10/30/12: The Campaign, Safety Not Guaranteed, Ruby Sparks, Americano, Coma, All In The Family Complete Series

The Campaign (R, 2012, Warner Bros.)
At this point, we’re all so sick of the election that we’re probably all sick of the bottomless well of media that make fun it as well. “The Campaign” — the story of a North Carolina congressional race pitting a slick, shameless incumbent (Will Ferrell) against a surprise newcomer (Zach Galifianakis) whom even Ned Flanders might urge to loosen up — is part of that noise, which is why you may have forgotten it was even a movie that released fewer than three months ago. To all who wish they could sleep until November 6, just go ahead and forget about it again. But for those who have some energy left or some steam to release, here’s the good news: Whether brilliantly on purpose or simply because it’s the best it can do, “The Campaign” fully lacks the ambition to make a single point that hasn’t already been made ad nauseam. Instead, it swings wildly for the broadest side of the barn in hopes of getting the biggest, grossest, most childish and epically stupid laughs it can get. Everything every decent person hates about politics — from lies to money to political action committees and lobbyists — is bandied about, but it’s all ultimately buried beneath a cartoon starring two caricatures who are completely losing their minds. Biting commentary, insight, poignant wisdom that puts it all in perspective? No thanks — maybe in a year or so, after we’re liberated from the daily assault of this endlessly long race. “The Campaign” would rather just set everything on fire, and for some of us, there’s no greater campaign contribution than that.
Extras: Extended (96 minutes) and theatrical (85 minutes) versions, deleted scenes, line-o-rama, bloopers.

Safety Not Guaranteed (R, 2012, Sony Pictures)
Per a classified ad, Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is very seriously seeking an equally serious partner with whom to travel back in time. His destination: 2001, before his then-girlfriend died in a senseless accident. (Sidebar: Can you believe we’re making movies about time-traveling back to 2001 instead of forward? How time flies.) Kenneth’s ad attracts the attention of a journalist (Jake Johnson) who wants to tell his story, though mostly because a old flame lives in the area and he’s in a rekindling state of mind. He ropes in two interns (Aubrey Plaza as Darius, whose happiest days reside in her past as well, and Karan Soni as Arnau, a shy egghead with little grasp of what happiness is), and with that, we have a pretty weird road trip movie. “Safety Not Guaranteed’s” odd premise begets a quirky movie that isn’t always flatteringly quirky. Is Kenneth’s pursuit insanity or romanticism? And what of his pursuers — both the journalists and those he’s convinced are following him for sinister reasons? “Guaranteed” isn’t in a rush to show its hand, which leads to both theories battling on a tonally uneven battlefield. But “Guaranteed’s” common thread about living for today in order to recapture the past provides a surprisingly steadying hand without preaching or sacrificing humor. The natural upside of the unevenness is that it frees “Guaranteed” to stay unpredictable and shirk plot obligations movies usually endure once they show their cards. The deeper into this story we get, the more “Guarantted” blurs the line between absurd and heartfelt. And when all finally is revealed, what awaits is wholeheartedly worth the occasional turbulence it took to get there.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, time capsule Easter egg.

Ruby Sparks (R, 2012, Fox)
Calvin (Paul Dano) is a frustrated, lonely, socially damaged writer whose recent extended career downturn is leaving him looking very prematurely washed up. So when Ruby (Zoe Kazan) unexpectedly walks into his life, she brings with her the creative and personal reawakening he’s quietly but desperately needed. So who cares if the only place Ruby exists is in Paul’s dreams, right? A spark is a spark. Imagined or not, Ruby becomes Calvin’s muse and, eventually, the subject of his next story. Then, one random morning, she apparently becomes hungry, because when Calvin walks into his kitchen, he finds her standing there. So is this a case of a writer’s imagination gone wild, or has Calvin finally fully cracked up? Without spoiling, lets just say “Ruby Sparks” has fun answering our questions and following up with more answers to the inevitable follow-up questions. It has a lot of fun, in fact — in the service of both a lively comedy and some first-rate curiosity fulfillment. But “Sparks” doesn’t only have fun. Be it insanity or muses taking on lives of their own, “Sparks” has zero qualms about getting its hands dirty and rifling through the chronically dark side of the same themes it explores for laughs. Sometimes it does both at once to darkly funny effect. But when “Sparks” feels like plumbing the depths of loneliness, despair and the desperate breakdown of a bright and creative mind, it very memorably goes the whole uncomfortable way. (And yes, “uncomfortable” is a compliment in this case.)
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.

Americano (NR, 2011, MPI Home Video)
We barely know Martin (Mathieu Demy) when a phone call during “Americano’s” opening moments informs him that his mother has died. His cryptic reaction to the news doesn’t help, nor does the presence of a woman (Chiara Mastroianni) with whom he has a comparably vague relationship. And with the assertion that Martin barely remembers his childhood years in California — which were the last he spent with his mother before moving to Paris to live with his father — we’re staring at an emotional brick wall until Martin gets the call to sort out his mother’s apartment and affairs in California. So now we’re getting somewhere … until Martin discovers his mother left the apartment to a woman, Lola (Salma Hayek), he doesn’t know beyond a photograph they appeared in together when both were children. Her location? Tijuana. Her opacity? Right up there with his. If this just sounds eight ways of aggravatingly obtuse right now, it’s worth noting “Americano” doesn’t build all these walls simply to be difficult. Nor, if you believe in the power of showing over telling, does nothing progress even while nothing tangibly progresses. The story of “Americano” is the story of Martin, and while the story of Martin isn’t for the nuance-averse, “Americano” has a way of turning tiny steps into profound leaps without coming out and preaching how profound they are. All that nuance adds up, and for a story in which tangible progress ranges from minor to invisible, “Americano” delivers quite a payoff — for Martin, Lola and even a surprise character or two in between — as it rides into the credits. In French and English with English subtitles.
Extra: Demy interview.

Coma (NR, 2012, Sony Pictures)
When patients die on the operating table, “Coma” opines, people accept it as a plausible outcome even when the surgery otherwise went according to plan. But when otherwise healthy patients slip into a coma during otherwise routine surgeries, that’s a red flag. And when a third-year medical student (Lauren Ambrose as Susan) discovers a spike in coma incidents and makes a hypothetical connection between the hospital where she works and an experimental research center that may be benefiting from the phenomenon, “red flag” is a polite understatement. “Coma’s” story isn’t new — nor is “Coma” itself, which existed previously as a 1977 book and 1978 Michael Douglas movie. This time, it’s a 160-minute miniseries, and the telltale signs of an arguably needless remake apply. The new “Coma” certainly is pretty to look at, particularly once we peek inside that research center, and Ambrose’s supporting cast (James Woods, Geena Davis, Steven Pasquale, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Burstyn) is impressive. But any hope for the extended runtime expounding on the intrigue — regarding either “Coma’s” characters or its whys and hows — is misplaced, because “Coma” would rather funnel its first-half buildup into a second half that’s almost purely a chase-laden horror movie. That isn’t necessarily a knock, because the concept (and “Coma’s” visualization of it) easily justifiies such a turn. But the genre shift makes for a second half that’s both stylistically and narratively more predictable — even accounting for obligatory twists and intentionally vague endgame imagery — than a more measured but more curious movie would have been (and, in 1978, already was). No extras.

— “All In The Family: The Complete Series” (NR, 1968, Shout Factory): It’s one of the funniest, most raucous and most influential sitcoms ever made, and if it re-aired verbatim in prime time right now, it’d still shame nearly all of its competition in terms of relevance and fortitude. So bravo to Shout Factory for managing to contain it inside a single box and live to tell the tale. “All In The Family’s” nine seasons and 208 episodes have appeared on DVD already as individual season sets, but this space-saving set — 28 discs inside a box that’s five DVD cases wide — is an easy gift for anybody who loves the show but previously didn’t bite. Extras include the three-part 1979 retrospective, a new interview with executive producer Norman Lear, the original pilot episode, two behind-the-scenes documentaries, the spin-off pilot episodes for “Gloria,” “704 Hauser” and “Archie Bunker’s Place” and a 40-page photo booklet with liner notes and essays.

10/23/12: The Invisible War, Magic Mike, The Ambassador, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Take This Waltz, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Peter Gunn Complete Series, Disasters Deconstructed: A History of Architectural Disasters

The Invisible War (NR, 2012, Docurama)
The epidemic of sexual assault in the military is a story we’ve all at least heard of if not heard directly. Some of the staggering numbers — more than 20 percent of female officers report having been raped during their service, per a U.S. Government study — are well-traveled as well. It’s pervasive enough, sadly, to fall on deaf ears when text — and not faces and names — is all that’s available to a public that may have no tangible connection to the crisis and feels powerless to do anything about it anyway. Well, here are some faces and names. “The Invisible War” has the text and numbers we’ve seen before. But it also has the likes of Kori Cioca, who has spent five years eating only soft food and taking a stovetop’s worth of prescription meds to cope with a rape-related jaw injury that requires surgery for which the government won’t pay. She’s far from the only voice here. “War” posits that the number of actual rapes is far greater than what’s reported, and when victims (male as well as female) tell stories of how they had no one to report to because the superior who would handle the investigation is the one who assaulted them, it’s hard to argue. “War” lets military representatives state their case for reform, but the responses of those tasked with fixing the epidemic — ranging from a stunning lack of awareness regarding studies and statistics to a prevention plan that’s comprised of posters and a laughable rap video — are comparably infuriating. (Fortunately, it isn’t hopeless: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was treated to a screening of “War” back in April, and the first effect of that screening appears at the end of the film.)
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, extended interviews, Sundance screening footage, deleted scene, feature on the VetWOW Survivor Retreat.

Magic Mike (R, 2012, Warner Bros.)
A script firing on every confident cylinder can turn anything into anything, and if anyone needs proof, here’s the cutest, most aw shucks movie ever made about male strippers and unchecked debauchery. “Magic Mike” is the story of a fun-loving strip club owner-slash-empire builder (Matthew McConaughey), his star attraction stripper (Channing Tatum as Mike) and the 19-old-year friend (Alex Pettyfer as Adam) Mike pulls into the club one random night and tosses on stage just because. (A lot of things in “Mike” happen just because, with the justification typically ranging from “because it’s fun!” to “why not?”) At the same time, “Mike” also is the story of a boy and a girl — specifically, Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn), who is both the complete opposite of the kind of girl Mike typically seeks out and, perhaps for that reason, the only one he can think about anymore. “Mike” doesn’t shy the least little bit away from putting on one over-the-top strip show after another. But the mood is so overtly upbeat and playful that it may not even feel like debauchery had there not been an obligatory blast of second-act seriousness to steer the plot around. (Don’t worry — it doesn’t ruin the mood.) Couple those vibes with a courtship that reduces Tampa’s boldest exotic dancer to a stammering sixth grader, and it’s the most innocent story you’ll ever see about behavior that’s anything but. Given how smoothly “Mike” veers between such completely dichotic images and behavior, that may be the point.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

