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Looper (Blu-ray)





If you missed this one in theaters, you missed one of the year's best big-screen experiences. Director Rian Johnson's time-travel thriller is a startlingly good-looking film.

It's also a great brain twister, featuring a bravura performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a hired assassin killing people sent back from the future the instant they pop up in front of him. Things get a little kooky when the person sent back to be offed is actually an older version of himself (a strong Bruce Willis).

Gordon-Levitt wears some makeup to achieve a look more akin to Willis, but it's the smirk and airy voice that really nail it down. Gordon-Levitt had a banner, blockbuster year with this and The Dark Knight Rises, with this being the best screen work he has done to date.

A supporting cast including Paul Dano, Noah Segan and Jeff Daniels are all top-notch. Dano is especially good as a fellow assassin (or "looper") who loses his nerves at the wrong time and pays a big, grisly price for it.

In a role that isn't getting the notices it deserves (although she has gotten a nomination from the Broadcast Film Critics Association), Emily Blunt takes a break from funny stuff to deliver stellar work as a mom protecting a very strange son (talented child actor Pierce Gagnon). Blunt holds her own with Gordon-Levitt, matching his dramatic power levels at every turn.

Willis gets a chance to do some seedy stuff in this movie as his character goes on an unfortunate crusade. He does a good job making his version of Joe a sympathetic character even as he does unspeakable things.

As time-travel movies go, this is one of the best. The moment where future Joe sits down in a diner with present Joe is a real winner (The universe does not end, as Doc Brown predicted would happen when future and past selves meet in Back to the Future Part II). And if you missed this on the big screen, don't fret. The Blu-ray will look mighty good in your living room.

Let it be noted that this movie cost $30 million. That's a pretty low budget considering the look Johnson has achieved. It seems like the movie should have cost five times that amount, at least.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A great commentary with the director, Gordon-Levitt and Blunt. It's actually one of the year's better commentaries, a truly fun listen. You also get deleted scenes, a couple of featurettes on the making of the film, and a short doc about the film's score.

Liberal Arts (Blu-ray)





Josh Radnor (TV's How I Met Your Mother) writes, directs and stars in this sweet little movie about a man in his mid-30s (Radnor) returning to his college to honor his favorite teacher (Richard Jenkins). While there, he meets a sophomore (Elizabeth Olsen), and immediately starts wondering just how old is too old to date a college sophomore.

Olsen is the best thing about the movie, an actress who improves with every movie, even when the movies aren't all that good (Silent House). As a young woman who easily matches the intellect of Radnor's character, she brings a lot of charm to the film.

Radnor is good here, especially in his scenes with the almighty Jenkins. He also shows some decent directing chops. This movie hasn't actually set the world on fire, but it's good enough to warrant another directing gig for the sitcom star.

Zac Efron makes up for some recent cinematic flubs (The Lucky Ones, The Paperboy) with a funny small role as a campus weirdo.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Radnor provides a commentary and you get some deleted scenes.

Arbitrage (Blu-ray)





Richard Gere has procured himself a deserved Golden Globe nomination for his fine performance as Robert Miller, a hedge fund guy who screws up in many, many horrible ways.

This is some of his best work since Primal Fear, and one of the more memorable characters of his career. On the eve of an important transaction that will save his future, Robert makes a real scumbag error. He finds himself contending with a dogged detective (Tim Roth), an annoyed wife (Susan Sarandon) and a pissed-off daughter (Brit Marling).

Gere can squirm on screen with the best of them, and Robert gives him plenty of chances for squirming. He's part Bernie Madoff and, thanks to a car accident fairly early in the film, also draws comparisons to Ted Kennedy. Gere doesn't make him anybody to really root for (that would be wrong) but he does make Robert a captivating character who will draw you in.

This is the feature-directing debut of Nicholas Jarecki (who also wrote the script). It's a decent debut, and a nice shot in the arm for Gere's career.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A director's commentary, some behind-the-scenes interviews, deleted scenes and a further examination of the Robert Miller character.