11/27/12: Men in Black 3, ParaNorman, Luck S1, Lawless, The Day, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers anniversary sets, Game of Thrones S1 CE

Men in Black 3 (PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures)
They may be agency partners who go home to separate lives after saving the public from the paranormal, but Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) are as entertaining a married couple as any actual married couple is. That unsung element of the first two “Men in Black” movies is back in force in chapter three after J discovers his security clearance doesn’t entail access to his partner’s most sensitive secrets. Turns out, those secrets include the existence of viable time travel, and to make a long story short, J has to travel to 1969 to save his partner’s younger self (Josh Brolin) from getting killed in the past and dooming Earth in the present. Yep, time travel again. But as “MIB3” once again proves, time travel never gets old in the right storytelling hands. Here, it’s predictably used to comic effect, with gags taking sharply funny shots at old technology and, in the case of J, antiquated notions about race relations in America. But time travel and time itself also find themselves subject to startlingly poignant levels of reverence, with “MIB3” going so far as to construct the magic and miracle of good fortune through a gorgeous scene involving, of all things, the 1969 New York Mets. Reverence and comedy ultimately form into one when “MIB3” applies the wonders of time travel to the wondrously loving and antagonistic relationship between J and K. Yes, there are aliens, explosions and freaks both good (Michael Stuhlbarg) and evil (Jemaine Clement). But the job “MIB3” does on its two agents easily is its highlight — not simply because it reinvigorates a seemingly dormant franchise, but also because it produces what arguably is the trilogy’s best entry.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features, “Spot the Alien” game, music video.

ParaNorman (PG, 2012, Universal)
Of all the nightly rituals in young Norman’s life, watching and deciphering what’s on television to his grandma ranks among his favorites. The catch? Norman’s grandma is dead, and he’s the only one who can even see her spirit, much less casually chat with it. Grandma isn’t the only spirit Norman sees, either: He sees them all, up to and including the ghost of his sort-of friend Neil’s dog, and his refusal to keep this a secret has earned him a reputation at home and school alike. Fortunately for him — and rather unfortunately for everyone else — a reignited town curse is about to unearth an undead army that everyone very plainly can see. Pretty creepy for an animated kids movie, no? Perhaps, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s the studio responsible for “Coraline.” And quite like “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” threads the influence needle to draw its own line, with stop-motion visuals that feel Tim Burton-esque and a cheerfully focused sense of adventure that’s more akin to “The Goonies” than what typically steers animated movies. Yet perhaps the most striking part of “ParaNorman” is Norman himself: Despite a gift that should make him weird and a genre that rarely allows for anything but weird, he’s a improbably normal kid, and a supremely likable one as result. “ParaNorman” isn’t afraid to go pretty crazy, and it does crazy just fine too. But there’s some surprisingly funny comfort in the notion that the arguable source of the insanity is as thoroughly bemused by the whole thing — moaning undead and shrieking adults alike — as we are.
Extras: Fiommakers commentary, 16 behind-the-scenes features, animatics.

Luck: The Complete First Season (NR, 2012, HBO)
No television show is better off for being canceled before its time, and the events contributing to “Luck’s” cancelation — three horses dying of injuries sustained at separate times during filming — are orders of magnitude more awful than the usual woes that doom a good show. But there’s no honest way to watch “Luck” now and pretend the story of its cancelation doesn’t dramatically affect the tenor of the show’s images, and there’s no shame in admitting that it’s a fascinating shift. Had nothing ever gone wrong, “Luck’s” first season would be a toss-up — a show headed up by an accessibly loaded cast but one with a propensity for taking thick, glacially slow-burning roads through the world of horses, trainers, jockeys, financiers, gamblers, felons and everything else that goes into just another harrowing day at the track. As a storyteller, “Luck” is measured and borderline inaccessible, but it invariably rewards those who stick around with stories that gradually but definitively pay off to the beat of their own unique rhythm. When the talking subsides and the picture is simply that of a horse and rider, though, the energy changes dramatically. On the track, where the horses play parts but are never acting, “Luck” zooms in and fill the frame with action that’s as reverent and immaculate as it is brutal — a perfect, if tragically half-accidental, tribute to an incredible animal and the messy process of appreciating the sport they make possible and the suffering and sacrifice that too often goes into doing so. Dustin Hoffman, Jill Hennessy, Dennis Farina, Richard Kind, Nick Nolte, Kevin Dunn and John Ortiz, among others, star.
Contents: Nine episodes.