The Ambassador (NR, 2011, Drafthouse Films)
If you like Sacha Baron Cohen’s subversive not-quite documentaries but wished he stripped away the fiction and aimed his sights on something dangerous and real, it’s way past time to meet Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger. Brügger fooled his way into North Korea as part of a phony socialist comedy troupe in “Red Chapel,” and in “The Ambassador” he raises his game by diving headfirst into the lucrative, morally barren and rather terrifying world of illegal diamond trading by way of phony diplomacy credentials. Brügger’s infiltration takes him into the heart of the Central African Republic’s armed, dangerous and blazingly corrupt inner circle, where he must engineer deals involving piles of his own money and the not-so safety net of dubious contracts he signs but never necessarily sees again, much less has any leverage to enforce. Tallied up, the extent of the corruption is exactly what we’ve all been led to believe exists at the heart of the blood diamond trade. But that doesn’t make Brügger’s first-person, hidden-camera account of it any less staggering. And then there’s the fate of Brügger himself. As you might imagine, forging lucrative diplomatic credentials isn’t the same thing as getting a fake ID when you’re 19, and Brügger’s unease over a process that remains in process well after he’s deep inside the circle is justifiably palpable. Not being able to trust your shady handlers after handing them stacks of untraceable cash? That comes with the territory. But finding out halfway through the process that they’re incompetent as well? That’s true horror.
Extra: Brügger commentary.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (R, 2012, Focus/Universal)
As goes the now-destroyed Space Shuttle Deliverance, so goes any hope mankind had at surviving an asteroid that’s set to pulverize Earth in 21 days. And if that isn’t bad enough for Dodge (Steve Carell), it coincides with a dumping that leaves him destined to watch the world end by himself. Morbidly fortunately for him, his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) is condemned to the same fate — separated from her family by thousands of miles and seemingly stuck with all airplane and wireless traffic grounded. So they sort of have each other. But now what? How does a little bit of everything dialed up to 11 sound? Though it never turns the apocalypse into a farce, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” definitely is a comedy, and — especially initially, while everybody collectively debates what to do with a drop of time that’s both precious and kinda dragging on forever — a sharply funny one at that. But more than biting or silly, “World’s” comedy is honest, its heart adorning its sleeve even when going for (and getting) a dark laugh. And as doomsday draws closer and humanity’s demise really settles in, the outpouring of feelings becomes a geyser that discrimminates against no mood. Sometimes that means it’s a bit weepy, a little trite and perhaps a bit formulaically naive. But even at its most brazen, “World” somehow feels wildly genuine, a rare case of a movie clearly preying on its audience’s nerves but still somehow touching them in just the right way. (It never totally stops being funny, either, so it gets points for multitasking as well.)
Extras: Filmmakers/supporting cast commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, outtakes.

Take This Waltz (R, 2011, Magnolia)
Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are, by seemingly every reasonable metric, happily married. She loves him despite his occasional tendency to ignore her, and he loves her despite some quirks that occasionally freeze him out. If there’s a serious crime here, it’s simply that what once was new has gotten old. And because this story needs a catalyst, here comes Daniel (Luke Kirby), whom Margot casually meets while working out of town — and meets again on the flight home, and a third time when they split a cab and discover they’re neighbors. Daniel’s newness makes the comforts of Lou suddenly feel stale, and at a pace that’s both gradual and uncomfortably fast at once, the quirkily funny “Take This Waltz” begins a descent into messiness that’s bound to polarize its audience. Without spoiling details, “Waltz” isn’t nearly as predictable or derivative as the setup implies, nor does it just scrap its sense of humor and hoodwink those who invested in the amusing opening act. Finding the grey between all this loaded black and white is what “Waltz” consistently does best, and its ability to find and maintain its voice is what consistently keeps it engaging — and/or aggravating, funny, cathartic, rotten, absurd, scary and/or insert emotion here. Pick your own reaction, because wrong answers — and the guarantee that you wont hate one or more characters or the whole production — do not apply. “Waltz” is very good at enlivening a tired theme, and depending on how you feel when it’s all over, it may even be too good at it for its own good.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R, 2012, Fox)
If you wish to reimagine our 16th president as a 19th century Buffy Summers, it’s a free country and you have every right to do so. But “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s” unwritten rights aren’t quite so lax, because let’s be clear: If you’re going to convince anyone that there’s justification for tipping this sacred cow, you’d best tip every one of his friends as well. And so “Hunter” does. Instead of being a mindless vampire chase that inexplicably drops Abe Lincoln (played primarily by Benjamin Walker) in the middle of a bloodbath, “Hunter” actually dares to posit itself like a biopic, commencing with Lincoln as a child and taking us through and beyond the exhaustively-documented events of his life. Rather than shirk from a dialogue about slavery, “Hunter” barrels right into the topic — not necessarily gracefully or poignantly, but certainly with courage running down its sleeve. Vampiric and American lore bend around each other, and when we reach the Civil War, the spectacle, choreography and violence are deliriously, triumphantly over the top. All the while, “Hunter” keeps a playfully straight face, defending its every image as truth and basically blaming us for remembering so little about Lincoln’s reign as President. It isn’t the stuff from which Academy Awards are made, but it’s having too much fun to worry about that, and those who play along might be surprised how much fun they’re having as well.
Extras: Writer commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, music video, “The Great Calamity” graphic novel.

— “Peter Gunn: The Complete Series” (NR, 1958, Timeless Media Group): Ten years and six months after A&E started producing “Peter Gunn” DVD sets and promptly stopped after 32 episodes, the entire series is finally, thanks to Timeless Media Group, available to bring home. Thanks for your patience! Along with all 114 episodes from the show’s three seasons (that’s not a typo; each season ran 38 episodes long), “Peter Gunn: The Complete Series” bundles in a 12-track bonus CD that includes the iconic theme song (which may be more famous at this point than the show itself).
— “Disasters Deconstructed: A History of Architectural Disasters” (NR, History): No, your eyes do not deceive you: In between relentless reruns of shows about pawn shops, aliens, ice road truckers and swamp people, the History Channel still recounts some history. This six-disc, 15-hour hodgepodge of programming includes eight episodes of “Modern Marvels: Engineering Disasters,” six episodes of “Inspector America,” three features on the Hindenburg and the documentary “Titanic’s Achilles Heel.”

