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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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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