The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: The Criterion Collection (PG-13, 2008, Criterion/Paramount)
Funny thing about epics with lots of time to fill: They tend to scramble more than much shorter films to cram every last one of their ideas into the frame. Some hide it well. Others — like the story of Benjamin Button (multiple actors, Brad Pitt most extensively), who was born an old man and grows young instead of old — do not. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” clocks in at 165 protein-filled minutes long, but it also scrambles to cover every important point of Button’s long life, including a fling that arguably goes nowhere and a strange detour into World War II that feels like a deleted scene from “Forrest Gump.” Fortunately, and crucially, “Button” also keeps at least one eye on two central threads that continually do battle no matter what else the rest of the film is doing. There’s the notion that Button’s unique life is an amazing gift — a simultaneous accruement of wisdom and youth that most would die to experience. But there’s also the sight of Button traveling through life in the opposite direction of everyone he loves, as vulnerable to the pains of aging as anyone else in the film. No matter how loose “Button” plays with its timeline and appetite for non-sequitur, it always brings it back to the middle, injecting this implausible fable with enough plausible humanity to make the whole strange journey plenty worthwhile.
Extras: Director commentary, four-part behind-the-scenes features collection, interviews, image galleries, premiere footage, liner notes.
Smother (PG-13, 2007, Screen Media Films)
The “unwelcome houseguest” comedy is a trite genre unto itself, often following a pattern of “houseguest does increasingly annoying things while host gradually loses mind and eventually blows a vein.” “Smother” looks to up the ante by giving us not one, but two unwelcome houseguests: Marilyn (Diane Keaton), the nagging mother of Noah (Dax Shepard), and Myron (Mike White), the effortlessly annoying cousin of Noah’s wife Claire (Liv Tyler). Let wacky, over-the-top hilarity ensue, right? Surprisingly — and in a completely pleasant way — not quite. Yes, “Smother” is the play on words you think it is, and the script gives Keaton plenty of space to perform the kind of broad comedy she does best. But “Smother” also allows Shepard to be as dryly funny as he wants to be while also letting White do his thing as the loveably pathetic human train wreck his character so clearly is. This is to say nothing of a few bit players (Ken Howard, Jerry Lambert, Selma Stern, a quartet of hysterically happy yapping dogs), who bring even more unique shades of funny to the party. “Smother’s” script isn’t poetry in motion, but it’s a master delegator, allowing the film to go for a cute laugh one minute and descend into hilarious darkness the next. The sum total is a complete surprise, a shot in the arm for a stagnant sub-genre, and one of the better comedies you’ve never heard of to hit DVD this year.
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.
Incendiary (R, 2008, Image Entertainment)
An unnamed woman (Michelle Williams) spends the bulk of “Incendiary” in a dual state of shock and remorse, and once you see her connection to a terrorist attack that rocks London, you’ll probably understand why. It’s hard to say anything more without unspooling a thread of spoilers and giving the whole thing away, but that’s sort of a testament to the approach “Incendiary” takes to what has become an awfully common story idea over the last several years. Per usual, there’s the attack, there’s something fishy going on, and there’s something that comes a bit unraveled when one character does some math. But Williams’ character — who is neither a terrorist nor a government agent, but a total nobody with an acutely accidental connection to the whole thing — remains the sun around which this story orbits, and her moods dictate those of the film regardless of where the story goes. That, along with an intelligently measured script and a great supporting cast, gives “Incendiary” a memorable and unique point of view in a genre in terrible need of precisely that. Ewan McGregor, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Gleaves and Sidney Johnston also star.
Extra: Photo gallery.
The Wedding Weekend (R, 2006, First Look)
Outside of the fact that the guys used to sing together in a college a cappella group, there really is no efficient way to describe “The Wedding Weekend’s” premise — the guys and their various spouses convene for the weekend marriage of one of their own — that makes it sound anywhere near interesting. The more pressing bit of information is that “Weekend” is a truly democratic ensemble comedy, with 12 main cast members passing the focus around like it’s a hot potato. That, in turn, allows the film to be a movie about anything and everything — from lost jobs to fading desire to grudges that refuse to die to the joys of divorce — that pertains to college friends reaching their middle 30s. Again, not exactly groundbreaking stuff. But what “Weekend” lacks in earth-shattering plot reformation, it redeems in actual substance. Most of its characters carve out a likeable (or at least memorable) identity despite sharing 95 minutes with 11 other people, and “Weekend’s” script is smart, sharply observant and often genuinely funny. Not everything it tries works, but the film throws a lot out there and freely bounces from one conversation to another, so its failures at least pass through quickly. When all else fails, there’s the soundtrack, which takes songs you almost certainly already know and gives them a terrific a cappella makeover. David Harbour, Rosemarie DeWitt, Molly Shannon, Chris Bowers and Alexander Chaplin, among others, star. No extras.
Look (R, 2007, Anchor Bay)
As the tagline on the box says, you never know who is watching. But if you were one of the characters in “Look,” would you really expect anybody to waste their time looking in on this? As gimmicks go, this one’s pretty clever: Every scene in “Look” is shot through the perspective of a security camera — be it in a parking lot, an ATM, the changing room of a department store or some other such place. For a while, that’s enough to keep it interesting. But once “Look” introduces us to the people we’re spying on, it becomes clear the gimmick is all it really has to offer. The characters aren’t terribly interesting, the dialogue a little too forced to feel authentic, and the storylines completely ordinary. Only one person merits any real interest at all, and a stupid twist toward the end completely nullifies whatever sympathy one might have had. Outside of camera viewpoints, “Look” doesn’t try to tell a story that hasn’t repeatedly been told better before. Worse, the cameras factor into the narrative exactly once, and their role merely speaks to their value to society rather than whatever threat they purportedly present. That, obviously, defeats the entire point of the whole exercise in the first place. Oops?
Extras: Filmmakers/cast commentary, deleted/alternate scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Worth a Mention:
— “Gigantor: The Collection: Volume 1” (NR, 1964, E1 Entertainment): The classic cartoon, which broke ground as one of the first examples of Japanese animation on American television, finally breaks ground on DVD as well. “Volume 1” includes digital transfers of the first 26 episodes, as well as commentary, interviews, a companion booklet and six issues of the “Gigantor” comic book in DVD-ROM format.
— “Crusoe: the Complete Series” (NR, 2008, Universal) and “Earth: Final Conflict: Season One” (NR, 1997, Universal): Two syndicate shows, one demonstrably more popular than the other, make their respective DVD debuts. “Crusoe” contents: 12 episodes, plus a paperback copy of the “Robinson Crusoe” novel. “Conflict” contents: 22 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features and an introduction by Rod Roddenberry, son of series (and “Star Trek”) creator Gene Roddenberry.