The hits keep on coming this week with several more high-profile releases, but you better enjoy it now, because the next few weeks don’t look nearly as promising. In fact, there are so few quality Blu-rays hitting stores in late March/early April that I’ll either be skipping my column during those weeks, or I’ll combine them into one post. With that said, there’s plenty worth being excited about today, with such a heavy emphasis on politically-themed films and TV series that you’d almost think it was November again.
Steven Spielberg has been trying to make a movie about Abraham Lincoln for so long that it seemed like it might never happen. But after years stuck in development, his passion project finally got made, albeit with a different actor in the title role. Though Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly no slouch, the prospect of Liam Neeson reteaming with his “Schindler’s List” director was a lot more exciting. Nevertheless, Day-Lewis proves himself a more than adequate replacement as the 16th U.S. President, commanding the screen with a vigor that combats the film’s languid pace. His Lincoln is stubborn and stoic, but also witty when the mood permits, and though he was the only cast member to win an Oscar for his performance, the acting is top-notch all around, including fellow nominees Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field, and James Spader as a slimy lobbyist. While the more bureaucratic scenes drag on for too long, they’re a big part of what “Lincoln” is all about and provide some of the film’s best moments. The movie does get a little too caught up in the intricacies of the political process at times, but it’s an engaging behind the scenes look at one of the country’s most historic moments.
Blu-ray Highlight: A review copy didn’t arrive in time, but some quick research shows that there are two versions of the Blu-ray available: a barebones two-disc edition with a pair of brief featurettes and a four-disc edition with an additional 65 minutes of bonus material. If you’re a history buff, or you just really like behind-the-scenes extras, go with the latter set. Otherwise, the two-disc version should suffice.
Unlike his polarizing 2007 Western, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly” is much more accessible, despite the fact that it’s unlike your typical gangster movie. Though there’s a certain familiarity to the story, and it features the kind of violence and brutality that we’ve come to expect from the genre, the film is mostly comprised of lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes that are almost Tarantino-esque in nature. They occasionally don’t go anywhere, and some drag on a longer than necessary, but the dialogue is so sharply written and the characters so richly imagined that it’s easy to be sucked into the seedy criminal underworld that Dominik has created. The movie can be a tad too political at times with its allegorical comparisons between mobsters and corporate America, but the film is just as enjoyable without all the commentary thanks to its fantastic ensemble cast. Of course, in making it feel like less of a gangster movie, “Killing Them Softly” actually feels oddly more genuine as a result. “Jackie Brown” is still the best when it comes to talky crime thrillers, but Dominik’s latest film at least deserves to be part of the discussion.
Blu-ray Highlight: Unfortunately, there aren’t many options in the special features department except for a small batch of deleted scenes and an all-too-brief making-of featurette. The actors all have nice things to say about director Andrew Dominik, but an audio commentary with Dominik or some of the cast would have been appreciated.
Like peanut butter and jelly, there’s something irresistible about the combination of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and TV. From “Saturday Night Live,” to “Seinfeld,” to “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” the actress has been making people laugh for the better part of the last three decades, and if the first season of the HBO comedy “Veep” proves anything, it’s that she’s still one of the funniest women in the business. Created by Armando Iannucci (“The Thick of It,” “In the Loop”), “Veep” is a lot more absurd than the biting political satire of his previous work, but it’s a consistently funny look at one of the strangest jobs in U.S. politics: Vice President, a surprisingly powerless position considering it’s only a heartbeat away from becoming the most powerful person in the country. Though Iannucci spends plenty of time exploring that concept in the eight-episode first season, he uses that platform as a way of lampooning the inner workings of the U.S. government as a whole as well. The jokes don’t always land, and the series gets increasingly more ridiculous by the episode, but with Louis-Dreyfus’ Emmy-winning performance to fall back on, “Veep” is the best place to find laughs on HBO until “Curb Your Enthusiasm” returns.
Blu-ray Highlight: It looks like HBO is finally starting to step up its game in the special features department. In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on every episode (12 in total, with some episodes boasting multiple tracks), “The Making of Veep” is an enjoyable behind-the-scenes look at the series, covering topics like the creative process, the ensemble cast and replicating the Vice President’s office.