Mother (R, 2009, Magnolia)
Slow-witted and trustful-to-a-fault Do-joon (Won Bin) stands constantly on the precipice of danger and trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd, and there’s only so much even our overbearing titular character (Kim Hye-ja as Mother) can do about that. When Do-joon crosses that threshold and finally finds himself in some seriously hot water, Mother finally is powerless to protect him. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean she won’t scorch the earth and have a go at it anyway. Superficially, “Mother” is (without spoiling the extent of Do-joon’s trouble the way the DVD case and trailers do) a fairly familiar story about an overmatched person trying to bail a loved one out while those with the power to actually do so completely fumble the opportunity. Between the lines, though, “Mother” is an awesome story about a sweet little lady who isn’t as sweet as she seems and has no qualms about getting her hands dirty and playing ball with forces she very obviously isn’t equipped to understand. As it did with the incredible monster movie “The Host,” Bong Joon-Ho’s direction enlivens a pretty standard story framework with surprising levels of dark comedy and sneaky character colorization as well as the expected drama. When those elements work in tandem, and when the twists that pop up are as skillfully produced as these are, it’s as good as the genre gets. In Korean with English subtitles.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features.
The Job (R, 2009, Magnet/Magnolia)
Bubba (Patrick Flueger) has struggled mightily to stay employed, so when a friendly stranger (Ron Perlman as Jim) offers him a job lead, he doesn’t hesitate to take an interview. Nor does he hesitate to take the job despite his interviewer (Joe Pantoliano) not even disclosing what it entails. Naturally, the job isn’t a pleasant one, and unfortunately for Bubba, his new employer isn’t sympathetic to his change of heart. You probably can guess what the job in “The Job” entails, and you’re welcome to do so, because the answer behind that door rates pretty low on the surprise chart. Instead, “The Job” saves its best surprises for the details behind those details, including what happens when (surprise!) things don’t go as smoothly in practice as they do on paper. “The Job” boasts one good character (Taryn Manning as Bubba’s girlfriend), one great character and two absolutely fantastic characters who perfectly toe the line between horrendous overacting and B-movie brilliance, and those personalities help transform a really pedestrian plotline into a startlingly entertaining story. There are plot holes, the allegory at the end will alienate some, and those who don’t love Perlman’s and Pantoliano’s performances might hate them instead. But whether it’s a mess or a machine, “The Job” is tirelessly engaging from bell to bell, and even when you can see a twist coming from three scenes away — which, it could be argued, is no accident — there’s always an accompanying wrinkle to keep you guessing.
Extras: Alternate ending, behind-the-scenes feature.
The Art of the Steal (NR, 2009, IFC Films)
To those casually glancing, the events detailed in “The Art of the Steal” might resemble nothing more than a tacky spat between two parties who have a ton and can’t bear to spare an ounce. Some who actually watch “Steal” might come away with that perception confirmed. But to dismiss the fight over Albert Barnes’ $25 billion art collection as petty is to miss the point of why Barnes fought so fiercely to keep prying hands away. Barnes strove to preserve the collection as a teaching tool for those he felt would appreciate it, and the city of Philadelphia wanted to present the collection to the public and monetize the process of doing so. “Steal” provides a terrific blow-by-blow of the half-century fight that ensued after Barnes died in 1951, and it’s a fascinating look at two bodies of people who fight so stubbornly that the principle that sparked the fight becomes clouded to the point of unrecognizable by the time a victor emerges. Is it a heroic defense of a man’s wishes, a valid argument on behalf of the public, something in between, or a silly waste of time and perspective that mere compromise could have preserved? “Steal” appears to take a side, but not so much that it doesn’t leave viewers free to settle the argument amongst each other once the credits roll. No extras.
Ip Man: Collector’s Edition (R, 2008, Well Go USA Entertainment)
“Ip Man” is a biopic about martial arts master and Wing Chun teacher Ip Man (Donnie Yen), who might be most internationally famous for having mentored Bruce Lee. But that’s a story for another movie — the 2010 sequel, to be more precise. “Ip Man” instead focuses on Ip’s hardships during the Sino-Japanese War, which devastated his village, reduced him to peasant status and found his house repurposed as a headquarters for the occupying Japanese army. What happens next is, let’s put it kindly, a bit simplistic and more than a little factually suspect. Some of our hero’s less angelic attributes go unmentioned, and the angle the story takes would practically have you believe the tide of the war turned on Ip’s ability to instill courage throughout the village and take down a Japanese colonel while the world watched. If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, get ready to howl. If not, though, go get the popcorn. Broken objectivity compass or not, “Ip Man” is a stellar martial arts movie, able to present dilapidated wartime environments as picturesque vistas while transforming fundamental, gimmick-free martial arts battles into absolute showpieces. The movie isn’t stingy with fights, either, so while the storytelling is engaging in spite of its sketchiness, those who can’t stand it or don’t care can rest assured that at any point in “Ip Man,” a fight scene of the very highest order never site more than a scene or two away.
Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, shooting diary, four behind-the-scenes features.
Operation: Endgame (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Ever wonder if some movies aren’t commercial enterprises so much as elaborate excuses for actors to get together, go completely crazy and tape the whole thing for the heck of it? If not, “Operation: Endgame” might change that. Taking place entirely on the morning of President Obama’s inauguration, “Endgame” finds two ultra-top-secret teams of elite government assassins turning on one another after a mole slips in and kills the man (Jeffrey Tambor) charged with running both groups. Why that happened, why it sent the underground facility into self-destruct mode, and why every operative’s solution is to kill everyone else is all sort of explained, but only so much. Instead, “Endgame’s” primary concern is giving its cast (Rob Corddry, Zach Galifianakis, Ellen Barkin and Bob Odenkirk, among numerous others) carte blanche to eviscerate one another by whatever means and with whatever nearby objects necessary. The gore is horror film-worthy, but “Endgame” is so completely off its rocker that there’s no earthly way to reconcile it as anything but a freewheeling comedic excuse for everyone to act like hypercaffeinated 12-year-old serial killers. The story’s inane, the attempts to interweave current events a joke, the stabs at verbal wit never better than hit-or-miss. But ball it all together and cram in violence you generally never see in this space, and it’s an oddly compelling, improbably entertaining mess.
Extras: Alternate opening and ending, behind-the-scenes feature.
Repo Men (R/NR, 2010, Universal)
The practice of organ donation has become untenable in the dystopian (what else?) future, but private companies like The Union have stepped in to offer synthetic organs to anyone willing to take out the biological equivalent of a mortgage on a house. Much as in that scenario, those who default on
their payments have to surrender those organs — even if it kills them — to repo men like Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker). If this idea sounds oddly familiar, it’s because “Repo! The Genetic Opera” floated roughly the same idea a couple years ago. But while “Repo!” embraced its absurdity — and, some might argue, awfulness — by dressing the story in a 10-car pileup of cartoon characters and glam rock show tunes, “Repo Men” plays like so many other action movies about the very obviously lousy future that awaits our society. A legitimately creepy presentation of the awful world of privatized organ manufacturing gives the story legs, but once the inevitable hunter-becomes-the-hunted twist kicks in — and is followed close behind by the obligatory love interest and surprising twist that’s only surprising because it makes zero sense — that early momentum is all but shot. With that said, the cheap thrills “Repo Men” provides are enjoyable if you don’t need them to be anything more than cheap. And if the mannequin love scene in “Team America” wasn’t quite weird enough for you, the one in this movie’s homestretch might finally do it for you.
Extras: Writers/director commentary, deleted scenes, Union commercials, behind-the-scenes feature.
Worth a Mention
— “Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show: The First Season” (NR, 1955, CBS/Paramount): Given all the completely pointless and/or terrible shows that get shoved out to DVD almost the instant it becomes logistically possible, it’s a bit startling that it took this long for an arguable classic to get its proper turn. “Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show” previously received a classy 50th anniversary set, but that was three years ago, and while it had a nice selection of extras, it contained only 18 episodes. This complete first season, by comparison, contains 34 all by itself. Extras include commentary, the lost audition show, original openings/commercials and an episode from the fifth season of “The Lucy Show.”
— Complete Cannell sets: Two of Stephen J. Cannell’s shows, available previously in season-only editions, now receive the full-series treatments. “Hunter: The Complete Series” includes 152 episodes, while “21 Jump Street: The Complete Series: Seasons 1-5” contains 103 episodes. Both sets were produced in the name of value more than special features or flashy packaging, so while neither contains any special features, they are about half as expensive and take up far less room on the shelf than your typical complete series set.
— “Kansas City Royals: 1985 World Series Collector’s Edition” (NR, 1985, MLB/A&E): Because it might be a while before the Royals win one of these on live television again, here’s a 25th anniversary carrot for all the long-suffering fans of the American League Central’s perennial doormat. Includes all seven uncut games of the 1985 World Series, plus the ’85 Royals highlight film, ALCS highlights, clinching/celebration footage and a few features about the team and star players.
— “Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Final Season” (NR, 2002, CBS): The powers that be took entirely too long to compile this set on DVD, but at long last, those who want all seven seasons now can have them. A complete series set, which adds no new features beyond packaging all seven sets together, also is available.