7/23/13: Starbuck, Wild Bill, Orphan Black S1, Welcome to the Punch, Twixt

Starbuck (R, 2011, Entertainment One)
“If you can live with his countless shortcomings, you’re in for plenty of beautiful surprises as well.” Those words, courtesy of the father (Igor Ovadis) of a man (Patrick Huard as David) who himself has fathered 533 children, pretty perfectly summarize every wonderful thing “Starbuck” ventures to say and do — which, given how many wonderful things this movie actually says and does, is no small feat. For years, David, whose incompetence touches everything from his delivery job to his relationships and attempts to resolve unpaid debts, deposited an ungodly number of donations (under the pseudonym of “Starbuck”) to the nearby fertility clinic. Because incompetence is apparently contagious, if not necessarily genetic, the clinic accidentally used Starbuck’s samples almost exclusively for a period of time, and a couple decades later, roughly one fifth of Starbuck’s children want to know who their biological father is. Were “Starbuck’s” heart in a different place, what follows next might have been a sloppy drama about the legal ramifications of a clueless donor’s right to anonymity being challenged. Or perhaps it would have just been a crazy comedy about a man having to raise 533 grown children even though he barely can take care of himself. But when a moment of weakness compels David to peek at a dossier of one of the children who want to meet him, his curiosity consumes him and elevates his story into something grander and more exciting than the humble opening act implied was ahead. What that actually entails is best left unspoiled. But what “Starbuck” finds when it launches skyward is a considerably funnier comedy than a typical comedy and an exponentially more wondrous story than any straight-faced drama could have ventured to tell. If you don’t mind the subtitles, this may be the most uplifting movie you see all year, and it may not even be close. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, bloopers, music video.

Wild Bill (NR, 2012, Flatiron Film Company)
Out on parole after eight years, Wild Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) just wants to go home and sleep. But what’s home anymore? His 11-year-old son Jimmy (Sammy Williams) doesn’t even remember him in the first place, and his 15-year-old son Dean (Will Poulter) resents him so bitterly that he probably envies Jimmy’s ignorance. As for the mother of his children? She’s skipped town, leaving Dean to secretly care for Jimmy until Bill barrels back into society, inadvertently lets the authorities in on the secret, and is forced to assert his guardianship to keep the boys out of the foster care system. Meanwhile, the allure of profitable crime beckons, and not necessarily just for Bill. Wait until you see what the angel-faced Jimmy is up to — and yes, it’s sort of OK to laugh when you find out. “Wild Bill” is a coming-of-age movie for its adults as well as its children, and set amid a backdrop of abandonment, resentment and debts unpaid to dangerous people, it’s an unarguably grim one. But when your grim story features a man who clearly means well in spite of his multiple levels of incompetence, a teenager whose awkwardness and honor are as pronounced as his anger, and a kid whose sweetness so wildly belies his bad decisions, it’s hard not to see the dark humor in it all. “Bill” realizes it, its characters realize it, and while it’s hardly the stuff from which uproarious comedies are made, the genuinely sharp and sweet laughs that punctuate and puncture all that grimness are what ultimately endure as the most striking and likable aspect of a movie with very few flaws as is.
Extras: Deleted/extended scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Orphan Black: Season One (NR, 2013, BBC)
What would you do if you unexpectedly ran into someone who looked exactly like you? If she ever pondered it, Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) didn’t have any time to do anything about it, as the shock of meeting her exact double was almost immediately followed by the shock of watching that double throw herself in front of a moving train. So who was that, anyway? A bag left on the platform provides the only clue, and when Sarah finds out where that clue leads, it’s a coin toss as to whether this chance encounter was the blessing or curse of a lifetime. And that’s before Sarah discovers the double on the train platform isn’t the only one out there. Say this for “Orphan Black:” It wastes very little time getting going, and it has absolutely no qualms about getting increasingly entangled as Sarah goes from toe-deep to neck-deep in this mystery with similar dauntlessness. Not every one of those twists hits, not every supporting character gets utilized in a way that doesn’t pigeonhole him or her, and the tone of the presentation occasionally falls a bit on the overdramatic side. But these weaknesses amount mostly to nitpicks amid all — from Maslany’s multi-character acrobatics to the subplots that precede and occasionally color the story from the background — this first season does extremely well. Frankly, the mystery at the center of it all is crazily engrossing enough that “Black” could have squandered half of what it does right and still come away as a show worth seeing. Many sci-fi serials have come and gone in recent years, and most have gone quickly due to a lack of confidence in the mystery they’re building. “Black” has no such issue, it makes that clear from the start, and that confidence makes for a show that’s hard to stop watching once you start.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus five behind-the-scenes features and a Maslany interview.

Welcome to the Punch (R, 2013, IFC Films)
A cop (James McAvoy as Max) wants payback against the criminal (Mark Strong as Jacob) who put him on the shelf and nearly killed him before escaping and disappearing. When Jacob’s son becomes embroiled in a heist gone very wrong and forces him to return to London, a freshly-reactivated and long-angry Max gets his shot … until, as often seems to happen, both realize the situation that rebinds them is considerably murkier than it originally seemed. It’s a setup that’s both classically fun and completely stale, and like a movie that understands the fine line between those two fates and grows self-conscious instead of emboldened by the challenge of toeing it, “Welcome to the Punch” finds a murky way to avoid embracing either path. For all the pieces it puts on the table, “Punch” takes its perilously sweet time really leaning into its characters’ angst and the suddenly confusing terms under which they must work around each other. Some form of payoff eventually avails itself as the second act gives way to the third, and that provides enough time and space for an imperfect but reasonably entertaining finish. You get the feeling it could have been so much better than this, but “Punch” seems to operate under the premise that it also could have been so much worse, so competent but compromised entertainment will have to do this time.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, interviews.

Twixt (R, 2011, Fox)
When the local sheriff moseys up to fading horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) during a barren book signing and asks, “How does it feel to be the bargain basement Stephen King?” without a hint of irony, it’s good for a chuckle. But that was then, this is now, and once you’ve entered the heart of “Twixt,” you might find yourself wishing that accidental crack was way more self-aware than it probably actually was. “Twixt” follows an increasingly common premise — see “Castle” and “The Raven’s” twist on Edgar Allen Poe’s life for two examples — wherein Hall, with a nudge from the sheriff (Bruce Dern), investigates a local murder mystery in hopes of turning it into the story that sparks his next book (and, in this particular instance, revives his career), only to become dangerously embroiled in the mystery. Rather inconveniently, most of the insights into the mystery come to Hall via dreams while he sleeps. There, he meets a dead girl (Elle Fanning) who seeks to avenge her own death. And speaking of Poe, he’s here too for some reason. Lots of “Twixt,” in fact, falls under the “for some reason” justification. When balled together, it’s enough to turn a somewhat pedestrian murder mystery into a complete mess that, sadly, isn’t so messy and crazy as to morph into something entertaining in spite of itself. Despite some stabs at dark humor, “Twixt” ultimately feels like a straight-faced mystery that itself is a bargain basement attempt at a premise that’s received better treatment in recent years. If that’s the joke, the movie itself doesn’t demonstrate any notion that it’s in on it with us.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

7/16/13: 42, Letters From Jackie, Rick Springfield: An Affair of the Heart, Damages S5, Regular Show S1&2, Bullet to the Head, Evil Dead

42 (PG-13, 2013, Warner Bros.)
“42’s” biggest problem might be the perception that the story of Jackie Robinson, arguably history’s most celebrated baseball player, has already been told, retold and ingrained. But most of those stories focus on Robinson’s hustle and bravery, stopping short for whatever reason when it comes to illustrating the bullheaded bravado that made him great and established him as the perfect force of nature to blow the doors off baseball’s color barrier. “42,” to its credit, does not. In fact, it gets down to the business of Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) belly fire straight away, it does so with bravado of its own, and then does it again roughly one scene later. With an opener like that, the stage is set for a biopic that lays its heart on the table and strives, first and foremost, to thrill — which, to its debatable detriment, is what happens. “42” celebrates not only the ballplayer who changed the game, but the wonderfully crotchety owner (Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey) who took a chance on him and the teammates who eventually fought for him when the virtues of winning baseball put the tradition of prejudice to shame. But “42” also smooths over the considerable ugliness of the era and ignores the fights for integration that preceded Rickey’s move and followed Robinson’s debut. (Larry Doby, who debuted for the Indians three months after Robinson’s debut, is invisible.) This version of Robinson’s story stops short in its own slightly Disneyfied way, settling down as a gorgeously shot, terrifically entertaining starter story that hopefully will galvanize some to seek out the rest of saga. Those other details would have sapped this film of its purity as a feel-good summertime sports movie, but that doesn’t make them any less essential to their place in history.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.
Also: “Letters From Jackie: The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson” (NR, 2011, MLB): “Letters From Jackie” strives to document not only Robinson’s playing career, but also his life after baseball, and it uses Robinson’s own words — via letters written both to his wife and a young fan he befriended and corresponded with across both eras — as its narrative backbone. But the 45-minute runtime provides little room for “Letters” to explore either period in truly fascinating detail even when some surprising developments make it clear those details are out there. No extras.

