Blu Tuesday: Another Slice of Pie, Batman Goes to China and More

Last week’s Blu-ray haul was so lackluster that I didn’t even bother writing a column, but thankfully, that doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem in July. In addition to today’s great selection of new releases, the rest of the month promises to be just as bountiful, which is good news for anyone trying to get out of this insane summer heat.

“American Reunion”

It’s easy to forgive the cast of “American Reunion” for having some hesitations about returning for another installment of the comedy franchise (especially after that terrible line of direct-to-video spin-offs didn’t do much for its reputation), but credit to co-writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg for not only getting everyone on board, but delivering one of the better films in the series. Nothing will ever compare to the 1999 original, but seeing Jim, Stifler and the rest of the gang all grown-up is just as ripe for comedy as when they were horny teenagers. Though not every subplot (and with this many characters to juggle, there are quite a few) works as well as others, the chemistry among the core cast remains intact, and that’s a major reason for its success. It’s also clear that Hurwitz and Schlossberg are fans of the franchise themselves, and it definitely shows in their understanding of the characters’ relationships, as well as the balance between the sweeter moments and gross-out humor. And yes, there’s plenty of both to go around.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a ton of bonus material on the disc, but most of it feels like filler. The audio commentary with Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, however, offers some nice insight on making the film and other behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

“The Flowers of War”

The Nanking Massacre, which is arguably China’s most tragic event in modern history, has been portrayed in numerous films before, but not nearly with as much grace as Zhang Yimou’s “The Flowers of War.” The director doesn’t exactly shy away from the brutal and violent behavior by the Japanese soldiers who invaded the city, but he brings a beauty to the movie that you wouldn’t expect from such grim material. Though there are some subplots that could have easily been cut to prevent the film from feeling so bloated, in many cases, those scenes allow for the supporting cast to be developed beyond simple background extras. The cinematography is gorgeous as always, and the performances are pretty good across the board (particularly newcomer Ni Ni and Christian Bale as the Westerner caught in the middle of the conflict), but the real star is the story itself, which earns its emotional beats without feeling like it’s pandering to the audience. “The Flowers of War” may not be Yimou’s best work, but it’s a well-crafted drama that definitely deserves to be seen.

Blu-ray Highlight: Although there’s no “Play All” option for the five-part behind-the-scenes featurette, each section is worth watching for various reasons. “The Birth of ‘The Flowers of War’” is undeniably the most interesting of the bunch, as it crams in a lot of material (including casting the children and hookers, as well as their preparation for the roles), but the one dedicated to Christian Bale’s involvement is also fascinating, even if the Chinese cast and crew go a bit over the top with their adoration for the actor.

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A chat with Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel and director Michael Dowse of “Goon”

Aptly enough for a sports comedy, our interviewees today are a ragtag collection of lovable underdogs. Unavoidably geeky, Jay Baruchel’s starring roles in “She’s Out of My League,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and “How to Train Your Dragon” have left him short of the A-list; he’s still perhaps best known as the lead alum of Judd Apatow’s beloved, quickly cancelled 2001 sitcom, “Undeclared.” Leading man Seann William Scott has worked in numerous films in a pretty wide variety of genres, yet to almost everyone he’s still obnoxious Steve Stifler of the “American Pie” series; he’ll be reprising the character for a fourth go-round in the upcoming “American Reunion.” Director Michael Dowse has some indie successes on his CV, but his last attempt to break into the mainstream, “Take Me Home Tonight,” was an unmitigated commercial disaster and, for the most part, a critical flop. (We, however, liked it a lot; so much for the Bullz-Eye bump.)

Already available on VOD, “Goon” is one underdog movie we’re definitely rooting for. Loosely inspired by minor league hockey star Doug Smith’s memoir and co-written by Canadian hockey fan Baruchel and veteran Apatow-scribe Evan Goldberg, the film focuses on Doug Glatt (Scott), a goodhearted bouncer of no great intellect who finds himself promoted to full-time hockey thug.

