DVD 6/29/10: Don McKay, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Eclipse, Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles, The Crazies, Bass Ackwards, Leave it to Beaver CS, Beautiful

Don McKay (R, 2009, Image Entertainment)
If you like your movies nice and insane and like your movie-watching experience thoroughly unspoiled, stop reading here, because even assigning “Don McKay” a genre infringes on spoiler territory. “McKay” finds lifeless janitor Don (Thomas Haden Church) returning home, 25 years after fleeing an unspecified tragedy, to honor the request of a former high school girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue). Once back, Don immediately finds himself knee-deep in another mess, and it’s like he never left. For roughly half its runtime, “McKay” plays like a self-serious, low-rent thriller starring good actors playing disastrously-written characters trying to wade through a story in which stuff seemingly happens just to happen. But it’s all a long con. An occasional darkly funny moment peeks through as time passes, and then, on the precipice of act three, the dam bursts and “McKay” goes bananas. What initially felt like unintentional parody suddenly feels ingeniously legit, and the film complements the barrage of pitch-black comedy with a similarly fearless unfurling of a mystery that, shockingly, pays off massively during a crazy climax that somehow makes sense in spite of all the insanity flying about. “McKay” still is a bit too messy to make it something everyone will love, and even though the payoff wouldn’t be nearly as good without the bumpy start setting it up, it’s still a bumpy start. But a comeback this fierce within the space of 90 minutes isn’t something you see very often, and if you’re prepared to just go for a ride, hopefully you stopped reading 200 words ago and are preparing to do just that.
Extras: Director/producer commentary, deleted scenes.

Hot Tub Time Machine (R/NR, 2010, MGM)
If you look at the cast (Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, John Cusack, Clark Duke) and then look at the plot (three longtime friends and one nephew attempt to reconnect at the friends’ dilapidated former vacation spot, only to enter a hot tub that sends them back to their prime), it’s understandable if you also assume “Hot Tub Time Machine” is so preoccupied with trying to be funny that the high concept is purely a means to some fresh gags about time travel and the 1980s. But give “HTTM” some credit: In addition to doing exactly what’s expected of it, it actually kind of, sort of tries — if not to reconcile how a faulty hot tub can engender time travel, then at least to pay the butterfly effect some level of respect. In fact, between this and the surprising level of reverence paid to the overlying message — don’t take your friends for granted and don’t let time and distance do it for you — “HTTM’s” need to make people laugh occasionally plays third fiddle. But it makes for a better movie, in no small part because all that respect and reverence pays out during a satisfying end sequence and supremely funny credit roll. And if all you want is to laugh? Fret not: “HTTM” isn’t as rapid-fire funny as, say, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” but when it strikes, it hits hard.
Extras: Theatrical and unrated cuts, deleted scenes.

The Eclipse (R, 2009, Magnolia)
Do you like movies thick with atmosphere? Do you like them so much that you can forgive one that prioritizes mood at the arguable expense of traditional three-act plot values? In “The Eclipse,” widower and father of two Michael (Ciarán Hinds), who aspires to be a writer and is volunteering as a driver during a local literary festival, has begun hearing strange noises and fears he’s being haunted by the dead. Fortunately, he’s driving an author (Iben Hjejle as Lena) who specializes in writing about that very thing, so he finally can get some questions off his chest. But while all the necessary materials are on hand to make “The Eclipse” a perfectly serviceable ghost story, its interests lie elsewhere. Michael’s suspicions about the hauntings and the consequences that follow are of lynchpin importance to “The Eclipse’s” storyline, but they also place a distant second to the deeply personal stories of Michael, Lena and a disruptive second author (Aidan Quinn) whose own interests are clouded by these developments. It’s part drama, part thriller, part character piece and not really overwhelmingly any one of the three, and in the school of neat and explanatory conclusions, the ending is an arguable dropout. But what “The Eclipse” wants to do — which is tell a cutting story about a man chasing some harrowing ghosts that have nothing to do with the ghosts who might be chasing him — it does with considerable skill and admirable conviction.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles: The First Five Seasons (NR, 2003/2010, Flatiron Film Company)
For those unfamiliar, machinima is what happens when someone takes assets rendered for another purpose — typically video games — and manipulates them, voice acting and all, to tell a story that may have nothing to do with those assets’ original intentions. Most of what results is pretty poorly made, but every now and then, a lot of hard work produces a gem. Until further notice, the gold standard of the art form is “Red vs. Blue,” which takes assets from the “Halo” video game franchise and makes them walk and talk to the tune of a very funny story about smart-mouthed soldiers fighting over land that doesn’t even appear to be worth the trouble. “RvB” has always been freely available to stream either online or via Xbox Live — Microsoft and “Halo” creator Bungie’s support of the project is perhaps the genre’s most inspiring story — but fans should take note anyway: In addition to being a handy way to take the first five seasons with you, this box set completely remasters the first four seasons’ visual assets. Given how dramatically video game graphics have improved since 2003, that’s no small bonus.
Contents: 100 episodes, plus the previously Xbox Live-exclusive miniseries “Out of Mind” and “Recovery One,” deleted scenes, outtakes, alternate endings, hidden tracks, PSAs and various bits of bonus footage from the “RvB” vault.

The Crazies (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Maybe it’s the billion-plus zombie movies that release annually, or maybe it’s the million-plus stories Hollywood has told about biological agents gone awry. Either way, the plotline of the remake of “The Crazies,” which finds bad drinking water transforming a small town of people into monsters, just doesn’t have the same novelty the original enjoyed in 1973. But that also makes its ability to entertain anyway all the more impressive. “The Crazies” doesn’t avoid horror movie conventions at all, and many of its would-be scares are undone by the same old twists. But even in a world infested with zombie movies, these mutants are an interesting breed because their previous selves aren’t all the way gone and they partially still know who they are. “The Crazies” doesn’t do all it can with that device, but it does something with it, and its use of characters who may or may not be lost provides intrigue in place of the usual sources of suspense. The storyline surrounding the bad water also checks out — not so much because of its revelation, but because of what happens when things get out of hand. The closing scene is thoroughly ridiculous compared to the modest beginnings, but that — and the simple willingness to go big — is what makes “The Crazies” so much more fun than it seemingly had any chance of bring.
Extras: Director commentary, Two episodes of the “Crazies” motion comic, four behind-the-scenes features, storyboards.

Bass Ackwards (NR, 2010, Flatiron Film Company)
Lias (Linas Phillips) isn’t exactly setting the world ablaze: He makes a pittance as a freelance videographer, the friends off whom he’s been freeloading have politely asked him to move out, and the woman he’d been seeing (Davie-Blue) has pushed him
away because oops, she lives with another guy. One semi-random visit to a farm and the acquisition of one old van later, it’s road trip time as Linas drives cross-country to live temporarily with his parents in Boston. If you spotted the whimsical name and await the part where this prototypical road trip movie gets funny, even just quirkily so, you’ll wait forever. Instead, “Bass Ackwards” emphasizes the romance of it all — solitary highway hours, chance encounters with strangers, more self-discovery than some find in four years of college. “Ackwards” is as open-ended as Linas’ journey, and the story isn’t so much a plot as a glance at someone who himself takes a passive approach to the experience. That means some scenes free of dialogue and others shared with characters whose impact on the storyline (term used loosely) is minimal. For some, that also means one boring movie with nothing ultimately gained. So adjust your expectations: “Ackwards” is rich with thoughtful moment-to-moment photography, dialogue and character design, but it’ll land with a thud if you want all those moments to add up to a substantial big picture.
Extras: Phillips/Davie-Blue/cinematographer/film critic commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers.

Leave it to Beaver: The Complete Series (NR, 1957, Shout Factory)
If you need an introduction to “Leave it to Beaver” — which seemingly has been on the air on some channel in every corner of the country during multiple hours of every day since the beginning of television — you probably need an introduction to television as well. The release timing of this 37-disc set is really odd, because only half of the show’s six seasons are available individually, and folks who purchased the seasons individually will have to wait until September for season four and who knows how long for seasons five and six. That’s bound to engender some hurt feelings, especially if those people miss out on special features exclusive to this set. But if you’re not part of that crowd or simply waited for the inevitability of this release, it’s all good news to you.
Contents: 234 episodes, plus the original pilot episode, two cast retrospectives, theme song composer interview, a Cleavers-fronted special film made for the U.S. Treasury, original promo material.

Beautiful (R, 2009, E1 Entertainment)
Sometimes, everything you need to know about a movie can be found in its musical score. Witness “Beautiful,” which takes place in an otherwise ordinary suburb that houses some very suspicious residents and is reeling from three alleged instances of teenage girls getting abducted. The events of “Beautiful” swirl around several residents but gravitate primarily to an awkward teenager (Sebastian Gregory as Danny) who gets a chance to spend time with his dream girl neighbor (Tahyna Tozzi as Suzy) while she shamelessly pumps him for information about another, shadier neighbor, and the storytelling that results shifts between meandering slice-of-life drama to full-on mystery. But regardless of what mood the movie wants to be in or whether it’s even justified, a foreboding score continually purrs in the background. And even when it appears “Beautiful” is striving for something more than dour melodrama, that single, contagious touch continually drags it back there. The mysteries surrounding the neighbors as well as Danny himself ramp up at a nice pace, and even if you can’t stake a meaningful interest in the characters, there’s something satisfying about how far the debris flies when everything blows up in the film’s climax. Even here, though, “Beautiful’s” presentation of its events undermines those events, giving a story that could have been significantly more memorable a send-off that, appropriate or not, merely reinforces the loss of opportunity.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Games 6/29/10: Transformers: War for Cybertron, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Guess the News

Transformers: War for Cybertron
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: High Moon Studios/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (violence)

Yes, “Transformers: War for Cybertron” is a tangibly better game than the two rushed-to-retail games that accompanied the two godawful “Transformers” movies released in the last three years. And yes, by having nothing to do with the movies, “Cybertron” is free to base its storyline, visual presentation and gameplay on the cartoon, which is all “Transformers” fans have wanted all along.

