11/26/13: Gift set roundup

The encroaching rise of streaming services and digital media almost certainly spells doom for the monolithic, dozens-plus-disc DVD/Blu-ray gift set. But finding a new revenue stream is another holiday season’s problem. In the meantime, if you’re still willing to fork over hundreds of dollars for a lavishly-produced physical set, someone somewhere is more than happy to accommodate your wish.

(Note: All prices listed are the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, but prices in the real world will vary — and probably skew much lower, but no guarantees.)

“Breaking Bad: The Complete Series” (NR, Sony Pictures): The likely king of this year’s gift set crop is, fittingly, the show that ruled the water cooler in 2013 as well. It’s also one of the more creatively-presented sets, packaged inside a money barrel replica that makes for great fan service but a potentially awkward fit for most bookshelves. That, along with the asking price, makes this a set solely for the truly dedicated. All extras from the individual season sets are bundled in, and new extras include a two-hour documentary about the final eight episodes, a 16-page liner notes booklet, a challenge coin designed by show creator Vince Gilligan and a Los Pollos Hermanos apron. (If you do not understand the significance of that apron, this set may not be for you.) MSRP: $300

(Note: For those who already own the first four-and-a-half seasons of “Breaking Bad,” the second half of the fifth season is newly available on its own as well. Along with eight of the best episodes of television ever made, the set includes commentary on all eight episodes, an alternate ending, deleted/extended scenes, bloopers and a nearly two-dozen-strong collection of behind-the-scenes features and “Inside Breaking Bad” episodes.)

“The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Complete Collection” (NR, StarVista): The especially special thing about this set? Much of it — 54 roasts of the likes of Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Muhammad Ali and Ronald Reagan from “The Dean Martin Show” and “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts” — is new to DVD instead of repackaged content. Also bundled in: A trove of sketches from “The Dean Martin Show,” seven episodes from “The Dean Martin Variety Show,” four Dean Martin television specials, 11 new behind-the-scenes features, roaster/roastee interviews, Martin home movie footage and a 44-page book of photos, anecdotes, liner notes and memorabilia. MSRP: $250

“Doctor Who: Series 1-7 Limited Edition Blu-ray Giftset” (NR, BBC): It’s a little odd to release a gift set this ornate for a show that’s still on the air, and that little voice in your head that suggests a newer and more complete set will probably trump this one in the not-so-distant future probably has a point. Nevertheless, here we are. Includes every episode (so far) of the rebooted series, as well as all the specials and all the extras that originally appeared in all those season sets and specials. New bonuses include a sonic screwdriver replica universal remote control, three art cards, an exclusive comic book, and a few new behind-the-scenes features. MSRP: $350

“Dexter: The Complete Series Collection” and “Dexter: The Complete Series Collection Exclusive Gift Set” (NR, Paramount): Then again, given how poorly “Dexter’s” final season went over with much of its fanbase, maybe an incomplete set with only seven seasons isn’t such a bad idea after all. Both collections include every episode, all previously-released extras, two new making-of documentaries and some new shorter behind-the-scenes features. The regular (so to speak) edition comes packaged inside a box that resembles Dexter’s box of slides, while the more exclusive edition comes bundled inside a large, faceless mannequin head that will likely haunt you for the rest of your days if you welcome it into your home. The latter set also comes with a hardcover art book. MSRP: $460 for the box, $545 and possibly your soul for the head.

“The History of WWE: 50 Years of Sports Entertainment” and “WWE: Raw 20th Anniversary Collection” (NR, WWE): World Wrestling Entertainment never has been one not to do commemoration right, so celebrating two birthdays at once is no problem (even if the lesser anniversary gets the arguable better party). “The History of WWE’s” centerpiece is the retrospective documentary of the same name, but the set’s extras — two handfuls of uncut matches, an assortment of landmark segments and a handful of stories and segments that did not appear in the documentary — may be the bigger draw for fans who already know the history. “Raw 20th Anniversary Collection,” on the other hand, is a genuine treasury, with 20 episodes (including the premiere) presented in their uncut glory. That’s hardly comprehensive for a show with more than 1,000 episodes in the can, but until WWE creates its own streaming service with every episode available on demand, this makes for a nice slice of history. A bonus disc with a feature about the history of “Raw” rounds out the set. MSRP: $40 for the 50th anniversary set, $90 for the 20th anniversary set.

