No Country for Old Men (R, 2007, Paramount Vantage/Miramax)
Among a litter of crashed cars and dead bodies, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) has stumbled upon a fortune. Problem is, it doesn’t belong to him. Bigger problem is, the group laying claim to the money has sent one seriously sick hit man (Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh) to retrieve it. At its core, that’s all “No Country for Old Men” is: a chase film, with Llewelyn as the rabbit, Anton as the eagle, and a few other players (Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Stephen Root) standing in the way. But “Country” truly defines itself by what happens between as much as during Llewelyn’s brushes with Anton. It isn’t merely that the script benefits from good writing, either. Rather, it’s the risks it takes, often flirting with dialogue that’s a bad delivery or word or two away from ridiculousness but only rarely tampers with illusion. It sounds like a book translated to screen, which of course is what it is, but there’s just enough grace in play to make it sing. And if you disagree or don’t care about dialogue? No worries. Blood, bullets and broken glass fly everywhere, Anton casts a scarier shadow than most slasher film villains, and the film reeks of tension regardless of whether its characters are in flight or seated opposite one another. Kelly Macdonald also stars.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.
Dan in Real Life (PG-13, 2007, Focus/Touchstone)
The old “Do as I say, not as I do” adage applies quite neatly to widowed dad Dan Burns (Steve Carell), who makes a living as a celebrated advice columnist but can’t seem to keep his own personal house in anything resembling order. An annual familial retreat would seem to provide a temporary respite for Burns’ issues, but in “Dan in Real Life,” it turns out merely to be the tip of a ridiculous iceberg of awkward moments, romantic misadventures and bad parenting. Despite the potential for zaniness suggested by Carell’s mere presence, “Life” is more of a thoughtful comedy than something in the screwball vein. That does not mean, however, that Carell’s gifts go to waste. He’s a terrifically versatile actor, and he mines “Life’s” script for more comedic gold than would be possible by many equally accomplished performers. “Life” sometimes falls on the cute side, and it occasionally is a little too neat for its own good. But there’s little doubt that “Life” purposely exists, at least in part, as a funny, likeable piece of feel-good fantasy about characters to whom we still can relate. Juliette Binoche, John Mahoney, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Dianne Wiest and Dane Cook also star.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), two behind-the-scenes features, outtakes.
Sam & Max: Freelance Police: The Complete Animated Series (NR, 1997, Shout Factory)
Shout Factory has done a bang-up job of cracking the vault and releasing several DVD sets of beloved cartoons based on popular video game characters. Unfortunately, most of these sets merely serve as harsh reminder that these shows weren’t nearly as good as nostalgia fooled us into thinking they were. It’s nice, then, to see an exception to that rule, which is what we get with this too-short collection of “Sam & Max: Freelance Police” cartoons. “Police” comes inspired by the “Sam & Max” comic and computer games, and given how big a role well-written humor played in those, it’s no surprise to see it migrate over here. “Police” feels like a Saturday morning cartoon on serious overdrive, often cramming what feels like 42 minutes’ worth of cartoon into a 21-minute episode. It’s manic, over-caffeinated and very loud, but it also packs in more wit per ounce than many cartoons written for adults. That, sadly, is probably why it fizzled so quickly with younger audiences, though maybe this set and the recent revival of the “Sam & Max” games franchise will spark a revival. Here’s hoping.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus Comic-Con conversation, “Sam & Max” animated shorts, “Sam & Max” feature, Telltale Games feature, game demo, art galleries, series bible, sticker.
Tin Man: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (NR, 2007, Genius Entertainment)
Apparently, “Wizard of Oz” re-imaginations are back in style, and the Sci Fi Channel’s contribution to the craze results in a three-part miniseries that transforms the Land of Oz (or rather, “O.Z.”) into — what else? — a dark and futuristic science fiction playground. Dorothy (Zooey Deschanel as DG), the Scarecrow (Alan Cumming as Glitch), the Lion (Raoul Trujillo as Raw), the Tin Man (Neal McDonough as Cain), the Wicked Witch (Kathleen Robertson as Azkadellia), the Wizard (Richard Dreyfuss as Mystic Man) and even Toto (no spoilers here) also receive setting-appropriate makeovers. The novelty of seeing so many elements of “Oz” so drastically but recognizably transformed is what provides the bulk of enjoyment in watching “Tin Man,” which often is as narratively uninteresting as it is visually interesting. Style too often interferes with substance, and “Man” regularly leans on special effects to fill time and prop up the story, which takes far less chances than the art direction. Really, though, who is surprised? The implied purpose of “Man” is to have fun with the material that inspired it, and it at least does that. As long as you don’t expect the same level of magic that emanated from the genuine article, there’s no reason this won’t provide enjoyment on some level, however shallow.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, interviews, bloopers.
South Park: Imaginationland: Uncensored Director’s Cut (NR, 2007, Comedy Central)
In this three-episode arc-turned-movie, the kids of South Park have to contend with what happens with a simple leprechaun search lands them in Imaginationland, which is a metropolis of characters created by human imagination. What happens next is really rather insane even by “South Park” standards, and the somewhat legendary status these episodes have taken on since they aired last October makes this conversion to moviehood no surprise. Assuming you haven’t overdosed on the repeated airings on Comedy Central, here it is in one cut, with a few additional scenes thrown in that never aired on television. That brings the total to 65 minutes, though fans of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s DVD commentary tracks will get twice the value from the track that’s exclusive to this DVD. (The two freebie episodes are nice, but ardent “South Park” fans likely already own them from previously-released season sets.)
Extras: Parker/Stone Commentary, two bonus episodes, storyboards.
Hitman: Unrated (NR, 2007, Fox)
Often, video game franchises that become movie franchises have little to no business doing so. Every now and then, though, a gaming property seems almost designed to live that dual life and live it well. “Hitman,” a generally well-written video game gifted with an extremely intriguing lead character in Agent 47 (played here by Timothy Olyphant), would appear to be one of the latter. And in several ways, it doesn’t embarrass gamers the way so many other films in the genre so regularly do. Unfortunately, while that’s saying something, it isn’t saying much. “Hitman” seems so determined to play out like a regular movie that it accidentally transforms into one, featuring well-worn plot twists, silly dialogue and a love interest angle that most certainly wasn’t inspired by the games, which explicitly avoided such things. That last part also serves to couch the character development of Agent 47, which in turn robs “Hitman” of its most intriguing source of potential. There’s a lot of bloodshed and the action is decently entertaining on its own merit, but it doesn’t hide the fact that “Hitman” had the opportunity to break ground in its genre rather than merely tread water above the wreckage of sunken plunder that preceded it. Dougray Scott, Ulrich Thomsen and Olga Kurylenko also star.
Extras: Four behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes, bloopers.