But “Cybertron” improves on those games like a football team improves to 8-8 a year after it finished 1-15. It’s a leap in the right direction, but one still flawed in ways fan service alone can’t obscure.

First, the good stuff. The storyline not only takes place within the cartoon’s timeline, but is a bona fide prequel instead of some trivial side story. The playable characters — among numerous others, Optimus, Megatron, Bumblebee, Starscream and Jetfire — are colorful instead of drably indistinguishable like they were in the movies, and humans have no presence whatsoever.

As with previous “Transformers” games, players can play from the perspectives of both the Autobots and the Decepticons, but in a welcome evolution, “Cybertron” merges both campaigns into a single storyline. Previous games had players repeating the same events from both perspectives and effectively canceling out the two different endings that resulted, but “Cybertron” reaches a single, satisfying conclusion that nicely sets the table for the cartoon.

In terms of fundamentals, the news remains good. “Cybertron” looks great — colorful, but also just a little grimy — and it finds the sweet spot between making the Transformers both agile and impressively weighty. The controls are more conducive to transforming than they were in the movie games, and both the third-person shooting and vehicular controls are pleasantly responsive. “Cybertron’s” environments are tighter than the movie games’ wide-open levels, but they offer enough room for players to switch between forms as they please.

The problem comes when “Cybertron” tries to do anything ambitious with those mechanics… because outside of a couple of missions that incorporate air combat, it never really does. Regardless of storyline condition, practically every mission consists of killing X number of grunt enemies, moving to point Y and repeating ad nauseam until the boss fight, which usually consists of more mindless shooting with the occasional extra condition based on each boss character’s attack pattern.

The moment-to-moment action is good enough to make “Cybertron” mindless fun anyway, but fighting the same grunt enemies and completing the same objectives so many times gets old long before the credits get to rolling. “Cybertron’s” support for three-player online co-op livens things up somewhat, but repetition with friends is only so much better than repetition alone. (A bonus horde mode, which removes the storyline pretense and just floods the screen with enemies until you can’t take it anymore, is a better, no-nonsense use the co-op function.)

For some, “Cybertron’s” competitive online multiplayer (10 players) will be the star of the show, if only because it dangles a carrot in the form of attainable experience points and unlockable abilities for players who level their four classes (leader, scout, scientist, soldier) up the 100-level scale. But the actual gameplay relies on the same old game variants and feels simplistic and dated compared to more tactical shooters with similar leveling systems, and it might be too simple for persistent leveling alone to keep the community bustling.


Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
For: Playstation Portable
From: Kojima Productions/Konami
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, drug reference, language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)

From the optional-but-recommended pre-game data installation to the offering of three imposing control schemes to the tutorial and eventually the game itself, “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker” stakes its claim as perhaps the most demanding game in the PSP’s five-year-old library.

But if you’re part the intended crowd, and if you have company, the good news is that Kojima’s latest wholeheartedly justifies that demand with an experience that’s as filling as any of the big-screen “Metal Gear Solid” games.

Out of necessity, “Walker” — which sets itself 10 years after the events of “MGS3” — also plays like a cross between that game and “MGS4.” The lack of a second analog stick and extra set of triggers, and the control freedom those afforded, makes it hard to run and gun to the extent “MGS4” allowed on the PS3. “Walker” makes generous concessions to counter the button gymnastics needed to accommodate the PSP’s limitations, but it also encourages players to just stay out of trouble by avoiding enemies and using close-quarters combat the way older “MGS” games practically mandated. There’s an unquantifiable but noticeable easing up of enemy A.I. and the damage their weapons cause, but Kojima tunes it just right, accounting for the system’s deficiencies without dumbing the game down, stripping players of weapon/gadget depth or making the journey a cakewalk.

“Walker” plays like it should, tells another winding story that covers yet more ground in the bizarre “MGS” timeline, and it manages once again to stretch itself over 25-plus hours of playtime without being dog tired by the time the credits roll.

As usual with this series, though, that’s not all — and this is where it might get confusing.

“Walker” complements its primary gameplay with a surprisingly deep tool for managing Snake’s base of operations. Snake can make allies out of enemies he non-lethally neutralizes in the field, and the tool lets players put them to work researching intelligence, developing technology and even assisting in battle. “Walker” packages the tool inside a byzantine interface it doesn’t explain terribly well, but players who figure it out will find a strangely engrossing management game that regularly improves the action in the field.

Even with the presence of that tool taken into consideration, though, “Walker’s” biggest surprise has to be its co-op support for up to six players via local wireless play. The availability of co-op and the number of players allowed varies by mission, a nice consideration that shows Kojima values the story’s integrity over shoving six soldiers into every mission.

Unfortunately, some of the missions that do support co-op — in particular, fights against boss characters that take an army’s worth of bullets to defeat — practically require it for all but the most skilled “MGS” players. Given the series’ traditionally single-player leanings, this little surprise is bound to frustrate some, especially because players have to seek out other players who also have PSPs and copies of the game instead of just look online for willing partners. (Players with a Playstation 3 can use the free “Ad Hoc Party” app to jerry-rig an online session, but the number of players doing so is bound to be smaller than if the game supported online play on its own.)


Guess the News
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Finger Arts
iTunes Store Rating: 12+ (infrequent/mild mature/suggestive themes, infrequent/mild profanity or crude humor, infrequent/mild sexual content or nudity, infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco, or drug use or references)
e: $3

There’s nothing wrong with a game being just a game, but sometimes it’s nice to accomplish something with that entertainment. Enter “Guess the News,” which combines “Wheel of Fortune”-style phrase guessing and whatever’s in the news to create a word game that’s as enlightening as it is fun. “News” grabs fresh headlines from various news sources and presents them as incomplete phrases, scattering the missing letters among a sea of letter tiles below. Tap and/or drag the titles to their proper spots — and do it quickly to maximize score combos and avoid timing out — and the game hits back with increasingly obscure headlines that have more letters to fill in. “News” complements its concept with an exquisite interface that allows players to customize their experience according to difficulty and genre of news (top stories, sports, entertainment and so on). The game also makes it easy to dig deeper into those headlines, even mid-game: An in-app Web browser takes players to the stories behind the headlines they help complete, and if your continued research takes you out of the app entirely, “News” saves your progress for easy resumption later. OpenFeint integration — leaderboards, achievements and so on — rounds out the package.

DVD 6/22/10: TiMER, Hung S1, Youth in Revolt, Green Zone, The Maid, The Last Station, Entourage S6, Johnny Bravo S1, Family Guy V8, American Dad! V5

TiMER (R, 2009, Phase 4 Films)
In “TiMER,” the concept of finding a soulmate no longer is a concept. Instead, it’s a scientific, commercially viable reality, and anyone 14 or older with $80 to spare can implant a timer on either wrist that literally counts down the minutes until their soulmate comes into view. The logic holes in this idea are predictably gargantuan: What if the other soulmate doesn’t have a TiMER? What if he/she dies? What if you meet someone else in the meantime? But here’s the cool thing about “TiMER:” In addition to trying its hand as a romantic comedy about a soon-to-be-30-year-old (Emma Caulfield as Oona) whose TiMER won’t start, it actually tries its hand at addressing some of these questions as well. Amazingly, by weaving the two objectives into one, it proves surprisingly capable on both fronts. “TiMER” lets the weird concept lead the way, which means it isn’t beholden to the same cliches that deflate so many other romantic comedies that have far less work cut out for them. At the same time, Oona and her sister (Michelle Borth) are funny, perfectly likable people with questions about romance that, impossible inventions aside, are as valid in our world as they are in theirs. Their attempts to reconcile this gap in logic spares us the need to do it for them, and it results in a smart, original and amusing addition to a dead-tired genre.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.

Hung: The Complete First Season (NR, 2009, HBO)
High school teacher Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) wasn’t exactly comfortable when all he had was a low-paying job, a divorce and two teenage kids (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee) to worry about, so you can imagine how unwelcome it was when a fire reduced his house to ash. “Hung’s” first episode contains the particulars, but the nutshell is that Ray has turned to male prostitution because (a) it pays and (b) it’s the only talent he can conjure that could turn his fortunes around. One look at “Hung’s” concept might inspire visions of a television series stretching itself around the suburban gigolo gimmick and running out of material to fuel it by episode four. But much like “Weeds” and “True Blood” aren’t really about drug dealers and vampires, “Hung” isn’t really about suburban prostitution. Ray’s new job obviously plays a central role, but the show is every bit as much about his suburban disillusionment, his ex-wife’s (Anne Heche) soulless second marriage, his kids’ adventures in adolescence, his makeshift madam’s (Jane Adams) lousy personal life, and the happenings of everyone else who gets tangled up in this story. The attention to detail paid to every character — even the bit ones who show up for an episode or two — is impressive, and “Hung’s” ability to touch nerves without losing its sense of humor, while predictable by the standards of cable’s best shows, is commendable nonetheless.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features and Ray and Tanya’s personal ads.
— Also available this week from HBO: “Entourage: The Complete Sixth Season” (NR, 2009): Includes 12 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features and a ONEXONE PSA directed by Matt Damon.

