Blu Tuesday: Game of Thrones, Birdman 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 Fourth Season”

WHAT: Following the events of the Red Wedding, King’s Landing turns its attention to the royal wedding between Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell, with guests arriving from all over Westeros, including the vengeful Oberyn Martell. Meanwhile, Arya and The Hound continue their journey to the Eyrie; Daenerys Targaryen leads her slave army towards Meereen; Bran and Co. head north to track down the three-eyed raven; and the Night’s Watch prepare for an attack by the Wildlings.

WHY: “Game of Thrones” is one of the best dramas on television, boasting rich storytelling, great writing and a massive ensemble cast with nary a weak link among them. But while the exhaustive world building is impressive in both size and scope, it often can’t be fully appreciated until you see how some of the storylines pay off later down the road, whether in future episodes or seasons. What really makes it appointment television, however, and one of the few genuine water-cooler shows left today, is the endless amount of shocking moments weaved throughout George R.R. Martin’s complex fantasy world. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.) Though nothing that occurs in Season Four is as monumental as the Red Wedding from the previous year, the bombshells came faster and more frequent, with several notable characters biting the dust, including heavy hitters like Joffrey Baratheon and Tywin Lannister, fan favorite Oberyn Martell, and quite possibly The Hound, depending on how you interpret his final scene. No other show on television makes you care about the death of a character as much as “Game of Thrones,” and it’s only one of many reasons why the series continues to perform at such a high level, constantly upping the stakes even when it no longer seems possible.

EXTRAS: There are 11 cast and crew audio commentaries spread across the four-disc set, along with an overview of Season Three, featurettes on filming the ninth episode (“Battle of the Wall”) and the role bastards play in the Seven Kingdoms, a roundtable discussion with the actors whose characters died in the fourth season, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and some interactive features.


“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

WHAT: Desperate to revive his career, washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) mounts an ambitious adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” on Broadway. When one of the actors is injured in a freak accident, Riggan brings in theater luminary Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) as a last-minute replacement, only for Mike’s unconventional methods to lead to a clash of egos between the two men that puts the whole production in danger of shutting down before it even begins.

WHY: Alejandro González Iñárritu may not be the most prolific director around, but that hardly matters when you make movies like “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” a remarkable piece of filmmaking that’s as refreshingly original as it is wildly ambitious. While it’s a pretty incisive satire of Broadway and fame, the movie goes even deeper than that, digging into themes of ego, family and artistic integrity vs. commercial success. More than anything else, though, it operates as a character study of a broken man trying to reclaim his former glory, and in that regard, the film reminded me a lot of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler.” Some of it is played for laughs, but it’s mostly a profoundly sad look at one man’s struggle to validate his existence. The acting is top-notch across the board – especially Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone – however, the real magic comes from Iñarritu’s decision to stage the movie as one long tracking shot. The balletic precision and sheer ballsiness required to pull that off is mind-boggling, but it results in a more immersive and seamless viewing experience akin to a theater performance, and it’s one that’ll be mimicked for years to come.

EXTRAS: There’s a fairly extensive behind-the-scenes featurette, a conversation between director Alejandro González Iñárritu and star Michael Keaton about the movie, and a photo gallery.


“The Theory of Everything”

WHAT: While studying at Cambridge in the 1960s, physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with and marries literature student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), only to be diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given two years to live. Miraculously, Hawking fought the disease with the help of Jane and went on to become one of the leading minds of his generation.

WHY: “The Theory of Everything” is the prototypical Oscar movie. It’s based on an incredible true story (bonus points if the subject is suffering from a disease) and boasts an extraordinary lead performance from Eddie Redmayne. But sadly, the film itself is quite ordinary, falling victim to the usual biopic conventions by trying to cover too much material in too little time. This happens surprisingly often when making movies about real-life people, and it’s especially disappointing here, because Redmayne is simply amazing as Hawking, investing himself completely in the physicality of the role without losing the essence of the character. It’s every actor’s dream job, but for as much credit as Redmayne deserves for the performance, it wouldn’t be as effective without Felicity Jones beside him, because she’s the soul of the film, providing an alternate view of Hawking’s struggle with every heartbreaking and inspiring turn. “The Theory of Everything” is about the power of the human spirit, and while the first half makes for more compelling viewing compared to the generic story beats that encompass Hawking’s later years, Redmayne and Jones are so good that even if their performances overshadow the movie itself, it’s still very much must-see viewing.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director James Marsh, there’s a featurette titled “Becoming the Hawkings” and eight deleted scenes with optional commentary by Marsh.


