Blu Tuesday: Rush, Last Vegas and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Rush”

WHAT: The true story of the 1976 Formula One racing season and the heated rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and reigning World Champion Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), the latter of whom was involved in a near-fatal accident, only to miraculously return to competition six weeks later despite suffering severe burns to his face and body.

WHY: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Ron Howard and Peter Morgan love history. The latter, in particular, is responsible for writing some of the best historical dramas of the past decade, but sadly, “Rush” is not one of them. Though there’s a lot to like about the duo’s latest movie – particularly the chemistry and performances of its two leading men – it’s not nearly as captivating as their last collaboration (“Frost/Nixon”). One thing that the film does do a good job of is giving Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth equal screen time, but the best moments are the scenes they share together. The actors play off each other wonderfully, although Brühl has the juicier role due to his character’s more dramatic story arc. What’s perhaps most impressive about “Rush,” though, is the way that Howard and Morgan have crafted the story so that both men “win” in the end. It’s a tricky proposition, but they pull it off, and that goes a long way in making up for the lack of exciting race sequences. F1 racing fans will no doubt be disappointed, but “Rush” is still a well-acted drama that’s biggest problem is perhaps being a tad too conventional.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, a behind-the-scenes look at the real-life story that inspired the film, a profile on director Ron Howard and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Last Vegas”

WHAT: Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been friends for nearly 60 years, so when Billy announces that he’s finally getting married, the guys decide to take a break from their stagnant day-to-day lives and throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas.

WHY:Last Vegas” may sound like the geriatric version of “The Hangover,” but apart from being about a quartet of friends attending a bachelor party in Vegas, the two films don’t have very much in common. For starters, “Last Vegas” isn’t nearly as crazy and over-the-top as the Todd Phillips comedy, instead resigned to more conventional humor that’s better suited to its veteran actors. It also has a tendency to get a little overly sentimental at times due to its subject matter, but that’s not to say it isn’t funny. Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro may not get as many opportunities to earn laughs due to their more dramatic subplots, but Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline pick up the slack, especially Freeman, who plays a great drunk. Though the old man jokes get a bit tiresome and the cookie cutter storyline is pretty lame, “Last Vegas” thrives thanks to its impressive cast. You’d be hard-pressed to assemble a better group of screen legends than these four, and just seeing them on screen together makes it well worth your time.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Jon Turteltaub and writer Dan Fogelman and six short production featurettes, three of which are Blu-ray exclusives.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”

WHAT: After his wife dies and his daughter is sent back to prison, 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) is tasked with driving his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) from Nebraska to North Carolina to deliver him to his father.

WHY: The “Jackass” movies have always made me laugh, but I’ve never been a fan of the Irving Zisman character, so when Paramount announced that Johnny Knoxville would be making an entire movie as the dirty old man, it seemed like a pretty dumb idea. And for the most part, “Bad Grandpa” is dumb, but it also made me laugh louder than a majority of the comedies released last year. Clearly inspired by Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” in its attempt to structure various pranks around a scripted story, “Bad Grandpa” is better off when Knoxville is just allowed to do his thing. Whether getting squished by a faulty adjustable bed at an estate sale, causing a ruckus at a local bingo center, stealing food from a corner store or hitting on ladies (and then performing) at an all-black male strip club, the Knoxville-led pranks hit their mark more often than not. The stuff with Jackson Nicoll isn’t nearly as entertaining – except for the final sequence where Irving and Billy crash a child beauty pageant – but “Bad Grandpa” earns enough big laughs along the way to make up for its shortcomings.

EXTRAS: In addition to an unrated cut of the film, there’s over an hour of bonus material, including deleted scenes, alternate real-life reactions and some behind-the-scenes antics.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu-ray Review: “Treme: The Complete Series”

If you were offered a trip to New Orleans for just over a hundred bucks, you’d probably take it, right? Well, it is perhaps oversimplifying matters to equate the “Treme: The Complete Series” box set (available exclusively on Blu-ray) with a visit to N’Awlins, but maybe that’s only because there’s nothing particularly simple about “Treme.” Does that mean it’s the sort of series that will blow you away? Not at all. Indeed, “Treme” has no interest in even trying.

For those who missed the series over the course of its HBO run (and judging by its practically invisible ratings, there were quite a few of you), “Treme” begins three months after Hurricane Katrina all but wiped out the city of New Orleans, and follows more than a dozen NOLA residents from all different walks of life picking up the pieces and attempting to move forward. It’s a series about culture, politics, cooking, tradition, and most definitely music, which it revels in. The show dazzles viewers with one great musical sequence after another (all recorded live and with no overdubbing or lip-synching), and the list of artists – usually playing themselves – that appear on the series over the course of its 36 episodes is practically countless.