“Weeds: The Complete Collection” (NR, Lions Gate): Every year seems to produce at least one set with packaging that backfires, and the otherwise pretty “Weeds” set gets a nod with an acrylic outer casing that’s pretty prone to cracking. If you pick this one up, perhaps do so in person instead of online. Provided it’s crack-free, the package is otherwise attractively designed, presented like a hardcover book with lots of photos (though little else) lining the page-like sleeves that hold the discs. Extras include a cast roundtable, three cast retrospectives and everything that previously appeared in the individual season sets. MSRP: $120

“Mama’s Family: The Complete Series” (NR, StarVista): Just in case you haven’t warmed up to shows about weed-dealing suburbanites, meth-dealing science teachers and serial-killing detectives, there’s always a classic ready to save the day. Includes all 130 episodes, including new broadcast masters of the first two seasons. New extras include a cast reunion roundtable, new cast/crew interviews, a one-on-one with series star Vicki Lawrence, the “Eunice” TV movie, “Mama’s Family” sketches from “The Carol Burnett Show” and an introductory note from Lawrence.

11/19/13: The World's End, Bridegroom, All is Bright, Prince Avalanche, We're the Millers, Violet & Daisy,

The World’s End (R, 2013, Universal)
For all the jokes we endured a year ago about Mayan calendars — remember that? — it was 2013 that became the year of the surprisingly good end-of-the-world comedy, and it couldn’t ask for a better closing act than the one it gets. “The World’s End” borrows its name from the final pub in small-town Newton Haven’s famed Golden Mile — a route dotted by 12 pubs and, occasionally, a group of fools determined to drink a pint at every one of them in a single evening. The night Gary (Simon Pegg) tried and failed remains the best of his life, and 20 years later, with only his age having matured, he’s determined to finish the mile with the four friends (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan) who accompanied him. Small problem: They’ve grown up, one is sober, and none remember Gary terribly fondly. Worse news: Gary’s attempted reclamation of past glory commences around the same time it becomes apparent most of Newton Haven’s citizens have been body-snatched by what appear to be robots in human form. Why? “End” has reasons, and like everything else it has, those reasons are a grandiose brew of spectacular and stupid. “End” takes one legitimately funny and sweet movie about getting old and growing up, adds a completely crazy movie about the possible end of humanity, douses both sides in beer and mashes them together with as much joy and abandon as a child crashing cymbals for the first time. The result is, of course, bedlam. But never during the course of that bedlam does either design lose itself. Why should great action, great comedy and great friends be mutually exclusive entities? They shouldn’t. And in the hands of those rare individuals who get it and know how to express it, they aren’t.
Extras: Three commentary tracks, deleted scene, outtakes/alternate takes, six behind-the-scenes features, two features about in-film Easter Eggs, storyboards, trivia track, stunt/rehearsal footage, storyboards/animatics.

Bridegroom (R, 2013, Virgil Films)
When Tom Bridegroom fell off a roof during a photo shoot, doctors could not save him. Nor, sadly, could Shane Bitney Crone — his partner, best friend and the most important person in his life — see him at the hospital or even safely attend his funeral, much less plan it. No need to explain why, because by this point, we all know why: Without the rights granted to heterosexual couples who marry, Shane stands on the outside looking in as the person he waited his whole life to meet is laid to rest by a family that froze him out of the process. We all know this story because abstract, hypothetical versions of stories like Shane and Tom’s are bandied about in arguments between politicians and talking heads whose connection to gay marriage often ranges from peripheral to purely philosophical. But the reason those abstract stories exist is because the real ones do, too, and “Bridegroom” tells the story of Shane and Tom — where they separately came from, how they met, what they meant to each other, and what Shane’s life has been like since losing Tom — in incredibly personal detail. Without lecturing or going big picture, and simply by being what it is, the story conveys what a lifetime of lectures, hypotheticals and cable news nonsense could not remotely match. When Shane challenges every married couple to feel for each other as he and Tom felt for one another, no argument to the contrary stands a chance.
Extra: Public Service Announcements from DoSomething.org.

