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US Blu-ray & DVD releases this week: La La Land, Underworld: Blood Wars, Detour and more


La La Land

La La Land – As with any movie that is a huge hit, La La Land has become the recipient of a sort of public backlash. Apparently, it was too popular, because people had to suddenly decide it wasn’t all that great. Well, those people are wrong. La La Land is absolutely astounding, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t really love musicals. It’s fun and dramatic and heartfelt and charming and bittersweet and magical, and Emma Stone (who deservedly won the Oscar) turns in the single best performance I’ve seen in years. With all the attention being heaped on the flub at the Oscars that resulted in La La Land being announced as the winner when Moonlight actually won, the real story here is that the superior film lost. La La Land was my number two film of 2016, so ignore any backlash and fall in love with it for yourself.

Underworld: Blood Wars – Despite the many (many many MANY) flaws in Underworld: Blood Wars, there’s a fun film in here somewhere. Yes, the story manages to be both overly convoluted and completely unimportant, the film seems to think that audience members can remember anything that happened in the previous four films, and it takes itself way too seriously. But the action sequences (and there are plenty of them) are pretty damn cool, and I ended up having more fun with the movie than I expected to. Bonus points for Theo James (Divergent) and Tobias Menzies (Outlander) being in the cast, as they are both pretty great in everything and add a little flair to the proceedings. This is kind of a terrible movie, but that doesn’t make it unenjoyable.

Donnie Darko (4-Disc Limited Edition)Donnie Darko is such an odd film. And not just because it’s an odd film (which it is.) But it had such a weird journey that it’s almost hard to wrap your brain around. A studio bidding war erupted over the film, which was then shelved and delayed until it was ultimately released and made almost no money at all. Then it became a cult classic on home video, but meanwhile director Richard Kelly has only made one follow-up film, and it was pretty terrible. But now, Donnie Darko is being celebrated with a truly special Special Edition courtesy of Arrow Video. First of all, it’s packaged in a beautiful box that really sets it apart on your shelf. Then you get both the theatrical cut and the director’s cut of the film, plus you get hours and hours of new extra features (as well as many archival features) and a gorgeous collector’s book. Honestly, this is not only the best version of this movie, but also one of the best special edition releases I’ve seen in a very long time. Or at least in 28 days 6 hours and 42 minutes and 12 seconds.

Animal Kingdom: The Complete First SeasonAnimal Kingdom (the film) was a terrific drama about a criminal family in Australia that starred Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, and Guy Pearce, and Jackie Weaver. Now it’s been (semi)adapted into a TV series, and I’m not really sure it needed to be. To be fair, it’s a well-made show with terrific performances (Ellen Barkin, Scott Speedman, and Shawn Hatosy star), but it’s awfully serious stuff, and I don’t know that it’s the kind of thing I want to watch week-to-week. I think it’s trying to capture the Breaking Bad audience, but it’s a bit too dark for my tastes. I’m sure a lot of people will like it, though.

The Marine 5: Battleground – I like these The Marine movies. Sure, this is the fifth one, and four of the five have gone straight to home video, but since WWE’s Mike “The Miz” Mizanin came on board, they’ve become among the better offerings in the direct-to-video action genre. As with the fourth film in the series, this one is produced by WWE Entertainment and stars numerous WWE stars including Naomi, Heath Slater, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel. Now, none of them are particularly great actors, but this isn’t really the kind of movie that requires great acting chops. This one sees the Miz going up against a biker gang in an abandoned theme park parking garage, and it’s pretty fun. The action sequences are solid and the film moves at a quick pace. Worth it for fans of WWE or just decent action flicks.

