Bridesmaids (R/NR, 2011, Universal)
By all the usual metrics of a stereotypical thirtysomething bridesmaid, Annie’s (Kristen Wiig) life is a mess — professionally, personally and most certainly emotionally. Unfortunately, her only comfort — the fact that best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is in the same boat — just sailed out the window via a surprise marriage proposal, and her job as Lillian’s maid of honor is about to open a new set of emotional wounds that will make her miss the mess she was in when “Bridesmaids” began. You might be able to relate, and not necessarily in the way the movie intended. “Bridesmaids” gets off to a terrifically funny start, and it does so simply on the strength of funny characters trading sharply funny lines. That never completely stops happening, but when the plot thickens in all the obligatory ways (love interests, bridesmaid rivalries, multiple stages of rock bottom followed by the inevitable rally) you expect it to thicken, the multitasking spreads the humor a little thin. A distracted “Bridesmaids” is still funnier than most big-studio comedies to release this year, but it’s hard not to wonder what this would have looked like if it’d taken a small-studio cue and ignored those plot obligations in favor of something a little less conventional. Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Hamm and Chris O’Dowd, among others, also star.
Extras: Unrated version, cast/crew commentary, deleted/extended/alternate scenes, outtakes, bloopers, Cholodecki’s commercial.
My Run (NR, 2009, Virgil Films)
When Terry Hitchcock lost his wife to breast cancer and subsequently lost his job days later, the lifeless, depressed, couch-bound aftermath that followed was completely understandable. Or rather, it would have been if Terry didn’t have three young children whose care now fell completely into his hands. What followed over the next 12 years was a harsh but empowering plunge into single fatherhood, and the experience re-energized Terry so much that it mushroomed into a plan to run across America as a means for raising awareness about the plight of voiceless single dads. Great idea — if Terry wasn’t well north of 50 and completely physically unprepared to run a few miles, much less the equivalent of 75 marathons in as many days. (This is, in case it isn’t apparent yet, a true story.) Along the spectrum of stylish documentaries, “My Run” is about as flashy as a workplace orientation video. But when your story centers around a runner unfit to run and a band of grown children whose devotion alone can’t completely prepare them to handle a media campaign for his run, frills and flair aren’t necessary. “Run” doesn’t shy away from the journey’s setbacks and conflicts, and some rocky footage of the journey completely strips away whatever mystique may have accompanied Terry’s journey when viewed from afar. But it’s those wart that ultimately make the story special. Terry and his family persevered in spite of themselves as much as any other factor, and if they can defy the odds to do something this impossibly impressive, maybe the rest of us can as well. Extras content not available at press time.
Make Believe: The Battle to Become the World’s Best Teen Magician (NR, 2011, Firefly/Level 22)
The six teenagers profiled in “Make Believe” care deeply about the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas, which represents a chance to meet master magician Lance Burton and fulfill a dream of being crowned the world’s best teen magician. Fortunately, thanks to “Believe’s” construction, you need not share the dream to fully appreciate all that goes into making it come true. Per genre custom, “Believe” introduces us to the hopefuls in their respective elements — suburban Chicago, Japan and South Africa among them, to paint a picture of how far this event stretches — and comes to a head when everyone puts up or shuts up on stage in Vegas. But while the anticipation of who wins is the obvious intended driving force, and while “Believe” does a fine job of carrying that out, it’s the stuff in between — the obsessive attention to detail and technique, the sacrifice of “normal” dreams in favor of something bigger, the pursuit of a trick that no one has ever seen before, much less performed — that emerges as the real treat to watch. “Believe” adheres to a format, but it pays special attention to that format’s most important rule by lovingly conveying what drives these magicians to practice, innovate, lose sleep and occasionally fall on their face in front of strangers and loved ones. If you can relate to that pursuit, you need not know a thing about magic to relate to “Believe.”
Extras: 10 magic tutorials (organized by difficulty), magician profiles, L.A. Film Fest Q&A, “What is Magic?” feature starring Burton and other master magicians, a comedy act with magician Kyle Eschen.
Happy Endings: The Complete First Season (NR, 2011, Sony Pictures)
If “How I Met Your Mother” is the amusing story of its main character’s eventual happy ending, the ironically-named “Happy Endings” is its bitter evil twin. “Endings” begins with one character (Elisha Cuthbert as Alex) leaving another (Zachary Knighton as Dave) at the altar, and though it settles in as a fairly light comedy about six friends approaching their thirties in a big city, that awkward introduction at least gives it a push down a different path. One season down, “Endings” isn’t quite as entertaining as “Mother” simply because it lacks the incalculable power of the Neil Patrick Harris/Barney Stinson effect. But it plays in the same ballpark and pretty effortlessly achieves the same vibe — very funny at its very best, but almost always fun even when it’s predictable or hokey. And in lieu of the Stinson effect, we at least get Casey Wilson, whose mirthfully desperate portrayal of perennially-single-and-looking Penny is a scene stealer of a whole different sort.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus deleted scenes, outtakes, a not-quite cast interview, a not-quite theme song, two not-quite promotional pieces and a segment that’s half show montage and half club mix.