All is Bright (R, 2013, Anchor Bay)
The dreary Christmastime movie has become so prevalent at this point that genuinely happy Christmas movies have become the new novelty. But in the time it takes freshly paroled safe cracker Dennis (Paul Giamatti) to make the on-foot trek from a Quebec prison to his former wife’s (Amy Landecker) house, only to discover she told their young daughter he had died instead of gone to prison, there’s something about “All is Bright’s” bleakness that feels just a bit different. The pace is a little odd. The soundtrack, and even the rhythm of the soundtrack, is curious. And while the fake death announcement could be played for dark laughs, “Bright” plays it straight instead … while letting the slightest breeze of bone-dry dark comedy sneak in and make itself at home. While Dennis tries to go straight and his former and possibly future partner in crime Rene (Paul Rudd) tries to do right by him after effectively stealing his wife, “Bright” holds its note, going darker than most wannabe-dark Christmas movies, getting there without the help of irony or calculation, and occasionally finding the funny or incredibly sweet underside of the heavy, dull ache it carries from scene to scene. It’s almost empirically contradictory to say a movie this deeply embedded in bleakness isn’t a downer, but “Bright” lets just the right kind of light in to make this contradiction not merely possible, but harmoniously so. For all who both dread the holidays and hold out hope for them to deliver on their magical promise, there is at least one movie this year that completely understands. No extras.

Prince Avalanche (R, 2013, Magnolia)
Peace and quiet. The occasionally friendly passerby. No Internet (because it’s 1988). No boss to report to and no one to even answer to other than his girlfriend’s little brother (Emile Hirsch), who is along for the ride as a mostly willing assistant. Alvin (Paul Rudd) can talk all day long about taking a job repainting a lonely Texas highway in order to send money home to his girlfriend and her child, but one glance at “Prince Avalanche” says a thousand words about the wonders of a quiet life of fresh air and honest work. Being a movie, “Avalanche” inevitably cannot remain this simple. But the might with which it holds on to its initial conviction is as gratifying to those who love Alvin’s adoration of peace and quiet as it likely will be alienating to those who want some big storytelling gesture to rip it all away. (Don’t let Alvin’s funny mustache fool you: It’s a nod to the times and not a sign that this is the kind of comedy for which Rudd is better known.) Though a tangible, pitch-capable story commences, “Avalanche” is most potent as a movie set around big moments instead of inside them. And in a way Alvin cannot even grasp in 1988, it’s a strangely romantic nod to humanity at its most basic, with a couple riddles thrown in that are ripe for personal interpretation. It isn’t for everyone, in other words. But if that initial gratification catches you the right way, rest gratified knowing “Avalanche” never lets go of that feeling.
Extras: Director/crew commentary, deleted scene, interviews, behind-the-scenes features.

We’re the Millers (R/NR, 2013, New Line)
The good news about “We’re the Millers?” The second half is better than the first, and occasionally it’s funny. The not-so-good news? The bar it needs to clear to be the better half is ankle-high, the funniest character is a bit character who appears in four scenes and wears out the bit by the end of his third appearance, and for all the ridiculousness inherent in a story about a nobody drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis), a local stripper (Jennifer Aniston) and two loner teens (Emma Roberts and Will Poulter) posing as a family of squares in order to smuggle drugs into the United States, “Millers” is nothing if it isn’t obligated to hit all the same story checkpoints every middling comedy inevitably hits. The chirping about Aniston’s strip scene was the only reason “Millers” was merely quickly forgotten instead of never remembered at all, and the PG-13 result of that scene pretty much crystallizes the movie’s problem. Encircled by a whirlwind of drugs, kingpins, strippers and dirty cops, “Millers” still fails to find the edge it needs to be the dark comedy it wants to be. If the Millers are daredevils in milquetoast clothing, the movie bearing their name is the complete opposite.
Extras: Extended cut, deleted scenes/outtakes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Violet & Daisy (R, 2013, Cinedigm)
The word “pretentious” is one of the more poorly-used words in 21st century art criticism, slapped on entirely too many works simply because they try to be complex or dare not punctuate their storytelling with something exploding. So it’s time to go to school and watch what happens when actual, living pretense devours a movie from inside out. “Violet & Daisy” is the story of Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), whose vocation — contract killers — flies in the face of everything else about them. It isn’t simply a case of pretty faces killing indiscriminately, either. No, Violet and Daisy are practically preschool children in grown-up bodies, operating with a spacey, mousey, often disaffected and relentlessly exaggerated naïveté that is so violently disingenuous as to kill its purported novelty (to say nothing of cuteness) almost on sight. Once a job goes bad — in the most aw-shuckiest way possible, of course — our killers are forced to deal with a target (the late James Gandolfini as Michael) who has enough time and leverage to deal back. It is solely by the grace of Gandolfini and Michael — a man who has made mistakes and accepts his fate, strange as it’s become here — that “Daisy” has anything at all to offer. Even when surrounded by phony characters and phony circumstances and saddled with the kind of dialogue that forces him to play along, Gandolfini brings a level of grace to his character that’s both drop-of-a-pin gentle and larger than life. But Gandolfini’s work alone cannot save “Daisy” from itself, and it’s a testament to the film’s awfulness that he never even has a chance. If anything, a film that merely was lousy becomes almost offensively bad when it moves away from Gandolfini and shows us repeatedly just how steep the drop is from his work to the car crash that nullifies it. No extras.

11/12/13: Blackfish, Grabbers, Turbo, Dealin' With Idiots, Paradise

Blackfish (PG-13, 2013, Magnolia)
If you were forced to live in a confined space instead of free to roam the world, would you not act out, and would it not change you? All evidence and common sense says it would — especially if, like Tilikum, one of Sea World’s prized orcas, you had no way to actually understand why this has happened and no way, short of violent and potentially fatal aggression, to communicate your restlessness. But if common sense isn’t enough, the staggering gallery of former Sea World trainers “Blackfish” unleashes, and their accounts of a company that neglected the well-being of its human and whale performers alike while pretending the violent attacks that injured or killed multiple trainers were nothing more than trainer error, is plenty damning on its own. “Blackfish’s” point of entry revolves around Tilikum, who arrived at Sea World with a checkered history but whose value as a breeding whale keeps him in captivity despite a series of tragedies compounding that history. Pile on a lack of regular socialization with other whales and a performance schedule that is now nearly nonexistent, and to hear his former trainers describe it, Tilikum’s life effectively mirrors that of a prisoner in solitary confinement. Tilikum’s story is merely one of several heartbreakers “Blackfish” touches on about a creature that takes as well to captivity as we do. But for all the recounting former employees and (among others) expert witnesses from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration do, the refusal on Sea World management’s part to participate is as troubling as anything anyone says. (They’ve since responded in the wake of the film’s increased visibility, and the debate that has commenced since “Blackfish” originally premiered is very much worth seeking out.)
Extras: Director/producter commentary, director’s note, six additional short features.

Grabbers (NR, 2012, IFC Films)
There’s something lurking in the sea that’s causing bloodied and sometimes headless people to wash ashore on a small Irish island. Also? It’s pregnant. So what better idea than to lure it to land for further study? Considering the best classification this team of a single scientist (Russell Tovey), an alcoholic cop (Richard Coyle), his rookie partner (Ruth Bradley) and the town drunk (Lalor Roddy) can come up with for the creature is “Grabber” — because it grabs stuff, see — the process for studying and containing the creature(s) should be elaborately devised and airtight, right? This is the movies, so of course not. But it may not matter, because once again this is the movies, every movie monster has a weakness, and the Grabber’s perceived weakness represents the break of a lifetime for this ragtag group. “Grabbers” spills the details of that weakness in much of its marketing, but it’s best left unspoiled for the uninitiated — primarily because it’s funny, but also because it embodies everything that makes “Grabbers” so much fun despite fundamentally looking so familiar. If you’ve seen a monster movie before, you likely can see the outline of this one forming before it happens, and even that surprise about the weakness may be just telegraphed enough to give itself away early. But a great delivery can make all the difference, and while “Grabbers” does just fine in the monster (and terrifying offspring) design department, its ability to constantly get the little things right is the real star. Customary subplots take funny and not-so-customary turns, characters (including a bounty of townsfolk beyond the core quartet) both honor and shatter their archetypes at the same time, and even when the things you see coming arrive on schedule, a little sliver of invention (or a sharply funny line) derails the plan in just the right way.

