Alongside the recent “21 Jump Street,” when Jonah Hill’s film canon is reflected upon in a generation hence, perhaps the other movie that will be cited as most reflective of his sensibility is not “Superbad” (too early in his nascent career) or “Moneyball” (a breakthrough, for sure, but first and foremost a Brad Pitt film) but “The Sitter,” a shaggy and willfully crude reworking of “Adventures in Babysitting” built around the naughty charm of Hill, who takes an executive producer credit and no doubt helped brush up the screenplay.
Hill stars as Noah, a listless suburban slacker who, after being guilted into watching a trio of kids so his single mom can get a rare night out, finds himself desperately trying to score some drugs so the self-centered party girl that he’s been digging out (Ari Graynor) with no benefit of returned favor will finally open up her legs. An “After Hours”-type panoply of insane set pieces and antics ensues, and when one of his adolescent charges steals and accidentally destroys a cache of cocaine, Noah is stuck trying to scrape together enough cash to pay back a zonked-out drug dealer, Karl (Sam Rockwell), who, while not trying to kill him, also kind of really wants to be his friend.
Director David Gordon Green is a long way from the filmmaker cineastes were likely hoping he’d become after “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls,” but “The Sitter” slots in comfortably enough alongside the similarly anarchic “Pineapple Express” as a comedy that — while certainly heightened and over-the-top — is also steadfastly true to character. It isn’t believable, really, and the burgeoning love story the movie foists upon us (in which Noah realizes the shortcomings of the girl who won’t call him her boyfriend and randomly comes across and falls for an old college classmate) is distracting and kind of an insult to boot. But there’s mondo heart here and a certain zonked-out charm, as well as some wonderfully bonkers production design and settings — like the bizarro lair of Karl, in which male bodybuilders play chess with giant pieces, as others lounge about smoking crack while watching “Mr. Belvedere.” Hill is the glue that keeps everything together, bringing a roguish wit to the table and ably embodying a socially awkward loafer pushed too far.
“The Sitter” comes to home video in what is billed as a “Totally Irresponsible” Blu-ray/DVD combo pack edition, which features both the originbal R-rated theatrical version of the movie and an unrated cut that is about three minutes longer. The Blu-ray transfer, in 1080p high definition with an English 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track, looks quite good, and is free of edge enhancement or any artifacting issues. Bonus features are anchored by 26 minutes of deleted or extended scenes, which showcase more Brooklyn party footage, more of Karl’s aforementioned back room, and a longer opening sequence between Hill and Graynor.
Next up is an alternate ending, a self-effacing faux-featurette in which Hill attempts to work his producer credit to his sexual advantage with the parents of the film’s adolescent cast, and a two-minute-plus gag reel in which overhead birds, hiccups and fumbled lines all disturb the flow of filming. There’s also three-plus minutes of improvisational outtakes, in which Wham and Stray Cats get shout-outs and J.B. Smoove makes mention of sexual docking. Finally, a 15-minute making-of featurette finds director Green talking about wanting to work with both kids and Hill in a foul-mouthed comedy, while Hill lays down the law regarding on-set farting. A digital copy of the movie is also included, alongside various preview trailers.
A documentary about a blind man who helps children through the wonder of sound and music may sound a bit like a tedious chore, the cinematic equivalent of some fibrous cereal, but Nicola Bellucci’s surprisingly artful “In the Garden of Sounds” is a tender and poetic documentary that assays the latent magic of our sensory perception. Awed by the restorative power of music, central subject Wolfgang Fasser — blind from an early age — establishes a special therapeutic retreat for disabled children, where the sonic vibrations prove not merely soothing, but also help awaken and enliven contorted and comatose bodies. In the touching twilight space between symphonic uplift and silence, debut director Bellucci seemingly locates distilled elements of the human soul. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, “In the Garden of Sounds” comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, in Italian and Swiss with English subtitles. Bonus footage consists of a resource guide, filmmaker biography, and a short, special featurette tracking more of Fasser’s travels. For more information, visit www.FirstRunFeatures.com.
