DVD 9/28/10: The Killer Inside Me, Iron Man 2, Babies, Frozen, Suck, Get Him to the Greek, Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Battle for Eternia, King Kong (1933) Blu-ray, Scrubs S9, Super Size Me SE, Secret Agent Aka Danger Man CS

разтегателни диваниThe Killer Inside Me (R, 2010, IFC Films)
You know how this goes: Guy fouls up, guy takes drastic measures to cover up the screwup, drastic action opens new cans of worms, and the cycle begins. That’s fun movie fodder, and that’s the story of Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a small-town, engaged-to-be-engaged sheriff whose attempts to run a prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town do not go as planned. The title is an unmistakable allusion to the details of that trouble, and the back of “The Killer Inside Me’s” box is happy to fill it all in for you if you don’t enjoy the element of surprise. But even complete familiarity with “Me’s” plot outline cannot undermine just how much fun it is not only to watch Lou solve one fiasco by making an even bigger mess, but especially what happens to his character when the rest of West Texas regularly hands him ways out of his troubles that he may or may not accept. “Me” is an extremely enjoyable (and, in spite of the noir pretense, unabashedly and darkly humorous) picture of complete character degeneration, and the only thing more satisfying than the journey is the wild turn of events the movie assembles for its conclusion. Kate Hudson, Elias Koteas, Tom Bower, Ned Beatty and Simon Baker also star.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.

Iron Man 2 (PG-13, 2010, Paramount)
The huffy critical blowback “Iron Man 2” endured for not being as good as the original was pretty unfair, because outside of complete self-sabotage, there was nothing the film could possibly do to surprise us the way its predecessor did. Like that movie, this movie is as much about Iron Man’s alter ego, eccentric, sharp-tongued mega-industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), as it is Iron Man himself. Also like that movie, “IM2” skirts superhero movie conventions by leaning on a sharply funny script that resonates in our world as well as theirs. The difference this time is that, in addition to not being able to surprise us with all that wit, “IM2” also is obligated to detail the fallout from the first movie, which concluded with Stark coming out as Iron Man. That takes us down some bumpy roads in which Stark deals with celebrity, infamy, a United States military that wants his toy and the drain his suit’s chemistry has on his failing health. So much fallout is bound to make for a less snappy film, and not every road feels narratively essential. But “IM2” deserves points for going there at all instead of lamely pretending things are business as usual, and it maintains its sense of humor while doing so. And with respect to Jeff Bridges, the first film doesn’t have Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), an outstanding adversary who plays both sides of the coin and whose grand unveiling in “IM2’s” early going should make other comic book movie villains jealous.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, music video.

Babies (PG, 2010, Focus Features/Universal)
Your enjoyment of “Babies” can be gauged by one factor and one factor alone: How much do you love babies? “Babies” chronicles the first years of four newborns in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo and San Francisco. But while the overlying message is hit-you-over-the-head obvious — the love between parent and child knows no border — the movie itself is surprisingly (and admirably) hands-off. There is no narrator, no explanatory setup, no overlying text beyond names and locations. No filmmakers enter the frame, and the only ones readily acknowledging the presence of a camera are the babies (and pets) who can’t help but stare. Even they seem to get used to it, though, and while the message behind “Babies” certainly deserves commendation, it’s the stars of the show and their candid displays of curiosity, mischief, self-amusement and general confusion that makes watching 93 minutes of mostly dialogue-free footage so much sweeter and funnier than a description on paper might imply. With that said, a fair (and obvious) warning: If babies don’t really do it for you, this won’t either, and even those who appreciate “Babies” might also appreciate being able to pause the movie and catch a breather from what essentially is a cute train that never stops rolling.
Extras: A feature on the babies three years later, “Babies” contest winner feature.

Frozen (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Let this be a lesson for the few of you lacking the ground-level common sense to figure this out: When it’s dark outside and a ski resort says it’s closing down for five days, don’t bribe the chairlift operator into letting you go for one last ascent up what otherwise is a deserted trail. Thats what Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan (Kevin Zegers) did, and as you might guess, a sequence of events leads to both the operator leaving the scene and the lift shutting down mid-trip, leaving the three stranded high above the ground amid freezing temperatures. “Frozen” puts itself in a tricky spot, because it’s a movie that both takes place almost entirely in the same small area and also one that really wants to touch some nerves by not blowing absurd holes in its logic. As such, there is a limited number of ways this can go. But limited options doesn’t hurt like it could have, because once “Frozen” makes its selections for how it wants to scare audiences, it mines those selections for gold and does a lot with a little. Skiing and snowboarding aficionados will certainly get more rattled by the dramatization of worst fears realized in bad ways, but anyone afraid of heights, the dark, the elements, tight spaces or being stranded will get theirs as well.
Extras: Cast/writer/director commentary, deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features.

Suck (R, 2009, E1 Entertainment)
The disheartening laws of banality suggest that any movie that’s doused with loud music, loud makeup, caffeinated acting and an attention deficit disorder can also stake a claim as a potential cult classic. In actuality, most of these movies are just bad — and that’s a bummer for “Suck,” because it’s entirely too much fun to deserve getting lost in the playground of calculated cult classic wannabes. In “Suck,” the only fetching member (Jessica Paré as Jennifer) of a floundering indie band transforms into an object of hysterical fascination when she disappears one night and reemerges as a vampire capable of hypnotizing audiences. Her bandmates (Rob Stefaniuk, Chris Ratz, Paul Anthony) are predictably rattled — catching her feeding on a convenience store clerk tends to do that — and in the meantime, a weathered vampire hunter (Malcolm McDowell) seeks to vanquish the spell that both transformed Jennifer and previously killed his wife. Does “Suck” sound like yet another morose story about vampires? Yes it does. But in addition to being a comedy that’s too clever to fall prone to dreariness, “Suck” really is a movie about rock and roll. The vampires are a device, but the real story — how long do we look the other way if audiences are buying tickets to look at us? — is so much more, and “Suck” has a legitimately entertaining time milking it from start to finish. Dave Foley, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and Dimitri Coats also star.
Extras: Writer/director/cinematographer documentary, making-of documentary, music video.

Get Him to the Greek: Unrated Collector’s Edition (R/NR, 2010, Universal)
It’s understandable why someone decided to write a movie centered around rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), because while a bunch of characters stole scenes in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” he came away with two handfuls and parts of the soundtrack as well. But if “Get Him to the Greek” leaves us with any lasting lesson, it might be that a little Russell Brand is better than an entire movie’s worth of him. “Greek” takes place long after the events of “Marshall,” and Aldous’ stardom has peaked and faded. But with the 10th anniversary of his Budokan-esque show at the Greek Theatre looming, and with music executive Sergio Roma (Sean Combs) needing a sure thing after numerous failures, an anniversary show seems like a good idea. So Sergio sends a minion (Jonah Hill, playing a completely different character than he portrayed in “Marshall,” so just play along) to fetch the perennially intoxicated Aldous, the job proves more challenging than originally envisioned, and from there, wackiness — and lots of it — ensues. Moments of that wackiness are amusing and even sharply funny. But mostly, “Greek” reaches and strains itself to fill nearly two hours with what essentially is an empty excuse for Aldous to be Aldous. As it turns out, while he’s really funny in short bursts, he’s harder to take in longer form. “Greek” goes through the usual motions — wackiness, loud wackiness, heartfelt turnabout, happy ending — and it does a reasonably entertaining job at it, but little more than that.
Extras: Theatrical and extended (by four minutes, don’t get excited) cuts, cast/crew commentary, deleted/extended scenes, alternate beginning and ending, uncut music scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, line-o-rama.

