An underrated classic from David Mamet's limited directorial oeuvre, Homicide features Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay and other Mamet perennials flawlessly mastering the playwright's precise, staccato speech patterns. Mantegna plays Bobby Gold, an inner-city cop forced to reassess his non-practicing Jewish faith when an elderly Orthodox woman is gunned down in her ghetto candy shop. His investigation leads to a quintessentially Mametian house of games involving a clandestine cabal of Zionist Jews, neo-Nazi propaganda and secret codes as he navigates a stylized urban labyrinth with no exit. Forced to betray one ethical allegiance in order to placate another, the flawed Gold is a changed man, and the strings on the soundtrack seem to weep for him at the film's end. A great mystery and a better character study, Homicide is not your ordinary police procedural, dutifully deconstructed by Nation critic William Klawans in the supplemental booklet and fondly remembered by five actors from Mamet's repertory in a half-hour featurette. —John Thomason
Ahhh, the fab '50s. 'Twas the suburban dream. On the surface, kitsch — pastel kitchens, boomerang coffee tables and happy little housewives. It gave us great things like Sputnik, Kinsey, the polio vaccine and Brown vs. Board of Education. But it had a dark side: Communism and Cold War paranoia, and McCarthyism. So, of course, Hollywood was there to exploit that fear. Sci-fi films, along with their alien invaders, became metaphors for communism, foreign cultures and the threats they posed to American life.
It's not hard to imagine director-producer R.W. Goodwin (The X-Files) watching Saturday afternoon creature features. But what could've been a misspent youth is channeled nicely into Alien Trespass, a colorful homage that drips with retro '50s aesthetics.
The story begins in 1957, in California's Mojave Desert. Noted astronomer Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack of Will and Grace) sees, with his telescope, a meteor crash into a nearby mountain. When Ted investigates, a metallic alien called Urp emerges from his UFO and takes over his body. Urp "borrows" Ted so it can blend in while searching for the hideously goofy, one-eyed and purple-hued Ghota, who was also on board, but escaped. Urp-Ted teams up with a feisty diner waitress to stop the multiplying Ghota from consuming locals and taking over the world.
Alien Trespass isn't a parody; rather, a picture-perfect re-creation of a '50s sci-fi flick, down to the look and feel except with better special effects. The dialogue's corny, the acting overly serious, hence the unintentional chuckles. —Paul Knoll
SpongeBob SquarePants: The First 100 Episodes
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of everybody's favorite porous pineapple dweller, this massive box loads 14 DVDs with the series' first 100 episodes. There are some bonuses (commentary, a documentary, a few featurettes), but the real reason to collect this is SpongeBob — the best cartoon character since the golden age of animation. —Mike Gallucci
Heroes: Season 3
This geek-approved sci-fi series settled into a for-the-fans rhythm in its third season. The 25 episodes are divided into "Villains" and "Fugitives" volumes, boosting the comic book tone. This six-disc set includes deleted scenes, alternate stories, commentary and more. Hit up the Blu-ray for the total HD geek experience. —Mike Gallucci
Nights and Weekends
Nights and Weekends is a lo-fi blip of a film that ends just when it starts to pick up. It's written and directed by, and stars, Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig, two masters of mumblecore who previously collaborated on LOL and Hannah Takes the Stairs. This time, they play a couple that works in different states, separated by 700 miles. We see a few fleeting moments they share with each other, which make it clear the relationship is about to collapse. The story picks up a year later, post-relationship, and the two meet again for a fascinating night. Gerwig contributes a bravely uninhibited performance full of vulnerable self-analyzing and quietly tortured introspection — even her screams are silent. While those who've been through the strain of a long-distance relationship will relate to Nights and Weekends, it's frustratingly light on compelling content and character development, at times walking a thin line between the endearingly meandering and the pointlessly banal. Judging by the Swanberg shorts and teasers included in the DVD, there was a lot more footage that could —and should — have been added to this 78-minute final cut. —John Thomason