Lawless (R, 2012, Anchor Bay)
Allegorically speaking, the Prohibition movie playbook is as rife with temptation and peril as the era that wrote it, and “Lawless” — probably unintentionally, but possibly not — watches its step a little too carefully as it tiptoes through those pages. The characters and storylines, per usual, practically write themselves, with small-time backwoods brewers (Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf as Jack) attracting and then clashing with ice-blooded mobsters and corrupt lawmen (Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman) who believe the industry and the unwritten law belong to them. Sometimes “Lawless” illustrates that conflict with considerable violence, and sometimes it meticulously colors it in with bone-dry, less-is-more character development. Always, it does so with skill. Rarely, though, does any of its methods yield a truly impactful result. “Lawless'” characters and storylines write themselves to a fault, and from the aforementioned conflict all the way down to Jack’s infatuation with the preacher’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska), the movie does nothing with these themes that countless other movies and shows haven’t done or aren’t currently doing (“Boardwalk Empire”) to more distinctive effect. The sum of all these familiar parts is brutal, picturesque and locked down by a smart script and a cast more than capable of carrying it out. But the crushing familiarity brings a strange air of lifelessness that takes hold early and proves extremely difficult to shake later.
Extras: Director/Matt Bondurant (author of the “Lawless” novel on which the movie is based) commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, music video.

The Day (R, 2011, Anchor Bay)
At least at the outset, “The Day” rolls along like so many other post-apocalyptic survival movies that have very recently preceded it. Thanks to a nearly monochrome color palette that seems to be a post-apocalyptic movie requisite these days, it also looks like its contemporaries. But after a period in which our five survivors (Ashley Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Shannyn Sossamon, Dominic Monaghan, Cory Hardrict) provide a little character insight by way of brooding, reminiscing, expounding and carrying out the business of getting by in the apocalypse, “The Day” incurs a twist that, while all of five seconds long, pretty dramatically alters the course of the two-thirds of movie that remains. It’s best to leave it at that, because even spoiling the tone or genre that “The Day” assumes would constitute a party foul. It’s also best to have reasonable expectations: Though the twist is definitely invigorating, it isn’t a “Cabin in the Woods”-level turn that completely shreds the rule book and turns its genre upside down. What “The Day” does do, though, is take a strong character story that threatened to go nowhere and actually take it somewhere. Overly familiar though that first third mostly is, it’s a productive third that provides a good sense of who these survivors are and why they’re a little more interesting than the same old gruff survivors we always see. When the game changes, that investment carries over and pays off handsomely.
Extra: Filmmakers commentary.

— “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Complete Series” (NR, 1993, Shout Factory) and “Power Rangers: Seasons 4-7” (NR, 1996, Shout Factory): It’s 20th anniversary celebration time for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and it’s also gift-giving season, so really, don’t look so surprised. The 19-disc “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” set includes all 145 episodes of the show, the 10-episode “Alien Rangers” miniseries, a bonus disc with roughly five-and-a-half hours’ worth of behind-the-scenes features and fan retrospectives, and a 39-page liner notes booklet tying it all together. The 21-disc “Power Rangers: Seasons 4-7” set cobbles together the confusingly-named first four seasons of the sequel series, which are good for 183 episodes, and includes a comparably-sized liner notes booklet and bonus disc of its own.
— “Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season: Collector’s Edition” (NR, 2011, HBO): The second season of “Game of Thrones” will be available to own in February, but in the meantime, HBO would like to sell you the first season one last time. Physically, it’s a standout, thanks to a lovely box and the dragon egg paperweight that’s bundled inside, and for first-time buyers, it provides a good return on investment by bundling Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy editions inside the same box. For those who already bit earlier this year, though, this mostly is the same stuff — 10 episodes, commentary, in-episode guides, five behind-the-scenes features, a guide to Westeros, character profiles — that debuted alongside the season’s original DVD/Blu-ray incarnation in March. The only exception is a bonus Blu-ray disc with the first episode of season two, which isn’t much incentive by itself with February fast approaching.

11/13/12: Brave, The Queen of Versailles, 2 Days in New York, Dust Up, Vamps, Dark Horse, Savages, The Watch, Friends TCS Blu-ray, The Incredible Mel Brooks

Brave (PG, 2012, Disney)
Merida is a princess, but unlike her fellow Disney princesses, she isn’t happy about it. When a trio of suitors arrive to compete for her hand in marriage, it’s the last straw — and not simply because she’s better with a bow than all three of them. Merida’s mother, beholden to tradition, won’t let her bail on the ritual, so she plots to excuse herself at any cost — even if it means using a spell that inadvertently turns her mother into a bear, sends her bear-hunting father into a very misguided chase, and ignites bedlam as the courters and their families cry shenanigans. Whoops? The convoluted consequences of “Brave’s” premise somewhat underscore how much it, too, is beholden to traditions long in the tooth. If “Cars 2” was Pixar’s most pointless movie, “Brave” is its safest — a familiar reluctant princess story that takes safe roads from start to finish. But while “Cars 2” frequently lost sight of what makes Pixar movies so special, “Brave” siezes it between the lines. It’s consistently beautiful, but it looks most stunning when doting on the little details and unspoken expressions so many other animated movies completely overlook. The soft touch, and the ability to let nuance be nuanced, translates into a bounty of characters who are way more likable than their archetypical roles suggest. None of this hides how overtly calculated “Brave” is right down to its preachily heart-on-sleeve conclusion, but the formula is easy to buy into when handled with this much care.
Extras: Animated shorts “La Luna” and “The Legend of Mor’du,” director commentary, deleted/extended scenes, 13 behind-the-scenes features, alternate opening, bloopers, art/promo galleries.

The Queen of Versailles (PG, 2012, Magnolia)
As “The Queen of Versailles” opens, we meet David Siegel, a billionaire who made his cash on a timeshare empire and, among other accomplishments, takes personal responsibility for what happened in Florida during the 2000 election. (He refuses to share how on account that it’s probably illegal.) Meanwhile, he and trophy wife Jackie are building a 90,000 sq. ft. replica of France’s Palace of Versailles that will reign as the largest home in America. Why? Because she wants it, and because he can. Do you hate this movie yet? Imagine how you’d feel if “Versailles” hadn’t been well into filming when the 2008 financial collapse rolled in and ran wild all over Siegel’s fortune and his wife’s dream house, which stood less than half-built when the well dried. (Feel better now?) Because we’ll never definitively know what “Versailles” aspired to be before reality rewrote the script, it should come as no surprise that its tone isn’t one of comeuppance-fueled smugness. But “Versailles” doesn’t lay on the sympathy, either. More than anything, it just lets the family — David, Jackie and even their kids — indict themselves. (A short scene at a car rental service may be the most accidentally funny scene in any documentary this whole century.) If any one feeling rules over “Versailles,” it may be fatigue — with one another, with too many pets and things that go appallingly unappreciated, and with the absurd notion that getting all that money back will make all this suddenly naked resentment magically put its robe back on. Financial insecurity isn’t fun, but it might be preferable to being rich if this is what wealth truly looks like.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