Worth a mention
— “Astonishing X-Men: Gifted” (NR, 2010, Shout Factory): The torrent of animated comic book shows and movies might leave non-devotees completely overwhelmed, but “Astonishing X-Men: Gifted” merits a little extra attention. Instead of a full-fledged cartoon, “Gifted” is a motion comic, a hybrid between cartoon and static comic that’s a bit jarring the first time you experience it. In addition to being novel, though, the motion comic approach lets storytelling and sharp writing shoulder the entertainment burden instead of sleepwalking while flashy animation does the work. Fortunately, given the writing minds — Joss Whedon and John Cassaday — tasked with making that happen, that works out just fine. Includes six episodes (which, totaled together, form a feature-length presentation), plus interviews, a behind-the-scenes feature, a visual X-Men retrospective and a music video.
— “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Battle for Eternia” (NR, 2002, Mill Creek): The good news about this set is the reminder it serves about the relatively unheralded 2002 “He-Man” cartoon reboot, which did just about everything right by staying true to the original cartoon while enhancing the universe with more sophisticated animation and storytelling. The bad news about this set is that, while it’s affordably priced at $10, the complete 39-episode series is available for less than twice the price. This set includes 10 episodes, along with a commentary track on one episode and original scripts for all 10.
— “King Kong” (NR, 1933, Warner Bros.): Maybe the migration to Blu-Ray would accelerate if studios replaced those ugly blue cases with the packaging reserved for “King Kong’s” Blu-Ray coming-out party. “Kong” comes packaged like a hardcover book, and Warner Bros. binds an equally attractive 32-page companion booklet to the spine. Other bonuses include a commentary track with visual effects pioneers Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, a seven-part making-of documentary, a profile on “Kong” writer Merian C. Cooper, high-definition transfers of test footage and the original trailer.
— “Scrubs: The Complete and Final Ninth Season” (NR, 2009, ABC/Disney): A lot of fans balked — hence the cancellation that followed — but “Scrubs” made a bold play to extend its life by moving the focus to a teaching school after a huge portion of its cast left town following the eighth season. It definitely isn’t the same, and this is the show’s weakest season if we’re keeping score, but even in this form, a down season of “Scrubs” can hang with most sitcoms’ best years. Despite the exodus, most of that old cast returns in some capacity at some point, and fans of J.D. (Zach Braff), Turk (Donald Faison) and Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) have much to look forward to in this set. Includes 13 episodes, plus deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes feature about the transformation, bloopers and a “Live from the Golf Cart” feature that will make more sense once you’ve seen the episodes.
— “Super Size Me: 6 1/2-Year Anniversary Special Edition” (PG-13, 2004, Virgil Films): The world has changed greatly in six and a half years’ time, but this film remains as scientifically dubious — and thoroughly, hilariously engrossing — as it was the day it arrived. The new edition follows up with a new Q&A with filmmaker and test subject Morgan Spurlock, as well as answers to the 10 most-ask questions about its creation.
— “Secret Agent Aka Danger Man: The Complete Collection” (NR, 1960, A&E): Like any series lucky enough to be ensnared by A&E’s DVD arm, “Secret Agent Aka Danger Man” finally gets the svelte megaset treatment, with all 86 episodes available on 18 discs packaged inside nine slim cases. Extras include a profile on series star Patrick McGoohan, the uncut U.S. show opener and a photo gallery.

Games 9/28/10: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, NHL Slapshot, NHL 2K11, NHL 11, Puzzle Agent

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii, Nintendo DS
From: Beenox/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

When “Spider-Man 2” gave players a chance to swing freely as Spidey through open-world New York City, it was revolutionary. When “Spider-Man 3” did the exact same thing in high definition, it was fine. And when “Web of Shadows” repeated the trick a year later, it was kind of old.

“Shattered Dimensions,” by contrast, goes back to a model that pre-dates the revolution. There are 13 levels, each with its own environment and boss villain, and while most of the levels are roomy and ripe for exploration, there’s a continuous forward progression not found in those open-world games.

Guess what? It feels fresh again, and the distinctive qualities and greater sense of purpose each level has far outweigh the freedom to go anywhere at any time. Along with the magnificent job Beenox does of cramming so many aspects of the Spider-Man universe into a surprisingly lengthy game, it’s arguably the best “Spider-Man” game ever made.

The “Dimensions” name comes from the game’s big hook — the ability to play as four different Spider-Men (Amazing, Ultimate, 2099 and Noir) who work together in different dimensions to save the universe from tearing to shreds.

The different Spideys naturally have different abilities. Ultimate Spider-Man, for instance, is built to handle more enemies at a time than the others, while Noir Spidey compensates for his iffy fighting abilities by being able to hide in shadows and dispatch enemies before they even see him.

The four Spideys share a base control scheme, but they operate differently enough to give the game a surprising array of variety, and “Dimensions” rises to the occasion by designing levels and even visual styles (cel shading for Amazing Spidey, lighting effects run wild for 2099, sepia tones for Noir) that feel distinctive and play to each characters’ (and villains’) styles.

Compounding the variety between the different dimensions is a total willingness on the game’s part not only to have as much fun as possible with the license — the game flashes excellent voice acting and a sense of humor that hits far more than misses — but also to just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work: Some levels drag on for too long with repetitive combat, while certain stretches shine a light on the things (wall-climbing, namely) the controls and camera don’t handle so well.

More than not, though, the results sing. Zip-swinging through a tornado of debris in pursuit of Sandman isn’t like anything thats been done before in a superhero game, and it’s as intuitive as it is chaotic. A frantic swing against a tide of tidal waves ends with a dash atop a capsizing boat. A pursuit through a darkened carnival has Noir spidey neutralizing thugs from atop a tilt-a-whirl. And a level starring Deadpool as the villain is set within the parameters of a game show. “Dimensions” reserves as much care for its 13 villains as it does its four Spider-Men, and the outpouring keeps the surprises coming all the way through to the conclusion (and, hilariously, past the final credit roll).


NHL Slapshot
For: Wii
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone

NHL 2K11
For: Wii
From: 2K Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild violence)

NHL 11
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild violence)

Another fall means another round of hockey games from the usual suspects, but the rules have changed slightly for 2010.

The biggest twist is “NHL Slapshot,” a brand-new, Wii-only game with arcade tendencies that harken back to EA’s early hockey days and a pack-in hockey stick peripheral that makes it a beast of its own creation.

The stick is nothing more than an enclosure for the Wii remote and nunchuck, and those who wish to play “Slapshot” without it can do so with two alternative control schemes. But the scheme designed around the stick — buttons play a role, but the act of swinging the stick allows players to shoot, check and deke — is surprisingly fun and, thanks to “Slapshot’s” arcade leanings, plenty precise enough to work.

For those who want “NHL 11” on the Wii, the downside to “Slapshot” is obvious: Even with the more traditional control schemes, this isn’t a sim on that level. But “Slapshot” also isn’t shallow: It has the whole league, some junior clubs, roster management, a season mode, a Peewee-to-Pro career mode, goalie controls, mini-games and a player creator. Don’t let the stick gimmick trick you into thinking “Slapshot” is a one-trick game. It isn’t, and if you want a game that plays like EA’s classic NHL games but has a modern feature set (online play excepted), this is not to be missed.

Wii owners who want something more serious have another exclusive option in “NHL 2K11,” but it’s hard to get excited about a game that’s pulling stand-in duty while 2K Sports retools the series for a 2011 reboot on all three consoles.

“2K11” isn’t without new material: The Road to the Cup mode — which pits players’ Mii avatars in a series of mini game challenges — benefits from clever games and a funny game show format, and improved MotionPlus implementation enhances the stickhandling controls.

Mostly, though, the game feels as tired as its stand-in status implies. It looks aged, it counters the stickhandling improvements with other control issues that return from last year, and online performance remains spotty. Player records return data from the 2008 season, and certain features from previous 360 and PS3 versions still aren’t here. Next year’s game might be worth this holdover, but right now, owners of those consoles are missing little.

It helps, of course, that those systems still have the best simulation in the business with EA’s “NHL” series, which, since its own reinvention a few years back, has toed the line between authenticity and accessibility better than any sports game — “Madden” included — ever has.

“NHL 11’s” big new feature — an Ultimate Hockey League mode that involves playing well in any mode and collecting cards that improve player attributes in lieu of competing with other players in a monthly online tournament — might be too big for those who wish to play the game on a remotely casual level. But obsessives who love both hockey and the tenets of role-playing games should adore the new challenge, which is insanely deep and wholly unlike anything a sports sim has attempted before.

For the rest of us, the changes are more minute but worth mention all the same. The Canadian Hockey League joins the game’s comprehensive roster of teams beyond the NHL, and the Be a Pro career mode now begins in those junior ranks before shifting to the NHL. The faceoff system gets a pinch of extra depth, sticks break, and tweaks in the physics quietly infiltrate the entirety of the action to improve everything from checks to dekes.


Puzzle Agent
Reviewed for: iPad
Also available for: iPhone/iPod Touch, Windows PC, Macintosh
From: Telltale Games
iTunes Store Rating: 12+ (infrequent/mild horror/fear themes, infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco, drug use or references to these, infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence)

“Puzzle Agent” marks a pleasant change of pace for Telltale Games, which has done the vast majority of the heavy lifting responsible for the point-and-click adventure game revival. The overt humor of those other games is replaced here by a more low-key (but still funny) style that, along with the color pencil-and-charcoals artwork style, are based on cartoonist Graham Annable’s comics and animated shorts. More importantly, though, “Agent” isn’t really a point-and-click adventure in the traditional sense. Players still tap on parts of the environment to help Det. Nelson Tethers navigate around the sleepy town of Scoggins, Minn., but the real action takes place through a series of brainteasers that, when solved, provide clues toward unraveling the greater mystery at hand. “Agent’s” riddles run the gamut, from deductions of logic to visual challenges straight out of a book of brainteasers, and fans of Nintendo’s sterling “Professor Layton” games will appreciate a similar level of variety and craftsmanship (and, for those who need it, helpful hints) on display here. The amount of content here isn’t as bountiful as it is in those “Layton” games, but the friendly price reflects that, and it’s a small tax to pay for a game that adds a distinctive energy to a genre that’s never looked healthier or more inviting than it currently does.

