Blu Tuesday: Gonzo Depp, Fallout Shelters and the Female Woody Allen

It’s another big week for Blu-ray fans, and not because you can finally watch the latest installment of the “Twilight” saga in the comfort of your own home. Though “Breaking Dawn: Part One” was released last Friday, therefore making it eligible for this week’s column, there were fortunately plenty of other great titles to choose from. And because I don’t want to waste another second on that godforsaken franchise, let’s get right to it.

“The Rum Diary”

It’s no secret that Johnny Depp is a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson (in addition to playing a fictional version of him in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” he also narrated “Gonzo,” the 2008 documentary about the writer), and “The Rum Diary” was a project that he had been trying to get made for several years prior to Thompson’s untimely death. Unfortunately, while Depp clearly has a lot of fun channeling the eccentric journalist yet again in this adaptation of the writer’s “lost novel,” the movie is a rambling mess that fails to find any sort of rhythm over the course of its 120 minute runtime. The acting is solid and there are some great set pieces throughout, but it doesn’t really add up to anything of much substance. Having never read any of Thompson’s work, that may have very well been the point, but that doesn’t make the film any more accessible or entertaining.

Blu-ray Highlight: Though fans of Hunter S. Thompson will undoubtedly enjoy “The Rum Diary Back-Story,” a 2002 documentary that features Thompson and many others talking about the publication of the novel and the long road to adapting it for the big screen, I found the much briefer making-of featurette, “A Voice Made of Ink and Rage,” more interesting. In it, Johnny Depp and director Bruce Robinson discuss making the film while still keeping Thompson’s spirit alive on set. (Hint: It involved plenty of rum.)

“Take Shelter”

There always seems to be at least one indie movie that emerges as a potential dark horse in the months leading up to the Oscars, and this year, that film is “Take Shelter.” Although it was overlooked by every major awards show, that hasn’t stopped some cinephiles from insisting that it deserved more recognition. In fact, my own critics group awarded the movie the #3 spot in our annual Top 10 and handed Best Actor honors to star Michael Shannon. But while “Take Shelter” is certainly a good film, I’m not convinced that it’s a great one, even in a year saturated with underwhelming movies. Shannon’s intense performance as a family man suffering from visions of an impending apocalypse has garnered a lot of attention, but it’s really no different from the work that the bug-eyed, off-kilter actor has been consistently delivering for years. Whether or not you actually like the film ultimately comes down to its polarizing ending, however, because it’s about as love-it-or-hate-it as they come.

Blu-ray Highlight: There are actually quite a few good bonus features on the disc – including an audio commentary by writer/director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon, as well as a short but sweet making-of featurette – but the best of the bunch is a surprisingly funny Q&A with Shannon and co-star Shea Whigham where they chat about how they got involved with the project and reveal other anecdotes from the set.

“Tiny Furniture”

I missed out on seeing Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” when it debuted at SXSW two years ago; it was my first time at the event and I didn’t want to take the chance on a movie I knew nothing about. But after it won the festival’s award for Best Narrative Film, I made a mental note to watch it as soon as it was available on Blu-ray. Although I didn’t fall quite so head-over-heels for the movie as some, “Tiny Furniture” serves as a great showcase for a promising young talent who’s already drawn comparisons as a female Woody Allen. Granted, Dunham still has a ways to go – both behind the screen and in front of it – but the cornerstones are already there in her smart and funny writing. Your mileage will vary depending on how much you can tolerate Dunham’s hopelessly self-involved protagonist, but while “Tiny Furniture” is definitely rough around the edges, it’s worth seeing if only to bear witness to a filmmaker on the verge of a major breakout.

Blu-ray Highlight: Criterion always does a fantastic job with their Blu-ray releases, and “Tiny Furniture” is no exception. In addition to an engaging 30-minute conversation between writer/director/actor Lena Dunham and rom-com guru Nora Ephron, the single-disc effort also includes Dunham’s first feature, “Creative Fiction,” four of her early shorts, and an interview with Paul Schrader. They’re all highlight-worthy extras, but the discussion between Dunham and Ephron is something that any film fan will enjoy.

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October

October has never been known for offering much in the way of quality at the cineplex (in many respects, it’s the dumping ground of the fall movie season), but usually, horror fans can at least expect a bunch of scary movies to help get them in the mood for Halloween. This year is a little different, however, because there are very few horror films in sight. But while the month certainly looks to be short on scares with the exception of “Paranormal Activity 3,” “Red State” and perhaps “The Thing,” the rest of the schedule is filled with some interesting titles that really have the potential to surprise.

“REAL STEEL”

Who: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly and Anthony Mackie
What: Set in the near future where robots have replaced humans in the ring, a former boxer and his estranged son discover a junkyard bot that could become champion.
When: October 7th
Why: It’s easy to see how someone might be a little skeptical about a film that looks like “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie,” but after visiting the set last summer, any concerns I might have had were quickly laid to rest following a chat with director Shawn Levy and star Hugh Jackman. I’ve also had the opportunity to see the finished product since then, and while the movie certainly isn’t going to earn a spot alongside “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” as a boxing classic, it’s still a really enjoyable underdog sports drama with strong central performances and plenty of awesome robot-on-robot action.

“THE IDES OF MARCH”

Who: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti
What: An idealistic staff member for a Democratic presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his latest stint on the campaign trail.
When: October 7th
Why: With a big name like George Clooney attached to a movie come big expectations, especially when he’s the one calling the shots. Thankfully, his latest directorial effort appears to be more “Good Night, and Good Luck” than “Leatherheads,” and it doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded himself with such an incredible ensemble cast. In addition to the film’s multi-hyphenate star, “The Ides of March” features two other Oscar winners and two nominees. It might not be considered the year’s strongest awards contender, but the Academy always loves a good political thriller, and this definitely looks the part.

“THE THING”

Who: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
What: When an alien life form begins wreaking havoc at an Antarctic research site, a graduate student teams up with a helicopter pilot to prevent it from escaping.
When: October 14th
Why: There’s been a lot of debate over whether Universal’s “The Thing” is a remake or a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter classic (the fact that it shares the same title certainly hasn’t helped matters), but it’s now been confirmed that it takes place prior to R.J. MacReady’s trip to the Antarctic and will detail what happened at the Norwegian camp featured in the original film. I’m not sure if that makes this prequel any less unnecessary, but at least it’s got a couple of good actors in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton. That’s definitely a start, but it still has a ways to go to winning back the fanboys after Ronald D. Moore’s script was reportedly scrapped back in late 2009.

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