Youth in Revolt (R, 2009, Sony Pictures)
A need to escape some deadbeat behavior on behalf of mom’s newest live-in boyfriend has resulted in an impromptu not-quite family vacation for not-even-close-to-ladies man Nick Twisp (Michael Cera). The good news? It’s pushed him right into the view of Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), and the few days they spend together before parting has sent Nick out of his mind. Not figuratively, either: He’s created a suave alter-ego only he can see and whose orders he must follow to ensure he can wreak just enough rebellious havoc to bring Sheeni back to him. This all would be a horrible mess if “Youth in Revolt” was trying on any level whatsoever to sell this concept with a straight face. But judging by its need to explain how the alter ego can do all the things he does (it doesn’t) or which Michael Cera is saying what and who can hear what (it doesn’t), making it all make sense isn’t really a concern. And that’s just fine, because it’s all just an excuse to enjoy the classic comedy device of a gutless dweeb stepping outside his own limitations to amaze everybody. “Revolt” is a legitimately funny collage of strange characters doing nearly-random things for reasons that rarely justify what’s going on, and the sheer likability of so many purportedly unlikable people communicates its messages about taking chances and thinking with heart over head in ways more conventional movies couldn’t possibly achieve.
Extras: Cera/director commentary, deleted scenes, deleted/extended animation sequences (makes sense after you see the movie), audition footage.

Green Zone (R, 2010, Universal)
If you ever wanted to have a debate about whether movies are better off creating their own universes instead of loosely weaving fiction around true events, then “Green Zone,” which recites a dramatized account of all that went wrong in the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is as good a launching point as any. “Zone” tells the story from the perspective of mission leader and U.S. Army officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), and because history has already spoiled the turn this search took, it goes almost without saying that the real suspense comes from Miller’s crisis of confidence in his superiors than any question of whether his team will find anything. Damon and director Paul Greengrass have played on similar playgrounds before with the “Bourne” movies, and “Zone’s” action scenes and polished production take pages from that franchise’s playbook. But Jason Bourne was working with his own backstory and in his own world, while Miller, for all his merits, simply exists as a vessel for Greengrass’ thoughts on the war. The entire movie, in fact, operates from a certain point of view, using some characters (Amy Ryan) as pawns and painting others (Greg Kinnear) with simple strokes for the benefit of the argument. Even if you agree with Greengrass’ perspective, it’s still impossibly distracting, and it takes the air out of what, under other circumstances, would have been a perfectly great thriller.
Extras: Damon/Greengrass commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

The Maid (NR, 2009, Oscilloscope)
It stands to reason that a longtime live-in maid would grow attached to the couple who hired her and the children she helped raise. But Raquel’s (Catalina Saavedra) attachment to her employers has reached a complete other plane after 23 years of service, and when the family decides to bring in a second maid to give their prized employee a little breathing room, everything — from Raquel’s cripplingly awkward social composure to her alleged favoritism of some children over others to her antagonistic opposition to anyone encroaching on her territory — spills onto the floor. “The Maid” piggybacks on Raquel’s desperation and disposition to operate on a few different levels: Sometimes, particularly when the competition walks in, it’s a bone-dry comedy, while other times it’s an unflinching picture of a woman who has no idea what she’s doing despite having done the same thing repeatedly for so long. The whole presentation is a bit wobbly — repetitive at times, needlessly meandering other times — but it fits because the woman at the center of the whole thing does quite a bit of teetering herself. A film never hurts itself by serving its character instead of convention, and that’s something “The Maid,” despite not being the funniest comedy or the most cutting drama you’ll see this year or even this month, understands better than most. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, storyboards, director photo gallery.< /p>

The Last Station (R, 2009, Sony Pictures Classics)
If you saw that very popular YouTube video earlier this year that mocked all the storytelling motions Oscar-nominated movies go though to get that nomination, you might find yourself flashing back to it while watching “The Last Station.” “Station” is a dramatized account of the last days of cherished Russian author Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), and it hits every note — strong acting from a loaded cast, dedication (or at least presumed dedication) to authenticity, amusing exchanges that that make you like the characters early, sweeping scores and emotional exchanges to hit more powerful notes later — that award-worthy period pieces and biopics tend to hit. But “Station” also has a bit of a problem with focus. Part of the story is told with Tolstoy’s mindset and ideologies in mind, as if to be a story about a man spending his final days and shaping his legacy to fit his terms. But the story presents itself every bit as much from the perspectives of his wide-eyed assistant (James McAvoy) and the wife (Helen Mirren) who is fighting the prospect of loss and the threat of her husband giving their fortune away before he dies. Eventually, by being everyone’s movie, “Station” become no one’s movie, which allows the conflict over old writings and wealth seize control instead. That, in spite of all the talent and great little moments “Station” has, leaves the effort feeling a bit empty when it’s all over. Paul Giamatti also stars.
Extras: Plummer/Mirren commentary, director commentary, Plummer tribute, deleted scenes, outtakes.

Worth a Mention: Fans of Funny Animation Edition
— “Johnny Bravo: Season One” (NR, 1997, Cartoon Network Hall of Fame): Even if Cartoon Network’s new Hall of Fame DVD imprint is just a means for it to release its older catalog with a little more pre-installed fanfare than it might otherwise receive, all signs point to it being a very good thing anyway. “Johnny Bravo’s” first season is the first set out the door, with “Courage the Cowardly Dog” waiting on deck for a July release. Contents include all 13 episodes, plus commentary, a behind-the-scenes feature, pencil tests for two episodes and a Seth MacFarlane temp track.
— “Family Guy: Volume Eight” (NR, 2009, Fox): Speaking of MacFarlane, here’s another helping — in uncensored and extended form — of the show that made him famous. Includes 15 episodes (with commentary on most), plus deleted scenes, karaoke, one behind-the-scenes feature and a miniature, 44-page replica script for the “Road to the Multiverse” episode.
— “American Dad! Volume 5” (NR, 2009, Fox): Also speaking of MacFarlane, here’s more MacFarlane. Includes 14 uncensored episodes (commentary on all), plus deleted scenes, “The Power Hour” drinking game and trivia for the “Bar Mitzvah Hustle” episode.

Games 6/22/10: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, Toy Story 3, Wake up the Box!

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

It takes a special kind of thread to maneuver a needle as well-established (and, because it’s a professional golfing simulation, creatively handcuffed) as “Tiger Woods PGA Tour,” and it’s doubly difficult to please everybody in doing so. But in making changes that separately benefit those who want a more accessible golf experience and those who want a game that makes that first group cry, that’s precisely what “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11” does.

On the accessibility front, “TW11” introduces a slightly fantastical currency, called focus, that players can accrue by playing well and spend as they choose to add power to a shot, increase accuracy or (among other things) use a putt preview mechanic to help fine-tune a shot on the green. The focus interface’s subtle design respects the integrity of the simulation, and because it’s rewarded to players through skillful play and hands out benefits with entirely believable results, it’s satisfyingly authentic despite being an inarguably contrived video game mechanic.

The focus currency headlines a number of more subtle changes that let unseasoned players cater “TW11” to best address their shortcomings. The career mode once again distributes skill improvements as players advance their created golfers through the PGA Tour calendar, but now players can allot experience points to the areas — putting, driving, fading and so on — that most need the help. The optional tutorial lessons do a much better job of preaching the value of draws, lofts and shot types, and the analog stick controls (and meters for reading their accuracy) are responsive without, as they sometimes have in previous games, resorting to excess sensitivity.

On the complete other side of things is the new True Aim mode, which takes away all of “TW11’s” gamey assists and presents the entirety of the action, even post-shot, from the golfer’s point of view. Outside of a GPS device that helps players read the terrain and know the distance to the hole, the True Aim filter is akin to playing golf the way real golfers play it. It’s little more than a new camera angle and a disabling of certain viewing functions, but it arguably is “TW11’s” best addition for players who crave authenticity and want a new kind of challenge from the series.

Though the aforementioned tweaks might be the best thing about “TW11,” the addition of team play is the most prominent. The Ryder Cup, complete with captain duties and team management, joins the roster of playable championships, and “TW11’s” online team play supports up to six teams of four players each.

Traditional solo play (up to four players locally or online) returns, but now all players can shoot at their own pace online without watching everyone else take their turn. That welcome change heads the usual list of tiny enhancements, including some tweaks to the graphics and ball physics, more realistic green layouts, dynamic wind patterns that are prone to gusts, and a livelier GamerNet Challenges system, which allows players to challenge community shot records and accrue bonus experience points without ever leaving whatever mode they’re already playing.


Toy Story 3
Reviewed for: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii
Also available for: Windows PC, PSP and Nintendo DS
From: Avalanche Software/Disney Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief)

“Toy story 3” is what happens when inspired ideas fight a battle to the end with uninspired ideas while good and subpar execution duel similarly in the background.

