Blu Tuesday: House of Cards, The LEGO Movie 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.

“House of Cards: Season Two”

WHAT: After being sworn in as the new Vice President, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) continues his quest for absolute power alongside his equally manipulative wife, Claire (Robin Wright). Meanwhile, a team of D.C. journalists investigate Frank’s involvement in Peter Russo’s death, witnessing first-hand the level of corruption at work in their government.

WHY: Season Two of “House of Cards” will likely be labeled a disappointment by some, but while it’s noticeably weaker than the Netflix drama’s debut season, it’s still better than a vast majority of the shows on television. After all, there aren’t many series that would kill off one of its main characters in the first episode, especially in such ruthless and shocking fashion, but it’s a necessary move that signals a change in the direction of the show. The ancillary subplots aren’t nearly as interesting this time around (particularly the stuff between Michael Kelly’s Chief of Staff and Rachel Brosnahan’s reformed call girl), and even the main story feels a bit stretched at times with the constant back and forth between Underwood and Raymond Tusk, but there’s rarely a dull moment thanks to the excellent writing and performances. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are in top form once again as the conniving husband-and-wife duo, while Molly Parker (of “Deadwood” fame) is a welcome addition to the cast as the new House Whip. And when you have characters as brilliantly realized as the ones that populate “House of Cards,” you’re allowed a few missteps every once in a while.

EXTRAS: The four-disc set boasts a quartet of production featurettes (including an examination of the differences between the British and American versions of the show) and a behind-the-scenes look at a table read for two episodes from Season One.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“The LEGO Movie”

WHAT: When an ordinary LEGO construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt) stumbles upon an ancient artifact, he’s declared “The Special” by an underground group of rebels led by the blind prophet Vitruvis (Morgan Freeman), who believes that Emmet is the only one capable of stopping the evil President Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying their world.

WHY: When “The LEGO Movie” was first announced, there were obvious concerns about whether it would just play like one long commercial for the popular toy brand. But while the folks at LEGO have undoubtedly seen a nice bump in business since its release, the film is so much more than that – smart, funny and surprisingly heartfelt. A lot of that credit goes to directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who bring the LEGO universe to life with the sort of boundless imagination that the movie preaches to its audience. Though the script borrows heavily from “The Matrix” (from its main story, to the three leads, to its anti-conformatist message), that’s merely the setup for a much more sophisticated payoff that is equally daring and brilliant. For as great as the film’s ending may be, however, it wouldn’t feel earned if the first two-thirds weren’t so enjoyable. And thanks to some incredible visuals, great voice work (particularly by Chris Pratt) and hilarious gags, “The LEGO Movie” isn’t just one of the best animated films in years, but it’s also one of the best movies of 2014 thus far.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (along with actors Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Alison Brie and Charlie Day) and a host of bonus material like a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes and a series of fun mini-featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Movie Review: “The LEGO Movie”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Charlie Day
Director
Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

The biggest conundrum for the makers of “The LEGO Movie”: how to make a movie that promotes the product without playing like a 100-minute informercial. To that point, we have heard from friends who refuse to see the movie because, in their opinion, it is blatantly designed to sell more LEGOs. Well, sure, the LEGO Corporation would certainly like people to buy more of their product, but that in and of itself is not the point of the movie. If anything, the movie is quite subversive in tone, in that it encourages kids to take their uber-precise themed kits and build whatever the hell they want to with the pieces. It preaches against conformity and encourages imagination, both noble goals, and it has Morgan Freeman saying Milhouse Van Houten’s name out loud. Yes, yes, yes.

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker who does everything he’s supposed to do. He follows the instructions set forth by President Business (Will Ferrell), which in a nutshell ask everyone to bend to his will in the friendliest manner possible. One day, Emmet sees the lovely Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) poking around his construction site, and as he goes to catch up to her, he discovers an underground group of rebels, led by the blind prophet Vitruvius (Freeman), who refuse to live by President Business’ law. Emmet has discovered a piece that Vitruvius believes will stop President Business’ insidious plan to glue all LEGO pieces together, and because of that, Vitruvius declares that Emmet is the one that an ancient legend predicted will lead them to victory. This group of rebels includes every superhero imaginable (in the DC universe, anyway), along with several other “master builders.” Emmet, on the other hand, doesn’t have an original thought in his head. The rebels have their doubts about him, to say the least.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

february

If February is known for anything, it’s the barrage of romantic films released in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. And in keeping with tradition, there are several to choose from this year. But while past Februarys haven’t been very promising from a guy’s point of view, there’s plenty to look forward to in the 2014 edition, with no less than four action movies (including a remake of an ‘80s cult classic) and the latest from George Clooney and an animated film that’s just as much for adults as it is for kids.

“THE LEGO MOVIE”

Who: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman
What: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
When: February 7th
Why: It’s not very often that I get excited about an animated film, but as a closeted LEGO fanatic, “The LEGO Movie” is one of my most anticipated releases of the year. The fact that it’s taken this long to make a film based on the hugely popular toy brand is shocking, not only because it’s a dream project from a marketing standpoint, but because the very nature of LEGOs provides an almost endless supply of creative possibilities. This could have easily been ruined in the hands of someone else, but based on the materials released so far, it appears that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “21 Jump Street”) have struck the perfect chord in making a kid-friendly movie that adults can enjoy as well.

“THE MONUMENTS MEN”

Who: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman and Bill Murray
What: An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked with rescuing art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their owners.
When: February 7th
Why: On paper, “The Monuments Men” has Oscar bait written all over it. In addition to being based on a true story (set during World War II, no less), the film features some of the best acting talent in the business and was also co-written and directed by star George Clooney. So why the decision to push the movie back from its original holiday release to this February? No one knows for sure, but considering the competition that it would have been up against, it was probably the right move. After all, while “The Monuments Men” certainly has the makings of a crowd-pleaser (the two-second sales pitch is “‘Ocean’s Eleven’ meets ‘Inglourious Basterds’”), it doesn’t really seem like awards material. Still, with that cast, you never know. It could be great or it could be another “The Good German.”

“VAMPIRE ACADEMY”

Who: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Sarah Hyland and Olga Kurylenko
What: 17-year-old half-human/vampire Rose Hathaway is dragged back to her boarding school to protect a race of peaceful vampires from the bloodthirsty Strigoi.
When: February 7th
Why: If “Vampire Academy” comes across as just another young adult book series turned into a film, it’s because it is – a sort of supernatural mashup of “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” But while the Richelle Mead novel on which it’s based sounds about as fun as a trip to the dentist’s office, the movie version looks a lot more enjoyable thanks to the involvement of sibling duo Mark and Daniel Waters. The former directed the hilarious 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” while the latter wrote the screenplay for the precursor to that film, “Heathers.” And if the trailer is anything to go by, “Vampire Academy” strikes a very similar tone, albeit with the added benefit of some action. For every successful YA book adaptation, however, there are five failures, so history certainly isn’t on its side.

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