Transcendent Man (NR, 2009, Docurama)
Yes, in light of recent events, we’re all feeling a little bit amused by the notion of one man predicting significant future events. But Ray Kurzweil isn’t screaming about Doomsday, and many of his predictions — based primarily around technological advancements and their effects on societal change — have either partially or completely checked out so far. As an accomplished inventor and entrepreneur, he also has a history of doing instead of just exclaiming. But with all that said, the contents of “Transcendent Man” — in which Kurzweil confidently illustrates a technological singularity that fuses man and machine in ways that could immortalize humans who inhabit multiple bodies like backup flash drives — is absolutely, fascinatingly crazy. “Man” provides a forum to Kurzweil’s detractors as well, and it even gives a voice to those who believe in the possibilities but see them manifesting in different (and, possibly, terrible) ways. It’s insane, it’s kind of scary, but it’s also wildly entertaining to see so many bright minds trading ideas on the future’s ground floor. None of it may come true — and some of you will deeply prefer that be the case after hearing the full extent of “Man’s” projections. But even as a glimpse inside some accomplished and repeatedly proven imaginations, it’s absolutely engrossing.
Extras: Deleted scenes, extended interviews, Tribeca Film Festival Q&A with Kurzweil and director Barry Ptolemy.
Gnomeo & Juliet (G, 2011, Disney)
In case the play on words in the title doesn’t make it clear, “Gnomeo & Juliet” is indeed another go-round aboard the Shakespeare carousel. This time, the conflict between the Capulets and Montagues rests in the hands of lawn gnomes, who exist in our world but spring completely to life whenever nobody is watching. Gnomeo hails from the blue-capped gnomes, Juliet from the red-capped gnomes, and really, do you need any more information about where this story goes? But while “G&J” heads down the most well-worn path this side of “A Christmas Carol,” it at least does so to its own beat. The movie hits all the typical computer-animated movie milestones — comically inept side characters, an anthropomorphic animal companion (cleverly, a plastic flamingo), jokes that try to amuse kids and parents simultaneously (and sometimes do and sometimes don’t). But the humor isn’t obnoxious even when it misses, and the little gnomes (to say nothing of Featherstone the flamingo) are considerably endearing. “G&J’s” visual design is remarkable as well: The characters really look like they’re made from porcelain instead of the same old computer-animated textures. Even when “G&J” doesn’t shoot for the moon with its writing, the little details that comprise its design are top-notch. James McAvoy, Emily Blunt and Michael Caine, among others, lend their voices.
Extras: Alternate endings, deleted/alternate scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, storyboards, music video.
Childrens Hospital: The Complete First and Second Seasons (NR, 2008, Warner Bros.)
If you could have a hospital show that mocks other hospital shows, would you prefer it made fun of the likes of “General Hospital” or took on “Grey’s Anatomy” instead? To that question, “Childrens Hospital” says, “Why choose?” Though it’s a live-action show, “Hospital” takes cues from its Adult Swim schedule-mates: The episodes are super short (roughly six minutes each in length), the “Previously on” segment occasionally references events that never happened on any previous episode, and while there’s a surprisingly high degree of storyline continuity and what technically qualifies as character development, everything that happens serves at the mercy of the irreverent laugh. Good thing, then, that “Hospital” delivers — first by spoofing hospital soaps, but eventually by spreading its wings in season two and simultaneously making fun of soaps, Meredith Grey and the many hospital show tropes we’ve been fed over the years. It’s sharply funny as a parody, but just as funny as its own creation once the characters come into their own, and it has more than enough talent (Rob Corddry, Megan Mullally, Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Erinn Hayes, Lake Bell and eventually Henry Winkler and Michael Cera, among numerous others) to keep the joke going long after it should have gone stale.
Contents: 22 episodes, plus deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes feature, a Q&A with Dr. Owen Maestro (Huebel), outtakes, Adult Swim wraparounds, an extended music video and bloopers.
Melissa & Joey: Season One, Part One (NR, 2010, ABC Family/Shout Factory)
Remember that episode pitch in “Seinfeld” in which a guy pays a car accident-fueled debt to Jerry by becoming his butler? “Melissa & Joey” doesn’t quite go that crazy, but as premises go, this one — a politician (Melissa Joan Hart), left to raise her kids alone due to a scandal involving her husband, hires a homeless former commodities trader (Joseph Lawrence) to be her kids’ nanny after learning her husband bilked him out of his fortune — nonetheless exists in the same atmosphere. The silly premise is a callback to the weird sitcom setups of the 1980s, and even the show’s format — laugh track, gags and wacky episodes to complement the wacky premise — feels like something of a throwback. But “M&J’s” two stars know how to tread those waters, and the charisma they (and especially Hart) brought to their previous respective sitcoms is back on full display here. “M&J” isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it’s consistently amusing, and it’s an affirmation that there’s plenty of life in the old way of doing things if the right people are tasked with doing it.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus six behind-the-scenes features, bloopers and a sneak peak at the first season’s second half.
