1/29/13: Seven Psychopaths, Tales of the Night, Hotel Transylvania, Madly Madagascar, The Liability, To Catch a Dollar, Hello I Must Be Going, All Superheroes Must Die, Amazing Ocean 3D, Fascination Coral Reef 3D

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?)

1/22/13: Beauty is Embarrassing, Birders: The Central Park Effect, Searching for Sugar Man, The Paperboy, Keep the Lights on, True Nature, End of Watch, Nobody Walks

Beauty is Embarrassing (NR, 2012, Docurama)
If you’re a creator who ever raged against the notions of holding down a “normal” job, distilling your life down to doing one thing well, or looking down on art that dares to be funny instead of profoundly serious, Wayne White may be your new savior, and the story of his life and work (so far) may be something you can’t miss. “Beauty is Embarrassing” ultimately is an autobiographical film about White, and after a blazing start it settles comfortably into that role, complete with a wrapper assembled from scenes of White’s very funny one-man show. It should be noted, however, that White isn’t known for his live monologues or his occasional musical performance. His work creating many of the puppets (and some of their voices) on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” is probably his most ubiquitous, but his actual name is more commonly connected to a series of “Word Paintings” that began as a gag but has since become a career within several other careers. And that’s the point. Being good at just one thing? White has a few words for that idea, and they can’t be printed here. And before “Embarrassing” digs into its autobiographical side, it roars out the gate as a hilarious and cathartic manifesto against everything that’s wrong with the conventional non-wisdom he ignored. Even as an autobiography, “Embarrassing” — which itself is partially narrated using White’s gifts as an animator — never loses that edge, and it frequently sharpens it. More than any job, title or endeavor, it’s White’s philosophy about creativity’s beauty that threads “Embarrassing” together, and in a world full of doubters and cynics, it’s exactly the message some of us need to hear.
Extras: White/director commentary, deleted scenes, White art slideshow, the uncut one-man show, two musical performances.

Birders: The Central Park Effect (NR, 2012, Music Box Films)
Amid the endless sea of grey that is Manhattan’s skyline and surrounding architecture, there’s an enticing patch of green that’s minuscule by comparison but large enough to spot from high above. And if you think Central Park looks inviting to human eyes, imagine the appeal for the 200-plus species of birds who pass through — and the couple dozen species who settle in and nest — during migration season. “Birders: The Central Park Effect” politely describes itself as “a film about birds and people,” and there is no better description through which to convey just what a wonderfully pleasant experience it is. But that tagline also underscores the unique draw for birders who flock to Central Park, which is crawling with birds who are accustomed enough to their surroundings to approach people as much as people approach them. That kind of intimacy isn’t necessarily possible in the real wilderness. Chances are good the story of Pale Male — a Red-tailed Hawk (and local celebrity) who turned the side of a Manhattan apartment building into a makeshift cliffside nest where he has held court for roughly two decades while admirers stop and watch — could have carried a movie all by himself. But with so many colorful birds and colorful people holding court alongside him, it’s for the best that “Birders” covers as much ground as it does.
Extras: Extended/additional interviews, birdwatching field guide booklet, Birds of Central Park video guide.

Searching for Sugar Man (PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures Classics)
In November 1971, a Detroit folk singer by the name of Rodriguez released a beautiful album called “Coming from Reality,” and pretty much no one in America heard it. Eerily mimicking a line from one of “Reality’s” songs, Rodriguez was dropped from his label two weeks before Christmas, and, according to local legend, killed himself on stage during a live performance. But if the story ends there, how did a bootleg of Rodriguez’s earlier album, “Cold Fact,” find its way to a record store in South Africa during the height of the Apartheid? More than simply appear, “Fact” was copied, shared and sold hundreds of thousands of times — such a revered album, in fact, that one of “Searching for Sugar Man’s” interviewees lists it alongside “Abbey Road” and “Bridge over Troubled Water” as an essential piece of any respectable South African record collection. The only catch: No one in South Africa knows anything about Rodriguez beyond what’s on that record, making his existence even more mythical than it is in Detroit. So what gives? “SFSM” is what happens when a few passionate fans stop guessing and venture to find out. And without spoiling the details of their endeavor, the truth is better than the legends. “SFSM” is a sobering reminder that talent doesn’t always translate to recognition in the music industry. But it’s just as much a reminder of the power of reaching a few people — regardless of where — with your gift. And what a gift it is. Rodriguez’s music adorns the entirety of “SFSM,” and it’s hard not to wonder how much more of it there would be had sharing been as easy and global as it is today.
Extras: Director commentary, director Q&A, behind-the-scenes feature.

