DVD 7/19/11: Zonad, Take Me Home Tonight, Potiche, Peep World, The Kids Grow Up, Limitless, Doctor Who S6P1, Torchwood Complete UK Series, Top Gear US S1, Hey Dude S1
Zonad (NR, 2010, FilmBuff)
During its first 10 minutes, “Zonad” could scarcely be cuter. Frankly, if it was, this straight-out-of-the-1950s story of a precious Irish family that finds and takes in a charming, chubby space alien named Zonad (Simon Delaney) would border on saccharine. Fortunately, during minute 11, we’re introduced to the real Zonad — and, consequently, the real “Zonad.” Our alien friend? As you’ll immediately suspect at first glance, he’s no alien. Rather, he’s a rehab escapee with a cool costume whose sole purpose is to get drunk and get girls. And the movie? It’s still cute, but it’s also perverse and darkly, bitterly funny. The charming facade is a front, but it’s a brilliant front, because “Zonad” plays the two dispositions off each other with a hilarious level of seamlessness that should probably be impossible. The only arguable sacrifice is logic, given how easy it should be for someone, anyone, in this Irish village to stand up and cry foul. But if you’re watching “Zonad” in the hope that this ever happens, you’re watching it completely wrong.
Extra: Director commentary.
Take Me Home Tonight (R, 2011, Fox)
Five or so years after high school, the class of 1984 has moved onward and upward. Unfortunately, when the bus left the station, it left behind the smartest kid in class (Topher Grace as Matt), who parlayed his MIT education into a job at the mall video store. When his high school obsession (Teresa Palmer) walks back into his life through the video store’s entrance, one thing leads to another, and without getting too specific, Matt has both her ill-gotten attention and a chance to change everything at the (say each word with an exclamation point at the end!) social event of the season. If you think “Take Me Home Tonight” sounds like the best movie John Hughes didn’t make, you’ve got the right idea. From the outfits to the hair to the music and everything else in between, the late 1980s are all over this thing. But more than just shallow callbacks, “Tonight” just perfectly nails the “one night only” vibe that makes these movies as magical as they often are ridiculous. It’s implausible and goes so far overboard that it laps the board twice, but who cares? It’s the movies. And thanks to a funny script that makes likable characters out of just about everybody, it’s a blast. Anna Faris, Dan Fogler and Chris Pratt also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, music boombox, music video.
Potiche (R, 2010, Music Box Films)
A factory on the brink of a crippling strike. The factory’s owner (Fabrice Luchini as Robert Pujol) in failing health, his wife (Catherine Deneuve as Suzanne) struggling with a life on the shelf as a neglected trophy wife. An affair — check that, two affairs. Actually, three affairs, two of which could rip apart the fabric of Suzanne’s family. You can probably imagine a movie with all these things swirling around it. But did you ever think that movie would be as sweetly cute as this one is? Laid out on paper, “Potiche” (which, translated to English in this context, means “trophy wife”) reads like a dramatic mess, and that’s without even accounting for the setting (1977, France, in the swell of a women’s liberation movement and rumblings of political turnover). But from the opening scene, in which Suzanne sings to a gaggle of animals who eyeball her like she’s insane, “Potiche” has a knack for taking everything that’s terrible about this scenario and squeezing from it the sweet, heartfelt and often funny compulsions that have landed these mostly likable characters in such a mess. The progression of events is epic, perhaps unbelievably so, but when a movie keeps its smile beaming the way this one does from start to finish, a little implausibility is hardly a problem. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, costume test footage, 1970s-style trailer.
Peep World (NR, 2010, IFC Films)
Henry Meyerwitz (Ron Rifkin) isn’t terribly thrilled with what his children (Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Michael C. Hall and Ben Schwartz) have become. Fortunately, his kids are as equally disappointed in him, so while the feelings passed around the dinner table on Henry’s birthday aren’t warm, they’re at least mutual. The difference on this particular miserable birthday is that it follows the publication of “Peep World,” a hugely successful novel from Nathan (Schwartz) that’s much more a family tell-all book than a work of fiction. “Peep World” the movie starts and ends at the dinner table, but in between, it’s a mishmash of stories about the kids as they prep for a party no one wants to attend and go about lives on terms that are often similarly unwelcome. And that’s pretty much it. Were this one of those dramas about bitterly unhappy families, the bad feelings and general aimlessness of the plot would form one toxically unlikable union. Fortunately, it’s a comedy. And while “Peep” remains scattered, miserable and (in terms of characters) mostly unlikable, it’s consistently funny enough that it doesn’t matter. You won’t remember seeing it in a year, but if you like the cast, you’ll probably enjoy it while it’s on.
