New Blu-ray release features interviews with Liza Minnelli, Michael York
by Chris Azzopardi -
SGN Contributing Writer
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
First-time director Stephen Chbosky sensitively explores high school self-discovery and outsider hardships in his bighearted teen drama about the pains of youth and the people who help us through them. Based on Chbosky's semi-autobiographical book of the same name, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a troubled loner who sits by himself in the school cafeteria until a band of misfits - including an out Gay class clown (Ezra Miller) and his charming stepsister (Emma Watson) - open their hearts to him and demonstrate love, kindness, and the transcendental power of friendship. With sophisticated and sympathetic performances all around, Miller especially emerges as a major talent to watch, bringing levity, spunk, and a sad, secret pain to his award-worthy portrayal of Patrick. Chbosky's emotionally poignant screen gem - a film that the Academy Awards unjustly snubbed despite deserving screenplay recognition for its sincere, zeitgeisty writing - is one of the best of last year and a clear all-time standout in the coming-of-age genre. Hearing the author-turned-filmmaker thoughtfully reflect on specific scenes during one of two commentaries (the young cast engages in friendly banter during the other) is almost as inspiring as seeing these teens prevail in a broken world.
For the first time on Blu-ray, the big mama of movie musicals, Bob Fosse's stylish romp Cabaret, gets a vibrant restoration that's as lively as Liza's beaming cat eyes. Any good Gay knows the story: Set in 1931 Berlin, a freewheeling tryst emerges between cabaret ingenue Sally Bowles (Minnelli, as magnetic as ever) and two men - the new kid in town, Brian Roberts (Michael York) and rich playboy Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem). Inside the Kit Kat Klub there is fancy dancing, live music, and a playfully freakish emcee, while outside, Nazi thugs attack anyone they perceive as opposed to their regime. Cabaret isn't just chic and immaculately crafted, from Fosse's flawless direction to Minnelli's star-making performance, but for a film over 40 years old, it was also remarkably revolutionary in tackling not just totalitarianism but abortion, bisexuality, and threesomes. A new Liza interview is featured in a segment titled 'Cabaret: The Musical that Changed Musicals,' during which York reflects on his character's swinging sexuality (Neil Patrick Harris narrates). With the classic looking better than ever in this near-perfect transfer, and housed in a divinely illustrated Digibook, life really is a cabaret, ol' chum.
The legacy of late modern-dance icon Philippina 'Pina' Bausch is preserved in this mesmerizing and life-affirming dance doc that rightfully earned an Oscar nomination last year. Shot in the German city of Wuppertal, where Pina died of cancer in 2009 at age 68, the exquisitely performed bits of unbelievable physicality - captured through director Wim Wenders' stream-of-consciousness style of filmmaking - celebrate humanity in all its dark, ugly, and beautiful forms and are vividly captured with a wonderfully immersive use of 3D. Its genre specificity (dance, dance, and more dance) won't appeal to everyone, but an appreciation for total body dexterity isn't necessary to recognize the lovely poeticism of Pina. A zest for life, though, certainly is. The peerless Blu-ray presentation (it's a Criterion Collection release) is suited with an array of supplements that further observe and honor Pina's artistic influence on her dancers' lives. Besides an interesting making-of feature and the thorough book companion, Wender's commentary complements Pina with striking context not present in the visual feast of the film.
CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER
With inside jokes and gushy gag-me 'I love you' gestures, Celeste and Jesse don't seem like they're about to sign divorce papers, but they are, indeed, on the road to splitsville. Even their closest friends don't believe they're acting enough like sad-sack divorcees - and, actually, neither do Celeste (Rashida Jones) or Jesse (Andy Samberg). So they start dating other people. When Jesse gets serious with another woman, Celeste falls into a pool of self-pity, cynicism, and the kind of bleakness that derailed Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. (Hey, at least it's good comedy.) You know you've reached a low when a strange street-roamer dressed up as a teddy bear hugs you and it's adorable and sweet instead of awkward and creepy. Celeste and Jesse Forever is sometimes weird like that, but always charming as it zigzags through the rom-com formula with genre-busting flair. The pleasing-but-noncomformist ending defies expectations and a surprising level of chemistry exists between Samberg and Jones, who also wrote the screenplay. To boot, Elijah Wood finally goes Gay as Celeste's Queer-challenged co-worker. Extras include a Jones/Samberg commentary and a behind-the-scenes feature.
Lee Hirsch's sobering and revealing look at the effects of youth-targeted bullying in schools was part of a larger initiative to curb such awful hate. Controversy that initially counteracted the film's intentions when it was released last year gave Bully necessary buzz once the MPAA wised up and swapped the unbefitting R rating for a PG-13. A version edited for a younger audience is included on this release - and will probably, and hopefully, be used for educational purposes - but the real-life language isn't anything kids haven't heard on the playground. Bully mostly focuses on the lives of three young kids in rural America who are victims of bullying: Alex is ostracized for the way he looks; Kelby's not accepted because she's Lesbian; Ja'Maya fights back with a gun. Missing, though, is the film's namesake: the bully. Hirsch's harrowing footage of schoolyard browbeating would've been more effective if the actual problem had a face, too. Bully, then, isn't so much a great film as it is an important one. Important enough to get Meryl Streep to endorse the doc in a short talk, where she recalls being bullied herself. Other extras include additional footage, follow-ups on Alex and his Sioux City community, and a short feature on a middle school's involvement in The Bully Project's '1 Million Kids' campaign.
PETER PAN: DIAMOND EDITION
I've always been more partial to the pretty Disney princesses, but a forever-boy in tights who flutters about with a fairy sidekick still appeals to all my Gay instincts - he has his fruit fly, he's a little effeminate, and in musicals he's often a girl in drag. You know, if Peter Pan ever did grow up, he probably would be Gay. We can continue to speculate about that, now that Peter Pan pops more than ever in flashy hi-def with new extras that include 15 minutes of never-before-seen footage and a feature doc on the core animators. The whimsical story itself, even six decades later, still registers a sweet simplicity (and, of course, the blatant bigotry of those Indian scenes), but it can't hold a flame to many of the greater Disney classics. The storytelling lacks the memorable hook - no, I don't mean Captain Hook - of an oft-told love fable or a triumphant lion life-lesson. Instead, it's the legendary characters that turn J.M. Barrie's book into an enchanting burst of childhood nostalgia and magical make-believe.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website, www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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