Hugo (PG, 2011, Paramount)
On what appears to be a broken droid-like automaton, there’s a heart-shaped keyhole that young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) believes contains a message from his father (Jude Law), a clockmaker who died tragically before he could finish fixing the bot. Finding the key is, obviously, the first order of business. But when a bitter toy store owner (Ben Kingsley as Georges) brands Hugo a thief and confiscates (and threatens to burn) a notebook full of diagrams and notes related to the robot, priorities change. If you’re wondering where this is going — or, perhaps, how a quest to activate a discarded pile of nuts and bolts became one of the Academy’s 10 favorite movies of 2011 — stop wondering and just watch. Laying out “Hugo’s” story like an outline won’t do it any favor, because this isn’t so much about the outline as what happens around and above it. At face value, “Hugo” is a wide-eyed adventure set inside a beautiful world that, with its self-contained ecology and mix of classical and steampunk iconography, may as well exist inside a biosphere. Between the lines, though, “Hugo” is a two-hour love letter to man, machine, the weird relationship the two have forged, the magic they’ve created together, and the shared need for purpose that keeps both going when rust, age and changing times make a push to take away their place in the world. With respect to the kid whose name comprises the title, “Hugo’s” magic lies more in Georges’ odyssey than Hugo’s. Espousing on that point would constitute a spoiler, so again, just watch and see.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features.
The Catechism Cataclysm (NR, 2011, IFC Films)
Father Billy (Steve Little) is a well-meaning priest, but between the rambling parables he shares with his flock and his improper use of the church computer to surf YouTube, he isn’t a very productive one. After being granted an involuntary sabbatical, Billy does the only thing that makes sense (to him): He sends a ton of emails to a guy (Robert Longstreet as Robbie) he idolized in high school and, upon getting a response, sets up an afternoon canoe trip with him. Why not, right? Robbie reluctantly acquiesces (how do you turn down a priest, after all?), the two set sail on a canoe trip, and as “The Catechism Cataclysm’s” horror-comic tag teases, things eventually go sideways. Delving into details would technically constitute a spoiler, but to do so also would miss the point. Yes, there’s horror in “Cataclysm,” but it’s one scene long, presented almost without context, and so off the wall that when the movie doesn’t even bother placing it in context, it arguably makes more sense than if it had tried. But it need not bother. “Cataclysm” isn’t a story about something bad happening to Billy and Robbie: It’s a story about Billy and Robbie, their hopes and dreams, their favorite music and — when things go south — one character’s absolutely hilarious ability to melt into a puddle under pressure. The dash of horror exists more as a tool for self-parody than a legitimate plot device, and in the context of this sharply, stupidly funny saga about two men who have no business riding a canoe but every reason in the world to be friends, it somehow makes sense.
Extras: Little/Longstreet/director commentary, short film “Sasquatch Birth Journal 2,” outtakes.
The Myth of the American Sleepover (NR, 2010, Sundance Selects)
The shocking thing about “The Myth of the American Sleepover?” It isn’t all that shocking. “Sleepover” takes place over the course of roughly 24 hours on the eve of a new school year, and scattered amongst a couple parties and a few sleepovers are the stories of incoming freshmen, mentally checked-out seniors, a gaggle of kids in the thick of their high school careers and one should-be college senior who misses high school and wants out of college. Yes, all the topics you expect to come up — sex, alcohol, drugs, blah blah blah — do come up in some fashion. But shocking movies about kids acting shocking and talking like well-traveled adults are kind of passé and — because kids, even today, are too socially green to talk like adults — also kind of stupid. “Sleepover,” by contrast, strikes a seemingly impossible chord as a meandering story with the dual capacity to relate to those in the thick of it today and connect with those who remember how simultaneously wonderful and wretched it is to be that age. It has an edge to it, but it has far more heart than it does edge, and its musings about being young, saying stupid things and bidding slow farewells to being a kid ring absolutely true even when they trip and fall out the mouths of credibly confused teens. No extras.
Todd & the Book of Pure Evil: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, Entertainment One)
Losing any book for any reason isn’t fun. When the book you lose is the Book of Pure Evil, it’s downright stressful. And when you keep losing it week after week in a high school crawling with self-absorbed teenagers who won’t hesitate to harness its powers (picture The One Ring from “The Lord of the Rings,” only as a hideous book) for their own gain? Well that’s just ridiculous. Fortunately, “Todd & the Book of Pure Evil” is keenly aware. Every episode, a ragtag quartet of students (Alex House, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Bill Turnbull) and a demonic servant posing as their guidance counselor (Chris Leavins) race to recover the book, and without fail, the book instead lands in the hands of a student who uses it to solve his or her problems in a powerfully petty way. But the repetitive resolution to this song-and-dance plot routine isn’t really the point. While its characters scramble to save or control humanity, “Evil” just wants to have a farcical good time, and between the cheeseball not-quite-special effects and the deliriously campy (but genuinely funny) writing, it has a blast. It isn’t subtle, and the campiness sometimes goes well beyond the recommended dosage for a 22-minute episode. But considering how hard it is to maintain this kind of energy for any length of time, much less solidly across 13 episodes, the occasional tendency to go overboard is entirely forgivable. Jason Mewes also stars — and steals numerous scenes — as the school janitor.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, the original 2003 short film that spawned the series, deleted/extended scenes, outtakes, cast Q&A, bloopers.
