DVD 10/25/11: Winnie the Pooh, The People vs. George Lucas, Father of Invention, A Little Help, Captain America: The First Avenger, A Serbian Film, Luther 2, Robot Chicken S5, Barney Miller CS

Winnie the Pooh (G, 2011, Disney)
What flavor of dread strikes first when you hear Disney has essentially rebooted “Winnie the Pooh” as a new movie in 2011? Do you get visions of computer-rendered Pooh and Tigger, or is your first concern not if celebrities intrude, but how often and how many? Does the notion of Eeyore and Piglet cracking wise with attitude terrify you, or has Hollywood’s trampling of your childhood traumatized you so much that you immediately envision a live-action movie set in New York City? Fear not, gentle reader: This is Disney, which tends to protect its legacy as much as its fans do. The new “Pooh” indeed feels fresh, but only in the way it sidesteps the reboot nightmare and remains so completely and wonderfully true to itself. The animation may flash more polish than it did decades earlier, but that’s a testament to ingenuity and technique more than technology. Pooh and friends look exactly as we remember them, and the words that escape their mouths are as cheerful and clever as they’ve ever been. The only real knock? At only 63 minutes long, it’s short even by animated movie standards. But “Pooh” at least makes good use of its time, effortlessly and whimsically hopping from one adventure to another while spinning yet another epic yarn about a bear’s quest to pour some honey into his rumbling tummy. Funny how that conundrum never gets old when these old friends have so much fun resolving it.
Extras: Animated shorts “The Ballad of Nessie” and “Pooh’s Balloon,” deleted scenes (with director introduction), movie singalong, behind-the-scenes feature.

The People vs. George Lucas (NR, 2010, Lions Gate)
Where did the George Lucas bandwagon veer off the road for you? Was it the Ewoks? Greedo shooting first? The two-hour sinking feeling known as “The Phantom Menace?” Or did you remain strong, only to finally get knocked off by a kamikaze “Nooooo” and a nuke-proof refrigerator? Seemingly every fan of Lucas’ work has a case, and if you need no additional information about the aforementioned references, you’ve likely heard some form of everything “The People vs. George Lucas” has to say. But what is said and how it’s said are two different things, and the way “TPVGL” turns nearly three decades of grievances into a hilarious celebration of rabid fandom, community and even the man on trial is just masterful. “TPVGL” cedes control almost entirely to the fans, liberally blending interviews with a barrage of fan-produced content ranging from songs to spoofs to meticulous recreations to (of course) edits and rewrites. The interviews — again, of random suffering fans and not historians, experts or other people who aren’t irrationally attached to Lucas’ work — are so impassioned as to be tragic and wonderful all at once, and the tributes, spoofs and put-downs (some direct, others passive-aggressive) speak for themselves. Even if you’ve heard it all before, “TPVGL” proves a good story, told well, never wears out its welcome. With the recent dust-up over the “Star Wars” Blu-rays and yet another unfortunate “Nooooo,” here’s hoping a retrial is in the works.
Extras: Filmmaker commentary, “The People vs. Star Wars 3D” from San Diego Comic-Con 2011, interview with “Star Wars” producer Gary Kurtz, poetry slam highlights, music video.

Father of Invention (PG-13, 2010, Anchor Bay)
As goes the soul of Robert Axle (Kevin Spacey) — once the face and brains of Robert Axle Fabrications, now a disgraced inventor, convicted felon, estranged family man and homeless washout — so goes the heart of “Father of Invention.” Fortunately, it isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. “Invention” — with no small thanks to Spacey, who is as good as any actor alive at embodying the ruthlessly charismatic scoundrel — quickly sets the stage for a darkly funny comeback story, offering a glimpse of Robert at the height of his success before the opening credits roll past him at his lowest. It’s little surprise that some form of personal and professional redemption is on the table with the movie so efficiently laying out Robert’s failings, so the gist of what happens thereafter isn’t totally a surprise. What is surprising, however, is how intelligently “Invention” comports itself when the inevitable soul-searching intervenes. It flashes a heart, but it does so thoughtfully and not cloyingly. Better still, it does so at no expense to the darkness that circles continually above. Instead, the two sides of Robert’s heart find a harmony that’s surprisingly buyable, and “Invention” emerges as the best kind of character study — one that’s funny, cutting, easy to root for and far too entertaining to ever feel like a study. Craig Robinson, Heather Graham, Johnny Knoxville, Camilla Belle and John Stamos also star.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

A Little Help (R, 2010, Image Entertainment)
Even the best among us need a little help. “A Little Help’s” title, therefore, is modest, because Laura (Jenna Fischer) — alcoholic, struggling mother of struggling 12-year-old Dennis (Daniel Yelsky), one half of a failing marriage that’s about to get a whole lot more complicated — needs a whole heaping ton of help. It’s hard to go into much greater detail than that, because much of what propels “Help” forward hinges on a first-act turn that’s best left unspoiled. So strictly vaguely speaking, here’s what can be said. “Help,” like the woman in need of it, is rather messy — as much a straight-faced drama as it is a dark comedy, a bit scattered in its use of supporting characters, and occasionally slow to give those characters and the storylines they lead the point they sometimes need to justify their screen time. More than not, though, “Help” gets to the point and quite effectively makes that point matter. Its funny and serious sides complement rather than drown each other out, and the final tally — like its main character — is extremely easy to like even with all the warts showing. Unlikely credit for that goes to Laura: She may be a wreck in her own world, but her malleability makes her the movie’s rock. That isn’t an easy discrepancy to illustrate, but “Help” demonstrates how it’s done.
Extras: Interviews, music video.

Captain America: The First Avenger: Limited 3D Edition (PG-13, 2011, Paramount)
Take a good sniff and you’ll doubtlessly catch a whiff of obligation at some point in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which functions as much as a lead-in for next summer’s “Avengers” movie as it stands alone as its own creation. (Should you not detect it early, Marvel Studios using its customary post-trailer sequel tease as a nakedly literal commercial for “Avengers” should part the clouds.) Fortunately, this may not be as problematic as it probably sounds. “America’s” storyline is pretty paint-by-numbers even by the standards of obligatory superhero origin stories, and it never quite has as much fun as did the coming-out parties for fellow Avengers Iron Man and Thor. Next to those characters, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a bit bland and a little too straight-laced. But when Rogers gets down to business as Captain America, those personality deficiencies don’t much matter. “America” doesn’t innovate much here, either, and its arguable best story turn takes place right as the movie ends. (They want you to see “Avengers,” remember?) Still, any time an alternate-history second World War and a few superhero powers mix it up under the loving glow of a big budget, there’s bound to be plenty to enjoy. Go into “America” with exactly that mindset, and you’ll likely come away satisfied.
Extras: Director/crew commentary, two “Avengers”-related features, deleted scenes, six behind-the-scenes features.

A Serbian Film (NR, 2011, Invincible Pictures)
Ask 100 film studio executives how to make a shocking movie, and 99 of them likely will give you a recipe that has blood, death and nudity all mingling freely. Thus, it’s no surprise “A Serbian Film” — which takes a threadbare plot about a porn star (Srdjan Todorovic) working against his will and wraps it around a mess a murderous, bloody taboos run wild — has garnered attention as the most shocking movie ever to get this close to the mainstream consciousness. But while “Film” earns many adjectives — vile, repugnant, unscrupulous are three that work rather well — there really isn’t much here that’s even courageous, much less shocking. Horror filmmakers have been in a relentless battle to one-up each other since “Saw” made it profitable to sell torture and gore to the masses, and while the acts that take place in “Film” are so insipid that even describing them on paper is tasteless, their arrival was as inevitable as whatever happens next to top them. Shocking movies can shock audiences on levels way beyond buckets of blood and body parts, and no genre is immune from producing a movie that can drop someone’s jaw for a profound, substantial reason. “Film” takes gross to new frontiers, but applies no real vision to get there. More than shocking, it just feels stupid. In Serbian with English subtitles. No extras.

Worth Mentioning
— “Luther 2” (NR, 2011, BBC): Miniseries rarely (if ever) get sequels, but if the television gods can provide only so many exceptions to their rules, let’s thank them for making this one of them. “Luther 2” brings us back into the case files and crumbling psyche of John Luther (Idris Elba), a morally dubious detective who remains acutely tormented by the murder of his wife (to say nothing of the absolute mess of depravity, hard luck and bittersweet semi-closure that accompanied the original series). On paper, “Luther 2” isn’t quite as manic: There are two cases spread across four episodes instead of the first series’ six over six. But when both the killers and the cop are of darker mind than before, and when the quality of storytelling remains this engrossingly high, there’s no sign in sight of this show (now confirmed for a third series) slowing down. Includes four episodes, no extras.
— “Robot Chicken: Season Five” (NR, 2011, Adult Swim): That whole thing TV studios do where they release shows on Blu-ray and DVD after they’ve aired? That’s so quaint. “Robot Chicken’s” fifth season set includes 20 episodes, but only 11 of them have aired so far. If you’re not ready to let go of old habits, you can rest assured the nine episodes will still air and you need not buy them to see them. But if you enjoy these sets and are ready to live in the future, Adult Swim’s best show — and the holiest union ever between stop-motion animation and old toys — is ready to accompany you. All 20 episodes include commentary. Additional extras include deleted scenes, more than 50 deleted animatics, seven behind-the-scenes features, a “Blue Rabbit” MP3 singalong and a big helping of funny promotional bits and pieces.
— “Barney Miller: The Complete Series” (NR, 1974, Shout Factory): Apparently no one at Sony Pictures realized the inarguably classic “Barney Miller” made it past the third season, which is where the run of single-season DVD sets ended nearly two years ago. Happily, this 25-disc set — packed in a reasonably slim box with the iconic Squad Room Detectives office door adorning the front — should make up for lost time. All 168 episodes from all eight seasons are included, as is the complete first season of “Fish,” the the Abe Vigoda-fronted “Miller” spinoff. Other extras include commentary, new interviews, the original series pilot and a 40-page companion book with liner notes, photos and an episode guide.

