Take Shelter (R, 2011, Sony Pictures Classics)
There’s a storm coming, and Curtis (Michael Shannon) is doing the only sensible thing he can do and building a storm shelter for his wife (Jessica Chastain) and daughter (Tova Stewart) in the back yard. Problem is, the signs of pending disaster so far exist only in Curtis’ dreams, where calamities from bird swarms to tornados to car crashes leave effects that, at least delusively, stay with him during his waking hours. So is he onto something? Or is Curtis, who watched his mother succumb to paranoid schizophrenia, simply following in her footsteps? “Take Shelter” gradually dangles clues that could lead to either conclusion, but caring solely about that is akin to skipping the journey and wondering what the fuss is about with the destination. “Shelter” moves at a measured pace to which even the word “slow” doesn’t necessary do justice, and while its depictions of Curtis’ dreams are visually impressive, it’s not really about the weather even when it is. Even if these events are real in Curtis’ world (which they may or may not be — no spoilers!), they’re mostly metaphorical in ours, accompanying stories about a family man’s potential breakdown amid a family and working-class community in similar straits. If that sounds insufferably pretentious, fear not. Though careful with its words, “Shelter” never safeguards them behind pretense. Even when things trickle along as methodically as they sometimes do, there’s entirely too much raw, relatable energy running through “Shelter’s” veins for boredom or standoffishness to become a concern. Shea Whigham also stars.
Extras: Shannon/director commentary, deleted scenes, Shannon/Whigham Q&A, behind-the-scenes feature.
Beavis and Butt-Head: Volume 4 (NR, 2011, MTV/Paramount)
The world sure has changed since Beavis and Butt-Head left us in 1997. But the bigger news regarding the “Beavis and Butt-Head” revival is that MTV itself has changed alongside it. Now, in addition to the occasional music video, the boys have the Internet, UFC fights and the entire gamut of MTV reality shows — from “Sixteen and Pregnant” to “Jersey Shore” — at their disposal. A cynic might cry foul and pan the show for covertly airing commercials for other shows, but considering how harshly (and hilariously) Beavis and Butt-Head skewer highlights from those shows, it really doesn’t matter. The new “B&B” takes place in our present day, which means the boys can tackle predator drones, “Twilight,” the Gulf oil spill and other weighty matters that weren’t on their radar back in the day. The only thing that hasn’t changed at all are Beavis and Butt-Head themselves, and remarkably, no evolution was necessary. Spouting off dialogue that’s simultaneously sharply funny and purposefully stupid isn’t as easy as these two make it look, and the new episodes are legitimately funny enough not to wear out their welcome after the nostalgia honeymoon is over. Against all odds, these two are timeless.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus 2011 San Diego Comic-Con panel footage, Beavis and Butt-Head Interruptions and a PSA about ringing cell phones.
Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story (NR, 2010, Docurama)
You probably always just figured the arguable king of polarizing board games had a history attached to it. But did you know it included what basically amounted to a 30-year beta test while a growing crop of people passed around and iterated on homemade versions of the game like it was a family recipe? Or that citizens in communist countries went to great risk during the World War II era to make and distribute underground editions after the official game was banned? There’s more where that came from in “Under the Boardwalk,” which pulls double duty as a document of the 2009 United States and World Monopoly Championships. If you’re surprised to hear such things exist, you’ll be floored when you see one player sling mud at another over what he perceives to be shenanigans during the qualifying rounds. (Then again, if you’ve ever played a game of Monopoly to completion, that shouldn’t surprise you at all.) “Boardwalk” bounces from history lesson to sports showdown and back with a terrifically reverent energy, and its stops in between — with Monopoly fanatics and those who lovingly express what the game means to them beyond just the game — makes this as celebratory (and, when the fates of our championship competitors hang in the balance, dramatic against all odds) as it is educational.
Extras: Tips from Monopoly pros, an uncut (42 minutes!) copy of the 2009 World Championship, outtakes/extended scenes, an interactive copy of the quiz players had to take to qualify for the 2009 U.S. Championship.
Second City Presents: Buzzkill (NR, 2011, Indican Pictures)
Struggling screenwriter, struggling boyfriend and all-around struggling person Ray Wyatt (Daniel Raymont) is a toxically bitter mess from almost the moment his story begins. And yet, when “Buzzkill’s” opening scenes bring with them a dead animal in his dumpy apartment’s walls, a burst pipe in the ceiling, the full implosion of his relationship with Sara (Reiko Aylesworth) and the chance to settle for writing a script that offends his soul, there’s still somehow nowhere for Ray to go but down. Fortunately, plumbing the deaths of soulless, acrimonious darkness is what “Buzzkill” does best. It’s black even by the bleak metrics of black comedy, with a vile lead character who miraculously elicits some sympathy simply for making acquaintance with people somehow worse than him. Even for aficionados of dark comedy, calling it funny may be a stretch. But that isn’t damning criticism, because “Buzzkill” feels like it was designed more to be a raging, contemptuous misadventure that wants you to snarl with instead of laugh at it. And on that level, it completely works. As fictional anger goes, the raging unrest of one Ray Wyatt is uncaged enough to be cathartic if you can get over the urge to hate the guy. And as goes Ray’s weird energy, so goes “Buzzkill” as a whole. If you’re down for a little vicarious indignation therapy, the film’s title is a complete misnomer. Krysten Ritter and Darrell Hammond also star. No extras.