Games 9/21: Playstation Move, Sports Champions, Eyepet, Start the Party!, Kung Fu Rider, Racquet Sports, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 (PS Move), Planet Minigolf (PS Move)

Playstation Move
For: Playstation 3
From: Sony
Price: $50 for standalone Move wand; $40 for standalone Eye camera; $100 for bundle that includes one Move wand, one Eye camera and “Sports Champions” game

Most will assume the Playstation Move is the product of Sony scrambling to create a motion controller that out-Wiis the Wii. And most would be at least partially wrong, because in addition to doing buttonless control first with the Playstation 2’s EyeToy camera in 2003, Sony was giving closed-door demonstrations of rudimentary Move technology before the EyeToy was even commercially available.

Those demonstrations, which showed off the low-tech EyeToy’s ability to track light and crudely interpret three-dimensional motion, form the basis of what makes the Move so much more than a mere me-too Wii remote. The hardware is more powerful and camera (now called the Playstation Eye) is now HD, but it’s those original ideas that allow the Move to trounce the Wii in multiple respects.

The most obvious improvement is the capacity to track precise movements on a 1:1 scale — something the Wii couldn’t remotely do until Nintendo released the Wii MotionPlus attachment last year. The disc golf game in “Sports Champions,” for instance, allows players to grip the Move wand as they would a frisbee, and the slightest tilt or turn on the wand is replicated on screen. Players can cheat on the Wii by flicking the remote to fake a fast throw, but the Move is savvy enough to differentiate a flick from a complete motion. If you want to succeed in “Champions'” gladiator duel game, you need to swing that wand like a sword. Flicking it will simply make you look inept.

The Move also demonstrates an impressive ability to understand 3D space. The Eye camera can tell when players are moving forward and backward based on its view of the wand. In “Champions'” table tennis game, for instance, players can move toward the camera to return soft shots and back up to return hard shots. The game is able to read player position with skillful accuracy, and players are similarly in tune with their position because their onscreen racket moves in lockstep with every arm and foot motion. With a little conditioning, the act of playing the game becomes so instinctive that the virtual barriers essentially fade away.

But perhaps the Move’s coolest trick is its continuation of what the EyeToy started in 2003.

Because we’re pointing Move wands at an HD video camera instead of a sensor bar, the Move can put players inside the game while also tracking their movements. The camera can discern the Move wand’s light from everything else in the frame, and it’s able to transform the wand’s onscreen likeness into whatever object it pleases. In the party game collection “Start the Party!,” for instance, the wand might turn into a mallet for a whack-a-mole game. Players see themselves on the screen bopping virtual moles with a 3D virtual mallet that appears to be in their hand, and because the camera tracks the wand so perfectly, the whole exercise is immersive enough to drop jaws.

In terms of tech — and in stark contrast to the Wii, which cleverly masked its shortcomings more than overcame them — the Move fulfills every single promise Sony made about its possibilities behind closed doors more than seven years ago. Provided developers back it up over time with a worthy software library, this is the perfect antidote for those who were seduced by the Wii’s promises but ultimately left feeling cheated by the final product.


Sports Champions
From: Zindagi Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (violence)

“Sports Champions” is hardly an imaginative way to kick off the Move’s lineup — it’s Sony’s “Wii Sports,” after all — but as demonstrations of the tech go, it’s a leaps-and-bounds upgrade over Nintendo’s counterpart. “Champions” includes six sports, and while the selections — bocce, volleyball, archery, table tennis, disc golf and gladiator duels — seem almost random for a sextet, all six are pretty deliberately designed to show just how up to snuff the system is. Throwing a frisbee disc is as natural as the real-life motion, and the game’s scrupulous accounting of angle, speed and arc makes it as feasible to hook or slice a disc as it is to toss one straight and steady. Lobbing a bocce ball feels similarly intuitive, and the table tennis game — in addition to showing off the Move’s ability to track 3D space by letting players move backward and forward for soft and hard shots, respectively — makes it second nature to aim shots and apply topspin and backspin. While all six sports work with a single motion controller, some of the games definitely benefit from having two: Gladiator duels maps a real-time shield to the second controller, while archery uses the two controllers to simulate the stress of holding a taut bow to a startling degree. That makes fully enjoying “Champions” more expensive than originally implied, especially for multiplayer purposes, but it’s a nice demonstration of just how versatile the system is. “Champions” is practically free for those who purchase the $100 Move bundle with it packed in, but it also earns its standalone asking with lengthy career mode that features three cups per sport, showers players with unlockable rewards, and dishes out some serious competition on the higher difficulty tiers.


From: London Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone

If there’s a game in the Move launch library that could sell systems on sight alone, this is the one. “Eyepet” puts players in charge of caring for a virtual pet — imagine a Pixar-esque cross between a monkey and Gizmo from “Gremlins” — and as with most virtual pet games, players can feed and wash their pet as well as play with him. The difference here is that because the Move puts players inside the games via the Eye camera, the pet can run across players’ actual floors or tables through the magic of augmented reality. And while the Move controller plays a major role in “Eyepet” — the camera transforms its onscreen likeness into everything from a showerhead to a food dispenser to a crayon to a baseball mitt, bowling set and numerous other toys — players also can coddle and play with their pet simply by sticking their hands in the scene. “Eyepet” is the best demonstration so far of the Eye camera’s fidelity, and the first time you draw a car on a piece of paper, hold it up to the camera and watch the game scan the drawing and turn it into a controllable RC car that looks exactly like your drawing, it’s like entering a brave new world. Lots of little tricks like that comprise the package: Rather than guilt players into booting it up daily simply to maintain their pets, “Eyepet” instead gives players a long list of challenges that introduce new toys and tricks and, upon completion, unlock outfits (yes, you can dress them up and even dye their fur) and open up the toys for free play (and high score chasing) purposes. Sony plans to extend the game’s content via downloads from the Playstation Network, though the ratio between free and paid add-ons isn’t yet known.


Start the Party!
From: Supermassive Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence, animated blood)

Every experimental controller needs an obligatory minigame collection, and for the Move, “Start the Party!” is it. But “Party” exceeds its obligations both with its excellent play formats and its comprehensive demonstration of how cool the Move’s augmented
reality capabilities are. Most of “Party’s” games revolve around that trick: Players, filmed by the Eye camera, appear in the middle of the game’s action, but the Move wand is replaced by a virtual object over which players have complete 3D control. A whack-a-mole game turns it into a mallet, a painting challenge turns it into a paintbrush, and a game involving swatting balls into basketball hoops turns it into a racket. The Move controller’s outstanding responsiveness means the virtual objects move in players’ hands exactly as they would if they were real objects, and the disconnect between player and motion that dampens most mini game collections isn’t at all present here. “Party’s” game count is a bit low at 20, but they’re all pretty well-realized, and they’re packaged inside an excellent game show-style presentation for multiple players (four players, one controller needed) and a terrific “WarioWare”-style survival mode that continually switches up the game for those playing solo. Unfortunately, online play — a feature that works brilliantly in Sony’s “Buzz!” party games — is nowhere to be found in “Party.”


Kung Fu Rider
From: Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild suggestive themes, mild violence)

Solid though the Move tech is, “Kung Fu Rider” proves that it isn’t ideal for every game. In almost every way, “Rider” is a splendid callback to the unhinged games that made Sega’s Dreamcast so special. The premise — players star as an office worker who rides an office chair down obstacle-laden streets to elude the mob — is absurd, and the objective — reach the goal quickly and without falling off the chair too many times — is arcade-perfect. “Rider” is fast enough to feel like a racing game in spite of its vehicle choice, and the ability to jump, grind rails and perform martial arts moves on pursuing mobsters while on the chair is just wild. The colorful, goofball presentation is the cherry on the sundae. But “Rider” errs badly by requiring the Move instead of simply supporting it. The speed and challenge of the game leave little room for error, which would be fine if the game demanded foolproof button presses. But “Rider’s” gesture controls too easily confuse one motion with another during the heat of a chase — get ready to jump when you want to accelerate, and vice versa —and small misunderstandings lead to big frustration when they undermine an otherwise excellent run. Games like this are bound to support both control schemes in the future, but “Rider” would do itself a major favor — and instantly transform into an awesome game — if it rights a wrong and patches in controller support retroactively.


