Video Verdict: New DVDs for July 8

With the theatrical release of “The Dark Knight” fast approaching, DVD distributors are digging out their superhero-themed product. That means two of this week’s major releases focus on comic book heroes. Not everything is super, though. This week’s DVD crop also features a dark, military drama and a horror film about a man-eating plant.

Batman: Gotham Knight
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, including some bloody images
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray
Comic book fans will do well to check out this 76-minute animated film relating six short Batman adventures. This direct-to-DVD title is being released now in order to cash in on the July 18 release of “The Dark Knight,” but that’s OK because it’s a boon to animation addicts. The storytelling — featuring pieces by six different writers — is above average and the visuals are consistently engaging.

Despite the differing creative influences, the shorts are meant to tie together into a cohesive story. That approach isn’t very successful, but the project is still worthwhile. When viewed individually, the stories are satisfying, and each has a beginning, middle and end, so it’s easy to look at them as stand-alones.

As with most collections, some shorts are better than others, but the quality is consistent enough that superhero fans should find the material appealing. Do note, however, that the film earns its PG-13 rating with images that are considerably more violent than those usually associated with animated superhero flicks. Adults will therefore do well to screen the DVD in advance and determine whether it is appropriate for their children.

“Gotham Knight” is available as a single-disc release and as part of a two-disc collector’s edition. Extra features vary by version, but both releases feature an audio commentary and sneak preview of DC Comics’ upcoming Wonder Woman animated movie.

Superhero Movie
1 1/2 stars
Available in rated and unrated versions. The theatrical cut received a PG-13 for crude and sexual content, comic violence, drug references and language
Dimension Home Entertainment
Available on: DVD

Also looking to jump on “The Dark Knight” bandwagon is “Superhero Movie,” a spoof of the many comic book films we’ve seen during the past decade. Using “Spider-Man” as a blueprint, writer-director Craig Mazin tells the tale of Rick Riker (Drake Bell), an average high school student who is bitten by a genetically altered dragonfly that gives him superpowers.

From this setup, Mazin delivers a series of broad — often sex-based — gags that lampoon everything from the “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men” pictures to “Batman Begins.” Some of the bits are funny, but they are more often juvenile, so the film never establishes a rhythm.

What’s more, Bell’s performance involves little more than broad mugging. The supporting cast, which includes Christopher McDonald and Leslie Nielsen, shows more range, but nobody has much to work with.

The screenplay not only skips easy targets — “Ghost Rider” and “Hellboy” for instance — it doesn’t do much with the movies it does parody.

“Superhero Movie” is available on two separate DVD releases, one featuring the theatrical cut of the film and another with an unrated, extended cut. Extra features vary by version.

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive language
Available on: DVD

Writer-director Kimberly Peirce’s long-awaited follow to 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry” is a military drama that’s worth watching despite a significant flaw. Ryan Phillippe stars as Brandon King, an Iraq War veteran preparing to settle back into civilian life in Texas after completing a harrowing tour of duty. Alas, the military uses its stop-loss policy to order King back to Iraq.

Believing he has already done his duty, Brandon goes AWOL in hopes of avoiding more combat. This creates a rift not only with the military but with Brandon’s longtime friend and fellow soldier Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum). In part, the tension between the men escalates because Steve’s fiancee, Michelle (Abbie Cornish), decides to help Brandon. But it’s also rooted in the fact that Steve is having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life.

Because “Stop-Loss” looks at an important issue that many American soldiers are facing, it is worth watching. The film does, however, have its down side. Most notably, almost every returning soldier is shown facing severe mental struggles. Although post-traumatic stress is a problem with today’s military, it’s fairly clear that individuals react to stress differently, and not every returning soldier is borderline insane.

DVD extras include deleted scenes, two making-of features and an audio commentary by director Kimberly Peirce.

The Ruins
2 stars
Available in rated and unrated versions. The theatrical cut received an R for strong violence and gruesome images, language, some sexuality and nudity
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray

Writer Scott B. Smith adapted his own novel to the screen with this story of a nasty, man-eating plant that goes after a group of college coeds. Sound like a dozen horror films you’ve already seen? That’s because it is like a dozen … scratch that … several dozen movies that have hit theaters in the last decade.

While few pictures involve carnivorous vegetation, the formula of introducing nubile college hotties to an audience just so they can then be picked off by evil is an age-old formula. In “The Ruins,” said evil is an ancient plant inhabiting a long-abandoned Mayan temple.

Our five heroes and heroines visit the structure in hopes of doing some sightseeing during their Mexican vacation, but the moment they get near the ancient building, a group of unfriendly locals threaten them with rifles and bows and arrows. Frightened, the youngsters ascend the temple hoping to wait out the unfriendly locals, but they soon find that violent human beings are the least of their worries.

Director Carter Smith sells the premise relatively well, and the cast — including Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey and Jonathan Tucker — is solid. Alas, Smith often opts for over-the-top gore rather than true suspense, and there’s no escaping the been-there-done-that plotting.

There are two DVD releases of the movie, one featuring the theatrical cut and another with an unrated version of the film. Extra features vary by version.


The X-Files — Revelations: A compilation of eight episodes (including the pilot) of the classic fantasy/science-fiction television series.

Cannon — Season One, Volume One: The first episodes of William Conrad’s 1970s television drama about rotund private investigator Frank Cannon.

Jake and the Fatman — Season One, Volume One: More from William Conrad. In this television drama, he played “Fatman” McCabe, a prosecutor who went after bad guys with detective pal Jake Styles (Joe Penny).

The Future is Unwritten: Documentary film about musician Joe Strummer, co-founder of the influential rock band The Clash.

Fastlane — The Complete Series: All 22 episodes of the television drama that ran on Fox from 2002 to 2003. Bill Bellamy and Peter Facinelli star as undercover Los Angeles police detectives working to bring baddies down with the help of their handler, Wilhelmina Chambers (Tiffani Thiessen).

The Mummy movies: In anticipation of the Aug. 1 release of Brendan Fraser’s “The Mummy — Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” Universal Studios is trotting out two-disc deluxe editions of 1999’s “The Mummy” and 2001’s “The Mummy Returns.” If you prefer the classics, Universal has also released a two-disc, digitally remastered version of Boris Karloff’s 1932 take on “The Mummy.”

Journey to the Center of the Earth: Not to be confused with the new big-screen version of Jules Verne’s story — opening in theaters July 11 — this DVD contains a 2008 TV movie starring Rick Schroder, Peter Fonda and Victoria Pratt.

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