Inception (PG-13, 2010, Warner Bros.)
Secondhand accounts may have given you an idea of the playground — lucid dreams, shared dreams, dreams within dreams and the act of stealing ideas and planting new ones in their place — in which “Inception” holds court. If this marks your first trip through the movie, that’s probably as clear a picture as you want beforehand, because excessively explaining “Inception” any further would deny it the chance to do what it does best. The science of “Inception” gets complicated, and when it’s mixed into the kind of set pieces, special effects and scenarios normally reserved for disaster films and espionage thrillers, it has no choice but to skate the edge between exciting and incoherent. But as long as you keep your eye on it, it never crosses that line. “Inception” starts with an idea, uses another idea to explain it, and gradually turns a molehill into a mountain by unveiling the big picture at a steady, perfect pace. More than the special effects or even where all this takes us, it’s that continuous revelation of ideas that make this so much fun to watch — and, with the ability to apply second- and third-act revelations to first-act developments, watch a second time in a whole different light. Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard, among others, star.
Extras (most only available in the Blu-ray/DVD combo set): Multi-part “Extraction Mode” behind-the-scenes feature, documentary “Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious,” animated graphic comic “Inception: The Cobol Job,” Project Somnacin feature (makes sense after you see the movie), soundtrack, digital copy.
Restrepo (R, 2010, National Geographic Entertainment/Virgil Films)
The most documented period of war in our planet’s history has yielded another documentary, but before you stop reading, keep reading. “Restrepo” follows a platoon of U.S. soldiers as they enter Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, widely considered among the deadliest regions in play in the war against the Taliban. The film gets its name courtesy of PFC Juan S. Restrepo, a 20-year-old medic who lost his life early in the campaign to take the region. But “Restrepo” also gets its name from something else, and if you don’t already know what that something else is, it may be best to just leave that revelation unspoiled. Describing “Restrepo” on the surface makes it sound like yet another documentary from a few more embedded journalists about a seemingly unending war, and functionally, that’s all the film — which rolls camera and, outside of allowing the soldiers reflect after the fact, lets the footage do all the talking — sets out to be. But the story about that unspecified something else is something that transcends the conflict and the current events that surround it, and without any filmmaker intervention, it magnificently exemplifies the bond that forms between soldiers tasked with carrying out one of the hardest jobs in the world. There have been and will continue to be many great documentaries of this war, but if you’re fatigued enough to see only one more, this probably is the one to see.
Extras: Deleted scenes, updates on the soldiers, extended interviews, montage, PSAs.
Cairo Time (PG, 2008, IFC Films)
New York magazine editor Juliette Grant (Patricia Clarkson) has arrived in Egypt to spend time with Mark, who is both her husband and a United Nations official. But as probably often happens when you work at the UN, the best-laid plans are no match for scheduling conflicts. So Juliette is on her own, with only Mark’s trusted friend and former co-worker Tareq (Alexander Siddig) to keep her company as one delay after another mucks everything up. Can you sort of see where this is going? Maybe, but maybe not. “Cairo Time” is, as prophesied by that setup, a story about finding something you weren’t looking for while waiting for life as planned to resume. But that doesn’t simply apply to Juliette and Tareq, nor does “Time” paint the same old numbers about two people growing close in a potentially disruptive way. Upon watching this, one could even conclude that what Juliette finds has nothing to do with anybody but her, and you just as easily could argue that “Time’s” best scenes are those where Juliette walks alone without a word said. “Time” does a lot of storytelling without holding hands or speaking literally of its intentions, and while the premise may be entirely familiar, the revelations that emerge from it — and the freedom “Time” affords audiences to find them themselves and interpret them on their own terms — are not.
Extras: Director commentary, four short films, alternate ending, Toronto Film Festival Q&A, behind-the-scenes feature.
