TiMER (R, 2009, Phase 4 Films)
In “TiMER,” the concept of finding a soulmate no longer is a concept. Instead, it’s a scientific, commercially viable reality, and anyone 14 or older with $80 to spare can implant a timer on either wrist that literally counts down the minutes until their soulmate comes into view. The logic holes in this idea are predictably gargantuan: What if the other soulmate doesn’t have a TiMER? What if he/she dies? What if you meet someone else in the meantime? But here’s the cool thing about “TiMER:” In addition to trying its hand as a romantic comedy about a soon-to-be-30-year-old (Emma Caulfield as Oona) whose TiMER won’t start, it actually tries its hand at addressing some of these questions as well. Amazingly, by weaving the two objectives into one, it proves surprisingly capable on both fronts. “TiMER” lets the weird concept lead the way, which means it isn’t beholden to the same cliches that deflate so many other romantic comedies that have far less work cut out for them. At the same time, Oona and her sister (Michelle Borth) are funny, perfectly likable people with questions about romance that, impossible inventions aside, are as valid in our world as they are in theirs. Their attempts to reconcile this gap in logic spares us the need to do it for them, and it results in a smart, original and amusing addition to a dead-tired genre.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.
Hung: The Complete First Season (NR, 2009, HBO)
High school teacher Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) wasn’t exactly comfortable when all he had was a low-paying job, a divorce and two teenage kids (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee) to worry about, so you can imagine how unwelcome it was when a fire reduced his house to ash. “Hung’s” first episode contains the particulars, but the nutshell is that Ray has turned to male prostitution because (a) it pays and (b) it’s the only talent he can conjure that could turn his fortunes around. One look at “Hung’s” concept might inspire visions of a television series stretching itself around the suburban gigolo gimmick and running out of material to fuel it by episode four. But much like “Weeds” and “True Blood” aren’t really about drug dealers and vampires, “Hung” isn’t really about suburban prostitution. Ray’s new job obviously plays a central role, but the show is every bit as much about his suburban disillusionment, his ex-wife’s (Anne Heche) soulless second marriage, his kids’ adventures in adolescence, his makeshift madam’s (Jane Adams) lousy personal life, and the happenings of everyone else who gets tangled up in this story. The attention to detail paid to every character — even the bit ones who show up for an episode or two — is impressive, and “Hung’s” ability to touch nerves without losing its sense of humor, while predictable by the standards of cable’s best shows, is commendable nonetheless.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features and Ray and Tanya’s personal ads.
— Also available this week from HBO: “Entourage: The Complete Sixth Season” (NR, 2009): Includes 12 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features and a ONEXONE PSA directed by Matt Damon.
Youth in Revolt (R, 2009, Sony Pictures)
A need to escape some deadbeat behavior on behalf of mom’s newest live-in boyfriend has resulted in an impromptu not-quite family vacation for not-even-close-to-ladies man Nick Twisp (Michael Cera). The good news? It’s pushed him right into the view of Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), and the few days they spend together before parting has sent Nick out of his mind. Not figuratively, either: He’s created a suave alter-ego only he can see and whose orders he must follow to ensure he can wreak just enough rebellious havoc to bring Sheeni back to him. This all would be a horrible mess if “Youth in Revolt” was trying on any level whatsoever to sell this concept with a straight face. But judging by its need to explain how the alter ego can do all the things he does (it doesn’t) or which Michael Cera is saying what and who can hear what (it doesn’t), making it all make sense isn’t really a concern. And that’s just fine, because it’s all just an excuse to enjoy the classic comedy device of a gutless dweeb stepping outside his own limitations to amaze everybody. “Revolt” is a legitimately funny collage of strange characters doing nearly-random things for reasons that rarely justify what’s going on, and the sheer likability of so many purportedly unlikable people communicates its messages about taking chances and thinking with heart over head in ways more conventional movies couldn’t possibly achieve.
Extras: Cera/director commentary, deleted scenes, deleted/extended animation sequences (makes sense after you see the movie), audition footage.
