DVD 6/28/11: Max Manus: Man of War, Erasing David, The Warrior's Way, Blast!, Barney's Version, Beastly, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man, The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy EE BR, New Scholastic Storybook Treasures releases

Max Manus: Man of War (NR, 2008, Music Box Films)
If Max Manus (Aksel Hennie) and his cohorts (Nicolai Cleve Broch, Christian Rubeck, Knut Joner, Mats Eldøen, Eirik Evjen) were a stone-faced pack of slobs with cardboard personalities, the true story of how they came together as a band of saboteurs and successfully undermined the Nazis in the name of their Norwegian homeland would be awesome anyway. Though history obviously gets credit for a huge assist, “Max Manus: Man of War” is supremely gifted as a thriller, mixing large- and small-scale action and consistently stacking the tension deck at exactly the right speed. Even if you know the outcome, watching these jobless, uneducated and broke nobodies play so skillfully on such a ridiculously unbalanced playing field makes for one truly exciting movie. But what elevates “Manus” from merely awesome to one of the era’s best war films is the face it puts on these characters over the five years it covers. Our resistance fighters are anything but bores: They’re funny, loving, sophomoric and ready to breathe fire at the crack of a Nazi’s grin. “Manus” extends a similar courtesy to the enemy without awarding any sympathy points, and the honesty and versatility with which it paints Max’s picture is absolutely magnificent. Never does a dull moment pass when the battle is raging, but it’s plenty telling when some of “Manus'” most engrossing screens are those that run in the war’s aftermath. In Norwegian with English subtitles. Siegfried Fehmer and Agnes Kittelsen also star.
Extra: “Max Manus: Film and Reality” documentary.

Erasing David (NR, 2009, FilmBuff)
The whole dustup regarding 21st century privacy needs no introduction. So let’s skip that and go straight to David Bond’s experiment, in which he sets out to discover just how little privacy he has left. For 30 days, David ventures off England’s grid — which contains, among other things, his home, pregnant wife, daughter and numerous modern conveniences — and attempts to live invisibly on the run. In the opposing corner: two private detectives, whom David has hired to use every resource they have to find him before the calendar strikes 30. The experiment gives way to a lively chase that not only shines light on the fallacy of privacy in the digital age, but produces a few unexpected side effects as well. “Erasing David” unquestionably feels like an extreme test case, and Bond’s preconceived suspicions certainly lend an exaggerated angst to the tone of the chase. But “David,” to its credit, never resorts to preachy fear mongering, nor does it ever lose its way and cease being objective and entertaining. No one would blame you for being spooked by some of the film’s results, but if you treat this one as educational entertainment, it might be the most fun you’ve had being unnerved in a while.
Extras: Five “David” short film offshoots, interviews, premiere Q&A.

The Warrior’s Way (R, 2010, Fox)
“Sukiyaki Western Django” and “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” didn’t simply prove that westerns and martial arts movies could co-exist: It confirmed the long-held suspicion that they belonged together. Now, with “The Warrior’s Way,” we have exhibit C. “Way” begins with assassin Yang (Dong-gun Jang) on the run after his conscience prevents him from killing the newborn child of the family he was ordered to completely annihilate. Yang takes the baby and heads to the American west, where he meets cowboys, drunks, circus performers and a knife-tossing woman (Kate Bosworth as Lynne) whose past gives her more in common with the baby than anybody else. “Way” makes no small deal about establishing Yang and Lynne’s characters, but rarely does too much time pass before the cowboys, clowns, assassins, not-so-innocent bystanders and (eventually) Yang’s pursuers are turning some chunk of the Old West into a playground of violence. Toss in Lynne’s past catching up to her at the same time, and it’s anything goes out here. “Way” makes spectacular use of its setting and combatants, mining both for humor, bloodshed, whimsy and honest-to-goodness heart without breaking a sweat. The fights are consistently excellent, too — vicious but never artless, and buoyed by special effects without letting them take over. Geoffrey Rush and Danny Huston also star, while Analin Rudd makes a terrific debut as Baby April.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Blast! (NR, 2008, Docurama)
When you look at the Sun, which resides eight light-minutes away from Earth, what you see is actually what the Sun was doing eight minutes earlier. Mark Devlin and his crew are operating under a super-sized version of that premise: By observing galaxies that reside thousands of light years away — and, as such, give us snapshots right now of their distant pasts — the crew hopes to gain insight into the formation of our own galaxy. It isn’t exactly time travel, but it’s in the ballpark, and to hear Devlin and his crew describe the concept, the possibilities are pretty awesome. Now if only they could launch the stupid telescope, everything would be just fine. “Blast!” explains the science behind and ambitions of Devlin’s endeavor, but more than that, the documentary is about the crew itself — in particular, its struggles with logistical setbacks, launch delays, losing expensive equipment and spending more time than anticipated away from loved ones while hopping from continent to continent. The actual results of the experiment will have to wait for another movie, but as a picture of grassroots ingenuity, “Blast!” is terrific fun. Putting any face at all on such an ambitious scientific experiment is feat enough, but giving us this level of access — and revealing just how small and normal this group of explorers really is — is a real treat.
Extras: Additional scenes (with a visit from Werner Herzog).

Barney’s Version (R, 2010, Sony Pictures Classics)
To look at and listen to fictitious wealthy producer Barney Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is to see an obnoxious, disloyal, unattractive schmuck who should be lucky to have any romance, much less multiple wives, much less a movie that encapsulates three decades of his life.
But even if we cannot fathom a marriage to or even friendship with Panofsky, the poor judgment of others would still be worthwhile fodder if “Barney’s Version” saw its subject with the same objective eyes with which we see him. For a while, it does, and what takes shape is a darkly amusing faux-biopic of a man who, even in his version of his life’s story, is almost wholly contemptible. The comic contemptibility is such that when “Version” occasionally breaks and asks for a pinch of sympathy for Barney, it’s easy to oblige for just a moment. But 30 years is a lot of time for 134 minutes to cover, and “Version” makes some unfortunate turns of face in the interest of time. The movie’s homestretch smothers numerous loose ends, replaces the breezy energy with a syrupy straight face, and practically holds its hands out for Oscars, Golden Globes and whatever other awards a good emotional swell can garner. The maneuver paid off for Giamatti, who won a Globe for his trouble, but it makes for a movie that isn’t all it could have been. Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Rachelle Lefevre and Minnie Driver, among others, also star.
Extras: Writer/director/producer commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature, red carpet footage.

Beastly (PG-13, 2011, Sony Pictures)
Uberpopular high school student and narcissistic pretty boy Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) has never been shy about putting down others in the name of his own vanity. But when he wakes up under a curse that leaves him hairless, scarred and inked in all the wrong ways, crossing the school’s unpopular but supremely gifted witchcraft guru (Mary-Kate Olsen) sure seems like a step too far. The only w
ay to break the curse? Lose the attitude, develop some redeeming qualities beneath the skin level, and persuade a girl to love him for who he is on the inside. Easier said than done — or, you know, maybe not. As entertainment goes, “Beastly” is considerably more enjoyable than your average vapid teen movie, thanks largely to a clever script and a perfectly-cast Neil Patrick Harris as the Obi-Wan to Kyle’s Luke. Just don’t make the mistake of looking too hard behind that witty facade, because what you’ll find is a story that’s distressingly neat and more concerned with fulfilling its parable than really challenging its main character. “Beastly’s” second half just sort of falls into place, and it cuts a lot of difficult corners to reach its predictable destination. Even if you see the end coming, and even if you don’t mind that “Beastly” goes there, the speed and ease with which it arrives may still catch you by surprise. Vanessa Hudgens also stars.
Extras: Alternate ending, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, music video.

Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (NR, 2009, IFC Films)
How to explain “Tetsuo: The Bullet Man?” There really is no good way, and if you read even a blatheringly positive review that doesn’t cop to its general lack of cohesion, that reviewer is isn’t being totally honest. Skeletally speaking, “Tetsuo’s” plot is pretty simple: A man (Eric Bossick as Anthony) watches a car intentionally run down his young son, and the resulting anger is so acute that it alters his body chemistry. Specifically, it transforms him into a human gatling gun — part man, part metal, and capable of spraying bullets from his body at a ridiculous clip. “Tetsuo” lucidly explains how this is possible. But those moments of clarity are fleeting and essentially punctuate long stretches where “Tetsuo” absolutely loses its mind. The loud, violent, screeching and mostly dialogue-free insanity provides “Tetsuo” the means it needs to pad the threadbare story without giving it much color at all, and whatever word you have for it — pretentious, noisy, amateurish, self-indulgent — cannot possibly be dismissed as a wrong answer. You might even call it brilliant — a fiercely original, show-me-don’t-tell-me portrait of rage and grief run frightfully amok. Just be prepared to explain your answer if that’s the path you take, because “Tetsuo” sure doesn’t make appreciation come easy. No extras.

Worth a Mention
— “The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy: Extended Edition” Blu-ray (PG-13, New Line Cinema): If you’re keeping score, or attempting to, this would mark the umpteen hundred thousandth time New Line has released these “Lord of the Rings” movies in some kind of home video format. This time, though, the studio seems to really mean it. The picture quality gets the Blu-ray bump for the second time, but this time the extended editions are included instead of the theatrical versions, which inexplicably comprised last year’s Blu-ray trilogy. The 15-disc set includes just about every previously-released special feature of import, including the behind-the-scenes documentaries and commentaries from the 2004 DVD set and the Costa Botes documentaries from the 2006 set, as well as digital copies of all three films. If you’ve been holding out for the optimal “LOTR” home theater experience, your patience has been rewarded. (For now.)
— New Scholastic Storybook Treasures releases: Scholastic continues to churn out its terrific Storybook Treasures compilations with two new releases. “Good Night Gorilla … and more wacky animal adventures” includes 16 stories, including “Danny and the Dinosaur” and “Happy Birthday, Moon.” “I’m Dirty! & I Stink!,” meanwhile, compiles 12 stories and employs the voices of Andy Richter, Forest Whitaker and Steve Buscemi, among others. Though a couple of stories in the latter compilation do indeed deal with filthiness, the majority of the collection (“Arnie the Doughnut,” “Johnny Appleseed” and “The Remarkable Riderless Runaway Tricycle,” among others) keeps it from becoming too much of a theme. Both sets include read-along functionality and interviews with a few of the stories’ authors or illustrators.