The Paperboy (R, 2012, Millennium)
It is admirable that “The Paperboy” sets its story up so earnestly. The case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) — a scumball who nonetheless may have been framed for the murder of an even scummier sheriff — is compelling. The company determined to set the record straight — a reporter with secrets of his own (Matthew McConaughey), his little brother (Zac Efron), a death row groupie (Nicole Kidman) engaged to marry Hillary and a black reporter (David Oyelowo) who carries himself with seemingly impossible confidence amid the backdrop of a racially divided 1960s South Florida — make it ever more compelling. But if ever there was a case against too much character design, it is evident here, where whatever semblance of a central storyline there was drifts out to sea and eventually just disappears without a trace. Yet here, also, is the case against the case, because “The Paperboy” is a wholly, infectiously enjoyable mess anyway. From the top of the marquee on down, everyone — even Efron, despite playing what comparatively is the straight character — is acting just a little bit out of their minds. Because no one goes obnoxiously overboard, and because “The Paperboy” sneakily applies lots of care to each of its main characters’ makeups, the hamming is easy to enjoy. Stacked against a coherent storyline that may have just wrapped up like so many other similar premises, going off the rails may even be the asset that saves the show. But for fans of stories that finish what they started, viewer beware nonetheless. Macy Gray also stars (and, to a point, narrates).
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, interviews.

Keep the Lights on (NR, 2012, Music Box Films)
If nothing else, “Keep the Lights on” feels, for better or worse, pretty authentic. “Lights” begins in 1998 with Erik (Thure Lindhardt), an aspiring documentarian who has carried the “aspiring” tag through his twenties and into his thirties, looking for companionship and using quick fixes to find it. Eventually, he meets Paul (Zachary Booth), and “Light” takes us all the way to 2006 with stops at 2000 and 2003 in between. As perhaps can be guessed by the stop-and-start pattern in the chronology, Erik and Paul’s relationship has some tumultuous stops and starts itself, and the film’s handling of them ultimately comes down to each viewer’s own filter and personal experience. What some see as poignant, others will find needlessly delicate, and one perception of enduring is another idea of completely tiresome. Different perceptions seep into the characters themselves, too: With respect to Paul, “Lights” overwhelmingly is Erik’s movie instead of theirs together, and that imbalance makes it easy to view Paul as a device who keeps popping back up instead of an equal half of a whole. Erik himself is either affectingly sensitive or exhaustingly fragile, and both hypotheses have a point. The torrent of polarization is a credit to “Lights” as a movie, if not as entertainment for all. Some won’t like the sound of its voice, but its devotion to that voice is steadfast nonetheless.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, cast audition footage.

True Nature (NR, 2013, Monarch Home Entertainment)
One night while out for a jog, collage-aged teenager Marianne (Marianne Porter) saw a pair of headlights, screamed, and — at least as far as we’re allowed to know — disappeared without a trace. That’s the bad news. The good news: A year after she disappeared, Reg (Reg Land) and Becky (Carolyn McCormick) Pascal’s daughter just as mysteriously has returned home. Story complete, right? Perhaps — except that Marianne, whose personality is a shell of its former self, can remember neither the details of her disappearance nor anything that’s happened in the year since. “True Nature” doesn’t feel overly obligated to fill us in on those details, nor is it in any hurry to explain Reg’s own troubles with a group of gentlemen who commit the film’s first killing before we even meet the Pascal family. Lest you watch “Nature” hoping for an attitude adjustment down the road, it’s worth noting no such thing is on the way. Revelations do lie in store, and the ones offered up are pretty cut and dry. But “Nature’s” creepy crawl toward answers is dotted with several questions, some of them major, that seem deliberately left open to interpretation. For those who like all letters definitively dotted and crossed, the angle at which Marianne’s story fades out may frustrate. But the haziness never gives way to full-blown opacity, and if “Nature” simply wanted to keep people talking and speculating after the credits rolled, it strikes a pretty good balance to that effect.
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.

End of Watch (R, 2012, Universal)
We’ve apparently reached the summit of the gritty shaky-cam cop drama mountain — perhaps with “The Shield,” perhaps with “Training Day” — and now we’re just rolling downslope in a barrel full of also-rans. “End of Watch” rides along with LAPD officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña), and most of its footage conceivably comes from cameras they themselves either hold or have pinned to their uniforms. That trick allows “Watch” to frame chases from their perspective, up to and including a few shots that mimic a first-person video game. If the top concern is to look thrilling, mission completely accomplished. But putting all this flash to genuinely thrilling use is another story. Actually, it’s a whole bushel of stories as “Watch” bounces from job to job — a quick house fire here, a momentary shootout here, some grisly discoveries in between — like it’s trying to cram a season of television into the space of a movie. Through it all, a story is told, and insights into Taylor and Zavala are made. But every time “Watch’s” temperature rises, it almost instantly falls before jumping to the next episode. For a story so dominated by two characters, and even with “Watch” delving into both officers’ personal lives, there’s surprisingly little room for viewer investment. And when “Watch” shoots for the big finish — which feels obligatory following so many spikes that flame out so quickly — the impact isn’t nearly what it should be. Rather, it’s merely the loudest in a series of flashy but empty scenes that never form a powerful cohesive whole.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scenes, five behind-the-scenes features.

