Transformers: Dark of the Moon (PG-13, 2011, Paramount)
The first “Transformers” movie was a mess, the second an abomination. So to say “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is a cut above its predecessors isn’t really saying anything at all. “Moon” isn’t the triumph “Transformers” fans have been waiting for, and once Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong) crashes into the picture like a deranged Roger Rabbit impersonator, it’s painfully clear we’re in for another round of treacherous human characters saying ear-murderingly awful things. Fortunately, “Moon” precedes this waking nightmare with some backstory that amusingly ties together the Moon landing and the War for Cybertron. And while that ultimately goes nowhere — as attempts at storytelling tend to do in this series — it engenders some hope that “Moon” can cover its blemishes with a coat of shamelessly epic scope. Eventually, after a long first hour and some of people blathering in Washington, that’s what we get when everyone shuts up and takes the fight to downtown Chicago. “Moon’s” second half is a loud, messy culmination of 2 1/2 loud and messy movies, but it’s a visually awesome mess that lays absolute waste to its setting. It’s still a long climb up a flat storytelling hill, but it’s also a badly overdue opportunity to let these robots do battle on a scale that should have been present from the beginning. It isn’t poetry, or anything close to it, but in light of all we endured to get to this point, it’ll do. No extras.
The Ledge (R, 2011, IFC Films)
At the outset, the appropriately-named “The Ledge” is a moment in time about a man set to jump off a ledge (Charlie Hunnam as Gavin) and a self-professed “decent” detective (Terrence Howard as Hollis) tasked with talking him down. Naturally, it isn’t quite that simple, what with Hollis receiving life-shattering news an hour prior and Gavin preparing to jump because he has to rather than wants to. “The Ledge” teases us with those revelations very early in its run, and it keeps the carrot dangling thereafter by flashing back and very delicately unfurling the separate messes that brought Hollis and Gavin together on what should have been just another morning. It leaves some things to be desired, most particularly with the way it so furiously establishes Hollis in a terrific opening scene but then drops the brunt of the storytelling into Gavin’s lap. That’s probably fair, because there are more stops between where Gavin was and where he’s ended up, but Howard makes such valuable use of his time — especially when the movie is in the present moment — that it’s hard not to want more. Fortunately, we aren’t left hurting for drama. It takes a special kind of fallout to get to a place in life where killing yourself against your will is the better choice, and “The Ledge” uses the best tools for the job — character development, classically-crafted suspense, sensible but effective surprises and people following their hearts’ orders even when their heads know better — brings us from there to here with few dull moments in between. Patrick Wilson and Liv Tyler also star.
Going Postal (NR, 2010, Acorn Media)
Conning the people of Ankh-Morpork is a crime punishable by death — and that’s bad news for Moist Von Lipwig (Richard Coyle), who has been outed as one seriously accomplished conman. Fortunately, the merciful powers that be have spared Moist’s life on the condition he inherits and rehabilitates the city’s dilapidated post office. If you’re wondering how that’s a fair trade, consider this: There are thousands upon thousands (and years upons years’ worth) of undelivered letters to mail. Also? Ankh-Morpork is crazytown — a bustling city in which golems and demons make their acquaintance and a maniacal businessman (David Suchet as Reacher Gilt) openly and freely commits crimes far worse than small-time cons to put upstarts like Moist out of business and good health. If “Going Postal” sounds slightly nuts, here’s the good news: It is, and cheerfully so. Ankh-Morpork is constantly alive, and even the slowest, most expository scene does its job with at least a little flair. Moist himself is a double threat as both the star and the foil — a good-hearted scumbag whose conniving ways and delightful disposition make him the perfect answer for his surroundings and newfound enemies. “Postal” does its share of telegraphing — you can spot the love interest angle almost before the love interest even appears — but it has such a charmingly fresh good time that it doesn’t much matter.
Extras: Introduction by Terry Pratchett (who wrote the original “Postal” novel), director commentary, deleted scenes, cast/crew/fan interviews, bloopers, storyboard/prop/concept art galleries.
The Stool Pigeon (NR, 2010, Well Go USA)
Between his broken marriage and a string of confidential informants who have paid dearly under his watch, detective Don Lee (Nick Cheung) cannot stomach much more. Sadly for him, he needs another informant whether he wants one or not. Ghost Jr. (Nicholas Tse), meanwhile, is fresh out of prison and considerably uninterested in getting mixed up with more cops and crooks. But he also wants to rescue his sister and pay his father’s $1 million debt to the men holding her, so he needs the payday even if he doesn’t want it. Along with a couple other characters in similar predicaments, “The Stool Pigeon” is practically a convention for people who need precisely the last thing they want simply to get back to zero again. “Pigeon” isn’t hurting for action, be it a terrific Christmastime car chase or some brutal consequences from the inevitable moment when messy arrangements like these start veering off the road. But it’s the subtler side of this mess that might represent its best work. “Pigeon’s” character development plays a little too hard for sympathy and baggage acknowledgment, but a step too far is better than settling for the same old story about the same old cops and informants. In Cantonese with English subtitles, but an English dub is available as an option.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.
How to Make it in America: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, HBO)
If you’ve ever gone to a party where nobody knows anybody and everybody’s wrapped up in promoting themselves instead of getting to know each other, you now can attend another one any time you want with this home game version of the very same thing. The grandiosely-named “How to Make it in America” is a half-comedic, half-dramatic story of a handful of friends, acquaintances and exes trying to get by in New York City. Sounds like the blueprint for a timely, relatable, recession-era show — and maybe it would be, were it not for the fact that practically everyone on the show is either working on a hustle or has already made it. “America” is embroiled in a fantastically vapid crossfire of art, fashion, energy drinks and hedge funds, which themselves are scattered amongst an array of nightclubs, galleries and other aquariums full of nothing but impossibly pretty people. The show comes courtesy of some of the “Entourage” braintrust, which may not surprise you given its vapidity. But what “Entourage” often lacked in depth, it redeemed with a dryly funny look at Hollywood that intentionally and often brilliantly flirted with parody. “America” plays with a much straighter face, but backs that up with substantially bankrupt characters who are as memorable as all the people you didn’t meet at that party. Later episodes dig slightly deeper, which may bode well for season two, but it’s still a dishearteningly shallow pool.
Contents: 8 episodes (commentary on all), plus deleted scenes, interviews and two features about skateboarders in New York City.