Games 6/28/11: Child of Eden, Shadows of the Damned, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Greg Hastings Paintball 2

Child of Eden
For: Xbox 360
From: Q Entertainment/Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild fantasy violence)
Price: $50

Lest there be any confusion, you can play “Child of Eden” slumped in a chair with a controller. Should you choose to do so, what you get — a visually and functionally worthy spiritual successor to “Rez” that’s nearly miraculous simply for existing, given how acute “Rez’s” devoted following was — is pretty great.

But ever since Microsoft started branding Kinect-optional games’ boxes with the “Better With Kinect” tag, it’s never been nearly so true as it is in this instance.

For those familiar with “Rez,” consider this its direct sequel: It comes from the same minds who brought you “Rez” and, more to the point, plays a whole lot like it.

For those unfamiliar, “Eden” is a rhythm-based rail shooter that continually hurtles you forward through fantastical themed worlds that play out like living music videos. The gameplay is pretty elementary: Enemies fly at you, and you need to neutralize them with a weapon that locks onto up to eight enemies at once before firing. Unlike “Rez,” which gave you an on-screen avatar, you’re represented in the first-person “Eden” by a circular reticule that you move either with the left stick (controller) or your right hand (Kinect).

Should the enemies get off a shot, a new weapon that continually auto-fires is on hand — in the case of Kinect, literally on your left hand — to shoot down projectiles. (The controller method uses a single reticule and maps the weapons to different buttons, while the Kinect method asks that you keep one hand visible at a time to determine which weapon you wish to use.)

As with “Rez,” what elevates “Eden” from simple to special is the degree to which your actions both feed off of and feed into the look and sound of the game. Players who simultaneously take out eight targets in perfect time with the music receive a bonus score multiplier, but your actions continually alter the rhythm and beat density regardless of how good you are at keeping a beat.

Naturally, with 10 years of technological advancements at its back, “Eden” can do things “Rez” couldn’t in 2001 or even in its 2008 high-definition remaster. The five worlds are more diverse than “Rez’s” five levels were, and the sheer level of visual effects — along with “Eden’s” ability to seamlessly alter perspective and assets when transitioning from one sequence to the next — makes this a most unconventional showpiece title.

For Kinect owners, that’s doubly true, because from the opening menu onward, “Eden” absolutely shames pretty much every Kinect game to date in terms of fidelity and motion recognition. The game is still easier to play with a controller — no margin for error is still better than a small margin — but conducting the action with your hands instead of simply controlling it with sticks makes for a wholly different experience.

(To “Eden’s” credit, it encourages you to play both ways by using separate score leaderboards for Kinect and controller methods.)

As with “Rez,” “Eden” isn’t exactly bursting with content, and if your aim is to see each world once and only once, you’ll be finished in two hours’ time.

But if you look at “Eden” and only see two hours of gameplay, this probably wasn’t made with you in mind. Experiencing each world is great fun, but “Eden’s” true obsession — as with “Rez,” which you’d best believe still gets heavy play to this day — is the classically arcade pursuit of a higher score. “Eden” includes a suite of mostly meaningless unlockables to attain through repeated playthroughs, but it’s the online leaderboards that, for the right crowd, will turn two hours into 200.


Shadows of the Damned
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Grasshopper Manufacture/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual themes, strong language)
Price: $60

When a game lets style run completely wild over substance the way “Shadows of the Damned” does, it’s usually because there really isn’t a whole lot of substance in place to stop it from doing so.

But while “Damned” doubtlessly will be best remembered for its characters, setting, humor and overall audiovisual presentation, each of these headliners serves to complement rather than mask the actual gameplay, which is — while mostly conventional, save for a few hit-or-miss bits — quite good in its own right.

On a textbook level, nearly everything about “Damned” is standard-issue. It’s primarily a run-and-gun third-person shooter. Your weapons, broken down, are the same old pistol/shotgun/machine gun/blunt weapon foursome that’s ruled shooters for two decades. Common enemies attack in waves, boss enemies inevitably have a red weak spot, and advancing through levels often means finding a key here to open a gate there. Even the story — demon hunter Garcia Hotspur must trespass in Hell to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend — is simply a darker version of rescuing the princess from the dragon.

But for every old convention “Damned” calls in, it has a special ingredient to freshen it up and own it.

The weapons foursome, for instance, is actually a single, transforming weapon that doubles as Johnson, a wonderfully cheerful talking skeleton head who becomes Garcia’s best pal as they traverse through Hell. Though “Damned” isn’t afraid to delve into juvenile humor — particularly during a bizarre (and unspoiled) chapter that briefly but significantly alters the gameplay — the chats Johnson and Garcia share while traversing the underworld might provide the first laugh-out-loud moments you’ve ever had while playing a game set in Hell.

“Damned’s” version of Hell is, in itself, pretty remarkable: In contrast to the usual red rocks and lava, this underworld is awash in cobblestone roads, moonlit lakes, quaint cottages and even seedy neon districts. There’s even a friendly half-demon merchant named Christopher who speaks with a delightful Southern accent. “Damned” bathes its setting in unconventional lighting that gives everything a wholly unique color palette, achieving a balance between vibrant and grimy that’s refreshingly unique for any game, much less one awash in demons.

Fortunately, these and numerous other touches serve to dress up rather than prop up “Damned’s” gameplay. Mechanically, it’s extremely sound: The shooting feels good, the melee attack even better once you master the timing. The game’s attempts at puzzles achieve mixed results — a challenge that has you rotating large chunks of the environment is terrific, while a bridge-building challenge is just tedious — but generally, it strikes a nice balance between fighting and searching for keys (which aren’t exactly keys, as you’ll see).

Predictably, Garcia’s demon enemies aren’t terribly bright. But “Damned” compensates by sprinkling in some relentless enemies with unique vulnerabilities and attack patterns. Fighting these demons while simultaneously handling four or five garden-variety demons makes for a frantically fun time.

“Damned” throws in an additional wrinkle by regularly making darkness itself an enemy. Enemies “infected” by darkness are invincible until Garcia uses light to whisk it away, while environments cloaked in it will drain Garcia’s health. Fortunately, while you occasionally will have to manage light sources to keep them flickering, the practice isn’t as tedious as it sounds — nor is the mechanic just an empty gimmick, thanks to the clever (and, again, unspoiled) ways “Damned” sometimes requires Garcia to use that darkness to his advantage.


Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Other versions available for: Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Teen (violence)
Price: $60

No form of entertainment ages as unfairly fast as modern video games do, but really, how long’s a year? And if the “Transformers” game that came out in 2010 is roundly better than the one that’s out right now, why hold age against it?

As you might guess, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” ties into the movie of the same name and was the beneficiary of a development schedule that was at the mercy of the film’s release. If you’re somehow invested in the timeline of these “Transformers” movies, “Moon” provides a little color by playing out events that lead up to the third film and piecing it into seven missions starring eight Transformers.

Problem is, these events — which have you switching off between Autobots and Decepticons — don’t come together to significantly enhance the movie timeline. Instead, “Moon” feels like a patchwork non-story that serves merely to entice people to check out the movie and see something that actually (presumably) goes somewhere.

That’s a problem last year’s “Transformers: War for Cybertron” — which didn’t tie into any movie and was free to debut when it was ready — didn’t have. And it shows.

Lest we get carried away, “Cybertron” wasn’t exactly immaculate, either. But its focus on the cartoon interpretation of “Transformers” gave it a considerable stylistic advantage over the movie’s artless designs. Additionally, while the story wasn’t edge-of-your-seat amazing, it worked in the service of the game you paid for instead of a movie you haven’t seen, so it felt more complete.

Perhaps most important, “Cybertron” knew how to manage its gameplay strengths and weaknesses. Environments were tight without being cramped, and they made smart use of some good shooting, driving, flying and transforming controls. It broke no bounds as a third-person shooter with “Transformers” touches, but it was good enough.

“Moon,” by contrast, falls back into patterns that made the preceding movie games so unfortunate. The oversized environments are back, and per usual, there’s little to do between killing enemies, traveling down empty stretches in vehicle form, hitting a switch and repeating. “Moon” fills these large levels with areas that, ironically, make the game feel excessively cramped as enemies with no attack intelligence swarm from everywhere. The transition parts would mark a nice change of pace if there was something to do during them or if clumsy controls didn’t cause vehicles to fishtail enough to make “Ridge Racer” look like “Forza” by comparison, but there isn’t and they do.

Though the ability to play as different Transformers in each mission is nice, “Moon” rarely feels dramatically different from one level to the next, and its deviations — a sloppy stealth assignment, a pointlessly easy escort bit — neither change things much nor last very long.

The one area where “Moon” outdoes “Cybertron” is with the ability to transform into a third, stealth form that’s a cross between each Transformer’s robot and vehicular form. It’s slower than the vehicle, but it travels in all directions without turning and, consequently, handles considerably better. “Moon” doesn’t offer many opportunities to let the form shine where the other two wouldn’t suffice, but any variety is welcome when so little is on offer.

But “Moon” falls right back behind again when it comes to online multiplayer (10 players), which cuts the match types down to only three basic variants and completely removes co-op play from the equation. The experience points system from “Cybertron” is back on board, but climbing the ladder is considerably less fun when the variety and quality of match types are both so basic.


Greg Hastings Paintball 2
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Majesco
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (language, violence)
Price: $20

Yes, it seems silly to have a video game that essentially emulates the very same thing other games emulate with bullets and blood instead of paint pellets. But “Greg Hastings Paintball 2” earns its place not simply because it simulates simulated gunplay. It also pulls in the rules and metrics of the sport, which allows it to accommodate modes and features — team/gear management, licensed players, tournament schedules, in-game play formations, even cheering crowds — that are more the domain of sports games than first-person shooters. Additionally, it creates a tense combat scenario where one pellet can eliminate you and where, among other factors, a shot across the field has to account for a pellet’s tendency to arc in ways a bullet wouldn’t. Running and gunning rarely works in this environment, and while “Paintball’s” controls require an acclimation period, they capably accommodate leaning, rushing into cover and some light playcalling as well as shooting. “Paintball” makes an awful first impression with graphics and sound that look pre-Playstation 2 and a hideous menu system that arguably predates the first Playstation. It may be the least attractive game on the PS3. Provided you can make peace with this, though, and provided you can appreciate the angle this game is taking, what lies beneath is much better than what first impressions imply. Additionally, where appearances fail, “Paintball’s” feature set — full career mode, field editor, Playstation Move support, splitscreen (two players) and online (14) multiplayer, a video library — does not.