2 Days in New York (R, 2012, Magnolia)
Albeit by the skin of his mental teeth, Jack survived his brush with Marion’s (Julie Delpy) family in 2007’s “2 Days in Paris.” Unfortunately, the years that followed apparently claimed him. In “2 Days in New York,” Jack’s gone and it’s new boyfriend Mingus’ (Chris Rock) turn to meet the family (Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau) — and, as apparently is customary, Marion’s ex (Alexandre Nahon) — as they make their maiden visit to America. Mingus ostensibly should enjoy a home-field advantage Jack didn’t have, but when your new family takes over the apartment and carries on speaking a language you don’t understand, that advantage slips away quickly. For those who saw and enjoyed “Paris,” this rather unlikely sequel delivers a distinctively wobbly comfort by bringing back the foils — Marion included — while leaving the first film’s main character and steadying presence behind. That strange not-quite-comfort falls nicely in line with the rest of “NY,” which takes the broad comedic implications of a “Meet the Parents” and uses it instead as a platform for the kind of movie Woody Allen would spin. That happened in “Paris” as well, and it isn’t as novel here, nor is the family’s (and particularly Marion’s) eccentricities quite so cute a second victim around. But “NY’s” gift of neurotic comedy still handily outstrips minor and fleeting hang-ups like these. And taken as a whole, it’s a testament to how far a dirt-old premise can go — and for a second time in five years — when a smart script supplies a fresh voice.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Dust Up (NR, 2012, Breaking Glass Pictures)
Jack (Aaron Gaffey) has escaped what, as a vague flashback hints, was a violent past. Nowadays, he lives peacefully as a handyman in the desert with Mo (Devin Barry), who — in the first of “Dust Up’s” numerous inexplicable quirks — dresses like a Native American stereotype in his own attempt to attain inner balance. It’d all work out were it not for the likes of Buzz (Jeremiah Birkett) and his posse, a bizarre mix of savages and pencil pushers who endeavor to conquer the desert in hopes of eventually conquering a post-apocalyptic America. (No such apocalypse has happened, but you never know.) The two sides clash during a plumbing job that crisscrosses with a woman (Amber Benson), her baby and a husband (Travis Betz) whose blood the gang wants, and sure enough, we have a dustup on our hands. As a bonus, we also have one of the few movies of the post-“Grindhouse” era that shoots for the B-movie moon and doesn’t miss wildly. Nothing about “Dust Up” is reserved — the scene-stealing Birkett wouldn’t allow it — and a wild battle of one-upmanship breaks out between violence and insanity. But “Dust Up” very quickly establishes a style and voice, and it never strays from either or descends into incoherence even when the level of crazy reaches 11. Weird though “Dust Up” gets, it makes quite a point of grounding Jack and forming him into the likable rock on which all this lunacy comfortably leans. Considering how many A-movies can’t get that part right, seeing it done so well here is no trivial thing.
Extras: Director/cast commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature and footage, not-necessarily-serious public service announcements, video diaries, photo gallery.

Vamps (PG-13, 2012, Anchor Bay)
These are turbulent times in entertainment for vampires, whose sudden proliferation has been greeted with equally extreme cases of seriousness and mockery. Thus, something like “Vamps,” which wants to have it both ways, represents a rare case where yet another vampire movie is actually somewhat welcome. “Vamps” spins its story of vampire best friends Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter) as a two-way fish-out-of-water tale: Neither girl wants to drink human blood or otherwise torment people the way their maker (Sigourney Weaver) does, and their support group means they aren’t alone. At the same time, they don’t exactly understand the younger generation despite looking like them on the outside, and they’re tired of keeping pace with the fast-changing ways of mortal humanity. (There’s even a forward-thinking iPad Mini gag that ends with Goody in tears as she laments how quickly technology goes obsolete. Sounds like she understands humanity just fine after all.) This, for the most part, is how “Vamps” works as it ambles along like a lighthearted sitcom that’s amusing for 93 minutes but almost certainly would get old after a few more episodes. It isn’t groundbreaking or sharply observant, but it is amusing. And thanks especially to a third-act sequence that takes a surprising tonal shift and does so rather beautifully, it’s able to have fun without simply making fun. No extras.

