Blu Tuesday: Snowden 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 social media with your friends.


WHAT: The true story of controversial whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the former NSA employee who leaked thousands of classified documents regarding the agency’s illegal surveillance activities to the public.

WHY: It’s been years (decades, really) since Oliver Stone made a great film, and although “Snowden” sadly continues that trend, it’s still a solid biopic that fits nicely into the director’s oeuvre. Cutting back and forth between Snowden’s rise through the ranks of the intelligence community and his 2013 covert meeting with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, the movie loses a bit of suspense as a result of its nonlinear structure, but it holds your interest throughout thanks to some good performances from Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Rhys Ifans. Though the film goes too far out of its way to paint Snowden as a loyal patriot, it wisely takes its time in revealing how he became disillusioned with his government (After all, this wasn’t an overnight decision but something that troubled him for years.) Whether or not you agree with what Snowden did, he clearly believed that he was doing the right thing, and if nothing else, Stone’s movie conveys that message effectively.

EXTRAS: In addition to a Q&A panel with Edward Snowden (via satellite), director Oliver Stone, and actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, there’s a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes.


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Drink of the Week: Bobo’s Toddy

Bobo's Toddy.Christmas is, of course, just about upon us. Whether you’ve got kids and are struggling to make sure Santa arrives on schedule or a lonely singleton with enough time on his hands to fret about uncertain times (that would be me), there’s a very good chance that a warm, soothing, sweet yet far from insipid alcoholic beverage might be just the thing to relax with after a long day of holiday preparations or a long night of holiday partying. I think I’ve got just the thing.

Bobo’s Toddy is my very simple variation/simplification of Babbo’s Toddy, a drink we are told was created by New York bartender Erick Castro. It’s a very sound cold weather twist on the Boulevardier, but the original recipe calls for a healthy amount of cinnamon syrup, something I didn’t have on hand and didn’t feel like running out to buy one night not long ago when I was determined to work up a very proper Christmas cocktail. So, I found a couple of other ingredients that I thought would work just as well, and I’m happy to say I can endorse the results of what I’m calling Bobo’s Toddy… after, you know, me! It’s a drink I’m happy to put all three letters of my first name in. If this drink won’t help you wind down, you might not be wind-downable.

Bobo’s Toddy

1 ounce sweet vermouth
3/4 ounce falernum or orgeat (almond syrup)
1/2 ounce bourbon
1/2 ounce Campari
1 orange slice (highly advisable garnish)

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Movie Review: “Live by Night”

Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Chris Messina, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Scott Eastwood
Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel “Live by Night” is apparently getting savaged by the coastal press. “Makes ‘Black Mass’ look like ‘The Godfather’” is a quote that my colleague Jason repeated (but the source of said insult won’t be credited here). To be fair, the final 10 minutes are kind of awful (though faithful to the source material), but everything that comes before it is handled competently enough that putting it beneath “Black Mass” feels like the kind of thing an angry lover says. “You’re dumping me? Well, you’re nowhere near as good as ‘Black Mass’!” “You take that back!” “Never!” Silly, silly, silly.

As Ben Affleck directorial efforts go, though, “Live by Night” is easily his weakest. It’s stylish but a bit too familiar, lacking the intensity of Affleck’s best work. It doesn’t help matters that it’s a Prohibition-era film that takes place mostly in Florida, inviting comparisons to “The Untouchables” and “Scarface” whether Affleck wants them or not.

Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a Boston-bred, disillusioned soldier from the Great War and son of a proud Irish police captain (Brendan Gleeson), is a petty thief who runs under the protection of a local crime boss but doesn’t think of himself as a gangster. He draws the ire of his boss’ rival when he is caught having an affair with the rival’s mistress Emma (Sienna Miller), so when Joe is popped in a bank robbery, he and his father seek the protection of Italian boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) to make sure Joe isn’t killed while in jail. Upon his release, Joe agrees to work as Maso’s point man in Tampa, overseeing the rum shipments. He encounters a whole new set of problems (racism of a different stripe, mainly), but does a great job expanding the Pescatore business down south. And for his efforts, he is still treated like a second-class citizen, because he’s the son of an Irish man working for Italians.

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5 Ways to Afford Expensive Holiday Gifts This Year


Holiday season is right around the corner, meaning it is almost time to start buying gifts. Whether it’s for a family member, a friend or even yourself, the end of November until the end of December is the perfect time to buy a gift with all of the major holidays converging around the same time. However, if you are on a budget, you may find affording some of the things that you want to buy is a little difficult. Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to make affording expensive holiday gifts just a little easier.

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Movie Review: “A Monster Calls”

Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson
J.A. Bayona

“A Monster Calls” is unflinchingly honest, a harrowing tale of a boy who yearns for escapism but instead receives an unwanted but much-needed dose of reality. There isn’t a wasted word in its script, the cinematography ranges from gorgeous to bleak to terrifying, and at its core is an outstanding performance by 14-year-old Lewis MacDougall, starring in only his second film. In fact, he upstages a sci-fi legend without even trying.

The life of English boy Conor O’Malley (MacDougall) is, well, shit. His mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from terminal cancer (his father left the two of them long ago), he is bullied at school, and as his mother gets sicker, he is forced to spend more time with his stuffy grandmother (aforementioned sci-fi legend Sigourney Weaver). He stays up late drawing as a means of avoiding his recurring nightmare. One night shortly after midnight, he is visited by a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), which comes to life from the yew tree that is visible from his bedroom window. The monster tells Conor that he is going to tell him three stories, and then Conor is going to tell the monster a fourth one, and the story must be true. The stories the monster tells Conor do not offer him any comfort, and as his mother’s condition worsens, the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred to the point where Conor has difficulty separating the two, acting out in one world when he thinks he’s in the other.

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