Blu Tuesday: 13 Hours, Zootopia 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.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

WHAT: On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamic militants in Benghazi attacked the poorly guarded compound where the U.S. Ambassador resided, prompting a six-man security team led by Tyron Woods (James Badge Dale) to launch a perilous rescue attempt before returning to the nearby CIA annex to defend against wave after wave of rebel attacks until support arrived.

WHY: Michael Bay has wasted the better part of the last decade making shitty “Transformers” films, so it’s nice to see him return to form with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” an exhilarating and surprisingly apolitical military thriller that reconfirms why he’s one of the best action directors in the business. It takes nearly an hour before the first attack occurs, but Bay uses that time to establish the characters, provide an overview of the geopolitical landscape and build tension, because once it kicks into action mode, Bay rarely lets his foot off the gas, pummeling the audience with one explosive firefight after the next. This is Bay’s bread and butter, and he doesn’t disappoint with some expertly shot action sequences that drop the audience right into the middle of the combat. Though the movie isn’t without the typical Bayisms (from the overuse of slow motion and lingering shots of the American flag, to the corny dialogue), “13 Hours” is a marked improvement compared to his recent output that harkens back to earlier films like “The Rock.”

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on adapting the source material, filming the battle sequences and the CIA’s real-life Global Response Staff.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Zootopia”

WHAT: After proving her detractors wrong by becoming the first rabbit police officer in the animal city of Zootopia, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) must team up with a con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to uncover a conspiracy that’s causing some of the city’s predators to revert back into savage beasts.

WHY: “Zootopia” might just be the best Pixar movie that Pixar never made. It’s smart, funny and works both as a delightful family film on the surface and a rich allegory for race relations on a much deeper level. In fact, it handles the subject of racism and prejudice better than most live-action movies, and that in itself is really impressive. The dynamic between Ginnifer Goodwin’s go-getting bunny and Jason Bateman’s sardonic fox is excellent, while the vibrant world that directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”) have created is incredibly imaginative, opening up numerous possibilities for sequels that would not only be warranted but welcome as well. Though the movie runs a little long at 108 minutes, there are so many great moments littered throughout that it’s hard to imagine another animated film providing much competition at next year’s Oscars. Sister studio Pixar may get all the love, but recently, Walt Disney Animation has been on a real winning streak, and “Zootopia” is its finest achievement yet.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette hosted by star Ginnifer Goodwin, three additional featurettes on developing the story, finding inspiration from real-life animals, and composing the score, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s many Easter eggs and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: The Revenant, Veep and Silicon Valley

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 Revenant”

WHAT: During a hunting expedition in the early 1800s, fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) miraculously survives a bear mauling and is left for dead by members of his group. When one of the men responsible (Tom Hardy) kills Hugh’s half-Native American son after he protests about leaving his father to die, Hugh conjures up the strength to navigate the rough terrain and weather in order to seek vengeance.

WHY: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to “Birdman” is an unflinchingly brutal tale of survival and revenge that completely immerses you in the rugged conditions of early frontier life. Iñárritu does his best Terrence Malick impression with this gorgeous drama filmed largely in the Canadian wilderness, reteaming with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to deliver more of the same great visuals and signature tracking shots, which amplify the realism of the never-ending suffering that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character endures throughout the story. The much talked about grizzly bear mauling may be one of the most intense sequences ever captured on film, but it’s only a small piece of the actor’s raw and physically demanding performance. Though Tom Hardy is absolutely electric as the villain, DiCaprio has the tougher role, and he makes you feel every bit of blood-curdling agony. “The Revenant” is the classic battle of man vs. nature at its cruelest, and save for some pacing issues (at 156 minutes, it’s way too long), it doesn’t disappoint.

EXTRAS: There’s a 44-minute documentary on making the movie and the social responsibilities of portraying Native American people and their culture in film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Negan finally appears on “The Walking Dead”

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SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the Season 6 finale of “The Walking Dead,” you may want to stop here!

If you’re not a fan of cliffhangers, you’re likely very irritated by the Season Six finale of “The Walking Dead.”

For the most part, I stay away from discussions of “The Walking Dead” that focus on the original graphic novel and reveal potential plot developments. I prefer to just watch the shows and enjoy the developments as they unfold.

That said, it was pretty difficult this year for fans of the show to avoid discussions about the upcoming appearance of Negan. There were plenty of news stories about Jeffrey Dean Morgan being cast in the role. And if you heard about Negan, you heard about his weapon of choice, a baseball bat covered in barbed wire that he calls “Lucille.”

There were plenty of rumors online about Negan unleashing Lucille to kill off one of the main characters in brutal fashion, and the finale didn’t disappoint on that front. The chilling ending was brilliant in many ways, as the smirking and obnoxious Negan relished the opportunity to subjugate Rick and his group. With Rick and his closest friends lined up on their knees, Negan toyed with them as he explained how they would need to obey his “new world order,” while one of them would have to die as punishment for their actions. We saw the stunning killing from the point of view of the victim as Lucille came crashing down on the victim’s head. In a show that consistently delivers graphic killing scenes, this ranks as one of the most horrifying and memorable.

But any reaction to the brilliance of the scene was quickly replaced by frustration as it became clear that the identity of the victim wouldn’t be revealed until next season. I can see both sides of this, though I’m disappointed the writers decided to take the easy route and turn this into a season-ending cliffhanger. But like the annoying episode that falsely implied Glenn’s death when he fell off the dumpster, I’m willing to live with these quibbles in the context of a compelling storyline.

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A Roundtable Chat with (Most of) the Cast of “Archer”

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Before he became the world’s second most famous spy novelist, literary master John le Carre famously disliked the world’s most famous spy (who never actually seems to spy much). He has said of James Bond that “you felt he would have gone through the same antics for any country really, if the girls had been so pretty and the Martinis so dry.” We can argue about whether or not that’s literally or just figuratively true of 007. However, it’s very definitely the case if you’re talking about Sterling Malory Archer, the cocktail-guzzling, murderously self-centered yet oddly competent titular protagonist of “Archer,” Adam Reed’s blend of super-smart, reference-heavy, super-black comedy spy satire and frequently filthy animated workplace sitcom. If you’re a fan, like this writer, you’ll be delighted to know that the show returns to FX with its seventh season this Thursday night, March 31th.

Last summer, just as the new season was starting to go into production, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Comic-Con roundtable with pretty much the entire regular cast of the show as well as creator and voice actor Adam Reed. That’s pretty impressive considering the show’s cast includes voice acting comedy genius H. Jon Benjamin (“Bob’s Burgers,” “Home Movies,” etc.) as the voice of Archer; multi-talented actress Aisha Tyler as the even more multi-talented and super-smart superspy Lana Kane; SNL-grad par excellence Chris Parnell (“30 Rock”) as weaselly espionage accountant Cyril Figgis; borderline ubiquitous working actress Judy Greer as the lovably psychopathic billionairess Cheryl Tunt; the less well-known but seemingly no less talented Lucky Yates as mad scientist Dr. Krieger; and the voice of poly-addictive fan favorite Pam Poovey herself, Amber Nash. Present in the room but, sadly, not at my table was genuine acting great Jessica Walter (“Arrested Development,” “Play Misty for Me”), whose Malory Archer is easily the scariest mom in spy fiction this side of “The Manchurian Candidate.”

What follows are highlights of the conversations I was lucky to have or listen in on.

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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

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