Nobody Walks (R, 2012, Magnolia)
The first problem that afflicts “Nobody Walks” may not be its biggest problem. But the issue at hand — what, exactly, is everybody doing here? — never really goes away, and if it isn’t the biggest problem, it certainly holds the door for the one that is. In one corner of “Walks” is Peter (John Krasinski), a sound technician who agrees seemingly as a favor to assist in constructing sound for Martine’s (Olivia Thirlby) thesis installation. With Peter not having even met Martine in person before she arrives to live at his home, it isn’t totally clear why any of this is happening. Meanwhile, Peter’s wife Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt), a psychiatrist, suspects Peter has a crush while also fending off a patient (Justin Kirk) who has a crush on her. This comprises pretty much the entirety of the patient’s storyline, who — like Peter and Julie’s daughter Kolt (India Ennenga), Kolt’s Italian tutor (Emanuele Secci), Peter’s assistant (Rhys Wakefield) and Julie’s ex-husband (Dylan McDermott), who appears for a single scene and is never seen again — are just kind of around. “Walks” would be less frustrating were it a roundly lousy movie with no merit, but it’s reasonably well written and has better character construction than its baffling sorta-premise implies. Unfortunately, that nag about nearly everybody feeling out of place never subsides, and with “Walks” unable to provide any weight to its characters’ motives, most of them just come off as contemptible by default, which is much worse than if they came off that way by design.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

1/15/13: Wake in Fright, Life's Too Short S1, I am Bruce Lee, To Rome With Love, Detropia, Taken 2, The Amazing World of Gumball: The Mystery

Wake in Fright (R, 1971, Drafthouse Films)
Made in 1971, “Wake in Fright” isn’t exactly a new film. But if you weren’t in Australia to see it in theaters back then, this presentation — the first surfacing of the film, long considered lost, in four decades — is new to you. Fortunately, due to being at least 20 years ahead of its time, it’s also aged quite well. “Fright” is the story of John (Gary Bond), a city boy stuck with a debt to the government that’s tethered to a teaching job in the middle of nowhere. En route to a holiday trip to Sydney to see his girlfriend, John makes a pit stop in Bundanyabba — The Yabba, as the locals call it. A gambling misadventure poses an opportunity to pay off the debt and escape the job, but it goes all sorts of awry, and now a penniless John sits at the mercy of a town full of people all too willing to enable his heightened sense of self-loathing. What happens next isn’t a case of plots turning or shoes dropping. Rather, it’s a total descent into debauchery and madness that’s nearly wholly devoid of rhyme or reason, set in a town where refusing a drink is a cardinal sin. Had character design not been its top priority, “Fright” might be pointless at best and gradually unwatchable. But John’s completely unfeasible descent is an engrossing car crash when dragged through this cast of maniacs, whose line between friendly, hospitable and rather terrifying is thin and graphically unsettling beyond comprehension. Little actually tangibly happens, as the almost comical post-climax comedown subtly acknowledges, but “Fright’s” picture of nothing nonetheless beats the evocative pants off most movies’ portrayals of something.
Extras: Director/editor commentary, director Q&A from the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, two behind-the-scenes features, news segment on the film’s rediscovery and restoration, 28-page companion booklet.

Life’s Too Short: The Complete First Season (NR, 2011, HBO)
You might be familiar with Warwick Davis’s work if you’ve seen “Return of the Jedi,” “Willow” or various ” Harry Potter” films. If not, though, no worries: You’d fit in just fine on an episode of “Life’s Too Short.” “Short” is the story of Davis’s attempt to get out of debt and achieve the household name status he sort of likes to believe he already has. And it would be one seriously sad story were it not — as the presence of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant on both sides of the cameras makes clear — completely made up. In the grand tradition of Gervais’s and Merchant’s television work, “Short” is a mockumentary, albeit with all three playing socially disastrous versions of themselves instead of fictional characters. (As a bonus, most episodes feature a guest star — Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp and Steve Carell, among others — portraying themselves with equally and sometimes exceedingly unflattering abandon.) “Short” follows the Gervais/Merchant blueprint closely, and it leans on the same gags — Davis’s dwarf stature and the fact that no one recognizes him, to name two — with enough frequency to suggest one seven-episode season is all the premise really needs. But those gags go down some hilariously dark avenues, the guest appearances are wonderfully ridiculous, and the upside to Gervais and Merchant having a blueprint for this long is that they know how to polish it to perfection. It helps also that the newcomer keeps up and arguably steals the show. Davis is a good sport about making complete fun of himself, and despite some stiff competition, he reigns supreme as the sharpest, funniest and best reason to watch.
Contents: Seven episodes, plus deleted scenes, outtakes, a making-of feature and 10 behind-the-scenes clips.

