Despicable Me: Blu-ray + DVD Combo edition (PG, 2010, Universal)
Pixar movies have always had that secret ingredient that makes them unapologetically moving without ever relying on on preachiness or ham-handedness to get there. And while Gru’s goal in “Despicable Me” may be to steal the moon and reclaim his status as the world’s most innovative villain, it appears he also managed to swipe Pixar’s recipe during the process. At no point is there any serious doubt about where “Me” plans to go with Gru’s character development, and just in case his status as the beloved leader of hundreds of goofy, giggly alien-like minions didn’t offer a window into his true soul, the unintended consequences of tricking three orphan girls into solidifying his moon-stealing scheme are a dead giveaway. And that’s perfectly perfect, because even at his slimiest, Gru is too dopey and too relatable not to root for. His minions, who spend as much time cracking themselves up and speaking gibberish to each other as they do carrying out those schemes, are absolutely hilarious. And when the girls barrel their way into the thick of everything, this becomes the most lovable consortium of evil that ever existed. When “Me” hits the notes you expect it to hit, it’s too funny and too legitimately likable for the predictability of it all to even register. And when it heads down the homestretch, every trick it tries, even when you see them coming two scenes away, hits a bull’s eye anyway.
Extras (some Blu-ray only): Three new animated shorts starring the minions, director/minions commentary, picture-in-picture making-of feature, four behind-the-scenes features, two DVD games, digital copy.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (R, 2010, Oscilloscope)
Life imitates art, art imitates life, and in the might-be-documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” the two chase each other’s tails in what either is a magnificent hoax, a stunning indictment of the art world’s fickleness, or perhaps some of column B wrapped inside column A. The footage in “Shop” begins as a product of slightly deranged filmmaker Thierry Guetta capturing the creative process of the internationally famous but ultra-secretive street artist Banksy, who lists himself as “Shop’s” director and, despite disguising his voice and face to maintain his secrecy, speaks frequently on camera. But a couple of significant developments in Banksy’s and Guetta’s relationship sends the collaboration in a stark new direction, and without spoiling anything, what happens next is both completely insane and, best of all, also completely believable. By film’s end, it almost doesn’t even matter if the events of “Shop” are a straight-faced document of what transpired or simply a brilliant vivisection of a movement that desperately conforms in hopes of appearing to push the envelope. The line between the two possibilities is so absurdly thin that “Shop” very easily can be a hoax and a documentary at the same time, and its ability to toe that line, keep its hand hidden and funnel it into two extremely entertaining hours makes it an achievement regardless of classification.
Extras: Deleted scenes, short film “B Movie,” short film “Life Remote Control,” feature on The Cans (not Cannes) Festival.
The Trotsky (NR, 2010, Tribeca Film)
A handful of coincidences, a heightened interest in revolt and one seriously odd collection of personality quirks have created a perfect storm for high schooler Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel), who is convinced beyond recovery that he is the reincarnation of socialist Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. And when he tries and fails to unionize his father’s (Saul Rubinek) employees not even two days after his dad gives him a job, Leon turns his attention instead to a woman he doesn’t know but whom he swears he is destined to marry (Emily Hampshire) and a public high school that apparently needs a voice of revolt for its disenfranchised (or is it apathetic?) student body. A movie about union politics as applied to high school and spearheaded by a nut like Leon can’t possibly go anywhere with a straight face, and “The Trotsky” immediately embraces its silly side and refuses to let go even when most comedies would wind down and shoot for the big heartfelt finish. It doesn’t really need to let go, either. Leon may be crazy, but he’s also deeply likable, and the degree to which he is bent on his convictions allows him to switch between making surprising levels of sense and no sense at all without skipping a beat. A textbook comedy script would inevitably stumble while trying to maintain this pace the whole way, but “The Trotsky’s” medley of thoughtfully-presented ideas and goofy personality quirks makes the achievement look easy.
Extras: Deleted scenes, director interview, bloopers.
Mother and Child (R, 2009, Sony Pictures Classics)
“Mother and Child” is, as perhaps implied by the name, a story about multiple generations of relationships between moms, their children and what happens when those children become parents themselves. But in 2010, that can mean so many different things based on all kinds of variables, and “Child” certainly counts the ways. Structurally, the movie divides itself into four stories — one about a woman (Annette Bening) who became a pregnant teenager 37 years ago and gave the child up to adoption, one about that child (Naomi Watts) and her repulsion to intimacy, one about a couple (David Ramsey and Kerry Washington) who can’t conceive but are set to adopt, and one about a pregnant 20-year-old (Shareeka Epps) who, with her mother’s (S. Epatha Merkerson) support, must decide if she should give her child up for adoption as well. But where most movies that tell separate stories struggle to ever tie them together in any truly meaningful way, “Child” gets it perfectly right, and not simply because of theme or proximity. The entire movie is a terrific demonstration of how to tell meaningful stories and deal with emotionally heavy matters without resorting to incessantly playing the downer card. But its the way “Child” brings it all together, without sacrificing any of that meaning or slighting any of its characters, that makes its final impression also its best. Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits and Cherry Jones also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.
