Skeletons (NR, 2010, IndiePix)
Do not be surprised if Hollywood one day remakes “Skeletons” in a way that makes it an entirely palatable Hollywood film. Just be sure, if that happens and the concept intrigues you, to see it in this incarnation first. In “Skeletons,” Davis (Ed Gaughan) and Bennett (Andrew Buckley) are paid to literally enter people’s closets and clean out their skeletons, using special technology to see and interact with clients’ secrets like they’re living memories. Most jobs are pretty routine, but when an assignment out in the country finds the skeletons eluding them, our heroes are forced to contend with their own skeletons while their client’s daughter (Tuppence Middleton) appears to run interference with secrets of her own. That adds up to a lot of balls in play, and after teasing initially to be nothing more than a snappy comedy about a cool idea, “Skeletons” goes off the deep end in its illustration of it all. Secrets come alive in the frame while the real world carries on around it, and the film respects viewer intelligence enough to let dimensions and layers come and go without a need to hold hands, show seams or explain in excess. The stark mood swing won’t be a pleasant surprise to those who want something light, and those who sleep on “Skeletons” for even a few moments may find themselves lost quickly. But that’s the price of making a movie about a dense idea and presenting it without compromising vision. If you like movies that make your head spin, it’s a price well worth paying.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes viral videos.
Winter’s Bone (R, 2010, Lions Gate)
Ree Dolly’s deadbeat father, a suspected crystal meth cooker, is missing and wanted. He may have fled, he may be hiding in town, or he may be dead. But Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) doesn’t know, and if tending to her ill mother and effectively raising her younger brother and sister by herself isn’t making the 17-year-old’s life difficult enough, the prospect of losing her house if her father’s whereabouts aren’t revealed — and the complete refusal by family and neighbors to do anything but undermine her search — most definitely does. An opera of small-town American poverty if ever there was one, “Winter’s Bone” is harsh even in its sweetest moments, one of which finds Ree teaching her siblings how to skin a squirrel so they have food to eat. The search for Ree’s father is the centerpiece, and the dark roads down which she must walk for answers provide “Bone” all the suspense ammo it needs. But without that attention to atmosphere, this would be a completely different movie. The overwhelmingly bleak setting brands “Bones” with a definitive downer tag, but it also provides the basis for a story in which the so-called “good” and “bad” characters share the same lousy boat instead of stand on opposite ends of the line. Shared circumstances lead to blurred lines, and that gives “Bone” some engrossing complexes that wreak havoc on that seemingly simple search and the consequences it presents to all.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, alternate opening, behind-the-scenes feature, music video.
The Infidel (NR, 2010, Tribeca Film/New Video)
British Muslim Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili) isn’t what you (or he) would call devout: He likes pop music, loves swearing at cab drivers, and is mortified when he discovers his son’s (Amit Shah) would-be father-in-law (Arshad Al-Masri) is a devout and famously outspoken Muslim cleric. But that discovery pales in comparison to the piece of news he uncovers shortly after. That revelation — which won’t be spoiled here in case the box doesn’t make it obvious — hurtles Mahmud into a quest of self-discovery that, to his intense chagrin, also involves a somewhat racist Jewish-American cabbie (Richard Schiff) who lives in the neighborhood. Are you ready for an emotional powder keg? How about a tearjerker? Sorry: While “The Infidel” may have a few things to say about a few things, its primary goal is take viewers who aren’t offended by their own shadows and make them laugh. And that, skillfully and consistently, is what it does. The story wobbles a bit during its attempt to wrap things up in the third act, but even at its worst, “The Infidel” is dryly and brilliantly funny in a way that’s sweet and very politically incorrect at the same time. And even though that third act wobbles a bit, it finds its feet in time to send us to the credits with a terrific (and, true to form, very funny) twist at the end.
Extras: Writer/director/Djalili/Schiff commentary, video blog, two behind-the-scenes features, interviews, behind-the-scenes outtakes.
