Blu Tuesday: Iron Thrones, Fake Movies and More

For the second week in a row, Blu-rays fans have been treated to an impressive selection of new releases, including personal favorites like “Game of Thrones” and “Argo,” and other award-worthy fare to get you in the mood for the upcoming Oscars. We might not see another Blu Tuesday this good for awhile, so enjoy it while you can.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season”

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” may have been my favorite freshman series of last year, but when it comes to HBO, “Game of Thrones” is (appropriately) still king. There’s nothing else quite like it on television, and though Season Two wasn’t as good as the first season on an episode-to-episode basis, the payoff was arguably even better, showing the full complexity and richness of the universe that George R.R. Martin created. As anyone who watches the series can attest, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and though several new faces were introduced in the second season, it’s the familiar ones that remain the best reason for tuning in, including Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Kit Harrington as Jon Snow, and Maisie Williams as the cute but headstrong Arya Stark. Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen is regrettably saddled with a boring subplot this time around, but Season One background players Alfie Allen and Richard Madden are given much more to do, and the show is ultimately better for it. The scope of the series also seems to grow with every season, and as a fan of what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing with Martin’s source material, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Blu-ray Highlight: Much like last season, there’s a wealth of extras on the five-disc set, including a roundtable discussion with several cast members and a look at shooting the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The real highlight, however, is the 12 audio commentaries recorded by various cast and crew. There’s one track for every episode except “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” and Episodes 3, 9 and 10 each have two commentaries a piece.

“Argo”

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of Boston to a much larger stage, delivering his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones seem effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s so much great material here that it’s hard to choose. The feature-length picture-in-picture track boasts interviews with the people involved in the event (like CIA operative Tony Mendes, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and the “house guests”), while director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio discuss the actual making of the movie on the disc’s audio commentary. Also worth checking out is the excellent retrospective “Rescued from Tehran: We Were There,” which uses additional interviews with the real-life subjects about their memories of the event, and the making-of featurette “Absolute Authenticity.”

“Anna Karenina”

If there’s one director whose films I’ll watch no matter what the subject matter, it’s Joe Wright. The British-born filmmaker has a knack for making stuffy love stories interesting (see: “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement”), but unfortunately, even he falls short with his big screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Though the popular Russian novel has been adapted so many times that there really wasn’t a need for another interpretation, Wright at least brings something new to the material with his inspired theatrical setup. It’s like watching an acting troupe perform a play in your living room (complete with intricate, movable sets), and it’s an awe-inspiring piece of filmmaking… at least for the first act or so. By the midway point, Wright has pretty much given up on the theater gimmick in favor of a more traditional storytelling method, and it saps what little energy the movie had going for it. The main love story is insufferable and boring, and although there are some good performances from supporting players like Matthew Macfadyen and Domhnall Gleeson, it’s not enough to hold your interest. Still, it’s better than reading the book.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a good amount of bonus material on the making of the film – including a look at transforming a single theater space into the various sets and how it was accomplished during production – but listening to director Joe Wright explain the process and the reasoning behind it on the audio commentary is far more interesting.

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

After a tepid last couple of months, Hollywood is finally gearing up for award season, and with it comes a host of really promising films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Wright, David O. Russell and Ang Lee, many of which are already projected to land several Oscar nominations. But perhaps the most highly-anticipated release this November isn’t an award contender at all, but rather the long-awaited 23rd installment in the James Bond series, which looks to be Daniel Craig’s best 007 adventure yet.

“WRECK-IT RALPH”

Who: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch
What: A video game villain sets out to fulfill his dream of being a hero, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.
When: November 2nd
Why: I was cautiously optimistic about “Wreck-It Ralph” when it was first announced, but after seeing the film, I can say unequivocally that it’s one of the best movies the studio has put out in years, and that includes the Pixar stuff as well. In fact, “Wreck-It Ralph” is the kind of film that you’d almost expect Pixar to make, because it’s a remarkably original idea that’s catered to both kids and the adults who grew up playing retro games. Director Rich Moore comes from a background that includes “Futurama” and “The Simpsons,” and it really shows in the type of humor on display, while John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman shine in their voice roles. The animation is also really gorgeous, especially the attention to detail between games, and the much-publicized cameos help bring an authenticity to the world that only makes it even more enjoyable.

“FLIGHT”

Who: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly and Melissa Leo
What: An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals that he may have been drunk at the time.
When: November 2nd
Why: After spending nearly a decade helping pioneer motion capture technology with movies like “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol,” Robert Zemeckis marks his return to live-action filmmaking with something that has a little more bite to it. Early reviews have been almost unanimously positive, with Denzel Washington singled out for his amazing performance, and though he may be considered a bit of a dark horse with so much stiff competition this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy rewarded the actor with his first nomination since 2002’s “Training Day.” The subject matter certainly carries the danger of becoming too melodramatic, but between the interesting premise and excellent cast, “Flight” is exactly the kind of riveting character drama that should help remind audiences just how good Zemeckis’ movies used to be.

“THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS”

Who: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Jamie Chung, Rick Yune and Dave Bautista
What: A humble blacksmith defends his village from a band of assassins and mercenaries when they come to town in search of a fabled treasure of gold.
When: November 2nd
Why: Anyone who knows anything about Wu Tang Clan founder RZA is that he loves kung fu cinema, so you can be sure that his directorial debut is going to be nothing short of a love letter to the genre, albeit one with a hip-hop soundtrack. The fact that he’s managed to attract the kind of talent that he has is certainly a sign of the film’s potential, because let’s be honest, Russell Crowe is the last person you’d expect to show up in this type of movie, even if it only ends up being an extended cameo. With that said, however, “The Man with the Iron Fists” looks every bit like the kind of chop-socky B-movies that RZA grew up watching, so if you’re expecting something more along the lines of “Kill Bill,” there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to walk away disappointed.

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