Chris Rock and Max Minghella star in “Spiral: From the Book of Saw.”
Chris Rock and Max Minghella star in “Spiral: From the Book of Saw.”

Spiral: From the Book of Saw (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or DVD, R, 93 min.). Although the filmmakers keep insisting in the extras that this is not a “Saw” movie, they tacked on “From the Book of Saw” to its title. The funny thing is, though, that the film could have removed all references to “Saw” without hardly changing the film. Certainly, it is the “Saw” film with the most star power, with both Samuel L. Jackson and executive producer Chris Rock in the film, starring alongside Max Minghella and Marisol Nichols. It was Rock who approached the other filmmakers, saying he wanted to do a “Saw” film.

Chris Rock is Chris Rock here, loud, brash and a bit obnoxious – the very qualities that make me dislike him as an actor. He tries to bring a bit of levity to the proceedings, especially in the first half hour when interacting with his new partner, rookie detective William Schenk (Minghella of TV’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”), but, as usual, I found his comedy a bit forced and not that funny. The story does have a decent mystery to it, but like most “Saw” movies, the violence is excessive, with a lot of ripping off of body parts. The film barely avoided an NC-17 rating.

Rock (“The Longest Yard,” “Head of State”) plays Det. Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks, whose life at work has been hellish since he turned in a fellow detective (Patrick McManus as Peter Dunleavy) for killing a man he was questioning. Things got so bad that one day, when Zeke radioed for help, his call was ignored, resulting in him being shot. Zeke’s father, Marcus Banks (Jackson of “Pulp Fiction,” “Snakes on a Plane”), is the former head of the detectives. That position is now filled by Capt. Angie Garza (Nichols of TV’s “Riverdale”).

The first murder has a detective lured to an underground subway tunnel, while chasing a pickpocket. As with the “Saw” murders each comes with a tape or a video offering the victim a choice to live, but only if they do something destructive to their body. This is an intense, gross opening. Soon, Zeke is sent a tape by the killer, who says he will be “reforming” more corrupt policemen. Several more disgusting murders follow, with the police believing it is a Jigsaw Killer copycat. However, while the deaths are gross, the traps really are not that inventive. Also annoying is how the film does not really finish.

The film is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed films two through four of the original “Saw” series. Bousman does audio commentary with co-writer Josh Stolberg and composer Charlie Clouser.  A second audio commentary is by producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg. There also is an informative, five-part making-of feature (59:05) that covers the movie’s genesis (Rock wanted to do a “48 Hrs.” meets “7”), the acting, the directing, setting the traps (unusually, much of the film takes place in daylight), the editing and attempts to avoid an NC-17 rating, and the score. An illustrated trap breakdown (8:45) shows how much of the film was done practically, without special effects, and there is a look at the posters for all the “Saw” films (6:12). Grade: film 2 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Mortal Kombat (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or DVD, R, 110 min.). This, I believe, is the seventh attempt at a “Mortal Kombat” film, plus there are two “MK: Legends” films. Whatever weakness it has in compressed story, the film makes up for by being gruesomely accurate to the video fighting game’s violence. Some of the combo fighting moves even come directly from the video games, as do a couple of the deaths. The film deserves high marks for its special effects and creatures, including a four-arm Goro, but the training section for the future tournament fighters is mostly a slow slog, and the ending sets up a future film.

First-time feature director Simon McQuaid (an award-winning Australian commercial filmmaker), along with screenwriters Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, open the film in an idyllic setting in 1617 Japan, only to have Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada of “The Wolverine,” HBO’s “Westworld”) attacked by foe Bi-han (Joe Taslim, a martial arts performer who starred in “The Raid,” “Fast & Furious 6”) and his minions. Hanzo kills at least nine, but is left to die. Bi-han, aka Sub-Zero, also used his freezing powers to kill Hanzo’s wife and son, although their young daughter, who had been hidden, survives. This is an effective prologue, with some good fighting.

The film then jumps to the present and the explanation that savage Outworld has won the last nine Mortal Kombat tournaments and, if it wins the 10th, it will be able to invade and conquer the Earthrealm. Naturally, the bad guys have to be bad and Outworld leader Shang Tsung (Chin Han of “The Dark Knight,” TV’s “Marco Polo”) orders his minions to hunt down and kill Earthrealm’s heroes pre-tournament. One of those heroes, a direct descendent of Hanzo, and thus the subject of a prophecy, is unknowing MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan of AMC’s “Into the Badlands”), a new character in the “Mortal Kombat” universe.