DVD 6/21/11: Cedar Rapids, Louie S1, Unknown, The Adjustment Bureau, The Glades S1, Happythankyoumoreplease, Bending All the Rules, Rocko's Modern Life S1, Shout Factory Roundup, Squidbillies V4

Cedar Rapids (NR, 2011, Fox)
If the 40-year-old virgin had a brother, he might look a little something like Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), a small-town insurance salesman who works in the shadow of his co-workers, has a degree from the Ned Flanders Academy of Sheltered Living, and is “pre-engaged” (his words) via promise ring to a woman — his former schoolteacher (Sigourney Weaver) — who just got divorced and just wants to have fun. A change of fortune affords Tim the chance to ride his first airplane and descend on the annual regional insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, where he runs into a trio of significantly less sheltered insurance people (John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Anne Heche) and kicks off a coming-of-age journey that’s better enjoyed late than never. “Cedar Rapids” surfs a weird timeline that makes it as much a movie about insurance sales as it is about Tim Lippe. But the way it mixes the two — and the similar way it allows a stupidly funny scene to credibly co-exist with something legitimately sweet in the next (or even same) scene — makes this the first movie you ever see that will make you care (however briefly) about the politics of insurance conventions. And if not, no worries: Those funny scenes are truly funny, Helms is masterfully sheltered as Tim, and Reilly plays out of his mind as the convention’s resident sleazebag. Alia Shawkat, Stephen Root and Kurtwood Smith, among others, also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, Top Notch Insurance commercial.

Louie: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, Fox)
Louis C.K. has tried this standup-comedian-gets-a-sitcom thing before, and a quick glance at his newest attempt might leave one with the impression that he isn’t going to put his back into it this time. A typical 22-minute episode of “Louie” fits in two separate storylines and glues them together with standup footage that may not necessarily be related to the subjects of the storylines. Sometimes, you’ll see a standup joke from an earlier episode repeat itself in a later episode. Even the theme song, which simply croons “Louie” repeatedly until the very last line, feels like it was probably written during a bathroom break. But all any of this really does is complement a show that, more than anything, is about a 42-year-old guy who is divorced, feels old, looks defeated and will repeatedly remind you that no year in his future can possibly be better than the ones in his past. So really, why break a sweat? Fortunately, the notion that “Louie” mails it in is, as it relates to the actual quality of the show, completely illusory. The stories, though short, ring true at worst and are extremely funny at best, and Louie’s standup is so funny that even a repeated joke is good for a fresh laugh. Even if it’s trite by now for a standup to get his own show, the thin line C.K. cuts between fact and fiction makes this one pretty special.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, deleted/extended scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Unknown (PG-13, 2011, Warner Bros.)
Ready for something new in the “guy gets into accident and can’t remember who he is upon waking” genre? Try this out: Four days after Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) nearly drowns in a taxi that careens into a river, he wakes up remembering not only who he is, but who his wife (January Jones) is, why they’re in Berlin together and even the name of his hotel suite. Problem is, nobody believes him — and that includes his wife and another man (Aidan Quinn) whom everyone believes is the real Martin. That leaves Martin wondering if he’s gone insane … but has he? This being (a) a movie and (b) a thriller that sets a foreboding tone almost immediately, of course not. Fortunately, “Unknown” eventually reveals a pretty good explanation. And if you think you know what it is — and, roughly halfway through, the movie’s hand seems all but shown — there’s a good chance you’ll be happy to know you guessed wrong. “Unknown’s” second half initially appears on a collision course with cliche, albeit with methods (a great car chase and some terrific introductions of what otherwise might be bland role-players with predictable intentions) that somewhat cushion the disappointment. When the big reveal flies in, though, it does so in the best way possible — as a legitimate surprise for many, but a logical one that closes some plausibility holes that were starting to plague the story. That it builds to a rather simple conclusion is disappointing, but by that point, “Unknown” has done enough right to offset even this arguable wrong.
Extra: Deleted/extended scenes.

The Adjustment Bureau (PG-13, 2011, Universal)
Aspiring politician David Norris (Matt Damon) is moments removed from a losing election when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt) in the nearest men’s room. The chance encounter leads to feelings that inspire one spectacularly candid (and very popular) concession speech. That, in turn, creates some serious headaches for the Adjustment Bureau, an ultra-secret group of god-like string-pullers who look like normal Joes but secretly write the script for what we mistakenly perceive to be our own free will. A happy ending for David and Elise means an unhappy end for the aspirations the Bureau has for David, and when David stumbles into the revelation of their existence, the headache becomes a migraine. Too bad “The Adjustment Bureau” only has a couple hours and not a couple seasons to play this all out. David’s discovery uncorks some seriously cool ideas that come alive in some visually awesome ways without going overboard with effects. But because “Bureau” hinges on what essentially is a love story, it’s obligated to rush things along and give neither the science fiction nor the love story their full profound due. A ton of really compelling questions are left unanswered in the interest of time, and even though “Bureau” ends things on a reasonably satisfying note, it still feels slightly like a cop-out simply because the final revelation isn’t able to play itself out as elaborately as it so clearly could. The result still makes for a fun movie, but it’s impossible to ignore the potential that goes unused in this medium.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted/extended scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

The Glades: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, Fox)
We don’t immediately know what Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore) specifically did to lose his job as a Chicago homicide detective, but it happened, and if he harbored any hopes for an easier life at his new post in Florida, a tide of murders have washed that away. Just don’t expect Jim to get too bent out of shape about it, because if “The Glades” has a characteristic that sets it apart from the pile of police procedurals already on television, it’s the near-constant smile on his face and the wave after wave of pleasantly smarmy words that pour out of his mouth. Jim’s happy-go-luckiness is pervasive to the occasional point of irritating, though fortunately, it’s more an irritant to his co-workers, suspects and love interests, who do a excellent job of providing foil service and keeping the show balanced enough to avoid smug overload. As the cases go, “The Glades” delivers: It doesn’t blaze amazing new trails, but it uses its setting well, and it sets a great pace with a nice twist in the very first episode. Mostly, though, it provides the necessary playground for Passmore and his co-stars, who grow on you as characters and give the show a fun quality that doesn’t undermine the police work. If you’ve developed a case of grim police procedure fatigue but don’t want to abandon the genre entirely, the balance this one strikes between casework and comedy makes for an excellent antidote.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.

< strong>Happythankyoumoreplease (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Well into “Happythankyoumoreplease,” a character makes the apt assertion to writer Sam (Josh Radnor) that, just as he enjoys writing short stories instead of novels, he is better equipped to cope with life when it’s doled out in similar fashion. As it happens, that’s a pretty apt strike against “Happythankyoumoreplease,” even though it’s entirely possible the short story metaphor was intentional here as well. “Happythankyoumoreplease” isn’t just about Sam: It’s also about Sam’s sick friend Annie (Malin Akerman) and the socially awkward co-worker (Tony Hale) who takes a liking to her, as well as Sam’s other friend Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan), who faces the prospect of leaving New York if she wishes to stay with her boyfriend (Pablo Schreiber) and help him follow his dreams in Los Angeles. Even Sam’s portion of the movie comes divided: There’s a girl (Kate Mara), of course, but there’s also a kid (Michael Algieri) who Sam finds abandoned on the subway and is determined to help in the clumsiest way imaginable. “Happythankyoumoreplease” is, by and large, good at telling everybody’s story and giving everyone a personality that elevates them beyond simple plot placeholders. But the divided attention keeps some stories from venturing too far beyond predictability, while the ones that do make it end a little too neatly. It’s a nice collection of nice stories, but one wonders what the powers that be could’ve done with fewer characters and more attention to spread around.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Bending All the Rules (R, 2002, Lions Gate)
Bradley Cooper is kind of a big deal these days, and it’s almost certainly for that reason that “Bending All the Rules” — a long-lost 2002 movie formerly more cleverly known as “carnival knowledge” — has resurfaced. No other explanation would really fly. “Rules” is the story of Kenna (Colleen Porch), an aspiring photographer/current cocktail waitress with a checkered past as a philandering carnival worker’s daughter. She’s currently balancing two love interests at once, and in addition to being diametric opposites, Jeff (Cooper) and Martin (David Gail) are fully aware of each other and where everything stands. As you might guess, Kenna’s past plays a role in her present, and “Rules” tries to balance some extremely light romantic comedy with a collection of flashbacks designed to give depth to Kenna’s character. Problem is, even with all the filling in, there’s little about her that makes her very likable or separates her from the millions of other aspiring photographers/emotional opportunists we’ve already met in the movies. Jeff and Martin come off as similarly vapid, and “Rules,” with acting that grows startlingly flat as time ticks away and a script that mostly goes nowhere before wrapping things up with some wincingly bad preaching on behalf of a narrating Kenna, is completely ill-equipped to right the ship. No extras.

Worth a Mention
— “Rocko’s Modern Life: Season One” (NR, 1993, Shout Factory): Shout Factory’s karma-generating revival of 1990s Nickelodeon cartoons continues with this arguable classic about a wallaby named Rocko, who has emigrated from Australia to America and, along with his dim but loyal canine buddy Spunky, must overcome one seriously tall order of culture shock. Includes 13 episodes, no extras.
— Other Shout stuff: The studio’s retro B-movie double-feature bender continues with “Giant Robot Action Pack” (which includes “Robot Wars” and “Crash and Burn”), “Wild West Collection” (“Rio Conchos,” “Take a Hard Ride”), “Action-Packed Double Feature” (“Gordon’s War” and “Off Limits,” with commentaries on both), and the three-film “The Women in Cages Collection,” which includes Roger Corman’s “The Big Bird Cage,” “Big Doll House” and “Women in Cages.” The “Cages” set also includes a new behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of “House,” director commentaries on “House” and “Bird,” and various promotional spots. Shout also has released standalone DVDs for the “Gunslinger” and “Hamlet” episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” though these are available only at ShoutFactoryStore.com. Neither includes extras beyond the original episodes.
— “Squidbillies: Volume Four” (NR, 2010, Adult Swim): It may be one of the more polarizing shows on Adult Swim, which is really saying something when you consider how good that network is at bear-hugging the thin line between uncaged brilliance and complete stupidity. But in spite of its ability to so thoroughly repulse people, and also perhaps because of it, the odyssey of a mean-spirited family of trucker hat-wearing squids keeps rolling along, with more episodes on the way this year. Includes 10 episodes, plus Dragon*Con 2010 footage, a new round of Funny Pete Stuff, two behind-the-scenes features, footage from Dougal County Ink-Off 2009 and various bits of art, music and promotional stuff.

