Blu Tuesday: HBO’s Unlucky Three and More

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.

“Hung,” “Bored to Death” and “How to Make It in America”

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.

“The Five-Year Engagement”

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.

“Safe”

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.

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

With the summer movie season just around the corner, Hollywood is gearing up for what promises to be its most exciting slate of films in a long time by heading into the blockbuster-filled madness of May on a high note. This month has something for just about everyone, including several promising comedies, an innovative horror film with “Scream”-sized potential, and a new movie from action guru Luc Besson. It may not compare to what this summer has to offer, but it’s better than the doldrums of winter.

“AMERICAN REUNION”

Who: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott and Eugene Levy
What: The gang is reunited in East Great Falls, Michigan for their high school reunion.
When: April 6th
Why: I’ve been a fan of the “American Pie” series (not including those terrible direct-to-DVD spinoffs, of course) since the original film was released back in 1999. It’s a purely generational thing; when the characters are having the same major life experiences as most people your age, it makes them easy to relate to. The movies also happen to be pretty entertaining in a guilty pleasure kind of way, and it’ll be great to see the whole cast reunited for the first time since they all went their separate ways to become big movie stars. Though that didn’t exactly work out for any of them (Alyson Hannigan and Seann William Scott are arguably the most successful of the bunch), as long as their chemistry is still intact, “American Reunion” should be a fun trip down memory lane.

“COMIC-CON: EPISODE IV – A FAN’S HOPE”

Who: Chuck Rozanski, Holly Conrad, Eric Henson, Anthony Calderon and Skip Harvey
What: A behind-the-scenes look at the fans who gather by the thousands each year in San Diego, California to attend Comic-Con.
When: April 6th
Why: It’s actually quite surprising that no one has thought to make a documentary about Comic-Con until now, because although it’s not really a hard-hitting subject matter, it already has a built-in audience that continues to grow every year. Morgan Spurlock isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a documentary about the popular geek Mecca, but he’s wisely chosen to stay out of the spotlight this time around, instead opting to focus on the lives of five attendees (including a toy collector, an aspiring artist and a costume designer) who have traveled to the annual convention for various reasons. And with guys like Stan Lee, Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith all involved in some form, Spurlock’s latest doc has the makings to be the perfect love letter to comic book geeks everywhere.

“THE CABIN IN THE WOODS”

Who: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford
What: Five friends head to a remote cabin in the woods for the weekend where they get more than they bargained for.
When: April 13th
Why: I’ve had the good fortune to see Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” twice now, and it’s every bit as original and entertaining as you’d expect for a movie co-written by Joss Whedon. This is one of those films that you need to go into knowing as little as possible, so while the trailer has been provided below, I’d recommend that you don’t watch it in order to avoid spoiling anything. It may look like just your average slasher flick on paper, but the movie has a few tricks up its sleeves. Fueled by a great script that not only defies most horror conventions, but does so with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “The Cabin in the Woods” is either going to be the movie that everyone can’t stop talking about, or that no one goes to see. Do your part and make sure it’s the former.

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