12/18/12: Pitch Perfect, Sleepwalk with Me, Hermano, 10 Years, Arbitrage, The Trouble with the Curve, The Legend of Neil, Total Recall

Pitch Perfect (PG-13, 2012, Universal)
It’s called “Pitch Perfect.” It’s a movie about a wayward, socially frosty college freshman (Anna Kendrick as Beca) finding herself after joining a competitive all-girls a capella group practically against her will. And if that’s all you knew, wouldn’t you bet the farm that “Perfect” is a powerfully mediocre me-too contribution to a tired story trope that was middling even when it was fresh? Bets rarely come this safe. But then, during an opening scene that introduces us to the group during the season before Beca’s arrival, “Perfect” drops its first shock by way of some hysterically funny commentary from Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins. Following immediately behind: a spectacular twist that brings that scene, and the season, to a crashing end. “Perfect” hits the ground rolling, and while it doesn’t completely shun the trope from which it springs, it rides an edge that lets it do a little bit of serious storytelling and make fun of the whole thing at the exact same time. That the story culminates at the same competition the following season — which itself coincides with Beca’s own coming of age — is predictable to the point of preordained. But who cares when everyone’s having this much fun? “Perfect’s” soundtrack is stellar, and its energetic onscreen assembly of that soundtrack is a riot to watch. Couple that with a brilliant sense of humor that’s relentlessly on point, and the number of pleasant surprises is such that a little narrative predictability doesn’t even matter.
Extras: Director/Banks commentary, producer commentary, deleted/extended scenes, line-o-rama, behind-the-scenes feature, music video.

Sleepwalk with Me (PG-13, 2012, IFC Films)
“Sleepwalk with Me’s” first scene, wherein its protagonist (Mike Birbiglia as Matt) directly addresses the fourth wall from the discomfort of his lousy car, is an effortlessly hilarious lesson on how to endear a character to his audience. So, in a different sense, is its very last scene and several others in between. “Me” never remotely loses its sense of humor, which is what makes the considerable poignance of this story of Matt — a wannabe comedian with no confidence, 11 mediocre minutes of material to his name, a really dangerous sleepwalking problem and an eight-year relationship to Abby (Lauren Ambrose) that’s as hot and heavy as a dusting of snow — such a startling and wonderful surprise. That summation of Matt’s life is about all that needs be revealed here — partially because of what happens next, but equally because of what doesn’t happen. “Me” is as much a shared moment between us and Matt as it is a conventional movie, and its story arc cuts so starkly that the arrival of the credits will completely surprise more than a few viewers who figured it was another 15 minutes away. But “Me’s” choice to end where and how it ends is a rare case of a movie going out on its highest note instead of after a bunch of anticlimactic loose end rectification. A lesser movie with a comparably simple story might need that extra time. But “Me” feels like a moment in time with your newest best friend more than just another work of fiction, and the places it goes between its hilarious opening monologue and its lovably funny parting words leave no need for anything that could potentially dilute that moment.
Extras: Birbiglia/Ira Glass commentary, Q&A with Birbiglia and Glass (narrated by Joss Whedon), behind-the-scenes feature/shorts, outtakes.

Hermano (NR, 2010, Music Box Films)
At no point is it not clear that some formation of black clouds looms in the distance as Julio (Eliú Armas) and his adopted brother Daniel (Fernando Moreno) dominate on the soccer pitch and catch the attention of Caracas’ professional team. Sure enough, “Hermano” — which opens with a baby Daniel lying on the ground, abandoned, when his future mother (Marcela Girón) and brother discover him — has an appetite for heaviness. In some cases, it bites off more than it should, particularly with regard to a side story involving a girl that stalls and feels disconnected from everything else. An occasional tendency to overdose on verbal melodrama doesn’t always look good either. But “Hermano” trains most of its focus on its two brothers, and its shortcomings tend to fall away when its eyes are on them. Without spoiling the details, the black clouds do give way to rainfall, and the mix of sadness and rage that crashes down assumes a special kind of intensity with sports providing the backdrop. And yes, as a sports movie, “Hermano” has a few surprises up its sleeve. The early setup seems to position it as yet another movie that follows the Disney sports movie template. But life and sports intertwine too tightly to allow things to stay that simple, and some truly striking surprises lie in store during a second half that rarely stops for air. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extras: Director commentary, director interview.

