Games 12/29/09: Where the Wild Things Are, Guitar Hero: Van Halen, LittleBigPlanet Pirates of the Caribbean Premium Level Kit

Where the Wild Things Are
Reviewed for: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii
Also available for: Nintendo DS
From: Griptonite Games/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, fantasy violence)

Invariably, once Christmas wraps and the annual holiday onslaught of megablockbusters eases up, there remain a few games that bear the scars of coming out at precisely the wrong time and being completely overlooked for doing so.

In 2009, that dubious distinction belongs to “Where the Wild Things Are,” a not-necessarily-for-kids’ game hopelessly tied to the release date of a not-necessarily-for-kids’ movie and subsequently overlooked for coming out smack in the middle of a tidal wave of bigger releases. A long history of lousy games based on kids’ movies, and the perception that creates for this game, didn’t help matters.

But “WTWTA” borrows heavily from the Playstation 2 classic “Ico” and, surprisingly, succeeds where other like-minded games failed. Players control Max, the mischievous little boy who washes up uninvited on the island of the Wild Things, and most of the game’s action consists of the same mix of light combat and ledge jumping, rock climbing, and environmental puzzles that “Ico” did so masterfully well. Max is easy to control, and the semi-fixed camera angle — also borrowed from “Ico” — presents each environment in a manner that’s intuitive without making traversing it a complete cakewalk. The Wild Things add a wrinkle to the challenges by lending a hand and further altering the landscape whenever they can.

As should be expected from a game based on a movie that itself is based on what practically is a picture book, “WTWTA’s” story isn’t exactly a narrative barnburner. But Griptonite makes good on with what it has to work with: The game looks pretty good and animates nicely, and the Wild Things emerge as really likable characters in spite of their secondary role throughout most of the game.

Like so many other family games, “WTWTA” pads the main story content by dropping various collectables in each level. Unlike as with most games, though, rounding them up is something a worthy pursuit. The game doesn’t overload the environments with hundreds of useless objects to round up, nor does it hide items in places players would never bother to look. There’s a challenge in finding everything, but it isn’t so obtuse as to be a waste of time, and finding them pays off in the form of rewards — some of them leading to fun new optional challenges — in the hub level that doubles as the Wild Things’ home base.

The sum of this content (there’s nothing to do beyond the single-player adventure) doesn’t quite justify the full price the game commanded back at launch, but a quick price drop means finding “WTWTA” brand-new for upwards of $20 less already is a feasible proposition. At that price, it’s hard not to recommend it: Younger players will appreciate a game made for them that doesn’t insult their gaming intelligence, and their parents — or really, anyone in need of an “Ico”-style fix — might come away surprised by just how much this innocuous piece of tie-in merchandising gets right.


Guitar Hero: Van Halen
For: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and Playstation 2
From: Neversoft/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild lyrics, mild suggestive themes)

“Guitar Hero’s” previous single-band releases, devoted to Aerosmith and Metallica, were already of questionable quality before “Rock Band” kicked the bar out of the atmosphere with “The Beatles: Rock Band.”

Though a perfectly tenable game for reasons to be detailed later, “Guitar Hero: Van Halen” doesn’t brighten the picture. Depending on your opinion of Val Halen’s present-day relevance and your tolerance for “Guitar Hero” releases in the span of a single year, it might even constitute a leap backward.

Per convention, Van Halen’s visual fingerprints are all over the box and interface, and the band’s likenesses come to life in typical semi-cartoony fashion. This time, though, politics and squabbling have left former bassist Michael Anthony and former lead singers Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone off the bill. Consequently, none of the band’s Hagar- and Cherone-fronted catalog appears, either. Whether the loss of that music and iconography is a big deal will vary from fan to fan, but there’s no arguing it doesn’t splinter whatever hope “GH:VH” had for documenting its subject matter the way “Beatles” did.

Then again, Neversoft’s inability to learn from “Beatles” — or the failings of its own single-band games — torpedoed that hope without the band’s help.

“GH:VH’s” 47-song track list is, like those other games, significantly smaller than the numbered (but same-priced) “Guitar Hero” game. Bbut the real issue comes from 19 of those songs being either Eddie Van Halen guitar solos or the product of bands other than Van Halen. The game claims the other music has some stylistic connection to Van Halen’s music, but one look at the track list (Fountains of Wayne? Third Eye Blind? Weezer?) suggests otherwise. Whatever effort would have been necessary to kiss and make up with Hagar, if not everyone from Van Halen’s past, would more than have been worth it if it resulted in a coherent, complete tribute to the band’s catalog. This, by contrast, feels like a track pack tucked inside a full-priced game with some extra filler to justify the price.

On that note, it comes down to whether the tracks, which would cost nearly $80 if totaled up as downloadable content for “Guitar Hero 5,” justify the purchase. “GH:VH” at least does things — namely, a new career mode and a new suite of achievements/trophies in the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions — a track pack alone cannot.

But do you want to buy something Activision seems reluctant to sell? The company gave the game away to anyone who purchased “GH5” earlier in the year, and it waited two months to sneak it onto shelves after most people’s holiday shopping had concluded. Pushing the game out the door at full price after previously giving it away seems like a move made for the half-hearted heck of it, which seems to have been “GH:VH’s” artistic approach as well. Watching a publisher practically wash its hand of a product doesn’t affect the quality of the product itself, but it’s hard to get excited about a game when the people who made it seem not to care.


LittleBigPlanet: Pirates of the Caribbean Premium Level Kit
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
Requires: LittleBigPlanet
From: Media Molecule/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence)
Price: $6

Media Molecule has made more than good on its promise to consistently support “LittleBigPlanet” long after its late 2008 release, so the appearance of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” level kit would superficially seem no more interesting than the numerous other costumes and packs that preceded it. But with this level kit comes a new element — water — whose significance needs no real  explanation for those already familiar with “LittleBigPlanet’s” modus operandi as a physics-heavy 2D platformer. And beyond the clumsy introduction — the Playstation Store’s description of the pack doesn’t even mention water, much less its significance — the new content works just as one would hope it would. Media Molecule’s attention to physics detail has gone a long way toward establishing “LittleBigPlanet’s” identity, and its year-in-the-making take on water enjoys the same level of care. Implementing it in new and existing level designs is as easy as adding any other ingredient via the game’s level creation tool, and the tool’s extreme flexibility allows players to utilize and control water in a multitude of imaginative ways. That, in turn, gives a game with near-endless legs even more staying power going into 2010. Not bad for six dollars. (For those who care, the rest of the pack, which includes “Caribbean” character costumes, five new single-player levels, new PSN trophies and new music/objects/stickers/materials with which to further modify levels, is pretty hearty as well.)

DVD 12/29/09: Facing Ali, Paranormal Activity, A Perfect Getaway, 9, Vampire Killers, Jennifer's Body, Glee S1V1, Taxi Final Season

Facing Ali (R, 2009, Lions Gate)
“Facing Ali” was a 300-plus-page book before it was a 100-minute film, and it takes only a few minutes with this incarnation before it becomes obvious this could, maybe should, have been a mini-series. “Ali” runs through the landmark moments of Muhammad Ali’s career by sitting down with 10 of the fighters who faced off against him, and the energy with which it bounces between subjects and storylines is absolutely breathless. The fighters range from iconic (George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes) to those only fans of the sport are likely to be intimately familiar with (George Chuvalo, Sir Henry Cooper, Earnie Shavers), but all 10 get a chance to say their piece — not only about Ali, but about their own lives and the events that brought them into the same ring as the arguable greatest fighter of all time. No one minces words — about Ali, about themselves or even about the brutality of their chosen profession — and “Ali” bounces from loving celebration to harsh dissection and back without discrimination and with unbelievable grace. The amount of content jammed inside is matched by some of the prettiest cinematography ever to grace a documentary,  and if there’s a failing here, it’s that so much of the material “Ali” touches on would be so much fun to explore in considerably greater detail. Fortunately, there’s a book for that.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features, animated trivia cards.

Paranormal Activity: Limited Collector’s Edition (NR/R, 2007, Paramount)
The sorry state of horror films, and the oppressive patterns they’ve fallen into over time, are hard at work against everything “Paranormal Activity’s” first 80-plus minutes attempt to do. These minutes — which come courtesy of a camcorder Micah (Micah Sloat) has set up to document and hopefully trap the source of a lifetime of hauntings girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherston) has experienced — aren’t scary, aren’t gory, and don’t do much in terms of doing the things horror films typically do. That will prove no small issue for a lot of viewers, especially because once the payoff really kicks in, the show practically is over. Many who heard the ill-devised hype about “Activity” — that it’s the scariest film of the last deacde or that it reinvents modern-day horror — are likely to come away just as miffed as so many did 10 years earlier when “The Blair Witch Project” elicited the same claims for using the same playbook. But the misleading hype isn’t the movie’s fault. More than just make people wet their pants ad nauseam, “Activity” attempts to tell an honest-to-goodness story, and by devoting all those minutes almost exclusively to its two main characters, it pretty thoroughly does that. By the time things reach a crescendo, you’ll either be so impatiently ready for it as to be underwhelmed or so caught up in the atmosphere as to be genuinely unnerved — not terrified, not thrown out of the seat, but pleasantly uncomfortable —by tricks filmmakers could do half a century ago. To “Activity’s” credit, it gives those willing to play along every chance in the world to experience the latter.
Extras: Unrated cut with new ending, a trading card with a film cell, a number, limited-edition t-shirt (no kidding). If the swag doesn’t interest you, the regular edition also has the alternate cut.

