There’s not as much variety this week compared to the rest of July, nor are there any titles that can be deemed must-see material, but today’s batch of new releases still boast a few Blu-rays that movie and TV fans should at least consider checking out, including Starz’s latest original series and yet another gem from the guys at Criterion.
Unless you’re really interested in politics, you likely won’t find much to enjoy about the Starz drama “Boss,” because while the show is a good idea in theory (it’s essentially a modern-day take on “King Lear” with a dash of “Citizen Kane”), it never amounts to more than a low-rent version of much better TV series. The storylines feel stale and melodramatic, the characters are mostly one-dimensional, and the shooting style is so distracting (with lots of extreme close-ups and bad camera work) that it takes you out of the story. Kelsey Grammer does some solid work as the crooked mayor struggling with a debilitating brain disorder, but it hardly warrants the Golden Globe that he won over more deserving actors like Bryan Cranston. And while the audience is asked to empathize with his character, he’s such a scumbag that you find yourself rooting against him more often than not. You don’t have to be a good guy to be engaging (see: “The Shield” or “Breaking Bad”), but it helps if your characters are at least likeable, and that’s something that “Boss” is really lacking.
Blu-ray Highlight: The two audio commentaries by creator Farhad Safinia are worth a listen, but the included featurette “The Mayor and His Maker” is even better, because it pairs Kelsey Grammer with Safinia for an interesting discussion about the show’s origins, how the monologues serve as the centerpieces for each episode and more.
If the psychological thriller “Silent House” had actually been filmed in one continuous take like the directors originally claimed, it definitely would have earned a little bit of my respect, even though it wouldn’t have necessarily made the movie any better. As it stands, however, this ill-fated remake of the 2010 Uruguayan import of the same name is just plain boring. The one-take gimmick loses its allure as soon as you realize it’s all a big lie (the cuts aren’t even hard to spot if you’re looking for them), while the story falls back on the same generic horror tropes that have plagued the genre for decades. Not even the twist ending is much of a surprise, and with the exception of a clever sequence later in the film where Elizabeth Olsen uses a Polaroid camera as a makeshift flashlight, it’s completely devoid of suspense. The actress just barely holds the film together thanks to another strong performance, but it’s not enough to make “Silent House” as effective as it probably could have been.
Blu-ray Highlight: Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (who also penned the script) are a little more forthcoming about how they filmed the movie on the disc’s audio commentary, explaining the logistics behind shooting the extended scenes (each one about 12 minutes in length) and then piecing them together to look like one long take.
I wasn’t aware of Whit Stillman prior to the release of his new film, “Damsels in Distress” (most likely because it’s his first movie since 1998), but Criterion has taken advantage of the writer/director’s long-awaited return by releasing two of his early features on Blu-ray for a new generation to discover. For those unfamiliar with Stillman’s debut, “Metropolitan” can be best described as a bourgeois Woody Allen comedy of manners, or even a Bret Easton Ellis novel minus all the sex, drugs and paranoia. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and although the cast is comprised of a bunch of unknown actors (most of whom never did anything else of note), they do a pretty good job considering their obvious lack of experience. And though Stillman’s own inexperience shows in his failure to give certain scenes room to breathe, the unconventional, montage-like narrative structure actually grows on you as the movie progresses. It doesn’t make its upper-crust characters any easier to relate to, but Stillman’s whip-smart script manages to hold your interest in spite of that.
Blu-ray Highlight: Though it’s a bit light on bonus material for a Criterion release, the all-new audio commentary with writer/director Whit Stillman, editor Christopher Tellefsen, and actors Christopher Eigeman and Taylor Nichols offers an interesting look back at making the movie, including casting, filming in New York City and more.