10 Years (PG-13, 2012, Anchor Bay)
If it takes more than one guess to decipher what “10 Years’s” title alludes to, congratulations — you’re giving it more credit than it’s giving you. “Years” very literally is the story of a 10-year high school reunion, and if you also need more than one guess to visualize what that entails, condolences — you’ve been fooled twice. On a surprising many levels, “Years” is a thoroughly likable movie. It’s heartfelt on a wavelength that isn’t melodramatically schmaltzy, it bats around .500 in its attempts to be funny, and it paints a rich picture of its characters’ lives despite relying on nearly every safe-for-consumption theme one expects to find at a fictional high school reunion. It’s a perfectly pleasant use of 101 minutes, and when the script is at its sharpest, it breaches pleasantness and rides the edge of fulfilling. But even if “Years” didn’t limit its reach by clinging to such a vanilla picture of 10-year reunions, it still suffers by being a story that alludes to a time we’ve never seen and can’t ever visit. The fun of these reunions is seeing what happened to people you knew for a short but significant time in your life. With “Years” unable to replicate that and similarly unable to go somewhere new with what it can offer, we’re no better off than the spouse characters — amused and entertained, but too much an outsider to ever feel like a part of it. Channing Tatum, Justin Long, Rosario Dawson and Jenna Dewan-Tatum, among numerous others, star.
Extra: Deleted scenes.

Arbitrage (R, 2012, Lions Gate)
Everyone suddenly loves the “rich hedge fund manager tending a house of cards that’s ready to collapse” storyline, which is why it’s become a genre unto itself since Bernie Madoff made it famous. In “Arbitrage,” it’s Robert Miller’s (Richard Gere) turn to preside over a kingdom that’s headed to ruin if he can’t sweep it beneath a hastily-arranged merger and scamper away quickly enough. The discovery of some accounting discrepancies quietly triggers alarm bells while the merger writhes in limbo. But in case you’re impatient, here’s an affair as well. And also a car crash. And as a topper, here’s Robert’s daughter (Brit Marling), who works for him, stands ready to assume his role once the merger dust settles, but isn’t privy to any of Robert’s deceit. There’s more, but that’s enough to start. “Arbitrage” is late to the crooked financier party, so it compensates by throwing the bash of the year, and it often feels strangely stock as result — a case of numerous ordinary thriller parts forming a whole that’s very familiar. But the advantage of all those pieces is that something always remains up for grabs. And because “Arbitrage” isn’t necessarily keen to let those pieces settle the same way they usually do in movies like these, the torrent of activity remains entertaining in spite of how boilerplate it often feels. Where it all winds up is bound to alienate some — possibly so much that they wonder what the point of the whole thing was in the first place. But even a questionable aftertaste can’t completely wipe away the entertaining roads “Arbitrage” takes to acquire it.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

The Trouble with the Curve (PG-13, 2012, Warner Bros.)
Though it deals with themes of workaholism, aging and father/daughter issues, “The Trouble with the Curve” is most visibly and audibly a movie about baseball. “Curve” centers around Gus (Clint Eastwood), an Atlanta Braves scout who is scouting their potential top draft pick (Joe Massingill) but whose fading vision is making the job near impossible. The vision problem accompanies a total refusal to use technology to scout players the way the rest of baseball does, which itself accompanies numerous rants in which Gus barks that scouts today don’t understand the game because they’re breaking it down in front of laptops instead of the game itself. The reality, of course, is that most scouts subscribe to a mix of both methods. And unfortunately for “Curve,” which reads like a script written in haste by a curmudgeon who just saw “Moneyball” and hated every minute of it, baseball fans know this. This is far from “Curve’s” only gross oversimplification of baseball, and unfortunately, the other stuff — Gus’s strained relationship with his daughter (Amy Adams), her messy relationship with her own job, and the emergence of a friendly rival scout from another team (Justin Timberlake) and a hostile scout from Gus’s own office (Matthew Lillard) — feels similarly unable to hit those emotional high notes it very earnestly wants to hit. “Curve” is a heartfelt film always, a sweet film sometimes and a funny and exciting one once in a rare while. But baseball is this film’s heart, and for baseball fans living in this lifetime, that heart lives in a world too embarrassingly detached from reality to beat with any resonance whatsoever.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