Fortunately, if not easily, the good guys win more battles than they lose, and the game is significantly better than its five-car collision of ingredients would imply.

The struggle is apparent immediately, with “TS3” pushing players into the story’s first level — an on-horse Wild West chase level starring Woody as the playable character — before the main menu even pops up. The level is simple, straightforward fun, but it’s also hampered by an unpolished control responsiveness (in this case, some imprecise horse jumping controls) that infects other control schemes throughout the game. A very generous checkpoint system makes it easy to forgive the setbacks the controls cause, but not so much that they aren’t still annoying when they pop up in bunches.

Immediately following that first level, “TS3” drops players into an entirely different mode — the Toy Box — and it does so without adequately clarifying that players who wish to continue the story can do so without doing a single thing in this mode. But the confusion might be for the best, because it’s probably the most foolproof way to demonstrate to players that it’s this mode — and not the storyline, which feels more like a collection of self-contained vignettes than a coherent storyline — that really makes “TS3” better than just another kids’ movie game.

Toy Box is “TS3’s” answer to sandbox gameplay — a fully open world, teeming with citizens, “Toy Story” characters and a horde of missions to complete and virtual toys (characters, vehicles and full-blown playsets) to unlock.

The missions aren’t exactly ingenious, with most of them being either fetch quests or simple facsimiles of side quests found in other open-world games. But “TS3” designs them to be either quick or open-ended, making it easy for players to take on multiple objectives at a time while collecting more as they check some off the list. The variety of quests does plenty to compensate the lack of original mission design, and it only increases as players compile rewards and use them to purchase new toys — a horse here, a stunt car track there — that come with new mission types.

Those occasionally dodgy controls rear their head here as well — particularly with regard to the toy car controls, which are among the worst driving controls to be found anywhere in 2010. But “TS3’s” mission structure is so dense that when one quest is giving fits, there’s probably another one right behind it for players to work on before they go back and give the first one a shot. It’s a busybody’s paradise, it uses the “Toy Story” license very well, and it offers ambitious players a ton to do if they wish to turn the game inside out.

The story missions, by comparison, are less impressive, in part because there aren’t too many of them and they don’t tell much of a story. What they can do, though, is experiment with level designs the Toy Box’s open-world structure couldn’t properly accommodate. Not every experiment is a success, but enough of the missions do enough things right to make this a welcome addition to the game’s surprise main attraction.


Wake up the Box!
For: iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad (universal app)
From: Wandake
iTunes Store Rating: 4+

“Wake up the Box!” is an imperfect game in some pretty significant ways, but developer Wandake appears to have partially acknowledged that by rewarding those who get in on the ground floor. Like a handful of other physics-based puzzle games, “Box” gives players a set amount of pieces in each level and tasks them with arranging them to influence the laws physics and successfully complete the level. But unlike most of these games, the object in “Box” is to create a chain reaction that leads to havoc — specifically, waking the napping Mr. Box — instead of prevent it. Though “Box” gets the physics and piece controls perfectly right, it does a
poor job of explaining this objective, and a lack of instruction means you’ll have to decipher the game’s methods, interface and scoring system yourself. “Box’s” level count — 15 total, 10 of which are pretty easy to solve — is similarly lacking. But Wandake has promised lots of updates to come as “Box” evolves, and because the game is free for the time being, questions of value cease to exist for those who download it before the price increases. So get it now, get comfortable with it and get ready: Once “Box” reaches the 11th level, it assumes players have the basics down and are ready for some seriously tricky challenges, and future level additions are likely to tax the brain similarly once Wandake pushes them out the door.

Games 6/15/10: Green Day: Rock Band, Joe Danger

Green Day: Rock Band
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Harmonix/MTV Games/EA
ESRB Rating: Teen (drug reference, lyrics, mild blood)

Some would argue that “Rock Band’s” migration from honoring The Beatles last fall to honoring Green Day now is akin to Ken Burns following up his Civil War documentary with a 15-hour look at Wrestlemania. But that, like nearly everything else with regard to music, is entirely subjective.

Still, in case it somehow needs to be said, “Green Day: Rock Band” isn’t for anyone who doesn’t appreciate the musical stylings of Green Day enough to play the band’s songs ad nauseam. Just as “Beatles: Rock Band” featured nothing but The Beatles, this package contains nothing but Green Day songs, and while players can migrate the catalog into “Rock Band 2” (and eventually “Rock Band 3”) this time, this game itself allows nary a note from any other band. So if you don’t like Green Day, you know what not to do here.

What is a little cloudy is what to do if you do like the band.

In every expected way, “GD:RB” is as solid as everything that preceded it in the “Rock Band” line. It’s compatible with all the virtual instruments you already own. The note charts are terrific on both ends of the difficulty spectrum, making it easy for players of all disciplines to participate. The band’s real-life likenesses transform into in-game caricatures to terrific effect, and the recordings the game uses are top shelf as always. Developer Harmonix caters to solo players with a healthy career mode but offers just as much to those who want to play together online or in the same room. Support for three-singer and six-member bands, introduced in “Beatles,” returns here.

But “GD:RB” has the same annoying problem “Beatles” had: Its song count, at 47 deep, is only slightly more than half as large as what a mainline “Rock Band” release gets for the same $60 price.

The thin “Beatles” roster was accepted as a byproduct of the labyrinthine procedures needed to digitize The Beatles’ well-guarded catalog in the first place, and the game countered it by at least sampling songs from the entirety of the band’s career and complementing that with memorable venues and set pieces from each turning point in the timeline.

“GD:RB,” by contrast, ignores the first seven years of the band’s existence and focuses almost entirely on 1994’s “Dookie,” 2004’s “American Idiot” and 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown.” The three albums that released between “Dookie” and “Idiot” receive only eight songs’ worth of representation, while the band’s first two albums may as well not exist. The availability of only three venues feels similarly lacking, especially when the one venue even non-Green Day fans recognize — the mud-slathered Woodstock ’94 show — isn’t one of them.

Harmonix has stated it has no plans to squeeze fans for additional money by releasing more songs as downloadable content, so it doesn’t really matter whether the incomplete timeline is a result of label politics, licensing issues, band preferences or something else. What you see is what you’re getting, so budget accordingly: You know what “GD:RB” can do, you know what it can’t do, and you’ll have to decide if that adds up to $60 well spent until “Rock Band 3” touches down this fall.


Joe Danger
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Hello Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)
Price: $15

Last year’s “Trials HD” took “Excitebike’s” time-tested brand of 2D motorbiking and modernized it with physics, stunts and lots of clever new modes. The only problem? After a few reasonably challenging batches of tracks, it grew oppressively hard, obeying the harsh laws of physics to a spirit-crushing degree. That’s a problem “Joe Danger,” which adopts the same perspective and general controls, does not have. Like “Trials,” “Danger” prefers its tracks be stunt playgrounds instead of straightforward motorbike races. But “Danger” ventures a step further by playing almost like a platformer, challenging players to maneuver obstacles, rack up stunt scores and complete the same track different ways to fulfill completely disparate objectives. That adds up to a surprisingly filling single-player mode, and because “Danger” is equipped with a terrifically responsive control scheme that respects but doesn’t worship physics, it’s well-equipped to challenge players different ways without ever undermining its own fun. The vibrant, cartoony exterior perfectly complements the increasingly crazy tracks, a threadbare story does just enough to make Joe a thoroughly likable character, and players who want more can create their own tracks and trade them with other players whose PSN IDs they know. About the only thing that doesn’t impress is “Danger’s” multiplayer (local only, two players), which is limited to straightforward races. But the game’s persistent leaderboard support provides some consolation by letting players constantly challenge their PSN friends’ highest stunt scores on every track.

DVD 6/15/10: Mary and Max, The Book of Eli, Collapse, Adopted, Alphonso Bow, Control Alt Delete

Mary and Max (NR, 2009, IFC Films)
There probably is no way to talk about “Mary & Max” without immediately mentioning the thoroughly awesome display of claymation animation it puts on from start to finish. If ever there was doubt the medium had legs in a world overrun by computer animation, then “Max,” which dotes on the kind of unflattering details and muted color palettes most computer-animated films wouldn’t even flirt with, settles it. But for all the amazing things “Max’s” visual exterior does, it’s merely following the lead taken by the script, which tells the story of what happens when a friendless girl in Australia becomes pen pals with a socially disastrous old man in New York. “Max” is a sweet look at what makes friendships like these just as potentially valuable as the more traditional varieties, but it’s just as much a darkly funny (and sometimes just plain dark) look at misfortune, the harshness of strangers and how people living amongst so many other people still can find themselves hopelessly alone. “Max’s” story regularly meanders as both characters narrate their letters and a narrator provides the go-between moments. But while Mary’s and Max’s situations remain in flux, 92 minutes of meticulously-chosen words ensure their shared story stays on point, and it’s kind of staggering how far that story goes in that time. For all it would appear to lack by way of contemporary effects and bombast, “Max” is as much an epic as any other film that’s chased that title this year. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Barry Humphries and Eric Bana lend their voices.
Extras: Director commentary, short film “Harvie Krumpet,” two behind-the-scenes features, alternate scenes, casting call footage.

