Prometheus (R, 2012, Fox)
If “Prometheus” is a prequel to “Alien,” it’s a distant one — which is appropriate, because it centers around a crew of scientists in search of the extraterrestrial life that may have begat life on Earth many millions of years before our alien friend first wreaked havoc aboard the Nostromo. “Prometheus” has some big, big ideas about this connection between humanity in 2089 and what the crew of the spaceship Prometheus strive to find out there, and without spoiling specifics, it converts on those ideas roughly half the time. Its character development batting average is comparable, with two characters (Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth, Michael Fassbender as an android named David) getting excellent treatment while the rest receive development ranging from satisfactory (Idris Elba) to decent (Logan Marshall-Green) to woefully underserving (Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce). So it isn’t a spotless script. But it’s good enough. “Prometheus” primarily exists to look awesome and creep us out, and its picture of deep space is unique and as unnerving as it is intriguing. It wants to explore more ideas at a greater depth than time allows, but it asks enough questions to pique interest in its ambitions even when too many of those questions go unanswered. Given how many blockbusters let special effects and loud noises take over and completely drum out any kind of curiosity, “Prometheus'” desire to continually feed that curiosity is, flaws or not, major points in its favor.
Extras: Ridley Scott commentary, writers/executive producer commentary, Peter Weyland’s Files, Weyland Corp Archive app, alternate ending/opening, deleted scenes, screen test footage, behind-the-scenes feature.
A Cat in Paris (PG, 2010/2011, New Video)
Every night, Zoe’s cat Dino slips out the window, and every morning, he returns with a trophy (usually a dead lizard or something similarly gross) to commemorate his pursuits. So where does Dino go? Zoe — who, like her cat, isn’t much at all for words — decides one night to tail him and find out, and the answer (no spoilers here) is much crazier than she’d ever suspected. Such a cute premise for an animated film, right? Absolutely — if you ignore the part about the voluntarily mute Zoe feeling neglected by her mom, a cop, while she obsessively pursues the gangster whose last heist left Zoe’s father dead. Yeah, there’s that — and yes, it all ties together. Strange bedfellows mingle freely all throughout “A Cat in Paris,” which pulls adorable and terrible themes under a single narrative umbrella that embraces both moods without feeling disjointed or compromised. The charcoal and colored pencil animation style is similarly contradictory — texturally gritty and frequently harsh with regard to movement, but consistently delightful in terms of construction, color and expression. (Whether the English voice dub is a helpful or hurtful contrast for the acutely Parisian setting is debatable, but “Paris” also includes the original French audio, so there’s no need to argue.) The contrasting style and story choices could easily have gone all kinds of wrong, but “Paris'” short (70 minutes) runtime keeps the contrasts on a leash. There’s little time to waste, and so little time is wasted, resulting in a thoughtful, unpredictable story that brings out the best in every offbeat ingredient it uses.
Extras: Short film “Extinction of the Saber-Toothed Housecat,” video flip book “The Many Lives of a Cat.”
The Giant Mechanical Man (PG-13, 2012, Tribeca Film)
Have you ever wondered what’a up with those guys who cover themselves in silver paint and stand perfectly still on crowded city street corners while passersby gawk? In the case of Tim (Chris Messina), it turns out the answer is “not much” — which might be why he’s broke, mostly directionless and newly single. (Actually, it is why.) Janice (Jenna Fischer), meanwhile, isn’t faring much better in her professional and personal lives, and when she spots the giant mechanical man at the end of a particularly horrible day, her sad-eyed transfixion turns into an unusual case of a what otherwise is your textbook meeting of eyes from across a crowded room. There’s a lot, in fact, that’s typical about “The Giant Mechanical Man,” particularly during a middle that (for reasonable and unspoiled reasons) focuses more on Tim without the silver paint than with it. But “Man” never quite feels entirely typical, because neither Tim nor Janice come across like your typical characters. They’re tired, confused and lost in their respective worlds, but almost self-assuredly so — as if to acknowledge that while there’s something wrong with them, it’s everyone else who is truly crazy. (A scene-stealing Topher Grace, as motivational speaker-slash-walking nightmare Doug, offers some magnificent evidence to support this notion.) “Man” never gets too high, but it also never gets too down, and there’s something very appealing — and amusing, and perhaps enviably sweet and simple — about the mostly even temperament it finds when Janice and the mechanical man find each other.
