Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PG-13, 2010, Universal)
A word of caution: Don’t watch “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” with a headache. Or in an impatient state of mind. Or, perhaps (but only perhaps), if “meaningful” is one of the more important adjectives you use to qualify a good storyline. On paper and on our world’s terms, “Pilgrim’s” storyline is dead simple: Boy (Michael Cera as the title character) meets girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers), girl’s jealous exes challenge him for her hand, and boy sets out to win her heart. But “Pilgrim,” which is based on the six-volume “Pilgrim” graphic novel series, only partly exists in our world. The rest of the time, it dabbles in whatever fancy suits it best: The exes become a league of supervillains, Scott’s conflicts with them turn into living video game battles, and everything from physics to the passage of time to the ring of a telephone captures the essence of a comic book come alive. Arguably the best movie treatment a comic has ever received, “Pilgrim” draws no borders between fantasy and reality, and what results is one of the most visually inventive movies ever made. For the viewer willing to play along, suspend disbelief and indulge in the film’s every whim, it’s also one of the most fun films of the year. But heed this warning: The storyline underneath all of “Pilgrim’s” non-stop novelty is pretty thin, and if you’re not here to enjoy the noisy, breathless presentation, you probably just shouldn’t be here.
Extras: Four (two cast, two crew) commentary tracks, deleted scenes, trivia track, bloopers, a ton of image galleries.
Men of a Certain Age: The Complete First Season (NR, 2009, TNT/Warner Bros.)
The surprising dearth of shows about middle-aged men has left “Men of a Certain Age” almost all alone with a goldmine of material, and that, along with the three famous faces (Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula) in lead roles, clears it to succeed no matter how lazily or tritely it handles all that found gold. Happily, while “Age’s” opening themes arrive right on schedule — Owen (Braugher) is happily married but unhappily employed, Joe (Romano) is recently divorced and living in a hotel, Terry (Bakula) is a rolling stone on an inevitable collision course with fulfillment issues — it handles those themes and everything that comes next with a magnificent level of nuance and insight. “Age” is a very funny show, but it’s as much a character drama as a comedy, and the laughs it elicits come from an understanding of those characters rather than a bunch of jokes at their expense. Owen, Joe and Terry aren’t mere vessels for the same old middle-aged-man jokes other shows have bandied about: They’re the be all and end all of “Age,” and the show flourishes as result.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.
Three and Out (R, 2008, Entertainment One)
It’s extraordinarily bad luck for a train conductor to ever hit a person, so imagine how Paul (Mackenzie Crook) feels after running down two people in two weeks. It’s enough to never drive a train again, and when Paul discovers that conductors who hit three people in a month are given forced retirement and 10 years’ pay, he searches for someone suicidal enough to help him pull off the hat trick. As long as the guy wants to die anyway, no harm done, right? It probably needs not be said that, with a premise like this, “Three and Out” pretty safely encroaches on dark comedy territory. But while that holds true, and while “Out” produces some pretty sharply funny moments throughout, the game inevitably changes when Paul finds his willing participant (Colm Meaney as Tommy) and agrees to help him settle some scores and make a few things right before the window closes. There’s an intelligently amusing bitterness to almost everything “Out” does even in its sweeter moments, and Meaney is awesome in his portrayal of a scoundrel who is nearly impossible not to like. But the soul-searching that inevitably envelopes our two main characters sneaks up on us as well as them, and it turns “Out” into a terrifically thoughtful movie without taking its comedic edge away.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
The Dry Land (R, 2010, Maya Entertainment)
Numerous movies in recent years — most of them documentaries — have tried to depict the unwieldy havoc post-traumatic stress disorder can wreak on a soldier as he or she attempts a return to normalcy. “The Dry Land,” though meandering with its storytelling, might be the most convincing effort yet. “Land” begins with James (Ryan O’Nan) arriving in the States after a tour in Iraq, and there really isn’t any way to describe what happens next in a way that flatters the movie. James adjusts to sharing a bed with his wife (America Ferrera) again, wrestles with demons, loses some of those battles, and finds himself at the bottom of the employment food chain in a country he nearly died defending. But it isn’t what James does that makes “Land” special so much as the many little ways the movie illustrates the internal battle over a psyche that’s both chipping away and fighting to rebuild itself. “Land” never preaches and rarely has to use words or telegraphing to illustrate this conflict, and it manages to convey the heaviness of the issue while hanging onto a faint gallows humor and without turning into a dreary downer. PTSD skeptics will continue to be skeptics, but that doesn’t make “Land’s” effort any less stirring. Wilmer Valderrama, Jason Ritter and Ethan Suplee also star.
Extras: Director/Ferrera commentary, PTSD resources.
Freaknik: The Musical (NR, 2010, Adult Swim)
Sometimes, it’s enough just to be stimulated. If this is one of those times, “Freaknik” — an animated good-versus-evil battle in which the Ghost of Freaknik past attempts to revitalize the famed spring break festival while a secret society that includes Bill Cosby, Al Sharpton and Oprah attempts to stop him — almost certainly will not do you wrong. “Freaknik’s” jokes aren’t inventive enough to be all that funny on their own, and because the villains are lifted from a Dave Chappelle conspiracy hoax whose freshness date expired a few years ago, almost everything beyond the initial novelty of their existence feels a little stale as well. Hasn’t every Al Sharpton joke been told at this point? Still, if you like the people (T-Pain, Cee-Lo, Lil’ Jon and Rick Ross, among others) behind “Freaknik’s” characters — and, more important, enjoy the music they make — this is entirely too caffeinated to be missed. “Freaknik’s” musical numbers are supremely catchy, the kinetic art and animation carry the creativity load when the script falls short, and the constant motion of the whole project makes its shortcomings easy to forgive. A note about the length, though: The box misleadingly asserts that “Freaknik” runs 91 minutes, but that number comes from combining the televised (44 minutes) and uncensored director’s (50) cuts. (How Adult Swim landed on 91 from those two numbers is beyond explanation.)
Extras: T-Pain/Young Fyre/One Chance commentary on the extended cut, music videos.
Grown Ups (PG-13, 2010, Sony Pictures)
It’s never a good thing when a movie’s cast is having more fun amusing itself than the people who paid to see them, and the discord rarely is more pronounced than it is here. “Grown Ups” finds five childhood friends (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider) reuniting in their old hometown to honor the passing of their elementary school basketball coach, and as always happens in stories like this, each brings a different degree of family, success, memories and baggage with him to the weekend-long reunion. But “Grown Ups,” as you might guess based on that cast, isn’t terribly interested in exploring
all that stuff on any meaningful level, and the material exists mostly as ammo for a bullet storm of playful insults volleyed between characters. That’d be fine if the insults were funny or clever, but they’re the same flat putdowns we’ve heard a million times already, and outside of the occasional slapstick bit or the inevitable discovering of heartfelt feelings in act three, these knocks are almost all the movie has going on. That doesn’t seem to bother the cast, which repeatedly laughs at its own material. But it’s a big problem for viewers, who, in addition to probably not laughing nearly as much as the cast does, are left to feel like the silent sixth wheel at a party they neither can enjoy nor (eject button notwithstanding) leave.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers.