DVD 7/21/09: Watchmen DC, Coraline, The Mighty Boosh S1-3, Explicit Ills, Dakota Skye, Echelon Conspiracy, Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II, G.I. Joe S1.1

Watchmen: Director’s Cut (R/NR, 2009, Warner Bros.)
If Batman’s badly-needed cinematic reboot put comic book films on a new kind of notice, “Watchmen” — which brings the cherished 1986 graphic novel both to the big screen into the mainstream — essentially raises the bar beyond reach. That’s in equal parts due to how well the film brings to life the anti-superheroes and villains (Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Matthew Goode) that comprise the cast, how faithful it is to the source material in doing so, and how perfectly it makes the alternate-history United States in which they exist practically a starring character in its own right. “Watchmen” checks in at a bloated 162 in theatrical form and 24 minutes heavier in Zack Snyder’s director’s cut. But outside of a few momentary lulls and the occasional narrative redundancy, it utilizes that time to pay meticulous tribute to the source material without drowning in the details. It also captures, unflinchingly, just how savagely violent the original comic was. Even if Marvel’s and D.C. Comics’ finest can approach “Watchmen” in terms of faithfulness and substance — to say nothing of how good the film looks — there likely is no way they’d have the fortitude to do so as brutally as it’s done here. In the saturated genre of superhero films, this one’s a one-of-kind almost by default. Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer and Stephen McHattie, among others, also star.
Extras: Feature on the “Watchmen” graphic novel, 11 video diaries, music video, digital copy.

Coraline: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (PG, 2009, Universal)
Coraline’s family has uprooted and moved into a gigantic but fairly barren old house in the middle of nowhere, and Coraline’s workaholic parents are too busy to liven up the place, much less make an effort to entertain their bored daughter. But everything changes when Coraline finds a secret door that leads to a wondrous, magical parallel dimension where her neighbors and parents drown her in equal parts affection, attention, top-shelf entertainment and first-rate home cooking. So what’s the catch? Because by the time “Coraline” arrives at this juncture, it goes completely without saying that there must be one. Yes, “Coraline” is a visual marvel — a stop-motion masterpiece that very obviously comes from some of the same brain trust behind the similarly stellar “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” But “Coraline” performs just as marvelously in the realm of the written word, injecting its characters and worlds with dark moods and dryly amusing cynicism that won’t ruin the story for younger viewers but continually rewards those who get it. The much-celebrated ability to watch the film in true 3D is pretty cool, and the included glasses really do work. But watching it this way also does a number on the film’s color palette, and it’s recommended only after seeing the visually superior 2D version first. Fortunately, both are available on the same disc.
Extras: Four pairs of 3D glasses, director/composer commentary, deleted scenes, making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes feature, digital copy.

The Mighty Boosh: Season 1 (NR, 2004, BBC)
The Mighty Boosh: Season 2 (NR, 2005, BBC)
The Mighty Boosh: Season 3 (NR, 2007, BBC)

Rare is the sitcom that can take you just about anywhere it feels like going in any given 27-minute span of an episode. But that’s exactly what “The Mighty Boosh,” which ostensibly is about two guys (Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding) who work at what likely is the world’s sorriest zoo, does. There are certain threads of consistency, insofar that the show centers around these two guys and, at least initially, takes place in some capacity at a location related to their amazingly bad zoo. Within those parameters, though, absolutely anything goes, up to and including the death (and, because it’s a comedy, return to life) of one of the main characters. Songs break out, dance often follows, time is traveled, dimensions are traversed. And yes, there are animals, who aren’t actual animals but people in hilariously fake animal costumes (and, occasionally, people playing people dressed as animals in even worse costumes). Some episodes hit more than others, and some gags just collapse outright, even over multiple episodes. But “Boosh’s” mesmerizing blend of dry wit, physical comedy and wondrous understanding of basement-budget hilarity works considerably more often than it doesn’t, and its insatiable appetite for trying absolutely anything and going absolutely anywhere makes every single episode, good or bad, an adventure of its own being.
“Season 1” contents: Eight episodes, plus commentary, outtakes, two behind-the-scenes features, a musical numbers compilation and an image gallery.
“Season 2” contents: Six episodes, plus commentary, the pilot episode, 10-minute short film “Sweet,” deleted scenes, outtakes, two behind-the-scenes features, a musical numbers compilation and an image gallery.
“Season 3” contents: Six episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, two behind-the-scenes features and a musical numbers compilation.

