Blu Tuesday: Bond, Oscars and More

It’s been a little slow these past few weeks in regards to major releases, but there’s no shortage of high profile titles this week as the first batch of award-worthy films arrives on Blu-ray. Of course, not every entry is Oscar material, but there’s enough variety and quality here that you won’t have to look very far for something that perks your interest.

“Skyfall”

Just like a good scotch, it’s amazing what a little time can do for a movie’s quality. After the disappointing “Quantum of Solace,” it was imperative that the next James Bond film didn’t follow suit, and although the MGM bankruptcy fiasco that put production indefinitely on hold was worrying, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only does the story feel more polished as a result, but it features one of the best Bond villains in the series’ history. Javier Bardem’s platinum-haired cyber-terrorist doesn’t appear until the midway mark, but the actor makes the most of his limited screen time, including a particularly memorable introduction. It’s hard to imagine Bardem would have even been interested in doing a Bond movie if it weren’t for Sam Mendes, and the same could probably be said for the rest of the cast as well. Though he was certainly an unconventional choice, having a director of Mendes’ caliber behind the camera is something the Broccolis should strive for more often, because it’s clear from the start that “Skyfall” is in a totally different class than past installments. It has everything you could want in a 007 film – action, intrigue, style and even a little humor – resulting in Daniel Craig’s best Bond adventure to date.

Blu-ray Highlight: A review copy wasn’t provided in time to sample the bonus material, but between the audio commentary by director Sam Mendes and the 13-part making-of featurette “Shooting Bond,” it’s a safe bet that diehard fans won’t be disappointed.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

It’s not every day that the author of a critically acclaimed novel gets the chance to adapt their book for the big screen, let alone direct it, but after watching Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job. After all, Chbosky knows the material inside and out, and it definitely shows in this modest but heartwarming tale about finding your place in the world. It’s your typical coming-of-age story, but one that’s handled with a certain level of maturity rarely found in high school films, and though the comparisons to “The Breakfast Club” may be somewhat warranted, it’s one of the few movies about high school that actually gets it right. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller deliver excellent performances in their respective roles (especially Miller as the openly gay senior that takes Lerman’s freshman under his wing), and Chbosky’s deft script earns every emotional moment. It’s just a shame that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” got lost in the awards season shuffle, because it’s one of 2012′s very best.

Blu-ray Highlight: In addition to a short but sweet featurette about the close friendships formed while making the film, the Blu-ray also includes a pair of audio commentaries. The first track with writer/director Stephen Chobsky is definitely the more informative of the two, but the second track with Chobsky and his young cast is more entertaining.

“The Sessions”

Writer/director Ben Lewin’s “The Sessions” may sound like some really bizarre cross between “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “My Left Foot” – after all, it’s essentially about a disabled man (real-life polio survivor and journalist Mark O’Brien) trying to get laid for the first time – but this incredibly low-key and feel-good dramedy is about so much more, and that’s why it was such a big hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Though it would have been all too easy to produce the kind of heavy-handed Oscar bait that you normally see with these types of true inspirational stories, Lewin never martyrizes his main character, instead relying on O’Brien’s charming personality and self-deprecating wit to lighten the mood. The sex scenes are also handled with a frankness and intimacy that you don’t see very often in films these days, and that, coupled with a pair of superb, award-worthy performances by John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, is what makes “The Sessions” such a joy to watch.

Blu-ray Highlight: Like “Skyfall,” a review copy wasn’t provided in time for press (blame Fox), but I’ll update this space as soon as I’m able to check out the bonus material.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

After a tepid last couple of months, Hollywood is finally gearing up for award season, and with it comes a host of really promising films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Wright, David O. Russell and Ang Lee, many of which are already projected to land several Oscar nominations. But perhaps the most highly-anticipated release this November isn’t an award contender at all, but rather the long-awaited 23rd installment in the James Bond series, which looks to be Daniel Craig’s best 007 adventure yet.

“WRECK-IT RALPH”

Who: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch
What: A video game villain sets out to fulfill his dream of being a hero, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.
When: November 2nd
Why: I was cautiously optimistic about “Wreck-It Ralph” when it was first announced, but after seeing the film, I can say unequivocally that it’s one of the best movies the studio has put out in years, and that includes the Pixar stuff as well. In fact, “Wreck-It Ralph” is the kind of film that you’d almost expect Pixar to make, because it’s a remarkably original idea that’s catered to both kids and the adults who grew up playing retro games. Director Rich Moore comes from a background that includes “Futurama” and “The Simpsons,” and it really shows in the type of humor on display, while John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman shine in their voice roles. The animation is also really gorgeous, especially the attention to detail between games, and the much-publicized cameos help bring an authenticity to the world that only makes it even more enjoyable.

