10/23/12: The Invisible War, Magic Mike, The Ambassador, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Take This Waltz, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Peter Gunn Complete Series, Disasters Deconstructed: A History of Architectural Disasters

The Invisible War (NR, 2012, Docurama)
The epidemic of sexual assault in the military is a story we’ve all at least heard of if not heard directly. Some of the staggering numbers — more than 20 percent of female officers report having been raped during their service, per a U.S. Government study — are well-traveled as well. It’s pervasive enough, sadly, to fall on deaf ears when text — and not faces and names — is all that’s available to a public that may have no tangible connection to the crisis and feels powerless to do anything about it anyway. Well, here are some faces and names. “The Invisible War” has the text and numbers we’ve seen before. But it also has the likes of Kori Cioca, who has spent five years eating only soft food and taking a stovetop’s worth of prescription meds to cope with a rape-related jaw injury that requires surgery for which the government won’t pay. She’s far from the only voice here. “War” posits that the number of actual rapes is far greater than what’s reported, and when victims (male as well as female) tell stories of how they had no one to report to because the superior who would handle the investigation is the one who assaulted them, it’s hard to argue. “War” lets military representatives state their case for reform, but the responses of those tasked with fixing the epidemic — ranging from a stunning lack of awareness regarding studies and statistics to a prevention plan that’s comprised of posters and a laughable rap video — are comparably infuriating. (Fortunately, it isn’t hopeless: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was treated to a screening of “War” back in April, and the first effect of that screening appears at the end of the film.)
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, extended interviews, Sundance screening footage, deleted scene, feature on the VetWOW Survivor Retreat.

Magic Mike (R, 2012, Warner Bros.)
A script firing on every confident cylinder can turn anything into anything, and if anyone needs proof, here’s the cutest, most aw shucks movie ever made about male strippers and unchecked debauchery. “Magic Mike” is the story of a fun-loving strip club owner-slash-empire builder (Matthew McConaughey), his star attraction stripper (Channing Tatum as Mike) and the 19-old-year friend (Alex Pettyfer as Adam) Mike pulls into the club one random night and tosses on stage just because. (A lot of things in “Mike” happen just because, with the justification typically ranging from “because it’s fun!” to “why not?”) At the same time, “Mike” also is the story of a boy and a girl — specifically, Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn), who is both the complete opposite of the kind of girl Mike typically seeks out and, perhaps for that reason, the only one he can think about anymore. “Mike” doesn’t shy the least little bit away from putting on one over-the-top strip show after another. But the mood is so overtly upbeat and playful that it may not even feel like debauchery had there not been an obligatory blast of second-act seriousness to steer the plot around. (Don’t worry — it doesn’t ruin the mood.) Couple those vibes with a courtship that reduces Tampa’s boldest exotic dancer to a stammering sixth grader, and it’s the most innocent story you’ll ever see about behavior that’s anything but. Given how smoothly “Mike” veers between such completely dichotic images and behavior, that may be the point.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

The Ambassador (NR, 2011, Drafthouse Films)
If you like Sacha Baron Cohen’s subversive not-quite documentaries but wished he stripped away the fiction and aimed his sights on something dangerous and real, it’s way past time to meet Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger. Brügger fooled his way into North Korea as part of a phony socialist comedy troupe in “Red Chapel,” and in “The Ambassador” he raises his game by diving headfirst into the lucrative, morally barren and rather terrifying world of illegal diamond trading by way of phony diplomacy credentials. Brügger’s infiltration takes him into the heart of the Central African Republic’s armed, dangerous and blazingly corrupt inner circle, where he must engineer deals involving piles of his own money and the not-so safety net of dubious contracts he signs but never necessarily sees again, much less has any leverage to enforce. Tallied up, the extent of the corruption is exactly what we’ve all been led to believe exists at the heart of the blood diamond trade. But that doesn’t make Brügger’s first-person, hidden-camera account of it any less staggering. And then there’s the fate of Brügger himself. As you might imagine, forging lucrative diplomatic credentials isn’t the same thing as getting a fake ID when you’re 19, and Brügger’s unease over a process that remains in process well after he’s deep inside the circle is justifiably palpable. Not being able to trust your shady handlers after handing them stacks of untraceable cash? That comes with the territory. But finding out halfway through the process that they’re incompetent as well? That’s true horror.
Extra: Brügger commentary.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (R, 2012, Focus/Universal)
As goes the now-destroyed Space Shuttle Deliverance, so goes any hope mankind had at surviving an asteroid that’s set to pulverize Earth in 21 days. And if that isn’t bad enough for Dodge (Steve Carell), it coincides with a dumping that leaves him destined to watch the world end by himself. Morbidly fortunately for him, his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) is condemned to the same fate — separated from her family by thousands of miles and seemingly stuck with all airplane and wireless traffic grounded. So they sort of have each other. But now what? How does a little bit of everything dialed up to 11 sound? Though it never turns the apocalypse into a farce, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” definitely is a comedy, and — especially initially, while everybody collectively debates what to do with a drop of time that’s both precious and kinda dragging on forever — a sharply funny one at that. But more than biting or silly, “World’s” comedy is honest, its heart adorning its sleeve even when going for (and getting) a dark laugh. And as doomsday draws closer and humanity’s demise really settles in, the outpouring of feelings becomes a geyser that discrimminates against no mood. Sometimes that means it’s a bit weepy, a little trite and perhaps a bit formulaically naive. But even at its most brazen, “World” somehow feels wildly genuine, a rare case of a movie clearly preying on its audience’s nerves but still somehow touching them in just the right way. (It never totally stops being funny, either, so it gets points for multitasking as well.)
Extras: Filmmakers/supporting cast commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, outtakes.

