its full potential, while veteran actors like Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello and Sigourney Weaver are smart enough to jump ship before the first act is even over. I could continue to list reasons why you shouldn’t waste your time, but what’s the point when you can read this much funnier, snark-fueled review by Dustin Rowles at Pajiba?

Blu-ray Highlight: The movie may be really bad, but the extras are actually quite good, especially when viewed in the Abduction Application, which integrates all three production featurettes (including a making-of) into a personalized in-movie experience.

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

September is typically a pretty laidback month for movies. After being bombarded with big budget tentpole films over the summer, it’s the calm before the storm that is awards season. But this year, Hollywood is kicking off the fall movie season in style with big names like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt all starring in films that could make an appearance at the Oscars next year. Throw in a couple of cool genre flicks and you’re looking at one of the most promising Septembers in recent memory.

“A GOOD OLD FASHIONED ORGY”

Who: Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb, Tyler Labine, Lake Bell and Nick Kroll
What: A group of 30-year-olds who have been friends since high school attempt to throw an end-of-summer orgy.
When: September 2nd (limited)
Why: Though I’m still not convinced that Jason Sudeikis is the star that Hollywood seems to think he is, this raunchy sex comedy could finally be the film that changes my mind. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by such a funny ensemble cast, including actors like Tyler Labine and Lake Bell, who are always good for a laugh The real test, however, will be whether the film has the balls to go all the way or if it will chicken out at the last minute, because you shouldn’t joke around about an orgy unless you mean it.

“CONTAGION”

Who: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne
What: An action-thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak.
When: September 9th
Why: When Steven Soderbergh puts together a cast this good, it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. But even with four Oscar winners, three nominees, and a three-time Emmy winner at his disposal, the real star of “Contagion” may end up being the story itself, which has the potential to scare the living shit out of audiences in ways that most horror films could only dream of. How Soderbergh manages to tap into our inherent fear of disease will be key to its success, but if the movie is anywhere near as good as 1995’s “Outbreak” (which also had an amazing cast), we’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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