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I Want My DVD: Tuesday, February 25, 2014

by Ethan Alter February 25, 2014 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, February 25, 2014

So when are we getting the Loki franchise, Marvel?

Thor: The Dark World
With Kenneth Branagh's gig with Marvel an apparently one-and-done deal, Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor stepped in to helm the Thor sequel, and it's a more confident, more fantastical movie than its predecessor… though still not without its flaws, among them a weak villain (played by an unrecognizable, personality-free Christopher Eccleston) and a narrative that barely hangs together as it skips between realms. Fortunately, Chris Hemsworth's mighty presence as the Mighty Thor -- along with series MVP Tom Hiddleston's devilishly delightful Loki, revamped here into a bad boy instead of a bad guy -- effectively anchors the proceedings, along with Taylor's skill at investing these fantasy worlds with a wealth of rich detail that renders them believable. (Unfortunately, Taylor also reportedly clashed with Marvel behind-the-scenes, suggesting that he won't be back to finish off the trilogy.) The Dark World may not elevate Marvel's Phase 2 to new heights, but it keeps it moving merrily along towards the next Avengers team-up in 2015.
Extras: A commentary track with Taylor, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel (clips from which you've seen all over the Web in recent weeks), a new Mandarin-centric Marvel One-Shot short, a handful of making-of featurettes and a sneak peek at the next Marvel joint, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to see how the Thor cast stacks up against the Game of Thrones ensemble
Click here to see the cast's darkest career choices

Gravity
Seven years in the making, Alfonso Cuarón accomplished the near-impossible in Gravity: he turned a simple survival story into a global phenomenon. And it's worth remembering that, for all the film's admittedly overwhelming technical razzle-dazzle, that core story depicting one woman's attempts to stay alive in the most inhospitable of environments -- outer space -- is what audiences hooked onto, helped along by Sandra Bullock's career-best performance. For his perseverance and commitment to his vision, Cuáron will almost certainly be gifted with the Best Director statue come Oscar night and the movie stands a strong chance of being named Best Picture as well. But really, the best way for the studio to honor the film would be to re-release it on IMAX-equipped theaters once a year. Because as beautiful as the film looks on Blu-ray, its giant-sized spectacle is best suited to a larger-than-life screen.
Extras: The slender 90-minute feature is accompanied by three hours of bonus features, including featurettes that reveal its complicated production process, the short film Aningaaq that functions as a companion piece to the feature and, most intriguingly, a silent version of the film that omits the sounds of space.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to see Sandra Bullock and George Clooney's most weightless movies

Nebraska
Veteran actor Bruce Dern takes a well-deserved victory lap in Nebraska, a personal project he held onto for years until capturing the attention of director Alexander Payne, returning to his familiar Midwestern roots after his Hawaiian sojourn in The Descendants. Shooting in stark black-and-white, Payne captures the bleak beauty of life in the titular state, where Dern's elderly farm boy was born and bred before fleeing his small hometown for Montana along with his wife (June Squibb) and sons (Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk). Decades later, he returns with Forte in tow -- en route to claim the sweepstakes jackpot he incorrectly assumes he's won -- and finds the same mixture of venal people and dark memories. A bracing antidote to the typically treacly "coming home" narrative, Nebraska is deceptively low-key, but packs a cumulative dramatic punch. Pound for pound, it's probably Payne's best film since Sideways.
Extras: A lone making-of featurette.
Click here to read our original review

King of the Hill
Long unavailable on DVD, Steven Soderbergh's third film -- a lovely adaptation of A.E. Hotchner's memoir of the same name -- is finally back in print, courtesy of the indispensable Criterion Collection. Jesse Bradford plays Hotchner's surrogate, a young boy in Depression-era America who is forced to grow up quickly when his mother is thrown in the loony bin and his father finds a job as a travelling salesman, leaving him to his own devices in a run-down St. Louis hotel. Normally tagged as a chilly, cerebral director, King of the Hill is flush with feeling, emerging as a coming-of-age story in the tradition of The 400 Blows. Bonus points for featuring one of Spalding Gray's best film roles and one of Adrien Brody's first.
Extras: Fresh interviews with Soderbergh and Hotchner, a video essay about the film and, best of all, the complete cut of the director's fourth film, The Underneath, the movie that almost drove him out of filmmaking until Out of Sight pulled him right back in.

The Shadow
Back in the '90s, before the Marvel Age of Comic Book Movies began, superhero pictures were generally made in the image of Tim Burton's Batman: highly-stylized affairs that took some fairly big liberties with the characters. That's definitely the case with Russell Mulcahy's quixotic attempt to bring this Depression-era pulp hero (who pre-dated Batman by about nine years, and his influence on the Dark Knight is quite evident) into the then-present day. Except The Shadow most definitely doesn't take place in the present day, unfolding instead in a pop-up book version of '30s New York complete with deliberately artificial backgrounds and moody lighting that recalls film noir. (It's a clear nod in the direction of Burton and Anton Furst's gorgeously Gothic Gotham City.) The cast -- including Alec Baldwin, still in his dashing marquee matinee idol phase, as the titular hero and Penelope Ann Miller as his dishy love interest -- is equally stylized at first, only loosening up in the second half when Mulcahy and screenwriter David Koepp allow some winking humor to slip in. Released in the midst of 1994's jam-packed summer movie season, The Shadow didn't exactly set the box office on fire, but it's built a solid reputation as an underrated gem over the years, and while "gem" is probably overstating it a bit (the first act is sometimes painfully stiff), it's a mostly enjoyable take on a largely-forgotten character, succeeding where other attempts to dust off pulp heroes like The Phantom and The Green Hornet have failed.
Extras: A retrospective featurette featuring new interviews with Baldwin, Miller and Mulcahy.

Also on DVD:
In addition to finally slapping King of the Hill on disc, Criterion wins the week for releasing the controversial lesbian love story, Blue is the Warmest Color just in time to remind us how sad it is that the film wasn't eligible for Oscar consideration. With the Winter Olympics now behind us, Lucy Walker's The Crash Reel, a profile of snowboarder Kevin Pearce and his attempts to recover from a career-ending injury, provides a timely look at the dangers associated with one of the world's most popular snowbound sports. The rockumentary Muscle Shoals explores the sights and sounds of the titular Alabama town where so many amazing tracks have been cut over the decades. Filmed before his temporary retirement from acting in 2009, the trippy Canadian epic Mr. Nobody finds future Oscar winner Jared Leto going on a grand journey across space and time, in the tradition of 2001 and The Fountain. A grand romance goes sour in Capital Games, based on the work of G.A. Hauser. On the other hand, romance flowers courtesy of a chat room in Lesson Before Love. Dominic Purcell uncovers three genetically-enhanced Russian soldiers and then regrets that move in Ice Soldiers. Don't confuse it with Zack Snyder's version, but 1962's new-to-Blu The 300 Spartans is an entertaining take on the legend of Leonidas in its own right. Finally, if you don't own them already, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Collection gives you another opportunity to watch Daniel Radcliffe & Co. age into pint-sized millionaires over the course of ten years and eight movies.

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