Games 10/25/11: Batman: Arkham City, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, Sideway: New York, Payday: The Heist

Batman: Arkham City
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Rocksteady Studios/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, blood, mild language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)
Price: $60

When “Batman: Arkham Asylum” wowed us in 2009, most praised it for prioritizing quality over scope and giving us a polished Batman experience in a confined space instead of one spread thin across yet another open world.

Two years and incalculable more polish later, “Batman: Arkham City” has arrived to make us all look foolish.

As the title implies and story explains, “City” takes place in a much larger space. The prison city of Arkham is walled off from the rest of Gotham City, but it’s extremely spacious as prison cities go. “Asylum” nailed the fun of gliding, rappelling and ziplining as Batman, and “City” makes it that much more fun by giving you more room to move freely. The Batmobile remains absent, but given how fast you can bound across and around rooftops, it would have felt passé anyway.

The fruits of a bigger world are obvious. There’s a wider array of environments to explore and numerous side quests to engage at your leisure. The optional Riddler challenges are back, but now there are more than 400 of them, and while the best of them still involve actual riddles you’ll need to use gadgets and your head to solve, you’ll complete many of them simply by finding a way to access the city’s most obscure corners.

Finally, the story itself is longer, and between the four-part Catwoman story arc (included with new copies of the game) and metric ton of challenge rooms, Riddler content and side missions available to Batman and Catwoman alike, “City” is a monstrously deep game.

But bigger alone isn’t better, and it’s the lessons learned from “Asylum” that truly elevate “City” beyond its predecessor.

Chiefly, “City” doesn’t fumble the primary objective, which is to make the player feel like Batman. The open world exists to serve Batman’s unique brand of movement, gadgetry and detective skills rather than vice versa, and that leads to some ingenious mission designs that rise far above the same old open-world stuff. Batman’s Detective Vision — a transparent overlay with numerous interfaces for tracking villains and unlocking other secrets — is even more valuable than before, and the myriad ways “City” uses it to craft unique interfaces for unique circumstances is a testament to some amazing attention to detail.

Additionally, “City” knows when to go small. Though you’re never forced down a linear road, many of the story’s biggest moments take place inside smaller areas (many indoors) that deviate considerably in terms of design, architecture and the demands placed on Batman’s gadgets and skills. “Asylum’s” outstanding hand-to-hand combat — a system that rewards rhythmic timing and punishes mindless button mashing — returns, and “City” generally features it in areas neither too cramped nor too wide open to disrupt your rhythm.

The benefits of diverse design are most pronounced for “City’s” stealthy side, which tasks you with disarming multiple gunmen with as little fuss as possible. Controlled scenarios in close quarters invoke the best of “Asylum’s” stealth scenarios, while showdowns against snipers pitted on multiple rooftops allow you to spread your wings and use every gadget at your disposal to quietly, humanely and epically neutralize them one by one.

Everything “City” tries, it nails, and its ability to do so many things so well makes the transition to a larger space a trivial and painless one.

The game displays a similar level of confidence with regard to its storytelling and the way it paces itself, supplying a cavalcade of villains who each leave their mark on the game without getting in each other’s way. The visual design and voice acting are incredible, and while the way “City” plays may be what defines it, the way that story wraps may be what you remember most vividly about it.


Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One
For: Playstation 3
From: Insomniac/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (crude humor, fantasy violence, language)
Price: $60

You should know straight away that if you expect a typical “Ratchet & Clank” experience from “Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One,” what you get instead probably will disappoint you.

If, however, you understand going in that “One” is the Playstation 3’s answer to “New Super Mario Bros. Wii,” what you get should match and very possibly exceed expectations. Significant compromise went into distilling the series’ best ingredients into a potentially messy four-player (online or offline) co-op game, but what remains mostly does the name proud.

First, the obvious explanation of what “One” is not. It isn’t a traditional 3D platformer that gives players complete freedom to move around and explore massive, intricate environments in any manner they please. Nor is it a freewheeling third-person shooter that combines that joy of movement with brilliantly offbeat weapon design to create a wonderful marriage of platforming, shooting, puzzle-solving and cartoonish destruction on a gigantic scale.

“One’s” worlds remain large and inspired in their design, but navigating them is hamstrung by a fixed camera designed to accommodate two to four characters at once. Similarly, while your arsenal of weapons and gadgets gradually expands into a massive collection of series favorites and brand-new contraptions, the fixed camera and the need it creates for auto-targeting dumbs the gunplay down quite a bit. “One” compensates somewhat by bumping up the enemy count and upholding the series’ appetite for destruction, but if there’s one area where the compromise feels most pronounced, it’s here.

As bears repeating, though, “One” makes up for those losses elsewhere and in the service of the game it truly wants to be — a frantic co-op experience that’s playable alone but accessible to all, and one designed around action that’s fast and manic instead of epic and nuanced.

In that regard, it succeeds quite nicely. “One’s” overriding storyline is as lengthy as a traditional “Ratchet” game and its worlds comparably large, but it divides itself into co-op-friendly chunks that take roughly 15-20 minutes each to play. The interface for setting up games isn’t terribly elegant, but the game itself is flexible enough to accommodate whatever setup — solo, with friends, with strangers or a little bit of all three — you wish to take.

Similarly, “One” bounds so swiftly between gameplay elements that the aforementioned compromises mostly cease to matter. You’ll take down a wave of enemies for a few moments, solve a puzzle for a few more, do a little running and jumping, swing on a rope or ride a rail to cross a gap, maybe fight a boss enemy, and do whatever else the game fancies next. “One” struggles near the end when it runs out of ideas and goes heavy on the shooting, but for most of the way, the steady mix of platforming, shooting, puzzle-solving, random diversions and new gadgets makes for a fast game with little downtime.

If anything, it’s a little too frantic with three or four players. Having Ratchet, Clank, Qwark and Dr. Nefarious sharing one screen leads to some hilarious collapses in teamwork and competence, but two players may be more ideal for those who’d rather prosper than let chaos ensue. Going it alone also is viable, because “One” provides an A.I. partner whose competence and perception are startlingly on point. (Take notes, Lego games.)

It wouldn’t be a “Ratchet” game without a funny script and brilliant voice acting driving it along, and this, happily, is one area where “One” doesn’t deviate. The story gamely explains why this unlikely foursome is stuck together, and the dialogue — from main and supporting characters alike — is among the sharpest and funniest to grace any game this year.


Sideway: New York
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Playbrains/Fuel Industries/Sony Online Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild language, fantasy violence, crude humor, tobacco reference)
Price: $10

On style alone, “Sideway: New York” is immediately striking. It takes a genre as old as time — the sidescrolling platformer — and applies a graffiti motif that animates flat, cartoony characters in front of fully-rendered environments while a terrific soundtrack (courtesy of Mr. Lif) blares behind it. But style immediately becomes the second most interesting thing about “Sideway” when it completely and seamlessly turns that world on its ear for the first time. In “Sideway,” player and enemy alike exist as flat, living tags on the walls and rooftops, and when you’re that ingrained into your surroundings, they can completely shift perspective without disorienting you. Jumping to the top of a building, for instance, will cause a perspective shift that turns the rooftop you just climbed to into a wall full of platforms you must navigate to reach the next rooftop, which might rotate a whole different way to get you back to the ground. The trick is hard enough to describe on paper, and it’s impossible to do verbal justice to the ingenious way “Sideway” turns different sides of the same world into a single, continuous sidescrolling level that’s groundbreaking and classic at once. The process isn’t flawless: Combat and other controls aren’t as responsive as their fluid animation would suggest they are, and you’ll die many cheap deaths en route to finishing the story (and, if you’re up for a stiff challenge, finding every last secret shift and collectable in each level). Fortunately, checkpoints are generous enough to keep the annoying aspects of “Sideway’s” challenge from overtaking its enjoyable aspects. “Sideway” also supports two-player co-op, though it’s offline only.