A Perfect Getaway: Unrated Director’s Cut (R/NR, 2009, Universal)
Newly-married Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) don’t exactly come off as the roughing-it types, so their choice of a very-nearly-isolated Hawaiian cliffside as a honeymoon spot would seem an odd choice. That goes as well for their near-decision to give two shady hitchhikers (Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth) a ride around the island and their choice to buddy up with another couple (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez) that wastes no time firing off alarm bells. Oh, and another couple recently was murdered on the island, the killers (one male and one female according to a very grainy surveillance photo) are still loose, and let’s say it again, no one else is really around. What could go wrong? With essentially three twosomes of importance in the picture, there are only so many ways this can go without jerking logic around for the heck of it, so only those looking for a fight can pick on “A Perfect Getaway” for being semi-predictable and going one of those ways. Fortunately, and to its immense benefit, “Getaway” answers the multiple choice question with nearly half the movie left to go. That gives it plenty of time to explain itself and give its cast some extra dimension before shutting its intellectual side down and engaging in a pretty fun dash to the finale. Everything it does has been done before, of course, but so what? “Getaway” does it well — and, in doing so, credibly engenders some real suspense in spite of all it has working against that possibility.
No extras beyond the availability of the theatrical and director’s cut, which adds an additional 10 minutes to the runtime.

9 (PG-13, 2009, Focus/Universal)
The computer-animated “9’s” wonderful attention to visual design is all the more striking given the post-apocalyptic constraints inside which it must work. The same holds true of its characters — a band of rag dolls who, for reasons not yet explained when the film begins, have been given life by their creator right around the same time machines wiped humanity out of existence. A lifeless planet and a collection of burlap dolls never looked so good, and it’s a shame “9” feels a need to rush itself along and give us only 80 minutes of its time to take this world in. The characters are unique and strikingly capable of conveying genuine humanity in spite of their almost comical appearance, and their fight to survive against a stray machine that outlived the war has the capacity to matter if given the time to explain why it does matter. But that’s where “9” really stumbles: The time between our introduction to the main character (named 9), his reunion with the other dolls and the series of events that lead up to the big conclusion flies right by, and the film wastes numerous opportunities to slow down, pad a few extra minutes onto the runtime and add some additional dimension to these characters. By the time the film gives us its biggest jolt of character development, we’re halfway through the climax, and by the time it ends, “9” feels only half-finished — an awfully pretty movie with deeply likable characters that nonetheless feels a little empty when all is said and done.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, the 11-minute original “9” short (with optional commentary), three behind-the-scenes features.

Vampire Killers (R, 2008, The Weinstein Company)
A few years ago or a few years from now, a movie like “Vampire Killers” — in which two directionless blokes (James Corden and Mathew Horne) unwittingly find themselves taking on a gang of murderous lesbian vampires —  might, even left as is, be better than it is right now. The premise and general tone are silly, our accidental heroes are likable enough, and everything is generally pleasant to look at. But all of that adds up to mild praise at best, and outside of a funny line or two, “Killers” never really rises beyond those mildly pleasant levels. A comedy about off-kilter monster killers might feel more special if “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland” hadn’t pushed the bar so high so recently or if zombie and vampire movies, television shows, books and video games weren’t being produced in excess the way they have been these last couple of years. But they have, and “Killers” is here now, and while it’s perfectly acceptable entertainment for those somehow hungry for more, that’s about all it is. MyAnna Buring also stars. No Extras.

Jennifer’s Body: Unrated (R/NR, 2009, Fox)
Say this about “Jennifer’s Body’s” stab at contemporary horror: It definitely stands out from the crowd. Whether it does so for any good reason, though, is another matter entirely. The events that drive the film are best unspoiled: When “Body” begins, one formerly normal high school girl (Amanda Seyfried as Needy) is in an insane asylum and the other (Megan Fox as Jennifer) looks like a zombie, and the film’s promise to detail how things got that way provides it plenty of fuel on which to coast. But “Body” never quite coasts. It flirts with formulaic teen horror, but it also appears to be making fun of those same conventions in a sloppy attempt at dark humor that falls too flat. Certain plot turns repeat themselves to the point of predictable, but between those moments the film zigs and zags between moods and character developments without even bothering to allude to the fact that some of this inconsistency merits some explanation. The schizophrenia — combined with dialogue, bit characters and one love scene that’s so bad as to be ironic but isn’t really presented that way — send “Body” meandering aimlessly to a climax that, for all the film’s cooler-than-thou disposition, just doesn’t do that early promise any justice. There’s something of a payoff by the time we return to present day, but so much air has left the room by then that it can do only so much. Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons and Amy Sedaris also star.
Extras: Writer/director commentary on the theatrical cut, separate director commentary on the extended cut.

Worth a Mention
— Glee: Season 1, Volume 1: Road to Sectionals (NR, 2009, Fox): The first season is still underway, but if for some reason you need these first 13 episodes now but have no use for the nine that remain … wait, what? Fox already said it’s releasing a complete season set in 2010, so you’d be smart to just wait for that unless plans change. For those who don’t care or have some financial stake in the show that merits purchasing this, this set also contains audition footage, a couple musical numbers and four behind-the-scenes features. The director’s cut of the pilot episode is here as well.
— “Taxi: The Final Season” (NR, 1982, CBS): It took an eternity in DVD release time, but “Taxi” fans finally can complete their collection with this set. Includes 24 episodes, plus vintage promotional spots.

Games 12/22/09: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Buzz! Quiz World (PSP), PixelJunk Shooter

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Climax/Konami
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, drug reference, language, sexual themes, violence)

It’s always exciting when a game like “Silent Hill: Shattered Memories” takes complete liberty not only with the franchise that bore it, but also the system on which it runs.

It’s also a downer when problems that have regularly haunted the franchise creep in yet again and debilitate the mood to a potentially eject button-pressing degree.

“Memories” purports to re-imagine the original “Silent Hill” game by resurrecting its main character and introductory plot. Harry Mason has once again awoken in a snowbound town after a car accident knocked him unconscious, and once again, his daughter has mysteriously disappeared.

From there, though, most everything changes. For starters, “Memories” is combat-free: It controls like a third-person shooter, but the only aiming Harry does is with his flashlight, and encountering a monster triggers a pursuit sequence in which players’ only options are to escape or die trying.

The precise flashlight control is the tip of an iceberg’s worth of clever uses “Memories” devises for the Wii remote. An early puzzle, for instance, has players picking up cans and overturning them until a key falls out of one. “Memories” never tells players what to do: It places the cans prominently, and real-world curiosity and motion take over from there. It’s a perfect mix of obtuse and intuitive, and similar tricks permeate “Memories'” puzzles in numerous simple but inspired ways.

“Memories” also crams the bulk of its user interface — camera, GPS, some storytelling — into a virtual cell phone, and whenever Harry makes or receives a call, the game uses the Wii remote’s speaker as a cell phone speaker players actually hold up to their ear. The gesture looks predictably silly, but as an immersion tactic, it’s pretty great.

“Memories'” best trick, though, is its attempt to mentally profile players through a series of psychological evaluations that take place after the events of the storyline but are intercut throughout the game. How players complete these evaluations partly dictates what they see, what they can access and how Harry behaves when “Memories” resumes the action. Regardless of the game’s ability to read players, it’s an awfully clever way to mix up the scenery and engender a second playthrough.

Unfortunately, “Memories” fumbles some classic conventions en route to devising so many new ones.

Per series tradition, navigation is needlessly laborious, with visibly open paths from A to B getting arbitrarily walled off for no believable reason. Getting lost among arbitrary blockades would mean something if there was danger in doing so, but “Memories” strictly relegates monster encounters to alternate-dimension portions of the game, and if you’re not in one of those zones, you’re in no peril whatsoever.

Not only does this make “Memories” a frightfully unscary game, but it turns getting lost into a dull session of backtracking, trial and error that will frustrate some into losing interest completely. Lots of amazing little reasons exist to keep pushing ahead, but it’s hard to think about those when you’re wandering fruitlessly with no way out in sight and no reason to be alarmed by that fact.


Buzz! Quiz World
For: Playstation Portable via Playstation Network (No UMD version available)
From: Relentless Software/Sony
ESRB Rating: Teen (drug reference, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violent references)
Price: $20

You lose some but win plenty with “Buzz! Quiz World,” which can’t match the presentational pizazz of its Playstation 3 counterpart but more than compensates in other departments.

The biggest loss “World” suffers, obviously, is that of the Buzz! buzzer controllers, which are chiefly responsible for transforming “Buzz’s” PS3 iteration into the best game show emulator ever crammed into a $60 package. The $20 “World” controls just fine using the PSP’s face buttons to represent the four multiple-choice answers to a question, and it’d be absurd for Relentless Software to conceive a scenario in which players are crowding around a tiny PSP screen with buzzer controllers as big as the screen, but the loss is felt all the same.

