DVD/Blu-ray 4/3/12: We Bought a Zoo, War Horse, Eagleheart S1, Bob: The Complete Series, Regular Show: Slack Pack, The Double Hour, Chasing Madoff
We Bought a Zoo (PG, 2011, Fox)
Benjamin Mee’s (Matt Damon) wife has passed away, his teenage son (Colin Ford) just got expelled, and his young daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) finds the city too loud for her liking. But when Benjamin decides it’s time for a fresh start in the country, even he — adventure journalist by trade though he is — doesn’t know what to do when the large and surprisingly cheap plot of land he falls in love with comes with a dormant but full-blown zoo attached. Obviously, as the title infers, and much to his daughter’s glee, he buys the zoo. Not so obvious is how he’ll restore it, reopen it and retain the employees (Scarlett Johansson, Angus Macfadyen and Patrick Fugit, among others) who have continued working there for free in hopes of a new owner swooping in to save it. If you’re cynically inclined, perhaps you think you have “We Bought a Zoo” — which comes based on the real Benjamin Mee’s memoir of the same name — completely figured out. If so, good for you. But if you’ve pegged “Zoo” as two hours of predictable schmaltziness, you’ve pegged it wrong. It’s genuinely funny, sometimes dryly and bitterly so. And it’s cathartically harsh, credibly heartbreaking, a little bit sassy and just a little bit cynical itself, thanks for asking. There’s nothing neat about buying a zoo, and while “Zoo” knows exactly which buttons it’s pushing, it’s keenly aware of the buttons everyone expects it to push. If you pegged it as a feel-great story that truly leaves you feeling great without taking manufactured measures to do so, congratulations: You have it figured out after all.
Extras: Director/editor commentary with JB Smoove (who has a small but very memorable part), behind-the-scenes feature.
War Horse (PG-13, 2011, Disney)
Fueled by pride, and perhaps alcohol, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) dearly overpaid at auction for a horse who isn’t even built to do the job for which he needed a horse in the first place. Think his wife (Emily Watson) is gonna be mad about that one? Oh yeah. But Ted’s son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) has grand plans for the horse, henceforth named Joey, and until the onset of World War I compels Ted to sell the horse for profit to the British cavalry, the two are inseparable friends. Clearly, as the title implies, “War Horse” is headed for darker times once the war overturns the lives of every character within. But “Horse’s” first act sets a tonal precedent — as amusing, endearing and fun-loving as it is dark and dramatic — and it’s a tone that endures as Joey hoofs it from one relationship and adventure to the next. “Horse” leaves itself open for all manner of criticism: At 146 minutes, it’s longer than it needed be, and even with all that storytelling room, it occasionally feels rushed in its effort to transition from one chapter of Joey’s life to the next. But Joey provides “Horse” all the consistency — and, really, charm — it needs with his constant, commanding presence at the center of everything. When the focus is on him and not everything that’s exploding and going sideways around him, the minutes melt away, and while the sum total of his life experiences is too crazy to believe, it’s a whole lot of fun to believe it anyway.
Extras: Seven behind-the-scenes features.
Eagleheart: Season One (NR, 2010, Adult Swim)
U.S. Marshall Chris Monsanto (Chris Elliott) has watched at least three partners die on his watch — and all, unbelievably, while facing off against the same criminal mastermind. Rather than, say, throw him off the force, Monsanto’s superiors try a radical new idea and give him two partners (Maria Thayer and Brett Gelman) instead of the usual one. They must be on to something, because not only is the mastermind dead roughly 10 minutes later, but so are numerous other villains in the 11 short episodes that follow. “Eagleheart” sort of feels like a parody — of 1980s crime dramas, of police procedurals in general, of human behavior as a whole and of Elliott’s own career up to now. But it’s also an Adult Swim show, which means it has to cram everything into an 11-minute window so densely packed that its energy goes beyond parody and into total hysteria. It’s crass, bloody and jubilantly stupid, but it’s so supremely confident in its stupidity as to be sharply, hilariously brilliant. Chris Elliott detractors need not apply — of course — but this might be his most gloriously dumb body of work yet.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus 20 commentary tracks (not a typo), scenes from the unaired pilot (with Conan O’Brien), deleted scenes, outtakes, NY Comic Con panel footage and a kill reel.