10/16/12: Moonrise Kingdom, Touch S1, Nina Conti: Her Master's Voice, Last Ride, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key, Alcatraz: The Complete Series, The Ice House

Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13, 2012, Focus/Universal)
The world from which Wes Anderson’s movies spring is a lot like the world we live in — only a few degrees brighter, a few degrees bolder and a few degrees warmer. So it should come as only so much of a surprise when the best pickup routine in a movie this year very possibly comes courtesy of a squeaky-voiced boy scout who may not even be five feet tall on his toes. Cut to pieces, “Moonrise Kingdom” is a story about a boy (Jared Gilman as Sam), a girl (Kara Hayward as Suzy), and the plan they hatch to run away together. It’s silly, and when you see the scope and logistics of their getaway, silly gives way to laughable. But “Kingdom” has a knack for introducing its opposing forces — be it pleasant but clueless parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand), a police captain (Bruce Willis) with a thinner hide than the children he’s trying to rescue, a legion of power-crazed boy scouts or a scout leader (Edward Norton) who’s both too dedicated and too incompetent to inspire any confidence in his leadership — in such a way that make you both like those forces and root for Sam and Suzy to bring them to their allegorical knees anyway. In our world, it’d never happen. But here, where a naive and very poorly-planned runaway job erupts into a soul-illuminating clash of epic magnificence — thunderclaps, grandiose soundtrack and all? Anything is possible, and — boldly, vibrantly, lovingly — anything goes. Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel also star.
Extras: Set tour with Bill Murray, five behind-the-scenes features (four of them narrated in character by Bob Balaban, who also narrates the movie).

Touch: The Complete First Season (NR, 2011, Fox)
What we see as coincidences and the randomness of the universe and life as we know it, 11-year-old Jake (David Mazouz) sees as a machine — an array of behavioral and natural patterns that connect us and even (if understood and obeyed) fulfill destinies. Jake sees these patterns as numbers, which he attempts to communicate to anyone who will listen. The only problem: Jake has never spoken a single word, and his aversion to human contact makes relating to him nearly impossible. It falls on Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) — his widowed father and a fragile-tempered former reporter forced to work menial jobs for reasons explained later — to decipher Jake’s signals. Martin’s frustration with Jake is so palpable in “Touch” as to frustrate us as well — almost to the point where one might want to throw their hands up, do what Martin cannot and just bail on Jake. It’d be so easy if “Touch” didn’t make the payoff for these riddles so incredibly satisfying. A single episode of “Touch” presents multiple stories (some self-contained, some arcing across multiple episodes or the whole season) that, by episode’s end, have weaved together into a single narrative. You can, of course, write it all off as coincidence. But the routes “Touch” takes to merge its roads are too thoughtful and clever to give laziness and coincidence any serious credit, and buying into the premise is a ton of fun even when it pushes suspension of disbelief to the brink. “Seinfeld” used a similar trick to assemble some of the most uproariously impossible half-hours in television history, and while “Touch’s” endgame could scarcely be different, its handling of the gimmick is comparably masterful.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus an extended pilot, deleted scenes and two behind-the-scenes features.

Nina Conti: Her Master’s Voice (NR, 2012, Virgil Films)
To the rest of us, Kentucky’s Vent Haven Museum is just that — a museum dedicated to the craft of ventriloquism. To those practicing the craft, though, Vent Haven is something akin to a cemetery — a place where dummies go when their masters die (and, subsequently, take their dummies’ voices with them). Pretty heavy, no? It gets heavier when ventriloquist Nina Conti takes the dummies of the late Ken Campbell — her former mentor and lover — to Kentucky around the same time Vent Haven hosts its annual ventriloquism convention. Nina’s plan is simple: Read Ken’s dummies their last rites, do one final show, and then exit a business she no longer enjoys (and maybe never truly loved) and perhaps leave her own dummies — including faithful sidekick Monkey the monkey — behind as well. Easy, right? Sure. To the pragmatic eye, Nina is (unseen cameraperson aside, of course) on this journey alone. But Nina’s subconscious assumes a life of its own in “Her Master’s Voice,” and all bets are off when a ventriloquist’s restless mind has a roomful of her old lover’s dummies through which to torment itself. And torment it does — to the tune of a bitterly funny but very darkly depreciating self-teardown of a life and career as fraught with regret and resentment as it is reverence and remembrance. Yes, this completely crazy story is a documentary. Even more unbelievably, it makes more sense the crazier it gets. “Voice,” ultimately, is just another story about loving, losing and coming to terms with the hand life has dealt. That it’s brought to life by a suitcase full of puppets isn’t a hindrance, but simply a means to experience tried-and-true emotions in a wild new light.
Extras: Conti commentary, uncut version of Conti’s convention show, an interview of Nina by Monkey, an uncut version of a scene that’s best left unspoiled here.

