10/16/12: Moonrise Kingdom, Touch S1, Nina Conti: Her Master's Voice, Last Ride, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key, Alcatraz: The Complete Series, The Ice House

Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13, 2012, Focus/Universal)
The world from which Wes Anderson’s movies spring is a lot like the world we live in — only a few degrees brighter, a few degrees bolder and a few degrees warmer. So it should come as only so much of a surprise when the best pickup routine in a movie this year very possibly comes courtesy of a squeaky-voiced boy scout who may not even be five feet tall on his toes. Cut to pieces, “Moonrise Kingdom” is a story about a boy (Jared Gilman as Sam), a girl (Kara Hayward as Suzy), and the plan they hatch to run away together. It’s silly, and when you see the scope and logistics of their getaway, silly gives way to laughable. But “Kingdom” has a knack for introducing its opposing forces — be it pleasant but clueless parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand), a police captain (Bruce Willis) with a thinner hide than the children he’s trying to rescue, a legion of power-crazed boy scouts or a scout leader (Edward Norton) who’s both too dedicated and too incompetent to inspire any confidence in his leadership — in such a way that make you both like those forces and root for Sam and Suzy to bring them to their allegorical knees anyway. In our world, it’d never happen. But here, where a naive and very poorly-planned runaway job erupts into a soul-illuminating clash of epic magnificence — thunderclaps, grandiose soundtrack and all? Anything is possible, and — boldly, vibrantly, lovingly — anything goes. Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel also star.
Extras: Set tour with Bill Murray, five behind-the-scenes features (four of them narrated in character by Bob Balaban, who also narrates the movie).

Touch: The Complete First Season (NR, 2011, Fox)
What we see as coincidences and the randomness of the universe and life as we know it, 11-year-old Jake (David Mazouz) sees as a machine — an array of behavioral and natural patterns that connect us and even (if understood and obeyed) fulfill destinies. Jake sees these patterns as numbers, which he attempts to communicate to anyone who will listen. The only problem: Jake has never spoken a single word, and his aversion to human contact makes relating to him nearly impossible. It falls on Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) — his widowed father and a fragile-tempered former reporter forced to work menial jobs for reasons explained later — to decipher Jake’s signals. Martin’s frustration with Jake is so palpable in “Touch” as to frustrate us as well — almost to the point where one might want to throw their hands up, do what Martin cannot and just bail on Jake. It’d be so easy if “Touch” didn’t make the payoff for these riddles so incredibly satisfying. A single episode of “Touch” presents multiple stories (some self-contained, some arcing across multiple episodes or the whole season) that, by episode’s end, have weaved together into a single narrative. You can, of course, write it all off as coincidence. But the routes “Touch” takes to merge its roads are too thoughtful and clever to give laziness and coincidence any serious credit, and buying into the premise is a ton of fun even when it pushes suspension of disbelief to the brink. “Seinfeld” used a similar trick to assemble some of the most uproariously impossible half-hours in television history, and while “Touch’s” endgame could scarcely be different, its handling of the gimmick is comparably masterful.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus an extended pilot, deleted scenes and two behind-the-scenes features.

Nina Conti: Her Master’s Voice (NR, 2012, Virgil Films)
To the rest of us, Kentucky’s Vent Haven Museum is just that — a museum dedicated to the craft of ventriloquism. To those practicing the craft, though, Vent Haven is something akin to a cemetery — a place where dummies go when their masters die (and, subsequently, take their dummies’ voices with them). Pretty heavy, no? It gets heavier when ventriloquist Nina Conti takes the dummies of the late Ken Campbell — her former mentor and lover — to Kentucky around the same time Vent Haven hosts its annual ventriloquism convention. Nina’s plan is simple: Read Ken’s dummies their last rites, do one final show, and then exit a business she no longer enjoys (and maybe never truly loved) and perhaps leave her own dummies — including faithful sidekick Monkey the monkey — behind as well. Easy, right? Sure. To the pragmatic eye, Nina is (unseen cameraperson aside, of course) on this journey alone. But Nina’s subconscious assumes a life of its own in “Her Master’s Voice,” and all bets are off when a ventriloquist’s restless mind has a roomful of her old lover’s dummies through which to torment itself. And torment it does — to the tune of a bitterly funny but very darkly depreciating self-teardown of a life and career as fraught with regret and resentment as it is reverence and remembrance. Yes, this completely crazy story is a documentary. Even more unbelievably, it makes more sense the crazier it gets. “Voice,” ultimately, is just another story about loving, losing and coming to terms with the hand life has dealt. That it’s brought to life by a suitcase full of puppets isn’t a hindrance, but simply a means to experience tried-and-true emotions in a wild new light.
Extras: Conti commentary, uncut version of Conti’s convention show, an interview of Nina by Monkey, an uncut version of a scene that’s best left unspoiled here.

