The most interesting DVD releases this week feature superheroes—All-Star Superman is the most ambitious Direct-to-DVD DC Comics animated feature yet, and Megamind is a clever CGI feature that gleefully plays with all the conventional elements of a superhero saga. But there are other key new discs including Todd Phillips’ follow-up to The Hangover, a raft of anime Blu-rays, and a “Best-Of” Invader Zim collection, which if it sells well enough, might convince Nickelodeon to bring the series back.
Direct to DVD
All-Star Superman (Warner Bros.,"PG-13," $19.98, BD $24.98), which adapts the 12-issue series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, is the most ambitious DC Direct-to DVD animated feature yet. The All-Star Superman comics each told a self-contained story, but also contributed to the overall narrative in which Superman has to come to terms with his own mortality. It was just impossible to squeeze a dozen mini-narratives into a 76-minute film, and several key parts of the All-Star Superman saga including Superman’s descent into Bizarro World and the very affecting sequence in which he prevents a teenage girl from committing suicide were left out entirely. Other story elements were condensed and the result is a very disjointed and excessively episodic narrative structure.
It is clear that All-Star Superman would have been better served if it had been adapted into an animated mini-series that mirrored the narrative pattern of the comic book, but enough of the high concept elements of the All-Star Superman comic book series survive to make this one of the most interesting of all the DC Animated features and a “must have” for all Superman fans. Yes, reading the All-Star Superman saga in its graphic novel form is better than watching the film, which has particular problems with the more fantastical elements of Superman mythos that it brings back from the character’s long history, but the movie is good enough that it may well create interest in the original comic book series. The Blu-ray edition of All-Star Superman not only contains a superb hi-def copy of the animated feature, it also has a full complement of extras including a digital comics version of All-Star Superman #1 that should make anyone who reads it after watching the movie want to read the entire All-Star Superman saga. In fact sales of the All-Star Superman graphic novel should increase in the wake of the release of the animated adaptation.
Director Tony Liu does a generally good job of rendering Quitely’s iconic art style into animation.  The movie has the “look” of the original comics. The vocal cast is also very effective especially Anthony LaPaglia as Lex Luthor, Ed Asner as Perry White, and Christina Hendricks as a feisty and playful Lois Lane. All-Star Superman humanizes the Man of Steel and presents the most laid back version of “Big Blue” ever created. Purists may resist this fundamental change in the makeup of the comics’ original superhero, but others will find it refreshing and consider this contemporary take on the character the best aspect of All-Star Superman. Certainly James Denton manages to bring these human qualities to life in a subtle, non-flashy vocal performance. 

All-Star Superman is at its best when it chronicles the saga’s key relationships, between Superman and Lois, and Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. It is least effective when it is trying to cram a majority of the events from the saga’s myth-inspired “12 labors of Superman” storyline in to 76 minutes. There is a definite Joseph C. Campbell-like appreciation of the power of myth (especially in the way death affects mythological heroes) in All-Star Superman, and a good deal of it manages to make its way from the comic book series to the animated adaptation, which despite its flaws, remains  not only the most ambitious, but also the most consistently interesting DC animated movie to date.
The extras on the Blu-ray are quite good though sadly there is no short feature (the animated shorts included with previous DC animated features were superb). “Superman Now” is a well-produced 35-minute documentary that focuses on All-Star Superman creator Grant Morrison and DC EIC Dan Didio. The discussion of the creation of All-Star Superman continues in another featurette, “The Creative Flow,” in which Morrison discusses the gestation and creation of All-Star Superman. Other extras include a look at the next DC Animated Feature, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights and two episodes of the 1990s cartoon Superman: The Animated Series chosen by Bruce Timm.
Theatrical Movies
The top theatrical release is also a superhero-themed animated feature, but Megamind (Paramount, “PG,” $29.99, BD $49.99) is not based on a comic book, rather it takes some familiar superhero tropes and stands them on their head. Supervillain Megamind, voiced by Will Ferrell, is locked in a never-ending battle with the superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt), which ends quite unexpectedly with the apparent destruction of the “good guy” leaving Megamind adrift until he decides to restore the balance of good and evil by creating his own nemesis. Megamind was released theatrically in 3D, but looks just fine on DVD (very few contemporary 3D films actually use the added depth creatively enough to suffer when released conventionally). Not all the gags work, but Megamind was effective enough to earn a solid 72% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Due Date (Warner Bros., “R,” $28.98, BD $35.99), Todd Phillip’s follow-up to The Hangover is a raunchy road movie that pairs two rather obnoxious characters, an uptight father-to-be played by Robert Downey, Jr., and a whacked-out slacker incarnated by Zack Galifiankis, who reprises his crazy man role from The Hangover. The comedy in Due Date is as broad as a Kansas cornfield and its debt to better films like Planes, Trains, & Automobiles is obvious. But Due Date definitely has a lot funny moments, which makes it better than 90% of the film comedies that have come out in the past few years. Like The Hangover, this movie is not recommended for the excessively genteel or for those burdened with too much taste, though others will find it amusing.
Leaving (MPI, Not Rated, $24.98) is a French Film (Partir is its real title) directed by Catherine Corsini. It stars Kristin Scott Thomas as a 40-something doctor’s wife who falls in love with the Spanish ex-con handyman hired to construct her studio. This saga of “amour fou” in which a woman gives up everything for love is more Anna Karenina than Madame Bovary, and found more favor with critics (72% positive on RT) than with audiences, but for those who appreciate the often brilliant work of  Kristin Scott Thomas, one of the few actors who is equally good speaking French or English, this is not to be missed.
