DVD 12/21/10: Salt, Easy A, Cyrus, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, Futurama V5, Caprica S1.5

Salt: Deluxe Unrated Edition (NR, 2010, Columbia Pictures)
The first rule of enjoying “Salt” is to accept that logic is neither its major nor its minor, nor is it a even field of study or simply a source of fleeting curiosity. That isn’t quite so apparent at the outset, with the movie introducing us to CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) via a tense hostage exchange with North Korea before skipping forward in time and dropping us into a conspiracy involving the visiting president of Russia. Initially, “Salt” seems to mind its details and do so with a straight face, and its first act sets the table for a respectably competent but unspectacular international suspense story. But once “Salt” embarks on its first twist, there’s no looking back. Without spoiling the specifics, covert identities become overt, uncovered secrets start gushing in from everywhere, and “Salt” treats the topic of international diplomacy with all the reverence of two third graders doing battle with army men toys. “Salt” never really breaks its straight face, but it leaves no doubt that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the transformative path it takes from staid international thriller to crazed action bonanza is akin to getting on a teacup ride and getting off the biggest roller coaster in the park. It’s logically broken, but it revels in its maniacal absurdity, and it’s hard not to have fun with a movie that’s having such a blast itself. Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Daniel Olbrychski also star.
Extras: Three versions (theatrical, director’s cut and extended cut) of the movie, plus filmmakers’ commentary, director interview and two behind-the-scenes features.

Easy A (PG-13, 2010, Sony Pictures)
It would seem to be too good to be true for a teen comedy to load up on a cast (Emma Stone, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Malcolm McDowell, Thomas Haden Church) like this. But as “Easy A” seems really eager to clear up straight away — as in the very first sentence anyone says — it isn’t really a teen comedy, even if the plot is straight out of a very special episode of “Saved by the Bell.” In “Easy A,” teenage wallflower Olive (Stone) tells best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) a phony story about a very hot date she never had in order to get out of a weekend camping trip she didn’t want to experience. The school’s self-elected self-righteous loudmouth (Amanda Bynes) overhears the story, it snowballs, a few male students capitalize on the lie to cover up their own pathetic social lives, and in a manner of days, Olive goes from an invisible nobody to the top of her school’s tramp rankings. But where a typical teen movie would turn to crying, preaching, changes of heart and other insufferable antonyms for “entertaining” to steer things from there, “Easy A” just barrels ahead with its tongue continually in cheek, using a sharp sense of humor to construct a deviously apt fable about the petty things people (and not just teenagers) do to each other to feel better about themselves. The writing is clever to an unrealistic degree — a la “Juno,” nobody really talks like this — but it’s a non-issue when the end so cleverly and amusingly justifies the means.
Extras: Director/Stone commentary, Webcam audition footage (makes more sense after you see the movie), bloopers.

Cyrus (R, 2010, Fox)
You’ve seen this scenario before: Man (John C. Reilly as John) meets woman (Marisa Tomei as Molly), man becomes fixture in woman’s life, and the previous center of that woman’s life (Jonah Hill as Molly’s son Cyrus) starts planting mental land mines in hopes of reclaiming his territory. But “Cyrus” takes what traditionally is an occasion for loud, broad comedy and tries a little something different with it. Subtle mind games sub in for the usual slapstick and escalation of dirty tricks, and the movie’s sense of humor is dry, psychologically uncomfortable and a bit more raw than the norm. It works, too, because Cyrus isn’t the only character with issues. If anything, when you apply an age/wisdom ratio to all three characters, Molly’s attachment issues and John’s kaleidoscope of neediness and aptitude for emotionally vomiting all over everything arguably leave Cyrus as the most normal of the three. “Cyrus” never loses sight of its sense of humor, but it makes a much bigger deal than normal about really diving into the complications of the situation and paying some respect for what makes these characters as messy as they are. The resulting mix of humor and uncomfortable honesty makes for a very rare breed, and it’s a shame more movies don’t make it look this easy to combine the two. Catherine Keener also stars.
Extra: Deleted scenes (with directors introduction).

