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DVD Review: Comic-Con Episode IV, Adventure Time and Chicago in Chicago

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DVD Review: Comic-Con Episode IV, Adventure Time and Chicago in Chicago

Smartly timed to coincide on DVD with this year’s just-wrapped convention, the laboriously titled “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” shines a nonfiction spotlight on the crazed, annual fanboy gathering in San Diego. At one time a quaint little subcultural curio and Hollywood after-thought, the jamboree is now a high-stakes proving ground for almost every genre film and non-drama tentpole studio release with even the most tenuous connection to superheroes, sci-fi or fantasy. Helmer Morgan Spurlock, who has throughout his career exhibited an uncanny knack for both zeitgeist vein-tapping and savvy self-promotion, here takes a backseat to other subjects, providing an overview of the convention via the stories of a comic book store owner and longtime Comic-Con attendee; a pair of aspiring illustrators; an ambitious cos-play costume designer; and an amiable kid looking to pop a marriage proposal to his girlfriend on the one-year anniversary of their previous meeting and attendance.

Comic-Con Episode IV

“Comic-Con Episode IV” is a solid little treat, the cinematic equivalent of a rock tour T-shirt; longtime fans and attendees of the convention, as well as those who have merely followed it religiously from afar, will definitely want to snag a copy of this release. Where the movie misses a chance to really blossom into something special, however, is in Spurlock’s steadfast refusal to burrow down into the enmity just beneath the event’s surface, between those who connect with the comics portion of it, and the many thousands of attendees who have just a more generalized pop cultural interest in the latest projects and cool swag that Hollywood is peddling. A couple throwaway lines make mention of this, but Spurlock’s play-nice flick mostly puts a glossy shine on the radical transformation of “Comic-Con,” and how that in turn relates to the types of movies that Hollywood studios are both making and not making.

The movie’s regular DVD release finds it packaged in a regular plastic Amaray case, and presented on a dual-layer disc in 1.78:1 widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track and optional English and Spanish subtitles. In addition to the movie’s trailer, supplemental features consist of a brief behind-the-scenes featurette and a modest collection of deleted scenes. Unfortunately there is no audio commentary track, which seems like a strange and especially egregious omission given the participation of Stan Lee, Harry Knowles and Joss Whedon as executive producers. By default, that makes the most valuable extra a collection of extended interviews, wherein Ellen Page gets off a nice line or two. More rabid and enterprising collectors, however, can track down special editions of “Comic-Con Episode IV” exclusively via Toys “R” Us; these come packaged with mini-action figures of either Lee and Knowles, or Spurlock and fellow producer Whedon, who already produced plenty of geek-gasms earlier this year with “The Avengers.”

Adventure Time

The Emmy-nominated animated comedy series “Adventure Time” was warmly received by audiences old and new last year when a couple compilations made their way to DVD. Now the entire first season, 26 collected cartoon episodes, is available on a nice two-disc set. Presently in its fourth season, “Adventure Time” centers on 12-year-old Finn and his shape-shifting magical dog, Jake — buddies who traverse the Land of Ooo and encounter its colorful inhabitants, inclusive of the evil Ice King and the enchanting Princess Bubblegum.

Many of television’s top-tier critics have bestowed high praise and accolades upon the Cartoon Network original series, and it’s easy to understand why. Created by Pen Ward, the show eschews ham-fisted life lessons in favor of more loose-limbed entertainment. It’s not wildly subversive or surreal, really, but it does lean toward Adult Swim territory, with fantastical little oddball touches that will have parents or older audiences laughing at quite different things than their kids might.

Housed in a plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a nice little vertical-slotted cardboard slipcover, the attractively packaged “Adventure Time” comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby stereo 2.0 track and English subtitles. Its highly anticipated slate of supplemental materials is anchored by commentaries from Ward, John Dimaggio, Tom Kenny, George Takei and the rest of the show’s voice cast and crew, as well as assorted music videos and bonus cartoons. Its undeniable highlight, though, is a very funny and engaging behind-the-scenes, multi-media featurette that blends together the worlds of its characters and makers. Let’s just say that Michel Gondry would be proud.

Black Limousine

“Black Limousine,” co-written and directed by Carl Colpaert and starring David Arquette, represents one of those broken-Hollywood-dreams narratives. Though a bit too long and a bit too smitten with the cleverness and deception of its narrative’s winding path, the movie is nonetheless a decently engaging drama, marked by smart acting and a solid technical package. Arquette stars as Jack MacKenzie, a composer who, in the wake of the death of his oldest daughter and dissolution of his marriage, gets a job as a limo driver to make some extra money. Assigned to ferry about A-list actor Thomas Bower (Nicholas Bishop), Jack strikes up a friendship with him. Jack also crosses paths with Erica Long (Bijou Phillips), a model and singer whom he meets at AA meetings; this helps him cope with the time away from his other daughter, with whom Jack has weekend visitation rights.