Games 6/21/11: Alice: Madness Returns, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Red Johnson's Chronicles

Alice: Madness Returns
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Spicy Horse/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, sexual themes, strong language, violence)
Price: $60

In the land of video game characters who have recently returned from extended leave, all the headlines belong to Duke Nukem.

But if you want to read the real success story, you’d best train your eyes on Alice, whose comeback validates not only her place in today’s gaming climate, but the legitimacy of a genre — family-friendly platforming wrapped inside a bloody, deranged, M-rated shell — that hasn’t had much representation in the 10-plus years since “American McGee’s Alice” came, left its mark and went.

At its core, “Alice: Madness Returns” plays by many of the same rules that governed its predecessor, splitting platforming and combat roughly down the middle and spreading it out across a lengthy (15 hours, give or take) journey through some large, diverse and creatively sovereign interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s imagination.

Also like its predecessor, “Returns” doesn’t exactly conceal its developer’s weaknesses. Its graphics are, purely technically speaking, dated in spots. Alice occasionally moves awkwardly and sometimes gets stuck on something for a brief moment. The combat is a bit unwieldy, the camera occasionally squirrelly.

Some players doubtlessly will take issue with “Returns'” length as well. Considering it takes roughly three hours to clear each area and how much of that time is spent doing different mixes of the same things, a request for more environments and less time in each certainly isn’t unreasonable.

But these gripes look awful small in the face of everything “Returns” does so much differently than just about every game in existence that isn’t its own predecessor.

The unwieldy combat, for instance, is forgivable in light of Alice’s one-of-a-kind arsenal. Her bloody blade returns as her default weapon of choice, but how does using a hobby horse for more thunderous attacks sound? How about a pepper grinder that fire grains of pepper like bullets, or the Clockwork Rabbit, an adorable time bomb that distracts some enemies while Alice multitasks against others? The controls aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough, and the imaginative weapon design paves the way for similarly imaginative attack styles.

The rest of “Returns” — which overwhelmingly keeps players in Wonderland but also provides glimpses into Alice’s dreary real-world life — benefits from similarly uncaged levels of imagination and confidence. Beyond simply being large enough to hide numerous optional secrets and accommodate more ambitious platforming segments than its predecessor could handle, the worlds Alice visits provide a magnificently colorful departure from the same old bleak real-world environments while still outclassing those bland locales on the macabre scale.

“Returns” gives each world its own visual voice despite keeping the gameplay fundamentally similar throughout, and the disparate designs give the game guidance while also keeping things stylistically unpredictable. Bridges made from playing cards form as you cross them. A ship captain who is a cross between a turtle, camel and cow offers a ride while flying shark skeletons give chase. Wasps made of ink weird samurai swords, trains with cars made of cathedrals soar like planes around you, living paintings briefly turn the game into a 2D sidescroller, and even the “normal” people in Alice’s real world look like living caricatures.

The continuous stream of detail and surprise works in concert with some excellent voice acting to tell a terrifically original tale of a girl gone mad living in a world gone madder. “Returns” repeats a lot of tricks across its existence, and to a point, it repeats tricks it first played 11 years ago. But when no one else is doing what this one does so strikingly well, the misgivings don’t stand a chance at mattering.


The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
For: Nintendo 3DS
From: Grezzo/Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (animated blood, fantasy violence, suggestive themes)
Price: $40

It’s easy to be cynical about yet another remake for a new system whose library consists almost exclusively of games you could already play on another system or in another era.

But there exists an extremely short list of games that not only circumvent the cynicism, but fully justify the conditions that make all these nostalgia trips possible. “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” doesn’t simply belong in that lineup: It bats leadoff.

If you’re reasonably familiar with the original “Ocarina,” you likely also can predict what developer Grezzo did to freshen it up. But predictable or not, the enhancements address the areas where “Ocarina” needed the most cleaning up, and in all but one optional instance, they toe a perfect line between necessary modernization and respect for what already was.

For starters, a game that looked solid in 1998 now looks terrific in 2011. The new “Ocarina” is the recipient of a ground-up graphical asset remake that fully conforms to the original game’s style but significantly improves both the quality within those assets and the fluidity with which they come to life. Drab, flat textures are reborn with considerable detail, and the original game’s choppy framerate — which made it increasingly difficult to play as 3D animation standards improved over the years — is smooth and rocksteady.

Though you still can fully enjoy the visual makeover without activating it, “Ocarina’s” utilization of the Nintendo 3DS’ glasses-free 3D tech is the best showcase yet of the system’s most glamorous selling point. It’s still a superfluous gimmick, of course, but seeing these classic dungeons, towns and overworlds transformed into dynamic virtual dioramas is a visually stunning validation of that gimmick’s existence.

Perhaps “Ocarina’s” most important benefit comes from having access to a touch screen. Buoyed by a menu layout that fixes what ailed the original game’s menus, the bottom screen provides quick access to items, maps, the ocarina and even Navi, which means you’ll spend far less time pausing the game and descending through menu screens instead of actually playing.

On the “something for everyone” front, the infamously obtuse Water Temple has received a slight dose of visual user-friendliness that, along with the streamlined menus, should please fans who shudder to think of returning to that stage. Wholly new players, meanwhile, can ease the learning curve via a series of hint movies that are tucked inside stones more experienced players can simply pass by and ignore.

“Ocarina’s” only major misfire comes from the incorporation of the 3DS’ gyroscope, which allows players to move the actual device to aim certain weapons and alter the perspective while in first-person view. It’s haphazard compared to simply using the joystick, and not simply because you’re breaking the 3D perspective any time you have to move the whole device and drastically alter your view of the screen. Fortunately, though enabled by default, this feature can be disabled.

The other arguable drawback comes with the inclusion of “Ocarina of Time: Master Quest,” which Nintendo originally released in America as part of a limited-edition Gamecube “Zelda” bonus disc. The quest itself, which remixes the original “Ocarina” dungeons and changes some of the puzzles, is a terrific bonus for players who mastered t
he original quest but may never have experienced this version before. Unfortunately, the only way to access it is to finish the original quest first, so if you’ve tired of that quest and were hoping to just straight into “Master Quest,” no can do.


Red Johnson’s Chronicles
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Lexis Numerique
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, sexual themes, strong language, violence)
Price: $13

If “L.A. Noire” is the yang of detective adventure games, consider “Red Johnson’s Chronicles” the yin. Instead of recreating 1940s Los Angeles in meticulous, freely explorable detail, “Chronicles” designs its own bizarre (but mostly static) world that’s a mix of old-fashioned, futuristic and something out of a Eastern Bloc comic book. Instead of a straight-faced narrative with a deep back story, “Chronicles” gives us a stock detective story that benefits instead from the setting and a likable cast of semi-cartoony characters. Paramountly, though, “Chronicles” keeps it classic in terms of its gameplay elements. Most of the unique scenery you ingest will be seen during pixel hunts for clues, while the usual array of adventure game puzzles accompany found pieces of evidence. Interrogation, meanwhile, comes down to dialogue exchanges that test your memory comprehension instead of your ability to psychologically break suspects down. “Chronicles” isn’t entirely old-fashioned: Its visual presentation and interface are very polished, and its method for handling evidence — most puzzles are integrated directly into the evidence, which you manipulate freely as a 3D object until you find the riddle — is really clever. Just know what you’re getting into: “Chronicles” provides a healthy return on investment with a good 10 or so hours of content, and the challenges hit far more than they miss, but if the sudden saturation of adventure games has left you fatigued, the unique setting and clever touches won’t totally overcome the feeling of familiarity you’ll experience here.

DVD 6/14/11: 36th Precinct, How to Fold a Flag, Monogamy, Battle: Los Angeles, Hall Pass: Enlarged Edition, Jackass 3.5, Midnight Movie: The Killer Cut

36th Precinct (NR, 2004, Palisades Tartan)
A single gang of thieves has run up the score on the Paris police force, piling up seven robberies and nine kills and leaving the cops with little more than a few leads to show for their effort. When all other methods fail, two lieutenants (Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu as Léo Vrinks and Denis Klein, respectively) receive the ultimate carrot on a stick: Whoever stops the gang first gets to be the next chief of police. As you might guess, the two cops’ methods and means differ, which feeds into a rivalry that was visibly contentious before and now looks ready to blow at the first sign of a lit match. But “36th Precinct’s” best trick is the way it uses Denis and Léo’s not-quite-common enemy to really mess things up. The crooks and the cops share ties that aren’t terribly neat, and those ties don’t necessarily fall in line with everything else you know about our two lieutenants. “Precinct” sets its story over several years instead of weeks or months, and it fills that timeline with enough developments (some predictable, some surprising, but almost all some degree of satisfying) to make the final scene feel like the end of a great television series run instead of a feature-length movie. It’s inevitable almost from the start how “Precinct’s” final scene will at least partly look, but that doesn’t make it any less engrossing when we finally get there. In French with English subtitles, but an English dub is available.
Extras: Half-hour making-of documentary, two additional behind-the-scenes features, director interview.

How to Fold a Flag (NR, 2009, Virgil Films)
At this point, it’s unreasonable to praise or pan “How to Fold a Flag” as a movie in a vacuum. Rather, “Flag” is part of a larger collage, the latest collection of stories about Iraq veterans and what happens to them when they return home from their service. As vertical slices go, the four that comprise “Flag” are potent (and surprisingly diverse) examples of the frustrating cycle that ensnares many soldiers as they return to a life of little money, few means, few prosperous avenues and an alarming amount of baggage to overcome en route to some kind of normalcy. As you might guess, “Flag” sometimes gets a little political and sometimes reaches for arguable generalizations to make its points. But because “Flag” removes narrators and storytellers from the production and leaves the entirety of the speaking to its subjects and their loved ones, it can get away with (and even justify) that. And while the overriding themes expressed here have been expressed elsewhere by numerous media that tackled the same subject, there’s no such thing as a story with too many perspectives when those perspectives are borne out of first-person accounts. Even if you’ve heard it all before and even if you don’t believe all that you’ve heard, there’s gravity in a person telling the story of his own downfall while cameras indiscriminately roll and untold numbers of people watch. No extras.