Racquet Sports
From: Asobo Studio/Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes)

If you’re leery of the prospect of developers porting their Wii games over to Move without optimizing them for the hardware, then “Racquet Sports,” which originally appeared on the Wii this past March, won’t make you feel any better. As the name implies, “Sports” includes five sports — tennis, badminton, table tennis, beach tennis and squash — that center around the use of a racket. Each sport features a reward-laden single-player career mode as well as local tournament and party play multiplayer (four players) and head-to-head online play (two players). The game looks terrific, each sport boasts a nice variety of diverse locales, and the character design is considerably more attractive than the bland cast found in “Sports Champions.” But “Sports” squanders all that good stuff with a control scheme that barely takes advantage of the Move’s capabilities. Instead of the 1:1 racket controls found in “Champions'” superior table tennis game, “Sports” uses gesture controls that are evocative of the four-year-old “Wii Sports.” As such, there’s no way to doctor a wand swing to aim a shot a specific way, and the cheap tricks that worked in “Wii Sports” — namely, flicking the wand instead of swinging it to easily hit any ball in the near vicinity — also work here.


Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11
For: Playstation 3 (requires online access to get Move patch)
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

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

If you own “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11” or the downloadable “Planet Minigolf,” then congratulations: — through the power of downloadable online patches, you now also own a Playstation Move game.

“Woods” patches Move support into all of its modes, further expanding what already was a pretty excellent suite of control options. If you’ve played “Woods” on the Wii, you already know how well this can work, and the considerable fidelity advantage the Move enjoys over the Wii remote makes the process of swinging a virtual club so much more natural than it’s ever been in a video game. EA Sports could have waited until next year to sell this as a new feature, so bravo to them for doing it right, doing it right now and giving it away to customers who already purchased the game three months ago.

While “Woods'” Move support is the bigger deal, the most transformative patch so far goes to “Minigolf.” The $10 game looks terrific, boasts some wild course designs and has a stacked feature set (16 courses, online/local multiplayer, course editor, team multiplayer), but the excessively touchy control schemes were a killer. The Move controls change everything: The game maps certain functions to the Move wand in a way that takes adjustment, but in terms of swinging the club, “Minigolf” feels supremely precise, transforming a fatally flawed miniature golf game into the best of its kind.

More games, including “Heavy Rain” and “Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition,” are introducing free Move support shortly.

DVD 9/21: Ondine, Bored to Death S1, (Untitled), Alien Autopsy, Robin Hood, The Experiment, Grey's Anatomy S6, Private Practice S3, Desperate Housewives S6, Castle S2

Ondine (PG-13, 2009/, Magnolia)
Despite his sleepy existence off the Irish coast, fisherman Syracuse (Colin Farrelle) is hardly bored: He shares custody of his daughter Annie (Alison Barry), who suffers from kidney failure, and as consequence, he enjoys no shortage of colorful (albeit strangely genial) exchanges with his argumentative ex-wive (Dervla Kirwan). But all of that excitement pales in comparison to what happens when Syracuse catches a woman (Alicja Bachleda as Ondine) with no recollection of her past life in his net. Syracuse turns the mystery surrounding Ondine into a bedtime story for Annie, Annie does some spying and concludes Ondine is a real-life mermaid, and from there, a brilliantly original fairy tale with a strong distaste for compromise takes shape. “Ondine” never breaks contact with the world in which it is set: Syracuse’s existence is grimy and somewhat bleak, his daughter’s condition is demoralizing, and Ondine isn’t exactly The Little Mermaid if she’s a mermaid at all. But Annie’s convictions about Ondine’s past are disarmingly sweet, and her sweetness is merely enhanced by how snarky and sardonic she can be at the same time. The details of Ondine’s past gradually come to light, and without spoiling anything, what ultimately happens rather perfectly embodies how good “Ondine” is at continually playing two completely disparate moods off one another. It’s a dark, complicated story about some surprisingly complicated characters, but it never loses sight of the enchantment it teases in its very first scene.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Bored to Death: The Complete First Season (NR, 2009, HBO)
Like many kids, Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) fancies himself a private detective capable of solving mysteries for anyone willing to pay for his services. Unlike most kids, though, Jonathan is 30. And unlike most private detectives who are 30, Jonathan isn’t actually licensed to be a detective, but is instead a floundering writer whose dumping at the hands of Suzanne (Olivia Thirlby) motivates him to prioritize, chase a dream and post an (illegal) ad to Craigslist offering his (unlicensed) services. Occasionally, best friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) joins the fray when his issues with emasculation aren’t flaring up. Ditto for Jonathan’s stoner boss George (Ted Danson), who is so bored with his post-divorce life and magazine empire that he’ll gladly risk his reputation for some danger. Given the emotional state of our three heroes, it probably goes without saying that while “Bored to Death” centers most episodes around a case, the real mystery comes from seeing which emotional wounds Jonathan, Ray and George will tear open en route to (maybe) solving it. “Death” regularly cuts deep with its writing, but it never loses sight of its completely silly disposition — a trait that’s entirely too uncommon amongst all these otherwise wonderful cable shows. In stark contrast to the show’s title, “Death’s” cast appears to be having a ball making this show, and between “Damages” and this, Danson has never been more fun to watch than he is right now.
Contents: Eight episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes and two behind-the-scenes features.

(Untitled) (R, 2009, Screen Media Films)
Seriously, what did the art world do to deserve this? If “Boogie Woogie’s” indiscriminate spraying of venom last week wasn’t entertainingly vitriolic enough, “(Untitled)” offers a more intimate shanking by focusing on a handful of artists and entrepreneurs (Adam Goldberg, Marley Shelton, Eion Bailey, Vinnie Jones, Lucy Punch, Zak Orth, Ptolemy Slocum) trying to make it in a world that frowns on commercial viability and associates “making it” with being as penniless and misunderstood as most of these folks already are. Like “Woogie,” “(Untitled)” teases a full-blown farce, and it takes that tease even further with some wonderfully cringeworthy displays of pretense and some hilarious sight and sound gags that just dangle there while everyone walks around with a miserably straight face. But also like “Woogie,” there are too many moods in play — and too many of them illustrated with too much care and insight — to dismiss it simply as parody. “(Untitled)” lobs bombs at the art world, but it also cuts to the heart of what might drive people to torture themselves in pursuit of making something that touches someone else. The odd juxtaposition leaves the film with some meandering plot turns toward the end, but it’s a minor drawback in the face of all the bases it touches, and while the events depicted within represent an extreme case for entertainment’s sake, they’re a lot closer to the truth than many would prefer to admit. No extras.

Alien Autopsy (PG-13, 2006, Warner Bros.)
Does the name “Alien Autopsy” ring any bells for you? Does it, perhaps, remind you of a certain prime-time television special of the same name that aired on Fox 15 years ago and teased what might be real footage of an alien autopsy? This movie is the story of how two nobodies (Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly as Gary Shoefield and Ray Santilli, respectively) tricked that network, and numerous others worldwide, into giving them gobs of money for what essentially was a home video shot weeks earlier. The premise alone gives “Autopsy” all the ammo it needs to have a rousing good time, and that, happily, is precisely what it does. Creative liberty appears to run wild — the principal cast plays its parts to the nines, and with the real Shoefield and Santilli working behind the scenes as executive producers, the notion of dubiousness isn’t exactly farfetched — and anyone looking for a comprehensive, hard-hitting look at what happened in light of the hoax’s revelation won’t get it. As “based on true story” stories go, this one is positively bleeding out. But it’s just as well: “Autopsy” seems more concerned with being a hilariously fun story about two schmucks playing an epic prank on the establishment, and at that, it succeeds nicely.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Robin Hood: Unrated Director’s Cut (PG-13/NR, 2010, Universal)
If you saw the commercials for “Robin Hood,” and if you have a good idea of how the obscenely glossy remake game is played, then you’re more than equipped to make a judgement about seeing the movie, which is exactly what you expect it is. For starters, it’s long — 140-156 minutes long, depending on which cut you watch. That’s at least 45 minutes too many because, in another non-surprise, “Robin Hood” takes every nod toward the character’s lore — here’s Mariam’s (Cate Blanchett) entrance, here’s the Sheriff of Nottingham, and of course, here’s Robin Longstride’s (Russell Crowe) meticulously illustrated coming into being — and wraps it in more padding than a glass vase being shipped around the world. The excess padding leads to scenes that drag out, scenes that didn’t even need to be included, and a continual buzz of self-indulgence that’s part and parcel with every glossy, big-budget remake of a cherished epic. The bulk of that money, naturally, goes toward the construction of elaborate set pieces and battles that dwarf those of the film’s forebears. But money can’t buy “Robin Hood” a soul, and there’s something completely dispiriting about how grey, dreary and completely telegraphed the movie’s aesthetic is. Only minimal knowledge of the story is needed to predict “Robin Hood’s” every mannerism, and you can call just as many shots simply by being familiar with the tired old roads down which these bloated remakes always seem to venture.
Extras: Theatrical and director’s cut, plus an hourlong making-of feature, deleted scenes, a shorter behind-the-scenes feature and a pop-up video-style director’s notebook.