Last Ride (NR, 2009, Music Box Films)
Based on appearances, 10-year-old Chook (Tom Russell) doesn’t seem to definitively know what his father (Hugo Weaving as Kev) did. Neither do we. But even with “Last Ride” keeping quiet and Chook refusing — either through remarkable restraint or simple fear — to rattle any cages, the understanding that Kev did something is pervasive enough to cast an uneasy pall over this father/son road trip across the Australian outback. The chronic discomfort of answers hiding just out of sight is one of “Ride’s” better effects: You know something is wrong, you’d bet your bank account on a guess and you very feasibly could win that bet, but something about this story is just off-kilter enough to keep doubt seeping in. That, naturally, takes a toll on the keeper of the answers as well. “Ride” veers violently but believably from sweet to brutal and back, jerked around by a lingering sense of dread and desperation that seems poised to ruin what otherwise is a wonderful bonding moment between a father and son who probably haven’t enjoyed many such moments. It’s a four-way game of chess, with father and son trying to spell each other while Kev’s secrets try to evade their seemingly inevitable comeuppance, and “Ride’s” ability to look frantic and resigned in the span of a single moment is extremely impressive.
Extras: Director commentary, three short films (“Cracker Bag,” “The Desert,” “Seven Emu: This is Where we Live”), behind-the-scenes feature.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (PG, 2012, Dreamworks)
After taking maybe 30 seconds to get acclimated, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” slams its foot on the gas pedal and leaves it there for a solid 40 minutes. By the time it finally relents, we’ve watched our usual band of animal idiots embark on a multinational chase that collides with a literal circus’ worth of new characters to meet. The sheer amount of noise, caffeinated animals and goofy accents — to say nothing of the nonstop activity that brings us from there to here — is nuts even by the metric of a series that has made its hay on being nuts. Fortunately, “Wanted’s” midpoint provides a stylish flashback, some overdue story context, and a moment for everyone — us as well as them — to stop and catch their respective breath. For those tagging along, this scene within a scene, along with the psychotically creepy scene that follows close behind, likely will endure as “Wanted’s” emphatic high point. For the kids whom “Wanted” would rather entertain than us, the spectacle that resumes shorty after will win out instead. That’s fine, because this movie is for them, and it certainly bends over backward to cram as much eye candy into 93 minutes as is humanly possible for a story trying to maintain some measure of coherence. But if you look at that middle sequence and wonder what might have been had Dreamworks explored a whole different kind of crazy and ran with it, don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong for doing so.
Extras: Filmmakers’ commentary, trivia track, deleted scenes, animators’ corner, game, behind-the-scenes features, music mashup.

Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key (NR, 2011, Entertainment One)
About the only place where politicians look even stupider and more malicious than they actually are is in kids movies. To that end, Mr. Mayor (Harry Cason) doesn’t disappoint. His backward approach to budget-cutting means the sheriff (Matt Clendenin) has to part ways with Trooper, a 10-year-old bloodhound who narrates this story. Worse still, he wants to shutter the local bookstore — it’s blocking an oil reserve he secretly wants to tap — unless the owner (Ellie Rose Boswell) can pay a dubious $1 million tax. In a bid to save the store, 10-year-old Tommy (Joey Roberts) — the new kid in town, and Trooper’s new owner — endeavors to find a treasure that local legend says is hidden somewhere in town. Naturally, he employs Trooper (and a chihuahua, Dash, who invites himself to ride along) to investigate. Yes, pretty much every story element of “Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key” feels borrowed, and even the kindest assessor would be hard-pressed not to call the production (particularly the acting) hokey. But “Key” lets its kids movie flag fly by venturing beyond hokey and drawing a blatant, cartoony line between good and evil. The mayor and his niece (Marisa Persson) are comically awful, while Tommy, the sheriff and the bookstore owner are so acutely pleasant that pulling for them is fun even if you recognize how silly the whole thing is. Surprisingly, it’s the dogs who keep “Key” grounded. They “talk,” but only to us and each other, and they’re funny and silly without going overboard and acting like bratty kids trapped in dogs’ bodies. No extras.

Alcatraz: The Complete Series (NR, 2012, Warner Bros.)
When the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closed on March 21, 1963, the prisoners who still occupied its cells weren’t, as we’ve been told, transferred elsewhere. Instead, they — along with the guards watching over them — mysteriously and secretly disappeared. Fifty years later, the prisoners have just as mysteriously begun trickling back into free society, and they haven’t aged a day since 1963. So what gives? “Alcatraz” would love to tell you, it really would. It just can’t. Though lazy and not wholly adequate, “Alcatraz’s” frequent comparison to “Lost” has some merit: It’s another Bad Robot production, Jorge Garcia is front and center in a Hurley-esque role, each episode frequently flashes back to color in the prisoners’ and prison’s history, and the show absolutely loves answering every third question with one answer and three more questions. Sadly, Fox loves canceling shows even more than “Alcatraz” loves loosening threads, and the “Lost” comparison would work more effectively if we lived in a hypothetical world where ABC dumped “Lost” before Locke even had a chance to bust open the hatch. There’s incredible potential here, and what we get certainly is intriguing. But it’s hard to get excited about a show that won’t even see a second season, much less a chance to resolve the mountain of mysteries blown open by these initial episodes. Sam Neill and Sarah Jones also star.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus unaired scenes, a behind-the-scenes feature and bloopers.

— “The Ice House” (NR, 1997, BBC): Fifteen years before he dug in for his third stint as 007, a considerably more obscure Daniel Craig cut his teeth as D.S. Andy McLoughlin in this three-hour television movie, based on the Minette Walters novel of the same name, about a sleepy community rustled awake by the discovery of a corpse in a local ice house. The chance to see a younger Craig in action may be the main draw — the release date, on the eve of “Skyfall’s” release, is likely no coincidence — but if that isn’t enough, it’s worth noting the movie itself has aged rather nicely as well. Along with the movie, the DVD includes a feature on Walters and the novel.

10/9/12: Prometheus, A Cat in Paris, The Giant Mechanical Man, Hungry for Change, The Raven, Dial M for Murder 3D, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: AE, Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut

Prometheus (R, 2012, Fox)
If “Prometheus” is a prequel to “Alien,” it’s a distant one — which is appropriate, because it centers around a crew of scientists in search of the extraterrestrial life that may have begat life on Earth many millions of years before our alien friend first wreaked havoc aboard the Nostromo. “Prometheus” has some big, big ideas about this connection between humanity in 2089 and what the crew of the spaceship Prometheus strive to find out there, and without spoiling specifics, it converts on those ideas roughly half the time. Its character development batting average is comparable, with two characters (Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth, Michael Fassbender as an android named David) getting excellent treatment while the rest receive development ranging from satisfactory (Idris Elba) to decent (Logan Marshall-Green) to woefully underserving (Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce). So it isn’t a spotless script. But it’s good enough. “Prometheus” primarily exists to look awesome and creep us out, and its picture of deep space is unique and as unnerving as it is intriguing. It wants to explore more ideas at a greater depth than time allows, but it asks enough questions to pique interest in its ambitions even when too many of those questions go unanswered. Given how many blockbusters let special effects and loud noises take over and completely drum out any kind of curiosity, “Prometheus'” desire to continually feed that curiosity is, flaws or not, major points in its favor.
Extras: Ridley Scott commentary, writers/executive producer commentary, Peter Weyland’s Files, Weyland Corp Archive app, alternate ending/opening, deleted scenes, screen test footage, behind-the-scenes feature.

