Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns in “VEEP”

We love this photo of Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the cover of Rolling Stone promoting the new season of “VEEP” on HBO. She’s always looked hot and has been one of the funniest women on television for years. “VEEP” made our list last year of the best shows on television, so we’re looking forward to another great season.

  

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Blu Tuesday: The Wolf of Wall Street, Veep and The Great Beauty

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 Wolf of Wall Street”

WHAT: After losing his job on Wall Street following the events of Black Monday, go-getter Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) opens up his own firm selling penny stocks to the wealthy, turning Jordan and his closest pals (including Jonah Hill) into millionaires overnight. Living the high life with his gorgeous new wife (Margot Robbie), Jordan thinks he’s invincible – that is, until he catches wind that the FBI has launched an investigation into the firm for stock market manipulation and other related crimes.

WHY: It’s been a while since Martin Scorsese’s last truly great film, but the director has rebounded in style with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” highlighted by Terrence Winter’s hilarious script and Leonard DiCaprio’s brilliant turn as Jordan Belfort. You’ve never seen the actor quite like this before, and he’s in top form as the notorious stockbroker, delivering what is arguably his best performance with Scorsese yet. The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Jonah Hill in another award-worthy turn, up-and-comer Margot Robbie and Matthew McConaughey in a short but memorable cameo. Loud, flashy and totally obscene, the movie is like a private tour through Belfort’s excessive, hard-partying lifestyle, including easily one of the greatest sequences of the year. (Hint: it involves a highly potent strain of Quaaludes.) Though it’s a little too long for its own good, the characters are so magnetic and the dialogue so fast and funny that “The Wolf of Wall Street” is hard not to enjoy. It’s Scorsese’s best film in years, and one that will only get better with time.

EXTRAS: Regrettably, there’s only one special feature in the form of “The Wolf Pack,” a behind-the-scenes look at bringing Jordan Belfort’s life to the big screen with interviews from Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and others

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Veep: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: U.S. Vice President Selina Myers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff navigate the murky waters of Washington, D.C. as she deals with a presidential scandal, crooked congressmen, a government shutdown and more

WHY: The first season of “Veep” showed immense promise, but it was clear that it still had some growing to do behind the scenes, and that growth is evident in the show’s second year. Granted, the situations that Selina and her staff find themselves in are still incredibly ridiculous (and if even remotely close to what actually happens at the White House, a little frightening), but it feels like there’s much more at stake this time around. The ensemble cast has also had more time to gel, and they’re even funnier than before as a result. Every actor plays their part perfectly – from Anna Chlumsky’s loyal chief of staff, to Matt Walsh’s blockhead publicist, to Timothy Simmons’ oddball White House liaison – and you needn’t look any further than Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Emmy speech for evidence of that. The addition of Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn to the cast was also a shrewd move on the part of Armando Iannucci, but the show lives and dies by Louis-Dreyfus’s hilarious performance as the so-called Veep. She’s one of the funniest women in show business, and with the exception of Elaine Benes, this will likely go down as the best role of her career.

EXTRAS: In addition to four audio commentary tracks featuring members of the cast and crew (including creator Armando Iannucci and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus), there are deleted and alternate scenes for each episode.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Great Beauty”

WHAT: For decades, journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) has served as Rome’s self-described king of high society, gallivanting through an endless series of lavish nightclubs and parties with his equally pretentious friends. But on his 65th birthday, Jep begins to look back on his superficial life against the beautiful backdrop of the Eternal City.

WHY: “The Great Beauty” may have won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but there were far better movies released last year. Felliniesque in its self-indulgence and general lack of focus, the film is unable to maintain the high-energy pace of the opening dance party, ultimately succumbing to its sluggish, 142-minute runtime. The root of the problem is director Paolo Sorrentino and co-writer Umberto Contarello’s script, which never seems sure what it wants to say. Characters and subplots come and go with little explanation, including a storyline involving Jep’s childhood love that’s brought up early on and never mentioned again until the very end. Toni Servillo delivers a solid performance in the lead role, but his character is too misanthropic for the audience to care what happens to him, contradicting his supposed reformation every chance he gets. If there’s any reason to invest the two-plus hours watching “The Great Beauty,” it’s for cinematographer Luca Bigazzi’s gorgeous visuals, which capture the spirit and splendor of Rome in such a manner that it comes as a close to experiencing the real thing that some people will ever get.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a conversation between director Paolo Sorrentino and Italian cultural critic Antonio Monda, interviews with actor Toni Servillo and co-writer Umberto Contarello, deleted scenes and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Phillip Lopate.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Bullz-Eye’s 2013 TV Power Rankings

