8/28/12: Homeland S1, Monsieur Lazhar, Nate & Margaret, The Five-Year Engagement, Battleship, Darling Companion, I Heart Shakey, Boardwalk Empire S2, Sons of Anarchy S4, The Walking Dead S2

Homeland: The Complete First Season (NR, 2011, Showtime/Fox)
Eight years later, and long after he’d been presumed dead by his family and country, prisoner of war and Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) has been found, rescued and returned home from Iraq. Think his wife (Morena Baccarin) and the mother of his two children is thrilled to see him? She is — in that “I’ve been sleeping with your best friend and fellow Marine” kind of way, but happy nonetheless. CIA Counterterrorism Center officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), meanwhile, isn’t quite so ecstatic. Why resurface now? And what’s with that strange thing Nick does with his hand whenever a television camera is trained on him? Is he still loyal to the United States, or did his captors want him to be found? If Carrie can get out of her own way, she might be able to make a case for looking into America’s newest national hero. And if “Homeland’s” opening vignette is any indication, that’s a monumentally big if. Were Nick a total poker face and Carrie just another straight-laced government employee, “Homeland” — which gradually but arrestingly claws away at this mystery with each passing episode — likely still would be a great watch. But the line between behavioral insanity and relentless, fire-breathing pursuits of personal redemption is dangerously thin here, and the way both characters skate the edge — while occasionally crisscrossing in ways that are crazy in their own right — elevates “Homeland” beyond great and into the realm of can’t-miss. David Harewood, David Marciano and Diego Klattenhoff also star, while Mandy Patinkin makes a case for cast MVP as both Carrie’s most valuable ally and most ruthless foil.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes feature and “The Visit,” a prologue to season two.

Monsieur Lazhar (PG-13, 2011, Music Box Films)
Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) isn’t necessarily qualified to inherit a classroom of Montreal schoolchildren halfway through their school term. But there’s no time to dawdle, and no one else will touch the job opening, which formed after the children’s former teacher hanged herself in the classroom while her kids played outside. So the job — of teaching the kids and respecting an imperfect curriculum, but also of helping a classroom’s worth of young children try and understand what happened inside that very classroom — is Bachir’s to lose. “Monsieur Lazhar” supplies itself with an emotionally loaded premise, and a more careless movie could mine it a hundred different ways for tearjerking breakdowns and overwrought monologues that tell more than show. That isn’t even everything, as an examination of Bachir’s own past (among other topics) will soon show. Not once, though, does “Lazhar” bite and take the easy way out. Bachir establishes a temperament that’s graceful but nowhere near fragile, and his students and the movie itself follow his example. Sometimes it’s dark, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant and sometimes paralyzed by its own confusion. “Lazhar” lets its characters take the lead instead of the story, and the result is a striking and entirely believable picture of people — student, teacher and administrator alike — who don’t necessarily know what to do but must do something all the same. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Four behind-the-scenes features, audition footage.

Nate & Margaret (NR, 2012, Breaking Glass Pictures)
There’s nothing unusual happening between college-aged wannabe filmmaker Nate (Tyler Ross) and cynical middle-aged wannabe comedian Margaret (Natalie West) — which, it seems, is why so many find their close friendship so unusual. They don’t quite agree, but when people constantly ask you if the friend you brought to the party is your mom, there’s no completely ignoring it. To that end, while “Nate & Margaret’s” most important trick is separately developing two strong characters and giving that friendship genuine value, its best trick may be the way it very subtly juxtaposes a perfectly healthy friendship with a nagging, continuous discomfort that suggests there’s something wrong with it even if there shouldn’t be. Neither too flip nor needlessly self-serious, “N&M” also never sticks a heavy hand in it and dictates whether we should think one way or another. Nor, even, does it necessarily express that the rare gift of true friendship is valuable enough to withstand factors that should seem trivial by comparison. Everyone up to and including the movie’s namesakes has an opinion on the matter, but “N&M” leaves plenty of room for audience participation as well.
Extras: Short film “Untied Strangers,” West/Ross/director video commentary, three audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, outtakes, audition footage.

