Blu Tuesday: Mother Green and Her Killing Machine

It’s another slow week in terms of major releases, but for those looking to update a few older movies in your collection, there are quite a few catalog titles making their Blu-ray debut, not to mention yet another reissue of a Stanley Kubrick classic. And although most of the big TV shows won’t begin hitting stores until next week, there is one series getting a head start on the competition that action fans will definitely want to check out.

“Full Metal Jacket”

It’s amazing to think that “Full Metal Jacket” is considered one of Stanley Kubrick’s weaker films, because it’s still pretty damn good. In fact, the first half of the movie is just about perfect, thanks mostly to a pair of memorable performances by R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio, both making their feature film debuts. Ermey, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for helping craft what is arguably one of the best opening scenes in cinematic history, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role, despite a different actor being originally cast to play the hard-ass drill sergeant. That might even be why the latter half of the movie feels so disjointed, because Matthew Modine and Arliss Howard’s characters just aren’t as interesting without those other guys to play off. Though the Vietnam War portion does have its moments (like the introduction of Adam Baldwin’s Animal Mother), it’s what ultimately stands in the way of “Full Metal Jacket” being the definitive film on the subject, even if some people might tell you otherwise.

Blu-ray Highlight: The 30-minute documentary “Between Good and Evil” is an excellent retrospective on making the movie, featuring interviews with various cast and crew, as well as a few Kubrick experts, about everything from the casting process, to filming in East London, to the director’s notoriously long shooting schedules and much more.

“Strike Back: Cinemax Season One”

Cinemax’s first foray into original scripted programming isn’t spectacular by any means, but for those still trying to fill the hole left by the conclusion of “24,” “Strike Back” is a pretty decent substitute. Similar to the Fox drama in many ways (not the least of which includes demanding a total suspension of disbelief), it’s a little surprising that “Strike Back” didn’t gain more attention when it premiered in the U.S. last year. A co-production with UK network Sky, this release technically represents the show’s second season, even though Season One never aired over here. Luckily, you don’t need to have seen those episodes to follow along, because the series was essentially rebooted with new characters. It also has a fairly unique format, with each mission divided into two-episode arcs, and a bigger story that serves as the connective tissue. The acting isn’t that great, and the amount of gratuitous violence and sex on display is only bested by Starz’s “Spartacus,” but the two leads have great chemistry and the action is really well done. Not every show on TV needs to be taken seriously, and “Strike Back” is a fun slice of escapist entertainment.

Blu-ray Highlight: There are audio commentaries for five of the ten episodes with executive producer Daniel Percival and actors Sullivan Stapleton, Philip Winchester, Amanda Mealing and Liam Cunningham, and although they offer some decent insight into making the show, it’s something that will most likely only interest diehard fans.

“Clue”

Moviegoers have been complaining about Hollywood’s lack of originality for years now, especially with popular toys like Transformers and Battleship being adapted into big summer blockbusters, but everyone seems to forget that Paramount made a film based on the Parker Brothers board game “Clue” nearly three decades earlier. Though it’s one of the few toy properties in which a movie version actually makes sense, director Jonathan Lynn’s comedic murder mystery is a complete mess. Not only does “Clue” fail to make the most of its talented ensemble cast (including Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean and Madeline Kahn), but with the exception of the always amusing Curry, the actors don’t seem all that interested. The film’s madcap tone certainly doesn’t help matters either, because although there’s some clever wordplay sprinkled throughout, it’s a little too goofy for its own good. Granted, the movie has become somewhat of a cult classic since its release in 1985, but I’d rather play the real thing than ever watch this again.

Blu-ray Highlight: The only bonus material on the disc – if you can even call it that – is the option to watch all three of the film’s surprise endings back-to-back or individually.

  

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A chat with John Cusack of “The Raven”

The really fun part of setting up an interview with John Cusack is telling people about it and getting their reaction. The still boyish star of such classics like “Say Anything,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Grifters,” “Being John Malkovich,” and recent ‘plex-fare like “2012” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” is one popular guy, and not only with women.

Now in his mid-40s, the former teen rom-com leading man is also something of a paradox in that he’s been able to keep the details of his private life private while also being unafraid of a little controversy. He maintains a direct connection with his fans via his well-known Twitter feed that often touches bluntly on his strongly left-of-center politics. We interviewed Mr. Cusack back in 2008 about his somewhat underrated satirical broadside, “War, Inc.,” and he makes some revealing comments about its production below. He has nevertheless avoided becoming a Sean Penn-style right wing whipping boy, though his recent election-year bashing of the Obama administration’s civil liberties failings on “CBS This Morning” attracted some attention from conservative outlets.

The fact of the matter is that Cusack, still best remembered by many as idealistic aspiring kickboxer Lloyd Dobler, is the closest thing modern audiences have to a Jimmy Stewart. He’s a low-key, yet charismatic and highly energetic actor who never seems to act at all. That’s high praise, but it does make him a slightly counterintuitive choice for the role of Edgar Allen Poe, the flamboyant, floridly romantic author who largely invented modern horror and crime fiction.

Directed by James McTeigue of “V for Vendetta,” “The Raven” has the master of the macabre trying to solve a “Se7en”-style killing spree inspired by his own stories. Critics have not been impressed by the film and the crowded opening weekend box office returns have been kind of dismal, but that won’t have been for any lack of effort on John Cusack’s part. The actor spent weeks promoting the film everywhere from “The View” to our humble selves. He did, however, take a moment to receive a very special Hollywood honor.

Bullz-Eye: It’s been a good day for you; you just got your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

JC: Yeah man, thanks.

BE: What’s that like at your relatively young age?

JC: I don’t know. I’ve never got one before so I don’t know. It was pretty surreal; pretty cool. I liked that I was right next to the Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry. That was pretty cool.

BE: That is cool.

JC: I was right across from Musso and Frank’s, so I thought that was pretty damn cool. That’s such a great place. I’m also next to this great book store, so I’m well represented. I liked it.

BE: Speaking of books — a great segue there — I know that one of the reasons that you took on “The Raven” is it gave you an excuse to read up on Edgar Allan Poe. Why do you think he has remained kind of contemporary all of these years?

JC: I think he’s this classic sort of archetype for all of the shadow parts of ourselves that we don’t want to admit out loud or you’re not supposed to admit in polite company or society. You know, all of these terrors and fears and phobias and anguishes and torments, and also this kind of grave, deep love of language and poetry. I think he’s a genuine genius and he spoke to the language of the subconscious and he was a great poet and artist. A great storyteller; a wild creator of different genres and hybrids of genres and mash-ups of genres. He was a pretty talented man, and he was also just wired way too tight, so it was a volatile mix.

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