The Lottery (NR, 2010, Great Curve Films)
We’re all deathly tired of hearing the many reasons and excuses for why education in America is a fruitless battle. But here’s the kicker with “The Lottery:” The key to winning that fight — charter schools, which live and die by performance alone and aren’t beholden to government-enforced curricula and such albatrosses as zoning laws, unions and underperforming teachers protected by tenure — sits front, center and vindicated by results. The schools are in such heavy demand, in fact, that they’re forced by law to hold public lotteries to decide which kids get in and which will have to settle for their nearest public school instead. The need for such a demoralizing exercise underscores the gist of the film, which argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t necessarily uncaring parents who deserve blame for the awful standards of education in poor neighborhoods. Rather, it’s the politicians (in both parties, lest you make any partisan assumptions), unions and anyone with an interest beyond that of educating the kids that gum up the works and turn a proven winning strategy into something parents and dedicated educators have to scratch and claw to make a possibility. “The Lottery,” which tracks the issue while following four families who have jockeyed for a spot in Harlem Success Academy, would be less aggravating if it was just another movie about a fight with no solution. By showing the solution straight away, backing up the claims and following it all up with galling displays of selfish bureaucrats ruining a good thing for unjustifiable reasons, it becomes absolutely infuriating. For frustrated parents and educators alike, this is as can’t-miss a film as there is.
Extras: Deleted scenes, Tribeca Film Festival panel with Director Madeleine Sackler, press clippings.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio (NR, 2009, Music Box Films)
Would you enjoy an international thriller about a French Intelligence special agent (Jean Dujardin as OSS 117) who treks to Rio de Janeiro to capture a Nazi blackmailer before he publicizes a list of French officials who collaborated with the Nazis during Word War II? You should probably write and direct it yourself then, because while “OSS 117: Lost in Rio’s” storyline is more than adequate with regard to details, twists and beautiful locales, it has no interest in thrilling anybody. Instead, “Rio,” which follows on the heels of 2006’s “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies,” is the latest attempt to spoof the tropes that came to define movies about spies in the 1960s and 1970s. What makes it especially good at this, though, is the way it makes fun of the era more than the films that come from it. Agent 117 is skilled and suave in spite of himself, but he’s also a shamelessly proud buffoon whose observations about everything from women to hippies to every ethnicity under the sun are hilariously ignorant even in his own time. “Rio” is shot like an old “Bond” film, but the script doesn’t wink at fans of the genre so much as revel in wordplay and political incorrectness in a way that’s extremely intelligently funny and unabashedly silly at the very same time. Movies rarely hit that note at all, much less consistently, but “Rio” holds it almost the whole way through, and while the story is surprisingly solid considering it intentions, you need not even enjoy spy movies to get a kick out of this. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers.
Thriller: The Complete Series Deluxe Box Set (NR, 1960, Image Entertainment)
Old horror movies and shows don’t scare today like they once did, so it’s reasonable to assume the 67 episodes that comprise 1960’s “Thriller” no longer have the stuff of which nightmares are made. Fortunately, they also don’t really need it. “Thriller’s” themes certainly revolve around creeping its audience out, and Boris Karloff didn’t emcee the series just because he was bored. But the show, which tells one self-contained story per episode, carries out this theme with tales of loons and nut jobs more than monsters and haunted houses. The show takes its sweet time drilling into the minds of its normal and abnormal characters to paint a surprisingly thorough picture in 40 minutes’ time, and between the shows’ priorities and its affinity for endings that don’t always feel neat even when they end conclusively, “Thriller” feels more like “The Outer Limits” than “Tales From the Crypt.” People have changed since 1960, but they haven’t changed as much as horror has, and “Thriller,” in spite of regularly showing its age in the acting and production values department, is still entertaining now because of the choices it made then. William Shatner, Cloris Leachman, Rip Torn and Mary Tyler Moore, among others, appear in various episodes.
Contents: 67 episodes (commentary from cast and crew as well as television and horror experts on 27 of them), plus original promotional materials, photo galleries and isolated musical scores from selected episodes.