A Cat in Paris (PG, 2010/2011, New Video)
Every night, Zoe’s cat Dino slips out the window, and every morning, he returns with a trophy (usually a dead lizard or something similarly gross) to commemorate his pursuits. So where does Dino go? Zoe — who, like her cat, isn’t much at all for words — decides one night to tail him and find out, and the answer (no spoilers here) is much crazier than she’d ever suspected. Such a cute premise for an animated film, right? Absolutely — if you ignore the part about the voluntarily mute Zoe feeling neglected by her mom, a cop, while she obsessively pursues the gangster whose last heist left Zoe’s father dead. Yeah, there’s that — and yes, it all ties together. Strange bedfellows mingle freely all throughout “A Cat in Paris,” which pulls adorable and terrible themes under a single narrative umbrella that embraces both moods without feeling disjointed or compromised. The charcoal and colored pencil animation style is similarly contradictory — texturally gritty and frequently harsh with regard to movement, but consistently delightful in terms of construction, color and expression. (Whether the English voice dub is a helpful or hurtful contrast for the acutely Parisian setting is debatable, but “Paris” also includes the original French audio, so there’s no need to argue.) The contrasting style and story choices could easily have gone all kinds of wrong, but “Paris'” short (70 minutes) runtime keeps the contrasts on a leash. There’s little time to waste, and so little time is wasted, resulting in a thoughtful, unpredictable story that brings out the best in every offbeat ingredient it uses.
Extras: Short film “Extinction of the Saber-Toothed Housecat,” video flip book “The Many Lives of a Cat.”

The Giant Mechanical Man (PG-13, 2012, Tribeca Film)
Have you ever wondered what’a up with those guys who cover themselves in silver paint and stand perfectly still on crowded city street corners while passersby gawk? In the case of Tim (Chris Messina), it turns out the answer is “not much” — which might be why he’s broke, mostly directionless and newly single. (Actually, it is why.) Janice (Jenna Fischer), meanwhile, isn’t faring much better in her professional and personal lives, and when she spots the giant mechanical man at the end of a particularly horrible day, her sad-eyed transfixion turns into an unusual case of a what otherwise is your textbook meeting of eyes from across a crowded room. There’s a lot, in fact, that’s typical about “The Giant Mechanical Man,” particularly during a middle that (for reasonable and unspoiled reasons) focuses more on Tim without the silver paint than with it. But “Man” never quite feels entirely typical, because neither Tim nor Janice come across like your typical characters. They’re tired, confused and lost in their respective worlds, but almost self-assuredly so — as if to acknowledge that while there’s something wrong with them, it’s everyone else who is truly crazy. (A scene-stealing Topher Grace, as motivational speaker-slash-walking nightmare Doug, offers some magnificent evidence to support this notion.) “Man” never gets too high, but it also never gets too down, and there’s something very appealing — and amusing, and perhaps enviably sweet and simple — about the mostly even temperament it finds when Janice and the mechanical man find each other.
Extra: Interviews.

Hungry for Change (NR, 2012, Docurama)
Yes, you know how this ends. If there’s a film genre more prone to predictable third acts than the romantic comedy, it’s the documentary about weight loss and healthy eating. And for the umpteenth time in a row, eating well and getting sleep and exercise reign supreme as “Hungry for Change” takes its final bow. But while the ending shouldn’t surprise anybody, the road “Change” takes to get there is another story. Though never overbearing, “Change’s” participants — many of them bearing visual proof that they, too, struggled mightily with weight and health issues — load the movie’s 89 minutes with a staggering amount of information that’s a great mix of empirical and anecdotal. Abstractly, it’s stuff you probably knew or could guess with little effort. But “Change’s” subjects deliver their knowledge through the lens of their own self-discovery instead of the same old academic filter, and in doing so, they offer new and surprisingly revelatory ways of looking at old truths. You’ve heard and perhaps even suspect that visualization works, but have you ever considered why? And while we all know high fructose corn syrup is bad for our bodies, can it really be compared to snorting cocaine without delving into complete sensationalism? As a matter of fact, it can — and there are many more illuminating (and, believe or not, entertaining) surprises where that one came from.
Extras: A second disc with 100 minutes of extended interviews, eight-page excerpt from the “Change” companion book.

The Raven (R, 2012, Fox)
“The Raven” doesn’t get a whole lot right with its reimagination of Edgar Allan Poe, and unfortunately, the one thing it has in common with its muse — that it peaks too young and runs out of life too soon — isn’t good news for either of them. That narrative zenith comes during the movie’s opening moments, which introduce Poe (John Cusack) as a bitter drunk whose widely acclaimed poem (the one that shares the movie’s name) netted him nine whole dollars and is recognizable to none but one of the patrons who mock him at the bar. Had “The Raven” just gone completely crazy with this idea of Poe as a raging grouch both respected and completely unappreciated in his time, it might have snowballed into a dark and wonderful farce. Instead, it partially borrows the plot of the television show “Castle” (a grisly murder appears torn from the pages of Poe’s own work, and the poet becomes a detective as he helps solve the crime and save the woman he loves (Alice Eve) while the killer challenges him), but takes a pass on the wit and humor that makes that show fun to watch. Though Cusack never loses the snarl that made those early scenes a potential prelude to something great, “The Raven” itself just drags, bound to a plodding narrative that’s predictable, reluctantly gory and too leaden to take full advantage of the situation in which it finds itself. Luke Evans and Brendan Gleeson also star.
Extras: Director/producers commentary, deleted/extended scenes, five behind-the-scenes features.