Monogamy (NR, 2010, Oscilloscope)
You’ve seen stories about married couples — perhaps even ones you know — who struggle with the encroaching fear that all the excitement and mystery life has to offer them has passed them by. But what about a couple that has yet to even swap vows? That’s the story with Nat (Rashida Jones) and Theo (Chris Messina), who are rather happily engaged as “Monogamy” kicks off but slowly let the cracks show as the minutes tick by. Theo lets his doubts shine in through a weird curiosity about (some might say obsession with) a client (Meital Dohan) he meets in his work as a photographer. His curiosity leads to Nat’s insecurity, which leads to curiosities of her own, and when you throw in a film-wide theme about misfired tact and misplaced intimacy, we suddenly find ourselves in trouble here. As portrayals of growing commitmentphobia go, “Monogamy” ventures a bit overboard, delving a little too willingly in light melodrama that mushrooms out of proportion with what’s happening on screen. But the alignment is never so off as to feel outrageous, so “Monogamy” plays more like an exaggerated but still plausible dramatization than something completely incredible. Given the way it stays grounded in some kind of authenticity without ever growing dull — and given how few movies in this space can hold that note without losing it and going on tilt — that’s probably as good a balance as can be expected.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, music video, copy of the screenplay.

Battle: Los Angeles (PG-13, 2011, Sony Pictures)
Honestly, what is there to say? If you’ve seen even a single commercial for “Battle: Los Angeles,” and have any reasonable gift of perception, you would be rock-hard-pressed to be surprised by anything that happens in the 115 minutes not shown in that ad. Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has just been given his retirement papers. Unfortunately, he’s getting them just as a cluster of what appears to be meteors lands off the coast of Los Angeles and reveals itself to be an invading alien force bent on colonizing the planet. So Michael’s back in battle — which is a problem for some of his underlings, who don’t trust him because of a prior failed mission that, even with the specifics left out, clearly left a few soldiers dead on his watch. At this point, “Battle’s” hand is too deep in the cliche cookie jar to come loose, and what follows is a roll call of themes, characters and twists you’ve seen in action movies and parodies of action movies alike. In “Battle’s” defense, it’s never offensively bad, and it never punishes you with obnoxious baditude or cloying cheesiness. Additionally, the action scenes at least look like real action with real people in real environments instead of excessively rendered computer graphics faux-pulverizing each other. Perhaps if that action served a story with something to say, it’d make for a pretty arresting show. But “Battle,” which is perfectly content to meet standards in every way and exceed them in precisely none, has no such aspirations.
Extras: 19 behind-the-scenes features (most only available on the Blu-ray), demo for “Resistance 3” for Playstation 3 (Blu-ray only).

Hall Pass: Enlarged Edition (R, 2011, Warner Bros.)
Rick (Owen Wilson) has committed yet another act of stupidity that, while fairly benign, has added more ammo to wife Maggie’s (Jenna Fischer) belief that he’s just a little too wistful for his days as a single, free man. On the advice of a friend, Maggie decides to grant Rick a hall pass — one week off of marriage, with no strings attached. Rick’s friend Fred (Jason Sudeikis) gets the same deal from wife Grace (Christina Applegate), and off we go into an adventure that pulls off the tricky feat of being totally implausible and rather predictably dull at the same time. “Hall Pass” never becomes hard to watch, and there are some funny moments here and there. But when a post-credit roll scene involving a barely-used supporting character (Stephen Merchant) is the movie’s funniest scene by 10 lengths, something’s wrong. “Pass” twists exactly how you expect it to twist, its jokes rarely aim much higher, and a plot idea with endless comic potential finds itself stuck inside what may as well be a not-so-special episode of an elongated sitcom.
Extras: Extended cut of the film, deleted scenes, bloopers.

Worth a Mention
— “Jackass 3.5: The Unrated Movie” (NR, 2011, Paramount): Like they did with “Jackass 2.5,” the gang knows better than to leave “Jackass 3’s” too-hot-for-the-MPAA bits on the cutting room floor. Instead, “Jackass 3.5” rounds up those scenes and builds a whole new movie out of them. It would have been awesome, of course, if “3.5’s” scenes were included as part of the “Jackass 3” DVD’s bonus content. But it’s a
feature-length (84 minutes) movie and includes its own bonus content (deleted scenes, outtakes, European tour footage and a behind-the-scenes feature), so it earns its keep as a standalone product.
— “Midnight Movie: The Killer Cut” (R, 2008, Bigfoot Ascendant): The cult 2008 movie, about a midnight movie house that comes under attack when the killer from the film its playing comes out of the screen to terrorize the patrons, gets the director’s cut treatment and then some — enhanced visuals, undeleted scenes, extended scenes and all. If you’ve never seen (or, understandably, never heard of) one of 2008’s better horror films, this is a terrific way to rectify that. Other extras include director commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes and five behind-the-scenes features.

Games 6/14/11: Duke Nukem Forever, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, kijjaa!

Duke Nukem Forever
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Gearbox Software/3D Realms/2K Games
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs and alcohol)
Price: $60

As perhaps you feared, the real-life saga of “Duke Nukem Forever’s” development — 14 years, numerous reboots, a developer’s demise and a 13th-hour rescue after the project had seemingly been buried for the final time — is more engrossing than the game itself. When the public finally gets its hands on “Forever” this week, more players than not will wonder what, exactly, took so long.

At the same time, “Forever” is more good than bad and more fun than not. Its spottiness is doubtlessly the fault of taking an eighth grader’s lifetime to complete development, but it’s also borne out of a willingness to try (and sometimes succeed at) things most contemporary first-person shooters would never attempt.

Because “Forever’s” titular character has a sense of humor more reflective of gaming’s juvenilia than its present condition, “Forever” finds itself wildly at odds with the same audience that was raring to play it in 1997. Time hasn’t been kind to Duke, and while some of “Forever’s” self-referential humor is pretty funny — Duke is now a celebrity with more endorsements than Krusty the Clown — most of it falls flat (often embarrassingly so).

Age spots pop up elsewhere — most painfully in the long loading times, but most noticeably in the graphics, which feature objects and textures that range from decent by today’s standards to awful even for an early Playstation 2 (that’s 2, not 3) game. Were the game’s development not so famously documented, you might wonder if the disparity was some kind of in-joke you’re not getting.

So how does it play? As a shooter, pretty well — and, beyond the ability to sprint, look down sights and regenerate health, remarkably similar to 1996’s “Duke Nukem 3D.” That game’s enemies return with a few new friends here, and while their intelligence is dead simple and there’s little in the way of attack strategy, they’re relentless enough to continually put up a fast, intense fight.

In some ways, “Forever’s” age is even a benefit. Because where most modern shooters add “variety” via cinematic but unimaginative sequences on vehicles or rails, this one makes like its forebears and throws out whatever weird idea it can dream up.

Sometimes, it falls flat. A few sequences that leave Duke as a sitting duck feel slightly cheap. Underwater levels, though short, are as unfun as ever. A mid-game boss fight takes too long despite hinging on a clever combat trick, and there’s a weird moment with an elevator lever that doesn’t immediately make sense.

But a challenge involving an RC car you must control with a virtual remote is brilliant, and driving that car later as shrunken Duke is a blast. (Driving Duke’s monster truck at full size is even better.) A platforming run through a kitchen as shrunken Duke is, while a bit long, really clever in its level design, and “Forever” even manages to make a valve-turning puzzle fun — even if Duke himself voices his disapproval.

Even when “Forever’s” willingness to try anything backfires, it provides an element of surprise that makes the oddities and shortcomings considerably easier to forgive than they otherwise might be.

“Forever’s” multiplayer, meanwhile, is completely trapped in time, with the modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill) you expect and the same run-and-gun sensibility that powered “Duke 3D.” It works well enough, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you miss that approach. For collectors who enjoy rewards, an experience points system lets you unlock merchandise for Duke’s virtual mansion, which is good for some light amusement but little else.


Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii and Nintendo DS
From: Double Helix/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

Numerous games have, let’s say, paid homage to the “God of War” series since its 2005 debut.

Some of them do it subtly. Others, like “Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters,” don’t conceal it at all.

But if “Lantern” has to pilfer shamelessly, at least it does so competently. And for all the imagination it lacks with its fundamentals, the game redeems itself by using its license in enough clever ways to (slightly) carve its own path.

Initially, it’s in earnest, thanks to the abilities made possible by Hal Jordan’s (the Green Lantern, for those unfamiliar) amazing Green Power Ring. The ring allows Hal to project solid-light constructs that assume the abilities of whatever object they’re mimicking. So instead of slamming two blades to the ground with extreme force the way Kratos does in “God of War,” for instance, Hal whips out a giant glowing hammer and unleashes damage that way.

The amount of fun “Lantern” becomes is directly proportional to the rate at which you unlock new constructs for Hal’s ring. Early on, it works as a makeshift blaster, allowing Hal to attack from long distances. A terrific grappling leash — which, at its tip, resembles a giant cartoon hand — lets him pick up enemies or objects, draw them in close, and throw them at other targets or clear off a ledge for an easy kill.

But wait, there’s more! A baseball bat lets Hal channel his inner Albert Pujols and whack projectile attacks back at the source of the attack, while a gatling gun lets him go Scarface on whomever is nearby. Other powers include droppable (and throwable) mines, a fast-punch attack that mimics a piston engine, and even the ability to briefly transform into a mech and (albeit slowly) unleash ridiculous damage on any nearby enemies.

The wealth of clever constructs easily provides “Lantern” with its best feature, and some thoughtful controller mapping means you can assign up to eight at a time to button shortcuts that are easy to call up even when things get hairy.

Beyond that, though, there’s little here you haven’t seen elsewhere. “Lantern” competently mimics “God of War,” but it borrows the bad as well as the good. That game’s lacking enemy variety is this game’s lacking enemy variety, and if you don’t like the quick-time events that cap off battles against that game’s stronger enemies, you’ll be sorry to see them here as well.

