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.
— “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.