Bob: The Complete Series (NR, 1992, CBS)
Bob Newhart once joked on “The Tonight Show” that, in the wake of “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Newhart,” his next show would have to be called “Bob” to maintain order. Sure enough, it was — which may be news to you if you’re one of the many who apparently never knew it existed. “Bob” lasted 1 1/2 rocky seasons on CBS, and this complete series set offers a morbidly enjoyable chance to watch a network executive-instilled retooling completely doom a show at the flip of a switch. (If you’re wondering when Betty White shows up, just skip to disc four; she’s part of the second season’s near-total cast overhaul.) History lesson aside, the turbulence is a real shame: When left to its own devices, “Bob” is every bit as funny (albeit differently so) as Newhart’s other shows. As cartoonist Bob McKay, Newhart also gets to play a slightly different version of his usual character — a little bit underhanded, more prone to creating mischief than simply haplessly witnessing it — without betraying the brand of comedy for which he’s known. Even the onset of early-1990s edge can’t mess up someone so timelessly funny. Think of this set as the 25 bizarro-world episodes of “Newheart” you never saw, and suddenly “Bob” feels like a pleasant surprise more than just another network television cautionary tale.
Contents: 33 episodes, plus an interview with White and a digital copy of McKay’s “Mad-Dog” comic book.
Regular Show: Slack Pack (NR, 2010, Cartoon Network)
The name is so mundane as to be funny in its own right, but “Regular Show” has a point: If Mordecai wasn’t a blue jay and Rigby wasn’t a raccoon — and if their neighbors and co-workers didn’t include a yeti, a Frankenstein’s monster and a short-tempered anthropomorphic gumball machine — this would be just another show about two lazy 23-year-old groundskeepers who hold onto their jobs despite constantly abandoning them to embark on crazy adventures. Yep. Past the fact that those adventures take the gang to the moon, into the multiverse, on the back of a flying duck and inside a 1980s cell phone, it’s just another show about slackers getting by. “Regular Show” is, like its Cartoon Network sibling “Adventure Time,” wonderfully good at finding and mining the vast middle ground between a cartoon suitable for Saturday mornings and the unscrupulous ball of terror only Adult Swim can safely contain. Traces of stoner comedies are everywhere, but the exterior is so charming and the adventures so grade school juvenile that “Show” (which, it should be noted, is also legitimately funny) is that rare show that has true all-ages appeal. Unfortunately, and also like “Time,” Cartoon Network is making you wait for proper season sets. “Time” is finally getting its first season release in July after producing two compilations similar to this one over the last six months, so if you’re not interested in buying these episodes again later, some patience should serve you well.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus a short.
The Double Hour (NR, 2009, Flatiron Film Company)
“You look better with your hair down” is the last thing a hotel guest says to chambermaid Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport) before she jumps to her death moments later. Sadly for Sonia, the guest she barely knew isn’t the only one who feels this way about her hair. “The Double Hour” closes out its first act as a story about a speed dating connection between two people (Sonia and Guido, played by Filippo Timi) who bond over separately horrible days, and it begins act two with a robbery that disrupts what should have been a quiet date in the woods. Each of these events is connected by more than simple luck run awry, and spoiling even the early twists would give away too much. Vaguely speaking, “Hour” merits close study with the way it rearranges its developments — the “things aren’t always as they seem” tag enthusiastically applies — and the movie pays off countless little early details with a slew of revelations that trickle down during its second half. The only problem? The one place it plays the coy card without fully paying it off — during its very last batch of scenes — is the one place you least want that to happen. The ending isn’t so flat as to sour all that precedes it, but it leaves a bitter taste just the same. In Italian with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Chasing Madoff (NR, 2010, Cohen Media Group/MPI)
You know that episode of “The Simpsons” where Mr. Burns submits an absurdly self-aggrandizing autobiographical movie to the Springfield Film Festival? Replace Monty Burns with Harry Markopolos and cut the budget by 90 percent, and here’s the real-life equivalent. “Chasing Madoff” is a documentary about how Markopolos, a securities analyst, and a small circle of peers called shenanigans on a Ponzi scheme that would unravel 10 years later during the 2008 financial crisis. As a story about Bernie Madoff and the bizarre firewall that protected him, Markopolos’s point — that any 30-minute review of Madoff’s trading records could have brought him down, full stop — is incredible. But this point is the only point on offer by “Madoff,” which spends precious little time exploring Madoff himself and entirely too much time letting Markopolos salute himself. “Madoff” largely is a talking head fest, with Markopolos and others addressing the camera head on. But in a bizarre reach for presentational flair, it complements these scenes with interstitials in which Markopolos basically dramatizes himself. Markopolos, you might be surprised to hear, cannot act, and “Madoff” only gets weirder the longer he carries on about the many ways he was ready for a literal shootout against Madoff’s people and even agents of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. If everything Markopolos did to deaf ears is true, it’s understandable why he wants his recognition. But when you come for some insight and instead get a creepy victory lap and a terrible thespian demo reel, it’s a disservice to the effort than a celebration.
Extras: Director commentary, alternate ending, deleted scenes.