Though it provides occasion to take good advantage of Hal’s constructs, “Lantern’s” general level design isn’t terribly exciting, either. Beyond the occasional clever puzzle, expect to see the same patterns of enemies pop up in places that often look similar and present simple objectives — switches, powering up dead battery ports — you’ve seen before. Even some of the bigger boss fights feel a little too familiar. Remember that enemy you’ve seen in other games who is 100 times your size and tries to kill you by sweeping his hand across the entire level? He’s still getting work.

Fortunately, in spite of these issues, “Lantern” is fast and technically refined enough to remain fun throughout its campaign. What it lacks in terms of presenting diverse problems, it somewhat redeems in terms of diverse solutions. Mix up your constructs cleverly, and “Lantern” will feel significantly less repetitive than it probably should.

Unfortunately, once the campaign wra
ps, there’s little else to do. “Lantern” supports two-player co-op, but only offline. And while “God of War” pads its value with challenge rooms and reasons to replay the main quest, “Lantern” opted not to copy that step.


For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Kijjaa Ltd
iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (frequent/intense cartoon or fantasy violence)
Price: $1

Nintendo made a big splash last week with the public unveiling of the Wii U, but it’s far from the only company experimenting with gameplay that has one device’s screen controlling another. Take, for instance, “kijjaa!,” which uses the iPhone and iPod Touch to control a game that takes place on any screen you own that can display a Web browser with Flash. Visit the website (kijjaa.com/air), enter the code it displays into the game’s screen on your iPhone or iPod Touch, and a moment later, you’re using that device (tilt to steer, onscreen buttons to fire) to control a faux-3D space shooter in the Web browser. “kijjaa!” isn’t terribly elaborate as shooters go: You shoot approaching ships, projectiles and boss enemies and try to stay alive while racking up a high score. But as a proof of concept, it’s pretty awesome. Provided you have a decent Internet connection, it also just works, interpreting your tilting and shooting with enough responsiveness that your device might as well be plugged into the computer. (If you have an iPhone, the device even vibrates when an enemy hits your ship.) Nintendo’s offerings will doubtlessly be more ambitious and jaw-dropping than this, but with that console likely more than a year away from being on sale, “kijjaa!” does a nice job of going hands-on right now with a sliver of these possibilities. For score hunters, it also supports Game Center leaderboards (though no achievements as of version 1.1).

DVD 6/7/11: True Grit, American: The Bill Hicks Story, In Her Skin, The Big C S1, Rubber, Nice Guy Johnny, The Superman Motion Picture Anthology, Handmade Films Collection: Michael Palin/Bob Hoskins,

True Grit (PG-13, 2010, Paramount)
Conventional wisdom would suggest it takes guts to dare remake a Hollywood classic, but considering how often it happens and how unapologetically horrible most attempts turn out, that can’t possibly be true. Sure enough, there’s nothing innately dangerous about “True Grit,” which quite comfortably adopts the plot, characters and overall disposition of the 1968 novel — and, to a lesser point, the 1969 John Wayne movie — without rocking any boats. But that’s precisely why this shines where others stain. “Grit” doesn’t take extreme liberty with its source material, but instead culls material from the book — in particular, giving 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) her complete due as the catalyst in this hunt for her father’s killer — the original movie sometimes marginalized. That, along with a reverence for the book’s sense of humor, give this “Grit” a voice of its own that never sets foot into the realm of alienation. Instead of changing the story, the movie lets its cast shine en route to giving old characters new life. Jeff Bridges was born to play Rooster Cogburn, but that doesn’t mean Mattie and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) can’t steal a scene or three as absolutely perfect foils. And when we finally meet the object of Mattie’s revenge (Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney), the moment is terrifically tense despite resembling what otherwise might be mistaken as a clever exchange of pleasantries. “Grit” continually toes the line between tribute and reinvention simply by staying true to its original reasons for being, and where most cowardly remakes are panned, ignored and deservedly forgotten, this one belongs right alongside all that paved its way.
Extras: Seven behind-the-scenes features.

American: The Bill Hicks Story (NR, 2011, BBC)
If you’ve merely heard of Bill Hicks but have never seen a firsthand demonstration of why so many consider him the best standup comedian ever to hold a microphone, put down this DVD and pick up “Sane Man” first. Once you’ve seen that, though, by all means return to this. “American: The Bill Hicks Story” is exactly what it purports to be — a look at the life of a spectacularly outspoken comedian who started young, found his following in a most unlikely place, and died way too young and while in the prime of a career that should still be thriving today. That’s all it needs to be, too, because Hicks’ short life is a hilarious, infuriating and extremely life-affirming tale that tells itself. “American” provides a complement of interviews with friends, family and contemporaries and mixes in a wild range of performance footage (along with some other surprising storytelling methods) to tell an extremely lively story. It’s an unconventional example of a life well-lived, but it’s an extremely powerful (and often very funny) one that — whether you’re a fan of Hicks or a complete stranger to his work — should not be missed.
Extras: Three hours’ worth of extended interviews, bonus footage of Hicks on stage, Hicks audio journal recordings, deleted/alternate scenes, outtakes, SXSW panel with Hicks’ friends, film festival footage with Hicks’ family and a handful of short features about or including Hicks.

In Her Skin (NR, 2009, IFC Films)
“In Her Skin,” the based-on-a-true-story dramatization of one jealous girl’s (Ruth Bradley as Caroline) abduction of a girl (Kate Bell as Rachel) who personifies the ideal she can never achieve, hits the melodramatic ground in a full sprint. It opens under such a heavy cloud, in fact, that for a fleeting moment, you might convince yourself that you accidentally started the film at the halfway point. But there’s a method to “Skin’s” madness, and once it becomes clear how uncomfortably intimate we’re about to get with Rachel and especially Caroline, the process — dueling timelines that focus on the who more than the what, how or why — easily justifies the unusual opening mood. With that said, come prepared, because “Skin” only gets crazier once it gets going. Caroline’s abduction of Rachel is stomach-turning in its own right — additionally so because it’s based on true events — but it’s her screeching hatred of herself that provides “Skin” with its most uncomfortable moments. Guy Pearce, Miranda Otto and Sam Neill also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.

The Big C: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, Sony Pictures)
“The Big C” isn’t just a cute title for a half-hour show about a woman (Laura Linney as Cathy) who discovers she has Stage 4 melanoma and has, until now, wasted too much of her life being a boring wife to Paul (Oliver Platt), a boring mom to Adam (Gabriel Basso) and a boring teacher, neighbor and sister to the rest of the show’s supporting cast (Gabourey Sidibe, Phyllis Somerville, John Benjamin Hickey). Rather, the name’s a harbinger. Most visibly, it’s a wink at Cathy’s refusal to break the news to anyone, family included, who doesn’t find out the hard way. But “C” adopts Cathy’s excessive discretion by regularly misplacing the subject of her illness amid a riptide of subplots involving her mid-life crisis, the adventures on which that crisis sends her, and a cavalcade of slightly to severely unhinged supporting characters. That adds up to a fun show that doesn’t need to preach to make its point about living life while you can. On the other hand, there’s a certain assumed responsibility when your show even implies cancer in its title, and if you walk away from “C” feeling alienated and frustrated by its sidestepping instead of entertained or lifted by its message, no explanation would be necessary.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus deleted scenes, outtakes, cast interviews and a behind-the-scenes feature.

Rubber (R, 2009, Magnet/Magnolia)
Even if “Rubber’s” first scene isn’t its best scene — and one could make an effortlessly strong argument that it is — its value cannot be overstated. It’s during this scene in which Lieutenant Chadh (Stephen Spinella) addresses the audience — which, in addition to you, is a literal audience of people watching what they view as a live movie playing before them — and explains how many of history’s greatest movies hinge on events that happen for no reason. It’s something to keep in mind while witnessing “Rubber,” which is about a tire (named Robert!) who comes alive, discovers he has telekinetic powers, and uses them to destroy all who get between him and the woman (Roxane Mesquida) of his desire. “Rubber” plays this with something of a straight face, but as the first scene and weird semi-presence of a not-quite fourth wall imply, it simultaneously recognizes how silly the whole thing is. The upshot, though, is that the line between straight face and wink are blurred into oblivion. “Rubber” jumps freely between perspectives — so much so that its characters are sometimes as confused as viewers are likely to be — and it’s kind of up to you to fill those lines in. Some will happily play along just to see where “Rubber” goes, while others will (very understandably) see the whole thing as an incredibly stupid instance of what must be an inside joke-turned-feature film. The varying mileage makes “Rubber” impossible to flatly recommend or pan, but this much is clear: In a summer full of sequels and rehashes, nothing that awaits you is quite like this.
Extras: Interviews, behind-the-scenes feature, camera test footage.

Nice Guy Johnny (NR, 2010, FilmBuff)
If you’ve ever been penalized for being too nice and can’t understand why, do yourself a favor and watch “Nice Guy Johnny.” “Johnny” is the story of Johnny Rizzo (Matt Bush), an engaged 25-year-old who is plugging away as a small-time Oakland radio talk show host while dreaming of making it big as a broadcaster. His fiance (Anna Wood), however, would rather he give up the dream and take a better-paying but soul-draining job through her father. Johnny acquiesces and visits New York for an interview, but precedes that with a visit to Uncle Terry (Ed Burns), an aging playboy who wants to be the Emperor Palpatine to Johnny’s Anakin Skywalker. Does any of this sound familiar? It should: Between its characters, what happens next and what happens last, “Johnny” dives into the bowl of coming-of-age movie cliches like a puppy at dinnertime. That’s troubling, and it’s made worse by the presence of Terry, who isn’t even likable on a pitiful, ironic or devil’s advocate level. But “Johnny’s” killing blow is Johnny himself, whose calling is as a doormat instead of a broadcaster. And as the “aw shucks, come on guys” attitude hurtles from endearing to tolerable to grating at a neck-breaking pace, the perils of overdoing it — even in the area of agreeability — become powerfully clear.
Extras: Burns commentary (he also wrote and directed), deleted/extended scenes, casting footage, Burns interview.

