We Live in Public (NR, 2009, IndiePix)
In case you weren’t there (or simply are trying your best to forget), the end of the 20th century brought with it a phenomenon where people with lots of money chased people with wild ideas down every rabbit hole imaginable in hopes of striking gold on the Internet. One of those wild visionaries was Josh Harris, who conceived Internet television when most of the public still struggled to download animated GIFs, and later parlayed those ideas into massive privacy-eroding experiments that both made the “The Truman Show” a reality and subsequently put it to shame. In documenting this with a combination of hindsight, candor and absolutely staggering footage of the experiment in action, “We Live in Public” enters documentary masterpiece country almost without breaking a sweat. Harris’ bizarre ride along the cutting edge of technology’s next great frontier presented him numerous opportunities to step on throats, burn bridges and engage in reckless experimentation with other people’s money, and his polarizing (understatement) personality (possible poor choice of word) ensured he approached every bridge with a match in hand. “Public” doesn’t try anything fancy with its storytelling, but it doesn’t need to. It comprehensively and resourcefully tells an amazing true story from all necessary angles, and it’s an absolute must-see as result.
Extras: Harris commentary, filmmaker commentary, Sundance 2009 footage, footage of Harris watching the film for the first time, two bonus segments, making-of feature.
Where the Wild Things Are (PG, 2009, Warner Bros.)
For such a humble little picture book about a mischievous boy and his imagination, “Where the Wild Things Are” sure caused a stir when it released in 1963 and promptly found itself banned from libraries everywhere. In that respect, the live-action adaptation does the source material absolutely proud. Warner Bros. marketed “WTWTA” as a kids movie based on a kids book, but the actual product is, like its inspiration, not nearly so easily classified. “WTWTA’s” opening scene, for instance, finds Max (Max Records) playing with his dog, but it’s filmed in a manner and at a volume that might send timid children running from the room. Subsequent scenes, which attempt to provide some fill-in plot past the book, occasionally engender the same reaction — or, during tranquil, dialogue-free scenes in which Max and the Wild Things let their actions and surroundings do the storytelling, the complete opposite effect. All put together, “WTWTA” steps too far outside the lines of traditional kids film norms to be something for everyone. But a little strength of conviction is never bad thing, and if the goal was to somehow bottle the aura from a 10-sentence book and expend it across 101 very pretty minutes of screen time without tearing the fabric, mission magnificently accomplished.
Extra: Four behind-the-scenes features.
Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak (NR, 2009, Oscilloscope)
Along with the film itself, perhaps the best thing about the release of “Where the Wild Things Are” was the book’s author, Maurice Sendak, telling parents to “go to hell” and kids to “wet their pants” when asked what he’d say to those who complained the film was too scary for children. “Tell Them Anything You Want” doesn’t contain this wonderfully blunt attack on the bubble-wrapping of our youth, but this portrait of Sendak — directed by the same man, Spike Jonez, who directed “WTWTA” — pretty well matches it in terms of candor and insight. Be it about his childhood, his career, his personal shortcomings or the onset of death, Sendak turns no question away, and Jonez isn’t afraid to step in front of the camera and treat the experience like a no-holds-barred conversation between close friends (which, to the film’s benefit, it is) instead of some objective piece of film journalism. The only downside? It ends too soon. “Want’s” picturesque DVD packaging implies the film runs 88 minutes long, but that tally includes the extras. Though a good portion of those extras benefit from the same volume of insight and candor, it’s still worth noting the main program is only 40 minutes long by itself.
Extras: Jonez and Sendak Q&A, Sendak birthday tribute readings and speeches, “Maurice at the World’s Fair” short starring Jonze and Catherine Keener.