The A-Team (PG-13/NR, 2010, Fox)
Only a wise-cracking computer-animated animal and a spontaneous dance number get left out of what otherwise is a what’s what of everything people tend to hate about Hollywood’s scrupulously bankrupt appetite for rebooting old franchises. Otherwise, “The A-Team” absolutely bashes every note it’s expected to hit. Hannibal (Liam Neeson), Faceman (Bradley Cooper), Murdock (Sharlto Copley) and Baracus (Quinton Jackson) each get the returning hero treatment in their separate entrances, and the movie quickly moves through introductions and the series of events that transforms the A-Team from legit soldiers into hunted mercenaries bent on clearing their names. From there, what happens is a textbook lesson in forgettable action movie tedium: The foursome does its best impersonation of the television cast, the supporting cast fills in wherever a shallow archetype (Patrick Wilson) or predictable subplot (Jessica Biel) is needed, and the movie unleashes a noisy but boring torrent of expository blathering and wisecracks you’ll swear (correctly) you’ve heard in some other fashion in some other half-baked action movie. The occasional good line sneaks through, and there are some nice explosions. But overwhelmingly, “The A-Team” just feels like a dumping of generic ideas on a license that’s seen significantly more exciting, more imaginative and much funnier days.
Extras: Theatrical and extended (15 extra minutes) cuts, director commentary (theatrical cut only), theme mash-up montage.
Frenemy (R, 2009, Lio
Many lessons have been taught and retaught through the medium of film. “Frenemy” is no exception — though, unless the intention was to demonstrate the art of looking busy doing nothing, it likely didn’t earn the distinction on purpose. Overwhelmingly, “Frenemy” follows Mr. Jack (Matthew Modine) and Sweet Stephan (Callum Blue) as they walk around Los Angeles waxing philosophical about life, death, existence, fate, and the difference between acting evilly and being evil. Interspersed in these conversations are the not-quite stories of a short-tempered cop (Adam Baldwin), a pandering talk show host (Don McManus) and an adult video store clerk (Zach Galifianakis). Their fates intertwine with those of our main characters, but those crossings either amount to nothing or result in more yammering from all involved. “Frenemy’s” idea of abstraction and philosophy is the worst kind — a lot of hollow theories and cleverly-constructed sentences that add up to startlingly little substance and a story that, while fleetingly interesting, is mostly just empty. Lions Gate appears to have shelved this until it had a angle around which to sell it, which is why the suddenly-bankable Galifianakis’ picture dominates the front and back of the case even though his contribution amounts to a few scenes and a completely uneventful exit. The teaser on the back of the case also describes the movie’s premise with bizarre inaccuracy, making it a wonder if whoever wrote it even bothered to watch the film beforehand. The level of ignorance within “Frenemy’s” own marketing is the funniest thing about the whole movie, but if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s to follow the studio’s lead. No extras.
Worth a Mention: Baseball in December Edition
— “San Francisco Giants 2010 World Series Collector’s Edition” (NR, 2010, MLB/A&E): As has become an annual custom, A&E’s World Series box set is the easiest gift to get any fan of baseball’s defending world champions — unless, of course, they’ve already pre-ordered it themselves. The 2010 set includes uncut copies of all five World Series games between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, as well as games four and six of the Giants’ National League Championship Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Other extras include additional highlights from the first two playoff rounds, clinching footage, the parade, walk-off wins and other regular season highlights, a feature on Brian Wilson’s beard, and multiple audio tracks that include the national television play-by-play, both local radio play-by-play teams and the international Spanish play-by-play.
— More World Series DVDs: The consolation prize for Rangers fans, “It’s Time” (NR, 2010, MLB/A&E), includes a 65-minute rundown of the team’s march toward its first American League championship. Extras include clinching footage, regular season highlights, ALCS final out and celebration and a Nolan Ryan music video (not what you think, don’t worry). For those uninterested in the full uncut series,”The Magic Inside” (NR, 2010, MLB/A&E) provides the same treatment for Giants fans, with a slightly longer (76 minutes) main feature and a corresponding offering of extras. “2010 World Series: Texas Rangers vs. San Francisco Giants” (NR, 2010, MLB/Shout Factory), meanwhile, focuses its 110 minutes primarily on the Series itself. Extras include parade footage, playoff highlights and celebrations for both teams, a Buster Posey feature and extended features on various key moments in the Series.
— “Baseball’s Greatest Games: 1960 World Series Game 7” (NR, MLB/A&E): Pirates fans haven’t had much to cheer about in a couple decades now, but this — an uncut broadcast of the game that gave baseball its first World Series-ending walk-off home run, available for the first time since it aired 50 years ago and was found in Bing Crosby’s vault last year — will certainly tide a few fans over for a little while. Extras include an audio track of the radio play-by-play, the 1960 World Series film, World Series newsreels, Pirates regular season highlights and interviews with players from both the Pirates and their New York Yankee opponents.