Rick Springfield: An Affair of the Heart (NR, 2012, Breaking Glass Pictures)
After charting 17 hit singles by the end of the 1980s, Rick Springfield dropped off the face of the musical earth for more than a decade. Then, with a newfound mission to connect with the fans who connected with his music, he reemerged and embarked on a second act that’s smaller in profile but more extraordinary by perhaps every other metric. “An Affair of the Heart” is the still-in-progress story of that second act, and while Springfield obviously is the star of it, his reemergence is such a communal experience that this is nowhere near his story alone. “Heart” finds some of those fans who found Rick at the height of his fame and found him all over again when he returned, and it doesn’t have to look hard, because where he goes, they often go as well. If that sounds like stalking, it’s worth noting that it’s stalking of the sanctioned variety — part of an improbable two-way relationship between a star and his fans, but often also the culmination of some incredible life stories that beautifully bridge the gap between fame and humanity. The details of that connection make “Heart” considerably more gratifying than your typical music documentary. But if you’re here for something more than gratification alone, worry not. Between the jealous husband/wannabe rock star awkwardly voicing his jealousy to his groupie wife and the Springfield-themed cruise that shares its voyage with more than a thousand passengers who aren’t there for Rick and think his fanbase is slightly insane, “Heart” isn’t afraid to crash its own feel-good story with some delightfully wince-worthy entertainment.
Extras: Extended scenes, bonus interviews, footage from the film’s premiere.

Damages: The Final Season (NR, 2012, Sony Pictures)
By way of a custody battle over her granddaughter, attorney Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) finally gets her inevitable day in court against the prodigy (Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons) she once groomed to be the next her. And as highly as it values twists and misdirection as the cornerstones of its design, “Damages” has provided little doubt that it could end any other way than this. Perhaps predictably, season five quickly postpones the custody battle in favor of a case that not only is customarily topical — classified information, the hackers (Ryan Phillippe) who leak it, the public that celebrates and condemns the leakers, and the casualties their actions leave behind — but also gives Patty and Ellen a chance to face off as attorneys instead of witness and defendant. The logistics that set the stage for that showdown are a little implausible, and the mind games that immediately follow have a familiar, borderline fatigued feel to them that suggests this saga is wrapping up at about the right time. But it’s about then that “Damages” plays its calling card, wherein it spoils major events from the finale but does so just cloudily enough to keep their full meaning a mystery. Seasoned viewers might see this season’s reveal coming, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bombshell (it is) or that witnessing the domino fall that takes us from here to there isn’t totally gratifying (it is), albeit polarizing with regard to where it ends up (probably). Even with her methods showing some age, Patty is such a potent mix of terrifying and refined that it’s hard to stop watching — primarily because it’s enthralling entertainment, but also because bad things tend to happen to those who take their eyes off of her. “Damages” is the world made in her image, and the bang that ends her world is, while bittersweet, entirely appropriate.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus deleted scenes and outtakes.

Regular Show: The Complete First & Second Seasons (NR, 2010, Cartoon Network)
The name is so mundane as to be funny in its own right, but “Regular Show” has a point: If Mordecai wasn’t a blue jay and Rigby wasn’t a raccoon — and if their neighbors and co-workers didn’t include a yeti, a Frankenstein’s monster and a short-tempered anthropomorphic gumball machine — this would be just another show about two lazy 23-year-old groundskeepers who hold onto their jobs despite constantly abandoning them to embark on crazy adventures. Yep. Past the fact that those adventures take the gang to the moon, into the multiverse, on the back of a flying duck and inside a 1980s cell phone, it’s just another show about slackers getting by. “Regular Show” is, like its Cartoon Network sibling “Adventure Time,” wonderfully good at finding and mining the vast middle ground between a cartoon suitable for Saturday mornings and the unscrupulous ball of terror only Adult Swim can safely contain. Traces of stoner comedies are everywhere, but the exterior is so charming and the adventures so grade school juvenile that “Show” (which, it should be noted, is also legitimately funny) is that rare show that has true all-ages appeal.
Contents: 40 episodes (all with commentary), plus the unaired pilot, student short “The Naive Man from Lolliland,” creator interview, mystery karaoke, music video, animatics/pencil tests/CG tests and promotional material.

Bullet to the Head (R, 2013, Warner Bros.)
It’s a long and messy story, but the upshot is that a hit man with a ridiculously itchy trigger finger (Sylvester Stallone as James) and a cop who wants to arrest him but can’t (Sung Kang as Taylor) are accidental partners on a job that finds kingpins and clients alike hunting both of them down. Albeit clumsily, and with the help of a brooding Stallone narration track that may as well be a Vin Diesel narration parody everyone just decided to treat seriously, “Bullet to the Head” does passably explain what turns James and Taylor into bedfellows. What it cannot convey, though, is why anyone should possibly care. “Head” ostensibly is a callback to the leaner days of 1980s action movies, prioritizing no-nonsense action and stripping away the cheap stunts and effects only expensive computers make possible. But what’s the excuse for stripping away personality as well? James has next to none, Taylor is never even given a chance to demonstrate if he has one, and outside of a sparingly-used cartoon character (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the bad guys are every bit as bland. With combatants like this, it’s hard to care about what they’re fighting over, and if “Head’s” storytelling is just an elaborate excuse to get to the action, that action — mostly consisting of James killing people with almost unintentionally funny disregard for consequence — doesn’t exactly justify the stalling.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Evil Dead (R, 2013, Sony Pictures)
This, this right here, is it. For anyone positing an argument about how technology alone doesn’t make movies better and sometimes just makes them worse, “Evil Dead” is the new Exhibit A. The new “Dead” follows the same general plot of the 1983 original, and Director Fede Alvarez has proudly proclaimed that no CG was used to simulate the film’s gore. But while that may be true, and while that is technically impressive, it doesn’t make that gore — and there is a ton of it, and yes, that seems to be the draw — any less out of step with the crazy B-movie stop-motion effects that made the original “Dead” such an special blend of charming and dark. Nothing about this “Dead’s” dull cast of characters is charming, nor does its darkness conjure any sensations that dozens of other horror movies haven’t already run into the ground in the last few years alone. And the gore? It’s gross, sure, but it also looks bored — an almost obligatory reach from yet another movie with lots of blood to shed but no concept of how to turn that into actual scares instead of momentary groans and winces to prop up the lifeless storytelling that’s patching it all together. The gore is, by process of elimination, the only fathomable reason why someone had to take a cult classic and remake it in modern horror’s calculated image. But its only real contribution goes toward the validation of the written word’s ability to frighten audiences in ways a bunch of aimless blood and guts cannot even fathom.
Extras: Cast/filmmaker commentary, five behind-the-scenes features.

7/9/13: Boy, Would You Rather, The Power of Few, Admission, Spring Breakers

Boy (NR, 2010, Kino Lorber)
Boy (James Rolleston) — that’s what he calls himself — is a daydreamer, an exasperated older brother, a huge Michael Jackson fan, perpetually confused by girls and a believer in every tall tale his dad ever told him. All of which, in the mid-1980s, makes him like millions of other boys. His little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) idolizes superheroes and is convinced he has powers that have accidentally been used for ill. And when their dad (Taika Waititi as Alamein) returns from who knows where to retrieve a bag of money (“treasure”) he’d previously buried in a nearby field, it’s abundantly clear where both boys got their appetite for imagination. Though questionable as a parent, Alamein — wannabe gang leader, wannabe samurai, wannabe everything but a responsible adult — has infectious personality to spare. So does Rocky, so does Boy, and so especially does “Boy,” which may be the most jubilantly silly piece of nostalgic 1980s Americana you see all year — except it was filmed, is set in and is very proudly a product of Waihau Bay, New Zealand, pet goat and all. How’s that for bridging cultural gaps? If “Boy” must be classified, it could make a safe landing in the coming-of-age category. But “Boy,” which is as comfortable telling its story through animated Rocky drawings and imitation Michael Jackson videos as it is through tried-and-true methods, is every bit as much a staying-of-age story — a very funny, very clever, incredibly sweet and occasionally heartbreaking tribute to the magic of imagination and the fight to protect it at all costs when real life wants to take it away. It took three years for this gem to arrive on these shores in an accessible format, but the wait is beyond worthwhile.
Extras: Short film “Two Cars, One Night,” Kickstarter update videos, interviews, B-roll footage.