Cold Souls (PG-13, 2009, Fox)
The title is considerably more literal than you might assume. Because in the world in which “Cold Souls” exists, souls not only are tangible, extractable pieces of the human body, but have become a tradable commodity for those weary and brave enough to exchange their soul, and all it entails, for another. One such person? Paul Giamatti, playing himself, and so deeply frustrated with his present actor’s block that he decides to put his soul temporarily in cold storage and try another on for size — or perhaps take a spin without any soul whatsoever and see what happens. The novel premise has no shortage of tantalizing possibilities and consequences, and “Soul” fearlessly and intelligently pounces on as many as it can, shifting from dry comedy to drama to black comedy to science fiction mind warp with great care but without any regard for classification or convention. The sum total of that energy won’t necessarily sit well with viewers who come in expecting one mood and getting another, but not taking full advantage of all these storytelling possibilities would have been a significantly bigger shame. Dina Korzun, David Strathairn, Katheryn Winnick, Emily Watson and and Lauren Ambrose also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Bollywood Hero (NR, 2009, Anchor Bay)
It’s fun to watch typecast, marginally successful actors play against type and have some fun with that marginal success by playing an alternate-universe version of themselves. Occasionally — say, with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s awesome dramatic turn in “JCVD” — it forever changes perceptions of what the actor can do. But the news isn’t quite that good for Chris Kattan, who stars in “Bollywood Hero” as a struggling former “Saturday Night Live” star (named Chris Kattan) whose sorry Hollywood luck finds him traveling to Mumbai in hopes of landing a game-changing role and resurrecting his career. Kattan plays Kattan pretty straight, and early in the first chapter of this three-part miniseries, “Hero” seems willing to take a dryly, ever-so-slightly-darkly funny look at the business of being famous. But that doesn’t last long, and before long, Kattan is saddled with material that leaves him looking more confused than wry as he bounces between a handful of unimaginative plot turns you’ve seen countless times before. “Hero” maintains a likable disposition throughout, and its inclination to break into song and dance every now and then is fun (if a little forced). But if Kattan was hoping for life to imitate art, he needs a gutsier vehicle than this. Neha Dhupia, Ali Fazal, Pooja Kumar and Ruma Sengupta also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes.
Gentlemen Broncos (PG-13, 2009, Fox)
“Gentlemen Broncos” comes from the same creative mind behind “Nacho Libre” and “Napoleon Dynamite,” and boy, is it ever completely obvious that it does. The scenario is different, this time centering around a young, socially awkward would-be science fiction writer (Michael Angarano) who attends a fantasy writing convention, makes a few socially awkward friends (Halley Feiffer, Héctor Jiménez) meets his socially awkward author hero (Jemaine Clement), and promptly has his manuscript stolen by said hero. But as evidenced by the repeated use of the term “socially awkward” in the previous sentence, the constant that made “Dynamite” so bizarrely novel and “Libre” kind of annoying is back in force in “Broncos.” Every single character is weird in that same inhumanely-sheltered-from-society way, and numerous social interactions come down to one person talking or acting strangely and the other kind of blankly staring at them before returning the gesture. “Broncos” slowly gathers a pulse as the story goes somewhere, but all that early awkwardness sets the tone, and what once felt charmingly weird now comes off as overdone and too self-aware not to feel completely contrived. A few laughs sneak in, and the film occasionally ditches the contrivances for fleeting instances of sharp wit. Mostly, though, viewers can expect to return the same blank stares “Broncos'” characters almost continually flash back at them.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, outtakes.
Worth a Mention
— Alice in Wonderland fever: The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp re-imagination of “Alice in Wonderland” opens this Friday, and in what can only be an amazing coincidence, a handful of “Wonderland” DVDs are releasing separately this week. Among the releases: the 1933 Cary Grant/Gary Cooper/W.C. Fields film, the 1966 BBC film starring Peter Sellers and John Gielgud (and featuring a Ravi Shankar soundtrack), and the 2009 miniseries, “Alice,” that aired on Syfy. Of the three, only the BBC film comes with extras, and they’re good ones: director commentary, the 1903 “Wonderland” silent film, the 1965 biopic about the real-life inspiration for Alice, Shankar performance footage and a photo gallery.
— “Small Wonder: The Complete First Season” (NR, 1985, Shout Factory): The 1980s did its absolute best to undo all the progress the 1970s made by trotting out one gutlessly awful sitcom after another, and perhaps none were more delightfully terrible than this one. “Small Wonder’s” premise — a top-secret robot tries to fit into a family as a normal 10-year-old girl — is silly in its own right, but it’s the bonanza of bad execution — cheeseball storylines, hysterically cheap production values and some of the worst acting anyone ever paid for — that really makes this something special. Children of the ’80s looked to “Small Wonder” as their first understanding of the “so bad it’s completely entertaining” phenomenon, and a quarter century of aging has only enhanced that sensation here. Includes 24 episodes, plus commentary, original episode promos and a fan art gallery.