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13, 2010, Fox)
It’s insultingly faint praise, but it fits: As long-in-waiting sequels to arguable classics go, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” could have been worse. “Sleeps” doesn’t pretend two decades haven’t passed since its predecessor, and when we reunite with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), we get a glimpse of his sorry 2001 release from prison before jumping forward to 2008. Here, “Sleeps” becomes a product of its time: The markets are melting down, and the sub-prime lending debacle is hurtling investment banks — including the one that employs the man (Shia LaBeouf as Jake) who plans to marry Gordon’s estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan as Winnie) — toward oblivion. The insertion of Gekko into a real-world mess fresh on our minds is much smarter than if “Sleeps” ignored the world around it. But the movie severely gums its own works when Winnie’s estrangement becomes as much a focus of its angst as anything relating to Wall Street, and the script isn’t sure-footed enough to handle both storylines while also giving us the one thing “Wall Street” fans came to see. Amidst all the financial and familial chatter, and in spite of plenty of screen time, Gekko himself feels like an afterthought: His story comes third to those of Winnie and Jake, and his peaks and valleys take too long to arrive and disappear way too quickly to achieve a payoff that should have been a sure thing. As stories about finance go, “Sleeps” is fine. As a 23-years-in-the-making return of an icon, though, it leaves plenty to be desired.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted/extended scenes (with commentary), cast/director interviews, two behind-the-scenes features.

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (NR, 2009, Tribeca Film)
The weird-to-memorable meter isn’t so much a straight line as a bell curve, and it’s entirely possible to go so far overboard on the strange scale that the whole thing just turns into a car crash of white noise. In “The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle,” Dory (Marshall Allman) loses his temper, loses his white collar job, and takes a much lesser job as a janitor at a company that, among other things, has created a prototypical self-heating cookie that warms itself while being eaten. Without spoiling the specifics, the cookies have a pretty unbelievable side effect that leaves Dory and his fellow janitors (Vince Vieluf, Tania Raymonde, Tygh Runyan) completely blindsided. In a calmer movie, that side effect would be more than sufficient enough to carry the story from there. But “Dizzle’s” every notion comes with side effects of their own, and the plot isn’t so much a plot as a vessel for a crazed level of idea-dumping presented with neither a verbal nor audiovisual filter. The level of experimentation and the force of conviction with which it’s delivered makes “Dizzle” fun to watch simply on the strength of spectacle alone. But it’s entirely possible to dismiss “Dizzle” as forgettable self-indulgence while also enjoying it, and with so little to hold onto for any meaningful reason, that’s likely what many will do. Natasha Lyonne also stars.
Extras: Deleted scenes, director interview.

Worth a Mention
— “Futurama: Volume 5” (NR, 2010, Fox): The big news about “Futurama’s” triumphant, fan-fueled resurrection is that there really isn’t any news at all. The episodes that comprise “Futurama’s” sixth season (and, confusingly, fifth DVD volume) arrive nearly seven years after season five wrapped, but the show doesn’t miss a beat. The characters are the same, the voice cast is the same, and most importantly, the writing and imagination that made the show great for five seasons is back on board for season six. “Futurama’s” penchant for strange intergalactic storylines has always resulted in some jokes that land and others that don’t, but in 2010 as in 2003, even a weak episode of this show is better than most shows’ best. Includes 13 episodes (commentary on all, per tradition), plus deleted/extended scenes, a Bender music video, Fry’s animated comic book, a behind-the-scenes feature, a table read and outtakes.
— “Caprica: Season 1.5” (NR, 2010, Universal): Just in case the completely lousy cancellation of “Caprica” wasn’t enough of a smack to the face, how’s this: You’ll have to pay if you want to legally see the show’s final five episodes when others do. SyFy is airing them as a marathon on January 4, so either pony up or plug your ears if you don’t want to be spoiled before then. To the show’s credit, while it ends far too soon, those last five episodes at least provide closure and send it off on a high note. Includes nine episodes, plus commentary, podcast commentaries, deleted scenes and video blogs.