“World” compounds the loss of buzzer controller functionality by turning the game’s interface into something more representative of an emceed quiz than a full-featured game show. Buzz still plays the part of gabby quizmaster, but the sets and studio audience are stripped away in favor of a sparser interface that trains its focus on Buzz and the quiz information and keeps it there. The presentation remains slick for what it’s attempting to convey, but it’s definitely less flashy than its PS3 counterpart.

The more intimate approach almost certainly is due to Relentless smartly presenting “World” as a game players are more likely to play alone on a train than with friends on a couch, and “World’s” significantly meatier single-player component would speak to this as well. Where the PS3 game offered some bare-bones solo challenges with no real progression, this edition presents four multi-tiered challenge trees — each containing numerous quick-play challenges that themselves are replayable thanks to high score tables and medal rewards. Though they don’t register as official Playstation Network trophies, “World” also offers a large handful of unlockable trophies for players to collect throughout the entirety of the game.

“World” features the requisite support for wireless multiplayer (four players locally running on one copy of the game, four players online), but Relentless again plays the realistic expectations card by including a suite of six-player modes in which players pass a single PSP around the room. In a cool touch that’s far more inspired in practice than it appears on paper, “World” also includes a Quiz Host mode in which a player plays the role of host and manages the questions, answers and scores on the PSP. The mode essentially turns a video game into a board game, and it absolutely works in spite of its no-frills approach.

Elsewhere, “World” retains all the trappings of recent “Buzz” games. The roster of questions, at 4,500 deep, is plenty sufficient, and players can download the same bonus and free user-made question packs the PS3 game supports. And while the game show feel isn’t quite as apparent as in the PS3 version, “World” still throws out enough special modes, gimmicks and rule variants to give the action significantly more variety than its quiz game peers can muster.


PixelJunk Shooter
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Q-Games/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (lyrics, mild fantasy violence)
Price: $10

The inadequately-named “PixelJunk Shooter” is, technically, a shooter — superficially, a 2D space shooter in the vein of “Geometry Wars” and its ilk. But while there are enemies to shoot in “Shooter’s” subterranean caverns, the real objective centers around rescuing workers trapped deep within. Blasting through dilapidated cave walls is all it takes to rescue some, but a majority of the rescue effort revolves around using one element — magma, water, ice — to nullify another. Cracking a wall to unleash a tidal wave, for instance, will cool a lava pool into rock, which then can be shot away to create an opening for civilian rescue. “Shooter’s” physics-laden elemental riddles begin as simple cause/effect puzzles, but the challenge ramps up nicely as the enemies grow more dangerous and the elements, environments and available tools increase in number. Executing adequate rescues and taking down the screen-sized boss enemies isn’t a lengthy or difficult exercise, but engineering perfect rescues and mining the caves for every hidden valuable is. For players bent on doing exactly that, “Shooter’s” core action (playable solo or with a friend via local co-op) and terrific audiovisual presentation are more than inviting enough to inspire the repeat playthroughs likely needed to master it inside out.

DVD 12/22/09: District 9, (500) Days of Summer, Extract, All About Steve, Blind Date, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

District 9: 2-Disc Edition (R, 2009, Sony Pictures)
The first sign that “District 9” isn’t just another movie about just another alien invasion appears almost immediately: As the film opens, the invasion not only has already happened, but is 20 years in the past. When we step into the picture, the mothership hasn’t moved an inch in two decades, the aliens (derogatorily referred to as “prawns” because of their appearance) have long settled in as second-class citizens of Earth, and the mission at hand has members of Multi-National United (imagine a privatized United Nations) evicting the exploding alien population out of Johannesburg’s District 9 and into something resembling an internment camp. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine the metaphorical connotations potentially in play here, and “D9,” which is shot partly like a documentary and partly like a traditional feature film, doesn’t flinch in running its fiction through those filters. What emerges is something that’s absolutely fantastical in its construction of alien technology, language and makeup, but simultaneously, intelligently grounded in the realities of a powerful alien race descending on an equally formidable human race that doesn’t know whether to destroy it or observe it for its own betterment. Similarly, the heretofore-unspoiled result of the eviction makes for a wondrous marriage of science fiction and parallel-dimension discourse, and it corners the market on how to create a character (Sharlto Copley as MNU operative Wikus Van De Merwe) who can go from heroic to detestable and back and forth without ever stepping outside of who he is. Similar kudos are in store for “D9’s” special effects, which enhance the film’s realism to an unquantifiable degree rather than bog it down into yet another mess of computer graphics run amok. Forget the rumored sequel — there’s enough engrossing fiction and eye candy for an entire television series.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, three-part making-of documentary, four additional behind-the-scenes features.

(500) Days of Summer (PG-13, 2009, Fox)
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) doesn’t exactly handle the rocky path a relationship takes with a level head, but he can’t help it — he’s a romantic. Problem is, new coworker Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is not, and the wild effect her presence has on perfectly coolheaded males spells disastrous days ahead for poor, insta-smitten Tom. The literally-titled “(500) Days of Summer” doesn’t make us wait to confirm our suspicions: Jumping back and forth in time using the nifty trick of numbering the 500 days to always let us know where we are in the timeline, “Summer” immediately takes us to what appears to be a breakup before whisking us backward, forward, in between and wherever else it feels like taking us. The result not only is considerably more coherent than it sounds on paper, but also shrewdly astute in picking apart the comedy, tragedy and unexplainable grey areas that accompany that terrible and wonderful thing we call a relationship. “Summer” runs on the power of grey areas, in fact: It constructs its characters with complete care but never paints them into corners, and different viewers with different perspectives can view Tom and Summer in vastly different ways without upsetting the integrity of the story. And if you just want to kick back and enjoy it? Don’t worry: “Summer’s” pain and insight are real, but so are the dark laughs it provides. Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler also star.
Extras: Writers/director/Gordon-Levitt commentary, deleted/extended scenes.

Extract (R, 2009, Miramax)
It’s always nice when a film hits the ground running, as “Extract” does in introducing us to seductive small-time con Cindy (Mila Kunis) in its first, and arguably funniest, scene. “Extract” also manages a few nice laughs when shifting its attention from Cindy to main character Joel (Jason Bateman), who, in the tradition of sorry Mike Judge-created characters, is the owner of (a) an unexciting extract manufacturing business, (b) a next-door-neighbor (David Koechner) who won’t leave him alone and (c) a marriage (Kristen Wiig as wife Suzie) that might be even less exciting than the job and neighbor. Joel’s and Cindy’s stories eventually collide, and spoiling these and other developments would deny “Extract” its element of surprise — which, frankly, is something it cannot afford to lose. “Extract” is loaded in the cast department, rich with characters and full of story to tell, but beyond the occasional funny line, it rarely rises beyond modest amusement to approach anything close to laugh-out-loud funny levels. Judge’s comedies definitely have a certain underlying tone in common, and “Extract” is no different, but anyone waiting for Joel to unload on his life the way Michael Bolton did on the printer in “Office Space” will find themselves still waiting by film’s end. Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr., Dustin Milligan, Beth Grant and Gene Simmons also star.
Extra: Mike Judge feature.

All About Steve (PG-13, 2009, Fox)
Here’s a tip for all you single folks out there: If you think there’s a chance you might want to fake your way out of a blind date while it’s in progress, do some due diligence and plan your lie ahead of time. That’s an idea television cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper) didn’t consider before experiencing a date with Mary Horowitz (Sandra Bullock), a small-time crossword designer who knows a ton of trivia but lacks any knowledge regarding how to keep that trivia and other verbal waterfalls from continually spilling out her mouth. Steve constructs a quick lie about having to travel across the country, the instantly-smitten Mary accidentally calls his bluff and follows him, and voila, we have a comedy. As movies go, “All About Steve” is a lot like Mary: It’s an improbable mess and far more cloyingly cute than it is laugh-out-loud funny, but it also contains enough fleeting moments of brilliance — a sharply-written monologue about love, an even sharper dressing down of Mary’s life by a deaf child trapped in a mineshaft, some pointedly funny jabs at Emmy-starved television reporters — to make it easy to like in spite of its many flaws. Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Katy Mixon, Howard Hesseman and perennial scene stealer Keith David also star.
Extras: Kim Barker/cast commentary, deleted/alternate scenes, bloopers (with commentary), Cooper and Jeong sing a capella (with commentary), two behind-the-scenes features (one of which very nicely parodies behind-the-scenes features), photo gallery (with companion rap by Mary Horowitz), episode of Fox Movie Channel’s “Life After Film School.”