I am Bruce Lee (NR, 2012, Shout Factory)
This July will mark 40 years since Bruce Lee died suddenly in his prime at 32, and as “I am Bruce Lee’s” closing moments attest, both those who knew him intimately and admired him from afar are still coming to grips with how someone so gifted could die so young. Lest “IABL” sound like a solemn remembrance, though, rest assured it’s anything but. To the contrary, “IABL” overwhelmingly is a stylish, eyes-wide-open celebration of the man who disrupted not just martial arts, but everything — from the art of the fight scene to interracial marriage to philosophy to the sex appeal of Asian men in America — that breached his orbit. The line of people willing to speak about Lee’s influence stretches around the block: Lee’s widow and surviving family offer perspectives only they have, while a unique collection of martial artists, actors and athletes (Gina Carano, Mickey Rourke and black belt Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill, to name three) breathlessly discuss Lee’s influence on multiple facets of their own callings. But perhaps “IABL’s” most valuable assets are the moments where, during his own 1965 Hollywood screen test and a 1971 appearance on “The Pierre Berton Show,” Lee gets to speak for himself. For those who know Lee only for his physical gifts and not his eloquence as a speaker, these segments — and “IABL” is generous with sharing them throughout the film — may drop some jaws.
Extras: Training footage from Lee’s backyard school, the uncut screen test, action scene montage, short feature on Lee’s global impact.

To Rome With Love (R, 2012, Sony Pictures Classics)
Woody Allen has some kind of knack for making movies that are both thoughtful and light as a feather, and “To Rome With Love” may be light enough to use some of his other films as a paperweight. “Love” divides its time among a handful of stories connected by proximity but little else — including but not limited to the laws of reality themselves. Roberto Benigni (Leopoldo) becomes an overnight celebrity, but has no idea why. Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) develops not-quite feelings for his girlfriend’s (Greta Gerwig) visiting friend Monica (Ellen Page), and does so despite the objections of John (Alec Baldwin), whom he meets on the street but who then shadows him as a guardian angel he and Monica can speak to at separate times. By contrast, the case of the opera singer (Fabio Armiliato), who only can sing in a shower, and the newlyweds (Alessandra Mastronardi, Alessandro Tiberi), who briefly part and go on separate adventures with no seeming urgency to reunite, are pedestrian in their flouting of logic. To strain to make empirical sense of “Love” is to try harder than the movie itself does. It’s magic, and not magic anyone cares to explain, nor is it necessarily the kind that leads “Love” toward an emphatic conclusion. On those terms, much is left to be desired. But amid all the weirdness is yet another round of what Allen uniquely does best. “Love’s” observations about human behavior aren’t exactly profound, but they’re amusing and strangely invigorating in how random and silly they are. Sometimes, that’s all a consistently amusing two hours needs. In English and Italian with English subtitles where needed. Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Detropia (NR, 2012, Docurama)
For those whose heads remain above sand, the woes plaguing the city of Detroit — America’s fastest shrinking city, down half its manufacturing jobs and crawling with more than 100,000 empty homes and lots after being the fastest-growing city in the 1930s — need no introduction. And if the words of blues club owner Tommy Stevens — easily the most engaging and passionate of those interviewed for “Detropia” — ring true, ignoring Detroit’s woes will turn them into a national instead of local crisis. Then again, there’s also the likes of Steve and Dorota Coy, a pair of artists who purchased a pretty nice downtown loft for a measly $25,000. Is the future of Detroit seen in its empty lots and factories or its downtown, which is attracting young residents and could very well experience a rebirth if enough of them get in on the ground floor? And what of the old Detroit, which continues hemorrhaging middle-class residents and strangling working-class jobs? All this and more is discussed in “Detropia,” but not necessarily in the manner you might expect. Instead of experts and analysts who offer talking points but little else, “Detropia” fills its frame with Detroit’s very own — people like Stevens and the Coys who discuss their city as citizens with a considerable rooting interest instead of talking heads who detachedly view Detroit as a living case study. There’s obviously a place for the latter, and it’s out there. “Detropia” is a tough love letter to a place it holds pretty dear, and between the images it presents and the people it introduces us to, it’s an impactful one.
Extra: A second film’s worth of deleted and extended scenes.

Taken 2 (PG-13, 2012, Fox)
“Taken 2” is what happens when a movie develops a cult following, realizes it and decides to shamelessly bask in the sunshine of its good fortune. In “Taken 2,” retired secret agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are vacationing in Istanbul, and despite Kim’s lingering trauma and Bryan’s lingering paranoia about Kim’s previous kidnapping, the family lets its carefree flag fly. Alas, despite Bryan killing a small army in “Taken,” remnants of those kidnappers remain, and Turkey marks their chance to seek vengeance by kidnapping Kim, Lenore or even Bryan or all three. It’s three times the “Taken” for the price of one! If the original “Taken” was a thoroughly ridiculous movie, it was one with seemingly earnest intentions. “Taken 2,” by contrast, strives for absurdity nirvana and just blasts away, turning nearly everyone into a video game character and shutting off its phone whenever implausibility calls to check in. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because if a second “Taken” film must exist, where else could it possibly go if it doesn’t go crazy? “Taken 2” is silly, self-aware and strangely formulaic in spite of being so silly, but it’s one of those movies that’s fun both because of and in spite of itself. And for those who want a little more time with secret agent Mills — and his showing in “Taken” makes that an entirely reasonable request — this will certainly do.
Extras: Unrated and theatrical cuts of the film, deleted/extended scenes, alternate ending, two behind-the-scenes features, Black Ops field manual, kill counter.

