Caprica: Season 1.0 (NR, 2009, Universal)
You can call “Caprica” a prequel to “Battlestar Galactica,” because that’s what it is, but you’d be reaching to argue it doesn’t work awfully hard to be a beast of its own creation. “Caprica” begins nearly 60 years before the initial events of the “Galactica” reboot, and sure enough, the feature-length premiere episode offers some wild insight into the creation of the very first Cylon. But while fans of “Galactica” stand to benefit the most from timeline connections like these, there’s entirely too much going on here to recommend it solely to them. “Caprica” takes place on soil instead of in space, so the parallels it draws to real-life ways and means are as insightful as “Galactica’s” metaphors but also wholly its own. It also compensates for the grounding with perhaps the most inspired look yet at virtual worlds, avatars, the ability to live second lives, and what happens when technology and tragic happenstance blur the lines between dimensions. There’s plenty of first-rate fan service here, but more than that, this simply is terrific science fiction. Alessandra Torresani, Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Magda Apanowicz, Paula Malcomson and Polly Walker star.
Contents: Nine episodes, plus the unrated cut of the pilot, commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, podcast commentary and a ton of video blogs.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence (R, 2010, IFC Films)
No horror movie has been talked about more this year than this one, so perhaps the most shocking thing about “The Human Centipede: First Sequence” is what it doesn’t do rather than what it does. For the few horror fans who wish to know about “Centipede” but somehow do not, here’s the gist: A renowned surgeon (Dieter Laser) in Germany draws up plans for a surgery that attaches three human beings together as a single, centipede-like organism with a shared digestive tract. The idea is messed up, the film’s marketing continually swears the fiction is rooted in real medical accuracy, and that is more than enough for “Centipede” to creep people out purely during the anticipatory stage. But here’s the shocker: Though it’s a film that centers around a surgery performed on participants held against their will, “Centipede” doesn’t really dabble in exploitation or needless gore at all. The idea is twisted enough, there’s a lot of storytelling the film wishes to do, and Laser does a magnificent job of conveying how scary a person can be when his intelligence, insanity and means all reach their peak at the same time. As bloody horror films go, “Centipede” is very nearly dry. But don’t be surprised if this one sticks with you long after every gore-a-thon you see this year has faded from memory.
Extras: Director commentary, director interview, deleted scene, two behind-the-scenes features, casting footage.
Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals (NR, 2010, HBO)
Even non-basketball fans know a thing or two about the rivalry between Earvin Johnson and Larry Bird. And while that might make “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals” a little less appealing on paper than a story rooted in a little more obscurity, it’s also sort of the point: This was bigger than basketball, and the NBA as we know it might not exist if Magic and Larry hadn’t joined the league right on time to revive it. Fortunately, and because this is HBO, “Rivals” doesn’t waste time reminding us of things we already know. Instead — and with both Bird and Johnson chiming in — it takes a deeply personal look at how two players with an extreme contempt for one another became dear friends. It also doesn’t tiptoe over the darker points in the timeline, with surprisingly candid discussions about such uncomfortable topics as the race politics that clouded the rivalry and Magic’s contracting of HIV. The movie asks a lot of good questions, neither Bird nor Johnson flinch with their answers, and if you know only a thing or two about these two, “Rivals” is a wonderfully entertaining eye-opener that, like its subjects, has appeal far beyond simple basketball fandom. No extras.
The Cleveland Show: The Complete Season One (NR, 2009, Fox)
It doesn’t get a whole lot more lateral than “The Cleveland Show,” which finds everybody’s favorite “Family Guy” pushover, Cleveland Brownl, packing a suitcase and his son and moving in with his hometown high school crush and her family. Cleveland’s personality stands in stark contrast to Peter Griffin’s, but their roles on their respective shows aren’t terribly different. That list goes on: His son, Cleveland Jr., plays Chris Griffin’s part, long-lost love Donna plays the straight card as well as Lois, wise-cracking baby Rallo is a warmed-over Stewie, and a bear replaces Brian the dog as the token talking animal. “Cleveland’s” humor adopts the exact same style as “Guy,” so if you haven’t had enough of that routine, it’s hard to say no to twice as much of it a year. If you’ve outgrown the schtick, though, “Cleveland” will feel stale straight out of the gate.
