ANOTHER EARTH (2011). In one of those cinematic chicken-or-the-egg conundrums, viewers are left to wonder what came first to the folks who wrote Another Earth: a storyline that led to a Twilight Zone-ish ending, or a Twilight Zone-ish ending that led to the story preceding it? After all, the film's final shot is such a fanciful gotcha moment that it's easy to believe writer-director Mike Cahill and writer-star Brit Marling conceived it before anything else and then figured it was brilliant enough to overshadow any shortcomings. Hardly. Another Earth begins with the discovery of another planet in our solar system that's just like ours. Here on our Earth, however, promising MIT student Rhoda Williams (Marling) has just been released from a jail stint for having killed innocent people — a small boy and his pregnant mother — in a drunk-driving incident. Rhoda goes to the home of the survivor, composer John Burroughs (William Mapother), to apologize, but she loses her nerve and, without revealing her identity, instead becomes his housecleaner and, eventually, lover. The movie's small-scale story about redemption is meant to dovetail with its larger one involving the newly discovered planet, but it's an uncomfortable fit, with the more fascinating aspects of the tale taking a back seat to the rote patterns of its rocky romance. As for that ending, it raises some obvious questions that are presumably answered on that other Earth, but watching it on this Earth doesn't make it any more satisfying.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes; discussions with Cahill, Marling and Mapother; and the music video for Fall On Your Sword's "The First Time I Saw Jupiter."
THE ART OF GETTING BY (2011). An appealing small fry in Finding Neverland (when he was 12) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (13), Freddie Highmore now turns up in his first significant role in years at the age of 19. To quote Fred Willard in A Mighty Wind, "Hey, wha' happened?" Of course, it would be cruel and unfair to call for a career moratorium based on one performance, but the thing that surprised me the most about this picture is that Highmore has morphed from a promising child actor into a generic, boring teen. Then again, that might simply be because he's surrounded by a generic, boring movie and has elected to camouflage himself, Rango-like, by blending into his surroundings. This shares much in common with last year's inert It's Kind of a Funny Story, right down to a co-starring role for Emma Roberts and a plotline that focuses on a self-centered twit whose problems don't amount to a hill of beans in Casablanca, Cleveland, or this film's NYC setting. Highmore's George Zinavoy refuses to do any homework and frequently skips school, all because he realizes that one day he'll die and why waste time on meaningless activities? George is committed to remaining aloof — at least until he gets to know his classmate Sally (Roberts) and starts to secretly hope that their friendship will turn into something more meaningful. The domestic sequences involving George's mom (Rita Wilson) and stepdad (Sam Robards) are even more dull than the school-set ones, though it's the many scenes focusing exclusively on the young couple that feel especially trite and shopworn. And with Highmore and Roberts both so colorless in their respective roles, it comes down to a classic case of the bland leading the bland.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Gavin Wiesen; a making-of featurette; an interview with Highmore; and the theatrical trailer.
BARNEY MILLER: THE COMPLETE SERIES (1975-1982). Coming on the heels of the truly great TV shows of the early 1970s — enduring classics like All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show — but arriving well before the sitcom template fostered (and continues to foster) mostly inane achievements, Barney Miller at times feels like it's trapped in the no-man's land in between: Unique characters and situations clash with conventional ones, and some great comic set pieces and lines of dialogue bump uneasily against instantly stale ones. Still, there are admittedly many who consider this series one of television's best, meaning Shout! Factory's impressive new box set would make a fantastic (if pricey) Christmas gift for those devotees. Long hailed by actual policemen as one of the shows that best captures the real atmosphere surrounding cops — lots of tedious paperwork and rancid coffee rather than exciting car chases and perilous shootouts — the series centers on the members of Greenwich Village's 12th Precinct, fronted by Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden). A handful of characters came and went during the program's eight-year run, the most memorable being the wheezing, deadpan Detective Fish (Abe Vigoda) and the slow-speaking but sharp-witted Detective Yemana (Jack Soo, who tragically died of cancer in 1979, during the fifth season). A perennial Emmy bridesmaid (only three wins out of 32 nominations), this finally won for Outstanding Comedy Series during its final season.