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New on DVD and Blu-ray Week of February 25-March 3

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By Harley Lond - 02/25/14 at 02:06 AM CT

"Gravity": Despite its impressive boxoffice take (past the $250 million mark in the U.S.) and it's technical wizardry, Alfonso Cuaron's tale of a medical engineer (Sandra Bullock) on her first shuttle mission who is stranded alone in the emptiness of space after her ship is destroyed is really a slight piece of work. Yes, the special effects are breathtaking -- and the 3D stupendous (I can't remember the last time I dodged objects coming off the screen -- must have been during "It Came From Outer Space") and I certainly feared for Bullock's life as she tried to figure out a way to return to the Earth. But there's no depth here, no greater backdrop Sandra Bullock Finds Herself On Her Own in the top 2013 drama Gravity for the characters, no context, no morals to be made, no social issues to be explored (subtexts that are the hallmark of all great science fiction). It's "All Is Lost" set in outer space, a gripping, exciting, scary and nerve shattering tale. But it's still a video game for the big screen: Fun while it lasts ... but afterwards, there's nothing to take home. If "Gravity" had appeared in print before it made it's way to the big screen, it would have appeared as a short story -- there's not enough substance here to sustain anything more. Co-stars George Clooney as a doomed astronaut. Extras include several technical featurettes; "Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space" (narrated by Ed Harris), a documentary on space junk (which plays a major role in the film); and a short film by Jonas Cuaron ("Gravity's" co-writer). From Warner.

"Nebraska": I'm not quite sure whether director Alexander Payne is laughing with or at the characters in his critically acclaimed film about the perambulations of Woody Grant, a booze-addled old man, and his estranged son, as they travel from Montana to Nebraska to claim the "fortune" the senior citizen thinks he "won" as per a Publishers Clearing House-type sweepstakes letter. Along the way they stop off at Woody's home town, Hawthorne, Nebraska, where he meets up with relatives, friends and enemies, and settles some old scores. The film is riddled with unlikable characters (from lead Bruce Dern on down to most of the supporting actors), silly sequences and implausible situations. Shot in black and white (for no apparent reason other than to show how monochromatic the lives of these middle-Americans are), the film co-stars Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk and Rance Howard. Extras include several behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Paramount.

"Thor: The Dark World": You should know by now that I'm no big fan of comic book heroes ported to the big screen (exceptions: The Dark Knight and The Avengers) and this second Thor big-screen adventure gave me endless headaches as I tried to figure out what was going on. Yes, I watched the first Thor but, without any comic book cheat sheets in front of me, I got lost and confused right off the bat -- it took far too long to understand the deal with the Dark World and Malekith and the Aeather. But even after that light bulb went off over my head, I had other issues with the film. To wit: 1) What's with Natalie Portman? Her acting here is pretty wooden -- we understand there were creative issues between Portman and the filmmakers and, because of her contract, she reluctantly took part in the production. But still, when all is said and done, she's not love interest material -- she has no sex appeal. But Chris Hemsworth, on the other hand ... 2) This film gives elves a bad name. 3) There's drop-dead obnoxious "comedy relief" with Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård; how could the talented Swedish actor stoop so low as to run around in his underwear? 4) And please, what's with Algrim/Kurse? In the end, of course, it's all about Thor saving the universe from the vengeful Malekith who returns to plunge everything back into darkness -- and about the battle scenes and fights. Oh well. Co-stars Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Alice Krige. Extras include extended and deleted scenes; a gag reel; commentary; and several behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Disney.


The highlight of the week: Three films from The Criterion Collection, all in Criterion's Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Editions loaded with extras (and booklets) in sumptuous packaging:

"King of the Hill" (1993): There's not a Steven Soderbergh film that doesn't engage and this is no exception, a gem hidden away for too many years. This was Soderbergh's first Hollywood studio production (his independent debut, "sex, lies, and videotape," had won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival a few years earlier) and it's a growing-up story set in King of the Hill Criterion Collection Blu-Ray Cover St. Louis during the Depression that follows the daily struggles of a resourceful and imaginative adolescent (Jesse Bradford) who, after his tubercular mother is sent to a sanatorium, must survive on his own in a run-down hotel during his salesman father's long business trips. The camerawork is exquisite, at once reminding one of the lingering, colorful shots of a Terrence Malick and the frightening moving close-ups of an Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick. It's an exquisite period piece adapted from the memoir by the novelist A. E. Hotchner. New high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by Soderbergh and supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Larry Blake, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray.