Dark Horse (NR, 2011, Virgil Films)
Here’s a question: Is a character’s story worth witnessing if that character is bitterly unlikable regardless of justification and allowance? Here’s another: What if the entire movie is unlikable as well? If you have a hypothesis, “Dark Horse” invites you to test it right here. From a distance, “Horse” — the story of Abe (Jordan Gelber), a late-thirtysomething adolescent who is friendless, lives with his parents (Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow), works for his dad and is unhealthily devoted to a bedroom’s worth of unopened toys — sounds like a boilerplate silly comedy. But like writer/director Todd Solondz’s other movies, “Horse” only looks silly from far away, where bright colors reign, funny haircuts make funny first impressions and a bizarre first date proposal from Abe to Miranda (Selma Blair) somehow works against all reason. Up close, Abe himself is a caustically miserable human being, and what initially seemed quirky about his toys and strange behavior quickly becomes either disturbing or tiresome or perhaps both. Miranda fares no better, and possibly worse, as she mopes through a scenario that has no business existing even as irony or allegory. And outside of a co-worker (Donna Murphy) whose place in Abe’s world is best left unspoiled and left alone for personal interpretation, the rest of “Horse” offers little relief — which, perhaps, is the best Abe deserves. All theories are welcome, and the conditions “Horse” creates for testing and assessing them makes it very possibly engrossing in spite of itself. You might hate every minute, but good luck turning it off before it’s over. No extras.

Savages (R/NR, 2012, Universal)
It’s unfair, but it’s true: Certain directors engender certain expectations, and when they deliver a movie that’s merely entertaining, it’s a letdown. Such is the case with Oliver Stone and “Savages,” wherein two best friends (Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson) share a lover (Blake Lively), a drug empire imported into California from Afghanistan, and an unsettlingly peaceful existence until a drug cartel (Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Demián Bichir) tries muscling its way into a business partnership. As always happens when drug operations align, a violent thriller breaks out. And yes, as thrilling entertainment, “Savages” checks out. But Stone is a agitator in filmmaker’s clothing, and the occasional way “Savages” sticks its finger in the troublemaking pot and immediately yanks it back is uncharacteristically meek. A federal agent (John Travolta) playing on both sides of the fence would presume to be the muse through which “Savages” rages against the notion of governments fighting public wars against an industry it privately cultivates. But while Travolta’s character is the film’s arguable highlight, his plight falls squarely in line with the same old perceptions numerous other movies and television shows have already pursued. Tallied up, it’s still good for two hours of engaging entertainment, and that very well might be good enough. But for those who see “Savages” as an opportunity to put a provocative charge in a tired storyline, it’s an opportunity missed.
Extras: Deleted scenes, five behind-the-scenes features.

The Watch (R, 2012, Fox)
Evan’s (Ben Stiller) 12-year ascent to the manager’s chair at Costco was going beautifully until an employee died violently and mysteriously during a graveyard security shift. “The Watch” informs us nearly straight away that the killer is paranormal in nature. But Evan has no idea, so he posses up with three other neighbors (Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade) and starts what at technically can sort of be classified as something of a neighborhood watch. Reasons for joining range from revenge issues to an excuse to get drunk, but the group has matching jackets, so there’s that. And that really is that. Like the watch itself, “The Watch” uses the situation as an excuse to rattle off a bunch of gags that may or may not contribute to the story or even deliver a laugh. The paranormal wrinkle has promise, but it goes squandered to the point where it feels almost superfluous instead of like the whole point of the story. The idea of a neighborhood watch being a vessel for various forms of male insecurity is amusing, but “The Watch” just kinda rambles its way through that concept with scenes that feel like deleted scenes from other, better buddy comedies. It’s never awful, but it hits that mediocre sweet spot so flush in the teeth that you almost wish it was, lest it become one of the most forgettable movies you’ve seen all year.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, alternate takes.