The Five-Year Engagement (R/NR, 2012, Universal)
One year after they met and one awkward proposal aside, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) are engaged to be married. But the title kinda gives away what happens next, doesn’t it? Life gets in the way, some surprises pop up, and long story short, the wedding is taking a whole lot longer to assemble than it should. Arguably, as it sails north of two hours, “The Five-Year Engagement” takes longer than it should as well. But while “Engagement” takes its time, it doesn’t necessarily waste it as well. It’s easy to envision a scenario where the movie loafs along as nothing more than a middlingly funny collection of wedding-planning mishaps and gags. But “Engagement” tells the story of an engagement rather than a wedding, and the rhythm along which it paces itself makes it more interesting than (if not totally unrecognizable from) your typical happy/sad/happy romantic comedy. It could certainly be shorter, and while its funniest scenes and bit characters (hello, Brian Posehn) are very funny, an extra helping of comedy and a little less drama wouldn’t have hurt. But the sum total of “Engagement” is a satisfying trip that, for better far more than for worse, really feels like a five-year journey. If you’re patient enough to come along for that journey, the clever payoff at the end is worth the wait as well. Alison Brie and Chris Pratt also star.
Extras: Unrated (132 minutes) and theatrical (125 minutes) versions of the movie, deleted/extended/alternate scenes, cast/filmmakers commentary, bloopers, line-o-rama.

Battleship (PG-13, 2012, Universal)
It could’ve been worse. No, really. It’s a given that “Battleship” — which turns a board game built around the honor system into a special effects-soaked standoff between humans and aliens — is a loud, stupid spectacle. But “Battleship” also seems reasonably aware of its place in the world. And during its amusing introduction of Lt. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), it demonstrates that awareness with a sense of humor that’s silly but not grating. Things take a turn downward once the aliens arrive and humor gives way to a relentless barrage of special effects and loud noises, but “Battleship” never detours into self-seriousness or even stays away from silliness for very long. Alex and his crew are pretty stock as characters go, but they’re likable by stock action movie character standards. And when “Battleship” gets down to the business of justifying its bananas use of the board game’s name, it actually pulls it off and sets the stage for the movie’s most fun scenes. None of this makes “Battleship” anything more than exactly what it looks like, and a meek attempt to give motive to the aliens doesn’t go far enough to pay any kind of dividend. But it does serve as reminder that even in the realm of the loud and stupid, not all movies are created equal. Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna also star.
Extras: Alternate ending previsualization, seven behind-the-scenes features.

Darling Companion (PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures Classics)
For a movie centered around a dog — and not just any dog, but an abandoned dog whom Beth (Diane Keaton) and her daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss) rescue near the highway and take into their home — “Darling Companion” sure dares you to dislike it. Following the rescue, “Companion” skips ahead a year, with Grace getting married and the entire family (including the dog, appropriately named Freeway) vacationing in a cottage in the mountains to celebrate. Beth’s husband Joseph (Kevin Kline), who is considerably less enamored with Freeway, carelessly loses him during a late-night walk, and with only a few days to find him before vacation ends, the entire family is on the case. That search becomes a catalyst for the airing of any family grievances that previously were bottled up, and lest there be any doubt, this family knows how to let those grievances fly. “Companion” minds the edge and explores the (mostly) lighter side of familial anguish run amok, and too much thought goes into the script to let it miserably descend into grating, self-absorbed territory. But during the height of its pettiness — before the ah-ha moment that makes all this grief make sense, and when we’re left to wonder if we should root for Freeway to just find a new and less annoying family — “Companion” pushes patience to the edge. The push doesn’t last, but it also can’t be forgotten, and perhaps that — intended or not — is the most honest metaphor about family any movie can drum up.
Extras: Writer/director/Kline commentary, three behind-the-scenes features, red carpet premiere footage (and yes, the dog — named Casey — was invited).

I Heart Shakey (PG, 2012, Phase 4 Films)
The title doesn’t lie: Widowed father J.T. (Steve Lemme) and his daughter Chandler (Rylie Behr) love their dog Shakey, and unless you can’t stand dogs, chances are good you’ll like the deeply likable mutt as well. Unfortunately, seemingly every person Shakey meets after his family moves from small-town Ohio to downtown Chicago seems to either despise dogs or quiver in fear of them. Shakey’s problems start with his apartment building’s manager (Janet Ulrich Brooks), who forbids animals living in the building, and while J.T. and Chandler scheme a way to keep him around and hidden from view, the problems continue with (among others) a lunatic ex-soldier (Steve Guttenberg) and a kennel owner (Beverly D’Angelo) who inexplicably hates dogs as much as everyone else does in this frightening parallel-dimension Chicago. “Shakey” starts off sweet, and when it focuses on dad, daughter and dog, it’s completely adorable. Problem is, most of “Shakey’s” time goes to the rest of the cast, who range from needlessly cartoonish at best to impossibly rotten at worst. Tally up all the bad behavior and throw in some baffling violence once Guttenberg’s character arrives, and it’s hard to figure out whom the filmmakers were aiming at when they wrote this. And that’s too bad, because when “Shakey” is showing its good side, it very easily resembles a movie any dog lover could reasonably enjoy.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features, outtakes, downloadable activity kits, Petfinder PSAs, epilepsy information package, music videos.

