Super 8 (PG-13, 2011, Paramount)
Four months after losing his mother in a factory accident that’s more complicated than can be elaborated on here, Joe (Joel Courtney) is searching for a semblance of normal by playing a part in his friend’s (Riley Griffiths) homemade zombie movie. But when a train violently derails during filming and the crash sends the kids down a rabbit hole that leads to a long-captive monster breaking free, who’s to say what normal is anymore? “Super 8” received kudos for its efforts to be a throwback to the early 1980s, and if you’re looking for on-the-nose indicators, the depiction of the cars, clothes, small-town real estate and camera technology indeed hits it flush on the nose. But where “Super 8” truly gets the era is in its dually respectful depiction of kids and their adult overlords. When the likes of “The Goonies” reigned supreme, PG movies weren’t afraid to let kids act like real kids — even if it meant letting them swear like sailors now and then. They also recognized the thick line that separates the detestable brats no one likes from the kids who mean well but can’t ignore the mischievous voices in their head that tell them to seek adventure and wreak havoc along the way. “Super 8” is a love letter to that voice, and at that, it’s pure poetry. Everything else — explosions, a monster’s arguable humanity, a terrifically measured reconciliation of that original story point, the stoner (David Gallagher) in touch with his inner child — is a simply a fun bonus. Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning and Ron Eldard also star.
Extras: Director/filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, nine behind-the-scenes features.
Sarah’s Key (PG-13, 2011, Anchor Bay)
When Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance) locked her little brother in a hideaway and took the key with her, it was neither punishment nor kids being kids. Rather, it was an attempt to keep him hidden and spare his life while French authorities took Sarah, her parents and more than 13,000 other Jewish fugitives away from their homes on two days in July 1942. Forty years later, an American journalist living in France (Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia) discovers her husband’s family apartment is the home of this hideaway, and with that revelation, “Sarah’s Key” embarks on a stunningly unnerving course that unlocks and mashes together four decades of secrets spread across multiple generations of multiple families. The sheer volume of stories told about the Holocaust has created a scenario where it’s dangerously easy to go numb and assume everything that can be said has been said. But with that occupation alone, 13,000 stories are left untold, and while “Key” is a work of fiction, it very truthfully underscores just how absolutely seismic an effect any single one of these stories can have on generations of lives. “Key” shifts between timelines, and it’s as much a story about Julia as it is about Sarah. That creates a little confusion early on, particularly when a side plot about Julia wanting another child just seems to stick out against the backdrop of the Holocaust. But “Key” gracefully and carefully ties it all together, and the payoff it leaves behind as it walks away is absolutely perfect.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Flypaper (NR, 2011, IFC Films)
It must be some kind of bummer to plan every detail of a perfect bank robbery, only to kick the robbery off and find another group of bank robbers descending on the same bank at the same time. But such is the fate of two factions — one polished and armed to the teeth, the other cheerfully bumbling and almost happy for what they see as assistance more than an intrusion — who drop in on a busy bank at the exact same moment. That can’t be a coincidence, right? Happily, it isn’t. “Flypaper” is a funny story about bad people with tiny glints of decency doing a bad thing at a terrible time, and it probably could have coasted on the strength of the robbers, bankers and customers it continually tosses into each other’s way. But beneath “Flypaper’s” amusing exterior is a rather devious little heist story that twists on itself with increasing dexterity as the real story behind this dual robbery spills out. You might see a couple surprises coming, and you might dismiss a couple others as contributing to twist overload, but the elaborate lengths “Flypaper” is willing to go to tell a crazy story about just another day at the bank is kind of awesome in light of how little it had to do in this department. That it never stops being funny is merely a bonus. Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Octavia Spencer, Jeffrey Tambor and Mekhi Phifer comprise a mere portion of a great ensemble cast.
