Blu Tuesday: Teddy Bears, Super Soldiers and Spoiled Brats

It’s been a few weeks since my last column due to what can only be described as one of the busiest months of my adult life, but I’m finally back with another edition of Blu Tuesday. Thankfully, there weren’t too many must-have Blu-rays released while I was out, but I would suggest picking up the following if you haven’t already: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “ParaNorman,” “Lawless” and the “Tarantino XX” box set. This week’s selection isn’t that much better, but there are a handful of titles worth checking out.

“Ted”

Seth MacFarlane has already built a media empire that currently dominates Fox’s Sunday night line-up, but it was only a matter of time before he moved on to a bigger challenge, and though “Ted” represents the multi-hyphenate’s first foray into feature filmmaking, the movie is such a confident debut that you have to wonder why it took so long to make the jump in the first place. While the film can feel like a live-action version of “Family Guy” at times – featuring trademarks like cutaway gags, a knock-down-drag-out fight, and enough boundary-pushing humor to comfortably earn its R rating – you don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy “Ted.” It certainly wouldn’t hurt, but there are also things that MacFarlane is able to do here that can’t be done in animation, and it creates a more well-rounded movie as a result. Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis are both solid in their respective roles, but it’s MacFarlane who steals the show as the foul-mouthed teddy bear. His decision to perform the motion capture and provide the voice of Ted not only does wonders for the interactions between him and Wahlberg, but it makes him feel like a real, living, breathing thing, and that goes a long way in making the film such an incredibly funny buddy comedy.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a lot of great bonus material for fans to dive into – including an amusing audio commentary with Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg and co-writer Alec Sulkin – but the making-of featurette is the best of the bunch, focusing mainly on visual effects and MacFarlane’s decision to perform Ted live on the set during filming.

“The Bourne Legacy”

I was a little wary when Universal announced that they were continuing the Jason Bourne franchise without Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass (or for that matter, the title character), but “The Bourne Legacy” proves that there’s still life to the series without them. One of the most important factors in its success was the decision to bring Tony Gilroy back to write and direct the fourth installment, because no one knows the Bourne series better than him, and it was likely his idea to design the story so that it runs parallel to the events in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” That way, there’s still some sort of connection between Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross and Damon’s Bourne, even though they never actually cross paths. If they do get around to making another film, that would be the next logical step, but for what’s essentially a spin-off, “The Bourne Legacy” is a lot better than it probably has the right to be. It’s still not as good as the original trilogy, but between its talented cast (which includes heavy hitters like Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton) and superb action sequences, there’s more than enough here to keep you invested in the Bourne saga.

Blu-ray Highlight: Though it’s a little disappointing that none of the film’s cast appears on the audio commentary, the track – which features director/co-writer Tony Gilroy with several of his crew members – is a great conversation about making the movie, with each participant getting the chance to discuss their contribution to the film in detail.

“Girls: The Complete First Season”

“Girls” is one of those shows that makes me question why I continue to tune in every week. Though it’s a big hit with a lot of critics, and there’s invariably something that makes me laugh out loud each episode, the HBO comedy’s quartet of leading ladies doesn’t make it easy to enjoy. Creator Lena Dunham’s Hannah is easily one of the most annoying characters on television; Allison Williams’ Marnie makes more bad decisions than a horror movie victim; Jemima Kirke’s Jessa fails to prove what makes her so alluring to men; and Zosia Mamet’s Shoshanna… well, I don’t actually have anything bad to say about her. That might make “Girls” sound like a pretty insufferable viewing experience (and it is at times), but even with such terrible characters, it manages to deliver some surprisingly biting commentary on this generation’s crop of entitled, self-centered twentysomethings. Still, if it weren’t for breakout star Adam Driver’s hilarious performance as Hannah’s weirdo on-again, off-again boyfriend, there’s a pretty good chance I would have tuned out a long time ago, because he single-handedly makes the show worth watching.

Blu-ray Highlight: HBO doesn’t normally include many extras on their Blu-rays, but the two-disc release of “Girls” is loaded with bonus material, and many of them are really good. In addition to a pair of roundtable-type conversations between Lena Dunham and her female co-stars, and Dunham and producer Judd Apatow, there’s also a cool making-of video diary that goes behind the scenes of several Season One episodes.

  

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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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