Blind Date (NR, 2007, E1 Entertainment)
An unthinkable tragedy has driven a tumultuous wedge into Don’s (Stanley Tucci) and Janna’s (Patricia Clarkson) marriage, and the couple has resorted to engaging each other through a series of mock blind dates in hopes of repairing their relationship. Each date finds Don and Janna in character as different people, and each date purportedly peels away just a little bit of the bottled-up honesty and emotion that’s keeping the couple at arm’s reach from one another. Problem is, the walls that divide Don and Janna don’t just divide Don and Janna. “Blind Date” starts out with great promise by immediately offering us some insight into who our characters really are, but once the couple falls into its land of make-believe, we only fleetingly see it return to reality. Studious viewers can take away subtle insights from each encounter, but the sensation of distance never really dissipates between Don and Janna or them and us. Their frustration becomes our frustration, the film’s wheels keep spinning in place, and while everything about “Date’s” casting, script and visual presentation has polish to spare, it’s hard to be truly moved or entertained when the entertainment so stubbornly keeps pushing the viewer away.
Extra: Tucci/Clarkson commentary.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (PG-13, 2009, Anchor Bay)
Award-winning television journalist C.J. Nicholas (Jesse Metcalfe) has been slumming it with puff pieces since moving to the big city, but when he hatches a theory that unstoppable District Attorney Mark Hunter (Michael Douglas) is planting forensic evidence at crime scenes to win his cases, he sets out to prove it in a way only a preposterous movie could love — by getting himself falsely accused of murder. What could go wrong?! Besides C.J.’s plan, most everything, actually. “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” is a polished, pretty film that, at least on the surface, has all the ingredients it needs to be a prototypically textbook legal thriller. But it’s hard to shake the notion that the premise “Doubt” presents — and, later, the twists and unbelievably abrupt character personality transformations it employs for purposes of toying with viewers — are feasible in a world with characters as sharp as our intrepid reporter and district attorney supposedly are. You can see the cracks in both characters’ plans from the minute the plans are presented, and the only thing worse than that is the insultingly silly twist ending that, for all the wrong reasons, outdoes all that preceded it. Joel Moore, Amber Tamblyn and Orlando Jones also star.
Extras: Director/Metcalfe commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.

Games 12/15/09: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, Crazy Snowboard

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
For: Nintendo DS
From: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild fantasy violence)

Twenty years on, “Zelda” games are creatures of habit to their own detriment. Link never speaks, Zelda’s always in trouble, and the road to fixing that trouble typically runs through approximately eight dungeons, which each contain a special item that numerous times thereafter will come serendipitously in handy.

Superficially, it all holds true yet again in “The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks,” which brings back the cartoony art style and stylus-based control scheme that worked pretty well two years ago in “The Phantom Hourglass.” “Tracks” even recycles a few ideas “Hourglass” introduced — most prominently, setting half of its dungeon-related content inside a single building Link will have to revisit multiple times before the credits roll.

But “Tracks” also gets right what “Hourglass” got wrong. Players don’t, for instance, have to start the dungeon from scratch each time they reenter: This time, whenever the story dictates a return to the tower, a new door takes Link straight to the next portion. More importantly, there’s no time limit hanging over Link’s head, which means the challenges are free to be a little more intellectually interesting than they were in “Hourglass.”

These portions also benefit from Zelda joining Link in (literal) spirit as a playable character. Players can chart a path for Zelda to take, and she can distract and even possess enemies while Link works elsewhere. Stealth levels are nothing new to “Zelda” games, and “Tracks” doesn’t go overboard with them, but the dual character control makes them one of “Tracks'” better assets.

The smarter central dungeon design trickles down to the rest of “Tracks'” labyrinths, which appear to have benefitted greatly from Nintendo’s further refinement of the control techniques it introduced in “Hourglass.” The brainteasers in “Tracks” are among the most satisfyingly intricate to appear in a “Zelda” game this decade, and the dual-screen boss fights, while easy, are nonetheless clever.

As always, a new “Zelda” game introduces some new items to complement the usual bombs, sword and boomerang. Revealing them here would spoil the surprise of finding them, and opinions will diverge on how ingenious or annoying Nintendo’s application of the DS’ special abilities are with regard to using them. If you plan to play “Tracks” in a public space, just know a few items — including the musical instrument that once again provides mock spell-casting capabilities — require you to blow into the DS’ microphone and potentially look a little strange doing so.

No mention of “Tracks” would be complete without discussing the train. The wildly convoluted (but, to Nintendo’s credit, satisfactorily explained) storyline explains the train’s importance, but its utility — like the horse and boat before it — is to get Link and Zelda around the world map.

This, likely, will amount to most players’ least favorite portion of “Tracks.” Controlling the train’s path, though a mix of route planning and speed/track switch toggles, is actually pretty fun, and the experience improves once you outfit it with some necessary weaponry. But after a few instances of backtracking across the map to a village before trucking back to the next dungeon, the experience loses its luster.


James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii, PSP, Windows PC and Nintendo DS
From: Lightstorm Entertainment/Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

If “Avatar” movie experience is as extraordinary as early critical returns seem to imply it is, then, “James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game” doesn’t do it a great deal of justice. Rather, it’s one of those highly imperfect games that, if engaged with dampened expectations and viewed presentationally as nothing beyond a respectable companion to the film, still can amount to a good time.

Problems and deficiencies are never game-breaking, but they are numerous and creep into most facets of the experience on some level — and regardless of whether, as an early storyline twist explains, you play primarily as the invading human military or the indigenous Na’vi tribe.

Most visibly flawed is the combat, which feels dated and awkward by the standards of modern third-person games. There’s no cover mechanic when shooting, nor is there a way, with most weapons, to stare down the sights for a more precise shot — a surprising omission given the slight behind-the-shoulder perspective the game adopts. Some weapons have a semi-automatic aim, but the vast majority feel unwieldy and underpowered.

Melee combat, which plays a major role on the Na’vi side of things, feels similarly unchained thanks to some loose character movement that also makes traversing narrow, elevated terrain dicier than it should be.

And so on. The game’s A.I. occasionally loses its mind on both sides of the battle. The mission structure is primarily some variation of kill x enemies or fetch x items, and the occasional offshoot mission feels predictably half-baked for one reason or another. All of it ties together around a storyline that takes place two years before the events of the film but struggles mightily to wrap an engrossing scenario around several hours’ time.

But with all that air cleared — and if you can believe it or not — “Avatar” still emerges as a pretty fun (and pretty lengthy, especially if you replay it from the other side) single-player game. The action mechanics are dated, but the game sends lots of targets at you and moves at a high enough speed to engender some old-fashioned, arcade-style fun. For good measure, there’s a nice upgrading mechanic that affords you unique weaponry and some very handy special abilities unique to both sides.

Lastly, while the game’s storytelling is spotty, it nonetheless adequately educates players about the world in which “Avatar” exists. Between story content and an encyclopedia of people, places and things, the game hands off a ton of mythology that can only help players’ appreciation for the more narratively capable film.

For good measure, if not much else, “Avatar” includes a multiplayer component and fills it out with the usual batch of modes found in a game of this ilk. It’s hard to argue with more content for the buck, but given the rash of amazing multiplayer games that have released in the past couple of months, it likely will be equally difficult to see a lively community develop around this portion of the game.


Crazy Snowboard
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Ezone
iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence, infrequent/mild horror/fear themes)
Price: $3 (free demo available)

With all due respect to Ezone’s naming conventions, “Crazy Snowboarding” isn’t terribly crazy at all. To the contrary, it rather conventionally acts just as one might hope a pick-up-and play iPhone snowboarding game would. Tilting the device controls the onscreen snowboarder’s steering, and a tap or hold on the screen preloads a jump when a rail, ramp or mound of snow is near. Once in the air, touching each of the four corners of the screen activates whatever trick players have assigned to that corner. The dead simple control scheme makes “Snowboard”  a no-brainer to play, but achieving gold medal scores requires some skillful trick stringing and sharp risk/reward management while in the air. “Snowboard” currently offers 30 missions, and the Halloween- and holiday-themed levels suggest Ezone will occasionally add more as more special occasions pass by. A modest rewards system allows players to use their points scored as currency toward unlocking new boards, outfits and tricks. And while the current online leaderboard system is pretty bare-bones, Ezone says the next update will incorporate support for the Plus+ social network.

DVD 12/15/09: Inglourious Basterds, The Hangover, Sita Sings the Blues, G-Force, Herb & Dorothy, Taking Woodstock, Lost S5, Tudors S3, Robot Chicken S4, Yankees World Series DVDs

Inglourious Basterds: 2-Disc Special Edition (R, 2009, Universal)
Brad Pitt’s name may sit at the top of the marquee, and “Inglourious Basterds” may have marketed itself as a crazed revenge comedy that sets a ragtag group of nuts on a path to drive Adolf Hitler off a ledge, but neither of these facets have any presence whatsoever in the 21-minute opening scene that, in another film, could pass for the kind of climax from which Oscar buzz is manufactured. “Basterds” does eventually venture without apology into madcap revenge country, and Aldo Raine’s (Pitt) band of vengeance-hungry lunatics absolutely lives up to the marketing’s billing. But “Basterds” is a story of two missions instead of one, and that first scene sets the pace for what ultimately emerges as a sensational ensemble production in which any number of characters arguably steal the show. The odd juxtapositions of disparate moods may strike some as confused, and “Basterds'” need to squeeze every last possible drop of character development out of its every scene will drive some impatient viewers crazy. But if the film wastes any of its 153 minutes, it doesn’t waste many, and while the winding journey makes “Basterds” an experience like few other, the payoff at the end is pretty spectacular in its own right. Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth and Diane Kruger, among numerous others, also star.
Extras: Extended/alternate scenes, roundtable discussion with Pitt, director Quentin Tarantino and film critic Elvis Mitchell, an uncut copy of “Nation’s Pride” (makes sense once you’ve seen the movie), digital copy.

