Review: New on DVD for February 25 Special

Posted Feb 25, 2014 by Sarah Gopaul
This week’s releases include live-action and animated comedies from the small screen; an otherworldly superhero with an amazing bonus feature; a couple of Oscar contenders; and two that were left off the ballot.
Sandra Bullock in Imax 3D blockbuster film Gravity
Sandra Bullock in Imax 3D blockbuster film Gravity
Warner Brothers
Adventure Time: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group
Finn, a silly kid with an awesome hat, and Jake, a brassy dog with a big kind heart, depend on each other through thick and thin. The Land of Ooo is teeming with imposing mountains, lush green plains, accessible forests, ubiquitous prairies and winding rivers, and the cities and towns are filled with bizarre characters in need of unique assistance. Whether it’s saving Princess Bubblegum, defeating zombie candy, mocking the “oxy-moronic” Ice King, or rocking out with undead music wiz Marceline the Vampire Queen, with Finn and Jake it’s always “Adventure Time.”
The characters have not changed, but they continue to find new quests to fill their days. The opening episode introduces audiences to adorable little creatures known as the Cuties. Attempting to rule others with their non-existent battle skills, they eventually realize where their true power lies. In the Christmas special, Jake’s treasure hunt leads to a stash of Ice King’s video diaries. Though they don’t contain the damaging secret the duo is looking for, they do reveal the foolish villain’s origin story. In a bizarre, fan fiction edition of their lives, all of the characters are portrayed as their opposites — Finn is a girl in an awesome hat; Jake is a cat; and Princess Bubblegum is now a prince. It’s totally surreal, but a lot of fun. And this release is double the fun because you can build your own BMO.
Special features include: commentaries for all 26 episodes; an interview with series creator Pendleton Ward; and an alternate show introduction. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group)
Blue is the Warmest Color (DVD)
Mongrel Media
At 15, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) doesn't question that girls go out with boys. But her life changes when she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a young woman with blue hair, who helps her discover desire in an intense and complicated love story that spans a decade.
This provocative tale of passion is striking in its authenticity. The Palme d'Or winner at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival captures first love between two young women in a way that parallels the best romances that encompass the fundamentals of relationships. From attraction to sex to heartache, it follows this couple down the rabbit hole. Emerging wounded on the other side, the film does not end where most Hollywood pictures would roll the credits; it lingers on the aftermath, grasping at possibilities for the final outcome precariously. Much has been said about the sex scenes in the film, but they are shot tastefully and only constitute a small portion of an enthralling narrative.
Special features include: interviews with director Abdellatif Kechiche, and actors Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. (Mongrel Media)
Gravity (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is brilliant engineer on her first shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). On a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone, tethered to nothing but each other and spiralling out into the darkness. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go farther out into the terrifying expanse of space.
One had to wonder what could be compelling about watching an astronaut float around in space for 90 minutes, but it's undoubtedly one of the most intense movies of last year. Seen on a smaller screen at home, viewers are not as effectively absorbed into the darkness; but the vast emptiness of space remains unmistakeable and still allows them to inevitably empathize with Bullock's character's plight. Director Alfonso Cuarón has had a varied career, but his understanding of humanity shines through all of his films. This movie is not only a technical accomplishment, but also a new level of achievement for Bullock. And Clooney puts his typical happy-go-lucky persona to excellent use.
Special features include: “Collision Point: The Race to Clean up Space” (narrated by Ed Harris); Aningaaq, a short film by Jonás Cuarón; “Gravity Mission Control”; shot breakdowns; “Gravity: Silent Space Version”; and “Sandra's Surprise!” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group)
The Middle: The Complete Fourth Season (DVD)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group
As the kids grow up, Frankie and Mike (Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn) think family life is going to get easier; but they couldn’t be more wrong. Bigger kids only mean bigger problems: Brick (Atticus Shaffer) gets an evil pet and a dose of Sex Ed; Sue (Eden Sher) runs over Axl (Charlie McDermott) while learning to drive; and Axl cashes in on Valentine’s Day breakups. So Frankie and Mike come up with a novel way to discipline the kids: “The Wheel of Pain.”
