DVD/Blu-ray 3/27/12: Romantics Anonymous, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, A Dangerous Method, Soda Springs, The Broken Tower, The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch, Hop, Die, The BBC Natural History Collection, Casablanca: 70th Anniversary LCE

Romantics Anonymous (NR, 2010, Tribeca Film)
Angélique (Isabelle Carré) may be the most talented chocolatier in the entire galaxy. But her gift of shyness is even more remarkable — so much so that she hides behind a covert alter ego (known only as “The Hermit”) while selling her creations through a distributor who protects her identity. But with her protector’s passing, Angélique must start over with a new chocolate distributor, and her shyness frazzles her so horribly that she unwittingly accepts a job as their door-to-door salesperson instead of in the kitchen. Whoops. Fortunately, the man who hires her (Benoît Poelvoorde as Jean-René) is every bit the nervous wreck she is, which means she immidately understands him better than anyone ever has. With both Angélique and Jean-René being single — and, frankly, with the cover art picturing them standing together while a heart-shaped chocolate swirl watches over them — you probably can guess the play “Romantics Anonymous” eventually makes before you even press play. Perhaps realizing it, “Anonymous” spares pretense and gets right to it in a fashion only two socially crippled people could pull off this charmingly. From beginning to end, “Anonymous” very explicitly tells a story about neuroses and the awful ways people trap themselves in prisons that exist entirely in their own heads. But it takes that bit of ugliness and wraps it inside one of the most fiercely pleasant little stories you might see all year. The embrace is genuine: “Anonymous” neither makes fun of nor tucks its characters’ complexes away. And with that embrace leading the way, everything else — silly, funny or wholly life-affirming — feels perfectly right as well. In French with English subtitles.
Extra: Director interview.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (PG-13, 2011, Warner Bros.)
It means well. Or at least, we have to presume everyone responsible for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” — first as a novel, but more famously in this form — meant well. But mercy, is this ever nauseating. “Close” tells the story of nine-year-old Oskar (Thomas Horn), whose father (Tom Hanks as Thomas) died in the World Trade Center on September 11 and left behind a key of mysterious origin. Oskar is determined to find the key’s lock — so much so that he travels across all five of New York’s burroughs and meets countless people whose stories of “the worst day” (as he calls it) become part of his own. Told with restrained deference, such a story could serve a wonderful purpose even with the understanding that it dramatizes a searingly painful tragedy still fresh in our minds. But “Close” gracelessly lives up to its name for all the wrong reasons. It pummels its audience with exploitative (and repeated) recordings of Thomas calling home moments before death. It screams from within Oskar and his mother (Sandra Bullock) that Thomas is dead, never to return, and maybe even part of the ashen air New Yorkers breathed in the days that followed. Too often and with too much crass, “Close” uses fictional characters to bludgeon an audience that mourned for real, cloyingly talking down to us as if we somehow can’t understand the gravity of the day like they do. If it means well, so be it, but if it does, its failure to convey that is superlative. Horn turns in a monster performance, and it isn’t his fault Oskar — between some ear-piercingly bratty monologues and the aforementioned bludgeoning of the audience — is completely loathsome despite his age and loss. But he is, and there may be no genuinely sadder realization in “Close” than that.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, 10 years later feature.

A Dangerous Method (R, 2011, Sony Pictures)
With respect to the movie-titling powers that be, calling what lies within a dangerous method amounts to being rather dangerously polite. But when burgeoning (and married) psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) crosses a stark ethical line with a beautiful new patient (Keira Knightley as Sabina), his motivations for doing so surpass simple sexual conquest or even love. Those desires certainly come into play, but the true spark at the heart of “A Dangerous Method” lies in Jung’s belief that psychiatry is about telling people what they can become instead of simply assessing what they are. It’s a methodology with which his hero and friend Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) sharply disagrees, and it’s that battle of wills — more than Jung’s harsh affair with Sabina or the music he must face with regard to ethics and fidelity — that drives this story. “Method” is dry and distant during even the most heated moments of Jung and Sabina’s relationship, but it springs to wide-eyed life when Jung and Freud dissect that relationship and fret over how it relates to the betterment of their profession and humankind itself. Their ideas form a script that’s wordy, intellectually dense and occasionally (possibly by design) completely full of it. But the glimmer they share during these volleys is infectious enough to ensnare anyone who finds kinship in their curiosity.
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature, AFI’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar with director David Cronenberg.

Soda Springs (NR, 2012, Monarch Home Entertainment)
After an eight-year absence, Eden (Jay Pickett) is back in his hometown of Soda Springs. But this isn’t your typical homecoming, because Eden never left willfully. Rather, his time away was spent in prison following a spell of drunk driving that ended in a wreck that cost multiple people their lives. When Eden returns home, things have changed — in some ways significantly, and much to his surprise. But Soda Springs is still a small town, his now-former wife (Miranda Frigon as Pam) still lives here, and while a few folks are ready to welcome him back with a clean slate, most — including the cops and Pam’s new husband (Michael Bowen) — have no intention of forgiving him. Were this real life, Eden would be wise to just start over elsewhere. But where’s the entertainment in that? “Soda Springs” has no desire to make it so easy on Eden, but it returns the favor by taking a few tricky roads of its own. Eden’s story isn’t wildly out of step with what the first impressions of his character might imply, but “Springs” treats his development with a degree of care that eventually yields a surprise or two. That goes as well for the rest of the town, too. “Springs” toes an engaging line by emitting a comfortable vibe without wallowing in predictability, and its last act is an understated testament to the virtues of telling a story that satisfies without resorting to neat and tidy measures to do so. No extras.

The Broken Tower (NR, 2011, Focus World)
If you don’t know who Hart Crane is, fair warning: A trip through “The Broken Tower” isn’t bound — nor is it necessarily meant — to close the gap. Crane, for those unfamiliar, had emerged as one of the most influential poets of his age by the time he killed himself in 1932. Shot almost exclusively in monochrome, and not so much a biopic as a dramatized performance set amid biographical companion scenes, “Tower” makes Crane’s poetry the star, and James Franco (who wrote, directed and stars as Crane) holds an impressive dramatic note in his delivery of Crane’s work. In between, there are readings of Crane’s letters, some dramatizations of various moments of his life … and frankly, not a great deal else. “Tower” is beautifully shot, and it makes a case for the less-is-more approach with numerous scenes where not a word is spoken for minutes at a time. Buy into its storytelling vision, and you can interpret the state of Crane’s psyche in much the same way you can siphon your own ideas from his poetry. It certainly isn’t a conventional way to recite the events of a man’s life, if it really even recites them at all, but it’s a strangely fitting tribute for that very reason.
Extras: Franco/filmmakers commentary, interviews with Hart Crane scholars.

The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch (NR, 2008, Music Box Films)
Say, how important is the art of storytelling to your enjoyment of a movie? “The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch” takes an earnest stab at it with the story of Largo Winch (Tomer Sisley), whose covert adoption two decades earlier by billionaire financier Nerio Winch positions him as the surprise heir to Winch’s company. “Winch” adequately handles its declaration of these events, insofar that it’s clear Nerio died “accidentally” and the people responsible now have a younger and impossibly talented new target once Largo’s existence comes to light. But when matters of storytelling are at hand, “Winch” staggers wildly, bumbling through some comically juvenile attempts to talk big-business shop like an adult and clumsily accommodating awkward subplots, sloppy exposition, a frequently unconvincing lead playing a similarly unconvincing heir, and more location and timeline jumps than is reasonably necessary. All this dramatic flailing merely serves as excuse to continually throw Largo to the wolves, but “Winch” should’ve just skipped most of the pretense. For every clumsy piece of exposition, there’s a piece and a half of action that puts Largo’s true talents — wheelman, stuntman, knife fighter extraordinaire — to great use. Throw in all those exotic locales and the eventual payoff on an otherwise sloppy romance subplot, and “Winch” is a ton of fun for the eyes, if not often the ears. Kristin Scott Thomas and Mélanie Thierry also stars. In English and French with English subtitles.
Extras: Largo Winch digital comic, behind-the-scenes feature.

Hop (PG, 2011, Universal)
“Hop” purports to tell the tale of Fred (James Marsden), who became the first human Easter Bunny after taking the reigns from the talking rabbit who didn’t want the job. Eventually, it gets around to telling that story. First, though, let’s get to know Fred, a slacker with two overtly disappointed parents, zero job prospects and one baffling disinterest in befriending E.B., who is the first bunny anyone has ever known to talk, play drums and have access to untold riches of Easter candy. Then there’s the story of Fred’s job interview, two jam sessions (in person with the Blind Boys of Alabama, and in video game form to Hole’s Easter anthem “Celebrity Skin”) and a weird sendup of “America’s Got Talent” that feels designed solely to help David Hasselhoff fulfill some contract obligation with Universal Studios. And so on. “Hop” is, like the “Smurfs” and “Chipmunks” movies before it, a live-action movie in which people and computer-animated characters mingle freely. And like those other movies, it wastes too much time on the humans and not enough on the characters everyone paid to see. But perhaps it’s just as well if “Hop’s” vision of the Easter Bunny’s workshop involves conspiracies, hostile takeovers, infighting and E.B. nearly being cut into pieces by multiple circular saws. There’s a glimmer of magic when we first visit the workshop early on, but the rest of the movie works overtime to choke that magic completely out. Sadly, outside of animation, the choke job is the only thing “Hop” does consistently well.
Extras: New short, five behind-the-scenes features, games.