The Legend of Neil (NR, 2008, Flatiron Film Company)
All-around unspectacular guy Neil (Tony Janning) was playing “The Legend of Zelda” one night when a series of events transported him into the game. “The Legend of Neil’s” title sequence lays out those events, but they can’t really be detailed here (think David Carradine — yes, that), and they emphatically set the tone for what’s to come in this web series. Jam-packed though it is with grownups in silly costumes using cheap props to wage battle on even cheaper sets, “Neil” has no designs on being a cute tribute to the video game that inspired it. To the contrary, it’s cynical, proudly vulgar, and continuously daring you to dislike Neil even though he’s the hero. But is it actually funny? Sometimes. Now and then, there’s a great line, and a spoof of “The Office” using “Zelda” enemies is funny. Mostly, it’s more amusing than funny, and when it tries extra hard to offend, it occasionally just trips and embarrasses itself. Not that this really matters, of course. “Neil” is aimed squarely (and really, solely) at people who love “Zelda” enough to instantly recognize and cheer low-rent versions of its characters. And if the novelty of seeing those characters get drunk and swear like sailors is too rich to ignore, this is impossible not to recommend. The entire three-season series (roughly two and a half hours all tallied up) is devoted exclusively to the original “Zelda” game, and its cup of obscure references definitely runneth over.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, minisodes, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, music video, photo gallery.

Total Recall: Extended Director’s Cut (NR/PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures)
Gut reactions notwithstanding, it makes sense to remake sci-fi movies, and there are fleeting moments in the new “Total Recall” that demonstrate why. Its working ideas — about oppressive worker colonies, memory augmentation technology, the ability to have an alternate life constructed for you or taken away — are initially explored in more sophisticated detail than they were in the 1990 original. And thanks to the advent of our own technology, some of that exploration looks prettier. Some, but not all. In fact, not even most. If the new “Recall” is mostly anything, it’s mostly a sorry sign of the sci-fi remake times. The original’s dark sense of humor is — pale imitation of one famous joke aside — completely gone. In its place is a sterile, personality-deficient playground that’s crawling with drab colors and drab people who stand in stark contrast to the original’s wild depiction of future Mars. This “Recall” is set wholly on Earth instead, prioritizing politics and faux real-world grit over character and the magnificent final twist that capped the original. This one has a twist too, but following an hour of noisy chases set to the same soundtrack that every single wannabe sci-fi classic seems to use these days, it’s a meek reveal that quickly slinks away. That’s a shame, but it’s endemic of remakes that want to stand apart from their inspiration but are too creatively empty to know how. That “Recall” falls into this trap is almost customary. That it does so while also generally looking worse than a movie from 22 years ago? That may be it’s only genuine surprise.
Extras: Theatrical and extended versions of the film, director commentary, 10 behind-the-scenes features, pre-visualization sequences, bloopers.

12/11/12: The Whale, Girls S1, The Bourne Legacy, Why Stop Now, Ted, The Story of Film, SF Giants 2012 World Series CE, Django sets, Photoshop

The Whale (NR, 2011, Docurama)
Stories about the well-being of whales seem always to involve a camp that wants what’s best for the whale and a camp that threatens the whale’s well-being through greed or indifference. But in the case of Luna, a young orca who lost track of his family and spent countless nights calling for them to find him, there are multiple camps butting heads, and each is doing so in what it perceives is his best interest. It’s hard not to understand why when “The Whale” offers an eyeful of Luna, who, in lieu of reconnecting with his family, charmed people by the boatload in a playful attempt to connect with them instead. The debates at the center of “The Whale” are roundly noble, with some arguing that the best thing for Luna is to keep distance and keep him safe while attempts to reunite with his family continue. But the opposing argument — if he so adamantly wants to be our friend, why torment him by keeping him at bay? — is impossible not to entertain every time Luna pokes his beak against a boat like a puppy sticking his nose in your face before licking you hello. “The Whale” is, particularly during those moments where everyone admits they don’t definitively know what’s best for poor Luna, a heartbreaking movie. But it’s also a joyous testament to all we love about animals, how far we’ve come toward better understanding them, and the staggering degree to which we’ve long underestimated their humanity. Ryan Reynolds, who also executive produced, narrates.
Extras: Deleted scenes, segments about Luna’s family and birth, four “Songs for Luna” music videos, trailer for the 2007 documentary “Saving Luna.”

