Video Verdict: ‘Salt,’ ‘Easy A,’ ‘Devil,’ ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’

Angelina Jolie plays a mysterious secret agent in the action-thriller “Salt.”

This week’s home video releases cover a lot of ground, ranging from a mainstream horror film to an action-adventure featuring Angelina Jolie.

 

Salt
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Angelina Jolie is no stranger to action films, and she’s added another good one to her resume. In “Salt,” she portrays American CIA agent Evelyn Salt, a skilled spy who has decided to trade field missions for married life. Before she can exit the game, however, a potential Russian defector accuses her of being a double agent.

Suddenly distrusted, Evelyn goes on the run, a move that makes her look guilty and causes even viewers to question her loyalty. That’s the beauty of “Salt.” Director Phillip Noyce (“The Quiet American,” “Patriot Games”) keeps the audience guessing throughout the picture. Is Evelyn loyal to the U.S.? You have to watch to get the answer.

Despite the mystery, it’s hard not to root for Evelyn as she fights both to evade the CIA and find her husband, who she believes is in grave danger. Most of Noyce’s films – even the thrillers – are thoughtful and realistic, but he pulls out all the stops here, delivering a movie that is pure action from start to finish. That’s not to say the film is plot-free. Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer has come up with enough story points to keep things interesting, but he’s also careful not to get in the way of the main selling point: big, bold stunt sequences that allow Jolie to show off her athleticism.

The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a Deluxe Unrated Edition Blu-ray and Deluxe Unrated Edition DVD. Both deluxe sets feature the theatrical cut of the film plus an unrated director’s cut and unrated extended cut. Extra features vary.

 

 

Easy A
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Last week’s Golden Globe nominations brought a number of surprises, one of the more pleasant ones being a nod to Emma Stone for her starring turn in “Easy A.” Stone’s nomination for best performance by an actress in a musical or comedy is deserved because the success or failure of the picture was placed squarely on her shoulders … and she delivered.

Stone plays Olive, a high school good girl who sees her life upended by a simple lie. As an excuse to get out of a weekend trip, Olive tells her friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) that she has a date with a college guy. Asked to give details, she says that they slept together.

The lie immediately reaches the wrong ears and, within days, Olive has a reputation as the school slut. Since she was previously invisible, she actually warms to the extra attention. Then, male classmates approach her, asking if she’ll pretend she slept with them to better their reputations. Because she feels sorry for them and doesn’t see any harm, she agrees. What Olive doesn’t anticipate is that rumors of her promiscuity will get wildly out of hand.

The tone of “Easy A” is light and funny, but director Will Gluck makes sure it addresses serious topics, like the danger of feeding the gossip mill and people’s extraordinary willingness to kick others when they’re down. Stone’s excellent lead performance is bolstered by fine supporting turns from Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow and Stanley Tucci.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include footage from Stone’s audition, a gag reel and an audio commentary by Stone and Gluck.

 

 

Devil
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, thematic material and some language including sexual references
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

In “Devil,” an unseen narrator tells us that Satan sometimes visits Earth with the sole purpose of torturing doomed souls before carting them off to Hell. Then, the movie provides an example of that scenario in tight, suspenseful fashion.

The setup sees five strangers trapped in an elevator within a Philadelphia skyscraper. Their dilemma seems nothing more than a frustrating inconvenience until strange and violent things begin to happen, leaving them with nobody to blame but each other.

Viewers witness the peril both from within the elevator and through the eyes of a police detective (Chris Messina) who is called in when things get too strange for building security. Director John Erick Dowdle does a nice job keeping things suspenseful and interesting, which couldn’t have been easy since much of the action is limited to a tiny, contained space.

“Sixth Sense” director M. Night Shyamalan came up with the story and served as a producer on the film. One has to wonder if he’s wishing he was more involved because “Devil” is not only an entertaining horror flick, it’s considerably better than the last three films directed by Shyamalan himself.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a couple shorts related to the film and a bit where Shyamalan discusses one of his new projects.

 

 

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Considering the financial troubles facing the U.S. today, it’s an appropriate time for director Oliver Stone to follow up on his terrific 1987 drama “Wall Street.” “Money Never Sleeps” begins with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the charismatic villain of the first picture, completing a jail sentence for insider trading and securities fraud.

Gekko’s debt is not, however, clear in the eyes of his daughter, a crusading Internet journalist named Winnie (Carey Mulligan). She has learned to despise the man because she believes his inadequacies led to her brother’s suicide. Oddly enough, Winnie is engaged to another successful Wall Street type. His name is Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), and he begins to cultivate a secret relationship with Gekko.

As the film progresses, it details Gekko’s attempts to reconnect with his daughter and Jake’s efforts to make a difference in the increasingly corrupt world of big business. The film is timely, and Stone does a nice job with the character drama.

Although a success overall, “Money Never Sleeps” has some failings, particularly when detailing the financial exploits of Jake, Gekko and ruthless corporate raider Bretton James (Josh Brolin). The issues broached are so complicated – and Stone breezes by them so quickly – that it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on. Attentive viewers will likely be able to work past this flaw, and once they do there’s a lot to enjoy about this trip down Wall Street.

DVD and Blu-ray extras are anchored by an audio commentary from Stone.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Step Up 3”: This third installment of the “Step Up” franchise focuses on competition between two street dance squads. As usual, the dance sequences are the major selling point. The movie is being released in a variety of home video formats, including Blu-ray 3D. Directed by Jon M. Chu.

“The Secret Life of the American Teenager” — Volume Five: This set includes the first 14 installments from season three of the cable television drama about teen parenthood and the pressures of negotiating high school. Molly Ringwald and Shailene Woodley star.

“Soul Kitchen”: German comedy about a restaurant owner trying to keep his struggling eatery afloat. The movie, which landed two prizes at the Venice Film Festival, is presented in German with English subtitles.

“The Heavy”: Crime drama focused on the rivalry between two brothers. The film stars Vinnie Jones (“Swordfish”), Christopher Lee (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Gary Stretch (“Black Ops”), Stephen Rea (“V for Vendetta”) and Shannyn Sossamon (“The Rules of Attraction”). Written and directed by Marcus Warren.

“Beautiful Kate”: Drama about a man (Ben Mendelsohn) who returns home after two decades to make peace with his dying father (Bryan Brown). Before that can happen, however, he must come to terms with troubling events in his family’s past. Maeve Dermody, Sophie Lowe and Rachel Griffiths also star.

“Map of the Sounds of Tokyo”: Foreign thriller about a contract killer (Rinko Kikuchi) who falls in love with her intended mark (Sergi Lopez). Directed by Isabel Coixet and presented in Japanese and English with English subtitles.

 

 

Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Video Verdict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s