The Book of Eli (R, 2010, Warner Bros.)
The setting of “The Book of Eli” follows the post-apocalyptic wasteland template so faithfully that it doesn’t even merit explanation. But the item at the center of all that copying and pasting — a King James Bible, tucked under the arm of a traveling loner (Denzel Washington as Eli) and believed to possess enough spiritual power that another man (Gary Oldman) has sent an army of raiders to find it by any means necessary — gives “Eli” just enough intrigue to elevate its first half beyond the realm of complete also-ran banality. “Eli” pads itself in hopes of providing the manhunt with the substance and gravity it needs to engage early and pay off later, and the overwhelming result is a mix of good scenes that undermine themselves with all that borrowed imagery and not-so-good scenes that simply feel like remixed reincarnations of stuff we already saw. So it’s no small feat when “Eli” caps that uninspired run-up with an inspired ending that both invalidates so much of what preceded it and makes large chunks of it worth re-watching — and much more enjoyable — under closer study the second time around. It’s hard to recommend a movie that really only gets great at the very end, especially when truly enjoying it might entail revisiting the stuff that wasn’t so hot the first time around. But given how ordinary “Eli” initially appears, a comeback like that is a pretty commendable achievement. Mila Kunis also stars.
Extras: Animated short “A Lost Tale,” deleted scenes.

Collapse (NR, 2009, FilmBuff/MPI)
Alarmist documentaries about the pending downfall of our civilization are common enough to largely achieve the exact opposite of their intended impact, so it’s a shame that the one that’s actually worth seeing is bound to go ignored because it has the most alarmist name of all. “Collapse” isn’t even really about societal collapse so much as a period of harsh transition, and the film — which is little more than a feature-length interview with former cop and reporter Michael Rupport — isn’t so much a discussion of pending disaster as a look at the mess that’s already in progress. Rupport predicted the 2008 economic collapse years before it happened, he has the paper and video trail to back it up, and he does an enviable job here of breaking that and so much more down into plain-spoken English and the kind of mathematical cause and effect we all learned in elementary school. The sum of his words, which bounce between empirical and personal and interweave powerfully by film’s end, feels more like a mental toolkit for this shift, already in progress, than some proclamation to run for the hills. Rupport has some unsettling observations about what happens when populations, supplies and certain currencies peak out, but “Collapse” ultimately feels more empowering — maybe even personally liberating — than scary when he lays it all out. How’s that for different, and how unfortunate does that name look now?
Extras: Post-film update, deleted scenes.

Adopted (R, 2009, Phase 4 Films)
Genuine human discomfort caught on camera can be funny, and if you haven’t known that forever, you might have learned it by watching “Borat.” Pauley Shore appears to be in pursuit of the same comedic end in “Adopted,” a mockumentary in which he ventures to Africa and auditions a few kids to be his adopted child and, more importantly, give him a status symbol normally reserved for the likes of Madonna and Angelina. But a strange and arguably fortuitous thing happens en route to Shore making everyone around him uncomfortable: He appears to rattle himself as well. Nothing about Shore’s premise is factual, and it isn’t always clear who is playing along and who the marks are. There also are a few instances where Shore goes for shock and — particularly during a painful bout of attempted standup comedy — misses on every level. But in spite of everything and regardless of how much coaching the kids got, they’re pretty clearly having a ball. Their enthusiasm gives them license to steal the movie, but it also seems to give Shore an onscreen complex about the message he might wish to send through this experience. Even when “Adopted” doesn’t elicit laughs, it exceeds expectations on other levels, and a disclaimer near the credits makes it pretty clear that, whether it began there or creeped up there during filming, the subject matter is closer to Shore’s heart than the premise first implied.
Extras: Deleted scenes.

Alphonso Bow (NR, 2010, Nut Bucket Films)
“Alphonso Bow” is almost entirely a movie about two friends (Jeffrey Pierce as Alphonso, Michael Dempsey as Frank) talking over lunch in a diner. If that sounds like pretentious art film country, here’s the good news: It isn’t. “Bow” has a sense of humor, both in general and about itself, and while the references the two friends make to “Waiting for Godot” and “My Dinner With Andre” aren’t exactly subtle, they at least make it clear where this one’s head is at. More debatable is whether the conclusion of the conversation also is a wink through the fourth wall. “Bow’s” winding conversation, which dances with everything from women to religion to aliens to Franks’ playwright dreams, is more than lively enough to carry a film. But part of its energy comes from the Pierce’s delivery, which plays like a cross between a George W. Bush impersonator and a used-car salesman, and by film’s end, it has become a bit much. When Frank finally applies the brakes to the conversation, it’s hard not to wonder if it isn’t a means to “Bow’s” end so much as a tacit acknowledgement of that worn-out welcome. Content of extras unavailable at press time.

Control Alt Delete (R, 2008, E1 Entertainment)
“Control Alt Delete” literally takes place in a time gone by — specifically, during the run-up to Y2K, where harried programmers like Lewis (Tyler Labine) are scrambling to prevent the pending techpocalypse while also dealing with timeless office politics as usual. But “Delete” also figuratively takes place in another era — a time when scriptwriters all waltzed down the same tired road
to make the same tired observations about computers, programmers, the Internet and all that culture entailed before it ensnared the mainstream. The good news is that cheap computer jokes aren’t really the point of “Delete,” which is more about Lewis’ disastrous dating acumen and a literal lust for computers that sends any hope of reversing his fortune hurtling toward the abyss. (Use your imagination.) The bad news is that “Delete” trips over itself in this realm as well. Lewis is too strange to be likeable, his co-workers mostly are half-sketched cartoon characters, and when the script doesn’t look and sound older than the technology on display, it’s repeatedly damaged by awkward interactions, scribbled-on-a-napkin dialogue and a central repeating bit that’s humorously wince-worthy the first time but just gets creepy — and not in any good way at all — each time thereafter.
Extras: Interviews.

Games 6/8/10: Blur, Backbreaker, Planet Minigolf

Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Bizarre Creations/Activision
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (lyrics, mild language)

Bizarre Creations has attempted to make it perfectly clear that while “Blur” uses vehicle and track designs typically reserved for the likes of “Burnout” and “Need for Speed,” the game it’s really targeting is “Mario Kart.”

Looks and a few other particulars aside, the comparison isn’t a stretch — for reasons good and bad.

While “Blur” doesn’t completely nullify the value of able and dangerous driving — the cars handle almost identically to those in Bizarre’s more serious “Project Gotham” racing games — the real key to victory comes from sabotaging the opposition with power-ups scattered around the track. The use of real-world graphics trickles down slightly to these power-ups, but while they don’t look as fantastical as “Kart’s” mushrooms and turtle shells, their general behavior certainly calls that game to mind. “Blur,” to its credit, introduces some nice improvements to the system by mixing in defensive items, including a shield, and by letting players go after the items they specifically want instead of picking up unmarked boxes and hoping what they want is inside.

The heavy premium on power-ups in what otherwise feels like another “Project Gotham” game certainly makes for a novel change of pace, but the degree to which “Blur” deemphasizes the importance of driving well is kind of disappointing. Ramming and sideswiping cars is practically worthless, and while there are occasional rewards for agile driving, most of the advancement through the game comes from pelting other drivers with items and zipping past them while they recover. Some of “Blur’s” constricting track designs practically mandate dull, safe driving, especially early on when the only vehicles available to drive are Class D cars that handle like tugboats.

Frustration with these and other factors, including some unfortunate difficulty imbalances (the game’s too easy on the easy setting, but gets ruthlessly, cheaply difficult on normal difficulty and beyond) and a long wait before the cars that are really fun to drive become available, makes “Blur’s” single-player component something not everyone will love. Bizarre has designed a inventive career mode that functions like a role-playing game and allows players some measure of forward progress toward unlocking better cars even when they finish dead last in an event. But while that setup gives the mode some serious longevity, it also feels designed to make players grind away by losing the same events repeatedly until they have the experience and cars necessary to win it. That this can lead to frustrating stagnation is both obvious and an understatement.

Fortunately, “Blur” has a similar system in place for online multiplayer (20 players), and it carries all the benefits of the single-player mode without the aggravations the A.I. brings to that table. The game matches players against others in their experience class, and because the playing field is completely level and factors beyond player control have no say on the outcome of the race, it’s a significantly better realization of what Bizarre envisioned when it first conceived this idea. Kart racing has always been a genre that shines brightest in multiplayer, and “Blur” gets major points for recognizing that and giving that crowd just as much to strive for as those driving solo.


For: Playstation 3 and xbox 360
From: NaturalMotion Games/505 Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone

The problem with “Backbreaker” — and there probably couldn’t be a worse problem for a football game to have than this — is that its diversionary modes are better than its presentation of a complete game of football.

The promise of “Backbreaker” — which champions a game of football based around a dramatically more intense physics engine than what “Madden” uses — is everywhere in the optional but recommended tutorial portion. The mode introduces the controls and physics via 25 lessons, covering everything from open-field tackling to the art of the interception, and it doubles as a validation of the concepts NaturalMotion has introduced to make this a step in a new direction for football games.

