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Apotheosis: Why “American Gods” is the culmination of Bryan Fuller’s career

With just two episodes, the new Starz show “American Gods” has displayed more originality, depth and complexity of tone than most TV series achieve in multiple seasons. Moving effortlessly between grim darkness and fantastical whimsy, it plunges into the multifaceted religious experience while also investigating the human experience. And although it is based on Neil Gaiman’s excellent book, this slice of television perfection could only have been delivered into a new medium with the magical realism of showrunner Bryan Fuller. Throughout his career, Fuller has shown an indelible ability to uniquely traverse between the light and dark, but it’s not until “American Gods” that Fuller was able to perfectly unify so many of his particular idiosyncrasies, obsessions and visions.

As a writer and producer, Fuller has worked on many beloved projects over the years, whether it’s his start in the “Star Trek” universe, his canceled-too-soon dramedy “Wonderfalls” or his work shepherding the cheerleader storyline in the first season of NBC’s “Heroes.” He also tried his hand with ethereal creations in “Dead Like Me” and dabbled in the comically macabre world of the Munsters with the failed reboot, “Mockingbird Lane.” But ultimately, the two shows that best reflect his ethos and duality are “Pushing Daisies” and “Hannibal.” While both cater around an eccentric cast in a sort of hyperrealistic version of life, their tones could not have been more different. And it wasn’t until “American Gods” that Fuller found a way to unify them under one story.

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Blu Tuesday: Heat 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.

“Heat: Director’s Definitive Edition”

Michael Mann’s 1995 crime thriller is one of the best films in the genre, and it’s aged remarkably well in the 20-plus years since its release. Though the movie is perhaps best known for the iconic diner sequence between stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, whose cat-and-mouse tension permeates the entire film despite only sharing two scenes together, “Heat” has so many memorable moments (including the opening heist and the climactic shootout) that it continues to be imitated to this day. Although there’s nothing different about the director’s cut featured here than the one that appears on the 2009 Blu-ray (for all intents and purpose, this is the official version of the movie), the new 4K remaster that was supervised by Mann is such a treat that it makes this rerelease a must-own for diehard fans.

Extras include an audio commentary by director Michael Mann, a three-part making-of featurette, the 2016 Academy panel with the cast and crew, a Q&A from the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, deleted scenes and more. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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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

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Midwestern Mayhem: Why the “Fargo” TV series is vital and brilliant

William S. Burroughs once wrote, “America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.” It’s a bold, if apocryphal, reading of the undercurrents of the country but not without its merits. The United States has always promoted and touted the greatest ideals for humanistic liberty and morality in the history of the world. However, that rhetoric is at odds with the practical reality of a country divided by prejudice, greed, self-interest and ultimately craven violence. The dichotomy between the ideal and the actual creates a moral spectrum on which people fall depending on their own beliefs and actions, and it’s also the main theme of the best television show currently airing in the U.S.

Based on the incredible 1996 film “Fargo” by the Coen brothers, FX’s TV series of the same name uses that movie (and indeed the entire Coen filmography) as a jumping off point to deliver some of the best mixture of dark comedy, horrific violence and complicated characterization since “Breaking Bad” went off the air. Spearheaded by executive producer Noah Hawley and his team of writers and directors, the show has used the same snowy setting of the Coen Brothers’ movie over the course of two seasons (and another currently airing) to examine what happens when the chaotic and the orderly clash, and how people gravitate to one side or another in the midst of a moral maelstrom. By taking on such a weighty topic, usually only as a theme or undercurrent, Hawley and company deliver a fascinating and unique look into a world slightly removed from our own but nonetheless existing as a funhouse mirror of the country’s own muddled soul.

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Blu Tuesday: Hidden Figures 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.

“Hidden Figures”

“Hidden Figures” is a crowd-pleaser in the purest sense – it’s a charming, heartwarming and inspirational tale that skillfully combines light-hearted comedy with racially-charged drama to shine a light on the African-American women who helped put John Glenn and others into space during a time when neither African-Americans nor women were given those kinds of opportunities. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are excellent as the real-life mathematicians on which the film is based, while Kevin Costner provides good support as the NASA boss in charge of the space program. Although the movie hits a number of familiar beats along the way (after all, it’s basically an underdog sports drama for the STEM crowd), there’s nothing ordinary about the incredible true story at the heart of it.

Extras include an audio commentary by director/co-writer Theodore Melfi and actress Taraji P. Henson, a five-part making-of featurette and more. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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