Hungry for Change (NR, 2012, Docurama)
Yes, you know how this ends. If there’s a film genre more prone to predictable third acts than the romantic comedy, it’s the documentary about weight loss and healthy eating. And for the umpteenth time in a row, eating well and getting sleep and exercise reign supreme as “Hungry for Change” takes its final bow. But while the ending shouldn’t surprise anybody, the road “Change” takes to get there is another story. Though never overbearing, “Change’s” participants — many of them bearing visual proof that they, too, struggled mightily with weight and health issues — load the movie’s 89 minutes with a staggering amount of information that’s a great mix of empirical and anecdotal. Abstractly, it’s stuff you probably knew or could guess with little effort. But “Change’s” subjects deliver their knowledge through the lens of their own self-discovery instead of the same old academic filter, and in doing so, they offer new and surprisingly revelatory ways of looking at old truths. You’ve heard and perhaps even suspect that visualization works, but have you ever considered why? And while we all know high fructose corn syrup is bad for our bodies, can it really be compared to snorting cocaine without delving into complete sensationalism? As a matter of fact, it can — and there are many more illuminating (and, believe or not, entertaining) surprises where that one came from.
Extras: A second disc with 100 minutes of extended interviews, eight-page excerpt from the “Change” companion book.
The Raven (R, 2012, Fox)
“The Raven” doesn’t get a whole lot right with its reimagination of Edgar Allan Poe, and unfortunately, the one thing it has in common with its muse — that it peaks too young and runs out of life too soon — isn’t good news for either of them. That narrative zenith comes during the movie’s opening moments, which introduce Poe (John Cusack) as a bitter drunk whose widely acclaimed poem (the one that shares the movie’s name) netted him nine whole dollars and is recognizable to none but one of the patrons who mock him at the bar. Had “The Raven” just gone completely crazy with this idea of Poe as a raging grouch both respected and completely unappreciated in his time, it might have snowballed into a dark and wonderful farce. Instead, it partially borrows the plot of the television show “Castle” (a grisly murder appears torn from the pages of Poe’s own work, and the poet becomes a detective as he helps solve the crime and save the woman he loves (Alice Eve) while the killer challenges him), but takes a pass on the wit and humor that makes that show fun to watch. Though Cusack never loses the snarl that made those early scenes a potential prelude to something great, “The Raven” itself just drags, bound to a plodding narrative that’s predictable, reluctantly gory and too leaden to take full advantage of the situation in which it finds itself. Luke Evans and Brendan Gleeson also star.
Extras: Director/producers commentary, deleted/extended scenes, five behind-the-scenes features.
— “Dial M for Murder 3D” (PG, 1954, Warner Bros.): For the second time in history, movie studios are pushing 3D hard on an audience that doesn’t necessarily want it. Whether something clicks or history repeats itself remains to be seen, but in the meantime, this is perhaps the coolest bridge there is between 3D’s original era and the current generation. “Dial M for Murder,” originally shot in 3D nearly 60 years ago, is optimized for 3D displays and Blu-ray players that support today’s Blu-ray 3D standard. If you have the necessary hardware, the effect — and its ability to usher you to an era of 3D you may not otherwise have been able to experience firsthand — is pretty awesome (and, somewhat sadly, the arguable best use yet for all this fancy new technology). A standard Blu-ray version also is included for those who lack 3D hardware, as is the documentary “Hitchcock and Dial M.” Hitchcock fans should note that “Strangers on a Train” also makes its Blu-ray debut this week — in plain 2D, but with commentary, a making-of documentary an three behind-the-scenes features.
— “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Anniversary Edition” (PG, 1982, Universal): “E.T.” itself needs no introduction, but it’s worth noting anyway that this Blu-ray debut contains the original film cut and not the regrettable 2002 CGI edit that Steven Spielberg has since disowned. New extras include the retrospective “Steven Spielberg & E.T.” and “The E.T. Journals,” which includes original production footage from the set. Extras from previous releases — deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes features, reunion footage — also make the trip to this edition.
— “Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut” (PG-13, 1986, Warner Bros.): It’s yet another Blu-ray debut, yes. But “Little Shop of Horrors” considerably sweetens the deal by finally pulling back the curtain on the long-lost director’s cut, which itself unfurls a 20-minute ending that’s much darker than what ultimately made it into the original theatrical version (which also is included). Extras include a 36-page photo/liner notes/trivia book (which doubles as the case), a literal physical note from director Frank Oz, director commentary on both the theatrical version and alternate ending, a behind-the-scenes documentary, deleted scenes, outtakes and an director introduction to the director’s cut.