DVD 1/25/11: Red Hill, Adventures of Power, Red, White Wedding, Client 9, Stone, Saw: The Final Chapter, Santa Sangre, Zorro (1990)
Red Hill (R, 2010, Sony Pictures)
Old Bill (Steve Bisley) has two guesses as to why Shane (Ryan Kwanten) left the big city behind to police the dusty roads of Red Hill: Either he’s looking for a cushier job, or he thinks it’s a shortcut to a promotion. Neither, it turns out, is true. Unfortunately, an escaped convicted murderer (Tommy Lewis as Jimmy) has chosen this moment to break out and enact bloody revenge against all who put him away, so the explanations and introductions will have to wait. The good news about this turn of events is that it transforms the majority of “Red Hill” into a wonderfully tense and refreshingly lean chase between a frightened small-town police department and a silent killer with no remorse and nothing to lose. The better news is that the revelations of Shane’s motives and those of his superiors are merely delayed rather than canceled. And without spoiling how or why, those little answers play no small part in a terrific last act that magnificently pays off all that happens before it. Jimmy utters a grand total of seven words from credit roll to credit roll, but all seven of them count, and in terms of character development, it’s a brilliant lesson on how to do more with less. No extras.
Adventures of Power (PG-13, 2008, Phase 4 Films)
Mine worker Power (Ari Gold) isn’t exactly killing it at the game of life. He hates his job in the mine, his co-workers want to strike, his father (Michael McKean) doesn’t take him seriously, and the one thing he excels at and is passionate about — air drumming — is the same thing that makes him the town joke. But one day, a flier for a mysterious air drumming competition lands on his face, and from there begins a two-country, coast-to-coast quest for redemption that combines “Rocky,” “Billy Elliot” and air drumming in as spectacularly epic a fashion as could be hoped for. “Power” makes no pretense about being anything but a total farce, and if the continual barrage of dryly funny humor isn’t a giveaway, just about everything else — Power’s wardrobe, the mentor with two hooks for arms (Steven Williams), the ultrafamous superstar (Adrian Grenier) who can’t shake his preference for air drumming over real drumming — is. But while comedy may be the primary goal, “Power” takes on its namesake’s journey with such fierce, boundless abandon that it’s hard not to get into the whole thing on a completely serious level. Power never doesn’t look ridiculous when in his element, but between how likable he is and how wildly he gets lost in the moment, it’s easy — and a whole lot of fun — to forget how stupid the whole thing is and root him on.
Extras: Three short films by Gold (who also wrote and directed “Power”), deleted scenes, three music videos, interview and Power drum-off with Rush drummer Neil Peart, four-part “Power to the Power” behind-the-scenes feature.
Red (PG-13, 2010, Summit Entertainment)
Former CIA assassin Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) was perfectly happy to leave his old life behind, settle quietly into retirement, and maybe strike up a romance with a customer service representative (Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah) he had yet to meet in person. But unknown forces in high places decided he knew too much to stay alive, and their attempts to end his life just so happen to coincide with Frank’s attempt to meet Sarah in person. So she’s along for the ride, along with a rogue’s gallery of other former agents and weirdos (John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox) who get roped in. If the reasoning behind the spectacle that follows sounds a little vague, that’s not completely an accident. “Red” has a story to tell, and Frank receives gradual doses of character development throughout the movie, but the plot is mostly there to kick over the first domino in a series of escapades that lets this cast goof off and look cool doing so. “Red” isn’t powered by twists and revelations so much as pure grain charisma, and beyond Frank, its characters are as shallow as they are colorful. Provided you can get behind or at least accept these parameters, though, it’s a consistently good time — a light, amusing, action-packed espionage movie that doesn’t make you think too hard but also doesn’t insult whatever desire you might have to do so.
Extras: Commentary with former CIA officer Robert Baer, deleted/extended scenes, trivia track, 14-part “Cast Insights” feature, five-part “CIA Insights” feature.
White Wedding (PG-13, 2009, Image Entertainment)
The good news for Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi): He’s getting married at the end of the week to a woman (Zandile Msutwana as Ayanda) who is arguably a few conferences out of his league. The bad news: Take your pick. He’s in Johannesburg, but the wedding is in Cape Town, and he’s counting on his very unreliable best man (Rapulana Seiphemo as Tumi) to get him there. Meanwhile, Ayanda’s charming ex-boyfriend Tony (Mbulelo Grootboom) has coincidentally returned and not-so-coincidentally resumed charming Ayanda’s mother, and while Tumi fulfills every last concern Elvis had about getting him to his wedding on time, an English doctor named Rose (Jodie Whittaker) appears out of nowhere to complicate things further. As you might have guessed, “White Wedding” fits very comfortably into the road trip movie mold — perhaps, on paper, a little too comfortably. But “Wedding’s” real charm lies in the details. It’s in the little things that make Elvis extremely likable, the little things that make Rose’s intrusion a welcome one, and all the ticks and personality quirks that make Elvis’ and Tumi’s escapades more amusing and unique than their predictable arrivals might imply. Even Tony, who by all accounts should be the closest thing “Wedding” has to a villain, is kind of pleasant. In English, Zulu, Afrikaans and Xhosa (it switches liberally) with English subtitles. No extras.