A lot of this year’s focus is placed on Axl’s impending graduation. From their “last summer together as a family” to Brick’s realization his big brother will actually be moving away in the fall to a last minute scramble to ensure he graduates and gets a football scholarship, he is at the centre of many episodes. But everyone else is growing up and having new experiences too. Frankie turns bad news into a life-changer and launches her “second act.” Sue finally catches a few breaks, finding a long sought balance between her awkwardness and adolescence. And Brick makes some social progress in both directions before advancing to middle school after being assigned a therapist (Dave Foley). Once again beginning at the start of summer with grand designs of an amazing vacation, the season concludes at the end of the school year with the promise of new ventures.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and gag reel. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group)
Nebraska (Blu-ray , DVD & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
When a father (Bruce Dern) and his adult son, Grant (Will Forte), embark on a journey to claim a million-dollar prize, what begins as a fool’s errand becomes a search for the road to redemption.
This movie gets off to a slow start, which may only be further exasperated for some by its lack of colour. Grant’s mundane problems and Woody’s encounters with local law enforcement as he repeatedly runs away from home don’t immediately grab the audience’s attention. Nor do hints of Woody’s alcoholism or detached conversations in the car with his son. It’s not until they stop in to visit Woody’s family that it really gets interesting. They are all odd to some extent and are quick to buy into Woody’s delusions of grandeur in hopes of getting a slice of the pie themselves. When Woody’s wife (June Squibb) arrives, she has no issue telling it as she sees it and telling everyone where to go. Her vulgarity and the others’ insolence breathe much needed life into the narrative, which also transfers to Grant and Woody’s more delicate relationship.
Special features include: making-of featurette. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Thor: The Dark World (Blu-ray)
Marvel Entertainment
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must battle to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself. In the aftermath of Marvel's The Avengers Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos, but the Dark Elves, an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet; one that will reunite him with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.
This movie skilfully picks up where The Avengers film left off with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) facing punishment for his betrayal and Thor bearing the responsibility of peacekeeper across the worlds. Though this narrative is a little more muddled than the previous showing of good vs. evil, it also infuses it with more humour — particularly by giving Loki more room to mock Thor and his friends. The action is divided between Asgard and Earth as Malekith takes the fight wherever he senses the presence of the Aether. There are several colossal battles, past and present, which are jam-packed with hundreds of soldiers, enhanced warriors called the Kursed and loads of destruction. A significant loss to the war motivates the Asgardians, as does their loyalty to Thor and his adoration for Jane. The film’s entertainment is remarkably matched by the 15-minute bonus Marvel One-Shot featuring Iron Man 3’s The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) as he serves his prison sentence.
Special features include: commentary by director Alan Taylor, producer Kevin Feige, actor Tom Hiddleston and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau; deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary; “A Brothers Journey - Thor & Loki” parts one and two; All Hail the King, a Marvel One-Shot; exclusive look: Captain America: The Winter Soldier; “Scoring Thor: The Dark World with Brian Tyler”; and gag reel. (Marvel Entertainment)
Toxin (DVD)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Lieutenant John Paxton (Douglas Chapman) is trying to make his way back to a forbidden island that once served as a secret government testing facility for biological and chemical weapons devised to create the ultimate super-soldiers. Paxton’s plan to get revenge against the government that left him to die when an experiment went horribly wrong is sidetracked when the small plane he hijacks crashes and the survivors are trapped on the supposedly deserted island. Soon the dynamics amongst the stranded tourists becomes as big a threat to them as the infected occupants of the island.
It’s unfortunate when low-budget horror movies cannot attract more competent casts. But then they may interest better talent if they had better scripts. This movie is a train wreck from start to finish. The opening scenes document the disaster and the ending actually offers a valid conclusion before they throw that out the window too. The tourists are nothing but talking fodder for the fire, picked off quickly by the vicious infected. Considered a fast zombie movie (even though the monsters are not restricted to reanimated dead people), the characters run through the jungle stumbling on gruesome victims and being hunted by fast-moving infected. It’s a painful viewing experience that doesn’t even fall into the so-bad-it’s-good or even fun category.
There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Watermark (DVD)
Mongrel Media
Following their success with Manufactured Landscapes, photographer Edward Burtynsky and filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal reunite to explore the ways in which humanity has shaped, manipulated and depleted one of its most vital and compromised resources: water.
Not your traditional environmental documentary, this film tells the story of the Earth's water through stunning images and interviews. Rather than a series of talking heads, most of the dialogue overlays the moving images that complement the static ones Burtynsky selected for his book. Meanwhile other shots are shown against a subtle soundtrack of natural sounds or music. Not all of the visuals are accompanied by an explanation, sometimes letting the information wash over the viewer who is meant to interpret it. Scientific musings are provided by a team in Greenland, while local influences are plainly illustrated in Bangladesh's tanneries, China's abalone farms and dried up water ways around the world. It's not as literal or informative as other films, but most of the images are unmatched.
There are no special features. (Mongrel Media)