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.
— “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.