A Dog Year (NR, 2009, HBO)
For whatever it’s worth, at least “A Dog Year” — the based-on-a-true-story tale of a deeply troubled author (Jeff Bridges as Jon Katz) who adopts an abused and similarly troubled border collie named Devon — has its heart in the right place. “Year” is a love letter to dog lovers and anyone who understands the nobility of turning an animal’s life around even when the animal fights tooth and nail to break your will, and the focus it places on Jon and Devon pays off in the form of two great characters and two great performances. (Yes, two, because it takes an immaculately obedient dog to capture disobedience this skillfully.) But anyone who appreciates those details will also wonder why certain peripheral parts of “Year” either get a lackadaisical explanation (Why, specifically, was Jon deemed a good choice to adopt Devon?), or why insights into Jon’s messy personal life are important enough to wedge into the story but not important enough to meaningfully address and resolve. Those dog lovers, meanwhile, will wonder why a certain other dog just disappears without explanation halfway through. The inconsistencies can’t help but nag, and the pace of the main story — repeating itself sometimes, magically rushing to resolve itself others — takes a consequential hit. If you can will your way into accepting “Year” on its imperfect terms, though, that heart and those performances make it easy to like anyway.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Hunter Prey (NR, 2010, Maya Entertainment)
No genre suffers on a shoestring budget like science fiction, but maybe that’s as much a spark for ingenuity as an excuse for lacking any. A studio with gobs of special effects money might even be incapable of making a movie like “Hunter Prey,” which begins with two not-of-this-world soldiers finding their bearings after crash-landing on a completely barren planet and losing their ship and crew. They’ve also misplaced their prisoner, whose role in a pretty significant interplanetary conflict makes recovering him no trivial matter. This is what we’re told, because “Prey” seemingly lacks the budget to actually show us interplanetary war in a way that would look credible, much less incredible. The movie occasionally does more talking than one might like, and some of that dialogue feels awkwardly wedged in to tell us something the characters likely already know. But “Prey” ultimately makes much of its limited resources, turning a story about a few characters in a desert into some legitimately engaging sci-fi. Its use of character deconstruction in place of computer-generated flash allows it to steadily blur the line between the hunters and the hunted, and its sharp focus on a minuscule but deeply important conflict turns a shortcoming into a opportunity to be different. (For what it’s worth, the few special effects the movie does employ — makeup and costumes, mostly — hold up just fine.)
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.
The Year of Getting to Know Us (R, 2008, Entertainment One)
If you tried to fill a warehouse with every movie about somebody retu
rning to their hometown from the big city because of some familial tragedy, you probably would need a second warehouse. So when writer Christopher Rocket (Jimmy Fallon) makes the familiar trip from New York to Florida to tend to his father, Ron (Tom Arnold), following a stroke, the only real hope we can have for “The Year of Getting to Know Us” is that it’s funnier or more likable than it is original. Initially, it looks good: “Year” illustrates the strain between Christopher and Ron — and, consequently, everything that shaped Christopher’s disposition — by flashing back and forth between his childhood years and present day, and the trick of showing rather than telling spares us from the usual dreary speeches everyone inevitably makes. Or rather, it pushes them up against the film’s end credits — which is fine, because by then, we don’t care enough about Christopher to be disappointed by him. Beyond Christopher’s girlfriend (Lucy Liu), nearly everyone in “Year” is either unpleasant or so thinly developed as to completely telegraph their role. But it’s Christopher himself, both as a child and an adult, who takes top honors as the most forgettably pulseless character in the whole story. If this is Fallon’s way of showing he can do drama, then mission excessively accomplished, because it leaves “Year” with the unenviable task of telling a story about a criminally cheerless guy nobod needs to know.
Extras: Director/cast Sundance Film Festival press conference footage.
Worth a Mention
— Gerry Anderson shows on DVD: There rarely are coincidences in the world of entertainment commerce. But the availability, from two separate studios, of two different shows from sci-fi legend Gerry Anderson appears to be just that. “Space Precinct: The Complete Series” (NR, 1994, Image Entertainment) compiles all 24 episodes (no extras) of the bizarre adventures of detectives Brogan (Ted Shackelford) and Haldane (Rob Youngblood), two New York City cops taking on a new beat on the other end of the galaxy. The first season of “Space: 1999” (NR, 1975, A&E) meanwhile, makes its blu-ray debut with 24 episodes and a ton of extras including text/audio commentaries, interviews, behind-the-scenes features, music-only audio tracks, demo footage and high-definition art galleries.
— “Hoarders: Season Two: Part One” (NR, 2009, A&E): Apparently, the first season DVD set of television’s most unsettling reality show — which explores the trials of people who cannot throw anything away, no matter how useless, broken, expired, moldy or even dead it is — was popular enough for A&E to split the second season in half and charge people twice for the displeasure of seeing it. A&E has a point, though: Given how bad it got in season one, it’s hard not to want to see what the show does for an encore. Includes seven episodes, no extras.