Die (NR, 2010, Entertainment One)
In an event henceforth referred to as “The Trials,” six people wake up trapped in glass holding cells deep inside some mysterious facility near who knows where. Why their captor (John Pyper-Ferguson) rounded them up is a mystery to them, but the clouds part when it’s revealed that all six have unsuccessfully attempted suicide and carried on reeling through life after receiving a second chance. Disappointed in their collective ingratitude, their captor decides to play a game where one captive’s die roll determines whether another can survive a predicament loosely related to their suicide attempts, and hey, do you think you’ve seen this movie before? “Die” has some loosely interesting ideas about leaving literal life-and-death decisions in the hands of fate, but it applies them to what otherwise is the umpteenth movie since “Saw” to kidnap a half-dozen people and play some ironic game with their lives. The formula was fresh when “Saw” did it and brilliant when “Fermat’s Room” perfected and classed it up, but it’s dead tired at the point. Though not terrible (save for perhaps the twist at the end), “Die” also isn’t fresh, and a few musings about fate’s liberating power aren’t enough for it to liven up a sub-genre in desperate need of some time off. No extras.

— “The BBC Natural History Collection” (NR, BBC Earth): Some come close, but nobody does nature as comprehensively and magnificently as BBC Earth, and this 18-disc set — which includes “The Life of Birds,” “The Life of Mammals,” “The Blue Planet: Seas of Life,” the special edition of “Planet Earth” and all the original extras from each series’ standalone release — stands as proof positive. A similar set released in 2008 with the regular edition of “Planet Earth,” and it’s kind of a bummer that BBC didn’t wait a few weeks to include “Frozen Planet,” which releases April 17 on its own. Other than that — and especially if you don’t have the 2008 version — there’s little with which to argue.
— “Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition” (NR, 1942, Warner Bros.): Along with a limited theatrical run in various cities, Warner Bros. is celebrating the 70th birthday of 1944’s Best Picture winner (not a typo; apparently the Academy took its time back then) with this DVD/Blu-ray gift set. In addition to the film, the set includes two new documentaries (“Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic” and “Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of”), three previously-released documentaries (“The Brothers Warner,” “You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story” and “Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul”), and a handful of physical bonuses (60-page production art book, replica of the original film poster, four drink coasters).

Games 3/27/12: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, Isle of Tune

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $60

From Kinect support to the chance to reenact Tiger Woods’ upbringing, “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13” boasts its share of new features for the back of the box.

But the most paramount addition by far to “TW13” is a new swing mechanic that isn’t even a new way to swing so much as a dramatically better way to understand how your swing works.

The act of swinging hasn’t fundamentally changed: You still pull back on the left stick for the backswing and push forward to follow through.

But “TW13” finally properly relays the importance of maintaining a steady tempo by making it effortless to gauge it. An inconspicuous meter provides an overlay for your swing’s ideal span while that swing is in process, and a swing feedback system uses layman’s terms and dead-simple visuals to grade the speed, power and accuracy of your backswing and followthrough. Study them, and eventually the tempo just comes naturally — something that might happen with or without this interface, but never so knowingly and with this much satisfaction.

“TW13” offers a comparable interface upgrade for planning shots as well. Along with the usual tricks — zooming in to see your lie, asking your caddie for help — you can adjust your stance on two different levels and put precise-to-the-degree spin on the ball.

Per usual, numerous difficulty tuners allow novices and pros to respectively automate the planning process or do completely away with assists. But the presence of these new interfaces is a godsend for the rest of us who want to understand this stuff and do it ourselves. The interfaces are subtle, but they do the job perfectly, and their inclusion alone marks the biggest fundamental step forward this series has taken in years.

The monumental upgrade for “TW13’s” traditional controls stands at awkward odds with the series’ new Kinect control scheme, which is beholden to that tech’s minuscule appetite for precision.

To golf with Kinect, you actually face the screen instead of golf toward it (as you would with the Wii or Playstation Move remotes). That’s necessary for the Kinect to see your swing motion’s span, but it also means “TW13” can’t register the minutiae of a swing’s accuracy nearly as sharply as traditional controls can.

Other quirks abound. Planning a shot with motion alone is laborious, the menus are too touchy, and while some of the gestures (crouching to look at the ball, shading your eyes to zoom) are amusing, the Kinect’s occasional tendency to completely ignore a swing is not. The controls are fun for giggles and local multiplayer, but they hold no candle to the traditional scheme if you’re playing to excel.

(“TW13’s” Move support, now in its third year, has a greater capacity for grading your swing honestly, but it, too, is best relegated for casual play.)

Alongside returning features (career, four-player online/offline multiplayer, global online tournaments), “TW13’s” most novel new feature is the Tiger Legacy Challenge, wherein you relive Tiger’s career highlights — and not just as a pro. “TW13” adds the Woods family yard to its roster of venues, and you get to play out Tiger’s childhood accomplishments as well as his amateur and professional feats.

For social players, the Online Country Club feature is likely more intriguing. You can join other clubs while managing your own, which entails inviting members, poring over petitions for rule changes, and creating member tournaments. You also can challenge other clubs on the course (and reap some nice in-game rewards if you emerge victorious).

Elsewhere, a Skills Challenge feature introduces a dynamic (and game-wide) in-game achievements system. The persistent in-game rewards system lets you activate single-round perks that slightly enhance a facet of your game, and you can even use rewards to play a downloadable course for free. Master a downloadable course, and it becomes yours to own for free. (You can, of course, buy them — and any other unlockable reward — immediately for real money.)


Isle of Tune
For: iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch (universal app)
From: Happylander Ltd.
iTunes Store Rating: 4+
Price: $1

The iOS App Store isn’t exactly hurting for apps that allow even the most hopeless wannabe musician to compose something tuneful. But you’d be hard-pressed to find one that does it quite like “Isle of Tune,” which combines music composition and city building into one hypnotically fun trip. “Tune’s” interface is straight out of “SimCity’s” playbook: Using the design palette, you can lay out roads and place decorative pieces (houses, signs, streetlights, bridges, trees and plants) in whatever arrangement you like. But only after placing up to eight cars on those roads and pressing the Play button does “Tune” truly come to life. As the cars drive by each piece you place alongside the road, the piece plays a note from the instrument it represents. And because each piece’s note is configurable — different colored houses have different pitches, for instance, and you can adjust volume and beat delay independently for each piece — there’s no end to how complex the resulting composition can be. Creating intersections allows your song to take random turns as the cars on the roads do, and you can place stoplights and adjust the speeds of individual cars to complicate things even further. “Tune’s” charming and accessible interface belies its incredible capacity for creating surprisingly rich music, and if you don’t believe it, the app’s Game Center-powered sharing tool — which allows you browse and download other players’ compositions while also sharing your own masterpieces — provides shining proof of the possibilities.

DVD/Blu-ray 3/20/12: The Muppets, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Carnage, Battle Royale, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, A Lonely Place to Die, Roadie, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Sitter

The Muppets: The Wocka Wocka Value Pack (PG, 2011, Disney)
Let’s not ask how Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter, a puppet, are biological brothers. If that irregularity bothers you, you’re watching the wrong movie. What matters is that as Gary grew up, grew tall and found a girlfriend (Amy Adams as Mary), Walter turned to The Muppets for inspiration while his growth stood still. And when Walter finally gets a chance to visit The Muppets’ studio in Los Angeles with Gary and Mary, what he discovers — The Muppets have long since disbanded, and a greedy oilman (Chris Cooper) plans to tear the decrepit studio down for good — amounts to a staggering loss of innocence. It also, however, leaves Walter no choice: He has reunite The Muppets and save their studio. If all this sounds farfetched to you … again, wrong movie. “The Muppets” operates in a bizarre meta-fiction where all the previous TV specials and movies were specials and movies, and this, for the first time in movie form, is their reality. Even then, it breaks the fourth wall with crazy regularity. There are song-and-dance numbers as part of a production within the production, there’s singing and dancing just because, and “The Muppets” blurs the lines between nostalgia, self-parody, act-within-an-act, and earnest storytelling with insane, jubilant abandon. The logic doesn’t check out, the cameo counter overheats, and the confluence of ideas frequently goes off the rails. But rarely is there a moment in “The Muppets” that isn’t at least somewhat wondrous. And with full respect to the old guard and all the good feelings they bring back, the newest face in the crowd may be the biggest star of the whole show. Don’t be a stranger, Walter.
Extras: Segel/writer/director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, theatrical spoof trailers, 15-song digital soundtrack, intermission Easter egg.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (R, 2011, Universal)
Because there’s no point in tiptoeing around the inevitable, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” cuts to it almost straight away: There’s a mole lurking around the upper echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service, and that mole is suspected of feeding information that violently sabotaged a delicate operation in Hungary during the Cold War’s hottest hour. The fiasco is such that retired spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) has been reactivated in hopes of smoking out the defector before the damage worsens. Got all that? Good, because that’s the easy part of this test. The noise covering up the truth is extensive and messy, and the film adaptation of “Spy” lacks the space and time afforded to the John le Carré book and Alec Guinness-fronted television series to sort it out. Rest assured, it’s still up to the task. Just don’t rest those eyes while it pulls it off. “Spy” has a monstrous cast of suspects, motives and methods to corral, and it bounces between multiple chronologies with abandon in order to rope it all in. Context always accompanies the leaps, but only if you keep your eyes on the road and take good mental notes. If something sounds even vaguely like a clue, chances are good it is, and if you tuck it somewhere in the back your mind, chances are similarly good “Spy’s” outstanding homestretch will reward you continuously for doing so. John Hurt, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and Benedict Cumberbatch, among several others, comprise a stellar ensemble cast.
Extras: Deleted scenes, cast/filmmakers/le Carré interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.
— For further study: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (NR, 1979, Acorn Media Group): The 1979 television series makes its Blu-ray debut. Available April 24. Includes six episodes, plus a new interview with director John Irvin, deleted scenes, an interview with le Carré, production notes, a characters/terms glossary and a le Carré bio and booklist.

Carnage (R, 2011, Sony Pictures)
The carnage in “Carnage” would presume to be a nasty beating given by the son of Alan and Nancy (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) to the son of Michael and Penelope (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster). As the film opens, the parents are completing the process of amicably resolving the issue without cops and lawyers, and within minutes, Alan and Nancy have their coats on and their feet halfway out the door. One innocuous comment leads to another, small talk begets not-so-small talk, and 84 minutes later, whatever plans these people had to do the right thing and call it an early night lay in greater ruin than Michael and Penelope’s child’s face. Fortunately, and unlike its characters, “Carnage” is anything but wasteful with its time. What begins as a polite but passive-aggressive spat between parents degenerates, in real time, into a drunken, all-access shredding in which husband and wife turn on each other, the men form alliances to spite the women, and everyone eventually behaves far more poorly than the two kids who started this mess. (In what amounts to an excellent allegory about adults always making an issue about themselves, we never even meet the kids.) “Carnage” flails all the way through, and if you come away thinking the whole exercise was utterly pointless, there is no shortage of exhibits with which to make your case. But all that flailing serves at the whims of a sharply, darkly, cleverly and consistently funny script. And that script’s point about even the most wannabe sophisticate having a button that turns them into a raving child? Dead on.
Extras: 40-minute onstage Q&A with Reilly and Waltz, behind-the-scenes feature, red carpet footage.

Battle Royale: The Complete Collection (NR, 2000/2003, Anchor Bay)
Murder as sport isn’t a new concept, and with respect to the fervor surrounding “The Hunger Games,” neither is the notion of teens killing teens while the government watches over with a crooked smile on its face. If you disagree, it’s time to get to know “Battle Royale,” which ran rampant across its native Japan’s awards circuit while American theaters pretended it didn’t exist. It’s no secret why. “Royale” — in which the government counters rampant bad behavior by bussing dozens of teens to an island, giving each a unique weapon, and turning them loose for three days until only one remains alive — first surfaced in 2000, one year removed from Columbine. And in stark, gruesome contrast to “Games'” PG-13 presentation, it has no qualms about presenting images of junior high students mowing each other down with assault rifles, cutting necks with crude tools and even demoralizing the weak-willed into taking their own lives. Over the top? Certainly. But if you’re telling a modern-day fable about punishment gone frightfully awry, going overboard has its merits. “Royale,” to its credit, toes the line between extreme and gratuitous. It’s hard to watch for sure, but as much due to the characters and concepts it develops — and subsequent attachments they form with the viewer — as all the blood it spills.
Contents: Along with the director’s cut of the first film, this set — which marks the film’s official and legal American debut — includes the original theatrical cut of first film and the “Requiem” cut of “Battle Royale II.” A bonus disc includes a documentary about the film, behind-the-scenes features, audition footage, film festival/press conference footage and promotional material.

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (NR, 2010, Music Box)
One could argue, with little difficulty, that “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” utterly fails to tell a comprehensive story about Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino), who blazed numerous trails as one of the world’s most prolific, successful and unclassifiable musicians and entertainers. But one also could argue, with equal confidence, that it’s a better movie for it. “Gainsbourg” plays the usual biopic hits, introducing us to a young Gainsbourg (Kacey Mottet Klein) growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris before touching on the advent of his success, the height of his fame, and the customary comedown. As a shallow primer, it’s fine; as a story that gets to the heart of Serge’s flaws and desires, it’s lacking. But there’s no shortage of means elsewhere for that kind of insight. The real object of “Gainsbourg’s” affection is the thrill of life itself — the highs and lows of creativity in bloom, the considerable advantages (and pratfalls) of listening to the heart instead of the head, and the bullheaded rationalization for reaching out for more even after reality slaps your hand away. Crammed with great music and happily willing to take storytelling roads less traveled — many of its best scenes involve Serge talking to his imaginary alter ego, who takes the form of a Tim Burton-styled Muppet — “Gainsbourg” celebrates the dreamer in anyone and simply uses its namesake (albeit affectionately) as its vessel. That may not sit well if you showed up hoping to learn about Gainsbourg himself, but it makes for a much more resonant experience. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Mathieu Amalric’s documentary “Joann Sfar (Drawings)” (Sfar wrote and directed “Gainsbourg”), behind-the-scenes feature, storyboards/character sketches.

A Lonely Place to Die (NR, 2011, IFC Midnight)
Alison (Melissa George) and her fellow climbers already averted one near-fatal scare while scaling a cliff deep in the Scottish Highlands. But things get a whole lot more dangerous after they discover a young girl who either has been hidden, was buried alive or actively hid herself underground. She speaks no English, and even if she did, she’s too spooked to say anything to anyone. And who can blame her? “A Lonely Place to Die’s” back-of-box description spoils entirely too much that is best left revealed by the movie itself, so on the premise that you don’t peek and undermine the experience of seeing it play out, let’s just say the girl is hiding/hidden/buried for a reason. The climbers aren’t the only adults in the picture, and the wilderness isn’t the only place “Place” goes. What begins as a tense but dry thriller soon spills out of control in terms of stakes and scope, and any fears about this being nothing more than some climbers in poorly-explained peril fades away once the additional pieces are introduced. Just let the movie itself, rather than the box, reveal those pieces. “Place” does everything reasonably well, but the gradual pace with which it pulls back the curtain is its best asset by far. No extras.

Roadie (R, 2011, Magnolia)
For 20 years, Jimmy (Ron Eldard) has dutifully carried gear for Blue Oyster Cult, but as the band’s fortunes sag ever lower, they no longer can keep him on the payroll. With nowhere to go, Jimmy heads to the one place he always can go: his mom’s (Lois Smith) house in his old hometown. An errand gone sideways sends him straight into a few more people (Jill Hennessy, Bobby Cannavale) from his past, and the impromptu rumble that breaks out between nostalgia, regret, festering bitterness, recaptured youth and broken dreams is more than enough to knock over a guy who professes to have seen it all. Discussing how “Roadie’s” mood evolves from here would venture uncomfortably into spoiler zone, but it only half-matters when plot plays such a distant second fiddle to mood. If you laid out what happens next on paper, “Roadie” could scarcely be more banal. But watching it play out — complete with all those disparate moods engaging in a very emotionally messy (but, thankfully, never weepy or whiny) battle — is a different situation entirely. “Roadie” isn’t really about music or the road, and you need not have carried a guitar in your life to find some common ground in Jimmy’s story. (It helps, though, to love music just a little bit.)
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R, 2011, Sony Pictures)
For the unique sliver of the population who consumed Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy but couldn’t be bothered with subtitles after the Swedish film treatment arrived to great acclaim three short years ago, this one’s for you. Frankly, without you, there’d be little point. The original trilogy of “Dragon Tattoo” films was plenty exhaustive, and between Noomi Rapace’s iconic portrayal of Lisbeth Salander and the considerable polish applied to the production as a whole, it wasn’t exactly hurting for Hollywood to swoop in and offer a makeover. Perhaps recognizing its precarious position, the new “TGWTDT” plays it pretty safe: It’s a little flashier, perhaps, but only a little, and neither Rooney Mara (as Lisbeth) nor Daniel Craig (as Mikael Blomkvist, the disgraced journalist who crosses her path on two separate occasions en route to uncovering a murder that’s much bigger than either of them) take their characters anywhere Rapace and Michael Nyqvist didn’t previously go. It also, in case you’re wondering, didn’t change the setting. Everyone speaks English, but we’re still in Sweden, and the familiar series themes still apply. Overall, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a solid, compelling mystery that takes its time (158 minutes) unfurling itself and the characters embroiled within. But it was all those things already in 2009, and nothing done here even slightly antiquates what already was done there.
Extra: Director commentary.

The Sitter (R/NR, 2011, Fox)
Noah (Jonah Hill) isn’t a babysitter. But unless being his not-quite girlfriend’s emotional doormat is a profession, the jobless, directionless twentysomething isn’t anything else either. So on a night in which his mom’s friend needs a last-minute babysitter in order for them to enjoy a rare night out, Noah volunteers to watch the friend’s three children (Max Records, Landry Bender, Kevin Hernandez). Surprisingly, only two of the three kids are the worst children you’ve ever met — a sign that somewhere deep in the heart of “The Sitter,” a tiny flame of restraint still burns. Mostly, though, “The Sitter” is everything you expect it to be, with one wacky disaster feeding into another while Noah breaks into a diamond store, flees a maniacal drug kingpin (Sam Rockwell) and chases after a van that he stole and has since been stolen from him. None of this necessarily is a terrible thing, because “The Sitter” isn’t necessarily terrible itself. The one kid who isn’t detestable is very likable, the kingpin is pretty funny, and when Noah has a moment to catch his breath, he’s both likable and funny. That may not be enough to counter how predictable “The Sitter” is, and it’s little match for how inexplicably awful those other two kids are. But a loud, dumb comedy with some merit, tucked away though it certainly is, is better than one without any … right?
Extras: Unrated cut, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.

Games 3/20/12: Yakuza: Dead Souls, Crush3d, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, Motorstorm RC

Yakuza: Dead Souls
For: Playstation 3
From: Sega
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, use of alcohol)
Price: $60

It has always taken a special kind of person to truly appreciate the “Yakuza” series, which reengineers flaws into points of endearment like few (if any) other series can.

“Yakuza: Dead Souls” takes that bizarre two-way affection into a whole new arena, but it never loses itself in doing so. An already confluence of brawling and storytelling goes slightly nuts with the addition of zombies, firearms and more sustained action than has typically been present in these games, but everything that comprised those earlier games — including the weirdly wonderful tug-o-war between archaic and charming — remains intact.