"Tess" (1979): After a half-dozen mystery and horror films, in 1978 Roman Polanski turned to Thomas hardy's 1891 classic "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" to film his first love story. The multiple-Oscar-winning film is a meticulously crafted and directed period piece, at times intimate and at times a sweeping interpretation of Hardy's moral tale, a criticism of the sexual Tess Criterion Collection Blu-Ray Cover and class mores of 19th century England. Tess, a strong-willed peasant girl (Nastassja Kinski, in a gorgeous breakthrough) is sent by her father to the estate of some local aristocrats to capitalize on a rumor that their families are from the same line. This act seals Tess' face, thrusting her into a world where she's buffeted around by chance and the vicissitudes of life in a dreary world where the only hope for salvation is to marry an aristocrat. Tess indeed falls in love -- and marries, but the universe does not smile upon her. Polanski's camera details the drudgery of lower class existence in the villages and towns of a newly industrialized England. A beautiful film -- if a tad long (almost three hours). In a new 4K digital restoration, supervised by Polanski, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray.

"Breathless" (1960): There was before "Breathless," and there was after "Breathless." And we can never have enough of "Breathless." Criterion has bought us another edition of the seminal film, Jean-Luc Godard's jazzy, free-form, and sexy homage to the American film genres. With its lack of polish, surplus of attitude, anything-goes crime narrative, and effervescent young stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, "Breathless" helped launch the French New Wave and ensured that cinema would never be the same. Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray.


"Mr. Nobody Extended Director's Cut" (2009) is the life story of Nemo Nobody, a 118 year-old man who is the last mortal on Earth after the human race has achieved quasi-immortality. On his deathbed, Nemo shares his life story with a reporter and reviews the choices he made along the way. Yet even with his last breath, a pivotal decision awaits to conclude his destiny. Stars Mr. Nobody Blu-Ray Cover Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Magnolia Home Entertainment ... For years the urban legend of the deadly scarecrow has haunted children, and in one small town, the evil comes to life in "Scarecrow" (2013), starring Lacey Chabert, Robin Dunne and Brittney Wilson. Imprisoned for over 150 years, a deadly Scarecrow seeks revenge on the descendants of its captors after it escapes on the eve of a small town's fall harvest festival. From Cinedigm ... "Ice Soldiers" (2013), starring Dominic Purcell, Adam Beach and Michael Ironside, is a science-fiction militaristic adventure about an expedition that unearths three genetically engineered Russian super soldiers frozen in ice since the height of the Cold War, three killing machines that must be stopped at all costs or risk the total destruction of the Western world. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc, from Sony ... While filming their audition video for a popular reality television show, best friends Nate and Samantha notice Amber Alert DVD Cover several active amber alert signs in the appropriately named "Amber Alert" (2012). To their surprise, they recognize the car traveling in front of them as the vehicle described on the amber alert, and they decide to follow the car, but with police slow to respond, their pursuit quickly turns into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse with a murderous child rapist. Stars Summer Bellessa, Chris Hill, Jasen Wade. From Random Media/Cinedigm ... When a struggling New York actor loses everything in a scam based in South Africa, his two best friends take him to Cape Town to find the scammer with the help of a smooth-talking local in "419" (2012), starring Mike Ivers, Scott Kerns, Ned Thorne and Ezra Mabengeza. The search begins well, but soon takes a dark turn. From MVD Entertainment ... When a distraught woodsman reluctantly agrees to guide two New Yorkers on a deer hunt in the frozen wilderness of northwestern Maine, his sanity begins to slip away as the wreckage that his buck hunting set in motion a year before catches up with him "The Guide" (2013), starring Don Scribner, Stephanie Leone, Jan-David Soutar, Clayton Myers and Nicholas Russell. From Monarch Home Entertainment.


