Saint John of Las Vegas (R, 2009, Vivendi)
Reformed gambler John (Steve Buscemi) had finally found peace as a desk jockey for an insurance company. But with a promotion to fraud investigation, he’s not only forced to share the road with an unhinged co-worker (Romany Malco as Virgil), but assigned to investigate a case in the old haunt — Las Vegas — he thought he’d abandoned. You know what, though? Most of those details don’t actually matter. “Saint John of Las Vegas” circles its story around John’s and Virgil’s adventures in Vegas, and the investigation dictates those adventures, but the outcome of the case doesn’t actually matter. Nor, really, do the outcomes of several side stories, which superficially seem designed solely to prop up some additional goofball characters. Even the Vegas setting doesn’t necessarily matter. But if “SLOLV” sounds like a scatterbrained mess, it ultimately reveals itself as one with a purpose. The real story here is that of John himself, and while he doesn’t move mountains in character development terms, and while the occasional dream sequence or flash forward doesn’t make sense initially, it comes together with surprising satisfaction during the homestretch. The other good news? Even before it starts to make sense, “SLOLV’s” weird sense of humor is dryly (very dryly, fair warning) funny enough to entertain while the story catches up. That shouldn’t be a major surprise, given the cast, but there’s your confirmation anyway. Peter Dinklage and Sarah Silverman also star.
Extras: Cast interviews.
Chloe (R, 2009, Sony Pictures)
The onset of obsession is strong enough to derail even the most normal of people, and when that obsession is over a spouse’s supposed infidelity, just about anything can go. So let’s not blame Catherine (Julianne Moore) for hiring an escort (Amanda Seyfried as Chloe) to seduce her husband (Liam Neeson as David) after his recent behavior triggers a few serious alarms. And on a similar note, it might be prudent not to punish “Chloe” in spite of the extensive ways it chooses to manipulate its characters and, by extension, all who observe them. “Chloe” operates under a excessive cloud of moodiness (exhausting dramatic score most definitely included), and it pushes its characters so far that you wonder why any of them even care enough to do anything beyond lose their minds and let their respective spirals completely take over. It is, by most traditional characterizations, a bad movie. At the same time, though, there’s something darkly enjoyable about just how furiously “Chloe” kicks out the ladder from underneath its cast. So-called better movies operating under similar pretenses might take more careful steps to build up their characters and respect authenticity, and there’s certainly merit in doing so if done right. But if “Chloe” wants to be different and let its insane flag fly by going the complete other way, and if it entertains (ironically or otherwise) the whole way in doing so, how bad can it really be?
Extras: Writer/director/Seyfried commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Sesame Street: 20 Years… and Still Counting! (NR, 1989, Sesame Street/Lions Gate)
Confused by the title? Don’t be: This is the special that originally aired on “Sesame Street’s” actual 20th anniversary in 1989 — which means this is, in fact, the 21st anniversary of this 20th anniversary celebration. It also supersedes the release of the 40th anniversary DVD set by eight months and the 25th anniversary DVD by 12 years. Only a show that provided as much of a service as “Sesame Street” did could get away with a math conundrum like this. Fortunately, because the material is pretty much timeless, all the funny math is for naught. Bill Cosby and Kermit the Frog host. No extras.
Middle of Nowhere (R, 2008, Image Entertainment)
If “Middle of Nowhere’s” early going is any indication, the story of Dorian (Anton Yelchin) and Grace (Eva Amurri) — two water park employees with opposing backgrounds who both are trying to raise money quickly for different reasons — has everything it needs to devolve into an after-school special at any moment. When the two backwardly join forces to raise the cash, “Middle of Nowhere” starts showing some symptoms, and when the movie delves into those respective backgrounds and throws in a few other familial complications on both sides, it would seem only a matter of time before the transformation is complete. Amazingly, though, what bends never breaks. Grace rebounds into a thoroughly likable sympathetic hero instead of just another sob story, Dorian proves too charming and funny to credibly succumb to contrived ham-handedness, and “Nowhere” takes a surprising turn away from the inevitable and grows into a legitimate piece of entertainment. The early symptoms don’t ever go completely away, but the movie also never lets go of its sense of humor, nor does it lose sight of what elevates it beyond the dregs of preachy non-entertainment. And because it takes such surprisingly good care of its characters, the occasional indulgence in those symptoms feels justified and very well-earned. Susan Sarandon, Justin Chatwin and Willa Holland also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.
