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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5 Questions with Isaac Hempstead-Wright of “The Boxtrolls” and “Game of Thrones”

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Whether you’re being raised by trolls, surviving a Westoros defenestration, or making a career in the wild and wacky world of international show business, it never hurts to be both enthusiastic and, believe it not, genuine. Now 15 years old, Isaac Hempstead-Wright is best known to most as Bran Stark on “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s Emmy-winning adult fantasy sensation based on George R.R. Martin’s gazillion-selling literary doorstops. His voice is also soon to become known to family film audiences as the heroic young Eggs in “The Boxtrolls,” the latest from Laika Studios, the stop-motion animation whizzes who brought us the rightfully acclaimed “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.”

An apparently very down-to-earth youth from an industrial English village, Hempstead-Wright seems unaffected by the fact that he’s spent several of his formative years working on a long-form dark fantasy spiked with graphic violence and NC-17-esque sexuality. Soulful and earnest on TV, in person, the young actor is eager and friendly to a fault – after we were told our interview was completed, he engaged us in some neighborly small-talk until yours truly was very nearly forcibly ejected by publicity.

That enthusiasm has no doubt been a plus in the physically and emotionally challenging role of the disabled, steadfast young Bran alongside the stellar “Game of Thrones” cast. It also must have factored into Laika’s decision to place Hempstead-Wright alongside the top-drawer “Boxtrolls” voice ensemble, which includes Elle Fanning, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg and Sir Ben Kingsley.

As the old saying goes, you need sincerity to succeed in show business and, if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Here are five pretty sincere answers we don’t think young Hempstead-Wright had to fake.

1. Can you persuade the Bullz-Eye core audience of males, aged 18-35, that it’s safe to see “The Boxtrolls” despite it’s family-friendly PG rating?

IHW: I would say go and see “The Boxtrolls” just because the Boxtrolls are really cute, even if you’re sort of this big, butch person, I think you would enjoy how cute they are, because that’s kind of what they are. They look like, on the outside, they are these terrifying creatures, but you realize they are very soft and sweet inside.

[My character, Eggs] is a boy who thinks he’s a Boxtroll. He’s an orphan who was raised by Boxtrolls because they’re the only people who really care for him. If you look at a lot of the people in the upper world – the Boxtrolls live in an underground cavern – [the human parents are] all really horrible. Well, not horrible — they just don’t care for the children. If you look at [lead female character, voiced by Elle Fanning] Winnie’s parents, they are much more interested in cheese than in [their] daughter.

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Game of Thrones Beer!

We’re huge fans of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and many of you have followed our weekly blog of the show, so we were very happy when HBO and Brewery Ommegang sent us some bottles of their new “Game of Thrones” beer to try out. We tried the second in the series, called the “Take the Black Stout,” which was inspired by the Night’s Watch, the military order dressed in black which holds and guards The Wall. The unique label features the sacred Weirwood tree where Jon Snow and other followers of the old gods take their oaths to the Night’s Watch.

Brewery Ommegang is located on a 136-acre farmstead in Cooperstown, New York and is part of the Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat family. “With the second beer, we wanted a big, substantial brew, something that would stick to your ribs and sustain you through long nights at watch on The Wall,” said Phil Leinhart, brewmaster at Ommegang. “A 7 % ABV stout with Northern Brewer hops, Midnight wheat, roasted barley, and chocolate malt made a perfect foundation for the beer. We also used uncommon spicing, something Ommegang is well known for. For this beer we added licorice root and star anise.”

We tried it and loved it. It’s thick and malty and exactly the kind of beer you can imagine the characters drinking on the show.

The first beer in the series, “Iron Throne Blonde Ale,” was the largest volume limited-edition beer ever brewed by Ommegang. “Fire and Blood Red Ale,” inspired by House Targaryen, will come next in the Spring of 2014, and the label will feature the three Targaryen dragons: Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion.

Beer lovers should definitely try this specialty brew, and the beer can be a great gift for fans of the show. You can also spice up a holiday party by serving this or bring it along. The beer comes in large, 750 ML bottles with a cork, so it makes quite an impression. Check it out!

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