Payday: The Heist
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Overkill Software/Sony Online Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, drug reference, intense violence, strong language)
Price: $20

“Payday: The Heist” is an interactive robbery playset, and like all playsets, it’s only as good as the imaginations of those playing with it. The six missions recreate classic heist scenarios — some glamorous (bank robbery, penthouse diamond heist), others not so much (a slaughterhouse full of gold, a panic room inside a meth lab). Staying alive is the primary objective, and standard first-person shooter controls and mechanics apply, but every situation throws out secondary objectives that either help the heist along or keep bloodshed to a minimum (by first-person shooter standards, anyway). If that sounds a little like “Left 4 Dead,” only with riches instead of mere survival at stake, you’ve got the right idea. And just as with that game, “Payday” truly sings when you team up with others online (four players). You can engage the missions by yourself, and whatever experience you accrue will boost your game-wide reputation meter and unlock new weapons and upgrades. But while “Payday” teams you up with three serviceable A.I. partners in crime, the inability to coordinate and strategize the way you can with human players and headsets takes away the game’s best feature. A bank may sound small, but when you have to break into the basement vault, crack the second-story server room and keep hostages from escaping through the front door at the same time, it suddenly feels massive. If you want to cover all that ground and have an absolute blast doing so, human companions are a must.

DVD 10/18/11: Page One: Inside the New York Times, Aftershock, The Captains, Lucky, Within, Bad Teacher, Turkey Bowl, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory 40th AE

Page One: Inside the New York Times (R, 2011, Magnolia)
The New York Times made headlines over the weekend with reports of more rebalancing and position reductions, so just in case “Page One” wasn’t one of the year’s timeliest documentaries, that little tap should clinch it. As the title implies, “One” takes us inside the bowels of the Times’ newsroom, where we watch a culture of newspaper people wrestle with Wikileaks, a suspicious “official” announcement of the Iraq War’s conclusion, and the shameful corporate crash and burn that torched numerous colleagues at the Tribune Co. If you have a nose for the stories behind those stories, you need not be told that the movie, while free of narration or editorial intrusion, doubles as a referendum on the riddle of monetizing and saving an institution that for a generation has been as free as the air we breathe (and taken about as much for granted). “One” darts between observing the newsroom, profiling its faces and letting them air their views on their industry’s wildly uncertain future, and it results in a movie that scrambles to cover lots of ground in little time. But what “One” sometimes lacks in terms of graceful transitions, it redeems in the field of time management. Few insubstantial moments intervene between the fast start and abrupt finish, and the film’s insights, energy and passion are both eloquent and furious. If you distrust the media, this won’t shake your biases. But if you value a free press that has the resources needed to tell the story right, “One” offers assurance that regardless of how the business shakes out, there are capable people on the ground fighting relentlessly to carry it through.
Extras: Three short features on the state of the industry, a feature on journalists’ reaction to “Page One,” deleted scenes, filmmakers/featured people Q&A, feature with Baghdad Bureau Chief Tim Arango (who is featured in the movie) and photojournalist João Silva, who lost both legs while on assignment in Iraq.

Aftershock (NR, 2010, China Lion/New Video)
In case you aren’t familiar, the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that kicks off “Aftershock” is a real disaster, and one responsible for claiming 250,000 lives. “Aftershock’s” dramatization of the quake is visually incredible, but lest you assume the movie mines tragedy for eye candy, know also that it’s brief and takes place pretty early in a runtime that spans 136 minutes. The bulk of “Aftershock’s” storyline zooms in on a single family and hinges on what happens after a mother (Fan Xu) is forced to make the call on a rescue that can save only one of her two trapped children. If that sounds needlessly sensational as well, rest assured (again) that the depiction of her choice’s consequences — set over a 32-year period that follows the lives of all involved — is anything but tacky. To the contrary, “Aftershock” develops and treats its characters with lavish care, and while it doubtlessly could shave off a minute here or there, it’s hard to accuse the movie of wasting the time it affords everyone involved. A tribute to the quake’s victims closes the movie, and while there’s always a discord between fiction and the real-life tragedy it strives to remember, this is an especially tasteful attempt that neither sacrifices nor bows to entertainment value in the process. In Mandarin with English subtitles. No extras.

The Captains (NR, 2011, Entertainment One)
“The Captains” could have been so many unfortunate things — dry, self-indulgent, detached, insular. Instead, William Shatner’s behind-the-curtain look at the actors who shared the “Star Trek” Starship Captain’s chair (Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, Chris Pine) is the complete opposite of every word listed above. Shatner takes “The Captains'” reins in front of as well as behind the camera, and the adventure brings him face to face with all five fellow captains, who seem as genuinely tickled to discuss their bond with him as he is with them. The freewheeling conversations naturally touch on the distinctions that come with being part of “Star Trek” lore. But “The Captains” has few rules beyond that, and the talks regularly bounce between serious, heartfelt and funny as Shatner and friends discuss personal sacrifice, the drive to act, death, music and whatever else comes up. Every actor gets his or her due, but ultimately, it may be Shatner himself who opens up most. His once-reluctant, now-enthusiastic embrace of Captain Kirk comes out literally during conversation, but his affinity for “Star Trek,” its fans and the way the phenomenon changed his life appears most potently in the questions he asks and the hilariously earnest way he interacts with fans between stops. Your enjoyment of the movie likely will be enhanced by an affinity of your own for the franchise, but it cannot be emphasized enough how optional that is. In this celebration of life and everything in it, “Star Trek” merely is a means to an end.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Lucky (R, 2011, Phase 4 Films)
Say this for Lucy (Ari Graynor): She may be shallow by pursuing and eventually marrying longtime admirer Ben (Colin Hanks) only after he won the lottery, but she sure takes it in stride upon discovering her new husband is a murderer. In fact, when she discovers Ben is a serial killer responsible for a string of recent killings, her second reaction (following disappointment, of course) is to help keep the bodies hidden. None of this is a spoiler if you come into contact with “Lucky’s” box or trailer, and even if you’re hardcore about not having anything whatsoever spoiled for you, the best parts of this tale remain preserved for your discovery. “Lucky” marches to a seriously weird beat — an implausible movie that recognizes its own implausibility, recognizes that you see it too, and revels in the farcically messy bed it’s made while inviting you to revel in its revelry. If you can play along, it’ll pay you back with one of the more stupidly enjoyable serial killer stories you’ve ever seen (if, of course, you’ve ever seen one before). You might also come away with a new name for your favorite actresses list. Graynor plays her character’s absurd mannerisms to the nines, and “Lucky” would be vastly inferior without her energy.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, music video.

Within (NR, 2009, Bigfoot Entertainment)
Take everything about “Within” and recast its two main characters — one (Mia Ford as Rachel) who can see the evil in others, the other (Sammi Hanratty as Michelle) a carrier of said evil — as adults, and the movie would be ripe for the picking. The path the story takes is a bit muddy — sometimes on a collision course with predictability, other times dragging its feet and occasionally repeating itself. The run-up to the ending tries to do a little too much, a few loose ends remain loose after the credits, and even on the condition that it’s a TV movie, the shoestringiness of the budget can mostly but not completely be ignored. But Rachel and Michelle aren’t adults: They’re little kids, one or both of them is in practically every scene, and their ability to personify the agony, cruelty and familial tragedy that has overwhelmingly blighted their respective childhoods is haunting enough to make the aforementioned flaws feel insignificant. “Within” doesn’t dabble in gore or jump scares, but instead engenders some seriously acute empathy that lends a deeply unsettling air to nearly every scene. For all it could do better, it does that ridiculously well, and it’s a talent — and, by extension, a feeling — depressingly few horror movies even recognize, much less utilize.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Bad Teacher (R, 2011, Sony Pictures)
There’s a trace of a great scene roughly 30 minutes into “Bad Teacher” when disinterested teacher Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) tells the class kiss-up to “stop dressing like you’re running for congress.” She replies she’d rather be president, to which Elizabeth asks if that’s what she wants or if that’s what her parents want. The student shrugs, and with that little shrug, “Teacher” flashes the talent it needs to be a story about a reluctant, subversive teacher who becomes the best thing that ever happened to her students. Unfortunately, the shrug is the peak of a molehill instead of the foot of a mountain. Like Elizabeth herself, “Teacher” would rather skate by doing the bare minimum, mercilessly mauling us with a gag about Elizabeth being a failed gold-digger whose only drive is to find her way out of the classroom and back into another rich man’s heart. The joke is flat once and outright obnoxious many attempts later, and when the half-baked story goes for its predictable lap of redemption, the whole thing is so pointless and contrived that you might contemplate stopping the movie and just playing out the last act in your head. Consider following that thought: It takes less time, requires little effort, and there’s a decent chance it’ll be funnier than what “Teacher” came up with. Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake and Lucy Punch also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, outtakes.

