Don McKay (R, 2009, Image Entertainment)
If you like your movies nice and insane and like your movie-watching experience thoroughly unspoiled, stop reading here, because even assigning “Don McKay” a genre infringes on spoiler territory. “McKay” finds lifeless janitor Don (Thomas Haden Church) returning home, 25 years after fleeing an unspecified tragedy, to honor the request of a former high school girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue). Once back, Don immediately finds himself knee-deep in another mess, and it’s like he never left. For roughly half its runtime, “McKay” plays like a self-serious, low-rent thriller starring good actors playing disastrously-written characters trying to wade through a story in which stuff seemingly happens just to happen. But it’s all a long con. An occasional darkly funny moment peeks through as time passes, and then, on the precipice of act three, the dam bursts and “McKay” goes bananas. What initially felt like unintentional parody suddenly feels ingeniously legit, and the film complements the barrage of pitch-black comedy with a similarly fearless unfurling of a mystery that, shockingly, pays off massively during a crazy climax that somehow makes sense in spite of all the insanity flying about. “McKay” still is a bit too messy to make it something everyone will love, and even though the payoff wouldn’t be nearly as good without the bumpy start setting it up, it’s still a bumpy start. But a comeback this fierce within the space of 90 minutes isn’t something you see very often, and if you’re prepared to just go for a ride, hopefully you stopped reading 200 words ago and are preparing to do just that.
Extras: Director/producer commentary, deleted scenes.
Hot Tub Time Machine (R/NR, 2010, MGM)
If you look at the cast (Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, John Cusack, Clark Duke) and then look at the plot (three longtime friends and one nephew attempt to reconnect at the friends’ dilapidated former vacation spot, only to enter a hot tub that sends them back to their prime), it’s understandable if you also assume “Hot Tub Time Machine” is so preoccupied with trying to be funny that the high concept is purely a means to some fresh gags about time travel and the 1980s. But give “HTTM” some credit: In addition to doing exactly what’s expected of it, it actually kind of, sort of tries — if not to reconcile how a faulty hot tub can engender time travel, then at least to pay the butterfly effect some level of respect. In fact, between this and the surprising level of reverence paid to the overlying message — don’t take your friends for granted and don’t let time and distance do it for you — “HTTM’s” need to make people laugh occasionally plays third fiddle. But it makes for a better movie, in no small part because all that respect and reverence pays out during a satisfying end sequence and supremely funny credit roll. And if all you want is to laugh? Fret not: “HTTM” isn’t as rapid-fire funny as, say, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” but when it strikes, it hits hard.
Extras: Theatrical and unrated cuts, deleted scenes.
The Eclipse (R, 2009, Magnolia)
Do you like movies thick with atmosphere? Do you like them so much that you can forgive one that prioritizes mood at the arguable expense of traditional three-act plot values? In “The Eclipse,” widower and father of two Michael (Ciarán Hinds), who aspires to be a writer and is volunteering as a driver during a local literary festival, has begun hearing strange noises and fears he’s being haunted by the dead. Fortunately, he’s driving an author (Iben Hjejle as Lena) who specializes in writing about that very thing, so he finally can get some questions off his chest. But while all the necessary materials are on hand to make “The Eclipse” a perfectly serviceable ghost story, its interests lie elsewhere. Michael’s suspicions about the hauntings and the consequences that follow are of lynchpin importance to “The Eclipse’s” storyline, but they also place a distant second to the deeply personal stories of Michael, Lena and a disruptive second author (Aidan Quinn) whose own interests are clouded by these developments. It’s part drama, part thriller, part character piece and not really overwhelmingly any one of the three, and in the school of neat and explanatory conclusions, the ending is an arguable dropout. But what “The Eclipse” wants to do — which is tell a cutting story about a man chasing some harrowing ghosts that have nothing to do with the ghosts who might be chasing him — it does with considerable skill and admirable conviction.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.
Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles: The First Five Seasons (NR, 2003/2010, Flatiron Film Company)
For those unfamiliar, machinima is what happens when someone takes assets rendered for another purpose — typically video games — and manipulates them, voice acting and all, to tell a story that may have nothing to do with those assets’ original intentions. Most of what results is pretty poorly made, but every now and then, a lot of hard work produces a gem. Until further notice, the gold standard of the art form is “Red vs. Blue,” which takes assets from the “Halo” video game franchise and makes them walk and talk to the tune of a very funny story about smart-mouthed soldiers fighting over land that doesn’t even appear to be worth the trouble. “RvB” has always been freely available to stream either online or via Xbox Live — Microsoft and “Halo” creator Bungie’s support of the project is perhaps the genre’s most inspiring story — but fans should take note anyway: In addition to being a handy way to take the first five seasons with you, this box set completely remasters the first four seasons’ visual assets. Given how dramatically video game graphics have improved since 2003, that’s no small bonus.