— “Friends: The Complete Series” (NR, Warner Bros.): The Blu-ray debut of “Friends” arrives all at once, and it skimps neither on content nor presentation. The entire series has been remastered, with all 236 episodes restored from their original negatives and reborn in widescreen 1080p. That makes this one of the rare instances of a Blu-ray television reboot commanding a look even if you (or the gift recipient of your choosing) already revisited the show on DVD. (The packaging — with the discs housed inside a hardcover board book which rests inside an equally sturdy lenticular box — looks comparably pretty.) Along with the show, the 21-disc set includes commentaries, behind-the-scenes documentaries and features, alternate/extended episode cuts, talk show appearances, bloopers, guest star video guestbooks, music videos and a photo/liner notes booklet.
— “The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy” (NR, Shout Factory): If the three-adjective title is any guide, this might be the year’s most confident DVD set. Looking at the contents of the 11-hour, six-disc (five DVDs, one CD) collection — packaged inside a 60-page hardcover book with photos, liner notes and essays by the likes of Leonard Maltin and Gene Wilder — perhaps it has a point. Among those contents: Mel’s 1951 television debut, pilot television episodes (including “Peeping Times,” “Inside Danny Baker” and “Get Smart”), a five-part “Mel and His Movies” retrospective, television appearances (“The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “The Tracey Ullman Show,” “60 Minutes,” “The Electric Company”), short films, commercials, live appearances, sketches, speeches, songs, a rap video and more.

11/6/12: The Amazing Spider-Man, Arthur Christmas, High Ground, Your Sister's Sister

The Amazing Spider-Man (PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures)
And the award for the least necessary movie of the year? It has to go to this one, which reboots a franchise that very successfully rebooted 10 years ago and doesn’t really offer a compelling reason for doing it all over again so soon. “The Amazing Spider-Man” isn’t at all bad, and in some respects it makes a case for being better than 2002’s “Spider-Man.” Visually, it’s stylish and lively in its own distinct way, and it better conveys Spidey’s (Andrew Garfield) reckless lust for speed than the preceding trilogy did. It touches on the grey morality of entrepreneurial vigilantism without turning solemn or mopey, and it leans on a sense of humor and similarly lively supporting cast (Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen) to keep things entertaining in spite of feeling so familiar. But there’s no way reasonably appraise “TASM” without recognizing just how staggeringly familiar it is. Origin story wherein a socially awkward high school nobody gets bit by a spider and finds amusement in his newfound gifts? Yep, we’re doing that again. Opposing story about a scientist (Rhys Ifans) whose own villainous transformation comes via a friendship with his eventual nemesis? Yep, that too. Cute dream girl in peril? Oh course. “TASM” moves to a different beat, but it’s a remix of a perfectly good song everyone already enjoyed not very long ago. Unless it funnels into a sequel that takes some risks and go its own way, it’ll be hard to fathom what (other than money) necessitated such an impatient rebuilding of the deck.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, deleted/alternate scenes, interactive 3D film school, screen tests, stunt rehearsals, art/promo gallery.

Arthur Christmas (PG, 2011, Sony Pictures)
Little Gwen raises a pretty good question in her letter to Santa: How in the world does one guy and some reindeer safely and accurately deliver so many presents in one night? Turns out, he doesn’t. Santa is one guy, but he’s simply the patriarch in a family that passes down the title of Santa like the Royal family hands down the crown. Additionally, what once upon a time was a literal sleigh is now a gigantic, cloaked mothership teeming with a massive army of elves who coordinate and descend on homes with presents like Navy SEALs. Yes, it’s that time of year. Ready for another round of Christmas movies that melt the holidays down to a sad clump of cynical obligations and allegories? Somewhat amazingly, “Arthur Christmas,” despite a setup that easily could transform Santa’s Workshop into a bleak allegory for the soullessness of big companies who reduce customers to statistics, is not. Yes, those points make appearances — and, thanks to the presence of Aardman Animations behind the wheel, do so in imaginative and visually wondrous fashion. But “Christmas” adopts the complete opposite philosophy and trains its focus on exactly one kid. A loud and action-packed kids movie eventually ensues as all the dots get connected, but it’s a loud movie with likable characters, a surplus of imagination and a likable-against-all-odds premise that threads the holiday movie needle so many others miss by a mile.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features, elf recruitment video.