The Experiment (R, 2010, Sony Pictures)
The experiment
in the experiment — take some law-abiding citizens and promise them a nice paycheck in exchange for role-playing as prisoners and guards in a real penitentiary for two weeks — is pretty intriguing. Problem is, it’s also been done for real — most famously during the 1971 Stanford Prison experiment — and it’s also been subject to a real-life documentary series (also called “The Experiment”) that aired on the BBC in 2002. In this incarnation, “The Experiment” is a work of fiction, pitting Adrien Brody in the prisoners camp and Forest Whitaker in the guards camp. As one might expect, it’s a gritty work of fiction, and as one might expect, some serious ugliness creeps in once the experiment gets fully underway. But the problem with a fictional movie that borrows so much from considerably more controversial documentary fodder is that most sentences describing it start with “as one might expect.” “The Experiment” is reasonably entertaining, and the script takes advantage of creative liberty in ways the true stories could not. But the most interesting thing “The Experiment” could have done is show us what happens to its characters after, not during, the experiment. We get a glimpse, but barely more than that, and it’s too bad the most unpredictable and creatively liberating part of this otherwise disadvantaged story is merely an afterthought to all the things we see coming from several scenes away. No extras.

Worth a Mention: TV on DVD Edition
— “Grey’s Anatomy: Complete Sixth Season (NR, 2009, ABC): When we last left Seattle Grace, two of “Grey’s Anatomy’s” regulars since day one were in severe peril — one at the hands of cancer, the other at the hands of a speeding bus. The consequences of those events naturally have a heavy pull on the mood of season six’s early going, but a merger with a nearby hospital and the influx of new cast members (Kim Raver most notable among them) pulls back. “Anatomy” did a similar trick the previous season by shaking up a staling formula with lots of new faces, and what worked that time also works this time. More notably (and at long last), the show shows willingness to center entire episodes around one character instead weaving multiple storylines through the whole cast. Includes 24 episodes, plus an extended (by 20 minutes) finale, a six-part “Seattle Grace: On Call” mockumentary Webisode series, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes feature.
— “Private Practice: The Complete Third Season” (NR, 2009, ABC): “Private Practice’s” third season begins in far less dire straits than its parent show’s sixth season, but the second season finale left enough relationships in enough disorder — to say nothing about the practice itself, which now faces competition from within the same office building — to provide fodder going into season three. The “Grey’s Anatomy” effect is present as ever, though: There’s another crossover episode between the two shows, “Anatomy” cast MVP Chandra Wilson makes a separate guest appearance, and while the cast begins the season in good health, one member doesn’t finish it that way.
— “Desperate Housewives: The Complete Sixth Season” (NR, 2009, ABC): “Desperate Housewives'” fifth season was supposed to reignite the series by jumping five years into the future. It worked … for a while, and then things went back to normal with regard to new neighbors hiding murky pasts and some calamity providing the season’s centerpiece. The sixth season bears no such pretense: There’s a mysterious new neighbor (Drea de Matteo), there’s a spectacular new disaster, and there’s a healthy load of new conflicts and misunderstandings between the same old residents on Wisteria Lane. “Housewives” no longer feels terribly fresh, but until the plateau turns into a downslope, there’s nothing wrong with the pace it’s keeping, either. Includes 23 episodes, plus deleted scenes, bloopers, series Creator Marc Cherry’s favorite scenes and two behind-the-scenes features.
— “Castle: The Complete Second Season” (NR, 2009, ABC): Longtime Nathan Fillion devotees might quietly curse the universe that canceled “Firefly” after 14 episodes while allowing something comparatively pedestrian like “Castle” — which stars Fillion as a mystery novelist whose expertise lets him tag along with and assist an NYPD detective (Stana Katic) as she cracks cases — to complete two seasons with a third on the way. But while “Castle” definitely adheres to formula — most episodes focus on a single case, and most cases run through the same motion of collaring a handful of suspects before clearing them and revealing the real culprit — it also is as good a showcase of Fillion’s charisma as any other show has been. Richard Castle is a funny, self-depreciating sidekick, and as result, “Castle” is more likable and entertaining than its formula might imply. Includes 24 episodes, plus deleted scenes, bloopers and three behind-the-scenes features.

DVD 9/14/10: Boogie Woogie, The Good Wife S1, Afterschool, America: The Story of Us, Letters to Juliet, Mad Ron's Prevues From Hell, Classic Artists: Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero, Glee S1, StudioCanal blu-ray releases

Boogie Woogie (R, 2009, IFC Films)
Grab your notebooks, aspiring filmmakers, because “Boogie Woogie” is about to teach a lesson on how feasible it is to make a movie that’s completely unlikable but just as completely enjoyable anyway. There’s no good place to even start: “Woogie” is an indiscriminate spraying of gunfire at the world of art appreciation, and from the start, the bullets — a dying man (Christopher Lee) clinging to the $20 million masterpiece he purchased for $500 while everyone including his wife (Joanna Lumley) tries semi-tactfully to pry it away, a woman (Jaime Winstone) whose “art” is simply pointing a videocamera at everything she sees, a horribly insecure gallery owner (Danny Huston) who spies on competitors and privately wishes to ruin some of the same people to whom he publicly toasts — are everywhere. For good measure, “Woogie” throws in some adultery, sexual confusion, nepotism, betrayal of friendship, and a healthy number of misunderstandings and poor judgment. Just about everything and everyone is unpleasant, and while the film regularly flashes a sense of humor and initially hints it’s shooting for irony, it plays too many scenes with too straight a face to dismiss the unpleasantness as simple parody. Instead, it’s a rapid-fire assault on all the absurd things ambition can do to people, and its appetite for destruction, when written and carried out with this level of honesty and at this speed, is an asset rather than a downfall. You might walk away from “Wookie” hating just about everybody who waltzed through it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t love the horse they rode in on anyway. Alan Cumming, Heather Graham, Gillian Anderson and Jack Huston, among others, also star. No extras.

The Good Wife: The First Season (NR, 2009, CBS/Paramount)
The stoic celebrity wife standing beside the husband who cheated on her in front of the entire planet is an image that’s become depressingly iconic in the current era, so it wasn’t a case of if but when it also became the lynchpin for a television show. But what “The Good Wife” does with the device — wrap it inside a procedural courtroom show in which the wife (Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick) of a fallen and unfaithful Chicago politician (Chris Noth as Peter) resumes a law career she suspended 13 years prior in order to fend for her family (Makenzie Vega, Graham Phillips) while her husband does time — is a little more surprising. Using the concept as wrapping for just another courtroom show is bound to disappoint those who would rather “Wife” just hit that idea head on and mine it for some blackly funny or darkly serious material. But while “Wife” doesn’t do anywhere near that, it also doesn’t waste the gimmick. The baggage from the shaming seeps into Alicia’s career as well as her family — many of the faces she interacts with on the job have natural ties to Peter’s downfall — and “Wife” finds a way to keep the overriding story at the forefront without beating viewers over the head with everything it represents. As a nice bonus, the cases are interesting, and Alicia’s fellow attorneys (Josh Charles, Christine Baranski, Archie Panjabi, Matt Czuchry) are far more likable than the usual stock lot of wise-cracking courtroom drama supporting characters.
Contents: 23 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes and two behind-the-scenes features.

Afterschool (NR, Afterschool, IFC Films)
Living on the campus of a posh boarding school puts Robert (Ezra Miller) in an easier position to make friends than if he were a loner at a more traditional high school. Nevertheless, he closes the world off anyway, envying his more socially adept classmates while burying his face in whatever extreme videos he can dig up on the web. The obsession with watching video turns into a fascination with creating it after he chooses videography as his mandatory after-school activity, but it also brings him right into view of a tragedy that brings the campus to a standstill. Unfortunately, it also brings the movie to a standstill — which is a problem, because it wasn’t really moving with much purpose in the first place. “Afterschool” starts with promise by meticulously establishing Robert’s loner character in a way that’s extensively recognizable without feeling like a caricature. That equates to a slow start, which would easily be forgiven if the movie parlayed it into a more stirring back half. Instead, “Afterschool” gets lost, trading atmosphere for unnecessary pretense and saving most of its momentous scenes for portrayals of shocking teenage behavior that (a) are no longer shocking on their own and (b) do little more than send the characters running in developmental circles. “Afterschool” never stops displaying some kind of knack for subtly understanding the teenage mind, but it never really does anything with that knack beyond make a lot of empty noise. The ending, as result, feels stuffy and accidentally comical rather than haunting as intended.
Extras: Short film “The Last 15,” deleted/alternate scenes, outtakes/spare footage, Miller interview, storyboards.

