Blu Tuesday: The Wolf of Wall Street, Veep and The Great Beauty

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.

“The Wolf of Wall Street”

WHAT: After losing his job on Wall Street following the events of Black Monday, go-getter Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) opens up his own firm selling penny stocks to the wealthy, turning Jordan and his closest pals (including Jonah Hill) into millionaires overnight. Living the high life with his gorgeous new wife (Margot Robbie), Jordan thinks he’s invincible – that is, until he catches wind that the FBI has launched an investigation into the firm for stock market manipulation and other related crimes.

WHY: It’s been a while since Martin Scorsese’s last truly great film, but the director has rebounded in style with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” highlighted by Terrence Winter’s hilarious script and Leonard DiCaprio’s brilliant turn as Jordan Belfort. You’ve never seen the actor quite like this before, and he’s in top form as the notorious stockbroker, delivering what is arguably his best performance with Scorsese yet. The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Jonah Hill in another award-worthy turn, up-and-comer Margot Robbie and Matthew McConaughey in a short but memorable cameo. Loud, flashy and totally obscene, the movie is like a private tour through Belfort’s excessive, hard-partying lifestyle, including easily one of the greatest sequences of the year. (Hint: it involves a highly potent strain of Quaaludes.) Though it’s a little too long for its own good, the characters are so magnetic and the dialogue so fast and funny that “The Wolf of Wall Street” is hard not to enjoy. It’s Scorsese’s best film in years, and one that will only get better with time.

EXTRAS: Regrettably, there’s only one special feature in the form of “The Wolf Pack,” a behind-the-scenes look at bringing Jordan Belfort’s life to the big screen with interviews from Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and others

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Veep: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: U.S. Vice President Selina Myers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff navigate the murky waters of Washington, D.C. as she deals with a presidential scandal, crooked congressmen, a government shutdown and more

WHY: The first season of “Veep” showed immense promise, but it was clear that it still had some growing to do behind the scenes, and that growth is evident in the show’s second year. Granted, the situations that Selina and her staff find themselves in are still incredibly ridiculous (and if even remotely close to what actually happens at the White House, a little frightening), but it feels like there’s much more at stake this time around. The ensemble cast has also had more time to gel, and they’re even funnier than before as a result. Every actor plays their part perfectly – from Anna Chlumsky’s loyal chief of staff, to Matt Walsh’s blockhead publicist, to Timothy Simmons’ oddball White House liaison – and you needn’t look any further than Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Emmy speech for evidence of that. The addition of Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn to the cast was also a shrewd move on the part of Armando Iannucci, but the show lives and dies by Louis-Dreyfus’s hilarious performance as the so-called Veep. She’s one of the funniest women in show business, and with the exception of Elaine Benes, this will likely go down as the best role of her career.

EXTRAS: In addition to four audio commentary tracks featuring members of the cast and crew (including creator Armando Iannucci and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus), there are deleted and alternate scenes for each episode.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Great Beauty”

WHAT: For decades, journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) has served as Rome’s self-described king of high society, gallivanting through an endless series of lavish nightclubs and parties with his equally pretentious friends. But on his 65th birthday, Jep begins to look back on his superficial life against the beautiful backdrop of the Eternal City.

WHY: “The Great Beauty” may have won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but there were far better movies released last year. Felliniesque in its self-indulgence and general lack of focus, the film is unable to maintain the high-energy pace of the opening dance party, ultimately succumbing to its sluggish, 142-minute runtime. The root of the problem is director Paolo Sorrentino and co-writer Umberto Contarello’s script, which never seems sure what it wants to say. Characters and subplots come and go with little explanation, including a storyline involving Jep’s childhood love that’s brought up early on and never mentioned again until the very end. Toni Servillo delivers a solid performance in the lead role, but his character is too misanthropic for the audience to care what happens to him, contradicting his supposed reformation every chance he gets. If there’s any reason to invest the two-plus hours watching “The Great Beauty,” it’s for cinematographer Luca Bigazzi’s gorgeous visuals, which capture the spirit and splendor of Rome in such a manner that it comes as a close to experiencing the real thing that some people will ever get.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a conversation between director Paolo Sorrentino and Italian cultural critic Antonio Monda, interviews with actor Toni Servillo and co-writer Umberto Contarello, deleted scenes and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Phillip Lopate.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Adam F. Goldberg (‘The Goldbergs’)

If you grew up the ’80s and haven’t watched ABC’s The Goldbergs, then you’re missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season…and if you didn’t grow up in the ’80s, you’re still missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season, because most of the stories are about growing up and dealing with your family, two things which are absolutely not decade-specific. Tonight’s episode is definitely going to be a treat for those folks in the former category, though, because it’s basically one big homage to The Goonies. I had a chance to chat with the show’s creator, Adam J. Goldberg, who’s basically taken his own life and turned it into a sitcom, and there’s little question that this episode is a career milestone for him. Having now seen it, I’d agree…although I hadn’t seen it when I originally hopped on the phone to talk to him.