Would You Rather (NR, 2012, IFC Midnight)
Would You Rather has traditionally been a hypothetical game of “what if,” but if that method ever thrilled Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs), it’s long since lost the ability to do so. Instead, Shepard prefers to recruit a handful of strangers in financial need and promise them a shot at life-changing wealth under the condition that they win his version of Would You Rather. That, of course, means that the choices are neither hypothetical nor easily made. And by the time our contestants discover just how difficult those choices are, the option to decline playing has been rescinded. “Would You Rather” follows a story premise that’s grown so prevalent in recent years as to become a genre unto itself, and it cannot escape some of the predictable elements that somehow ensnare every movie of this sort no matter how hard they fight it. But “Rather” also scores by not playing games with its mastermind’s identity. Who could be so cruel as to play with people’s needs and lives like this? Shepard Lambrick can, that’s who, and he’s all too happy to explain why. That kind of malevolent charisma can do wonders for a staling formula, and while “Rather” makes the misstep of giving one contestant more narrative weight than the rest, it is unarguably Shepard — and, by extension, the genuinely unnerving game that unfolds in his design — that drives this movie forward. Brittany Snow, Jonny Coyne, Eddie Steeples and Lawrence Gilliard Jr., among others, also star. No extras.

The Power of Few (R, 2013, Vivendi)
Be it joy, anger, sadness, boredom or something in between, every movie elicits a response. And so long as acute, paralyzing bafflement at least technically counts as a response, “The Power of Few” is no different. “Few” is one of those movies that tells multiple separate stories that eventually intersect due to place, time and circumstance, but the handful it rounds up — touching on but not limited to a bomb threat, a sick baby, a couple would-be thefts and multiple occasions for gun violence — are so cumulatively dire as to border on cartoonish. When “Few” compounds that by flashing a weird sense of humor and utilizing Christopher Walken and Jordan Prentice as a bizarro-world Jay and Silent Bob, all bets are off on whatever message all these crisscrossing stories are supposed to convey. And yet, none of this holds a weirdness candle to what happens after “Few” reveals the actual meaning of its title. Too much talent turns in too much good work to let “Few” descend into bad movie territory, but the entire premise and execution is way too jumbled to lift the movie to the great heights it presumably has eyes on from the start. Sometimes an entertaining and well-meaning mess is the best one can hope for, and for all its missteps, “Few” at least is never dull. And that, given how disastrously this could have gone in less talented hands, will do.
Extras: Deleted scene, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature,

Admission (PG-13, 2013, Focus Features)
Dozens of thousands of very smart and very hopeful high schoolers apply annually for a Princeton education, and elevens of thousands of them get rejected. Along with a select group of others, admissions officer Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is the face of that rejection. And given what a personal mess she appears to be as her story begins, it’s enough to qualify “Admission” as a horror film for any 17-year-old who sees it amid the terror show that is college admissions season. For the rest of us, “Admission” technically is a comedy. But with an opening third that’s narratively productive but exceptionally comedically lukewarm, it’s a comedy that needs more benefit of the doubt than a college application with three misspellings in the opening paragraph of the cover letter. It’s around the bridge to the second act, by way of one of those hopeful students (Nat Wolff) and the teacher (Paul Rudd) lobbying for his acceptance, where “Admission” drops its big narrative bombshell. And it’s around that same period where the movie’s shaky comedic approach starts making sense, if not necessarily scoring with everyone who came into a Fey/Rudd with considerably different expectations. “Admission” gives Fey a chance to switch gears and try some sappy heart-on-sleeve earnestness on for size, and yes, it’s jarring. And no, it won’t be to every Fey fan’s taste — a few laughs aside, the comedy never develops any kind of real edge. With all that said, though, it merits saying also that at no point does “Admission” ring hollow or find its cast laughably out of their league. The clumsy gameplan manifests itself in the uneven presentation, but the conviction and talent from all involved is every bit as prominent, and that doesn’t count for nothing.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Spring Breakers (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
It’s a joke, right? It has to be a joke. How else to describe “Spring Breakers,” which practically dares you to stop watching with an explosive opening montage of scenes that mixes aggressively bad dubstep, inane stock party footage and gloriously vapid inner and outer monologuing from the characters with whom we’re presumably stuck for the 75 or so minutes that remain? “Breakers” has its parable in the form of four naive girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine) who sneak out and scam their way into a spring break trip, only to get arrested and subsequently bailed out by an opportunistic full-time spring breaker (James Franco) who drags them into a dangerous world of drugs, guns and people with very bad intentions. By the halfway point, a dark cloud has formed around “Breakers” that is both credibly unsettling and strangely pleasantly surprising given how unreachable such dramatic heights seemed only a few scenes earlier. But a mere few scenes later, “Breakers” is back to thrashing its arms in a truly bizarre attempt to reconcile a dark, deep and brooding mood with a sequence of events that’s a cross between a 13-year-old’s power fantasy short story and a music video that was conceived, written and shot in a couple hours. As a parody with self-awareness to spare, “Breakers” is mildly entertaining, if a bit overlong with the joke. But one suspects “Breakers” isn’t really in on its own joke, but instead is simply a roundly, wonderfully awful movie that reaches for profoundness, misses and takes a tone-deaf tumble for the ages down a staircase that ends only when the credits come to the rescue. Viewed on that level, and preferably not alone, “Breakers” is an absolute blast to witness. It just isn’t the blast it probably had in mind.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scene, five behind-the-scenes features, outtakes.

7/2/13: The House I Live in, Tower Block, Inescapable, The Girl, Blood Runs Cold

The House I Live in (NR, 2012, Virgil Films)
There is no shortage of bow-wrapping lines to be found in “The House I Live in,” but in a documentary about the war on drugs, nothing takes the cake quite like John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor David Kennedy when he remarks that “over time, I have discovered that everybody involved hates what’s going on.” Kennedy’s remark also neatly symbolizes what, amid a decades-long sea of indictments that poke holes into the United States government’s drug-fighting tactics, makes this particular poke worth watching. Finding even a square inch of common ground in a situation as misguided and messy as this one is next to impossible with so many pieces — from the poor to the politically ambitious to the profit-driven to those who genuinely mean well — in play. But in completely democratizing blame by addressing every party’s role in the problem, “House” effectively takes blame off the table. What remains is a statistical, personal and visceral realization that what we’re doing now is working for nearly no one — and that includes law enforcement and the population this war is designed to protect with all these arrests and convictions. “House” is full of interesting and dispiriting revelations — did you know, for instance, that Richard Nixon launched the original war on drugs with rehabilitative intentions until reelection campaign obligations rebranded it as a campaign of punishment? — but it’s the cops, criminals, judges and journalists speaking from their own respective experiences that leaves a truly damning impression.
Extras: Five short additional segments.

Tower Block (NR, 2012, Shout Factory)
Once a desirable place to live because of their views and affordable prices, London’s apartment tower blocks have since become a haven for crime and, gradually, government-ordered eviction and demolition. In the case of Tower Block 31, the only signs of life left are the defiant tenants who live on the top floor and refuse, despite the condition of the building and a general lack of security and neighborly love in and around it, to leave. Maybe that explains what happens next, or maybe it’s the fatal crime one of the tenants (Sheridan Smith) witnessed but failed to stop several months prior. Once the first wave of sniper fire takes out multiple tenants and the ones left alive find themselves under siege, there really isn’t a good time to ask why. Without spoiling too much, it’s worth noting that, eventually, “Tower Block” will answer some of these questions. But it’s equally worth noting that the trip from here to there isn’t just a mindlessly rote wait for those answers to materialize. A large ensemble of tenants means “Block” has to work quickly to make characters out of most of them, but it has not only the high energy needed to do so (and have some fun doing it), but also enough creativity to elevate most of those characters past archetype status. All the same, “Block” isn’t afraid to lay waste to some of those people, and because it doesn’t simply take out the easy targets, the anticipation of answers is far from the only tension that turns up. Jack O’Connell, Russell Tovey and Ralph Brown, among others, also star.
Extras: Commentary, interviews.

Inescapable (R, 2013, IFC Films)
If you were one of the folks who dismissed “Taken” as too stupid to exist, a new movie about a powerful father (Alexander Siddig as Adib ) hopping continents to rescue his missing daughter is here to call your bluff. In Adib’s case, his daughter is missing somewhere in Syria — a country whose political temperature needs no introduction to anyone paying any attention the news, but also a country, in this fiction, that Adib disappeared from seemingly overnight en route to starting a new life in Canada. “Inescapable” finds him returning to face all he abandoned, including some powerful old friends and a former fiancé (Marisa Tomei) who assumed he’d eventually reappear or at least send for her. And if all of this sounds like a lot for a movie to chew on while a woman goes missing, guess what? It is, and “Inescapable” chews to its plodding detriment during a first half that, following the near-immediate revelation of Adib’s daughter’s plight, is almost entirely expository and often clumsily so. But the surprising byproduct of that clumsiness, if not necessarily the exposition, is the freedom it affords “Inescapable” to be unpredictable once the pieces are laid out and it’s time to press ahead. Neither the stumbling delivery nor the sometimes-languid pace ever completely disappear, but their (possibly accidental, let’s be clear) transformation from detriments to assets is remarkable as “Inescapable” digs deeper and gets its hands dirtier. “Taken” has it beat in terms of polish, character, thrills and memorable lines, but “Inescapable’s” intelligence indeed gives it the edge in terms of genuine late-game surprises. Oded Fehr and Joshua Jackson also star.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, Q&A.

