DVD 1/20/09: Repo! The Genetic Opera, The End of America, Saw V, Max Payne, The Deal, Obama DVDs, Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger, Powerpuff Girls Complete Series, This American Life S2

Repo! The Genetic Opera (R, 2008, Lions Gate)
Explaining the outlying particulars of “Repo! The Genetic Opera” is no easy task. Just ask the film itself, which struggles mightily to make sense of its premise (not-too-distant future, organ failure is rampant, private companies find ways to profit from and glamorize surgery, but it comes at a price) during a clever but awkward graphic novel-esque opening sequence. Fortunately, and necessarily, “Repo!” sprinkles in a handful of these sequences, which give us a satisfactory back story and better explain who the Repo man (Anthony Stewart Head) is, why he cuts people open for Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), why his daughter (Alexa Vega) is so ill, and what the heck else is going on. As the title implies, “Repo” is indeed an opera, and the metal, glam rock and occasionally poppy wall of music conspires with garish costume design and occasional splashes of blood and organs to completely annihilate the senses. You might find it a bit much, you might hate it completely, or you may just treasure it as the cult treasure it purports to be. “Repo,” to its credit and in the vein of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Hedwig and The Angry Inch,” is fully spirited and capable enough to inspire any of the three reactions. Like those films, though, it’s far more enjoyable in a group setting than when watched alone.
Extras: Director/partial cast commentary, Crew commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.

The End of America (NR, 2008, Indiepix)
Irony, thy name is release date. “The End of America,” which gives the “Inconvenient Truth” touch to Naomi Wolf’s book of the same name, pushes the argument that the actions of America today are eerily similar to those of iron-fist dictatorships (most particularly, Adolf Hitler’s Germany) before those regimes sent their countries reeling over the edge and into a cultural downturn. Though the premise and dopey title suggests Wolf’s a kook, a closer look at her arguments reveals, however loosely, some creepy parallels that — while not necessarily signals of America’s pending downfall — certainly don’t won’t go down as the finest achievements in the national timeline. Still, a significant majority of Wolf’s points play out more like indictments of George W. Bush’s administration than the culture at large, and if “America” falls seriously short in any area of its argument, it’s explaining how a downfall sparked by these arguments can continue with an incoming administration that has vowed to reverse a handful of policies that led to the arguments. Wolf also fails to note similarities between some of those policies and similar approaches that came and went in America’s past — a glaring overnight considering the film’s closing argument that liberty, once lost, cannot be recovered. That “America” comes to stores on the very same day that administration takes office almost comically undermines the film’s own message — which, in all likelihood, is the complete opposite of the effect all involved had in mind.
Extras: Commentary with constitutional expert Walter Murphy, extended interviews, two behind-the-scenes features, the original pre-election ending, a new post-election update.

Saw V: Unrated Director’s Cut (NR, 2008, Lions Gate)

In case you lost track of the “Saw” franchise, which has tumbled wildly downhill since the brilliant first film, the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell, who returns in flashback form) has been dead since the third one. “Saw IV” was a lukewarm collection of cheap kills and flashback material that attempted, without anyone really asking, to fatten up the series’ back story. “Saw V,” meanwhile, plays out like a series of “Saw IV” B-sides in an attempt to drag the mythology out even further. Problem is, with each passing film, “Saw” drifts further and further away from the spartan horror that made it so engrossing the first time around. The first film focused on one room, two horrible members of society, and the ironic lengths to which they had to go to save their own lives and pay for their misdeeds. By film five, we’re just tossing people into elaborate but mostly unimaginative dungeons and watching them eat it via special effects that appear to have been rendered on a Commodore 64. Outside of one gruesome trap at the very end, it’s not even creepy anymore. That puts the burden of entertainment on the shoulders of a story canon that ran out of powder two films ago, and it leaves the franchise as a whole drifting through a wilderness of boredom that seemed impossibly out of reach only four years ago.
Extras: Director commentary, producers commentary, five behind-the-scenes features.

Max Payne: Unrated (NR, 2008, Fox)
There exists an acute slice of the populace that needs no introduction to Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg), who is responsible for two of the most brilliant video games of the early 2000s and hopefully will be responsible for at least two more once everyone forgets this movie ever existed. The “Payne” games, to say nothing of how fun they were to play, were excellent at turning an ordinary story of a cop falsely accused of murdering his own family into a rollicking, darkly humorous and entirely self-aware slice of pure noir. “Payne” the movie stays true to the concept and frequently evokes the games’ unique visual style. But it tosses everything else aside, ditching the games’ gallows humor in favor of a convoluted and completely witless mess that might as well be an episode of “Criminal Minds.” “Payne’s” only value comes in spurts to fans of the game, who occasionally will recognize a nod to the franchise from which it stole its name. But those same fans will spend considerably more time cringing at the sight of Hollywood fumbling yet another handoff from the gaming industry. Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Chris O’Donnell and Donal Logue also star.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, digital copy.

The Deal (R, 2007, Peace Arch)
William H. Macy isn’t exactly hurting for work, and one imagines Meg Ryan still has what it takes to land a choice role here and there. So it’s absolutely baffling to see them at the top of the marquee for “The Deal,” a wildly uneven semi-comedy about a near-suicidal film producer (Macy) who somehow goads a film studio executive (Ryan) into green-lighting a film that may or may not have a script and may or may not have a star (LL Cool J) attached to it. The reason for all those qualifiers: Too much of “The Deal” makes no sense, even by comedy’s forgiving standards and even if you suspend your sense of disbelief all the way to the moon. It’s not the fault of Macy, Ryan or their co-stars: The talent is there, and it peeks through as best as it can. But the script is absurd, excessively cute, and horribly overmatched when trying to command laughs. When things go from cute and funny to sympathetic and somewhat serious during the inevitable “everything is starting to work out” scenes, it’s hard to take any of it seriously, much less root for anyone involved. The change of mood is much too abrupt, and it’s practically a given 30 minutes ahead of time how “The Deal” plans to wrap things up, so asking anybody to care is a request beyond reason.
Extras: Cast interviews, digital copy.

Worth a mention
— New Obama DVDs: Don’t look so surprised. Piggybacking both Inauguration Day and the trail of already-released DVDs discussing Pres. Obama’s life and times is a new release, “President Barack Obama: The Man and His Journey” (NR, 2009, Vivendi) and a reissue of the plain-named Biography Channel portrait that first surfaced last year. “Journey” includes an 88-minute feature, as well as extended interviews, seven short films about current events (housing, immigration, the economy and so on) and a music video. “Barack Obama” (NR, 2008, Biography), meanwhile, sprinkles some post-vote footage to complement the original “Biography” episode, bringing the total run time to 47 minutes.
— Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger (NR, 2008, HBO): It’s Chris Rock, it’s an HBO special and it’s 80 minutes from one of the best comics to take a stage, today or any day. “Kill the Messenger” comes in a bare-bones regular edition without extras, but Rock’s biggest fans should opt instead for the three-disc special edition, which includes the special and uncut versions of the three concerts used to create the special. Why watch a best-of when you can witness the whole thing?
— “The Powerpuff Girls: 10th Anniversary Collection: The Complete Series” (NR, 1998, Cartoon Network): Yes, the math isn’t perfect. But the show did at least premiere in late 1998, so it could be worse. Includes all 78 episodes, plus a bounty of extras including interviews, shorts, the holiday special, animatics, music and commentary.
— “This American Life: Season Two” (NR, 2008, Showtime): One of premium cable’s most understated gems is back with six more episodes’ worth of extraordinary stories about ordinary people. Extras include commentary, an extended cut of one episode and a live presentation of the audio show on which this is based.