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 October

Much like the month before it, October isn’t exactly overflowing with quality, but what it lacks in that area it more than makes up for with plenty of variety. Though there aren’t many films worth getting genuinely excited about, the schedule does provide some audience-friendly fare as well as an early look at a few potential awards contenders.

“TAKEN 2″

Who: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace and Rade Serbedzija
What: In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.
When: October 5th
Why: Though it’s one of those sequels that doesn’t really need to exist, the original film was so much fun (not to mention made a decent bit of coin at the box office) that it’s not surprising Fox was so quick to greenlight another installment. After playing the helpless victim in the first movie, it’ll be refreshing to see Maggie Grace get in on the action this time around, even if all people care about is watching Liam Neeson kick ass and take names. Granted, the setup is ridiculous, as it’s hard to imagine the villains would have the resources to track down Neeson’s character, let alone know when he’s in a different country (a U.S.-based story would have been much more exciting), but it’s one of those details you just have to ignore in order to enjoy the movie for the action fantasy that it is.

“THE PAPERBOY”

Who: Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and John Cusack
What: A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate.
When: October 5th
Why: Unlike most of Hollywood, Lee Daniel’s “Precious” failed to convince me that it was anything more than a well-made afterschool special, so I’m curious to see what he’s able to do with his latest film, a pulpy erotic thriller featuring a trio of dependable actors. Though it’s been awhile since Nicole Kidman or John Cusack did anything of note, you can never count them out, while Matthew McConaughey has been on a bit of hot streak recently. The wild card of the cast is undoubtedly Zac Efron, because despite the actor’s dogged determination to shed his “High School Musical” image with more adult roles, he’s yet to really prove that he has the talent to back it up. Reaction was pretty mixed when the movie debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (not terribly surprising considering the material), so you would be wise to approach it with caution.

“BUTTER”

Who: Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde and Rob Corddry
What: An adopted girl discovers her talent for butter carving and finds herself pitted against an ambitious local woman in their small town’s annual contest.
When: October 5th
Why: A black comedy that takes place in the offbeat and seemingly trivial world of butter carving competitions? What’s not to love? The concept sounds like something that Alexander Payne might make (it’s especially reminiscent of his 1999 cult hit “Election”), but while that may speak well of the movie’s potential, it’s a little worrying that it’s take so long to get a theatrical release. Directed by Jim Field Smith, who also made the underrated rom-com “She’s Out of My League,” “Butter” played the festival circuit at the end of last year, but the Weinstein Co. hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in the movie by dumping it in October. With that said, however, the cast is awesome (Jennifer Garner is great at playing the uptight socialite), and the script by newbie Jason A. Micallef landed a spot on the 2008 Black List. That doesn’t guarantee it will be any good, but it helps.

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