The Girl (PG-13, 2012, Virgil Films)
There’s something to be said for unabashed sincerity. But there’s something as well to be said for levity. And it certainly wouldn’t have hurt “The Girl” to sprinkle just a little bit of the latter into this story about a single Texas mom (Abbie Cornish as Ashley) whose desperation to raise money to reclaim custody of her son compels her to engineer a smuggling of Mexican immigrants into Texas that goes considerably wrong. The fallout leaves Ashley stranded with a young girl (Maritza Santiago Hernandez as Rosa) in her charge, and now Ashley must find a way to reunite Rosa with her mom while addressing a few of her own issues and misgivings along the way. There are a number of ways to approach a story like this, and none of them necessarily exist in the realm of the lighthearted. But from its opening two scenes, wherein a crestfallen Ashley loses her job and then delivers a disheartened speech about the unfairness of her situation while her son watches, “The Girl” starts heavy and never really comes up for air. Cornish and Hernandez come to perform, but “The Girl’s” stage is so oppressively gloomy that its heart struggles to soar above the dark clouds even though it’s very clearly there and very obviously beating. Can entertainment be a secondary objective for a movie with something to say? Of course it can. But “The Girl,” for all its talent and good intentions, appears to have left it off the to-do list entirely, and that message’s power suffers as result.
Extra: Making-of feature.

Blood Runs Cold (NR, 2011, Vivendi Entertainment)
The people who spent less than $5,000 to make “Blood Runs Cold” are outwardly and rightfully proud of that fact, and it’s enough to hope their next film is a documentary about how to make a feature film on shoestring budget. Truthfully, it’d likely be the more fascinating of the two movies, because “Cold” isn’t as creative with its storytelling as it must have been with regard to the process of bringing it to life. Have you seen the movie about the pretty people who stay in a run-down house in the middle of nowhere and get gradually decimated by a killer lurking outside? Here’s your chance to see it again. But in “Cold’s” defense, and whether it’s a byproduct of the budgetary process or the creative process, it at least tells this tired story efficiently, streamlining through the inevitable decimation and making a beeline to the last-victim-standing confrontation everyone already knows is coming. The acting from some characters could be better and the special effects certainly aren’t state of the art. But “Cold’s” decision to dedicate nearly half the movie to that last showdown gives it plenty of room to be unnerving even while looking familiar and low-rent, and it takes advantage to satisfying effect.
Extras: Nine minutes of behind-the-scenes footage (which isn’t very instructive but, at least for now, will have to do).

6/25/13: Upside Down, As Luck Would Have It, Supporting Characters, Pusher, Come Out and Play, Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids CS

Upside Down (PG-13, 2013, Millennium Entertainment)
Adam (Jim Sturgess) loves Eden (Kirsten Dunst) and she loves him too, but circumstances have stupidly and then tragically forced them to part. It’s a story that’s been told a thousand times, and it’s funny how fresh it can feel when the storyteller applies a few unique rules to the proceedings. In the case of “Upside Down,” Adam and Eden not only live on separate planets, but reside on planets whose separate gravitational forces have them literally facing each other like a person standing on the floor would view a person standing on the ceiling. Connecting the two planets is a megacorporation, where employees from both worlds share a cubicle farm that exists at the intersection of the gravitational fields. But it’s also that corporation that drove a class warfare wedge between the two worlds that, along with some extremely fuzzy science, keeps the worlds (and the two lovers who meet in the middle) apart and mostly forbidden from interacting with one another. The aforementioned fuzziness of “Down’s” science cannot be overstated: To overthink its laws is to allow plot holes to open that are large enough to accommodate a third planet. But that’s the price of “Down’s” ambition, which is enormous and opens the door to some extremely creative ideas. If there’s a bigger problem here, it’s that the science behind these dual worlds is so fascinating that a movie is too short to take full advantage. Fortunately, while “Down” is smart enough to tell this particular story without leaving too many unacceptable loose ends behind, a few stray lines tease the possibility of more stories to come from this universe. With all due respect to the fuzzy logic-intolerant among us, here’s hoping that bears out, because there appears to be a ton more creativity and fun where this came from. Timothy Spall also stars.
Extras: Deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, library of sketches, storyboards and previsualization footage.

As Luck Would Have It (NR, 2012, Sundance Selects)
When an iron rod penetrating the back of your head enters the running as the arguable best thing to happen to you that day, you’re probably having a bad day. Or perhaps, like Roberto (José Mota) — who finds himself pinned by just such a rod to the floor of a soon-to-be museum just as a throng of media has come to check it out, and it’s a long story how he got there — it simply represents a different way of looking at things. For the sake of enjoying “As Luck Would Have It” at its fullest, it’s best to curb the details of what happens next (even if the back of the box is happy to spoil away, so try and resist the urge to peek). But in a vein similar to that of its incapacitated main character, “Luck” doesn’t see only one road from what at least seems to be an inevitably tragic turn of events. It’s observant of that sadness, if not necessarily sad itself. But “Luck” also invests in irony and dark comedy, and it doesn’t invest lightly in either. Exactly how it parlays impalement into funny parable is (or should be) part of the surprise, but if you already know what happens next, it’s worth noting that this is neither the only surprise nor the biggest one that awaits. Rather, the real surprise is the way “Luck” smartly mixes its completely contrary moods so that they cease feeling contrary despite never getting blurred together. That, in turn, gives “Luck” the freedom to be unpredictable as the second act gives way to third, and the movie seizes the moment with similar deft. Salma Hayek also stars. In English with Spanish subtitles. No extras.

Supporting Characters (NR, 2013, Tribeca Film)
Film editing isn’t a thankless job, but when the film isn’t very good and a temperamental tandem of directors and producers constantly interferes with any attempt to fix it, it probably feels like one. From the looks of things, that’s the predicament in which longtime editing collaborators and head-butting friends Nick (Alex Karpovsky) and Darryl (Tarik Lowe) find themselves, and with a new project in the pipeline that wants Nick but not necessarily Darryl on board, the light at the end of the tunnel may be even dimmer than the lights inside it. Isn’t making movies, as Darryl remarks, supposed to be fun? “Supporting Characters” is a story about a story in limbo, and fittingly, it exists in a kind of limbo all its own, with relationships, friendships and assessments of one’s self-worth hanging precariously from a ledge alongside the movie Nick and Darryl are editing. Taken the wrong way, that’s a diplomatic way of saying nothing happens. But when nothing happening is the catalyst that that launches the plot into the air in the first place, is that a compliment instead of a dig? Given how well “Characters” captures it — all the while developing some sneakily strong characters and relationships and giving them some funny and insightful wisdom to play with — it may actually be. Anyone who has ever been mired in group project hell — in film, elementary school or anywhere else — will certainly be able to relate. Arielle Kebbel, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Corrigan and Sophia Takal also star.
Extra: Cast/filmmaker interviews.

Pusher (R, 2012, Anchor Bay)
After a drug deal goes south and the cops give chase, Frank (Richard Coyle) does the only thing he can do to preserve his freedom: run, run some more, jump into the nearest body of water, and watch the evidence literally dissolve. Pretty crafty, right? Sure, were it not for the part where Frank now hangs on the hook for $55,000 worth of unsold cocaine, considerably deepening his debt to some dangerous people who already had him on thin ice. So who tipped the cops? And how does the traditionally affable Frank strong-arm his customers into paying their debts to him before his own debt makes him wish he was in jail instead? If all this sounds a little familiar, it’s no deception, because if “Pusher” has any qualms about being yet another movie that reinforces just how quickly the exciting life of drug pushing can break for the drain, it certainly isn’t showing them. Tasked with adding anything new to this long-known conventional wisdom, it simply can’t: Frank’s a likable but forgettable lead, most of the cast that surrounds him could pass for cartoon characters, the soundtrack design is straight out of the self-consciously cool movie playbook, and the bevy of twists aren’t as clever as they are just entertaining. But there, right there, is “Pusher’s” saving grace. Among the many things it lacks, energy and tempo aren’t two of them, and the frantic way the movie merges the ugliness and silliness of its world is, while never special or memorable, plenty entertaining enough to offset its lack of imagination.
Extras: Cast/crew Q&A, behind-the-scenes feature.

