Terribly Happy (NR, 2008, Oscilloscope)
When “Terribly Happy” opens, we don’t know why Copenhagen police officer Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) has been punished with a temporary reassignment to pull marshall duty in a microscopically small town. All we know is that something back home made him snap, and the mysterious disappearance of his new home’s previous marshall made this an ideal landing spot while he serves his penance. Robert’s past is but one of the mysteries permeating through the town, which has its own share of baggage, customs, and at least one person (Lene Maria Christensen as Ingerlise) who is as fascinated with him as the rest appear leery. “Happy” operates under an optimally savvy cloud of moodiness and continual, mutual distrust from almost the moment it begins, and when all those pasts cross paths and a surprising turn of events makes a total mess of that encounter, the tension is perfectly, effortlessly thick. “Happy” reveals its cards gradually rather than hold them all for some big final reveal, and that strategy works completely to its advantage. The more we learn about all this clouded history, the better the story gets going forward — up to and including a finale that, while beautifully understated, is so coldly, mutually dark as to be almost humorous. In Danish with English subtitles, but well worth the easy read if you like stories that speak volumes with only a few words.
Extras: Director/producer commentary, an encounter between Director Henrik Ruben Genz and “Happy” author Erling Jepsen, behind-the-scenes feature, “botched” studio interview with Genz and Jepsen, Foster Hirsch essay.
Look Around You: Season One (NR, 2002, BBC)
The unintentionally funny educational filmstrips of the 1970s and 1980s have seen no shortage of intentionally funny send-ups in the years that have followed, but when a project comes along that’s this dedicated to the cause, it’s merits special mention. “Look Around You’s” mock science filmstrips cover such topics as ghosts, germs, sulphur and “maths,” and between the patronizingly deadpan delivery of the narrator, the ridiculous density of incorrect information passed along and the hilariously dry confirmation of this information via absurd experiments and other treacherous visual aids, it’s a thick wonderland of rapid-fire misinformation. “You” complements its masterful delivery with a visual presentation that perfectly mocks the look, technology and presentational quirks that make these filmstrips so ironically treasured today, and because each episode is less than 10 minutes long, the gag never wears out its welcome. If anything, at 71 total minutes for the main program, it leaves you wanting a whole lot more. Sadly, only six more episodes remain for volume two.
Contents: Eight “modules” (episodes), plus commentary, a bonus double-length module, study materials and bonus music.
Cop Out (R, 2010, Warner Bros.)
You know how people say that the worst movie by certain directors is still better than the best work by the vast majority of their contemporaries? That pretty well sums up “Cop Out,” which finds two suspended NYPD officers (Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan) venturing down a criminal rabbit hole when one of them has a valuable baseball card stolen from him. What follows is largely telegraphed both by decades of police stories as well as comedies, and neither lead is nearly interesting enough to make the movie’s story all that gripping, either. “Cop Out” represents the first movie Kevin Smith has directed by not written, and perhaps not surprisingly, it neither evokes the things he does best as a writer nor takes the trite buddy cop formula anywhere it hasn’t already been. That’s all pretty unfortunate. But with all that said, and while “Cop Out” isn’t anywhere in the vicinity of the year’s best comedies, it also sits nowhere near the likes of “The Bounty Hunter,” “Leap Year” and other comedies that do absolutely nothing for their own tired genres. It isn’t hilarious, but it’s pretty consistently amusing, and there are fleeting moments when it’s very funny. No one’s heart will break if and when Smith gets back to creating his own worlds instead of co-opting those of less talented writers, but in the meantime, “Cop Out” could be a whole lot worse.
Extra: Deleted scenes.
