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‘Gravity’ 4stars

The best picture nominee is a movie of elegant beauty and surprising emotional power.

It stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. Her fellow astronauts include easygoing veteran commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).

They are on a routine assignment outside when their shuttle is destroyed by space debris, leaving the pair somersaulting through the inky abyss with a rapidly dwindling oxygen supply, no contact with Earth and perhaps no way to return home.

“Gravity” follows their fate for the next 90 minutes, presenting a world in which you never doubt for an instant that Matt is maneuvering by jet pack or Ms. Bullock is weightless in the interior of a spacecraft where bolts, pens, licks of sparks or beads of tears float by.

See it once and you may be preoccupied with the heart-thumping action. See it twice and you will be able to appreciate its themes of rebirth, of relinquishing real and tragic tethers, of conquering adversity and of repeating, “I’m going to make it” and believing it.

Earth has never looked more tranquil or beautiful, artistic swirls of blue and white with no rancorous divides when seen from above. The music by composer Steven Price is majestic and mood-setting, the bid for life unmistakable and the gravitational pull of the story undeniable.

Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

DVD extras include “Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space” featurette narrated by Ed Harris and “Aningaaq” seven-minute sci-fi short by “Gravity” co-writer Jonas Cuaron The Blu-ray adds shot breakdowns and a nine-part “Mission Control” making-of.

— Post-Gazette

‘Nebraska’  3.5stars

In “Nebraska,” 77-year-old Bruce Dern turns in the performance of a lifetime, earning an nomination for best actor in this Oscar nominated film.

He is Woody Grant, who — in the unvarnished words of his wife — is a “dumb cluck” who believes he has won a million-dollar sweepstakes. Woody plans to collect, even if he has to walk the 800 or so miles from his home in Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., and he starts to navigate it on foot before being stopped by the sheriff.

After picking up his dad at the sheriff’s department only to have him go rogue again, son David (Will Forte) decides just to drive the old man to Nebraska. David’s life is none too satisfying, either, given his job selling stereo equipment and recent split with a girlfriend.

As in the best road movies, there are quirky characters, peculiar challenges, revelations and majestic vistas, although in this case, they are presented in black and white, giving the movie a timeless quality and tempers the humor with heartache.

Woody is not a candidate for father of the year. Any year. He likes to drink, a lot, telling David, “You’d drink, too, if you were married to your mother.” But David gains new insight into both of his parents, their farm-country roots and how he might provide a measure of dignity in lieu of a fortune.

Although he didn’t write the original script, Omaha, Neb., native Alexander Payne (“The Descendants,” “Sideways,” “Election”) directed “Nebraska.” Onetime “Saturday Night Live” player Mr. Forte demonstrates surprising dramatic talent as David while June Squibb as Woody’s wife is a hoot with a sharp tongue.

“Nebraska” is about a road trip into the past and a journey that starts with a son’s sense of resignation and ends with a small joyful act of rebellion, respect and love.

Rated R for some language.

Extras include six-part making-of featurette covering the cast, script, characters, film and more.

— Post-Gazette

‘Thor: The Dark World’ 2stars 

This feels like a hammer dropped on our collective toes.

Kenneth Branagh’s directorial turn on “Thor” was a deft exploration of generational dysfunction and sibling rivalry dressed up in pseudo-Shakespearean pageantry. Alan Taylor takes the chair for the far less satisfying sequel, “Thor: The Dark World.”

In present day Asgard, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), in manacles because of his crimes against the throne of Odin and his complicity in the alien invasion of Earth in “The Avengers,” continues to mock his brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and his foster father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

When the sinister Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his henchman Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) re-emerge from their millennia-long nap refreshed and ready for round II of their epic battle against Earth and Asgard, Thor recruits Loki to help defeat an enemy who wields a dark energy that somehow predates the birth of the universe.

As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that as the noble young prince of Asgard, Thor’s muscles are clearly bigger than his brain.

Mr. Hiddleston supplies the sequel with what little fun and surprise it has, but the film lacks the first movie’s balance of humor, violence and otherworldliness that constantly threatens to break through into ordinary reality.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content.

Extras include commentary, featurettes, extended and deleted scenes, a gag reel and an exclusive look at “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

— Post-Gazette

ALSO THIS WEEK: 

 “L.A. Law: Season One”: The law series from Steven Bochco created the blueprint for legal TV dramas like “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal.”

• “Adventures of the Penguin King”: Tim Allen narrates.

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Life’s Little Lessons”: Four-year-old Daniel Tiger invites young viewers into his world.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color”: A teenage girl deals with the passion and confusion of her first love.

“Above Suspicion, Set 3”: Series based on the novel “Silent Scream” by Lynda La Plante.

“Transformers Prime: Ultimate Bumblebee”: Autobot proves that he has the bravery to fight for what is right.

“Legit: Season 1”: Cable comedy starring comedian Jim Jefferies.

“The Middle: Season Four”: Family comedy starring Patricia Heaton.

“Adventure Time: The Complete Third Season”: Includes all 26 episodes of the cable cartoon series.


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