America: The Story of Us (NR, 2010, History Channel)
Everything — the grand title, the attempted scope, the length, the budget, the glossy presentation — makes it completely plain that the History Channel wants “America: The Story of Us” to be a treasured magnum opus. Visually, it mostly earns it, with polished, high-definition dramatizations working in tandem with some slick computer animation to overload each episode with eye candy. Even the talking-head interviews look glossy. Structurally, though, “America” is considerably less inspiring: Each of the 12 episodes covers a portion of the history, which is nice for organizational purposes, but it also means some fairly major pieces of that history either get shortchanged or completely ignored. World War I gets a passing mention, and there’s some thick irony in a program called “the Story of Us” neglecting the origins of the Constitution and the American government as much as this one does. But perhaps the biggest disappointment lies in “America’s” details. The episodic structure means time already is at a premium for the subjects the show does cover in depth, and “America” fritters entirely too much time away by admiring all that eye candy and too often inexplicably interviewing celebrities instead of historians and newsmakers about their thoughts on the country’s history. Do you turn to Sheryl Crow, Michael Douglas, Donald Trump and Diddy for your history lessons? Because “America” does. And for those reasons and more, it’s little more than a beautiful assemblage of missed opportunity.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus deleted scenes.

Letters to Juliet (PG, 2010, Summit Entertainment)
Sometimes, a romantic comedy can’t help but be predictable. But “Letters to Juliet” sets its characters on a tee, gives viewers a driver, and then does the narrative equivalent of just looking the other way. “Juliet” finds fact-checker Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) on a pre-wedding honeymoon in Italy with fiancé and burgeoning restauranteur Victor (Gael García Bernal), and from Victor’s first appearance before the trip even starts, it’s clear he’s spending the entire vacation burying his nose in work. So Sophie, left to her own devices, visits the the Juliet Club, where the lovelorn write letters to Juliet (of Capulet fame) and a group of women send replies in her name. Sophie finds a long-lost letter, answers it with the women’s blessing, and shortly after, the recipient (Vanessa Redgrave as Claire) — with her cranky grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) accompanying — revisits Italy in hopes of finding her old flame. “Juliet” could have thrived in spite of formula if it was about Claire and the Juliet Club (which, in addition to being a neat idea, is also real). Instead, it’s about Sophie and Charlie. The former is engag
ed to a much more likable (albeit clueless) man whose complete disappearance concerns nobody for most of the film. The latter is a charmless crank whose only sympathetic traits come from insulting ploys told in passing. But it doesn’t matter, because you already know where this is going. “Juliet” takes two characters with busted social compasses and uses them to feed its audience a broken, predictable lecture about true love. Bite down at your own peril.
Extras: Director/Seyfried commentary, deleted/extended scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Worth a Mention
— “Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell” (NR, 1987, Virgil Films): The train of Halloween releases starts rolling in earnest next week, but it wouldn’t be right not to mention the DVD debut of this cult classic about cult classics. “Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell” is a compilation of 47 horror movie trailers, many of them hailing from the zenith of the grindhouse era, and it ties the whole thing together with wondrously campy skits starring a magnificent cast of low-budget monsters. Watching all 47 trailers in succession can be tough, but thanks to the miracle of DVD, you can pause for air at any time. Extras include deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features and production and movie poster photo galleries.
— “Classic Artists: Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero” (NR, 2010, Image Entertainment): If you’re looking for dirt, look somewhere else: The Classic Artists series would rather focus on the music than look behind it, and they make that point crystal clear on the back of “Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero’s” packaging. Sure enough, that’s what this is — a loving, performance-filled look at Hendrix’s abilities, narrated by a fellow guitarist, Slash, who idolized his work. Extras include extended interviews, bonus Hendrix performance footage, image galleries and a 20-page, color photo-laden companion booklet.
— “Glee: The Complete First Season” (NR, 2009, Fox): “Glee’s” first season took longer to air than just about any successful first season in history, which is the non-cynical reason why this is actually the second batch of “Glee” episodes to hit DVD. The bad news for those who purchased “Season 1, Volume 1: Road to Sectionals” needs no explanation: Those 13 episodes and extras are in this set, which also includes the nine episodes that aired after its release. Extras include audition footage, sing-along karaoke, a jukebox, 10 behind-the-scenes features, video diaries and a music video.
— Latest wave of StudioCanal blu-ray releases (R/NR, Lions Gate): Longtime DVDs making their Blu-ray debuts no longer is remotely newsworthy, but when an imprint like StudioCanal jumps into the fray — and produces releases as pretty and noteworthy as these — exceptions are bound to be made. This week sees the release of 1991’s “Delicatessen” and 1949’s “The Third Man.” Per collection standard, both releases include liner notes written specifically for these editions. Additional extras include director (“Delicatessen”) and crew (“Third Man”) commentary, behind-the-scenes features, a retrospective documentary (“Delicatessen” only), alternate takes (“Third Man”) and photo galleries. StudioCanal is providing similar treatments for “Le Cercle Rouge,” “The Graduate,” “The Pianist” and “Mulholland Drive” in Europe, but licensing issues currently have their stateside releases in limbo.

Games 9/14/10: Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, Game Center

Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The Videogame
Reviewed for: Wii
Also available for: Nintendo DS
From: WayForward Technologies/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence, comic mischief)

No series of games has earned the “fun for all ages” tag quite like the Lego-branded games, which are fun and funny enough to engage good players but accommodating enough to allow even the most hopelessly hopeless to see them to completion. Thanks to local co-op support, they also allow two players of completely different disciplines to play together and have an identically great time doing so.

“Batman: The Brave and the Bold” is a classic sidescrolling beat ’em up that plays nothing like those Lego games — picture “Double Dragon” or the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” arcade game, but with “Batman” characters and gadgets. But by basing itself on the terrifically funny cartoon of the same name, and by adopting the same appetite for accommodation, it achieves that same all-inclusive vibe that makes those Lego games so endearing.

“Bold” mimics the cartoon by not only using the same art style and voice cast, but also by dividing its storyline into four mock episodes, all of which kick off with a boss fight against a secondary supervillain before launching into the cartoon’s title sequence and getting on with the episode.

All four episodes star Batman (who, in this instance, resembles Adam West’s genial character more than Christian Bale’s barking antihero), but each supplies him with a different sidekick and a fresh set of villains and environments. Players (playing alone with a surprisingly capable A.I. partner or with a friend via local co-op) can embody either hero, each of whom has his own gadgets on top of the standard brawling moves. Players also can summon one of 10 superheroes for brief assistance when things get hairy — a nice way to include “Bold’s” large cast of heroes while staying true to the show’s format.

Also true to the show: how surprisingly funny the whole thing is. If the recent “Batman” movies’ dreariness leaves you cold, “Bold” the cartoon is a personable and brilliantly funny antidote. The game is light on cutscenes, but it continually enhances the action with banter from the show’s voice talent, and the mix of reverence, self-depreciation and hilarious one-liners makes this one of the most pleasantly enjoyable games of the summer.

For some — young kids certainly, but maybe their gaming-challenged parents as well — part of that enjoyment will come from how generously “Bold,” like those Lego games, punishes failure. The game offers unlimited lives, and players who lose all health respawn right where they perished (or, in the event of falling into a pit of lava or something similar, as close to the spot as possible). The only penalty is a dent in collected coins, which go toward the purchase of those gadget upgrades, but the generosity means players don’t exactly need those upgrades to get through the game anyway.

While some won’t love that system, it’s infinitely preferable to making the game a cakewalk. “Bold” never approaches the punishing difficulty of some of its forebears, but it certainly doesn’t lack for action. Numerous enemies crowd the screen at once, and between the chaos they create and the moves at players’ disposal, there’s rarely a moment in “Bold” that’s dull. “Bold” uses certain Wii remote functions intelligently — Batman’s batarang certainly benefits from the Wii remote’s cursor capabilities — but for the most part, this is as classically fun as 2D brawling gets.


Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
For: Nintendo DS
From: Level-5/Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild violence)

Three titles on, it’s easy to take the “Professor Layton” games for granted, and it’s temptingly easy to just recommend them out of hand to anyone who played and enjoyed the first two. If that’s you, here’s your “Professor Layton and the Unwound Future” review: Get it. It’s mostly more of the same — and that’s probably all you need to hear.

For the uninitiated, the “Layton” games are collections of genuinely clever riddles — picture rainy day brainteasers more than matching blocks and the usual stuff one associates with puzzle games — packaged inside a charming storyline starring the mystery-solving titular professor and his trusty apprentice Luke. By Nintendo DS standards, the storytelling is surprisingly polished, with hand-drawn animated cutscenes, generous amounts of voice acting and a narrative that ties into the puzzles startlingly well considering how many of them there are (165 and counting in this case) and how unique and meticulously crafted most of them are.

All of that still applies in “Future,” which finds Layton receiving a letter from London that apparently was written 10 years in the future by an older Luke. “Future” naturally weaves time travel into its storyline, and the device allows players not only to visit an environment that’s far busier than the first two games’ sleepy locales, but also see London in two dramatically different time periods and states.

