DVD 2/17/09: Changeling, The Midnight Meat Train, Choke, Flash of Genius, Alien Raiders, Still Waiting…

Changeling (R, 2008, Universal)
The period attire and traditionally dramatic tone may suggest otherwise, but let’s be clear: This true story of a mother (Angelina Jolie) who loses her son (Gattlin Griffith), only to be reunited with a different boy (Devon Conti) a corrupt police dept. (Colm Feore, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly) insists is him, most definitely is a horror film. The sheer ludicrousness of that scenario, to say nothing of its actual happening in 1928 Los Angeles, is unsettling in its own right. But “Changeling” compounds rather than coasts on that unease by explicitly illustrating the simultaneous terror that comes from knowing your child remains in danger and trying to understand why those entrusted with bringing him home refuse to even entertain that concern. Without getting particular or spoiling what happens, it’s equally gifted in conveying the full might of what happens next, rattling off a series of amazing, lasting images that comes to a head during one unbelievably powerful scene near the film’s conclusion. The 142-minute runtime is a daunting prospect, particularly given the assumptions one might make based on the film’s marketing. But “Changeling” fills that runtime with fuel to spare, undermining any need to drag or regurgitate emotion by leaving an incontrovertible mark with every curtain it opens. John Malkovich and Jason Butler Harner also star.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

The Midnight Meat Train: Unrated Director’s Cut (NR, 2008, Lions Gate)
Effectively low-concept horror appears to be the currency of choice in “The Midnight Meat Train,” where an exceptionally well-dressed mute (Vinnie Jones) catches the late train and proceeds to use an oversized meat tenderizer to viciously pummel the few poor souls unlucky enough to be riding the subway at that hour. But the brutality of “Train’s” early going — a miniscule sliver of which hits the newspaper and piques the interest of photographer Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper) — merely provides the tip of a pretty surprising icebreaker. “Train” is expertly shot and creepily low-key enough to stretch its initial concept as needed, but it elects instead, in direct proportion to Leon’s burgeoning curiosity, to slowly unfurl a genuinely surprising bigger picture. To all who bemoan the sad state of modern-day horror, which has been excessively victimized by empty scripts, blood for blood’s sake, unflattering imitation and long climbs up very short hills, this one’s for you. “Train” is nasty, but it’s a gratifying kind of nasty — one you’ll remember for its story as much as (if not more than) the carnage that story leaves behind.
Extras: Clive Barker/director commentary, three behind-the-scenes features.

Choke (R, 2008, Fox)
We all know someone with enough issues to comprise his or her own book or movie. Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), on the other hand? Between the sex addiction, the horrible job as a Renaissance Age re-enactor, some crippling mommy (Anjelica Huston) issues and the effect these and other problems have when working in tandem, he’s ready for his own television series. That speaks to one of “Choke’s” problems: As traditional feature film fare goes, it’s a mess — to the point that a good half of it only truly makes sense after a late twist completely turns the preceding turns of events on their ear. Until that happens — and arguably, even after it happens — “Choke” continually veers around the edge of the mountain, wobbling through its pitch-black approach to dark comedy and very likely dumping a handful of alienated viewers with each turn. The best way to enjoy the film is for what it offers: an unapologetic portrait of a Class A screw-up whose ocean of troubles might make you feel better about any issues you’re presently facing. It hobbles, meanders and occasionally reaches beyond the limits of credibility. But “Choke” always maintains a tight revolution around Victor, who, mess that he is, is just human enough to provide the film the gravitational center it so badly needs. Kelly Macdonald, Brad William Henke, Bijou Phillips and Clark Gregg (who also directs) star.
Extras: Rockwell/Gregg commentary, deleted scenes, bloopers, conversation with Gregg and Chuck “Fight Club” Palahniuk, who wrote the book on which the film is based.

Flash of Genius (PG-13, 2008, Universal)
Every little convenience has a story. “Flash of Genius,” if you can believe it or not, is the incredible (again, believe it or not) story of how the intermittent windshield wiper function came to be. Taking current events out of the equation for the second, “Genius” scores purely on the merit of inventor and family man Bob Kearns (Greg Kinnear), whom we first meet in a mentally addled state before flashing back to witness the chain of events that put him there. Despite building itself around Bob, “Genius” feels no obligation to paint him as the saint he isn’t, and the continuous use of gray shades keeps the story from reaching into the bag of David versus Goliath clichés we’ve all seen before. True stories rarely are so neat, and “Genius” affords viewers the simultaneous opportunity to cheer and tsk without overtly prompting either response. The inclusion of the then-invincible Ford Motor Co. as the film’s heavy gives “Genius” more timeliness than it probably anticipated having during filming, but unless there are psychics on Universal’s payroll, Bob’s story was shot under the assumption that it needed no such thing. Between themes anyone with a pulse can understand and the handful of great characters (Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Alan Alda) who play them out, that intuition was dead on.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary).

Alien Raiders (R, 2008, Warner Bros. Raw Feed)
Though it becomes rather obvious fairly quickly that they’re not there for the cash in the register, see if the employees and customers (Jeffrey Licon, Keith Hudson, Samantha Streets, Joel McCrary) at Hastings Market care when a handful of armed would-be robbers (Carlos Bernard, Courtney Ford, Rockmond Dunbar, Philip Newby) take them hostage at closing time. This little misunderstanding, and the a near-total refusal to clear it up, constitute but one of what proves to be several troubling issues between the two parties, and that naturally leads to people doing things they’ll inevitably regret. Surprised? Unlikely. “Alien Raiders” has its share of novel ideas, but it’s just as comfortable dabbling in convention. That isn’t a bad thing, either: To the contrary, some of “Raiders'” best moments are when it sets up a predictable scenario, makes you perfectly aware it knows what it’s doing, and proceeds to have some combination of thrilling, disgusting and/or silly fun with it. Sometimes the result is as you’d expect, sometimes not, and there are few instances where “Raiders” both appeases to convention and goes its own way at once. This is B-movie quality all the way, but when that appears to be the intention all along, it’s hard not to go with it and enjoy the ride.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features, companion footage (not to be confused with deleted scenes).

Still Waiting… (NR, 2009, Lions Gate)
Though not without laughs, “Waiting…” mostly served as a missed opportunity to do for the service industry what  “Office Space” did for the cubicle age. Which brings us to “Still Waiting…,” a sequel no one clamored for and one only a Lions Gate accountant could truly love. Scraps of the last film’s cast  (Rob Benedict, Justin Long, Chi McBride, Luis Guzman) return, but the film mostly reserves its time for forgettable and occasionally wildly unlikeable new faces acting out scenes that may very well simply be scraps themselves. “Still Waiting’s” punch lines too often arrive long after we’ve all figured the bit out, and the result feels like a giant ball of rejected ideas from a preceding film that wasn’t exactly bursting with brilliant humor in the first place. Only the bewildering cooperation of John Michael Higgins in the lead role makes “Still Waiting” merely lousy instead of completely embarrassing. But even still, the strongest emotion his character conveys is the sadness one feels over such a talented and funny actor being forced to slum through such a lousy script for a paycheck.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature.