Usually, it’s a good week for new DVD releases if there is one great title hitting stores. This week, there are four new releases that top an overall strong week for DVD viewing, including two Oscar-nominated movies and an Emmy-winning TV series.
• “Gravity,” A: Director Alfonso Cuarón doesn’t just paint a dazzling and compelling portrait of an emotionally stunted medical engineer (Sandra Bullock) and a roguish astronaut (George Clooney), who must find a way to survive after being stranded in space when their shuttle is destroyed. He also transports us to that cold vacuum as an ad hoc participant.
The first 20 minutes of the Oscar-nominated movie – presented without a single edit – is a masterpiece of filmmaking that sets the tone for the incredible journey. Edits in a movie gives the viewer a chance to take a breath and reset for what’s to come next. There are so few edits in this movie that by the time it ends, the viewer feels emotionally exhausted and breathless.
Not since “2001: A Space Odyssey” rocked the film world in 1968 with its incredible portrayal of life in outer space has a movie been as visually groundbreaking as “Gravity.” From the panoramic views of Earth to the tiny drops of tears floating in the weightlessness of space, Cuarón doesn’t miss a single opportunity to amaze.
• “Nebraska,” B-plus: Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) has received a sweepstakes letter in the mail notifying him he has won $1 million. Although everyone tries to convince him it’s just a promotional ploy to get him to buy magazines, Woody is willing to walk from his home in Billings, to the prize center in Lincoln, Neb. When it’s obvious that no one can shake Woody of his fool’s dream, his son, David (Will Forte), agrees to drive him.
The vast landscapes that director Alexander Payne scatters through “Nebraska” aren’t just there to create artistic images. All of the emptiness and promises of a brighter tomorrow reflect the driving theme of this examination of a man’s legacy. The landscapes become all that more stark and cold because of the decision by the director to present the tale in black and white.
Through a road trip sparked by a fantasy, Payne paints a portrait of how sometimes the American dream can be as elusive as a winter wind. Dern’s work was nominated for an Oscar.
• “L.A. Law: Season One,” Grade A-minus: This law series from Steven Bochco created the blueprint for legal TV dramas like “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal.” Bochco’s series went from addressing hot-button issues of the ‘80s and early ‘90s – such as AIDs, homophobia, domestic violence – to being a dark comedy. He can do both without short changing the other.
The quality started with the writing, but it came to life with a superb cast anchored by Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker, John Spencer, Jimmy Smits and Corbin Bernsen. The cast was so good that no matter who had the bulk of the material, the result was always compelling.
The series earned Emmy Awards, including four for Outstanding Drama Series.
• “Thor 2: The Dark World,” A-minus: The second film in the series avoids the slump that often comes with a sequel by cranking up the action, embracing the deep mythology that made the comics popular, sustaining the family elements and focusing on the film’s two greatest assets: Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.
Toss in a strong performance by the supporting cast, a surprise cameo and some good emotional moments, and the sequel delivers visual lightning and story thunder.