There have been a lot of movies released in 2011 so far that have targeted the uber-fan audience, but none of the spandex superhero epics or raunchy “R” rated horror films or comedies have captured the “geek” soul like Greg Mottola’s Paul, which was written by co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. But there are other home entertainment releases of note including vintage cartoon series from the 1980s and the 1990s,
Theatrical Movies
There are a number of interesting genre films due this week including the geekcentric Paul (Universal, “R,” $29.98, BD Combo $34.98), a sharp and often funny exercise in geek culture from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the duo behind Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz. There’s plenty of subtle, inside humor that those who are familiar with Comic-Con and all the various aspects of flying saucer and Area 51 mythology will recognize, plus a good bit of slapstick in this tale of two British uber-sci-fi fans who make a pilgrimage to Comic-Con and the prime American UFO and science fiction movie sites including the Devil’s Tower from Close Encounters. A strong supporting cast that includes Kristen Wiig, Blythe Danner, Bill Hader, and Sigourney Weaver plus sensitive direction from Greg Mottola (Adventureland) combine to make Paul one of the most complex and interesting comedy films of 2011 so far. Steven Spielberg makes a cameo appearance, which is only right since Paul is filled with references to Spielberg’s films.
More conventional, but also interesting is Jumping the Broom (Sony, “PG-13,” $30.99, BD $35.99) a wedding comedy about the marriage between the daughter of a family with high social standing (they have a home on Martha’s Vineyard) and a self-made guy with blue collar roots in Brooklyn. The great thing about Salim Akil’s film is the way he avoids stereotyping the groom’s Brooklyn family, while still squeezing plenty of humor from the culture clash between the two families. Julie Bowen, Paula Patton, Mike Epps, Laz Alonso, and Angela Bassett headline a stellar cast.
A couple of 2011’s real bombs are due out this week including Your Highness (Universal “R,” $29.98, BD $39.98), a lame medieval spoof that wastes the considerable talents of James Franco, Danny McBride, Zooey Deschanel, and Natalie Portman. While Your Highness is occasional funny, it is also flaccid and its mixture of faux-medieval dialogue and modern profane sexual slang loses its impact quickly. Those who absolutely love Pineapple Express might want to check it out, but there are plenty of reasons why Your Highness scored a miserable 26% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and only made $24 million worldwide versus a cost of $50 million.
But when it comes to losing money Your Highness can’t hold a candle to Mars Need Moms (Disney, “PG,” $29.99, $39.99), which earned just $38 million worldwide versus its negative cost of $150 million, and just about single-handedly destroyed the motion-capture animation genre (though Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson might be able to revive mo-cap with their Adventures of Tintin). Mars Needs Mom is based on a clever children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, and though the storyline may be a little too intense for younger kids, it is the creepy effect of the highly-realistic, but not quite real mo-cap animation that was responsible for turning this film into a financial and critical (only 35% positive on Rotten Tomatoes) disaster.
Super (MPI, “R” $24.98) is a low-budget dark comedy about a loser played by Rann Wilson, who becomes a do-it-yourself vigilante superhero called the Crimson Bolt. Armed with a substantial pipe wrench he lays waste to various lowlife types in very bloody fashion egged on by his even crazier sidekick Boltie played by Ellen Page. Super only earned $325,000 in theaters, and in spite of the presence of Wilson and Page, actors who are popular with the critics, the film could only muster a 45% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Director James Gunn did considerably better with the offbeat horror film Slither, but those who enjoy really black comedies can find some sick jokes in this film that manages to be extremely blood, relentlessly nihilistic, and senselessly scattershot.
The top “TV on DVD” releases this week are both animated seriesM.A.S.K.: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, 1500 min., $99.99) was one of numerous cartoon series from the 1980s produced as a vehicle for toy merchandising. M.A.S.K. (an acronym for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand) fused elements from the popular G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons. The show features transforming vehicles as well as super-powered helmets called masks. M.A.S.K. was produced by several uncredited anime studios including KK C&D Asia, Studio Juno, Studio World, and Ashi Production under the auspices of the Franco-American DIC Enterprises. Like G.I. Joe and Transformers, M.A.S.K. should benefit from the whole 80s nostalgia boom—those who were kids in the 1980s are now entering middle age. DC Comics produced a comic book series based on the show in which the M.A.S.K. team is sponsored by an organization known as the PNA (Peaceful Nations Alliance) and as in the cartoon they  takes on a villainous organization known as VENOM (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem).
