Seven Psychopaths (R, 2012, Sony Pictures)
It’s not that Marty (Colin Farrell) can’t finish his screenplay. Rather, it’s that — beyond a catchy name, “Seven Psychopaths” — he doesn’t even know how to start it. Lucky for him, Billy (Sam Rockwell), who makes a living kidnapping dogs and returning them to their owners to collect the reward, is an extremely dedicated friend — willing not only to take out an ad calling for real-life psychopaths to swing by and tell their story, but also by mistakingly kidnapping the dog of a mobster (Woody Harrelson as Charlie) and bringing his psychotic cavalry to their doorstep. And that’s merely the beginning of Billy’s favors, and merely the tip of the film’s iceberg as well. Encapsulating “Seven Psychopaths” in a way that doesn’t make it sound like a mess is impossible, because shallowly speaking, it is a mess — an extremely dark buddy comedy about Marty, Billy and Billy’s dognapping cohort Hans (Christopher Walken) around the edges, but all manner of crazy in between. Psychopaths answer the ad, psychopaths come to rescue Charlie’s dog, and yet more psychopaths simply exist in vignettes that exist in the characters’ minds, where they spin stories within stories that pay homage to violent thrillers during an inhale and make fun of them with the exhale that follows. Occasionally, and to great effect, “Psychopaths” uses these moments to produce some startlingly profound treatments of characters major and minuscule. And occasionally, to equally great effect, “Psychopaths” hinges on a plot device before later, with a straight face, making fun of movies that lean on that same device. Messy? You bet — but never remotely to the point where the story stops making sense, and always fully in the service of the kind of entertainment that inspired its creation.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features.
Tales of the Night (NR, 2011, New Video)
Though he loves film, Théo was nonetheless told he’s too old to work in the movies. The unnamed boy and the girl he meets one day? They love movies too, but are similarly dismissed as too young. Rather than give up on their dreams, Théo and his new friends instead meet nightly in an abandoned but somewhat enchanted movie theater, where they act out stories they hope someone one day might discover and appreciate. Perhaps — particularly if you enjoy animation that strays from convention — that someone is you. The six short stories that comprise “Tales of the Night” circle the globe and speak of everything from cities of gold to annoying tam-tam boys to the merits of feeding a giant bee others have dismissed as evil. As they’re pressed for time — “Night” runs 84 minutes all tallied up — the stories can run only so deep. But the simplicity may actually be an asset, because while the stories have fantastical settings and scenarios, they’re also rooted in fables that keep them grounded. “Night,” to its credit, toes a fine line by keeping each story’s message clear without diluting the whimsy or resorting to hamfisted tactics. The beautiful animation compliments it perfectly — understated in the forefront, where silhouette actors bring the stories to life, but framed with vibrant backdrops that load up on detail but somehow never take the focus away from the forefront.
Extras: Original French audio track, filmmaker interview, behind-the-scenes feature.
Hotel Transylvania (PG, 2012, Sony Pictures)
Like many single parents, Count Dracula will never stop worrying about his daughter Mavis. So what if she’s 118 years old? The world is crawling with terrifying creatures — called humans — and with Mavis reaching adulthood and wishing to explore the world beyond their Transylvanian estate, Dracula and his large circle of friendly monster friends are determined to keep her away from the human threat they themselves have fearfully avoided for more than a century. The amusing role reversal is, all by itself, a fun reason to check out “Hotel Transylvania.” And once a perfectly nice human accidentally stumbles into what he thinks is a castle full of people in really awesome costumes, it makes good on the gimmick several times over. Temptation abounds for “Transylvania” to succumb to all that defines a typical loud and aimless computer-animated movie not made by Disney or Aardman, and the movie briefly indulges once in a while. But “Transylvania” also seems to realize it’s stumbled on a wonderful premise for a monster movie, and the opportunity to further laugh at that — to say nothing of how much humanity’s changed since Dracula last saw it waving pitchforks and torches — is too good to neglect. There’s lots to like on every level, from all the funny monster designs to genuinely clever dialogue to action and slapstick that’s actually pretty entertaining in its own right. But it’s that role reversal, and the very funny observations it provides, that reign as “Transylvania’s” highlight.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, animated short “Goodnight Mr. Foot,” deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, progression reels, music video (with a making-of feature of its own).