Also (in noteworthy television releases)
— “Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season” (NR, 2011, HBO): “Boardwalk Empire’s” incredible first season was an embarrassment of character riches and a clinic on how to put a loaded cast to work. But there’s always room for improvement, and season two patches its predecessor’s most glaring hole by expanding the enigmatic Chalky White’s role and giving Michael Kenneth Williams the screentime he very richly deserves. And if you prefer Steve Buscemi or Kelly Macdonald … or Michael Shannon, Michael Pitt, Shea Whigham, or any number of others? Don’t fret: Everybody gets his or her due, and one of TV’s best ensemble dramas remains as democratic and flexible as ever. 12 episodes, plus commentary, six behind-the-scenes features and a character dossier.
— “Sons of Anarchy: Season 4” (NR, 2011, Fox): Good news: SAMCRO is out of prison after 14 months and back in the clubhouse where it belongs. Bad news: There’s a new order of law enforcement already breathing down its neck and new and old rivals already showing their respective teeth. Isn’t being in a motorcycle club supposed to just be fun? Includes 14 episodes (some extended), plus commentary, deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.
— “The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season” (NR, 2011, Anchor Bay): Growing pains abound for “The Walking Dead,” which lost its creator and struggled somewhat with pacing issues during its expansion from a six-episode first season to 13 episodes in season two. Even with that observed and acknowledged, though, this remains the class of a stale zombie apocalypse genre that badly needed something like this to raise its game. 13 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes and 11 behind-the-scenes features.

8/21/12: The Dictator, Disneynature: Chimpanzee, Bernie, One in the Chamber, Virginia, Hide Away

The Dictator (R/NR, 2012, Paramount)
Though initial appearances probably suggest otherwise, “The Dictator” isn’t another attempt by Sacha Baron Cohen to fool unsuspecting citizens of the public into thinking he’s a real dictator from a real country. Rather, this is the purely dramatized story of Wadiyan Admiral General Aladeen, who visits New York to ward off sanctions from an unhappy United Nations and ends up with a whole mess of much bigger problems for his trouble. Though it’s always a treat to watch Cohen put one over on folks who don’t know better and don’t know how to respond, it’s just as fun (an maybe more so) to see him dress up and face off against actors who can dish it right back to him. What it lacks in amazing cringeworthiness, “The Dictator” redeems in pure, sharply funny comedy and some of the best throwaway lines in a movie this year. And if you’d like to cringe, don’t worry: “The Dictator” gives Cohen license to pull stunts even he couldn’t reasonably pull when his target isn’t in on the joke. Some of the gags are stupid, others hysterical, but as always, nothing here — from those stunts to the wonderfully funny offhand remarks made about some very touchy global issues — is for the easily offended. Jason Mantzoukas, Ben Kingsley and Anna Faris star, while John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen and Chris Parnell (among others) pull first-rate cameo duty.
Extras: Unrated (98 minutes) and theatrical (83 minutes) versions, deleted/extended scenes.

Disneynature: Chimpanzee (G, 2012, Disneynature)
Meet Oscar. He’s a young chimpanzee, he’s learning to navigate his way through the jungle by emulating his mom, and while he doesn’t yet know it, he soon will face off against what indisputably is his coming-of-age moment. He also has no idea his name is Oscar — which, almost unarguably, it isn’t. Though the footage and its depiction of Oscar’s formative months are authentic, “Chimpanzee” applies some creative license by framing it inside a storyline that, among other things, gives its chimpanzee stars names they don’t know they have. The effect never taints the honesty of the footage, because “Chimpanzee” doesn’t do anything grievous like give the chimps faux dialogue or other human traits. What it does do is soften the edges. Amongst a genre that’s famously unafraid to show nature’s harsh side, “Chimpanzee” earns its G rating and (mostly) strives to maintain an upbeat mood. That alone is enough for nature documentary purists to scoff. But there’s plenty of room in this genre for this approach so long as creative license doesn’t distort what is shown on screen. No such distortion happens here, and the footage this crew captures is absolutely magnificent. Tim Allen narrates.
Extras: Seven part making-of feature, PSAs, music video.

