The Social Network (PG-13, 2010, Sony Pictures)
Between the obsessive press coverage of Facebook and its founder that preceded this movie’s release and the equally obsessive coverage that accompanied and succeeded it, “The Social Network” gives Civil War dramas a run for their money in terms of arriving pre-spoiled. Anyone with any remote interest in the odyssey of Mark Zuckerberg (played here by Jesse Eisenberg) already knows the allegations — that Zuckerberg stole the idea behind Facebook right from underneath the people who invited him to help create it, that he was driven by the need to shame and show others up, and that he kicked his only real friend (Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin) to the curb around the same time his fortunes began to explode. “Network” operates on two interweaving chronological tracks — both during Facebook’s formation and in the post-explosion hearings in which all this laundry airs out — doesn’t dissuade any of these murmurs, and Eisenberg’s portrayal of Zuckerberg is as expertly unpleasant as can be hoped for. Whether the events depicted within actually happened as they’re depicted will never really be clarified — a point the film itself makes via great exchange during “Network’s” closing moments. But the issue of authenticity, while never trivial, arguably runs second to the film’s ability to translate the launch of an institution into a legitimately engrossing human drama with a terrific cast of heroes, villains and bystanders. “Network” is wordy, dense and loaded with unlikable people, but a moment rarely passes in which it isn’t supremely entertaining as well.
Extras: Director commentary, cast/writer commentary, four-part making-of feature, four-part music feature, two additional behind-the-scenes features.
Hot in Cleveland: Season One (NR, 2010, TV Land/Paramount)
An emergency landing forces disenchanted Los Angelenos Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli), Joy ( Jane Leeves) and Victoria (Wendie Malick) to make a pit stop in Cleveland en route to Paris. But when they like what they see — namely, attention from men on levels they haven’t enjoyed for years in Los Angeles — they decide to rent a house (complete with a caretaker, played by Betty White) and stick around. The premise is straight out of the playbook of wacky sitcom premises, and it speaks to “Hot in Cleveland’s” desire to have it both ways. Along with the premise, “Cleveland’s” laugh track and slightly dated, gag-heavy sitcom structure allow the show to play it a little safe as TV Land’s first original sitcom. But “Cleveland” avoids playing it too safe by flirting with (if not outright jumping into) storylines and material that’s considerably more at home on cable than on network television. The contrast is palpable, and it creates some awkwardness while “Cleveland” finds its footing early on. But once everybody steadies themselves, the show — and particularly White, whose deadpan delivery is as good as they come — is too consistently funny (and not nearly hackneyed enough) for the split personality to be a real issue.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus the uncut pilot, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, an uncut copy of Victoria’s Japanese television commercial (makes sense after you’ve seen the show) and the pilot episode of TV Land’s second sitcom, “Retired at 35.”
The Freebie (R, 2009, Phase 4 Films)
Annie (Katie Aselton) and Darren (Dax Shepard) were a perfectly happy married couple who, in the course of a dinner conversation with friends, grew a little too curious about all the one-night stands they may have surrendered after settling down with each other. So they devise a plan to have a “freebie” night where, for one night only, both are free to act as if they’re single and follow the charade down whatever path it takes them. The only catch: They’re prohibited from telling each other where that leads once the night ends. This can’t not go well, right? For obvious reasons, “The Freebie’s” premise lends itself equally to screwball and dark comedy. But in an interesting trick, the movie instead shoots for authenticity, coloring its story with credibly awkward dialogue and, once the night passes, some very awkward silences. Execution like that predictably makes for a downbeat movie — arguably to excess once the inevitable leaks spring through the plan. But what the movie lacks in laughs, it redeems everywhere else. “The Freebie” is a dramatization of something countless committed couples have thought about but wouldn’t dare act on with mutual approval, and the wrinkles it develops leading into and out of the big night are much more interesting that yet another batch of the same old gags and wacky scenarios.
Extras: Commentary with Shepard and Aselton (who also directed), National Freebie Day PSAs, photo gallery.
Funny or Die Presents: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, HBO)
It’s wholly fitting that “Funny or Die Presents” is the television incarnation of a Web site, because watching a typical half-hour of “Presents” feels a whole lot like randomly browsing the Web for the same amount of time. Like the site that spawned it, “Presents” is a collection of skits — some of which run for 30 seconds, some of which carry on for 15 minutes. Occasionally, there’s a skit that consists of nothing but a celebrity sleeping. Sometimes the skits continue over multiple episodes. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they exist to justify, at any cost, a single joke that may not even be all that funny. Mostly, though, what results in any given episode is an anything-goes dumping of ideas with a funny-to-awful range that’s extreme even by the metrics of sketch comedy. As if still a Web show — and likely with HBO’s blessing — “Presents” works completely without a leash, producing hyperactive, short attention span sketch comedy that makes Tom Green’s “Saturday Night Live” hosting turn look like an episode of “60 Minutes.” Whether it’s magical or dreadful will come down to personal taste, but don’t be surprised if not five minutes go by where you don’t feel like it’s both at once.
Contents: 12 episodes, no extras.
Alpha and Omega (PG, 2010, Lions Gate)
First, a disclaimer: There’s nothing outrageously wrong with “Alpha and Omega,” a computer-animated story about two mismatched wolves who get separated from their respective packs and have to traverse the country together to get back home. But here’s another disclaimer: There’s nothing outrageously right about it, either. The talking animals and birds in “Omega” are a pleasant enough lot, and while the visual fidelity falls a few noticeable notches short of Pixar’s bar, it’s a nice enough looking film. But if there’s a checklist of talking-animal-movie requisites floating around somewhere, “Omega” found it. The story’s flow is as boilerplate as they come and, pleasant or not, so are the personalities and roles of the main and supporting characters. That doesn’t make “Omega” a bad kids movie at all, but it does forfeit any chance the movie had to stand apart from the many other “not bad” kids movies already out there. Justin Long, Dennis Hopper, Hayden Panettiere and Danny Glover, among others, lend their voices.
Extras: Deleted scene, four behind-the-scenes features, personality test, trivia, DVD game.
Love Hurts (PG-13, 2009, Entertainment One)
There’s some unintentional irony in the title of “Love Hurts,” which explores the searing pain of unrequited love in much the same way an episode of “Spongebob Squarepants” explores the complex nature of marine species. “Hurts” begins with a trail of hurt feelings — first with disenchanted wife Amanda (Carrie-Anne Moss), who quickly relays her pain to suddenly-clued-in husband Ben (Richard E. Grant) by leaving him. From there, a predictable picture emerges of a husband clawing to get his wife to fall back in love with him
before it’s too late. But instead of taking this tired road somewhere new, “Hurts” spins the cute wheel until the axle falls off. Ben becomes instantly irresistible to every woman he meets, a series of wacky dates ensues, and when his son (Johnny Pacar) isn’t busy coaching him to both get his mom back and plow forward into the dating game, he’s engaged in a similar predicament of dating every girl except the one he wants. “Hurts” isn’t completely unpleasant, but it is impossibly shallow, and despite a lot of verbal hand-wringing, the whole elongated march toward the inevitable feels empty even by the dampened standards of cutesy romantic comedies. The movie puts a nice bow on things with a sweet batch of scenes at the end, but the impact is terminally dulled by how insignificant everything feels by then.
Extras: Cast/crew interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.