What Just Happened (R, 2008, Magnolia)
Hollywood movies about Hollywood movies are, most likely, funnier to people who make Hollywood movies. Sometimes you just have to be there. “What Just Happened” is the latest entry in this genre, and initially, that’s all it appears to be. Gradually, though, it becomes clear that “Happened” isn’t so much a commentary on Hollywood as it is a comedy about a producer and two-time marital failure (Robert De Niro as Ben) who is both rewarded by and trapped inside the decorated life he has created for himself. “Happened” dissects Ben so violently and dryly, in fact, that one could argue whether it deserves the comedy tag at all. Maybe, maybe not. Frankly, if you’re willing to follow it down to its darkest corner, “Happened” is as hopeless, hopeful, cruel, just, funny or sad as you want it to interpret it as being. Ben is just a guy, this is just his story, and if the man and the film do one thing best, it’s hanging on to that strange simplicity despite the tornado of madness that threatens to swallow them whole. John Turturro, Catherine Keener, Robin Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci, Sean Penn, Michael Wincott and Bruce Willis also star.
Extras: Director/writer commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, casting footage.
Hell on Wheels (NR, 2008, Indiepix)
“Hell on Wheels” is a film about female roller derby — except, during the vast majority of its runtime, when it isn’t. The packaging might not tip any hands, but it’s apparent pretty quickly (without revealing spoilers) that “Wheels” isn’t the feel-good, without-a-care roller derby documentary one might have expected it to be. Rather, this is a story about the business of business — what happens when one person gets an idea, a few more share in the shaping of that idea, and dozens more donate their time, money and physical well-being in hopes of seeing that idea to completion. It’s also the story of what happens when things don’t go as planned and too many people with different ideas splinter that original vision. “Wheels” has all the ingredients it needs to inspire anyone who understands the entrepreneurial spirit that provides the story’s undercurrent, but getting there isn’t nearly as simple as an outside glance would imply. Red tape, as it turns out, isn’t just for suits. Still, all that hardship only benefits the film, which emerges out of nowhere (and most likely accidentally) to become a must-see film about the price one pays to create something from nothing.
Extras: Three commentary tracks, deleted scenes, two music videos.
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (NR, 2009, Fox)
Don’t be afraid, gentle “Futurama” fan. Yes, the last “Futurama” movie, “Bender’s Game,” was several shades of awful. Yes, each “Futurama” movie has been worse than the one that preceded it, and yes, unless something changes, “Into the Wild Green Yonder” marks the absolute end of the franchise. Don’t fret: “Yonder” makes it right again. “Futurama” forever will work better as a 22-minute episode than a 90-minute movie, and “Yonder,” like the films that preceded it, struggles to maintain the show’s energetic pace and stay on point over that extended runtime. Per usual, it better resembles two or three episodes cobbled together than a single film. But “Yonder” cobbles it all together as well as and arguably better than even the first film. It does justice to the show’s primary cast, gives plenty of deserving face time to some of its best bit characters (including the hilarious Robot Mafia), and introduces one final crop of new faces during a storyline that amusingly plays on half-hearted feminism and the green phenomenon. Most importantly, it gives the series the satisfying conclusion it deserved years ago. Yet another comeback wouldn’t be terrible news, but if it doesn’t happen, “Futurama” finally can rest in true peace.
Extras: Matt Groening/crew commentary, Zapp Brannigan’s Love Guide, Bender’s Movie Theater Etiquette, 3D Models, drawing how-to, Matt Groening and David Cohen in Space, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, storyboard.
Sex Drive: Unrated and Cream-filled (NR, 2008, Summit Entertainment)
Extreme Movie: Unrated (NR, 2007, Dimension Extreme)
If we rated our films on the merits of box art alone, it would appear “Sex Drive” — which dedicates an entire third of its front cover to a loud, gleeful warning — has the crude edge over “Extreme Movie.” But this is why we watch movies instead of simply admire them from afar. The 129-minute unrated cut of “Sex Drive” does, indeed, feature copious amounts of nudity that even the film itself (via a very funny director introduction) designates as blatantly gratuitous. But even in this form (to say nothing of the 109-minute R-rated cut that also comes included), “Drive” is too gosh darn likable — and too genuinely, cleverly, wittily funny — to be the film it warns you it is. That’s a shame for the marketers, but a pleasant surprise for the rest of us. “Movie,” on the other hand, pretty much meets expectations. More a series of interconnected, sex-centric skits than a traditional film, “Movie” has all the freedom it needs to cover the usual points on the lowest-common denominator scale. It has its funny moments, and it’s considerably better than the similarly-branded “Movie” parody films Fox spits out. But it isn’t the funniest movie releasing this week or even within this paragraph, and the ground it covers is entirely too old hat to feel even the least bit extreme at this point.
“Drive” extras: Filmmaker commentary, four behind-the-scenes features.
“Movie” extras: Directors commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.
Woo Life (NR, 2008, Emerging Pictures)
“Woo Life” is a documentary that attempts to celebrate the life and times of overzealous Chicago Cubs fan Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers, who has attended more than 3,000 Cub games and spent the vast majority of those 3,000 games making an ear-piercing “Woo” noise that is responsible for his nickname. The key word in that sentence is “attempts.” “Life” almost instantly sheds any pretense of objectivity, and everything about the film’s almost patronizing tone suggests filmmaker Paul Hoffman buys Wickers’ child-like life outlook wholesale. But while the film and the talking heads who comprise it say one thing, the images — of surrounding fans, bus riders and even airplane passengers wincing in the pain caused by a man whose fandom supersedes personal courtesy and any ability to process that pain — say something else. (Have the mute button handy, too, or else you, too, will feel that pain.) Wickers’ crusade to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch at Wrigley Field — which he and a few friends carried out in a fashion that humiliated the Cubs — just piles on, and unless you already love Wickers the same way Hoffman does, “Life” amounts to one giant turn-off. Wickers accrued much of his fame for being an object of ridicule and derision rather than one of affection, and this film, however accidentally, perfectly demonstrates why. No extras.
Worth a Mention: Gift Sets Edition
— “The Universe: Collector’s Set” (NR, 2007, History): Includes the first two seasons (33 episodes) of the History Channel show, as well as the complete “The Planets” series (eight episodes) and feature-length documentaries “How the Earth was Made,” “Beyond the Big Bang” and “Inside the Volcano.” 14 discs.
— “The Founding of America” (NR, 2008, History): Includes the “Founding Fathers” and “Founding Brothers” miniseries, the six-part “American Revolution” series, the 13-episode “Revolution” series and documentaries about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Benedict Arnold. Also included is the “The Crossing,” starring Jeff Daniels, as well as a handful of extras ranging from behind-the-scenes features to selected episodes of other History Channel shows. 14 discs.
— “The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection” (NR, 1963-80, MGM): Includes 192 episodes’ worth of “Pink Panther” cartoons, as well as a “Panther” documentary, behind-the-scenes features, animated title sequences from the “Panther” films and a tribute to creator Friz Freleng. Nine discs.
— “Dead Like Me: The Complete Collection” (NR, 2003-09, MGM): Includes the complete series (29 episodes) and the new “Dead Like Me: Life After Death” film. Extras include commentary on the film and select episodes, deleted scenes from the show, behind-the-scenes features and photo galleries.