The other key American release due out on Tuesday is Hey Arnold!: Season One (Shout Factory, 450 min., $29.93). It should appeal to a slightly younger crowd than M.A.S.K. Created by Craig Bartlett for Nickelodeon, the colorful Hey Arnold! series aired from 1996 to 2004. Barlett based his show on a comic that he had created in 1980s. The first two seasons of the series were temporarily available through Amazon’s “burn-on-demand” create space program, but those were DVD-R copies, whereas the new Shout Factory versions are conventional, longer-lived DVDs.
Speaking of DVD-R releases, Jonny’s Golden Quest (Warner Bros., 87 min., $19.95) is a DVD-R version of the 1993 animated movie based on the Hanna-Barbera property. This made-for-TV movie might be of interest to Jonny Quest fans because it attempted to fill the holes in the background narrative of the original Jonny Quest series—but it might also offend some dedicated viewers because it cannibalizes the “Deadly Junket” episode of the original series and retcons the original storyline so that Race Bannon and Hadji join the Quest team before Mrs. Quest’s death.
The only continuing American live-action series this week is Webster: Season 3 (Shout Factory, 600 min., $29.93), a popular 1980s sitcom which features Alex Karras, Susan Clark, and the impossibly cute Emmanuel Lewis.
The top U.K. offerings are two Doctor Who discs, Doctor Who-Story #095: The Sun Makers (BBC, 100 min., $24.98), which was broadcast in 4-parts in 1977 and featured the popular fourth Doctor Tom Baker, and Doctor Who-Story #149: Paradise Towers (BBC, 98 min., $24.98), a four-parter from 1987 featuring the Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy.
The only other U.K. release is Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 (BBC, 348 min., $24.98, BD $29.99), the latest collection of the most popular motoring show in the world.
It’s a light week for anime releases led by Soul Eater Part 3 & 4 (Funimation, “14+,” 650 min. BD $69.98), which includes episodes 27 to 51 of the popular anime series from Bones based on the supernatural action manga series by Atsushi Okubo (published here by Yen Press).
This week’s bargain-priced re-releases include the 13-episode harem comedy romance Otobuko: Maidens Are Falling For Me (Media Blasters, “13+,” 325 min., $19.95), which was originally released in 2008, and the Ah! My Goddess Season 2 Complete Series (Funimation, “13+,” 600 min., $ 29.98), which includes all 24 episodes of the second season of the anime from OLM based on Kosuke Fujishima’s popular comedy romance manga (published here by Dark Horse).
New on Blu-Ray
(IMAGE_6}Four Weddings and a Funeral (MGM, “R,” BD $16.99) is now available on Blu-ray, and while the disc has a few problems (especially in the wobbly beginning), it represents a solid improvement over the conventional DVD. The film, which was released in 1994, remains a true delight with loads of character-driven comedy and one brilliant knee-slappingly funny scene in which a hapless Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) officiates at one of the weddings. Hugh Grant has never been better and a strong supporting cast led by Kristin Scott Thomas, James Fleet, Simon Callow, and John Hannah keeps Four Weddings and a Funeral interesting throughout.
Be Cool (MGM, “PG-13,” BD$19.99) is an excellent hi-def transfer. The image is sharp, the colors vibrant, and the contrast is great. Unfortunately the 2005 film, which is a sequel to the 1995 classic Get Shorty, is really lame. Unlike Get Shorty, which was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and hewed very closely to the Elmore Leonard novel, Be Cool, which was directed by F. Gary Gray deviates in major ways from Leonard’s novel. It also includes perhaps the worst Vince Vaughn performance ever, and truly embarrassing cameos from Steven Tyler and Anna Nicole Smith, who demonstrate a similar lack of acting talent.
The high-def transfer of Honeymoon in Vegas (MGM, “PG-13,” $19.99) is not nearly as good. Some scenes look sharp and vibrant, while others are positively murky. This is a problem because the film’s Hawaiian locations are one of its few strong points. Those who love Nicholas Cage at his most frenetically neurotic will probably enjoy this comedy version of Indecent Proposal (a funnier film, though unintentionally humorous). For others the few laughs the film has to offer are not worth enduring the relentless mugging of Cage and the gangster posturing of James Caan.  Honeymoon in Vegas is the most visually inconsistent release yet in MGM’s generally excellent series of Blu-rays, but those who enjoy watching actors who display more “ticks” than there are in the deer-filled woods of Wisconsin and who like listening to a soundtrack filled with Elvis Presley songs performed by other artists, the uneven visual quality of Honeymoon in Vegas will likely be a minor annoyance--after all some of the Hawaiian scenes are spectacular in a travelogue sort of way.