Blu Tuesday: La La Land 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 social media with your friends.

“La La Land”

Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” was my favorite film of 2014, so the bar was set pretty high for his next project, a loving homage to the big, bold and colorful musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age featuring two of today’s brightest stars. Thankfully, “La La Land” is every bit as enchanting as you’ve heard. Though it doesn’t have the most original story, the movie gets by on the strength of its delightful musical numbers and the irresistible charm of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who radiate the kind of old-school glamour that feeds into the film’s nostalgic spirit. For a movie about chasing your dreams in a town known for crushing them, “La La Land” is surprisingly optimistic until its bittersweet end, providing the kind of Technicolor escapism that the world needs more of these days.

Extras include an audio commentary by writer/director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz, over an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a look at filming some of the musical sequences) and much more. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Underworld: Blood Wars”

It’s pretty amazing that the “Underworld” series is still kicking after all these years, because from a creative standpoint, it ran out of steam three movies ago. Though you have to applaud Kate Beckinsale’s commitment to the franchise, she’s just as much to blame for keeping this crapfest going. What began as a slick and stylish genre flick with a clever twist on vampire/werewolf mythology has quickly devolved into a series of dull and moronic sequels, none more so than “Blood Wars,” which takes the cake for the way it so carelessly defies logic. Not even the action sequences (one of the franchise’s few saving graces) are very good this time around, although Selene does rip out a dude’s spinal cord, so it has that going for it.

Extras include a series of featurettes on production and the film’s various characters, as well as a digital version of the official graphic novel. FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Girl with All the Gifts”

Based on the 2014 novel by Mike Carey (who also wrote the screen adaptation), “The Girl with All the Gifts” is a zombie movie with a heart. Newcomer Sennia Nanua is excellent as the young girl who may hold the cure to the fungal virus that has wiped out most of humanity, brilliantly conveying the internal conflict between her childlike innocence and animalistic urges, while Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close provide great support as the survivors trying to protect her. Though it bears some resemblance to Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” and the survival horror game “The Last of Us,” “The Girl with All the Gifts” does just enough – from its dynamic relationships to the intriguing moral questions that it poses – to distinguish itself as a unique and solid addition to the genre.

Extras include a behind-the-scenes look at making the film. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Animal Kingdom: The Complete First Season”

Loosely based on David Michôd’s Australian crime thriller of the same name, “Animal Kingdom” plays like a low-rent version of “Sons of Anarchy” minus the great writing and performances. Though Ellen Barkin was an inspired to choice to star as the criminal family’s tough matriarch (a role that earned Jacki Weaver an Oscar nomination for the 2010 film), the character has lost most of her bite in the transition to the small screen. The same goes for the rest of the cast as well, but that’s to be expected when you replace Joel Edgerton and Ben Mendelsohn with TV-friendly stand-ins like Scott Speedman and Shawn Hatosy. Although the actors do the best they can with the material provided, there’s nothing about this hackneyed macho soap opera that you haven’t already seen a hundred times before.

Extras include six featurettes on the characters, stunts and other aspects of the show, as well as some deleted scenes. FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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