Lincoln (PG-13, 2012, Dreamworks)
Passively, aggressively but mostly indirectly, “Lincoln” is a biography of Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis). More directly and fervently, it is a biography of the 13th Amendment, the battle over its inevitable passage, the mindsets of those who fought over it (Abraham Lincoln’s most prominently, perhaps, but not by much) and the politics as usual that — room layouts, gender imbalance and more daring tastes for fashion and unkempt hair aside — looks a lot like today’s politics as usual. It is no-nosense on paper and sometimes dry in practice, but also gamely capable of lurching on a dime into some wondrous fits of bad behavior, tantrums and furious speeches about how what happens or does not happen next will send the country into a moral tailspin. At its most furious, “Lincoln” is a thrilling drama that nonetheless is as capable of engineering sharply funny nastiness as any comedy that’s trying twice as hard to do so. Its ability to halt and resume that momentum while turning inward to better understand the final months of its namesake’s life is perhaps its best gift. But with that said, it merits mentioning that those final months are all “Lincoln” is, and that its democratic look at the constitutional amendment that crystallized his legacy makes this as much a movie about the likes of Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones, who arguably steals the movie) and Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) as it is Lincoln. (Insert a joke here about how “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which takes on Lincoln’s entire life, out-biopics “Lincoln,” but there’s more truth to that joke than you might expect.) Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader and Walton Goggins, among others, also star.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features.
Veep: The Complete First Season (NR, 2012, HBO)
Set amid the run-up to the Iraq War, the unbelievably funny “In The Loop” was perhaps the best parallel-universe movie ever made about a real war, because it brilliantly and horrifyingly reduced its superstar team of politicians, generals and other high-ranking world leaders to the playpen of petulant children many of us suspect they are when the cameras and pretense fall away. “Veep,” from some of the same folks who created “Loop” and its television semi-prequel “The Thick of It,” uses its longer runtime leash to zoom in a little closer, with the first season focusing primarily on Vice President Selina Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) attempt to keep her foot away from her mouth while assembling a clean jobs commission that somehow caters simultaneously to those who want clean jobs and those who don’t seem like they would but want a seat at the table anyway. (Lobbyists, like children, just like to be included.) If that sounds like a drag, good news: Selina and her equally foot-mouthed staff (Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Matt Walsh and Sufe Bradshaw, among others) completely agree, and they have some sharply funny ways of letting everybody know. “Veep” is a show set around politics, but it’s a show about politics for people who hate what typically constitutes a show about politics. It doesn’t take sides or focus on one ideology over the other, because why bother when it’s way more fun to set the entire system on fire with a big, profane, brilliantly nasty torch that takes zero prisoners and delivers some of the funniest lines available on television right now?
Contents: Eight episodes, plus 12 commentary tracks (not a typo; some episodes have multiple tracks), deleted scenes/outtakes, a behind-the-scenes feature, a PSA from Meyer about obesity and a clarification from Meyer about one of her foot-in-mouth episodes.
GLOW: The Story of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (NR, 2012, Docurama)
By all accounts, the ascent of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling was a 10-car pileup of mostly happy accidents. The wrestlers had no idea they were trying out for a wrestling show at all when they arrived for auditions, and only after trainer Mondo Guerrero put one of them in a painful submission hold did they understand the whole thing wasn’t a joke. The show runners allegedly designed GLOW mostly as a vehicle for selling other products during commercial breaks rather than as a show meant to flourish on its own. And if the numerous testimonies that comprise “GLOW” hold any weight — and they do, considering how many former stars show up —seemingly no one envisioned GLOW catching fire at all, much less attracting a national following and turning its wrestlers into superstars and role models. The story of what actually happened practically sells itself, and “GLOW” doesn’t argue, providing a ton of funny, endearing and sometimes harrowing footage while leaving the ladies to run a similar emotional gamut through their recollections of the strangest, hardest, most painful and most thrilling days of their lives as sports entertainment pioneers. Purely as a piece of history, it’s a ton of fun. But “GLOW’s” larger legacy, as a story about people taking risks and forming lifelong friendships over a groundbreaking idea they never would have imagined making happen until it was happening, is a thrill that transcends wrestling and makes an interest in the sport a completely optional pre-requisite.
Extras: Billy Corgan commentary, deleted scenes, extended interviews, GLOW skits/raps compilation, matches and behind-the-scenes footage, United Film Festival Q&A.