Contents: 100 episodes, plus the previously Xbox Live-exclusive miniseries “Out of Mind” and “Recovery One,” deleted scenes, outtakes, alternate endings, hidden tracks, PSAs and various bits of bonus footage from the “RvB” vault.
The Crazies (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Maybe it’s the billion-plus zombie movies that release annually, or maybe it’s the million-plus stories Hollywood has told about biological agents gone awry. Either way, the plotline of the remake of “The Crazies,” which finds bad drinking water transforming a small town of people into monsters, just doesn’t have the same novelty the original enjoyed in 1973. But that also makes its ability to entertain anyway all the more impressive. “The Crazies” doesn’t avoid horror movie conventions at all, and many of its would-be scares are undone by the same old twists. But even in a world infested with zombie movies, these mutants are an interesting breed because their previous selves aren’t all the way gone and they partially still know who they are. “The Crazies” doesn’t do all it can with that device, but it does something with it, and its use of characters who may or may not be lost provides intrigue in place of the usual sources of suspense. The storyline surrounding the bad water also checks out — not so much because of its revelation, but because of what happens when things get out of hand. The closing scene is thoroughly ridiculous compared to the modest beginnings, but that — and the simple willingness to go big — is what makes “The Crazies” so much more fun than it seemingly had any chance of bring.
Extras: Director commentary, Two episodes of the “Crazies” motion comic, four behind-the-scenes features, storyboards.
Bass Ackwards (NR, 2010, Flatiron Film Company)
Lias (Linas Phillips) isn’t exactly setting the world ablaze: He makes a pittance as a freelance videographer, the friends off whom he’s been freeloading have politely asked him to move out, and the woman he’d been seeing (Davie-Blue) has pushed him
away because oops, she lives with another guy. One semi-random visit to a farm and the acquisition of one old van later, it’s road trip time as Linas drives cross-country to live temporarily with his parents in Boston. If you spotted the whimsical name and await the part where this prototypical road trip movie gets funny, even just quirkily so, you’ll wait forever. Instead, “Bass Ackwards” emphasizes the romance of it all — solitary highway hours, chance encounters with strangers, more self-discovery than some find in four years of college. “Ackwards” is as open-ended as Linas’ journey, and the story isn’t so much a plot as a glance at someone who himself takes a passive approach to the experience. That means some scenes free of dialogue and others shared with characters whose impact on the storyline (term used loosely) is minimal. For some, that also means one boring movie with nothing ultimately gained. So adjust your expectations: “Ackwards” is rich with thoughtful moment-to-moment photography, dialogue and character design, but it’ll land with a thud if you want all those moments to add up to a substantial big picture.
Extras: Phillips/Davie-Blue/cinematographer/film critic commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers.
Leave it to Beaver: The Complete Series (NR, 1957, Shout Factory)
If you need an introduction to “Leave it to Beaver” — which seemingly has been on the air on some channel in every corner of the country during multiple hours of every day since the beginning of television — you probably need an introduction to television as well. The release timing of this 37-disc set is really odd, because only half of the show’s six seasons are available individually, and folks who purchased the seasons individually will have to wait until September for season four and who knows how long for seasons five and six. That’s bound to engender some hurt feelings, especially if those people miss out on special features exclusive to this set. But if you’re not part of that crowd or simply waited for the inevitability of this release, it’s all good news to you.
Contents: 234 episodes, plus the original pilot episode, two cast retrospectives, theme song composer interview, a Cleavers-fronted special film made for the U.S. Treasury, original promo material.
Beautiful (R, 2009, E1 Entertainment)
Sometimes, everything you need to know about a movie can be found in its musical score. Witness “Beautiful,” which takes place in an otherwise ordinary suburb that houses some very suspicious residents and is reeling from three alleged instances of teenage girls getting abducted. The events of “Beautiful” swirl around several residents but gravitate primarily to an awkward teenager (Sebastian Gregory as Danny) who gets a chance to spend time with his dream girl neighbor (Tahyna Tozzi as Suzy) while she shamelessly pumps him for information about another, shadier neighbor, and the storytelling that results shifts between meandering slice-of-life drama to full-on mystery. But regardless of what mood the movie wants to be in or whether it’s even justified, a foreboding score continually purrs in the background. And even when it appears “Beautiful” is striving for something more than dour melodrama, that single, contagious touch continually drags it back there. The mysteries surrounding the neighbors as well as Danny himself ramp up at a nice pace, and even if you can’t stake a meaningful interest in the characters, there’s something satisfying about how far the debris flies when everything blows up in the film’s climax. Even here, though, “Beautiful’s” presentation of its events undermines those events, giving a story that could have been significantly more memorable a send-off that, appropriate or not, merely reinforces the loss of opportunity.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.