A Single Man (R, 2009, Sony Pictures)
The single man in “A Single Man” is college professor George Falconer (Colin Firth), who eight months prior lost his lover (Matthew Goode as Jim) in a car crash and has had extreme difficulty just waking up every morning since. But if “Man” sounds like 99 minutes of dreary depression lying in wait, rest assured it’s anything but. George’s story isn’t just a look at loss: It’s a total stare-down at the solitary hell of facing the future alone and — because this is 1962 and George finds himself in no position out himself — mourning almost completely in secret. At the same time, though, “Man” completely understands that life doesn’t stop for those who mourn, and for George that means moments of celebration, introspection, faint hope and even bitterly dark (but legitimately funny) comedy as well as anger and sadness. “Man’s” overlying story — told mostly in the present but aided by the occasional flashback — is one of crushing sadness, but the movie itself handles that sadness through multiple moods and without succumbing to the kind of melodrama lesser movies with considerably easier tasks can’t avoid. The picture it paints certainly won’t fulfill everyone’s idea of love and loss, but it’s a strikingly complete picture in its own particular right.
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (NR, 2009, Music Box Films)
Freshly disgraced journalist Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) has a few months of freedom before he has to serve a brief prison stint for allegedly committing libel, but even with that timetable and Mikael’s now-sullied reputation, the patriarch of a powerful family-owned corporation (Sven-Bertil Taube as Henrik) has hired him in hopes of solving a murder that has haunted the family for four decades and left Henrik obsessed with its closure every day since. Fortunately, Mikael has help in the form of a hacker (Noomi Rapace) who, in addition to having some serious back story of her own, has developed her own point of interest in the case. On the surface, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s particulars (152 minutes long, all but a few sentences of it in Swedish with no English language track) make it an imposing assignment for viewers with wandering attention spans. But the mystery at the center of everything is thick and interesting enough to put those minutes to great use, and while “Tattoo” scrambles a bit at the end, it isn’t because it wastes time indulging itself before getting there. (The only arguable point of self-indulgence might, in fact, be the movie’s best scene.) So watch it in two parts and treat it like a miniseries if that’s easier: No-nonsense mystery movies that pay off without resorting to gimmickry or copouts don’t appear very often, and there’s no good reason to let one slip past when it does. In Swedish with English subtitles.
Extras: Vanger family tree, Rapace interview.
Eyeborgs (R, 2009, Image Entertainment)
Have you heard the one about the government that buries its citizens under a mountain of surveillance and suspicion? How about the one where robots designed to help humanity decide one day to turn on it? “Eyeborgs” is what happens when the two ideas become one, and what it lacks in groundbreaking paranoia, it redeems in its respect of the art of the B-movie. The B-movie tag isn’t to suggest a lack of talent or polish, either: To the contrary, while “Eyeborgs” isn’t exactly a masterwork of scriptwriting and logical impregnability, it’s keenly aware of where the line needs be drawn between telling a logistically sound story and just setting the table for some scares, thrills, explosions and validations of whatever tiny spark of paranoia you might have flickering in the back of your mind. Best of all, it throws in a third byproduct of 21st century technology that, in addition to being sorely underutilized by science fiction so far, also opens the door to a brilliant twist during “Eyeborgs'” closing act. (Naturally, what that third byproduct is will not be spoiled here.)
Extras: Deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.
Life on Mars: The Complete Collection (NR, 2006, Acorn Media)
Some of us can’t imagine living without technology invented in the last six months, so imagine detective Sam Tyler’s (John Simm) surprise when he wakes up as a cop in 1973 after a car knocks him into a coma in 2006. While Sam tries to find his way back to the present, he conducts detective business as usual in the past, and his stubborn adjustment to a world without home computers, to say nothing of smartphones, gives “Life on Mars” plenty of means with which to establish its procedural detective drama niche. “Mars” doesn’t waste the opportunity, either: The cases contained within each episode are intelligently designed around the concept without outright relying on it, and Sam and his fellow cops engage in spirited battles of attrition instead of the same old detached, snappy dialogue so many other procedurals shamelessly employ. The mystery of Sam’s awakening, meanwhile, develops over the entirety of the show. Is he crazy? Dreaming? Or is it all real, and if so, what to do next? “Mars,” with its clever illustrations of Sam’s plight, makes it fun to find out, and if you’ve never heard of this show, grabbing the whole collection at once is the best way to rectify that. Philip Glenister and Liz White, among numerous others, also star.
Contents: 16 episodes, plus commentary, two making-of documentaries, three behind-the-scenes features, set tour, director interview and outtakes.
Brooklyn’s Finest (R, 2009, Anchor Bay)
Is it enough for a movie to be polished but little else? If not, then the last decade alone contains countless reasons to pass on “Brooklyn’s Finest.” “Finest” is an interweaving story about a few days in the lives of some cops (Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke) and some folks (Wesley Snipes, Michael K. Williams) on the other side of the law, and as a savvy viewer might guess or even expect, there’s an entanglement of consciences as personal issues and ties between the sides bubble upward. That’s part of “Finest’s” problem, though: Savvy viewers will have it figured out before the movie even finishes laying down its cards. “Finest” flashes some interesting characters, looks great, gets its hands dirty, and packs a great cast. But from the cynical cop who sits days away from retirement to the case that ties everything together to most every character and story instance in between, there’s an air of familiarity that’s awfully tough to pretend isn’t there. Numerous media have gone everywhere “Finest” goes, and enough of it has done so with more chances taken and more memorable characters created by the end of their time. “Finest” is a perfectly enjoyable story about law enforcement’s dark side, but if you’ve seen the best of what this genre already offers, don’t be surprised to not remember seeing this one even a few months from now.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features.
Touching Evil: The Complete Collection (NR, 1997, Acorn Media)
Before Jeffrey Donovan became the face of “Burn Notice,” he starred in a terrific American remake of “Touching Evil” that, sadly, didn’t survive past its first season. This particular set rounds up the complete three-year run of the original British series, which finds a detective (Robson Green as D.I. Dave Creegan) recovering from a should-be-fatal gunshot wound, only to discover he now can literally sense the criminals he’s trying to stop. The same misunderstandings and clashing of methods that makes “Life on Mars” so much fun — and the same respectful treatment of those clashes — powers “Evil” as well, and the accompanying story of Dave picking up the pieces of his ruined, post-gunshot life is compel
ling enough to stand almost completely on its own without the cases’ help. Nicola Walker also stars.
Contents: Eight episodes, no extras.
Squidbillies: Volume 3 (NR, 2008, Adult Swim)
You wouldn’t think a cartoon about a family of trucker hat-wearing squids with mean streaks and southern accents would even approach an adjective like “polarizing.” But that’s what we have with “Squidbillies.” Some fans of Adult Swim’s formative years look at “Squidbillies” as indicative of everything that’s wrong with a programming block with seemingly no scruples about airing any old cartoon that runs around 11 minutes and compresses as much inanity as it can into that time. On the other hand? Good luck finding another corporately-owned television network with such a freewheeling attitude, and good luck finding another network that allows something like “Squidbillies” — terribly or hilariously crude as you see it — to survive long enough to see half a volume’s worth of content, to say nothing of three and counting. The animation is poor, the writing outlandish, the storylines unpredictable to the point of sheer randomness, the DVD packaging as crazed as the show. But Adult Swim would have it no other way.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus a trucker hat slogan compilation, concept art, promotional bits and pieces, footage from Dragon*Con 2009, and a fifth special feature (called “Funny Pete Stuff”) that just plain defies classification.