Featuring an outstanding supporting cast comprised of Baruchel, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, Kim Coates (“Sons of Anarchy“) and Alison Pill as the dysfunctional love of Doug Glatt’s life, “Goon” doesn’t gloss over the ugliness of sports violence even as it humorously celebrates it. For that, it took some punches from the traditionally violence-averse British press on its earlier UK release. The Yankee press, however, has been kinder, and there may be some hope of a wide release if enough of you hit the initial U.S. screenings starting this Friday.

Low-key Minnesota native Seann William Scott, intense Montrealite Jay Baruchel, and matter-of-fact Canadian filmmaker Michael Dowse were still high on the afterglow of a successful industry screening the night before when a bunch of us journos met with the trio at the Beverly Hilton. Some amusing and informative highlights are below.

Jay Baruchel on creating Doug Glatt, the not-so-bright but incredibly decent hero of “Goon.”

My dad used to have this expression, which was “Don’t complicate a ham sandwich.” In my experience, a lot of the hardest guys I know are also the kindest and most mild-mannered and gentlest. This in no way means that [their kindness] should be mistaken for weakness. He’s a man who knows what he wants, or finds out what he wants and where he’s supposed to be. He’s fulfilled.

Seann William Scott on playing Doug Glatt.

He’s written to be such a lovable guy and so good to his core. It was written with that specificity and I consider myself to be a good guy, so it’s not hard for me to play that… I was always aware of wanting to make sure there were different colors. Anything that I could bring, but it was already written with that kind of code of honor that he has. He’s self aware of the kind of guy he is and where he is in the world, but it is kind of black and white.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

With the summer movie season just around the corner, Hollywood is gearing up for what promises to be its most exciting slate of films in a long time by heading into the blockbuster-filled madness of May on a high note. This month has something for just about everyone, including several promising comedies, an innovative horror film with “Scream”-sized potential, and a new movie from action guru Luc Besson. It may not compare to what this summer has to offer, but it’s better than the doldrums of winter.

“AMERICAN REUNION”

Who: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott and Eugene Levy
What: The gang is reunited in East Great Falls, Michigan for their high school reunion.
When: April 6th
Why: I’ve been a fan of the “American Pie” series (not including those terrible direct-to-DVD spinoffs, of course) since the original film was released back in 1999. It’s a purely generational thing; when the characters are having the same major life experiences as most people your age, it makes them easy to relate to. The movies also happen to be pretty entertaining in a guilty pleasure kind of way, and it’ll be great to see the whole cast reunited for the first time since they all went their separate ways to become big movie stars. Though that didn’t exactly work out for any of them (Alyson Hannigan and Seann William Scott are arguably the most successful of the bunch), as long as their chemistry is still intact, “American Reunion” should be a fun trip down memory lane.

“COMIC-CON: EPISODE IV – A FAN’S HOPE”

Who: Chuck Rozanski, Holly Conrad, Eric Henson, Anthony Calderon and Skip Harvey
What: A behind-the-scenes look at the fans who gather by the thousands each year in San Diego, California to attend Comic-Con.
When: April 6th
Why: It’s actually quite surprising that no one has thought to make a documentary about Comic-Con until now, because although it’s not really a hard-hitting subject matter, it already has a built-in audience that continues to grow every year. Morgan Spurlock isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a documentary about the popular geek Mecca, but he’s wisely chosen to stay out of the spotlight this time around, instead opting to focus on the lives of five attendees (including a toy collector, an aspiring artist and a costume designer) who have traveled to the annual convention for various reasons. And with guys like Stan Lee, Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith all involved in some form, Spurlock’s latest doc has the makings to be the perfect love letter to comic book geeks everywhere.

“THE CABIN IN THE WOODS”

Who: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford
What: Five friends head to a remote cabin in the woods for the weekend where they get more than they bargained for.
When: April 13th
Why: I’ve had the good fortune to see Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” twice now, and it’s every bit as original and entertaining as you’d expect for a movie co-written by Joss Whedon. This is one of those films that you need to go into knowing as little as possible, so while the trailer has been provided below, I’d recommend that you don’t watch it in order to avoid spoiling anything. It may look like just your average slasher flick on paper, but the movie has a few tricks up its sleeves. Fueled by a great script that not only defies most horror conventions, but does so with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “The Cabin in the Woods” is either going to be the movie that everyone can’t stop talking about, or that no one goes to see. Do your part and make sure it’s the former.

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