ElysiumElysium (Blu-ray Combo, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) showed up more than any other film in the Criticwire survey of Biggest Disappointments of 2013. Don’t get us wrong; Elysium is a fun film with a slightly subversive political message, but its commentary plays out in the most conventional ways. Matt Damon is a former car thief trying to go straight as a factory worker in a Los Angeles of the future turned third world slum, who gets a death sentence thanks to technical glitch and a system that treats him like a disposable piece of equipment. He’s no revolutionary but he is desperate and angry and he takes on the 1 percent by invading their space station penthouse in the sky to unlock their protected technology for all.

This is a dystopian science fiction thriller rooted in the fury of income inequality and loaded with a plea for universal health care. The disappointment is how director / writer Neill Blomkamp (District 9) failed to capitalize on the premise, turning a potentially whipsmart sci-fi thriller into a conventional spectacle where technology is a gimmick, the action blurs into messy scenes of hyperkinetic editing and the battle against the system becomes an action cartoon. Jodie Foster is the ice queen security chief villain plotting a virtual coup during the chaos and Sharlto Copley plays the mangy bounty hunter as a sociopath handed a license to kill.

The DVD includes two featurettes and an UltraViolet Digital HD copy for download and instant streaming. Exclusive to the Blu-ray are four additional featurettes and an extended scene.

AintThemBodiesAin’t Them Bodies Saints (MPI, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital) plays like the cinematic answer to an outlaw folk song. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play lovers Ruth and Bob, separated when Affleck heads to prison (taking a murder rap to protect his pregnant love). Ruth settles down to raise their daughter, looked after by Bob’s shady but loyal father figure (Keith Carradine) and looked in on by a lovesick policeman (Ben Foster), when Bob decides he can’t live without seeing her and escapes lockup.

Click here to watch Ain’t Them Bodies Saints on SundanceNow today.

Director David Lowery’s filmmaking is assured, with a portrait of rural Texas slipped out of time, straddling the entire era from the Great Depression to the seventies recession and smudging any clues that would definitively set the year. He has an attention to tone and atmosphere, to the nowness of the moment, letting it all settle into the image and the narrative, while the quality of light (from the magic hour exteriors to interiors lit by hurricane lamp and incandescent bulbs) warms the film while coloring it like a yellowed memory. Comparisons to Terrence Malick are not misplaced, but this has more in common with Altman’s Thieves Like Us than Badlands, with Affleck as both a wild kid and cold killer and Mara as devoted mother and lover balancing her heart’s desire with her realist’s understanding of how his desperate prison escape is destined to end. For all the poetry of his filmmaking, this isn’t the romance of outlaw innocents on the run. This life doesn’t offer happy endings, but these people do have a kindness and compassion that makes the effort worthwhile.

Blu-ray and DVD editions feature a documentary and deleted scenes among the supplements, but the more interesting bonus is Lowery’s debut feature St. Nick, never before released on disc.

Read my interview with director David Lowery here.

MuseumHoursMuseum Hours (Cinema Guild, Blu-ray, DVD), Jem Cohen’s lovely, meandering tale of two middle-aged strangers who meet in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna, could be a Lost in Translation for an older generation who find the simple kindness and friendship of a stranger as quietly magical as the artworks on the museum walls. They may be familiar but even after years of routine viewings, a new perspective offers details unnoticed and aspects unappreciated before. Mary Margaret O’Hara is the Canadian visitor in Vienna to visit an estranged cousin in hospital and Bobby Sommer the gentle, ruminative Austrian museum guard who has settled into a calm life appreciating the pleasures of museum and his city. This is art house stuff to be sure, with minimal backstory and plenty of digressions (including a lecture on Bruegel that echoes the guard’s affection for the vivid detail suggesting alternate lives and stories in the fringes of the frames) and it easily strolls through their brief friendship and little conversations about life and art as she helps him see his city through fresh eyes and he helps her come to terms with her dying cousin simply by being there.

It’s in English and German with English subtitles, and you can watch it with an alternate English language voice over track. The disc features three short film by Jem Cohen (Museum (Visiting the Unknown Man), 1997, Amber City, 1999, Anne Truitt, 2009) and a booklet with essays by Luc Sante and Jem Cohen.

LoneRangerThe Lone Ranger (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand), Gore Verbinski’s CGI-crammed action spectacle take on the old-fashioned western technically made more money worldwide than it cost to make, but you add in marketing costs and it’s a flop by any measure. Johnny Depp, who staggered into blockbuster status as Jack Sparrow in Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, takes top billing as Tonto to Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger in this massive frontier spectacle. The Blu-ray contains the featurettes and deleted scene.

Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal headline Prisoners (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD, Cable On Demand), a thriller about a child abduction and a father who will risk everything to get her back. Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano co-star. The discs include two featurettes.

ToadRoadAlso new this week: the brutal superhero sequel Kick-Ass 2 (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand) with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Jim Carrey, the teen gods spectacle Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (Fox, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD), and The Family (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand) with Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Dianna Agron as a mob family in witness protection.

Jason Banker’s Toad Road (Artsploitation, DVD, Digital) adds another micro-budget docu-style horror to the growing ranks, but while this one ostensibly turns on a rural legend that the Seven Gates of Hell can be found down a country road, it’s really more about the drug addiction and spiral into hallucinations and disconnection, which makes this surreal horror rather uncomfortably grounded in real world terrors. Features commentary, deleted scenes, and featurettes.

VOD / On Demand exclusives:

RiddickDigAvailable for purchase as a Digital HD download in advance of disc is Riddick (Universal), David Twohy’s third science fiction feature starring Vin Diesel as a mutant space age criminal, and the comedy Don Jon (Fox), the feature directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also stars and scripts).

Arriving for rent via Cable on Demand in advance of disc is the horror film We Are What We Are, Watchtower from Finland, and the documentary Cutie and the Boxer. On Friday, December 20, the comedy Wrong Cops hits Cable on Demand same day as theaters.

Also available in advance of disc:
Four (Wolfe, Digital, VOD)
Torrente: The Dumb Arm of the Law (Doppelganger, Digital)
Torrente 2: Mission in Marbella (Doppelganger, Digital)
Torrente 3: The Protector (Doppelganger, Digital)
Torrente 4: Lethal Crisis (Doppelganger, Digital)

More releases:NightTrain

One Direction: This Is Us (Sony, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD)
Night Train to Lisbon (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand)
Devil’s Pass (IFC, DVD)
Ghost Team One (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD)
Force of Execution (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD)
The Last Letter (One Village, DVD, Digital)
Mischief Night (Image, DVD)
Contest (Arc, DVD)
Shadow on the Mesa (Cinedigm, DVD)
The Secret Village (Vertical, DVD)
Children of a Darker Dawn (MVD, DVD)
Bronies (MVD, DVD)

Cable on Demand:Prisoners

The Family
Kick-Ass 2
One Direction: This Is Us
The Wolverine

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