Bernie (PG-13, 2011, Millennium Entertainment)
Though overwhelmingly carried by its main cast, the story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) — a funeral director by trade, but a community fixture and then some to the small Texas town that adores him — pulls in a handful of that town’s residents to give it a partial mockumentary feel. But in case the opening-scene declaration that “Bernie” is based on a true story doesn’t give it away, here’s the fun wrinkle: Those folks aren’t actors, and if it seems like their recollections — of Bernie, the weird relationship he formed with a newly-minted widow (Shirley MacLaine) everybody else loathed, and the stunning consequence of that relationship — would form a good documentary, it’s because that’s exactly what they’re doing. The aforementioned effects of the aforementioned relationship are best left unspoiled for those who don’t know the details, but the effects of those effects turn “Bernie’s” second half into a great study about the power of charisma and its ability to bend the laws of perception. “Bernie” already is a treat before any of that happens, though, because Bernie — and Black’s absolutely delightful portrayal of him — is every bit as charismatic as advertised. MacLaine, meanwhile, turns in stellar work of her own as the most complicated foil a man as tangled as Bernie could ever expect to meet. Though polite, quaint and frequently funny, “Bernie” covertly wages a stubborn struggle between good and evil that plays out on multiple levels and in multiple forms. Who wins? The score is closer than it should be, and you might be surprised where your rooting interest lies. Matthew McConaughey also stars.
Extras: Deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

One in the Chamber (R, 2012, Anchor Bay)
It effectively doesn’t matter why two crime families are waging war above Prague’s busy streets, and “One in the Chamber” only half-attempts to pretend otherwise. Rather, what matters here is that the emotionally tormented hit man (Cuba Gooding Jr. as Ray) one family hired to wipe out the other family didn’t quite complete the job. So a feared, renowned but surprisingly jovial replacement (Dolph Lundgren as The Wolf) has been tapped to finish the assignment. And where does that leave Ray? No spoilers, but it’s an interesting twist, and it’s the first of a few wrinkles that makes “Chamber” a much more enjoyable movie than its cheeseball title and generic crime family feud would imply. Gradually, “Chamber” lets the family squabble away in favor of a story about the mercenaries whose only concern is a paycheck, and even Ray’s sad sack self has some compelling layers to his makeup. But the indisputable star here is The Wolf — a terrifying, calculated killer who nonetheless has a weakness for festive Hawaiian shirts, the occasional soliloquy and a Rottweiler puppy who cheerfully accompanies him to his assignments. Lundgren’s fans already know about his criminally underrated charisma, and he puts it to perfect use here — not so ebulliently as to defy logic and turn “Chamber” into a comedy, but enough to make his story (and Ray’s, contagiously, once they cross paths) a whole lot more engaging than that of your typical hit men.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Virginia (R, 2010, Entertainment One)
Movies sometimes defy classification for good reason, and sometimes they do it for all the wrong reasons. “Virginia,” meanwhile, takes such a wide turn around classification that even discerning whether it’s a good or bad thing becomes complicated. In outline form, it’s simple enough: Sheriff Dick Tipton (Ed Harris) is running for state senator, but he’s also hiding a double-decade affair with Virginia (Jennifer Connelly), whose son (Harrison Gilbertson), while recognizant of the affair, takes a genuine liking to Dick’s daughter (Emma Roberts). But that outline makes it clear we’ve got a potential mess on our hands, and common sense suggests the “potential” part of this mess is about to give way to reality. And wow, does it ever. “Virginia” treats its quandary with all the grace of a kindergartner describing his or her summer vacation after eating a bowl of sugar. It’s a completely serious drama except when it’s a totally wacky comedy, but only when it isn’t a caper. Side characters run wild, and they bring subplots and quirks that may or may not go anywhere. The main storyline, meanwhile, distracts itself entirely too easily to feel like the rock on which all this incoherence can comfortably lean. Maddening? Yes, maddening. But “Virginia” is aggravating only because it’s (somewhat) entertaining in spite of itself and has a tendency to do something sweet at just the moment you’re ready to give up on it. Are fleeting episodes of lucidity and sweetness enough to make it worth seeing? Probably not. But perhaps. Or perhaps not. It truly is anybody’s guess. Toby Jones and Carrie Preston also star.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Hide Away (PG-13, 2011, Flatiron Film Company)
On more than one occasion, a character in “Hide Away” remarks that the two best days of a sailor’s life are the days he or she buys a boat and sells that boat. But little that’s said is shown through the journey of an unnamed businessman (Josh Lucas), who pours himself into a docked and dilapidated boat following an incident involving his family that gradually reveals itself later on. “Away” is a pretty film, and it’s one content to overwhelmingly let setting and expression speak on the script’s behalf. The potential downside to that approach, of course, is being left with 88 minutes of nothing much really happening. “Away” doesn’t drift quite that hard, but it definitely drifts, and when we arrive at the point where we’re supposed to bask in the effects of our businessman’s new surroundings and all they’ve brought him, the cumulative weight of what we’ve seen doesn’t match what we’re told we’re seeing. It doesn’t help that the businessman’s new friends spend a significant chunk of their dialogue quoting the wisdom of others instead of imparting some of their own. If that’s a play on “Away’s” part for poignance by way of proxy, it’s a hollow misplay. Ayelet Zurer and James Cromwell also star.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes features, interviews.