Take This Waltz (R, 2011, Magnolia)
Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are, by seemingly every reasonable metric, happily married. She loves him despite his occasional tendency to ignore her, and he loves her despite some quirks that occasionally freeze him out. If there’s a serious crime here, it’s simply that what once was new has gotten old. And because this story needs a catalyst, here comes Daniel (Luke Kirby), whom Margot casually meets while working out of town — and meets again on the flight home, and a third time when they split a cab and discover they’re neighbors. Daniel’s newness makes the comforts of Lou suddenly feel stale, and at a pace that’s both gradual and uncomfortably fast at once, the quirkily funny “Take This Waltz” begins a descent into messiness that’s bound to polarize its audience. Without spoiling details, “Waltz” isn’t nearly as predictable or derivative as the setup implies, nor does it just scrap its sense of humor and hoodwink those who invested in the amusing opening act. Finding the grey between all this loaded black and white is what “Waltz” consistently does best, and its ability to find and maintain its voice is what consistently keeps it engaging — and/or aggravating, funny, cathartic, rotten, absurd, scary and/or insert emotion here. Pick your own reaction, because wrong answers — and the guarantee that you wont hate one or more characters or the whole production — do not apply. “Waltz” is very good at enlivening a tired theme, and depending on how you feel when it’s all over, it may even be too good at it for its own good.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R, 2012, Fox)
If you wish to reimagine our 16th president as a 19th century Buffy Summers, it’s a free country and you have every right to do so. But “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s” unwritten rights aren’t quite so lax, because let’s be clear: If you’re going to convince anyone that there’s justification for tipping this sacred cow, you’d best tip every one of his friends as well. And so “Hunter” does. Instead of being a mindless vampire chase that inexplicably drops Abe Lincoln (played primarily by Benjamin Walker) in the middle of a bloodbath, “Hunter” actually dares to posit itself like a biopic, commencing with Lincoln as a child and taking us through and beyond the exhaustively-documented events of his life. Rather than shirk from a dialogue about slavery, “Hunter” barrels right into the topic — not necessarily gracefully or poignantly, but certainly with courage running down its sleeve. Vampiric and American lore bend around each other, and when we reach the Civil War, the spectacle, choreography and violence are deliriously, triumphantly over the top. All the while, “Hunter” keeps a playfully straight face, defending its every image as truth and basically blaming us for remembering so little about Lincoln’s reign as President. It isn’t the stuff from which Academy Awards are made, but it’s having too much fun to worry about that, and those who play along might be surprised how much fun they’re having as well.
Extras: Writer commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, music video, “The Great Calamity” graphic novel.

Also
— “Peter Gunn: The Complete Series” (NR, 1958, Timeless Media Group): Ten years and six months after A&E started producing “Peter Gunn” DVD sets and promptly stopped after 32 episodes, the entire series is finally, thanks to Timeless Media Group, available to bring home. Thanks for your patience! Along with all 114 episodes from the show’s three seasons (that’s not a typo; each season ran 38 episodes long), “Peter Gunn: The Complete Series” bundles in a 12-track bonus CD that includes the iconic theme song (which may be more famous at this point than the show itself).
— “Disasters Deconstructed: A History of Architectural Disasters” (NR, History): No, your eyes do not deceive you: In between relentless reruns of shows about pawn shops, aliens, ice road truckers and swamp people, the History Channel still recounts some history. This six-disc, 15-hour hodgepodge of programming includes eight episodes of “Modern Marvels: Engineering Disasters,” six episodes of “Inspector America,” three features on the Hindenburg and the documentary “Titanic’s Achilles Heel.”