The Hangover: Unrated (R/NR, 2009, Warner Bros.)
It’s always fun when a movie begins in the middle of the story, gives viewers a few minutes to assess the damage, and then flashes back to the beginning to show how it all became that way. It’s especially fun when, in the case of these not-quite heroes (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis), the characters are so hung over from the previous night’s bachelor party that they, too, have no idea what happened — or why the groom (Justin Bartha), whose wedding is mere hours away, has gone completely missing. There’s no good reason to spoil any of the surprises viewers and characters alike have in store, nor is there any good reason to allude to where “The Hangover” goes once the past catches up to the present. It’s shamelessly illogical and stupider with each twist, and on paper and without the aid of the cast and the script that brings them to life, it might as well be another awful straight-to-video National Lampoon film. Fortunately, a bad script is about the only problem these guys don’t have. The hype machine did not lie this time: This film is hilarious.
Extras: Theatrical and unrated cuts, bonus photos from the missing camera (will make sense once you see the film), a performance of “Fame” by The Dan Band (same), improv with co-star Ken Jeong, bloopers, digital copy.

Sita Sings the Blues (NR, 2008, FilmKaravan)
“Sita Sings the Blues,” which rather confidently describes itself as the “greatest break-up story ever told,” isn’t as remarkable for the story it tells so much as the lengths it went to tell it — mixing contemporary, divergent animation styles with blues music recorded close to a century ago and releasing the finished product online for free to circumvent a web of licensing issues surrounding the aforementioned music. All those hoops were worth it, though: “Blues” jumps back and forth in time to correlate a slice of a 3,000-year-old Sanskrit epic with a modern-day not-quite equivalent in Manhattan, and it uses every tool at its disposal to pull it off. The different illustration styles bring with them different storytelling techniques — from some sharply funny commentary between Indian shadow puppets to all those musical numbers, which may as well been recorded with this film in mind — and “Blues” manages to tell a perfectly cohesive (and yes, great) love story without forcing the parts to play nice with each other.
Extras: Director commentary, animated short “Fetch,” 25-minute behind-the-scenes interview, DVD-Rom content.

G-Force: Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo Pack (PG, 2009, Disney)
It’s pretty clear which department worked harder during the making of “G-Force,” which cobbles together a rather trite tale of corporate hijinks and high-stakes espionage for the sole purpose of presenting us a collection of rodents who not only speak brilliant English, but possess enough intelligence to play ball with the country’s most elite special agents. The story is little more than a means to an end — every cranny of “G-Force’s” plot has been tested over time in an uncountable number of spy thrillers — and the rest of the script isn’t a whole lot more inspired. (Get ready for not one, not two, but three fart jokes!) But to criticize “G-Force” for its inability to turn special agent guinea pigs into poetry is, of course, to miss the point. This isn’t a Pixar film; it’s fodder for younger kids who will laugh at the slapstick and pay no mind to the pitiful attempts to humor parents with the occasional flat gag or plot twist. Most importantly, it looks good: The computer-animated critters look perfectly credible among their live-action surroundings, and while the script doesn’t give them much in the way of clever lines to say, they’re no less lovable when playing the hand they’ve been dealt.
Extras: The combo pack includes Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy editions of the film. Three behind-the-scenes features are available only on the Blu-Ray disc, but everybody gets deleted scenes, a fourth behind-the-scenes feature, a “Blaster’s Boot Camp” DVD game and three music videos.

Herb & Dorothy (NR, 2009, Arthouse Films)
Not every good documentary is for everyone who loves a good documentary, and it’s worth noting that if you don’t see a little bit of yourself in Herb and Dorothy, you may not feel so strongly about the film that bears their name. “Herb & Dorothy” tells the remarkable story of a married couple who, with very little financial means, has managed over time to assemble an art collection for the ages. Herb and Dorothy, for their part, are as likable as their story — funny, blunt, self-deprecating and married far too long not to be completely, plainly honest with and about each other. The film, for its part, plays it pretty straight, letting Herb, Dorothy and some of the professionals who have crossed their path over the years compile the story without help. That, along with a few scenes in which the couple works its savvy magic, are all the film needs to inspire would-be collectors who wish to emulate their success. But “H&D’s” power doesn’t really travel beyond that realm, and if Herb and Dorothy’s exploits don’t intrigue you on paper, the straightforward nature of the film won’t change that.
Extras: Deleted scenes, festival  appearance and theatrical premiere footage.

Taking Woodstock (R, 2009, Universal)
It’s safe to assume creative liberty and selective memory are in play in “Taking Woodstock,” which draws on the Elliot Tiber memoir of the same name to dramatize the true story of Woodstock’s humble conception and eventual explosion, but it’s not like the actual events of the story need much help to engender interest. That should come as great relief to “Woodstock,” which doesn’t so much fail to tell the story as it does just kind of stumble clumsily through the process of doing so. A promising start introduces the principal players (Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Dan Fogler, Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber) in colorful ways, and the film displays an inviting level of folksiness during its amusingly modest beginnings. But as the tenor of the event shifts from fun to business and “Woodstock” tries to straighten its face, it reveals a tendency to ramble, repeat itself and dwell on story points that didn’t receive enough attention early to really matter later. The light humor gives way to an uncomfortable mix of had-to-be-there nostalgia and melancholy, and the normally hysterical Demetri Martin’s portrayal of Tiber reduces him to a wet blanket bore. “Woodstock’s” nice attention to imagery might touch a nerve in those who were there or there in spirit 40 years ago, but any chord beyond that sits far out of reach.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Worth a Mention
— New seasons of top-notch TV: “Lost: The Complete Fifth Season” (NR, 2009, ABC) includes all 16 episodes of what arguably was the most revelatory season thus far, as well as commentary, deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features, an expository Dharma Initiative feature and bloopers. “The Tudors: The Complete Third Season” (NR, 2009, Showtime) includes eight episodes, plus cast interviews, a “Tudors” timeline and the first two episodes of Showtime’s new show, “The United States of Tara.” “Robot Chicken: Season 4” (NR, 2008, Adult Swim) includes all 20 episodes (with commentary on all), plus two years’ worth of Comic-Con panel footage, deleted scenes, deleted animatics, alternate audio, video blogs, behind-the-scenes footage and, as always, some of the best package design in the business.
— New York Yankees DVDs: Too poor to buy a World Series championship via the free agency market? How about some World Series championship DVDs instead? “World Series 2009: Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Yankees” (NR, MLB/Shout Factory) features MLB’s typically pristine narration of the six-game series, while “New York Yankees 2009: Season of Pride, Tradition & Glory” (NR, MLB/A&E) covers the entire season in detail. The crown jewel, though, is the eight-disc “New York Yankees 2009 World Series Collector’s Edition” (NR, MLB/A&E), which includes all six World Series games and the final game of the American League Championship Series in their entirety. All three editions feature bonus footage covering various milestones and celebrations, and the eight-disc set includes optional audio tracks featuring the Yankees’ radio play-by-play team.

Games 12/8/09: LittleBigPlanet (PSP), Tony Hawk Ride, Backbreaker Football

For: Playstation Portable
From: Studio Cambridge/Media Molecule/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

Despite what the name implies, “LittleBigPlanet” isn’t a straight port of the 2008 Playstation 3 game of the same name, but a legitimate followup with an entirely new suite of single-player levels.

Better still, despite what common sense and a knowledge of that PS3 game’s sky-is-limit scope might imply, the PSP incarnation of “LBP” also isn’t a watered-down tribute to its predecessor, but a full-featured game that matches it in terms of ambition and possibility.

The overriding style, of course, remains the same. For those unfamiliar, “LBP” is a 2D platformer that incorporates real-world physics to an exponentially deeper degree than, for instance, “Super Mario Bros.” Objects slide, swing and topple according to their real-world properties, and even your playable character — the obnoxiously adorable, highly customizable Sackboy — runs and jumps according to the rules of inertia and gravity.

These physics, combined with the use of multiple planes on a 2D playing field and a reward system built around discovery more than mere survival, allows “LBP” to present levels that simply aren’t possible in other games. The generous checkpoint system and modest penalty for failure also frees the game to challenge players far more than its charming exterior would imply. Mining each level for its every last secret is a dicey endeavor, and Studio Cambridge really lets its cruel flag fly during some brutally tough side levels that, fortunately, are there for fun and don’t prohibit player advancement.

All of this extends to the game’s level creation engine, which sacrificed almost nothing during its migration from the PS3. Some additional controller gymnastics are necessary to overcome the PSP’s button and joystick deficiencies, and the graphics and physics calculations obviously aren’t as refined. Two-player level creation isn’t possible — there’s no wireless multiplayer of any kind in the PSP version — and levels designed in one game aren’t playable in the other, which is to be expected but nonetheless is worth noting for those who might hope for the impossible.

Elsewhere, though, “LBP” has everything it needs to develop a community on the level of its PS3 counterpart. Learning to harness the level creator’s insane power isn’t a blink-and-you’ll-get-it affair, but the game’s exceptional presentation coaxes newbies in and makes it fun to learn and make mistakes. The toolbox responsible for the single-player levels lies completely at players’ disposal, and sharing levels online and downloading others players’ creations is as simple here as it is on the big screen. As always, “LBP” has an online leaderboard for every created level, so there’s always a record waiting to be broken.