Green Zone (R, 2010, Universal)
If you ever wanted to have a debate about whether movies are better off creating their own universes instead of loosely weaving fiction around true events, then “Green Zone,” which recites a dramatized account of all that went wrong in the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is as good a launching point as any. “Zone” tells the story from the perspective of mission leader and U.S. Army officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), and because history has already spoiled the turn this search took, it goes almost without saying that the real suspense comes from Miller’s crisis of confidence in his superiors than any question of whether his team will find anything. Damon and director Paul Greengrass have played on similar playgrounds before with the “Bourne” movies, and “Zone’s” action scenes and polished production take pages from that franchise’s playbook. But Jason Bourne was working with his own backstory and in his own world, while Miller, for all his merits, simply exists as a vessel for Greengrass’ thoughts on the war. The entire movie, in fact, operates from a certain point of view, using some characters (Amy Ryan) as pawns and painting others (Greg Kinnear) with simple strokes for the benefit of the argument. Even if you agree with Greengrass’ perspective, it’s still impossibly distracting, and it takes the air out of what, under other circumstances, would have been a perfectly great thriller.
Extras: Damon/Greengrass commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.
The Maid (NR, 2009, Oscilloscope)
It stands to reason that a longtime live-in maid would grow attached to the couple who hired her and the children she helped raise. But Raquel’s (Catalina Saavedra) attachment to her employers has reached a complete other plane after 23 years of service, and when the family decides to bring in a second maid to give their prized employee a little breathing room, everything — from Raquel’s cripplingly awkward social composure to her alleged favoritism of some children over others to her antagonistic opposition to anyone encroaching on her territory — spills onto the floor. “The Maid” piggybacks on Raquel’s desperation and disposition to operate on a few different levels: Sometimes, particularly when the competition walks in, it’s a bone-dry comedy, while other times it’s an unflinching picture of a woman who has no idea what she’s doing despite having done the same thing repeatedly for so long. The whole presentation is a bit wobbly — repetitive at times, needlessly meandering other times — but it fits because the woman at the center of the whole thing does quite a bit of teetering herself. A film never hurts itself by serving its character instead of convention, and that’s something “The Maid,” despite not being the funniest comedy or the most cutting drama you’ll see this year or even this month, understands better than most. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, storyboards, director photo gallery.< /p>
The Last Station (R, 2009, Sony Pictures Classics)
If you saw that very popular YouTube video earlier this year that mocked all the storytelling motions Oscar-nominated movies go though to get that nomination, you might find yourself flashing back to it while watching “The Last Station.” “Station” is a dramatized account of the last days of cherished Russian author Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), and it hits every note — strong acting from a loaded cast, dedication (or at least presumed dedication) to authenticity, amusing exchanges that that make you like the characters early, sweeping scores and emotional exchanges to hit more powerful notes later — that award-worthy period pieces and biopics tend to hit. But “Station” also has a bit of a problem with focus. Part of the story is told with Tolstoy’s mindset and ideologies in mind, as if to be a story about a man spending his final days and shaping his legacy to fit his terms. But the story presents itself every bit as much from the perspectives of his wide-eyed assistant (James McAvoy) and the wife (Helen Mirren) who is fighting the prospect of loss and the threat of her husband giving their fortune away before he dies. Eventually, by being everyone’s movie, “Station” become no one’s movie, which allows the conflict over old writings and wealth seize control instead. That, in spite of all the talent and great little moments “Station” has, leaves the effort feeling a bit empty when it’s all over. Paul Giamatti also stars.
Extras: Plummer/Mirren commentary, director commentary, Plummer tribute, deleted scenes, outtakes.
Worth a Mention: Fans of Funny Animation Edition
— “Johnny Bravo: Season One” (NR, 1997, Cartoon Network Hall of Fame): Even if Cartoon Network’s new Hall of Fame DVD imprint is just a means for it to release its older catalog with a little more pre-installed fanfare than it might otherwise receive, all signs point to it being a very good thing anyway. “Johnny Bravo’s” first season is the first set out the door, with “Courage the Cowardly Dog” waiting on deck for a July release. Contents include all 13 episodes, plus commentary, a behind-the-scenes feature, pencil tests for two episodes and a Seth MacFarlane temp track.
— “Family Guy: Volume Eight” (NR, 2009, Fox): Speaking of MacFarlane, here’s another helping — in uncensored and extended form — of the show that made him famous. Includes 15 episodes (with commentary on most), plus deleted scenes, karaoke, one behind-the-scenes feature and a miniature, 44-page replica script for the “Road to the Multiverse” episode.
— “American Dad! Volume 5” (NR, 2009, Fox): Also speaking of MacFarlane, here’s more MacFarlane. Includes 14 uncensored episodes (commentary on all), plus deleted scenes, “The Power Hour” drinking game and trivia for the “Bar Mitzvah Hustle” episode.