8/14/12: The Hunger Games, Juan of the Dead, Mia and the Migoo, Blue Like Jazz, Kill List, Breathless, Qi Gong: Discover the Ancient Art, Tai Chi: Discover the Ancient Art, Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids: The Complete Series

The Hunger Games (PG-13, 2012, Lions Gate)
As a movie that sets out to do what it does, “The Hunger Games” does a fine and sometimes excellent job. But whatever your relationship may be with the book, the essential premise of “Games” — 12 boys and 12 girls from 12 districts convening, via lottery, for a bizarre game show from which only the victor returns alive — has been done before in the movies. Almost unarguably, thanks to 2000’s “Battle Royale,” it’s been done far more courageously than this. “Games” admirably passes on numerous opportunities to be a completely stupid blockbuster, primarily by drawing a line between the savagery of the contest and the humanity of those competing and watching. (Conversely, through thoughtful character and setting design, it connects the two in ways that make sense even when no plausible explanation for any of this would seem to suffice.) The action plays raw, intimate and deliberate instead of loud and senseless. And while certain outcomes feel all but preordained — even if their arrival means frequently shelving the contestants’ common sense — “Games” finds ways make their anticipation uncomfortable. Still, uncomfortable isn’t unnerving. For all the thoughtful moves “Games” makes, it never goes for the throat despite inheriting a concept that gives it carte blanche and precedent to drop jaws and blow minds. Its take on the competition is novel insofar that it touches on concepts like viewer popularity and even attracting sponsors to better ensure survival, but it never really runs with those ideas. The actual competition is engaging anyway, but without exciting answers to all the enticing questions that crop up, it’s a pretty muted engagement. Jennifer Lawrence stars.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features, propaganda film, promotional materials archive.