Turbo (PG, 2013, Dreamworks)
It’s kind of ridiculous to quantify logical degradation in a movie that begins with a talking snail watching old tapes of the Indianapolis 500 while his brother Chet urges him to get some sleep because they have work in the morning. Even when Turbo’s dreams of becoming a speed demon somehow come true via a freak accident only Peter Parker could understand, no alarms are raised, because it’s the whole reason this animated movie about talking snails exists. But when Turbo encounters another group of snails with similar appetites for speed and extreme sports? And a taco shop employee — a human one — sponsors his campaign to race in the Indy 500 while a rival driver — again, human — turns completely murderous in an attempt to stop him? Well that’s kinda weird even here, and the only reason “Turbo” doesn’t simply get away with it is because all of this coincides with an encroaching suspicion that the movie doesn’t completely know what to do with itself. Snails make cracks at each other that don’t make sense for snails to make, a soundtrack that’s both a weird fit for kids and a weird fit for 2013 gives rise to music montages that sometimes run right up against other music montages, and “Turbo” just kind of manically fails away with boundless energy and little concept of how to spend that energy wisely before we inevitably get to race day. Here, of course, is the part where we remember this is a kids movie. Outside of the weird song choices, “Turbo” suffices as a colorful, caffeinated movie that bends over backward to entertain. Turbo’s likable, some of his snail friends are likable, Chet is lovable, and that’s enough to make “Turbo” likable — and sloppy and narratively ordinary and kind of incomprehensible at times, but likable nonetheless.
Extras: Shell creator game, interview with Turbo, four behind-the-scenes features, music videos, preview of the upcoming “Turbo” television show.

Dealin’ With Idiots (NR, 2013, IFC Films)
Amid the war zone that is the local copy shop, as Coach Jimbo (Bob Odenkirk) spins a tale about brotherly betrayal, unfinished repairs and what must have been one seriously distressing copy order, there’s a glint of a chance that Max’s (Jeff Garlin) plan to mine material for his next movie by interviewing neighbors connected to his son’s little league baseball team was an inspired one. We know it isn’t, because look at that title, but it’s nice to have hope, isn’t it? Like HBO’s recently-released “Clear History,” which found Larry David playing a bizarro-world version of his bizarro-world self from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Dealin’ With Idiots” feels like a lost episode of “Curb” with Garlin in a role that’s different but not very spiritually far removed from his work on “Curb.” (Sure enough, just as in “History” and “Curb” before that, J.B. Smoove is on hand to steal nearly every scene in which he appears.) “Idiots” is at its best in that copy shop, and that’s a direct correlation to Max’s ability to find a story worth mining. Mostly, he just validates his assertion that few of his neighbors are people he wants to be around any longer than necessary, and mostly, the results are amusing more than insightful, much less revelatory. That doesn’t add up to the screed about little league parents that Garlin may have had in mind when he dreamt this up, but thanks to a large cast (Fred Willard, Jami Gertz, Kerri Kenney, Steve Agee, Richard Kind and Timothy Olyphant, among others, also star) that’s capable of making the best with what it gets, it at least isn’t boring.

Paradise (PG-13, 2013, Image Entertainment)
There’s no rule that says a movie has to have something to say. But as a narrating Lamb (Julianne Hough) introduces us to her previous and present selves — the former a sweet churchgoing Montana girl who’d never sipped alcohol or seen an R-Rated movie, the latter a plane crash victim with burn scars running down her body and a newfound contempt for faith and her previous self — during “Paradise’s” opening scene, it reads like a declaration that a message lies ahead with teeth bared and sharpened. And that’s before Lamb torches her former congregation during a blistering second-scene testimonial that is so pointedly bitter as to antagonize and challenge those who feel differently to just turn the movie off. But then Lamb boards a plane to Vegas to capitalize on her newfound desire to commit sin, only to find herself drowning in a sea of people who largely are so completely terrible that the first two who aren’t (Octavia Spencer and Russell Brand) become her best friends despite making shaky introductions themselves, and the fury that opened “Paradise” makes a strange, sharp turn into a frazzled thrashing for acceptance. Outside of some pointed but tired jabs about race and religion, “Paradise” never really pulls its punches the same way. Nor does it credibly jive as a coming-of-age story for Lamb when the experience is this disjointed and “Paradise’s” portrayal of Vegas makes being locked in a tower look sort of appealing by comparison. Even by the standards of a movie whose only desire is to entertain, Lamb’s story is too stumble-laden to do so coherently, and in light of “Paradise’s” opening salvo and what it at least seemed to represent, the most shocking thing about what follows is how quickly all those teeth fall out.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.

11/5/13: Informant, Clear History, Girl Most Likely, Under the Dome

Informant (NR, 2013, Music Box Films)
There may be no person on the planet as uniquely qualified to honestly dissect the entire activist spectrum as Brandon Darby, and it’s for that very reason that so many people have no interest in hearing what he has to say. Spurred by his own experiences and the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, Darby mobilized not simply as a far-left activist, but as a self-styled movement leader whose personality and ambition created wedges that reached chasmic levels as philosophies clashed. When one of those clashes involved the prospect of using extreme violence in a way that could potentially harm innocent people, Darby diverged and began a journey that morphed him into a tipster, an FBI informant and eventually an alleged traitor, target and reluctant (and not-so-reluctant) Tea Party poster child. And that mostly is just the story from Darby’s mouth. His detractors have a, let’s say, slightly different take on these events, and “Informant” does the only reasonable thing it can do by keeping quiet and letting both sides speak for themselves (and, to a point, respond to one another) without editorial intervention. Balance is “Informant’s” strongest asset, and its inclusion of subjects who were there but not necessarily entrenched in either camp goes a long way toward elevating it beyond a simple “he said, they said” piece. Of course, at its core, that’s still what it is, and the truth, which likely rests somewhere in the middle like it usually does, has no comment. But “Informant’s” inability to do the impossible and dig that truth up has no bearing on the entertainment value — and the interesting, mortifying and even funny insights into activism culture — it provides throughout the effort.
Extras: Additional interviews, footage of Darby at the Occupy Wall Street rally.

Clear History (NR, 2013, HBO)
Would you buy a car named Howard? Marketing guru Nathan Flomm (Larry David) doesn’t think so, and he’s convinced enough to sell his stake in a car company whose star and stock appear almost destined to rise. That’s conviction. But Nathan also thinks it’s a good idea to install a flap drivers can use to urinate while driving, so maybe he’s just insane. Or maybe he’s just Larry David with a new name. “Clear History” quickly flashes ahead 10 years, where Nathan has assumed a new name, haircut and home to escape the infamy of being the guy who quit what became a multibillion dollar company, and there’s a story about getting payback when his former boss (Jon Hamm) moves to the same resort town and doesn’t recognize him. But if the scene with J.B. Smoove doesn’t raise any alarms, the bits about restaurant silverware etiquette and a driver’s right of way make it clear that a Larry David by any other name may still be Larry David. That, of course, isn’t necessarily bad news. It may even be perfectly great news, because “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a very funny show and an extended, alternate-universe episode is a treat in its own special way. Just understand what you’re getting if, somehow, you don’t like the show but still have some interest in seeing this. It’s funny, clever and actually goes somewhere with its story, but it’d be hard to dream up a worse demo reel for showcasing David’s versatility as an actor. Michael Keaton, Danny McBride, Eva Mendes, Kate Hudson and Philip Baker Hall also star. No extras.