“Backbreaker” treats the two control sticks as extensions of a player’s body — the left stick controls the feet per usual, the right stick good for juking, hitting, passing, swimming around blocks and so on — and it presents the action from closely behind whichever player you’re controlling instead of from fixed angles a la “Madden.” You can switch between players at will, but “Backbreaker” encourages picking a player during the play-calling screen and sticking to him throughout the play. The camera unwieldiness that happens when switching mid-play certainly validates that approach.

The zoomed-in camera angles work well during the tutorials, which operate within controlled parameters. They also work in the terrific Tackle Alley mini-game, which finds players running through a gauntlet of would-be tacklers and racking up arcadey scores by dodging defenders and reaching the end zone.

But “Backbreaker” tumbles hard when placed in real, 11-on-11 game situations. The camera zooms too far in for players to have any field presence in unscripted situations, and while we get a nice look at the cool tackling physics, it’s too difficult to find open lanes while running, check multiple receivers while passing, or do just about anything near the line on either side of the ball. It’s sometimes preferable to just break the system: Lining a defensive end on the opposite side of the play makes it far easier to sack, for instance, while running the ball east and then north makes for much larger gains than following the block.

Which leads to the other problem: “Backbreaker’s” A.I. is both too easy to exploit and excessively prone to undermining the fun. Quarterbacks randomly throw directly to defensive backs nowhere near the route, and your teammates go on spurts of committing the same penalty multiple times. Turnovers are way too commonplace, and the afflictions affect human and A.I. teams alike on all difficulty settings.

“Backbreaker’s” dead-simple playbook isn’t bad news for players overwhelmed by the sea of formations and plays in “Madden,” and the absence of the NFL license doesn’t necessarily sting thanks to a customization tool that lets players extensively edit the name, look and roster of 32 teams. (Players can’t share created teams online, but even if they could, the lawyers that be likely wouldn’t allow the sharing of user-created NFL teams anyway.)

But the features and arguably refreshing simplicity are for naught until “Backbreaker” figures out how to get the main course right. First effort or not, too much goes wrong here to recommend this, novelty factor or not, as a serious alternative to “Madden’s” brand of football.


Planet Minigolf
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Zen Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, mild suggestive themes)
Price: $10

The good thing about “Planet Minigolf” is that its biggest problem is potentially treatable with a patch. The bad thing, unfortunately, is that if that never happens, that problem — control — rates pretty high on the list of issues not to have. On every other front, “Minigolf” is an extraordinary package for $10. The 16 nine-hole courses, which disperse over four different environmental theme
s, look great and offer a healthy mix of surprises and homages to classic minigolf traps, and a surprisingly rich course editor allows players to create their own courses and share them online. There’s a single-player campaign as well as online/local multiplayer (up to six players), and players can customize their character’s look for both components. “Minigolf” even supports three-on-three team play, and the truly patriotic can represent their country and contribute their scores to an inspired multinational leaderboard. So it’s too bad about those controls: The default analog stick scheme is way too touchy to feel natural, and the button-centric alternate controls (in addition to being entirely too easy to miss completely in the menus) suffer the same problem to a smaller degree. Practice makes that touchiness easier to anticipate, and the present settings are nowhere near unreasonable enough to completely derail the experience. But “Minigolf” will need some developer fine-tuning before it feels as effortlessly intuitive as the PS3’s best traditional golf games presently do.

DVD 6/8/10: Shutter Island, Curb Your Enthusiasm S7, From Paris with Love, Power Kids, Oceans, Ghostwriter S1, Jim Henson's Dog City, Sing-Along Travel Kit: The Wheels on the Bus, The A-Team Complete Series, Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories

Shutter Island (R, 2010, Paramount)
Sometimes, the best special feature a DVD offers is the capacity to pause the film. That arguably holds true on multiple levels for “Shutter Island,” which finds U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) hiding an ulterior motive and suppressing personal demons while investigating a missing persons case in an ocean-locked hospital for the criminally insane. The details of Teddy’s motive, as well as the return favor the hospital has for him, are best left unspoiled, but the net result transforms “Island” from a slightly interesting mystery into a genuinely unnerving horror story about the state of Teddy’s mind. “Island” dresses its central mystery inside piles of imagery that may or may not be real, and occasionally and unfortunately, it complements that imagery with needlessly ham-handed music and the repetition of devices that don’t always need return visits. That makes “Island,” at 137 minutes long, at least 20 minutes longer and several pounds heavier than it needed to be, and it gives way to moments where the film is looking busy accomplishing nothing. But “Island” possesses an equal tendency to catch viewers sleeping and sneak in the occasional foreshadowing verbal exchange or visual cue that eventually pays out to those watching closely. So keep that pause button handy: You might crave a timeout from the heaviness, but you also might find yourself needing to look twice at the innocuous details that come back around during a last-act reveal that’s both open to interpretation and very darkly satisfying. No extras except on the Blu-ray version, which has two behind-the-scenes features.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Seventh Season (NR, 2009, HBO)
A lot of people got back to talking about “Curb Your Enthusiasm” again once word got out that it, and not some disastrous NBC cash grab special, would be the home of the “Seinfeld” cast reunion. Sure enough, the foursome find their way back to Jerry’s old apartment. But because we’re in Larry David’s universe instead of Jerry Seinfeld’s, we’re treated to a thoroughly entertaining show about the show, starring the “Seinfeld” cast as the cast rather than the characters, and the multi-episode sendup of bad reunion specials is so much more appropriate for this crowd than the real thing would have been. Also good news: The rest of the season, which — despite never wavering from its relentless theme of Larry being the world’s most accomplished bridge arsonist — finds “Curb” as sharply observant and freshly funny as it’s ever been. The “Seinfeld” reunion starts in episode three and casually plays out alongside the rest of the season, and opportunities abound for David and individual “Seinfeld” cast members to play off each other in scenes that have nothing to do with the reunion and don’t need any novelty whatsoever to work. The restraint needed to regularly step completely away from the reunion storyline is impressive, and while the reunion arc is perfectly conceived, many of the season’s best moments have nothing to do with it.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus four behind-the-scenes segments (all related to the “Seinfeld” storyline).

From Paris with Love (R, 2010, Lions Gate)
Say, did you like “Training Day?” And did you like it enough that a hokier, logically questionable take on it sounds like something you’d enjoy? If so, it’s probably in your best interest to check out “From Paris with Love,” which finds a fresh-faced undercover CIA agent James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) teamed up with grizzled wackjob loose cannon Charlie Wax (John Travolta) for an assignment whose details remain somewhat cloudy to him. “Love” feels slightly like a cartoon from the moment Travolta walks on, and by the time the film’s big twist sends it tumbling toward a completely strange ending, it feels like a smart thriller for stupid people. But is that such a bad thing? “Love’s” action doesn’t disappoint, Travolta’s bananas performance makes for one outrageously fun character, and while the storyline swims in some stupid waters, it isn’t due to cringeworthy dialogue or lifeless storytelling. “Love’s” ultimate destination has some gaping plot holes and a weird case of detachment on one character’s part, but the journey that gets us there is pretty fun. In this realm, that’s better than the other way around.
Extras: Director commentary, three behind-the-scenes features.

Power Kids (R, 2010, Magnet/Magnolia)
Wun (Nantawooti Boonrapsap) is a normal little kid except for two things: He lives and trains (along with his older brother and several other kids) at a Muay Thai academy, and his heart is failing him. The good news? A nearby hospital has a new heart for him. The bad news? The same hospital is under siege by terrorists, and if the kids can’t rescue the heart quickly, Wun won’t survive. So yes, this is a movie about young, ragtag martial artists taking on armed and dangerous adults. And yes, movies like that tend to reduce the adults to complete imbeciles while the kids say such unbelievably, cutesily obnoxious things that you still feel tempted to root for the bad guys. But “Power Kids” goes the complete other way. The criminals are credibly nasty, the kids genuinely likable, the action legitimately great. And while the dialogue (to say nothing of the super cheesy English dub) isn’t exactly great, the story is a terrific mix of excitement, comedy, sweetness, darkness and, particularly during the final act, legitimate surprise. The tale of the tape is no less absurd, but “Kids” at least makes it fun to play along and let the imagination take over. In Thai with English subtitles, but the aforementioned English dub is available as well.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Oceans (NR, 2008, BBC Earth)
Give BBC Earth points off for releasing the comparatively ordinary “Oceans” a scant week after releasing “Life,” which very likely will stand alone as the best nature DVD release we see all year. “Oceans,” by contrast, isn’t eight hours of impossibly high-definition footage of sea creatures all alone in their element. To the contrary, its arguable primary subject is people — specifically, an expedition that includes divers, a biologist, a maritime archeologist and the grandson of Jacques Cousteau. But that arrangement is to the series’ benefit rather than detriment. “Life” already covers one terrain rather magnificently on its own, and by incorporating a heavy human element, “Oceans” lets its people tell stories, from their own firsthand perspective, that “Life’s” footage and narrator can’t feasibly tackle. The only place “Oceans” feels like “Life” is in the best way it can: At eight hours long, it’s nothing if not comprehensive, and by electing to tell the stories it wants to tell instead of conforming to needless structures and themes, it doesn’t let those minutes go to waste.
Contents: Eight episodes, no extras.