Juan of the Dead (NR, 2011, Focus World)
Straight out the gate, “Juan of the Dead” stares down a double barrel of unoriginality — yet another zombie movie, and, thanks to “Shaun of the Dead,” not even the first zombie movie to make a play on words with its main character’s (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) first name. But not all the familiar axioms to which “Dead” subscribes are of the concerning kind. In using Cuba as its backdrop and incorporating the political and national baggage Cuba evokes as dressing, “Dead” has the ace it needs to do something different while also respecting zombie movie conventions, and it takes considerable and funny advantage of the opportunity. The motley crew it assembles to take on Havana’s undead — Juan, his socially backward best friend (Jorge Molina), his best friend’s son (Andros Perugorría), a cross-dressing cabaret dancer (Jazz Vilá) with a killer slingshot and a mountain-sized man (Eliecer Ramírez) who faints at the sight of blood, of all things — gives it tons of character, and “Dead” converts on that just as skillfully. Even the overlying plot — that Juan has taken it upon himself to exterminate the horde solely as a means to convince his daughter (Andrea Duro) he’s become a better man — is a terrific mix of funny and sweet. Add it all up and it’s clear “Dead” subscribes to the oldest rule in the zombie movie book: The best zombie stories really aren’t about the zombies at all. (With that said, some of the skirmishes against the undead are — via choreography, character design and/or comedy — absolutely brilliant.) In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Mia and the Migoo (PG, 2008/2011, Entertainment One)
Roughly half a movie passes before we meet the Migoo, a band of monsters who defy description only because describing them would partially spoil the joy of meeting them. It’s merely too bad we meet them so far into their story, and it speaks to the biggest problem with “Mia and the Migoo,” which undermines its immense charm with some unfortunate time mismanagement. “Migoo’s” story commences on two sides of the same world. On one side is a young girl, Mia, who turns a premonition into a journey to find her missing father. On the other side is a young boy, Aldrin, and his greedy businessman father, whose ties to Mia, while best left unspoiled here, are revealed in reasonably short order. A magnificently classic animation style, constructed from half a million frames of pencils and paint, brings the story expressively alive, and “Migoo’s” characters — the Migoo, Mia, Aldrin and even our greedy businessman — are extremely personable. (With apologies to purists who would prefer only to hear the original French voice cast, the new English cast does terrific work.) But as it digs in for act three, “Migoo” starts clockwatching, which compels it to scramble through a third act that’s sloppy and underserving at best and simplistic and bash-you-over-the-head preachy at worst. It isn’t damaging enough to undo all that’s beautiful about “Migoo” in the first place, and those charms remain on display even during the movie’s most unflattering stretch. But it’s a wonder how this might have turned out with just 10 more minutes to pace itself and breathe. John Di Maggio, Wallace Shawn and Matthew Modine, among others, lend their voices.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Blue Like Jazz (PG-13, 2012, Lions Gate)
Is it even possible anymore to make a movie about religion — even a dramatized, semi-autobiographical and presumably personal one — and expect a reception from all sides that’s even just a little bit pragmatic? Who knows, and who knows if “Blue Like Jazz” — the story of a college sophomore (Marshall Allman as Donald) who reacts to a scandal involving both his family and his Southern Baptist church by fleeing his Texas hometown for the rousingly godless shores of a Portland liberal arts college — even cares about being so appealing. But when the first words we hear from Donald are an admission that he doesn’t know everything about anything, it’s enough to believe “Jazz” at least has a chance. Those looking for a slant will find one, and it’s entirely possible for people on both sides of the issue to come away feeling mocked and indirectly persecuted. But is that even the movie’s problem? “Jazz,” for its part, behaves like its main character — a bit muddled in its communication, but thoughtful between the lines and (eventually) just as willing to admit it is nothing close to any kind of philosophical authority on anything. It also has a sense of humor and isn’t afraid to use it — not so potently as to be funny or anything, but more than enough to ward off the ham-handed preaching no one on either side needs to hear.  Claire Holt also stars.
Extras: Director/cinematographer commentary with author Donald Miller, who wrote the book (of the same name) on which the movie is based. Also: deleted scenes, seven behind-the-scenes features, photo gallery.

Kill List (NR, 2011, IFC Midnight)
The first thing worth noting about “Kill List” is that it isn’t so much about the job as about the hit men (Neil Maskell as Jay, Michael Smiley as Gal) hired to do it. Understand that, and you have at least a chance of sort of satisfactorily understanding the movie, which produces increasingly clear indications that it has no desire to be fully understood any single way. “List” meets up with Jay and Gal nearly a year after a botched job temporarily shelves their careers and, among other effects, puts a nasty strain on Jay’s relationship with his temperamental wife (MyAnna Buring). Their comeback assignment consists of three targets — a priest, a librarian and a member of Parliament — but little is revealed about how (or if) they’re connected and who wants them put down for what reason. “List” lets some gruesome imagery provide some implications, and it spends the bulk of its exposition energy on the mental makeups of Jay and Gal and their relationship with one another. That choice alone is potentially polarizing, but one trip through “List’s” crazy third act and completely, incomprehensibly insane ending seals the movie’s fate as a quintessential love it/hate it experience. What “List” unarguably is not, however, is bland. Whether debating what it all meant, eviscerating everything that happened or simply wondering what the heck that was, there’s plenty to talk about after the credits roll, and a frightful movie that inspires a reaction almost always trumps a serviceable one that just comes and goes.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, cast commentary, interviews, two behind-the-scenes features.

Breathless (R, 2012, Anchor Bay)
Fans of the Showtime show “Dexter” will have cause to look sideways at “Breathless” right from the opening credit roll, which (to put it very politely) pays extreme homage to “Dexter’s” extremely memorable opening montage. In the grand scheme of a movie, it’s a minor detail. But it’s also the first sign that this story — of a bank robber (Val Kilmer), the aggrieved lover (Gina Gershon) who accidentally kills him, the friend (Kelli Giddish) who witnesses the crime and must help clean it up, and a sheriff (Ray Liotta) who stands outside and one search warrant away from seeing the effects of an argument gone horribly wrong — wishes it was more clever than it is. Superficially, “Breathless” offers plenty to like. It’s a rare combination of gruesome and silly, punctuating an increasingly awful situation with some amusingly self-depreciating monologues. But everything it does well plays an eventual second fiddle to the story itself, which twists frequently, illogically and seemingly for the sake of doing so. If something seems one way initially, chances are good it’s headed in the opposite direction, even if going there makes no sense or (as happens too late in the game for “Breathless” to rebound from it) comes at the expense of everything you might like about the characters and their relationships to one another. With so much so haphazardly not being what it seems, all that “Breathless” builds is for naught.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

