8/27/13: The Painting, The Great Gatsby, At Any Price, Pawn Shop Chronicles, Rapture-Palooza, Pain & Gain

The Painting (NR, 2011, GKIDS/Cinedigm)
Explaining “The Painting” in words is like describing an actual painting the same way: It can be done with some effort, but there’s no way to do it justly, and it’s probably best just to see it for yourself and take from it what you will. “The Painting’s” world is a living, in-progress painting come alive. Visually, it looks utopian, but the reality — a classist system where fully-painted people separate themselves from the partially painted and treat incomplete sketches as if they aren’t human at all — is another story. That’s the simple explanation, and it’s a premise “The Painting” handles simply, perhaps heavy-handedly so. But it’s hard to worry too much about hamfisted literalism in a world like this, where paintings come alive inside paintings, lines blur between worlds and painters are spoken of as if to be gods. On-the-nose though it may be with regard to class discrimination, “The Painting” is incredibly inventive with regard to pretty much everything else that constitutes the reality of its world. And the visual design keeps pace, twisting around itself and bending all rules with regard to color, texture, scale, medium and dimension. That “The Painting’s” animation and writing feel this in tune with one another shouldn’t be a surprise given the nature of the story, but that doesn’t make it any less extraordinary an accomplishment.
Extras: Making-of feature, concept art, original French audio track.

The Great Gatsby (PG-13, 2013, Warner Bros.)
Isn’t it weird how someone can love a story enough to make a movie in its honor, yet fully miss what makes that story so revered in the first place? Apparently it isn’t, because it happens constantly, and it happens again in Baz Luhrmann’s gorgeous, glitzy and stunningly insecure and fatigued tribute to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic. Purely on its own merits, as 143 minutes of sensory entertainment, “Gatsby” offers plenty to like. Bright lights, bright colors, ornate costumes and magnificent set pieces run rampant, Leonardo DiCaprio’s attempted embodiment of Jay Gatsby is fun to watch, and the hip-hop soundtrack is strangely in step with the atmosphere despite being so pointedly at odds with the time period. But try though the kinetic presentation does, it cannot mask the repeated fumbles “Gatsby” commits as it attempts to do even reasonable justice to the book’s heart and soul. Too much that’s implied and left to debate in the book is hammered down with literal strokes here. All that hammering starkly alters the story’s perspective — so much, in fact, that Nick (Tobey Maguire), who is the novel’s narrator and arguable true main character, nearly submerges into irrelevancy here before coming back up for air toward the end. Luhrmann’s vision, meanwhile, seems wedged in an undesirable middle — bold enough to believe in the soundtrack gimmick that easily could alienate those who cherish the book, but too scared to parlay that boldness into a completely new time period and setting that would reinvent this “Gatsby” as a fearless beast of its own creation. For all its audial and visual noise, the most apparent thing about the entire film is that it has no real idea whom its audience even is.
Extras: Alternate ending, deleted scenes, seven behind-the-scenes features, trailer for the 1926 “Gatsby” silent film.

At Any Price (R, 2012, Sony Pictures)
If “At Any Price” wanted to present family man and independent farming magnate Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) as something other than a snake, its opening impression — wherein Henry and son Dean (Zac Efron) crash a funeral in hopes of buying land from the son inheriting it from the father he just buried — does it no favor. But at least the wobbly tone established by that opening scene is an honest, albeit potentially polarizing, harbinger of what lies ahead. “Price” juggles a handful of storylines, including but not limited to Dean’s desire to race cars instead of inherit the family business, the prospect of Henry facing investigation for illegal farming practices, issues of varying ugliness between rival farming families, and relationship subplots for father and son alike. Some of the stories go somewhere but seem to just kind of disappear without resolution, while others (particularly the investigation) may be too inside baseball for many to fully understand without looking elsewhere for background information about the terms and politics. Almost none of them draw any kind of line in the sand in terms of which characters we should actually like and care about, which seems like a colossal oversight for a movie focused around one family and its patriarch. But it’s that refusal (or inability) to draw lines that makes “Price” an engaging movie in spite of its missteps. From the minute Dad commits a gross faux pas at a funeral, the stage is set for a movie where nobody really comes away looking all that clean, and for all its warts, “Price” never takes the easy way out to undo the mess its characters make.
Extras: Director/Quaid commentary, rehearsal footage, Toronto International Film Festival Q&A.