For music fans, a spate of great concert DVDs are out there, capably helmed and assembled by director Joe Thomas. Capturing the energy of live performances is its own certain art, and industry veteran Thomas is able to convey the basic feeling and nuance of a space (and its crowd) without resulting to over-kinetic visual gimmicks and shortchanging the actual music. “Steve Winwood: Live in Concert” serves up a collection of the musician’s high-spirited melodies spanning almost four decades, including mega-Billboard hit “Back in the High Life Again.” At nearly two hours, “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Live in Concert” gives a nice overview of the 15-times platinum singer-songwriter’s canon, including “I Won’t Back Down,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” the propulsive “You Wreck Me,” and more. Recorded at the historic Genessee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois, “Ringo Starr and the Roundheads: Live” doesn’t delve deeply into the Beatles’ songbook, and feels too slim, at only a hour; but there are nice cuts of “Yellow Submarine,” “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Photograph,” as well as an intriguing version of “Who Can It Be Now?” with special guest Colin Hay. Chris Isaak’s “Live in Concert,” meanwhile, is the best, offering up two separate and great concerts that span his hits (“Wicked Game,” “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing”) while also giving a nice overview of his entire catalogue, dating back to “San Francisco Days.” Hell, there’s even a new concert disc for Peter Cetera, too. All the aforementioned titles from Image Entertainment come in 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio for 16×9 televisions (apart from a full-screen version of Isaak’s “Greatest Hits Live”), with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks so you can deliver some payback for the incessant yapping of your neighbor’s irritating dog.
Between “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and other shows over the last several years, AMC has put HBO and other networks on notice that it’s a major player in the game with unusual, quality serial dramas. All of that accrued goodwill almost blew up in their face last year with “The Killing,” an adaptation of a Danish series that got out of the gates strongly, with nearly universal critical praise, but became the poster series for social media backlash when it muffed things with a finale that failed to answer the season-long murder mystery around which its entire advertising campaign was built (“Who killed Rosie Larsen?), and in fact introduced a grander conspiracy that will drag on for the entire sophomore frame. (The series returns on April 1, with a two-hour-long season opener.) It’s as if no one in marketing remembered the slackening intrigue from “Twin Peaks” — which was far less explicitly billed as solely a whodunit — and the fatal audience blow it was delivered when it failed to wrap things in a timely fashion, and move on to other mysteries.
The narrative here centers around Seattle cops Linden and Holder (Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, respectively), who are investigating the shocking murder of a young girl. They whittle their way down to a powerful prime suspect, Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), a city councilman running for mayor, but, naturally, all is not all that it seems. The blundering of its (temporary) end game notwithstanding, there’s a lot to like about “The Killing,” chiefly its lead performance from Enos. The gloomy weather and spot-on production design feed the downbeat tone, and if the grungy Kinnaman cuts a less convincingly authoritative or intellectual figure, that’s partly by design. The grieving parent strands are boilerplate, and play a lot less strongly than the political and homicidal intrigue, but a strong two-thirds of a narrative triangle is still, by the numbers, a pretty good thing.
The four-disc DVD presentation of the first season of “The Killing” is certainly attractive. Apart from all thirteen episodes — including a longer-by-three-minutes version of the finale, “Orpheus Descending,” with optional audio commentary from the erudite Enos — the set, packaged with dual snap-set trays, includes 13 minutes of deleted scenes and a five-minute gag reel which spotlights line flubs and a car trunk that won’t close, and ends with Kinnaman and Enos hamming it up with fake gold teeth. There’s also a fairly solid 17-minute making-of featurette, built around interviews with show runner Veena Sud, in which she, producer Kristen Campo, writer Dawn Prestwich and others talk about how it was necessary to craft/select a different killer than the Danish series. Some more material with some of the episode’s directors (inclusive of “Monster” helmer Patty Jenkins), however, would have been a welcome inclusion.
