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The conclusion of a cinematic saga, two big stars at play together, a spellbinding showcase for unknown actors and a whale. Tuesday delivered another varied lot to DVD and Blu-ray.
The big item is The Dark Knight Rises, the completion of Christopher Nolan's Batman story, which has been second to only Marvel's The Avengers at the box office in 2012 -- even with the worries and debates that followed the shootings at a screening in Aurora, Colo., in July.
Warner Bros. is releasing a combo pack ($35.99) with the Blu-ray, DVD, and UltraViolet digital version, as well as a host of making-of extras. There is also a DVD/ UltraViolet combo ($28.98). And there are gift sets packaging the new film with its two predecessors (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) in "limited edition" collector's sets with special packaging and a 64-page excerpt from the book The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy. The DVD version is $38.99, the Blu-ray is $52.99.
As I said when the movie hit theaters, it was the one I most looked forward to this past summer, and I was not disappointed. It has some noticeable flaws: an unwieldy attempt to follow four different characters early on, a big plot twist that was not that surprising, other plot holes, and too many people making time-consuming speeches. And still I was delighted, by exhilarating action sequences, the marvelous look, and the performances by Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway -- not to mention a sturdy, career-advancing turn by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Far more than sturdy are Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in Hope Springs, in which they play a couple whose marriage has grown stale. Both Streep and Jones know whom they are acting with, and so bring their top games. (There are scenes where I would just enjoy looking at their faces, especially when they were reacting to something the other did.) Steve Carell is also on hand as the couple's marriage counselor, and he, too, knows who else is onscreen; no farce here, but the more subtle acting we've seen from Carell in films such as Dan in Real Life and Crazy, Stupid, Love.
There's one scene near the end that I don't buy because it goes against the complexity of love and romance that the movie underscores up to that point. But for the most part, it's a joy to watch.
From Sony, it will be available in a Blu-ray/ UltraViolet set ($35.99) and DVD/ UltraViolet ($30.99). Extras on both sets include a blooper reel, a making-of piece, alternate versions of scenes, and an audio commentary by director David Frankel. The Blu-ray adds four featurettes.
I did not recognize a single performer in Beasts of the Southern Wild, a haunting piece set among the very poor inhabitants of a constantly water-threatened community called the Bathtub in Louisiana. The movie is from the point of view of a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), whose observations of her grim real life are mixed with blasts of fantasy. It is not the sort of movie where you will know everything that is going to happen, or even where it is going at all, but I kept wanting it to show me more, to let me further inside Hushpuppy's real and imaginary worlds. And Wallis is marvelous.
The movie is available from Fox in a Blu-ray/ DVD/ digital combo ($39.99) and a DVD-only set ($29.98). Extras include a making-of segment.
Narrated by Ryan Reynolds, the documentary The Whale (Docurama, $29.95 standard DVD) is about Luna, a young killer whale separated from his family along the coast of Canada's British Columbia. Luna began to connect with humans in the region, which seemed like a playful bond at first, but became complicated. It's an interesting work, and the DVD adds deleted scenes, music videos, and other pieces.
Also of note is the Francis Ford Coppola 5-Film Collection (Lionsgate, $39.99), Blu-ray presentations of Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Now Redux, The Conversation, Tetro, and the new-to-Blu-ray One From the Heart, a 1982 drama-with-music starring Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr. The expense, complexity and box-office failure of the film did long-term damage to director Coppola's career, and Garr's autobiography Speedbumps discusses some of the many problems on the set -- as well as what she thinks in retrospect might have been her first serious bout of multiple sclerosis.
But there's something about the movie -- the blend of music, the lavish Las Vegas look (even more dazzling on Blu-ray) -- that makes me smile when it starts, and feel joy at the end. So maybe it's time you gave it a try.
Down video road
Won't Back Down, with Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, will be on DVD and Blu-ray on Jan. 15. Cougar Town: The Complete Third Season will be on DVD on Feb. 5; new episodes begin airing on TBS on Jan. 8. Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden will be on Blu-ray and DVD on Jan. 8.