36th Precinct (NR, 2004, Palisades Tartan)
A single gang of thieves has run up the score on the Paris police force, piling up seven robberies and nine kills and leaving the cops with little more than a few leads to show for their effort. When all other methods fail, two lieutenants (Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu as Léo Vrinks and Denis Klein, respectively) receive the ultimate carrot on a stick: Whoever stops the gang first gets to be the next chief of police. As you might guess, the two cops’ methods and means differ, which feeds into a rivalry that was visibly contentious before and now looks ready to blow at the first sign of a lit match. But “36th Precinct’s” best trick is the way it uses Denis and Léo’s not-quite-common enemy to really mess things up. The crooks and the cops share ties that aren’t terribly neat, and those ties don’t necessarily fall in line with everything else you know about our two lieutenants. “Precinct” sets its story over several years instead of weeks or months, and it fills that timeline with enough developments (some predictable, some surprising, but almost all some degree of satisfying) to make the final scene feel like the end of a great television series run instead of a feature-length movie. It’s inevitable almost from the start how “Precinct’s” final scene will at least partly look, but that doesn’t make it any less engrossing when we finally get there. In French with English subtitles, but an English dub is available.
Extras: Half-hour making-of documentary, two additional behind-the-scenes features, director interview.
How to Fold a Flag (NR, 2009, Virgil Films)
At this point, it’s unreasonable to praise or pan “How to Fold a Flag” as a movie in a vacuum. Rather, “Flag” is part of a larger collage, the latest collection of stories about Iraq veterans and what happens to them when they return home from their service. As vertical slices go, the four that comprise “Flag” are potent (and surprisingly diverse) examples of the frustrating cycle that ensnares many soldiers as they return to a life of little money, few means, few prosperous avenues and an alarming amount of baggage to overcome en route to some kind of normalcy. As you might guess, “Flag” sometimes gets a little political and sometimes reaches for arguable generalizations to make its points. But because “Flag” removes narrators and storytellers from the production and leaves the entirety of the speaking to its subjects and their loved ones, it can get away with (and even justify) that. And while the overriding themes expressed here have been expressed elsewhere by numerous media that tackled the same subject, there’s no such thing as a story with too many perspectives when those perspectives are borne out of first-person accounts. Even if you’ve heard it all before and even if you don’t believe all that you’ve heard, there’s gravity in a person telling the story of his own downfall while cameras indiscriminately roll and untold numbers of people watch. No extras.
Monogamy (NR, 2010, Oscilloscope)
You’ve seen stories about married couples — perhaps even ones you know — who struggle with the encroaching fear that all the excitement and mystery life has to offer them has passed them by. But what about a couple that has yet to even swap vows? That’s the story with Nat (Rashida Jones) and Theo (Chris Messina), who are rather happily engaged as “Monogamy” kicks off but slowly let the cracks show as the minutes tick by. Theo lets his doubts shine in through a weird curiosity about (some might say obsession with) a client (Meital Dohan) he meets in his work as a photographer. His curiosity leads to Nat’s insecurity, which leads to curiosities of her own, and when you throw in a film-wide theme about misfired tact and misplaced intimacy, we suddenly find ourselves in trouble here. As portrayals of growing commitmentphobia go, “Monogamy” ventures a bit overboard, delving a little too willingly in light melodrama that mushrooms out of proportion with what’s happening on screen. But the alignment is never so off as to feel outrageous, so “Monogamy” plays more like an exaggerated but still plausible dramatization than something completely incredible. Given the way it stays grounded in some kind of authenticity without ever growing dull — and given how few movies in this space can hold that note without losing it and going on tilt — that’s probably as good a balance as can be expected.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, music video, copy of the screenplay.
Battle: Los Angeles (PG-13, 2011, Sony Pictures)
Honestly, what is there to say? If you’ve seen even a single commercial for “Battle: Los Angeles,” and have any reasonable gift of perception, you would be rock-hard-pressed to be surprised by anything that happens in the 115 minutes not shown in that ad. Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has just been given his retirement papers. Unfortunately, he’s getting them just as a cluster of what appears to be meteors lands off the coast of Los Angeles and reveals itself to be an invading alien force bent on colonizing the planet. So Michael’s back in battle — which is a problem for some of his underlings, who don’t trust him because of a prior failed mission that, even with the specifics left out, clearly left a few soldiers dead on his watch. At this point, “Battle’s” hand is too deep in the cliche cookie jar to come loose, and what follows is a roll call of themes, characters and twists you’ve seen in action movies and parodies of action movies alike. In “Battle’s” defense, it’s never offensively bad, and it never punishes you with obnoxious baditude or cloying cheesiness. Additionally, the action scenes at least look like real action with real people in real environments instead of excessively rendered computer graphics faux-pulverizing each other. Perhaps if that action served a story with something to say, it’d make for a pretty arresting show. But “Battle,” which is perfectly content to meet standards in every way and exceed them in precisely none, has no such aspirations.
Extras: 19 behind-the-scenes features (most only available on the Blu-ray), demo for “Resistance 3” for Playstation 3 (Blu-ray only).
Hall Pass: Enlarged Edition (R, 2011, Warner Bros.)
Rick (Owen Wilson) has committed yet another act of stupidity that, while fairly benign, has added more ammo to wife Maggie’s (Jenna Fischer) belief that he’s just a little too wistful for his days as a single, free man. On the advice of a friend, Maggie decides to grant Rick a hall pass — one week off of marriage, with no strings attached. Rick’s friend Fred (Jason Sudeikis) gets the same deal from wife Grace (Christina Applegate), and off we go into an adventure that pulls off the tricky feat of being totally implausible and rather predictably dull at the same time. “Hall Pass” never becomes hard to watch, and there are some funny moments here and there. But when a post-credit roll scene involving a barely-used supporting character (Stephen Merchant) is the movie’s funniest scene by 10 lengths, something’s wrong. “Pass” twists exactly how you expect it to twist, its jokes rarely aim much higher, and a plot idea with endless comic potential finds itself stuck inside what may as well be a not-so-special episode of an elongated sitcom.
Extras: Extended cut of the film, deleted scenes, bloopers.
Worth a Mention
— “Jackass 3.5: The Unrated Movie” (NR, 2011, Paramount): Like they did with “Jackass 2.5,” the gang knows better than to leave “Jackass 3’s” too-hot-for-the-MPAA bits on the cutting room floor. Instead, “Jackass 3.5” rounds up those scenes and builds a whole new movie out of them. It would have been awesome, of course, if “3.5’s” scenes were included as part of the “Jackass 3” DVD’s bonus content. But it’s a
feature-length (84 minutes) movie and includes its own bonus content (deleted scenes, outtakes, European tour footage and a behind-the-scenes feature), so it earns its keep as a standalone product.
— “Midnight Movie: The Killer Cut” (R, 2008, Bigfoot Ascendant): The cult 2008 movie, about a midnight movie house that comes under attack when the killer from the film its playing comes out of the screen to terrorize the patrons, gets the director’s cut treatment and then some — enhanced visuals, undeleted scenes, extended scenes and all. If you’ve never seen (or, understandably, never heard of) one of 2008’s better horror films, this is a terrific way to rectify that. Other extras include director commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes and five behind-the-scenes features.