7/31/12: Misfits S1, Something's Gonna Live, Scalene, Hatfields & McCoys, The Weight of the Nation

Misfits: Season One (NR, 2009, BBC)
Yes, the “regular people as superheroes” field has grown a bit crowded these last few years. But even with all those other shows and movies tagged and accounted for, there’s a whole lot to like about how weird and grounded “Misfits” is as it blazes an almost wholly original trail. The five main “heroes” in “Misfits” are, in fact, a quintet of juvenile petty criminals who, during their first community service assignment, are rocked by a storm that gives them powers. The “powers” they get (no spoilers) aren’t exactly your traditional superpowers, and with those strange powers comes a full-season story arc whose details also are best left unspoiled. Naturally, our five delinquents (who get along about as agreeably as you might expect from a quintet of teenage criminals) aren’t the only ones who picked something up from the storm. If anything, the gifts “Misfits” gives to secondary characters are even weirder than those given to the main cast, and with those weird gifts come even stranger storylines that take this show to places this genre has never even remotely been. The concept is loaded with potential, and the first season’s dark, deranged but slyly humorous scripts deliver on it beautifully. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Lauren Socha, Antonia Thomas, Robert Sheehan and Iwan Rheon star.
Contents: Six episodes, plus interviews, a behind-the-scenes feature and Simon’s films (which will make more sense after you see the show).

Something’s Gonna Live (NR, 2010, Docurama)
Viewed superficially, “Something’s Gonna Live” is an easy target — so much so that one of the documentary’s subjects expresses hope that people aren’t watching and thinking what he fears they might be thinking. Informally emceed by legendary film art director and production designer Robert F. Boyle, “Live” brings together Boyle and five lifelong friends — Henry Bumstead, Conrad L. Hall, Harold Michelson, Albert Nozaki, Haskell Wexler — with comparably impressive resumes to discuss getting old, living unconventionally, leaving a mark that outlives them, and being part of what they consider filmmaking’s greatest age. That last point is the film’s prime vulnerability, because a selective viewing of “Live” might reduce it to yet another case of the older generation thinking everything was better when they were young and in charge. A closer listen, though, makes it clear that “Live’s” laments — that commerce now drives art instead of vice versa, that the camaraderie fostered by the original studio system is impossible in an age where a film passes through a thousand-hand wringer between conception and compromised completion — are ageless. Boyle and co., to their credit, do not use “Live” as a platform to complain. To the contrary, their stories of the work they did and the wonderful bonds that work created speak for themselves. And the pleas they make in defense of art — that it’s a force of personal communication and a calling that deserves better than to kneel at the mercy of accountants and lawyers — is a rallying cry whose relevance has never been greater.
Extras: Short film “The Man on Lincoln’s Nose,” deleted scenes, Robert Boyle’s production design checklist, interviews, featured artists’ bios.

Scalene (NR, 2011, Breaking Glass Pictures)
Janice (Margo Martindale) is at Paige’s (Hanna Hall) door, she has a gun, and she wants in the house — presumably, it seems, to kill Paige but also to get “him” back. This is how “Scalene” begins, and as this opening scene culminates, it’s pretty much a promise that things won’t be ending well here. So how does this mess really begin, and who is the “him” to which Janice refers? For roughly half its runtime, “Scalene” ventures backward, one scene at a time, to bring us halfway up to speed at around the same point Janice meets Paige. By then, we’ve met Jakob (Adam Scarimbolo), the aforementioned “him,” and from there, “Scalene” shifts back into drive and ventures forward to connect everything we’ve seen so far. If this description sounds obnoxiously vague, no apologies offered: “Scalene’s” best asset is its revelation of who Jakob is and what really happened here, and spoiling even the rudimentary points of that revelation would be a disservice. It isn’t all payoff. Some characters and story turns feel developmentally stunted, if not outright abandoned, and one of the biggest twists arrives a little too quickly and out of left field. (Be prepared to replay that scene, but don’t necessarily expect a second viewing to completely mitigate the head-scratching.) More than not, though, “Scalene” toes the line intelligently, peeling back its secrets at a pace that keeps viewers engaged and slightly at bay all at once. For those just getting to know Martindale following her work on “Justified,” here’s a spoiler worth mentioning: She doesn’t disappoint.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features, photo gallery.

Hatfields & McCoys (NR, 2012, Sony Pictures)
There is a whole lot of wondering going on in the third and final chapter of “Hatfields & McCoys.” Thank goodness, too, because if these warring families didn’t have the good sense to ask why and how a clash of ideals between two men (Kevin Costner as Anse Hatfield, Bill Paxton as Randall McCoy) and a rash of subsequent misunderstandings swelled into a feud that shed incalcuable amounts of blood on both sides, we’d be left to ask that question ourselves and wait in vain for a satisfactory answer. The latter still sort of happens, but even if you account for what we can assume are numerous creative liberties taken with the actual history, it’s hard to blame the production for a feud that was senseless and excessive regardless of rationale. “H&M” mostly leaves the historical means and connotations on the floor, focusing instead on giving faces and a dramatic edge to both sides of the fight. At that, it succeeds — thanks equally to a stellar cast and a script that knows how to slow down and let that cast chew scenery without stalling and overstaying its welcome. Considering it has nearly five hours to effectively contextualize a feud that was 99 percent pointless, it isn’t an easy task. Prioritizing entertainment over history won’t sit well with everyone, but for those who don’t mind walking with “H&M” down that road, it’s a fun watch. Powers Boothe, Tom Berenger, Jena Malone, Matt Barr and Lindsay Pulsipher, among numerous others, round out a large ensemble cast.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, music video.

The Weight of the Nation (NR, 2012, HBO)
At one point during the second of “The Weight of the Nation’s” four parts, a woman named Yolanda describes how, whenever people ask her how she lost so much weight, they instantly lose interest as soon as she reveals it came down to the same thing — diet and exercise — that has presided over weight loss conventional wisdom since losing weight became a human concern. It’s a fitting story, because a similar fizzling of interest doubtlessly awaits many who watch “Nation” and wait for it to say something that hasn’t been said already. That isn’t a knock against the documentary, which uses each 70-minute part to cover a segment of America’s obesity catastrophe in considerable and often personal detail. But those waiting for some weight-loss secret they haven’t already heard are facing a similar fate as those expecting a miracle from Yolanda. And when “Nation” devotes most of its third and fourth segments to obesity-promoting forces (the prohibitive costs of producing as well as consuming healthy food, monster corporations using bottomless wallets to dazzle kids and the shortsighted lawmakers who associate nutrition programs with police states) that completely overmatch the comparatively grassroots efforts to stem the tide, it’s enough to come away with less hope than you had going in. “Nation” uses its final half hour to close on a very high note, and its point about tobacco companies looking similarly invincible once upon a time is well put. But the road from here to there is a winding one, and “Nation” rather fittingly does not sugarcoat the roadmap for a turnaround.
Extras: 12 bonus shorts, 20-page companion booklet.