Blu Tuesday: Muppets Most Wanted, Locke 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.

“Muppets Most Wanted”

WHAT: After embarking on an international tour arranged by slick talent agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), Kermit the Frog is framed by his evil lookalike, Constantine, and shipped off to a Siberian prison. Meanwhile, Dominic and Constantine plot to steal a series of artifacts that will enable them to pull off the ultimate heist, using the Muppets’ tour to cover their tracks.

WHY: Like many people, I walked into “Muppets Most Wanted” convinced that it would be a colossal disappointment. But while this follow-up to the 2011 Muppets reboot starring Jason Segel doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, the movie comes surprisingly close. In addition to the screenplay by returning director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, which retains the Muppets’ trademark humor, charm and heart, Bret McKenzie provides half a dozen original songs that are incredibly witty and catchy, and among the film’s many highlights. The human co-stars aren’t as developed as Segel’s character, but Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey (as a Siberian prison guard) and Ty Burell (as a Jacques Clouseau-like Interpol agent) all fare remarkably well alongside their respective Muppet partners. If there’s one complaint, it’s that many of the supporting Muppets are relegated to the background in order to make room for all the new faces, though it certainly helps that Constantine is such a fun villain. It’s that sense of playfulness that makes “Muppets Most Wanted” such a success, and considering how bad things could have turned out, that’s a massive win for fans of Jim Henson’s felt-covered friends.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an “unnecessarily extended” cut of the film, a blooper reel, music videos and some other goofy bits, but nothing really substantial.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Locke”

WHAT: Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a dedicated family man and successful construction foreman, but on the eve of the biggest job of his career, he receives a phone call triggering a series of events that threaten to shatter his seemingly perfect life.

WHY: By far one of the most unique moviegoing experiences of the year, Steven Knight’s “Locke” takes a relatively simple premise and squeezes every last drop from its pulpy body, to the point that it’s actually quite incredible just how much the director was able to do with so little. The single-location setting is a bit gimmicky, but it serves a purpose as you watch the life of an otherwise decent man – literally trapped in a horrible situation but determined to make it right the only way he knows how – implode before your very eyes. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking at times, and although the supporting cast (including Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott, who appear as voices over the phone) is essential to making the film work, Tom Hardy is the heart and soul of the movie, delivering an absolutely brilliant performance that will leave you spellbound for the entirety of its taut 84-minute runtime. Though some of the plot turns feel contrived and it starts to drag in the final act, “Locke” is so immersive in its minimalistic approach that even the film’s flaws are more of a nuisance than a distraction.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Steven Knight and a behind-the-scenes featurette on making the film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Game of Thrones 3.04/3.05: And Now His Watch Has Ended/Kissed By Fire

Apologies for this week’s lateness and last week’s lack of a post. Things have been hectic due to finals and graduation. As a result, here’s a special double post for the last two episodes. Regular Monday postings will resume tomorrow. 

SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game.  You’ve been warned.

Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

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Dracarys

We only saw Dany for a short time in “And Now His Watch His Ended,” but what  a time it was. She hands the slave master Kraznys the chain holding Drogon, the largest and most fearsome of her dragons. He in turn hands her the whip which symbolizes control of the thousands and thousands of Unsullied before her. Once the whip is in her hand, the Unsullied immediately follow her various simple orders: march forward, stop. Kraznys finds himself in much the opposite scenario, though he holds Drogon’s chain, he does not hold Drogon. He complains to Dany in High Valyrian, who turns to tell him “A dragon is not a slave,” revealing in one line both facets of Dany’s deception: First, she’s understood Kraznys all along. The Targaryens are of the blood of Old Valyria, and Valyrian is her mother tongue. Second, she agreed to hand Drogon over knowing full well he would never submit to another master. Unlike slaves, bond and ownership can not be transferred with a chain or whip. She then commands the Unsullied to “slay the masters, slay the soldiers, slay every man who holds a whip, but harm no child. Strike the chains off every slave you see!” Finally realizing his blunder, Kraznys attempts to regain control of the Unsullied, commanding them to kill her, but they belong to Dany now. Once again, she turns to say that word of great destruction, “Dracarys.” Boom. Roasted. Thus were the slaves of Astapor freed and the city burned, with Dany losing nothing and gaining an army in the process. Perhaps she’s finally on her way to Westeros?

In the books, this was one of those moments you stood up, paced around, puffed out your chest, and pumped your fists, and it translated in the show. In the books especially, it felt like the first time Dany had done anything, let alone anything awesome, in forever. The writers did what they could to inject some life into her season two storyline, but it still often felt like a distraction, time wasted in Qarth that could’ve been spent in Westeros. So seeing Dany say dracarys and the chaos that followed had much the same effect.

Furthermore, the scene symbolized both of the episode’s major themes. The first being rising up against one’s oppressors (at times a variation of the hunter becoming the hunted), and the second being the dangers of underestimating and/or misreading people. In this case at least I don’t think either requires much explanation (which is why I chose to begin with it). In the former case, slaves kill their masters. Done. In the latter, Kraznys thought he was conman when in fact he was the victim. That’s got to, ahem, burn.

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Game of Thrones 3.03: Walk of Punishment

SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game.  You’ve been warned.

Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

ep3jaime

You’re nothing without your daddy and your daddy ain’t here. 

We’ve been joking for a while now that Jaime and Brienne’s road-trip buddy comedy would bring them closer together. These two polar opposites would begin to think maybe they’re not so different, underneath it all. But how? Their final scene in last week’s episode seemed to offer the simplest possible answer to that question: introduce a common enemy, force them to work together.They were captured by Locke, one of Roose Bolton’s loyal soldiers.

Wait a minute, you say, Jaime and Brienne aren’t banding together to escape their captivity. Far from it. They remain as boorish and brusque in their interactions as ever. Jaime tries to use his father’s influence to win Locke over, telling him to look at things rationally: the North doesn’t have the manpower or the gold to win the war, switch to the winning side and Tywin Lannister will reward you with lands, gold, women, and perhaps some golden women. Locke’s not hearing any of it though, and his response is the closest thing this episode has to a unifying theme: “You’re nothing without your daddy and your daddy ain’t here.” And then? Boom goes the dynamite! I mean, off comes the hand! I spoke last week about the feeling of wholeness that was clear in Jaime’s eyes and body language as soon as he got Brienne’s sword in his hands (almost like I knew something like this was coming). “He moves about and casually swings the sword like it’s a part of his arm. It’s been ages since he held a sword, meaning it’s been ages since he felt whole.” And now he’s lost the appendage that allows him this feeling permanently. Jaime may be nothing without his daddy, but he’s even less without his sword hand.

Alright, you’re saying, but what does any of that have to do with Jaime and Brienne banding together in the long-term? Well, Jaime got his punishment despite his fancy words. Brienne did not, and while her daddy rescuing her would surely sound like a good idea, it is not Selwyn Tarth who saves her but Jaime’s fancy words. He convinces Locke that his cause would be better served if Brienne’s honor remains “unbesmirched,” because Brienne is from Tarth, which they call the “Sapphire Isle.” He assures him that returning Brienne safely will net Locke her weight in sapphires. He does all this before he makes his play, before it fails, he’s still working under the assumption that just saying the name Tywin Lannister will get him what he wants. That means Jaime tried to save Brienne for no other reason than—dare I say it—compassion. Could it be? Character development! Hurrah! Next week, Jaime will be the one in pain, the one unable to defend himself. Will Brienne leap to his aide? Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

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