The Girl With All The Gifts – Probably one of the more unique takes on the zombie genre of late, The Girl With All the Gifts is a pretty cool little flick. With a focus more on the science of the zombie virus, the movie (based on a novel) starts off dark, and then gets darker, more intense, and more action-packed as it goes. One word of warning for zombie purists: the zombies are fast. I know that annoys some people, but I don’t mind it. Add to that some much better performances than you usually see in the zombie genre, and a smart script, and the result is the second really great zombie movie this year (the first being the amazing Train to Busan.) Check it out.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Detour – I’ve been singing young actor Tye Sheridan’s praises for a few years now, so I’ll watch just about anything he’s in. Detour is a pretty typical thriller, with almost a kind of Strangers on a Train vibe to it (although not really Hitchcockian in tone or style, just in story.) While the story doesn’t break any new ground, the film has its share of twists and turns and nail-biting moments, and the three lead actors (especially Sheridan) are all quite good, giving the film some much-needed heft. I can see why it went straight to video, but if you like a solid thriller and have 90 minutes to kill, this one will fit the bill quite nicely.
  • Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution – From the same filmmaking team that created the most recent adaptation of And Then There Were None (my favorite Agatha Christie story) comes this new adaptation of The Witness for the Prosecution. Starring Toby Jones, Kim Cattrall, and Andrea Riseborough, this is another electrifying Christie movie. More of a courtroom thriller than many of Christie’s books, this one elevates the genre. The performances are terrific, the writing is strong, and the story is gripping. Recommended if you’re a fan of mysteries or courtroom dramas.
  • The Vampire Bat: Special Edition – An early vampire movie (1933) starring Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglas, The Vampire Bat has been in the public domain for years. Which means you too could own a crappy, barely visible copy of the film put out by a quick-buck fly-by-night company. Now the film has been picked up by Film Detective and has been restored so that you can finally watch this classic film in (relative) high definition. This Blu-ray release also includes a new commentary as well as a featurette on Mervyn Douglas featuring his son. It’s a great package and the film has never looked better.
  • Peanuts by Schulz: Go Team Go! – I love this DVD. I’ve always been a huge Peanuts fan, and I’ve seen pretty much every Peanuts special that ever came out. This new collection of animated shorts includes 19 shorts that run about three hours total. What’s nice is that with such a breadth of short films you see a lot of the Peanuts characters getting the limelight, so you see a lot of familiar faces beyond just Charlie Brown and Snoopy. It’s a lot of fun, and kids and adults alike will enjoy it equally.
  • Catfight – So, this is an interesting one. Sandra Oh and Anne Heche play old friends who have drifted apart, and through a casual conversation, they end up in a brutal, no-holds-barred fight that gets more and more graphic and intense as the film goes on. Now, I liked writer/director Onur Tukel’s last film, Applesauce (an oddball movie that was surprisingly good), but this one didn’t do it for me. Heche and Oh turn in good performances when they’re not just beating the crap out of each other, but the film has a dark, brutal side to it and the humor that’s supposed to make it a black comedy seems to be missing. Not for me.
  • Craft in America: Nature – PBS’s popular show continues on DVD with Craft in America: Nature, which focuses on “artists who share their passion, skills and creativity that they receive from the land.” This go-around obviously focuses on art made with natural materials, giving it a different feel from previous entries, as these crafts have a unique aesthetic to them.
  • FRONTLINE: Battle For Iraq – This gripping hour-long episode of Frontline features embedded reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad going with troops on dangerous trip inside Mosul. There are some extremely harrowing moments, and this is far from just a typical news program that drones on about the situation in Iraq. It’s intense and educational, and even though there might be a sense of middle east overload out there, this is a program that sets itself apart from the usual news reporting.
  • Blackhearts – I don’t know much about Black Metal, but Sina from Iran, Hector from Colombia and Kaiadas from Greece certainly do. This engaging documentary follows the three of them as they travel to Norway, which is apparently like the Mecca for Black Metal music. We basically get three stories wrapped up into one, as each of these three have a very different relationship with the music and different reasons for going to Norway. Don’t worry if you’re not a Black Metal fan; it’s not a documentary about the music so much as it is about the people it affects and the world it lives in. Definitely worth a look.

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