“Gravity” (PG-13, 91 minutes, Warner): Thanks to director Alfonso Cuaron's prodigious gifts, “Gravity” succeeds simultaneously as a simple classic shipwreck narrative (albeit at zero-gravity), and as an utterly breathtaking restoration of size and occasion to the movies themselves. Using an ingenious combination of live action, computer-generated imagery, cutting-edge lighting techniques and 3-D, Cuaron puts viewers into the tumbling, floating, frighteningly un-rooted world of “Gravity,” where Sandra Bullock and George Clooney convincingly move with both balletic grace and puffy, moon-man awkwardness.
“Nebraska” (R, 115 minutes, Paramount): In many ways, is a classic buddy road-picture, with the mismatched Woody (Bruce Dern) and Dave (Will Forte) setting forth on a journey of mishaps, chance encounters, hilarious high jinks and — of course — filial bonding. But thanks to Bob Nelson's lean, tone-perfect script and director Alexander Payne's tender execution, “Nebraska” never feels patronizing or facile. At 76, Dern finally gets to be the leading man he's long deserved to be, filling “Nebraska's” wide open spaces with a performance of subtlety, bittersweetness and surpassing emotional courage. And he's created a character every bit as iconic as his painterly alter-ego, one who eloquently embodies the anxieties, thwarted aspirations and stubborn tenacity of a rural middle class facing inexorable decline. Contains some profanity. Extras include six-part making-of featurette focusing on the script, cast and characters, locations, filming in black and white, working with the director, and “A Film Family.”
“Thor: The Dark World” (PG-13, 112 minutes, in English and some Elvish, with subtitles, Disney): Thor's villainous brother, Loki, is defeated and in chains; Thor's human girlfriend, Jane, pines for her absent lover; and Thor is preoccupied with stamping out uprisings on various of the nine realms that he and his kind rule over. But when Jane stumbles upon something called the Aether — a long-hidden source of destructive energy, which takes over her body like a virus — Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) must drop everything and return to Earth to protect her from Malekith. The evil leader of the Dark Elves, Malekith wants to use the Aether to — well, what exactly? Control the nine realms? Destroy them? Plunge them into darkness so he can harvest mushrooms? To be fair, there's stuff to like in “The Dark World.” Loki, for example — whom Thor must reluctantly team with in his fight against the Dark Elves — is simply fabulous. Tom Hiddleston steals the show here, making wickedness and treachery look a heck of a lot more fun than virtue. Contains action violence. Extras include commentary with Hiddleston, director Alan Taylor, producer Kevin Feige and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau; extended and deleted scenes; gag reel; an exclusive look at “Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and featurettes “A Brothers' Journey: Thor & Loki” and “Scoring Marvel's Thor: The Dark World With Brian Tyler.”
“Muscle Shoals” (PG, 111 minutes, Magnolia Home Entertainment): What is it about “Muscle Shoals” that has made it such a mecca for musicians? This small Alabama town on the banks of the Tennessee River has produced and sustained not just one world-class recording studio, but two — FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, both of which have drawn flocks of musicians of every stripe. The word “magic” is mentioned a lot in this mesmerizing documentary that tries to explain, or at least place in context, the extraordinary success of FAME (founded by producer Rick Hall in the late 1950s) and Muscle Shoals Sound (a competing studio spun off in 1969 by members of FAME's original house band, known as the Swampers). It's as good a word as any to capture the ineffable quality of the Muscle Shoals sound, which is a blend of hillbilly music, blues and spirituals, among other diverse influences. “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin, one of many musicians featured in the film who recorded in Muscle Shoals, calls that sound, in a nice turn of phrase, “greasy.” Reggae star Jimmy Cliff, who also recorded there, believes there's a field of mysterious energy in the town. But rocker Bono speaks most poetically of the place's mysterious sonic power, saying it's like “the music comes out of the mud.”Contains some obscenity and drug references. Extras include extended interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and AXS TV's “A Look at Muscle Shoals.”
Also: “Jamesy Boy” (based on the true story of teenager James Burns, played by newcomer Spencer Lofranco, who ends up in a maximum-security prison and bonds with a convicted murderer, Ving Rhames, who becomes his mentor, Phase 4 Films/XLrator Media), “Pulling Strings,” “Breathless” (1960, Jean-Luc Godard classic, The Criterion Collection), “Tess” (1979, The Criterion Collection), “King of the Hill” (1993, early Steven Soderbergh film, The Criterion Collection), “Twice Born” (Italy/Spain), “Ice Soldiers,” “Scarecrow,” “The Last Elvis” (Argentina), “Lost in Thailand” (China), “You Will Be My Son” (France) and “The Swan Princess: A Royal Family Tale” (animated).
Television Series: “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: Season 1,” “L.A. Law: Season One,” “Above Suspicion: Set 3”³ (Kelly Reilly and Ciarán Hinds star in the feature-length finale of this British detective series, Acorn Media), “Last Stand of the 300 and Other Famous Greek Battles” (six History Channel specials), “Under Capricorn” (classic period drama set in 1830s Australia, A&E, Acorn Media), “Les Petits Meurtres D'Agatha Christie, Set 1”³ (in French, with English subtitles; Acorn Media), “The Middle: Fourth Season,” “Mama's Family: Third Season,” “The Royal Family Collection” (TLC) and “Adventure Time: Third Season” (Cartoon Network).
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Washington Post staff writer Kay Coyte contributed to this report.