High Ground (NR, 2012, Virgil Films)
There have been numerous documentaries about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and since then there has been an unprecedented wave of stories told about the mental after effects that accompany soldiers home from those wars. “High Ground” — the story of 11 returning soldiers teaming to scale the 20,000 ft. Himalayan Lobuche mountain despite an array of injuries and climbing inexperience levels that stand in their way — is the movie that needed to happen after those other movies happened. “Ground’s” injury toll runs the gamut — some physical and obvious (amputations, blindness), but others (extreme difficulties relating to people, feelings of national and local alienation) that aren’t so obvious but are crippling in their own right. Rather than review what we’ve already heard and learned about post-traumatic stress disorder, “Ground” simply lets the soldiers speak for themselves and very personally relay their own experiences — no narrators, no statistical overlays, no editorializing. Is it novel? Of course not, not anymore. But the degree to which “Ground’s” participants open up to both the camera and the mountain is engrossing all over again —both in spite of the stories’ familiar abstracts and because of the common threads that persist across stories like these. With respect to the expedition that is “Ground’s” exciting star attraction, these background stories almost steal the show right out from underneath it. (Almost, but not quite.)
Extras: Deleted scenes, audience reaction trailer.

Your Sister’s Sister (R, 2011, IFC)
It’s been a year, but Jack (Mark Duplass) isn’t nearly over the death of his brother, and a very awkward toast in his memory makes that clear to all. To that end, his brother’s ex-girlfriend Iris (Emily Blunt) offers him free reign of her family’s cottage for a week to clear his head. What neither Jack nor Iris know is that Iris’ sister (Rosemarie DeWitt as Hannah) is using the cottage to clear her own head after a seven-year relationship to her girlfriend fell apart. When Jack and Jack’s brother’s ex-girlfriend’s sister stumble into each other, the collision is as awkward as it probably deserves to be. So what happens next? Let’s not spoil it, but let’s also just say that viewer reactions should range from expectant to sarcastically surprised. If the moment-to-moment writing wasn’t as strong as it is, “Your Sister’s Sister” would effectively be an elongated episode of a sitcom that never made it out of pilot season. But “Sister’s” writing is strong, and that goes as well for its sense of humor and its constructions of Jack, Hannah and Iris. That isn’t enough to hide how sitcommy the story is or that the ending arrives rather abruptly, but it’s enough to make “Sister” a enjoyable movie anyway.
Extras: Duplass/director commentary, filmmakers commentary.

— “Universal 100th Anniversary Collection” (NR, Universal): Universal Studios likely undercut the impact of this set by effectively already releasing it in pieces over the course of 2012. But for those who didn’t bite on the Anniversary-themed individual releases and don’t mind the studio’s curious taste in history, this set rounds 25 of the studio’s favorite movies — some no-brainers (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”), some questionable (“The Bourne Identity”) and some outright baffling (“The Fast and the Furious,” really?) — into one box and throws in a companion book to tie it all together.
— “Entourage: The Complete Series” (NR, 2004, HBO): This, too, isn’t as exciting as it should have been. Blame “Entourage’s” last two seasons and change, which sputtered, drove in circles and too frequently lost sight of what made the show’s early days so exciting. At least the set — packed like a pop-up book without the pop-up part — looks nice. All 96 episodes (21 with commentary) are included, as are the extras (series retrospective, 10 behind-the-scenes features, two cast/crew roundtables) that previously appeared in the individual season sets.