Turkey Bowl (NR, 2011, Tribeca Film/New Video)
“Turkey Bowl” finds 10 (mostly) old friends convening for an annual touch football game that doubles as a chance to kick back and reconnect. But if this is their idea of kicking back and reconnecting, how in the world do they survive the other 364 days in between? “Bowl” has a point to make, and if you can relate to the plight of trying to keep friendships intact when being a grown-up makes that so much trickier than it used to be, it makes a point you probably can understand. Unfortunately, it only truly does so with about seven minutes left, and only after spending nearly an hour engaging in the most miserably surly touch football game perhaps ever played. During the course of what should be a meaningless game (and, for us on the outside, most definitely is meaningless), old friends scream at each other about missed routes, one player viciously chews out her spouse for talking down to her, and some of the regulars trade jabs with the newer players — sometimes because they play poorly, sometimes because they play a little too well. Does an hour of crabby strangers on a beautiful day intrigue you? Because that’s what you get. At 64 minutes, “Bowl” is awfully short, but it’s not hard to see why, and if these friends get along so poorly that they disband the instant the game ends, what’s the point of anyone, viewer included, showing up in the first place?
Extra: Deleted scenes.

Worth mentioning
— “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (PG-13, 2011, Disney): A screener wasn’t available by cutoff time for review purposes, but at this point you likely already know if you’re hungry for 136 more minutes of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) or if you’ve had enough. (Ian McShane joins the cast, if that helps tip you off the fence.) Extras in the Blu-ray/DVD combo edition include director/producer commentary, iPad/PC “Second Screen” content, bloopers and Lego animated shorts featuring Lego-fied versions of the “Pirates” characters.
— “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition” (G, 1971, Warner Bros.): Warner Bros. has produced some gorgeous anniversary sets this fall, and while review product wasn’t available for up-close examination, the 40th anniversary edition of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” keep the quality bar high. In addition to DVD and Blu-ray versions of the restored original film, the set includes a new director interview and a new feature on Roald Dahl. Tangible bonuses include a Wonka Bar-shaped pencil tin and a 144-page book containing photographs and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. A single-disc DVD reissue also is available.

Games 10/18/11: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, Orcs Must Die!

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Namco Bandai
ESRB Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, blood, language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
Price: $60

Have a seat, “Ace Combat” fans, because this might hurt.

“Ace Combat: Assault Horizon” is a startling departure that trades in the series’ mild-mannered temperament and fictional universe for a crank-it-to-11 summer blockbuster set in our world, and the change of pace — along with how effectively “Horizon” pulls it off — will shock and thrill many who play it expecting the same old aerial dogfighting game.

Problem is, the series’ most ardent fans may not be among that many.

Before we get carried away, let’s clarify: “Horizon” isn’t completely unrecognizable. Most of its missions still take place in a wide-open sky in which the objective is to track, chase and shoot down enemy aircraft. The campaign offers a nice selection of planes to fly, and a few special weapons complement the standard-issue machine gun and homing missiles.

But “Horizon” has a taste for theater that far exceeds that of its predecessors, and it comes frantically alive during dogfight mode, which radically transforms (and, if you’re a series purist, potentially ruins) the tenor of its air combat.

Though you’re free to shoot down most planes using traditional tactics, you also (if you’re quick enough) can toggle dogfight mode when in close pursuit of enemy aircraft. Upon activating it, the action zooms in and speeds up, and instead of freely controlling your plane’s flight path, you’re handling the aiming reticule while the game handles flight duties.

On paper, it sounds like dogfighting for dummies, but in practice — at breakneck speed and seamlessly integrated with traditional seek-and-destroy play — it’s surprisingly exciting. It also works both ways: Enemies can lock onto you, at which point you can eat it, evade or pull off an exhilarating reversal and turn the hunter into the hunted.

With that said, “Horizon” periodically falls a little too in love with dogfight mode’s ability to feed into scripted events. Certain special enemies will perish only via dogfight mode, and only when you’ve chased them long enough to reach a special set piece that participates in their demise. Along with some ill-timed cutaways that disrupt your focus without reason or warning, “Horizon’s” occasional inability to moderate its theatrics will annoy new and old fans alike.

Other shifts will prove more polarizing. Sacrificing fantastical planes and weaponry for real-world counterparts is disappointing. But “Horizon” at least tells a more coherent story than modern combat games typically spin, and the visually impressive chance to buzz past the Washington Monument and conduct air raids in front of the Kremlin will plenty justify the change for some.

“Horizon” also hops aboard the “Modern Warfare” bandwagon by inserting diversionary missions in which you attack ground units from a chopper, man a door gun, engage in semi-scripted bombing runs and even pick off enemies from high above in an AC-130.

These diversions come fast and furious early on, and they’re certainly proficient. But “Horizon’s” second-half shift back to air combat is welcome nonetheless, because dogfighting is still what it does best. In fact, the best diversion of all — a stealth run where you must avoid radar detection — takes place in a jet.

The same holds true for “Horizon’s” online multiplayer (16 players), which incorporates dogfight mode perfectly by letting players pull reversals on each other without worrying about scripted intrusions. Standard match types are available, with the star being eight-on-eight territorial team battles, and a game-wide points system allows you to unlock new weapons and aircraft as you progress. (“Horizon” also supports online co-op, but only for missions you’ve completed on your own first.)


Spider-Man: Edge of Time
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii, Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS
From: Beenox/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
Price: $60

When last year’s “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” scrapped the usual open-world setup in favor of contained but large and visually diverse levels starring four different Spider-Men and a wild array of colorful villains, the result was an exciting, fun and funny validation of how to add by subtracting.

“Spider-Man: Edge of Time,” on the other hand, is what happens when you simply take too much away.

“Time” plays the multidimensional card once again, but this time the rift is purely chronological, and only two Spider-Men — Amazing and 2099 — are involved. The two Spideys have slight differences in their combat repertoires, but they’re more similar than not, and some of the curveballs from “Dimensions” — namely, Noir Spidey and his stealthy problem-solving approach — are quickly missed here.

But no absence in “Time” is felt more painfully than that of the sky.

Bafflingly, and in a move akin to making a racing game set entirely inside a parking garage, “Time” takes place exclusively indoors, grounding both Spider-Men inside a single building that, while massive, offers precious few opportunities to let our heroes do what they do best. The occasional large room allows Spidey to sling and swing, but only one room boasts the square footage needed to truly swing freely, and even that room pales in comparison to the freedom “Dimensions” and its even more wide-open predecessors offered.

Without the unbridled joy of movement for which “Spider-Man” games are known, the burden of gameplay falls on brawling.

Per usual, it’s satisfactory, but not much more than that. Taking down enemies awards experience points that eventually unlock new moves, and “Time’s” speed and control responsiveness are respectively high and polished enough that even simple button-mashing combos are fun to string together. Those who fight intelligently and defensively are rewarded as well — even if evasion in “Time” is pretty simple and rarely requires anything more than remotely decent reaction time.

But if that all reads like faint praise, that’s because it is. Previous games benefited from an ability to break up the combat with freewheeling movement that no other game ever quite matched, and “Time’s” cramped surroundings prevent that from happening here. Instead, you’re looking for keys and activating switches like you would in any number of other beat-’em-up games. The only notable diversion — diving down elevator shafts of what must be the tallest building in human history — isn’t significant enough to chase away the sense of repetition that creeps in way too early in “Time’s” brisk six-hour lifespan.

It doesn’t help that “Time” is hurting for inspiration everywhere else as well. Impressive in stature though the Alchemax building may be, it’s an architectural eyesore, crawling with futuristically generic corridors that rarely deviate in terms of structure and design. “Time’s” villain quotient is similarly vanilla, with Alchemax mad scientist Walker Sloan getting most of the attention and “Dimensions'” colorful cast going mostly missing (and settling for bit parts when they do show). The two Spideys certainly make a likable team despite the time rift, and “Time” keeps up with “Dimensions” in terms of fielding an enjoyable voice cast, but voice acting can’t carry a story if the gameplay isn’t there to lend a hand.


Orcs Must Die!
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Robot Entertainment/Microsoft
ESRB Rating: iiiiiiiiii
Price: $15

The recent marriage between tower defense and third-person action games has been a rather blissful one, and the absolutely manic “Orcs Must Die!” will only prolong the honeymoon. As the title suggests, it’s your job — as the deeply likable and fully playable guy known only as the War Mage apprentice — to kill the band of orcs (among other creatures) descending on your fortress. You can take the hands-on approach with your sword, bow and (eventually) spell-casting amulets. But the real fun in “OMD” comes from delegating the destruction to traps you can set around the level. The game gives you something new to play with every time you complete a level, and as the environments increase in size and intricacy, so do the weapons and means — sticky floor tiles, springboards that launch enemies into nearby pits, spike-shooting wall contraptions, hirable archers — at your disposal. Though your funds for purchasing defenses are limited, “OMD” lets you construct whatever combination of terror you can dream up, and the options are vast. All you have to do is work fast: Brief breaks between enemy waves afford some breathing room, but most of them are mercilessly short, so you’ll often have to build defenses while simultaneously getting your hands (and weapons) dirty. The combination of frantic action and flexible strategy makes “OMD” an absolute blast to play, and while there’s no multiplayer or co-op option, a lengthy campaign and some good reasons to play it again — namely, revisiting harder versions of levels with traps you hadn’t unlocked the first time through — provide an easy return on investment.