Come Out and Play (R, 2013, Flatiron Film Co.)
To celebrate the imminent birth of their child, Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and Beth (Vinessa Shaw) have not only ventured down to Mexico for a romantic getaway, but have rented a boat and taken it to a sleepy resort town where they can celebrate in complete tranquility. And boy, is the spot they picked ever deserted. The adults have seemingly completely disappeared, and all that remains is a legion of children who together form a cross between a cult and a pack of hungry lions. Talk about an unnerving turn of events. Problem is, “Come Out and Play” — which isn’t even an original movie, but a remake of 1976’s “Who Can Kill a Child?” — has next to no idea what to do with it. Plenty of what happens next is creepy and occasionally gross, but until maybe the very end, it’s all a product of an idea just coasting on inertia alone. Francis and Beth wander around in terror but don’t really do anything truly desperate or crazy. The kids, meanwhile, are even less interesting — creepy for sure, but completely deficient of anything remotely resembling motive or desire or even will. What turned these kids feral? Eh, who knows? “Play” either can’t think of a clever answer or doesn’t care, and the first 95 percent of the film seems like a stall for time until the remaining five cashes in with a culmination that may surprise some of the audience. Unfortunately, past potential shock value, even this part comes up mostly empty.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, cast interviews.

Also
— “Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids: The Complete Series” (NR, 1972, Shout Factory): Fat Albert’s adventures have received a smattering of DVD releases before, but this set — finally available following a last-minute delay last year — is the only way to get all 110 episodes across all three of his shows. Also included: A behind-the-scenes documentary, commentary with Cosby and a 20-page companion booklet.

6/18/13: Quartet, Stoker, 21 & Over, Movie 43

Quartet (PG-13, 2012, Anchor Bay)
Dull moments are rare as is in Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians that, consequently, is a haven for retirees whose mouths, egos and gifts of self-expression haven’t much aged at all. Still, what’s the harm in a little more excitement? It’s on the way in the form of Jean (Maggie Smith), an opera singer who not only achieved significant fame as a soloist, but who became a star only after bolting from a quartet that included the husband (Tom Courtenay) she left behind as well. Guess what? All four members now live under the same roof. And as Beecham House’s annual concert gala looms on the horizon, a reunion might be in order were it not so completely out of the question. Heartache is in ample supply in “Quartet,” and we haven’t even touched on the theme of aging and whiling the nights away in a retirement home instead of on a stage. But if you believe at all in that adage about aging well, “Quartet” is the movie that validates it several times over. There’s an art to laying all that heartache on the floor, sifting through it, and picking out the pieces that make it worthwhile without completely hiding the rest under the rug. “Quartet” masters this, toeing the line between poignance and sharp, sniping comedy and occasionally using its four terrific main characters (and their comparably free-speaking housemates) to crisscross and tangle that line beyond recognition. How does a movie so thoroughly about heartbreak address it head on and still feel this good? Hard to explain, but “Quartet” does it, and it’s a sight to behold. Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon also star.
Extras: Commentary with first-time director Dustin Hoffman, behind-the-scenes feature.

Stoker (R, 2013, Fox)
“Stoker” begins almost straight away with the news that the father of India (Mia Wasikowska) and husband of Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) has died in a completely senseless accident, and it is considerably more fitting than is initially apparent that this story begins this way. As it happens, it’s far from the only thing happening that’s hard to explain. India seems unusually dour even without the news of her father’s death further souring her mood. Her mother seems completely out of place in her own skin. And her uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) … well where did he even come from? Evelyn can’t really explain, and India never even knew he existed before he appeared, moved in, and provided an uncomfortably calm presence to complement the other strains of discomfort currently choking the house of any life. “Stoker” only gets stranger from here, both in terms of what happens and how it makes everyone feel, and the senselessness that encompasses the early themes doesn’t exactly disappear in favor of neat explanations (or, one could deftly argue, explanations of any variety). What potentially makes this allowable is how deliberately “Stoker” pursues the weird mood it achieves and the many ways it takes advantage of that mood once it has it in hand. Put another way? It’s extremely creepy, but confidently and freshly so. It doesn’t take much skill simply to be strange or unsettling just for the sake of it. But “Stoker” develops its own unique strain of uneasiness, and while it won’t remotely explain that sensation to everyone’s satisfaction, it sure is fun to try and read its mind.
Extras: Deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features, soundtrack song performance.

21 & Over (R, 2013, Fox)
Everything that happens in “21 & Over” has sorta happened before. Miller’s (Miles Teller) the friend who dropped out of college and wants to carry on pretending he isn’t an adult yet. Casey (Skylar Astin) is the business school guy who’s spending his final spring break in a joyless internship. In between is Jeff (Justin Chon), whose 21st birthday arrives the day before a crucial medical school interview that, along with immense pressure from his admittedly scary father (François Chau), has him too stressed to celebrate. But Miller persuades him to sneak out for an early-night celebration, Casey rolls his eyes while going along with it, and “Over” embarks on a wild night out that, again, has sorta happened before in other movies. At its stupidest, slapstick-iest and most outrageous, “Over” is both a remix of the classics (without fully imitating them) and an occasional attempt to out-shock them (without going overboard and prioritizing shock over comedy). In every respect, it does adequately — entertaining at worst, mostly amusing throughout, and legitimately very funny here and there. But “Over’s” best asset, amid a storyline that’s often hopelessly predictable, is Jeff. There’s an advantage to being the character sandwiched between two cliches, and without spoiling why, Jeff makes good on those advantages en route to some good surprises and a stab at sincerity that should completely fall flat but instead turns a serviceable movie into a genuinely likable one.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.

Movie 43 (R/NR, 2013, Fox)
Depending on criteria, there may be no movie in 2013 more extraordinary than “Movie 43,” which convinced a cruise liner’s worth of Hollywood superstars (Dennis Quaid, Emma Stone, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Naomi Watts, Stephen Merchant, and the list goes on) to slum it in what easily goes down as one of history’s worst attempts at making a funny movie. “43” stitches together multiple short films into a storyline about a screenplay pitch meeting gone wildly wrong. Those shorts’ premises vary, as does the cast of each skit, but every last one of them cherishes the same method of comedy that involves doing or saying something “outrageous” (to a fourth grader, anyway) and beating that revelation into submission in a manner even a bad “Saturday Night Live” skit would find overlong and boring. Outside of a benign double take or two, the nerve that tells the brain the body is bored is the only nerve “43” really touches. For all the talent and appetite for subversion it wields, all the movie produces is 94 long and lame minutes of A-listers suffering from enough amnesia to feel a need to show up and collect the paycheck but not enough to put in the kind of effort that keeps this whole thing from feeling strangely pitiful. Have you ever wondered what Kristen Bell’s career might look like in an alternate universe where someone else lands the lead in “Veronica Mars” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” Here’s your chance, and there goes the only sliver of a reason to one day catch a few minutes of this on cable or Netflix.
Extras: Unrated cut, behind-the-scenes feature.

6/11/13: House of Cards S1, Wedding Band S1, Wrong, The Newsroom S1, Oz the Great and Powerful, Fred Won't Move Out, Richard Pryor: No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert

House of Cards: The Complete First Season (NR, 2013, Sony Pictures)
Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is the House Majority Whip, and there’s obviously zero shame in that. But when you’re openly banking on a promotion to serve as the incoming President’s Secretary of State — and the first episode of “House of Cards” makes it clear this is Francis’s plan A, B and C — getting passed over and settling for anything less is nothing less than a slap in the face. Fortunately, Francis has a plan D, and it involves sticking his hand in any open pocket, stockpiling a reserve of secrets, favors and alliances, and speeding down the shoulder of the Underhanded Expressway until the new administration becomes putty in his hands. Those with Netflix accounts have had three months to get acquainted with Francis and his large and comparably conniving supporting cast, but for those on the outside, the physical disc release provides an enticing look at the future model of must-see television. And “Cards,” for its part, absolutely is worth seeing — not so much because it’s yet another show that cynically reduces the pretense of public service to nothing more than exchanges of favors and threats among the entitled, but because it filters that cynicism through a man who is genuinely giddy about the liberating personal power trip on which he has decided to embark. Francis’s journey isn’t his alone to enjoy, either: By regularly turning to the camera and delivering a confession or secret to the broken fourth wall, he’s inviting us, as his new best friend, to scorch the earth with him. It all feels so wrong, but when you see who Francis is up against, turning the volume down on your conscience feels more right — and more fun — with each passing episode. Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Michael Kelly, Kristen Connolly and Corey Stoll, among others, comprise a stellar ensemble cast.
Contents: 13 episodes, no extras.