“LBP’s” true value will become apparent in the coming weeks, but some inspired levels have already appeared online, and things look promising. The PS3 game continues to pay dividends a year later even for those who ignore the creation tool altogether and simply download other players’ designs, and having a similarly bottomless well of gameplay on the go is just about the best thing this series could have done for a second act.


Tony Hawk Ride
For: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii
From: Robomodo/Activision
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (Lyrics, mild suggestive themes, animated blood)

Without being behind the scenes, it’s impossible to discern whether “Tony Hawk Ride” is a case of hardware failing software or software not properly utilizing hardware.

At least on appearance, it isn’t due to shoddy hardware workmanship. To the contrary, the board controller that ships with “Ride”  — picture a wireless skateboard deck sans wheels — feels durable enough to easily outlast the mountain of iffy plastic musical instruments that paved its way. It looks good, too — like a sophisticated piece of electronics instead of just another one-trick toy.

Most importantly, in fleeting bits and pieces, it also works. The board rocks from side to side and nose to tail without demanding too much effort, yet it isn’t so malleable as to make it easy to spill out of control. Performing basic flip tricks is simple enough, and it’s fun to let loose, take one foot off the board, place the other on the far nose or tail, and perform a 360 spin while your onscreen skater does some facsimile of the same. Small sensors located on all sides allow for grab tricks, and between the lower body acrobatics and the fight to maintain optimum balance, “Ride” sneakily provides a good workout for muscles you may not otherwise work.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the game designed around the board fails to cater to what makes the board fun to use.

In stark contrast to the string of recent open-ended “Tony Hawk” games that let players ride freely and take on objectives at will, “Ride” is stiflingly straightforward: Each city breaks into a few small levels, and each level offers a handful of objectives — typically a time trial, trick session, collection of five mini-challenges and half-pipe trick session — that require a few minutes each to experience. “Ride” offers a free skate option, but the levels aren’t built with that in mind and there’s nothing to do during these sessions. A multiplayer component (eight players locally sharing one board, four online on the 360 and PS3) consists of the same events recycled under party play rules.

The abrupt, linear nature of “Ride’s” trick and race sessions makes it hard for players to just let loose and have a creative good time on the board, and the precise demands in the challenges create needless aggravation because the board simply isn’t smart or precise enough to consistently discern different flip tricks from one another. Instances of nailing a trick, only for the game to claim you didn’t, are aggravatingly common here, and there’s little reward for getting it right thanks to a bare-bones presentation that just trots out more of the same.

Ultimately, “Ride” feels like a half-finished game hastily designed to complement a board that maybe took longer than planned to complete. Maybe the board’s true calling will be as a snowboarding game controller or something else entirely. The potential is there. Right now, though, “Ride” adds up to an experience that, in its current state and at its current $120 price, just isn’t worth the investment.


Backbreaker Football
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: NaturalMotion Games
iTunes Store Rating: 4+
Price: $1 (free demo available)

NaturalMotion’s Backbreaker football physics engine has sparked lingering curiosity since its 2007 unveiling, and if its first playable appearance in the wild is any indication, it’s no mystery why. “Backbreaker Football” isn’t a complete football game by any stretch, but a low-concept arcade game in which you, as the ballcarrier, must evade oncoming would-be tacklers and reach the end zone. Tilting the iPhone controls your directional movement, and some onscreen buttons allow you to juke, spin, sprint and, if the end zone is in sight, showboat. Evading defenders in style nets you points, stringing moves together results in bountiful combos, and the more times you can reach the end zone without being tackled and losing all your turns, the better your placement on the game’s leaderboards. “Backbreaker” backs the simple concept with a series of challenge levels, an endurance mode and multiple difficulty settings, but it’s the technological underpinnings that elevate it from a decent time-waster to bona fide addiction. Even on the underpowered iPhone, the tackle and running animations look fantastically authentic, and reading a would-be tackler’s body momentum — and countering it with perfectly-timed, perfectly-placed evasion — is a skillful undertaking rather than a matter of guesswork. Seeing this tech in motion on more powerful hardware can’t happen soon enough.

DVD 12/8/09: World's Greatest Dad, The Cove, Julie & Julia, Public Enemies, Dog Eat Dog, Better Off Ted S1, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Coraline: Limited Edition Gift Set

World’s Greatest Dad (R, 2009, Magnolia)
Spoilers are called spoilers for good reason, and this is a spoiler-free zone. Every now and then, though, something like “World’s Greatest Dad” comes barreling along and thoroughly complicates the moralistic integrity of sending innocent viewers into a film unspoiled. So let’s just put it this way: “Dad” starts off under modest pretenses as a dryly, somewhat darkly funny comedy about poetry teacher Lance Clayton (Robin Williams), whose inability to publish a novel matches well with his respective failures to cultivate enthusiasm from his students and raise a teenage son (Daryl Sabara as Kyle) who isn’t an abrasively poison-mouthed pervert. But then, something pretty major happens, and “Dad” migrates from darkly dry comedy to a pitch-black farce that will doubtlessly be too dark for some to rationalize as comedy at all. Spoiling exactly what brings on that migration absolutely would flatten the impact of “Dad’s” mood shift, and those who like their comedies nice and burnt are best advised to just jump in, because “Dad” is fearless in its mission and fiendishly smart about making fun of the mess into which it has gotten itself. It might be the smartest comedy of 2009, and it ranks up there with Williams’ very best performances. If you’re prone to offense, though, there’s a chance the events that transpire here will have you reaching for the stop button. You’ve been warned, if not spoiled.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, outtakes, music video.

The Cove (PG-13, 2009, Lions Gate)
The insurmountable irony surrounding documentaries that advocate the well-being of endangered animals is the stigmatic burden they present to viewers who don’t already support their intentions in the first place. But here’s the thing about “The Cove,” which lifts the veil on the horrific practice of trapping, capturing and killing dolphins in Taiji, Japan: It isn’t a lecture, and it isn’t designed to make you feel helpless and lousy about the fact that you just bought a box of fish sticks the day before. It can’t really afford a high horse, anyway: The crew tasked with infiltrating Taiji is led by Richard O’Barry, who takes responsibility for popularizing dolphin captivity through his work as a dolphin trainer on the television show “Flipper.” His crisis of confidence, and the resulting scramble to make it right and absolve his guilt, is the linchpin around which “The Cove” tells its story, and the crew’s attempts to duck authorities without any protection whatsoever makes for engrossing drama regardless of message. “The Cove” does its message proud, though: Beyond the good intentions, it empirically shoots down the notion that the practice has practical merit or enjoys any level of cultural significance. More importantly, the film leaves viewers with a sense that it’s part of a larger organism and not some isolated springboard viewers must activate to keep alive. Not everyone who sees “The Cove” has the means to act on it, and the film’s convincing promise of positive change ahead is a very welcome lift for those who only can watch.
Extras: Director/producer commentary, “The Cove: Mercury Rising” documentary short, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Julie & Julia (PG-13, 2009, Sony Pictures)
For those unfamiliar with the book of the same name, the “Julia” in “Julie & Julia” represents world-renowned chef and author  Julia Child, who scratched and clawed her way to a book deal that eventually resulted in the atomically successful publication of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Julie Powell, on the other hand, is a New York City government employee who has never finished a project she started until, one day in 2002, she decides to execute all 524 recipes from Child’s book inside of a single year and blog about the experience. Both women’s respective ventures and all they entail provide the basis for “Julia,” which jumps between timelines and naturally uncovers numerous parallels between the two despite the difference of a few decades and the fact that neither has been in the same room as the other. As biographical studies, it’s perfectly sufficient light entertainment, and fans of either woman’s work might find some enjoyment purely in that regard. But “Julia’s” true light shines in its portrayal of the work more than those doing it. The struggle to create something people will absorb, treasure and remember is something millions have undertaken and few have overcome, and seeing it play out here — in two eras, through two media but on the backs of the same overriding principles — is enough to inspire anyone in a rut to pull a Julie of their own and give it another go. For the right crowd, that’s far more valuable than whatever entertainment value “Julia” otherwise provides everyone else.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.

Public Enemies (R, 2009, Universal)
On paper, “Public Enemies” seems like a tired idea — the umpteenth attempt to color the facts of John Dillinger’s (Johnny Depp) life, only this time with a big budget and an A-list cast and director (Michael Mann) in tow. In practice, it doesn’t upset those expectations, but whether that’s a problem or not likely comes down to individual taste. Dillinger’s life has already hit some degree of stride when “Enemies” begins, so the film doesn’t attempt to play the all-encompassing epic card. “Enemies” similarly resists the temptation to recite Dillinger’s story from an unorthodox perspective or with an overly stylish bent, but instead chooses the refreshingly conventional route of telling part of the man’s story in polished but straight-faced detail. It doesn’t necessarily provide an unprecedented education in doing so, and the approach finds the film occasionally dragging a shootout a tiny bit past its welcome to fulfill whatever expectations of sizzle some might have going in. Ultimately, though, all that polish and talent goes to good use: Depp’s portrayal benefits from having room to breathe, and Dillinger’s muse (Marion Cotillard) and primary adversary (Christian Bale) arguably benefit even more for the same reason. “Enemies” breaks no ground whatsoever, but it does entertain, and if a fun story told by actors who clearly are enjoying themselves is good enough, then this more than suffices.
Extras: Director commentary, four behind-the-scenes features, digital copy.
— Conveniently-timed companion material: “Crime Wave: 18 Months of Mayhem” (NR, 2008, History): A 94-minute document of Dillinger’s romp through the 1930s. Also included on the disc: “Biography: Bonnie and Clyde: The Story of Love & Death.”