— “The Amazing World of Gumball: The Mystery” (NR, 2011, Cartoon Network): With “Adventure Time,” “Regular Show” and now “The Amazing World of Gumball,” Cartoon Network has cornered the market on cartoons that bridge the gap between adult and kids cartoons in a way that somehow pleases both sides immensely. That’s the good trend. The bad trend is the network’s affinity for releasing DVD sets with fuzzy episode math before double dipping and producing the complete season sets later. Like the previously-released “The Amazing World of Gumball: The DVD,” “The Mystery” includes what it calls 12 episodes from season one — except each 11-minute episode here is actually one segment of an actual episode, which each had two segments. There were 18 actual episodes, good for 36 segments, meaning this set is actually one-third of season one despite containing 12 “episodes.” Not confusing at all, right? The hassle might be worth it for shows like “Gumball,” which find the sweet spot between harmless, dark and funny all over. But it might also be worth it to just wait for the season one set that inevitably will appear down the road (and probably this year). Along with the 12 “episodes,” “Mystery” includes a character gallery.

1/8/13: Frankenweenie, Game Change, Samsara, Smash S1, Enlightened S1, Compliance, The Inbetweeners Movie, Dredd, The Goode Family

Frankenweenie (PG, 2012, Disney)
Beneath all the crazy that engulfs it, “Frankenweenie” is just a movie about a boy, Victor, and his dog Sparky. The only wrinkle, as the title certainly implies, is that Sparky is dead for a small portion of the movie. Victor, buoyed by his creepy science teacher, jolts Sparky back to life as the titular Frankenweenie — bolts in his neck, body in literal stitches, but the same adorable personality fully intact without a scratch. With that development behind it, “Frankenweenie” sort of sprays to all fields — a light screed about humanity’s love/hate relationship with science here, a clever “Frankenstein” spoof there, and a loud and boisterous tribute to any number of monster movies as everything that happens next comes to a head. “Frankenweenie” previously existed as a live-action short Tim Burton made back in 1984, and had that style been applied to this incarnation, it might’ve been too much. But the animated “Frankenweenie’s” visual style — monochrome, with wonderful character designs that would be right at home in Burton’s other animated worlds — is a magnificent fit and as much a love letter to old monster movies as the script itself is. For every sequence of insanity, there’s a handful of charming animated nuances that arguably steal the show for those paying close attention. And no one does nuance better than Sparky himself. No matter where “Frankenweenie” goes, it begins as and steadfastly remains a tale of a boy and his dog — a grounded story about total bedlam if ever there was one.
Extras: Animated short “Captain Sparky vs The Flying Saucers,” the original live-action “Frankenweenie” short, two behind-the-scenes features, music video.

Game Change (NR, 2012, HBO)
Search for an angle in “Game Change,” and that angle almost certainly will avail itself. “Change,” based on a portion of the book of the same name, is the dramatization of John McCain’s (Ed Harris) scuffling 2008 campaign and the shot in the dark his staff (Woody Harrelson, Sarah Paulson, Peter MacNicol) took by bringing Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) on board despite only vetting her for days instead of weeks. Was it a stroke of genius? Sure. Was it a disaster? Sure. Was she staggeringly clueless, a victim of a vengeful media, childish when challenged, a gifted politician or a sympathetic figure who was let down by a staff that recklessly threw her to the dogs? All of the above, none of the above. “Change” mostly recites history as it’s been exhaustively documented by those who either witnessed or shaped the campaign, so its artistry comes via zooming in close and painstakingly humanizing Palin, McCain, their advisers and even the campaign itself. Regardless of whatever slant one wants to level at it, it fulfills that primary objective exceedingly well. Evidence runs wild for those whose primary concern is tagging it as biased for the campaign or biased against it. But it’s a waste of angst. “Change’s” intimate humanization of politics has nothing to do with parties and policies and everything to do with the treachery of self-betrayal, the pitfalls of drive-by electioneering and the awful things one must do to win (or lose) an election in this climate.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, feature on politics itself.

Samsara (PG-13, 2012, MPI/Oscilloscope)
As New Year’s resolvers the world over wax hopeful about shunning distractions and renewing their relationship with mindfulness, the arrival of “Samsara” — a sequel of sorts to 1992’s “Baraka” — could scarcely be more timely. Like its predecessor, “Samsara” is an entirely wordless documentary, a collection of scenes wondrous (stoic mountaintops, massively kinetic assembly lines of people), terrible (a natural disaster’s aftermath), whimsical (an office worker going wild with some face paint) or something in between set either to music or whatever natural soundtrack accompanies them. Almost unarguably, every one of these 102 minutes is exquisitely shot — a credit both to the 70mm film used to capture them and the gift of composition on behalf of the crew that shot and arranged them. But everything else about “Samsara,” up to and including its very being, is considerably more debatable. If there’s an overlying message, it’s abstract enough to mean anything to anybody on any terms they want. That, of course, includes the dueling messages that “Samsara” is (a) a gorgeous visual meditation about the world’s vast beauty or (b) a mindless, pretentious collage of pretty footage that says nothing whatsoever. “Samsara” exists at the mercy of its viewers, subject not only to home theaters that can’t do the original theatrical presentation complete justice, but also personal notions of what a film should be, say or do. Put another way, it isn’t for everyone and has no aspirations to be. But for those with whom it connects, the capacity for “Samsara” to strike a nerve, and do so to wholly unpredictable effect, is enormous.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features.