Sub-Zero attacks Cole, his wife and teenage daughter, but Jax (Mehcad Brooks of TV’s “Supergirl,” HBO’s “True Blood”) shows up to warn and recruit Cole, only to have Sub-Zero ice his arms off. Thankfully, he gets metallic arms later on. Cole is sent to find Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee of “The Meg,” “CHIPS”), who has captured old acquaintance/foe Kano (Josh Lawson of TV’s “Superstore). The wisecracking Kano has one of the dragon birthmarks that indicate a MK champion, as he killed the previous bearer of the mark (a really creepy way to become a champion). The trio head off to Raiden’s Temple for training, after defeating Reptile in another very good fight sequence. Lord Raiden is played by Tadanobu Asano (“Battleship,” 2 “Thor” films). Kung Lao (Max Huang of “No Way Out,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) is the designator trainer, who has to force out each prospective champion’s special power or arcana. Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) also helps Lord Raiden.

Bonus features include four deleted scenes (4:13); a making-of featurette that shows how closely the film matches video game play and covers costumes, South Australia locations and visual effects (21:30); brief bios of 11 characters (16:51); fight choreography (9:05); some of the Easter eggs pointed out (4:11); and breakdowns of seven combat scenes (11:57). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Kinky Boots: The Musical (MVD Visual, Blu-ray, NR, 122 min.). “Kinky Boots,” which starred Billy Porter (TV’s “Pose”) as Lola on Broadway, won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2013. In all, the musical, which has music and lyrics by rocker Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “Hairspray”), was nominated for a season-high 13 Tonys and won six, including wins for Porter as Best Actor and Lauper for Best Score. The musical is based on the 2005 Miramax British film of the same name, which was inspired by true events. This production, directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, was filmed at the Adelphi Theatre in London.

The story has Charlie (Killian Donnelly of “Les Misérables”) inherit his father’s shoe factory, just after he had moved to London to start a new life with his fiancée. Times then turn hard when their biggest client stops ordering. Charlie has to come up with the idea of a new product, an idea that is born after he comes to the aid of a woman who is being harassed by two men on the street. The woman turns out to be drag queen Lola (a terrific Matt Henry), who invites him to see her show, for which she is backed by six singer/dancers, all also in drag.

During the show, Lola breaks one of her heels, so Charlie’s idea is to create boots with steel heel inserts for men who dress in drag and present his new line, designed by Lola, at a Milan fashion show. Back at the factory, worker Lauren (Natalie McQueen), who is a bit of comic relief as well, develops a crush on Charlie. Meanwhile, worker Don (Sean Needham) is antagonistic to Lola.

The score is bright and lively, with highlights including Lola and the girls performing “Land of Lola” and “Sex is in the Heel,” and Lola singing the more serious “Not My Father’s Son,” joined in by Charlie. Much of the musical deals with the growing friendship between the two men. Grade: film 4 stars

42nd Street: The Musical (MVD Visual, Blu-ray, NR, 134 min.). The film of this revival was made at Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, London. The original 1980 musical, with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble (who directs here), with lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer, and music by Harry Warren, won the Tony Award for Best Musical and was a long-running hit. Then, its 2001 Broadway revival won the Tony for Best Revival.

The plot is centered backstage and on stage of a Broadway musical as it rehearses and has previews on the road. Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse) is the new girl on the chorus line, who gets the chance to be the star when leading lady Dorothy Brock (Bonnie Langford of TV’s “EastEnders”) injures her ankle during a road show. The time is the Great Depression – hence, show tickets cost $4.40 and the dancers get $32 a week – and the great Julian Marsh (Tom Lister of TV’s “Emmerdale Farm”), known as a dictator to his dancers, is directing the show. Philip Bertioli plays juvenile lead Billy Lawlor, who offstage is constantly wooing Peggy.

Dorothy is basically the paid companion of show investor Abner Dillon (Bruce Montague) of Kiddie Kar fame, but her heart really belongs to secret boyfriend Pat Denning (Matthew Goodgame). Providing some humor is staffer Maggie Jones (Jasna Ivir).

The score includes songs from the 1933 film “42nd Street” and Dubin and Warren-penned songs for other films of the time. Familiar songs include “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “We’re in the Money,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams (added for a 2017 revival),” “The Lullaby of Broadway” and the title tune. Another highlight is “Go into Your Dance.”

There is new choreography by Randy Skinner, who also handles the musical staging, while the original dances were created by Gower Champion. Particularly nice choreography involves the performers, with suitcases, “moving” from New York City to Philadelphia; the use of an overhead mirror for the design dances (a la Busby Berkeley); the 21 separate alcoves number; and the dancing on the grand staircase finale.

About the only flaw here is that some of the close-up shots of the performers are a bit awkward. Otherwise … Grade: film 4 stars

An American in Paris: The Musical (MVD Visual, Blu-ray, NR, 138 min.). “An American in Paris” is the celebrated 1951 musical film that saw Gene Kelly dance through Paris to music inspired by George Gershwin’s orchestral composition of the same name. The film had additional Gershwin music, with lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin, and additional music by Johnny Green. Kelly served as the choreographer as well. The stage musical version opened in Paris in December 2014, then opened on Broadway in April 2015, eventually winning four Tony Awards, including Best Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and Best Scenic Design by Bob Crowley.

