This past month has been pretty spectacular for Blu-ray enthusiasts, as it’s given us a number of reasons to stay out of the heat and relax inside our air-conditioned homes. (Honestly, it’s been unreasonably hot for June, at least here in Ohio.) Though today’s new releases aren’t as great as previous weeks, there’s still quite a bit to choose from, including arguably the week’s two biggest releases – “21 Jump Street” and “Wrath of the Titans” – which sadly weren’t provided for review. Of course, that just made room for a few titles that probably wouldn’t have been featured otherwise, so no harm done.
Celebrating “The Artist” for its originality may seem a tad contradictory – after all, silent movies have been around longer than any other form of cinema – but when compared to today’s crop of films, it certainly feels fitting. The big winner at last year’s Academy Awards, “The Artist” plays like a loving homage to an era of filmmaking that many people have either forgotten about or never knew. For as purely entertaining as “The Artist” can be at times, however, it doesn’t do nearly enough to make you fall in love with the film so much as the idea of it. Though the movie’s first 30 minutes are an absolute delight thanks to the charming screen presence of Jean Dujardin, the abrupt change in tone from light-hearted comedy to somber melodrama is a bit disappointing. Still, “The Artist” makes great use of its various stylistic devices, and French actors Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo deliver star-making performances. Although the film often favors the gimmick over the story, it serves as a great reminder that while not every off-the-wall idea is guaranteed to be a success like “The Artist,” it’s the willingness to take those risks that making movies is all about.
Blu-ray Highlight: While I had high hopes for the 45-minute Q&A with the filmmakers and cast, it’s spoiled by a terrible moderator and Jean Dujardin’s language barrier. Still, “The Making of an American Romance” is a pretty entertaining featurette that, in addition to focusing on the two French leads and their supporting cast, also covers many of the movie’s finest moments, including the big tap dance number at the end.
Though it was a bit of a surprise nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, writer/director Michael R. Roskam’s “Bullhead” definitely deserved the attention it earned as a result. It’s not exactly in Drafthouse Films’ wheelhouse of bizarre midnight movies (see: “The FP”), but it’s the kind of film that I’d like to see the startup label distribute more often in the future. A unique, character-driven crime drama with one of the most memorable protagonists in recent years, “Bullhead” is worth seeing just for the amazing transformative performance by star Matthias Schoenaerts, who’s virtually unrecognizable under the facial prosthetics and 60 pounds of weight that he reportedly gained for the role. Schoenaerts is a physically intimidating beast of a man who looks like he might snap at any moment, but the brilliance of his performance is the vulnerability and innocence that he brings to the character. Unfortunately, “Bullhead” is yet another case of a sensational performance in an otherwise average movie, and though that doesn’t make it any less worth your time, it does prevent it from becoming the masterpiece it could have been.
Blu-ray Highlight: The guys at Drafthouse have done an excellent job with this release, so there’s quite a bit of good material to choose from. In addition to a pair of insightful interviews by director Michael Roskam and star Matthias Schoenaerts (who talks about becoming obsessed with his physical preparation for the movie), there’s also a cool making-of featurette that delivers a behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking process.
Director Brian Robbins’ third collaboration with Eddie Murphy isn’t nearly as terrible as their previous projects (“Norbit” and “Meet Dave”), but it’s not exactly an instance of “third time’s a charm” either. Although taking away Murphy’s best asset – his voice – is troublesome from the very start, the movie’s biggest problem is that it’s played as a silly comedy when it would have made for a much better drama. The basic premise is a pretty high concept idea, but instead of exploring the figurative relationship between Murphy’s character and the leaves on the tree that fall with every word he speaks, Robbins and screenwriter Steve Koren (who’s also responsible for last year’s incredibly awful “Jack and Jill”) take the broader route by making the bond much more literal. So when anything happens to the tree (whether it’s squirrels running around the trunk or the gardener spraying it with toxic gas), it also has a physical effect on Murphy, which only spoils the deeper philosophical and spiritual connotations that are briefly alluded to. “A Thousand Words” is still better than a lot of the crap the comedian has been doing in recent years, but not by very much.
Blu-ray Highlight: There are only two extras included on the disc – a subpar collection of deleted scenes and an inferior alternate ending – and neither one is very worthwhile.