DVD 10/11/11: Horrible Bosses, The Trip, The Tree of Life, Terri, Submarino, Zookeeper, Planet Earth SE, Jem and the Holograms CS, Casper the Friendly Ghost Collection, Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1

Horrible Bosses (R/NR, 2011, New Line)
The title doesn’t lie: Nick, Dale and Kurt (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, respectively) have horrible bosses (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell, respectively). They’re so horrible, in fact, it occurs to our three anti-heroes that the risks associated with having them killed might be better than the much safer soul erosion that accompanies continuing to work for them (or, apparently, looking for a new job). Logic and other such intrusions have no place in “Horrible Bosses,” and that works just fine, because from almost the first minute, the movie embarks on a relentlessly funny circus of terrible people and terrible ideas that never grows tired despite a manic energy and plan that predictably goes haywire before going haywire again (and again). All that energy would be tiresome if “Bosses” fell flat even momentarily, but even when it engages in some wholly obligatory slapstick, it does so with a little more edge and ingenuity than we usually get. Best of all, “Bosses” goes out swinging as fiercely as it did when it barged in. There’s a character with an unprintable name (played by Jamie Foxx) who owns many of the movie’s best scenes, but it’s Day who snags the absolute best moment right before the closing credits roll in.
Extras: Extended cut, deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features.

The Trip (NR, 2010, IFC Films)
Actor/writer Steve Coogan (played loosely by Steve Coogan) certainly had the right idea when he agreed to a limited-run stint as The Observer’s food critic. What better way is there to take your girlfriend to a string of nice restaurants than on someone else’s dime? What a shame, then, that she can’t make it. Fortunately, Steve’s loss is our gain when friend and collaborator Rob Brydon (played, of course, by Rob Brydon) comes along instead. Regardless of what the name implies, “The Trip” isn’t really about the trip, and it certainly isn’t about the assignment. Arguably, it isn’t about anything. There’s a narrative tiptoeing around the movie that touches on many of the life themes that come to mind during a journey like this, and the way it’s pieced in adds a nice layer of poignancy to the movie. But overwhelmingly, “The Trip” is simply Steve and Rob playing alternate-dimensional versions of themselves and rattling off one semi-improvised and very funny conversation after another about cremation, bad impersonations, comedy’s common ground with duck fat lollipops and whatever else pops into mind during the long drive from stop to stop. “The Trip” has since become a television series centered around the same premise, and it’s easy to see why: Even in semi-character, Coogan’s and Brydon’s friendship is palpably authentic, for worse as well as better, and chemistry like that makes the funny bits that much funnier and the sweet moments that much sweeter.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, appetite-whetting food preparation footage, photo and poster galleries.

The Tree of Life (PG-13, 2011, Fox)
There are no wrong answers when it comes to debating the worth of a movie that strives to be worthy, but that doesn’t mean some aren’t more fun to argue about than others. None this year may merit more debate than “The Tree of Life,” which doesn’t so much tell a story about a troubled father/son relationship as it does incorporate that relationship into a larger picture of… well hey, that’s up to you. Do the disconnected pictures of family life feed into the film’s visions of nature, the stars and various other representations of a bigger picture, or are those scenes meant to be distilled down to life as we know it — small, intimate and often personally driven by a mere handful of the billions of people who fill a massive planet that itself is a drop in the universe’s bucket? And then there’s option C, in which you dismiss “Life” as a pretentious wreck of a film that uses a lot of beautiful imagery to say a whole ton of nothing. A million more interpretations lie in between these three, and if the measure of a movie’s success is its ability to make people talk after it says its piece, it’s hard to dismiss “Life” as a failure even if there is plenty of ground on which to dismiss it elsewhere. If you see it, best not to do so alone. But if you do, take notes, because there will be an exam later. Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn star. No extras.

Terri (R, 2011, Fox)
When you see high schooler Terri (Jacob Wysocki) for the first time — in his overweight, disheveled, awkward, poor, wears-pajamas-to-high-school glory — what expectation might you have for his story? Is this another “Precious”-style sob story about an unpopular kid who, in addition to battling numerous personal issues, must also carry the ailing uncle (Creed Bratton) who should be caring for him? Or this another “Napoleon Dynamite” story about a bunch of live-action cartoon characters who act weird just because? Turns out, neither is the case, because in a shockingly un-Hollywood development, Terri is actually something akin to normal underneath his quirky exterior. He’s unpopular but not a sad-sack bully target, awkward but well-spoken and rather refreshingly forthright, and unafraid to make a minor spectacle of himself if it takes the heat off someone who can’t handle it. As a movie, “Terri” is unevenly paced and about as neat as its namesake in terms of conventional plot development. But as a coming-of-age character story about a guy whose most shocking trait is how relatable he is, “Terri” is an unabashedly pleasing ode to the notion that — in the words of Asst. Principal Fitzgerald, played by John C. Reilly — “life’s a mess, and we’re all just doing the best we can.” How’s that for some comforting honesty? Olivia Crocicchia also stars.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Submarino (NR, 2010, Entertainment One)
Together, brothers Nick and Ivan had a hard childhood, enduring an alcoholic mother and the death of a baby brother who fell into their care. Apart as adults, the road hasn’t smoothed out, with Nick (Jakob Cedergren) fresh out of prison and Ivan (Morten Rose) in the throes of a drug habit that’s ravaging his relationship with the son (Gustav Fischer Kjærulff) he has to raise alone following the death of his mother. “Submarino’s” portrayal of the childhood years is brief, but it’s stirring enough to establish that relationship and lay its heart on the ground floor before burying it beneath a rockpile of cold, grown-up reality. Good thing, too, because the picture of that reality is almost too bleak for the movie’s own good. If “Submarino” has a serious flaw, it’s that the brotherly reunion on which the film hinges is, when it finally summons the bond from those early scenes, almost cruelly brief. Then again, maybe that’s by design. “Submarino’s” storytelling remains gripping even when the bleak-o-meter is at full rage, and whether its handling of the reunion makes it that much more meaningful or simply aggravates you, the way the relationship comes full circle is supremely gratifying. In Danish with English subtitles. No extras.

Zookeeper (PG, 2011, Sony Pictures)
In the imaginative movie gimmick power rankings, “animals who talk like people” rates somewhere between “direct-to-DVD sequel” and “from the writers who brought you ‘Batman Forever'” in terms of raising hopes for greatness. At least in the case of this gimmick, the harmless cutesiness somewhat compensates for the lack of imagination. Superficially, “Zookeeper” is exactly what you probably suspect it is: a rather familiar story about a down-on-his-luck zookeeper (Kevin James as Griffin) who, with the help of some zoo animal friends who only just revealed their ability to speak fluent and sardonic English, sets out to change that luck. As an elevation of the art form, it is no such thing — predictable as can be, more contrived than predictable, and more impressive for its talking animal special effects than any chance taken with the script. But “Zookeeper” also has its share of amusing moments, likable animals (and humans) and good intentions that don’t get swallowed alive by dance numbers or the other insulting audibles Hollywood calls when it can’t think of a way to respect kids’ intelligence. Cynics can see through it, of course, but if this is for kids — and it probably is, even if some of Griffin’s storylines will fly over their heads — it has enough to like to make it worth recommending. The cinematic needle shifts not one bit, but talking animal movies have turned out many times worse than this one does.
Extras: Deleted scenes, six behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, playable demo of the “Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One” PS3 game (Blu-ray/combo pack only).

Worth mentioning
— “Planet Earth: Six-disc Special Edition” (NR, 2006, BBC Earth): The BBC’s stunning nature special launched a thousand Blu-ray and HD-DVD player purchases as the first home video product that truly begged to be seen in high definition. This new iteration (available on DVD as well as Blu-ray, in regular packaging or in a nifty globe-shaped limited edition box) finds the nine-plus-hour series looking as stunning as ever, and includes four new programs — “Great Planet Earth Moments,” “Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth,” “Secrets of the Maya Underworld,” “Elephant Nomads of the Namib Desert” — that nicely complement the original series’ 11 episodes. Also included: producer commentary, an option to watch the series without the narrator, one behind-the-scenes feature and a sneak peak at the upcoming Discovery “Frozen Planet” special.
— “Jem and the Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series!” (NR, 1985, Shout Factory): Between their magnificent “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe” and even “M.A.S.K.” sets, Shout Factory has done right by the memories of everyone who grew up in the 1980s wanting to be an action hero. This time, though, the kids who sang into their hairbrushes get their nostalgic due as well. “Jem and the Holograms” packs all three seasons and 65 episodes of the cartoon into an appropriately glitzy box. That adds up to 10 discs’ worth of memories to sift through. But the 11th disc may be the set’s arguable star, thanks to a trio of behind-the-scenes features that span 99 minutes altogether and divide their time between cast, crew and fan interviews and recollections. Other extras include a toy commercials collection, animated storyboards, video jukeboxes for each season and DVD-ROM content (a “Jem” writers bible and pages from Hasbro toy catalogs, a licensing kit and a feature in Rock Rap Magazine.)
— “Casper the Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection 1945-1963” (NR, 1945/63, Shout Factory): It doesn’t receive the visual fanfare that adorns the “Jem” set, but this humble three-disc collection will touch just as many (if not more) nostalgic nerves. The set includes all 55 theatrical shorts that appeared between 1943 and 1959, as well as all 26 episodes of the 1963 television cartoon. Extras include commentary on selected shorts and episodes, interviews, a comic book cover gallery and a terrific liner notes booklet.
— “Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1” (NR, 2009-11, Adult Swim): It’s supremely lazy to tell people that if they like X, they’ll like Y as well. But honestly? If you like “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” you’ll like “Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1,” because it’s the exact same show with a new name and theme song. A two-parter that comprises the first two episodes sets up a new storyline set nine years into the future, but by episode three, we’re right back where we used to be. So don’t let the new name fool you, and buy (or avoid) with confidence. Fittingly, in addition to the seven episodes that comprise the “first” season of “Squad,” this set also includes the “final” 10 episodes of “Force” as well. Also included: the thrilling third chapter in the live-action “Terror Phone” series.