Girls: The Complete First Season (NR, 2012, HBO)
Even those repulsed by “Sex and the City’s” phony coat of glamour and luxury could possibly be moved to admit that there was something honest brewing beneath all that makeup. Were it possible to shave 15 years off everyone’s age and wipe away all the pretense, what remained might look a lot like “Girls.” Hannah (Lena Dunham) is “Girls'” answer to Carrie Bradshaw: She’s a writer, her writing plays into the show, and she’s clearly the main character despite “Girls” being a pretty democratic four-piece ensemble show (which, like “S&tC,” continually veers across the blurry line between comedy and drama). But where Carrie is successful and rolls out of bed looking like a magazine ad, Hannah is barely put together during her best moments and a frumpy, disheveled mess at her worst. Instead of being a published author, she’s unemployed, and the biggest impact her writing makes in the first season is when another character finds her diary. All this is to say nothing of her “relationship” to Adam (Adam Driver), which is about as romantic and refined as two dogs sniffing each other’s butts in the park. Warts run wild all over “Girls,” which occasionally is so purposely unpolished that it risks accidentally grossing its viewers out and turning them away. But that, of course, is also what makes it so refreshing. HBO’s attention to honest programming has long been present even when appearances suggest otherwise, but a shunning of this magnitude of pretense — to funny, dark, thoughtful, grossly unflattering and even poignant effect — is endlessly welcome nonetheless.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, deleted/extended scenes, interviews, audition/table read footage, a making-of feature, 10 Inside the Episodes features and bloopers.

The Bourne Legacy (PG-13, 2012, Universal)
Here’s the answer to the first question you might have: The role played by Jeremy Renner is not that of Jason Bourne, his son, his brother or his cousin. There is, in fact, nobody named Bourne in “The Bourne Legacy,” which uses its namesake simply to bridge into a new story with a new cast (Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach) that easily could exist without any ties to Jason Bourne. So why bother, beyond using brand recognition to sell tickets? Well why not? Though it’s awkward to refer frequently to a character who carried three movies but is completely absent here, “Legacy” at least barrels headfirst into the idea. Instead of languishing as a pointless reboot or spinoff, “Legacy” plays like an actual sequel that builds on the original trilogy’s loose ends. Some events even occur concurrently to 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum.” For those who invested in the details of those movies rather than simply its star, the benefits of this approach over simply pressing the reset button are immense. And if you can’t remember a single detail about how “Ultimatum” ended? No worries. “Legacy” errs on the side of cautionary wordiness in explaining its ties to those who care, but it still feels like a self-standing movie. Aaron Cross (Renner) is an enjoyably disgruntled black ops agent instead of a pale Bourne imitation. The details surrounding Operation Outcome are comparably sordid to those of Treadstone and Blackbriar. And in terms of global set pieces, close-quarters action and best-in-class chases, “Legacy” does the Bourne name perfectly proud.
Extras: Filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes, seven behind-the-scenes features.

Why Stop Now (R, 2012, IFC Films)
Eli (Jesse Eisenberg) is a drifter with a gift for playing the piano, and he might finally have a chance to do something with that gift if he can get to an audition with life-changing potential. Standing in the way: An irresponsible mother (Melissa Leo) who needs a ride to rehab, a young sister (Emma Rayne Lyle) who needs guardianship, and a confluence of events that couldn’t surface on a less opportune day. Throw in some demons for Eli to tackle on his own, and it all sounds so tritely familiar. And yet it isn’t, because “Why Stop Now” — perhaps itself realizing this — refuses to sit still. What begins in earnest as a dry semi-comedy with foreboding overtones turns quirky once Eli’s mom takes over. And once the rest of the cast (Tracy Morgan, Isiah Whitlock Jr.) appears, “Now” goes hilariously nuts and lets its wacky comedy flag fly, with even Eli’s kid sister getting a knockout line or two by way of a hand puppet named Julio. “Now” eventually comes full circle as a serious manifestation of its serious themes, and then it just kind of shifts between moods, gravity and the desire to be poignant and laugh-out-loud funny at once. Academically, it’s probably too much for 88 minutes to take. But when “Now” wants to be funny, it is, and when it wants to touch a more heartfelt nerve, it credibly does. The seams show, but nothing ever feels forced, and while “Now” can’t help but make a little mess while having its cake and eating it too, it at least keeps that mess on the plate.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, Morgan interview.