For this production, recorded in May 2017 at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End, Crowley did the set and costume designs and Wheeldon directed and choreographed the show. While the Gershwin music is wonderful, this is more a show about dancing than song, and the movable sets, which often change behind the performances, are simply marvelous. Indeed, they are even awe inspiring.

The plot is somewhat simple. Jerry Mulligan (Robbie Fairchild of “Cats”) is an American soldier who decides to stay behind in Paris after it is liberated from the Nazis. He wants to try his hand as an artist. During his first day, he spies a woman (Leanne Cope of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as Lise Dassin), to whom he is instantly attracted. Later, he learns she is the daughter of a famous ballerina and wishes to be a dancer herself, while still she works in a department store. Jerry wanders into a café, where he is immediately befriended by Adam Hochberg (David Seadon-Young), a fellow ex-soldier with a wounded leg, who manages the café for the owners, the Baurels. Adam also is writing a concerto and plays piano at the café. He is secretly helping the Baurels’ son, Henri (Haydn Oakley), to hone his nightclub song and dance act. Adam meets Henri and they become friends too. Adam does not know yet that Henri yearns to marry Lise, a Jew whom his family helped protect during the war.

More interweaving has Adam playing piano for the ballet auditions that Lise tries out for. The financial backer of the ballet is Milo Davenport (Zoe Rainey), who is impressed by Jerry’s sketches. Milo insists the ballet’s director hire Adam to write the score and Jerry to design the sets for the ballet, even as Lise wins the lead dance position. Jerry also develops into Milo’s frequent escort, although any ideas of romance are all hers. Jerry is still trying to win Lise, whose love for Henri is not the romantic kind.

The songs include “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “’S Wonderful,” “Shall We Dance,” “But Not for Me” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Overall, this is a brilliant production, with wonderful choreography and those sets. Grade: film 4.5 stars

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949, Warner Archive, Blu-ray, NR, 92 min.). Speaking of Gene Kelly (“An American in Paris,” “Singing in the Rain”), this fun film was the second of three he would make with Frank Sinatra for MGM. The other two were “Anchors Aweigh” (1945) and “On the Town” (also 1949). Here, Kelly and Stanley Donen wrote the story treatment and staged the musical numbers, while the screenplay was by Harry Tugend and George Wells, with Busby Berkeley (“Gold Diggers of 1935,” “Babes on Broadway”) directing. However, Berkeley reportedly dropped out due to “exhaustion” and Kelly and Donen finished directing the turn-of-the-century-set film.

Kelly and Sinatra play baseball players for the World Champion Wolves. Sinatra is second baseman Denny Ryan, who is shy and inexperienced around women, while Kelly is shortstop Eddie O’Brien, a playboy when it comes to women. Eddie even has a little red book. On the field, they are joined by first baseman Nat Goldberg (Jules Munshin) as the best double-play combo, leading to a delightful “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg” singing performance during dinner one night; off the field, Ryan and O’Brien have a successful vaudeville act.

Just prior to the start of the new season, the team learns that K.C. Higgins has inherited the team and Higgins turns out to a woman, namely Esther Williams, the former swimming champion turned movie star that the film manages to get into a bathing suit for a pool swimming scene. Denny is somewhat attracted to Katherine, as she has baseball skills too, but Eddie is the one who makes the aggressive moves on her. Meanwhile, an avid fan (Betty Garrett of “On the Town, TV’s “All in the Family” as Shirley Delwyn) has set her sights on Denny, whom she strongarms during “It’s Fate, Baby, It’s Fate.”

There is plenty of fun in the film – pregame joking around with a huge rubber bat and a big brawl involving two teams – but the film mostly is about the songs and dances. There is a big clambake scene, a la “Carousel” (interestingly, one of the two deleted numbers is Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” sung by Sinatra to Garrett, which was originally written for “Carousel”), with Kelly singing and dancing Irish to “The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore Upon St. Patrick’s Day” and the whole ensemble singing the patriotic “Strictly U.S.A.” Most of the original songs have music by Roger Edens and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The well-known title song is by Jack Norwith and Albert Von Titzer.

The third wall gets broken down at the end when Sinatra and Kelly sing lyrics that include the four stars’ real names. Throughout the film, Sinatra appears to be having a fun time.

The second deleted musical umber is “Baby Doll,” sung by Kelly to Williams and includes them dancing together. Supposedly, Kelly was upset because Williams was taller. The two deleted numbers total 7 minutes. There also is a Tom & Jerry cartoon, “The Cat and the Mermouse” (7:37). The musical numbers can be accessed directly from the main menu. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2 stars