The King’s Speech (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Maybe the best thing about “The King’s Speech” is the way some of its best scenes — despite never taking the film too far beyond the normal genre bounds — feel like scenes from a bizarro-world buddy comedy instead of a coming-of-age historical drama. “Speech” is, for those unfamiliar, the story of King George VI (Colin Firth), whose tenure was remarkable not only because he assumed the throne in the age of Hitler and succeeded his alive-and-well brother (Guy Pearce) instead of his late father (Michael Gambon), but because of a crippling stammer that left any aspirations of public galvanization seemingly in ruin. The events of his tenure — events that likely would have made him a notable figurehead even without the stammer — are never marginalized here. But “Speech” ultimately is about the odd relationship that forms between a stubborn, self-doubting man being forced into the public limelight and the speech therapist and arguable quack (Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue) who has zero qualms about cutting him down to size while rebuilding him for his date with greatness. History has long since spoiled how the story ends, but that doesn’t make the bitter, contentious, spirited and, yes, very funny journey this relationship takes any less awesome to witness. Without spoiling the specifics, there’s a good reason people who saw “Speech” howled when it was announced that a PG-13 retooling was in the works. With respect to the fragile and easily offended, make sure the version you see has a nice big “R” on the back of the box, because it’s integral to some of the movie’s best moments. Helena Bonham Carter also stars.
Extras: Director commentary, two speeches (one with video, one audio only) from the real King George VI, behind-the-scenes feature, interviews.
Rabbit Hole (PG-13, 2010, Lions Gate)
Grief and guilt are reckless, winding roads, and while “Rabbit Hole” gets no originality points for its plot — two parents (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as Becca and Howie) grieving the loss of a child and trying to find some way to embrace normalcy again — it gets sky-high marks for matching its overriding theme blow for blow. “Hole” doesn’t show its cards right away, going so far as to initially tiptoe around the fact that any loss has even occurred. When the realization slowly settles in that something is deeply wrong with this picture, the movie validates it with stark, frozen denial and repression instead of bouts of yelling and crying. The tears and anger will come later, but so will that odd darkly funny moment where a character has an uncontrollable case of the giggles at the absolute worst time. “Hole” picks its moods carefully without appearing cautious, and it returns to them without feeling like it’s stalling for time or repeating itself. It also compounds its portrayal of grief with a punch-to-the-gut amazing illustration of guilt — from Becca to Howie to numerous important supporting characters (Miles Teller, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard) and even the family dog. By the time it’s over, “Hole” and everything it contains feels absolutely spent. If you can relate on any remote level to anybody here, you’ll likely be right there with them.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes.
Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (R, 2010, Well Go USA)
“Ip Man” dramatized the humble beginnings of martial arts master and Wing Chun teacher Ip Man (Donnie Yen), who arguably is most famous for having mentored Bruce Lee. And when we say “dramatized,” that’s what we mean, unless you believe the tide of the Sino-Japanese War turned on Master Ip’s ability to take down a Japanese colonel and galvanize his decimated village into fending off the occupying army. “Ip Man 2” finds Ip bringing his teachings to British-ruled Hong Kong — a move that invites resistance from street thugs, a fellow master (Sammo Hung) and a British boxer (Darren Shahlavi) who snarlingly dismisses all Chinese martial arts as “dancing.” If you’re hoping for a stronger devotion to historical accuracy, it’s time to give up or give in. Though more intimate in scale, “Ip Man 2” is even more fantastical than its predecessor, and the only historical nerve it really touches is that time Rocky Balboa sought vengeance against Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.” But if you’re here to be entertained, it doesn’t remotely matter. “Ip Man 2” is one seriously pretty movie — able to turn barren alleys and dingy boxing gyms into jaw-dropping set pieces just as its predecessor did with Ip’s dilapidated village — and it’s extremely generous in terms of action. The fights are absolutely magnificent, too — completely unbelievable, maybe, and hokey as can be during the climactic fight, but an total ballet of skill, speed and creative use of surrounding resources. In Cantonese with English subtitles, though an English dub is included.
Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, shooting diary, four behind-the-scenes features.
Lucky (NR, 2010, Docurama)
The odds of winning a typical Powerball jackpot are roughly 200 million to one, but don’t tell that to the millions of people who poured a record $62 billion into lottery tickets in 2008 while the economy collapsed around them. Chances are, they either already know and don’t care or won’t believe you anyway. “Lucky” occasionally pops in with a staggering fact about the business of winning the lottery, but its real meat is the range of stories it tells about a handful of winners — a Vietnamese immigrant who won a share of an obscene $390 million jackpot, a homeless Illinois man who spent his last buck on a $5 million winner, and a family that got more than $100 million all to itself, among other accounts. In terms of diversity, the stories have just about every outcome covered, and “Lucky” gives just as much time to the winners whose lives changed for the better as those whose lives either went south or went down detours that weren’t necessarily welcome. There isn’t a consensus regarding whether lottery millions are an outright blessing or curse, so those who come in with their preconceived fantasies or suspicions likely will remain wishful or weary. Given the wide range of candid accounts “Lucky” presents and the many shades of gray in which those accounts delve, there really could be no other conclusion.
Extras: Deleted scenes, filmmaker bio.
Year of the Carnivore (NR, 2009, Maya Entertainment)
Twentysomething undercover grocery store thief-catcher Sammy Smalls (Cristin Milioti) is, by the stick most of us use to measure normalcy, a bit of a oddball. Fortunately, so is the movie in which she stars. “Year of the Carnivore” finds Sammy discovering, a little later than most, that she has some serious self-educating to do in the realm of relationships, intimacy and physical affection. The sudden realization, and the violent rush of desperation that follows, sends her down a slippery slope of ill-devised ideas and disastrous results. But in the process of Sammy’s socially backward thrashing and flailing, “Carnivore” manages to make a pretty grounded point about how nobody — old, young, single, married, dork or not —really ever has all the answers to all of Sammy’s questions. Though centered around Sammy’s confusion about acting on a possible relationship with her best friend (Mark Rendall), “Carnivore” is prone to some serious flailing of its own — dopily funny one scene, sweet the next, aggressively heartfelt the next, and willing to suddenly clamp down on a starkly serious nerve before pulling back just as quickly. It’s somewhat all over the place, and in the process of jumping between the main characters and some supporting characters who live on some pretty faraway tangents, it certainly isn’t the tidiest thing you’ll ever see. But while Sammy is a weirdo, she’s an extremely likable weirdo. And because “Carnivore” never stops orbiting around her no matter how distracted it gets, the calamity that ensues is unique and fun instead of frustrating.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Somewhere (R, 2010, Focus/Universal)
During the nearly wordless 15 minutes that open “Somewhere,” we’re treated to a vague idea of who Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is — rich, single, bored, something of a loner even in the company of friends, a little listless in general. A few more clues trickle in shortly after: He’s apparently a pretty big deal in Hollywood, and he has a daughter (Elle Fanning) who is a very big deal to him. But if you’re wishing “Somewhere” bends the arm’s length at which it’s kept you thus far, all you’re doing is wasting a wish. As established by that early going, “Somewhere” values images over words and character-building over what typically constitutes storytelling. It’s also pretty gifted in those respects, unafraid to sit still on a nearly static screen long enough to make audiences squirm with moderate impatience. But because Johnny is someone we observe more than actually get to know, all these meticulous observations never rise above the shallow pool from which they came, and if “Somewhere” was a grab at sympathy for the lost or scorn for the rich and self-pitying, it’s too detached to succeed either way. Johnny is neither lovable nor detestable: Outside of a few nice fatherly moments and a last-minute declaration of all we assumed, he just sits around looking listless, bored and polite while pretty things flutter around in front of him. Perhaps you can relate, because if you watch “Somewhere,” you’re likely to assume the same position and expression.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.