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Movie Review: “Dumb and Dumber To”

Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle, Rachel Melvin, Kathleen Turner, Steve Tom
Bobby & Peter Farrelly

Sequels are rarely a good idea, but particularly when the original was released so long ago that part of the new film’s target audience wasn’t even born yet. Though there had been rumblings of a follow-up to Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s 1994 cult classic “Dumb and Dumber” for a number of years, the pieces never fell into place until now. Unfortunately, while the promise of seeing Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne together again may have sounded like a fun slice of nostalgia, it’s obvious within minutes of “Dumb and Dumber To” that, despite trying to recapture the goofball magic of the first movie, it never quite clicks.

It’s been 20 years since Lloyd (Jim Carrey) had his heart broken by Mary Swanson, and during that time, he’s been living at a mental hospital in a catatonic state… only to reveal to his friend Harry (Jeff Daniels) that it was all an elaborate prank. Harry appreciates the commitment to the gag, but he has much bigger things on his mind, like the fact that he’ll die unless he gets a new kidney. When Harry discovers that an old flame, Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner), gave up their daughter for adoption 22 years earlier, Harry and Lloyd set off to track her down in the hope that the gorgeous but dumb Penny (Rachel Melvin) is willing to donate a kidney to the biological dad she never met. Along the way, the duo gets caught up in a plot to kill Penny’s adoptive father (Steve Tom) by his duplicitous trophy wife (Laurie Holden) and groundskeeper (Rob Riggle), who are after the scientist’s large inheritance, including a mystery box that he’s entrusted to Harry and Lloyd to deliver to a TED-like science conference where Penny is accepting an award on his behalf.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November


The holidays are just around the corner, which means that it’s officially time for awards season, even if a number of studios got an early start last month. Although there aren’t as many options as you would expect from November, the release schedule is packed with promising titles, including Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bender, Oscar hopefuls starring Steve Carrell and Benedict Cumberbatch, and the penultimate installment of the “Hunger Games” series.


Who: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Wes Bentley
What: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to travel through space in search of an inhabitable planet for the human race.
When: November 7th
Why: Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi flick has been so shrouded in secrecy that it seems rude to even talk about it, and therefore, I’d actually recommend skipping this entry altogether. But if you’ve already seen the trailer or have been following your favorite movie blogger on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that “Interstellar” has reached “OMG Best Movie Ever” levels of excitement. Of course, it’s that kind of ridiculous hyperbole that has made me super cautious about my own expectations for the film, because while Nolan has proven that he’s one of the best directors in the game, and star Matthew McConaughey can seemingly do no wrong at the moment, chances are that although “Interstellar” will be really good – great, even – it won’t be the cinema-defining masterpiece that some are expecting.

“Big Hero 6”

Who: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez and T.J. Miller
What: Child prodigy Hiro Hamada and his plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
When: November 7th
Why: Pixar may be taking the year off, but Disney wasn’t going to loosen its grasp on the Best Animated Featured category without putting up a fight, although it’s hard to see “Big Hero 6” competing with likes of “The LEGO Movie.” Based on the little-known Marvel comic of the same name, the film certainly looks impressive with its stylish art design, while the cute and cuddly Baymax (whose robotic influences range from WALL*E to C3PO) will likely make Disney millions of dollars based on toy sales alone. Though “Big Hero 6” doesn’t pique my interest nearly as much as the studio’s 2012 hit “Wreck-It Ralph,” here’s hoping that it’s a giant success, if only because it may lead to more animated versions of other forgotten Marvel properties in the future.

“The Theory of Everything”

Who: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox and Emma Watson
What: A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
When: November 7th
Why: It’s actually pretty surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to make a proper biopic about Stephen Hawking (not counting the 2004 TV movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, of course), especially considering his prominence not only in the scientific world, but pop culture as well. Director James Marsh’s first narrative feature, “Shadow Dancer,” may not have received the same attention as his documentaries (“Man on Wire” and “Project Nim”), but his follow-up is guaranteed to be in the awards mix thanks to some early buzz following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The same goes for star Eddie Redmayne, whose performance as Hawking has already garnered praise as the one to beat at this year’s Oscars. And though it’s still early, the trailer does a damn good job of backing up those comments.

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