Greenberg (R, 2010, Focus/Universal)
The line between a movie that goes everywhere without going anywhere and one that simply runs in circles is pretty thin, and the story of Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) — freshly released from a mental institution, a generation removed from the derailment of a promising musical career, and now doing some housesitting while figuring out where to possibly go next — may as well have one foot on each side of that line. “Greenberg” flirts with comedy as well as drama, with fleeting success in both areas, but at no point is it anything but a coarse look at a guy who has lived through plenty but, at least in tangible terms, isn’t doing a whole lot now. The movie doesn’t squander the opportunity to zero in hard, and even during its idle moments, the script puts on a clinic on how to dig into the heart of a character regardless of approach or mood. At the same time? Surprise, Roger isn’t the most effortlessly likable character around. Though that’s for the best — “Greenburg” would be pretty dull if it greeted its audience with kid gloves — it stands to reason that what some will see as complicated and misunderstood will come across to others as nothing more complicated than a thankless pain in the rear. And if that’s the case, a movie about him — and, with respect to the supporting cast (Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh), no one but him — may not be worth the hassle.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.
Selling Hitler (NR, 1991, Acorn Media)
“Slow” doesn’t begin to describe the start of “Selling Hitler,” which appears so preoccupied with fully setting the table in its first episode that it can’t even settle on a consistent mood going forward. But then the twist (spoiled by history, because it’s a true story, but it’s a twist anyway) comes into full light at the end of that first episode. And once we meet the real face of this series — Konrad Fischer (Alexei Sayle), who “discovers” Adolph Hitler’s lost diaries by writing them himself and subsequently sets off an international bidding war for the publication rights — the farce is on. “Hitler” is very much a product of its time — specifically, 1991, when television production values still habored the marks of the awful 1980s and dramatic saxophone music was still a thing people did with a straight face. The video quality could be better, and the weird mood shifting — sometimes it feels like a comedy, sometimes it could not be more serious — never goes away. But “Hitler” sells itself on the strength of its true story, and while Konrad’
s act is completely despicable, there’s an immense dark satisfaction in watching him make wealthy publishers in Europe and America salivate over complete garbage. It wouldn’t be bad news to see someone give this story a more contemporary treatment, but what’s here will very much do in the meantime.
Contents: Five episodes, no extras.
The Bounty Hunter (PG-13, 2010, Sony Pictures)
There’s something perversely fascinating about a collection of established actors, filmmakers and studio personnel joining forces to produce something that flaunts as much creative apathy as “The Bounty Hunter” does. “Hunter” tells the story of a small-time bounty hunter (Gerard Butler as Milo) who lucks his way into the plush assignment of capturing and escorting his ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston as Nicole) to jail, and the turns the story takes are as formulaic as a bottle of multivitamins. But even if “Hunter” inevitably must fall prone to the tired “we hate each other, but now we love each other” routine, the allegedly comedic journey that postpones the inevitable didn’t have to fall this lackadaisically in line. But it does: Neither Butler nor Aniston are given anything with which to make their characters interesting, to say nothing of likable. The supporting characters are even shallower, the complications designed to spice up the case are nothing more than directionless obligatory padding, and between the scene at the craps table and the scene at the tattoo parlor, too many of “Hunter’s” attempts at comedy feel like torn pages from the book of bad sitcom cliches. Suffocating story predictability can be excused if the movie has anything at all going for it in between the lines, but “Hunter” is completely bankrupt, and no one involved seems to mind very much despite almost certainly knowing better.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, tips for outwitting a bounty hunter.
Worth a Mention: Shout Factory Edition
— “The Super Hero Squad Show: Volume 1: Quest for the Infinity Sword!” (NR, 2009): Picture Marvel Comics’ finest — Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine and more — getting the “Muppet Babies” treatment, and you can picture “The Super Hero Squad Show,” which is Marvel’s attempt to provide a cartoon that’s more kid- and family-friendly than its usual fare. The side effect, though, is that between the super-deformed look of the heroes and goofball sense of humor that accompanies the visual style, it might also be appropriate for adults who love the Marvel universe but have grown tired of how formulaic that usual fare can be. Includes seven episodes, plus an interview with Stan Lee.
— “Mystery Science Theater 3000 XVIII” (NR, 1990-97): Shout Factory’s “MST3K” compilation train continues to roll along. Volume XVIII includes “Lost Continent,” “Crash of the Moons,” “The Beast of Yucca Flats” and “Jack Frost.” As per series tradition, a set of mock miniature movie posters comes included. Other extras include new introductions from Frank Conniff and Kevin Murphy, original wrap footage, a “Flats” retrospective and original film trailers.
— “Street Hawk: The Complete Series” (NR, 1985): Imagine if “Knight Rider” was a show about a motorcycle named Street Hawk instead of a car named KITT. Also, imagine if “Knight Rider” was canceled after 13 episodes. That’s “Street Hawk.” Fortunately, for the dedicated few who have waited this long to revisit that short run, this set has the works. Extras include a never-aired version of the pilot, a 41-minute making-of documentary, a photo gallery and an eight-page companion booklet.