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Bullz-Eye: While I got a link to watch the Goonies episode of The Goldbergs, I didn’t get it in time to watch it, due to another deadline I was rushing to meet. But I’m rationalizing that, since the piece is going to be written for people who won’t have seen it either, I’m still on solid ground.

Adam F. Goldberg: [Laughs.] Right, exactly! And it’s technically not even finished, anyway, because I’m still editing it! I’m just so nervous about this one. ABC loved it and wanted to send it out, but I was, like, “I don’t know…” It’s the one that… There’s just a lot of writers on my staff who, like, don’t know the movie. I showed it to them as an adult, and they were just, like, “What is this?” So when they watched it, they were just baffled. So I’m hoping that people who’ve seen the movie will be reviewing it, at least…

BE: When you’re doing a show about the ‘80s, you’ve got the opportunity to pay tribute to basically anything you experienced when you were growing up. Was The Goonies always in the back of your mind as something you wanted to do?

AG: Yes. From the minute I sold the show, and I think even… [Hesitates.] I don’t remember if it was in my original pitch document, because I didn’t want to alienate anybody with something that could potentially be so insane to do. But I’m a collector of the props. You know, I have an original doubloon, and fans have made replicas that I have of the various copper bones and all this stuff. I’ve seen the movie a billion times. I mean, honestly, it’s the movie that… It’s the reason I’m a writer. I know that when Peter Jackson made King Kong, that was his movie as a kid, and this is mine. So if I’m doing a show about the ‘80s, of course I’m going to pay tribute to it. And there’s a character that’s me, and since it was such a big part of my life growing up…

My siblings just tortured me about it being the dumbest movie ever, ‘cause they were teenagers. They didn’t get it, so they always made fun of me for watching it and called the movie stupid to torture me. So that’s how the episode began. And, you know, I even did something on my last show, Breaking In, which was that Goonies 2 was coming out, and they had a mission to protect the movie. So it’s always something. I pitched the musical to Richard Donner. I went in initially to pitch him Goonies 2, which he quickly said he wasn’t that into. [Laughs.] So I flipped over to the musical. So it’s, like, my dream job. I keep revisiting it in different ways. It’s my thing. My jam.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Pam Grier (TV One’s ‘Unsung Hollywood’)

Fans of TV One’s documentary program Unsung, which shines the spotlight on performers whose mainstream profiles aren’t as substantial as they perhaps out to be, will be pleased to learn that the network is branching out with the series, expanding its coverage beyond the world of music and into the field of acting. Tonight marks the premiere episode of Unsung Hollywood, which kicks off with a look at the life and career of Pam Grier, and Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Grier and discuss the episode and how it came about while also chatting a bit about her career…but without giving away too much about the program, of course.

Pam Grier as Kit Photo: Max Vadukal/Showtime Photo ID: LW3_21D-05

Bullz-Eye: How did you find your way to Unsung Hollywood? Did they pitch you on the idea?

Pam Grier: I had turned them down several times, because I wasn’t interested, but then I saw one of their episodes. My mom was so enthralled by one of the shows they had done on musicians – they did an excellent job – and she said, “I didn’t know that!” And, of course, no one knows what inspired the music and the tenacity of people to get their music played and all that except for the musicians. So we talked, and they said what they were going to do, and I said, “Okay, but you know it’s very difficult to get photographs.” Because as I learned from doing my book (Foxy: My Life in Three Acts), you have to have the rights if someone owns the photographs, and if someone else is in it, you have to get the rights from those people.

I said, “I don’t know if I can do that, because you’re going to get maybe five pictures, because a lot of people do not want to participate.” So I said, “I don’t want to marginalize it, but I can only give you so much, and I don’t know when I can do it.” But they kind of gave me an outline, and I said, “Oh, I think we can do this…so I just have to find the time!” And I did. And I think they did an excellent job.

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Blu Tuesday: Game of Thrones and Afternoon Delight

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 Third Season”

WHAT: The power struggle across Westeros continues as Lord Tywin takes over as Hand of the King following his victory at Blackwater Bay, leaving Tyrion suddenly powerless and forcing Stannis back to Dragonstone to lick his wounds. Meanwhile, Robb Stark’s campaign against the Lannisters gets fiercer, Daenerys builds her army from afar, Arya earns new allies in her quest for revenge and Jon Snow goes undercover with the wildlings. And that’s just the first few episodes…

WHY: Creators David Benioff and D.B Weiss have stated numerous times that they set Season Three as the unofficial benchmark as to whether or not the show would be a success, and it’s easy to see why, because it showcases the full complexity and richness of the universe that they inherited from George R.R. Martin. The third season expands its scope even further than the previous year, with several new characters quickly making their mark, and old ones (like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Jamie Lannister, one of the season’s MVPs) continuing to evolve within that moral gray area where “Game of Thrones” thrives. It also featured some of the most shocking story developments to date, perhaps none more so than Episode 9’s infamous Red Wedding, which made Ned Stark’s beheading look like child’s play in comparison and was without a doubt one of the biggest television events of last year. (So much so that HBO is spoiling it in their commercials for the Blu-ray/DVD release.) The audience reaction to that episode is very telling of the show’s pop cultural footprint, and when the writing and acting is this good, it’s no surprise why its popularity continues to grow.

