Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (R, 2010, Magnolia)
Picture it: A group of attractive college kids head to the remote woods for a retreat. In a dilapidated cabin nearby live a couple hillbillies who spot them on the road, run into them at the general store, and spy on them after the sun goes down. You know what happens next: A pretty girl (Katrina Bowden) disappears and her pretty friends start dying off as they try to rescue her. But what if the whole thing was just a crazy misunderstanding? And why has it taken so long for a movie to spin this scenario around as cleverly as this one does? The Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) in “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” are, in fact, those hillbillies, and while they don’t make the most comforting first impression, they could not be more delightful when you get to know them. It isn’t worthwhile to spoil where the misunderstanding goes from there (or where the “Evil” in that title actually originates). But as parables about the perils of judging a book by its cover, “TDvE” is hilarious in an almost poignant way. And as a send-up of a horror movie trope that went out of style long before Dale’s overalls did, it’s a knight in denim armor.
Extras: Director/Labine/Tudyk commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, outtakes, storyboards and a feature arguing that Tucker and Dale are, in fact, evil.
The Art of Getting By (PG-13, 2011, Fox)
If we’re born alone, die alone and waste too much time in between working toward things that ultimately don’t matter, who is to say high school senior George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore) doesn’t have a point by blowing off homework, dismissing the folly of popularity and openly labeling himself a misanthrope before he’s even old enough to curse life from behind the walls of a cubicle? Certainly not “The Art of Getting By,” which gets off to a roaringly droll start with a declaration of ideals that swiftly elevates George well above the realm of the garden-variety me-against-the-world teenager. This being a movie, complications naturally crop up, and without spoiling any specifics, a girl (Emma Roberts) lies at the root of that complication. Again, though, “TAOGB” shuns the conventional and trite. There’s a coming-of-age story in here somewhere, but it’s not that drippily sentimental one you’ve seen many times too many, nor is it the obnoxiously neat one that changes George into someone far more ordinary than the guy we meet in act one. Instead, what we get is amusing, messy, thoughtful and willing to admit it doesn’t know everything without backing down from the belief system that makes it special. That’s a lot to accomplish for a story about a guy not concerned with accomplishing anything, but “TAOGB” pulls it off exceptionally well.
Extras: Director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (G, 2010, Sundance Selects)
To appreciate “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” you must first appreciate southern France’s Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave — a cavern preserved in time and a rare natural museum that hasn’t been fussed with by modern hands or even seen by public eyes. It also helps to appreciate the effort Werner Herzog undertook to gain access to something so staunchly protected by legislators and forces of nature far more powerful than he. Herzog was allowed only a skeleton crew and battery-powered equipment that didn’t emit excess heat, and his shooting time was limited to a few hours a day for six days. Got all that? Good. “Dreams” does itself an immense service by telling this story behind the story, because the context makes what the crew finds inside (no spoilers!) immeasurably more exciting. The movie leaves no doubt it’s a Herzog production: His dreamy narration frequently goes off the heart-on-sleeve deep end, and as documentaries about undiscovered territory go, this one’s more emotional than empirical. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The effort to successfully gain entry to the Chauvet is endemic of a labor of love, and “Dreams” derives its magic from passing that love onto the viewer. Hard, cold science will have its day, but this adventure belongs to plain old wonder.
Extra: Short film “Ode to the Dawn of Man.”
The Future (R, 2011, Lions Gate)
It’s not as of Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are slacking in the present. They both have jobs (they hate) and they pay their rent for their apartment (that’s too small) on time. But with their decision to adopt a rescue cat who will be able to come home in 30 days, it’s time to start really living life before parenthood begins. Cute, right? You bet. “The Future” has a cute premise, and everything that immediately greets us at the front door — from the way Sophie talks kind of like Phyllis from “The Office” despite being roughly half her age to the oh-my-God adorable voice that narrates the story from the cat’s point of view — comes off as just precious. “The Future” gets off to such an adorable start, in fact, that it’s almost wrong to mention what an Ivan Drago-esque punch to the gut it ultimately becomes. That isn’t a knock on the film, because the way it parlays that early quirkiness into a startlingly, almost cruelly profound screed about the perils of wasting time is pretty magnificent. “The Future” maintains its charm and manages to flirt with a potentially cloying twist without letting it become cloying, and that gradual but significant shift leaves a much more powerful impression than more conventional techniques ever could. But if you see “The Future’s” quirky exterior and have designs on it being a idiosyncratic comedy that gently tip-toes to the credits, here’s your disclaimer: It isn’t, and it doesn’t.
Extras: July commentary (she also wrote and directed), deleted scene, behind-the-scenes feature.