Worth a Mention
— “The Superman Motion Picture Anthology: 1978-2006” (PG/PG-13, Warner Bros.): We’re knocking on the door of yet another crack at a “Superman” feature film, so here’s hoping the powers that be study this Blu-ray set, which includes both the highlights and lowlights of the Man of Steel’s film offerings to this point. In addition to theatrical cuts of the four Christopher Reeve films and the somewhat unfortunate 2006 reboot, this set includes the Richard Donner Cut of “Superman II” and the expanded edition of the first movie. Also included: Three documentaries (“Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman,” “The Science of Superman,” “You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman”), a “Superman” television pilot, the 1951 George Reeves theatrical feature “Superman and the Mole-Men,” eight 1940s Famous Studios “Superman” cartoons, and a metric ton of extras (commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes features and archival footage) that originally appeared on these films’ standalone DVD releases.
— “Handmade Films Collection: Michael Palin” and “Handmade Films Collection: Bob Hoskins” (NR, Image Entertainment): Why should the same old studios and the same old actors always get the same old anthologies? Handmade Studios — an outfit founded in the name of giving influential independent British films their proper due — has other ideas. Bob Hoskins’ collection includes four films (“The Long Good Friday,” “Mona Lisa,” “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne” and “The Raggedy Rawney”), while “Monty Python” alum Michael Palin gets a trio (“Time Bandits,” “The Missionary” and “A Private Function”).


Games 6/7/11: Red Faction: Armageddon, Kinect Fun Labs

Red Faction: Armageddon
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Volition, Inc./THQ
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, strong language, violence)
Price: $60

When 2009’s “Red Faction: Guerrilla” took a series of first-person shooters and dropped it into a third-person open world that let you destroy basically everything brick by brick, the result wasn’t just a wildly successful reinvention; it was one of the year’s most fun games.

That, in turn, makes “Red Faction: Armageddon” — which keeps the third-person perspective but loses the open world in favor of a linear trip through a mostly dank underground — something of a letdown despite the fact that what it does is refreshing in its own right.

Specifically, it isn’t a cover-based shooter like seemingly every post-“Gears of War” third-person shooter has been. There’s a crouch button you can use, but “Armageddon” would rather just force you to run, gun and go wild the way shooters used to do before they lost their nerve.

In fact — and true to the “Red Faction” brand — “Armageddon” would rather you destroy your enemies’ cover instead of hide behind cover of your own. And while this game doesn’t provide the wealth of scenarios “Guerrilla” provided, it beats that game in terms of means.

Take, for instance, the Magnet Gun, which you fire at two separate targets to make them crash together like impossibly strong magnets from across a crowded cavern. You can fire the Magnet Gun at any combination of enemy or structure, and because “Armageddon’s” destruction engine is absolutely unbridled, what you imagine happening — say, the bottom floor of a building flying through the roof and into a hapless enemy who is hurtling through the air at the same speed — will probably happen.

Take, also, the Singularity Cannon, which fires black holes that suck away anything or anyone not fused to the ground. Considering how much of “Armageddon’s” scenery is fair game for destruction, that adds up to some seriously impressive storms from a single shot.

For traditionalists, “Armageddon” also includes the usual explosives, while “Guerrilla” fans will appreciate the return of gaming’s most destructive sledgehammer. An in-game currency is good toward unlocking additional abilities, including a power that’s not unlike (and certainly no less damaging than) a “Star Wars” Jedi’s Force push. The mech suits from “Guerrilla” also return in a limited role.

Oddly enough, “Armageddon’s” other big trick is the ability to rebuild all that destroyed terrain on the fly with the Nano Forge gadget. A few gameplay scenarios have you repairing certain structures to advance the story, and the trick occasionally works in a pinch to create cover when blazing guns won’t do. Mostly, though, it provides a means for you to tear the place apart and still have a way to get up stairs and out the door when it’s time to move on.

All these toys make “Armageddon” fun in spite of some significant drawbacks — in particular, a flat storyline that takes you through a lot of similar-looking environments and pits you almost exclusively against an enemy of bug creatures who aren’t nearly as interesting as “Guerrilla’s” human opposition. Even with all these tools and methods, “Armageddon” tends to drag in spots while you move from one familiar-looking area to the next.

But the worst news is reserved for those who loved “Guerrilla’s” competitive multiplayer, which “Armageddon” lacks entirely. There’s a co-op (four players, online or offline) Survival mode that’s reasonably fun, if uninspired, and a Ruin mode that tasks you with destroying an area within a set time is enjoyable when the strict times aren’t getting in the way. But neither mode, both of which are set in the same areas against the same enemies with the same intelligence, has nearly the legs of “Guerrilla’s” open-world warfare.


Kinect Fun Labs
For: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
From: Good Science/Microsoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
Price: Free

When Microsoft first unveiled Kinect in 2009, it hinted at the possibility of some wild tricks that go well beyond simple motion control. By itself, “Kinect Fun Labs” isn’t a complete validation of that promise: As a collection of experimental gadgets, it isn’t really a complete anything. But “Labs” provides the first opportunity consumers have to go hands-on with some of the ideas it teased two years ago. In “Kinect Build a Buddy,” for instance, you can scan a real-world object (a toy, for instance) with the Kinect’s camera and bring that object to life as a laughing, dancing, jumping being. “Bobblehead” and “Kinect Me,” meanwhile, allow you to scan yourself in and let the software transform your face, body and clothing into a bobblehead doll or video game avatar, respectively. The software is far from foolproof — expect some surprising results in the hair department, especially if your lighting isn’t ideal — but it works, and some of the surprising detail the camera picks up (including detailed facsimiles of your clothing’s color, patterns and images) is really cool. “Labs” doesn’t have any functionality beyond general amusement and the ability to download and share pictures and videos of your experiments online. But for the price of zero dollars, the simple thrill of putting your hands on the future is enough. Considering how expandable “Labs” is — additional gadgets are marked as coming soon, with more almost certainly on the way — there’s no telling how interesting this could get.

DVD 5/31/11: Biutiful, Drive Angry, Undertow, Never Apologize, Passion Play, A Clockwork Orange 40th AE, Stanley Kubrick: Limited Edition Collection, American Graffiti AE, Chicago Cubs: The Heart & Soul of Chicago

Biutiful (R, 2010, Lions Gate)
Nothing brings life’s loose ends to light like being told you have only months left to tie them together. But that’s the reality for terminally ill Uxbal (Javier Bardem), whose ends — two young children (Guillermo Estrella and Hanaa Bouchaib) to feed, an estranged wife and unfit mother (Maricel Álvarez) who wears him out faster than his illness can, a not-quite-above-board “profession” of helping (for a cut) undocumented immigrants get work with unscrupulous employers — aren’t merely loose so much as split, frayed and as erratic as an unmanned garden hose firing at full blast. “Biutiful,” by comparison, is significantly more in control — able to convey both Uxbal’s pains and epiphanies with an expertly effective mix of poignancy and subtlety. Surprisingly, it pays similar respect, with similar skill, to the kids and other characters — and not just the major ones whose development is to be expected. At 147 minutes, “Biutiful” isn’t short, and the sheer number of scenes that show more than tell may be to the movie’s detriment if you lack its patience. But the words left unsaid have as much effect as those we hear when a movie is this good at conveying emotion that’s unmistakable but never brazen. “Biutiful” starts strong, it stays strong, it takes viewers on one seriously intimate journey, and it closes things out with one of the best instances of coming full circle that you’ll ever see. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, interviews.

Drive Angry (R, 2011, Summit Entertainment)
Say what you want about Nicolas Cage, his range and the mannerisms that occasionally turn him into a human cartoon character. If “Drive Angry” is any barometer, he at least appears to get the joke. Conceptually, “Angry” is both simple and deliriously scattered — simple in that it’s just a story about a dad (Cage as Milton) bent on avenging his daughter’s murder and rescuing his granddaughter, but scattered insofar that Milton’s undead, his enemies (William Fichtner, Billy Burke) are undead, and the mission coincides with the potential advent of a literal Hell on Earth. The contradiction trickles down to the execution, which finds “Angry” alternately mixing fundamentally raw action, supernatural powers and some absurdly, darkly comic attempts to combine the two and lob curveballs whenever possible. By the standards set forth by the checklist of staid movie criticism, it’s an awful mess. But “Angry” carouses in its awfulness with a spirit that’s beautifully true to the Grindhouse method, and it doesn’t deserve to lose points simply because it doesn’t sprinkle in phony film artifacts and make the whole thing obnoxiously self-aware. If it’s OK to love those movies, then there is no crime in reveling in “Angry’s” revelry. And if you don’t like Cage so much? It doesn’t matter, because Fichtner, and his ability to steal a scene with nothing more than a twitch, is the real star attraction here.
Extras: Writers/director commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, a montage of Milton’s greatest hits (complete with scoreboard).

Undertow (NR, 2009, Wolfe Video)
You’ve likely heard a story before that sounds somewhat like that of fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado), who is awaiting the birth of his first child with wife Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) while secretly carrying on a love affair with Santiago (Manolo Cardona). But things prove slightly more complicated when “Undertow” reveals just how small and gossipy this Peruvian seaside village is — to the point where “The Painter,” as Santiago is derisively known, is effectively the village leper because of his sexuality. But even that really is no match for what happens a half-hour into the proceedings. It won’t be spoiled here, but it changes the parameters considerably, and it transforms “Undertow” from a movie about uncomfortable secrets to something with enough gravity to leave its characters completely emotionally paralyzed. Though a slight suspension of disbelief is needed to go where “Undertow” wants to go, it isn’t an unreasonable request. For your trouble, the movie simultaneously tackles the themes you see coming and those you didn’t see coming with an enviable level of grace — nuanced without overstating its points, heavy without losing the smile it brought to its opening scenes, and flashing a heartfelt spirit that’s unquestionably genuine and never cloying. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, Mercado/Astengo interviews.

Never Apologize (NR, 2007, Warner Bros.)
“Never Apologize” is 111 uninterrupted minutes of actor Malcolm McDowell on stage telling stories. But this isn’t so much McDowell’s story as that of his relationship with director Lindsay Anderson, with whom he collaborated on “If…” and “O Lucky Man!,” among other projects. “Apologize’s” spartan production — some archive footage, but mostly just our emcee standing alone on a nearly bare stage — places the full sink-or-swim burden on McDowell’s back. But if you mostly know him from his work in character, this is a terrific opportunity to see him in a startlingly different light — humble, self-depreciating, heart-on-sleeve genuine, mournful, and as masterful at forming unforgettable sentences as he is at delivering them. “Apologize” is considerably better enjoyed by those familiar with McDowell, Anderson and especially the work they did together. But if you don’t count yourself amongst that crowd, know that this isn’t exclusively for them. Anyone who enjoys the process of writing, acting, creating or just reaching for a star and catching it will find some common ground in McDowell’s stories, which are as much an affirmation for dreamers and doers as they are a tribute to Anderson and all he did. No extras.