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When we published our first TV Power Rankings in 2005 listing the best shows on television, the revolution in TV viewing habits was well underway with cable shows like “The Sopranos” raising the bar for TV dramas. Meanwhile, DVDs and on-demand viewing started to change the way we watched our favorite programs and discovered new ones. Since then, the changes have only accelerated, and now many teenagers and people of all ages are addicted to streaming TV, watching everything by their own schedules. Many have even “cut the cord” and eliminated their cable TV subscriptions altogether. Water-cooler discussions about “must-see TV” have given way to shows aimed at niche audiences.

With these developments, the quality of the shows has improved dramatically. That may not be true for sitcoms and most of the stuff on network TV, but many have called this the new “golden era of television,” as the cable networks in particular have given talented writers and directors the freedom to create masterpieces like “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.” Now with Netflix triumphantly entering the fray with the excellent “House of Cards,” the bar keeps getting raised even higher. I watch fewer movies these days as the quality rarely matches that of the best TV shows, which also have the advantage of developing characters over a much longer time period.

“Breaking Bad” has been one of our favorites for years, and it tops our list again as it completes its final season. When it’s all said and done, it will be part of every conversation of the best TV shows ever. Our list is dominated by cable TV dramas and we’ve left off reality shows. Some are entertaining, but none match the quality of the programs on our list.

We’ve kept spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to avoid some of the write-ups if you want to avoid learning about plot developments.

1. Breaking Bad

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Expectations for the fifth season of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” would’ve been running high anyway, given that Season 4 concluded with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) bringing an explosive end to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) while also revealing just how far he was willing to sink to get things his way. It doesn’t get much lower than poisoning a child to trick your former partner into working for you again, but the knowledge that it truly was the beginning of the end (i.e. the final season) really amped up the adrenaline. With posters for Season 5 showing Walt surrounded by stacks of cash and emblazoned with the tagline “Hail to the King,” the question at hand was whether or not Mr. White would be able to keep his ego in check successfully enough to take over Gus’s meth empire. The answer: not entirely. Although Mike (Jonathan Banks) agreed to join the operation more out of an attempt to help keep Jesse (Aaron Paul) safe, he quickly grew frustrated and tried to bail out, only to end up in a terminal tussle with Walt. Meanwhile, the domestic situation in the White house has reached all new levels of tension, thanks to a power struggle of sorts between Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn). As the first half of Season 5 wrapped up, however, the biggest reveal of all took place, with Walt’s DEA-agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), finally discovering that he’s the infamous Heisenberg. This show has yet to disappoint, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to start now. – Will Harris. Check out our “Breaking Bad” blog here and our Fan Hub page here.

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Blu Tuesday: Political Edition

The hits keep on coming this week with several more high-profile releases, but you better enjoy it now, because the next few weeks don’t look nearly as promising. In fact, there are so few quality Blu-rays hitting stores in late March/early April that I’ll either be skipping my column during those weeks, or I’ll combine them into one post. With that said, there’s plenty worth being excited about today, with such a heavy emphasis on politically-themed films and TV series that you’d almost think it was November again.

“Lincoln”

Steven Spielberg has been trying to make a movie about Abraham Lincoln for so long that it seemed like it might never happen. But after years stuck in development, his passion project finally got made, albeit with a different actor in the title role. Though Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly no slouch, the prospect of Liam Neeson reteaming with his “Schindler’s List” director was a lot more exciting. Nevertheless, Day-Lewis proves himself a more than adequate replacement as the 16th U.S. President, commanding the screen with a vigor that combats the film’s languid pace. His Lincoln is stubborn and stoic, but also witty when the mood permits, and though he was the only cast member to win an Oscar for his performance, the acting is top-notch all around, including fellow nominees Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field, and James Spader as a slimy lobbyist. While the more bureaucratic scenes drag on for too long, they’re a big part of what “Lincoln” is all about and provide some of the film’s best moments. The movie does get a little too caught up in the intricacies of the political process at times, but it’s an engaging behind the scenes look at one of the country’s most historic moments.

Blu-ray Highlight: A review copy didn’t arrive in time, but some quick research shows that there are two versions of the Blu-ray available: a barebones two-disc edition with a pair of brief featurettes and a four-disc edition with an additional 65 minutes of bonus material. If you’re a history buff, or you just really like behind-the-scenes extras, go with the latter set. Otherwise, the two-disc version should suffice.

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