Submarine (R, 2010, Anchor Bay/The Weinstein Company)
As pointed out by an amusingly snarky letter to the audience that opens the film, “Submarine” is a biopic about Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts). Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who he is, because in addition to being a work of fiction, Oliver is just another teenager whose popularity is middling, whose dating acumen is shoddy and whose attempts to save his parents’ fading marriage leaves so very much to be desired. If that sounds positively ordinary, again, don’t fret: Oliver himself agrees with you in the opening scene. He’s just another guy with another story that probably happened a million times before and since. But if “Submarine” proves anything, it’s that the story you tell is no match for the way you tell it. Oliver’s snideness and self-awareness cascade down the entirety of “Submarine,” but its application is as unmistakably heartfelt and well-meaning as it is detachedly funny — like a friend who insults you while baring his soul before simultaneously hugging you, thanking you and threatening to eviscerate you if you ever tell anyone any of this ever happened. “Submarine” ends on as structurally ordinary a note as it begins, but the absolutely splendid storytelling that takes us from A to A.1 is so spot on that nothing about it feels remotely pedestrian. Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige and Sally Hawkins also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Prohibition (NR, 2011, PBS)
Prohibition in America needs no introduction: There was a movement, there was an amendment to the United States Constitution, and then there was national history made with the advent of another amendment whose sole purpose was to repeal that original amendment. But baseball and the Civil War needed no introductions either when Ken Burns turned his sights on them, and the hallmarks of those lengthy documentaries are present in “Prohibition,” which registers few dull moments in its shorter but still impressive six-hour runtime. Did you know, for instance, that the income tax you surrender every payday is a direct brainchild of the prohibition movement, providing the government a means of taxation to compensate for the lost windfall from alcohol sales? (And don’t you wish that could be repealed too?) “Prohibition” is full of little revelations like that, but it’s Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s ability to mine history for characters that makes this so entertaining. The era between ratification and revocation marked a bizarre episode of lawlessness and disorder on both sides of authority, and the faces “Prohibition” gives to the period bring it to life in a fashion that’s both grandiose and deeply personal. Why can’t all history lessons be this much fun?
Extras: Bonus scenes, interview outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature.
The High Cost of Living (NR, 2010, Tribeca Film/New Video)
When Nathalie (Isabelle Blais) loses her unborn baby in a car accident, she flees her marriage and life so swiftly as to even put off the delivery of the child. It’s during this hiding spell that she has a chance encounter with Henry (Zach Braff), a drug dealer whose conscience compels him to take Nathalie in and care for her every need. What Nathalie doesn’t know, though, is that Henry’s conscience is of the guilty rather than well-meaning variety, because their chance encounter actually happened days earlier when Henry caused that accident before fleeing. Messy, right? Nothing detailed above constitutes a spoiler, as “The High Cost of Living” chronologically shares these details relatively quickly. Rather, the big mystery rests with what happens when something in this ill-conceived friendship has to give. “Living” is a highly untidy dissection of all the weird things people think and do in the wake of tragic mistakes, and its careful construction of the situation is such that you might root for and condemn it at the same time. It isn’t always fun to watch, but that’s more a testament to how deeply it cuts than any qualms with its approach. That it holds that note past the inevitable give and into the credits is admirable. You may or may not like how “Living” ends, but you’d be hard-pressed not to appreciate its choice.
Extra: Braff interview.
Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People (NR, 2010, Cartoon Network)
Though Cartoon Network tends not to insult the intelligence of younger viewers the way some other networks do, there’s still a sizable gap between the cartoons it supplies for kids and the maniacal, anything-goes bloodbath it calls Adult Swim. “Adventure Time,” meanwhile, feels almost like a gateway drug for older kids and teenagers standing on the precipice of the dark side. The premise — a boy and his magical talking dog going on adventures — could scarcely be sweeter, and if you detailed their adventures in outline form, the unicorns, puffy creatures, talking toy elephants and other colorful friends they meet along the way would be unbearably precious. But while the surface is sweet, there’s a delightfully twisted madness teeming below it. “Time” never engages in the kind of foul, bloody darkness that often typifies Adult Swim’s cartoons, but a lighter side of that same deranged sense of humor is completely in play. The net result is pretty safe for younger consumption, but it also makes “Time” one of Cartoon Network’s better shows for adults as well as kids. The energy that’s normally spent toward offending people works instead in the service of some hilariously weird adventures, and the likability of Finn the boy, Jake the dog and everyone they meet is off the charts as result.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus a collection of fun facts about your favorite characters.
The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway (NR, 2011, Image Entertainment/HBO)
It’s entirely fitting for Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) to resurface in the same place — before a live audience — that was his home before there were any movies or television shows to launch him into pop culture immortality. With that said, though, here’s hoping you especially loved that television show, because “The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway” is nothing if not 89 minutes of winks, nods and blown kisses in “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’s” direction. “Broadway” sort of has a storyline coursing through it — or at least, there are things mentioned early on that receive some follow-up later. But “Broadway’s” true objective is to find any possible means to cram “Playhouse’s” every icon — from Chairy to Magic Screen to Penny to Pterry to the foil ball and so on — onto the stage. As you might expect, it’s probably more fun to see such blatant nostalgia live and in the company of a few hundred other people who are as excited as you are to see Conky and The King of Cartoons in person. But if you can’t be there, “Broadway” is still a trip — a totally inane one, yes, but a fun and funny one anyway. Reubens is as crafty as ever at sneaking just the right about of subversive humor into all that hyperactivity, and Pee-Wee’s reaction to signing into the Internet for the first time is, all by itself, justification for this revival.