— “Qi Gong: Discover the Ancient Art” (NR, 2012, True Mind) and “Tai Chi: Discover the Ancient Art” (NR, 2012, True Mind): The days are getting shorter, fall is approaching, and if your only motivation for getting in shape is to have a beach body, another window is quickly closing. Before you lose your motivation entirely, perhaps it’s time to give self-fulfillment — and an unconventional approach to fitness — a chance to do what vanity and laps around the block cannot. “Qi Gong” and “Tai Chi” provide detailed demonstrations and explanations of each discipline’s respective exercises, but a focus on mental and practical benefits elevates each beyond the realm of simple exercise videos. Neither rushes through the proceedings, either: “Tai Chi’s” lessons comprise 107 minutes, while “Qi Gong” spans two discs and 187 minutes. It isn’t the same as taking a class, of course, but if you’re looking for a gentle (and private) start in a new direction, both editions are designed to instruct at whatever pace feels best.
— “Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids: The Complete Series” (NR, 1972, Shout Factory): Fat Albert’s adventures have received a smattering of DVD releases before, but this set is the only way to get all 110 episodes across all three of his shows. Also included: A behind-the-scenes documentary, commentary with Cosby and a 20-page companion booklet.

8/7/12: The Tested, Strike Back S1,, The Lorax, ATM

The Tested (NR, 2011, Virgil Films)
With respect to the name, at the heart of “The Tested” sit three people who — through circumstance or notoriety — are well beyond tested. In one corner, there’s Julian (Armando Riesco), a demoted plainclothes police officer returning to work following a shootout that inflicted nearly 50 bullet wounds in one kid, slapped the wrists of the cops who shot him, and poured a mountain of salt on the city’s already-wounded trust between black civilians and white cops. On the other side is Dre (Michael Morris Jr.), the brother of the kid Julian killed and a bully target enticed by the potential protection a gang affiliation would bring. In between, there’s Darraylynn (Aunjanue Ellis), Dre’s mother, who remains emotionally crippled by the shootout and unable to cope either with Julian’s flimsy punishment or Dre’s increasingly inevitable trip down the same road that at least partially got his brother killed. How’s that for a three-pack of extremely touchy issues? And how about a rare movie that doesn’t flinch while taking it on? “The Tested” hits the ground blazing with an ugly flash-forward that seemingly telegraphs the fate of one character before we’ve even learned his (or her, no spoilers) name, and while the tempo dials back as we flash backward, the movie itself only grows bolder. It really has no other choice, because any kind of retreat that sugarcoats a story like this or reduces it to a conduit for preaching would be an insulting waste of time. But knowing what should be done and actually doing it are two different things, and “The Tested” knocks the latter objective out with honesty, with skill and completely without fear.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes sizzle reel.

Strike Back: Season One (NR, 2011, Cinemax)
The cancellation of “24” has left a void, because there really isn’t another television show that attempts a similar premise and has the capacity to enhance it with all the insane, un-television-like things “24” would do whenever the spirit moved it. Lest we get carried away, “Strike Back” — wherein a dishonorably discharged former United States Delta Force agent (Sullivan Stapleton), a straighter-laced British sergeant (Philip Winchester) and a British counterterrorist unit engage in a global chase of a terrorist group in possession of WMDs — still doesn’t go quite as bananas as “24” did. It doesn’t emulate the real-time format, for one thing, which means it isn’t trying to present the pursuit as the most impossibly ridiculous day any human being not named Jack Bauer has ever experienced. But in many of the ways that matter, “Strike Back” fills the void. What initally looks like an A-to-B chase becomes (surprise!) increasingly complicated, and the show strikes an excellent balance between dropping intelligence-related bombshells and setting off a few in the literal sense. It takes care to develop some strong characters without curbing the action, but it isn’t afraid to kill some of them off during any given episode. “Strike Back” even enjoys an advantage by way of being a premium cable show, which lets it illustrate the methodologies of its characters — whether unimaginably brutal or completely, imaginably human — in ways network television cannot. But its the construction of the 10-episode arc, and not its unapologetic presentation, that makes this one worth seeking out.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary. (NR, 2010, Universal)
It’s a bit of a wonder — and not one “” explains — how four girls (Emma Roberts, Ophelia Lovibond, Tamsin Egerton, Shanika Warren-Markland) with such dramatically different personalities became such close friends. But if that curiosity irks you, you’re watching the wrong movie and probably should cut your losses right here. Set over three days and (technically) across two continents, “” is the story of a diamond heist, a group of amateur thieves, and four friends who find themselves in the eye of the storm completely (and absurdly) by accident. Each girl’s story plays out semi-separately while “” gradually stitches everything together, and it’s hard to say whether those stories or their presentation are more inane. In its haste to cram a shoe store’s worth of storytelling into a shoebox, “” turns the energy to 10, plays like a music video a few times too many, and drives its cast to overact just to keep up. Logically, it’s absurd, and when it ventures into a completely optional (albeit, to its credit, connected) side story just because, it gets even more ridiculous. Watched casually, it’s a total mess. But if you keep a close eye on “,” there’s a startlingly high level of cohesion on display. Our four friends’ accidental adventure is beyond unbelievable, but “” certainly realizes it, and it has a blast letting us know it knows. And what’s wrong with a movie that just wants to have silly fun, especially when — in perhaps the craziest development of all — the whole thing somehow makes complete sense?
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

The Lorax (PG, 2012, Universal)
Hey kids, are you ready for your Communism indoctrination? If you believe the conspiracy theorists, that’s secretly what lies in store in “The Lorax,” which ostensibly is based on the Dr. Seuss book of the same name. Ostensibly, “The Lorax” also is a story about a place where real trees have been wiped out by a corporation with designs of monetizing oxygen and selling fake trees to a complacent population of consumers who prefer the convenience and cleanliness of the fake trees. One kid and his grandmother feel differently, and their attempts to find the Lorax — a grouchy creature who speaks for the trees — irks a corporate kingpin who’d rather keep his customers imprisoned in their complacency. Ok, so maybe the conspiracy theorists have a point about packaging a sermon inside a brightly-colored computer-animated wrapper. But if there was a message, “The Lorax” fails simply by way of being a lousy messenger. When the story isn’t overtly preachy, it’s noisy and incomprehensible, and the incomprehensible parts are long, frequent and trite enough to make you pine for the unintentionally comical moments where the movie fumbles whatever point it’s trying to make about nature’s majesty. “The Lorax” is the anti-“Wall-E” — a film with obvious concerns about its setting, but one too charmless and confused to express it with even remote poignance or humor. The good news for the fringe is that “The Lorax” cannot possibly reprogram children to turn America into the new Soviet Union. The bad news, for the rest of us, is that it’s similarly unable to fill its 86 minutes with something resembling entertainment.
Extras: Three animated shorts, directors commentary, deleted scene, two behind-the-scenes features, games, sing-along.

ATM (R/NR, 2012, IFC Midnight)
The simple title would appear to say it all. But if there’s an even better name for “ATM,” “WHY?” might be it. In “ATM,” three co-workers (Brian Geraghty, Alice Eve, Josh Peck) leave their office Christmas party and make a stop at an ATM inside a booth that itself sits, illuminated, in the middle of the vast, barren and dark parking lot. For whatever reason, they park the car far away from the booth and walk to it. And for whatever reason, when they move to exit the booth, they’re greeted by a shady person, concealed inside a hooded winter coat, who watches them motionlessly from outside the booth. For reasons we’ll never know, another man wanders into the lot and the guy in the coat immediately and brutally kills him. Our three heroes then inexplicably decide neither to break for the car or take on the seemingly unarmed man as a trio, but instead venture out of the booth one at a time. Look, we all know horror movies rely on some measure of baffling idiocy on behalf of the would-be victims. But “ATM” piles on the inanities like they’re condiments at a sandwich shop, and there’s no time to be scared when you’re fatigued instead from scratching your head so much. The troubles extend to “ATM’s” twists and endings, which aren’t so much twists and endings as things that happen instead of twists and endings. You’ll see the former coming from two towns over, and the latter lands with a thud that even a thud’s mother couldn’t love.
Extras: Optional director’s cut (which, in perhaps the movie’s only real twist, is actually five minutes shorter than the theatrical cut), behind-the-scenes feature.