6/5/12: Breaking Bad S4, Tomboy, How to Live Forever, Machine Gun Preacher, Falling Skies S1, Bad Ass, Safe House

Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season (NR, 2011, Sony Pictures)
You are forgiven if, early in “Breaking Bad’s” fourth season, you sense something resembling a plateau coming on. Without even vaguely spoiling any specifics for newcomers, season three’s finale provided a monster exclamation point for a show that had absolutely blown out its original season’s wild but comparatively earnest scope. Season four serves up a bit of an aftermath aftertaste early on, and for a fleeting instance, it’s anticlimactic enough to make you wonder if we’ve reached the summit and have nowhere to go but straight ahead and eventually down. Fortunately, it’s roughly around that time that “Bad” blows the cap off the mountain and raises its game for the fourth time in four attempts. Without even alluding to even a whiff of a spoiler, season four’s second half pays off not just on its first half, but on the preceding three seasons’ worth of character relationship developments. Then, as if to make the preceding season’s exclamation point completely obsolete, it culminates with one of the most visually unforgettable season finales television has ever produced. (In other words, give it time. It’ll get there.)
Contents: 13 episodes (including an extended cut of the season finale), plus commentary on every episode, deleted/extended/alternate scenes, 21 episodes of “Inside Breaking Bad,” eight other behind-the-scenes features, “Better Call Saul” commercials, Gale’s karaoke video and bloopers.

Tomboy (NR, 2011, Wolfe Video)
Having moved for what seems like the umpteenth time in as many years, the tomboyish Laure (Zoé Héran) tries something new by going all the way and pretending to be a boy named Michaël on the playground. The ploy works a little too well: The boys take Michaël in as one of their own, and a girl (Jeanne Disson) who tags along takes a special liking to him. With school starting soon, Laure finds herself deceiving her family one way, deceiving her new friends the other way, and reluctantly hurtling toward the inevitable moment where something has to give. This, kids, is why you don’t tell lies. If “Tomboy” sounds like it should be a comedy, it’s because the same premise wrapped inside some melodramatic overwrought drama would be unbearable. Fortunately, Hollywood and its broad strokes aren’t at the helm here. “Tomboy” is no comedy, but it fully understands the bed Laure made for herself. It’s bad, and kids can be rotten when they’re faced with deceit and things they don’t understand. But what Laure did is, in the grand scheme of things, just one of those stupid things kids do. Neither flip nor anywhere near too serious or ham handed, “Tomboy” instead settles into an extremely likable middle ground. For anyone mature enough to understand why people do dumb things and why other people understand even while outwardly recognizing how dumb those things may be, there’s a lot to like about the people “Tomboy” gives us and the story down which it takes them. In French with English subtitles.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

How to Live Forever (NR, 2010, Docurama)
“How to Live Forever” begins, both curiously and fittingly, with an examination of death as both an industry and an uncomfortable inevitability. And if there’s a mood to describe where Mark Wexler’s documentary goes from there, “charmingly schizophrenic” might be the best way to phrase it. Wexler describes “Forever” as a personal, three-year endeavor that was born out of watching his mother suffer from dementia, pass away and spook him into a fresh understanding of his own mortality. The personal touch shines slightly through during “Forever’s” most comprehensive segment, wherein Wexler speaks not only with people researching ways to slow and even reverse the aging process, but also to those who have lived past 100 and didn’t deprive themselves of good times and bad habits along the way. The latter stories are inspiring and fun, while the former are either exciting or scary depending on if you want to live to, say, 200 or 1,000 or so. But “Forever’s” most unintentionally interesting storyline may be that of its creator. Wexler’s personal attachment to the subject compensates for his movie’s somewhat awkward rhythm, and an unspoiled development in the homestretch provides as apt a lesson about aging well as nearly anything else in the movie.
Extra: Deleted scenes.

