Blu Tuesday: Crazy Cults, Tower Heists and More

There are plenty of new Blu-rays on tap this week, and as usual, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I didn’t even bother writing entries for Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” and the “Shrek” spin-off “Puss in Boots” because the sooner we forget about both movies the better, while other noteworthy titles like Criterion’s “Anatomy of a Murder” and the first season of BBC’s “The Fades” weren’t available for review. Fans of Criterion’s previous releases can confidently blind-buy the former, however, knowing it will live up to their standards.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Sean Durkin’s directorial debut was a big hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and after finally seeing the movie myself during its theatrical release, it’s easy to understand why. A disturbing yet mesmerizing psychological thriller about a girl who runs away from a cult only to become increasingly paranoid that its members have tracked her down, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (so titled for the various names that its protagonist uses throughout the course of the film) is bone-chilling suspense at its best. Durkin’s cleverly edited transitions between past and present are so disorienting that you start to become as paranoid as Martha herself, while star-in-the-making Elizabeth Olsen delivers an incredible performance that should have netted her an Oscar nomination. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is one of those rare movies that stay with long after it’s over, sparking debate about its purposefully vague ending. It’s sure to enrage some, but most cinephiles will love every gripping minute.

Blu-ray Highlight: The list of included bonus material isn’t as impressive as it sounds, but fans of the movie will still no doubt be interested in director Sean Durkin’s short film “Mary Last Seen,” which serves as a companion piece to “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”

“Tower Heist”

Though a lot of people were quick to condemn “Tower Heist” before they even had a chance to see it, I was hopeful that Brett Ratner – who’s a better director than he gets credit for – would prove them wrong. After all, not only did the movie boast a promising setup and a great cast (including the potentially dynamic pairing of Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy), but the script was co-written by Ted Griffin, who penned the “Ocean’s Eleven” remake and co-created the excellent but short-lived FX drama “Terriers.” In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been so optimistic, because despite its timely subject matter and the aforementioned components, “Tower Heist” never really makes the most of its potential. There are a handful of humorous moments littered throughout, but for the most part, it’s a rather unmemorable heist movie that’s biggest disappointment is its mediocrity.

Blu-ray Highlight: Universal has provided a solid collection of bonus material for the two-disc release, but the audio commentary with director Brett Ratner, co-writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, and editor Mark Helfrich is the clear standout. In addition to revealing some interesting anecdotes about the long road from development to production (including Eddie Murphy’s original pitch for an all-black cast with guys like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Chris Tucker), the quartet also talks about working with the ensemble cast and the challenges of filming the movie’s various set pieces.

“The Son of No One”

Channing Tatum must have made a deal with the Devil earlier in his life, because it’s the only possible explanation as to why Hollywood is so obsessed with him. After seven years in the business, Tatum hasn’t delivered a single performance that’s convinced me he has any real talent as an actor, and yet he continues to get work in high-profile projects. Director Dito Montiel is perhaps the worst offender, having cast him in all of three of his films, including this laughable police drama that also stars Al Pacino, Ray Liotta and Katie Holmes. The only thing worse than watching Tatum bumble his way through yet another leading role is the dreadful script by Montiel, which lazily strings together a series of incredibly pointless events and moments of manufactured conflict that are so easily avoidable it can be viewed as nothing less than an insult to the audience’s integrity.

Blu-ray Highlight: There are only two extras on the disc, but the audio commentary with writer/director Dito Montiel and executive producer/editor Jake Pushinsky offers up some interesting nuggets about making the film despite the long stretches of silence.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

Can you smell that? No, not the pumpkin pie-scented potpourri that your grandmother bought you last Christmas – it’s the smell of awards season starting to heat up. Though November is typically a pretty eclectic month for movies, you can always expect a fair share of family films and Oscar hopefuls competing for the attention of your box office dollars, and this year is no exception. You also might notice that a few major releases – like the Adam Sandler-in-drag comedy “Jack and Jill” and the latest installment in the “Twilight” saga – have been left out of this preview. That’s no mistake. I wanted to save myself the trouble of writing about them and you the embarrassment of reading about them. After all, there are more than enough good options this month that no one should have to damage any more brain cells by seeing one of those movies.

“A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS”

Who: John Cho, Kal Penn, Paula Garces, Thomas Lennon and Neil Patrick Harris
What: After Harold and Kumar accidentally set fire to Harold’s father-in-law’s prize Christmas tree, the duo embark on yet another weed-fueled adventure to replace it.
When: November 4th
Why: Though I refuse to believe that the 3D revolution is going to stick around for much longer, this is one of those times where I actually don’t completely hate the idea. That’s probably because director Todd Strauss-Schulson is really embracing the gimmicky nature of the technology, but who doesn’t love making fun of 3D? Though Harold and Kumar’s last adventure was a bit ridiculous for its own good, writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg appear to have reined things in for the third (and likely final) installment in the stoner bud series. Toss in some Claymation and the return of Neil Patrick Harris and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a fun theater experience.

“TOWER HEIST”

Who: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck and Téa Leoni
What: A group of employees at a luxury condominium enlist the aid of a career criminal to help them steal $20 million from the investor that emptied out their pension plans.
When: November 4th
Why: When I first heard that Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy were teaming up with director Brett Ratner for what can be best described as a blue-collar “Ocean’s 11,” I responded accordingly, with a witty comment and a cynical roll of the eyes. But something strange happened between then and now – I saw the trailer for the film, and amazingly, it doesn’t look half-bad. Perhaps it’s just because my expectations are so low for those involved in the movie, but this actually looks like it could be pretty enjoyable, and even somewhat of a return to form for Murphy, who hasn’t been funny in a really long time.

“J. EDGAR”

Who: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench
What: A biopic about the founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, whose 50-year reign as the face of law enforcement was threatened by the many secrets in his personal life.
When: November 9th
Why: Everything about this film has “future Oscar nominee” written all over it, including star Leonardo DiCaprio, director Clint Eastwood and co-star Armie Hammer, who’s landed the plum role of Hoover’s lifelong friend and rumored lover Clyde Tolson. It’ll be interesting to see how a mild conservative like Eastwood handles the mysterious relationship between the two men, especially with gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black behind the script, because dodging the issue completely won’t sit well with the usually liberal-minded Academy. The person that stands the most to gain from all of this, of course, is Hammer, who is pretty much a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination after just barely missing out last year for his incredible work in “The Social Network.”

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