gravity-poster-405x600It’s less than two weeks until the Oscars. Only a few of the Best Picture nominees are available on disc and/or VOD/On Demand. Three major nominees, however, are now available in advance of disc/VOD/On Demand if you are willing to purchase a digital copy and are set up to stream a digital download to the screen of your choice.

Gravity (Fox, Digital HD), which is one of the favorites in the Best Picture race and the biggest hit among the nominees, came out a week or so ago on iTunes and Amazon and other digital markets. Much of the power of this film comes from the immersive experience in the theater—director Alfonso Cuarón creates a stunning texture for a film created with so much digital effects work and the audio atmosphere is just as important to creating the sense of isolation—and I’m curious to see how it plays on home theater. One thing I do know: this is not a film to watch on your smartphone. See it on the biggest screen you can.

nebraska-movie-poster-1New this week are fellow Best Picture and Best Director nominees 12 Years a Slave (Fox, Digital HD) and Nebraska (Paramount, Digital HD).

12 Years a Slave has nine nominations all told (including nods for actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o) for its retelling of the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free-born man kidnapped and sold into slavery. And Nebraska comes to Oscar night with a total of six nominations, including a well-deserved nod for Bruce Dern, his first nomination since Coming Home in 1979.

Gravity and Nebraska are set for release on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as VOD and Cable On Demand, next week. 12 Years a Slave is set for disc release on March 4, two days after the Oscars. These digital copies do not include the supplements that the Blu-ray editions will feature, and digital still does not match the audio and video quality of a well-mastered Blu-ray, which matters if you’ve made the investment in a superior home theater system. So the question remains: are collectors ready to make the transition from physical to virtual media? Those you who are have got a jump of the rest of us disc devotees for seeing these acclaimed films at home.

HellbendersHellbenders (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Digital HD) – It’s an unusually thin week for New Releases on disc, so I took the opportunity to grab something that might ordinarily get overlooked. I’ve been a fan of JT Petty since he made Soft for Digging more than a decade ago. He’s got a gift for unease and eeriness and prefers weird and creepy over explicit when it comes to his horror.

For Hellbenders, however, he takes a page out of John Carpenter’s Vampires (with a touch of Alex de la Iglesias’ The Day of the Beast) for his wild bunch of holy demon hunters. Clancy Brown leads the multi-denominational dirty half-dozen, a band of badass kamikaze exorcists who behave more like a motorcycle gang than ordained priests. Even their name sounds like a gang: The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints. Petty’s twist is that these holy warriors have a poison pill back-up: if they fail to exorcize their target demon, they can coax the demon into possessing them (a man or woman of God is a prize for Satan’s spawn) and then kill themselves and drag the demon with them back down to hell. Which means they have to be “damnation ready” by breaking a healthy percentage of the 10 Commandments and indulging in the Seven Deadly Sins—within boundaries, of course.

Great idea for a horror comedy but misguided in the execution. Petty isn’t—how shall I put this—funny. His previous films have spun webs of unease with his eerie imagery and offbeat horrors and controlled, underplayed performances. Hellbenders tries to leverage to contradictions inherent in the premise for laughs without actually giving his naughty priests anything clever to do. A bunch of debauched guys (including Clifton Collins Jr., The Wire‘s Andre Royo and an underutilized Dan Fogler) and one woman (Robyn Rikoon) in clerical collars blaspheming a blue streak, smoking dope and discussing sexual indiscretions does not a joke make, and his script doesn’t even come offer anything as clever as a tired Bruce Willis quip lobbed under fire.

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As meticulous as his best films have been, Hellbenders feels as starved of creative attention as it is of budgetary resources. The direction feels haphazard, the characters lazily dumped into scenes where they shout their way out of the material, the demon battles staged with perfunctory fire and brimstone but little sense of anything actually at stake. If you think it’s worth it just to hear Clancy Brown commit himself to a stream of expletives with gusto for near-on 90 minutes, I won’t judge you. But it’s hard to believe such talented people made such a lifeless, laughless black comedy decades after Sam Raimi reset the bar with the Evil Dead films.

Blu-ray and DVD editions include commentary by Petty and the cast and the 26-minute “God’s Dirty Work: The Making of Hellbenders” produced by Red Shirt Pictures (which has been doing fine work for Shout Factory’s special editions), plus behind-the-scenes footage and the original “Exorcism” short films (glimpsed in the mock-documentary framing footage). The Blu-ray edition features the 3D version of the film for 3D-compatible monitors and players and an UltraViolet Digital HD copy.

Also new and notable: AfternoonDelight

Afternoon Delight (New Video, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD, On Demand) stars Kathryn Hahn as a bored stay-at-home mom who heads to strip club to spice up her marriage and invites a young stripper (Juno Temple) to move in as their new nanny. Because that’s going to work out great! It’s the debut feature from Jill Soloway, a veteran TV writer and producer, and she followed up this film by creating a pilot for a new series, Transparent, on Amazon Prime.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (Zeitgeist, DVD) reunites cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek with filmmaker Sophie Fiennes for a follow-up to their documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. The disc features a bonus Q&A with Zizek and Fiennes.

From Turkey comes Watchtower (Film Movement, DVD), a drama about two loners who take isolated jobs but end up crossing paths and making an unexpected connection. Turkish with English subtitles, and the disc features the bonus short film The Foreigner from Greece.

And from Israel comes Zaytoun (Strand, DVD), starring Stephen Dorff as an Israeli pilot shot down in Beirut in the 1982 Lebanese Civil War who must rely in a Palestinian boy to get back over the border. English, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.

VOD / On Demand exclusives:

McCanick.backgroundAvailable On Demand, VOD and Digital before theaters is McCanick (Well Go), the last film that Cory Monteith finished before he died. David Morse, Rachel Nichols and Ciarán Hinds co-star in the crime thriller.

Cheap Thrills (Drafthouse), the comic horror film with Pat Healy, Ethan Embry and David Koechner, debuts on Cable On Demand on Friday, February 21, a month before its theatrical debut.

Also arriving On Demand this week is Romeo and Juliet (Fox) and Baggage Claim (Fox), both recently released on disc.

Oscar nominated documentary short Karama Has No Walls (Cinema Guild) is available for digital purchase through iTunes in HD and SD editions.

More releases:BattleDamned

Battle of the Damned (Anchor Bay, DVD, Blu-ray)
On the Job (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
Laughing to the Bank (RLJ / One Village, DVD, Digital, VOD)
Mortal Enemies (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
The Invoking (RLJ / Image, DVD, Digital, VOD)
The Ganzfeld Haunting (Screen Media, DVD)
In Montauk (Siren’s Tale, DVD)
Balls to the Wall (Inception, DVD, VOD)

Calendar of upcoming releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD

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