Girl Most Likely (PG-13, 2013, Lions Gate)
Before it’s even established that Peter is Imogene’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, it’s clear he’s planning a quick exit from their relationship. Before we know what Imogene does for a living, it’s clear we’re about to find out she’s about to lose her job. And while it’s less obvious what Imogene failed at (playwright) before settling on plan B in Manhattan, falling short again and finding no choice but to move back home with her content but strange family in New Jersey, “Girl Most Likely” need not come out and immediately say that she failed at anything, because it doesn’t really need to. We’ve all seen this movie before, and we all know how this goes. “Likely” has its moments, thanks to a few funny parts and an extensive effort of its cast’s part to be lively when being funny or inventive aren’t options. As a body of work, it’s perfectly, agreeably pleasant, if only thanks to that cast’s partial likability. But one might wonder if that title was a sly jab at Imogene’s thoroughly ordinary story if it didn’t entail giving “Likely” more self-awareness points than it earns. As vanilla as that early going is, it’s no match for a second half that replaces the amusing mood with an obligatory layer of drama that is equally plain. When a totally silly and narratively jarring end sequence arrives half out of nowhere to put this one to bed, it’s a welcome sight instead of a puzzling detour, if only because any surprise at all — even in the service of pure nonsense — will suffice at that point. Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, Darren Criss and Christopher Fitzgerald also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.

Under the Dome (NR, 2013, CBS/Paramount)
It isn’t easy to make a hit television show, which is why “Under the Dome” — based on the Stephen King book of the same name, wherein a small town finds itself suddenly enclosed by an invisible but impenetrable dome — made a quick transformation from summer miniseries event to multi-season-with-no-end-in-sight show almost as soon as millions of viewers made it a hit. Unfortunately, it is no easier to maintain a hit show than become one, and with each passing episode, “Dome’s” struggles to extend itself look increasingly like its eventual undoing. The intriguing questions are all nicely laid out. Where’d the dome come from? Who put it there? What’s happening on the other side, which is as visible as ever but impenetrable by sound, radio waves and everything else? And last but never least, why is this happening? Problem is, “Dome’s” questions are so point-blank obvious that the show’s objective quickly turns to doing anything but answering them and fully satiating people’s curiosity. Who’d stick around if it did? So instead, here are stories about jealous lovers, crooked politicians, rogue sheriffs, crazy doomsday criers and numerous other characters whose true colors — for better or worse, though considerably more often for worse — are brought out by being enclosed together and cut off from the outside world. Some of these stories hit, but most are kneecapped by cliche, amateur-hour character design and a hammy production that, from the evil-eyed frowns to the soundtrack, is so overbearing as to flirt with comedy. The longer “Dome” stalls without interesting stories to keep it afloat, the less worthwhile it becomes to see what the dome’s secrets are. And when season one ends with a torrent of drawn-out storylines that remain unresolved only so season two has something to do, it’s enough to just give up entirely. (If you want answers, there’s always the book.)
Contents: 13 episodes, plus five behind-the-scenes features.

10/29/13: Monsters University, Family Tree S1, R.I.P.D.