A Quiet Little Marriage (NR, 2008, IFC Films)
We weren’t there to bear witness, but according to Dax (Cy Carter), he and wife Olive (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) shared an understanding since their very first date that they never would have children together. Be it because of time, marriage or extraneous factors, though, Olive’s mindset has changed. And while numerous ironic and literal reasons abound for the meaning behind “A Quiet Little Marriage’s” name, the sneaky scheming both spouses do to facilitate or prevent a pregnancy is as worthy a culprit as any of them. “Marriage’s” premise — to say nothing of its cast (Jimmi Simpson, Charlie Day) — has every necessary ingredient on hand for a dry, dark comedy, but it opts instead to go the complete other way and give every bleak drama you’ve ever seen a run for their money. Occasionally, particularly in the latter half, it goes overboard with the tear-jerking and crumpling of characters into heaps, and some of those extraneous factors feel like nothing more than piling on. But for as gloomy as “Marriage” sometimes gets, it never completely loses its bead on the balance it strikes before things get messy. The script’s frankness and thoughtfulness outweighs its occasional tendency to go overboard, and as result, the darkness it touches resonates rather than grates. Michael O’Neill also stars.
Extras: Director/Carter/Ellis commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.
9th Company (R, 2005, Well Go USA)
Set in late 1987 and culminating with a dramatization of the Battle for Hill 3234 in Afghanistan, “9th Company” is perhaps most interesting for what it represents — a film about a Soviet war from Russia itself — than what it actually is. “Company’s” opening scenes take a cue or two from “Full Metal Jacket” by introducing us to the titular company as fresh-off-the-bus recruits and letting us witness their graduation from wimps and punks into bona fide soldiers. The film’s last act, on the other hand, feels inspired by any number of Hollywood epics, presenting the Battle for Hill 3234 through a hodgepodge of hero shots, slow-motion and dubious allegiance to historical accuracy. In between, “Company” bounces around awkwardly — a beautifully-shot film with lots of bared teeth but not much concrete direction with which to put all the showmanship to full use. That’s a problem in any movie, and it’s especially apparent when, like this one, that movie runs nearly 140 minutes long. “Company” is fascinating for the aforementioned curiosity it fulfills, and it’s a fun watch in spite of its appetite for domestic subjectivity and narrative meandering, but frustration gives fun a much tougher fight than it should have. In Russian with English subtitles.
Extras: “20 Years Later” feature, behind-the-scenes feature, premiere footage.
Sons of Anarchy: Season Two (NR, 2009, Fox)
“Sons of Anarchy’s” first season ended with a tragically botched attempt to kill off a seemingly disloyal member of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, and the fallout from that act sent the growing rift between club President Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and Vice President Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) on the fast track to nuclear eruption. It stands to reason, then, that some will be disappointed with “Anarchy’s” second season, which finds the temperature right where the first season left it but tables the explosive showdown in favor of more slow boiling. But sending Clay and Jax into a full-blown duel this early would be like giving away the Harry Potter-Voldemort showdown in the second book instead of the seventh. We all know it’s coming, and “Anarchy,” which terrifically undermined the glamour of motorcycle gangs in its first season, impresses similarly with its deconstruction of the struggle between hot tempers, obligatory machismo, workplace mundanity, selfishness, teamwork, and the attempt to have a little fun for a change. And if you want some fireworks? Fret not: The Aryans, who played a bit role in season one, are front and center this time, and what happens at the end of the first episode instantly cements them as more loathsome than anything that first season dished out. Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins join the cast.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.
Made For Each Other (NR, 2009, IFC Films)
It’s fun to watch people we recognize from television make good in movies, and between Christopher Masterson (“Malcolm in the Middle”), Danny Masterson (“That ’70s Show”), Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld”) and Samm Levine (“Freaks and Geeks”), “Made for Each Other” is loaded with fun possibilities. The film’s plotline also has comic potential: Dan’s (Christopher Masterson) two-month-old marriage to Marci (Bijou Phillips) has yet to even be consummated, and after an ill-conceived affair with his boss (Lauren German), he hatches a plan to trick his wife into having an affair of her own and assuaging his guilt. Problem is, “MFEO” doesn’t know — at all — how to take an amusing concept and stretch it into a 97-minute movie. Instead, it flails madly, filling time with attempted shock humor (old people talking crudely about sex!), subplots that give the joke away immediately and spend multiple scenes going nowhere, and completely random (and, unless a “Waterworld” musical sounds fresh to you, painfully dated) gags that might work in an episode of “Family Guy” but feel like a sorry purging of half-baked notebook scribbles here. “MFEO” tries for sincerity after things inevitably blow up in everyone’s face, but by then, the whole thing is so unlikable that the only people who get any real sympathy are the actors whose careers have been reduced to carrying this script out.
Extras: Deleted/extended scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.