"Jamesy Boy" (2013), starring James Woods, Mary-Louise Parker, Ving Rhames, Taissa Farmiga, Taboo and Spencer Lofranco, is based on the true story of teenager James Burns who goes from a suburban street gang to a maximum-security prison cell surrounded by hardened criminals, turning his life around in prison thanks to the unexpected friendship he forms with a convicted murderer who becomes his mentor. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Phase 4 Films/XLrator Media ... "Lesson Before Love" (2011), starring Kenneth Brown Jr., Shamea Morton, Peyton Coles and Reece Odum, is a contemporary story of modern professional African-Americans looking for a happily ever after. From Breaking Glass Pictures


    • "The Last Elvis" (2012 -- Argentina): John McInerny, Griselda Siciliani, Margarita Lopez. Most evenings in Buenos Aires, "Elvis" Gutierrez is a star -- his singing and stage presence bring back to life the King of Rock 'n' Roll in all his glory. By day, though, Gutierrez slaves away at a dead-end factory job and endures the scorn of his ex-wife; only his young daughter, Lisa Marie, brings any joy outside of his Elvis tribute gigs. Feeling more connected to his stage persona than to the world around him, Gutierrez retreats from reality until a tragic accident forces him to grapple with his real-world responsibilities. From First Run Features. The Last Elvis DVD Cover

    • "Lost in Thailand" (2013 -- China): Xu Zheng, Huang Bo, Wang Baoqiang. Road trip comedy about two rival businessmen who must track down their boss at a Buddhist temple to secure a patent on a revolutionary new fuel additive. Xu catches the first plane to Bangkok, where his plans are delayed by the happy-go-lucky Wang, an unexpected travel companion who opens his eyes to life's true priorities. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Well Go USA.

    • "Twice Born" (2013 -- Italy/Spain): Penelope Cruz, Emile Hirsh, Adnan Haskovic, Saadet Aksoy. A single mother brings her teenage son to the battle-scarred city of Sarajevo, where his father died in the Bosnian conflict years before. From Entertainment One. Twice Born DVD Cover

    • "You Will Be My Son" (2013 -- France): Niels Arestrup, Lorant Deutsch, Anne Marivin, Nicolas Bridet. A story that focuses on the problematic relationship between Paul Marseul, owner of a prestigious vineyard in Saint Emilion and his son, Martin, who works with him on the family estate. Paul is a demanding and passionate wine-maker but is a domineering father, and he's not happy that his son may one day succeed him. When Philippe, the son of the winery's manager, returns from California to look after his father, Paul sees Philip as his ideal son and turns away from his own flesh and blood. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Cohen Media Group.


    In "Adventures of the Penguin King" (2012), Rex, a young King Penguin, has been away from his home for three years, learning to hunt in the deep oceans, but now he's back -- in Penguin City. His mission: to find a mate, settle down and raise a chick -- to become a true Penguin The Swan Princess: A Royal Family Tale DVD Cover King. Documentary narrated by Tim Allen. On DVD, Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray. From Cinedigm ... "The Swan Princess: A Royal Family Tale" (2013) is the fourth sequel in the animated "Swan Princess" franchise; it follows the CGI adventures of Princess Odette and Prince Derek shortly after the Royal Family adopts a young girl named Alise. When Alise disappears, Princess Odette, Prince Derek and their trusted woodland friends must work together to find a way to help her return home. On DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo; both specially marked Combo Pack and DVD packages will include a free, sparkly tiara for young princesses, as well as a free Shutterfly Photo Book ($29.99 value) for their moms. from Sony ... "Transformers Prime: Ultimate Bumblebee" (2013) consists of four action-packed Bumblebee adventures featuring one of the smallest and youngest of the Transformers: Masters and Students," "Operation Bumblebee, Part 1," "Operation Bumblebee, Part 2," "Deadlock." $9.99 from Shout! Factory.


    "Last Stand of the 300 and Other Famous Greek Battles" (2013) is a three-disc set with "The Last Stand of the 300," "Decisive Battles: Thermopylae," "Decisive Battles: Marathon,"Muscle Shoals DVD Cover "Judgment Day at Marathon," "Troy: The Passion of Helen" and "Alexander: Lord of War." $19.98 from Lionsgate ... "Muscle Shoals" (2013), with interviews with music legends Gregg Allman, Clarence Carter, Etta James, Keith Richards, Jimmy Cliff, Bono, Mick Jagger, Alicia Keys, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin and others, reveals how an impoverished town along the Tennessee River inspired some of the most enduring and important music of the 1960s and 70s. From Magnolia Home Entertainment ... "The Royal Family Collection" is a single-disc with five TLC programs on the weddings and lifestyles of the British Royals: "The Royal Wedding," "The Making of a Royal Wedding," "Royalty Astounding: 30 defining Days," "Wild About Prince Harry" and "Untold Stories of a Royal Bridesmaid." $29.93 from Cinedigm.