Pawn Shop Chronicles (R, 2013, Anchor Bay)
As reality television show producers have already discovered, every item on a pawn shop shelf has at least one story attached to it. Perhaps fortunately, the vast majority of them aren’t as bloody and deranged as the saga of the wedding ring Richard (Matt Dillon) spots behind the counter and recognizes as the ring he gave to his first wife, who had since vanished from his life. As the title indicates, the shop in which Alton (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Johnson (Chi McBride) hold fort is the gatekeeper of all the traffic that passes through “Chronicles,” which takes a trio and change of disconnected stories — of two-bit criminals, a wounded ex-husband, an Elvis impersonator (Brendan Fraser) and more — and ties them all together into a strange and occasionally wondrous story about crime, violence, revenge, love, happiness and complete and total life fulfillment. “Chronicles” crams its stories together in a fashion no one should ever describe as subtle or seamless, and the line between endearingly stupid and just plain cut-rate filmmaking is awfully thin as it tries to reconcile the violence in its heart with the purity of its intentions. But there’s something contagious about a movie that’s having as much fun as “Chronicles” seems to be having even during its downtime (or closest facsimile of downtime, anyway). For all it does awkwardly, strangely or even poorly, “Chronicles” never stoops so low as to be dull or predictable, and when the goal is to have as much fun as possible whether it makes sense of not, there is no higher priority than that.
Extra: Commentary.

Rapture-Palooza (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
At long last, the Rapture has arrived, and as perhaps was predicted, Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and Ben (John Francis Daley) were left behind to fend for themselves. Depleted population and the occasional locust, wraith, blood downpour and falling rock aside, Earth after the Rapture isn’t terribly different from its pre-Rapture self. And had the Antichrist (Craig Robinson) not finally revealed himself as the man formerly known as a politician named Earl, and had he not decided to steal Lindsey from Ben, life might have just marched on. It’s a premise so banal as to be sort of clever with this backdrop, and that turns out to be “Rapture-Palooza’s” schtick in a nutshell. Once this becomes Robinson’s movie to own, he only occasionally owns it, because “Rapture-Palooza” doesn’t give him much to work with as an Antichrist whose only ambition is to woo a girl. The more the movie hones in on this, the worse it gets. But from the undead guy (Thomas Lennon) who just wants to mow the lawn to the Antichrist lieutenant (Rob Huebel) who simply wants to be held, “Rapture-Palooza” has a lot of silly characters and ideas that keep the end times gag going surprisingly strong. And as it zooms back out and lets the Antichrist do what he does best while all hell sort of literally breaks loose, it finds a funny second wind to carry it through to the end.
Extras: Robinson/Huebel/Rob Corddry commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers.

Pain & Gain (R, 2013, Paramount)
You know that guy who, when stapling two pieces of paper together, needlessly slams on the stapler as loudly and fiercely as he can when a simple press will do? That’s Michael Bay making movies, and were “Pain & Gain” not based on a true story, that approach, for better and worse, would be what separates this from every other movie about three frustrated nobodies (Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie) who turn to crime to jump a few rungs on life’s ladder. From literally the opening minute, “Gain” offers a vision of crime, violence and American dream pursuits that’s rife with as much screaming, yelling, sweating, exploding and bumbling as the frame can safely contain. Nearly every character has a narrator track at some point, and almost nobody gets through this saga without a significant quotient of ineptitude, slapstick and dialogue that’s as purposefully stupid as it is loud. In a vacuum, “Gain” is wondrous and terrible all at once — an Olympic-level demonstration of stupidity and activity that bends over backward to please those with an appetite for dumb but self-aware entertainment. Problem is, “Gain” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s based on a true story from the mid-1990s, it uses the real names from that story, and it turns an incredibly gruesome and very unfunny crime spree into a slapstick comedy that dares to position its three main characters — two still alive on death row, one now a free man — as endearingly silly folk heroes. For those accusing Hollywood of being morally decrepit, Merry Christmas and please accept this gift-wrapped validation on behalf of the one director with enough tone deafness to box it up and hand it over. No extras.