In much the same way that “Tomcats” will always (unfortunately) hold a spot in my memory as the movie in which David Ogden Stiers ingests a human testicle, so too will “The Legend of Awesomest Maximus” be a film I recall — in this case for a scene in which ex-“Beverly Hills 90210” doofus Ian Ziering is so thoroughly and deeply racked in the nuts that his balls literally come up his throat and out of his mouth.
Now does that represent a pinnacle of cinematic achievement? No, no it does not. But, hey, it’s something which I can’t lay claim to ever having seen before on screen, and in the gross-out/spoof subgenre race for significance, that means something. A National Lampoon’s-minted send-up of “300,” “Troy,” “Gladiator” and other sword-and-sandals epics, “Awesomest Maximus” benefits from the casting of its oafish title character in the form of Will Sasso. A slacker general spurred into action by his ambitious wife Hotessa (Kristanna Loken), Awesomest is dispatched by King Looney of Troy (Rip Torn) to maintain an uneasy peace with the rival king of Greece. All manner of referential juvenalia ensues, but director Jeff Kanew (“Revenge of the Nerds”) keeps the pacing slick and streamlined, and the production value is fairly solid for a comedy of this scale. Presented on Blu-ray in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p high-definition with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, “Awesomest Maximus” unfortunately contains no bonus features, save the obligatory trailer and dozen chapter stops under a motion menu. For a straight-to-video title of this sort, that’s basically a venal sin; off-the-cuff drinking-game audio commentaries and silly featurettes were created for movies like this.
An intriguing premise gets a fairly pedestrian execution in “The Dead,” a South African zombie flick which details a sub-continental war between the living and the living dead. Crashing on an evacuation flight, an American Air Force engineer, Brian (Rob Freeman), stumbles into the jungle and finally crosses paths with Daniel (Prince David Osei), whose village has been overrun by zombies. Reluctantly teaming up, they set out to stay alive and try to get back to their respective families.
The juxtaposition of setting and genre gives “The Dead” some life early on, but unfortunately the movie’s characterizations — both living and dead — are under-sketched, giving it a fairly lifeless, programmatic, paint-by-numbers feeling. If co-writer/directors Howard and Jon Ford prove themselves less than inspired with the pen, their action stagings and the rest of the movie’s production design and effects work is actually quite solid. Grading on a cruve, thusly, this one merits a passing mark, but only by a bit. “The Dead” comes to Blu-ray in non-anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p high-definition, with a TrueHD 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Bonus features come by way of a short featurette with some behind-the-scenes footage, a feature-length audio commentary track with the Fords, and just a couple minutes of relatively inessential deleted scenes.
Steady, processional emotional manipulation of an entirely different sort from “The Dead” arrives with “Decision,” a Dove.org-stamped, faith-based family film from the producers of “What Would Jesus Do?,” starring country music star Billy Dean and singer Natalie Grant. When she begins to lose control of her heartbroken teenage son Jackson (Michael Rosenbaum) after the death of her firefighter husband, Ilene (Grant) reaches out to her estranged father Wyatt (Rusty Whitener) to instill in Jackson the virtues of hard work and Christian values. Head-butting ensues, before Jackson dutifully comes around, of course. That Ilene’s own estrangement from her father is not really delved into substantively but instead handled patly is but one of many incongruities or avoidances of grey present in this movie, which sidesteps gritty, real-world complication in favor of neatly structured dramatic catharsis. For the choir, this sermon connects fine; others, however, will yearn for nuance. “Decision” comes to DVD in a standard plastic Amaray case, presented in 1.78:1 widescreen enhanced for 16×9 televisions. Apart from chapter stops, a Bible study guide for church and home group study is the only other bonus feature included. One could order and view “Decision” as penance for “The Dead,” perhaps.
Written by: Brent Simon