DVD reviews: Fool me twice

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IFC Midnight
Jen Craven (Vanessa Leigh) faces down a malevolent threat in “Almost Human,” a horror film directed by Joe Begos.
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Steve Coogan reprises role that made him famous

This week, we begin in Norfolk, England:

Alan Partridge (***) Rated R, 90 minutes.

Available now on DVD and Blu-ray and in various digital download formats.

Fans of Steve Coogan, whose antics can be an acquired taste, will find humor in Alan Partridge. This madcap comedy stars Coogan, who reprises the role that made him famous.

He plays the title character, a radio disc jockey and talk show host in Norfolk, England, who is, essentially, a poorly informed, well-meaning boob (think: Steven Colbert). When a big corporation takes over his station, it looks like either he or fellow DJ Pat Farrell (an always-apoplectic Colm Meaney) will be fired. When Alan sabotages Farrell, he takes hostages at the radio station for a stand-off.

Director Declan Lowney squeezes the situation for laughs, many flat, but many side-splitting.

DVD extras: a 12-minute “making of” featurette and brief segments “behind-the-scenes” and “A Look at Alan Partridge.”

*

300: Rise of an Empire (**1/2) This follow-up to the 2007 hit 300 travels much the same path, with its ancient Greek soldiers squaring off against the invading Persians. But this time, the action is mostly on the water. It’s still filmed in a striking tableau, with sepia-colored backgrounds mixing in with the impressive special effects and slow-motion blood-letting.

Game of Thrones bad girl Lena Headey returns as Spartan Queen Gorgo and to deliver narration about Greek warrior Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) facing off against Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). The sultry Eva Green plays Artemisia, who pushes the Persians into battle. Noam Murro directs with ample flair from a screenplay Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad adapted from Frank Miller’s comic book Xerxes.

Rated R, 103 minutes

DVD extras: the four-part featurette “The 300 Effect” has about a half-hour of featurettes on “3 Days in Hell,” “Brutal Artistry,” “A New Breed of Hero” and “Taking the Battle to Sea.” Also, the 23-minute “Real Leaders and Legends,” “Woman Warriors” (12 minutes), “Savage Warships” (11 minutes) and “Becoming a Warrior” (five minutes).

*

Winter’s Tale (**1/2) Noted screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) makes his directing debut challenging by adapting Mark Helprin’s treacly and loopy romantic fantasy novel.

In the first few minutes alone, Tale jumps from the present to the 1890s to 1914. Finally, in 1914, after prolonged and labored exposition, Peter (Colin Farrell) meets tragically doomed consumptive Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay). Meanwhile, mean demon Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) chases Peter around New York City.

Stuff happens and the film jumps ahead 100 years when Peter still roams Manhattan’s streets. And Pearly still chases him. But this time, Peter finds refuge with Virginia (Jennifer Connelly) and her boss Willa (Eva Marie Saint), whom Peter knew in 1914 and must now be 108.

This outline of this Oscar winner-laden film (Goldman, Crowe, Connelly, Saint, William Hurt) only hints at all the craziness and pseudo-philosophizing that takes place. Somehow, however eye-rolling, the film is never boring.

Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.

DVD extras: 12 additional scenes, the six-minute featurette “Winter’s Tale: A Timeless Love,” and nine minutes on “Characters of Good and Evil.”

*

Enemy (**1/2) Jake Gyllenhaal teams up again with Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve for a dark, dramatic mystery with plenty of twists. Javier Gullon supplied the script based on a novel by 1998 Nobel laureate Jose Saramago.

The tale uses a time-worn device, that of a double (a usually initially unknown twin). Gyllenhaal pulls this double duty, playing a depressive college professor, Adam, and Anthony, an aspiring actor full of energy and guile.

Adam accidentally discovers Anthony and then quietly tracks him down. His motives remain opaque, as he seems content merely in stalking. Meanwhile, Adam’s girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) and Anthony’s pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) notice changes in their men.

Villeneuve slows his narrative down, taking time to create a sense of dread and paranoia. Entertaining, if at times slow-going.

Rated R, 90 minutes.

DVD extras: an 18-minute “making of” featurette.

*

IFC Films releases a pair of bare-bones horror flicks under its “Midnight” banner.

Almost Human (**1/2) Joe Begos, the director of Almost Human, shows knowledge of the genre, with references to several pod-people films, The Shining and even The Human Centipede.

Strange things happen one night (blue lights, loud noises), resulting in the disappearance of several people. A few years later, one (Josh Ethier) returns, greatly changed. This alteration becomes more apparent when he tries to reconnect with his old girlfriend (Vanessa Leigh).

Only intervention from former best friend Seth (Graham Skipper) can save several people from becoming pod robots.

Not rated, 80 minutes.

DVD extras: a brief on-set interview and a four-minute short film.

Haunt (**) With an abundance of teen angst, Haunt never sheds its lugubrious atmospherics. It also suffers from overuse of genre cliches: lights flickering, shrieking music, dark figures dashing in front of the screen, a creepy old haunted house.

A family moves into a house supposedly haunted by its past inhabitants, a murdered family. The young son meets a strange neighbor girl. The two investigate the house’s history, and before long they have conjured up the lost spirits. Unfortunately, few frights come with the invited.

Not rated, 85 minutes.

DVD extras: cast and crew interviews, a two-part featurette, a “behind-the-scenes” featurette, and more.

*

This Is America, Charlie Brown These eight remastered Peanuts television specials arrive on two discs. The specials look ahead to July Fourth as they celebrate by taking a trip through American history. Charlie Brown and the gang meet the Pilgrims, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, the Wright brothers and many other famous Americans.

Not rated, 195 minutes.

*

Finally, from the week’s TV arrivals:

Mama’s Family: The Complete Fourth Season This popular spin-off from The Carol Burnett Show proved durable on its own by this fourth season, which ran from 1987 to 1988. Vicki Lawrence again plays Thelma “Mama” Harper, who complains daily about Vint and Naomi (Ken Berry and Dorothy Lyman) living in the basement. Also, Bubba (Allan Kayser) goes to school, Thelma watches too much home shopping TV, and she appears on Jeopardy!, with a guest appearance by Alex Trebek.

Not rated, 655 minutes.

DVD extras: an interview with Beverly Archer, a Mama’s Family cast reunion, a featurette on “Mama’s Family Tree,” and more.

*

Comedy Bang! Bang!: The Complete Second Season This instant cult series offers a goofy array of personalities and performers who sit for staged interviews, while comedy sketches break out around them. Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts host. The series attempts constant improvisation in its 20 episodes, which come on four discs.

The season sees appearances from such luminaries as Jim Gaffigan, Jessica Alba, Aziz Ansari, Zoe Saldana, Andy Richter, David Cross and many others.

Not rated, 451 minutes.

DVD extras: commentaries, deleted and bonus scenes, cast and crew interviews, an acting lesson with Herb Roost, and much more.

*

Also available Tuesday on DVD: Pandora’s Promise, Some Velvet Morning, Two Lives.


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