Blu Tuesday: Fargo, Spotlight 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.

“Fargo: Year Two”

WHAT: After small-town beautician Peggy Blumquist (Kristen Dunst) accidentally runs over the youngest son of the Gerhardt crime family, she unwittingly escalates a turf war between the Gerhardts and the Kansas City mob, dragging her loyal husband Ed (Jesse Plemons) and local sheriffs Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) and Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) into the conflict.

WHY: Unlike “True Detective,” which fell victim to the all-too-familiar sophomore slump, “Fargo” positively thrived in Season Two, perfectly towing the line between black comedy and crime thriller. A big part of the show’s success is just how well it’s cast from the top down. Though Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst and Jeffrey Donovan (as the eldest and nastiest of the Gerhardt brood) are among the standouts, there’s not a single weak link in the entire ensemble. The writing also continues to be top-notch – from the sparkling dialogue, to the excellent character development, to the smartly plotted narrative that keeps you coming back for more – while the show’s absurdist tone works even better in a period setting like the late 1970s. Creator Noah Hawley is in high demand these days, and for good reason, because he’s once again crafted a funny, engaging and richly developed crime saga that works both as a prequel to the previous season as well as its own standalone story.

EXTRAS: The three-disc set includes a 44-minute featurette on making the season, interviews with Patrick Wilson and Keith Carradine about the Lou Solverson character, and a look at the fictional book, “The History of True Crime in the Midwest,” that appears in the penultimate episode.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Spotlight”

WHAT: In 2001, Boston Globe editor-in-chief Marty Baron (Live Schreiber) assigned the newspaper’s Spotlight team – a four-man group of investigative journalists led by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) – to follow up on a story about a local priest accused of child molestation, only to uncover a massive scandal within the Boston archdiocese.

WHY: Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” may be one of the most low-key awards contenders in quite some time, relying on top-notch acting and writing to recount the fascinating true story that changed the way we looked at the Catholic Church forever. It’s just a really well-made movie, and the best one about investigative journalism since “All the President’s Men,” which creates suspense from the seemingly boring daily grind of searching through documents and chasing down leads. Every single actor plays their part and plays it extremely well, working together as an ensemble to serve the story instead of a particular character. The same goes for McCarthy and Josh Singer’s disciplined script, which avoids the allure of sensationalizing events or being exploitative. “Spotlight” lets the story speak for itself, and though it’s one of great importance, the film is first and foremost a celebration of the journalistic process that made it possible for the courage of a few to be heard by the entire world.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a six-minute roundtable discussion with the real-life Spotlight team, as well as a pair of featurettes on the film and the state of journalism.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Secret in Their Eyes”

WHAT: Thirteen years after the daughter of fellow investigator Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts) is brutally murdered, former FBI agent Ray Karsten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) implores the city’s new district attorney (Nicole Kidman) to reopen the case when he believes that he’s tracked down the key suspect.

WHY: Having never seen the 2009 Oscar-winning Argentinian film on which its based, it’s difficult to judge how well writer/director Billy Ray’s English-language remake fares in comparison. As its own entity, however, “Secret in Their Eyes” is a relatively dull and slow-moving thriller that fails to create any tension from its time-jumping narrative. Though the continuous bouncing back and forth between 2002 and the present allows Ray to dole out info about the investigation at his own pace, the two storylines aren’t as complementary as intended. Additionally, the romance subplot between Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman never really goes anywhere; it’s an unnecessary distraction that doesn’t further the main storyline or add much to the development of their characters. In fact, the only thing holding the movie together is the acting, and although the three leads deliver solid performances, they’re unable to make the material as affecting or thought-provoking as Ray’s post-9/11 backdrop presumes.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Billy Ray and producer Mark Johnson, a featurette about adapting the source material for the American remake, and an interview with actress Julia Roberts.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Good Dinosaur”

WHAT: When a rainstorm washes a young Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) downriver, he finds himself miles away from home and unsure how to get back. Fortunately, Arlo meets a feisty Neanderthal boy (Jack Bright) with whom he forms an unlikely friendship, and together, they embark on a perilous adventure to reunite Arlo with his family.

WHY: Pixar has come to rely a little too much on their preexisting properties lately, so it’s nice to see the studio getting back to telling original stories like “The Good Dinosaur.” Granted, it’s basically just a twist on the classic boy-and-his-dog tale, but it’s an enjoyable coming-of-age movie that makes up for its incredibly simplistic plot with loads of charm and heart. Though the film spends a lot of time building the relationship between Arlo and Spot (who only speaks in grunts and growls), “The Good Dinosaur” is at its best when Arlo has others to interact with, including a ferocious group of pterodactyls and a family of cattle-herding Tyrannosaurus rex (led by Sam Elliot, of course). While it may feel slight compared to Pixar’s more ambitious movies, it boasts some beautiful animation and great character designs, resulting in a good if not entirely essential addition to the studio’s portfolio. Still, I would gladly take more films like “The Good Dinosaur” over another sequel any day of the week.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Peter Sohn and several crew members, a series of production featurettes, deleted scenes and the Oscar-nominated short film, “Sanjay’s Super Team.”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Graduate”

WHAT: Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated college and is worried about his future, so when he’s seduced by a friend of his parents, bored housewife Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), it proves a welcome distraction. But what starts out as a simple affair becomes complicated when Benjamin falls for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross).

WHY: “The Graduate” is possibly one of the most overrated films to come out of the 1960s, an anti-romantic comedy that oddly continues to influence the genre to this day. None of the characters are likable, the story is surprisingly thin, and the performances are all over the place – some good, some not so much. Though the movie turned Dustin Hoffman into an overnight star, the actor is horribly miscast in the lead role; not only does he look too old to play a 21-year-old college student, but Benjamin comes across as a creepy stalker. Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross fare much better, particularly the former, who’s the only enjoyable thing about the film’s overly pretentious first act. Thankfully, “The Graduate” is saved by some great sequences (the initial seduction, Benjamin’s first date with Elaine, the iconic ending) and, of course, an excellent soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel that’s more memorable than the movie itself. “The Graduate” isn’t without its charms, but like many generational classics, it doesn’t resonate as powerfully with today’s audiences.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries (a 2007 track featuring directors Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh, and a 1987 track featuring film scholar Howard Suber), there are new interviews with actor Dustin Hoffman, producer Lawrence Turman and writer Buck Henry, a 1992 featurette about making the film, a 2007 short documentary on the film’s influence, an essay by journalist Frank Rich and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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