Best Worst Movie: The Story Behind Troll 2 (NR, 2009, Docurama)
If you’ve seen “Troll 2,” the sheer awfulness of everything about it — the acting, the storytelling, the sets, the props, the fact that it shares absolutely no relation to the original “Troll” — may need no introduction. The good news is that if you haven’t, “Best Worst Movie” is only slightly less of a riot to watch. Directed by Michael Stephenson — who played the little kid in “Troll 2,” and whose acting dreams died when he watched a VHS copy of the movie he received one Christmas morning — “BWM” not only touches base with many of the people responsible for the film’s creation, but rolls camera as those folks encounter a cult fan uprising that arranges nationwide screenings and meet-ups dedicated to celebrating the movie’s awfulness. As should be expected, some of the offenders — particularly George Hardy, who played Stephenson’s father in the film — revel in the attention, while others either embrace it reluctantly, look at it sideways or outright reject the notion that “Troll 2” isn’t great. The charge both sides get from the complete unlikelihood of it all is terrific fun to watch, and the stories everyone tells — be it of career destruction, the perils of being on that set or the thrill of being part of a movie, even if it’s the worst one of all time — is a complete validation of why people make movies in the first place.
Extras: Deleted scenes, bonus interviews, filmmaker Q&A, fan contributions, a special message from Goblin Queen Deborah Reed.
Exam (NR, 2009, MPI)
Some jobs are more prestigious than others, which is why eight hopefuls have agreed to gather in a dingy room for the next 80 minutes and take a test that has only one question and a few rules. The catch? None of them knows what the question even is, to say nothing of how to answer it, and asking the guard who’s watching them is against one of those rules. The good news? They’re free to work together to figure it out, even though it means fraternizing with the competition. How’s that for a job interview? If “Exam” sounds like a “Saw” deviant, in which participants must make impossible decisions toward an uncertain end, that’s exactly what it is. But while “Saw” is an elaborate excuse to torture some jerks, this is legitimate suspense that trades blood for smart, genuine psychological intrigue. The best part? Even when things inevitably get ugly, “Exam” has an answer to the obvious question: With nothing at stake but a job, why would eight otherwise brilliant people ever let a simple quiz get out of control? Without spoiling, “Exam” has an answer, and on top of being a good twist, it’s a pretty convincing explanation. No extras.
The Extra Man (R, 2010, Magnolia)
A combination of lingerie, a teacher’s lounge and horrendous timing has resulted in unemployment for teacher Louis Ives (Paul Dano), who takes advantage of the dismissal to move to Manhattan and find himself. Unfortunately, what he finds instead, while looking for a roommate, is Henry (Kevin Kline), a fellow teacher who dabbles in light gigolo behavior despite having views on sexuality that “are to the right of the Pope” (his words), and whose eccentric behavior and disposition would make most other eccentrics either jealous or uncomfortable. And then there’s Gershon (John C. Reilly), who is easier to just witness than explain. That isn’t entirely a compliment, either. “The Extra Man” is anchored by three great actors who very clearly are enjoying themselves, and the clever script has some very amusing quirks and quips (see the Pope comment above) from all three. But when you look at the big picture and take away the eccentricities, little else remains. “Man” rides comfortably for a while on its weirdness, and it never fully loses its ability to entertain. But a sinking feeling creeps in when, roughly halfway through, the possibility emerges that the circus of quirks is all “Man” has to cover up what otherwise is a pretty empty story. More than not, the second half merely validates that worry. Katie Holmes also stars.
Extras: Commentary with Kline and Jonathan Ames (who wrote the book on which the film is based), deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.