The Dead (R, 2011, Anchor Bay)
Zombie movies have gone seemingly everywhere they intend to go, and they’ve made the trip multiple times over. The sub-genre is so saturated with also-rans, in fact, that “The Dead” became a cult curiosity simply on the premise that it doesn’t do the same old thing the same old way. Instead of another loud and campy story crammed with characters whose deaths are all but guaranteed, “The Dead” centers around two survivors — an American Air Force Lieutenant (Rob Freeman) whose evac plane crashed in Africa, and an African soldier (Prince David Oseia) forced to fend for himself in a homeland crawling with zombified countrymen. And instead of a gabby, gory script that allows characters to talk each other’s ears off before zombies do the literal equivalent with their teeth, “The Dead” treads quietly, choosing its words carefully (when it uses any at all) and relegating the action to exception rather than rule status. Is it refreshing? If you love zombie movies but crave something in search of faux-authenticity, it sure is. Is it also boring? If you’re all zombied out or have no interest in movies that take the subject this seriously, it almost certainly is. “The Dead” looks good and absolutely succeeds at being what it wants to be, so it’s silly to fault its execution. But if you don’t share its tastes, it stands no chance of changing that.
Extras: Directors commentary, deleted scene, behind-the-scenes feature.
VIPs (NR, 2010, Focus World/Entertainment One)
Like so many others, Marcelo (Wagner Moura) wants to live a glamorous life and see the world. So he sets out to do so the only way he figures he can — by literally being like so many others. Let the comparisons to “Catch Me if You Can” commence: “VIPs” throws one up on the back of its own box, so it clearly doesn’t mind, and considering Marcelo’s adventure is based on a true story of its own, it doesn’t really need to mind. Beyond the superficialities, the two stories have little in common anyway. While “CMIYC” played the stylish and cute card to the point of being more comedy than drama, “VIPs” embroils itself in a world of drug trafficking, internal demons, and games played with dangerous people on two sides of the law. It’s still presented as a good time, and you might still envy Marcelo at the height of his best bluffs, but “VIPs” has a savvy knack for countering every glamorous moment with just enough edge, paranoia and sneaking suspicions of lurking danger to keep any desire to be him at bay. If the movie’s goal was to be a compelling and exciting story about a guy in over his head, mission accomplished. But even if “VIPs” never states it outright, it’s just as engaging as an argument about the liberating power of a life honestly lived. In Portuguese with English subtitles.
Extra: Cast/crew interviews.
All Things Fall Apart (R, 2011, One Village/Image Entertainment)
If there was an Oscar for most hearts slathered on one sleeve, go ahead and give it to Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who not only co-wrote “All Things Fall Apart” but lost more than 50 lbs. to carry it in the lead role. Jackson stars as Deon, a football star whose destiny date with the NFL is derailed by the discovery of a tumor near his heart. Sure enough, his transformation — muscular, dreadlocked and invincible one moment and hairless, rail-thin and invisible to all who previously worshipped him the next — is visually striking. But “Apart’s” keen sense to show rather than describe that transformation is all for naught when just about every other emotion and effect is verbally fed to the audience like worms from a mama bird. Earnest intentions or not, “Apart” plays like a calculated Oscar-by-numbers project, cramming in every genre cliche it can accommodate. It drops the dramatic weight on an actor ill-equipped to carry it, it chips in wince-worthy lines like “I didn’t mean to get sick” to accentuate the after-school-special motif, and two scenes meant to be respectively heartbreaking and stirring — Deon’s mother (Lynn Whitfield) letting the mental toll finally break her and Deon’s father (Mario Van Peebles) delivering a speech about how Deon needs to work like a Chinese man but get an education like a rich white man — are botched to unintentionally comic effect. It’s hard to bag too hard on “Apart,” which — calculated or not — seems like it could have its heart in the right place. But even angelic intentions need a good follow-through, and this one’s simply playing out of its league. No extras.
The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence: Unrated Director’s Cut (NR, 2011, IFC)
You’ve probably heard of “The Human Centipede.” But if you actually saw it, you know its real genius lied in how it almost completely rejected gore and guts and still managed to paint a wholly unnerving picture of what an enterprising and brilliant surgeon is capable of when he loses his mind. “The Human Centipede 2,” by contrast, exists in our world: The original “Centipede” is a fictional movie, and dangerously disgruntled parking lot attendant Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) is anything but surgical when he decides to mimic (and outdo) his favorite film by grafting people together as a living human centipede. As you might guess, Martin’s anger and lack of surgical credentials come into play. And consequently, as you might fear, “HC2” does a complete 180 on its predecessor’s methods despite being helmed by the same writer and director. Where the original film’s surgeon was convinced he was somehow making science, Martin is just a bumbling nutjob who kills with abandon, and where the first movie blazed its own trail by forgoing blood and scaring with madness instead, “HC2” has no problem whatsoever being as artlessly, pointlessly exploitative as its 91 minutes allow. That it’s presented like an art film — shot in the most pretentious shade of monochrome achievable on the light spectrum — is good for an ironic (and potentially unintentional) laugh. But in every other respect, the bad-as-bad-gets “HC2” is the new poster child for what happens when a director’s talent runs out at the very same moment his budget runs wild.
Extras: Harvey/director commentary, deleted scene, director interview, three behind-the-scenes features.