DVD 3/4/08: Into the Wild, Human Giant S1, Things We Lost in the Fire, The Kill Point, Awake, Automation Transfusion

Into the Wild: 2-disc Collector’s Edition (R, 2007, Paramount Vantage)
You know that urge to leave the everyday world behind, head for the tranquility of the wilderness and never see another tall building again? Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) exercised that urge, and “Into the Wild” is a visualization of the Jon Krakauer novel that told McCandless’ true story. “Wild” picks up two years into the exodus, filling in the details of McCandless’ come to being through flashbacks that wisely break up the 148-minute (and otherwise mostly linear) narrative. Even more wisely, though — and with a skill that’s not to be taken lightly — these scenes dress up the narrative without holding hands and dragging viewers by the wrists. “Wild” is an adventure film beyond anything else, and whatever details one gleans about McCandless and his family are refreshingly open to one’s own personal interpretation. Is he a spoiled kid who never knew how good he had it, or does he understand something that those who merely dream of escape do not? Perhaps your own place in life will determine that. “Wild,” most satisfyingly, allows that to happen, and not at its own expense. Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Catherine Keener and Vince Vaughn also star.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Human Giant: Season One (NR, 2007, MTV)
The concept of what is and is not funny is about as subjective a topic as there is in the realm of entertainment, so simply declaring that this half-hour, three-person (Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer) sketch comedy show is extremely funny isn’t exactly satisfactory for everyone. So let’s put it this way: If you enjoy the comedic stylings of, say, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” or “Mr. Show,” there’s a better-than-excellent chance you’ll love this as much or more. “Giant” blitzes through its material, capturing the energy of a truncated evening at your favorite improv theater and distilling it through the wonders of television editing. It’s frantic and often very loud, but all that energy simply provides dressing for some seriously smart comedy. It’s merely a shame the episodes — clocking in at less than 20 minutes each — fly by so quickly, especially with only eight of them to go around. Fortunately, there’s a ton of bonus content that makes the set a worthy (and very rewatchable) treat.
Contents: Eight episodes, plus commentary, highlights from the “Human Giant” 24-hour marathon, deleted scenes, improv, galleries, early footage and a sneak peak at season two.

Things We Lost in the Fire (R, 2007, Dreamworks)
By her own admission, Audrey (Halle Berry) hated her husband Brian’s (David Duchovny) very troubled best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro). But when Brian is killed and Jerry attends the funeral, the grieving widow invites him to put his life back together in her home while she attempts to do the same. As one might surmise from this plot description, “Things We Lost in the Fire” isn’t a particularly happy movie. But a film need not be cheerful to be hopeful, and “Fire” manages to dish out the old “Time heals all wounds” mantra in a fashion that at once is scorchingly painful and unassumingly, sneakily inspiring. Give credit to both the script, which avoids preaching despite many opportunities to give in, and some stellar performances from both the adults and the kids (Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry). “Fire” arguably isn’t the kind of movie worth seeking out if you’re feeling the burn of your own loss, as it merely serves notice that recovery takes time that moves slower than anyone wishes it would. That however, is what also makes it so compelling to watch.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

The Kill Point (NR, 2007, Lions Gate)
A pack of disgruntled former soldiers (led by John Leguizamo as Mr. Wolf) has decided that if the government won’t pay them what they feel they deserve, a bank heist may do the trick instead. Given that this Spike TV miniseries spans eight episodes and 342 minutes, one could venture to guess such an idea doesn’t go quite as planned. (Enter Donnie Wahlberg as hostage negotiator Horst Cali.) That running time, by the way, is primarily what makes “The Kill Point” worth watching. Bank heist movies have seemingly done everything they can with the genre, but stretch the story out over close to six hours, and there suddenly is room for detail that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Happily, “Point” doesn’t simply drag things out for the sake of doing so, but instead takes full advantage of the format. Primary and supporting characters (hostages included) are sketched well, and the story manages to twist itself around in satisfying and (mostly) plausible ways. As such, when chaos ensues, it’s merely enriches “Point” rather than carries it on its back. Given how good the action is, that’s about the highest compliment “Point” could collect.
Contents: Eight episodes, plus SpikeTV.com character interview promos.

Awake (R, 2007, Weinstein Company)
Think you’re having a bad day? Check out what’s on multi-millionaire Clay Beresford’s (Hayden Christensen) calendar: Have heart transplant surgery, stay conscious but completely paralyzed when the anesthesia doesn’t work properly, feel every inch of the surgery, and eavesdrop on a conversation that makes you wonder how, not when or even if, you’re ever going to wake up. See? Could be worse. And as thrillers go, “Awake” also could be worse. Clay’s out-of-body dissection of the mystery at hand is entirely impossible to buy even by the most forgiving of movie watchers, and the way the film chooses to illustrate this peeling of the onion — both from Clay’s point of view and in general — doesn’t do wonders for authenticity. But silly as the whole thing is, it’s engaging, thanks in no small part to the way “Awake” so beautifully preys on the fears of anyone who ever had even a passing worry about such a surgical nightmare happening to them. It coasts from there, but frankly, it can. By the time that horrifying sequence ends, there’s an investment in seeing how the rest of the story goes, and it’s a little too easy to forgive “Awake’s” serious logic gaps as result.
Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin and Christopher McDonald also star.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), storyboards, behind-the-scenes feature.

Automation Transfusion (NR, 2008, Dimension Extreme)
See if this sounds familiar: A military experiment leads to an outbreak that turns scores of people into walking — and in this case, running — undead. Now, a pack of teenagers must fight their way to safety and yadda yadda yadda. Of all the words one can use to describe “Automation Transfusion,” “original” isn’t one of them. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to like here. “Transfusion” clearly was shot on a low budget, and considering it’s part of a proposed trilogy, it spends surprisingly little time developing its storyline before bowing out, essentially ending-free, after 75 minutes. The name of the game, then, is gore. And here, in spite of that tiny budget, is where “Transfusion” delivers handsomely and in buckets. How this mindlessness is supposed to stretch over two additional films is anyone’s guess, but those who want a seriously blast of blood will certainly find it here. Just don’t expect much else beyond that. Some good characters aside, “Transfusion” doesn’t do much beyond bleed profusely.
Extras: Bonus short film, filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), two music videos, making-of feature.