Blu Tuesday: The Newsroom, House of Cards 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.

“The Newsroom: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: Following a mandatory leave of absence after a political tirade goes viral, news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Bridges) returns to find that most of his staff has quit. Seeing an opportunity to rebrand the nighttime program, his boss (Sam Waterson) hires Will’s ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), to executive produce a show that values quality news over ratings-driven infotainment.

WHY: Aaron Sorkin’s last TV project (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) may not have been his best work, but he’s hit a homerun with this HBO drama, which uses actual news stories (the BP oil spill, the death of Osama Bin Laden, etc.) to ground the show (and by extension, its characters) in reality. The writing is every bit as snappy, whip-smart and funny as we’ve come to expect from Sorkin, while the cast is littered with great performances from veterans like Bridges, Mortimer and Waterson, as well as up-and-comers like John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill and, quite surprisingly, Olivia Munn.

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on half the episodes, the four-disc set also includes all of the “Inside the Episode” recaps, a handful of deleted scenes, and a 25-minute roundtable discussion with Sorkin, Daniels, Mortimer, Waterson and directors/producers Greg Mottola and Alan Poul about making the show.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“House of Cards: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: After Senator Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the House Majority Whip, is passed over for the Secretary of State position, he exacts revenge on those who betrayed him by exploiting his devoted wife (Robin Wright), a young reporter (Kate Mara) and a troubled congressman (Corey Stoll) to help do his dirty work.

WHY: Based on the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, “House of Cards” is an enthralling and immensely addicting drama that boasts the kind of top-shelf quality we’ve come to expect from networks like HBO and AMC. In addition to being produced by David Fincher (who also directed the first two episodes), there’s not a single weak link in the cast. Kevin Spacey delivers his finest performance since “American Beauty” as the calculating politician, while Robin Wright is the perfect complement as his stone-cold marriage partner in crime. Corey Stoll also delivers some fine work as the congressman who gets ensnared in Underwood’s puppet strings. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the series is partly based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “Richard III,” because there are so many political power plays in each episode that it has the Bard’s fingerprints all over it.

EXTRAS: Sadly, no bonus material has been included.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

If this past January proved anything, it’s that the movies weren’t nearly as bad as those from previous years. Unfortunately, I highly doubt the same will be true of February’s line-up when all is said and done. Though there are certainly a couple movies to look forward to (including the latest John McClane adventure and only the second rom-zom-com in existence), the pickings are even slimmer and less promising than last month.

“WARM BODIES”

Who: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich and Rob Corddry
What: After a zombie named R saves Julie from an attack, they form a relationship that sets in motion a series of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.
When: February 1st
Why: If there’s one movie that I’m actually looking forward to this February, it’s the big screen adaptation of Isaac Marion’s clever YA novel. Director Jonathan Levine has already tackled some pretty ballsy material between “The Wackness” and “50/50,” but this is probably his most adventurous and challenging project yet, if only because the subject matter is about as outside-the-box as you can get. Vampires are one thing (and though the “Twilight” comparisons are inevitable, they’re completely unwarranted), but the idea of doing a romantic comedy where a zombie falls in love with a human is ripe for exactly the kind of dark humor that “Warm Bodies” will hopefully deliver in spades.

“BULLET TO THE HEAD”

Who: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa and Christian Slater
What: After watching their respective partners die, a New Orleans hitman and a Washington D.C. detective team up to bring down their common enemy.
When: February 1st
Why: Arnold Schwarzenegger may be back to reclaim his action hero title, but Sylvester Stallone never gave it up, and though his latest movie doesn’t look very good, you have to respect the guy for grinding away all these years. Though director Walter Hill has made his share of fun buddy action films (including “48 Hours” and its sequel), that formula has been run so far into the ground that only a dinosaur like him would think it’s still relevant. It’s always nice to see Sung Kang getting work, because he’s probably one of the best Asian-American actors in the business, but if the cheesy dialogue from the trailer is any indication, “Bullet to the Head” is destined for the Wal-Mart bargain bin.

“IDENTITY THIEF”

Who: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet and Morris Chestnut
What: When a mild-mannered businessman learns his identity has been stolen, he hits the road in an attempt to foil the deceptively harmless-looking thief.
When: February 8th
Why: Jason Bateman reteams with “Horrible Bosses” director Seth Gordon for a new film co-starring Hollywood It Girl Melissa McCarthy. On paper, “Identity Thief” sounds like it should be comedy gold, but go watch the trailer again and count how many times you laughed. Did you get zero too? It’s not entirely surprising considering the film was written by the same guy behind a trio of spoof movies and “RocketMan,” but I’ve come to expect better from Bateman. McCarthy, on the other hand, continues to overact the only way she knows how, and though some people seem to find her funny, I’m not one of them. In other words, unless you’re a fan, you can probably wait for it to hit home video.

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