The Girl on the Train (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 112 min.). I have not read the Paula Hawkins bestseller on which the film is based, although I understand it is told by the alternative perspectives of the three main women. Bringing inner monologues to life is always tough in movies. However, the main sin of the film version is it is boring for much of the time, other than a solid performance by Emily Blunt as Rachel Watson, the emotionally damaged and slightly deranged girl on the train.
Rachel's opening narration sets the stage. While she rides the train into the city and back daily, she imagines what life is like for the people in the houses she passes. Much of this imagining she draws in her notebook and much, it turns out, involves Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), who only lives two houses down from where Rachel used to live with her ex-husband (Justin Theroux as Tom Watson). Rachel has been semi-stalking Tom, his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson as Anna Watson) and their young child -- usually during her alcohol binges, which sometimes lead to blackouts. One day, Rachel spies her mystery woman(Megan) kissing a man other than the one Rachel has always seen her with. And then the woman goes missing. Circumstances lead the police, including Allison Janney as Det. Riley, to initially consider Rachel as a suspect, but then their attention turns to Megan's husband (Luke Evans as Scott Hipwell). At this point, Rachel starts meeting with Scott, inserting herself into the investigation.
Bonus material includes 14 deleted or extended scenes (17:38); audio commentary by director Tate Taylor; author Hawkins, Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson discussing the three main characters and adapting the novel for the screen (5:04); and a making-of featurette (11:25). Grade: film and extras 2.5 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
The Whole Truth (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 93 min.). It is never a good sign when the screenwriter decides to go by a pseudonym, particularly if that screenwriter is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. In this case, it is Nicholas Kazan, writer of "Reversal of Fortune." The result is a drab trial film, with hardly any suspense and a twist that could be seen almost from the start. Yet, the film still attracted a strong cast.
Keanu Reeves plays defense attorney Richard Ramsey, who is much too involved in the case socially. He is friends with Loretta Lassiter (Renee Zellweger), whose husband Boone (Jim Belushi is flashbacks) has been stabbed to death, allegedly by his son, Mike (Gabriel Basso), who is 16 but is being tried as an adult. Since confessing at the murder scene, Mike has refused to say a word to anybody, until he demands to be put on the witness chair. Meanwhile, Ramsey's defense of Mike has been a "blame the victim" strategy, revealing how cruel Boone was to his wife and son. The film is not at all compelling and is hardly more than an episode of a procedural TV show. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2 stars
Closet Monster (Strand, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 90 min.). About the only thing I do not like about this film is its title, which is misleading. The film is a psychological study of a gay teenage boy, who has suppressed his true nature after seeing a horrific act of brutality against a supposedly gay teenager when he was very young. It features another outstanding performance by Connor Jessup (also terrific in TV's "American Crime" second season) as Oscar, the central character. In the extra material, writer/director Stephen Dunn points out that that act of brutality is based on a true incident, which happened in the graveyard behind his school. He made the film in and around his hometown of St. John's, Newfoundland.
Oscar comes from a broken home -- his mother (Joanne Kelly as Brin) left his somewhat abusive father (Aaron Abrams as Peter) for a more perfect family in a second marriage. Oscar pours most of his energy into creature make-up design and he wants to study cinema make-up in college in New York City. He has two confidantes in classmate Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf), who shares his like for creature make-up and serves as his model, and Buffy, his hamster which, in a whimsical bit, speaks with the voice of Isabella Rossellini. Oscar has a part-time job, where he encounters his first real gay stirrings, being drawn to Wilder (Aliocha Schneider), who also attends his school. Such as it is, the closet is in Oscar's room and contains much of his mother's clothes -- his father's share of the divorce split of belongings. The film's most intense scene is a showdown between Oscar and his father.
Extras include behind-the-scenes looks at plot and characters, the film's visual nature and the story's origins (10:31 total); and five deleted scenes (7:16). Exclusive to Blu-ray is an interview with Dunn (11:40) that discusses ideas for hamster voice casting, script development, casting and choice in imagery. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars
Roger Corman's Death Race 2050 (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 92 min.). This film is a joke that quickly becomes painful to watch, despite much of the kitsch being intentional. The acting -- what little there is -- is either horrible or way over the top (particularly Malcolm McDowell as The Chairman). And the film appears to have had a budget in the low thousands of dollars. It is cheap looking.