Stags (NR, 2011, Monarch Home Entertainment)
Snedden, Victor and Price (Mark Giordano, Matthew Rauch and Jesse Joyce, respectively) are, as Jack (Benim Foster) phrases it, the people he doesn’t have to say hi to because he knows them so well. They’re the guys he grew up with, they’re his best friends today, and all four — for separate reasons ranging from sleaziness to fear of the opposite sex to general arrested development — are approaching their 40s while clinging desperately to their 20s. For lack of a better description, “Stags” is their inevitable story — helped along by a fifth friend’s surprise wedding and subsequent wedding night death, no doubt, but a dance with reality that was going to commence no matter what else happened. Things begin shakily while “Stags” tries a little too hard to make a funny first impression, but even when it misses more than hits, the earnestness with which it swings sets a tone that sticks. “Stags” is more comedy than anything else, and it’s reasonably amusing even when its jokes flop, but its finest moments come when it’s too busy being reverent, silly, pensive or clumsily philosophical to worry about being funny. The early wobbliness never fully straightens out, but as “Stags” chips away at the early facade and lets us get to know these guys as they know each other, it evolves into a point of endearment more than contention.
Extra: Deleted scenes.
Answers to Nothing (R, 2011, Lions Gate)
What’s in a name? Sometimes, unfortunately, an unintentionally damning self-indictment. “Answers to Nothing” tells the loosely-connected stories of a number of people, including a woman (Kali Hawk) who hates her own race, her adulterous psychiatrist (Dane Cook), his wife (Elizabeth Mitchell) and mistress (Aja Volkman), a woman (Miranda Bailey) fighting to keep her incapacitated brother’s dream alive, a wet-behind-the-ears cop (Erik Palladino) with a tragic past, a “World of Warcraft” player (Mark Kelly) obsessed over a missing persons case and the detective (Julie Benz) leading that investigation. That there — plus a few other folks to consider — is what you might call a mouthful. And as often happens in movies that fly with that many co-pilots, “Nothing” struggles to let any single one of them live up to his or her full potential. As a side effect, it also leaves precious little time for humor or any kind of lightening of the mood. Consistently strong writing gives rise to an army of well-developed (if not fully realized) characters, but the dark cloud that forms in “Nothing’s” opening moments is still hanging high above when the credits roll in. The resolutions don’t feel like resolutions, and the stunted development dulls the impact when everything comes to a head. Calling “Nothing” bad is going too far, but it’s hard to justify the two-hour investment when dreary answers to nothing is practically all we get for our time.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, alternate ending, deleted scenes, two music videos.
I Melt With You (R, 2011, Magnolia)
Every year, four old college friends (Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay) reconvene for a long weekend of bonding in the form of parties, women and every form of vice available to them. Unfortunately, all four designated this year as the one in which they engage in a midlife meltdown that makes a normal meltdown look like a sigh. Also unfortunate: “I Melt With You” handles adversity as poorly as its characters. A laughably pretentious storytelling approach presents normal problems — broken marriages, failed dreams, tragic pasts, plans gone awry — almost as if they’re experiences we simple viewers couldn’t understand without a impenetrable lacquer of music video-style trimmings to feed it to us. When the first wheel falls off the wagon after a drug-fueled party sends both the guys and their guests completely out of their minds, “Melt” simply extends the arm’s length at which it holds us by continuing this process and feeding it through a core of main characters whose ShamWow-worthy levels of self-absorption give way to completely irreconcilable methods of self-destruction. How have they lived this long if all they need is a bad weekend to break them in half? Who knows. Who cares. “Melt” stays its course, with each self-serious moment more unintentionally amusing than the last. When one character’s metaphorical internalization of his own meltdown draws in audio and video from the Challenger explosion — yes, the space shuttle — it’s enough to wonder if the whole thing (and the fittingly pretentious special features) are a brilliant practical joke.
Extras: Lowe/Piven/director commentary, filmmakers commentary, director’s statement, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, interviews, image galleries.
— “Pac-Man: The Complete First Season” (NR, 1982, Warner Bros.): Much as he beat Mario and Sonic to the video game scene, Pac-Man was first in line (exactly 30 years ago) for an animated television series cash-in. It pays to be first, too, because none other than Hanna-Barbera shepherded the series, which lasted two years and 21 episodes on ABC. Don’t mistake that as a claim for “Pac-Man” being as timeless as “The Flintstones” (it isn’t) or even as good as your nostalgic mind’s eye remembers it being (it isn’t). But do know that the drop-off between memory and reality is nowhere near as severe as the cold water that accompanied Mario and Sonic’s recent DVD revivals. Includes 13 episodes, no extras. Available exclusively at wbshop.com.
— “Steve Coogan Live” (NR, BBC): There are two types of people in the world: those familiar with Steve Coogan’s comedy, and those who should become familiar with it. With this set, both stand to benefit. Includes three specials — “The Man Who Thinks He’s It,” “Live ‘N’ Lewd” and “Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters” — plus “Steve Coogan: The Inside Story,” the animations of Paul and Pauline Calf, and highlights from his Australia live show.