Ted (R/NR, 2012, Universal)
It starts sweetly enough, this relationship between a friendless boy named John and the sweet-voiced teddy bear he receives one Christmas. John names him Ted, makes him his best friend, and with a wish that miraculously comes true, he brings him to life. All this and more happens during an opening batch of scenes that are the perfect mix of cute, funny and sneakily crude. And then, following a 25-year jump forward, the magic mostly runs dry. John’s (Mark Wahlberg) a 35-year-old stoner who — girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) aside — has nothing going on. Ted’s angelic voice is gone, replaced by that of Brian from “Family Guy,” and his subtle wickedness is gone in favor of nuclear boorishness. As for “Ted” itself? Yep, the movie from the creator of “Family Guy” effectively becomes a long episode of “Family Guy.” No lazier comparison exists than that, but when you saturate your movie with numerous 1980s references, mean-spirited digs on celebrities that already feel stale, and 1,000 jokes about Jewish and/or gay people (in case you missed the first 999), you leave people no choice. “Ted” has some legitimately funny moments, but they’re infrequent, and the most offensive thing about its attempts to offend is how limp they are. Worst of all, the novelty of Ted being a living teddy bear goes almost completely to waste. There’s an amusing fight scene, and the beginning and end of the film do their part. But if you watched most of “Ted” with your eyes closed, it’d sound like any old “Family Guy” episode — and not one of its better ones.
Extras: Wahlberg/filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes/alternate takes, Ted’s fight training, behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers.

— “The Story of Film: An Odyssey by Mark Cousins” (NR, 2011, Music Box Films): Chronicling the history of the medium you’re using to chronicle said history is no task for the timid. Thus, it’s a great relief that the 15-part, 915-minute, definitively-titled “The Story of Film” — which came together over six years on four continents, touches on more than 115 years and 1,000 films, and describes itself as the “epic story of innovation in the movies” — lacks any such such timidity. Along with the series, the five-disc set includes a 44-page booklet that chronicles the making of “History” and collects a list of films, filmmakers and contributors featured across the series.
— “San Francisco Giants 2012 World Series Collector’s Edition” (NR, 2012, MLB/A&E): The 2012 World Series was a dud compared to the incredible 2011 edition, but that doesn’t mean this annual set is any less polished than usual. Along with an uncut presentation of the four-game sweep, the set includes the respective fifth games of the far more exciting National League Championship and Division series, an uncut copy of Matt Cain’s perfect game, and a bonus disc with clinching/celebration footage and additional highlights from both the regular season and the two NL playoff series.
— Django crazy: In accordance with the Christmas Day opening of (and resulting fever surrounding) Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” the Django vault floodgates are officially open for business. First out the door: a pair of double feature sets (NR, Timeless Media), with “Django’s Cut Price Corpses” and “Django Kills Silently” on one and “A Man Called Django!” and “Django and Sartana’s Showdown in the West” adorning the other. Neither set includes extras beyond the films. Arguably more impressive is “Westerns Unchained” (NR, First Look Pictures), which piles 25 spaghetti westerns (including “Kill Django” “Django: Last Killer” and six other Django-led films) onto exactly one Blu-ray disc. The quality of the films predictably suffers as result, but the $15 price tag leaves picture quality snobs with no case.
— “Law & Order: Criminal Intent: The Ninth Year” (NR, 2010, Shout Factory): Not notable for what’s inside the box, but rather what’s on it. If you’re a fan of awkward photoshops of actors on film posters and DVD cases, the job this one does on Jeff Goldblum is worth a look.

