Blu Tuesday: Crazy Love, Rock Bands and More

As mentioned in last week’s column, things are finally starting to get back to normal for Blu-ray fans, with several great options arriving in stores today, including an Academy Award winner, a pair of Barbara Streisand films, and the latest from David Chase.

“Silver Linings Playbook”

Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. The movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its incredible cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance fully deserving of her recent Oscar win.

Blu-ray Highlight: The making-of featurette, “The Film That Became a Movement,” does a great job of balancing the usual behind the scenes footage with cast and crew interviews promoting mental health awareness, while the Q&A highlights are worth watching for those who want to know more about the film’s production. And though most of the deleted scenes can be easily skipped, the alternate ending is a must-see for any fan of the movie.

“Not Fade Away”

You wouldn’t think that it’d be very hard for someone like David Chase – who helped reinvent the TV drama with “The Sopranos” – to get his feature film debut off the ground, but then again, “Not Fade Away” feels so hastily thrown together that it’s not surprising it took five years to do so. A good idea in need of a better script, Chase’s 1960s’set story about a kid trying to follow in the footsteps of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to make it big as a rock n’ roll star doesn’t feature a single likable character. That makes enjoying its anticlimactic story even more difficult, because it’s hard to care what happens to anyone in the film when they’re as naïve, selfish and just plain boring as the characters here. James Gandolfini’s overbearing father is probably the most interesting (and levelheaded) of the bunch, and yet he’s portrayed almost like a villain. The music is good and the tale of failed stardom is more believable than most rock band movies, but that’s also what makes “Not Fade Away” so forgettable.

Blu-ray Highlight: Divided into three sections, “The Basement Tapes” offers a look at various aspects of the filmmaking process, including training the actors to play their respective instruments (with the help of Steven Van Zandt, no less), the 1960s setting and costumes, and the similarities between the story and David Chase’s teen years.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

It’s no secret that Hollywood saves some of its biggest guns for the end of the year, and between all the awards season hopefuls and holiday blockbusters, there’s an entire arsenal of exciting movies coming to theaters this December. While Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino duke it for Oscar honors with their newest films, “Jack Reacher” and “The Hobbit” promise to deliver pure escapist entertainment. The only thing missing is a big red bow, because this is the ultimate present for film lovers.

“HYDE PARK ON HUDSON”

Who: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman and Samuel West
What: The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley during the weekend in 1939 when the King of England visited upstate New York.
When: December 7th
Why: Bill Murray is notoriously picky about choosing scripts, but not even he could turn down the chance to play Franklin D. Roosevelt, which practically comes with an Oscar nomination attached to it. All kidding aside, Murray is actually a pretty inspired choice to play the wheelchair-bound 32nd President, especially because Roger Michell’s film appears to be much lighter for a story that takes place during such a harrowing period in history. While it’s unlikely that “Hyde Park on Hudson” will garner the same awards recognition as 2010’s “The King’s Speech” (although the two movies would make a perfect double feature), it’s hard to imagine that it will disappoint with such a solid cast.

“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”

Who: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving
What: Bilbo Baggins journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.
When: December 14th
Why: After years stuck in development hell due to the MGM bankruptcy crisis, the most anticipated prequel to come out of Hollywood since “The Phantom Menace” is finally arriving in theaters, although not exactly in the way that most people were expecting. For starters, Peter Jackson is back in the director’s chair after Guillermo del Toro cut his losses to work on other projects (and really, it’s for the better), while two movies have now become three after the decision was made to turn “The Hobbit” into its own trilogy. Though I’m not exactly sure how Jackson plans to do that (especially when Part One, subtitled “An Unexpected Journey,” will reportedly run 160 minutes long), that doesn’t make me any less thrilled about getting the chance to revisit Middle Earth all over again.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY”

Who: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt and Jason Clarke
What: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of Navy SEAL Team Six.
When: December 19th
Why: The last time director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal got together, they made the superb military thriller “The Hurt Locker,” which went on to win six Oscars, including ones for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The pair has reportedly been working on a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden for quite some time – so long, in fact, that they had to completely rewrite it after the al-Qaeda leader’s death in 2011 – but if there’s one film with the potential to outdo their last collaboration, “Zero Dark Thirty” is it. Though the movie is clearly much larger in scope than “The Hurt Locker,” with a lot of moving parts and an incredible ensemble cast too big to list here, if Bigelow and Boal get it right, this could be the movie event of the year.

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