“Souls,” perhaps obviously, isn’t central to the “Yakuza” canon, which up to now has crammed several television series’ worth of violence, drama, comedy, family feuds, criminal dynasties, troublemakers and complete weirdos into four numbered games and a spinoff that released only in Japan. “Souls” takes “Yakuza 4’s” setting and premise — once again dropping you into the shoes of four deeply unique main characters — and tells a what-if story in which the undead clog the streets and the usual friends and enemies enact a moratorium on their squabbles.

Along with the setting and characters, most everything else with which “Yakuza” is synonymous returns in “Souls.” In safe zones walled off (for now) from monsters, you’ll find a new assortment of strange people to meet and assist in side stories. Hilariously weird minigames and diversions abound. The random troublemakers who pick fights in the street have disappeared (perhaps a nod to your new shared enemy), but when you’re battling zombies, the full brunt of “Yazuka’s” brawling controls — from suplexing zombies to using everything from bats to bicycles as weapons — lay at your disposal. As always, it’s a fast and exciting 3D answer to the great 2D brawlers that thrived in the 1990s.

But while hitting a zombie in the face with a coffee table is effective in a pinch, you’ll need some real firepower when “Souls” drops you into an area crawling with several dozen undead.

Enter guns and grenades — and what a strange entrance it is. “Souls” crams three flavors of shooting controls into its existing gameplay with reckless disregard for elegance, and their respective effectiveness is inversely proportional to pretty much every third-person shooter made since roughly 2004.

Whereas holding the L2 trigger to aim down the sights of a gun increases precision in most shooters, it’s generally a nightmare here — sabotaged by a camera unfit to handle it, as well as Sega’s baffling decision to map aiming to the left instead of right stick. (You can’t move while aiming this way.) The method is handy when sniping from a distance, but laughably worthless otherwise.

A middle option, wherein you hold L1 to strafe and automatically fire at enemies in your line of sight, works a little better — except when pressing L1 causes you to strafe facing the wrong way, unable to turn around, even if you’re facing the right way when you press it. It happens randomly, but also regularly.

Ultimately, the best (and, by an factor of 10, most fun) way to mow down zombies is to not even aim at all. As you run through a room hammering on the shoot button, your character shoots whichever zombie is nearest by in his field of view. You can turn on a dime and clear a room in the blink of an eye, especially once you unlock a visually spectacular special ability that lets you use gas lines, circuit boxes and even loose steel girders as bullet-activated hazards.

Played this way, the shooting is fast, exciting, effortless and silly in exactly the right way — in other words, a perfect complement to everything else “Yakuza” has done so wonderfully for so long.


For: Nintendo 3DS
From: Zoë Mode/Sega
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (animated blood, mild cartoon violence)
Price: $35

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about “Fez,” an upcoming, long-in-development puzzle/platforming game that literally turns the 2D platformer on its side.

But five years ago, an unheralded game named “Crush” did it first — and incredibly well — on the Playstation Portable. “Crush3d” takes steps forward and backward in remaking that game for a new system and (hopefully) new audience. But everything it did so brilliantly is preserved and, five years on, as clever and malevolent as ever.

(As a sidebar, the original “Crush” is available for $10 on the Playstation Network for the Vita and PSP. The more you know.)

The object of “Crush3d’s” 40 levels, as explained by a surprisingly chatty storyline, is to collect enough marbles to open a portal to the exit and then reach that exit. But accessing the marbles and the portal isn’t a simple matter of running and jumping over to them, because they typically sit impossibly out of reach.

Instead, you must rotate the level itself, turning it on its side or even vertically so that you’re viewing it from above. And after doing that, you have to “crush” it and flatten the 3D arrangement into a 2D one. Flattening the perspective connects platforms that exist nowhere near each other in the 3D space, and once they’re in close proximity according to your new perspective, you can hop from one to the next like they were next to each other the whole time. Uncrush the level, and suddenly you’re on a completely different plane.

All of that perspective manipulation transforms a completely pedestrian platformer into a beastly mental challenge, and “Crush3d” very quickly makes you work for it if you want to perfect a level (all marbles collected, the optional trophy and concept art piece discovered, and no hints used). Before long, the difficulty curve sharpens with the addition of pushable obstacles, moving platforms, giant cockroaches and blocks that behave differently based on color and dimension.

If that sounds intimidating, mission accomplished. But “Crush3d,” to its credit, doesn’t antagonize unnecessarily by throwing up a time limit or penalizing your score if you take your time solving a level. You might resort to some trial and error just for the sake of doing so when things really get elaborate and you reach your wits’ end, but unless that cockroach is giving chase, you’re free to take your time exploring a level without the nagging sensation that “Crush3d” is rushing you through the problem-solving process.

With that said, if time and crush limits appeal to your masochistic side, a 40-level Trophy Mode — wherein you must complete a level using only so many crushes, and within a par time — is available as a complement to the main story. Finding a trophy in the campaign unlocks the corresponding level in this mode, so keep your eyes peeled.)

“Crush3d’s” gameplay and puzzle design will look wholly familiar to those familiar with “Crush” on the PSP. Stylistically, though, it’s another story.

The game’s use of stereoscopic 3D is excellent — no surprise given the emphasis on perspective perception, but worth noting all the same. But “Crush’s” unique visual style — dystopian but also colorful and silly, with some likably weird graphic novel panels bringing a grouchy but whimsical story to life — has been shelved in favor of something a little less exciting. “Crush3d’s” presentation is pleasant, with brighter backdrops and a friendlier (though not saccharine) makeover for the characters, but it doesn’t stand out the way “Crush’s” look does even to this day.


Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Slant Six/Capcom
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Price: $60

If you assembled a focus group of people who’ve never played a “Resident Evil” game and tasked them with designing the next one, “Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” very well might be what they conceive by day’s end.

That isn’t damning criticism so much as faint praise, because “City” at least fulfills its unimaginative ideals with competency. It holds no candle to a traditional “RE” game. But as a cover-based, co-op-capable third-person squad shooter that hits every bullet point an online, experience points-driven, competitive/cooperative shooter needs to hit? Sure, why not.

With that said, the best thing about “City’s” cover shooter ambitions might be how it largely abandons them early in the campaign, which you can play alone with three A.I. partners, online with three human partners, or some mix therein. (Sadly, there’s no local co-op option.)

“City” drops you into the shoes of an Umbrella Corporation-appointed cleanup squad, tasked with removing all traces of its involvement in sparking the Raccoon City zombie apocalypse. In other words, you finally get to play out the saga’s formative episodes from the bad guy’s side.

Without spoiling specifics, the first leg of this PR campaign pits you against government soldiers who are armed both with guns and intelligence. (Hence, the need to fight from cover.)

The results are passable but sloppy. There’s no button to stick to cover: “City” does it automatically, which means it sometimes doesn’t when you need it to and does when you don’t. That, and the occasional unresponsiveness that happens when you try swapping weapons, detract from a control scheme that otherwise covers the basics adequately.

Fortunately — and inevitably, because they’re “RE’s” reason for being — the zombies indeed rush in. And once they do, “City” becomes 10 percent cover shooter and 90 percent run and gun.

The change in tempo doesn’t fully nullify “City’s” shortcomings, especially when it descends into chaos during mission-ending objectives that cram levels with zombies and soldiers galore. But the action is lively, and it’s fun to take on the zombie horde with degrees of weaponry and dexterity that wouldn’t make sense in a more traditional “RE” game.

As co-op experiences go, “City” is once again satisfactory. Setting up foursomes is easy, and teams that protect (and, in the event of a bad zombie fight, disinfect) each other will find those aforementioned descents into chaos much easier to bear.

If, however, you play alone, be prepared to fight alone. A.I. partners can kill a zombie or two, but they provide shoddy protection and can’t revive you like you can them. (If you turn zombie or become incapacitated, the game halts and whisks you back to the nearest checkpoint.) Cold though it sounds, your A.I. partners are best used as bait while you flank enemies from behind.

Other bullet points abound. The campaign is roughly six hours long, but with six very different (and separately upgradable) character classes to play as, there’s incentive to go play it again. Stats persist across the whole game, so you can apply your unlocked perks to “City’s” competitive multiplayer suite as well.

The competitive multiplayer (eight players, online only) features “RE”-flavored variants of team deathmatch, capture the flag and territory control. A Heroes Mode, meanwhile, lets you play as famous faces from games’ past and take sides in the standoff between Umbrella and the government.

Again, the action is fun but customary — albeit with a wrinkle. The multiplayer arenas are crawling with zombies, and once again, they’re the common enemy of both opposing forces. Having to manage boatloads of A.I. enemies while also outwitting more formidable human opponents — who are dealing with the same zombies while taking you on — adds some serious (and, unlike the chaos mentioned earlier, welcome) bedlam to what otherwise is pretty standard four-on-four action.


Motorstorm RC
For: Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita
From: Evolution Studios/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $10 on PS3, free on Vita for a limited time

If you ever imagined how amusing it might be to see “Motorstorm’s” hulking off-road vehicles shrunk down to RC car form, just wait until you see one of them flip over and land haplessly on its plastic back. To an arguable fault — at least, if you come in expecting a normal racing game — “Motorstorm RC” takes the gimmick and runs wild with it. The tracks — which “RC” displays from an overhead perspective a la “Super Off Road” or “R.C. Pro-Am” — are miniaturized, toy-car replicas of courses from all four previous “Motorstorm” games, and the vehicles’ handling physics are appropriately light but (like an RC car) just a little bit stubborn in the handling department. “RC’s” default controls mimic those of a remote control, with one stick (or R2 trigger on the PS3) handling the gas and brake while the other stick handles steering. You can customize these settings to use buttons if you wish. But if you want to beat your friends’ ghost times and get gold medal scores across all 48 events — a mix of races, time trials, overtake challenges and drift competitions — you’re advised to master the analog acceleration in order to tame that stubborn handling. Drive these vehicles like they’re regular video game cars, and you’ll pay dearly and regularly. Outside of four-player splitscreen on the PS3 version, “RC” lacks any kind of head-to-head multiplayer component. But its terrific integration of friends’ scores across all modes means you’re constantly competing with them anyway. Your scores and progress sync across both versions if you own both, and while the Vita version is free for a limited time thanks to Toyota, buying either version gets you the other version for free when it returns to regular price. How cool is that?

DVD/Blu-ray 3/13/12: The Descendants, Young Adult, Melancholia, Come Fly With Me, The Adventures of Tintin, My Week with Marilyn, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, Doctor Who remasters

The Descendants (R, 2011, Fox)
For 23 days, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) lay in a coma, and on this day, Matt (George Clooney) — Elizabeth’s husband and a suddenly-flustered father of two daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as college student Alexandra and 10-year-old Scottie, respectively) who themselves are dealing with their new reality in their own tumultuous way — has to prepare his family and friends to say goodbye. Unfortunately, one turn of events compels Alexandra to tell her dad about another turn that happened before Elizabeth’s accident, and the revelation that his marriage wasn’t as solid as he thought knocks Matt back even harder than the realization that his wife is about to die. There are additional complications beyond this that won’t be spoiled, but it’s almost beside the point. The heart of Matt’s heartache — how do you find peace when the path to closure is effectively sealed? — is the point of “The Descendants,” and the movie’s handling of it is meandering in the best sense of the word. Matt is sad, angry, vengeful and occasionally bitterly, wryly funny. He flails, schemes, stammers to be a good dad, and — along with his daughters and Alexandra’s sort-of boyfriend Sid (a scene-stealing Nick Krause) — grows five years older in a couple hours’ time. Almost immediately, “The Descendants” draws the battle line between Matt and his situation, and it’s never not a losing battle. But the valiant way with which he goes down swinging looks nothing like defeat, and for all the wandering it does, “The Descendants'” ability to mine so much good from so much bad is doggedly triumphant.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.

Young Adult (R, 2011, Paramount)
Contrary to first impressions, Mavis’ (Charlize Theron) belief that she’s better than the people she left behind in her small hometown isn’t entirely attributable to her slowly blackening heart. She is, after all, pulling a good living in Minneapolis as the ghost writer of a massively popular (though sagging) series of young adult books, and everyone back home knows it. But when word awkwardly reaches her that her former high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) just celebrated the birth of his first child, a sudden rash of third-life-crisis fidgeting sends her back home to inexplicably claim him from his presumably happy marriage. Mix that karma-ravaging plan with Mavis’ fidgeting and set it in a town full of people who didn’t necessarily like her the first time around, and you have the makings of a pretty wacky comedy — if “Young Adult” was interested in being one. Happily, it isn’t. “Adult” is funny, but it’s a darkly, indignantly funny manifestation of jealousy and regret that’s a little too raw to waste on banal gags. The resentment from all sides is palpable, but so are its origins and reasons for being. Thanks especially to Matt (Patton Oswalt), a former bully magnet who becomes Mavis’ unlikely ally and even more unlikely source of vicious, soul-shredding honesty, that resentment is very arguably righteous — often cathartically so. And yes, in spite of this bundle of bitter raw nerves, “Adult” somehow remains funny. Opportunities abound for it to coast to a bland and easy ending, but it wants no part of any such thing.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Melancholia (R, 2011, Magnolia)
Ideally, it should never be necessary, but sometimes a movie is best understood if you understand the filmmaker’s grasp of it before you make a reach of your own. “Melancholia” tells two stories on a literal collision course — one, of a chronically depressed woman (Kirsten Dunst as Justine) trying (and failing) to endure her own dusk-to-dawn wedding reception, the other of a planet (named Melancholia) that emerges from behind the sun and appears destined to crash into Earth in a matter of days. Writer/director Lars von Trier conceived “Melancholia” during his own battle with depression, and the film’s arguable hypothesis — that those who fight despair daily assume an unlikely position of strength when the prospect of total doom sends all who are happy and normal into a sudden and simultaneous tailspin — provides foundation for an end-of-the-world story that’s refreshingly out of step with the blockbuster also-rans. Just hang on to that grasp for dear life: Though engaging simply by way of its originality, “Melancholia” has no qualms about keeping viewers at arm’s length, opening on a caustically melodramatic note before throwing it over to a family that makes even a wedding beans counting contest seem dreary and tragic. Even with Justine’s condition laid bare, the oppressively bleak mood sometimes comes off as a dare to just hate the whole production instead of a slow-burning distillation of a sharply insightful metaphor. You can defy the dare and find something extraordinary waiting in the film’s resolution, but the gift of your patience and understanding is requested.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features.

Come Fly With Me (NR, 2010, BBC)
Discount carrier FlyLo Airlines runs a busy racket, and the British airport that houses its hub is nothing short of bustling. But no one in “Come Fly With Me” works harder than “Little Britain” creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams, who play more than 40 characters — from airline employees to security personnel to passengers to the woman who runs the coffee kiosk when she isn’t busy inventing excuses to close down before noon — throughout the show’s first season. “Fly” plays out like a mockumentary, but unlike most mockumentary presentations, its humor is the diametric opposite of dry. From the comically bad costumes and hairpieces to voices you typically only hear on cartoons to many of the gags themselves, the tone is about as subtle as a Krusty the Clown standup special. Fortunately, even at its most pandering, “Fly” is considerably funnier than poor Krusty. And when it’s at its sharply funniest — most often when the camera is trained on incompetent Chief Immigration Officer Ian Foot — it’s a riot. Even the gentle-voiced narrator, whose descriptions of these hapless people call to mind a BBC Earth documentary more than “The Office” or Christopher Guest, is so out of place in this genre as to be kind of surreal. No one involved in this production — in front of or behind the camera — would survive long enough to receive a day’s pay in our world, and that doesn’t feel like an accident on “Fly’s” behalf.
Contents: Six episodes, plus a behind-the-scenes documentary, a photo gallery and promotional material.

The Adventures of Tintin (PG, 2011, Paramount)
Say this for “The Adventures of Tintin:” With a cute (and surprisingly informative) hand-drawn animated opening credits sequence and a clever early homage to Tintin as he’s remembered in cartoons and comic books, this computer-animated reboot pays more reverence to its roots by minute four than most of these dreadful movies do after 90-plus. Inevitably, “Tintin” uses its incredible visual presentation — born out of motion capture, but considerably less dead-eyed than the likes of “The Polar Express” — in the service of a big, flashy adventure with stormy seas, pirate ships, treasure and more treachery than you might expect from a story that features Tintin’s adorable dog Snowy as much as Tintin himself. The second half arguably goes overboard in terms of set pieces and spectacle. But between the lines of all that flash, the soul of the original “Tintin” is hearteningly potent. Tintin, Snowy, and the bumbling washed-up sea captain who becomes an unlikely ally form a terrifically likable trio. The characters thrown in for comic effect are actually funny. And the villains are classically rather than tritely (or worse, obnoxiously) villainous. “Tintin’s” visual presentation may scream 2011, but if you listen rather than just look, the heart and soul of an old-time radio serial about pirates and treasure still beats loudly and proudly.
Extras: Eleven behind-the-scenes features.

My Week with Marilyn (R, 2011, Anchor Bay)
Maybe you had to be there. Or maybe the problem is that we’ve been here enough times already. Whatever the case, there’s something a little bit off about “My Week with Marilyn,” the purportedly true story of a guy (Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark) who turned an unsolicited job interview into a stint as Lawrence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) assistant and then parlayed that gig into a brief affair with the star (Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe) of Olivier’s current project. At its best — when Clark crashes into the movie industry uninvited, when he and Monroe dance around each other while getting acclimated, and especially when Williams brings every admirable and regrettable facet of Monroe’s exhaustively documented talents and troubles to life — “Marilyn” is a very nearly enchanting story about a guy living beyond his wildest dreams and a girl getting a rare chance to just be herself again. But even for a week, “Marilyn” can’t really get away from Marilyn. The excitement of the early going returns in flashes later on, but it mostly gets battered by the depressing reality of a damaged person stuck in a culture too shallow and self-absorbed to pull her away from the encroaching abyss. “Marilyn” finds its heart in time to wrap up on a fond note, but as often accompanies the end of an affair, it’s a fondness for what could have been more than what actually was.
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.

Worth Mentioning
— “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection” (NR, 1963, Shout Factory): If Shout Factory’s excellent “Underdog” box set had an unwelcome side effect, it was the realization that Underdog’s Total TeleVision forebear didn’t have a set of his own. Mere weeks later, problem solved. The six-disc “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales” collection includes all 70 of Tennessee and Chumley’s adventures, as well as the adventures of Tooter Turtle, The King and Odie, Klondike Kat and The Hunter. Extras include creators/voice cast commentary, a behind-the-scenes feature and a 16-page color booklet with liner notes and various pieces of concept and promotional artwork.
— “Doctor Who” remasters (NR, BBC): Collectors and fans, start your wallets, because BBC is going a little crazy with remastered special editions of classic “Doctor Who” stories. Starting in February and ramping up this week, the output includes “The Tomb of the Cybermen” (1967), “The Sensorites” (1964), “The Face of Evil” (1977), “The Three Doctors” (1973), “The Robots of Death” (1977) and “The Caves of Androzani” (1984). Along with the remastered picture, each set includes a nice helping of extras, with commentaries, multiple behind-the-scenes features, a photo gallery and DVD-ROM content accompanying each story. The sets continue with another wave in April, so stay frosty.

