Mesrine: Killer Instinct (R, 2008, Music Box Films)
“Mesrine: Killer Instinct” is the first of a two-film odyssey about the adventures of real-life French soldier-turned-gangster Jacques Mesrine (played here by Vincent Cassel), and if you aren’t familiar with him, it’s time to make acquaintance. Structurally, “Instinct” doesn’t burst with surprise as it relates to Mesrine’s career transformation. Following an introductory flash forward, there’s a peek into his military service, glimpses into attempts to go legit, and a more detailed look at the moments that transformed him from a desperate, petty criminal to a subject worthy of two biopics. But where many of these burgeoning-criminal movies sleepwalk through these motions as much as the motions imply they do, “Instinct” roars through everything. Mesrine’s spirited development — along with that of “Instinct’s” supporting cast (Cécile De France, Roy Dupuis, Gérard Depardieu, Gilles Lellouche and Elena Anaya, among others) — effortlessly carry the story when the timeline is predictable, and the script returns the favor by stylishly and thrillingly dropping giant exclamation marks on the moments you might not see coming. For a story with familiar overtones, it sure is exciting. Though “Instinct” leaves the story only half-finished, it leaves it on a sky-high note, and many of its best moments wouldn’t be possible if it had to cram everything into two hours. So circle March 29 on your calendar: That’s when “Mesrine: Public Enemy #1,” which brings us fully up to speed with that flash forward, releases. If you see “Instinct,” it’s practically a given you’ll want to see “Enemy” as well. In French with English subtitles, though an English dub is available as an option. No extras.
Weeds: Season Six (NR, 2010, Showtime/Lions Gate)
“Weeds” began humbly as a show about small-time suburban drug dealing, and after three seasons of characters solving problems by creating new ones, the show reinvented itself for the worse (a flat season four) before rebuilding the deck again en route to a terrific comeback (season five). So it’s poetically fitting that the theme of season six, which reinvents the show yet again, is reinvention. Without spoiling the whys for those who haven’t caught up, the Botwin family (Mary-Louise Parker, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould, Justin Kirk) not only has to skip town yet again, but new identities are in order as well. And without spoiling where that takes this season, let’s just be vague and say that it’s a more exhaustive journey than many shows take in their lifetime, with the Botwins pulling roots in the middle of a filler episode that other television families couldn’t pull in a season finale. Given the show’s taste for risk-taking, it’s an impressive tribute. That it’s also the arguable best season yet is, while impressive, not a great surprise. Kevin Nealon also stars.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, three behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.
— Also available from Showtime: “Nurse Jackie: Season Two” (NR, 2010, Showtime/Lions Gate): The first season of “Nurse Jackie” was a slow-motion car crash, with drug-addled nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) transforming from capable mess into the architect of her pending professional and personal demise. Season two slows the bleeding down just a little, but the walls keep on closing in, and the second chapter of this disaster-in-waiting does a much better job of giving Falco’s terrific supporting cast (Dominic Fumusa, Paul Schulze, Merritt Wever, Eve Best, Peter Facinelli) some drains of their own to circle. It may take place in a hospital, but do not mistake “Jackie” for just another show about medicine, because it’s so much better than that. Includes 12 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, music montage and bloopers.
Killshot (R, 2008, The Weinstein Company)
Armand ‘Blackbird’ Degas (Mickey Rourke) isn’t a perfect hitman, as his first scene in “Killshot” makes clear, but he at least is diligent at the art of leaving no living witness behind. Or at least that used to be the case until he tripped, fell into a bizarre partnership with Richie Nix (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and participated in a disastrous hit job that left no one dead and two witnesses (Diane Lane and Thomas Jane as Carmen and Wayne, respectively) alive and talking. This, obviously, cannot stand. “Killshot” doesn’t make a huge production of its premise: The killers are chasing the innocents, and while there’s the extracurricular matter of our witnesses heading into the last chapter of a marriage gone wrong, even that isn’t used to excess. Blackbird’s a well-written heavy whom you almost can root for, Richie’s a psychotically hammy nutjob who is fun to root against, and while nothing “Killshot” does breaks any narrative or stylistic ground, it’s a dependably engaging thriller that builds up nicely, pays off handsomely, and, with one impulsive move during the homestretch, delivers that rare twist that’s both extremely surprising but perfectly sensible. Rosario Dawson also stars.
Extras: A short film, “Sparks” by Gordon-Levitt.
Huge: The Complete Series (NR, 2010, ABC Family/Shout Factory)
You’ll have to forgive some of the campers who might take umbrage at Camp Victory’s name, because there’s nothing victorious about being sent to a fat camp. No one seems bent on expressing that quite as vocally as Willamena (Nikki Blonsky), who, more than merely expressing her dissatisfaction with being forced to attend, has announced an intention to gain rather than lose weight before her time there is up. As perhaps you can guess, the negativity isn’t bound to last: Though not without a sense of humor, “Huge” doesn’t list “irony” among its top priorities. If anything, a little more self-awareness would have been welcome. Willamena has her share of coming-of-age revelations, but she’s hardly alone, and “Huge” unnecessarily piles on by giving even the camp’s chief counselor (Gina Torres) her own bucket of complexes. Occasionally, it’s all a bit much. Fortunately, “Huge” reigns it in more than it doesn’t, maintaining a balance that’s a bit hokey but never very far out of touch with its silly, dryly amusing or refreshingly candid side. You can’t take on this subject matter if you plan to treat it with kid gloves, and “Huge,” thankfully, understands this.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, outtakes and two music videos.
Worth a Mention
— “The Last Unicorn” (G, 1982, Lions Gate): It might be a cliche, but it’s right: They don’t make movies like this very often anymore. “The Last Unicorn” is a thoughtfully-written animated adventure for kids that doesn’t insult its audience’s intelligence or feel obligated to distract it with needless diversions or wackiness for wackiness’ sake. It has a sense of humor, but its funniest character is dryly funny instead of the stock over-caffeinated goofball, and its silliest character is a skeleton whose silliness is more creepy than cute. Even the way “Unicorn” casually breaks into and out of song speaks to a respect for audience sophistication that most kids’ movies lack today. Too bad. This new combo edition marks the movie’s Blu-ray debut, and many of the extras — writer/publisher commentary, three behind-the-scenes documentaries, two art galleries (one fan-fueled) — are relegated to that disc. But the set also includes a DVD, which itself includes a DVD game, an audio feature on “Unicorn” creator Peter S. Beagle and one each of the galleries and behind-the-scenes features.
— “Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo Trilogy” (R, 2009-10, Music Box Films): If you still haven’t seen “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or its two followups and would still prefer to see the trilogy in its original form before Hollywood does with it what Hollywood tends to do, here’s the n
ew best way to dive in. “Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo Trilogy” includes all three films and, in contrast to the individual film releases, finally gives fans some substantial extras via a bonus fourth disc. Those extras include a 53-minute documentary about Larsson and his creation, as well as lengthy cast interviews and a behind-the-scenes feature regarding a memorable fight scene from “The Girl who Played with Fire.”