Maxed Out (NR, 2006, Magnolia)
“Maxed Out” is the second documentary to surface in as many months about the American plague known as credit debt. But while “In Debt We Trust” served up enough damning information to make the blood boil, “Maxed Out” sends it bubbling over the pot and all over the floor. Yes, America’s credit woes are, in many ways, a self-made problem brought on by impulsive spending and careless disregard for long-term consequences. And yes, “Maxed Out” doesn’t adequately address this part of the equation to the degree that it should. But you can have all of that sitting in the back of your mind and still be devastated by the human carnage the film leaves in its wake. “Maxed Out” won’t teach you how to fix your credit problem if you have one, but it might be the match that lights the fire. And if you don’t have an issue, one viewing will fiercely compel you to keep it that way.
Extras: Uncut “Wise Use of Credit” filmstrip, explanation of a credit report, bankruptcy feature, personal responsibility feature (hey, here it is!), affil.org feature.
Things to do (NR, 2006, LifeSize Entertainment)
A quote on the DVD case describes “Things to Do” as a less self-serious version of “Garden State” mixed with a little “My Name is Earl.” It’s not exactly model journalism to swipe another critic’s thoughts in a review, but this is exactly what “TTD” is, only without Zach Braff’s character’s prescription drugs and Earl’s long list of people in need of an apology. Instead, we get a guy suffering a garden-variety quarter-life crisis (Michael Stasko) and another guy (Daniel Wilson, who isn’t as pretty as Natalie Portman but is funny enough to let that slide) who serendipitously helps him stave it off. “TTD” starts off awkwardly, and it’s not immediately clear whether it’s something special or just another indie also-ran. Before long, though, it starts to find its footing. The familiar premise develops a personality, and some genuinely funny moments follow suit. “TTD’s” busy plot cuts some corners, but its characters are so affectionately developed that it barely matters. By the time it ends, it’s hard to believe only 85 minutes have ticked by.
Extras: Director commentary, outtake, behind-the-scenes feature.
The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (NR, 2006, Magnolia)
We’ve heard stories about the way Saddam Hussein used brutalize his prisoners, and we’ve read accounts (and seen pictures) of the things certain American soldiers did to detainees at Abu Ghraib. Iraqi freelance cameraman Yunis Khatayer Abbas is one of the few people in the world who has experienced both firsthand — three months in Saddam’s prison, nine more in Abu Ghraib. In both cases, Abbas ended up imprisoned simply for doing his job. That isn’t where the similarities end, either. “The Prisoner” provides an unfettered and damning account of the Abu Ghraib calamity, but don’t mistake this very stylish documentary for yet another indictment of all things American. To the contrary, “Prisoner” gives ample face time to Benjamin Thompson, an American soldier who inherited the prison, post-debacle, and developed a friendship with Abbas and other prisoners that may have saved their lives. In spite of all the devastation “Prisoner” lays bare, it’s this bond that elevates the film to must-see status.
Breach (PG-13, 2007, Universal)
It didn’t receive a tremendous amount of buzz in the news, but the 2001 takedown of traitorous FBI agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) marked the end of the single worst intelligence breach in American history. Sounds like a thrill-a-minute thrill-o-rama that’s destined to stop your heart, right? Well no, not really. “Breach” is a very capable movie on a number of levels — as long as you don’t expect the kind of skin-crawling thrills several critics puzzlingly implied were coming. The film’s explosions are almost exclusively cerebral, and the burden of storytelling falls heavily on the interplay between Hannssen and the young agency hotshot (Ryan Phillippe as Eric O’Neill) charged with both befriending and sniffing him out. Fortunately, what “Breach” sets out to do, it does very well. Hanssen’s fate is old news to anyone who follows the stories of the day, but his journey there is another frontier entirely. Laura Linney and Dennis Haysbert also star.
Extras: Commentary with O’Neill and director Billy Ray, “Dateline NBC” segment from 2001 about Hanssen, two behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes.
Henry Rollins: Uncut From NYC (NR, 2006, IFC/Genius)
The Henry Rollins Show: Season One (NR, 2006, IFC/Genius)
Henry Rollins’ fans should be pleased with this twofer, but what about the rest of us? That’s harder to say. The 90-minute “Uncut from NYC,” which features a stint from Rollins’ spoken-word concert tour, is a mishmash of rants about current events (Bush, the war, Bush) and observational comedy. Problem is, you’ve heard these rants a million times before from a million different people. Rollins has good stage presence, but it’s not enough to elevate him past also-ran status. The less topical bits don’t fare much better, often running far too long and feeling out of place among Rollins’ bread-and-butter material. “The Henry Rollins Show” provides better entertainment value, but it’s due mostly to the guest selection (Kevin Smith, Peaches, Chuck D, Bill Maher) and their ability to rescue Rollins from his dodgy interviewing skills. The musical selections (Thom Yorke, Slayer, Jurassic 5) are pretty great as well. Rollins’ rants, on the other hand, too often feel like stock arguments wrapped inside empty wordplay. They’re entertaining, but neither substantial nor thoughtful enough to carry out the host’s presumed mission of educating and mobilizing those who tune in.
“NYC” extras: 13 bonus minutes of Rollins on politics and America.
“Show” contents: 20 episodes, no extras.
The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (NR, 2003, Palm)
Sachiko Hanai (Emi Kuroda) is both a call girl and a private tutor … at once. Upon getting shot in the head, though, her senses and intellect spike to ridiculous levels, making her both smarter and capable of destroying the world. Encouraging her to do just that: A detached, cloned (and bright red) finger of George W. Bush, who is voiced by a man who sounds nothing like George W. Bush. You can watch “The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever understand it. The bizarre explosion of schizophrenic storytelling, manic acting, hilariously awful special effects and random blasts of nonsensical nudity makes for an awful film that nonetheless is a riotous good time when viewed with an open mind and a few friends. It’s so terrible, it’s wonderful. You’ll be hard-pressed to ever watch it a second time, though, so rent if you can.
Extras: The 65-minute film that inspired this film’s creation, bonus short, behind-the-scenes feature.
Kill House (R, 2006, Trinity)
It sure is rough what struggling actors sometimes must do for a credit and some rent money. A dozen or so of them, for instance, somehow agreed to appear in “Kill House,” a semi-farcical horror film about a murderous real estate agent. Then again, the acting is often so spotty that you wonder how serious some of these people really are about their careers. That, along with some tragically stupid victims (a girl hypothesizes that an intruder’s in the house, so she … puts on a bikini and goes swimming?) and amateurish kill scenes that don’t so much scream “low-budget” as bleed it from every pore, leave us with a film that won’t look good on any résumé. Still, “House” is as fine a selection as any for a group of friends in search of some “so bad it’s good” entertainment. If nothing else, you get a ton of plot inconsistencies to tear apart, along with lots of nudity that could not be more gratuitous. Solo film connoisseurs, on the other hand, should stay away.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, deleted scenes.