Entre Nos (NR, 2009, IndiePix)
You know what’s scarier than moving with your two young kids from Columbia to New York City to appease the whims of your husband? How about finding yourself jobless and forced to fend for yourself and those kids when the husband follows another whim to Miami and leaves without a trail? That, along with no prospects and a minimal grasp of English, is the situation Mariana (Paola Mendoza) finds herself in when “Entre Nos” kicks into gear. What happens next is pretty remarkable — not simply because of what happens or because it’s based on a true story, but also because “Nos” completely sidesteps pretense despite telling a story with starkly obvious connections to one hugely controversial current issue. Even though “Nos” presumably takes place years before the issue became such a political lightning rod, nothing about it feels like a story that couldn’t happen today. And more than lean on its time period or even tell a story about the plight of an immigrant, “Nos” is just a story about the plight of a mom trying to do right by her kids while also trying to just keep it together in light of some rough unforeseen circumstances. Mariana’s particular situation may be more extreme than the monetary and familial issues most face, but “Nos'” ability to present it under completely relatable terms without sugarcoating it is an extremely impressive work of restraint.
Extras: Director commentary, short film “Still Standing,” behind-the-scenes feature, how to make empanadas feature.
Being Human: Season One (NR, 2008, BBC)
Burned out on vampires yet? Don’t even want to hear about another vampire story that also has a werewolf? That’s too bad, because “Being Human” might be the perfect antidote for anyone who likes these mythologies but can’t stomach where popular culture has taken them lately. “Human” finds three not-quite human humans — a vampire (Aidan Turner as Mitchell), a werewolf (Russell Tovey as George) and a woman (Lenora Crichlow as Annie) who died but is stuck in limbo as a ghost — sharing a house in Bristol, and their shared habitat accompanies a shared desire to live as close to plainly human existences as their respective situations will allow. Those modest aspirations, along with a certain degree of success on our characters’ parts, makes “Human” a much more grounded show than the genre’s typical fare as of late, and while the show is measurably more of a drama than a comedy, it isn’t afraid to flash its sense of humor frequently and to great effect. “Human” isn’t as funny as Joss Whedon’s pitch-perfect take on vampires and werewolves, but it most definitely isn’t as agonizingly self-serious as Stephenie Meyer’s brutal interpretations, and for all who long for the former and cannot stand the latter, this absolutely merits a close look.
Contents: Six episodes, plus deleted scenes, creator interview, video diaries, behind-the-scenes features and character profiles.
Barking Dogs Never Bite (NR, 2005, Magnolia)
What’s worse — gravely imperiling a child’s dog because it barks too much, or getting nicked in the head by a speeding train? Why choose when “Barking Dogs Never Bite” has both? “Bite” hits the ground sprinting with a jobless aspiring professor (Sung-jae Lee) committing the former act in the opening minutes, and while the story that follows is a bit too unwieldily to encapsulate in a few sentences, it probably isn’t a stretch to recognize “Bite’s” road-less-traveled decision to both position itself as a black comedy and make its central c
haracter instantly and completely detestable with no sense of irony whatsoever. He isn’t alone, either: His wife treats him horribly, his apartment building’s maintenance guy is psychotic, and his academic peers are dirtbags. Great, huh? But here’s the thing about “Bite:” In spite of how horrible most of its characters and their actions are, and while even the strong of stomach may find this one’s reprehensible points too dark to enjoy, the total package is a stylish treatment of a sharp script. And by going so low so quickly, “Bite” makes it that much more gratifying when one of its few likable characters rises up and tries to take the mood back. How successful that effort is won’t be spoiled here, but it’s a heck of a good fight. In Korean with English subtitles.
Extras: Interview, storyboards, highlight montage.
Worth a Mention
— Courage the Cowardly Dog: Season One” (NR, 1999, Cartoon Network Hall of Fame)
Cartoon Network’s new and long overdue Hall of Fame DVD imprint kicked off on a high note with the release of the first season of “Johnny Bravo.” But outside of the lack of bonus content, this second entrant — which follows the adventures of a terrified but loyal and fiercely (or maybe not fiercely) protective family dog named Courage — does not represent a step down in any sense of the term. Whatever the third entrant is, it has big shoes to fill.
Contents: 13 episodes, no extras.