WASHINGTON STATE: Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli (Photo: Warner)
THE BOOK OF ELI (2010). Talk about apocalypse now. If there's one positive thing to be said about the recent glut of end-of-the-world tales, it's that the batting average in terms of quality has been on the winning side. Certainly, 2012 was a stinker, but The Road, Zombieland and The Book of Eli have all been compelling watches, each for different reasons. In the case of The Book of Eli, the first film directed by The Hughes Brothers since 2001's criminally underrated Johnny-Depp-meets-Jack-the-Ripper movie From Hell, it's the potent religious slant that makes it intriguing. Thirty years after a war that wiped out most of the world's population, only one Bible remains in existence. The righteous Eli (Denzel Washington) owns it, planning to use it for good; the despicable Carnegie (Gary Oldman) wants it, planning to use it to forward his own insidious agenda (no mention in Gary Whitta's script as to whether Carnegie is related to Pat Robertson). Admittedly, the spiritual stuff often takes a back seat to sequences of Eli slicing and dicing his way through hordes of sinners. But Washington provides the proper amount of gravitas to his role, and the surprise ending almost matches the denouement of The Sixth Sense as an audience grabber.
There are no extras on the standard DVD included in the Blu-ray combo pack (which was sent for review).
MYSTERY TRAIN (1989). In one of his finest films, writer-director Jim Jarmusch illustrates how Elvis Presley the myth can eclipse the notion of Elvis Presley the man and even Elvis Presley the rock star. Mystery Train explores this idea with a trio of vignettes, all centered around a seedy Memphis hotel overseen by a flashy night clerk (scene-stealing Screamin' Jay Hawkins) and his wary bellboy (Cinque Lee, Spike's little brother). The first part follows a Japanese couple (Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase) as they arrive to visit Graceland and Sun Studios; the second installment focuses on an Italian widow (Nicoletta Braschi) who hears an Elvis ghost story and then has an actual spiritual encounter herself; and the final sequence looks at the misadventures of three lowlifes (Steve Buscemi, Rick Aviles and The Clash's Joe Strummer), one of whom is an unhappy British fellow nicknamed Elvis. Structurally inventive (a bullet shot can be heard near the end of each segment, making us aware that all are taking place simultaneously), this unique film is further enhanced by Robbie Muller's color cinematography, which is often so visually desolate that you'll later swear this was presented in black and white.
DVD extras include a 69-minute audio piece in which Jarmusch answers fans' questions about the picture; 18 minutes of excerpts from the 2001 documentary Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me; and a photo gallery.