Ghostwriter: Season One (NR, 1992, Shout Factory)
Age hasn’t been terribly kind to “Ghostwriter,” a PBS cult classic that had young teenager Jamal (Sheldon Turnipseed) and his friends communicating with a ghost whose writings they could see but their parents and other adults could not. The show’s special effects already looked creaky when they originally aired in 1992, the kids can’t really act, and all that was annoying about fashion in the early 1990s is on full, low-definition display here. But “Ghostwriter” wasn’t made for obnoxious DVD reviewers when it first aired, and beyond those who grab this for nostalgic purposes (a point helped along by Shout Factory’s typical attention to fan service packaging), it still isn’t for adults. And where it really counts — in the realm of educational entertainment — “Ghostwriter” still has it. The cases that play out over multiple episodes are clever, opportunities abound for viewers to pla
y along and solve the riddles, and the slowly-unfolding mystery of the ghost’s identity might, 18 years on, satisfy a new generation of kids more than the “Lost” finale satiated their parents. (Of course, that mystery is to be continued in season two.)
Contents: 34 episodes, plus a 12-page liner notes booklet that doubles as a casebook for note-taking.

Worth a Mention
— “Jim Henson’s Dog City: The Movie” (NR, 1989, Lions Gate): The Emmy Award-winning movie, which combined gangsters, film noir and dog puppets at long last, finally gets the DVD treatment as part of Lions Gate’s entirely welcome dive into the vault of Henson’s lesser-known but no less stellar projects. Extras include concept art and behind-the-scenes galleries.
— “Sing-Along Travel Kit: The Wheels on the Bus” (NR, 2010, Scholastic Storybook Treasures): If putting a DVD on for the kids in the back seat and having them stare at a screen like zombies while the great outdoors passes them by isn’t quite your thing, this set, which includes sing-along versions of the titular story and 14 other short stories, might make for a more active compromise. The kit also includes a standalone soundtrack CD, 34-page activity book, some crayons and a few travel tips for adults.
— “The A-Team: The Complete Series” (NR, 1983, Universal): Obviously, this is a cynical ploy by Universal to further cash in on the big-screen “A-Team” reboot that itself appears primed to cash in on fans’ memories of the show. On the other hand: How awesome does this thing, which comes housed in a box that looks like the A-Team van, look? Includes all 97 episodes on 25 discs, plus a retrospective and an interview with series creator Stephen J. Cannell.
— “Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories” (NR, 1938-48, Universal): Includes six Hope movies: “Thanks for the Memory,” “The Cat and the Canary,” “The Ghost Breakers,” “Nothing But the Truth,” “Road to Morocco” and “The Paleface.” Extras include footage of live Hope performances, sing-alongs, a retrospective and photo galleries.

Games 6/1/10: ModNation Racers, Red Dead Redemption, Looksley's Line Up

ModNation Racers
Reviewed for: Playstation 3
Also available for: PSP
From: San Diego Studio/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence, comic mischief)

“ModNation Racers” successfully reinvigorates the cobwebbed kart racing genre by allowing players to design and share fully customized drivers, karts and tracks with enormous ease and boundless creative license, and the interfaces through which it does this are brilliantly conceived.

How remarkable, then, that even without any of those tools, this still would signify a badly-needed leap forward.

Credit for that goes to “MNR’s” actual racing action, which, even against A.I. opponents, is often as exhilarating as its creation and community tools. The sense of speed and danger is leagues beyond anything seen in recent “Mario Kart” games, and there’s more for players to do than hold down the gas, look for shortcuts, dispatch power-ups and hope no one cheats them out of a lead when they finally take one.

Drifting, catching air and drafting all build turbo, which players can apply to speed boosts. But the turbo also works as currency for a fantastic sideswipe maneuver, which lets players drive offensively without waiting for a power-up, as well as a forcefield that allows frontrunners to fend off power-up attacks instead of simply drive scared like sitting ducks. Timing a perfect forcefield defense isn’t easy at all, but the ability to even do so at least puts players’ fates in their own hands for a change. (Take notes, Nintendo.)

All of these ideas gel thanks to a control scheme that just feels great. Driving dangerously and racking up huge drifts is fun without being punishing if you mess up, and perfecting the timing and distance needed for a perfect attack on another driver is satisfying not only because of how fluid the controls are, but also because of how great everything looks when a strike hits its target.

For those who pick up “Racers” with no desire to play with others, the selection of on-disc tracks is nicely varied and the default difficulty a strong balance of accessible and tough. The career mode tells an actual story, and the cutscenes between races are funny and surprisingly polished.

But to play “MNR” this way is to completely miss the point of its community and creation tools, which, outside of some unfortunately long load times, mesh together under one staggeringly slick umbrella.

“MNR’s” driver and kart creation interfaces should feel familiar to anyone who has created a customized character or vehicle in another game. Both are easy to use, and while playing through the game unlocks more useable parts, the extreme flexibility of the sizing, placement and coloring tools makes the default selection feel nearly limitless as is.

The track editor, somewhat shockingly, is just as simple to use. Terrain tools allow players to model the environment like clay, and laying track is as simple as driving a track-laying-vehicle around an blank canvas. Ambitious players can overlap track and add numerous props to the area however they please, but “MNR” also provides auto-complete and auto-populate shortcuts for those who want to do something quick and dirty.

All of these creations come together in a supremely slick virtual online world that allows players, driving around in their karts as if in an MMO, to mingle with other players, download other players’ creations, and challenge anyone in the area to races on the fly. Even those who had no intention ever to race online might change their mind once they see how fantastically accessible doing so is here.


Red Dead Redemption
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Rockstar San Diego
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)

The problem with most video game westerns is that you don’t need to appreciate the Old West to appreciate them. They’re typically designed in the mold of other games, subbing in Old West iconography but otherwise bearing little distinction from so many other shooters covering completely different periods.

“Red Dead Redemption” doesn’t have this problem, because while many of its underpinnings are unmistakably lifted from Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto” games, the degree to which Rockstar caters those parts to the setting — instead of the usual other way around — gives it more Wild West conviction than the sum of almost every virtual western that preceded it.

The level of conviction isn’t fully apparent until the storyline is a few hours old, but “Redemption” hints at it almost as soon as the tutorial missions end and players are free to explore the world on their terms.

At first, it’s a little disconcerting. New Austin’s vast wilderness sits in striking contrast to Liberty City’s bustling streets, but it’s no smaller a landscape, and there appears to be less to do between towns. Despite some clever control touches, riding horses naturally is slower and more laborious than driving cars, and the overly simple early missions provide little solace when players retreat back to the storyline for excitement.

But “Redemption” gradually brings its world alive. Characters met early on come together for significantly more exciting (and challenging) missions, and as players’ renown increases, so does the variety of activities in town (poker, duels, horseshoes, bounties and more) and on the frontier (herding challenges, persistent missions for strangers, even some light agriculture appreciation).

Perhaps most impressive is “Redemption’s” attention to detail with regard to wildlife. The horses display personalities and credible mannerisms. Coyotes and wolves attack at night, and bears are to be feared just as skunks, deer and birds scurry at any sign of trouble. (Sidebar: “Redemption’s” audiovisual presentation of weather patterns and day/night cycles is magnificent.) The game offers challenges to players who wish to hunt for profit, but they’re entirely optional if you’d rather just observe and save the bullets for the bandits.

Per Rockstar tradition, “Redemption” allows players to be as good or evil as they please, and the systems in place for outrunning the law make it tempting to be the bad guy.

But “Redemption’s” central storyline — which puts players in the shoes of a reformed scoundrel-turned-devoted husband whose only desire is to protect his family — makes it equally difficult not to want to fly right. All the things that made “Grand Theft Auto 4’s” story so good — strong characters, terrific voice acting, meticulous dialogue and a true sense of setting — are present here as well, and “Redemption’s” leading protagonist is easily the most likable Rockstar creation yet.

Players with a morality complex might prefer to just flash their evil side online. “Redemption” includes a couple traditional competitive multiplayer modes, but its best asset is Free Roam mode, which drops up to 16 players inside a world full of A.I. characters and allows anything to go. Players can level up and unlock new gear by teaming up and completing co-op challenges scattered around the map, but they just as easily can turn on each other or wreak random havoc against the A.I. It’s your Old West playground, and Rockstar cares not what you do in it.


Looksley’s Line Up
For: Nintendo DSi via Nintendo DSiWare Shop
From: Good-Feel Co./Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $5

after Nintendo announced the Nintendo 3DS earlier this year, Youtube users mistook a video of “Looksley’s Line Up” as a sample of what games would look like on the futuristic forthcoming handheld. They were wrong, of course, but if that isn’t a testament to how cool “LLU” is when it’s working, nothing is. The object of “LLU” is pretty simple: Find hidden letters and objects in the environment. But rather than be just another mindless object finder, “LLU” presents its levels as virtual, layered 3D dioramas. The game tracks the player’s head movements with the DSi’s front-facing camera, and players, holding the device like a book, must move their head or the device around to line up scenery different ways to make those objects and letters appear. As might be expected when using a very low-definition camera, “LLU” can be a finicky game, and while setting up the head tracking is painless, there will be times when you’ll have to recalibrate due to changes in lighting or just because the camera won’t cooperate. But that’s the price of innovation, and it’s a price well-paid when “LLU” works. Altering the environmental perspective with just a twitch of the head is extremely cool, and the normally mundane endeavor of finding objects feels fresh and rewarding with the extra element of deciphering optical illusions thrown into the mix.

