Blu Tuesday: Bad Teeth, Big Hair and Alien Invasions

It’s another slow week for Blu-ray fans, with only two major titles being released, neither of which is worth more than a rental. Warner Bros.’ repackaging of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and the Werner Herzog documentary “Into the Abyss” are also hitting stores, but since I didn’t receive either of those for review, this week’s column is going to be brief.

“The Iron Lady”

Every bit the listless piece of Oscar bait that everyone expected it to be, “The Iron Lady” is essentially a made-for-TV movie with an award-worthy performance at the center. Yes, Meryl Streep is almost offensively talented as an actress, but she’s also been much better in a lot of other movies than she is here playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Though Streep absolutely nails her portrayal of the controversial politician (thanks in large part to some excellent make-up work), the movie itself is a rather cold and insipid biopic that isn’t nearly as interesting as it probably could have been in the hands of a more talented filmmaker. Jim Broadbent and Alexandra Roach (as Thatcher’s husband and younger self, respectively) deliver some good work in supporting roles, but this is clearly Streep’s show. It’s just a shame that her fantastic performance was wasted in such a mediocre movie, because if the actress was going to finally win another Oscar after so many years, it should have been for something much more memorable than this.

Blu-ray Highlight: Regrettably, there is none. All of the so-called “bonus featurettes” are less than three minutes long and recycle a lot of the same footage from “Making The Iron Lady,” which is more of just a standard rundown of the characters and actors that play them. It’s a bit baffling that some kind of makeup featurette wasn’t included seeing as how the film won an Oscar for it, because it surely would have been worth watching.

“The Darkest Hour”

When I previewed Chris Gorak’s sci-fi thriller back in December, I expressed my annoyance with the fact that it was being released in a month where it had virtually no chance of success. Of course, that was when I still thought the film had potential, but in hindsight, it’s easy to see why Summit showed so little confidence in the movie. Despite boasting a cool premise and a talented young cast (including Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby and Joel Kinnaman of “The Killling”), “The Darkest Hour” is B-movie material at best, marred by terrible performances, clichéd characters and a lack of excitement. The film’s only redeeming quality is the special effects, but Gorak relies on the image of the invisible aliens turning its victims to dust so often that you wonder if it’s the only card he has to play. Because when the aliens’ comically lame physical form is finally revealed, you’ll understand why they spent most of the movie hidden in stealth mode. Spoiler alert: it’s even worse than it sounds.

Blu-ray Highlight: Though fans will probably get a kick out of the short film “Survivor,” which explores the human resistance forming around the world, the “Visualizing an Invasion” featurette is an interesting look at designing the aliens, their unique POV shots and the cool “shred” effect that happens when you come into contact with them.

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

The end of every movie year can usually be summed up in a few words: blockbusters and Oscar bait. With all of the holiday-themed films already in theaters, Christmas time is reserved for some of the studio’s biggest movies and their final push before awards season. Though it’s always a bit hot-and-cold in terms of what you can expect, this year’s slate offers an enticing mix of popcorn and prestige films. (And in the case of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” both.) Though some of the more interesting award contenders won’t actually reach your hometown until January (if at all) due to a silly rule that only requires a movie open in a very limited engagement before December 31st, there’s enough good stuff here to keep you suitably entertained well into the new year.

“TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY”

Who: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds and Mark Strong
What: In the bleak days of the Cold War, veteran spy George Smiley is lured out of retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6’s ranks.
When: December 9th
Why: I would pay to see just about anything starring Gary Oldman, but his new film from director Tomas Alfredson (who’s already proven himself as a master of suspense with the vampire cult hit, “Let the Right One In”) has gotten me particularly excited. Based on the bestselling novel by former spy turned author John le Carré, the movie looks like a throwback to those great, low-key political thrillers from the 1970s, and if that’s not enough to pique your interest, then a brief glance at the cast list – a veritable who’s who of the best British actors working today, including Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch of “Sherlock” fame – will almost certainly change your mind.

“YOUNG ADULT”

Who: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt and J.K. Simmons
What: A fiction writer returns to her hometown in Minnesota looking to rekindle a romance with her high school flame, who is now married with kids.
When: December 9th
Why: “Juno” was one of my favorite films of 2007. In addition to an excellent star-making performance by Ellen Page, the movie marked the arrival of writer Diablo Cody onto the scene and cemented Jason Reitman’s status as one of Hollywood’s most promising young directors. Fast-forward four years later and you can understand why Reitman and Cody’s latest collaboration, “Young Adult,” is already garnering awards buzz. Charlize Theron is perfect for the role of the former mean girl (she has the looks and attitude to pull it off without being completely unlikeable), while Patton Oswalt is an inspired choice to play her unlikely confidant. Cody’s snarky dark humor is also on full display here, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she nabs another Oscar nomination come February.

“THE SITTER”

Who: Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Sam Rockwell, Max Records and J.B. Smoove
What: A slacker college student gets caught up in a night of crazy hijinks involving a pair of vindictive drug dealers after he takes a job babysitting his neighbor’s kids.
When: December 9th
Why: Though its generic title makes the film sound like another family comedy starring an out-of-work action star, “The Sitter” actually appears to be a raunchier, R-rated version of the 1987 classic, “Adventures in Babysitting.” While the concept may be teeming with potential, however, I’m not entirely sold by the trailer. Jonah Hill (in his final pre-weight loss role) can be really annoying when he’s not kept on a short leash, and director David Gordon Green is notorious for doing the complete opposite. Sam Rockwell and J.B. Smoove make for an intriguing comedic pair as the film’s “villains,” but I have a feeling that the movie’s success is going to depend on the child actors. And if Elizabeth Shue doesn’t pop in for a cameo, I’m going to be extremely disappointed.

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