Passion Play (R, 2010, Image Entertainment)
Sometimes, a movie is best enjoyed for what it accidentally becomes rather than whatever it set out to be. That, somewhat unfortunately, is the only play “Passion Play” really has. “Play” tells the story of Lily (Megan Fox), who, depending on whom you ask, is either a real-life angel (biologically-attached wings and all) or nothing more than beautiful fodder for a carnival sideshow. The latter opinion belongs to two competing gangsters (Bill Murray and Rhys Ifans), while the former is the domain of Nate (Mickey Rourke), a washed-up jazz musician who falls for and sets out to rescue Lily almost from the moment he meets her. If a Rourke/Fox love story sounds weird, you don’t know the half of it. “Play” boldly wears its heart all over its sleeve and down its leg, but in terms of telling a story, it’s kind of a mess — a wholly straight-faced saga that’s chock full of melancholic music montages, thousand-mile stares and more self-indulgence than most can tolerate in the span of a single film. The cast plays the self-indulgent card to the nines, and between all the ham and the bizarre peaks and valleys the story ventures down en route to an ending that’s both crazy and predictable, there’s a lot about “Play” that’s easy to enjoy on some fascinating (and most likely ironic) level. There’s no way that’s what the filmmakers had in mind when they put it together, but if it has to completely miss the mark, at least it isn’t dull in doing so. No extras.

Worth a Mention
— More Malcolm: In addition to “Never Apologize,” Warner Bros. is celebrating the 40th birthday of “A Clockwork Orange” (R, 1971) with a new Anniversary Edition Blu-ray that includes a new 25-minute behind-the-scenes documentary and a new feature in which McDowell reflects on working with director Stanley Kubrick. The set also includes a digital copy of the film, three additional documentaries (“Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures,” “Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange” a
nd “O Lucky Malcolm!”), commentary with McDowell and historian Nick Redman, and a shorter behind-the-scenes feature. It also comes bound like a book, with a 40-page photo booklet providing the set’s centerpiece.
— More Kubrick: And in addition to standalone “Clockwork Orange” set, Warner is releasing the nine-movie “Stanley Kubrick: Limited Edition Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. Everything from the 40th Anniversary edition of “Orange” is included in this set, which also includes “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “The Shining,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Spartacus” and the Blu-ray debuts of “Lolita” and “Barry Lyndon.” The set comes accompanied by (and packaged within) a 40-page book that explores Kubrick’s career in pictures.
— More reissuing: Albeit with less fanfare, Universal is releasing a special edition of “American Graffiti” (PG, 1973) that includes a remastered transfer, a new commentary by George Lucas and the feature-length “The Making of American Graffiti.”
— More false hope: Because it wouldn’t be spring without one, there’s a new documentary about the Chicago Cubs and the tortured fans who continue to root for them. “Chicago Cubs: The Heart & Soul of Chicago” (NR, 2011, Questar) won’t make you understand if you don’t already, but if you’re a fan, the roster of interviewees — the late Ron Santo, Kerry Wood, Dutchie Caray, Bob Costas, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Billy Corgan and more — is impressive. Extras include director commentary, a feature about the 1908 Cubs, footage of the Banks statue dedication and a Wood profile.

Games 5/31/11: Dirt 3, Kung Fu Panda 2 (Kinect), Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale

Dirt 3
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Codemasters
ESRB Rating: Teen (lyrics)
Price: $60

It stands to reason, unless you’re unreasonable, that “Dirt 3” isn’t going to be the leap forward for off-road rally racing that its immaculate predecessor was only two years ago.

That doesn’t mean, however, that some pleasant surprises don’t lie in wait.

From the top, the best news about “D3” is that everything that was great about “Dirt 2” either remains great or has ever-so-subtly improved.

Visually, it’s still at the top of the racing game class, equally in terms of car detail, track detail and how good everything looks in motion. “D3” increases the variables with regard to weather and time of day, and while a dirt track race under the sun looks predictably terrific, a late-night race on snowy terrain is jaw-dropping (and a little unnerving when you realize how little light there is to guide you).

The sense of danger is a credit to a physics engine that is equal parts authentic and rivetingly unwieldy. “D3’s” default handling makes for a perfectly challenging game — punishing if you drive carelessly, but rarely cheap in terms of physics snafus — and the equal prioritization of speed and weight allows it to strike a balance between manageable and thrilling without letting either side win.

If you disagree, the game is better than its predecessors about letting you correct it. Along with providing three difficulty presets, “D3” also lets you tailor the experience as needed. So if, for instance, you don’t want the auto-braking assist enabled but would like the opponent difficultly toned down and could use some stability control assistance, you can set each slider as you please with no penalty to your advancement through the career mode.

(If even that fails, a limited-use Flashback function lets you literally rewind a race a few seconds and take a mulligan on a bad turn.)

In terms of career, “D3” largely builds on its predecessor, mixing traditional checkpoint rally events with races on various terrain and with different classes of cars, trucks and buggies. The game liberally rotates through tracks (set across eight new locations), conditions and event types and ties everything together under an experience points-style Reputation bar, which rewards your ability to win events skillfully (instead of, say, qualify after using the Flashback feature three times) with new vehicles.

The big new addition here — and also to “D3’s” multiplayer (eight players online, and in a welcome series first, two-player splitscreen) — is the Gymkhana, which takes all those terrific racing physics and applies them to open-ended stunt wonderlands that challenge your ability to jump ramps, drift through gates, spin out and string together trick combos for high scores.

The Gymkhana stands in excellent contrast to the tenor of “D3’s” other events — a sharp change of pace from the normal “Dirt” gameplay, but one that capitalizes perfectly on the gameplay fundamentals established by those other modes.

It also, at least on the multiplayer side, lets “D3” do things it could never do if it was just a straight-faced rally racer. You can now, among other things, play Capture the Flag with rally cars or engage in a mode where you must crash into alien cutouts without damaging surrounding building cutouts in the process. If you can imagine some of “Mario Kart’s” best party games, but instead with world-class vehicles obeying the laws of one of the genre’s best physics engines, you have an idea of how this works. And like everything else in “D3,” it performs as good as advertised.


Kung Fu Panda 2
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
Alternate versions available for: Playstation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS
From: Griptonite Games/THQ
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence)
Price: $50

Games based on kids movies have enjoyed a pleasantly unexpected surge in quality and attention over the last few years, and based on THQ’s diverse array of “Kung Fu Panda 2” offerings — four dramatically different games, tailored to their respective systems — it’s a trend that will continue.

In the case of the Xbox 360, “KFP2” is designed squarely for the Kinect. Without one, you can’t even navigate the rather clunky main menu, much less play the game, so don’t confuse this for a traditional game with optional Kinect-friendly trimmings mixed in.

As you might predict, Kinect’s primary role here is to help Po (the Kung Fu Panda, in case you didn’t know) perform all those cool moves he learned in the first movie. When you punch, kick, jump, block or dodge, Po does the same.

Sort of.

Unlike, say, the boxing game found in “Kinect Sports,” “KFP2” doesn’t really allow for freestyle, 1:1 fighting.

Rather, it’s more like “Punch-Out!” lite with motion controls. The game will prompt you when you’re free to attack or it’s time to defend, and while you’re sometimes free to mix your punches and kicks as you please, you’re mostly tasked with reacting to your enemy. If he’s on the attack, the game will give you cues to defend or dodge a certain way, and if you attack and he dodges, there are only a couple of countering moves that will actually do any damage. Sometimes, the game even forces you to call in the Furious Five and watch them finish off an enemy for you.

At first, when the fights are mindlessly easy, the limitations are a serious letdown for anyone who knows the Kinect is capable of overcoming such restrictions.

But once the fights become more interesting — multiple enemies, faster and more elaborate defensive stances for keeping Po on his feet — “KFP2” finds a nice groove. At no point does it evolve into a furious challenge, but if the goal is to get players to sweat a little bit, it absolutely succeeds in spite of those self-enforced limitations.

The same generally holds true when “KFP2” takes a break from fighting and tries something else. Chases set atop high-speed rickshaws have you dodging, jumping over and ducking under obstacles while enemies pelt you with debris. A target practice game is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, while a noodle shop game tasks you with feeding customers quickly by managing their order and making sure you throw the right orders to the right tables (and dodge orders that are rudely sent back).

Though they fit awkwardly into a storyline that is patchwork at best, the general takeaway from those games is the same as it is from “KFP2’s” main portion. The games are simpler than they could have been, but they work, and while they never become viciously challenging, they all keep you in pretty constant motion.

That, in fact, is the grand takeaway as a whole. On every level — from control fidelity to constricted freedom of motion to the lack of any kind of multiplayer support — “KFP2” very obviously could have been better. But what we get is fun and functional, and if the goal with Kinect is to mix in some burnt calories with your fun and not make it a total hassle to do so, this fulfills that mission better than most early-stage Kinect games have to this point.


Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale
For: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade), Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network), Windows PC
From: Bedlam Games/Atari
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
Price: $15

“Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale” won’t win any honorable mentions, much less awards, for breaking ground. If you’ve played a dungeon crawler, the vast bulk of what you’ll experience here — the quest structure, the threadbare story, the endless array of grunt enemies and barrels that await your weapon — will look familiar to a distressing degree. “Daggerdale” competently covers the basics, with multiple character classes, collectable loot, a useful array of spells and a character-leveling system that upgrades the usual attributes all present and accounted for. It also, unlike the vastly overrated “Torchlight,” can challenge players by swarming them with enemies who are actually somewhat formidable. On the ingenuity scale, though, “Daggerdale” stands totally pat, happy to embrace the same uninspired environments, gameplay standards and quest design flaws (prepare for a lot of backtracking) that have made dungeon crawlers the most complacent genre in existence. The inclusion of online co-op (four players) is nice when it works, but the aggravations — interface discrepancies and glitches, a lobby that makes it guesswork to team up with similar-level players, tolerable instances of lag and the bizarre tendency to whisk you to a load screen while the action continues for your partners and you get pummeled with no recourse — dampen the occasion. If you absolutely need some dungeon crawling and can forgive the complete lack of inspiration, the offline co-op (two players) is, at least for now, the best way to play.