Blu Tuesday: Supersized Holiday Edition

With the holidays just around the corner, many studios are making one final push to earn your Christmas dollars with the release of several new Blu-rays over the course of the next four days. Though I’m not really sure what the strategy is behind releasing some titles today and others on the 21st (especially since most people have already finished a lot of their holiday shopping), there are so many great movies to choose from that I’ve decided to expand this week’s column into a special supersized edition.

“Sleepwalk with Me”

Most stand-up comics probably only dream about being involved in a movie as funny and refreshingly honest as Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk with Me,” let alone one that marks their directorial debut. Based on his one-man show of the same name (which was in turn inspired by actual events from his life), the film is a witty human comedy about the fear of commitment and finding one’s place in the world, and it’s hands-down one of my favorite movies of the year. Much like Birbiglia’s stand-up in the film, the story is entertaining because it’s so incredibly personal (something that’s missing from most Hollywood productions), and he makes it even more so by narrating the movie via segments where he speaks directly to the audience a la Ferris Bueller. “Sleepwalk with Me” actually fared pretty well in theaters during its platform release this past fall, but if you didn’t get a chance to catch it then, be sure to add it to your must-see list for the new year, because the film is so good that if you weren’t a fan of Birbiglia beforehand, you almost certainly will be afterwards.

Blu-ray Highlight: There are some good extras on the disc, but the audio commentary with star/co-writer/co-director Mike Birbiglia and producer/co-writer Ira Glass is the best of the bunch, with the duo discussing the making of the movie in detail, including some behind-the-scenes anecdotes and things they learned on set as first-time filmmakers.

“Killer Joe”

William Friedkin hasn’t made a great film in a very long time, and while “Killer Joe” doesn’t exactly remedy that, it’s the best movie that he’s made in a while. Adapted by Tracy Letts from his stage play of the same name, the self-described “totally twisted, deep-fried, Texas redneck trailer park murder story” is one of the most intense and polarizing moviegoing experiences in recent memory. Although the strange series of events that transpire during the course of the movie has already divided audiences (particularly a tension-packed final act that gets pretty weird and perverse), it’s as oddly fascinating to watch unravel as it is repulsive. Every single performance is great – from Gina Gerson’s devious stepmom, to Emile Hirsch’s pathetic bottom-feeder, to Thomas Hayden Church’s clueless father, to Juno Temple’s trailer park princess – but it’s star Matthew McConaughey who truly commands the screen with his best role in ages. It’s about time the actor finally showed off his full potential, and this white trash “Blood Simple” does that and more.

Blu-ray Highlight: The making-of featurette “Southern Fried Hospitality: From Stage to Screen” is definitely worth checking out for the interviews with the various cast and crew, but it’s director William Friedkin’s audio commentary that is the real highlight. Friedkin is one of those filmmakers that’s just a lot of fun to listen to speak, and his commentary track for “Killer Joe” is an excellent discussion about making the movie and, in talking about the infamous NC-17 rating, the politics of the business as well.

“Pitch Perfect”

It was only inevitable that “Pitch Perfect” would draw some comparisons to “Glee,” but while the show’s success certainly helped pave the way for making organized singing groups cool again, that would be like comparing Adele to Katy Perry. The film actually feels more like the a cappella cousin of the “Step Up” movies, and although that may not inspire a whole lot of confidence, it’s a really charming comedy filled with great performances (both acting and musical) that’s only slightly hindered by its conventional formula. In fact, one of movie’s biggest draws is the musical performances, and while there’s no denying that they’re fun to watch, “Pitch Perfect” would be just as shallow as the “Step Up” series without such a great cast, including the always reliable Anna Kendrick and Australian up-and-comer Rebel Wilson in a breakout role. Written by Kay Cannon, whose experience as a writer for “30 Rock” tells you all you need to know about the movie’s offbeat sense of humor, “Pitch Perfect” is the kind of film that many people would normally overlook based on its premise, but that would be a mistake.

Blu-ray Highlight: Though Universal hasn’t exactly skimped on bonus material – which includes a pair of audio commentaries, alternate takes and deleted scenes – there’s nothing here that really stands out. At least there’s always the movie to watch again.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

The summer movie season may be finally over, but awards season is just around the corner, and Hollywood typically uses September as a time to catch its breath between all the madness. But while there aren’t many high-profile releases on tap for the month, there are still plenty of promising titles worth checking out, including the latest from visionary directors P.T. Anderson and Rian Johnson and the return of Clint Eastwood.

“THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY”

Who: Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver and Veronica Echegui
What: After his family is kidnapped, a young Wall Street trader is confronted by the people responsible: intelligence agents looking to recover a mysterious briefcase.
When: September 7th
Why: Despite a starring role in last year’s underwhelming Greek epic “Immortals,” British actor Henry Cavill has failed to demonstrate why he was chosen to don the iconic red and blue suit for Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Man of Steel.” And though his latest vehicle was delayed earlier this year due to reportedly bad test screenings, “The Cold Light of Day” will give him another shot to convince audiences that he’s the right choice to play Superman. With that said, however, not even the involvement of Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver makes this action thriller look any less like a Jason Bourne rip-off. After all, there’s usually a pretty good reason when a film’s release date gets pushed back, and it’s hard to imagine that any amount of re-editing will fix that.

“THE WORDS”

Who: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Irons
What: A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man’s work.
When: September 7th
Why: CBS Films doesn’t exactly have a very good track record, but compared to their past projects, “The Words” seems to be a step in the right direction. Though it received mixed reactions when the movie premiered earlier this year at Sundance, the concept is intriguing enough that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The ensemble cast certainly doesn’t hurt its chances, although it’s not the first time that the studio has used big stars to disguise a turd. And while Bradley Cooper is an actor that I admire, and it’s always a pleasure to see Jeremy Irons no matter how small the role, it’s a little worrying that “The Words” might follow suit, especially in the hands of first-time directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, the writing duo behind the disappointing “TRON: Legacy.”

“BACHELORETTE”

Who: Kristen Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, Rebel Wilson and James Marsden
What: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.
When: September 7th
Why: It may seem awfully convenient that another R-rated comedy about bridesmaids behaving badly is being released only a year after Paul Feig’s Oscar-nominated film became the surprise hit of last summer, but that’s about where the similarities end. In fact, those who claim the movie is just a rip-off might be surprised to discover that Leslye Headland’s directorial debut (which screened at Sundance this past January) is based on her 2010 off-Broadway play of the same name. Though it hasn’t gotten quite the same acclaim as “Bridesmaids,” I’m actually looking more forward to this darker, meaner wedding comedy, namely due to its awesome cast. Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher can be great with the right material, while Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson are two very funny women with very different brands of humor that deserve more recognition.

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