Though it tracks very differently in terms of its narrative, there’s a woozy, doomed quality herein somewhat similar to Mitch Glazer’s “Passion Play,” from last year. Excepting the ridiculous idea that a promising composer’s career could be dinged by a box office failure (a notion the movie admittedly treats as a bit of a lie from Jack), the film unfolds upon a track of somewhat predictable domestic and occupational conflict. A bit paradoxically, it’s much more interesting when things start to unravel, with the interruptions of Jack’s hectoring landlady (Lin Shaye) translating as gibberish, and him problematically misinterpreting others’ actions. Even though this drags the movie off into classic unreliable-narrator territory, it affords the chance for Arquette to madly spin his wheels, and show some range outside of hangdog isolation. Holding everything together are the performances — nicely modulated turns by Arquette, Phillips and especially Bishop. It’s not a 10-carat diamond in the rough, but for those intrigued by the combination of elements there are far worse ways to while away your time. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with hollowed-out spindles, “Black Limousine” comes to DVD presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track. Apart from a dozen chapter stops branching off of its static menu screen, however, there are no supplemental bonus features.

The first fiction feature by documentarians Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, and a winner of over 30 international film festival prizes, Italian import “Little Girl” is a captivating slice of bittersweet neorealism in the more recent mold of the Dardennes brothers. Set mostly in and around a rundown park on the outskirts of Rome, the movie centers on a two-year-old girl (Asia Crippa) who’s discovered and taken in by Patti (Patrizia Gerardi) and Walter (Walter Saabel), a pair of hard-luck circus performers. It’s a different story and type of performance than Victoire Thivosol delivered in Jacques Doillon’s devastating “Ponette,” the smash of the 1996 Venice Film Festival, but the little Crippa’s turn is just as jaw-droppingly magical and heartrending in its own way. Comparisons and evoked memories of Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” are not unfair; foreign film fans in particular will find rich reward in this spare but soulful drama, which mostly eshews conventional plot gimmickry. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, this First Run Features release comes to DVD in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with filmmaker biographies and a subtitled interview.

Making Plans for Lena

Another worthy foreign film, meanwhile, arrives in the form of acclaimed auteur Christophe Honore’s “Making Plans for Lena,” an ambitious and melancholic French family drama about a recently divorced mother of two (Chiara Mastroianni) who heads home to the small town of Brittany with her children, to escape the bustle and chaos of Paris. Seeking solace, Lena soon finds that everyone has an opinion about her ex-husband, Nigel (Jean-Marc Barr), and what she should be doing differently in her life (hence its title). The movie is perhaps first and foremost an exquisite showcase for the equally luminous Mastroianni, but it also digs down into the marrow of these thorny relationships, proving once again a hard-edged truth — that no one can enflame passions quite like family. If Honore’s directorial gambits sometimes flirt with overreach, and make too literal the movie’s universal/metaphorical underpinnings, there’s still a lot here by which to be engaged. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, “Making Plans for Lena” comes to DVD presented in a 16×9 aspect ratio, with a Dolby 2.0 stereo audio track and, of course, optional English subtitles.

Chicago in Chicago

On the music front, “Chicago in Chicago” is perhaps the no-brainer home video release of the month, spotlighting the legendary band’s triumphant return to its namesake hometown. Against the backdrop of Lake Michigan, and a sold-out crowd at Charter One Pavilion, director Leon Melas captures the group powering through a catalogue of crowd-pleasers, including “If You Leave Me Now,” “Call On Me,” “Hard Habit to Break,” “You’re the Inspiration,” “Just You and Men,” “Saturday in the Park,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Get Away” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.” The Doobie Brothers, the band’s opening act, then joins Chicago for an encore set of “Free,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “25 or 6 To 4.” All in all, it’s more than 90 minutes of music, and a wonderful trip down memory lane for anyone feeling a bit nostalgic for some of the most memorable FM radio balladry of the 1980s. “Chicago in Chicago” comes to home video in both Blu-ray and DVD. The former is in 1080p with a DTS-HD master audio 5.1 track, while the latter comes with a Dolby digital 5.1 track; both are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Bonus features consist of a nice little offering of backstage interview material with band members, including group founders Jimmy Pankow, Robert Lamm and Lee Loughnane.

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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