The Academy Awards ceremony is Sunday evening, and “Gravity” is considered a strong contender for the best picture Oscar. So it’s fitting that that film and another best picture nominee, “Nebraska,” arrived on home video this week.
“Gravity” (Warner/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, $35.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; featurettes, short film: “Aningaaq”). It’s a thin story, really: two astronauts in peril outside their aircraft find themselves floating away into the nothingness of space, where human resourcefulness can be stretched only so far.
But with that simple premise, filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron guides his actors, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, through a white-knuckle journey, ratcheting up the intensity step by step to an almost unbearable degree. This is bravura filmmaking and it demonstrates wonderfully the powerful potential of cinema to thrill and enthrall.
It’s also an actor’s showcase, and Bullock is quite remarkable as a medical engineer who seems to have taken on this mission reluctantly, then finds she must apply every ounce of the determination and resilience that has brought her this far. (Also on 3D/Blu-ray, $44.95, and DVD, $28.98)
“Nebraska” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 2013, R for some language; b/w, two discs, $39.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; featurette). This low-key character comedy-drama about an elderly father and his middle-aged son, and their desire for elusive redemption, is vivid and nicely modulated by director Alexander Payne. The alcoholic father (Bruce Dern) thinks he’s won a million-dollar sweepstakes so he heads out to collect. Along the way, his son drives him to his old stomping grounds. Dern has justly been receiving all the accolades but June Squibb as his wife and Will Forte as their son are also excellent. (Also on DVD, $29.98)
“Come Back, Africa: The Films of Lionel Rogosin, Volume 2” (Milestone, 1959-89, b/w and color, two discs, $34.95, introduction by Martin Scorsese, four films, featurettes, trailer). The main film is “Come Back, Africa,” a sort of docudrama tragedy that explores apartheid in South Africa, filmed primarily in Sophiatown, a (now razed) black ghetto-cum-arts/music center, with non-actors essentially playing themselves (including Miriam Makeba, dropping by for a song or two). But how Rogosin managed to surreptitiously film there is equally fascinating, as documented by his son. This double-disc set also includes other films on related subjects, including Rogosin’s celebrated “Black Roots.” (Also on Blu-ray, $39.95)
“The Swan Princess: A Royal Family Tale” (Sony/Blu-ray, 2014, PG, $26.99, sing-along music videos; tiara, Shutterfly photo book). Animation director Richard Rich, an LDS-Utah native who worked for Disney before going independent, has created a number of straight-to-video works, many of them with religious themes. But he is best known for the theatrical cartoon “The Swan Princess” (1994), which has led to several video sequels, this being the latest. An orphaned girl adopted by Princess Odette and Prince Derek is kidnapped by evil forces attempting to lure them into a trap. (Also on DVD, $19.99)
“You Will Be My Son” (Cohen/Blu-ray, 2013, R for sex and language, $34.98, in French with English subtitles, deleted scenes, featurette, trailer). Interesting soap opera about a passionate but abusive winery mogul who belittles his own son and wishes for someone else to whom he can leave his legacy. He gets his wish when the son of his estate manager shows up, which pits two sons and two fathers against each other. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“Twice Born” (eOne, 2013; R for violence, sex, nudity, language, drugs; $24.98, featurettes). Penelope Cruz is the reason to see this uneven adaptation of the European best seller by Margaret Mazzantini. Cruz gives a touching performance as a widow returning to Sarajevo with her son, where the boy’s father (Emile Hirsch in flashbacks) died some 18 years earlier.
“Pulling Strings” (Lionsgate, 2013, PG-13, $19.98, in Spanish with English subtitles). Amusing, albeit by-the-numbers comedy has Mexican stars Jaime Camil and Omar Chaparro as mariachi musicians trying to persuade an American embassy worker (Laura Ramsey) to change her mind and stamp a U.S. visa for Camil’s daughter to visit her grandparents. Highly implausible but earnest.
“Fists of Legend” (CJ/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, in Korean with English subtitles or dubbed English, featurettes). Sharp riff on fight films and reality TV shows has three former high school friends and mixed martial artists reunited some 25 years later, along with various streetfighters, for a TV elimination program. Lots of well-choreographed fights but the story takes awhile to get going. (Also on DVD, $26.98)
“Lost in Thailand” (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, in Mandarin with English subtitles, featurette, trailer). Over-the-top, silly Chinese comedy that may have American audiences unable to get into its rhythm, about rival managers fighting over control of the company trying to track down their boss at a Thai retreat. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“Mortal Enemies” (Lionsgate, 2014, R for violence, $26.98, English and Indonesian with English subtitles). Verdy and Sunny become blood brothers while living in an orphanage, then Verdy is adopted by a wealthy family. Years later, Verdy is a successful business man on vacation with his fiancée when he is kidnapped by a gang — and discovers Sunny is one of the thugs.
“The Guide” (Monarch, 2013, not rated, $24.95). Complicated thriller about a hunting guide on the brink of madness who takes a client into the wilderness where he must confront his demons. He’s also distracted by his estranged daughter’s unfortunate conflict with a local drug dealer. Offbeat plotting and solid performances help this one.
“Ice Soldiers” (Sony/Blu-ray, 2013, R for violence and nudity, $30.99). Routine action picture stars Dominic Purcell (TV’s “Prison Break”) as a scientist searching for three genetically modified Russian super soldiers that have literally been on ice since the 1960s. Of course, when they are awakened, before you can say “Captain America,” they start killing everyone in sight. Michael Ironside co-stars, along with Adam Beach, who might have been better in the lead. (Also on DVD, $26.99)
“Narco Cultura” (Cinedigm/Blu-ray, 2013; R for violence, drugs, language, nudity; $34.95, in English and Spanish with English subtitles, deleted scenes). Documentary exploration of narcocorridos, a form of music that celebrates the exploits of Mexican druglords, openly glorifying violence, narcotics and money. (Also on DVD, $29.95)
“Amber Alert” (Cinedigm, R for violence and language, $14.93). Two best friends are filming an audition for a reality TV show when they see a car on the road that has been described in an Amber Alert. When 911 proves to be less than responsive, they pursue the car. Bad idea. Another found footage thriller.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com