Wedding Band: The Complete First Season (NR, 2012, Fox)
In terms of introductions, the very literally-titled “Wedding Band” is in no mood to mess around. It is, in fact, a show about a wedding cover band, and the gig that encompasses the first episode just so happens to be the wedding of our lead singer’s (Brian Austin Green) most pain-inducing ex-girlfriend. “Band” does right by getting the climactic episode out of the way, because if the mostly silly good time that ensues is this show’s idea of a melodramatic special episode, imagine what it does to unwind. Or just watch the second episode and see for yourself. “Band” takes a pretty simple idea and takes something of a chance by opting for 42-minute episodes instead of the usual 22 minutes, which would seem to strain the gimmick past its welcome. But the mood is way too upbeat to drag, and the stories and themed weddings are too ridiculous to run out of angles before time is up. Also important: “Band” is actually funny — not necessarily in that razor-sharp-and-working-on-multiple-layers way, but certainly on a level that’s likable, silly and smart enough to thoroughly enjoy. Throw in some genuinely great covers of songs you probably haven’t heard in years but will instantly recognize, and “Band” may be the most potent feel-good television show in commission today. Melora Hardin, Harold Perrineau, Jenny Wade and Peter Cambor also star.
Extras: 10 episodes, plus two behind-the-scenes features.

Wrong (NR, 2013, Drafthouse Films)
Dolph (Jack Plotnick) has lost his most cherished friend, his dog Paul. Turns out, Paul was kidnapped, and the people who kidnapped him are part of an organization devoted to kidnapping pets in hopes of making their owners care more about them upon their safe return. Dolph doesn’t need that lesson, but the kidnappings are random, so off Paul goes. This, by miles, is the most literal and normal thing that happens in “Wrong.” It may be the only literal thing that happens. Everything happening around it — Dolph going to work at a job (a) that fired him months ago and (b) where it rains indoors, a machine that creates video images out of memories somehow culled from a dog’s waste, and do you need more examples? — is either allegorical or just weird for weird’s sake, and “Wrong” makes no attempt to campaign for it being the former. Frankly, it’s probably the latter anyway. But if it is, “Wrong” is (arguable) proof that something can be weird just because and still be accessible enough not to completely wear out its welcome halfway though. The fun of watching “Wrong” is heightened for those who possess the dogged determination to decipher what it all means, even if it means arriving at a conclusion that’s completely at odds with the movie’s own design. But Dolph, by virtue of being a guy who just loves his dog, is too likable to let the weirdness stamp him out, and his looks of disbelief are a darkly funny source of comfort for all who wander into “Wrong” and find themselves totally confused but strangely entertained. If even he doesn’t totally get it, there’s no shame in us feeling the exact same way.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features, 20-page liner notes booklet with introduction by Eric Wareheim (of “Tim and Eric” fame).

The Newsroom: The Complete First Season (NR, 2012, HBO)
With its very first scene — wherein beloved but bland news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) fires a prescription medicine-induced rant about America at a terrified college student during a packed Q&A session — “The Newsroom” hits the ground with feet on fire. The rest of that first episode is never that good again, but considering how much table-setting it does while a Gulf Coast oil rig explodes in the background, the continuous attempts to shoot for those heights are commendable. Then episode two comes and goes, “commendable” turns to “wearisome,” and a few episodes later, even that word starts feeling generous. When personal problems aren’t running considerable interference, the cast of “The Newsroom” takes considerable pains to express its heartfelt concerns about restoring television journalism to a higher plane of relevance and credibility, and rarely does a moment pass where hearts aren’t running laps around sleeves. That’s fine, and the unapologetic slants “The Newsroom” expresses regarding not just journalism, but politics, American idealism, Sarah Palin’s intelligence and everything else that makes ideological pulses race, are certainly its right. But it’s that ideology that slowly but ultimately engulfs “The Newsroom,” reducing characters to vessels for an exhausting onslaught of self-righteous ranting, preaching and one grandiose speech after another instead of valuable pieces of a character-focused ensemble. The cast is sharp enough to mollify the damage, and Daniels in particular nearly makes the show fun to watch in spite of itself. Mostly, though, these talents are simply a tease — of a more exciting show about people making the news instead of an elaborate means for scriptwriters to moonlight as speechwriters and prioritize their message at the expense of their audience’s entertainment. Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr. and Dev Patel, among others, also star.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, “Inside the Episodes” features and two additional behind-the-scenes features.

Oz the Great and Powerful (PG, 2013, Disney)
There’s no harm in having some fun with “The Wizard of Oz’s” backstory, and as “Wicked” already proved, doing so can be a ton of fun if done well. For a while, albeit with shaky footing, “Oz the Great and Powerful” does it well, framing the younger, pre-Oz Oscar Diggs (James Franco) as nothing more than a carny con man whose only magic trick is his incredible charisma. One scam-induced escape and hot air balloon collision with a tornado later, “Oz” whisks us into the Land of Oz with similar wobbly care: The threat of special effects overwhelming storytelling starts feeling like a reality, but that first look at the Land of Oz is incredible, and the characters Oscar meets initially are enchanting enough to make one believe that storytelling can engineer an upset. But it’s not to be, and it really isn’t even close. “Oz” begins well and sort of recaptures some of its imagination and humor in time for the finale, but the long road in the middle is paved with a loud, sense-dulling bombardment of violence, explosions and special effects that arranges a Wonka Factory’s worth of eye candy into something that says absolutely nothing. For too much of “Oz’s” two-plus hours, as armies charge each other and generals channel their inner Braveheart, the Land of Oz may as well be Middle Earth, and this may as well be a video game. Little touches and some heartfelt scenes aside, it’s a glorious, colorful, expensive but ultimately soulless waste of what could have been a truly wondrous origin story. Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz also star.
Extras: 10 behind-the-scenes features, second screen content, music video, bloopers.

Fred Won’t Move Out (NR, 2012, Virgil Films)
Fred (Elliott Gould) doesn’t want to move out. And who could blame him? His country home is extremely comfortable, and outside of some mild difficulty walking around, Fred is pretty able-bodied. Unfortunately, his wife Susan (Judith Roberts), suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s, is not, and their son (Fred Melamed) and daughter-in-law (Stephanie Roth Haberle) have — without consulting Fred — begun the process of moving her to a nursing home in “the city.” They’ve made similar plans for Fred to live in the same building, but as the title implies, Fred isn’t having it. Around this premise, “Fred Won’t Move Out” aspires to build a dry, sentimental comedy, ostensibly with an eye on cherishing time gone by while also making the difficult admission that passing time cannot be stopped. Fleetingly, it is that. Mostly, though, “Fred” feels as strained as its namesake. It strains to lighten the mood with non-sequiturs that often come across as petty instead of funny. It strains to give Fred, as the catalyst of this whole story, much to do besides react. And because no one, not even “Fred,” seems to truly listen to those reactions, those watching may strain to see what the point of this whole thing even is. “Fred” run only 74 minutes long, and one must imagine there are numerous ways to easily fill that time with a truly affecting and funny story about a man clinging to the last strands of life on his terms. “Fred” fills that time with filler and still limps to the finish, as resigned to settle for irrelevancy as Fred’s unlikable son seems to think his father suddenly is. No extras.

Also
— “Richard Pryor: No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert” (NR, Shout Factory): The contents — three complete concert films and seven CDs spanning 27 years’ worth of material, some of it previously unreleased — make this compilation hard to resist even if it came as nine loose discs in a plastic bag. Fortunately, “No Pryor Restraint’s” hardcover-book presentation — which includes 60 glossy color pages’ worth of stories, essays, photos, history and liner notes before getting to the discs — is considerably nicer than that.

6/4/13: It's a Disaster, Mental, Wilfred: The Complete Original Series, Identity Thief, Breaking Bad S5

It’s a Disaster (R, 2013, Oscilloscope)
Almost immediately, the sympathy pangs rush in for Glen (David Cross) as his relatively new and not-necessarily-pleasant girlfriend (Julia Stiles) drags him to what, based on both assumptions and first impressions, should be one heck of a miserable couples brunch with her miserable friends. What follows, before food is even served, is such a soul-straining mashup of faux-edgy pretentiousness and bubbling angst that when the Internet dies, the power goes out and word spreads that dirty bombs have pummeled multiple cities nationwide, it almost feels like Glen caught a break. Lest there be any confusion, “It’s a Disaster” is a comedy first, any number of genre-bending things second, and a disaster movie a distant third if it’s one at all. And that, with an assist from a script that’s pretty funny despite being tasked with being intentionally grating, is what makes it so great. Without spoiling details, “Disaster” tells the kind of story that might actually unfold for real if a bunch of helpless snobs (and one well-meaning bystander boyfriend) suddenly found themselves staring down the end of days. It doesn’t try too hard to be funny (but is anyway), nor does it try and force us to find some sympathy for this group (even if some sort of seeps through anyway). Best of all, “Disaster” is that rare disaster movie that isn’t deathly predictable once it blows through its special effects budget. For starters, there are no special effects anywhere. More importantly, there are some terrific surprises in store, including a brilliant sequence that sends “Disaster” home on a note that’s jolting and fitting all at once.
Extras: Director/cast commentary, behind-the-scenes feature, Comic-con panel, viral videos.

