Observe and Report (R, 2009, Warner Bros.)
For whatever reason, 2009 was designated the year in which to push a mall cop movie out the door. But while Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) shares a job and a workplace crush (Anna Faris) sub-plot in common with Paul Blart, his all-business demeanor and hilariously oppressive machismo put him in closer proximity with the likes of Nicolas Angel from “Hot Fuzz.” That’s true as well, in fact, for the entirety of “Observe and Report,” which enjoys a surprisingly comfortable dual existence as a sharply funny screwball farce and a black comedy that revels in its own violence. Things begin as they always do, with “Report” trotting out the usual everyman comedy ingredients — amusing setting, cast of characters (Ray Liotta, Dan Bakkedahl, Jesse Plemons, a scene-thieving Michael Peña) who are unfit for society to varying degrees, and some funny gags and lines to tie it together. But there’s a slight tinge of dark-heartedness with the way the film goes through these early motions, and it only grows in stature as the story unfurls itself. By the final act, “Report” appears as concerned about the surprisingly careful workmanship of its plot as it is making people laugh, and the final culmination of those socially unfit characters and the bitterness that lurks inside erupts in a bitterly funny and exceptionally memorable barrage of blood and bad feelings sprayed everywhere.
Extras: Forest Ridge Mall security recruitment video, behind-the-scenes feature, outtakes.
Castle: The Complete First Season (NR, 2009, ABC)
Accomplished novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is bored — with the adulation of his fans, the press junkets, the parties and even his most popular character, whom he killed off in his most recent book before skidding into a pretty large writer’s block. Fortunately (for lack of a more tasteful way of putting it) for him, a woman is dead, and the killer fashioned the murder after a scene from one of his books. A pretty detective (Stana Katic as Det. Kate Beckett) calls him in for assistance, the author gets a few good ideas while offering his unsolicited assistance on the case, and a strange partnership is born between a police force in need of a new perspective and an author more desperate for a new hit than he’d care to admit. All of this is just an elaborate excuse for yet another weekly show in which detectives unravel murders, and once the table is set, that largely is what happens. But that premise also allows “Castle” to invest in its characters’ divergent personalities and make an effort to use them as more than simple vessels for detective knowledge and snappy lines. Castle’s and Kate’s chemistry is pretty textbook odd couple stuff, but their respective levels of charisma more than make it work, and the show’s ability to convey the seriousness of the job without turning to the same old abrasive dialogue is especially pleasant. It also makes that inevitable season-ending cliffhanger worth more than the usual shock schlock these procedurals typically trot out. Susan Sullivan (as Castle’s mom) and Molly C. Quinn (his daughter) also star.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers and outtakes.
Battle for Terra (PG, 2009, Lions Gate)
The lush planet of Terra is a bastion of peace until a band of human soldiers — the last remnants of a war that resulted in the destruction of three planets’ worth of humanity — touches down in hopes of claiming Terra as their new home. A few misunderstandings ensue, and just like that, the two species are mired in yet another needless conflict. So who wins this battle for Terra? Turns out, it’s time. The animated “Battle for Terra” is as good at showing as it is telling, combining charming design and a thoughtful script to endear viewers to its characters and planet almost as quickly as it introduces them. That’s a good thing, too, because at only 84 minutes long, “Terra” needs all the time it can get to push through the kind of conflict from which three-hour movies and multi-season television series are made. The scarcity of minutes propels the film to take well-traveled roads that demand less explanation than gutsier, more original story choices might require, and that results in a story that’s less enterprising in its main plotline than it is with regard to its setting and characters. Fortunately, the latter is enough to carry the former, making “Terra” a slightly unrealized but nonetheless fun piece of simple sci-fi escapism. If nothing else, it’s a great movie for kids hungry for more sci-fi than the studios have on offer for their age group.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features.
Lymelife (R, 2008, Screen Media Films)
How does this happen? How does a film like “Lymelife” get described on its own box as being not only laugh-out loud funny, but violently funny as well? Who knows. “Lymelife” does have a wry laugh or two tucked inside, and the film — a slice-of-life ensemble story about two neighboring families enduring different levels of growing up and crumbling down — absolutely has its moments. In fact, it quite skillfully accomplishes the very difficult task of satisfactorily fleshing out and intermixing seven characters (Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hudson, Cynthia Nixon, Kieran Culkin, Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts and Jill Hennessy) without taking shortcuts, overstaying its welcome or resorting to ham-fisted handholding. But while different viewers will surely identify with different characters to different degrees, it’s hard to imagine who is going to walk away from “Lymelife” doubled over in pain from expending so much laughter. Only when compared to the likes of “In the Bedroom” and “Little Children” is “Lymelife” anything close to a suburban laugh riot, and it’s kind of a shame that some comedy-hungry viewers, hungry for a comedy, will walk away disappointed by an otherwise very good film that simply doesn’t live up to its comedic boastings.
Extras: Director/cast commentary, alternate ending, deleted scenes.
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (R, 2009, Anchor Bay)
It doesn’t take a historian to connect the dots between the roots of alternative animation and what Rob Zombie has put together with his presentation of “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto,” which brings to animated life the comic book of the same name. “Superbeasto’s” art and animation styles look like products of the same pen that John Kricfalusi used to design Ren and Stimpy, and the writing style (and no shortage of nudity, blood and more nudity) would purport to nod to the likes of Robert Crumb and Ralph Bakshi, who made it look easy to produce countercultural cartoons in an era that neither asked for nor necessarily welcomed their arrival. “Superbeasto” also makes it look easy, but only because it rarely looks like it’s ever doing anything but cashing in on a trail that was completely blazed for them. The glut of gratuitous sex and violence is never shocking, only lazily juvenile and sprayed randomly to the point of tedium. And outside of the very occasional funny exchange, the writing feels no more inspired — a barrage of bland throwaway lines that only gets sloppier as time ticks away. The animation looks great, but that’s about all that works here. If this is a tribute to the artists who scratched and clawed to pave its way, it’s an awfully sorry one.
Extras: Deleted/alternate scenes, outtakes.
Worth a Mention
— “SpongeBob Squarepants: The First 100 Episodes” (NR, Nickelodeon): The box describes this as “the Best SpongeBob DVD Collection EVER,” and the box is absolutely right. As the title implies, the 14-disc set includes the first 100 episodes of the show. Also included: a new retrospective, commentary tracks, Life Lessons from Bikini Bottom, an extended edition of the first episode and a music video. The packaging — lenticular cover, hard-plastic box — is pretty slick as well.
— “Astro Boy: Volumes 1-5” (NR, 2003-04, Sony Pictures): The 2003 reboot of the classic Tezuka Osamu anime, previously released as a box set, now is available in five separate volumes of 10 episodes each. The fifth volume includes a making-of feature, while the other four arrive without extras.
— “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete Second Season” (NR, 2008, Warner Bros.): Enjoy what you get here, because as happens too often, this show’s run ended prematurely and this is all that remains. Includes 22 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, an eight-part behind-the-scenes feature, storyboards, rehearsal footage and bloopers.
— “30 Rock: Season 3” (NR, 2008, NBC Universal): Includes 22 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features (one with the Muppets), a season finale table read and a photo gallery.