Video Verdict: New DVDs for July 22

It’s a slow week for home video, as only one major theatrical release — “21” — made its way onto DVD. That makes it the perfect time to look outside the mainstream, and there are a couple of good choices waiting in the wings.

 

21
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some violence, and sexual content including partial nudity
Sony Pictures
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray

Director Robert Luketic’s first two features — “Legally Blonde” and “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!” — were solid enough, but he’s been on a downward spiral ever since. His 2005 effort, “Monster-In-Law,” was notoriously hated. While “21” is an improvement, it’s far from a masterpiece.

Based on the Ben Mezrich book “Brining Down the House,” the film was inspired by the true story of several M.I.T. students who took Vegas for millions by counting cards while playing blackjack. At the center of the action is Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a hopeful pre-med student desperate to raise enough money to attend Harvard Medical School. So, when professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) invites him to be part of a secret card-counting team that flies to Vegas each weekend and makes a killing, he bites.

It’s not long before Ben and his teammates, including the girl of his dreams (Kate Bosworth), are living like rock stars and rolling in cash. But the casino owners aren’t as oblivious as Ben and company think, and team members find that they’re involved in a dangerous game that an old-school security man (Laurence Fishburne) will do anything to win.

“21” has nice moments and Sturgess is likable in the lead role, but Luketic never allows the picture to reach an intensity level that would make it truly great. What’s more, the film does a poor job explaining how card counting actually works.

The movie is available on a single-disc release and as part of a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 
Vampyr
3 stars
Unrated
The Criterion Collection
Available on: DVD

Although extremely crude by today’s standards, director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 film “Vampyr” is noteworthy as a piece of cinema history. Therefore, it’s nice to see the outstanding Criterion Collection give it a DVD treatment.

The movie was at least partially based on author J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” and it relates the adventures of young Allan Gray (Julian West), who stumbles upon a horrific scene while traveling in France. After he gets an unexplained, late-night visit from an old man, he finds himself exploring a supernatural world where shadows live independent lives and a dreaded vampire is menacing two beautiful sisters, Leone (Sybille Schmitz) and Gisele (Rena Mandel).

Although “Vampyr” is visually interesting — particularly for its day — the plotting is fractured and hard to follow. That makes it less impressive than other films of its period, but it is nevertheless considered an important piece of cinema.

Because the movie is stilted by today’s standards, it is not recommended for general audiences, but it is suggested for film history buffs. They should appreciate not only the movie but Criterion’s hefty, two-DVD treatment. The many extra feature include a copy of the screenplay and “Carmilla.” There’s also an audio commentary by scholar Tony Rayns, a documentary on Dreyer’s career and a radio broadcast featuring the filmmaker.

 
Robot Chicken: Star Wars
3 stars
Unrated
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD

Anyone who watches “Robot Chicken” on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim knows the show is all about pop culture parodies, so it makes sense that co-creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich would take aim at “Star Wars.”

In June 2007, they were allowed to devote an entire half-hour episode to the “Star Wars” universe, and the result was 23 minutes of short, stop-motion animation sketches poking fun at everything from science-fiction conventions to the Death Star’s shabby construction. One particularly funny bit features President George W. Bush fantasizing that he’s a Jedi.

Green and his cohorts have a warped-but-witty sense of humor, and the show’s crude animation adds to the fun. Anyone who loves “Star Wars” should have a blast with this material. Unfortunately, the sub-half-hour show is pricey at the suggested retail of $14.98. That means this disc will be a rental for most folks.

Hardcore fans may want to shell out, however, because they will appreciate the many extra features that accompany the program. They include interviews with the cast and creators, deleted scenes, alternate audio takes, episode commentary, and more. And the extras run longer than the show itself.

 
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

Picture This: Originally shown on the ABC Family television network, this film stars Ashley Tisdale as a teen who gets invited to a party by the boy of her dreams. Alas, she’s grounded, so it takes much scheming for her romantic dreams to come true.

High and Low: Two-DVD Criterion Collection release of director Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 film about a businessman (Toshiro Mifune) who is targeted by kidnappers. In Japanese with English subtitles.

The Last Winter: Psychological horror film focused on members of an Alaskan oil drilling team who begin a slow descent into madness. Ron Perlman, James LeGros and Kevin Corrigan star.

Autumn Hearts — A New Beginning: Relationship drama about three people who grew close while living in a German detention camp during World War II but were separated after the war. When they reunite, sparks fly. Susan Sarandon, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer and Gabriel Byrne star.

Spaced — The Complete Series: Both seasons of the British sitcom starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes as London residents who pose as a married couple in order to rent an inexpensive flat.

Witchblade — The Complete Series: Every episode of the TNT drama about a homicide detective (Yancy Butler) who fights crime using a mysterious, living weapon known as the Witchblade.

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