Without spoiling specifics, “Future’s” story does have some warts — mostly with regard to making players trek back and forth between areas that aren’t exactly next door to one another. The plot also struggles occasionally to stay on a sane path while managing all those riddles and keeping a lid on the logistical can of worms that always threatens to spill out of any story based around time travel.

More than not, though, “Future” finds the best things about the series at their very best. The glimpse at future Luke gives fans more insight into our supporting hero, and the change of venue works in tandem with a greater concentration of cutscenes to flesh out Layton’s world in a way that will greatly satisfy fans and likely catch new players pleasantly off guard. There really is no other video game that tells stories quite the way these do — an accomplishment on any system, but especially impressive on the little DS.

Most important, though, the story ties into the riddle designs more closely than ever. Stating that “Future” has 165 riddles isn’t implying that it has 30 slight variations of the same five or so riddle designs. The variety here is enormous, and the only thing more impressive than the puzzles’ storyline ties is how consistently the game toes a perfect difficulty line. “Future’s” brainteasers are ingeniously tricky, but they’re always surmountable, and the systems the game has in place — not every puzzle must be solved to see the ending, collectable coins are redeemable toward hints, and there are no time limits for solving riddles — keeps the experience challenging but never frustrating.

Per series custom, Nintendo will sweeten “Future’s” already sweet $30 price by releasing additional puzzle packs for free each week via its in-game Wi-Fi Connection pipeline. The company hasn’t specified how long it’ll do this, but if the first two games’ post-release content is any gauge, that should equate to roughly 30 more puzzles for no additional cost.


Game Center
For: iPhone/iPod Touch (available for iPad in November)
From: Apple
iTunes Store Rating: N/A (comes bundled with iOS 4.1)
Price: Free (games sold separately)

Apple has slowly warmed up to the iPhone and iPod Touch’s accidental transformations into portable gaming juggernauts, but Game Center makes the embrace official. Officially speaking, Game Center is to the iPhone and iPod Touch (and, come November, iPad) w
hat Xbox Live and Playstation Network are to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, respectively. As such, the features are what you’d expect, with accommodations for friend lists, leaderboards and achievements. In terms of execution, it succeeds more than not. Being able to quick-launch any supported game from inside the “Center” app is handy, and the leaderboard section — which employs a nifty percentile system in addition to standard ranking metrics, ranks players worldwide and amongst friends, and has daily, weekly and all-time leaderboards for both tiers — is terrific. The system for finding friends is clumsy, though, and there’s no way to chat or set up a multiplayer game from within the “Center” app. The biggest caveat, though? Before Game Center came along, OpenFeint already thrived on iOS by doing the same thing, and between that service’s admirable member support and its pending arrival on the Android platform, it arguably remains superior to Apple’s offering. Time will tell which service attracts more new games — OpenFeint presently has a gargantuan lead, but developers are sure to flock to a system that’s ingrained into the OS — and that, more than features or interface, likely will determine which platform leads the pack in the future. In the meantime, the competition can only benefit users of both services.

DVD 9/7/10: Solitary Man, That Evening Sun, MacGruber, Wade in the Water, Children, The Norm Show CS, The Exploding Girl

Solitary Man (R, 2009, Anchor Bay)
The line between frustration and gratification is spectacularly thin in “Solitary Man,” which opens six years in the past, splashes some cold water on renowned car salesman Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas), and then whisks us into the present for a full-on dunking. “Man’s” storyline is scattered, and instead of laying out what happened in those six years to explain all that presently lies in ruin in Ben’s formerly perfect life, the film lets you figure it out yourself by watching Ben do as Ben does. And therein lies the line. On one hand, “Man” is a fiercely aggravating (yet inspiring, if you buy what Ben’s selling) look at a man whose youthful indiscretions belie not only his age, but common sense, the wisdom of past mistakes and the repercussions those indiscretions have for family, friends and more. But “Man” is just as much an evisceration as a validation. Where most movies would forgive their protagonist’s selfish stupidity in time for the credits, “Man” continually bites back with a stark (but, if you buy what Ben is feeling, ever-so-slightly sympathetic) look at the private hell of a body aging when the mind fights fruitlessly to stay young. The mishmash of characters, situations and intentions makes for a chaotic story with time management issues. But when that chaos touches as many nerves as pointedly as this one does, it’s an asset more than a liability. Jenna Fischer, Danny DeVito and Jesse Eisenberg, among others, also star.
Extras: Writer/Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.

That Evening Sun (PG-13, 2009, Image Entertainment)
Though he seems entirely fit to fend for himself, old-timer Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) nonetheless finds himself bored and imprisoned in a retirement home. Worse still, when he breaks out of the home and escapes to the farmland he once owned and left to his son (Walton Goggins as Paul), he discovers Paul has leased the land to neighbor Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), whom he has long detested. Fortunately for Abner, he possesses about as much humility as he now does land, and until someone forces him off the property, he’s planting a flag in the shed in the yard. The brazen disregard for written contracts should make Abner an easy man to root against, and if “That Evening Sun” was an easy movie to pigeonhole, such might be the case. But “Sun” isn’t really about Abner’s land so much as Abner himself, and his increasingly ugly fight against Lonzo — which is complicated by softer feelings toward Lonzo’s wife (Carrie Preston) and daughter (Mia Wasikowska) — isn’t really a fight about land so much as it is two men’s separate scratching and clawing for just a pinch of respect from anywhere or anyone. Holbrook plays the part to perfection — he’s a cantankerous grouch, but one with a cause, a capacity for reverence and a darkly enjoyable sense of humor — and his castmates just as capably do justice to a script that goes deeper and darker than initial impressions even remotely imply.
Extras: Director anti-commentary, interviews, two behind-the-scenes features.

MacGruber: Unrated (R/NR, 2010, Universal)
Yes, we know: Movies based on “Saturday Night Live” skits, which themselves usually wear out their welcome by beating the same gag to a pulp for six increasingly unfunny minutes, are generally pretty terrible. But “MacGruber’s” 90-second skits are different, because in addition to being short, they’re busy making fun of entire genres and eras (along with a show, “MacGyver,” that isn’t hurting for easy pickings) to hammer the same tired joke for too long. “MacGruber’s” movie incarnation obviously cannot switch gears every two minutes, and it does as so many awful “SNL” movies do by expanding our titular hero’s (Will Forte) backstory and parlaying that into an actual storyline. But where those other movies dared to insult us by telling those backstories with even a partially straight face, “MacGruber” pulls off the cool trick of giving us the details while simultaneously making fun of the act of doing so. That goes triple for the spectacular origins of arch-nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer). “MacGruber” plays the whole thing off with a terrifically deadpan style that lets the characters play it straight while the actors wink away, and the movie’s ability to jump from gag to gag without overstaying any welcomes is as perfect a tribute to the skit’s appeal as there could possibly be. This isn’t the funniest or most coherent comedy you’ll see this year by any metric, but in the realm of “SNL” film treatments, it’s a masterpiece. Ryan Phillippe, Kristen Wiig and Powers Boothe also star.
Extras: Unrated and theatrical cuts of the movie, cast/crew commentary, deleted scene, bloopers.

Wade in the Water, Children (NR, 2008, IndiePix)
“Wade in the Water, Children” wasn’t conceived as a documentary. Rather, a classroom of young students at one New Orleans charter school filmed their day-to-day lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s arrival and aftermath, and from the 300 hours of footage the kids shot, this emerged. As such, “Children” also is exactly what you might fear it is — a collection of video diaries that show a lot of images, visit a lot of places and touch on a number of topics, but don’t necessarily say anything terribly profound when glued together under the guise of a documentary. The minds charged with putting “Children” together practice great restraint in letting the kids’ footage to do the talking, stepping in only to supply some text overlays with information about the kids featured within. The vignettes chosen for inclusion also run the gamut: Some are sweet, some are sad, a few are funny, most are candid, and a few perfectly convey just how slippery kids’ grasps on complicated current events can be. But every scene and every kid would have benefited immensely from more time and more context with which to let their stories breathe. “Children,” in this format, is continually forced to jump from one child and story to another, and it’s hard to develop a lasting attachment to the movie when such attachments never have a chance to form.
Extras: 2010 updates on the kids, extended scene, interviews.