— “Dial M for Murder 3D” (PG, 1954, Warner Bros.): For the second time in history, movie studios are pushing 3D hard on an audience that doesn’t necessarily want it. Whether something clicks or history repeats itself remains to be seen, but in the meantime, this is perhaps the coolest bridge there is between 3D’s original era and the current generation. “Dial M for Murder,” originally shot in 3D nearly 60 years ago, is optimized for 3D displays and Blu-ray players that support today’s Blu-ray 3D standard. If you have the necessary hardware, the effect — and its ability to usher you to an era of 3D you may not otherwise have been able to experience firsthand — is pretty awesome (and, somewhat sadly, the arguable best use yet for all this fancy new technology). A standard Blu-ray version also is included for those who lack 3D hardware, as is the documentary “Hitchcock and Dial M.” Hitchcock fans should note that “Strangers on a Train” also makes its Blu-ray debut this week — in plain 2D, but with commentary, a making-of documentary an three behind-the-scenes features.
— “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Anniversary Edition” (PG, 1982, Universal): “E.T.” itself needs no introduction, but it’s worth noting anyway that this Blu-ray debut contains the original film cut and not the regrettable 2002 CGI edit that Steven Spielberg has since disowned. New extras include the retrospective “Steven Spielberg & E.T.” and “The E.T. Journals,” which includes original production footage from the set. Extras from previous releases — deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes features, reunion footage — also make the trip to this edition.
— “Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut” (PG-13, 1986, Warner Bros.): It’s yet another Blu-ray debut, yes. But “Little Shop of Horrors” considerably sweetens the deal by finally pulling back the curtain on the long-lost director’s cut, which itself unfurls a 20-minute ending that’s much darker than what ultimately made it into the original theatrical version (which also is included). Extras include a 36-page photo/liner notes/trivia book (which doubles as the case), a literal physical note from director Frank Oz, director commentary on both the theatrical version and alternate ending, a behind-the-scenes documentary, deleted scenes, outtakes and an director introduction to the director’s cut.

10/2/12: Klown, Phunny Business: A Black Comedy, New Girl S1, Adventures in Plymptoons!, Sound of my Voice, Iron Sky, Dark Shadows

Klown (R, 2010, Drafthouse Films)
If Frank (Frank Hvam) arranged his skills on a resume and did so honestly, the list would include an ability to constantly say the wrong thing, a tendency to commit social debacles that would drop Larry David’s jaw, and an almost magical knack for constantly ending up in his underwear at the close of a situation gone wrong. In other words, when his unexpectedly pregnant girlfriend (Mia Lyhne) expresses doubts about Frank’s ability to take care of a child, who can argue with her? Frank can, that’s who. And as a show of force, he invites his 12-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) to join him and his friend Casper (Casper Christensen) on a canoe trip. Only problem: The purpose of the trip is a weekend of unbridled debauchery that no kid has any business witnessing. (Frank also technically kidnaps Bo, but the kid — who somehow combines a sad-sack disposition with a level of unflappability that’s beyond his years — doesn’t seem to mind, so no problem there.) “Klown” sets the stage for some extremely cringeworthy laughs, and one of its biggest subplots involves subject matter that (a) no American comedy would dare touch and (b) can’t even really be described here. But the wondrous thing about “Klown” is the way it takes that topic, attacks it unflinchingly, mines it for considerable laughs, and still comes away with something that’s almost triumphantly sweet despite having no right to be sweet at all. Broad and subtle comedy mingle with impressive ease, but it’s the continual outpouring of awkward but genuine affection — and the way it makes Frank’s every stupid move so much easier to understand — that really makes “Klown” something special. In Danish with English subtitles.
Extras: Hvam/Christensen/director commentary, an episode of the “Klown” television series, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, outtakes, 16-page photo booklet.

Phunny Business: A Black Comedy (NR, 2010, Indican Pictures)
When Raymond Lambert endeavored to open All Jokes Aside in Chicago’s South Loop in 1991, his ambitions weren’t simply remarkable because comedy clubs that catered to black comedians barely even existed, much aspired to serve the upscale downtown crowd. Rather, it was remarkable because Lambert had zero experience starting a business, evaluating entertainment talent or dealing with the volatile species known as the standup comedian. But it worked — and how, with the likes of Jamie Foxx, Chris Rock, JB Smoove and all eight Original Kings and Queens of Comedy effectively igniting their careers between the walls of Lambert’s 300-seat club. So what happened next? It’s an incredible story, and “Phunny Business” has an incredibly good time recounting the highs, lows and politics (what else?) of running a comedy club inside a neighborhood and era that didn’t sit still any more than Lambert did. Partially emceed by a very likable Lambert himself, “Business'” story alone — which divides its time between the club’s history and some extremely funny anecdotes about those who performed there — is entertaining and emotionally turbulent enough to stand on its own. But “Business” seems to understand that the chance to see so many stars in their professional infancy is the draw behind the draw. The old standup footage doesn’t dominate the proceedings, but it is plentiful, and it does not disappoint.