Dead in France (NR, 2012, Breaking Glass Pictures)
Charles (Brian A. Levine), like most fictitious middle-aged hit men who head up their own movie, is ready to hang it up, go legit and live out the rest of his days peacefully. But as always happens to people like Charles, pretty much everyone else — from a trio of unseasoned thieves to an old rival (Kate Loustau) to a conniving cleaning lady (Celia Muir) and her completely unhinged boyfriend (Darren Bransford) — seems bent on making this impossible. “Dead in France” is full of characters, with only Charles playing it straight as the mild-mannered, earnest retiree-in-training who finds the prospect of asking a girl out scarier than anything involved in the suddenly-violent pursuit of peace and quiet. But thank goodness for Charles, because this is a movie that absolutely needs him. “France” is a disciple of the Guy Ritchie school of filmmaking, wherein the soundtrack is as gratuitous as the violence and sociopaths of all kinds swerve between raging insanity and completely irreconcilable emotional detachment. The action occasionally plays out with what must be intentional shoddiness before applying extreme care to some brutal act of violence, and the whole thing is presented in black and white seemingly just because. Without Charles, “France” would be a division by zero error in which people act groundlessly crazy for 97 minutes to seemingly no end. It still mostly is, but by giving us just one extremely likable character with motives, brainpower and two feet on the ground, it gives us a rooting interest that makes the surrounding insanity much easier to (mostly) laugh off. (Shame about the final twist, though.)
Extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, photo gallery.
Killing them Softly (R, 2012, Anchor Bay)
If you ever stumble into a book titled “Deep Movies for Dummies,” don’t be surprised if all that’s inside is a shooting script for “Killing Them Softly,” a movie that caters to a crowd for which it seemingly has zero respect. For what it’s worth, it is possible to separate “Softly” from its pretense. Moreover, doing so leaves behind an uncomfortably fun little story about an arrogant mobster (Ray Liotta) who scams his own people before owning up to it without penalty, the small-time crooks (Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy) who try to reenact the heist and pin it on him, and the mob enforcer (Brad Pitt) brought in to clean up the mess and “convict” those he deems responsible for the heist. Purely in terms of the chase, “Softly” is a harsh ride through the bowels of cynicism that excels on a penchant for taking an ugly story and making it surprisingly personal for nearly every character involved. But “Softly” also doesn’t trust its fiction alone to do the talking, nor does it seem to trust viewers to grasp the concept of national cynicism wearing even organized crime down to a tired, miserable slog. So at regular intervals, speeches — first from George W. Bush during the 2008 financial collapse, and eventually from Barack Obama on election night — play loudly and with distracting clarity on televisions and radios in the background. “Softly” very obviously wants to ensure no one misses the allegory it’s positing, and just in case the message isn’t beaten in by film’s end, it takes a mallet and wails away with a final-scene speech that’s so hammer-on-nail literal as to almost — were it not kind of insulting — be funny. James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
The Comedy (NR, 2012, Tribeca Film)
Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is a thoroughly worthless 35-year-old who is just killing time until he inherits his dad’s wealth, at which point he’ll just kill more time until he himself dies. In the meantime, he’s growing restless. And out of his boredom and lack of any adversity whatsoever comes a need to act out and push his restlessness on people until someone finally shoves him back. Unfortunately, with friends (Eric Wareheim, James Murphy) working alongside him to make others uncomfortable and generally act awful to people who don’t deserve it, Swanson isn’t really taking the hard road here, either. “The Comedy” increasingly is not a comedy, and that of course is the point, but it dulls the edge of whatever point it’s trying to make by insulating Swanson inside what basically amounts to a small gang of privileged hipster losers who eschew even trace attempts at sympathy. To its credit, “The Comedy” dangles Swanson out there without explaining him or even making it 100 percent clear that what it presumably is doing is what it intends to do. Protected though he is in his world, Swanson has no such luxury in ours, and his ability to make viewers squirm — both intentionally and completely otherwise — is effective fodder for a discussion about irony, snark, and the weird comfort people seem to find in their own constant disaffection. Maybe that’s the point. Or maybe “The Comedy” is just an abjectly lousy movie courtesy of people who, like Swanson, think there’s value in what effectively is self-indulgence and nothing more. Perhaps it begs as much to be misunderstood by the many as it does to be cherished by the few who herald it as ingenious. When the question is this vague, there are no wrong answers.
Extras: Heidecker/director commentary, deleted scenes.
— “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot: The Complete Series” (NR, 1967, Shout Factory): The beloved Japanese import, about a boy and the giant robot he controls in the fight against monsters bent on destroying Earth, finally gets a legitimate DVD release. Includes all 26 episodes, plus a 24-page booklet with liner notes and an episode guide.
— “Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out” (NR, 2012, Fox): Between “Family Guy,” “Robot Chicken” and the entirety of the Internet, the cup of funny “Star Wars” parodies seems to have no bottom. With “The Padawan Menace” and now “The Empire Strikes Out,” the Lego brand fully belongs in the team photo — primarily because these send-ups are funny as well, but also because they’re the rare all-ages “Star Wars” parody that winks at kids and adults with equal success. Like its predecessor, “Empire” is short at 22 minutes long, but its high energy packs a ton of gags — too many to catch in a single viewing — in that small space. A special Darth Vader minifigure — adorned with his “Employee of the Month” medal, which is a reference to the feature — is bundled with the DVD.