“FLIGHT”

Who: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly and Melissa Leo
What: An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals that he may have been drunk at the time.
When: November 2nd
Why: After spending nearly a decade helping pioneer motion capture technology with movies like “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol,” Robert Zemeckis marks his return to live-action filmmaking with something that has a little more bite to it. Early reviews have been almost unanimously positive, with Denzel Washington singled out for his amazing performance, and though he may be considered a bit of a dark horse with so much stiff competition this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy rewarded the actor with his first nomination since 2002’s “Training Day.” The subject matter certainly carries the danger of becoming too melodramatic, but between the interesting premise and excellent cast, “Flight” is exactly the kind of riveting character drama that should help remind audiences just how good Zemeckis’ movies used to be.

“THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS”

Who: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Jamie Chung, Rick Yune and Dave Bautista
What: A humble blacksmith defends his village from a band of assassins and mercenaries when they come to town in search of a fabled treasure of gold.
When: November 2nd
Why: Anyone who knows anything about Wu Tang Clan founder RZA is that he loves kung fu cinema, so you can be sure that his directorial debut is going to be nothing short of a love letter to the genre, albeit one with a hip-hop soundtrack. The fact that he’s managed to attract the kind of talent that he has is certainly a sign of the film’s potential, because let’s be honest, Russell Crowe is the last person you’d expect to show up in this type of movie, even if it only ends up being an extended cameo. With that said, however, “The Man with the Iron Fists” looks every bit like the kind of chop-socky B-movies that RZA grew up watching, so if you’re expecting something more along the lines of “Kill Bill,” there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to walk away disappointed.

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A chat with Jamie Chung of “Eden”

Jamie Chung is one of those rare cases of a reality TV star actually forging a successful career in Hollywood. After getting her big break as a cast member on MTV’s “The Real World: San Diego,” Chung made the transition into acting with a recurring gig on “Days of Our Lives” and guest roles on other popular series. Over the last few years, the actress has continued to make a name for herself in films like “Dragon Ball: Evolution,” “Sucker Punch” and “The Hangover: Part II,” and with a full slate of projects on the way, it looks like she’s here to stay.

I had the chance to speak with Chung while in Austin, TX for the South by Southwest film festival where she was promoting her new indie drama, “Eden,” based on the real-life story of human trafficking survivor Chong Kim, and it’s the kind of role that’s going to do great things for her career. The film celebrated its world premiere by also winning a number of awards, including Audience Awards for Best Narrative Feature and Best Director, as well as a Special Jury Recognition for Chung’s performance. The actress met up with me at the bustling, historic Driskill Hotel the day after the movie’s premiere for a quick chat on all things “Eden.”

BE: “Eden” represents a pretty drastic change in tone compared to the movies that you’ve previously done. Had you been actively seeking more dramatic roles?

JC: You know, I think every actor craves to really sink their teeth into something substantial and meaningful. And when the script came around, it’s just unheard of for an Asian-American female having this kind of storyline. It blew my mind that this story existed and that Chong came forward and shared this story. As soon as I read it, I was like, “I absolutely need to be a part of this.” The story itself is so moving, and what she went through is so horrific, but the entire story, what was so beautiful about it is, it’s a story of survival, and the will of the human spirit of how much she wants to live and survive and cope and continue on.

BE: You said that you weren’t aware of the story before you read the script, but did you get a chance to meet Chong before you began filming?

JC: I had the privilege of speaking to her after I was cast. And what was great too was that she also talked to Matt (O’Leary, who plays one of her captors, whom Chong befriends in order to escape) because it was really important to understand their relationship.

BE: The story takes place in the mid-90s, but human trafficking is still a really huge problem today. Have you gotten involved in any activist work as a result of working on the film?

JC: There’s an organization coming out of San Francisco that’s helping girls get out of sex trafficking, but the main focus is local girls – girls within the United States. The first thing when you hear “sex trafficking,” you think, third world country. India. Pakistan. Taiwan. Wherever. But what I love about this organization is the main focus is going to go here, and it’s something that’s in development right now. But Chong works with many organizations and she’s very much hands on, and we were entertaining the possibility of maybe traveling to Korea to meet the comfort women, that are now getting really old and are going to stop protesting, but also some other organizations throughout Asia.

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