Paranormal Activity: The runaway horror hit of the year plays even better at home than it did in the theater because it’s set in a creaky house plagued by a demonic possessor. Shot in found-footage documentary style, in the vein of The Blair Witch Project, the creepy, relentlessly entertaining no-budget film is worth savoring. Opt for the stacked Blu-ray over the DVD because it’s got a digital copy, as well as the alternate ending that’s also on the DVD.
In the Loop: Rapid-fire, West Wing-style dialogue and an intricate, satirical plot highlight one of the better indies of 2009, about the U.S. and the United Kingdom conspiring to start a war in the Middle East. A mostly no-name cast, save for James Gandolfini as a gruff American military guy, make the film sing. The relatively light-on-extras DVD sports deleted scenes.
Big Fan: The often-hilarious comedy is about an obsessive New York Giants fanatic (Patton Oswalt) who lives in his mom’s basement and garners all his self worth on how his team performs and how effectively he sings their praises by calling into a sports talk radio show. The film goes to dark places but always keeps a light touch, for better or worse. Director and cast interviews fill out the set of extras that is as uninspired as the Giants’ 2009 campaign.
8-1/2: The always amazing Criterion Collection lionizes one of the greatest and most influential movies ever made, Federico Fellini‘s 1963 opus about being stuck at a career and life crossroads while having run out of creative energy and purpose. Along with a 30-page retrospective mini-book, the Blu-ray also includes scores of interviews, Fellini’s made-for-TV visual notebook on the movie and a documentary on Fellini’s original alternate ending.
Halloween II: Rob Zombie‘s scatter-shot follow up to his middling horror remake squanders what little goodwill he’d built up for his career after the stylish, audacious House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. The Blu-ray gets an inexplicably lavish treatment, including 23 deleted scenes, a blooper, reel, extensive audition footage and Zombie’s commentary.
Life on Mars, Seasons 1 and 2: Forget the 2008 American re-make. The 2006-2007 British crime opus is one of the best crime series you’ll ever see. The two-season series follows a detective (John Simm) who gets in a car accident in present day and wakes up in 1973. And things only get weirder from there. Both DVDs include making-of featurettes, commentary and behind-the-scenes looks. Both sets are available for less than $50. You may want to rent them first to see if you feel the flow before carving out shelf space for the DVDs.
Moon: In one of the offbeat surprises of 2009’s low-budget scene, Sam Rockwell stars as a lonely astronaut who has been mining a lunar energy source for far too long. A trippy journey of inner discovery and neurotic gymnastics, the film is a head-scratcher worthy of multiple viewings. The Blu-ray and DVD include filmmaker commentary, a making-of doc and interviews.
Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel is available on Amazon.