Seconds Apart (R, 2011, After Dark Originals/Lions Gate)
Like many twins, Jonah and Seth (Edmund and Gary Entin, respectively) have a unique bond. Unlike most twins, though, that bond works on a wholly tangible level in the form of telekinesis, which the brothers use to make their tormentors and various objects of dislike do absolutely gruesome things to themselves or one another. This much we know very shortly into “Seconds Apart,” and if you’re wondering where things can possibly go from here, don’t think about it too hard. “Apart” opts for mood over narrative, so you can expect some dabbling into sibling rivalry, romantic confusion, and a detective (Orlando Jones) with (of course) a past of his own that ties into the larger story. Fortunately, the decision to prioritize mood above all pays off. “Apart” is at times derivative and at other times a little too scrambled for its own good, but it’s legitimately, consistently creepy no matter what direction the plot takes. When the last act feeds into an ending that you may need to see twice to even understand, the level of creepiness is such that “Apart’s” working flaws are pretty easy to forgive. Even if you don’t get it, it’ll probably leave you skeeved out, and that, for any self-respecting horror movie, is job one.
Extra: Director/Entins commentary.
The Big Bang (NR, 2011, Anchor Bay)
On more than one occasion, private detective Ned Cruz (Antonio Banderas) questions what it is, exactly, that keeps him going in his current profession. As “The Big Bang” gradually surrenders to wave after wave of complete inanity, you have to wonder if Banderas didn’t have some of the same thoughts. “Bang’s” premise is simple: Cruz is tasked with finding the kidnapped girlfriend (Sienna Guillory) of a paroled Russian boxer (Robert Maillet), and if it isn’t too much trouble and he’s able to find the $30 million worth of diamonds she’s hidden, that’d be great too. But from its first scattered thought on, “Bang” is nothing but trouble — a carnival of characters who
are weird for weird’s sake, talk in Tarantino-isms (for lack of a more efficient term), or just straight up babble until Cruz moves on or (more likely) someone kills them. Throw all those words on top of similarly rambling acts of exposition — most of “Bang’s” story comes via interrogation flashbacks, in case there weren’t enough layers — and it’s a car crash of incomprehensibility. But there’s something to be said for “Bang,” which, despite being all kinds of bad, is rarely boring — even if the source of interest is seeing what ridiculous wreck comes next. If you stick with it, you’ll get an experience like few you’ve had with a movie. And “Bang” at least appreciates the gesture, if the ending — which is as visually fantastic as it is cosmically stupid — is any indication. Sam Elliott and Snoop Dogg also star.
Extras: Director/producers commentary, extended scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Worth a Mention
— “The Unknown War: WWII and the Epic Battles of the Russian Front” (NR, 1978, Shout Factory): Of the many stories we hear about World War II, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union is one that doesn’t get a lot of traction on this side of the shore. But if that aspect of the war intrigues you, this 1978 series — produced collaboratively by Soviet and American crews, narrated by Burt Lancaster and absolutely crammed with some amazing firsthand footage documenting the events of the 1941 invasion and the eventual pushback that took Russian forces into Hitler’s backyard — will more than satisfy your curiosity. Includes 20 episodes, plus an interview with composer Rod McKuen and analysis by Russian history professor Willard Sunderland.
— “The Kids in the Hall: The Complete Series” (NR, 1988-2010, A&E): If you swear you’ve seen a “Kids in the Hall” complete series box set before, don’t worry; you have. But with the advent of last year’s “Death Comes to Town” miniseries, those older sets are just a little bit incomplete now, whereas this set includes all five seasons of the original show, all eight episodes of the miniseries, and the bounty of extras (interviews, commentary, best-of compilations, live performance footage, unaired show footage, image galleries and more) A&E assembled for the original set. If you’re a big “Kids” fan and you already have the original set, though, A&E hasn’t burned you: “Town” is available separately as its own release, and includes commentary, deleted/extended scenes and bloopers to accommodate the eight episodes.