The Secret World of Arrietty (G, 2010, Disney)
Were it only so simple, “The Secret World of Arrietty” would simply be a story about a boy named Shawn and a girl named Arrietty. But Shawn, who has suffered from a heart condition since birth and suffered doubly from the pains of negligent parents, is no ordinary boy. And Arrietty — all of five inches tall and one of a secret depleted race of miniature people, called Borrowers, who fear full-sized human brings but nick crumbs of their resources to survive — makes Shawn look plain by comparison. When Shawn spots Arrietty during one of her borrowing missions, it’s enough to provoke Arrietty’s family to flee, and with respect to not spoiling what happens next, let’s just call it minor bedlam and leave it vaguely at that. Studio Ghibli’s animated movies have very deservedly garnered acclaim for their stunning visual presentation, with classically hand-drawn and hand-painted images so lavishly detailed as to outclass anything a computer could muster. But the true star of these movies remains the scripts through which Hayao Miyazaki designs soulful stories that challenge the notion of how a G-rated movie can speak to its audience. “Arrietty” is rarely tidy with regard to how it paces itself, and where most every other all-ages movie would assume whatever position was necessary to brace for the comfortable and easy ending, this one remains as steadfast in its final moment as it was in its first. That it does so at no expense whatsoever to its imagination — and the magic that imagination brings alive — is a testament not simply to “Arrietty’s” creators, but also the immense respect those creators have for all who see their work.
Extras: The original Japanese language track, two music videos, original Japanese storyboards and promotional material.
Newlyweds (NR, 2011, Tribeca Film)
Like a lot of newlyweds, Buzzy (Edward Burns, who also wrote and directed) and Katie (Caitlin Fitzgerald) have convinced themselves they can make the honeymoon period last forever. In fairness to them, their plans and reasons actually sound just sensible enough to maybe possibly allow them to pull it off. Or they would if Katie’s sister (Marsha Dietlein), herself in year 18 of a suddenly-turbulent marriage, didn’t dislike Buzzy. And perhaps if Katie’s ex-husband (Dara Coleman) wasn’t still hanging around (albeit politely and amicably). And especially if Buzzy’s completely unhinged sister (Kerry Bishé) didn’t crash into town unannounced and sleep on their couch while dealing with some old business in spectacularly ill-advised fashion. Life, as it’s wont to do, derails everything. Fortunately, life is precisely what “Newlyweds” is equipped to handle. Not quite a comedy but not quite a drama (and not quite a mockumentary, either, even though its characters address the camera once in a rare while), “Newlyweds” also is neither too serious to enjoy nor too silly to strike a nerve. As a story about life, marriage and mistakes made, it just is. For a movie compromising against its will, that would be faint praise in the face of calling it bland. But there’s no concept “Newlyweds” understands as keenly as it does compromise, and its ability to nail those disparate moods so consistently well is a testament rather than a concession to that.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two Burns interviews.
Love Etc. (NR, 2010, Virgil Films)
The premise of “Love Etc.” — a documentary about a handful of New Yorkers in different stages of relationships, or lack thereof — is as unassuming as its name. And in the annals of media that attempt to offer sweeping new insights into the longest-ruling mystery of life, it bears no such pretense. That, turns out, is its best asset. “Etc” runs the gamut with its subjects, which include a long-married couple dealing with the effects of dimentia, a single father of two, soon-to-be newlyweds with severe doubts about their future, graduating high schoolers navigating their first relationship, and a single gay man who wants to be a father. But rather than use them as generic conduits for a bigger story about love, society or whatever, “Etc” just lets them be the story and leaves it at that. No narrators, no talking heads, no hypotheses, no interference. Whether it’s a credit to the people “Etc” picked, their willingness to open up on camera or the filmmakers’ gift for taking stories we all recognize and presenting them with a consistently engaging energy, that’s all it needs to do. If you take something larger than entertainment away from it, consider it a pleasant bonus on top of a pleasant surprise.
Extras: Deleted scenes, director introduction, screening filmmaker panel.