    "Above Suspicion, Set 3" (2009) is a younger, sassier successor to "Prime Suspect." Based on the bestselling novel "Silent Scream" by Lynda La Plante ("Prime Suspect"), this three-part drama delves into the shallow world of stardom and the harsh realities of deception. When the brutal murder of a famous young actress brings DI Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly) face-to-face with her old boss, DCS James Langton (Ciaran Hinds), the two must find a killer and deal with their Above Suspicion Set 3 DVD Cover own relationship. An invigorating and exciting crime mystery from Acorn Media ... "Adventure Time: The Complete Third Season" (2011-12) consists of all 26 episodes, packed in a custom, collectible BMO die-cut slipcase. In a two-disc DVD set, $26.95; single-disc Blu-ray, $32.07. From Cartoon Network/Warner ... "Braquo: Season 1" (2009) and "Braquo: Season 2" (2011) each feature eight episodes of the internationally acclaimed, hard-hitting thriller about a squad of Paris cops who exist in the blurred boundaries at the edge of the law, using violence and intimidation to get the job done, $39.95 each set from MHz Home Entertainment ... "Crimes of Passion" (2013 -- Sweden) is based on the classic crime novels by Maria Lang and features Ola Rapace ("Skyfall," Swedish "Wallander") in a collection of stylish "whodunnits" set in postwar Sweden that follow the exploits of the brainy and beautiful literature student Puck; wherever she goes, mystery and murder are never far behind. In three-disc set with six episodes, $39.95 from MHz Home Entertainment ... "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: Season 1" (2012-13) is a single-disc with 14 episodes of the TLC series LA Law: Season One DVD Cover about six-year-old pageant star Alana, aka Honey Boo Boo, who takes viewers into her home with her family, stay-at-home mom June, chalk-mining dad Sugar Bear, and sisters Pumpkin, Chubbs and Chickadee. $29.93 from Cinedigm ... Co-created by Steven Bochco ("Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue"), the Emmy Award-winning "L.A. Law: Season One" (1986-86) takes us inside the law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak. There, a team of ambitious and competitive attorneys must face the conflicts between their personal desires, their obligations as lawyers, and their principles as human beings. A portrayal of the law and its litigators that was both realistic and irreverent, "L.A. Law" became a favorite of critics and audiences alike during its eight-year run on NBC from 1986 to 1994. $29.93 from Shout! Factory ... Agatha Christie's masterful storytelling gets a soupçon of French flair in "Les Petits Meurtres D'Agatha Christie, Set 1" (2008-12)a series of sexy, witty mysteries. In a four-disc set with seven mysteries from Acorn Media ... "Mama's Family: The Complete Second Season" (2013): In the world of prime-time television, success often begets success by way of the spin-off. "The Carol Burnett Show" lasted 11 seasons on CBS, thanks in part to the recurring comedy sketches that attracted a large, loyal viewership. "The Family" remained a Mamas Family: The Complete Second Season DVD Cover favorite because fans related to the Harpers' constant squabbling about the mundane. As the irascible Mama Harper, Vicki Lawrence was wondrously transformed into a full-tilt senior citizen, and it wasn't a matter of if, but when, she would get her own TV series, "Mama's Family" debuted in 1983 on NBC, lasting two seasons before going into syndication for another four years. In a four-disc set with 25 episodes, $29.95 from StarVista/Time Life ... "The Middle: The Complete Fourth Season" (2012-13) is a three-disc set with 23 episodes, $44.98 from Warner ... "Spiral Season 3" (2010) is a four-disc set with 12 episodes of the gritty French police thriller that follows criminal investigations in Paris from all the different points of view, $49.95 from MHz Home Entertainment ... "Under Capricorn" (1982) is based on the popular novel by Helen Simpson and filmed on location in Australia; the saga set in 1831 follows young Irishman Charles Adare who arrives in New South Wales, Australia, eager to make his fortune -- and make it fast. But what he finds are greed, jealousy, insanity and secret passions. Stars Peter Cousens, John Hallam, Lisa Harrow. In a two-disc set from Acorn Media.

    Check out other February 25-March 3 DVD releases and reviews at OnVideo.


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