New on DVD this week:
• Written and directed by Woody Allen, To Rome With Love is similar in tone to his hit Midnight In Paris, in that panoramas of Rome are lingered over, drooled over. It’s a love story, though a complicated one. Alec Baldwin plays Jesse Eisenberg’s 40-year older conscience, advising him on sex (with Juno’s Ellen Page) and career. A clerk (Roberto Benigni) wakes up famous one day, hounded by paparazzi and beautiful women who are not his wife. Allen agonizes over missed career opportunities with his long-suffering wife (Judy Davis). And Penelope Cruz is an escort posing as the wife of a country bumpkin visiting family in Rome. Infidelity and celebrity: there’s a lot going on, maybe too much for one film, where we don’t get to know anyone intimately. Special features on the standard disc include a making-of feature highlighting the director’s passion for Italian cinema.
• Real-life couple Dax Shepard (TV’s Parenthood) and Kristen Bell star in Hit and Run about a man who breaks out of the witness protection program to follow his girlfriend to her dream job in L.A. Charlie and Annie are on the run from bad guy Bradley Cooper, from a crazy ex-boyfriend, and from Charlie’s bumbling U.S. Marshall (Tom Arnold). From there it becomes a pretty lively car chase movie, starring a 1967 Lincoln Continental with a 700 hp engine, but the film also sports some pretty decent dialogue to break up the mayhem. Shepard wrote this movie, directed it, he used his own cars, and it reportedly only took 10 weeks to shoot: you have to admire that kind of efficiency. Deleted scenes are the only extras on the Blu-ray disc.
• The laughs are in the details in Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, as in a headstone inscribed with “Goodbye Kitty.” The story of a boy and his resurrected dog is voiced by a team including the ever-talented Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder and Charlie Tahan as young Victor Frankenstein. The kids may not fully appreciate Burton’s deliberately retro feel and Twilight Zone-rerun patina, but you will, especially when a Godzilla turtle appears onscreen. Extras on the Blu-ray combo pack include an original short, a look at the traveling show built around the film’s puppets and props, a music video, a peek at the stop-motion process, and more.
• It’s a little embarrassing to be a grown-up and a fan of Glee, so thank heavens for Smash, a TV show about the Broadway dreams of people over the age of consent. Season One focuses on the rivalry between the very green Karen (American Idol’s Catherine McPhee) and off-Broadway veteran Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) as a musical about the iconic Marilyn Monroe is born. Don’t worry, it’s not all kick-ball-chain: divorce, adoption, creative rivalries (i.e. the problems of ordinary folks) are featured, too. Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport and Christian Borle co-star. Extended musical numbers, gag reel, and behind-the-scenes stuff is contained within the four-disc set.
• The Words is a story within a story within a story, and opens with a writer (Dennis Quaid) reading a passage from his new book. It’s a tale about a would-be author (Bradley Cooper) with writer’s block, who stumbles on perhaps the greatest work of fiction of his generation. Flashbacks to the history that formed the wartime manuscript is the basis for the third story, and moral quandaries abound. An old-fashioned little movie (no nudity, no gore) about the choices we make for arts’ sake.
• Humanity’s last stand has nothing to do with the fiscal cliff, and everything to do with Milla Jovovich. She’s back fighting the evils of the Umbrella Corporation and entire countries full of zombies in Resident Evil: Retribution. Old allies are resurrected from the undead (wakey wakey, Michelle Rodriguez) to help penetrate corporation headquarters in Paul W.S. Anderson’s sci-fi tale, which again sports Alice in Wonderland overtones. Great fun in 3-D, the Blu-ray contains deleted and extended scenes, a Drop (Un)Dead Creatures featurette, filmmaker and cast commentaries, and six behind-the-scenes extras.
• Mind games are on the menu in Total Recall, Len Wiseman’s remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic. It features Colin Farrell in the Arnold role, playing a factory worker looking for a little excitement, who has a super spy memory implanted in his cranium. But is he really a spy, or is it all part of the Rekall package? Suddenly his wife (Kate Beckinsale, glowering appropriately) is trying to kill him, and the revolutionaries from the Colony (including Jessica Biel) want him back in action. You can watch the film with “insight” from director Wiseman, or just enjoy over 90 minutes of bonus material — including gag reel and stunt breakdowns — on its own.
• Yes, it’s a film about time travel, but don’t write Looper off just yet. The seamless story about a hitman in the near future who is forced to hunt down a version of his future self features an original concept working from well-worn themes (youth, age, regret), plus heart-pounding action and sustained suspense. Fab performance by a prosthetics-clad Joseph Gordon-Levitt, made to look more like his elder self, Bruce Willis, and a stoater of a supporting turn by Emily Blunt, as a shotgun-toting single mom. One of the best films of the year. Special features reveal the fact that Blunt didn’t recognize her co-star in makeup; there’s feature commentary with writer/director Rian Johnson, Blunt and Gordon-Levitt, extras on the score and on the science of time travel, and much more.