Dog Eat Dog (NR, 2008, IFC/MPI)
Colombian kingpin El Orejón’s (Blas Jaramillo) power is so vast and his respect for human life so minute that when he wants to demonstrate his gifts to street-level soldier Eusebio (Óscar Borda), he asks Eusebio to point out a random person on the street and immediately orders the person’s execution for no reason beyond his ability to do so. It’s probably best not to cross a guy like that, but what happens when a series of events leaves Eusebio and cohort Victor (Marlon Moreno) without much choice? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Purely on paper, “Dog” regularly trades on familiarity with regard to story conventions and basic character outlines. Victor, Eusebio and their supporting cast mates develop nicely, but they’re pieces of plays we’ve seen before. Fortunately, the story “Dog” tells and the method by which it tells it are different matters entirely. The stiflingly gritty cinematography is dense with ugly images and unflattering portrayals of characters doing awful things under terrible conditions, and yet it’s executed tastefully — conveying the unbridled ugliness of a murder without leaning on gore or even necessarily showing the act as it happens. What “Dog” chooses to show and not show speaks to how carefully the entire production appears to have been assembled, and its ability to exercise restraint without expensing intensity pays off in the form of characters whose fates matter, a story that’s absorbing in spite of its simple scope and an ending that pays off the film’s buildup rather handsomely. In Spanish with English subtitles. No extras.

Better Off Ted: The Complete First Season (NR, 2009, Fox)
The title is apt, because how many of us wouldn’t enjoy being in Ted Crisp’s (Jay Harrington) shoes? He’s witty, easy on the eyes, and has the coolest job in the world as the head of research and development at Veridian Dynamics, which devises and creates everything from weaponized pumpkins to energy bandages using technology, brainpower and product development timetables that exist only in the land of fiction. The capacity to create pretty much anything means “Better Off Ted” can pretty much make whatever rules it needs to do whatever it wants in any given episode, and its comedic style — think “Scrubs” or “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” without the daydreams, or better yet, imagine a modern-day “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” if you’re familiar with that one — is in perfect lockstep. “Ted’s” first couple of episodes jump into the anything-goes waters a little awkwardly, but once it finds its groove and lets its characters develop over multiple episodes, it’s about as smart and funny as anything else on television today. The exceptionally gifted ensemble cast (Malcolm Barrett, Jonathan Slavin, Portia de Rossi, Andrea Anders and Isabella Acres), of which any member is capable of stealing any given episode, doesn’t exactly hurt matters, either.
Contents: 13 episodes, no extras.

Worth a Mention
— “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Special Edition” (PG, 2009, Warner Bros.): A review copy wasn’t ready as this one went to press, but six movies in, your mind probably is already made up as to whether you’re sticking with it to the finish or not. For whatever it’s worth, the runtime — 153 minutes — hypothetically allows “Half-Prince” a little more wiggle room than the frazzled “Order of the Phoenix” (a 900-plus-page book compressed into a 138-minute movie) received. Extras include deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, a J.K. Rowling “year in the life” feature, a sneak peak at “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and a digital copy.
— “Coraline: Limited Edition Gift Set” (PG, 2009, Universal): If you somehow passed on “Coraline’s” recent home video debut but love the film enough to splurge on it — or, you know, if you’re gift shopping — this set, which includes the Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy editions of the film, is a beauty from the box on down. With that said, if you lack a Blu-ray player, a good chunk of the bonus content is off-limits to you. Blu-ray-only features include a making-of documentary, picture-in-picture behind-the-scenes material, two other behind-the-scenes features and deleted scenes. The DVD edition includes director/composer commentary. The package also includes four pairs of 3D glasses to watch the optional 3D video track (available on both discs), a companion art booklet and four postcards that are too pretty to actually mail.

Games 12/1/09: Rabbids Go Home, Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles, God of War Collection

Rabbids Go Home
For: Wii
From: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence, crude humor, mild language, mild suggestive themes, tobacco reference)

Dreary though it generally has been, 2009 at least has been rich with funny video games, and with “Rabbids Go Home,” it has saved perhaps the most deranged for last.

“Home” also finally provides a full-fledged, story-driven game for the Rabbids, an anthropomorphic species of deranged not-quite bunnies who stole the show as the supporting cast for one of the Wii’s first mini-game compilations. They’re as bullheaded and insane as ever, and in this instance, the goal is to help them return to their presumed home on the moon by — how else? — loading everything that isn’t bolted down into a stray shopping cart and forming it all into a makeshift ladder that extends from Earth to the moon.

Absurd though that premise is, it’s right at home in “Home,” which catapults the Rabbids to their complete crazed potential — a mix of nefarious egomania, stupidly dogged determination and the kind of joy and hilarity only a caffeinated child could manufacture — and unleashes it on an pleasantly cartoony semi-open world of unsuspecting humans and dogs. Everything about what the Rabbids do is reckless at best and borderline malevolent at worst, but because all the havoc they wreak is fairly harmless — the most damage they can do to a human, for instance, is to spook them out of their overgarments — it’s not exactly a crisis of conscience to enjoy how stupidly silly the whole thing is.

The Rabbids, for their part, take as good as they give: A brilliant interface mechanic allows players to virtually peek inside the innards of their Wii remotes, where they’ll find a stray Rabbid bouncing around wildly (and seemingly enjoying it) as they shake the remote. A character editor allows players to deform the Rabbids in all manner of ways, and this, too, only seems to please them immensely.

In terms of actual gameplay, “Home” keeps it arcadey and simple: Players move the Rabbids (and their shopping cart) through standalone and hub levels, each of which contains hundreds of visible and hidden items to hoard and add to the moon pile. The object is to grab as much stuff as possible while also fulfilling whatever objectives any given stretch of any given level might toss out, including time trial challenges and puzzle-like instances where the Rabbids must fulfill a quota or activate a trigger to push forward.

It sounds pretty plain on paper, but “Home” pulls it off by doing all the little things distinctively right. The levels are smartly designed and sprinkled with enough variety to make uncovering every last secret and hidden pathway a legitimately fun challenge. The simple act of movement — from the unwieldily sensation of swinging a shopping cart around a corner at a high speed to the similar satisfaction that comes from maneuvering other (unspoiled) contraptions later on — is dead on. And should all else fail, the game’s manic, hilariously infectious energy makes it impossibly hard not to stick with it, if only to see what the Rabbids will do next.


Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Cavia, inc./Capcom
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)

Two years ago, Capcom’s relentless milking of “Resident Evil” lore took an inspired turn in the form of “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles,” which presented old series storylines through the fresh eyes of an intense, arcadey light gun-style shooter that proved a great fit both for the franchise and the Wii remote’s particular capabilities.

Where that game didn’t go, “Darkside Chronicles” does, revisiting the events of “Resident Evil 2” and “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” through basically the same setup, albeit with the kind of tinkering one would expect from a sequel with two years’ worth of learned lessons in its corner.

Most welcome is the new default assignment for the nunchuck attachment’s joystick, which now allows players to quickly switch between different firearms with a quick flick in any corresponding direction. The stick’s former task — a limited manual control over the camera — is no longer, but considering how useless that control was in “Umbrella” and what a time-saver this new trick is here, it isn’t missed at all here. “Chronicles” still supports playing the game with just the Wii remote, but the extra functionality the nunchuck provides — combined with the game’s allowance for reassigning one-button melee attacks and healing to any button on either controller — is pretty invaluable.

Elsewhere, “Darkside” doesn’t mess with what made “Umbrella” work, though it also doesn’t overcome all of that game’s aggravations. Most exasperating is the inability to switch to a new weapon once a reload animation kicks in: When a monster is clawing at your face and you’re helpless to do anything about it because your character is slowly reloading the shotgun, you’ll find out just how annoying it can be. The camera once again falls prone to bouts of unnecessary shakey-cam-itis, but it shows restraint more than not.

Tallied up, the formula still works. A little creative liberty is needed to transform what was a solitary horror adventure into a mindless arcade romp that accommodates two characters at all times — like “Umbrella,” “Darkside” supports two-player local co-op — but the stories ultimately survive the transition and arguably benefit along their journey. The action is as crazed as one expects from a light gun-style game, but the storytelling does get its due, and a brand-new storyline does a nice job of filling in some gaps the old games never addressed.

As has become an extremely welcome tradition in more modern “RE” games, “Darkside” offers a ton of replayability for players who want it. A long, winding weapon upgrade system allows players to max out weapons and carry their arsenal from one completed game into a brand-new game, and players who invest the many hours needed to max out their weapons can parlay that firepower into higher end-level scores and rankings. “Darkside” lacks any sort of online multiplayer component, but for the right crowd, the game’s online leaderboard system provides a much more valuable utility.


