Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Remarkable computer animation and puppetry combine with an expected brilliant lead performance by Andy Serkis make this my favorite entry yet in the series, which does for Planet of the Apes what Batman Begins did for Batman. Serkis plays Caesar, a chimpanzee granted hyper-intelligence by a serum. James Franco plays a neuroscientist who cares for Caesar, but it's only a matter of time until he has other plans. Father-son-style scenes between Franco and Caesar grant the film the bulk of its pathos, and the plot wisely steers away from time travel or any other of the more ridiculous sci-fi trappings of the other film. It's a movie about an animal coming into his own as a sentient being and finding his place in the world. Multiple commentary tracks, deleted scenes, a look at the making of Caesar and art renderings fill out the impressive set.
Mr. Popper's Penguins – Now is apparently a good time to get Jim Carrey to star in your tepid kiddie flick, because if Carrey will sign on to co-star with the rejects from Sea World's Penguin Encounter, there's no telling to which depths he'll sink. Adapted from a children's book, the story casts Carrey as a workaholic who's forced to stop and smell the fish treats when a bunch of penguins start living with him. I expected the movie to be awful, but was pleasantly surprised at its pleasant absurdity. I still think Carrey should be ashamed for having taken a paycheck to degrade himself to the level of Tim Allen. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes commentary, deleted scenes, an animated short and — most terrifyingly — a preview of Tooth Fairy 2.
Circumstance – The daring, boundaries-shattering Iranian film tells a saga of sexual awakening amid a pair of female students (Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy) whose attraction for each other simmers under domineering patriarchal conventions. The girls plan to escape Tehran for the more accommodating social customs of Dubai, but family and societal pressure them to conform. This is pretty much the Iranian version of Lost and Delirious, which is a high compliment in my book. Supplements include a making-of featurette and commentary from the cast and crew.
Fright Night – The remake of the 1985 cult favorite stars Colin Farrell as a dapper vampire who moves in next door to a teen (Anton Yelchin) and seems interested in sinking his fangs into both his mother (Toni Collette) and girlfriend (Imogen Poots). Christopher Mintz-Plasse — McLovin from Superbad — plays the protagonist's nerdy former best friend, who tries to stifle Farrell's plans. The film captures the silly, slapdash feel of '80s horror comedies, sparking as many groans as laughs. That's about what you'd expect from the film, justifying a rental. The Blu-ray/DVD combo includes deleted and extended scenes, a pair of music videos and a featurette on manufacturing vampire comedy.
Kung Fu Panda 2 – The limp sequel to a fresh, fun 2008 animated flick brings back Jack Black to voice the rotund hero, who discovers he was adopted and aims to seek out his origins, leading him to a confrontation with a diabolical peacock voiced by Gary Oldman. The movie isn't aggressively bad, it just never hits a comic rhythm, can never maintain much tension and fails to hit its emotional spots. Kids who just want to hang out with the characters again will probably like it, but there's not much here for adults. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes an episode of the upcoming TV series based on the films, commentary and a short spin-off film that's more entertaining than the movie.
The Life and Times of Tim: Season 2 – The HBO animated series features a hapless, downbeat 25-year-old (Steve Dildarian) who nonchalantly watches his life fall apart in each episode. Wry humor and clever dialogue make the series incredibly addictive. It's a lot of fun to watch Tim continuously fail at dating, work and just about every other aspect of life, never truly getting flustered because he always expects the worst. The two-disc set comes with 10 episodes, as well as a behind-the-scenes segment.
Tanner Hall – Rooney Mara, Brie Larson and Georgia King — all of whom have experienced quite a bit of success since this 2009 movie has been foundering about in limbo land — play students at an exclusive New England boarding school. Chris Kattan, Tom Everett Scott and Amy Sedaris play clueless adults who are largely oblivious to the Gossip Girl-style antics in the often-steamy film. This is exploitation cinema through and through, but wildly entertaining regardless. Filmmaker commentary is the lone notable extra.
Tora! Tora! Tora! Blu-ray – The 1970 film takes a comprehensive look at the 1941 Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, detailing infighting and political maneuvering on both sides that shows the arrogance and poor decisions that led to the carnage. Not only is the lengthy, 147-minute American version here, but so is the extended Japanese edition, which adds 10 minutes of previously unreleased footage. The film is a visual spectacle in HD, and all the more resonant near the attack's 70th anniversary. The packaging is set up as a tribute book with vintage production photos.
Velvet Goldmine Blu-ray – Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) rounds up Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Christian Bale to direct this 1998 drama about the 1970s heyday of British glam rock, loosely based on David Bowie. The film is breathless rush of exotic costumes, awful yet entrancing tunes and publicity stunts that daringly blur the lines of sexuality and public decency. Other than the typical rise-and-fall rock biopic tropes, there's not much of a dramatic thrust to the film, which is best appreciated as a scene piece. Haynes and producer Christine Vachon team up for a commentary track.