Monsters University (G, 2013, Disney)
Pixar fully ripped the spotless record bandaid off when it finally released a total misfire in “Cars 2.” And with “Monsters University,” a peripheral involvement in the straight-to-video “Planes” and a “Finding Nemo” sequel following behind, one might get the impression that the studio’s days of creating one groundbreaking new world after another have given way to a roadmap that may as well be cribbed from Dreamworks or Sony Pictures. But maybe we’re just overthinking this whole thing. “University” is exactly what its name might lead you to believe it is: a prequel that (a) shows us how Sulley and Mike first became friends and joined forces and (b) an amusing excuse to combine one of Pixar’s universes with the college movie and everything (frat parties, scary deans, campus mayhem) that entails. On that level, “University” coasts in a way “Monsters, Inc.” never really did, and while it builds on the ingenious concept of scaring as an industry that’s as glamorous to young monsters as professional sports are to young humans, it doesn’t apply any similarly brilliant twists to our heroes’ formative years. But beneath the pedestrian surface lies an attention to detail that easily and repeatedly justifies “University” as a worthy prequel. What it lacks in overarching vision, “University” redeems in extremely funny throwaway lines, immense amounts of unexpected little visual touches, and an entire university’s worth of clever monster designs and personalities — many of which won’t even be discovered until a second or third viewing. If and when Pixar gets back to the business of creating worlds none of us have ever visited before, few will object. But the sheer volume of ingenuity hiding beneath “University’s” plain premise is, beyond a confirmation that the studio remains a cut above, a perfectly wonderful way to bide some time until that happens.
Extras: Animated short “Blue Umbrella,” filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, 10 behind-the-scenes features, set flythrough, art/promo galleries.

Family Tree: The Complete First Season (NR, 2013, HBO)
Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd) is at a crossroads. Or that’s perhaps what he’d have you believe. Mostly, he cannot get over being dumped by both his girlfriend and employer, and apropos of nothing, he suddenly has a box of mysterious stuff a distant relative he never even met left as an inheritance. And because he’s at a crossroads (translation: no job, nothing to do, and that box has some cool stuff in it), he’s embarked on a journey — with the help of his socially-damaged ventriloquist sister (real-life not-so-normal ventriloquist Nina Conti), a dad (Michael McKean) who’d rather watch television, a mom (Lisa Palfrey) from another planet and a friend who is no help at all (Tom Bennett) — to discover just how deep the Chadwick lineage goes. As one might expect from Christopher Guest’s presence as series creator, or as one might just assume based on a pretty easy educated guess, the family Tom finds is mostly strange as well. Weirdness pretty much carries the day in “Family Tree,” which has the interesting dual problem of feeling too cramped by its half-hour runtime and stretched too thin by a premise that could get old in a hurry if it doesn’t evolve. The good news is that “Tree’s” first season eventually does evolve, albeit slightly, beyond simply being a weird-relative-of-the-week show. The better news is that “Tree” is frequently funny throughout the season and rarely rates below amusing even at its most cramped or strained. Guest’s productions have a way with deadpanned words that countless writers have imitated but few have really understood and properly utilized, and while the sitcom format tests that mastery in new ways, “Tree” passes with just enough flying colors to make it easy to recommend.
Contents: Eight episodes, plus deleted scenes, music from the show and clips from Keith Chadwick’s (McKean) favorite 1970s sitcoms.

R.I.P.D. (PG-13, 2013, Universal)
Detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds), much to his dismay, is dead — shot dead, in fact, by his own partner (Kevin Bacon as Hayes) on the force. But death is merely a recruitment tool for the R.I.P.D., an elaborate undead police force tasked with exposing and eliminating rotting souls who torment the living under the guise of normal, living people. That’s the cool part. But then Nick meets his new partner: Roy (Jeff Bridges), a lawman from the 1800s who apparently spent no part of his extremely lengthy tenure learning how not to be a caricature. And with each passing exchange between Nick and Roy, we’re treated to a little dismay of our own, because “R.I.P.D.” is similarly incapable of any kind of ability to just move on. Nick is the straight man with surprisingly few questions about his newfound afterlife, Roy is the tough-talkin’ ol’ cowboy with a spin-the-wheel assortment of spoutable cliches, and every conversation they have serves no other purpose than as a springboard for Bridges to ham it up hard. It’s funny at first, cute shortly after that, and increasingly more tiresome the more it repeats itself without going anywhere. Any hopes of a rescue from outside grow dimmer by the minute: Following an extremely promising introduction, “R.I.P.D.” loses its appetite for clever fiction and just kinda settles for being a loud mix of a buddy comedy on a treadmill, a predictable and binary good-versus-evil chase, and a monster movie that’s loaded with guns and special effects that amount to lots of empty noise and maybe a headache.
Extras: Alternate openings, five behind-the-scenes features.