God of War Collection
For: Playstation 3
From: Sony/Bluepoint Games
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language)

One could argue that releasing a value-priced double dose of “God of War” will backfire on Sony, which will try to sell the all-new “God of War III” to the same crowd not even four months later.

On the other hand: Who cares? And why don’t publishers do stuff like this more often? “God of War Collection” rounds up two of the Playstation 2’s best pure action games, drops them onto a single Blu-Ray disc, gives them a high-definition graphical upgrade, adds in the modern amenities (Playstation Network trophies, PS3 firmware integration) expected from a Playstation 3 release, and sells the package for less — $40 — than each game originally fetched by itself on the PS2.

Though the inclusion of PSN trophies might be the biggest selling point for players who finished both games on the PS2 but can’t resist the allure of a new reward for doing so again, “Collection’s” defining feature is, with good reason, the graphical upgrade. Portions of both games’ interfaces remain ostensibly designed with standard-definition televisions in mind, but the overall visual presentation receives a dramatic resolution bump that brings the series into true high definition — 720p, for those familiar with the metrics — for the first time. The games previously had some limited upscaling options in their PS2 incarnations, but nothing that compares to the facelift they receive here.

The upgrade isn’t without its oddities. Some of those interface assets look out of place in HD, and both games occasionally trot out a graphical element that appears to have been overlooked to a jarring degree during the transformation. Hardest hit are some of the cutscenes, which used in-game assets but were pre-rendered and presented as videos. They looked better than the in-game action on PS2, but now, in their unchanged state, they actually look worse — not dramatically, but enough for it to be noticeable.

Fortunately, “Collection” looks strikingly good where it counts most. Both games look worlds better in action than their PS2 origins would imply they would, and “GOW2” in particular looks right at home on the PS3. Both games also animate at a rocksteady 60 frames per second, which wasn’t always the case on the PS2.

In terms of additional content, “Collection’s” one bonus — a voucher good toward downloading a “GOW3” demo before the rest of the world gets a taste in 2010 — is pretty apt. The behind-the-scenes video content that shipped with “GOW2” also is on the disc, and in a nice touch, all of it is accessible through the PS3 firmware’s video player instead of just within the game. That’s for the best, too: If “Collection” has one seemingly avoidable annoyance, it’s that once you’ve booted up “GOW1” or “GOW2,” the only way to access the rest of the game’s content is to quit to the cross media bar and boot it back up.

DVD 12/1/09: Paper Heart, Terminator Salvation, Pale Force, Toi & Moi, Death Warrior

Paper Heart (PG-13, 2009, Anchor Bay/Overture)
Charlyne Yi (Yi, playing an endearingly awkward parallel-dimension version of herself) is so convinced she’s incapable of loving anyone, she’s become the subject and emcee of a documentary in which she attempts to comprehend how others can do what she feels she can’t. But whatever plan she had goes off the rails when she attends a party with her filmmaker (Jake M. Johnson as Nicholas Jasenovec), meets Michael Cera (Cera), and Michael Cera takes an inexplicably sudden liking to her. Though it unfurls Yi’s story in the same fashion a genuine documentary would, “Paper Heart” also takes the kind of creative liberty that’s possible when the film knows we know these scenes are works of fiction. That’s not a bad thing, because the script is intelligently funny, the characters are clumsily lovable, and the story straddles an playfully hopeful line between cutely Hollywood and credibly authentic. But “Heart” actually shines brightest when, between these scenes, it has Yi interviewing regular people about how they met and fell in love. Sometimes, the stories feel too good to be true. Other times, “Heart” illustrates them using a so-cute-it-might-drive-you-crazy style that’s evocative of a grade school diorama. In all cases, though, the line between fiction and documentary blurs just enough to inspire some weird hope that these accounts are 100 percent truthful and real. Even if it turns out they aren’t, “Heart’s” disposition makes it fun to believe they are.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, interviews, Yi musical performance, music video.

Terminator Salvation (PG-13, 2009, Warner Bros.)
Considering it isn’t a traditional sequel so much as an offshoot, “Terminator Salvation” arrives with a narrative head start few films of its nature have. The post-apocalyptic last stand between man and machine, following Skynet’s nuclear pounding of most of humanity, is a battle that has been teasingly dangled in front of “Terminator” fans since the first movie debuted 25 years ago, and “Salvation” has an entire feature film’s worth of time to dwell on its every last important detail. But with the can’t-miss plot comes a can’t-avoid caveat: “Terminator” has liberally played with time travel over the course of three movies and a two-season television series, and because all those hours ultimately alluded to the gist of what supposedly happens here, a good deal of the story feels predestined to the point of inevitable. “Salvation” would be foolish to rearrange the timeline and alienate its core audience just to pull off some contrived surprises, so there’s an overriding feeling of anticlimactic returns after waiting a quarter-century for the unabridged story. With that said, though, the movie makes the most of the hand it’s dealt — and, in terms of character development and a few story-within-the-story elements that fill in the unknowns that remained, manages a surprising amount of mileage in doing so. (Without spoiling too much, it’s pretty amazing what — and who — computers can render the way they can today.) Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood and Anton Yelchin, among others, star.
Extra: Digital Copy. Warner apparently wants you to purchase the Blu-Ray edition (review not available at press time), which contains a director’s cut of the film and three behind-the-scenes features in addition to the digital copy.

Pale Force (NR, 2005, New Video NYC)
With so much comic genius materializing over 16 years of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” it’s kind of a shame there aren’t 50 more DVD collections like this already out there. But “Pale Force,” which chronicles the animated adventures of two pale superheroes (super-stud Jim Gaffigan and childishly weak sidekick Conan O’Brien) and their battle of attrition against archenemy Lady Bronze (voiced by Eartha Eartha Kitt), is as good a place as any to start. Being a “Late Night” skit rather than a standalone cartoon leaves “Force” with some predictable caveats: Each of the 21 “episodes” runs only a few minutes long, and as such the storytelling and humor flies by at a frantically overcaffeinated pace. Throw in the kind of animation typically reserved for an experimental Adult Swim or Flash cartoon, and the resulting explosion is a mess of purposely low-brow construction and brilliantly, stupidly funny storylines that serve their purpose with hit-and-run efficiency. Consequently, watching all 21 episodes in succession is a somewhat exhaustive experience despite the 84-minute total runtime. But that isn’t the fault of “Force,” which was never written with extended viewings in mind, and as long as you enjoy Conan’s brand of comedy and have enough restraint to hit the pause button whenever necessary, this is impossible not to recommend.
Extras: Gaffigan’s “Pale Force”-related appearances on “Late Night” (don’t mind the box, which mislabels it as “The Late Show”), deleted scene, rough sketches.

Toi & Moi (NR, 2006, Koch Lorber)
The bright colors, the corny character poses, the chipper title. If movies were judged strictly on outer appearances, “Toi & Moi” almost certainly would have to be a cutely silly film about relationships and the adorable misunderstandings they endure. On some level, it is that — at least, when the film enters the imagination of short story author Ariane (Julie Depardieu), who refashions the real-life trials of her and her sister Lena’s (Marion Cotillard) love lives into fanciful, digestible magazine fiction. But Ariane and Lena’s realities aren’t quite so neat, and when you tally it all up, neither is “Moi,” which rather believably manages to offset those fleeting moments of harlequin sunshine with a reality that’s muddy and authentic without resorting to cheap depressive tactics. Ariane and Lena are kind of a mess, but they’re a likable mess that in no way feels alien to the fleeting messes many of us have made of our own personal lives at one point or another. Some of the story turns are predictable and certain endgame hooks, perhaps intentionally, are telegraphed well ahead of time. But all of it exists for the benefit of its two main characters’ separate constructions, and considering how Ariane and Lena turn out, it’s a job well done. In French with English subtitles. No extras.

Death Warrior (R, 2009, Lions Gate)
Everything you need to know about what “Death Warrior” is doing here sits right there on the box — the Tapout logo, the gallery of mixed martial arts stars (Hector Echavarria, Quinton Jackson, Georges St. Pierre, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans) in the cast, and, for the few who pick this up and don’t know, a notice that the cast consists primarily of world-class MMA stars. Is it enough around which to make and market a film? It’ll have to be. “Warrior’s” storyline is ripped right out of the fighting movie and/or video game playbook: An underground consortium has placed a member of each fighter’s family in jeopardy, and the fighters must fight dirty and battle to the death to keep their loved ones alive. There’s something of a “Running Man” twist at play as well, but no matter: The object is to see fighters pound each other without rules running interference, and the plot certainly provides the means. Unfortunately, a mountain of trouble stands between means and execution, including laughably stock dialogue, titillation straight out of late-1980s Cinemax, a soundtrack that veers between torturously bad faux-metal and background music typically reserved for sex hotline commercials, and the kind of dramatic chops only a film full of untrained actors can deliver. Even the fighting suffers: It looks great, but it’s predictably scripted and thus cannot compare to the unpredictable real thing. “Warrior” is so clumsy as to be an ironic blast fun for a night of so-bad-it’s-good cinema, but that’s about the only level on which this can seriously merit recommendation.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, interviews, MMA training footage.