8/20/13: Amour, Highland Park, Killing Season, Epic, Drinking Games, Hitting the Cycle

Amour (PG-13, 2012, Sony Pictures)
“I know it can only get worse. Why should I inflict this on us, on you and me?” If you’ve had any passing exposure to “Amour,” you already know it’s a downer about a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges) watching his wife (Emmanuelle Riva as Anne) face her encroaching mortality after a stroke leaves her partially paralyzed and bed-bound. Or rather, that’s the widely-dispersed assumption as concluded by the fleeting exposure the film received after receiving a Best Picture Oscar nomination. “Amour” is, to be certain, a harshly honest movie about Anne’s declining health and Georges’s internal struggle over what to do when things get worse and Anne’s loss of independence turns her sour. But a dreary art house downer? Not quite. “Amour” is reverent, kind and legitimately very funny in parts, and it’s salty, unfiltered and even a little mean in other parts. More than a picture of death, it’s a picture of life — one that shows us, without ever looking backward or verbalizing it, exactly what compelled Georges and Anne to find each other, keep each other and occasionally drive each other crazy. That doesn’t make the circumstances any easier to swallow, but understanding and appreciation come easily and in droves. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, director Q&A.

Highland Park (NR, 2013, Tribeca Film)
Like several other cities in Detroit’s shadow, Highland Park is in a state of financial disrepair, and the staff (in several cases, former staff) at the local high school is now feeling the effects of that decay up close. For a group of friends (Billy Burke, Danny Glover, Kimberly Elise, John Carroll Lynch, Rockmond Dunbar, Eric Ladin) from that school, the seemingly only easy way out (term used loosely) are the six lucky numbers they pick every week for the lottery ticket they pool money together to buy. An unrealistic road to salvation in our world with the odds being what they are, but this is the movies, so you know where this is going, right? Yep. Fortunately, the rest of “Highland Park” isn’t quite so telegraphed, and the actual act of winning the lottery is the beginning of this story and not anything close to a culmination. There are divergent schools of thought that hypothesize winning the Lotto jackpot is either the blessing or curse of a lifetime, and “Park” covers that spectrum nicely and mixes in some city politics and current events to murk things further. In a few heavy-handed spots, when the ideologies become the story, that recipe proves to be more than the movie can handle. But these moments are mercifully brief, and “Park” spends most of its energy straddling a smart comedy/drama line and training its focus on a diverse but uniformly likable group who are friends first and lottery winners second. Parker Posey also stars as the city’s mayor (who, perhaps predictably, isn’t quite as likable.) No extras.

Killing Season (R, 2013, Millennium Entertainment)
Benjamin (Robert De Niro) has never forgotten, Emil (John Travolta) has never forgiven, and when the two former soldiers from opposing factions in the Bosnian War happen upon each other and forge the beginnings of a friendship near Benjamin’s isolated home in the woods, “Killing Season” has already made it clear this is no accident. “Season” brushes aside the early pleasantries with similar efficiency, setting the stage for a showdown that’s one part hunt and 10 parts Festivus airing of grievances. Were the source of those grievances not so interesting, “Season” might have delved into accidental comedy territory with the unbelievable number of times Benjamin or Emil gains the upper hand before embarking on a Bond villain monologue while the other guy finds a way to turn the tables and do a little recitation of his own. Arguably, it still does. But ridiculously counterproductive through they tend to be, those speeches give “Season” the character and color they need to complement a chase that, despite being grimy and enjoyably rustic in its violence, might nonetheless feel empty without the backstory. More importantly, they give the film everything it needs to give an arc to a story that otherwise would plateau and go nowhere. “Season” could have ended a handful of ways, but few would be as satisfying and fitting as the one it ultimately chooses.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Epic (PG, 2013, Fox)
Halfway through its run, as a shrunk-down Mary Katherine hitches a ride aboard the antler of a curious deer who probably would run away from her full-sized former self, “Epic” shows the awe-inspiring potential it has to tell a truly magical story about a microscopic society living amid ours. Whenever Mary Katherine’s full-sized, three-legged pug is joyously stealing scenes for no reason beyond a desire to spread his joy, “Epic” shows its potential to be hilarious for no reason. But any time “Epic” ventures in one of these directions, obligation to fulfill its destiny as a ready-to-please animated adventure movie for kids pulls it back and stretches it thin. Though Mary Katherine’s crossover status makes her the main character by default, most of the story takes place in the microscopic society of tiny human good guys, tiny goblin-esque bad guys, a handful of wisecracking talking slugs and toads, and a would-be hero, Nod, who follows the slacker-to-failure-to-savior blueprint to the letter. “Epic,” accordingly, follows the good-versus-evil game plan, and most of its time is devoted to a battle for the forest that’s gorgeous to behold but completely ordinary in terms of storytelling. Moments where the two worlds intersect are criminally rare given the plethora of opportunities to create them and mine the possibilities they offer, and “Epic,” for better or worse, feels precisely like the pretty, fast-paced, enjoyable but forgettable animated also-ran it seems obligated to be.
Extras: Seven behind-the-scenes features, four features about the environments that inspired the film, Epic Coloring & Storybook Builder app (iOS/Android).

Drinking Games (NR, 2012, Believe Limited)
On the eve of holiday break and in the eye of a blizzard, Richard (Blake Merriman) and Shawn’s (Nick Vergara) dorm is nearly a ghost town, with their room one of the few remaining with the lights still on. One studious resident adviser’s (Joshua Sterling Bragg) intervention notwithstanding, they and a few other students have run of the place — which would be great if (a) Richard didn’t want to stay in and study and (b) a third student, Noopie (Rob Bradford) wasn’t passed out already on their floor. How did he get there? Heck, who is he? “Drinking Games” has plenty of questions to answer as it opens. Among them: What is “Drinking Games,” exactly? It plays like a slacker comedy at first, but not with purpose, and when it shoots instead for some epiphanic revelatory character drama, it does so without conviction. Eventually, “Games” takes on a psychological thriller bent. But here it lacks the know-how, awkwardly waffling between dark comedy and dark drama with a jerkiness that makes the closing verses come on more abruptly than they should. “Games” is weirdly watchable due to being so constantly uncomfortable in its own skin. But that lack of comfort is neither the hook the movie had in mind nor the one it needs to merit a recommendation.
Extras: Commentary, drinking games sports vignettes, photo gallery.

Hitting the Cycle (NR, 2012, Monarch Home Entertainment)
It happens to every athlete: Their body betrays them, their skills erode, and they’re forced to retire from the thing they love most while still in the prime of their lives. That’s the private hell facing former baseball phenomenon-turned-scuffling minor leaguer Jimmy Ripley (J. Richey Nash), and for a time it seems “Hitting the Cycle” is primed to take this on in heavy-handed but credibly painful detail. But it’s around that time that Jimmy gets a call about his ill father back home. And it’s shortly after that when Jimmy returns home and, following a frosty reunion with estranged brother Patrick (Travis Schuldt), ventures down a path that transforms “Cycle” from a movie about baseball into a laundry list of back-to-the-ol’-hometown cliches. There’s angst with the pretty girl (Courtney Henggeler) from high school who has the lame boyfriend, there’s angst with Patrick, there’s angst with the former high school, there’s angst with childhood memories, there’s angst with Dad (Bruce Dern), and by the time “Cycle” heads into its third act, it’s saddled with more baggage than a flight around the world. “Cycle” is certainly earnest, and the limbo of Jimmy’s career gives it some intrigue even at its most agonized. But all that baggage adds up, and as “Cycle” keeps piling on with argument after argument about a past we merely hear about rather than truly feel, it flirts dangerously with self-parody. It never quite makes it all the way there, but the distance Jimmy’s story travels from its original would-be premise is exhaustingly long all the same. No extras.

8/13/13: What Maisie Knew, The Mindy Project S1, Errors of the Human Body, Olympus Has Fallen, The Big Wedding

What Maisie Knew (R, 2013, Millennium)
One day, little Maisie (Onata Aprile) will be all grown up. And there’s a perfectly reasonable chance that when she is, a combination of jobs to do, bills to pay and relationships gone sour will turn her into a carbon copy of the bitterly divorced parents (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) who now fight for her custody while repeatedly demonstrating why neither has any business being a full-time parent. “Maisie” tells its story with smart strokes, building up both parents as hard-working, somewhat well-meaning people who nonetheless have started a fire they don’t know how to put out. This is not a hit piece on divorcing parents, which precisely is why its depiction of divorce, the splash damage it creates and the complications that arise when kids are involved is so surprisingly engrossing. “Maisie” is still entertainment first and foremost, and it dips its toes into some murky subplots that serve the story (effectively and entertainingly, it bears noting) more than any messages that story transmits. But the contrast between the believably precious and thoroughly uplifting Maisie and the seemingly obligatory ugliness of divorce that encircles and occasionally flies right over her head is always apparent, and because “Maisie” stays honest and completely eschews preachy, hammy melodrama during the process of illustrating this contrast, it remains potent the whole way through. Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham also star.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes.