— Speaking of loud computer-animated movies: “Madly Madagascar” (NR, 2013, Dreamworks): There may be no more overcaffeinated animated troupe than the “Madagascar” gang, and this Valentine’s Day-themed special proves no exception to that rule. That isn’t necessarily a slam, because there’s certainly an art to “Madagascar’s” madness. But parents still reeling from the ball of insanity that was last year’s “Madagascar 3” may still be thrilled to learn “Madly’s” greatest liability for kids — the short 22-minute runtime — may be its best asset for weary adults. Extras include the “Hammy’s Boomerang Adventure” short (previously available as an extra on “Over the Hedge”) and the all-new “First Flight” short.
The Liability (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
Being a dark comedy first and a thriller second, and being rather good at both disciplines, “The Liability” has its share of comedic highlights. But there may be no bigger laugh than the ironic one in which a hitman (Tim Roth as Roy) lectures his new driver-slash-lackey (Jack O’Connell as Adam) about the virtues of paying sharp attention to detail. His point has merit — except for the part where he employs Adam as a favor to his father (Peter Mullan) but doesn’t remotely prepare him for what he’s about to get into. Also exempt: the part where Adam likes it and wants to be partners despite having no idea what he’s doing, the part where they try disposing a dead body in broad daylight, the part where a passing bystander (Talulah Riley) sees them do so, and the part where Adam and Roy somehow not only let her get away, but let her walk off with damning evidence. Except for that, Roy really knows what he’s talking about. Fortunately, “The Liability” also knows what it’s doing. Though funny in a darkly arid kind of way, it also turns out to be a pretty good thriller as well. Not everything is as it initially seems, but the twists aren’t so out of left field as to feel tacked on. In fact, given how well everything comes together in a closing batch of scenes that’s as likable as it is teeth-baring nasty, it’s hard to find real fault in any single one of them. That’s an achievement for any thriller, and “The Liability’s” ability to pull it off with a smirk is ever more impressive.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
To Catch a Dollar: Muhammad Yunus Banks on America (NR, 2013, Shout Factory)
The less money you have, the harder it typically is to borrow the money you need to end the cycle of debt, interest and treading water. The reasons are understandable — banks, like any for-profit business, want to make money — but that doesn’t mean it’s a crisis best ignored. Why, then, can’t loans come in two or three figures instead of four, five or six? Muhammad Yunus doesn’t know, and his concept of microcredit — providing modest loans to people in need, who in turn must show accountability by feeding those loans into projects that can bloom into sustainable income — suggests there’s no reason. Yunus’s ideas blossomed initially in Bangladesh, where projects financed decades ago remain sustainable today, and if “To Catch a Dollar” is to be believed, the idea is taking hold in America as well. The caveat is, of course, whether you believe it or not. “Dollar’s” case studies suggest the idea has significant viability if all parties are committed to carrying it through, but the film doesn’t really spend any time talking to anybody who would hypothesize why the concept hasn’t taken greater hold or what could go wrong (and, perhaps in less successful cases, has). We see struggle, but it has to be even harder than it looks here, right? Maybe. Regardless, an idea is an idea, and the war on poverty can certainly use some ideas. Even if “Dollar” isn’t comprehensive enough to be the only word about microcredit, it certainly presents a compelling case for exploring it further.
Extras: An hour-long 2000 film, “Sixteen Decisions,” that focuses on a Bangladeshi woman who used a microloan to start a business. A short second feature provides an update on “Decisions” 10 years later.
