DVD 5/12/09: Just Another Love Story, Taking Chance, Taken, Personal Effects, How it All Went Down, The Dana Carvey Show, Penn & Teller: B.S.! S6, Walt Disney Classic Short Films Animation Collection V4-6, Galaxy Quest DE

Just Another Love Story (NR, 2007, Koch Lorber)
“Just Another Love Story” is one of those wildly original movies that starts twisting so quickly, even describing the premise that dictates the bulk of the film’s storyline would qualify as a plot-spoiling disservice. So here are the vague details: One of the main characters lies dead in the first scene. Another, completely unrelated character is shot shortly after. There’s a family of four, an unrelated family that’s swimming in money, and there’s a car crash that begins a bizarre but darkly understandable chain of events that brings the disparate parties together. If you wish to know more, feel free to read the back of the spoileriffic box and partially deny yourself the morbid enjoyment that comes from watching this one unravel. Between the description and the artwork, the DVD’s sleeve is as offensive as the guy who shouts the ending of a film to line full of theatergoers purchasing tickets. If you like your movies dark, know what’s good for you and wish to enjoy “Story” on the level it’s meant to be enjoyed, just take a chance and dive in. The serpentine road this one takes you down is occasionally cryptic and frequently unbelievable, but that, along with a seemingly endless barrage of “What next?” developments, is what makes it so much fun. In Danish with English subtitles. No extras.

Taking Chance (NR, 2009, HBO)
The “based on actual events” pretense that precedes some movies can represent anything from the straight story to an awfully loose interpretation of the truth. In the case of “Taking Chance” — which follows the real-life 2004 journey of one marine (Kevin Bacon as Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, who wrote the script) as he delivers the remains of 19-year-old Marine Chance Phelps to Phelps’ family — it’s awfully hard not to want the former to apply. At its most basic, “Chance” merely goes through the motions of Strobl’s assignment. But in doing so, the film gives us a close, humane look at what amounts to one extraordinarily exhaustive show of respect for troops who die in combat. “Chance” never concerns itself with telling you what it thinks or what you should think about the Iraq War’s merits and deficiencies. There’s a persistent dialogue running throughout the film, but there’s also the notion that all the hypothetical chatter, for or against, falls away when ordinary Americans come face to face with the likes of Strobl and the realization of what he is tasked with doing. “Chance” need not be cloying or forceful to get that point across. It sticks to the story, lets the process do the talking, and emerges as a startlingly illuminating portrait almost as if without even trying.
Extras: Two features about the real people behind the story, deleted scene, making-of feature.

Taken: Two-Disc Extended Edition (NR, 2008, Fox)
Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired secret agent with a dead marriage and an itch to stay in the game. Kim (Maggie Grace) is his teenage daughter. She’s going to Europe with one friend (Holly Vance) and no parental supervision. The name of the movie is “Taken.” Can you connect the dots yet? Yes, “Taken” sets its table somewhat exactly like you expect it to, even if it has to hop a few logical turnstiles and play to a few stereotypes about overseas travel to get there. If that bothers you, guess what? The dialectically-bankrupt second half will give you fits. “Taken” seems to exist simply as a means for Neeson to unleash his inner Jack Bauer/Jason Bourne/Indiana Jones, and if you can tolerate his amazing ability to get answers in record time and dodge every bullet that comes his way, it’s an easy movie to enjoy. Famke Janssen, Nicolas Giraud, Leland Orser and Xander Berkeley also star.
Extras: Theatrical and extended cuts, director/cinematographer commentary (extended cut only), writer commentary (same), two behind-the-scenes features, premiere footage.

Personal Effects (R, 2009, Screen Media Films)
Were it not for separate tragedies that took family members from each of them, Walter (Ashton Kutcher) and Linda (Michelle Pfeiffer) wouldn’t have much of anything in common. But those things happened, and a few chance encounters in courtroom lobbies and group therapy sessions brought them together for what amounts to one strange relationship in one tricky movie to peg down. Loss is the theme of order in “Personal Effects,” which erroneously describes itself on its own box as an “uplifting romance” but in reality is no such thing. To the contrary, “Effects” is more frustrating than uplifting. Squeezing raw emotion out of Walter’s dead stales and muted responses is like extracting ketchup from a sun-dried tomato, and the wearisome wait for his inevitable spring to life spreads to the rest of the film. “Effects” sketches its characters intelligently, tells a good story, and caps things off with a compelling turn of events at the end. But it also appears hesitant to let its characters and scenarios emerge from the dull pain caused by those initial losses until deep into the film. By the time the gloves finally come off, you may have lost too much patience to care anymore.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

How it All Went Down (NR, 2003, E1 Entertainment)
Carmine Cavelli (Silvio Pollio) is making a film that, in all likelihood, will bomb upon release if it ever even reaches completion. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite see it that way, he needs nearly half a million dollars to prove it, and in order to raise that kind of money, he needs to return to a chapter of his life he’d hoped to have left behind. It’s at that point that “How it All Went Down” transforms from potential black comedy about the film business to a dead-serious (albeit very unpolished) look at one bull-headed guy’s attempts to achieve a means to his end at any cost. The coarse approach mostly works in “Down’s” favor: Its characters are a collective mess, but they’re pieced together in such a way that they almost have to be based on people Pollio, who also wrote and directed, knew in real life. If not, then bravo for a script that is as authentic as it is corrosive. It’s merely a shame Pollio’s script can’t quite finish what it starts. Once “Down” heads down the dramatic road, its brakes stop working, and the melodramatic eruption that closes things out is a bit much. Fortunately, it’s not so bad as to undo all that preceded it.
Extra: Deleted scenes.

Worth a Mention
— “The Dana Carvey Show” (NR, 1996, Universal): Dana Carvey’s short-lived sketch comedy show returns from obscurity, and you might be surprised what’s inside — namely, among other things, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert and the now-famous Ambiguously Gay Duo. Someone was ahead of his time, it seems. Includes eight episodes (one of which never aired), as well as deleted scenes and new interviews with Carvey and Robert Smigel.
— “Penn & Teller: B.S.! The Complete Sixth Season” (NR, 2008, Showtime): One of cable’s most perfect shows returns with skewering exposés on such topics as NASA, world peace, sensitivity training and dolphins. Yes, dolphins. Includes 10 episodes.
— Walt Disney Classic Short Films Animation Collection, Volumes 4-6 (NR, Disney): “The Reluctant Dragon,” “Wind in the Willows” and “The Tortoise and the Hare” (sold separately) join last month’s initial offerings. Each DVD includes three to five animated shorts in addition to the short featured on the cover, as well as a litho print.
— “Galaxy Quest: Deluxe Edition” (NR, 2000, Paramount): It was Tim Allen’s only good live-action movie nearly 10 years ago, and it remains that today. Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sigourney Weaver and Sam Rockwell also star. Special edition extras include five behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes and a Sigourney Weaver rap session.