Games 3/13/12: MLB 12 The Show, Nicktoons MLB 3D, SSX, Jak and Daxter Collection, Journey

MLB 12 The Show
For: Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita
From: San Diego Studio/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $60 for PS3, $40 for Vita, $80 for bundle (through April 10)

Nicktoons MLB 3D
For: Nintendo 3DS
From: Black Lantern Studios/2K Play
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $30

“MLB The Show” has been the undisputed king of baseball sims for at least five years running, and even though the 2012 edition’s additions rank on the weak side, this remains the case.

For the second straight year, a new pitching mechanic leads off the roster of changes. But in contrast to last year’s excellent Pure Analog system, the Pulse Pitching method relies too much on a gimmicky (and counterproductively touchy) timing mechanic that doesn’t really replicate the sensation of making a perfect pitch. With practice, it can be mastered, but “MLB12’s” other delivery methods — Pure Analog, Meter and Classic — are more fun. Fortunately, all remain available to use and tweak as needed via an extensive options screen.

“MLB12’s” flashiest new feature — Diamond Dynasty, available only in the PS3 version — attempts to replicate the success of EA Sports’ Ultimate Team modes, in which you assemble teams of players from virtual packs of cards you buy with in-game (or, of course, real) money. But while the seeds of compulsion are there if you’re willing to look for them, Diamond Dynasty clearly is a rookie effort — all over the place in terms of confusing interfaces, and spotty with how it facilitates team management and rewards.

The better modes — Season/Franchise, the role-playing Road to the Show — are available on both Vita and PS3, and those who purchase both versions can share the same cloud save file between both. If you love the game but never have time to play an entire season on your couch, the flexibility this entails may be the best news there is about this year’s game.

As per annual tradition, there’s more good news in between the lines. A brand-new baseball physics engine should quickly make its presence known to longtime players, and Road to the Show finally lets you begin your minor league career as a starter instead of on the bench. Tweaks have been made to the way A.I. managers and general managers handle lineups and trades, respectively, and every detail of the Marlins’ hideous new uniforms and home run structure has been recreated in exquisitely ugly detail.

Most importantly, none of the core fundamentals that have made this series the best in the business have been broken.

2K Sports’ simulation counterpart continues to lag behind and spin its glitchy, unrefined wheels. But 2K Play engineered a pleasant surprise last season with “NickToons MLB,” which took MLB players and teams, sprinkled in Nickelodeon characters and stadiums, and powered it with the terrifically fast (and surprisingly deep) engine that originally powered its outstanding “The Bigs” arcade baseball games.

Sadly, “Nicktoons MLB 3D” arrives on the Nintendo 3DS in alarmingly bad shape. The personality and players are there, as are the modes (season, tournament, minigames) and intricacies that made last year’s game more sophisticated than your typical arcade baseball game.

But where it matters most — gameplay — is where “3D” falls completely on its face. Instead of fast, it’s unflatteringly slow and prone to framerate stutters. And while the console version’s responsive controls made every facet of the game fun to play, “3D” can’t even get the basics right. The half-second lag between button press and the moment a batter actually swings the bat is impossible to forgive in a sport where timing is king. “3D” updates the rosters for 2012 and adds a few new ballparks and modes not found in the console versions, but the shoddy foundation completely invalidates whatever upside it has to offer.


For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild lyrics, mild violence)
Price: $60

When EA Sports first unveiled its rebooted “SSX” — complete with gritty, humorless overtones and “Call of Duty”-esque cutscenes to complement the otherwise familiar snowboarding action — the groans that met it halfway were fierce enough to send the studio into retool mode. Many months later, what we ultimately get — colorful, cheerful, loaded with impossible tricks and exaggerated physics — is a good approximation of how the first proper “SSX” game in nearly seven years should look, play and even innovate.

Except, of course, when it isn’t. Don’t holster that groan just yet.

Under the right conditions — on a wide mountain with room to trick creatively and in an event centered purely around racing or accumulating large trick scores — “SSX” sings as beautifully as ever. It’s blazing fast, stringing tricks (either with the new, stick-centric method or a scheme that approximates classic controls) is extremely easy, and exploiting the mountain for one incredible combo after another is blissfully fun.

But for every time “SSX” gets it perfectly right, there’s an instance where it inexplicably flubs it.

Some runs, including a handful that lead off the single-player campaign, take place in tight runs overcrowded with ramps and grindable lines. Botch one jump, and it’s too easy to ignite a chain where your rider is haplessly missing opportunity after opportunity while you simply wait for a clear patch of snow on which to rebuild the deck.

Much worse, however, is when “SSX” throws you down a mountain that’s plagued by bottomless drops around and even within it. Annoying though the chains of missed opportunities can be, they pale in comparison to the non-thrill of pulling a spectacular big-air trick, only to land on a ridge that slides you into a pit you couldn’t foresee when originally taking off. “SSX” includes a limited-use rewind feature, perhaps as penance for the cheapness of such turns of fortune. But even then, your momentum is disrupted and your score dinged.

Though the race and trick events are occasionally undermined by some unreasonably inhuman A.I. Opponents, “SSX” frustrates most during the new survival events, where the goal simply is to complete the run. Your rewinds are severely limited here, and the mountains tend to be severely broken. That means lots of cheap falls, which means lots of trial and error. Surviving these runs is a simple matter of memorizing the layout and riding sensibly instead of tricking out, but when was the last time you played “SSX” with a desire to ride sensibly and predictably?

Fortunately, should you be so inclined, you can enjoy most of “SSX’s” highlights without engaging its lowlights.

With respect to its story track, “SSX’s” showcase features are the Explore and Global events, both of which provide non-linear access to every mountain range and let you hop around the globe as you please. The in-game currency and experience points systems, which allow you to upgrade every playable rider and his or her gear, apply across all modes, so you aren’t missing anything (except some annoying cutscenes and chatter) by outright skipping the story.

The Explore and Global events also comprise “SSX’s” clever asynchronous multiplayer, which functions like a social network for “SSX” fans. You can challenge other players’ scores (which appear persistently in the menus or in ghost form), create Global Events that thousands of players can enter, form and track rivalries, and even drop geotags on a course and challenge other players to find a way to reach the spot where you left it. The longer it stays untouched, the bigger the payout.

The downside of asynchronous multiplayer? It comes at the expense of the traditional stuff. You might spot friends on the slopes if you’re playing the same Global Event at the same time, but if you’re hoping to race friends directly online — or even offline via splitscreen, as was an “SSX” staple once upon a time — you’re out of luck.


Jak and Daxter Collection
For: Playstation 3
From: Naughty Dog/Mass Media Inc./Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone/Teen (comic mischief, language, suggestive themes, violence)
Price: $40 (games also available separately for $15 each via Playstation Network)

The advent of a “Jak and Daxter” HD collection was patently inevitable as soon as Sony began unleashing these terrific (and terrifically-priced) two- and three-packs of remastered Playstation 2 classics.

Here’s another shocker: “Jak and Daxter Collection” does excellent justice to the three games — originally released between 2001 and 2004 — that comprise it. The remastered games play perfectly, and though the original games’ colorful, Pixar-esque graphics have aged better than those of most PS2 titles, the benefits of a high-definition upgrade are obvious and considerable. The addition of stereoscopic 3D is sufficient for those with the technology to support it, and Playstation Network Trophy hunters will delight at the presence of lengthy trophy lists (each topped with a Platinum trophy) for each game.

If you lost track of “Jak and Daxter” back in the day, “Collection’s” biggest surprise may be just how much variety lies within — and not simply because Naughty Dog (best known today as the developer responsible for the “Uncharted” PS3 games) knew how to stuff a whole lot of creative level designs and ideas into these games. Though the level of variety certainly is copious, it’s the series’ gradual shift in tone and even genre that’s most striking.

The series’ debut, “Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy,” was a 3D platformer from the “Super Mario 64” school of colorful characters, collectables and levels that were open to discovery but still pretty self-contained. A voice cast and slight taste for vehicles set it somewhat apart, but it certainly felt right at home in its chosen genre.

“Jak II,” on the other hand, played as much like “Grand Theft Auto” as it did the original “Jak and Daxter.” Though not gratingly or humorlessly so, the tone was measurably darker, and the difficulty spiked accordingly. The open-world Haven City served as a massive hub at the heart of the game, and guns and vehicles (which, yes, you could hijack) played a major role. The addition of hoverboards even brought with it a “Tony Hawk”-style minigame. “Jak II” never outright abandoned the ingredients that comprised the first game, but platforming definitely takes a reduced role.

“Jak 3,” appropriately, feels like a culmination of all that preceded it. It somewhat jettisons the bustling city design in favor of something more wide-open, and its gameplay accommodates the shift with an epic adventure flavor that very capably makes room for nearly every gameplay element that found its way into the first two games.

Remarkably, the series never really loses its way during the course of this evolution. For all the different ideas each edition throws at the wall, the franchise as a whole is a model of consistency when quality is the sole metric. It’s also aged extremely well, especially with a new coat of graphical paint applied. These games were easy to recommend back when they cost $50 each, and at $40 for all three, it’s one of the better gaming values of 2012 thus far.


