Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny : This made-for-Netflix sequel to Ang Lee’s 2000 smash is suspiciously light on returning personnel — Michelle Yeoh and action choreographer (now director) Woo-Ping Yuen are about the only names of note — and its story beats have the kind of slavish, borderline-remake shadowing of the original that are typical of such low-profile follow-ups. Put simply, it knows the words but not the music, and the emotion and longing of the original film is sorely lacking. But as pure action, it’s worth checking out; the elegant swordfights and acrobatic hand-to-hand battles are inventively staged and expertly choreographed (face-offs on a thin-iced lake and a crumbling rooftop are the highlights), and Yeoh is, as ever, stellar. It certainly isn’t equal to the original, not by a long shot, but it’s also not the disaster it sounded like.
Creed : Ryan Coogler’s Rocky spin-off could’ve been terrible in a million ways; instead, he moves through Stallone’s world and tells his own story with remarkable confidence and power. The key, it seems, is how he reconnects with the humanity that disappeared from so many of the sequels (and does it, ironically enough, while linking his narrative to the most mechanical of them); it vibrates in the warmth between its characters, and in how the emotional connections are as powerful as any of the physical altercations. And it’s a film that only improves on repeat viewings; you remember and anticipate its best moments — the all-in-one first bout, the motorcycle run, the rise from the canvas — and thrill as they deliver their goosebumps all over again. (Includes featurettes and deleted scenes.)
Room : There’s something inherently daring about the structure of Lenny Abrahamson’s harrowing drama (adapted by Emma Donoghue from her novel): it comes to its emotional climax halfway through, and then, remarkably enough, it continues — pushing past the easy resolution to ask what happens next, and pursuing that question and its implications from every possible angle. It’s a risky move, but one that pays rich dividends when the real ending arrives. Freshly minted Oscar winner Brie Larson continues a streak of remarkably nuanced and natural work, and child actor Jacob Tremblay gives a performance equal to any adult actor last year. It’s a tough movie, and a great one. (Includes featurettes and audio commentary.)
Youth : The latest from The Great Beauty director Paolo Sorrentino (a nominee for Best Original Song) is luminously photographed and impeccably designed — unsurprisingly. Set at a luscious resort spa, and spending much of its time in the company of good-looking and/or interesting people (Michael Caine, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, and the glorious Rachel Weisz among them), it is in many ways less a movie to watch than one to luxuriate in. But it goes deeper than its handsome surfaces; it’s a story about interior journeys, about coming to terms with not only your own mortality, but the demons you’ve managed to dodge all your life, until you can’t avoid them anymore. It’s a deceptively offhand movie, and a casually haunting one. (Includes featurettes and trailer.)