Last Ride (NR, 2009, Music Box Films)
Based on appearances, 10-year-old Chook (Tom Russell) doesn’t seem to definitively know what his father (Hugo Weaving as Kev) did. Neither do we. But even with “Last Ride” keeping quiet and Chook refusing — either through remarkable restraint or simple fear — to rattle any cages, the understanding that Kev did something is pervasive enough to cast an uneasy pall over this father/son road trip across the Australian outback. The chronic discomfort of answers hiding just out of sight is one of “Ride’s” better effects: You know something is wrong, you’d bet your bank account on a guess and you very feasibly could win that bet, but something about this story is just off-kilter enough to keep doubt seeping in. That, naturally, takes a toll on the keeper of the answers as well. “Ride” veers violently but believably from sweet to brutal and back, jerked around by a lingering sense of dread and desperation that seems poised to ruin what otherwise is a wonderful bonding moment between a father and son who probably haven’t enjoyed many such moments. It’s a four-way game of chess, with father and son trying to spell each other while Kev’s secrets try to evade their seemingly inevitable comeuppance, and “Ride’s” ability to look frantic and resigned in the span of a single moment is extremely impressive.
Extras: Director commentary, three short films (“Cracker Bag,” “The Desert,” “Seven Emu: This is Where we Live”), behind-the-scenes feature.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (PG, 2012, Dreamworks)
After taking maybe 30 seconds to get acclimated, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” slams its foot on the gas pedal and leaves it there for a solid 40 minutes. By the time it finally relents, we’ve watched our usual band of animal idiots embark on a multinational chase that collides with a literal circus’ worth of new characters to meet. The sheer amount of noise, caffeinated animals and goofy accents — to say nothing of the nonstop activity that brings us from there to here — is nuts even by the metric of a series that has made its hay on being nuts. Fortunately, “Wanted’s” midpoint provides a stylish flashback, some overdue story context, and a moment for everyone — us as well as them — to stop and catch their respective breath. For those tagging along, this scene within a scene, along with the psychotically creepy scene that follows close behind, likely will endure as “Wanted’s” emphatic high point. For the kids whom “Wanted” would rather entertain than us, the spectacle that resumes shorty after will win out instead. That’s fine, because this movie is for them, and it certainly bends over backward to cram as much eye candy into 93 minutes as is humanly possible for a story trying to maintain some measure of coherence. But if you look at that middle sequence and wonder what might have been had Dreamworks explored a whole different kind of crazy and ran with it, don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong for doing so.
Extras: Filmmakers’ commentary, trivia track, deleted scenes, animators’ corner, game, behind-the-scenes features, music mashup.

Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key (NR, 2011, Entertainment One)
About the only place where politicians look even stupider and more malicious than they actually are is in kids movies. To that end, Mr. Mayor (Harry Cason) doesn’t disappoint. His backward approach to budget-cutting means the sheriff (Matt Clendenin) has to part ways with Trooper, a 10-year-old bloodhound who narrates this story. Worse still, he wants to shutter the local bookstore — it’s blocking an oil reserve he secretly wants to tap — unless the owner (Ellie Rose Boswell) can pay a dubious $1 million tax. In a bid to save the store, 10-year-old Tommy (Joey Roberts) — the new kid in town, and Trooper’s new owner — endeavors to find a treasure that local legend says is hidden somewhere in town. Naturally, he employs Trooper (and a chihuahua, Dash, who invites himself to ride along) to investigate. Yes, pretty much every story element of “Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key” feels borrowed, and even the kindest assessor would be hard-pressed not to call the production (particularly the acting) hokey. But “Key” lets its kids movie flag fly by venturing beyond hokey and drawing a blatant, cartoony line between good and evil. The mayor and his niece (Marisa Persson) are comically awful, while Tommy, the sheriff and the bookstore owner are so acutely pleasant that pulling for them is fun even if you recognize how silly the whole thing is. Surprisingly, it’s the dogs who keep “Key” grounded. They “talk,” but only to us and each other, and they’re funny and silly without going overboard and acting like bratty kids trapped in dogs’ bodies. No extras.

Alcatraz: The Complete Series (NR, 2012, Warner Bros.)
When the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closed on March 21, 1963, the prisoners who still occupied its cells weren’t, as we’ve been told, transferred elsewhere. Instead, they — along with the guards watching over them — mysteriously and secretly disappeared. Fifty years later, the prisoners have just as mysteriously begun trickling back into free society, and they haven’t aged a day since 1963. So what gives? “Alcatraz” would love to tell you, it really would. It just can’t. Though lazy and not wholly adequate, “Alcatraz’s” frequent comparison to “Lost” has some merit: It’s another Bad Robot production, Jorge Garcia is front and center in a Hurley-esque role, each episode frequently flashes back to color in the prisoners’ and prison’s history, and the show absolutely loves answering every third question with one answer and three more questions. Sadly, Fox loves canceling shows even more than “Alcatraz” loves loosening threads, and the “Lost” comparison would work more effectively if we lived in a hypothetical world where ABC dumped “Lost” before Locke even had a chance to bust open the hatch. There’s incredible potential here, and what we get certainly is intriguing. But it’s hard to get excited about a show that won’t even see a second season, much less a chance to resolve the mountain of mysteries blown open by these initial episodes. Sam Neill and Sarah Jones also star.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus unaired scenes, a behind-the-scenes feature and bloopers.

Also
— “The Ice House” (NR, 1997, BBC): Fifteen years before he dug in for his third stint as 007, a considerably more obscure Daniel Craig cut his teeth as D.S. Andy McLoughlin in this three-hour television movie, based on the Minette Walters novel of the same name, about a sleepy community rustled awake by the discovery of a corpse in a local ice house. The chance to see a younger Craig in action may be the main draw — the release date, on the eve of “Skyfall’s” release, is likely no coincidence — but if that isn’t enough, it’s worth noting the movie itself has aged rather nicely as well. Along with the movie, the DVD includes a feature on Walters and the novel.