What Maisie Knew (R, 2013, Millennium)
One day, little Maisie (Onata Aprile) will be all grown up. And there’s a perfectly reasonable chance that when she is, a combination of jobs to do, bills to pay and relationships gone sour will turn her into a carbon copy of the bitterly divorced parents (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) who now fight for her custody while repeatedly demonstrating why neither has any business being a full-time parent. “Maisie” tells its story with smart strokes, building up both parents as hard-working, somewhat well-meaning people who nonetheless have started a fire they don’t know how to put out. This is not a hit piece on divorcing parents, which precisely is why its depiction of divorce, the splash damage it creates and the complications that arise when kids are involved is so surprisingly engrossing. “Maisie” is still entertainment first and foremost, and it dips its toes into some murky subplots that serve the story (effectively and entertainingly, it bears noting) more than any messages that story transmits. But the contrast between the believably precious and thoroughly uplifting Maisie and the seemingly obligatory ugliness of divorce that encircles and occasionally flies right over her head is always apparent, and because “Maisie” stays honest and completely eschews preachy, hammy melodrama during the process of illustrating this contrast, it remains potent the whole way through. Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham also star.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes.
The Mindy Project: Season One (NR, 2012, Universal)
Taking a page from roughly half the sitcoms currently in rotation, “The Mindy Project” centers around a thirtysomething single woman — Mindy (Mindy Kaling), an OB/GYN as professionally successful as she is personally disastrous — who is determined to turn her life around and escape singledom for good. That’s the bad news. The good news is that “Project” realizes this could be bad news and comes equipped to laugh at its own tired predicament. “Project” isn’t simply the title of this show, but also the concept behind the romantically comedic sitcom taking place purely inside the mind of Mindy, who is convinced the road to happiness is paved with the same quirky characters and subplots that infiltrate the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movies she so deeply cherishes. “Project” doesn’t go overboard with the gimmick; to the contrary, it’s often so subtly used that many won’t even realize it’s a gimmick at all. But sly or not, it’s effective enough to give “Project” the angle it needs to not be more of the same old thing. It helps also, of course, that the scripts are funny and the ensemble cast (Ike Barinholtz, Zoe Jarman, Ed Weeks, and arguable cast MVP Chris Messina as the guy Mindy almost inevitably will end up marrying in the series finale) is plenty capable of doing those scripts sharply proper justice.
Contents: 24 episodes, plus deleted scenes.
Errors of the Human Body (NR, 2012, IFC Midnight)
When Canadian geneticist Geoffrey Burton (Michael Eklund) arrives at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, he’s greeted with a solemn strain of fanfare — excitement over his arrival and participation in a potentially groundbreaking project, but sadness over the very public death of his young son, due to a genetic disease he couldn’t treat, that predated his arrival. The two developments are, of course, intertwined, with the institute striving to create a gene capable regenerating tissue and warding off more than simply the disease that befell Geoffrey’s son. That makes this personal, and Geoffrey’s company — primarily, a former intern/potential love interest (Karoline Herfurth) and a fellow geneticist with cloudy motivations (Tómas Lemarquis) — makes pretty much all of “Errors of the Human Body” personal in some fashion. Naturally, all these strong feelings can only lead to derailment of some kind, and purely in terms of inevitability fulfillment, “Body” thoroughly delivers. As for what else it delivers or why it delivers it, the answers aren’t quite so clear. “Body” is uncomfortable, grimy and tense for hypothetical and tangential reasons alike. But it’s also such a ball of nerves that the ball of nerves often is all there is. For having such clear motives and explanations for his mannerisms, Geoffrey nonetheless offers little to rally around as the lead character, and his inability to give “Body” a sturdy center leaves everyone and everything else to flail even more by comparison. It speaks to “Body’s” atmosphere that it’s engaging even with these major flaws apparent, but it’s those flaws that send the film to the finish with a limp instead of in a blaze.
Extras: Director/co-writer Q&A, behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery.
Olympus Has Fallen (R, 2013, Sony Pictures)
No one comes out and says it, but it seems implied that, 18 months later, disgraced former Secret Serviceman Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) hasn’t moved on from his failure to save the First Lady’s life following a car crash. Honestly, no mind readers need apply to “Olympus Has Fallen,” which gives away the hook — the White House, and the President (Aaron Eckhart), falling into enemy hands — in the title and every single piece of promotional material related to the film. Stuff goes boom, and once D.C. is comfortably in the hands of the North Korean (who else these days?) invading force, only one person can save the day. Can you guess who? If not, congratulations on seeing an action movie for the first time ever. Enjoy! For the rest of us, “Olympus” is what it looks like — a stone-faced, extremely logically dubious excuse to commit computer-generated violence against a handful of landmarks and monuments while also engaging in some Jack Bauer-approved close-quarters combat in the halls of the White House. The final product is both technically accomplished and too narratively terrified to take a swing at greatness or do anything that allows it to be awful (one unintentionally funny episode of Melissa Leo hamming it up most definitely excepted). Amongst the alarmingly voluminous number of recent movies about America getting hammered by a surprise invasion, this one likely will reign as the one you most quickly forget existed. But as in-the-moment entertainment goes, “Olympus” suffices well enough and does exactly what it aspires to do, which counts for something even when aiming low. Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Radha Mitchell also star.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.
The Big Wedding (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
With its opening lines, as narrated to us by Ellie (Diane Keaton) as she explains how she and Don (Robert De Niro) still love one another despite long since having divorced, “The Big Wedding” offers hope that it has a heart and isn’t afraid to let it beat. And then, almost immediately and with such a recoil as if to be repulsed by its own optimism, it forcefully snuffs that light out and spends most of the time left relentlessly ensuring it doesn’t return. “Wedding” is primarily a story about the wedding of Ellie and Don’s adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) to Missy (Amanda Seyfried), with the wrinkle being that Don (who has remarried) and Ellie must pretend they’re still married to appease the groom’s staunchly traditional biological mother. That premise creates numerous opportunities for jokes about cultural disconnect, family squabbles and what to do with Don’s new wife (Susan Sarandon) when she isn’t supposed to even exist. Impressively, “Wedding” digs into these topics and several more until it finds the most joylessly irritable diamonds in the entire mine, and it painstakingly arranges those jewels into two families and change’s worth of almost staggeringly unbearable people. Sadly, little in the way of attempts at humor, much less successful conversions on those attempts, were recovered during the expedition. Whatever purpose “Wedding” had — as a comedy, as heartwarming entertainment, as any kind of entertainment at all — is so hopelessly absent that it’s a complete wonder so many talented people showed up to participate. Times must be tough in Hollywood. “Wedding” inevitably does that thing every predictable, cynical Hollywood comedy does where it finds its soul just in time for the happy ending, but the turnaround rings completely hollow following all that preceded it. Want to end “Wedding” on a truly happy note? Press the stop button. Topher Grace, Katherine Heigl and Robin Williams, among others, also star.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.