DVD 3/25/08: The Kite Runner, Frisky Dingo S1, Wristcutters: A Love Story, Upright Citizens Brigade: Asssscat!, The Mist, Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death… and Insects

The Kite Runner (PG-13, 2007, Dreamworks)
Khaled Hosseini’s monstrously popular book about the divergent paths two childhood Afghan friends (Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) take as they grow apart from shared beginnings is now a movie. It’s also a case of life imitating art, at least metaphorically. In film form, “The Kite Runner” hopelessly feels a bit rushed, with the narrative struggling to tell a rather epic story and capture the gravity of its settings to full satisfaction while keeping the runtime near the two-hour mark. That’s an obligation with which the source material never has to contend, and one not even read the book to realize it will continue to thrive on a level far beyond anything the movie can comprehend. Happily, “Runner’s” inability to do the impossible may be its only truly damaging flaw. The film has precious little room to breathe, but it still gets the story told. And even when “Runner” so transparently struggles with the limitations that bound it, it has very few issues with getting the heart of the matter across. Heartstrings, prepare to be tugged. Khalid Abdalla and Homayoun Ershadi also star. In Dari and some English with English subtitles.
Extras: Director/writer/author commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, public service announcement.

Frisky Dingo: Season One (NR, 2006, Adult Swim)
Sure, Killface wants to destroy all of mankind. But before he can annihilate the public, he first needs to captivate it with a catchy marketing campaign. What, after all, is the point of wiping out an entire population if they don’t know you’re the one doing the wiping? Either way, trust fund superhero Awesome X doesn’t wish to find out. “Frisky Dingo” comes courtesy of the same asylum that unleashed “Sealab 2021,” and that should surprise no one who has seen both shows. In terms of approach, it’s typical Adult Swim — seemingly purposefully weak in the animation department, but gifted with enough wonderfully, stupidly funny writing to countervail any issues one might have with the art direction. The best part? The writing’s good for more than just laughs. Whether or not the writers prioritized or even intended it, “Dingo’s” serial approach is surprisingly engaging, and finding out what happens next is as much a reason to watch as the show’s brilliant sense of humor. Cobbled together on one DVD, the season plays out like a funny and surprisingly engaging feature film.
Contents: 13 episodes. No extras.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (R, 2007, Lions Gate)
If there was an Oscar for the quickest offing of a main character, it would go to “Wristcutters,” which finds our hero (Patrick Fugit  as Zia) dead of a self-inflicted injury mere minutes after it begins. Fortunately, Zia has an afterlife. Unfortunately, it’s in purgatory, where smiling is physically impossible, everyone wants to know how you killed yourself, and the job market stinks. The premise all but hands “Wristcutters” the keys to the black comedy kingdom, and every indication is there that this is where we’re headed. But that “A Love Story” tag isn’t quite as ironic as it first seems, and “Wristcutters” isn’t quite as dark as it initially purports to be. That’s not necessary a bad thing, either. Hopeless beginnings and seeming taste for irony aside, “Wristcutters” develops into a film of surprisingly high concept. It even aims for, and arguably achieves, a level of cuteness that seemed impossible during the first act. That’s quite a feat in itself, but all the more impressive when you consider that “Wristcutters” never betrays its original vision or jerks the viewer around. Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, Tom Waits (yes, that Tom Waits) and Leslie Bibb also star.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, behind-the-scenes feature, deleted scenes, storyboards, photo gallery.

Upright Citizens Brigade: Asssscat! (NR, 2007, Shout Factory)
The Upright Citizens Brigade revolution won’t be televised, it seems. And that’s a shame, because that, beyond the stage, is where “Asssscat!” belongs. Here’s how it works: A famous face (say, Kate Walsh or Thomas “Reno 911!” Lennon) delivers a guest monologue about a topic suggested by the audience, and the Upright Citizens Brigade (Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh) and friends perform a rapid-fire series of improvised sketches that play off the monologue. The high-energy end result is, if this DVD is to be believed, very funny. Perhaps more importantly, the guest monologue that connects the troupe to the audience piles a surprising layer of ingenuity on top of the format limitations improv comedy typically imposes on its performers. What a pity, then, that we only get one complete performance and pieces of a few others. “Asssscat” could, and should, be a series. That no one in TV Land seems to agree is far more ridiculous than anything the Brigade could possibly conjure on stage.
Extras: Bonus round footage, UCB commentary, UCB interview, two very funny outtakes, theme song.

Stephen King’s The Mist: Two-Disc Collector’s Edition (R, 2007, Dimension)
So there’s this crazy mist that’s creeping through this small town, right? And so the townsfolk have huddled together inside a grocery store as the mist advances on them and slowly reveals what it is and from whence it came. Nothing about that premise is remotely fresh anymore, but in typical Stephen King style, “The Mist” manages to take a tired concept and stuff it with entertainment value and copious amounts of eye and ear candy that’s easy to digest. Unfortunately, and also in typical King fashion, “The Mist” does this at the complete expense of any subtlety whatsoever, nullifying a perfectly fine ensemble cast (Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones) in favor of obsessing over a cartoon character religious zealot (Marcia Gay Harden) whom we’re clearly supposed to hate. That in itself isn’t really offensive, but the way the film spoonfeeds this emotion is insulting to even the most base level of intelligence. Taken purely as entertainment, “The Mist” still validates itself, and the ending will certainly leave some jaws dropped. It’s just too bad some will interpret this as a message movie first and entertainment second, because it fails pretty miserably in this respect.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), Webisodes, alternate monochrome cut (with director introduction), five behind-the-scenes features.

Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death… and Insects (NR, 2007, A&E)
Anyone who has enjoyed even a momentary flirtation with the mind of singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock need not wrack the brain to estimate the value of a documentary that takes us a little further inside. That, precisely, is what “Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death… and Insects” does. While Hitchcock records yet another album with yet another assemblage of musicians both well-known and unknown, he shares insights into not only the formation of his latest project, but also the process that goes into the creation of what has turned out to be one extremely impressive body of musical work. “Insects” primarily serves as fan service for Hitchcock devotees, but there’s some real value in Hitchcock’s insights for all who fashion themselves musical, misunderstood or both. So why, then, do we only get an hour to enjoy this insight? Wisdom clearly is left unturned, so what’s the big hurry? “Insects” originally was developed for cable, where time is as much a premium as the reruns most of these channels run ad infinitum. In DVD form, the short runtime makes even less sense. The bonus content is nice and all, but it can’t hold a candle to what another 30 to 60 minutes of the main program would have provided.
Extras: Five bonus Hitchcock performances, music video.