For the second week in a row, Blu-rays fans have been treated to an impressive selection of new releases, including personal favorites like “Game of Thrones” and “Argo,” and other award-worthy fare to get you in the mood for the upcoming Oscars. We might not see another Blu Tuesday this good for awhile, so enjoy it while you can.
Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” may have been my favorite freshman series of last year, but when it comes to HBO, “Game of Thrones” is (appropriately) still king. There’s nothing else quite like it on television, and though Season Two wasn’t as good as the first season on an episode-to-episode basis, the payoff was arguably even better, showing the full complexity and richness of the universe that George R.R. Martin created. As anyone who watches the series can attest, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and though several new faces were introduced in the second season, it’s the familiar ones that remain the best reason for tuning in, including Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Kit Harrington as Jon Snow, and Maisie Williams as the cute but headstrong Arya Stark. Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen is regrettably saddled with a boring subplot this time around, but Season One background players Alfie Allen and Richard Madden are given much more to do, and the show is ultimately better for it. The scope of the series also seems to grow with every season, and as a fan of what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing with Martin’s source material, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Blu-ray Highlight: Much like last season, there’s a wealth of extras on the five-disc set, including a roundtable discussion with several cast members and a look at shooting the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The real highlight, however, is the 12 audio commentaries recorded by various cast and crew. There’s one track for every episode except “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” and Episodes 3, 9 and 10 each have two commentaries a piece.
Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of Boston to a much larger stage, delivering his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones seem effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.
Blu-ray Highlight: There’s so much great material here that it’s hard to choose. The feature-length picture-in-picture track boasts interviews with the people involved in the event (like CIA operative Tony Mendes, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and the “house guests”), while director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio discuss the actual making of the movie on the disc’s audio commentary. Also worth checking out is the excellent retrospective “Rescued from Tehran: We Were There,” which uses additional interviews with the real-life subjects about their memories of the event, and the making-of featurette “Absolute Authenticity.”
If there’s one director whose films I’ll watch no matter what the subject matter, it’s Joe Wright. The British-born filmmaker has a knack for making stuffy love stories interesting (see: “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement”), but unfortunately, even he falls short with his big screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Though the popular Russian novel has been adapted so many times that there really wasn’t a need for another interpretation, Wright at least brings something new to the material with his inspired theatrical setup. It’s like watching an acting troupe perform a play in your living room (complete with intricate, movable sets), and it’s an awe-inspiring piece of filmmaking… at least for the first act or so. By the midway point, Wright has pretty much given up on the theater gimmick in favor of a more traditional storytelling method, and it saps what little energy the movie had going for it. The main love story is insufferable and boring, and although there are some good performances from supporting players like Matthew Macfadyen and Domhnall Gleeson, it’s not enough to hold your interest. Still, it’s better than reading the book.
Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a good amount of bonus material on the making of the film – including a look at transforming a single theater space into the various sets and how it was accomplished during production – but listening to director Joe Wright explain the process and the reasoning behind it on the audio commentary is far more interesting.