Hello I Must Be Going (R, 2012, Oscilloscope)
Amy (Melanie Lynskey) isn’t taking her pending divorce from David especially well. Moving back into her parents’ (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein) house? Fine. Not setting foot outside the house for three solid months while walking around in basically the same red t-shirt every day? Not so much. Fortunately, after agreeing to clean up for her father’s work-related dinner gathering, life just sort of starts happening to her. In particular, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott) — an awkward 19-year-old fellow dinner participant who takes an inexplicably fast liking to Amy — happens to her. And is that such a bad thing? After a darkly funny beginning, “Hello I Must Be Going” settles into a story that’s more about how everybody’s feeling than what everybody’s doing. This isn’t to suggest nothing ever happens — just that all the somethings serve primarily to complete the picture we get of Amy than take her down some cathartic coming-of-age road. The waddling plot won’t be for everyone — those who accuse indie movies of being stories about nothing, for instance, could have a small field day here. But, miserable though she tangibly is, Amy starts “Going” off on a very likable foot, and she — along with most of her fellow main characters — never shakes that likability. There are countless movies more memorable than “Going,” but there are countless movies more unpleasant as well.
Extras: Director/screenwriter/Lynskey interviews.
All Superheroes Must Die (NR, 2011, Image Entertainment)
Literally, metaphorically and partially by accident, “All Superheroes Must Die” is a story halfway finished the moment it begins. As the film opens, our four heroes (Jason Trost, Lucas Till, Sophie Merkley and Lee Valmassy) have already been attacked, and three of them have had their superpowers stripped away. By the close of the opening sequence, we know the villain (James Remar as Rickshaw) behind the attack, we know what he’s planned next, and we’ve seen a would-be fifth superhero die. Heck of a start, right? Unfortunately, like a marathon runner who sprints the first mile and is gassed thereafter, “Superheroes” has no idea how to hold its edge. Brisk though the opener is, it explains little (beyond what archetypical assumptions provide) about who everyone is and what brought them here. “Superheroes” eventually attempts to reconcile this, but it’s a disaster, with our heroes pairing off for melodramatic one-on-ones about why they don’t get along like they used to. The amount of telling over showing is dispiriting, and even when “Superheroes” shows its characters’ pasts in flashback form, those flashbacks consist of two characters moodily moping about the past’s past. “Superheroes” ostensibly wants to be that movie that merges the real and comic book worlds into a gritty whole, but it’s hopelessly late to that party. At 77 minutes long and with too much time wasted on teenage angst, it lacks the time to even develop characters, much less propel them into a spectacle worthy of those worlds colliding. Conversely, it’s way too dreary to turn the entire genre violently upside down the way the likes of “Super” and “Boy Wonder” have. It’s one thing to look deliberately grimy the way those did. It’s another entirely, as “Superheroes” does, to just look cheap. No extras.
— “Amazing Ocean 3D,” “Fascination Coral Reef 3D” and “Fascination Coral Reef 3D: Mysterious Worlds Underwater” (NR, 2013, Universal): No, the 3D revolution isn’t exactly taking the world by storm the way movie studios and television makers wish it would. But that doesn’t mean the stuff doesn’t work. Nor is it a stretch to wonder if the same genre that sold more than a few HDTVs — nature specials — might inspire people to give this Blu-ray 3D format a shot as well. As implied by the titles, all three specials were filmed in 3D, and while none break ground in terms of what marine life they explore and how, the illusion of three dimensions is legitimately cool if you have the right hardware. (That, of course, is the rub — though all three specials include a regular Blu-ray version as well.) It’s only too bad Universal didn’t bundle the specials somehow: At 55 minutes for “Ocean,” 45 minutes each for the “Coral Reef” specials and with no extras on any of them, the amount of content in each edition doesn’t really justify the $35 MSRP of each special. (Hey, maybe that’s why 3D tech hasn’t caught on?)