Toy Story 3 (G, 2010, Disney)
Connoisseurs of thoughtful, well-written movies have had a torrent of great films to enjoy throughout the entire year, making it that much more ridiculous that 2010’s most affecting movie might be a big-budget, computer-animated story about toys. But if you’ve seen a “Toy Story” movie before, you know better than to act surprised anymore. “Toy Story 3” sets off with a neglectful, college-bound Andy finally abandoning his toys for good. Woody, Buzz and friends get shipped off to a daycare center, which teases the prospect of endless children to play with after years of neglect, but the reality is a dark underworld run by a consortium of toys whose baggage and malevolence would place them quite comfortably in numerous R-rated films. Between the dark underbelly of Sunnyside Daycare and where that darkness takes our toys, it’s a little surprising “TS3” gets a G rating. But it might only be surprising because of just how absurdly good Pixar is at taking these endangered inanimate objects and conveying their peril better than most live-action movies can do with living, breathing people. “TS3” looks magnificent and is armed to the teeth with very funny one-liners and sight gags. But it’s that unbelievable gift of endearment, and these characters’ ridiculous ability to subtly but explicitly convey it, that once again sets Pixar apart from everybody else.
Extras: Animated short “Day & Night,” “Beyond the Toy Box” commentary, Buzz Lightyear science lesson, seven behind-the-scenes features.
The Pacific (NR, 2010, HBO)
It was Steven Spielberg who ignited the process of deglamorizing and de-sanitizing World War II with “Saving Private Ryan,” so it’s only fitting that he be present when a miniseries like “The Pacific” comes along to strip it away completely. Beginning at Guadalcanal and taking us through Melbourne, Peleliu and Iwo Jima before taking us home, “The Pacific” tells the story of three Marines (Joseph Mazzello, James Badge Dale, Jon Seda) and their brothers, painstakingly dramatizing their travails on the cusp of, during and beyond the battlefield. The backing of the likes of Spielberg and HBO ensures those battle scenes receive the full Hollywood treatment, and indeed, they are staggering in their scope, detail and fearless presentation. But it’s the time afforded by the miniseries format that truly allows “The Pacific” to be extraordinary. Beyond simply witnessing them in conflict, we see our Marines living in their own filth, acting like goofballs, temporarily losing themselves, and occasionally being brats during a fleeting bit of R&R. It isn’t always flattering, but it absolutely is humanizing, and those awesome battle scenes are that much more amazing when you feel you’re given a chance to get to know the lives at stake.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus profiles of the real Marines featured in the series and two making-of features. In an especially nice touch, each episode also includes an optional two-minute feature that provides historical context to the corresponding episode.
The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series (NR, 1992, Shout Factory)
It’s a little weird to proclaim that Garry Shandling, who played himself quite masterfully in four seasons of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” was born to play Larry Sanders. But it’s a testament to just how perfectly this role was cast. Shandling embodies the socially backward center of attention better than just about anybody, and it’s a skill tailored to Sanders, who awkwardly stumbles — both in front of the camera and behind closed doors — through a surprisingly successful gig as a late-night talk show host. On the set, “Sanders” feels a little dated, in large part due to the early-1990s references and guests who pass through the show. But part of that age is due to “Sanders'” brilliant send-up of a saccharine format made even duller by what, compared to now, was a pretty boring decade. And once “Sanders” leaves the set and goes backstage — which, happily, is where the majority of the show takes place — that age falls away in every important respect. (The bad haircuts and clothes cannot be helped.) Here, “Sanders” lets its darkly funny flag fly, and here, it unloads some sharply funny observations about an industry that continually seems to find its dirty laundry hanging before the public eye. Show business hasn’t changed as much as the rest of the world has, and given the resurgence of late night bad blood in past year, the wildly overdue resurgence of “Sanders,” which previously had only a first season and greatest hits compilation on DVD, feels right on time.
Contents: 89 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, a feature-length making-of documentary, outtakes, Shandling/Judd Apatow discussion, Shandling lecture at USC, interviews, other Shandling conversations, Emmy print campaign gallery and a 60-page companion booklet.
Kisses (NR, 2008, Oscilloscope)
Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) and Dylan (Shane Curry) have already decided they’re going to marry each other, and with serious problems looming in both of their respective families, the time to leave their hometown and start a new beginning in nearby Dublin is now. The only catch? Dylan and Kylie are kids, and as you might expect, the means with which leave their families behind isn’t nearly as sturdy as their will to do so. Being a movie, though, “Kisses” isn’t the story of what happens when the kids accept their plight and return to life as usual; it’s a story about what happens when they, as kids, have no earthly reconciliation of that plight and bolt for the big city anyway. The consequences are as pedestrian as they would be if Kylie and Dylan took the road of reason, but the consequences aren’t really the point anyway. Instead, this is a movie about dreams, ideals, stupidly blissful ignorance, stratospheric stubbornness, and what all those things do in a playing field full of adults who lost sight of all that stuff years ago. The young actors do an outstanding job of carrying the movie, but “Kisses'” tone ensures that their age was never going to be a barrier anyway.
Extras: O’Neill and Curry commentary, behind-the-scenes feature, outtakes.
V: The Complete First Season (NR, 2009, Warner Bros.)
“V’s” alien invasion appears to begin like so many others we’ve seen, with gigantic spaceships hovering cryptically over the skylines of nearly 30 major cities worldwide. The truth, though, is that this is just the final stage of an invasion that for years had quietly slipped peaceful aliens into everyday society by disguising them in human skin. Cool premise, no? Embrace it, because most of “V’s” first season feels like an attempt to stretch a miniseries’ worth of storytelling over 12 episodes that drag and plod as much as they engage. That isn’t a total surprise considering “V” is, in fact, a remake of a miniseries from 1983. But while that partially explains the show’s interest in stalling for time, it doesn’t explain the general sense of sterility that pervades throughout. The original “V” played like a B-movie and centered around ragtag everyday people trying to make sense of a fishy invasion. This remake, by contrast, shifts the storytelling burden to government agents, cult devotees, television talking heads and clergymen. The stories that develop are interesting enough to make this worth watching, but the themes brought forth by those overplayed archetypes are as humorless, straight-faced and familiar as you expect them to be, and “V” feels recycled more for breaking away from its predecessor than for following in its footsteps.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes and four behind-the-scenes features.
The Hungry Ghosts (R, 2009, Virgil Films)
“The Hungry Ghosts” is another one of those movies that follows a handful of loosely-connected characters as they m
ake sense of their separate existences. This time, the setting is New York City, the period of time is 36 hours, and the people in play (Steve Schirripa, Aunjanue Ellis, Nick Sandow, Sharon Angela, Emory Cohen) are trying to wrestle free of checkered pasts, mental demons, suffocating materialism, and any number of other ways to describe a lack of inner fulfillment. That’s a tough sell, because the sales pitch essentially asks us to watch and find entertainment in five simultaneous stories about people fighting not to circle their respective drains. But where most movies of this sort lose themselves in a vicious cycle of deepening dreariness, “The Hungry Ghosts” appears to understand what it’s up against. So it mixes a little dark humor and irony into those stories, and it employs just enough snark to stave off the onset of full-blown bleakness. That alone does not translate into an extraordinary film, and like most films in this sub-genre, “Ghosts” inevitably limits its own impact by dividing itself into so many pieces. But if you want a story about life and what it kinda sorta is all about, this isn’t a bad way to get one.
Extra: Photo gallery.