The Mindy Project: Season One (NR, 2012, Universal)
Taking a page from roughly half the sitcoms currently in rotation, “The Mindy Project” centers around a thirtysomething single woman — Mindy (Mindy Kaling), an OB/GYN as professionally successful as she is personally disastrous — who is determined to turn her life around and escape singledom for good. That’s the bad news. The good news is that “Project” realizes this could be bad news and comes equipped to laugh at its own tired predicament. “Project” isn’t simply the title of this show, but also the concept behind the romantically comedic sitcom taking place purely inside the mind of Mindy, who is convinced the road to happiness is paved with the same quirky characters and subplots that infiltrate the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movies she so deeply cherishes. “Project” doesn’t go overboard with the gimmick; to the contrary, it’s often so subtly used that many won’t even realize it’s a gimmick at all. But sly or not, it’s effective enough to give “Project” the angle it needs to not be more of the same old thing. It helps also, of course, that the scripts are funny and the ensemble cast (Ike Barinholtz, Zoe Jarman, Ed Weeks, and arguable cast MVP Chris Messina as the guy Mindy almost inevitably will end up marrying in the series finale) is plenty capable of doing those scripts sharply proper justice.
Contents: 24 episodes, plus deleted scenes.

Errors of the Human Body (NR, 2012, IFC Midnight)
When Canadian geneticist Geoffrey Burton (Michael Eklund) arrives at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, he’s greeted with a solemn strain of fanfare — excitement over his arrival and participation in a potentially groundbreaking project, but sadness over the very public death of his young son, due to a genetic disease he couldn’t treat, that predated his arrival. The two developments are, of course, intertwined, with the institute striving to create a gene capable regenerating tissue and warding off more than simply the disease that befell Geoffrey’s son. That makes this personal, and Geoffrey’s company — primarily, a former intern/potential love interest (Karoline Herfurth) and a fellow geneticist with cloudy motivations (Tómas Lemarquis) — makes pretty much all of “Errors of the Human Body” personal in some fashion. Naturally, all these strong feelings can only lead to derailment of some kind, and purely in terms of inevitability fulfillment, “Body” thoroughly delivers. As for what else it delivers or why it delivers it, the answers aren’t quite so clear. “Body” is uncomfortable, grimy and tense for hypothetical and tangential reasons alike. But it’s also such a ball of nerves that the ball of nerves often is all there is. For having such clear motives and explanations for his mannerisms, Geoffrey nonetheless offers little to rally around as the lead character, and his inability to give “Body” a sturdy center leaves everyone and everything else to flail even more by comparison. It speaks to “Body’s” atmosphere that it’s engaging even with these major flaws apparent, but it’s those flaws that send the film to the finish with a limp instead of in a blaze.
Extras: Director/co-writer Q&A, behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery.

Olympus Has Fallen (R, 2013, Sony Pictures)
No one comes out and says it, but it seems implied that, 18 months later, disgraced former Secret Serviceman Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) hasn’t moved on from his failure to save the First Lady’s life following a car crash. Honestly, no mind readers need apply to “Olympus Has Fallen,” which gives away the hook — the White House, and the President (Aaron Eckhart), falling into enemy hands — in the title and every single piece of promotional material related to the film. Stuff goes boom, and once D.C. is comfortably in the hands of the North Korean (who else these days?) invading force, only one person can save the day. Can you guess who? If not, congratulations on seeing an action movie for the first time ever. Enjoy! For the rest of us, “Olympus” is what it looks like — a stone-faced, extremely logically dubious excuse to commit computer-generated violence against a handful of landmarks and monuments while also engaging in some Jack Bauer-approved close-quarters combat in the halls of the White House. The final product is both technically accomplished and too narratively terrified to take a swing at greatness or do anything that allows it to be awful (one unintentionally funny episode of Melissa Leo hamming it up most definitely excepted). Amongst the alarmingly voluminous number of recent movies about America getting hammered by a surprise invasion, this one likely will reign as the one you most quickly forget existed. But as in-the-moment entertainment goes, “Olympus” suffices well enough and does exactly what it aspires to do, which counts for something even when aiming low. Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Radha Mitchell also star.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.

