DVD 4/7/09: Doubt, Bedtime Stories, Donkey Punch, The IT Crowd S1, The Day the Earth Stood Still

Doubt (PG-13, 2008, Miramax)
Perhaps the best thing about “Doubt” is its ability to play you maybe once, possibly twice, and still leave you feeling smarter for your cooperation. There’s the initial ruse — that this, because of the setting and initial imagery, is a film that will resonate only to those with strong connections to or feelings about the Catholic Church. “Doubt” builds its deck slowly, carefully introducing us to Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Sister James (Amy Adams) and oh so slowly alluding to the rift that prompts one to damn another without anything more than anecdotal proof. Once beneath the surface, though, those early perceptions fall away, surrendering to a metaphorical illustration of gossip’s damaging hand that is unforgettable and instantly, universally resonant to just about anyone. All the while, though, “Doubt” is pulling us back around, picking at viewers’ own pre-conceived notions about the church, the nun and priest archetypes, and whether those characters embody or rebel against those notions. Who do you believe? Is it the same person you want to believe? Or is it the person your intuition compels you to believe even as his or her own words give you reasons not to? “Doubt’s” ability to keep your head continually spinning, while using nothing more than images, themes and tricks we’ve all seen before, cements its claim as one of the best films of last year. Viola Davis and Joseph Foster also star.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, four behind-the-scenes features.

Bedtime Stories (PG, 2008, Disney)
The logistics of Skeeter Bronson’s (Adam Sandler) life aren’t worth delving into here; “Bedtime Stories” does a better job of laying it out anyway. The important points are that his life is kind of a disappointment, he’s an overgrown child in a cynical man’s body, and he’s tasked, along with a neighbor (Keri Russell) who doesn’t find him nearly as charming as he thinks he is, with watching his sister’s kids (Laura Ann Kesling, Jonathan Morgan Heit) for a few days. Yes, “Stories” really is a movie for kids, who probably will tolerate all the grownup stuff to get to the parts where portions of the bedtime stories Skeeter makes up come true in real life the next day. But more than anything, “Stories” is a parents’ movie — a clever idea with some very creative twists, but also a story full of genuinely funny adult humor that shouldn’t bother kids too much. Sandler is the rare comic actor who can legitimately deliver a line written for adults with a face or voice made for kids, and “Stories” is one of the better displays of that gift in action. The premise occasionally paints the story into predictable corners, and some of the usual Disney movie clichés apply, but it’s never too long before something sweet, funny or joyously weird happens. Guy Pearce, Courtney Cox, Richard Griffiths, Lucy Lawless and Teresa Palmer, among others, also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, feature about Bugsy (you’ll understand after you see it), behind-the-scenes feature, digital copy.

Donkey Punch (NR, 2008, Magnet/Magnolia)
Would you venture onto a soon-to-be-undocked boat and imbibe with four strangers you met practically minutes before? Seems safe, right? Apparently Tammi (Nichola Burley), Kim (Jaime Winstone) and Lisa (Sian Breckin) think so when they set sail, inhale some drugs and pair off with four overtly eager male hosts (Robert Boulter, Tom Burke, Julian Morris and Jay Taylor). Again, model behavior. What happens next isn’t to be spoiled, but if you know the not-safe-for-work origins of the term that inspired “Donkey Punch’s” title, you probably can guess what simple mistake turns the whole thing sour. Once it does, “Punch” takes a turn for the absurdly fantastic — a mercurial, temperamental mess that isn’t afraid to drag you, slowly, through some very ugly consequences of one very stupid mistake. Thrillers built on human stupidity are rife with far greater possibilities than those built around plain old evil, and “Punch” — be it during the anticipatory dread that embodies the pre-storm calm or the complete derailment of rationality that succeeds it — gloriously demonstrates why.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.

The IT Crowd: The Complete First Season (NR, 2006, MPI)
Creating a television show is an impressive endeavor in its own right, but the creators of “The IT Crowd” deserve special recognition for the way they essentially bent space and time to make this one happen. Taken on its premise, “Crowd” — a workplace comedy about a trio of underappreciated tech support professionals (Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson) slumming it in the basement of a large corporation — is straight out of today. The ubiquitous IT guy is the 21st century equivalent of the washer/dryer repairman, and “Crowd” farms the bulk of its material from a well of geek humor and cynical observations about corporate culture. And yet, all of this happens in the bounds of a format straight out of the 1980s — shot in video, before a boisterous live studio audience, and chock full of shamelessly broad humor and sight gags. Even weirder, the dated look and feel proves to be an asset. Had sitcoms never evolved, “Crowd” would fit right in and do little else. Buy they have, and so this show completely stands out, buried to its neck in modern and antiquated sensibilities that clash in a brutal but strangely delightful bang of weirdness. You need a special sense of humor to truly appreciate it, but if the concept on paper makes you smile, you’ll probably do just fine.
Contents: Six episodes, plus deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, nerd-friendly subtitles and a DVD menu system that, if you grew up playing computer games in the 1980s, will entertain you as much as the show does.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (PG-13, 2008, Fox)
Grumble grumble, right? Fair enough. But here’s the thing: As unnecessary CGI-ified remakes go, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is pretty harmless, especially if you just consider it an alternate interpretation instead an unwelcome replacement, which it isn’t. In the original film, a highly personable alien named Klaatu brought Earth’s electricity to a halt and threatened humanity with extinction if it continued to harm one of the galaxy’s few inhabitable destinations. This time, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), while thoughtful, isn’t nearly as charming. That goes double for the obnoxious kid who crosses his path (Jaden Smith). In the original, the kid was polite and almost dangerously naive; this time, you want Klaatu to wipe out humanity just to shut him up. “Still’s” other point of contention is the message behind the fiction. The original waxed about nuclear proliferation, but this one stays vague — almost as if to nod at environmentalism without being held culpable by those who accuse it of preaching. It doesn’t really matter. The original remains the better film, but “Still,” for all its comparative faults, leaves enough of the important bits intact to tell a good story. As it should, it also ups the visual ante: The dinky robot from the original is impressively imposing here, and the illustration of Klaatu’s threat is, even if it doesn’t make much sense, a pretty amazing sight. Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates and John Cleese also star.
Extras: Writer commentary deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features.