Smash: Season One (NR, 2012, NBC Universal)
The best thing about “Smash” isn’t that it avoids all the trappings one might fear from a serial drama about issue-ravaged people conceiving and shaping a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Rather, the best thing about “Smash” is the way it steps right in those trappings and comes out looking pretty good anyway. The laws of relative cynicism suggest “Smash” wouldn’t exist if “Glee” didn’t make it safe for musical television, and the lavish musical numbers — which begin as workshopped rehearsals performed by people in sweats before morphing into spectacular stage showpieces — borrow some style cues from that show. But where “Glee” is a soapy high school drama that can’t get out of its own preachy way, “Smash” checks itself — never getting too high, low, flip or serious despite embracing all the themes one expects from the battle of egos that erupts as “Marilyn” comes into being. Without the capacity to harangue and thoroughly annoy, “Smash” instead just ventures to entertain, and the season-long odyssey is far more exciting than it seemingly should have any right to be. Debra Messing, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty and Anjelica Huston, among others, star.
Contents: 15 episodes, plus deleted scenes, extended musical numbers, two behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.

Enlightened: The Complete First Season (NR, 2011, HBO)
It might be possible to kick “Enlightened” off with a scene more memorable than a tear/mascara-streaked Amy (Laura Dern) rampaging through an office hallway and clawing open a closed elevator door before promising death to her boss. But you know what? Probably not. With the wrap of that scene, and following a brief montage wherein Amy takes a sabbatical to seek peace and rehabilitation, “Enlightened” resumes with Amy back in her old life and attempting to reconcile her spiritual awakening with everything that drove her crazy in the first place. With that step begins the enormously challenging task of building a show around a character who wore out her friends, coworkers, exes and even mother for reasons that are immediately and abundantly clear. Though sometimes funny, “Enlightened” isn’t a comedy, which means it doesn’t expect us to just laugh off what a mess Amy is. But “Enlightened” also isn’t fully serious, because asking viewers to solemnly sympathize with Amy at her most tiresome is effectively asking people to turn off the TV. “Enlightened” even eludes the half-and-half comedy/drama classification. The lines are too blurry, and the shifts from funny to dark to saccharine without irony (or occasionally with it in spades) are way too erratic. Where “Enlightened” actually is consistent is with its rather remarkable ability to give us all this tiring, semi-disorganized material without wearing us out as well. Scrambled though it is, Amy’s dual search for enlightenment and a steady paycheck has resonance, and “Enlightened” toes a smart line to draw that out.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary and a behind-the-scenes feature for each episode.

Compliance (R, 2012, Magnolia)
Perhaps “Compliance’s” only justification for existence is that it’s based on a true story. But when your true story is as unbelievable as this one, that may be the only justification necessary. “Compliance” dramatizes the case of fast food restaurant employee Louise Ogborn (renamed Becky here and played by Dreama Walker), who matched the vague description of a woman accused of stealing money from a customer’s purse. That accusation came via a phone call from a man who describes himself as police officer. The voice on the line struggles to explain why he can’t appear at the restaurant in person to handle what apparently is a gravely serious matter, but that doesn’t stop him from tricking the restaurant’s manager (Ann Dowd) and other employees into conducting a grossly unethical investigation. Nor, amazingly, does it stop Becky from cooperating with an investigation whose particulars violate common sense on a mind-melting level. As drama goes, “Compliance” takes the tasteful high road and plays it straight — almost to the point where one feasibly could accuse it of playing it safe. That argument barks loudest during the final few scenes, which frame the aftermath — and Dowd’s character — in a way that will make some wish more time was devoted to that period. With this being a true story, though, the story of the actual fallout is readily available for perusal. And once you see the depths to which presumably decent people plunged despite the blare of conventional wisdom alarm bells firing off, a desire to know the rest of the story is practically compulsory.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, director interview.

The Inbetweeners Movie (R, 2011, Lions Gate)
Before “The Inbetweeners” became yet another regrettable Americanized MTV show, it was an enviably funny British show about four likable teenagers (Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas) navigating the waters of adolescence like a boat with a hole in it. With “The Inbetweeners Movie,” the boys have graduated and embarked on a two-week holiday in Greece that ideally will do more for their social standing with women than the preceding 18 years did. Fortunately — at least for us — the hole in the boat hasn’t been patched just yet. To state the obvious, “Movie” is particularly a treat for fans of the show, because nothing that was great about the show’s mix of crass humor and adorable naïveté has been lost by stretching it into a feature film. But for those completely unfamiliar with this foursome up to now, “Movie” remains a perfectly good time — partially because it doesn’t lean on inside jokes and quickly brings everyone up to speed about who these goofs are, but primarily because it’s just plain funny and lovable no matter how familiar one is with their antics.
Extras: Cast commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.

