Blu Tuesday: Gravity, Thor: The Dark World 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 Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Gravity”

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

“Thor: The Dark World”

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

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2013 Year End Movie Review: David Medsker

medsker

It is not gross hyperbole to suggest that, box office be damned, the last couple of years have not been Hollywood’s finest. With all due respect to “The Artist” and “Argo,” the previous two Best Picture winners and fine movies, neither of them would have won had they been released in 2010. In fact, “The Artist” wouldn’t have even made my Top 10 list that year, while “Argo” would have slotted slightly ahead of “The King’s Speech” (that year’s Best Picture winner, by the way), which means it would have ranked as the sixth best movie that year. Yes, 2010 was that good, and everything since has been, as far as I’m concerned, a great disappointment.

Enter 2013, and the first time since 2010 that a movie truly excited me, to the point where I wanted to stay and watch it again the second it ended. Then I felt sad because Roger Ebert hadn’t lived long enough to see it. I’m really going to miss him. He was a damned fine writer.

Sadly, I still don’t have enough movies to make a top ten list. This is a combination of two things: missing some daytime screenings (stupid day job), and being rather underwhelmed by some movies with big time buzz, including the one that will likely win Best Picture. That won’t be a travesty along the lines of “Crash” taking the trophy in 2005, but unworthy of the honor just the same.

My Favorite Movies of 2013

1. “GRAVITY

Only one movie comes even close to this one. I was thrilled when Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film “Children of Men” won my local film critics group’s award for Movie of the Year, and what he does here dwarves that in terms of technical achievement, while Sandra Bullock delivers as raw a performance as she’s ever given in her life. Even better, the movie is a mere 91 minutes long. Showing people something they’ve never seen before, while showing respect for the audience’s time: now that is my idea of a modern-day filmmaker.

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2. “AMERICAN HUSTLE

This is one of those ‘little moments’ movies, where the story is thoroughly engaging, but it’s the little bits that will stick in your head, and each of the leads has one. Bradley Cooper impersonating Louis C.K. towards the end. Christian Bale letting it all hang out at the party while listening to Duke Ellington. Jennifer Lawrence and the “science oven.” (Lawrence actually has two, if you include her lip sync of “Live and Let Die.”) Jeremy Renner explaining all of the different things you can heat in a science oven (all Italian foods). Amy Adams introducing Lady Greensly. “American Hustle” has a gonzo spirit, but it’s a smoke screen to distract you from the fact that at least one of the characters at any point in time is already thinking two moves ahead. Brilliant stuff.

3. “HER

If “American Hustle” is a ‘little moments’ movie, “Her” is the one that will lead people to have book club-type conversations after seeing it. If the idea of someone developing feelings for an operating system seems odd on the surface, it won’t once you see Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) give up people for Samantha (Scarlett Johannson), who satisfies him in ways that real women can’t. Johannson will probably be overlooked by the Academy for the same reasons that motion capture master Andy Serkis has been shunned (only her voice appears in the movie), but she delivers a heartbreaking and utterly believable performance as the zeroes-and-ones Samantha.

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Movie Review: “Nebraska”

Starring
Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk
Director
Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne isn’t a particularly 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. “Nebraska” sees Payne return to his home state for a relatively simple story about a father-son road trip, and though it features some good laughs and decent performances, the movie never really goes anywhere.

Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant, a stubborn, booze-addled crank who believes he’s just won $1 million from a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize letter he received in the mail. It’s the kind of magazine subscription scam that most people have been targeted by at least once in their life, but Woody doesn’t know any better, so when his wife Kate (June Squibb) refuses to drive him from their home in Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize, he tries walking there instead. When his son David (Will Forte) learns of Woody’s foolish behavior, he agrees to drive him there just so he’ll shut up. After an accident forces them to take a detour through Woody’s childhood hometown, news of his good fortune spreads quickly, turning him into a local celebrity with his family and the other townspeople, despite David’s insistence that he hasn’t actually won anything.

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