Blu Tuesday: BFFs, MMA and Other Acronyms

My Blu-ray column may be about as consistent as the weather in Ohio (seriously, it sucks), but while I often skip writing it due to the lack of releases, last week’s column was binned because many of the major titles weren’t available for review. Thankfully, that’s not an issue this week, and there are plenty of new Blu-rays to choose from as well – so many, in fact, that I actually ran out of time trying to include them all. Except for “Alex Cross,” which was so dreadful that I found myself at a complete lost for words.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever”

Lee Toland Krieger’s Sundance hit is the antithesis of the traditional romantic comedy. Instead of telling a story about two people who meet cute and fall in love, it’s about a married couple who’s recently separated and is trying to move on with their respective lives, despite the fact that they can’t quite let the other go. It’s more mature than most Hollywood rom-coms, and to even label it a comedy would be a disservice to some of the bigger emotional beats that take place throughout the movie. Thankfully, the film isn’t nearly as depressing as it could have been, and that’s a credit to co-star Rashida Jones and Will McCormack’s well-balanced script, which is refreshingly honest in its depiction of love, friendship and marriage. Jones and Andy Samberg are both great as the title characters – especially the former, who’s written herself the best role of her career – while Elijah Wood fares the best of the large supporting cast. Although the movie ends almost as predictably as a majority of rom-coms, the journey there is much more entertaining and rewarding.

Blu-ray Highlight: The audio commentary with Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg may not be as fun to listen to as it clearly was to record, but the other track with Jones, co-writer Will McCormack and director Lee Toland Kreiger is much better, focusing more on the actual making of the movie. And though making-of featurettes are pretty hit and miss, the one included here is actually worth watching and features various cast and crew discussing the story, its themes and the actual events that served as inspiration.

“Side by Side”

The debate about film versus digital cinema has been really heating up in recent years, and it’s at the center of Christopher Kenneally’s documentary “Side by Side.” Narrated by Keanu Reeves, the movie examines the evolution of the digital format while speaking with various directors, cinematographers, editors and actors (some admittedly more reputable than others) about their thoughts on the matter. To my surprise, the documentary is pretty one-sided, with a majority of the subjects either big proponents of the digital format (like George Lucas, James Cameron, et al.) or ones that have gradually adopted it. The only well-known pro-film advocates are director Christopher Nolan and his longtime DP Wally Pfister, and they don’t get as much screen time as you’d hope. With that said, the movie is an interesting look at how far cinema has come in the last 20 years (looking beyond just the photography side at digital editing, color timing, 3D, projection and archiving) that any film geek will enjoy. As for the debate itself, it’s really just a question as to which one you prefer, because there’s no reason why both formats can’t mutually exist.

Blu-ray Highlight: There isn’t much in the way of bonus material, but the disc does include about 16 minutes of additional interviews, including one particularly interesting anecdote from Robert Rodriguez about making “Grindhouse” with Quentin Tarantino.

“Here Comes the Boom”

Like most Happy Madison productions, “Here Comes the Boom” isn’t very good, but when compared to Kevin James’ past starring vehicles, there’s no question that it’s a major improvement. That doesn’t make his latest film any less of a disappointment, but it does provide a sliver of hope that James has finally graduated from making juvenile comedies like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” In fact, it’s only because the actor is so likeable that the film almost manages to overcome its various problems, though he doesn’t get much help from his co-stars or the humorless script. For a movie about mixed martial arts, it’s also surprisingly light on action. There are a few fight scenes scattered throughout, but with the exception of the big finale, the sport never really gets the attention you’d expect, and at that point, you might as well just watch “Warrior” again instead. “Here Comes the Boom” certainly had the makings of a decent comedy, but when the laughs are so rare that you can count them on one hand, it’s not surprising that it leaves such a bland taste in your mouth.

Blu-ray Highlight: Sony definitely hasn’t skimped on the bonus material for the film’s Blu-ray release – which includes about 16 minutes of deleted scenes, a short gag reel and a series of production featurettes – but none of them are particularly memorable.

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August

August has never been the most exciting part of the summer movie season, but the studios have treated it like a warm-down of sorts in recent years, taking the opportunity to discard their misfit films with seemingly no interest in how they perform. That may change this year, however, as there are a number of high-profile movies (including several targeted at action fans) that could end up doing some pretty big business. In fact, with the somewhat disappointing summer that we’ve had so far, it’s not entirely unreasonable to suggest that August might end up being the highlight of the season.

“TOTAL RECALL”

Who: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy
What: Factory worker Douglas Quaid begins to suspect that he’s a spy after visiting Rekall, a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories.
When: August 3rd
Why: While not exactly a remake in the conventional sense, director Len Wiseman’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” has nonetheless caused diehard fans of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 original to scream blasphemy. But just like that movie was forced to get creative and expand upon Dick’s story, so too has Wiseman’s version, seemingly sticking closer to its source material by keeping the action on Earth. Colin Farrell is definitely an inspired choice to play Quaid (and just like Adrian Brody in “Predators,” it should help to limit the comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger), while Bryan Cranston is on such a hot streak right now that it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Cohaagen. Whether Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale or the special effects provide the film’s best eye candy, however, is still up for debate.

“CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER”

Who: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Ari Graynor
What: A divorcing couple tries to maintain their friendship while pursuing other people.
When: August 3rd
Why: In addition to being a smart piece of counterprogramming to “Total Recall,” the indie dramedy has been riding a wave of strong buzz since its premiere at Sundance earlier this year, where most critics praised the excellent chemistry between its two stars. Though I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Andy Samberg as a romantic lead (or a serious actor, for that matter), I’ll see just about anything that Rashida Jones does these days, especially if it leads to more high-profile roles for the “Parks and Rec” actress. Jones also co-wrote the screenplay, which boasts an interesting premise that practically guarantees it won’t be anything like the typical Hollywood rom-com, with a more dramatic streak reminiscent of movies like “Annie Hall” and “(500) Days of Summer.” And if it’s even half as good as those films, we’re in for a pleasant surprise.

“HOPE SPRINGS”

Who: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell and Jean Smart
What: After 30 years of marriage, a middle-aged couple attends an intense, week-long counseling session to work on their relationship.
When: August 8th
Why: There are usually a few movies every summer targeted explicitly towards adult audiences, and more often than not, one of them stars Meryl Streep. That’s the case once again with this geriatric twist on the traditional rom-com, which reunites Streep with her “The Devil Wears Prada” director David Frankel. Unfortunately, “Hope Springs” doesn’t look nearly as good, instead hewing closer to the vibe of “It’s Complicated,” at least where Streep’s overly giggly character is concerned. The actress appears to be trying too hard to get a laugh, while Steve Carell doesn’t seem to have that much to do. The wild card is Tommy Lee Jones, who isn’t the first person you’d think of for this kind of role, but that’s exactly why it’s such a brilliant piece of casting. And if the three actors work as well together as you’d expect, “Hope Springs” might not be that bad after all.

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