For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: thatgamecompany/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild fantasy violence)
Price: $15

If your jaw isn’t on the floor following a trip through “Journey,” call your doctor, because you probably don’t have a jaw. As best a video game can be expected to do, “Journey” replicates the sensation of being lost and alone in a wholly unknown land. It drops you in a vacant desert, offers a couple prompts to show you which buttons on your controller are in play, and that’s it. The rest of the way, you’re left to your own devices, free to venture through the desert, under the sea, and up a snowy mountain toward an oasis that waits faintly in the distance. “Journey” offers traditional resistance by way of riddles to solve and secrets to find along the way, but there’s no health bar or even enemies in the traditional sense. More than a game to beat, it’s a literal journey that wants you simply to explore its staggeringly pretty scenery rather than survive it. (Outside of the real thing, these might be the most stunning sand and snow physics you’ve ever seen.) Alone and in though, the trip is a treat without equal. But “Journey” truly sparkles when you come upon other players making their own pilgrimages in the same world. You won’t know who they are — “Journey” doesn’t reveal their PSN usernames until past the closing credits — and your only means of communication is a single button that emits a musical tone of variable length. With that, you’re free to blissfully ignore each other or find a way, like two birds chirping at each other, to share the road and complete the journey together. If you elect to try the latter option, prepare for an organic co-op gaming experience that’s wholly unlike any you’ve experienced before.

DVD/Blu-ray 3/6/12: Game of Thrones, Like Crazy, High Road, Columbus Circle, Footloose, Wyatt Earp's Revenge, Immortals, Transformers Prime S1, Adventure Time: It Came From the Nightosphere, Lion King 1/2 & 2

Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season (NR, 2011, HBO)
Presented carelessly, high fantasy is inaccessibly, pretentiously, eardrum-rupturingly unbearable to all but those who love the genre unconditionally. So if you’re wondering why HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books has ensnared all walks of life en route to being 2011’s most seismic new show, let that be your first clue. “Game of Thrones” doesn’t betray its source material even slightly, nor does it dumb down the themes and mythology that power the seven-family battle royale for control of the Westeros continent’s Iron Throne. But amid the mountains of sex, violence, treachery and betrayal that ravage these seven kingdoms,”Thrones” weaves stories — about worrying parents, children bent on upending the natural order, the grave and stupid mistakes people make after an earlier stupid mistake catches up with them — that could originate from anywhere. It’s reverent, heartfelt, philosophically timeless and occasionally strangely contemporary. Thanks especially to Tyrion Lannister (arguable cast MVP Peter Dinklage), a dwarf outcast with prestigious family connections who uses his unique standing to perform feats of subversion no one else could get away with, it’s often extremely funny as well. When you get right down to it, “Thrones,” is just another sterling family drama in the tradition of sterling HBO family dramas. That it makes room for sex, violence, treachery and betrayal as well? Merely a glorious bonus. Sean Bean, Michelle Fairley, Jack Gleeson, Mark Addy, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, among many others, comprise a stellar ensemble cast.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, five behind-the-scenes features, a guide to Westeros and character profiles.

Like Crazy (PG-13, 2011, Paramount)
From the moment Anna (Felicity Jones) left a silly note on Jacob’s (Anton Yelchin) windshield and Jacob called the number on the paper, they’ve been embroiled in a romance that may be too authentic for its own good. How long it’s been isn’t totally clear: “Like Crazy” first touches down at a university in Los Angeles — he’s a local, she’s studying on a student visa before returning to London — and it liberally skips forward in time as the two wrestle with the realities of living so far apart and having separate sets of dreams that wreak additional logistical havoc. Authenticity is “Crazy’s” primary objective, and it’s a mission that does away with most of the customary peaks, valleys, speeches and neat resolutions that typically carry a love story across the finish line. To a disinterested eye, “Crazy” may amount to nothing more than a succession of scenes whose only graspable context is vague chronology. But in place of the usual storytelling comforts lies a vivid picture of everything wonderful and terrible about newfound love — excitement for the unknown, untold possibilities, reckless spontaneity and the miserable helplessness that comes with being so far away from someone and having no power beyond patience to do anything about it. “Crazy” even grasps, almost too well, the unsettling realization that you might be too tired to hold onto something if you spend too much energy chasing it in the first place. Revelations like these are extremely difficult to convey at all, much less with impact, and “Crazy’s” ability to hit them flush makes those missing ingredients hard to actually miss.
Extra: Filmmakers commentary.

High Road (R, 2012, Millennium Entertainment)
In a rather dizzyingly short amount of time, Fitz (James Pumphrey) has watched his band break up, watched his friends and bandmates devote their time to brighter careers, watched his plan to fall back on a drug-dealing career go very dangerously south, and heard about his girlfriend (Abby Elliott) making out with her boss (Ed Helms). A short time after that — and don’t worry, because “High Road” fills in the details — he’s watching the road after knocking out his 16-year-old neighbor’s dad (Rob Riggle) with a cowbell, technically kidnapping the kid (Dylan O’Brien as Jimmy) and hitting the highway to nowhere while Jimmy’s dad and a really shady alleged cop (Joe Lo Truglio) give chase. (It should be clarified here that Jimmy not only came along willingly, but pretty much engineered his own kidnapping, because the alternative — going to school that day — sounded worse.) If this sounds like the kind of movie someone made up on the spot, guess what? It sort of is. Spearheaded by Matt Walsh of “Upright Citizens Brigade” infamy, “Road” is a hodgepodge of absolutely hysterical improvisational comedy that, balled together, comprises a surprisingly coherent road trip movie as well. The aforementioned roll call of events? That isn’t the half of it, especially once Fitz and Jimmy flee town. “Road’s” cast is probably too big for its (or any road trip movie’s) own good, and a good two-thirds of these characters are glorified excuses for bits that may only tangentially address the main matter at hand. When those bits are as frequently and sharply funny as these are, though, it hardly matters. Zach Woods, Lizzy Caplan and Matt L. Jones also star.
Extra: Cast/crew interviews.

Columbus Circle (PG-13, 2012, Universal)
Abigail (Selma Blair) looks pretty good for someone who hasn’t set foot outside her New York City apartment unit (never mind the building) in nearly 20 years. As for why she’s gone dark and disappeared from her previous life, maintaining contact only with a single family friend (Beau Bridges), it’s best to let “Columbus Circle” explain at its own pace. Sadly for Abigail, the murder of her non-nosy neighbor across the hall — and the subsequent disruption of a life free from intrusions by curious outsiders — means the movie’s pace doesn’t quite jibe with her own wishes. It doesn’t take a sleuth to realize a connection eventually brews between the events across the hall and the conditions of Abigail’s voluntary exile, nor does it take a student of film theory to understand why delving further — and even discussing the existence of certain other characters who appear in and around Abigail’s building — would spoil entirely too much. So that’s all you get for now, and for a while, “Circle” offers little more, gingerly handing out revelations in satisfying but pretty thriller-by-numbers fashion. Then, as if to look at the scoreboard and realize it’s the fourth quarter of a low-scoring game, “Circle” gets a little crazy and wrenches the works. You might see it coming or you might not, and you might even have the third act figured out once the fallout from that twist butts heads with the endgame. By then, though, all that safe storytelling has done a pretty good job of making Abigail’s situation legitimately interesting. And even if you have the ending spelled out, “Circle’s” delivery of the final turn is too poetically enjoyable to disappoint. Amy Smart, Jason Lee, Kevin Pollak and Giovanni Ribisi also star. No extras.

Footloose (PG-13, 2011, Paramount)
Harmless or pointless? Take your pick. The new “Footloose” does as the old “Footloose” did: A big-city boy named Ren (Kenny Wormald filling Kevin Bacon’s shoes) moves to a small town that, after losing a carful of teenagers in a tragic accident, went on a banishment tear that counted public displays of dancing among its victims. Ren bucks the establishment, led by a reverend (Dennis Quaid) whose son died in the crash, and because that isn’t enough, he takes a liking to the reverend’s daughter (Julianne Hough) as well. All of this has happened before in 1984, and if Paramount is still kicking in 2040, maybe it’ll happen again then. As remakes go, “Footloose” could scarcely play it safer: The plot’s the same, the character names are the same, the scenes you remember most vividly get full callbacks here, and even the soundtrack brings back the songs everyone associates with the original. Were it not for some small character tweaks and a freshening up of the hair, clothes and (at least partially) song and dance, the whole thing would be pointless. Arguably, especially if you hold the original in high regard, it still is. But in the wake of so many wretched remakes and reboots, “Footloose’s” harmlessly unnecessary place in the world is preferable to the alternative. It’s unabashedly lively and wholly uninterested in applying the usual lacquer of faux-gritty self-seriousness that most remakes chug by the bucketful. What it lacks in imagination, it reclaims in reverence for the movie that paved its way.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, music video.

Wyatt Earp’s Revenge (PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures)
James “Spike” Kenedy (Daniel Booko) is, as is made clear in “Wyatt Earp’s Revenge’s” opening scene, a bad man. Sadly for him, he’s also a foolish man, and when a bullet from his gun errantly kills the love of young Wyatt Earp’s (Shawn Roberts) life, he’s a wanted man as well. Earp posses up, sets out on a hunt for Kenedy, and that pretty much is all there is for “Revenge’s” plot outline. That isn’t a knock, either. Though “Revenge” may be trading on its name, it has no designs on being a sequel to “Wyatt Earp,” which itself has no use for a sequel. Rather, “Revenge” is a classically lean cat-and-mouse chase that breaks no ground, redefines the American Western not one bit and won’t, as “True Grit” and “Blackthorn” did, transcend genre lines and draw in people who don’t otherwise care for this stuff. Again, though, those aren’t knocks. Westerns are rare enough that even a law-abiding one is welcome once in a while, and “Revenge’s” laser focus on both the hunter and his prey is enjoyable in a classically no-nonsense kind of way. Val Kilmer appears sparingly to recount the story as an older Earp.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Immortals (R, 2011, Fox)
There is, to be certain, a whole lot of talking in “Immortals” — almost as if an attempt is being made to establish a meaningful context for the scramble between the power-hungry King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and a gods-appointed villager (Henry Cavill as Theseus) to secure the Epirus Bow. Why the Epirus Bow? Why Theseus? And who are all these other people? In a clunky, blathering way reminiscent of junior high school students reciting a Shakespeare play, “Immortals” explains, and the rambling result appropriately feels like a story slapped together out of obligation more than desire. The reason “Immortals” is here is to stagger us with a loud, ornate, CGI-laden palette of violence that you’d best believe looks incredible. If that — and only that, because “Immortals” does nothing else particularly well — is why you’re here as well, you’ll get what you came for. Just be prepared to earn it: For every minute of action, there are two chock full of dramatic pauses, thousand-yard stares and slow verbal climbs up very shallow hills. Freida Pinto, Stephen Dorff, John Hurt and Luke Evans also star.
Extras: alternate opening, two alternate endings, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, “Immortals: Gods & Heroes” graphic novel.

