Paper Man (R, 2009, MPI)
Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds) isn’t a real superhero. He isn’t a real anything. But try telling that to Richard (Jeff Daniels), a struggling author and struggling husband whose inability to relate to real people has sent him running into his imaginary friend’s arms for more than 40 years. But while marriage, moving to Long Island and the threat of a dying career can’t snap him out of his old habit, coming face to face with his emotional doppelganger — a lonely, quirky teenage neighbor named Abby (Emma Stone) — practically leaves him no choice. Richard’s surprise is ours as well, because while “Paper Man” begins and initially appears poised to remain a funny but very modest comedy about quirky people acting on personality hiccups most of us simply try to stifle, it graduates into something else completely by the time it reaches the credits. That isn’t unheard of, as comedies routinely lose their sense of humor en route to fumbling for some late-game meaning. But “Man’s” awesome dissection of loneliness and the mind’s need to fight it with or without reality’s help is entirely too dead on to constitute a fumbling. Nor can it be called a compromise, because the movie manages to keep its sense of humor completely intact during the entirety of the transition. That the resulting mix of sharp humor and deep despair never feel out of place amongst each other is a striking testament to “Man’s” ability to touch exactly the right nerves in exactly the right ways. Lisa Kudrow and Kieran Culkin also star.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Justified: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, Sony Pictures)
We’re living in a golden age of crime dramas that not only are willing to tell stories beyond the bounds of the tired procedural format, but are similarly fearless about giving voice and sympathy to the crooks as well as the cops (who, sometimes, are one and the same). Whether “Justified” does this better than any other show is debatable, but even if another show outdoes it, it likely doesn’t have as much fun doing so as this one does. “Justified” finds recently-demoted U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) taking a post in his old Kentucky hometown, which continues to crawl with friends, adversaries and in-betweens connected to his past. The small-town scope allows Givens to dole out justice like an Old West sheriff living in the present day, which naturally confuses some and rubs others the complete wrong way. But the odd juxtaposition gives “Justified” a completely new cop show playground in which to play, and the show takes marvelous advantage of its surroundings. Givens himself is an engaging character from his very first scene. But it’s the combination of his methods and his environment that really make this fun, and “Justified” affords the same care to its bit characters as it does its main cast. It’s that much more entertaining to watch a cop and crook square off when the line between friendship and rivalry is as blurry as it gets here, and the interplay between the two sides is civilized contempt at its finest.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, five behind-the-scenes features, a peak at season two and a music video.
Buried (R, 2010, Lions Gate)
“Buried” isn’t kidding around with its title, nor is it terribly interested in the slow open. From the moment “Buried” begins, American truck driver Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is indeed buried — trapped inside a wooden coffin, in some unknown underground corner of Iraq, with only a lighter and a cell phone of mysterious origin to keep him company. And that’s where we stay, too. “Buried” doesn’t take us outside the coffin for any kind of flashback duty or even to show us anyone who appears on the other end of that phone. As Paul stays underground, so do we, and the movie does a skin-crawlingly wonderful job of continually reminding us just how dark, hot and cramped Paul’s potentially permanent home is. “Buried” is similarly gifted in its ability to take a story about one setting, one visible character and one problem and stretch it out over 95 minutes without leaking tension or overstaying its welcome. It occasionally plays politics to do so, and there are a couple instances where it plays that card to distraction. But it’s never long before “Buried” gets back to the business of plainly and simply creeping out anybody with even the slightest issue with tight spaces, and it caps that continual creepiness with an ending that’s awfully hard to shake off.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Down Terrace (R, 2009, Magnolia)
They can’t all be the Corleones or even the Sopranos. But don’t waste your breath telling that to Bill (Robert Hill) and son Karl (Robin Hill), who return home after ducking separate 10-year prison terms to resume the business of running what is, at least by their own math, as legitimate a crime family as any other. “Down Terrace” doesn’t delve into the gritty details of the Bill and Karl empire, and for a little while, it appears destined to settle down as a silly, playfully foul-mouthed comedy about a father, a son, a mother (Julia Deakin) and a handful of supporting players who are too dysfunctional to operate a family dinner, much less a criminal dynasty. But if Bill and Karl see eye to eye on anything, their shared delusion of grandeur is it. And once it becomes clear how deep this delusion goes, it’s a matter of time before “Terrace” loses control of its humble beginnings and gives into one serious downward spiral. Fortunately, this also is where the fun really begins. “Terrace” is a pretty consistently amusing movie, and it shows an eye for distinctive character design from the start. But it’s the willingness to spiral so thoroughly out of control — and not in some cute or madcap way, either — that makes it memorable.
