DVD Reviews: Weight of the world

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Sullivan (Cameron Boyd, left) and Aaron (Jesse Bradford) are brothers faced with the grown-up task of survival in “King of the Hill.”
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Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ grounds this week’s new releases

This week, we begin lost in space:

Gravity

4 stars

Rated PG-13, 90 minutes.

Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray. Available now in various download formats.

Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron delivers a magnificent work with plenty of twists and striking images while also paying homage to past classics of the outer-space genre. Gravity conveys to viewers what it feels like to actually be in space — and, worse, to be lost in space.

Outside a space station, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bulloch) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) find themselves stranded when debris from a missile strike knocks them loose. Cuaron uses this void to establish an eerie sense of emptiness as the trip turns into one of survival.

Stone remains the focal point of the movie, but the star is director Cuaron, with help from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and the army of special-effects technicians.

The DVD arrives in all formats and combo packs; the Blu-ray accentuates the clear, beautiful images. Supplements include the Ed Harris-narrated, 23-minute documentary “Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space,” co-writer Jonas Cuaron’s seven-minute short film Aningaaq, the five-part, 37-minute, thorough analysis “making of” segment “Shot Breakdowns,” and more.

*

You Will Be My Son (4 1/2 stars) Because of a canceled booking, this powerful French film never played theatrically in North Texas, but it arrives now for home entertainment.

Director Gilles Legrand offers a penetrating examination of the relationship between an authoritarian father, Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), and his weak-willed son, Martin (Lorant Deutsch).

Father Paul owns and runs a large, successful vineyard, but when the time approaches for the father to pass it on, he anoints his foreman’s son, disregarding his own bullied son. Fascinating portrayal of father-son dynamics with excellent performances from all.

Not rated, 102 minutes. The DVD includes a 15-minute interview with Legrand and Deutsch and nine minutes of deleted scenes.

*

Thor: The Dark World (3 stars) Marvel’s hammer-wielding superhero, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), returns and spends as much time fighting the evil forces from beyond as he does with his earthly amour, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

When the evil Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) threatens Earth, Thor releases his disgraced brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from captivity to join him. The conflict enables director Alan Taylor (who helmed the criminally overlooked 2001 jewel The Emperor’s New Clothes) to unleash his technicians to render an effects-filled spectacular, with Thor facing off against a sequence of equally colorful villains. Fast, engaging and just as entertaining as the first Thor.

Rated PG-13, 112 minutes. The DVD, in all formats and combo packs. It includes commentary, a four-minute gag reel, eight minutes of deleted and extended scenes, a 32-minute, two-part look at Thor and Loki’s relationship, a six-minute segment on the film’s music, the 14-minute featurette “All Hail the King,” and much more.

*

King of the Hill (3 1/2 stars) In 1993, when Steven Soderbergh took A.E. Hotchner’s Depression-era memoir for his third feature, it further signaled that the writer-director was an unpredictable free spirit. Surprisingly, Soderbergh had followed his provocative debut Sex, Lies, and Videotapes with the murky, virtually incomprehensible Kafka. But even more surprising, he then turned to this hazy, elegiac period piece.

In 1933 St. Louis, Aaron (Jesse Bradford), an A-student in eighth grade — and an outrageous fabulist — lives in a shabby hotel with his erratically employed father (Jeroen Krabbe) and his soon-to-be hospitalized mother (Lisa Eichhorn). Through circumstances, Aaron finds himself alone in the hotel, surrounded by an odd assortment of tenants. He scrambles to pay rent, attend school, and all while waiting for his family’s return.

Soderbergh mixes some heartbreaking scenes with childish pranks and sly humor. He also carefully depicts the era, with an attention to the surface elements like fashions and autos, aided by Elliot Davis’ warm, saturated photography.

The supporting cast features future stars, such as singer Lauryn Hill and Oscar winner Adrien Brody, and look for 15-year-old Katherine Heigl as one of Aaron’s classmates.

Rated PG-13, 103 minutes. The Criterion Collection has included three discs for the Blu-ray release along with a 23-minute interview with then-93-year-old Hotchner.

It also features an 11-minute featurette on Soderbergh, six deleted scenes, a 20-minute interview with Soderbergh, and, as a special bonus, Soderbergh’s next feature, The Underneath (1995, rated R, 99 minutes), filmed mostly in Austin. Plus, a 40-page booklet with an essay from scholar Peter Tonguette, an interview with Soderbergh, and an excerpt from Hotchner’s source memoir.

 

The 300 Spartans (2 1/2 stars) Before 300: Rise of an Empire hits theaters, Twentieth Century Fox gives a Blu-ray release to this 1962 mini-epic that also chronicles one of history’s most famous battles — the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.

Director Rudolph Mate spends more time with the political maneuvering that forced the Spartans, led by King Leonidas (Richard Egan), into battle shorthanded against Persian King Xerxes (David Farrar) and his mighty army. But once the battle begins, the sides clearly form, with Leonidas executing the brilliant tactics that have become legendary.

Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth makes an early, advantageous use of Cinemascope to capture the battles filmed on the actual Greek plains. Not rated, 114 minutes.

*

Twice Born (2 1/2 stars) Based on Margaret Mazzantini’s international best-seller of the same name, this treacly melodrama crumbles under the weight of too much plot. Director Sergio Castellitto, who also plays Penelope Cruz’s husband, tells the story of Gemma (Cruz) and her long love affair with an American photographer, Diego (Emile Hirsch).

In early 1980s Sarajevo, they meet cute and fall in love. They seem to be a perfect match, moving in together with talk of raising a family. When she proves unable to conceive, they enlist a local woman to help.

The ensuing boy grows to his teen years — the period in which Castellito begins his story — flipping back and forth to fill in the many gaps that necessitate plots and subplots. Keeping track of the time changes and of the character detours becomes unwieldy, marring the overall effectiveness of the film’s potential.

Rated R, 127 minutes. The disc includes four cast and crew interviews.

*

And, finally, from this week’s TV arrivals:

Mama’s Family: The Complete Third Season Vicki Lawrence starred as feisty alpha senior Thelma Harper in this popular series, a spin-off from The Carol Burnett Show.

In this season’s 25 episodes, on four discs, Bubba Higgins (Allan Kayser) arrives fresh from juvenile jail. Naomi (Dorothy Lyman) suffers Mama’s wry abuse, as does Ellen (Betty White). Neighbor Iola (Beverly Archer) sticks around long enough to make goo-goo eyes at Vint (Ken Berry).

Not rated, 10 hours, 55 minutes. The collection also includes an interview with Kayser, a featurette on “Mama’s Family Tree,” a Mama’s Family cast reunion, and a 1975 sketch from The Carol Burnett Show featuring Maggie Smith, now better known as the dowager countess on Downton Abbey.

*

Also available Tuesday on DVD: Mr. Nobody, Muscle Shoals, Narco Cultura and Salinger.


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