Extra: Deleted scenes.
The Kids Grow Up (NR, 2009, Docurama)
In “51 Birch Street,” documentary filmmaker Doug Block chronicled his parents’ 54-year marriage just as it decided to collapse. In “The Kids Grow Up,” he documents his relationship with only child Lucy just as she finishes high school and sets her sights on a college across the country. In both cases, Block demonstrates considerable skill as both an archivist and a storyteller. And in both cases, you might leave the film liking him a whole lot less than the sentiment behind these movies implies you should. “Kids” explores the notion of letting go while also introducing us to Lucy through a collage of footage that jumps back and forth in time. But the real picture that emerges is not of Lucy, but — for the second straight time — her dad. “Street’s” exploitative quotient was arguable. But in “Kids,” Block hijacks a moment that belongs to his daughter and essentially commercializes what feels like a feature-length guilt trip laid on a kid whose only crime is growing up. “Kids” finds its conscience in time to ultimately carry out its original sentiment, and it’s a credit to Block as a storyteller to even arrive in that neighborhood. But for all the talking Block does throughout the movie, it’s telling that the two best lines in “Kids” — one courtesy of Lucy, the other from wife Marjorie — are basically clever ways of telling him to shut up a little more and live behind the lens a little less.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes retrospective, family reaction footage, outtakes, Mike Block (Doug’s father) tribute.
Limitless: Unrated Extended Cut (PG-13, 2011, Fox)
The unfortunate thing about “Limitless” is that if there’s one word in the world that fails more than any other to describe it, it’s the one in the title. And that’s a bummer, because the little pill at the center of the movie’s plot — a top-secret drug that, upon intake, transforms its user into a living machine with a boundless memory, an insatiable work ethic and the ability to inhale knowledge in bulk — has all kinds of storytelling potential. Perhaps recognizing that, “Limitless” jumps all over the place after Eddie (Bradley Cooper) takes his first dose and hurtles into an exaggerated wonderland of wonderful and terrible side effects. At first, it’s an eye-popping and terrifically fun “what if” story. But when all the ideas mature into separate plotlines, things both slow down and quickly get messy. Dealings with a business tycoon (Robert De Niro) pull Eddie one way. Side effects pull him another, a dead woman pulls him another, his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) another, some murderous thugs another and wait, there’s more. “Limitless” never loses the energy it flashed in its promising early going, so it remains fun to watch even when you suspect it’s buckling under the weight of its own curiosity. But when the collapse is complete and “Limitless” finds itself so entangled that the central idea gets buried and a wholly ordinary climax saps its remaining time before kicking it to the credits, it’s hard not to walk away disappointed by what could have been and what ultimately was.
Extras: Director commentary, alternate ending, behind-the-scenes feature.
Worth a Mention
— “Doctor Who: Series Six, Part 1″ (NR, 2011, BBC): Now that we’ve made peace with Matt Smith as the new Doctor, it’s only fitting that we send him to 1960s America to kick off the new season. Only problem: This version of that reality includes a collective of beings, The Silence, that’s far scarier than hippies (and, more importantly, pretty much any other villain this show has given us in the past). Includes seven episodes, plus a dossier on the Doctor’s most challenging adversaries. Part two releases in November, but if you’re patient and only want the best, the whole season will be available shortly after in gift set form.
— “Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series” (NR, 2006, BBC): Speaking of Dr. Who — and (plug alert) speaking the American “Torchwood” revitalization that’s freshly underway on Starz and the Web — the UK portion of this “Who” spin-off is now available in its full, uneven (two great seasons, one deeply polarizing miniseries) glory. Includes 31 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes and a ton of behind-the-scenes features (including the “Torchwood Declassified” behind-the-scenes series).
— “Top Gear US: Season 1″ (NR, 2010, BBC): And speaking of the BBC, localization and polarization, the first season of the Americanization of what is perhaps the best car show ever made is now available. It’s unfair to assume every Americanized imitation of a British show is automatically dumb down, but in this case — and despite the fact that the same studio produces both shows — it’s somewhat true.
— “Hey Dude: Season 1″ (NR, 1989, Nickelodeon/Shout Factory): And unrelated to everything above, here’s yet another shrewd move in Shout Factory’s campaign to give every last Nickelodeon classic the DVD treatment they deserve. Includes 18 episodes, plus a new interview with series star Christine Taylor.