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.
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.)
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.
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.