12/4/12: The Dark Knight Rises, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hope Springs, V/H/S, Butter, The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection

The Dark Knight Rises (PG-13, 2012, Warner Bros.)
Yes, the grumblings are true. Like many third chapters in many trilogies before it, “The Dark Knight Rises” has a tendency — at least early on, while it transitions from its predecessor’s bittersweet conclusion — to babble. Here’s hoping you like Occupy Wall Street allegories, because “Rises” sure serves one up during an opening hour that colors in the last eight years of Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) life, introduces us to Gotham City’s latest problem (Tom Hardy as Bane), and engages in an alarming level of brooding, board meetings and way too much telling over showing. But all the stalling stops cold with a scene smack in the middle of the movie that is as engrossing as any this trilogy has produced. (It isn’t the one the trailer spoiled, either.) From that moment forward, “Rises” absolutely cooks — paying off magnificently on all that talking, thoroughly validating the Wall Street parallels, wickedly blurring the lines between good and evil, and putting on yet another clinic in the art of villain design (even if Hardy occasionally sounds like Darrell Hammond doing Sean Connery on a “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketch). Throw in a few smart callbacks to “Batman Begins” and a couple expertly-placed fan service twists that are great even if you see them coming an hour away, and “Rises” closes the trilogy on a sky-high note. Movie studios love easy money, so Batman’s return to theaters in the next few years is a gimme, but to the cast and crew who endeavor to follow in this trilogy’s footsteps, “good luck” doesn’t begin to cover it.
Extras: Documentaries “The Batmobile” and “Ending the Knight,” art gallery.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (R, 2012, Sundance Selects)
If you’ve seen the famous photo of a middle finger pointed at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, it’s worth noting that the finger in the frame belongs to artist and activist Ai Weiwei. That photo accented Ai’s harsh — and, on record from a Chinese citizen, unprecedented — comments about China’s treatment of its citizens leading up to the Beijing Olympics. Those two statements are remarkable on their own, and they’re doubly impressive given how recognizable — and, for officials with a history of imprisoning dissenting voices, easily spotted — Ai is. But when you discover it was Ai who also conceptualized the Bird’s Nest that adorned and defined the Olympic stadium that since had become a symbol of his ire, the act of defiance rockets from incredible to borderline insane. “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” is a meandering story of sorts about its namesake. But that meandering merely reflects the efforts of a man who has used wildly disparate muses — video, sculpture, Twitter, the contributions of those bold enough to believe in him, and even an episode of police brutality — to blur the lines between art installation and activism in ways that vibe equally with the current state of social technology and a restless population that’s found and embraced that technology on a level the state no longer can easily control. The process is exhilarating to watch, and “Sorry” is all the more inspiring when the full picture of Ai — fearful, humble, caregiver to dozens of animals, unafraid to laugh at himself, sweet to a mother who describes his oppressors as bullies much the same way another mother would speak of mean kids on a playground — emerges. Though never sorry, Ai is relentlessly humble, and if someone with this much humility can cause this much trouble, who among us can’t?
Extras: Filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes, interviews.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (PG-13, 2012, Fox)
Almost immediately, the question arises: Is six-year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) worse off for having spent her entire existence sheltered inside a bayou community that itself is sheltered by levees from the rest of Louisiana, or is she better off for forming an imaginative picture of global order that’s potentially enlightened in ways America’s jaded developed communities no longer can grasp? If there’s merit in putting on a show that encourages bandying questions like these after the show ends, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” offers a harvest bountiful enough to feed an army — and that’s before it speaks word one of Katrina. Though the storm’s appearance spans only a few scenes, “Wild” likely wouldn’t exist without it, because Katrina provides the philosophical coatrack on which everyone — whether watching the movie or inside it — can hang an opinion about the merits of sovereignty, community and roots versus those of comfort, safety and responsible parenting. Hushpuppy’s father (Dwight Henry as Wink) is all she has, and “Wild’s” loaded but hands-off portrayal of their flammable relationship freely gives way to any number of arguments about how loving and/or abusive and/or reckless and/or invaluable and/or [insert adjective here] it is. That extends out to the community and even, with surprising credibility, little Hushpuppy’s naive but inspired ideas about the way the world works. Call it unflinching, call it cloying, call it brave or even embarrassingly preachy. Whatever form “Wild” assumes to each who sees it, it assumes without compromise and, in some respects, without peer.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Hope Springs (PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures)
Despite seeming to know each other quite well, roommates Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) share a pretty awkward existence — particularly when they retire to their separate bedrooms at night. And when “Hope Springs” reveals that they aren’t roommates, but instead have been married for 31 years, one quickly gleans why it feels so weird. From there — and particularly after Kay finally reaches her wit’s end and enlists them both for a retreat with a marriage counselor (Steve Carell) — it’s also pretty easy to guess where this story is headed next. Structurally, “Springs” isn’t in the business of surprise or genre reinvention, and a cynic who pegs it as yet another formulaic romantic comedy with a tepid two-word title can sleep soundly in a blanket of their own smug validation. “Springs” doesn’t much care, because the things it does well — a terrific back and forth between its two leads, a script that’s funny and thoughtful with regard to what makes these stories so tried and true, Jones’ ability to play the foil to Carell’s straight man instead of the other way around — leave it without much need for wheel reinvention. There’s a price to pay for that, and it means “Springs” might be one of those movies you really enjoy but still, someday soon, forget having even seen. But there’s only so much umbrage to take with feel-good entertainment that consistently feels good while it’s on.
Extras: Director commentary, five behind-the-scenes features, alternate takes, bloopers.