Games 10/11/11: Forza Motorsport 4, Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel, X-Men Destiny

Forza Motorsport 4
For: Xbox 360
From: Turn 10/Microsoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $60

Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel
For: Xbox 360
From: Microsoft
Price: $60

If you’ve ignored “Forza” out of apprehension that the world’s deepest driving sim is too imposing to enjoy, here’s the shocking truth about “Forza Motorsport 4:” It’s as accessible as any racing game this side of “Mario Kart.”

If the preceding paragraph bothers you, “Forza” fanatics, fret not: “FM4” is as dedicated to its craft as ever, and if you test its generosity on the hardest setting with assists deactivated, it will punish you swiftly and unkindly.

That both statements ring true about the same game is testament to Turn 10’s successful effort to make “FM4” a breeze to learn on its easiest setting, a beast to master on its hardest, and a joy to operate on any level because of an interface that outdoes itself in terms of polish, organization and a willingness to help players get around and leave them to mold their own experience whenever the desire arises.

As perhaps is no surprise by now, “FM4’s” 500 cars (up from “FM3’s” 400) collectively look incredible and drive like a dream regardless of difficulty. Incremental improvements creep into both the handling and the visual presentation — new lighting effects work with some nice camera tricks to create a greater sense of speed, particularly in dash cam view — but considering how polished “FM3” already was, there’s no room for “FM4” to completely blow it away.

Rather, “FM4” bounds forward in the features department, and those who compete online (16 players, up from eight) or engage in “Forza’s” amazing community features stand to benefit most.

Clan support comes to “FM4” in the form of Car Clubs, allowing you to assemble a team of racers and designers, share a garage, and compete against other clubs on the track and in the marketplace. (The ridiculous array of car customization tools returns, and Turn 10 hasn’t broken what needed no fixing.)

Rivals Mode, conversely, will please fans of EA’s Autolog interface. Like Autolog, it lets you challenge friends to beat track times or special event scores — and collect in-game money for beating their challenges — whether they’re available to play that moment or not. “FM4’s” exquisite interface makes it easy to set up and manage challenges, and if you set up rivalries with friends or club members, the game handles all communication duties for you.

On the single-player side, “FM4’s” improvements are subtle but still significant. The track count grows only by five, but one of those is the “Top Gear” Test Track. “FM4” puts it to exponentially better use than “Gran Turismo 5” did by mining it for amusing special events and integrating it into the World Tour mode that comprises its reconfigured (and absolutely massive) single-player centerpiece. (Support for 16-player Car Soccer, in which teams of eight cars push around a novelty soccer ball, ensures some online Test Track exposure as well.)

Kinect support is the only area where “FM4” wobbles. Driving with Kinect works adequately, but there’s too much guesswork in pedal management for it compete with traditional controls. Head tracking’s usefulness doesn’t compensate for the potential trouble that arises from turning away from the screen even momentarily. Navigating menus via motion is too squirrelly, and walking around in the new Autovista mode — where you can examine 24 cars in educational and insanely pretty detail, with “Top Gear’s” Jeremy Clarkson narrating — is novel with Kinect but far less cumbersome with a controller.

The one place Kinect provides a tangible advantage — with controller or without — is with the ability to jump around modes via voice commands. That works exactly as advertised.

Microsoft’s new Wireless Speed Wheel, meanwhile, works better than advertised by magnificently bridging a longstanding gap for those who like the idea of a racing wheel but don’t like the price or bulk those accessories carry. The U-shaped Speed Wheel is small enough to hold like a standard controller, and it uses traditional triggers for its pedals instead of actual pedals like a full-sized racing wheel.

But while it looks no more advanced than the dinky wheel that accompanied “Mario Kart Wii,” the Speed Wheel’s sensitivity easily matches that of a full-sized racing wheel. It blows the Kinect controls away, and requires no tuning or setup to use. It works so intuitively well, in fact, that it already supports the racing games you have in your Xbox 360 library. How’s that for backward compatibility?


X-Men Destiny
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii and Nintendo DS
From: Silicon Knights/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
Price: $60

Bad news, X-Men: It appears your destiny is to appear in what very likely might be the year’s lamest full-priced game.

The bad vibes rush in almost instantly, too, during the breakdown of what should be a good idea. “X-Men Destiny’s” premise drops you into the shoes of your own custom-designed mutant — except it doesn’t, because outside of a few choices regarding attack strategy, you’re not allowed to design your character at all. “Destiny” provides three rather bland character designs from which to choose, quickly punting away whatever point there was to playing as an unknown mutant instead of the powered-up X-Men who adorn the box. Even a pitifully rudimentary character creator would have done wonders for this game getting off on the right foot.

Then again, once the action commences, those issues start feeling small compared to what follows.

“Destiny’s” quest structure is pretty straightforward: Numerous recognizable X-Men show up to poke fun at your inexperience and hand out objectives during an attack by an anti-mutant force known as The Purifiers, and a stock morality system allows you to fight alongside or turn against the X-Men.

This might make for a cool story if “Destiny” didn’t continually distill down to a rote series of “Defeat X number of enemies” missions. It doesn’t even matter which side you pick: The mission remains the same whether you’re good or bad, and all that changes is the 12-pack of clones whose faces you wail on en route to encountering another 20 enemies and doing the exact same thing.

“Destiny” flashes a flicker of inspiration with its X-Genes, Suits and X-Mode systems, which let you upgrade and alter your mutant’s look and abilities as you accrue experience in combat. In contrast to how simplistic everything else is, these systems are almost overdesigned, with needlessly complicated menus and formulas masking a system that, beneath the clutter, offers a lot of combat options for your mutant to explore.

But again, it doesn’t matter, because again, “Destiny” does little with it when the action plods along. The game’s combat is insultingly easy and mindlessly simple even with a multitude of powers at the ready, and the excessive animation attached to every attack bogs it down even further. Throw in some unintended graphical slowdown — a baffling problem given how little “Destiny’s” obsolete graphics appear to challenge either systems’ horsepower — and the tedium reaches critical levels. A simple combat repertoire might have sufficed if there was a sense of speed and elegance to mixing moves together, but “Destiny” never even comes close.

The best and worst news about the full-priced “Destiny” is that it’s over quickly — four hours and change if you don’t poke around to find collectables.

The short length would seem to fly in the face of the upgrade and morality systems, but by the time you get a glimpse of the finish line and face a final boss whose attack philosophy is no more complicated than the hundreds of grunts you already took down, it’s beyond clear the game has nothing better to do than just end. “Destiny” has ideas, but no idea how follow through on them, and its conceptual and technical deficiencies — from design to variety to artificial intelligence to the control issues detailed above — are too numerous to qualify as acceptable, much less forgivable.

Games 10/4/11: Rage, Tetris: Axis, Rochard, Mercury Hg

Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: id/Bethesda
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Price: $60

John Carmack is to game programming what Steve Jobs is to consumer electronics, so when a new game releases under his watch and brings with it a new game engine over which he also presided, it’s a bellwether moment for the future of game design and technology.

And if you don’t care about any of that, “Rage” is a pretty good time as well.

“Rage” will draw superficial comparisons to “Fallout” insofar that it’s a first-person, open-world shooter set primarily in a post-apocalyptic wasteland teeming with mutants, oppressive authority figures and some colorful settlers bent on fighting both groups back.

But where “Fallout” functioned as a role-playing game whose storytelling and scope compensated for shoddy shooting mechanics, “Rage” is a pure action game that borrows from but doesn’t lean on the wasteland motif. Ammo is copious, your inventory bottomless, and while you will gather materials for purposes of engineering some nice special items and weapons (drivable RC car bombs, for instance), scavenging never feels as central to the experience as it did in “Fallout.”