Explicit Ills (R, 2008, Phase 4 Films)
“Explicit Ills” is one of those movies that sounds entirely ordinary in pitch or summary form — driven not so much by a plot as it is a locale (North Philadelphia), a problem (poverty) and a handful of characters whose lives only vaguely intertwine. Even the stories, on their surface, feel a bit ordinary. There’s a drug-addled artist (Frankie Shaw) and her dealer (Lou Taylor Pucci), a mother (Rosario Dawson) who can’t cover for her child’s (scene stealer Francisco Burgos as Babo) healthcare needs. There’s the struggling actor (Paul Dano) slumming it at a kid’s birthday party. There’s middle school-aged boy (Martin Cepeda) who develops a crush on a girl (Destini Edwards) but doesn’t quite know how to garner her interest. As always with movies like these, it comes down to what the film does with all these ideas we’ve all seen before. “Ills” rather artfully rises to the occasion not only by giving the more serious stories the distinction and care they need to carry the film, but by taking those lesser stories and the stuff that happens between the lines and making it matter just as much. The endgame that ties it all together is a shaky and arguably out of left field, but “Ills” combines those little victories into bigger victories in such a way that the message relays itself without the ending’s help. Naomie Harris and Tariq Trotter also star.
Extra: Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign Outreach information.

Dakota Skye (R, 2008, E1 Entertainment)
As super powers go, soon-to-be high school graduate Dakota Skye’s special ability — being able to literally see the truth, like a subtitle, whenever people lie to her — rates pretty low on the excitement scale. It also has opened her eyes to just how prevalent an activity lying is, which in turn has reduced her to the world’s youngest and prettiest grumpy old man. But then one of her boyfriend’s (J.B. Ghuman) best friends (Ian Nelson) comes to town for a visit, and she discovers she either can’t see his lies or he simply isn’t telling any. And thus, an arch-nemesis is born. Sort of. From here, “Dakota Skye” gradually transforms from a slyly amusing picture of disillusionment to a reasonably entertaining story about things girls and guys go through when girls and guys meet. That’s all well and good, but when the focus goes from A to B, the film loses its edge, and the super power gimmick simultaneously gets watered down and left out to dry. Maybe that’s how it was supposed to happen, because “Skye” seems poised to use the trick as a means to a storytelling end rather than its centerpiece. But the safer approach makes for a more ordinary experience that, in tandem with an ending that’s far too neat to exist in this reality, resonates no more than if “Skye” went the other way and took its original gimmick as far as it could go.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, outtakes, making-of feature, cast interviews, bloopers.

Echelon Conspiracy (PG-13, 2009, Paramount)
Contemporary international espionage thrillers are slicker, prettier, more meticulous, and generally more careful than ever about tying up even slightly loose ends before barreling toward a climax. Sometimes, though — and absolutely in lieu of viewing “Echelon Conspiracy” — the obvious needs to be stated: They’re still just movies. “Conspiracy” gets off to a perfectly fine start, with a network security expert (Shane West as Max Peterson) receiving a mysterious cell phone gift, followed by a series of anonymous but extremely fortuitous text messages, during a work-related trip in Bangkok. Things get more interesting when, as expected and teased with another character in the film’s first scene, the messages begin inducing more danger than good luck, and “Conspiracy” peaks when we finally get a sniff of just how many parties are involved and what’s at stake. But things take a rough turn when that sniff turns into a full-on reveal. Without getting specific and spoiling anything, the tail that wags “Conspiracy” is inarguably fictional at best and laugh-it-out-of-the-room ridiculous at worst. For those who cannot suspend their disbelief and play along, it’s also more than enough to undo everything, from some serious visual polish to cool gadgetry to good character design to picturesque local overload, that “Conspiracy” has going for it. Edward Burns, Ving Rhames, Tamara Feldman, Martin Sheen and Sergey Gubanov also star. No extras.

Worth a Mention
— “Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II” (NR, 2008, Adult Swim): “Robot Chicken” is one of the best things ever to happen to Adult Swim, and “Robot Chicken: Star Wars” is, besides being perhaps the funniest “Star Wars” parody ever conceived, one of the best things ever to happen to “Robot Chicken.” “Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II” is every bit as funny as its predecessor, so do the math and consider this a recommendation of the highest order. The DVD includes both the 22-minute broadcast version and a 38-minute extended edition, as well as sketch-by-sketch video commentary, eight behind-the-scenes features, Skywalker Ranch premiere footage, video blogs, animatics and bonus audio.
— “G.I. Joe: Season 1.1” (NR, 1983-85, Shout Factory): Should the upcoming “G.I. Joe” movie complete the one-two childhood gut punch the “Transformers” movies started, this will be waiting for you when you’re ready for the healing to begin. This set includes the 15 episodes that comprised the three miniseries that preceded and kicked off the series’ first season, as well as the first seven episodes that followed. Extras include a collection of “Knowing is Half the Battle” PSAs and Hasbro toy commercials, a three-part writer retrospective, footage from the original 1963 Toy Fair presentation and a printable episode script.