New Girl: Season One (NR, 2011, Fox)
Fresh off a bad breakup, Jess (Zooey Deschanel) is a flailing, babbling, emotionally overextended mess. So it’s fitting that when she finds a new place to live, her new roommates (Lamorne Morris, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield) are experiencing social meltdowns of their own. And even more fitting than that? The emotional temperament of the show that brings it all together and almost certainly wholly divides viewers in the process. Like its namesake, “New Girl” flails, flounders, sings, mugs and hyperactively acknowledges the need for a filter that is nowhere to be found. Through one set of eyes, it’s 22 minutes of joyous hysteria that rages masterfully against a modern sitcom conventional wisdom that prefers dry wit to broad, loud gags. Through another set of eyes and ears, the same show is an exhausting audiovisual assault where everyone is overcaffeinated and trying way too hard to cram as much comedic energy as can possibly fit in what turns out to be a lengthy 22 minutes. Festively brilliant or needlessly nauseating? Check it out and take a side — because “Girl” has, and quite emphatically so.
Contents: 24 episodes, plus commentary, deleted/extended scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, alternate jokes and bloopers.

Adventures in Plymptoons! (NR, 2012, Cinema Libre)
Even in a medium where there seemingly are no rules, animator Bill Plympton is a rule breaker — a steadfast lone wolf whose creations come alive almost solely from pencil, paper and his two hands alone, which have labored in solitude over who knows how many 14-plus-hour days. Some would call that workaholism. Plympton prefers to call it hedonism, and one trip through the spiritually contagious “Adventures in Plymptoons!” is proof positive of all the fun he’s having. As documentaries go, “Plymptoons” is stylistically contradictory, fronted somewhat unfortunately by a fuzzy picture quality that may very well be a silent, subversive tribute to the VHS standard. But what the presentation lacks in gloss, it redeems in spades elsewhere. Plympton’s story benefits from a nice mix of Plympton’s anecdotes and words from friends, fellow artists and those he otherwise inspired. But “Plymptoons” absolutely delights in making fun of the documentary format while also utilizing it, and the sharp turns the movie takes at the intersection of heartfelt and completely farcical is an art form in its own right. Plympton isn’t the only one having fun here: Everyone up to and including the movie itself is having a blast, and while “Plymptoons” may be designed as a celebration of Plympton’s work (which is, of course, on considerable display throughout the movie), it’s an even better tribute to the art of making a living doing something you love.
Extras: Footage from Oregon’s Bill Plympton Day, silent short film “The Toonist” (starring Plympton and Gus Van Sant), deleted scenes.

Sound of my Voice (R, 2011, Fox)
Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) don’t know what to expect when they enter an ordinary house that doubles as the compound for a cult. But that doesn’t stop the two undercover journalists, who also moonlight as boyfriend and girlfriend, from thinking they know. They presume Maggie (Brit Marling) — the group’s leader, and a woman who claims she’s traveled back in time from the dystopian 2050s — is a fraud, and they’re hoping they can expose her and free her followers by becoming followers themselves and infiltrating the movement. Seems pretty cut and dry, right? Sure is — if you actually know what you’re getting into, which turns out to be a long way from simply presuming to know. “Sound of my Voice,” seemingly recognizant of this difference, doesn’t shy away from exploiting presumption. It embraces all the stereotypical things — from white robes to hushed tones to secret handshakes — one might associate with the kind of place Peter and Lorna would presume to take down. But there’s more going on here than superficialities alone can express. “Voice” creepily and suggestively toys with assumption to great effect, and the deeper it goes, the less it is about abstracts and the more it is about its characters. And once the story becomes dependent on those who thought they had it all spelled out, all bets are off.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Iron Sky (R, 2012, Entertainment One)
While the Nazis were decimated in 1945, they weren’t defeated. To the contrary, a slice of the Third Reich had already embarked for the moon, where it proceeded to construct a secret base and begin work on an equally secret new weapon. Now, in 2018, the surprise invasion of Earth is nearly a go. What better time for an American astronaut (Christopher Kirby) — who isn’t really a trained astronaut, but a male model — to wander right into the moon base during an election-year publicity stunt on behalf of the President? A story that begins with the Nazis on the moon can go any number of different ways — a point “Iron Sky” drives home through an opening scene that’s about 75 percent unsettling and 25 percent stupidly silly. But silliness quickly takes the lead, and “Sky” mostly uses the premise as an excuse to make indiscriminate fun of Nazi ambitions, American ambitions and a wide range of geopolitical interests that lie in between. The result is more broadly amusing than hilariously cutting, and “Sky’s” idea of satire largely entails turning its characters into walking, talking cartoons with too much power for their own good. That won’t provide much payoff for those who want something with real teeth, and there’s almost nothing here for those intrigued by the sci-fi possibilities of an interstellar rematch with one of history’s most formidable enemies. For those who simply want a good time, though, “Sky” is offering one. Its jabs aren’t very original, but it throws so many of them that boredom never stands a chance.
Extras: Director/producer commentary, making-of feature, behind-the-scenes outtakes.

Dark Shadows (PG-13, 2012, Warner Bros.)
Fans of “Dark Shadows” justifiably seethed over the revelation that their beloved gothic soap opera had transformed into a campy Tim Burton comedy in which series staple Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) rises from a 198-year nap and finds himself badly out of step in 1970s America. But there’s no possible way to do “Shadows” any kind of useful justice in the span of a feature film anyway, so really, why not go nuts and wonder what if? We’ll never truly know, because while “Shadows” briefly does run with the idea, it does so with the conviction of an honor student cutting class for the first time. After a few laughs — some funny, some so-so — “Shadows” backtracks and makes a seemingly earnest effort to actually do justice to the show’s legacy. It doesn’t really succeed here either, though, and as the characters, subplots and moods pile up, it becomes clear “Shadows” isn’t positioned to do any one thing extremely well. Like most Burton movies, it’s fun to look at and, thanks to Depp and his supporting cast, fun to listen to as well. But “Shadows” ultimately wilts under the cloud of its identity crisis — afraid to fully alienate the show’s fans, afraid to turn away those who never heard of the show, and ultimately unable to be anything better than a tepidly entertaining but disappointingly muddled gathering of ideas that don’t get along. (At least the soundtrack is great.) Michelle Pfeiffer, Bella Heathcote, Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earle Haley, among others, also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, nine behind-the-scenes features.