The Girl who Played with Fire (R, 2009, Music Box Films)
The refreshing thing about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was that, in spite of running 152 minutes and having to pack two characters with enough intrigue to carry a trilogy of films, it kept its eyes trained on the central mystery and limited character-shaping self-indulgences almost strictly to what was necessary. “The Girl who Played with Fire” doesn’t have the same discipline. That’s partly by design: “Fire’s” storytelling catalyst — two people, including a journalist who was set to expose a sex trafficking scandal for Mikael’s (Michael Nyqvist) magazine, are found murdered — strikes a sharp chord with Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), whose past is blighted with sexual abuse and who must still contend with a guardian (Peter Andersson) whose attempted rape of her in “Tattoo” left him with a tattoo of his own. But while “Tattoo” perfectly positioned Lisbeth as a brilliant hacker who doubled as Mikael’s covert guardian angel, “Fire” turns her into Jack Bauer. While Mikael attempts to bring down the killers through believable means, Lisbeth goes straight at them through a ladder of thugs straight out of a cartoon. The mystery at the center of it all remains engaging enough to make “Fire” a good watch, and Lisbeth is still a great character in spite of the shift. But the meticulous, no-nonsense storytelling that made the first film such a surprise is a little bit missed the second time through. In Swedish with English subtitles, but an English dub also is available. No extras.
Last Day of Summer (R, 2009, Entertainment One)
Jobs scarcely get worse than cleaning toilets or working in fast food, so Joe (DJ Qualls) has hit the misery jackpot as a toilet cleaner at a fast food restaurant. Throw in a boss (William Sadler) who delights in mocking and humiliating him, and it’s enough to push Joe into buying a gun and plotting a bloody revenge. But things go awry, Joe flinches, and a few bungles later, he’s turned a random patron of the restaurant (Nikki Reed) into an accidental kidnap victim without his boss even catching wind of any danger. So is “Last Day of Summer” a wacky comedy of errors or a tense thriller? Without giving too much away, not really either. “Summer” has enough bitterly funny moments to just barely qualify as a darkly dry comedy, and there are enough unknowns for it to flirt with the thriller tag. But more than either of those, “Summer” is an extensive, unflattering but intelligently-written undressing of both Joe and all the lousy things that can drive a seemingly nice guy like Joe to do something stupidly dangerous. Given the paths it takes and the different tones it assumes, it’s also a pretty good deconstruction of the many moods — be they comical, dreary or hopeful in that strange way that often accompanies a trip to rock bottom — that surface when even a bad idea doesn’t go as planned.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
You Don’t Know Jack: The Life and Deaths of Jack Kevorkian (NR, 2010, HBO)
You don’t have to be a genius to see right through “You Don’t Know Jack,” which, from the title on down, makes it crystal clear whose side it takes in its dramatization of Dr. Jack Kevo
rkian’s (played here by Al Pacino) career. In short, if you find the concept of assisted suicide to be immoral, all but a few slivers of a few scenes will either turn you off or outright aggravate you. In every other way, “Jack” is a terrific biopic: Pacino is outrageous without stepping out of character, the script is sharp more than sentimental, and interspersing real interview footage of Kevorkian’s patients without breaking the seams of dramatization is a trick that pays off. But there’s no arguing it: Those scenes serve to convey the humanity Kevorkian saw in his mission, and neither those scenes nor numerous others have enough counterparts for “Jack” to make claims of objectivity. “Jack’s” very best scenes — in which Kevorkian and assistant Neal Nicol (John Goodman) butt heads and trip over each other’s feet in their separate pursuits of similar ideals — have nothing to do with the larger debate. But if the goal with those scenes was to mask the film’s feelings, they’re too overmatched to pull it off.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature, which includes an interview with the real Kevorkian.
Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy (PG, 1985, Universal)
Get excited, Cubs fans: If the events of “Back to the Future Part II” are to be believed, we’re only five years away from Wrigley Field’s finest winning a World Series. How time — 25 years in this case— flies. Per anniversary custom, both the DVD and Blu-ray editions of “Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy” include new digital restorations of all three films, as well as all the bonus materials (deleted scenes, a ton of behind-the-scenes features, producers commentary, Q&A commentary with Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale) that accompanied each movie’s previous DVD release. Along with digital copies of each film, new extras include a six-part cast and crew retrospective, a Q&A with Michael J. Fox, new deleted scenes (including the much-discussed scene starring Eric Stoltz as the original Marty McFly), and a discussion with Dr. Michio Kaku about the feasibility of time travel.
Sex and the City: The Complete Collection (NR, 1998, HBO)
“Sex and the City” fans who indulged in the 2005 complete series box set probably won’t be happy to see this new set, which trumps it slightly in terms of content but considerably in terms of presentation. “Sex and the City: The Complete Collection” comes packaged like a coffee table picture book, with the disc sleeves doubling as thick cardboard photo pages that contain some information about and quotes from the show but, more than anything, just look immensely pretty. The 94 episodes from the show are included, as are the bonus features that accompanied those episodes in the previously-released season sets. “Collection” outdelivers the series collection by also including the two movies, and a bonus 18th disc contains four new roundtables in which the show’s writers discuss making the show and watching it catch fire.