Worth Mentioning
— “Transformers Prime: Season One” (NR, 2010, Shout Factory): The movies get all the mainstream attention, but if you’re looking for the real Transformers resurgence — or, at least, the one that pays respect to the legacy instead of trampling all over it — you’d best be looking here. Includes 26 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, a physical copy of the 96-page “Transformers Prime” graphic novel and a season two preview.
— “Adventure Time: It Came From the Nightosphere” (NR, 2010, Cartoon Network): It takes a special kind of cartoon to take a premise about a boy and his magical talking dog going on adventures, infuse it with all kinds of incredibly twisted overtones and still emerge with something that’s strangely, hilariously precious. But that’s “Adventure Time” — arguably the best thing going on Cartoon Network right now — in a nutshell. Cartoon Network continues to annoy the show’s fans by releasing random compilations of episodes instead of full season sets, and it’ll likely infuriate them by releasing a few more before asking them to buy the same episodes again once the season sets inevitably come out. There’s nothing funny or adorable about that, of course, but if seeing the episodes in the order they aired isn’t of great import to you right now, you can’t go wrong with this collection. Includes 16 episodes, plus a collection of fun facts about the characters.
— “The Lion King 1 1/2” (G, 2004, Disney) and “Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride” (G, 1998, Disney): They arrive, deservedly, with less fanfare than the much-ballyhooed “Lion King” Blu-ray sets that debuted last year. But if you’re that rare combination of “Lion King” completionist and Blu-ray aficionado, the day you’ve been waiting for has finally come. Both sets include DVD and digital copies as well, and “The Lion King 2” includes a new animated short starring Timon and Pumbaa.

Games 3/6/12: Mass Effect 3, Zumba Fitness Rush, Warp

Mass Effect 3
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Bioware/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, partial nudity, sexual content, strong language, violence)
Price: $60

Bioware wants everyone to enjoy “Mass Effect 3,” which is why it’s instituted options that allow players to enjoy it purely as a third-person shooter (with all role-playing upgrades and moral crises handled automatically) or a role-playing game (in which you still must fight, but against a considerably more generous difficulty curve).

But if you’ve been with the “Mass Effect” trilogy from the beginning and have no desire to play its closing chapter in a compromised state, let there be no confusion: Everyone is invited to play, but “ME3” was very much still made for you.

Bioware poured an encyclopedic ton of galactic mythology into the first two chapters of its space epic, and without spoiling a single story point, “ME3” pays it all off magnificently. The battle against the galaxy-cleansing Reapers is thrilling and narratively exhaustive enough to enthrall new players — instead of assembling a squadron, as you did in “ME2,” you’re rounding up an entire galaxy’s worth of warring races to defeat the Reapers — but there is a considerable bonus for those making return visits. The conditions of “ME3’s” core conflict produce some jarringly unlikely alliances, and the sheer number of loose ends Bioware ties up (with regard to characters and entire sectors of space alike) is staggering.

As per series custom, “ME3” provides the option to import a save file from “ME2,” and it’ll tailor itself to reflect the choices you made (and, perhaps, the characters who consequently perished) in those first two games. Also per series custom, the ending you see will come down to some brutal decisions you’ll have to quickly make en route to your showdown with the Reapers. No one does this stuff better than Bioware, and “ME3” does it better than ever.

The actual act of playing “ME3” has changed little from its predecessor: It looks great, benefits from reasonably smart A.I., and as cover-based third-person shooters with light squad management abilities go, it hits enough competent marks to uphold its part of the package. Seeking cover remains occasionally problematic when embroiled in a 360-degree fight: Sometimes an attempt to find cover will result in a roll that leaves you more vulnerable than you already were. Occasionally the enemy count skyrockets and things just fall apart. But these moments are rare and, over the course of a 30-hour game that mostly plays without incident, forgivable.

A note to Xbox 360 owners: If you have a Kinect that’s suffering from neglect, plug it in. “ME3” uses the Kinect’s voice-recognition abilities better than any game ever has, and being able to manage your squad and change weapons without pausing to use the radial menu is a surprisingly valuable time-saver.

And a note to those who couldn’t stand “ME2’s” space-mining minigame: “ME3” brings it back in an altered, reduced and surprisingly tense new incarnation. It’s still wholly optional, but give it a chance.

“ME3” marks the series’ first foray into multiplayer, and the result — four-player online co-op, tasking you (as a lower-level soldier) and your teammates with eliminating waves of enemies — is your standard survival co-op mode. The combat feels the same, and with six character classes to upgrade and lots of perks, challenges and gear to unlock, the mode certainly has legs. It isn’t wholly fresh, but it’s very solid.

The one ingenious aspect of the multiplayer is how it ties back into your solo campaign. Your efforts to battle enemy forces feeds into the larger war against the Reapers: The more waves you take out in a sector of the galaxy, the stronger your fleet becomes in that sector. You need not participate to see “ME3’s” story reach its conclusion, but your story might have a happier ending if you do.

Zumba Fitness Rush
For: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
From: Zoë Mode/Majesco
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild lyrics, mild suggestive themes)
Price: $50

If your aptitude as a Zumba Fitness master is of great significance to you, “Zumba Fitness Rush’s” progress tracker — which compiles daily, weekly and monthly reports about your technique as well as your time invested and calories burned — will be a source of great comfort (or perhaps, depending on the result, great shame.)

But for the rest of you who just want to have fun working out and not have a computer constantly tell you you’re doing it wrong, “Rush” — be it because it can’t or simply because it understands where you’re coming from — is a welcome change of pace.

“Rush’s” setup should feel familiar to anyone at home with dance or fitness games, because it’s basically an amalgamation of both. Along with the progress tracker, there’s a roster of preset classes (15 each of short, medium and full length), as well as a tool for assembling your own workout from the 42 songs (and accompanying routines) on offer.

Rounding out the feature set is a mode for dancing to a single song, a tool for finding live Zumba classes if you’re ready to take your act public, and a place to acquaint yourself with (and practice) the myriad of dance steps scattered throughout those routines.

That practice feature may be of interest to you if you want some grasp of the Zumba method before taking on a workout.

But even if you study up, your first “Rush” workout (and, likely, several more after that) will likely bring with it the sensation of being dropped into the deep end of the pool. Once the song begins, you’re on the clock, and if you’re expecting your virtual trainer to give you any cues as to which steps are in your immediate future, you should just give that idea up and prepare to react and emulate as quickly as you can.

Fortunately, “Rush” drops you into that pool with a life preserver in the form of a very generous technique feedback system. Make an honest attempt to keep up and reasonably replicate what’s happening on screen, and you’ll likely come away with a pretty good score. Keep a good pace, and you might even fake your way into a five-star performance. The Kinect isnt sophisticated enough to dock points based on the flustered expression on your face, so, it’ll assume you at least partially know what you’re doing.

The line of trust “Rush” draws is arguably perfect by way of being so wobbly. You can’t outright cheat it, and you slack or completely disobey the routine, it will catch and penalize you. As with a good in-person workout, the goal here is to get you moving first and learn the technique second, and regardless of “Rush’s” intentions, that’s what it achieves.

Save for its wide berth with regard to technique, “Rush’s” Kinect implementation is pretty sharp. Two-player support works similarly as long as you have the room (some routines require lateral movement that could spell trouble for uncoordinated friends). Getting around the game also is easy thanks to support for Kinect’s voice recognition abilities: Speak a menu option or even a routine’s song’s name, and it’ll head right to it — no annoying hand-waving necessary.


Reviewed for: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
Coming soon for: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network) and Windows PC
From: Trapdoor/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, strong language, violence)
Price: $15

You’d be forgiven for initially wondering why “Warp” — a seemingly harmless puzzle/stealth hybrid starring a muttering alien, named Zero, who might be the cutest Pixar character Pixar never created — got slapped with a Mature rating. Thankfully, once you use Zero’s warping ability to literally warp into the body of a soldier and bloodily explode out of him, it becomes clear in a hurry. Zero’s initial trick, which allows him to instantly warp roughly five feet in any direction, comes into play via an overhead puzzle arrangement that plays as much like a “Metal Gear Solid” offshoot as anything else. Zero is helpless in a direct fight against the soldiers, scientists and other traps trying to contain (or kill) him in the facility he’s trying to escape, so you’ll have to plot a stealthy route through large, open-ended areas that are equally rich with hazards and items he can use to his creative advantage. New abilities, including cloning and telekinesis, gradually expand his arsenal to counter a difficulty that climbs gradually before spiking near the end, and the large environments house special challenge areas (complete with online leaderboards) and other bonus content for players who really want to put their abilities through the wringer. As puzzle games go, “Warp” is a legitimately clever mind-bender, and as a stealth games go, it’s terrifically tense. That odd-couple combination, along with the wild mishmash of adorable and bloody that weaves Zero’s story together, adds up to an experience that has few peers.