More to the point, though — and thanks to that shiny new engine — the action in “Rage” is polished in all the ways “Fallout’s” wasn’t. Beyond the occasional lengthy load screen, “Rage” feels supremely polished, looking great (artistically as well as technically, thanks to some inspired post-apocalyptic town designs) and purring at 60 frames per second without hiccup and regardless of how big the environment is or how many enemies are crowding it. Controls are similarly dexterous — a good thing, because while authority figures display some intelligence in their shootouts with you, the mutants have zero qualms about rushing you at top speed. “Rage’s” weapons and movement always feel crisp, and death never comes because the game’s technical limitations fail you.

That goes as well for the driving controls, which comprise a surprisingly large portion of the game. “Rage’s” open wasteland is significantly more perilous than its smaller environments, and while you’re welcome to traverse on foot whenever you wish, it’s much safer to grab a buggy, outfit it with missiles and take your chances with that. “Rage’s” vehicles are built to leap large gaps and withstand a beating on the way down, which lends itself well to some exhilarating chases and shootouts against teams of enemy vehicles across rocky terrain. All that’s polished about the shooting applies similarly to the driving: It’s fast, smooth and extremely responsive even when physics make you pay for driving too recklessly.

“Rage’s” driving controls are so good, in fact, they comprise the entirety of the game’s simple but enjoyably mindless competitive multiplayer (four players, online only), which plays like a cross between “Twisted Metal” and wasteland “Mario Kart.” The omission of any kind of competitive shooting component is bound to disappoint, but in its place is a suite of co-op missions (two players, online or splitscreen) that allow you to live out the tales of other characters you meet in the single-player campaign. Given how engaging “Rage’s” characters often are, that’s a worthy trade-off.

Either way, the campaign, at 15 to 30-plus hours long, is “Rage’s” centerpiece. Structurally, it’s flat, with pedestrian objectives and missions that introduce a constant need to backtrack between your current town and the wasteland. Taking on multiple side missions at any given time is highly recommended, as it allows you to complete multiple objectives before doubling back. But even in this instance, it’s pretty clear “Rage’s” story would get pretty old pretty fast if it didn’t have such a terrific game engine to keep it going.


Tetris: Axis
For: Nintendo 3DS
From: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $30

It’s pretty hard to screw up “Tetris” at this point, and no one has a better track record with the brand than Nintendo.

Sure enough, if all you desire is some traditional “Tetris,” you’ll find it in “Tetris: Axis” — same shapes, scoring system, objective and all.

And if you want a dozen-plus other variations of “Tetris,” ranging from tweaks on the original formula to bizarre experiments that go off the deep end, good news: You’ll find those here as well.

For its part, and via a really clumsy menu interface, “Axis” positions two modes — traditional Marathon and Fever — as its main pillars. Marathon needs no introduction, but Fever feels like the “Tetris” equivalent to what “Pac-Man Championship Edition” was to “Pac-Man.” There’s a time limit, and you’re mostly playing traditional “Tetris.” But configurable power-ups change the way the board behaves when you clear them as part of a line, and you’ll want to clear lines of a single color if you want to activate color mode and score some serious points.

Those factors, combined with the ticking clock, make Fever a vastly different game despite its resemblance to traditional “Tetris.” The short length of a typical game also makes it entirely too easy to try one more time for a higher score. That’s in stark contrast to Marathon mode, which can go on for more than an hour if you’re good, and if one alternative mode had to stand out above the rest, Nintendo picked exactly the right one.

(Incidentally, though “Axis” supports eight-player online competitive play, only a few modes — Fever among them — receive online leaderboard support, and you have to upload your score manually. Better than nothing, but hardly ideal.)

Like most modern “Tetris” games, “Axis” also supports battle play against the computer or friends (eight players, locally or online). Tweaked modes like Survival (smaller grid that’s filling from the bottom as well as top), Master (pieces fall at top speed right from the start) and Sprint (fill 40 lines as quickly as possible) also feature traditional “Tetris” play with small twists.

And then there’s the stuff that’s just weird. Stage Racer Plus stars you as a single piece and tasks you with falling through as much of an obstacle course as you can without getting caught. Fit, meanwhile, shifts to a top-down perspective and tasks you with filling square grids, Tanagrams style, before time expires. In Jigsaw, you’re dropping shapes in order to complete a jigsaw puzzle or match an arrangement on the second screen, while Shadow Wide asks you to assemble objects by quickly filling in their shadows with pieces and doing so with minimal spillage outside the shadow boundaries.

But “Axis” really lets the crazy flag fly when incorporating the 3DS’ augmented reality capabilities, which allow the system to project a “Tetris” grid on any flat surface in your real world. AR Marathon plays like traditional “Tetris,” except with a much smaller grid and a special block that, when part of a cleared line, clears the rest of the grid as well. The (literal) twist is that whenever this happens, the grid rotates its axis, which means you need to move the system’s camera in kind if you want to view the grid from the front.

The ingenuous AR Climber, meanwhile, tasks you with cobbling falling pieces into a continuous platform that allows a little running man to scale an endless circling staircase up a tower. As he circles the AR tower, so must you, so don’t even think of sitting down while playing this if you want to do well. Until someone dreams up a Kinect “Tetris” game, this is the best (if dizziest) “Tetris”-induced workout you’ll ever have.


For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Sony Online Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, mild language, fantasy violence)
Price: $10

Sidescrolling puzzle-platformers have flooded the downloadable market over the last few years, but there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing when the quality bar is this high. “Rochard” gets its name from lead character John Rochard, a salt-of-the-universe astro-miner miner who turns superman when his crew comes under attack by space bandits. The game eventually outfits you with traditional firepower and explosives, but for a good while, your only means of defense are a device that changes gravity on the fly and a tractor beam that can push, pull and throw objects. “Rochard” presents combat applications for both, but the real treat comes from the clever ways you must use the beam and gravity (and, eventually, other gadgets) to safely traverse from room to room. Reliable controls, believable physics, sensible puzzle design and generous checkpoints make for a game that’s universally accessible. But “Rochard” isn’t afraid to make you work, filling levels with enemies and puzzles that require timing and controller finesse as well as brainpower to overcome. (That goes triple when, as occasionally happens, the gravity reverses and you must play upside down.) “Rochard’s” audiovisual presentation is terrific, with a funny voice cast and a great look that will remind many of “Team Fortress 2.” The lengthy adventure easily commands the $10 asking price, and if you’re up for it, the harder puzzles standing in the way of bonus collectables — along with a special trophy for speed runners — make it worth replaying once and possibly twice.


Mercury Hg
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network) and Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
From: Ignition Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $5

To get a quick picture of “Mercury Hg,” imagine the classic Labyrinth board game in which you rotate the game board to move a ball around and (ideally) keep it from peril while guiding it to the exit. Now replace the ball with a temperamental glob of mercury that’s prone to wobbling, shape-shifting, spilling and splitting into multiple smaller globs you must manage simultaneously. Then replace the square board with bizarrely-shaped boards teeming with numerous useful and dangerous gadgets that alter the glob or place it in peril, and set that board to bounce to the beat of the game’s music or your own custom soundtrack. At long last, you have “Mercury Hg,” a reboot of the awesome PSP and Wii puzzle series that feels right at home on PSN and Xbox Live. “Hg” receives a predictable graphical bump with the move to HD, but it’s the other amenities — a better analog stick (or, if you prefer, adjustable SIXAXIS support on the PS3), custom soundtrack support and two sets of online leaderboards (clear time and total score) per level — that benefit it most. At 60 deep, “Hg” doesn’t have as many levels as the last retail “Mercury” game, which had 160. But at $5, it also doesn’t cost nearly as much, and the leaderboard support — along with how easy “Hg” makes it to replay a level in hopes of shaving just a few seconds off that last clear time — means these 60 levels go a longer way than those 160 ever did.

[CORRECTED] DVD 10/4/11: Submarine, Prohibition, The High Cost of Living, Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People, The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway, The Hour, Fast Five, Ben-Hur: 50th AE, Managing Menopause Naturally, Queer as Folk: The Original U.K. Series

Submarine (R, 2010, Anchor Bay/The Weinstein Company)
As pointed out by an amusingly snarky letter to the audience that opens the film, “Submarine” is a biopic about Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts). Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who he is, because in addition to being a work of fiction, Oliver is just another teenager whose popularity is middling, whose dating acumen is shoddy and whose attempts to save his parents’ fading marriage leaves so very much to be desired. If that sounds positively ordinary, again, don’t fret: Oliver himself agrees with you in the opening scene. He’s just another guy with another story that probably happened a million times before and since. But if “Submarine” proves anything, it’s that the story you tell is no match for the way you tell it. Oliver’s snideness and self-awareness cascade down the entirety of “Submarine,” but its application is as unmistakably heartfelt and well-meaning as it is detachedly funny — like a friend who insults you while baring his soul before simultaneously hugging you, thanking you and threatening to eviscerate you if you ever tell anyone any of this ever happened. “Submarine” ends on as structurally ordinary a note as it begins, but the absolutely splendid storytelling that takes us from A to A.1 is so spot on that nothing about it feels remotely pedestrian. Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige and Sally Hawkins also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Prohibition (NR, 2011, PBS)
Prohibition in America needs no introduction: There was a movement, there was an amendment to the United States Constitution, and then there was national history made with the advent of another amendment whose sole purpose was to repeal that original amendment. But baseball and the Civil War needed no introductions either when Ken Burns turned his sights on them, and the hallmarks of those lengthy documentaries are present in “Prohibition,” which registers few dull moments in its shorter but still impressive six-hour runtime. Did you know, for instance, that the income tax you surrender every payday is a direct brainchild of the prohibition movement, providing the government a means of taxation to compensate for the lost windfall from alcohol sales? (And don’t you wish that could be repealed too?) “Prohibition” is full of little revelations like that, but it’s Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s ability to mine history for characters that makes this so entertaining. The era between ratification and revocation marked a bizarre episode of lawlessness and disorder on both sides of authority, and the faces “Prohibition” gives to the period bring it to life in a fashion that’s both grandiose and deeply personal. Why can’t all history lessons be this much fun?
Extras: Bonus scenes, interview outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature.