The Big Wedding (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
With its opening lines, as narrated to us by Ellie (Diane Keaton) as she explains how she and Don (Robert De Niro) still love one another despite long since having divorced, “The Big Wedding” offers hope that it has a heart and isn’t afraid to let it beat. And then, almost immediately and with such a recoil as if to be repulsed by its own optimism, it forcefully snuffs that light out and spends most of the time left relentlessly ensuring it doesn’t return. “Wedding” is primarily a story about the wedding of Ellie and Don’s adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) to Missy (Amanda Seyfried), with the wrinkle being that Don (who has remarried) and Ellie must pretend they’re still married to appease the groom’s staunchly traditional biological mother. That premise creates numerous opportunities for jokes about cultural disconnect, family squabbles and what to do with Don’s new wife (Susan Sarandon) when she isn’t supposed to even exist. Impressively, “Wedding” digs into these topics and several more until it finds the most joylessly irritable diamonds in the entire mine, and it painstakingly arranges those jewels into two families and change’s worth of almost staggeringly unbearable people. Sadly, little in the way of attempts at humor, much less successful conversions on those attempts, were recovered during the expedition. Whatever purpose “Wedding” had — as a comedy, as heartwarming entertainment, as any kind of entertainment at all — is so hopelessly absent that it’s a complete wonder so many talented people showed up to participate. Times must be tough in Hollywood. “Wedding” inevitably does that thing every predictable, cynical Hollywood comedy does where it finds its soul just in time for the happy ending, but the turnaround rings completely hollow following all that preceded it. Want to end “Wedding” on a truly happy note? Press the stop button. Topher Grace, Katherine Heigl and Robin Williams, among others, also star.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

8/6/13: Oblivion, Mud, Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal, The Silence, The Place Beyond the Pines, Antiviral, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, On the Road

Oblivion (PG-13, 2013, Universal)
When an alien force known as Scavs invaded Earth, humanity ultimately drove them away. But the cost — a planet completely ravaged by global nuclear strikes and the moon’s destruction — was incalculable. Sixty years later, Earth is nearly abandoned, with only scattered crews (Tom Cruise as Jack, Andrea Riseborough as Vic) hanging back to harvest resources for an off-planet colony of survivors. Jack in particular accepts (if not actually understands) his present condition, but dreams he cannot explain of a pre-war Earth haunt him with suspicious regularity. So what do they mean? You can probably lob a few guesses, and if you’ve digested enough post-apocalyptic science fiction lately, there’s a good chance some of those guesses will hit. But a confidently unique delivery makes all the difference for “Oblivion,” which takes some faintly familiar concepts, a few extremely familiar ones and a bevy of small but important details designed around its own world and arranges them into a story that’s more gratifying than the sum of its parts and far more full of surprises than its outline gives it any right to be. As “Oblivion” gives clarity to the shape of its world, little doubt remains that any marginally savvy viewer will see a few of its twists coming well before they arrive. Those wise enough to do that will likely also take some degree of issue with the feasibility of certain events up to and possibly including the events that bring it home. But for every wide turn you can spot miles ahead, “Oblivion” has a handful of zigs in the road — story quirks, character details, setting details, an emotion or reaction that’s as in character here as it might be out of character elsewhere in this genre — that make the journey a ton of fun regardless. Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko also star.
Extras: Cruise/director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

Mud (PG-13, 2013, Lions Gate)
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about “Mud” is that its main character — its namesake, no less — could fully not even exist and this still could easily be a great movie. And that isn’t a slam against Mud (Matthew McConaughey), whom two boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland as Ellis and Neckbone, respectively) discover plundering and hiding inside an abandoned boat they groundlessly believed was their boat alone to plunder. Mud isn’t hiding by accident. But there’s a reason he can’t just run away, and that reason’s name is Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). There’s more to it than that, but it’s a messy predicament overall, and perhaps it’s justifiably messy. But to a point, all we know about Mud is the story as he chooses to tell it, and “Mud” deftly blurs every moral line on the paper in such a way that it’s perfectly acceptable to take it on faith that he’s telling it straight (or at least straight enough). In part, that’s because this feels like a story about Neckbone and especially Ellis more than it is a story about Mud. Though “Mud” doesn’t play its audience for fools, it still is through Ellis’s eyes that the movie shapes its narrative. And while our titular might-be hero is the movie’a most charismatic force, it’s the kid who buys into that charisma — and all the stories about him that “Mud” weaves through this main thread — that ultimately make this one special.
Extras: Director commentary, four behind-the-scenes features.

Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal (NR, 2013, Doppelgänger Releasing)
Lars (Thure Lindhardt) was an artist on the rise before his career hit a wall 10 years ago, which is why he’s now starting over as an art teacher at a small school in the middle of nowhere. His most peculiar student? Eddie (Dylan Smith), a grown man amongst children who never speaks and whose gentle nature belies a pretty big secret. Yes, as the title indicates, Eddie has a sleepwalking problem. And unfortunately, as Lars discovers while watching him one night, he develops a ravenous appetite for living flesh when his sleepwalking tendencies kick in. Naturally, Lars discovers that carnage is the muse he’s needed to reignite his art career, and suddenly it isn’t quite so clear who the most damaged member of “Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal’s” cast actually is. If there’s any doubt about “Eddie’s” aspirations as an absolutely deranged dark comedy, that doubt immediately dissipates during an opening scene that sets a dually frightful and silly tone before Eddie even appears and kicks things into the stratosphere. It’s merely too bad “Cannibal” can’t close as strongly as it opens. Lars and Eddie’s story reaches an apex of crazy roughly two-thirds through, and “Cannibal” saves some more deranged gold for its closing moments, but in between, the film struggles to give its bizarre premise a satisfying place to ultimately go. It isn’t so damaging as to undo all the craziness that surrounds it, but the middling wastes a lot of time that could have transformed “Cannibal” from a great lark into a cult classic.
Extras: Director interview, behind-the-scenes feature.

The Silence (NR, 2010, Music Box Films)
Twenty three years is a long time to keep a secret, especially if the only other person keeping it has vanished. But if Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring) thought simply disappearing was enough to break the unwanted bond he shares with former friend Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) after watching him fatally sexually assault a teenage girl while he stood by and did nothing to prevent it, the news of an abduction in nearly the same place and under eerily similar circumstances is enough to shake that delusion. So is it a coincidence, or is Peer sending a message only Timo can understand? And what compels Timo — now successful and married with children in Denmark — to return to Germany and face old demons he at least physically fled two decades prior? All will be answered in time, and “The Silence” gets points for providing messy answers and shaking up, right up to the end, what easily could have plateaued into a respectable but unremarkable police procedural. But it becomes apparent almost immediately, as a younger Timo stares frozenly ahead while his inner demons manifest as a gruesome crime, that the revelation of answers isn’t the main reason to seek this out. The pain in “The Silence” isn’t Timo’s alone to bear — it belongs as well to the missing girl’s parents, the silently-grieving mother of the original victim, the wife Timo leaves in the dark and even the detectives struggling to do police work amid crises of their own. “The Silence’s” graceful portrayals of all that anguish is the antithesis of overbearing, but it’s plenty haunting enough to sneak under your skin and take you by surprise when it gets there. In German with English subtitles.
Extras: Two additional films (short film “Quietsch” and the 60-minute “Under the Sun”) by writer/director Baran Bo Odar, cast/crew interviews.