The Norm Show: The Complete Series (NR, 1999, Shout Factory)
“Seinfeld” and other exceptions aside, sitcoms endured some uncomfortable growing pains in their transition from the mostly awful 1980s to today’s superior format, and few shows capture a vertical slice of that transition as acutely as this one does. The premise behind “The Norm Show” — Norm Henderson (Norm MacDonald) is a shamed former hockey player who got caught gambling on his own sport, but instead of sending him to prison, the judge sentences him to be a social worker — sounds like something “The Simpsons” would use for purposes of parody. The use of a laugh track — and the obligatory gags needed to meet the fake laugh-per-episode quota as demanded by the era — feels archaically trite. And McDonald, like most comedians who got their own show around the same time, is an abysmal actor whose delivery sounds the same when he’s happy, mad, sad or scared. Fortunately, McDonald’s stilted delivery — and if you’re familiar with his comedy, you know what that means — also happens to work for him. Additionally, while the show’s obligations to the premise are a drag, it gets away from it regularly enough for it not to matter too much. More than a show about a hockey player-slash-social worker, “Norm” feels like 22 minutes of McDonald indulging himself — which, thanks to his funny idea of self-indulgence, works just fine. Laurie Metcalf, Ian Gomez, Amy Wilson and Max Wright also star.
Contents: 54 episodes, plus commentary and liner notes.

The Exploding Girl (NR, 2009, Oscilloscope)
Movies prioritizing authenticity over everything else aren’t easy to pull off
, and depending on your thresholds for patience and entertainment, they aren’t necessarily all that enjoyable when someone actually gets it right. “The Exploding Girl” is the story of Ivy (Zoe Kazan), who comes home from college during spring break and, by doing so, gets to spend time with best friend Al (Mark Rendall) while boyfriend Greg hangs back at school. In case you can’t sense where this is going, Al’s asking about Greg almost as soon as the ride from the airport begins should offer a clue. But “Girl” isn’t as concerned with its transparent plot as it is with presenting this brief moment in time in obsessively authentic detail. At that, it does an exemplary job — right down to filling almost every square of dialogue with enough “ums” and “uhs” to aggravate those impatiently waiting for someone to do or say something with any kind of force. It doesn’t ever really happen, and in the grand scheme of Zoe’s and Al’s lives, “Girl” moves the needle a few inches at most. It’s a empathetic, meticulously constructed few inches, but if you need even a little oomph as a return on your 80-minute investment, the murmurs this one produces instead will likely just frustrate you.
Extras: Short film “Flutter,” behind-the-scenes feature, music video.

Games 9/7/10: Disney Guilty Party, Galactic Taz Ball, Dead Rising 2: Case Zero

Disney Guilty Party
For: Wii
From: Wideload Games/Disney Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

If you want to know what it’s like to play “Disney Guilty Party” by yourself, set up a game of “Clue” and invite no one to play with you. You might find a way to have fun for a little while, and those with active imaginations could certainly dream up a scenario in which they’re legitmately competing against themselves.

But playing “Party” without the party simply doesn’t compare to playing with up to three others, and because there’s no online multiplayer component to appease those who lack the luxury of live company, the game is nearly impossible to recommend to those who’d only play alone.

That, however, is not a slight to “Party,” which clearly was designed with social play in mind and thrives beautifully when played that way. Developer Wideload Games takes a good enough collection of roughly 50 minigames and bakes it into a clue-gathering chase that, in addition to tweaking the “Clue” formula just enough to freshen it up without rendering it unrecognizable, has players competing against the unidentified culprit as well as each other.

“Party” sets itself up like a game of “Clue” by dropping players in a cartoony mansion, establishing a makeshift storyline for sake of context, and shrouding the culprit behind a handful of clues pertaining to his or her physical characteristics. Players collect clues by winning those minigames, which are simple but brisk in a manner that will remind “WarioWare” fans of that series, and from there it’s a matter of deducing the innocent and correctly nabbing the perp before he or she escapes.

“Party” does include a story mode that, in addition to establishing a larger context around these cases, lets players fly solo and play strictly to decipher the clues. But while there’ s still some satisfaction to solving the cases, it’s dampened — and not simply because you’ll play the minigames by yourself and win them by default. The story mode allows up to three other players to join in cooperatively and work together, which is certainly more fun, but even this undermines too much of what makes “Party” great when cooperation becomes competition.

“Party’s” competitive multiplayer takes the characters and scenarios from the story mode and randomly shuffles enough factors that players essentially get a new case almost every time they play. The minigames actually matter in this mode, because the winner gets ownership of the clue at stake and, thanks to a trick that’s both necessary and ingenious, can stealthily use the Wii remote to turn the clue into a lie when other players see it on the screen. Players can perpetuate additional bluffs in their notebook, turning “Party” into a game of detective poker that brilliantly allows players to deceive one another while still sharing the same screen.

“Party” does what it does quite well, with mysteries that are the right mix of quick, challenging and accessible and with minigames that change the pace of the action without ever being the focus of that action. The character designs are terrific, and the game handles deception spotlessly by giving players the tools to use it and letting them take it from there. Tallied up, it’s an enviably good party game for a system that’s overloaded with wannabes. Give it a look if you have friends to play with, and find some friends to play with if you don’t.


Galactic Taz Ball
For: Nintendo DS
From: WayForward Technologies/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

One player’s idea of innovation is another player’s obnoxious gimmicky solution to a problem that never existed, and a few screenshots from the seemingly innocuous “Galactic Taz Ball” may as well accompany the Wikipedia entry that details this debate.

“Ball’s” storyline is easy enough to explain — Marvin the Martian and his fleet have invaded Earth, and Taz the Tasmanian Devil takes it into his own paws to stop him — and if the game had come out 10 years ago, the gameplay probably wouldn’t need any kind of explanation at all. Players control Taz in a game that’s 80 percent overhead platformer and 20 percent sidescrolling platformer, and each of the game’s 25 levels and accompanying boss fights incorporate both perspectives intermittently.

But instead of moving Taz using the directional pad in the overhead levels, players use a virtual trackball on the DS’ bottom screen to push him around. Taz responds with the same momentum a cursor would when using a PC trackball, and repeatedly spinning the trackball causes him to transform into his tornado form, which sends him careering around chaotically and allows him to wreak havoc on enemies and obstacles that otherwise would impede progress. (The only function the buttons provide goes toward a ground pound attack, which handily doubles as a means to bring Taz’s momentum to a standstill.)

Mastering the mannerisms of the virtual trackball takes practice, particularly because “Ball’s” tutorial doesn’t extensively explain those mannerisms. But once it becomes second nature, it’s a blast. “Ball’s” overworld levels are full of moving platforms and narrow terrain, and while controlling Taz is deliberately more chaotic with the trackball than it would be with buttons, the trackball is plenty responsive enough to maintain a controlled chaos instead of something that feels completely unwieldy and cheap. The trackball also is nice and life-sized, comprising the majority of the bottom screen (and, consequently, validating “Ball’s” choice of this platform over other touchscreen-enabled devices).

The sidescrolling stuff is a bit stranger. As the story somewhat explains, Taz cedes all control to a series of conveyor belts, cannons, rotating platforms and other gadgets that players activate and deactivate to guide him from entrance to exit. The levels play out like puzzles, and players who want to find the hidden collectables needed to unlock “Ball’s” secret content will have to lead Taz down alternate routes that are more difficult to traverse than the basic routes. (“Ball” also peppers the overhead levels with a few out-of-way collectables, and between making it fun to find these collectables and further rewarding players who complete the overhead levels under a par time, there significantly more replay value than the 25-level count originally implies.)

But while the sidescrolling portions are a fun challenge for those who aspire to find those hidden routes, they also make a case for sticking with old control conventions when old conventions would suffice. Tapping the gadgets to activate them makes sense, but players also must “swipe” Taz to turn him around and tap him to make him march forward. “Ball” occasionally confuses fast swipes for taps, which can cause any number of unwanted factors to sabotage progress, and there’s no good reason for this to happen while so many buttons sit on the bench.


Dead Rising 2: Case Zero
For: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Marketplace
From: Blue Castle Games/Capcom
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol)
Price: $5

Capcom has positioned “Dead Rising 2: Case Zero” as a piece of purchasable marketing that doubles as a prequel to the upcoming “Dead Rising 2.” But for those who got excited about the original “Dead Rising” but hated how Capcom laid it out back in 2006, “Zero” might accidentally serve as a cheap reminder not to make the same mistake twice. Like “Rising,” “Zero” is a third person zombie-slaying simulator,
and while the scope here isn’t as large as it was then or will be in “DR2” proper, the game still lets players massacre schools of zombies with just about any object not bolted to the ground in a pretty spacious open world. “Zero” uses assets from the upcoming game, and in addition to introducing players to main character Chuck in a short storyline set three years prior, it also introduces players to Chuck’s ability to combine two weapons into a third, thoroughly ridiculous weapon. But “Zero” also reintroduces players to “Rising’s” unique structure, which places hard time limits on every objective in the game and stacks them in a way that forces players to forgo certain missions in order to complete others (and essentially replay the game, with all accumulated experience points carrying over, numerous times to complete every objective). The system was as polarizing as it was original, and while those who loved it will adore Capcom’s sticking to its guns four years later, it’s might make “DR2” a non-starter for those who didn’t.