The first of two films released in 2008 directed by Clint Eastwood, “Changeling” didn’t do as well at the box office as “Gran Torino,” which has become one of Eastwood’s all-time biggest hits. But “Changeling” fared much better with Oscar voters, who awarded it three nominations, for Best Actress (for Angelina Jolie), Cinematography and Art Direction. Take that, “Torino.”
All three nods are well deserved. The cinematography by Tom Stern looks particularly striking on the Blu-ray version of the film (Universal Home Entertainment, $40; also on DVD, $30), and the subtle, highly detailed art direction helps sell what could have felt a bit anachronistic: Magazine cover fixture Jolie, an actress synonymous with the here and now, playing a single mother in 1928 Los Angeles.
Jolie is excellent as Christine Collins, the woman who comes home after work one day to discover her young son is missing. After a months-long search, the authorities claim to have found the boy, but when the pair is reunited, Collins insists the kid the cops have found is not her son. And no one believes her.
“Changeling” is based on a true, horrible story, and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski strove scrupulously to remain faithful to the facts. But there are several plot turns that still seem exaggerated, such as the way the LAPD tried to silence Collins’ persistent claims that her son was still missing by sticking her into a psychiatric ward, hoping the public would forget about her.
“Changeling” hasn’t even reached the midfilm point by the time that scene takes place. This is an uncommonly eventful and twisting tale, and Eastwood’s unhurried, straightforward approach to story is a good match for the material, which might have come off as completely preposterous if directed in a more hysterical style.
The DVD and Blu-ray versions are disappointingly light on extras, with a tantalizing brief (13-minute) featurette, “Partners in Crime: Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie,” in which the two filmmakers discuss their experiences on the set together, and a five-minute look at the design of the costumes Jolie wears in the film.
The Blu-ray disc also offers another half-hour’s worth of on-set interviews and making-of footage, along with newspaper articles and photographs of the real-life case, which can be viewed via a picture-in-picture window.
‘MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN’
Originally scheduled for release across 3,000 theaters May 16, “The Midnight Meat Train” (Lionsgate, $30 DVD, $40 Blu-ray) was instead dumped into 100 multiplexes in late summer - many of them dollar bargain theaters - where it grossed a whopping $83,000.
Usually, this sort of ignominious treatment is reserved for movies so bad that even the people who put up the money to make them don’t want to show them in public. But “The Midnight Meat Train,” which was adapted from a Clive Barker short story by Japanese filmmaker Ryuhei Kitamura (“Versus,” “Alive”) is not one of those pictures. A grimly efficient, moody and genuinely disturbing exercise in hardcore, not-for-the-kiddies horror, the movie centers on a New York City freelance photographer (Bradley Cooper, from TV’s “Alias”) whose quest for snapshots showing the city at its truest, rawest form leads him into the bowels of the subway system.
There, each night, a sharply dressed man (Vinnie Jones) boards a late-night, sparsely populated train and methodically murders everyone aboard with the use of a gigantic meat hammer (among other things). The premise may sound ridiculous, but the way Kitamura films it, the viewers wind up as intrigued as the photographer, eager to find out exactly who this lunatic is, why he’s doing what he’s doing, and where exactly all those corpses are ending up.
Barker, who produced the film, has few peers in the genre of fantastical horror, and part of the fun in “The Midnight Meat Train” is gradually discovering the full dimension of the story’s central conceit, which is much more ambitious and expansive than your garden-variety horror flick. This movie is astonishing dark and often brutal: Although he appears to have given up writing horror novels, at least Barker is still bringing it in his movies.
“The Midnight Meat Train” is probably too extreme to have caught on with mainstream audience, but it is certainly not deserving of the treatment it received from distributor Lionsgate. On a commentary track accompanying the film, Barker and Ryuhei delve into precise detail as to why the movie was buried and who was responsible. It’s an uncommonly candid and critical track, especially since they are blasting the same company that is putting out the DVD, but it provides a rare opportunity to listen to a first-hand account of the shenanigans that permeate Hollywood boardrooms, straight from two people who suffered through them.
The Blu-ray disc faithfully reproduces Ryuhei’s steely color palette, Fincheresque shadows and copious gore (this is one of the most violent movies ever intended for theatrical distribution), and it includes a smattering of featurettes, including a 15-minute profile on Barker that concentrates largely on his decision to become a painter at the age of 45, a 10-minute dissection of the film’s most gruesome murder scene, and a four-minute look at the filmmakers’ intent to turn Jones’ character into a new horror icon, a la Jason or Freddy. They certainly struck out there, but “The Midnight Meat Train” should develop a nice cult following on home video.