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.
WHAT: When their space shuttle is destroyed by hurtling debris from a damaged Russian satellite, U.S. astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are left adrift in space with limited oxygen and a minimal chance of survival.
WHY: It’s been six years since Alfonso Cuarón’s last feature film – the criminally underrated “Children of Men” – but his outer space survival thriller was well worth the wait. “Gravity” is the kind of movie that will likely change the way films are made in the future. From the stunning, single-take opening sequence that lasts more than 12 minutes, to the numerous set pieces throughout, “Gravity” is such a technical marvel that it looks like Cuarón shot the whole damn thing in space. Though the story is ridiculously simple, not a single second of its 91-minute runtime is wasted, extracting so much suspense from the film’s terrifying setup that the brief injections of comedy (courtesy of George Clooney’s easygoing astronaut) are a welcome reprieve from the almost unrelenting intensity. Sandra Bullock delivers one of the best performances of her career as the rookie astronaut caught up in a seemingly impossible situation, but the real star of “Gravity” is Cuarón himself, and he deserves every bit of praise for creating what can only be described as pure movie magic.
EXTRAS: In addition to an excellent, 107-minute making-of featurette, the Blu-ray includes shot breakdowns for five scenes, a short film titled “Aningaaq” from co-writer Jonas Cuaron, and the documentary “Collision Point” narrated by Ed Harris.
FINAL VERDICT: BUY
WHAT: When Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) discovers an ancient power known as the Aether, she unknowingly awakens Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston), the leader of the Dark Elves who plans to use that power to plunge the world back into darkness. Against his father’s wishes, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) comes to Jane’s rescue in order to stop Malekith before his sinister plan can be completed.
WHY: I’m a really big fan of the first “Thor,” so my expectations were pretty high going into this sequel, and unfortunately, “The Dark World” fails to live up to them. Though there are some really great moments throughout, the movie is weakened by what is easily the worse villain of the Marvel films thus far. Nothing against Christopher Eccleston, but Malekith looks like a C-list “Star Trek” villain with similarly uninspired end-of-the-world ambitions. Additionally, Sif and the Warriors Three are criminally underused – something that will hopefully be remedied should there be a third installment. Most of what does work in the sequel is carried over from its predecessor. Tom Hiddlestone continues to prove why Loki is Marvel’s greatest asset, because as soon as he enters the film, it gets a lot more interesting, thanks in part to his excellent chemistry with Chris Hemsworth. The Earth-based scenes also feature some pretty big laughs, and the final act is a lot of fun. “The Dark World” isn’t quite on the same level as we’ve come to expect from Marvel, but it doesn’t make me want another “Thor” film any less.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release is headlined by a new Marvel One-Shot titled “All Hail the King” (with Ben Kingsley reprising his “Iron Man 3” role) and an audio commentary with director Alan Taylor, producer Kevin Feige, co-star Tom Hiddleston and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau. There’s also a two-part featurette on the relationship between Thor and Loki, a short featurette on composer Brian Tyler’s score, some deleted and extended scenes, and a behind-the-scenes look at “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: High school student Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) doesn’t quite know what she wants out of life, but all that changes when she meets Emma (Lea Seydoux), a blue-haired, free-spirited artist who takes Adele under her wing as she discovers desire, love and, ultimately, loss.
WHY: Three-hour French movies aren’t normally my cup of tea, but director Abdellatif Kechiche’s superb coming-of-age love story is a rare exception. Though the lesbian drama has been mired in controversy since its Cannes premiere, there’s a good reason why “Blue is the Warmest Color” has won just about every major prize for Best Foreign Language Film. (Sadly, it’s ineligible for the Academy Awards due to a silly technicality.) Sure, the poorly edited time jumps in the latter half are a little confusing, and the sex scenes are more gratuitous than they needed to be, but those minor flaws are forgivable when you have a pair of actors as phenomenal as Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux steering the ship. The former, in particular, delivers such a fearless but vulnerable and emotionally affecting performance that it’s surprising she wasn’t a bigger part of the Oscar discussion. Exarchopoulous completely pours herself (and then some) into the role, and it’s her star-making turn that makes this unflinchingly honest look at the trials and tribulations of love so captivating.
EXTRAS: Surprising for a Criterion release, the only extra is an illustrated booklet with an essay by critic B. Ruby Rich.
FINAL VERDICT: BUY
WHAT: Convinced that he’s just won $1 million after he receives a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize letter in the mail, booze-addled crank Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) embarks on a road trip with his son David (Will Forte) to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize. After an accident forces them to take a detour through Woody’s childhood hometown, news of his good fortune turns him into a local celebrity, despite David’s insistence that he hasn’t actually won anything.
WHY: Alexander Payne isn’t a very prolific filmmaker, but the movies that he does make are of the highest quality. At least, that was the case before “Nebraska,” which marks the director’s first bad film of his career. Well, not exactly bad per se, but the black-and-white dramedy is surprisingly mediocre for someone whose other movies are counted among the best American-made films of the past 15 years. This is the only time that Payne hasn’t been directly involved in the screenwriting process, and it definitely shows. Bob Nelson’s pedestrian script is either loaded with terrible dialogue or the mostly amateur supporting cast (Payne’s attempt to achieve a sense of Midwestern realism) just makes it sound that way. Whatever the case, it doesn’t work as intended. It also doesn’t help that the film is way too long, because there simply isn’t enough material to warrant its 115-minute runtime. Though the movie features some well-placed laughs and good (but overrated) performances by Bruce Dern and June Squibb, “Nebraska” never really goes anywhere.
EXTRAS: Despite being the only extra on the disc, the included making-of featurette covers a wide variety of topics, including the screenplay, casting, location shooting and the decision to film the movie in black and white.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT