DVD 10/13/09: Adoration, The Proposal, Drag Me to Hell, Aussie & Ted's Great Adventure, The Objective, The Killing Room, The Stepfather (1987), Jackass: The Lost Tapes, Marvel Animation: 6 Film Set

Adoration (R, 2008, Sony Pictures Classics)
To delve too much into an explanation of where “Adoration” is headed would be to ruin some of the fun that comes from actually watching it. So let’s not do that, shall we? “Adoration” kicks off with a high school boy (Devon Bostick as Simon) delivering an essay to his class about what it means to be the son of the man who nearly committed the greatest act of terrorism of his time. From there, it splits not only into two chronologies — one featuring Simon’s parents (Rachel Blanchard, Noam Jenkins) on the eve of the events detailed in the essay, and one following Simon’s present-day fallout as the essay morphs from classroom exercise to chat room and virtual town hall discussion fodder — but almost two films as well. There’s a persistent current of dialogue in which “Adoration’s” characters weigh the means, methods and justifications not only of the parents’ actions, but Simon’s ability to accept them and even embrace them. But none of that would be worth much without a story to tell, and it’s in this department where the film really shines. Unfortunately, specifying exactly why that is so would result in a spoilerific mess. So for purposes of this review, the tired “not everything is what it seems” tag will have to suffice. Arsinée Khanjian, Scott Speedman and Kenneth Welsh also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, writer/director interview.

The Proposal: Deluxe Edition (PG-13, 2009, Touchstone)
Say, have we been here before? Because it feels like we have. Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is a stone-hearted editor who strikes fear into her feeble employees. Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) is the underling in search of a promotion and perhaps a publishing deal if only Margaret would just take five minutes to look at his manuscript. Margaret is Canadian and in danger of losing her job after her work visa expires. Andrew is single. Margaret is single! So bring on yet another story about a sham wedding between two people who hate each other but, inevitably, will discover how much they have in common once they’re forced to be around each other. It’s a cliché sonic boom! So it’s really something special that despite all that and a boring title too, “The Proposal” isn’t simply tolerable, but actually pretty great. Margaret and Andrew are surprisingly well-sketched characters in spite of the completely trite situation in which they find themselves, and that treatment extends down the line to a great supporting cast (Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen and especially Betty White, who steals every scene she can). Furthermore, while “The Proposal” does generally operate like anyone with any kind of movie memory would expect it to, it also sometimes doesn’t, remaining funny (sometimes darkly so) when the script otherwise calls for the usual descent into melodrama and string-tightening. That, in trite romantic comedy circles, qualifies as an arguable miracle.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scenes and alternate ending (with commentary), outtakes, digital copy.

Drag Me to Hell: Unrated Director’s Cut (PG-13/NR, 2009, Universal/Ghost House)
Christine (Alison Lohman) has it all: A slowly-loosening grip on a promotion at the bank where she works, a relationship with a man (Justin Long) whose mother wants him to date someone else, and now a disenfranchised older woman (Lorna Raver) who plants a curse on her after being denied the funds needed to prevent eviction from her house. “Drag Me to Hell” also has it all, at least according to the checklist of formulaic stuff to put in a movie about curses. There’s the crazy old lady making the threat, the cluster of scenes in which Christine convinces herself nothing is wrong, the cluster of scenes where everyone thinks she’s a loon who needs help, and the inevitable séance and showdown with the source of the evil. But for every tired checkpoint “Hell” passes through, there’s something else going on that makes it worth sticking with — be it a perfectly-timed shock, an expertly-crafted confluence of real-world and Hell dimension evils, or a new wrinkle in what emerges as a surprisingly interesting main character. It’s just another curse movie, but it belongs in the class of the lot, especially when the payoff at the end arrives. Keep the remote handy when it does, because you’ll probably want to watch that part again. David Paymer and Dileep Rao also star.
Extras: Theatrical and unrated cuts, production video diaries.

Aussie & Ted’s Great Adventure (G, 2009, Screen Media Films)
Aussie is one very adorable dog, but he has some seriously ugly jealously issues. Those issues prompted him to hide his best friend’s (Alyssa Shafer as Laney) new teddy bear, which had partially nudged him out of the spotlight almost the instant Laney’s dad (Dean Cain) brought him home. Naturally, this being a family film and all, Aussie thinks better of his pettiness, only to discover that getting Ted (that’s the bear) back won’t be as simple as going back to the spot where he left him. The level of saccharine silliness in “Aussie & Ted’s Great Adventure” is enough to give cynics and realists a complex: Aussie narrates his own adventure in a potentially gratingly-amateurish Australian accent, his fellow dogs match his hokey dialogue with some choice words of their own, and even Ted gets in on the act with some mystical powers that allow him to communicate with certain dogs and children. Yep. Fortunately, this film wasn’t made with cynics in mind, but rather their untainted children and younger siblings. And between the film’s sense of humor about itself, the bounty of scenes featuring cute dogs being cute, and the lesson “Adventure” subtly slides in between the weirdness that erupts, it should please them just fine. Tuck the kids in, turn the movie on, and slowly back out of the room. No extras.

The Objective (NR, 2008, IFC Films)
It’s pretty gutsy, as “The Objective” does, to take complete creative liberty with a conflict (the war in Afghanistan) that not only is currently in progress, but also coincidentally happens to be back in the forefront of the news as the film arrives on DVD. Problem is, that’s as far as the risk-taking really goes. “The Objective” sets up a pretty interesting story about not-of-this-world activity taking place amid an already unconventional war, and it does a nice job of funneling that anticipation of the unknown through some interesting (if somewhat formulaic) characters. But once we arrive at that point, the film seems unable to push past neutral, constantly dangling the promise of a big thrill without ever really delivering on that promise. “The Objective” flirts with resolution, but only sort of achieves it, and even when the film reaches for an exclamation point, it does so under a frustrating cloud of ambiguity. You can formulate your own theories as to what happened and what happens next, and there’s some fun to be had in doing so, but for as little as “The Objective” provides in terms of inspiration, you might as well skip the movie and start with a blank page.
Extras: Interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.

The Killing Room (R, 2008, Genius Entertainment)
Welcome to the party, “The Killing Room.” You’re only six years late. “Room” finds four ordinary people (Timothy Hutton, Nick Cannon, Clea DuVall and Shea Whigham) convening in a room for what they think is a government study, only to find out they’re part of a whole other under-the-books study that necessitates killing them off one by one. If that sounds like a variant of the game “Saw” plays every year, it’s because, in spite of the new angle, it is. “Room” shows some early promise with a really sharp turn of events during the early going, but it fails to capitalize on it and appears helplessly unable to kick-start the story once it slows to a dead stop. Our trapped protagonists aren’t interesting characters with dark backgrounds, which even the blandest of “Saw” sequels provide. Meanwhile, the folks on the other side of the wall — a band of rogue government employees bent on resurrecting a buried study in spite of what their consciences might tell them to do, aren’t terribly fascinating villains, if you even use that word here. The blurred lines aren’t a testament to the complexity of their characters so much as an indictment of the film’s muted attempt at everything from provoking thought to scaring viewers. Genius doesn’t seem to have much faith in “Room” — it don’t even include subtitles, to say nothing of special features — and despite the renown of the cast, neither should you. Chloë Sevigny and Peter Stormare also star. No extras.

Worth a Mention
— “The Stepfather” (R, 1987, Shout Factory): Once upon a time, commercially ignored but critically acclaimed films had no choice but to toil in obscurity. Nowadays, they just get remade by a bigger studio with a bigger budget and sold all over again. Fortunately, in case that exercise proves disastrous, they also get a much-deserved second chance on DVD. Terry O’Quinn of “Lost” fame stars. Extras include director commentary and a new retrospective.
— “Jackass: The Lost Tapes” (NR, 2009, MTV): For those who simply cannot get enough, here’s more — roughly two hours’ worth, to be specific. Extras include a compilation of every show opener from the series, as well as outtakes and bonus stunts from the end segment of each show.
— “Marvel Animation: 6 Film Set” (PG-13, 2006-08, Lions Gate): Pretty much what the title says. Includes “Doctor Strange,” “Hulk Vs.,” “The Invincible Iron Man,” “Next Avengers,” and the two “Ultimate Avengers” movies. This is a repackaging of the six films that originally were sold separately, and the extras from each film’s original release are here as well.