Technically, it is a reboot of Corman's "Death Race 2000" in which the United Corporations of America sponsors a transcontinental road race in which points are awarded for running over people: 10 points for adults, 20 points per child and 50 points for a senior citizen. There are only a handful of racers, the familiar one being Frankenstein (Manu Bennett), who early on decides to discard his mask. The other drivers are Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey), who has inspired her own religion; Minerva Jefferson (Folake Olowofoyeku), who also doubles as a singer; Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), who is all ego; and ABE, a self-driving car. Each human driver has a co-pilot equipped with virtual reality broadcasting so at-home viewers can experience the race as if they were in one of the cars. Frankenstein's co-pilot is Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller).
In between this film and the original, there have been two action-oriented sequels, which at least were watchable. This is too over-the-top, even for me. Extras include a making-of (10:16); a look at the cars (4:33); the five drivers giving brief tours of their cars (8:30; actually interesting); 10 deleted scenes (5:35); and a featurette on the film's look and filming in South America (6:29). Grade: film dog; extras 2 stars
Homeland: The Complete Fifth Season (Fox, 3 Blu-ray or 4 standard DVDs, TV-MA, 631 min.). For this season, Carrie Mathison (an always solid, fascinating Claire Danes) has left her CIA career behind. She is now raising her daughter in Berlin, where she has a new boyfriend (Alexander Fehling as attorney Jonas Hollander) and a job as head of security for the Düring Foundation. However, her CIA past will not leave her behind, especially after her boss (Sebastian Koch as Otto Düring) decides to make a charitable donation for food and medical supplies at a refugee camp near the Syrian-Lebanese border. During that visit, there is an assassination attempt in which it turns out Carrie was the real target. Meanwhile Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) has been in Syria for 28 months. Now Saul Berman (Mandy Patinkin), the CIA's European Division chief, has Quinn operating as an assassin out of Berlin and his latest target is Quinn.
Another plot line has two German hackers steal 1,361 CIA files. The first file is publicized by Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic), a dissident U.S. journalist who also works for the Düring Foundation, and it reveals that the German government is using the CIA to spy on German residents who might be Jihadist terrorists, as German law forbids governmental spying on civilians. The show remains compelling, especially when Carrie goes off her bipolar meds so she can discover who is setting her up. There even is another surprise deceased guest return, although it is not Brody this time.
Bonus features include a look at the development of Carrie's character over time (10:56) and a look at setting the season in Berlin (9:30). Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars
Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete Series (2001-05, CBS/Paramount, 27 DVDs, NR, 70 hours 26 min.). While set in the 22nd century, a hundred years before Capt. James T. Kirk had his five-year mission on a starship of the same name, "Enterprise" is actually the fifth and final Star Trek series until now. It takes place in an era when interstellar travel is still in its infancy, as the Enterprise is the first starship with warp 4.5 capability. Much is made of how the Vulcans had been keeping mankind's space exploration in check for one hundred or so years.
Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) leads a crew of 82 that includes Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley of "TURN: Washington's Spies"), Cmdr. Charles "Trip" Tucker III (Connor Trinneer), Vulcan Sub-Cmdr T-Pol (Jolene Blalock), Lt. Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), Ensign Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), Ensign Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) and Ensign Tanner (Evan English). In the 86-minute, double-episode pilot, Archer and the Enterprise launch on their first mission, to bring a wounded Klingon back to his home planet. In addition to mankind's first encounter with the Klingons, the episode introduces phase pistols (soon to be known as phasers) and the first human transporter use. En route, they are attacked by the Suliban, chameleon-like creatures who are taking orders from the future. Season three has an overall story arc about the Xindi.
The set includes all four seasons of the entertaining show and many extra features. For the pilot, there are three deleted scenes, audio commentary by co-creator Brannon Braga and Rick Berman, and text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuta. The Okutas also do text commentary on episodes "The Andorian Incident" and Vox Sola" in season one; "Stigma" and "First Flight" in season two; "The Xindi," "Impulse" and "Countdown" in season three; and "The Forge" and "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II" in season four. There is at least one deleted scenes, and sometimes several, for 24 of the episodes. Michael Sussman and Phyllis Strong do audio commentary on season two's "Dead Stop" and "Regeneration." Writer-executive producer Manny Coto does commentary on season three's "Similitude" and assistant director Mike DeMerill does commentary on "North Star." Three season four episodes feature commentary by writer Sussman and others. Additionally, season one has eight featurettes; season two, six featurettes and a photo gallery; season three, five featurettes and a photo gallery; and season four, seven featurettes and a photo gallery.
Interestingly, the now-available DVD set has the episodes presented in widescreen format. The 24-disc Blu-ray release -- exclusive to Best Buy through Feb. 13 -- presents the episodes in fullscreen format, but does come with more audio choices (German and Italian 5.1 Surround; French, Castilian and Japanese Stereo Surround) and subtitle choices (all the above languages, plus Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish). Grade: complete series 3.5 stars; extras 4 stars