DVD 6/1/10: Life, New York Street Games, My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story, American Pickers S1, Alice in Wonderland, The Eastwood Factor, new Clint Eastwood sets, Elvis 75th Birthday Collection, MLB Bloopers, Aqua Teen Hunger Force 7

Life (NR, 2009, BBC Earth)
The title of “Life” — an 11-episode look at, yes, life — would suggest a series with delusions of being the end-all, be-all, definitively definitive look at the world’s staggering collection of species in their respective habitats. In reality, though, the title simply grants “Life” license to shift between vignettes without necessarily bowing to any sort of obligatory pattern. One minute might bring an incredible look at the bouncing pebble toad’s amazing survival trick, while the next might provide insight into the social mores of hippos (and what happens when an outcast violates them). If the randomness sounds like a bad thing, it’s not: The massive length of “Life, which was filmed worldwide over a period of more than eight years, affords it a treasure chest of stories to tell and footage to show, and the loose structure values variety and unpredictability over order for order’s sake. It also allows “Life” to tell the stories it wants to tell and do so at paces that best suit each segment. That, in turn, allows the series to let its incontrovertible selling point — eight-plus hours of see-it-to-believe-it footage of all manner of species completely in their element — to shine as brightly as it can. High-definition technology brings “Life’s” creatures home in staggering detail, but no amount of gadgetry would amount to anything if the people handling those cameras weren’t as incredibly skilled (and, most likely, angelically patient) as they so clearly are here.
Contents: 11 episodes, plus deleted scenes, making-of video diaries and an optional audio track that removes the narrator but keeps the music.

New York Street Games (NR, 2010, NY Street Games Productions)
We’ve all heard the bemoaning by adults who reminisce about childhoods spent outdoors instead of in front of televisions and computers. Cynically, that would appear to be the point of “New York Street Games,” which rounds up celebrities (Ray Romano, Whoopi Goldberg, Keith David, Regis Philbin, C. Everett Koop and more) and street game aficionados to reflect on days spent in the street with nothing but other kids, a Spaldeen ball and their imaginations to make time fly. Happily, though, it isn’t. Instead, our subjects delve into giddy detail while describing the wild rules and customs of such creations as stoopball, ringoleavio, and punchball, and the only thing more convincing than their genuine love of those games is the sense of community that permeates throughout these otherwise disconnected interviews. The spirit of the games — be it the ingenuity that conceived them, the inclusive nature that turned city blocks into neighborhoods, or the inspiring efforts to reintroduce them to today’s kids — is completely infectious. By the time some of the subjects turn to handwringing, no explanation is necessary for their angst to resonate. “Games” is heavier on interviews than action, and the film is likely to resonate with parents more than kids. But in an inspired touch, the DVD includes a 26-page illustrated booklet that details every game’s rules. Get a ball, find some blacktop, and what’s old is new and exciting again.
Extra: The aforementioned rulebook.

My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story (NR, 2009, Docurama)
Sometimes, a movie’s title demands an explanation. And sometimes, as with “My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story,” the title says so much about the movie that even reviewing it seems kind of stupid. “Dog” collects some famous (Glenn Close, Edie Falco, Richard Gere) and not-so-famous (but often more illuminating) people together to share stories about what their dogs mean to them, and the result is as evenhanded as a kindergartener’s review of a candy store. For dog lovers, though, this is a preaching to the choir of the best kind. “Dog” isn’t an educational documentary so much as a virtual gathering with friends you didn’t know you had who love their dogs as much as anyone moved to watch this probably does, and while we’ve been conditioned to suspect the true colors of celebrities when cameras are rolling, those suspicions just don’t fly here. The only knock is that, at 50 minutes long, “Dog” ends too quickly, but the additional 17 minutes of entirely worthwhile deleted scenes help mitigate that somewhat.
Extras: Deleted scenes/interviews, filmmaker bios.

American Pickers: The Complete Season One (NR, 2010, History)
Be jealous, shopaholics and collectors: Not only have Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz found a way to spend their days traveling the country and buying stuff most didn’t even know was for sale, but they make a pretty cool living by occasionally turning that stuff around for pretty amazing profit. Mike and Frank are pickers, and “American Pickers” rolls camera as they visit garages, sheds and storerooms full of antiques and novelties most would consider trash and that their owners have long treated as such. “Pickers” works as a television show because the stuff the guys find often is ridiculous, and it works as a History Channel show because of the stories and historical connotations many of the items have. But it works as entertainment because Mike and Frank have exactly the kind of charisma one needs to knock on complete strangers’ doors, ask to go through their stuff, and successfully haggle with them before hitting the road with a truckload of their possessions. They love their profession, they’re fun to watch as result, and the folks they meet in the process — many of whose stories “Pickers” shares alongside those of our pickers — are pretty fascinating as well. The show occasionally raises an eyebrow when segments show what feels like lowballing of regular folks who may not understand the value their stuff potentially has, but the pickers don’t hide behind pretense and the stuff likely would stay indefinitely buried otherwise, so it’s a fleeting grievance.
Contents: 12 episodes, no extras.

Alice in Wonderland (PG, 2010, Disney)
It was a mere matter of time before someone with lots of money brought “Alice in Wonderland” back to the big screen as the adult-oriented fever dream so many have interpreted Lewis Carroll’s book as being. It probably also was a matter of time before that someone was Tim Burton. And therein lies the problem not only with the movie, but also its director: It’s all just a little too predictable. Millions upon zillions of dollars’ worth of special effects technology have made the new “Wonderland” some kind of visual spectacle, and it’s hard to argue with pitting Johnny Depp (as the Mad Hatter) against Helena Bonham Carter (as the Red Queen) one more time. But beyond the amazing visuals and talents and energies of some reliably great performers, little about “Wonderland” rises beyond being exactly what one expects it to be. At worst, when it beats viewers atop the head with its adult leanings or goes through the motions for special effects’ sake — obligations that contradict each other when the film decides late that it wants to be all things to everyone — “Wonderland” feels pretty soulless. That’s problem the comparatively saccharine animated film, to say nothing of the technologically-deficient book, never had. Mia Wasikowska (as Alice), Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover and Matt Lucas, among others, also star.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.

The Eastwood Factor: Extended Version (NR, 2010, Warner Bros.)
It’s hard to ignore the slightly self-back-patting tone of “The Eastwood Factor,” which chronicles Clint Eastwood’s astounding resume (35 films in as many years) at Warner Bros. Studios. Morgan Freeman — who has collaborated with Eastwood on a number of films and who most recently was as responsible as anyone for bringing his latest directorial project, “Invictus,” to screen — handles narration duties, and when he describes “Invictus” as “the most inspi
ring movie Clint Eastwood has ever made,” it’s enough to wonder where the objectivity lines are drawn. Then again, it probably doesn’t really matter. “Factor” studiously bounces from one Eastwood project (“Dirty Harry,” “Bronco Billy”) to the next (“Unforgiven,” “Gran Torino”), and it makes few bones about being anything more than a fond celebration of his career to this point. Fortunately, Eastwood himself didn’t get that memo: He has numerous opportunities to discuss his own work, and he’s candid, humble and occasionally self-deprecating enough to offset whatever self-congratulatory designs everyone else might have had. Just make sure you’ve seen whichever of these movies you wish to see before putting this one on. “Factor” assumes you have, and it isn’t afraid to spoil the endings of most of them in its process. No extras.
— Also available: Warner Bros. goes a little Eastwood crazy this week with the availability of several rereleases on top of “Factor.” The “Essential Eastwood: Director’s Collection” box includes “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Mystic River” and “Unforgiven,” while “Essential Eastwood: Action Collection” includes “Firefox,” “Heartbreak Ridge,” “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Where Eagles Dare.” The Blu-ray “Clint Eastwood Collection” includes 10 films (including everything from the “Director’s” set), and a handful of double features (including “Dirty Harry/Magnum Force”) are available alongside individual catalog releases in Blu-ray form. In other words, basically everything. Fox also crashes the party with the Blu-ray debut of “The Man with No Name Trilogy,” which includes “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

Worth a Mention:
— “Elvis 75th Birthday Collection” (NR, Fox): It’s going to get a little confusing later this summer when Warner Bros. releases its own “Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection” box set, but for now, the racket is all Fox’s. The seven-disc “Birthday” box includes seven films: “Love Me Tender,” “Flaming Star,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “Wild in the Country,” “Follow That Dream,” “Kid Galahad” and “Clambake.” No new extras.
— “MLB Bloopers: Baseball’s Best Blunders” (NR, 2010, MLB/Shout Factory): You won’t find last week’s footage of Kendry Morales breaking his leg during a walk-off grand slam celebration gone abysmally wrong. But while the 2010 season creates fodder for future volumes, there’s more than enough recent material to fill these 90 minutes, which do for today’s players what the mountain of baseball bloopers VHS tapes did for players in the 1970s and 1980s. Extras include random bonus segments that cover fun with gum, fun with mascots and, among other things, fun with Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster.
— “Aqua Teen Hunger Force 7” (NR, 2009, Adult Swim): Either you need no introduction to this volume’s availability or you’re shocked there’s a seventh volume’s worth of episodes to put on shelves. Either way, the 11 episodes on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force 7” include the live-action episode, which also receives the behind-the-scenes feature treatment.