Machine Gun Preacher (R, 2011, Fox)
Roughly halfway through the story of his life, Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) — a reformed, born-again criminal whose experiences during a contract job in the Sudan inspired him to build an orphanage there and his own church back home — delivers a rousing sermon about the merits of delivering on good intentions versus simply having and expressing them. It’s a sermon “Machine Gun Preacher” would have done well to better take to heart. The most remarkable facet of Childers’ story is that, details notwithstanding, the general story is a true story. Unfortunately, it’s a point “Preacher” doesn’t convey very effectively — in part because it never comes out and definitely sets that stage until the film’s over, and additionally because its illustration of these events cuts corners to the point of looking anything but based in truth. Childers evolves from scumbag to do-gooder almost in the blink of an eye, and with startlingly little resistance from his family, friends and community. “Preacher” itself endures similar whiplash as it blasts through this transition, morphs occasionally into an action movie, and only finally slows down to truly appreciate Childers’ adversity and warts when that halfway mark enters the rear view. The second half fares better than the first, and if “Preacher” simply creates awareness for the accomplishments of its hero, its mission is inarguably successful on some level. If nothing else, it provides motivation to check out Childers’ autobiography, “Another Man’s War,” which might have time to walk through the story at a more reasonable and appreciative pace. Michelle Monaghan and Michael Shannon also star.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Falling Skies: The Complete First Season (NR, 2011, TNT/Warner Bros.)
“Falling Skies” is a bit of a misnomer, because by the time the first episode kicks off, the sky has long since fallen. Once again, the culprit is aliens. And once again — roughly six months after the invasion, which we witness only via children’s drawings and verbal recollections — America is divided into strange pockets of survivalists who cannot seem to get along despite having an obvious common enemy and a rapidly closing window through which to take them on. Fortunately, our squabbling Americans reluctantly grow on each other, which in turn allows their struggle to slowly grow on us. “Skies” starts slow and, at least in its debut season, never totally outgrows the cliched contemporary themes that surround a show about rustic survivalists facing end times. But the more “Skies” gets away from those themes and gravitates toward its characters — and, separately but similarly, the creepy ways and means of their invaders — the more enjoyable it becomes. Your patience is requested, but during the first season’s back half, the effort is somewhat rewarded — if not by the polarizing finale, then perhaps by the promise it teases in episodes to come. Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, Sarah Carter and Drew Roy, among others, comprise the large ensemble cast.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, three behind-the-scenes features and 2011 San Diego Comic-Con roundtable footage.

Bad Ass (R, 2012, Fox)
“Bad Ass” is, by its own acknowledgment, inspired by true events. What it fails to acknowledge is that it’s inspired by true events in much the same way “Tom and Jerry” is based on a cat lazily pawing at a mouse before resuming its afternoon nap. “BA’s” central character, Frank Vega (Danny Trejo), is based on the exploits of Thomas “Epic Beard Man” Bruso, an old Vietnam veteran whose fight on a bus with a younger man made him a YouTube sensation. In “BA,” Vega singlehandedly clobbers two roided-up skinheads who are seconds away from assaulting another passenger. The actual fight, on the other hand? It sprung from an incoherent shouting match between Bruso and some sad sack who probably hadn’t touched a dumbbell in years. It only gets weirder from there: After a friend is murdered, Vega embarks on a rampage to take back his city, cartoonishly manhandling six-packs of thugs and would-be Bond villains like he’s a cyborg. “BA,” to its threadbare credit, makes no attempt to purport that any of this even slightly happened, but the notion that it’s even inspired by any kind of remotely true event is so amusing that one must assume the movie is in on the joke. Whether Bruso himself is in on it is anyone’s guess, but it’s officially beside the point. All that matters about “BA” is that Trejo gets yet another chance to go crazy in a completely crazy movie. So long as you’re content to witness his body of work in action instead of Bruso’s, “BA’s” full-service absurdity should satisfy plenty.
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.

Safe House (R, 2012, Universal)
Low-level CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is impatiently waiting for a career-making assignment while idling in South Africa as the gatekeeper of an agency safe house. When a legendary fugitive (Denzel Washington as Tobin Frost) unexpectedly turns himself in to the safe house — and inadvertently brings a tail of rifle-wielding mercenaries who take the place under siege in order to get to him — Weston very suddenly gets his wish. But you probably saw that siege coming as soon as Frost walked through the door. And if you saw that coming, you’ll likely be able to telegraph much of the rest of “House,” which proves once again that in the movies, safe houses are never safe and intelligence agencies are always the last to realize a mole lurks in their ranks. “House” is thoroughly polished in every bullet-point regard, with a shiny cast (Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard also star), glossy dialogue, temperamental cinematography and a nice mix of close-quarters fights and ambitious chases, shootouts and explosions. A few nods at relatively current events — a chase lost in a sea of vuvuzelas at the World Cup, a document leak of WikiLeaksian proportions — give it an extra contemporary edge. But from the vanilla name down to the prototypical squabbling intelligence heads and through and around every twist you’ve seen so many times before, “House” is, slick or not, as painfully stock as stock gets. You might enjoy it while it’s on, but be glad there isn’t an exam later, because you’ll be hard-pressed to remember even seeing it a few weeks from now.
Extras: Four behind-the-scenes features.