Client 9 (R, 2010, Magnolia)
Regardless of what it looks like, “Client 9″ isn’t a two-hour recap of the call girl dabblings that sent the career of political superstar and surefire future presidential candidate Eliot Spitzer into a tailspin barely a year into his first term as New York’s governor. That story is here, yes, but it’s merely a course in a two-hour meal that reduces high-level politics and finance into the petty junior high school playground we all suspect it is. Spitzer appears frequently as an interviewee in “Client 9,” and if one wanted to do so, one could easily lob accusatory grenades at what they see as a movie designed mostly to excuse Spitzer’s mistake amid all the good he did prior to it. But while the movie does seem to favor Spitzer over the adversaries who went down, took him down and hold onto their hatred as if the whole thing happened yesterday, it also doesn’t punt the opportunity to make the former governor stammer uncomfortably through some of his non-answers. And as long as everybody gets a chance to say their piece, it’s hard to be bothered too much about the filmmakers’ stance, which isn’t strong enough to flatter Spitzer beyond what he deserves. Nobody minces words, and while the vitriol is a depressing reminder of the hands that hold our policy and money, it’s also supremely entertaining.
Extras: Director commentary, extended interviews, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, director interview.
Stone (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Corrections officer Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro) sits days away from retirement (isn’t that always the way?) when a new case — that of Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Edward Norton), convicted of arson but eligible for early release — lands in his lap. Their first face-to-face meeting goes awkwardly, but Stone builds the encounter into a plan to endear Jack and get that release, and he recruits his wife (Milla Jovovich as Lucetta) to help pull out the stops. What happens next is a chain of events and a freight train of words that feels creepy for the wrong as well as right reasons. “Stone” is a cool picture of two strong but fragile personalities sitting at crossroads — the cynical Jack is on the ride side of the law but on the wrong side of youth, while Stone is a prisoner whose entire life may still be ahead of him — that challenge and threaten to break each other. But it’s also a needlessly wordy film, cramming Jack’s and Stone’s encounters with verbose overload, pelting the quiet moments with needless spoken and unspoken imagery, and outfitting Norton with a wannabe Casey Affleck voice that’s nails-on-chalkboard grating by film’s end. The sum total of the good creepiness and the bad creepiness is hard to quantify, and that might be a good thing if “Stone’s” unique mood gets under your skin as it intends to do. If it simply annoys you for 100 minutes, though, you’ve sort of been warned.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Saw: The Final Chapter (R, 2010, Lions Gate)
“Saw: The Final Chapter,” the seventh and allegedly final film in the series, brings the story to a perfectly fitting close. Problem is, it’s not the fit anyone really wanted. “Chapter” gets off to a rousing start by flashing back to the very first (and best) movie in the “Saw” timeline before raising the stakes with a Jigsaw trap that takes place outside, in public and in broad daylight. After that, though, it’s just more of the same. The callbacks to the beginning amount to almost nothing, the only meaningful closure is provided to completely uninteresting characters from the more recent movies, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) makes his now-customary flashback cameo, and the story overwhelmingly orbits around yet another character with no history in any of the previous movies. “Chapter” is gory and certainly creepy, but it’s simply a remix of the same old tricks, and as big finishes go, it’s surprisingly flat even by the dampened standards of a series that’s been in steady decline for years. A twist at the end tries to stir some excitement, and it’s certainly a cute bit of fan service, but it’s too silly and too late to the party to raise the film’s pulse beyond a flatline.
Extras: Producers commentary, writers commentary, deleted/extended scenes, music videos.
Worth a Mention
— “Santa Sangre” (NR, 1989, Severin Films/MPI): You could debate endlessly as to whether Alejandro Jodorowsky’s epic about murder, faith, coming of age, the circus, death-mute lovers and armless mothers is profound cinema, two hours of pretentious insanity, a fun feast for the eyes or just a mess, and there may be no wrong answer. Far less arguable is how one-of-a-kind “Santa Sangre” is — perhaps different for the sake of being different more than any meaningful reason, but unique nonetheless — or that this DVD issue isn’t massively overdue. Severin Films, for its part, at least makes the moment count: In addition to the film, this two-disc set includes a feature-length making-of documentary, Jodorowsky commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), the 1990 documentary “For One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky,” a documentary on Goyo Cárdenas (whose life inspired the film’s creation), Jodorowsky interviews, two Jodorowsky-centric short films and a music video.
— “Zorro” (NR, 1990, A&E): This underrated reboot of “Zorro” got a little lost in time between the original series and the feature film reboot that happened eight years later, but it finally gets its DVD due this week. All four seasons are available in separate volumes, but the best bet is the complete series box, which rounds up those four volumes and adds a fifth with extras that include the original 1920 “The Mark of Zorro” silent film, the first chapter of the 1939 serial “Zorro’s Fighting Legion,” an unaired pilot for yet another “Zorro” reboot and a photo gallery.
— “Webster: Season One” (NR, 1983, Shout Factory/CBS): Hard to believe it’s taken this long for this show to reach DVD, but if you’ve been waiting, your wait is over. Includes all 22 episodes of the first season, but the lack of extras beyond a trivia game is disappointing.