Blu Tuesday: Game of Thrones 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.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season”

WHAT: In the wake of Jon Snow’s murder, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) tightens his grip on the North just as Cersei (Lena Headey) struggles to retain her power in King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) plans her escape from Dothraki captivity, Arya (Maisie Williams) begins her apprenticeship at the House of White and Black, and Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) continues his training under the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow)… all while the threat of the White Walkers looms on the other side of the Wall.

WHY: The sixth season of “Game of Thrones” was undeniably the Year of the Woman, with characters like Cersei, Daenerys, Arya, Sansa, Yara and Brienne all emerging as genuine power players across the Seven Kingdoms. It’s also a season that, despite the dense and complex nature of its storytelling, really put the pedal to the floor as the show barrels towards its inevitable conclusion, inspiring the hashtag #EfficiencyisComing in the process. And this year was nothing if not efficient, even if it spent two whole episodes pretending that Jon Snow was permanently dead when everybody knew that wasn’t the case. Minor quibbles aside, Season Six is one of the best in the show’s history, boasting strong performances from Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (among many others) and top-notch episodes like “The Door” (RIP Hodor) and the Miguel Sapochnik-directed twofer “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter.” For a season that could have easily felt like the banal but necessary prelude to the much-anticipated climax, it doesn’t disappoint, delivering all the drama, political intrigue, action and comedy that “Game of Thrones” fans have come to expect.

EXTRAS: There’s a massive amount of bonus material, including cast and crew audio commentaries on every episode (and two each in the case of episodes 5, 9 and 10), a behind-the-scenes look at filming the Battle of the Bastards and creating Vaes Dothrak, featurettes on the mythology of Westeros and Ethos, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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For Great Drama, Comedy is Key: Why the best television dramas rely on humor to tell their stories

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Mel Brooks once said something to the effect that comedy is harder than tragedy, because while it’s easy to make one person cry at something, it’s a lot harder to make them laugh. Whether or not that’s true, some of the greatest television dramas of the past couple decades have risen to this challenge by blurring the lines between genres. By incorporating comedic elements into their episodes, they’ve provided audiences with hilarious scenes that stay with viewers for years. But why? What advantage is there in inserting these moments of levity into otherwise bleak proceedings? The one thing that some of the most successful and beloved shows of recent years – like Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” – have in common is a surprisingly deft comic touch.

First, it’s a necessary tension breaker. After scenes and entire episodes dealing with the various intricacies of betrayals and murders, an audience needs something to relieve that pressure, breaking up the funeral dirge of favorite characters and grim moments. The deftest writers, those of the shows previously mentioned, are usually very good at incorporating these moments of laughter into plot-driven parts, making it natural rather than a transparent attempt at easing the tension and angst inherent in life, death and tragedy. For example, in “Game of Thrones,” while the wedding between Tyrion and Sansa is a veritable downer moment that finds two beloved characters in a situation neither enjoys but are forced to undergo, the writers find time for a drunken Tyrion to make merry and therefore mock the seriousness of the occasion.

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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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Bullz-Eye’s 2015 TV Power Rankings

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It’s another clean sweep for cable and streaming outlets for our annual list of the best shows on television. Netflix alone has four shows on our list, despite “House of Cards” dropping off. With so many outlets battling to create original content, the old TV networks just can’t compete when it comes to producing the best of the best.

Fortunately, in today’s world, if you’ve been missing out on some of the best shows, you can always find a way to binge watch and catch up.

We’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to skip over some of the write-ups if you’re behind on a particular series, as we naturally refer to recent events.

1. “The Walking Dead”

After the gruesome confrontation with the Terminus cannibals, Rick and the gang were tired and ragged without an obvious destination, so the introduction of the Alexandria safe zone offered an interesting twist to the story. Here the group suddenly found some much-needed normalcy in terms of their surroundings, while it was just a matter of time before the awkward interaction between Rick’s battle-tested crew and the clueless and sheltered inhabitants of Alexandria would lead to real conflicts. This year offered some interesting character developments as they got a much-needed though temporary reprieve from the daily battles with the walkers. “The Walking Dead” seems to get more interesting each year as the writers explore how humans deal with a post-apocalyptic world both on an individual and tribal level, so it remains our choice as the best show on television for 2015.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2014 TV Power Rankings

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With “Breaking Bad” wrapping up after five brilliant seasons, the top spot in our annual TV power rankings has finally opened up for the rest of the field. But AMC gets the nod for the best television show again this year as “The Walking Dead” edges out HBO’s “True Detective” on our list.

The list is dominated again by cable TV dramas, which seem to have surpassed movies in popularity. Streaming and binge watching have contributed to this trend, but it all starts with the quality of the programming. You’ll find some of the best writing, directing and acting talent on television these days, and often the quality of the storytelling surpasses the best that a film industry obsessed with blockbusters, superheroes and sequels can muster.

We’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to skip over some of the write-ups if you’re behind on a particular series, as we naturally refer to recent events.

1. “The Walking Dead”

Some fans have complained about the deliberate pace of this show when the gang sought temporary refuge at the farm and prison, but the tension built during these lulls always led to a bigger payoff when all hell inevitably broke loose. In the current fifth season, that payoff came quickly with jarring episodes that kicked off with the battle at Terminus and the confrontation with the hunters. The end of the world offers countless opportunities to explore how survivors might deal with a zombie apocalypse, and the writers have done a great job telling this story over the first five seasons. It’s currently the best and most consistent show on television.

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2. “True Detective”

This was by far the most intriguing and talked about show of 2014, featuring epic performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. It also didn’t hurt to have sexy and provocative turns by beautiful actresses such as Alexandra Daddario, Lili Simmons and Michelle Monaghan. The dark tone was set in part through the use of flashbacks to a 1995 serial killer investigation framed in the context of interviews with the two primary detectives, with McConaughey’s intense Rust Cohle looking and acting like a burned out alcoholic as he told his part of the story. Yet after so much tension and anticipation was built up through the season, the ending was surprisingly predictable in some ways and incomprehensible in others. Still, the letdown at the end didn’t diminish the creepy and fascinating ride along the way.

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3. “Game of Thrones”

This show pretty much has everything, including great action, intrigue, sex and dragons. Our only quibble is the sheer number of characters and storylines, leaving less screen time for favorite characters like Tyrion and Arya. Bran’s character, for example, went from fascinating to boring pretty quickly. All the supernatural stuff surrounding his character will no doubt be important in the long run, but the road to wherever he’s going has been a snoozer of late. Fortunately, there are reports we won’t be seeing him in the upcoming Season Five, though we’ll get a heavy dose of Cersei instead.

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