Dredd (R, 2012, Lions Gate)
If “Dredd” was a student in school, it would be the most aggravating kind of student — the one who is demonstrably smart, has bright ideas and understands the scope of the assignments, but who never can quite put it all together. “Dredd’s” story is pretty familiar: America is a post-nuclear war zone, reduced to a megacity whose rule is torn between gang lords and law enforcement “judges” who use gunfire instead of due process to dispense justice. In “Dredd,” that boils down to the titular Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) on one side and criminal kingpin Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) on the other. As foils, they’re perfect for each other: Dredd’s a dull character with cool toys, while Ma-Ma rules with nothing more than bloodthirsty charisma and the army she assembled with it. Problem is, this one’s called “Dredd” and not “Ma-Ma,” so the bulk of the character development — such that it is — goes to a character with no personality and no real intrigue beyond the insane violence his weapon can unleash. The nag of dissatisfaction permeates much of “Dredd,” which on one hand manages the impossible (validating multiple instances of stylistic self-indulgence) but on the other can’t completely make an interesting case for yet another movie about post-apocalyptic America. Flashes of ingenuity pop up throughout the film, and those and Ma-Ma’s character add up to a movie that has more highlights than lowlights. But there’s something wrong when a comic book movie runs only 96 minutes long and still feels like it’s regularly stalling for time.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features, motion comic prequel.

The Goode Family: The Complete Series (NR, 2009, Shout Factory)
To say Mike Judge’s most recent animated series soared under the radar would be an understatement and overstatement at once. On one hand, how many people even heard about “The Goode Family” while it was on the air — and on ABC, no less? If the network buzzed about it, it was at a hum low enough for even Judge’s fans not to hear. But perhaps the network was onto something. Like Judge’s “Idiocracy” did, “Family” makes a caricature out of humanity — in this case, a family obsessed with social responsibility, carbon footprints and bleeding-edge political correctness — and pummels it relentlessly on the nose. But while that works for a movie, the gimmick is way too thin to carry a series. “Family’s” characters never feel like characters so much as vessels for different flavors of the same joke, and the show never really soars beyond its premise into something that’s engaging, much less enduringly funny. Perhaps that growth would’ve come had “Family” not been buried by its own network. But with 13 episodes on record, there’s no evidence that any such thing would’ve happened.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes and unaired scripts.

1/1/13: Looper, Killer Joe, The Words, Liberal Arts, Cosmopolis

Looper (R, 2012, Sony Pictures)
Roughly halfway through “Looper,” there’s a sit-down between Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a little kid named Cid (Pierce Gagnon), and their chat is a testament to how splendidly efficiency and poignance can play off one another. Cid asks Joe some unapologetically direct questions about why Joe kills people, Joe answers honestly, and the kid volunteers answers about his own life just as plainly. The significance of the exchange is, for unspoiled reasons, truly felt later on. But even in the moment, it’s a sharp reminder of what this movie continually does so well. “Looper” very easily could and maybe should have been a mess. It’s a story hinging around not only time travel, but its criminal applications and what happens when a hired gun’s older self (Bruce Willis) tries to escape his fate — which, because organized crime is organized crime, means murder by way of his younger self’s gun. In case that isn’t enough, there’s also memory distortion and telekinesis, which plays a growing role as “Looper” attempts to reconcile itself. Remarkably, it does reconcile itself, and even more remarkably, there’s never a moment when it feels like reconciliation is in doubt. “Looper” doesn’t shirk from the complicated logic of its parts, but it contains the blaze by keeping its scope modest and answering questions with answers instead of more questions. That leaves it plenty of time to dote on its characters. And dote “Looper” does, weaving thrilling sci-fi and rich character drama into a single thread with an ease that puts countless other movies to complete shame. Emily Blunt also stars.
Extras: Director/Gordon-Levitt/Blunt commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, animated trailer.

Killer Joe (R/NR, 2011, Lions Gate)
From the instant Gina Gershon enters the frame as Sharla — wife to Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), stepmom to Chris (Emile Hirsch) and Dottie (Juno Temple), and witness to a plan to off Ansel’s first wife, collect her life insurance and settle Chris’s debt with some dangerous people — it is clear “Killer Joe” has no wish to do anything but dare viewers, at their own peril, to take it at face value. Once Matthew McConaughey waltzes in as Killer Joe Cooper, who pulls double duty as a cop and a hit man, the dare elevates to double dog status. Skeletally, what happens next is customary: We meet the characters, we see the stakes via the scary people who haunt Chris, and a bad idea disguised as a plan begins its downhill descent. But inside those lines, “Joe” — like its namesake — just makes up the rules and does whatever it wants. Exploitative for nearly no reason? Absolutely and almost immediately. Violent in a manner that’s gruesome and slapstick at once? Yep. Willfully, proudly self-indulgent in terms of everything from the shaming of its own characters to the amazing things they do when pushed too far? All day long, and spectacularly so during a closing scene you’ll be hard-pressed to forget. “Joe” has enough straight-faced and conventionally exciting scenes to present the mirage of a serious thriller, and those who buy into the mirage may — may — invest so heavily as to think the crazy that happens in between and beyond isn’t “Joe’s” desired result. But Sharla’s introduction all but makes it clear that none of what follows is undesirable, and “Joe’s” wild third act forcefully validates why.
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature, SXSW director interview and cast Q&A.

