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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Blu Tuesday: Creed, Room 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.

“Creed”

WHAT: Determined to get out from under his father’s shadow, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) – the illegitimate son of former boxing champ Apollo Creed – leaves Los Angeles for Philadelphia to train with local legend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). But when Adonis’ secret family history is revealed and he’s offered the chance to fight the reigning world champion, he must prove to himself (and his detractors) that he’s worthy of the Creed name.

WHY: After garnering critical acclaim for his directorial debut, “Fruitvale Station,” the last thing anyone expected from Ryan Coogler’s follow-up was a spin-off/sequel to a movie franchise that’s last meaningful installment was released 30 years ago. But while it may have seemed like a strange career move at the time, “Creed” is an energizing addition to the boxing series that succeeds as a respectful passing of the torch and one of the best “Rocky” films ever made. Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are both excellent in their roles, especially the latter, who delivers his finest work in years with a subtler, more emotional performance than we’re used to seeing from the actor. Coogler, meanwhile, makes the transition from indie to mainstream filmmaking remarkably well; he provides all the usual crowd-pleasing moments without sacrificing the kind of intimate, character-driven storytelling that made “Fruitvale Station” so effective. Though “Creed” follows the 1976 original a little too closely at times, it does enough to stand on its own while still paying homage to the “Rocky” legacy.

EXTRAS: There’s a pair of featurettes on developing the movie and Michael B. Jordan’s training regime, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Room”

WHAT: After being abducted as a teenager and spending the past seven years in captivity, Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) – who knows nothing of the outside world – finally gain their freedom following a brave escape. But adapting to life on the outside proves even more difficult for Joy than the impressionable Jack.

WHY: Brie Larson has been quietly making a name for herself over the past few years, but while 2013’s “Short Term 12” may have been her big breakthrough, “Room” confirms that she’s the real deal. Her emotionally-charged role as the abducted teen-turned-mother was one of the best performances of 2015, and though young co-star Jacob Tremblay is also really good as her sheltered son, it’s Larson who holds the movie together, even when her character is dangerously close to falling apart. The film is comprised of two very different halves (the world Joy has made for Jack inside “room” and the outside world), and each section gives its actors a wide range of emotions to play. While Joy’s journey is pretty dark and depressing – and rightfully so, because “Room” is every parent’s worst nightmare – the innocent yet insightful narration that Jack provides as he experiences things for the first time is bursting with optimism, and ultimately, it’s that hopefulness that makes the movie such a rewarding experience.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Lenny Abrahamson, cinematographer Danny Cohen, editor Nathan Nugent and production designer Ethan Tobman, there’s a trio of production featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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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

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Blu Tuesday: Steve Jobs, Black Mass 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.

“Steve Jobs”

WHAT: An unconventional biopic that follows Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) backstage during three product launches – the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT “black box” in 1988, and the Apple iMac in 1998 – that helped shape his legacy.

WHY: For a movie about one of the most innovative people of the past century, it’s fitting that “Steve Jobs” is as risky and unique as the man himself. Aaron Sorkin was the perfect screenwriter to tackle this material, creating a sharp, funny and often unflattering look at Jobs that moves like a bullet train, despite the dense nature of its three-act structure. Director Danny Boyle stays out of the way for the most part, allowing Sorkin’s script to sing with few distractions, but he brings an electric immediacy to the story that’s reminiscent of live theater. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the title character, blurring the line between fiction and reality with his nuanced portrayal, while the rest of the cast shines in supporting roles. Though “Steve Jobs” will rub some people the wrong way with its prickly depiction of the Apple visionary, it’s an endlessly fascinating film that’s more respectful of its subject than it initially appears.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Danny Boyle, writer Aaron Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham, as well as a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Black Mass”

WHAT: When small-time criminal Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) begins to make a name for himself in South Boston, he strikes a deal with childhood friend/FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) to help get rid of the local mob. But as John struggles to cover up Whitey’s growing criminal empire, he unknowingly places himself in the FBI’s crosshairs.

WHY: Much like director Scott Cooper’s first two films, “Black Mass” is a pretty slow burn, and although that comes with the territory of the crime genre, the movie doesn’t have anything new to say (or a new way to say it) that hasn’t been done in countless other gangster flicks. The true-life story is certainly compelling, but it never attains the greatness to match its ambition, despite Johnny Depp’s effectively chilling turn as the notorious Whitey Bulger. It’s not an overly showy piece of acting, servicing the story instead of his own self-indulgence for once. Unfortunately, the rest of Cooper’s top-notch cast (save for Joel Edgerton) is wasted in throwaway roles, which is not unlike the film itself, because for every outstanding setpiece, there are several scenes of tedious filler that grind the movie to a halt. Still, while it doesn’t do enough to earn a spot among the classics, “Black Mass” is a satisfying crime thriller that’s worth watching if only for Depp’s impressive return to form.

EXTRAS: In addition to a documentary about Whitey Bulger’s eventual capture, there’s a making-of featurette and a behind-the-scenes look at Johnny Depp’s transformation.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Spectre, Crimson Peak 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.

“Spectre”

WHAT: When he receives a cryptic message from the recently deceased M (Judi Dench), James Bond (Daniel Craig) goes on an unsanctioned mission to bring down the terrorist organization known as Spectre, whose enigmatic boss (Christoph Waltz) shares a deep connection with the secret agent.

WHY: Director Sam Mendes should have trusted his first instinct and called it quits after “Skyfall,” because while that movie was always going to be difficult to top, “Spectre” doesn’t even come close. Though it hits all the beats of a typical Bond adventure, it feels like it’s just going through the motions. Daniel Craig looks bored for most of its bloated 150-minute runtime, while Christoph Waltz is wasted in a role more concerned with hiding his identity than properly integrating him into the story. The sole highlight is Léa Seydoux, who plays one of the more intriguing Bond girls in recent times; she’s sexy, smart and can take care of herself. Unfortunately, she doesn’t arrive until the second half, at which point you’ll likely have already tuned out. One of the running themes in “Spectre” is that Bond has become obsolete, and it applies to the production as well, because while Craig may have helped usher in a new era of the franchise, he nearly undoes all that hard work with this listless installment.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on shooting the opening sequence and a series of video blogs about director Sam Mendes, the cars, the action and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Crimson Peak”

WHAT: After she’s whisked away to England to live with charming baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his ice-cold sister (Jessica Chastain) in their crumbling mansion, young American heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) uncovers terrible secrets about the Sharpe family history when tortured apparitions begin to haunt

WHY: It’s no secret that Guillermo del Toro has a slightly deranged imagination, but there’s a beauty to his madness that flows through all of his movies, none more so than “Crimson Peak,” which delivers a different kind of horror from the typical haunted house story. Though the film drags a bit in the first hour, it picks up considerably in the latter half thanks to the chemistry between its three leads. Jessica Chastain is particularly good as the villain, digging into her juicy role with a quiet intensity that could have easily devolved into camp. However, the movie’s real MVP is the mansion itself, a remarkable piece of craftsmanship that highlights del Toro’s visually distinct style and functions as its own character. “Crimson Peak” could have been better if del Toro paid as much attention to the story as the lavish costumes and production design, but it’s an enjoyable piece of gothic horror that adds a dash of prestige and sophistication to a genre not usually known for those qualities.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro, there’s a making-of featurette, interviews with the cast, additional featurettes on costumes, make-up effects and production design, a tour of Allerdale Hall and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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