Get Low (Sony, “PG-13,” $28.95, BD $38.96) is a quirky, depression-era comedy based on a true story about a hermit, who, after living like a recluse for 40 years, commissions his own funeral and attends his own wake. Get Low is a movie for those who appreciate screen acting. Robert Duvall gives another subtle skillful performance that is brought into higher relief by the showier work of Bill Murray as the local mortician. Not a lot happens in Get Low, and even though it’s all about “death,” it’s definitely not a black comedy, but something slighter and yet more difficult to pull off—a comedy built on character and whimsy.
It’s another slim week for American releases which are led by the Showtime black comedy series Weeds: Season 6 (Lionsgate, $39.98, BD $39.98), which stars the extremely talented Mary Louise Parker, and Nurse Jackie: Season 2 (Lionsgate, $39.98 BD $39.99) another Showtime comedy/drama with a serious edge.
Also out this week, though unfortunately not on BD is House of Payne: Vol.6—Episodes 101-124 (Lionsgate, 480 min., $29.98), which collects 24 episodes of Tyler Perry’s TBS series. Another series worth noting is the classic western, Have Gun Will Travel: Season 5, Part 2 (Paramount, 489 min., $39.98)
Mention should be made of this week’s lone TV animation release Invader Zim: Operation Doom (Nickelodeon, 179 min., $16.99), a “best-of” disc that fans of the Jhonen Vasquez-created series should buy even if they own the Zim Complete Set—why, because if this DVD sells well, Nickelodeon will consider bringing the groundbreaking alien invasion series back—a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Reality shows are lower than the pond scum of a drained lake, and none is worse that the execrable Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, Season 20 (Paramount, 917 min., $34.95). Although it’s basically a one-note wonder, Ice Road Truckers: The Complete Season 4 (A&E, $39.95, BD $49.95) this truckers versus nature show is a heck of a lot more entertaining than the trumped up phony conflicts of Survivor.
The best reality shows are documentaries and How the Earth Was Made: The Complete Season 2 (A&E, BD $49.95) is an example of a pretty good effort. Less edifying is National Geo’s sensationalized Border Wars: Season 2 (National Geographic, 720 min. $39.97).
This week’s U.K. releases include the brilliant detective series Midsomer Murders Set 17 (Acorn Media, 400 min., $49.99). If you haven’t seen this collection of contemporary quirky English village murder mysteries, which is currently airing on PBS, request a disc from Netflix, you won’t be disappointed. This long-running series of feature-length mysteries showcases some of the best ensemble acting in the history of television, check it out and see why it’s Johnny Depp’s favorite TV series. In Set 17 the “Dogleg Murders” skewers class tensions between the local villagers and  the moneyed types that control the exclusive country club, while cricket and Cold War double agents are at the heart of “Secrets and Spies.” “The Black Book” is a savagely satirical look at a portion of the art world that is riddled with greed, forgeries and unscrupulous dealers.
Most of the U.K. series that find success here are mysteries, period dramas, or police procedurals---which makes the occasional situation comedy like Fresh Fields Set 1 (Acorn Media, 284 min., $49.98) stand out. Produced from 1984-1986, Fresh Fields starred Julia McKenzie as a suburban housewife, who was constantly trying new things to improve her life and the life of her hardworking husband played Anton Rodgers. This kind of clever, genteel comedy is not for everyone’s taste, it’s more December Bride than Faulty Towers, but Fresh Fields, which includes 3 generations of family members in its storyline, is the kind of show that grows on you, if you give it a chance.
Geri-action movies like Red and The Expendables are all the rage here, so maybe there’s hope for New Tricks: Season 3 (Acorn Media, 463 min., $39.98), which follows the work of the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad, a group made up of retired police officers, who have been recruited to solve cold case mysteries. Led by the middle-aged lovelorn Amanda Redman, this gang of geezers is remarkably effective in solving crimes using a combination of forensics and old-fashioned police work, though they have to deal with all sorts of geriatric problems along the way.
here are a number of Blu-ray releases this week including Ga-Rei Zero Complete Collection (Funimation, “18+,” $59.98, BD $59.98). Animated by AIC Spirits and based on the supernatural shonen action manga by Hajime Segawa, the 12 episode Ga-Rei anime series aired in Japan in 2008. The protagonist of Ga-Rei is a high school student who can see spirits. He is attracted to a cute transfer student who recruits him into the government agency that defends the public against supernatural enemies.
Also new to North America on Blu-ray is Redline (Manga Entertainment, “13+,” 100 min. $26.98, BD $34.99), a street racing anime feature from Madhouse that is set in the future. Produced in 2009, Redline was directed by Takeshi Koike, a protégé of action anime specialist Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll).
New to the U.S. on standard DVD is Gintama Collection 04 (Sentai Filmworks, “13+,” 250 min., $49.98), the latest installment of the excellent samurai vs. aliens comedy/action series.
There are also two releases that are new on Blu-ray, but which have been released here on standard DVD beforeMoribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit Part 1 (Media Blasters, “13+,” 325 min., $49.99) is a superb period drama from Production I.G. that should look fantastic on BD. Also out on Blu-ray is Chobits Complete Series (Funimation, “13+,” 675 min, $54.98), which collects all 24 episodes of the anime based on the shonen manga series from Clamp.
Re-priced re-releases include the 1980s 6-episode OVA Crying Freeman (Discotek Media, $29.95), which gets it third U.S. release, and the Dragon Ball Z Dragon Box 5 (Funimation, “13+,” 1025 min., $59.98).