EXTRAS: As usual, there’s plenty to dig into here, including 12 audio commentaries with the cast and crew, an in-depth look at the making of “The Rains of Castamere,” a Season Two recap, featurettes on the show’s new characters, politics of marriage and wildlings, five deleted/extended scenes and the customary interactive guides.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Afternoon Delight”

WHAT: Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is a thirty-something stay-at-home who’s become bored with her daily routine, lackluster sex life and failed career. Looking to spice things up, Rachel takes her husband (Josh Radnor) to a strip club one night and meets erotic dancer McKenna (Juno Temple), who she becomes obsessed with saving, only to cause more harm than good.

WHY: “Afternoon Delight” feels like a spiritual companion piece to Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40,” only not quite as dreadful to watch. Much like that movie, Jill Soloway’s directorial debut examines a middle-aged woman trying to break the soul-crushing routine that she’s become far too comfortable living. It’s something that most people dread happening at one point in their life, but it’s hard to feel bad for characters that already have so much going for them. And therein lies the problem with “Afternoon Delight.” Though its intentions are admirable, the film asks you to pity a woman who doesn’t really have the right to complain nearly as much as she does. Kathryn Hahn turns in a solid performance as the woman in question, and Juno Temple shines as the sex worker she takes in to her home, but while the movie gets off to a strong start as the two ladies form their friendship, the latter half is so ugly in its attempt to create conflict between them that it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with writer/director Jill Soloway and actress Kathryn Hahn, a behind-the-scenes featurette and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Titus Welliver (‘Bosch’)

There are so many things that you might know Titus Welliver from that we simply don’t have the time or space to list them all – although you can hit up his IMDb listing if you really want the full monty – but, for example, even just limiting it to shows that are currently on the air that’s he’s popped up in, you’ve got NCIS, Supernatural, Sons of Anarchy, Suits, The Good Wife, CSI: Criminal Scene Investigation, Grimm, White Collar, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. At the moment, though, Welliver has high hopes that he’ll have a full-time gig on his hands in the near future…but that’s going to be up to audiences to decide.

If you’re a fan of author Michael Connelly, then you’ll most likely recognize the name “Hieronymus Bosch” as belonging to someone other than a Dutch painter: he’s a character in more than a few of Connelly’s novels – you may know him better as Harry – and now he’s making the jump to the small screen…or, more specifically, to Amazon…with Welliver playing the part in a new pilot. If it proves successful amongst viewers, then Bosch will go to series, and if not…well, let’s not even consider that possibility, because I’ve seen the pilot, and it’s pretty damned good.

In fact, it’s so good that you really ought to go watch it right now, which you can do by clicking right here. After you’re done, though, be sure to come back, because I had a chance to talk with Welliver about working on the project in some detail, and before we wrapped up, we also had a bit of time to chat about his experiences on one of his earlier TV projects as well. (Hint: he worked with David Milch on the series.)

bosch

Bullz-Eye: I’m sure you’ve gone on record elsewhere about the origins of how you came aboard the project in the first place, but as I haven’t heard them, how did you end up in the mix to play Harry Bosch?

Titus Welliver: Well, I read the script and…it was sort of a funny situation, because I was trying to meet with the producers and Michael Connelly, because I read the script and I went crazy for it and just felt like I so desperately wanted to play this character. But I was shooting Transformers 4, and a lot of different locations and a very long shoot, and sometimes it was a little bit like being in the military – in, like, special operations – where, literally, I’d get a call saying, “We need you here, now!” [Laughs.] So there were, like, three attempted meetings, and I was really getting nervous about it because, y’know, at a certain point they kind of go, “Well, as much as we’d really like to meet with you, we’ve gotta get going!”

So when I did finally get to sit down and meet with Michael Connelly and Erik Overmyer and Jim McKay and Henrik Bastin and Pieter Jan Brugge and the whole clan, it was one of those things where I walked into the room and sat down, and within five minutes… I already knew that I wanted to play the character and I loved the script, but just the energy – for lack of a better word – coming from this group, I thought, “I have to do this. My God, I really have to do it!” And that’s not always the case, y’know? Sometimes you can love material but there’s personality conflicts or whatever, you just have a gut feeling about something. But I knew from the second I got in there, “I want to work with these people.” So in that way, it was great. And I feel very blessed that I’ve been given the opportunity.

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