The High Cost of Living (NR, 2010, Tribeca Film/New Video)
When Nathalie (Isabelle Blais) loses her unborn baby in a car accident, she flees her marriage and life so swiftly as to even put off the delivery of the child. It’s during this hiding spell that she has a chance encounter with Henry (Zach Braff), a drug dealer whose conscience compels him to take Nathalie in and care for her every need. What Nathalie doesn’t know, though, is that Henry’s conscience is of the guilty rather than well-meaning variety, because their chance encounter actually happened days earlier when Henry caused that accident before fleeing. Messy, right? Nothing detailed above constitutes a spoiler, as “The High Cost of Living” chronologically shares these details relatively quickly. Rather, the big mystery rests with what happens when something in this ill-conceived friendship has to give. “Living” is a highly untidy dissection of all the weird things people think and do in the wake of tragic mistakes, and its careful construction of the situation is such that you might root for and condemn it at the same time. It isn’t always fun to watch, but that’s more a testament to how deeply it cuts than any qualms with its approach. That it holds that note past the inevitable give and into the credits is admirable. You may or may not like how “Living” ends, but you’d be hard-pressed not to appreciate its choice.
Extra: Braff interview.

Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People (NR, 2010, Cartoon Network)
Though Cartoon Network tends not to insult the intelligence of younger viewers the way some other networks do, there’s still a sizable gap between the cartoons it supplies for kids and the maniacal, anything-goes bloodbath it calls Adult Swim. “Adventure Time,” meanwhile, feels almost like a gateway drug for older kids and teenagers standing on the precipice of the dark side. The premise — a boy and his magical talking dog going on adventures — could scarcely be sweeter, and if you detailed their adventures in outline form, the unicorns, puffy creatures, talking toy elephants and other colorful friends they meet along the way would be unbearably precious. But while the surface is sweet, there’s a delightfully twisted madness teeming below it. “Time” never engages in the kind of foul, bloody darkness that often typifies Adult Swim’s cartoons, but a lighter side of that same deranged sense of humor is completely in play. The net result is pretty safe for younger consumption, but it also makes “Time” one of Cartoon Network’s better shows for adults as well as kids. The energy that’s normally spent toward offending people works instead in the service of some hilariously weird adventures, and the likability of Finn the boy, Jake the dog and everyone they meet is off the charts as result.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus a collection of fun facts about your favorite characters.

The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway (NR, 2011, Image Entertainment/HBO)
It’s entirely fitting for Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) to resurface in the same place — before a live audience — that was his home before there were any movies or television shows to launch him into pop culture immortality. With that said, though, here’s hoping you especially loved that television show, because “The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway” is nothing if not 89 minutes of winks, nods and blown kisses in “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’s” direction. “Broadway” sort of has a storyline coursing through it — or at least, there are things mentioned early on that receive some follow-up later. But “Broadway’s” true objective is to find any possible means to cram “Playhouse’s” every icon — from Chairy to Magic Screen to Penny to Pterry to the foil ball and so on — onto the stage. As you might expect, it’s probably more fun to see such blatant nostalgia live and in the company of a few hundred other people who are  as excited as you are to see Conky and The King of Cartoons in person. But if you can’t be there, “Broadway” is still a trip — a totally inane one, yes, but a fun and funny one anyway. Reubens is as crafty as ever at sneaking just the right about of subversive humor into all that hyperactivity, and Pee-Wee’s reaction to signing into the Internet for the first time is, all by itself, justification for this revival.
Extra: Cast commentary with Reubens.

The Hour (NR, 2011, BBC)
Entirely too many television critics predictably and lazily compared “The Hour” to “Mad Men” when it premiered earlier this year. But while the clothing and smoking may look familiar, “The Hour” — the story of three journalists’ (Dominic West, Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw) rocky attempts to elevate British television journalism to a new plane of respectability — rips off “Mad Men” about as much as “Bull Durham” ripped off “The Natural” by taking place on a baseball field. For starters and arguable finishers, “The Hour” doubles as a conspiracy thriller, sending young reporter Freddie Lyon (Whishaw) down a deep rabbit hole after a childhood friend’s apparent suicide starts looking more like murder by some pretty powerful hands. Freddie’s dueling concerns initially make for a similarly shaky show while it scrambles to establish its main characters’ personalities and two pretty distinct storylines. But once “The Hour” starts breathing a little easier, the picture improves considerably. The excitement surrounding the show-within-the show’s formation makes a great foil for the dread engendered by an investigation that only gets uglier, and the relatively small main cast has plenty of room to establish their own dynamic as these stories develop. There’s no good reason to spoil how much ground either storyline covers during these opening episodes, but let’s just vaguely say that a pretty good table ultimately gets set for the now-official second season.
Contents: Six episodes, plus two behind-the-scenes features.

Fast Five (PG-13/NR, 2011, Universal)
If you’re wondering how a story about underground street racing can span five movies, here’s your answer: It can’t. “Fast Five” brings back a greatest hits cast (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang, among others) from the preceding four “The Fast and the Furious” movies, and it does its finest work when this cast is behind the wheel and saying nothing to no one. But in a nod to a film having to tell a story that probably wasn’t supposed to exist until the previous movie proved too profitable to leave be, our heroes’ troubles go well beyond illegal street racing. Instead, “Five” repositions the gang as international fugitives who are slick enough to pull a heist on a South American drug lord while simultaneously ducking North American federal agents. Right. The need to explain this sends “Five” past the two-hour mark, and that’s a shame, because every time a character opens his or her mouth, you’ll likely contort yours while cringing at some truly sorry dialogue and exposition. But “Five’s” on-road action is pretty awesome, and the absolutely stupid premise allows it to go that much crazier. If you love a good car chase and/or wreck, you may want to stomach the bad to see the good. Just keep the fast-forward button handy, because there’s a lot of it. Dwayne Johnson also stars.
Extras: Extended cut (which adds a whole minute to the film — see if you can figure out which one!), director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.

Worth Mentioning
— “Ben-Hur: Fiftieth Anniversary” (G, 1959, Warner Bros.): Though the set’s attempt at anniversary math leaves much to be desired, “Ben-Hur’s” 50th anniversary collection (available in Blu-ray and DVD versions) gets little else wrong. The movie benefits from the same 1080p-ready digital transfer “Citizen Kane” received a few weeks prior — which means it still spans two discs even on Blu-ray. New bonus content includes the feature-length documentary “Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey,” a 128-page hardcover replica of the journal Heston kept near and during the film’s production, and a 64-page hardcover collection of production art, photos and miscellaneous materials. Features from previous “Ben-Hur” special editions — including the 1925 silent film, two other behind-the-scenes documentaries, Oscar telecast highlights, newsreels and more — also return for this set.
— “Managing Menopause Naturally” (NR, 2011, True Mind): September was National Menopause Awareness Month and October 18 is World Menopause Day, and while neither occasion really inspires much gift-giving, a DVD like this could certainly make an exception to that rule. The 80-minute “Managing Menopause Naturally” dually explores traditional and holistic methods for managing menopause, and it includes insights from the likes of Andrew Weil, Marcey Shapiro and several others in the field.
— “Queer as Folk: The Original U.K. Series: The Complete Collection” (NR, 1999, Acorn Media): Perhaps the finest compliment one can pay the American version of “Queer as Folk” is that it wasn’t incessantly compared to the British original when it ran on Showtime. If you’re a casual observer of the show, you may not even realize there was another version before Showtime aired theirs. Either way, if you’re curious, this set rounds up the first six episodes of the British series — starring Aidan Gillen of “The Wire” fame — and includes commentary, deleted/extended scenes, interviews, a behind-the-scenes feature and a 20-page liner notes booklet. There’s also a preview of the second series — which also means the title of the set is, while technically accurate, a little misleading. There were two separate “QAF” series in Britain even though they aired in subsequent years and starred the same cast, and rather than ask why, just realize you’re only getting what by any other name is the first season. Correction: The second series, which spans two episodes, is included in this set. Apologies for the confusion and misleading information.