The Disappearance of Alice Creed (R, 2009, Anchor Bay)
Barely a word is spoken during the first 10 minutes of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” which finds two kidnappers (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston) plotting for and eventually converting on the abduction of a millionaire’s daughter (Gemma Arterton as Alice). The silent treatment is handled beautifully, and it provides a clinic on how to effectively develop two characters without saying anything. So it’s quite a testament to what happens next that the story shines even brighter when everybody starts talking. “Creed,” like any good suspense story, has more in store than is initially apparent, and like any great suspense story, it revels in the timeless device of a simple plan that inevitably enters a tailspin. But all these twists and surprises wouldn’t be nearly so interesting were it not for the awesome job “Creed” does of giving all three of its characters a personality that goes way beyond their situations and roles. The undercurrent of unease in the plan is due to the general uneasiness of those entangled in it, and “Creed’s” attention to character detail from start to finish turns its every moment into a engrossing guessing game regarding who will do what next.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted/extended scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, outtakes.
The Expendables (R, 2010, Lions Gate)
It goes nearly without saying that “The Expendables” — a movie renowned for its explosively meatheaded cast (Sylvester Stallone, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Steve Austin and more) and not its story — is 100 minutes of mostly dumb fun. But let’s not pretend that’s not an achievement. “The Expendables'” plot is so jumbled as to give incoherence a bad name, which is to be expected when the task of explaining it falls to two actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis) who appear in exactly one scene and spend as much time making self-conscious winks as they do explaining anything. The movie also feels a need to cram in extensive back stories for some (though not all) characters, and with all that and a mission going on, the wheels never even get on long enough to come off. But movies like “The Expendables” come out almost every week — mostly straight to video — and most of them achieve the same level of incoherence without having any fun doing so. “The Expendables,” by contrast, has a ball. The popularity of the cast is no accident, and when you have this much charisma firing everywhere — to say nothing of the liberal deployment of punches, kicks, knives, bullets, vehicles and stuff that makes other stuff explode — it almost doesn’t matter that the script turns a simple coup into a story that’s as lucid as the Unabomber manifesto. The only unforgivable sin? Crews, the most charismatic member of the whole cast, is entirely underutilized, though he at least makes sure to steal almost every scene in which he appears.
Extras: Stallone commentary, deleted scene, behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers, marketing gallery.
Luther (NR, 2010, BBC)
It takes something special to stand out amongst the glut of cop shows on television today, and with the likes of Dexter, Mackey and McNulty already passing through, even a morally dubious cop has to spice up his methods to break new ground. On the surface, John Luther (Idris Elba) doesn’t do that: The opening minutes of “Luther” find him making a choice that will suspend him for seven months and crater his marriage to Zoe (Indira Varma), but it’s nothing the aforementioned rogues haven’t done before and worse. But while “Luther” initially follows familiar roads in its depiction of its titular character, it pretty quickly carves some new ones with its construction of the world around him. The show’s six episodes trot out a hall of fame’s worth of demons and deranged criminals — one of whom (Ruth Wilson) sticks around for the duration — and rather than play down the absurdity of so much depravity happening in such a tight timeframe, “Luther” bear-hugs it with the kind of character dramatizations and verbal face-offs one typically finds in the theater rather than on television. It’s rarely preferable for a show to tell rather than show, but “Luther’s” love affair with words — and the deeply satisfying story arc that plays out as result — makes this a brilliant exception to that rule.
Contents: Six episodes, plus a lengthy behind-the-scenes feature.
Deadland (R, 2009, Phase 4 Films)
Before you assume, let’s clear the air: Whatever the title implies, this isn’t another zombie movie. Rather, the “dead” in “Deadland” really does refer to the land, which has been decimated by World War III and an ensuing plague that has reduced the United States to an assemblage of provinces scrambling for a cure. But Sean (Gary Weeks) isn’t concerned with the new world order so much as he is with navigating it to find his wife (Emily-Grace Murray as Katie), whose whereabouts have been unknown for five years. The catch? When the bombs went off, the couple was headed toward a separation, and it isn’t clear whether Katie even wants to be found. “Deadland’s” world isn’t totally unfamiliar to the post-nuclear playbook: There are factions operating by their own laws, and the sick and weak have been relegated to second-class status by those violent enough to enforce the distinction. But even with all the familiar decorations, “Deadland” succeeds because it ultimately and overwhelmingly is about Sean and not his predicament. The movie uses flashbacks to his pre-war life to great effect, borrowing details from that world to give importance to pieces of this one, and it takes just another post-apocalyptic story and makes it personal. That doesn’t completely free it from the bounds of cliche, but it definitely sets it apart in a genre plagued by imitators.
Extras: Director/cast commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.
Worth a Mention
— “The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Collection” (NR, 1974, Time Life): Sometimes, it takes much longer than it should for a television show to make its DVD debut. Occasionally — and this is one of those occasions — the wait is worth it. Much as it did with “Get Smart” a few years back, Time Life has made “The Six Million Dollar Man’s” DVD coming-out party one to remember, housing 40 DVDs inside an awesome gift box that, through the magic of lenticular technology, plays a faux-video of a faster, stronger Steve Austin sprinting on one side of the box. It also plays the famous “we have the technology” clip whenever the box is opened. All five seasons (comprising 100 episodes) are included in individual packages, and a sixth case includes five discs’ worth of bonus content. Those extras, along with extras attached to each season set, include three reunion movies, new (and old) interviews, a ton of behind-the-scenes features, commentary, individual season retrospectives and broadcast versions of all three pilot TV movies.
— “Deadwood: The Complete Series (NR, 2004, HBO): The wait hasn’t been nearly as rough for “Deadwood” fans, who already have seen the show come to DVD in complete series and individual season formats. But if you’ve been waiting for the Blu-ray edition (or if you just really value your shelf space), this Blu-ray set — which houses all 36 episodes and 13 discs in a case that’s no thicker than a typical season box — is good news nonetheless. Extras include a retrospective on the series’ abrupt conclusion and cast/crew interviews, plus all extras (commentary, behind-the-scenes features, interviews) from the previously-released season sets.