If you’re wondering why there wasn’t a column last week, it’s pretty simple – there really weren’t any movie or TV-related Blu-rays worth talking about except for “Hugo,” and if you want to hear my thoughts on that film, you can just read my review here. Fortunately, this week is the complete opposite, with so many titles to choose from that I didn’t have the time to cover them all. While one could argue that it might have made more sense devoting a spot to a movie that actually deserved the attention instead of “Jack and Jill” (like, say, “The Deer Hunter” or Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief”), I simply couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to talk about Adam Sandler’s latest cinematic catastrophe.
Forget about “Boardwalk Empire” or “Luck,” because “Game of Thrones” is hands down HBO’s best new series. Based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, “Game of Thrones” is exactly the kind of fantasy epic that you’d never expect to see produced on this scale for television. The scope of the series is massive (from its large cast of characters, to its gorgeous landscapes, to its incredibly detailed production design) and the acting is all top-notch as well, particularly screen veteran Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, newcomer Kit Harington as Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow, and Peter Dinklage in his Emmy and Golden Globe-winning role as the perpetually entertaining Tyrion Lannister. The show has it all – drama, comedy, action, suspense – and the fact that it’s so faithfully adapted from Martin’s source material is just the cherry on top of what is an already very delicious fantasy sundae. The only thing negative to say about “Game of Thrones” is that the first season is only comprised of 10 episodes, because you can never have too much of a show this good.
Blu-ray Highlight: When all is said and done, HBO’s Season One release of “Game of Thrones” will be remembered as one of the best Blu-rays of the year. There’s so much great bonus material packed onto the five-disc set that it’s hard to choose just one highlight, but despite the inclusion of seven audio commentaries, a 30-minute making-of featurette, and an interactive encyclopedia about George R.R. Martin’s expansive world, there’s one extra that goes above and beyond the rest. “Anatomy of an Episode” is an in-depth look at the making of Episode Six (“A Golden Crown”) that features cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage detailing the various aspects of virtually every sequence in the episode as it plays in the bottom corner of your screen.
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is one of those movies that my friends and I watched ad nauseum throughout our high school years, and it was ultimately very instrumental in my appreciation of a whole other level of comedy – one that wasn’t exclusively juvenile or clever, but rather a brilliant mixture of the two. I had never seen anything like it at the time, and 15 years later (and nearly 30 since its original theatrical release), “Holy Grail” remains one of the funniest, silliest and all-around strangest films ever made. It’s everything that a comedy classic should be, complete with memorable characters (most of which are played, quite impressively, by the Monty Python guys), a seemingly endless supply of laughs, and quotable lines so instantly recognizable that they could probably end wars. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit optimistic on my part, but the movie is a good indicator of whether you’ll get along with someone, because you’d have to be pretty deranged not to enjoy “Holy Grail.”
Blu-ray Highlight: It’s a little surprising that a movie as popular as “Holy Grail” has never produced any quality bonus material before, but fans of the film will definitely enjoy the new collection of outtakes and extended scenes presented by co-director Terry Jones. It’s just too bad that the “Holy Book of Days” Second Screen iPad app wasn’t available to sample prior to release, because the interactive production guide – which recreates the 28 days on location with never-before-seen outtakes, stills, diaries, sketches and more – sounds exactly like the type of special feature that the movie so richly deserves.
Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar has made some fairly unconventional films over the years, but “The Skin I Live In” is messed up even for him. An incredibly unique piece of body horror that doesn’t really feel like horror at all, the film plays like a mix between “Oldboy” and “The Crying Game.” It’s difficult to get into too many details without ruining some of the more shocking moments, but Almodóvar does well to keep things close to his chest until he’s ready to reveal the next piece of the puzzle. Antonio Banderas delivers a chilling performance as the mad scientist who doesn’t seem all that crazy on the outside, while Elena Anaya is also great as the captive/guinea pig that Banderas’ surgeon obsesses over. Although “The Skin I Live In” is far from Almodóvar’s best work (none of the characters are very compassionate, and that’s what ultimately prevents the film from being as amazing as it could have been), but it’s still a must-watch for fans of the director and disturbing movies in general.
Blu-ray Highlight: The best extra on the disc is also a Blu-ray exclusive – a Q&A with director Pedro Almodóvar from his recent visit to USC moderated by film journalist Anne Thompson. Where a lot of Q&As typically just discuss the subject’s latest film, however, this one covers a big chunk of his career, spanning from his youth to “The Skin I Live In.”