In many (if not most) ways, “Treme” is anti-television. It seemingly throws out the rulebook that started being written when TV came into existence, playing loose, but rarely fast. There’s a price to pay for this brand of innovative storytelling, though, and that’s that “Treme” does not excite in any of the traditional ways that we’ve come to expect television to. Not once in the entire series will you throw your arms up and cry, “Yeah right! That would never happen!” such is the day to day reality of its goings-on. Indeed, when viewing it, you almost have to train yourself to watch this brand of TV a little differently.

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Drink of the Week: The Sazerac

Sazerac It might seem a bit odd, but it was current MSNBC political goddess and past Air America star Rachel Maddow whose radio “cocktail moments” largely propelled your loyal scribe’s fledgling interest in classic cocktails during the Bush II administration. Moreover, with an epic brohaha in Washington going on at the moment over the debt ceiling, it seems as good a time as any to pay tribute to her with this personal favorite.

The sazerac is the official drink of New Orleans — though we didn’t hear of it on three trips to that wondrous city. That’s likely because, though beloved by serious cocktail buffs, the great drink’s pop cultural fame is next to nil, though we understand a sazerac was recently thrown in the face of food critic Alan Richmond on an episode of “Treme.” We are therefore happy to try and correct this great drink’s relative obscurity; properly prepared it’s an ice cold sipping beverage that’s tasty as anything else produced in the great city of New Orleans. It’s preparation is a little complicated to explain but, trust us, it’s not hard once you get the steps straight in your head. It’s really just a slightly more elaborate variation on the old fashioned.

The Sazerac

2 ounces rye whiskey or brandy/cognac
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 ounce of water
3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
1 teaspoon absinthe or Herbsaint
Lemon twist

Start by chilling an old fashioned, aka a “rocks” glass, either by filling it with ice or leaving in the freezer or, ideally, both. Meanwhile, purists insist on muddling a sugar cube, but it’s much more efficient to simply dissolve the superfine sugar by stirring it in a cocktail shaker or room temperature rocks glass with unchilled water, whiskey, and bitters. Once the sugar is dissolved, add plentiful ice.

Then, take the pre-chilled glass — if you’ve got ice in it and want to conserve precious water, consider adding it to the cocktail shaker/rocks glass with all the other ingredients — and add a teaspoonful of now legal but expensive absinthe or much cheaper Herbsaint (a very sweet but strongly anise flavored liqueur). Swirl the entire glass, coating it with the absinthe or Herbsaint. Then, turn the glass upside down over a sink, dumping out any remaining liquid.

Now, return to the shaker or rocks glass. If you’re an absolute purist who fetishizes clear beverages, simply stir and strain it into the chilled and coated rocks glass. If you’re a borderline barbarian like us, you may shake like crazy and then add it to the glass which will be a lovely, frothy shade of pinkish orange or orangish pink.

Then, take your lemon twist and coat the edge of the glass and twist the lemon peel over the beverage to magically deliver lemon oil to the drink. Some insist you must discard it without actually placing it in the drink. We and most others, however, drop it in. Sip immediately and toast the brave people of New Orleans, the great American city that just might have invented the cocktail.

***

A couple of words about ingredients. First of all, note that the sazerac — named for the brand of cognac it was originally made from — primarily uses Peychaud’s bitters. This brand may be the oldest type of bitters still on the market and it has a much lighter different flavor than the bitters you may know. Many sazerac makers, Rachel Maddow included, like to throw in a single dash of the better known and stronger tasting Angostura bitters to “open up” the flavor of the drink. On the other hand, especially if you’re making this with one of the stronger types of rye whisky — particularly a 100 proof brand like Rittenhouse Rye — it’s already one potent little beverage. It is, nevertheless, considered mandatory to use rye specifically if you’re making the whiskey version of the sazerac. You could make it with bourbon, we suppose, but it’s generally not done, possibly for a reason.

While rye whiskey remains by far the most popular main ingredient, we have to say a good word for going super-old school and using cognac or even an inexpensive brandy; we’ve had great luck with an very inexpensive brand called Raynal, technically not cognac but entirely sufficient — which is carried by Bev-Mo and Trader Joe’s in California and perhaps elsewhere. It’s a more accessible version of the drink that goes down surprisingly well with cocktail newbies while being more than complicated enough for more experienced drinkers.

  

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