Extras: Director/Robin Hill commentary, deleted/extended scenes, short film “Rob Loves Kerry,” screen/camera tests, behind-the-scenes feature.
Sheeba (NR, 2005, Questar)
Professional eye-rollers beware: This one isn’t for you. As “Sheeba” begins, Clay (Dylan Patton) and his mother (Ruby Handler) are headed away from New York (and Clay’s father, played by Judge Reinhold) and are moving in with Clay’s grandfather (Ed Asner), who lives in the middle of nowhere. And while the film gets its name from a dog who enters the picture later, this is Clay’s story: He’s unhappy to be here, he misses his dad, he doesn’t understand what’s wrong with his parents, and his troubles at home are complemented by troubles at school, troubles with an older bully and, when Sheeba arrives, some deeply mixed feelings about having a dog around. “Sheeba” further compounds Clay’s issues by including a side story about his uncle, a firefighter who died on September 11, and it touches on the effects that loss has had on each family member. So much for this being a dog movie, right? But while subtlety or even selectivity isn’t “Sheeba’s” strong suit, the movie’s handling of all these issues isn’t reckless, and it isn’t nearly as clumsy as it could have been. “Sheeba” has a good heart, and while it would have benefited from more Sheeba and less of everybody else, the dog ultimately does get the last laugh. Adults will be able to poke holes into every angle of “Sheeba’s” logic and presentation, but this clearly is for kids, and the good intentions go much further under their watch. No extras.
Freakonomics: The Movie (PG-13, 2010, Magnolia)
The primary objective behind the deservedly popular “Freakonomics” books is to discover the hidden underside of statistics, human behavior and other phenomena. So insert joke here about the “Freakonomics” movie being nothing more than a cleverly-packaged plant through which to publicize and sell more “Freakonomics” books. But here’s the not-so-funny part: Whether intended or not, that’s basically all this really is. “Freakonomics” gets off to a terrific start, with book authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner very efficiently deconstructing (with slick visual aids) the surprising divergence in interests between real estate agents and the people entrusting them to sell their homes. But after that cool example, the movie puts on a time-mismanagement clinic, devoting the vast majority of its runtime to independently-produced shorts from a variety of well-known documentary filmmakers. At best, the segments run too long and say too little to justify the minutes they eat. At worst, they say nothing at all or contradict themselves while moving from point A to B. At no point, sadly, do any of them match the fascination of that first, very brief segment. “Freakonomics” does a nice job of teasing what Freakonomics is all about, but if you want more than just a tease, you’d be wise to skip this and head to the bookstore instead.
Extras: Directors commentary, producers commentary, bonus Levitt/Dubner interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.
Worth a Mention
— New seasons of BBC shows: If the very arguably unnecessary Americanization of “Skins” gets you all riled up, perhaps the DVD-ification of the British original’s fourth season will make things right. “Skins: Volume 4” (NR, 2010) includes eight episodes, commentary, a behind-the-scenes feature and nine “Skins” shorts. Also available this week: The second season of “The Adventures of Merlin” (NR, 2009), which includes 13 episodes, commentary, a cast/crew season introduction, two behind-the-scenes features and photo/wallpaper galleries. Available next week: “MI-5: Volume 8” (NR, 2009), which includes eight episodes, commentary and two behind-the-scenes features.
— “Dallas: The Complete Final Season” (NR, 1990, Warner Bros.): It’s been a long ride, but if you’ve been collecting the entirety of “Dallas” on DVD, your journey’s finally over … until, of course, Warner Bros. re-releases the whole thing in a much prettier gift box with a handful of extras not found in any of your 14 suddenly-unattractive boxes. (Surely you know how this works by now.) Includes 22 episodes, but no extras.