The Place Beyond the Pines (R, 2013, Focus Features)
Upon discovering he has a newborn son from a short-lived fling, small-time motorcycle daredevil Luke (Ryan Gosling) decides he wants to be in his and his mother’s (Eva Mendes) lives. And after one thing leads to another and Luke’s old ways converge with his present condition, he turns to robbing banks as the solution to his problems. That, without spoiling too much, is where a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper) enters the intersection of all three lives and a few more — a wife (Rose Byrne), an infant son of his own and a superior (Ray Liotta) who isn’t completely on the level — he brings into it with him. This, by the way, is only the beginning. And that may or may not be a problem for “The Place Beyond the Pines,” which endeavors to tell an epic story that spans several years and 140 minutes of screen time, succeeds at doing so, but feels strangely stuck in a single gear nearly the entire time. Specifying exactly how that happens would constitute a foul, because the sensation of feeling stuck is most potent during a dubious third act that’s wholly a product of some surprise developments which themselves are reliant on yet more developments that are best left unspoiled. “Pines” is dense with storytelling about a relatively small circle of characters, and it’s a gifted enough storyteller to earn the courtesy of remaining largely unspoiled. But most of its gifts shine primarily at the surface level — an intriguing timeline full of whats, hows and what’s nexts, but with far less to offer in terms of why, what it means and even who these people truly are beneath what we see them do and say.
Extras: Director/co-writer commentary, deleted/extended scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Antiviral (NR, 2012, IFC Midnight)
In the near future, celebrity obsession has climbed yet another rung of crazy. Stars with any strain of deformity or disease can sell blood samples to companies that replicate and resell them to willing buyers who wish to forge a connection to their favorite celebrity by literally infecting themselves with their idol’s disease. And business is booming, with companies competing for exclusivity rights and creating copy protection algorithms to prevent piracy of the diseases. Naturally, a black market has sprung around the notion of cracking the copy protection and profiting under the table, and as both an employee of a major distributor and a black market profiteer, Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) has the best seat in the house when an A-list star (Sarah Gadon) acquires a disease that may be too dangerous to sell legitimately (term used loosely). There’s more to it than that, of course, and there’s more insane dystopian ingenuity where that came from, too. The sheer notion of commerce by way of disease is crazy enough to make “Antiviral” worth seeing, and the way it blends that science into a world not entirely foreign from ours makes it hard to stop watching. None of this, of course, means that what ultimately happens won’t let you down. Passing on a chance to mine its ideas for any kind of dark comedy whatsoever, “Antiviral” instead triples down on the creepiness of it all — antihero Syd included, and perhaps especially — and brute forces that atmosphere through a story chain that doesn’t always pay off on the ideas in play. It works insofar that things only gets weirder and more unsettling with each turn. But watching “Antiviral” struggle to apply a satisfying finish is enough to wonder if a little versatility would have gone a long way.
Extras: Director/cinematographer commentary, deleted scenes, making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes feature.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (PG-13, 2013, Paramount)
Mr. President (Jonathan Pryce) isn’t quite acting like himself these days, and while the public so far approves of his newfound trigger happiness, the Joes (Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum and Adrianne Palicki, among others) suspect something is up. When a mission gone awry ends with the President vilifying the Joes and declaring them enemy combatants at around the same time Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) somehow sees himself out of a demoralizingly secure prison, it’s as much a confirmation as a public relations nightmare. All of this payback is, of course, customary for the second movie in what inevitably is a trilogy that likely precedes a reboot that starts this whole saga over in another trilogy some 10 years from now. It’s easy to get cynical about “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” when it effectively serves that cynicism on ice by so willingly falling into predictable story formation. But the nice thing about “Retaliation” is that, though occasionally self-serious in ways that betray the child’s toy on which it’s based, it also wields a pretty good sense of humor. Even during the darkest hour, that little bit of levity does wonders for turning beloved action figures into likable movie characters. The lightness extends to the action, too: Special effects abound, of course, but “Retaliation” depends more on the wits and acrobatics of its supersoldiers than a bunch of overweight computer graphics and bloated set pieces doing all the work for them. None of this makes for a terribly special movie, because “Retaliation” doesn’t excel at anything in a way that makes any one aspect truly memorable. But it’s fun while it lasts and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Those are modest bragging points, but they’re points few movies of this ilk can trumpet these days.
Extras: Director/producer commentary, deleted scenes, eight behind-the-scenes features.

On the Road (R, 2012, IFC Films)
The stench of cliche is powerful and never easily dissipated, and once it ensnares “On the Road” into its clutches, all the pretty and thoughtful details in the world aren’t enough to set it as free as it wants its audience to believe it is. Based on the 1957 Jack Kerouac novel of the same name, “Road” is the story of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), a writer whose life gets upended and turned into a cross-county journey of self-discovery with the help of some free-spirited new friends (Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Tom Sturridge, Danny Morgan) who just want to wring free every last drop of vitality and excitement the wet dish towel of life has to offer. “Road” makes no bones about this. Really, it cannot shut up about it as constantly hurtles its characters into speeches about how exciting the world is and how badly they want to experience it on their own terms and live life to the fullest. “Road’s” palpable, verbal yearning is so relentless early on that its characters often cease being characters and form instead into a Voltron-esque vessel for that yearning. The desire to be different and exciting is so overt that “Road” emerges as dull and derivative — yet another road trip/period piece/memoir that confuses tense and awkwardly positions its characters as nostalgic for a moment that hasn’t yet happened and may never happen. Emotions eventually level out and “Road” rallies with regard to character development and storytelling that better reconciles itself with the exciting world around it. But even then, “Road” wants to be profound in a way it simply hasn’t earned the wisdom and right to be. Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss, Alice Braga and Viggo Mortensen, among others, also star.
Extra: Deleted scenes.