The Words (PG-13/NR, 2012, Sony Pictures)
“The Words” is, on its shell, a story about an author (Dennis Quaid as Clay) giving a reading of his newest book, which shares its title with the movie. That book is the story of Rory (Bradley Cooper), a struggling wannabe author whose work is good but unmarketable until a lucky twist of fate changes his fortune. That twist itself hinges on its own story involving a man (Jeremy Irons) whose role is best left unspoiled. When “The Words” hits the unspoiled core of its story within a story within a story, what it finds there is simple but compelling because of context. And when that core doubles back to Rory’s story — and, in turn, brings “The Words” to a sort of halftime in Clay’s story — it sets the table for an engrossing second half on all three levels. And then, somehow, and despite being a movie about the gift of moving storytelling, “The Words” takes a faceplant and tumbles down all three flights of stairs en route to a ending that’s staggeringly flat. Satisfactorily ending a story is no trivial challenge, and properly resolving three stacked stories is exponentially harder. But “The Words” seems almost not to try, and as it crumbles with such a resounding whimper, it’s enough to wonder what the point even was of spinning this fable in the first place. It’s a beautiful movie that’s crawling with great performances and excellent writing, but the brick wall it hits is a killer. Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde also star.
Extras: Extended cut of the movie (adds six minutes), two behind-the-scenes features, character profiles.

Liberal Arts (PG-13, 2012, IFC Films)
A funny realization sinks in roughly halfway through “Liberal Arts.” Jesse (Josh Radnor), a 35-year-old writer from New York, receives an invitation from an old professor to speak at his retirement ceremony. While there, he meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a 19-year-old student who’s bored with her fellow classmates. She takes an immediate liking to him. So does Dean (John Magaro), another random student whom Jesse meets by commenting on the book he’s reading, and Nat (Zac Efron), who is just sitting on a bench one night when he takes an immediate and nearly spiritual liking to Jesse for no reason whatsoever. “Arts” frequently serves up people who take special interest in Jesse despite presenting Jesse himself as a decent but unremarkable guy who makes unremarkable introductions. Eventually, the realization kicks in that nothing past “Arts’s” opening scene — wherein Jesse’s former girlfriend completes the process of leaving him while he meekly watches — feels like a scene Jesse actually earns. With that observation attained, perhaps it’s no surprise Radnor also wrote and directed the story in which he stars. In fairness to “Arts,” it excels as much as it doesn’t: It’s occasionally funny, and it at least uses these undeserved opportunities to assemble some engaging exchanges between Jesse and whomever is presently admiring him. But while it’s possible to use “Arts’s” upside to ignore how out of alignment its honesty is at its most base level, actually doing so isn’t easy. And should it prove impossible, the consequences — up to and including a festering resentment of the star and brain trust of the entire movie — can be dire.
Extras: Radnor commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Cosmopolis (R, 2012, Entertainment One)
“Why are they called airports?” “I know I can’t answer these questions without losing your respect.” Dialogue volleys like this run rampant across “Cosmopolis,” and its cast often rattles them off with all the romance of an early-morning table reading in which half the cast has a hangover. “Cosmopolis” is ostensibly the story of Eric (Robert Pattinson), a billionaire asset manager whose most pressing goal is to take his limo across town and get a haircut. Unfortunately for him, the limo is a hot zone for visitors who step inside by methods unknown from origins unknown for reasons unknown to unleash a torrent of oppressively pretentious allegories that are indefensibly ridiculous. Those who strain to discern meaning from it all — and, with less difficulty, weave together a story about a financial gamble that could upend Eric’s wealth, to say nothing of his hair — can certainly do so. Despite what a possible “Cosmopolis” advocate might profess, doing so isn’t difficult. Nor, let’s be clear, is rejecting this spectacle of emptiness a sign of a dull mind. Movies that don’t hold viewers’ hands are revered for good reason, but all “Cosmopolis’s” opacity does is grab people by the arm and pull them into a joyless well of good actors reciting bad work, with perhaps only unintentional laughter topping complete, alienated revulsion in terms of emotional output on its audience’s behalf. There are another 364 days left in 2013 during which a more laughably pretentious movie may appear for home theater consumption. But a warning to all comers: The gauntlet is down, and it’s fierce.
Extras: Director commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.