Contents: 21 uncensored episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, a live table read with Kanye West and a music video.
The Oxford Murders (R, 2008, Magnolia)
Graduate student Martin (Elijah Wood) had visions of studying with logic professor Arthur Seldom (John Hurt) when he arrived at Oxford. But he didn’t anticipate the study subject being the murder of a mutual friend (Anna Massey), whose body they find in her home at the same time during separate visits for separate reasons. From there, a pattern of premeditated murders develops, with the killer “announcing” his intentions ahead of time through a riddle of mathematical symbols the two scramble to solve together. That’s pretty cool, and some of the turns in “The Oxford Murders” — including the final reveal — are pretty clever as well. So why is it so hard to get past how unbearably stuffy the whole thing is? A few flashes of passion or anger aside, just about every character and dialogue exchange in “Murders” feels rehearsed at best and insufferably stiff otherwise. And while some of those riddles look awfully good on paper, the people in play are so acutely forgettable that there’s no reason to care about the actual consequences of them. The fight in “Murders” ultimately is over people’s lives, but everyone here feels half-day already, so it’s hard to understand what the fuss over saving anyone is really about.
Extras: Nine behind-the-scenes features.
Blue Mountain State: Season One (NR, 2010, Lions Gate)
You’ve heard of the lowest common denominator, but what you might not know is that scientists actually found a rung of intelligence that all this time has been buried beneath it. In the deepest depths of that rung, this show — which isn’t so much about a college football team as it is a collection of brutal gags assembled in the form of a show about college football — is playing on every television screen. This isn’t necessarily a condemnation, because “Blue Mountain State” cannot possibly not realize how low it aims, and there almost certainly is a niche — unsupervised nine-year-olds drunk on Hi-C, perhaps — who will find the incoming cavalcade of sight gags absolutely fall-down hilarious. “State” must realize how starved that market is for shows about adults that are written for children by writers who couldn’t hack it on YouTube, and its ability to nourish that need is nothing short of heroic.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus deleted scenes, outtakes and two behind-the-scenes features.
Worth a Mention
— “Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition” (G, 1991, Disney): Though this doubles as the Blu-ray debut for “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s terrific all-inclusive strategy — packing the Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy edi
tions inside a single, dressed-up box — means everyone can enjoy the benefits of the film’s best transfer to date. Contents (some Blu-ray only) include three cuts (theatrical, extended and with storyboards) of the film, plus commentary, four behind-the-scenes features, DVD games, sing-along feature, music video and an early presentation reel that includes an alternate score and a deleted song.
— New wave of “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series: You cannot stop Shout Factory’s barrage of Roger Corman reissues. You can only hope to contain it on your nearest bookshelf. New entrants include the three-film “Slumber Party Massacre” collection (R/NR, 1982-90), “StarCrash” (PG, 1979) and a double feature with “The Evil” (R, 1978) and “Twice Dead” (R, 1988). Every film in each release gets a commentary track, and “Massacre” also includes a three-part making-of documentary. But “StarCrash” is the big winner here: In addition to being able to show off a then-unknown David Hasselhoff, the two-disc set comes with deleted/extended scenes, behind-the-scenes footage with commentary, interviews, a special effects feature, 12 pages of liner notes and a large library of concept art and production photos.
— Blu-ray debuts for “The Maltese Falcon” (NR, 1941, Warner Bros.) and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (NR, 1947, Warner Bros.): The packaging doesn’t look nearly as pretty as last week’s “King Kong” reissue, but the picture does, and that’s what matters. Both films include commentary tracks with Humphrey Bogart biographer Eric Lax, as well as behind-the-scenes features and radio show adaptations of the movies with the films’ stars.