Mental (NR, 2012, Universal)
Nearly everyone is somewhat or completely crazy in “Mental.” Shirley (Rebecca Gibney), haunted by her obsession with perfection and her delusions about it always being within reach, certainly is. Her politician husband (Anthony LaPaglia as Barry), despite his attempts to steer as clear of his family as possible, is as well. With a pedigree like that, their five daughters never stood a chance, and when Shirley gets committed and Barry hires a woman (Toni Collette as Shaz) to watch over the kids, she may be the craziest one of all. With a roster like that — and we haven’t even mentioned the shark hunter (Liev Schreiber) or the neighbors — it should come as little surprise that “Mental,” too, is rather crazy. Watch it casually or take your eyes off it for a scene here or there, and it may even appear incomprehensible. But there’s more than one meaning in play in that title, and while “Mental” isn’t much for literal clarity, it makes a point to convey that even the craziest among this group is just lucid enough to realize how crazy he or she is. That, if only barely, is all the clarity “Mental” necessarily needs. Deep down, beneath layers and layers of antics and irrational behavior, is a perfectly normal story about a woman connecting with five girls who need her. Hang onto that thread for dear life, and “Mental’s” wild, relentless and wonderfully silly exterior is simply icing — in colors, flavors and volume like perhaps you’ve never tasted before — on the cake.
Extras: Cast/crew interviews.

Wilfred: The Complete Original Series (NR, 2007, Fabulous Films/Shout Factory)
Before “Wilfred” was a cult American comedy featuring a foul-mouthed grown man in a dog suit, it was this Australian series featuring a foul-mouthed man in a dog suit. And while the same actor (Jason Gann, who also created the series) embodies that suit in both versions, the two shows go in starkly different directions almost immediately from there. In this case, Adam Zwar (as Adam) has Elijah Wood’s role as the guy who can see and speak to Wilfred as a person dressed as a dog instead of the actual dog everyone else apparently sees him as. This time, Wilfred’s owner (Cindy Waddingham) is Adam’s girlfriend instead of a neighbor he fancies. And though his stance softens slightly over time, Wilfred is overwhelmingly devoted to menacing Adam, which he does to very funny but unabashedly dark effect. The rivalry stands in stark contrast to the American reboot, which Wood’s character kicks off by trying unsuccessfully to kill himself four times before meeting Wilfred and embarking on a dark, combative but also loving and almost spiritually enriching friendship. The more complicated relationship, along with the opportunity for Gann to refine his act on his second go, makes the American “Wilfred” a more unpredictable watch. But much of what makes that “Wilfred” so funny is well-represented here as well. If you like the American version, this rare opportunity to see an alternate-universe take, courtesy of the same creative spark in the middle, is not to be missed.
Contents: 16 episodes, plus outtakes, three behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.

Identity Thief (NR/R, 2013, Universal)
“Identity Thief” likely will best be remembered for the awful things fading film critic Rex Reed said about star Melissa McCarthy and the blowback that immediately followed. And in spite of the considerable effort “Thief” puts forth, that’s probably as good as it gets. In “Thief,” Sandy (Jason Bateman) finds his identity stolen by a woman (McCarthy) who subsequently uses it as a prop in a crime spree. And because this is the movies, and because “Thief’s” depiction of identity theft is comparable in terms of plausibility to “The Net’s” depiction of the big scary Internet, the only way for Sandy to repair his credit, get his job back, clear his name and undo the mess is for Sandy himself to confront his impostor and drag her back to his home state. Why not the police? Who knows. Don’t overthink it. “Thief’s” premise isn’t so much a what-if scenario as an excuse to put on some gags about mistaken identity while a simple road trip goes predictably awry. To the movie’s credit, everyone — major and minor characters alike — gives it their charismatic and energetic all, and by sheer energetic brute force alone, “Thief” soars past terrible and into something approaching enjoyable. That, unfortunately, is its ceiling, because spirit can carry a flat script only so far by itself. But if “Thief” is the kind of movie one forgets seeing almost as soon as it’s been seen, its eagerness to please at least keeps those two forgettable hours from being completely wasteful ones. That, along with the entertaining real-life lesson about hurtful language that followed “Thief’s” release, is a much better fate than such a mismanaged premise could have asked for. Jon Favreau, Robert Patrick and Genesis Rodriguez, among others, also star.
Extras: Unrated cut (adds nine minutes), alternate takes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Also
— “Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season” (NR, 2012, Sony Pictures): The most exciting thing about this release for “Breaking Bad” fans? It means the eight final episodes that bring this show home are just around the corner. The second most exciting thing about this set? A new, eight-minute scene that provides some additional backstory for the episode that capped the fifth season’s first half. (No spoilers, obviously.) Also included, along with the eight episodes that have aired (three uncensored, all eight with commentary), are deleted/extended scenes, 19 episodes of “Inside Breaking Bad,” six other behind-the-scenes features, audition/rehearsal footage and bloopers.

5/21/13: The Last Stand, Stand Up Guys, Love Sick Love, Side Effects, A Common Man

The Last Stand (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
It isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fault he’s getting old, even if nine years in politics probably expedited the process somewhat. But if one thing is clear the instant Schwarzenegger turns around and steps into Sheriff Ray Owens’s shoes for his first star vehicle since 2003’s “Terminator 3,” it’s that he is, indeed, looking old. Fortunately, whether he’s overmatched is a question for another day, because whether by design or by happy accident, “The Last Stand” doesn’t really put him in a position to fail. In character, Ray isn’t simply old and fairly tired: He’s also pretty small potatoes, manning a post in a minuscule middle-of-nowhere town while a chase involving a federal agent (Forest Whitaker) and an extremely gifted and wanted drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) rages around him and over his head. What happens next is as B-movie comic as it is action-hero serious, and even when Schwarzenegger gets to chew scenery as the top name on the marquee, he usually does so in the company of good guys and bad guys who are crazier, feistier, stupider and generally more out of touch with their mortality than Ray is. “Stand” isn’t a sterling movie by any measure, but it’s a stupidly fun good time that embraces its place as a live-action cartoon and takes itself not a tick more seriously than that. Schwarzenegger plays along gamely, and rather than look old and out of place, he fits right in as a valuable piece of an endearingly weird puzzle. (Bonus points for perhaps the best clearing out of a cornfield since another man named Ray turned one into a baseball diamond.) Johnny Knoxville, Peter Stormare, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán and Christiana Leucas also star.
Extras: Deleted/extended scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, Dinkum Firearm and Historic Weaponry Museum tour.

Stand Up Guys (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
“Now confess each and every serious sin that separates you from Christ.” “Oh, no. We’d be here forever, Father. Can we just deal with what happened today?” Twenty eight years after he walked into prison as a fall guy, Val (Al Pacino) is an old, defeated but free man. Step one on his first day out: Reunite with old partners in crime Doc (Christopher Walken) and Hirsch (Alan Arkin). Step two: Get back into trouble. And step three? Evade the target on his head for what ostensibly is payback for what happened 28 years earlier. That’s a lot to pack into a day’s work, and as an account of all that productivity, “Stand Up Guys” regularly struggles to keep things cohesive and in the spirit of the many moods it wants to convey. Is nostalgia the prevailing emotion of the day? Loyalty? Comedy through pain? Bitterness? Maybe none of the above, and “Guys” just wants to be a wild and crazy night out with a bunch of not-so-reformed bad boys? It isn’t always clear, nor is the film’s footing all that steady. But even though all that stumbling is hard not to notice, “Guys” clomps around with an earnestness that’s palpable even when scrambled, and when it has fun, that fun is contagious even when the reasoning doesn’t always make a lot of sense. “Guys” has its heart and soul in the right place, and though the script has its share of warts, it also regularly clears the way for all three stars to ham it up and have some fun with their characters. Through all of the stumbles, that talent shines though, and for a tolerant audience, that’s all “Guys” really needs.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

Love Sick Love (R, 2013, Monarch Home Entertainment)
There’s someone out there for the hopelessly romantic Dori (Katia Winter), and for right now, she’s convinced it’s fellow serial dater Norman (Matthew Settle). Problem is, Norman is a perennial dater for different reasons, and finding love is expressly not among them. When that realization comes to a head one evening, Dori, to put it one way, just kind of goes crazy. So, too, does “Love Sick Love,” which springs a trap slightly out of nowhere that ensnares Norman in a fantasy scenario with Dori, her two children (where’d they come from? Who knows), her parents (same), and a year’s worth of family holidays crammed into a weekend that would make “Misery’s” Annie Wilkes extremely proud and perhaps a little jealous. Fittingly, like a lunatic who catches her prey and has no concept of what to do with him once caught, “Love” spends the next two acts flailing its arms and debating whether to be an extremely dark comedy or something genuinely creepy while Norman himself shuffles between being flummoxed, enraged and resigned (sometimes to funny or dark effect within the span of the same mood). In another genre, all the flailing would be violent enough to send the story completely off course and toward irreparable harm. But when the entire crux of a movie hinges on complete insanity, the line between disrepair and genius is so thin that only individual perception can decide which side ultimately wins out. That, fortunately, is part of the fun. For all its inconsistencies, “Love” at least is too consistently bizarre to be dull.
Extras: No extras.