51 (R, 2011, After Dark/Lions Gate)
At long last, the government has decided to grant select media select access to Area 51’s underbelly. Inside, they find some cool military tech, including invisibility shields and intelligence-gathering systems with some scary range and abilities. But the real story is Patient Zero, an alien who can adopt the physical signature of anyone he touches and who, on this day (of course!), decides to stop being a model patient of 25 years and use his gift to break free and liberate his fellow prisoners. With “51” originally being a SyFy production, you likely don’t need that fancy intel-gathering tech to presume that what follows is a mix of shoddily-established human characters forced to contend with a stale brew of stock creatures, stock dialogue, stock production values and stock horror movie plot construction. And that’s kind of too bad, because while “51” never seems destined for anything approaching greatness, it has moments of inspiration with regard to its tech, certain alien tendencies and one character who straddles a potentially interesting line between the humans and aliens. But those moments are brief, and “51” rarely follows up on them — a case of a pedestrian movie that has good ideas it’s dying to share but no concept of how to meaningfully do that.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
— “HitRECord Recollection Vol. 1” (NR, 2011, HitRECord): You aren’t alone if you aren’t familiar with the work springing forth from HitRECord, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s open-collaborative production company. One look at this collection, though, and you’d be hard-pressed to forget the name. The two-disc “HitRECord Recollection Vol. 1” compiles a slice of hitrecord.org’s multimedia pursuits with a 26-track, 17-song CD sampler and a DVD containing 36 short films and videos. But it’s the packaging — a 64-page hardcover book that houses the discs inside its front and back covers — that really puts the studio’s mission and thirst for experimentation into perspective. HitRECord welcomes all comers — musicians, filmmakers, illustrators, writers, animators and everyone in between — to meet, create and share in the spirit of artistic collaboration. And while the discs are excellent showcases of what can come from initiatives like these, the book’s illustrations, musings and studio history comprise the glue that sets the project apart. “Recollection” is an exciting curiosity for anyone who appreciates experimental media pursuits, but for those interested in being part of that pursuit, this is a can’t-miss.
— “Grey’s Anatomy: Complete Seventh Season” (NR, 2010, ABC) and “Private Practice: The Complete Fourth Season” (NR, 2010, ABC): Seems like every time we part company with Seattle Grace, it’s on a tragic note, and season six — thanks to a shooting rampage that killed some characters and put others under the surgical knives of yet others — was no different. The fallout from that tragedy opens up season seven, but “Grey’s Anatomy’s” real quandary is its need to manage a cast that, even in the wake of the previous seasons’ casualties, has ballooned well into double digits. It’s starting to show some fatigue, but it’s still hanging in there. And hey, there’s a musical episode! “Anatomy” contents: 22 episodes, plus “Seattle Grace: Message of Hope” Webisodes, deleted scenes, outtakes and two features about the musical episode. “Private Practice” contents: 22 episodes, plus deleted scenes, one behind-the-scenes feature and bloopers. As usual, the two series do a little crossing over, though it isn’t as pronounced this time around.
— “Castle: The Complete Third Season” (NR, 2010, ABC): That weeping sound you hear is the legions of “Firefly” fans forlorn over the fact that Nathan Fillion found success on a show that, on many levels, is the antithesis of everything for which “Firefly” stood. But while “Castle” — starring Fillion as a mystery novelist whose expertise lets him tag along with, assist and annoy an NYPD detective (Stana Katic) as she cracks cases in typical cop show fashion — is formulaic in all the ways these shows are formulaic, it at least doesn’t let its star’s talents go to waste. Richard Castle is a likably childish and self-depreciating sidekick whose loyalty knows no limit, and even when his show’s plot designs go flat, his charisma keeps things engaging. Includes 24 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, a Fillion/crew/mystery-solvers roundtable, two behind-the-scenes features and a music video (that, regrettably, doesn’t feature Richard Castle singing).
— “Hawaii Five-O: The First Season” (NR, 2010, CBS) and “Hawaii Five-O: The Eleventh Season” (NR, 1978, CBS): The new “Hawaii Five-O” is the embodiment of all you fear about remakes of old beloved series. It’s a stock police procedural that stands slightly apart from the pack by setting itself in Hawaii and unapologetically dousing its standard criminal storylines with eye candy, and since we’re doing that, let’s just slap a familiar brand name on it and ship it out the door for an easy rating. Nothing “Five-O” does is any more uninspired than any other standard procedural, but if you have any attachment to the original show’s cast, the wooden dialogue and shoddy character development that subs in this time will almost certainly rankle you. (At least CBS had the good sense to release the original’s 11th season — 21 episodes, no extras — on the same day. “First Season” contents: 24 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, seven behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.