Metropia (NR, 2009, Tribeca Film/New Video)
One could spend an entire review’s worth of words trying, without success, to describe “Metropia’s” unusual animation technique. The characters are part caricature, with enlarged heads and slightly disproportioned faces sitting atop malnourished bodies. But those faces are composed from what looks like a marriage of 3D modeling and static photography run through a filter, creating a stilted animation style that’s kind of unsettling. “Metropia’s” desaturated colors and effectively creepy visual presentation certainly matche the tone of its story, which finds Europe running out of resources and its citizens succumbing to a corporation that runs a massive underground transit network and enjoys a strange level of control over people who use the network. The look, and the way it drives the tone of everything around it, easily is the movie’s best asset, and the revelation of how that control spreads is really clever. But without that creepy look, most of “Metropia” would amount to little more than a stock story about half-dead people sleepwalking through a life of grime and corporate control. There’s no shortage of material in that realm, but a few clever ideas aside,”Metropia” seems pretty content to explore the same general themes most of its contemporaries also take on. It’s worth seeing anyway, thanks to that bizarre look, but the unused potential is every bit as visible.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, premiere footage.
The Kids are All Right (R, 2010, Focus/Universal)
“The Kids are All Right” is your prototypical family-of-four drama, albeit with two moms (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) instead of a mom and dad. But fear not: This isn’t 1995, and “Kids” doesn’t attempt to coast on the novelty of a lesbian couple raising two teenagers (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as Joni and Laser, respectively) and making a pretty successful go as a normal suburban family. The wrench, instead, falls to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the semi-anonymous donor whose sperm was used to conceive Joni and Laser. The teens try to track him down for curiosity fulfillment’s sake, Paul has no issues with being found, and when he walks into the family’s life, all that familial normalcy — including bottled-up spousal resentment and teenagers being teenagers — gets an overdue shakeup. In other words, “Kids” is your typical family drama. Unique arrangement or not, “Kids” doesn’t rewrite the playbook at any point in its storytelling, which wrestles with dreariness as often as it flirts with comedy, and one has to wonder if a longing to achieve perfect normalcy kept it from letting any one of its characters really break out from the rest of the crowd. If it did, that’s too bad. “Kids” hits many of the customary notes — smart, thoughtful, delicately developed — a good script should, but the dulled edges do it a disservice.
Extras: Director commentary, three behind-the-scenes features.
Worth a Mention
— “Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series” (NR, 2010, BBC): See, that wasn’t so bad. The fifth season of the rebooted “Doctor Who” began not only with a new doctor (Matt Smith) stepping in for the very popular David Tennant, but with series creator Russell Davies handing the creative reigns over to Steven Moffat. But while the transition wasn’t entirely painless, and while the trickle-down from the new regime let to other tonal or stylistic changes that naturally infuriated portions of an extremely vocal fanbase, the pillars of “Who’s” first four seasons are all over season five. The writing is as versatile as it is clever — cr
edibly grim one episode, joyous fun the next — and the storytelling and character design are among the most thoughtful in contemporary sci-fi. Tennant/Davies are nowhere near forgotten, but seeing a new duo strive to uphold that duo’s standards of excellence is a new kind of inspiring. Includes 13 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, a three-part video diary, 13 behind-the-scenes “Doctor Who Confidential” features, outtakes and three art cards.
— “WWII: The Essential Collection” (NR, History Channel): Three very highly decorated World War II documentary miniseries — “The World at War,” “Victory at Sea” and “The Century of Warfare” — come together in this 56-hour, 22-disc set. Extras include making-of features, bonus segments, additional interviews, photo galleries and episode introductions from Peter Graves in “Sea.” “World at War,” which has the biggest footprint in the set at 11 discs, also makes its Blu-ray debut this week.
— “Scholastic Storybook Treasures: Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics 2” (NR, Scholastic): Just as it did for volume one, Scholastic compiles 100 of its renowned children’s stories into an 17-disc box set that spans more than 19 hours. Selections include “Corduroy,” “Ralph S. Mouse” and “My Senator and Me: A Dog’s Eye View of Washington, D.C.”
— “Metalocalypse: Season III: The Dead Man” (NR, 2009, Adult Swim): Dethklok’s fortress, Mordhaus, lies in ruin, and Ofdensen appears to have perished in his heroic attempt to protect it. And if you think that sounds scary, wait until you see the horrors our once-fearless heroes face when they look their own mortality, to say nothing of their bank balance, in the eye. Includes 10 episodes, plus extended scenes, Klokateer recruitment videos and a Murderface dance sequence. (Note: If you didn’t understand every third word in this description, best to start from the first season. This is one of Adult Swim’s more consistently good newer shows, so it’s a worthwhile endeavor.)