I was unable to write my column last week because I was still recovering from knee surgery, but hopefully that didn’t cause you to miss out on all the great new releases, because there were several titles worth checking out, including the latest seasons of “Sons of Anarchy,” “The Walking Dead,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Homeland,” as well as Peter Berg’s big, dumb and fun “Battleship.” This week is almost as good, with a variety of new movies and several more TV series to get you ready for the fall season.
HBO has never been as trigger happy as most networks when it comes to cancelling shows, so it was a bit surprising when the pay cable channel axed three series in one fell swoop at the end of last year. Though “Hung,” “Bored to Death” and “How to Make It in America” may not have brought in the same kind of ratings as HBO’s bigger hits, but they were all quality shows with solid fanbases. “Hung” was probably the best of the bunch, and although the dark comedy had its share of highs and lows throughout its three-season run, Thomas Jane (who was once again nominated for a Golden Globe) made it immensely watchable. The same goes for Ted Danson on the more inconsistent but nonetheless entertaining “Bored to Death,” perhaps the most shocking of the three cancellations considering Zach Galifianakis’ recent rise to fame. “How to Make It in America,” meanwhile, was the kind of series that seemed tailor-made for the HBO viewer based on the success of the likeminded “Entourage,” and yet it was the worst performer of the three. You can’t really blame HBO for not giving each show the chance to reach a larger audience, because they did. It’s just upsetting that more people didn’t watch when it mattered, because they deserved a better ending than this.
Blu-ray Highlight: HBO could have easily dumped these onto Blu-ray without any bonus material, so it’s nice to see that they’ve included a decent collection of extras on all three sets. While fans of audio commentaries will find several tracks with various cast and crew members on each release, there are some great featurettes as well. Creators Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson discuss the new characters and story arcs that make up “Hung: The Complete Third Season”; author Jonathan Ames records a series of mini-interviews for all eight Season Three episodes of “Bored to Death”; and the cast of “How to Make It in America” talk about filming the show’s second season.
Beginning where most romantic comedies usually end, you can’t fault “The Five-Year Engagement” for trying to deliver a fresh take on the genre. But although it boasts some great laughs throughout (including a Muppets-inspired bit that is probably the most honest moment in the entire film), the movie doesn’t know when enough is enough. The constant shifts in tone also prevent it from ever finding its groove, particularly when the film gets really dark and gloomy in the second act. It would be one thing if Jason Segel’s character was just depressed, but he becomes borderline crazy, devolving into a grizzly mountain man. Though the theme of resentment plays a big part in the story, Segel’s emotional transformation is taken a little too far, to the point that you’re not even sure if you like the main characters anymore. Thankfully, director Nicholas Stoller surrounds his two leads with an excellent supporting cast that helps keep the mood light, especially Chris Pratt, who absolutely steals the show as Segel’s idiotic best friend. The movie could have done with more of him and Alison Brie, because the pair earns more laughs in their limited screen time than the rest of the cast combined.
Blu-ray Highlight: Fans of the film will no doubt enjoy the included audio commentary by co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller and stars Jason Segel, Emily Blunt and Chris Pratt, but the disc’s real standout is the fantastic making-of featurette, which offers a refreshingly transparent behind-the-scenes look at the complete production process.
Director Boaz Yakin’s first foray into the action genre may look eerily similar to every other film to come out of the Jason Statham Factory of Ass-Kicking, but Statham’s movies are rarely dull, and that has a lot to do with the actor’s seemingly endless supply of charisma. He’s probably the most entertaining action star working today, and although “Safe” isn’t much better than his previous direct-to-video efforts, it delivers some pretty awesome action beats along the way. The rest of the movie is a giant mess, fueled by an overly complicated plot that fails to make much use of its carousel of B-movie villains, and it takes way too long to get going. Once it does, however, “Safe” never looks back, transforming into a speeding train wreck of violence where the various parties (Statham, some crooked cops and feuding Chinese and Russian gangsters) open fire on one another with such reckless abandon that it eliminates any plausibility. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to watch, but “Safe” is ridiculous even for a Jason Statham movie, and that’s saying something.
Blu-ray Highlight: As you might expect from a movie like “Safe,” the coolest piece of bonus material is a 10-minute featurette called “The Art of the Gunfight” that takes a look at the action choreography in the film, focusing on three sequences in particular.