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (PG, 2011, Anchor Bay)
There really isn’t a word to describe the special level of incomprehensible that powers the “Spy Kids” movies, and when you take that bonanza of weirdness and toss in a villain whose nefarious plans include time travel and all the logistical havoc that wreaks, this one never had a chance to make sense. “All the Time in the World” is the fourth movie in the series, and while it’s set seven years later and features new kids (Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook) and parents (Jessica Alba and Joel McHale), the two original Spy Kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) return to give the new heroes a little fan service disguised as assistance. But no return is as pronounced as that of the “Spy Kids” flavor of madness — story threads fraying in all directions, spectacular and spectacularly cheesy special effects dueling to the death, and gadgets so weird that entire swaths of the movie appear written solely to fit them in somehow. “Time” isn’t the all-out mess its immediate predecessor was, but it’s certainly messy even by the standards of a haphazard kids movie. If you’ve avoided these up until now, stay the course. And if you like the series’ unique style, even when it results in movie that are hard to classify as good, there’s bound to be some part of this massacre that will evoke those feelings one more time.
Extras: Deleted scenes, director interview, behind-the-scenes feature, spy gadgets feature.
The Family Tree (R, 2011, Entertainment One)
It might hit you after a few scenes, a quarter of the way through or even toward the end of the opening scene conversation at a family therapist’s office. But if you watch “The Family Tree,” there’s bound to be some point where you ask yourself what in the world is going on here. After some deduction, it could be argued that “Tree’s” main plotline involves an unhappy wife and mother (Hope Davis as Bunnie) who, during a bout of amnesia, forgets she fell out of love with her husband (Dermot Mulroney) or that she even had two kids (Britt Robertson and Max Thieriot) who have grown into unlikable weirdos. But the faint flicker of that storyline must contend with a completely ridiculous tidal wave of characters and storylines that are so underdeveloped as to often not deserve those classifications. More than a collection of stories — to say nothing of a single, cohesive story — “Tree” feels like a slew of bits that must have seemed funny enough on paper to dump into a movie at any cost. Unfortunately, they aren’t, and the occasional play for something more heartfelt falls totally flat when caught in a storm this violent. “Tree’s” only genuine source of amusement is the horror Bunnie experiences when she begins to reacquaint herself with her miserable family and friends, and it’s only funny because we as viewers can completely relate. Chi McBride, Selma Blair and Christina Hendricks, among way too many others, also star.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.
— “Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series” (NR, 2011, BBC): If there was one inarguable reason to pass on the “Doctor Who: Series Six, Part 1” set that released in July, it’s because the BBC already had announced the November availability of a complete season set. If you waited, here’s the reward for your patience. Includes 13 episodes, plus commentary, the 2010 holiday special, four “Monster Files” webisodes, five prequel webisodes, deleted scenes and 15 behind-the-scenes “Doctor Who Confidential” features. (For those who couldn’t wait, don’t worry: Part 2 is available on its own as well.)
— “It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series” (NR, 1968, Entertainment One): It’s amazing it’s taken this long, but the Robert Wagner-fronted drama that does for cat burglars what 007 does for secret agents is finally given the 18-disc treatment it deserves. Includes 66 episodes, plus the extended pilot, interviews, a four-piece coaster set, a liner notes booklet and a replica 35mm film frame.
— “The Adventures of Tintin: Season One” (NR, 1991, Shout Factory): As “The Adventures of Tintin” completes its journey from 1929 comic strip to 2011 motion picture, the merchandising express is running at full speed. “Tintin’s” hand-animated incarnation — which lacks the movie’s spectacular budget but arguably has it beat in terms of presentational charm — ran for three seasons, and this first season features the two episodes that inspired the movie’s plot. Includes 13 episodes, no extras.
— “The Office Collection Special Edition” (NR, 2001, BBC): Some of us are still grieving the loss of Michael Scott, but if you miss David Brent (Ricky Gervais) even more, perhaps this collection can cheer you up. Includes all 12 episodes and the holiday special, plus the original pilot, the behind-the-scenes documentary “Comedy Connections: The Office,” season one episode introductions from Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and interviews with cast members and famous fans of the show.