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.