Another Earth (PG-13, 2011, Fox)
If someone told you a movie called “Another Earth” featured a storyline about a second Earth appearing, visible to the naked eye, in our sky, would you do anything but assume this development was the driving force of what certainly must be a work of science fiction? You probably would — which is why “Earth’s” emergence as a character study about a girl (Brit Marling as Rhoda) coming to grips with a car accident that ended three lives and derailed her own is just a little bit surprising. Science fiction permeates throughout “Earth,” but the events surrounding the second Earth’s discovery and potential for housing intelligent life play out almost as dressing for Rhoda’s attempt to apologize to the one person (William Mapother as John) who survived the accident she caused. It all ties together, but if you’re dreaming of a movie that dials up the special effects and trains its sights on this mysterious new planet, this is not that movie. Nor does it need to be. “Earth” is an engrossing character drama that’s extremely accomplished in the art of showing where telling need not apply, and its use of the sci-fi backdrop is at worst a completely fresh use of setting colorization and at best a terrific device that plays quite perfectly (and logically) into the story’s resolution. Some hard work and luck will be necessary for “Earth” to find its way to the audience that will embrace it on its terms, but such is life for movies that dare to take chances. No extras.
The Smurfs (PG, 2011, Sony Pictures)
Almost as soon as the first teaser trailer appeared, children of the 1980s were shooting daggers at “The Smurfs” movie, which drops computer-animated versions of The Smurfs in front of a live-action New York City while a live-action Gargamel (Hank Azaria) gives chase. But even if you’re a devotee of the Church of Giving Things a Chance, it’s hard to keep the faith when the finished product so acutely embodies every last fear “Smurfs” fans had about it. Where to start? How about when Gutsy Smurf refers to his groin area as his enchanted forest, or when Grouchy Smurf does that beloved children’s bit where he lays on a shrink’s couch and spills his feelings about building emotional walls? Do you remember the episode of “The Smurfs” that centered its story around a human character’s (Neil Patrick Harris) pursuit of a promotion at his marketing firm? You will if you see this — but only if that sticks out more than the shameless “Guitar Hero” ad that’s the eye of a completely crazy storm of brazen product placement. “The Smurfs” could have made this Smurf-out-of-water story work without betraying its characters, but with riffs on bluetooth headsets, prescription meds and kids who kick complete strangers in the shins in toy stores (because that’s how kids act, right?), the whole thing is far too cynical to dare poke fun at cynicism itself. It’s fitting that there’s a joke about focus groups in “The Smurfs,” because the sum total of all this talent, money and technology is something only a focus group coordinator could possibly love.
Extras: Two commentary tracks, animated short “The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol,” deleted/extended scenes, four behind-the-scenes features, music montage, bloopers, second screen Smurf-O-Vision (requires an iOS device), two game.
One Day (PG-13, 2011, Universal)
Twenty three years is a long time, but the same can’t be said of the 108 minutes that comprise “One Day’s” runtime. And that’s a problem when the movie — which tells the story of Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) — wants to feature nearly every one of those years in that short span of time. “Day’s” premise is clever, insofar that it’s always set on July 15th — the day Emma and Dexter met for what at the time looked like a one-night stand in 1988 — regardless of the year. But “Day” never truly embraces that notion of a single date’s significance until late into the story, which also happens to be where the movie only truly finds its heart. In between, and for us as well as them, too much time is frittered away on career-related storylines and themes of post-college disillusionment that plateau and repeat themselves. Rarely, until too late, is there simply a moment shared between the two that isn’t also shared by other characters, scenarios or outside causes of stress. “Day” tells us how significant Emma and Dexter’s relationship is, but it only fleetingly really lets us see and recognize it without any prodding on its behalf. That, along with an arguably needless twist near the end, makes for a story that’s more deflating and frustrating than enchanting.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.
— “Smallville: The Complete Series” (NR, 2001, Warner Bros.): You may not realize it if you weren’t following it, but “Smallville” endured for 10 seasons. Whether your interest also endured for 10 years is another story, but either way, that’s quite an accomplishment for a show — centered around the origins and adolescence of the eventual Man of Steel — that very easily could have run out of ideas and novelty after a season or two. This 62-disc gift set, fashioned like a two-volume hardcover book library, includes all 218 episodes, along with a replica copy of “The Daily Planet,” a 32-page illustrated episode guide, a series retrospective, the documentary “Secret Origin: The American Story of DC Comics,” a Comic-Con retrospective, pilot episodes of other DC Comics television series and all the extras that originally appeared in the show’s individual season sets.
— “WWII in HD: Collector’s Edition” (NR, 2010, History): New footage of World War II seems to emerge from vaults on an annual basis, so what makes History’s “WWII in HD” so special? The answer lies in the wholly utilitarian name: The footage is in color, and because it was shot on film and since has been restored, it’s presented here in true high definition. If images of the war fascinate you on any level whatsoever, this seven-hour document is not to be missed. This new collector’s edition includes two new specials, “The Air War” and “The Battle for Iwo Jima,” as well as the extras (two behind-the-scenes features and profiles of the people featured in the footage) from the original edition.