The Woman in Black (PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures)
With respect to the many ways and many screens on which one now can watch “The Woman in Black,” if you waited until now to see it and can’t replicate the movie theater experience, you probably missed your chance to see it as it was meant to be seen. Set in early 20th century England, “Black” begins as the story of a widowed (and badly grief-addled) father and lawyer (Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur) who visits a sleepy village in a muddled attempt to clean up the affairs of a deceased client. Once there, he discovers there’s something the entire town is (somewhat poorly, thanks to a haunting or two) hiding from him. Arthur dares to investigate, and “Black” pushes back with a ghost story that trades equally on atmosphere and its main character’s grief. That’s the premise on paper, anyway. In action, “Black” is a delicate, creepy movie that frequently eschews dialogue for scenes at a time while Arthur solemnly and gingerly navigates his unfamiliar surroundings. It can do that, too, because under the right conditions — a dark room with a good sound system, specifically — “Black” creeps along at a nervous pace that’s just off-center enough to credibly rattle you. On your phone or laptop in a well-lit room or on a bus, though? Forget it. That’s true of most horror movies, of course, but in “Black’s” case, it’s outright binary — the difference between one of the year’s better ghost stories and a complete snoozefest. If you indulge, indulge properly.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.
Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (R, 2011, Magnet)
To find out if you should see “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie,” take this simple test. If you know Tim (Heidecker) and Eric (Wareheim) on a first-name basis and consider yourself an aficionado of their television work, you owe it to yourself to find the least expensive way possible to see this film. “Movie” is indeed a movie. Rather amazingly, it’s a movie with a plot — about two filmmakers who waste a billion of Hollywood’s dollars and have to run a mall and raise a billion new dollars to pay Hollywood back — and some impressive guest stars (among others, John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell, Jeff Goldblum and some cameos best left unspoiled). But the fact that the guest stars feel like guest stars instead of co-stars kind of says everything about how much “Movie” feels more like an elongated and more-coherent-than-normal episode of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” than a feature film. That shouldn’t deter you, of course, because if Tim and Eric’s aggressively bizarre and gross-and-proud-of-it humor do it for you, here’s 90 more minutes of it, with a storyline to boot. As for the rest of you … why are you still reading this? Just run the other way. Because even if Tim and Eric’s kind of comedy piques your curiosity, this — and particularly the midpoint bathroom humor scene that’s absolutely vomit-worthy for anyone who has eaten within 12 hours of seeing it — is no way to make introductions.
Extras: Tim and Eric commentary, deleted/extended scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, image galleries, screensaver, promo videos.
95 Miles to Go (R, 2006, VSC)
Before stardom intervened, Ray Romano and Tom Caltabiano (who co-produced, wrote and otherwise contributed to “Everybody Loves Raymond” throughout its run) toured standup clubs together. Following the conclusion of “Raymond’s” fifth season, the duo hit the road again, and against Romano’s wishes, Caltabiano hired a film student to roll camera as the two drove themselves from stop to stop. Assuming “95 Miles to Go” is the best 79 minutes that footage had to offer, maybe Caltabiano should have honored Romano’s wish. Far from a triumphant return to an old love — and in complete contrast to “Comedian’s” wildly entertaining document of Jerry Seinfeld’s own return to the road — Romano’s and Caltabiano’s standup homecoming feels like a dreary exercise in obligation. Perhaps it’s Romano’s woebegone disposition in general, or perhaps touring just isn’t as magical when everyone already knows who you are and you’ve got a comfortable sitcom job on which to fall back. Either way, it doesn’t look like much fun to be there. And if it isn’t even fun to be there, and if “Miles” has no real insight with which to justify its baffling mood, why share these home movies with your best friends, much less charge the public to fidget through them?
Extras: Romano/Caltabiano video commentary, Caltabiano/composer audio commentary, filmmakers audio commentary, deleted/extended scenes, standup footage, screening Q&A, photo gallery.
— “Route 66: The Complete Series” (NR, 1960, Shout Factory): Yep, finally. Previously kinda sorta available via strange best-of sets and two separate runs of single- or half-season sets that never covered the show’s entire run, “Route 66” finally gets the box set it probably should have received in the first place. The 24-disc set includes all four seasons and 116 episodes, as well as some vintage commercials, a feature about the Corvette and a cast/crew panel from the 1990 William S. Paley Television Festival.