Side Effects (R, 2013, Universal)
Following a stint for insider trading, Emily’s husband (Channing Tatum) is out of prison, and Emily (Rooney Mara) is so happy to have him back that she literally drives her car into a concrete wall shortly after his release. That’s all we get at the beginning of “Side Effects,” so that’s all it looks like. But there’s more to the story, and that comes closer to light once Emily gets her hands on an experimental antidepressant called Ablixa, which her doctor (Jude Law) prescribes following a series of unsuccessful prescriptions and a conference with her former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The Ablixa works, but there are — wait for it — side effects, and mercy, is that title ever an understatement. Without spoiling the primary side effect that sends “Side Effects” into another gear, what happens next is, in addition to pretty clever with how it parlays prescription drugs into psychological thrills, altogether remarkable in its ability to balance intrigue and restraint. Or rather, it’s all those things until it slightly, then completely, then crazily isn’t quite any of those things. Turns out, the source of some of that intrigue is just a red herring, and the only thing more disappointing than how fiercely “Effects” drives into its own wall is how stock it feels in spite of going so completely crazy in its second half. You’ve seen these psychological thriller bits and pieces before, and that’s more disappointing than it should be given how promisingly original “Effects” initially seemed poised to be.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, mock Ablixa marketing materials.

A Common Man (PG-13, 2013, Anchor Bay)
You have to hand it to “A Common Man,” which found an absolute dead ringer for Ben Kingsley to play a disgruntled citizen who has planted C-4 explosives all over a Sri Lankan city and will detonate them if the government doesn’t set some dangerous prisoners free. Wait, never mind — that is Ben Kingsley, and if he looks strained, it’s probably the fault of all the dead weight he has to pile on his back in order to haul this story anywhere. The unnamed man’s endeavor, though hardly novel, is morbidly intriguing enough to carry a movie that’s serviceable enough to coast on suspense, character development or an appetite for surprise. “Man,” to its credit, has that appetite, and perhaps that’s enough. But those surprises are forced to wage one hellacious battle with a torrent of dreadful dialogue and a supporting cast incapable of making it sound better than it reads. Occasionally, “Man’s” delivery — be it through bad line readings or a suffocatingly overwrought soundtrack — just piles on the harm, and the net result feels like an amateur imitation product that spent all its positive energy snagging a first-class actor to give it some hope. Kingsley does what he can, which is enough to nudge “Man” toward a conclusion that’s entertaining in spite of the arduous mountain of problems it climbs to get there, but the view from the summit still isn’t pretty enough to make that climb worthwhile. No extras.

5/14/13: Cloud Atlas, Frankie Go Boom, Upstream Color, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Cloud Atlas (R, 2012, Warner Bros.)
Oh, did you think the three-hour “Cloud Atlas” was simply a movie? It isn’t a movie. It’s six films in one if you obey the official synopsis, but it might actually be a dozen or two movies chopped and sprinkled into a salad that only can be made when three directors have a ton of money to spend and seemingly nobody minding how it’s spent. It might also be the most joyously grand or most treacherously self-indulgent piece of cinematic magic/tripe you’ve ever seen. “Atlas” takes place across time, with crisscrossing stories set in the past, present, distant future and a future even more distant than that. Albeit loosely — as in “pay attention with all your might and you’ll see it” loosely — the stories all hook together to form a single timeline. But whether these hooks even matter — enough not to find themselves completely engulfed by the surrounding spectacle, to say nothing of being profound enough to stand out in front of it — is a question contentious enough to span the entire spectrum of hyperbolic debate. Put another way? “Atlas” is completely bananas — a loud clash of epics, thrillers, science fiction, revenge fantasies and more that winds its heart up and lets it run with abandon down its sleeve. The same cast (Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Doona Bae, among others) plays different roles in each story, often transcending the boundaries of race and gender via makeup that’s sometimes amazing and sometimes amusingly crazy, and “Atlas” is both way too long and not nearly long enough to do justice to its grand ambition. Watched casually, it’s a crazed mess. But “Atlas” sprays its emotion and excitement without fear or filter, and soaking it in on these terms is bound — on first, second, third viewing and beyond — to unlock new surprises every time.
Extras: Seven behind-the-scenes features.

Frankie Go Boom (NR, 2012, Universal)
You know your luck stinks when your brother (Chris O’Dowd as Bruce) is the junkie criminal and you’re the one everyone makes fun of. For Frankie (Charlie Hunnam), the source of that misfortune is a video — of him vomiting on his would-have-been-bride at his not-quite wedding — that 18 million people have seen. (Fittingly, it was his wannabe director brother who filmed and uploaded the incident.) Now with Bruce out of rehab, Frankie is taking a break from avoiding his family to attend a ceremony commemorating the achievement. The reward for his selflessness is, of course, the promise of more traumatic misfortune — provided he can’t stop it this time. In other words, wacky antics ahead, and it’s best not to specify beyond that. “Frankie Go Boom” shows promise from the jump with a very funny opening scene featuring Frankie and Bruce as children, and even though things progressively get stranger in a manner typically befitting comedies that eventually go nowhere, it never loses that edge. Why does Ron Perlman’s character dress in drag and insist he’s a woman? “Boom” never remotely bothers explaining, but it uses the gag to sharply funny effect and Perlman’s part leads to yet more legitimately funny moments, so who cares? “Boom’s” storyline is full of pieces that should work against it, but it continually escapes from underneath them with lines, antics and scenes that are seriously funny. Seeing as the primary objective of a comedy is to be funny, docking “Boom” for not always making sense would be every bit as senseless as anything that happens here. (A note for “Sons of Anarchy” fans: Yes, Perlman and Hunnam have scenes together here. And yes, beyond being novel and really weird, they’re funny as well.)
Extras: Deleted/alternate scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Upstream Color (NR, 2013, erbp/New Video)
That spot on a Blu-ray’s packing that’s reserved for a synopsis is, on “Upstream Color’s” packaging, occupied instead by some additional art and a couple critic quotes that are, at best, allusions. And that’s fine, because what could “Color” possibly say for itself here? Here is Kris (Amy Seimetz), here is Jeff (Shane Carruth), and here is a story that is at once extremely simple and so painstakingly opaque as to passively-aggressively scold those who avert their eyes even momentarily, lest they get lost in a scramble to catch up and reconcile the non-verbal cue they missed completely. It isn’t so much that a proper synopsis of “Color” wouldn’t do it justice. Rather, “Color’s” story — such as it is, with style relentlessly battling substance and dialogue at an extreme premium throughout — is a slow peeling away of confusion until all that remains is that premise. It wouldn’t be very nice to just give that away, now would it? So here’s the gist. “Color” is, according to the conventional classification wisdom, science fiction. Arguably, it’s also a manifestation of every validation people seek when explaining why they hate art films. Unarguably, it’s dense and seemingly by design. But “Color,” it bears repeating, is not hard to figure out. Nor does it seem to want to be elusive even if a shallow glance at its style choices — which result in imagery both beautiful and hard to watch — suggest otherwise. Most importantly, as that premise comes into focus, the patience invested gets its due. “Color” exits on an extremely affecting note, and though it has little to say for itself, it leaves behind plenty to talk about once the show is over. No extras.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) has left Charlie (Charlie Sheen), and Charlie wants her back. And for the 86 minutes that comprise “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” and to the consternation of the company Charlie keeps (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette) and eventually probably anyone watching, that’s almost all Charlie can think or talk about. “Swan” dresses its non-story up with an actual delving into Charlie’s mind, wherein pretty much anything — song, dance, car crashes and explosions — can happen in the service of metaphor. As an extra touch, “Swan” takes place in what looks like the 1970s, with clothes, hair and gigantic tape recorders and other eavesdropping devices to show for it. Some of it is amusing, particularly when Murray or Schwartzman are steering the ship and giving us a brief respite from Charlie’s moaning about Ivana. But even then, most of “Swan” just feels like silly for silly’s sake — not particularly funny, not imaginative, not even all that thoughtful, but just self-indulgently silly and that’s it. With low expectations, that might be enough. But given how much metaphorical activity happens between the first time Charlie aches over Ivana and the umpteenth and final time it happens, it’s remarkable how much, in terms of substantial emptiness, “Swan’s” collage has in common with the story it’s trying so hard to stretch out.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.