V/H/S (R, 2012, Magnet)
In little more than a decade, the trick of assembling a scary movie from mock “found” footage has morphed from subversive to genre-changing to pervasive to self-parody to pathetically, deathly tired — an indictment of a technique hinging entirely on a gimmick that no longer could take anybody by surprise. “V/H/S” arrives as four separate stories that share ties via the dubious notion that they all originate from the same stack of videotapes, and had any one of these four stories carried the two-hour load alone, it’d be just another reason for this subgenre to disappear. But as half-hour stories with little wiggle room to drag things out and play the same tricks ad nauseam to pass time, the stories fare significantly better. Many of the same old found footage tricks are present and accounted for, two of the stories rely on twists that are a little too similar to each other, just about every character across every story is completely unlikable, and those who struggle to suspend disbelief will see stars at the third story’s assertion that a series of high-resolution video chats on visibly modern laptops has somehow found its way onto an old videotape. But even when “V/H/S” does something stupid, absurd or completely irritating, it never has time to do much that’s just plain boring — which is all it needs to stand out in a genre that desperately needs a standout.
Extras: Deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

Butter (R, 2012, Anchor Bay/The Weinstein Company)
Just as millions grew tired of politics and even jokes at politics’ expense, here comes “Butter,” which scrambled to theaters weeks before Election Day, arrives in this format almost exactly a month afterward, and feels every bit as disheveled and late to the party as its release dates suggest. “Butter’s” political allegory revolves around the annual Johnson County, Iowa butter-carving contest — and particularly Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell), whose blue ribbon dynasty has been cut short on petty grounds. His ambitious and vengeful stuffed-shirt wife (Jennifer Garner) steps in to keep the dynasty alive, and her competition includes a sweet 10-year-old foster child (Yara Shahidi as Destiny) and a hooker (Olivia Wilde) who slept with Bob and wants rent money in exchange for … actually, it isn’t completely clear. It doesn’t really even matter, because Bob’s just a bystander who isn’t particularly vulnerable to scandal. So much for that subplot, right? “Butter” wants to use a butter-carving competition as a political metaphor because it’s an amusing idea, but it doesn’t actually know how to do it. Ideas pile up without reason and characters either flail away with nowhere to go or settle into roles that are too archetypical to work on an ironic level. Only little Destiny gives us anything to care about, and if the goal was to get us to root for her without irony — as if “Butter” was a documentary instead of fiction, never mind satire — mission accomplished. Anything else is a complete miss.
Extras: Deleted/extended scenes, bloopers.

— “The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection” (NR, 1967, Time Life): Every holiday season brings forth some seriously good-looking gift sets, but few in 2012 cut a profile as visually impressive as this 22-disc monster. “The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection” isn’t a complete-series collection, and as a 50-episode representative of a series that ran for 11 seasons and averaged roughly 25 episodes per season, it isn’t even close to one. What it is, however, is well-curated, with Burnett herself hand-picking her 16 favorite shows for one of the set’s three themed volumes. Bonus content includes 13 behind-the-scenes features, additional sketches, a virtual trip through season 10, two episodes of “The Garry Moore Show” from when Burnett was in the cast, and a ton of interviews with those from the show and comedians since inspired by it. Rounding out the package, which comes in a box whose cover lifts like the stage curtain from the show, is a 20-page book with photos, liner notes and anecdotes. The set is available on carolondvd.com instead of at retail, and if you are willing to pay $400 instead of $200 and are quick enough, you can secure one of the 300 sets that comes with a certificate of authenticity and bears Burnett’s, Vicki Lawrence’s and Tim Conway’s signatures.