Blu Tuesday: Game of Thrones, The Big Short 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.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season”

WHAT: After Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) flees to Meereen to support Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) bid for the Iron Throne, Cersei (Lena Headey) must contend with a new threat within King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) struggles to unite the Night’s Watch and the Wildings; Arya begins her training at the House of White and Black; and Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) travels to Dorne to rescue Myrcella from House Martell.

WHY: “Game of Thrones” fans were extremely critical of the show’s fifth season, but as the HBO drama enters its final stretch, transitioning from the superb second act of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic was always going to be difficult, especially with so many moving parts. The fact that creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were able to pull it off without sacrificing quality is a small miracle. Granted, Daenerys’ storyline is pretty dull until Tyron joins the group, and the less said about the Dorne subplot the better, but for the most part, Season Five does an excellent job of advancing the narrative while digging even deeper into the world’s rich mythology. It also serves up some of the series’ best moments thus far, including the Battle of Hardhome, Cersei’s walk of shame, and of course, the apparent murder of Jon Snow. Though it won’t go down as the most memorable season of “Game of Thrones,” it could end up being the most important.

EXTRAS: In addition to 12 commentary tracks with various cast and crew, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the “Mother’s Mercy” episode, a two-part featurette on the historical events that inspired George R.R. Martin’s novels, a Season Five production diary, deleted scenes and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“The Big Short”

WHAT: The true story of a group of investment bankers that predicted what many thought was impossible – the always-sturdy housing market collapsing – and then bet against (or shorted) the big banks to profit off their greed.

WHY: The 2008 housing market crash was no joke, which is why it might come as a surprise that “The Big Short” was directed by the same man responsible for goofball comedies like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” But while Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a movie about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he’s produced a darkly humorous examination of a nationwide disaster so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to laugh. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph do a great job of breaking down the complex financial jargon into something the average moviegoer can understand, turning what could have been a dull and dense PowerPoint presentation on mortgage loans into an entertaining lesson about just how messed up the whole financial crisis really was. McKay’s docudrama approach isn’t entirely successful, but the movie’s flaws are offset by some solid performances and a steady stream of humor that makes the infuriating subject matter a little easier to swallow, even if we seem doomed to repeat those same mistakes again.

EXTRAS: There are five featurettes on topics like casting, director Adam McKay and creating the look of the film, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Sisters”

WHAT: When they discover that their parents are selling their childhood home, middle-aged sisters Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura (Amy Poehler) decide to throw one last house party with all of their old high school friends. For the straight-laced Maura, it’s a chance to finally let loose, and for the immature Kate, it’s an opportunity to prove that she can be responsible as the designated “party mom.”

WHY: It’s been seven years since Tina Fey and Amy Poehler teamed up for the comedy “Baby Mama,” and quite frankly, it’s been seven years too long. The two actresses work so well together that it’s surprising they don’t collaborate more often, because “Sisters” reaffirms their status as one of the most entertaining duos in Hollywood. In fact, while “SNL” veteran Paula Pell deserves credit for writing such a funny script, the movie succeeds largely due to Fey and Poehler’s ability to play off one another. The first 45 minutes are an absolute riot, and though there aren’t as many laughs in the second half as the party drags on a little too long, it never loses your interest. “Sisters” could have been even better with a tighter runtime, but thanks to the excellent chemistry between its two leads, as well as some hilarious supporting turns by John Cena and Greta Lee, it’s a mostly enjoyable comedy that’s a lot raunchier than expected.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Jason Moore, stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and writer Paula Pell, there’s a short making-of featurette, deleted scenes, a gag reel and nearly 20 minutes of alternate takes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Brooklyn”

WHAT: In 1952, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) immigrates from Ireland to New York City in search of a better life, eventually falling in love with a young Italian-American plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen). But when tragedy strikes back home and she’s forced to return to Ireland, Eilis must choose between her new life and the one she never thought she would escape.

WHY: Director John Crowley’s coming-of-age tale about a young Irish woman immigrating to America in the 1950s is a beautiful little movie that shines in its simplicity. Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name, “Brooklyn” adds a layer of emotional complexity to its otherwise familiar love story by centering it on the notion of home, both the one we make and the one we leave behind. Saoirse Ronan, who’s always displayed a maturity beyond her years, is fantastic in her first adult role, radiating with old-school movie star elegance. Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are also really good as rival love interests on different sides of the Atlantic, but it’s Ronan who gives the film its heart and soul. Gorgeously shot by Yves Bélanger with lush visuals that transport you back to that time period, “Brooklyn” is every bit as sweet as it is heartbreaking – an old-fashioned romance that reminds you what it’s like to fall in love.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director John Crowley, six featurettes on making the movie and its various themes, and a collection of deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Carol”

WHAT: Set in 1950s New York, department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) becomes enamored with an elegant, older married woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett) when she comes into the shop one day, leading to a forbidden love affair with serious consequences.

WHY: Based on Patricia Highsmith’s controversial novel “The Price of Salt,” director Todd Haynes’ “Carol” is a solid but unmemorable film that’s propped up by a pair of excellent performances from its leading ladies. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara deliver award-worthy turns as the two women involved in the taboo romance, and although the movie gives each character equal screen time, Mara’s Therese is the more interesting of the duo. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t nearly as effective, particularly Kyle Chandler, whose spurned husband is far too one-note. The film also goes a bit easy on its characters considering the time period (apart from Carol’s custody battle, they don’t experience any persecution), and while it looks gorgeous – like an oil painting of soft pastels – you don’t feel the romance as much as you should; it’s sensual, but emotionally distant. “Carol” is worth seeing for Blanchett and Mara’s performances alone, but 2013’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” handled similar material much better.

EXTRAS: There’s a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes focused on different members of the cast and crew, as well as Q&A highlights with stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, director Todd Haynes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Manchurian Candidate”

WHAT: When decorated war hero Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is brainwashed into becoming a Communist sleeper agent who kills on command, fellow soldier Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) races to uncover the truth behind the conspiracy.

WHY: John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate” may be the most celebrated movie of his career, but it’s yet another “classic” that hasn’t aged particularly well. While undoubtedly a chilling political thriller in its time – due in part to the eerie parallels to JFK’s assassination – the film doesn’t quite pack the same punch today. The idea has been copied and reheated so many times that its big twist is no longer surprising, and that’s a problem, because the revelation of that twist is key to its enjoyment. Though the movie has more than its share of memorable scenes (from the brainwashing flashbacks, to Frank Sinatra doing karate, to Angela Lansbury’s third-act soliloquy), there’s too much dead space in between, including a superfluous subplot with Janet Leigh (who curiously gets third billing) that could have been cut entirely. Save for Lansbury’s Oscar-nominated performance, the acting isn’t that great either, but in spite of its flaws, “The Manchurian Candidate” is a well-made thriller that every cinephile should see at least once.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer, new interviews with actress Angela Lansbury, filmmaker Errol Morris and historian Susan Carruthers, a 1987 conversation between Frankenheimer, actor Frank Sinatra and writer George Axelrod, and an essay by film critic Howard Hampton.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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