Extra: Cast commentary with Reubens.
The Hour (NR, 2011, BBC)
Entirely too many television critics predictably and lazily compared “The Hour” to “Mad Men” when it premiered earlier this year. But while the clothing and smoking may look familiar, “The Hour” — the story of three journalists’ (Dominic West, Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw) rocky attempts to elevate British television journalism to a new plane of respectability — rips off “Mad Men” about as much as “Bull Durham” ripped off “The Natural” by taking place on a baseball field. For starters and arguable finishers, “The Hour” doubles as a conspiracy thriller, sending young reporter Freddie Lyon (Whishaw) down a deep rabbit hole after a childhood friend’s apparent suicide starts looking more like murder by some pretty powerful hands. Freddie’s dueling concerns initially make for a similarly shaky show while it scrambles to establish its main characters’ personalities and two pretty distinct storylines. But once “The Hour” starts breathing a little easier, the picture improves considerably. The excitement surrounding the show-within-the show’s formation makes a great foil for the dread engendered by an investigation that only gets uglier, and the relatively small main cast has plenty of room to establish their own dynamic as these stories develop. There’s no good reason to spoil how much ground either storyline covers during these opening episodes, but let’s just vaguely say that a pretty good table ultimately gets set for the now-official second season.
Contents: Six episodes, plus two behind-the-scenes features.
Fast Five (PG-13/NR, 2011, Universal)
If you’re wondering how a story about underground street racing can span five movies, here’s your answer: It can’t. “Fast Five” brings back a greatest hits cast (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang, among others) from the preceding four “The Fast and the Furious” movies, and it does its finest work when this cast is behind the wheel and saying nothing to no one. But in a nod to a film having to tell a story that probably wasn’t supposed to exist until the previous movie proved too profitable to leave be, our heroes’ troubles go well beyond illegal street racing. Instead, “Five” repositions the gang as international fugitives who are slick enough to pull a heist on a South American drug lord while simultaneously ducking North American federal agents. Right. The need to explain this sends “Five” past the two-hour mark, and that’s a shame, because every time a character opens his or her mouth, you’ll likely contort yours while cringing at some truly sorry dialogue and exposition. But “Five’s” on-road action is pretty awesome, and the absolutely stupid premise allows it to go that much crazier. If you love a good car chase and/or wreck, you may want to stomach the bad to see the good. Just keep the fast-forward button handy, because there’s a lot of it. Dwayne Johnson also stars.
Extras: Extended cut (which adds a whole minute to the film — see if you can figure out which one!), director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.
— “Ben-Hur: Fiftieth Anniversary” (G, 1959, Warner Bros.): Though the set’s attempt at anniversary math leaves much to be desired, “Ben-Hur’s” 50th anniversary collection (available in Blu-ray and DVD versions) gets little else wrong. The movie benefits from the same 1080p-ready digital transfer “Citizen Kane” received a few weeks prior — which means it still spans two discs even on Blu-ray. New bonus content includes the feature-length documentary “Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey,” a 128-page hardcover replica of the journal Heston kept near and during the film’s production, and a 64-page hardcover collection of production art, photos and miscellaneous materials. Features from previous “Ben-Hur” special editions — including the 1925 silent film, two other behind-the-scenes documentaries, Oscar telecast highlights, newsreels and more — also return for this set.
— “Managing Menopause Naturally” (NR, 2011, True Mind): September was National Menopause Awareness Month and October 18 is World Menopause Day, and while neither occasion really inspires much gift-giving, a DVD like this could certainly make an exception to that rule. The 80-minute “Managing Menopause Naturally” dually explores traditional and holistic methods for managing menopause, and it includes insights from the likes of Andrew Weil, Marcey Shapiro and several others in the field.
— “Queer as Folk: The Original U.K. Series: The Complete Collection” (NR, 1999, Acorn Media): Perhaps the finest compliment one can pay the American version of “Queer as Folk” is that it wasn’t incessantly compared to the British original when it ran on Showtime. If you’re a casual observer of the show, you may not even realize there was another version before Showtime aired theirs. Either way, if you’re curious, this set rounds up the first six episodes of the British series — starring Aidan Gillen of “The Wire” fame — and includes commentary, deleted/extended scenes, interviews, a behind-the-scenes feature and a 20-page liner notes booklet.
There’s also a preview of the second series — which also means the title of the set is, while technically accurate, a little misleading. There were two separate “QAF” series in Britain even though they aired in subsequent years and starred the same cast, and rather than ask why, just realize you’re only getting what by any other name is the first season. Correction: The second series, which spans two episodes, is included in this set. Apologies for the confusion and misleading information.