Video Verdict: New DVDs for Jan. 20

Mark Wahlberg stars in "Max Payne."

Mark Wahlberg stars in "Max Payne."

This week’s DVD releases include an outstanding sports drama, a traditional shoot-em-up and an animated feature starring the voice of John Cusack.


The Express
3 1/2 stars
Rated PG for thematic content, violence and language involving racism and brief sensuality
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray

Director Gary Fleder’s meditation on the life and too-early death of Syracuse University football star Ernie Davis is better crafted and more engaging than the average sports film, in part because it looks beyond the field.

Davis was an extraordinary running back and the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy, but he isn’t widely known because he died of leukemia before beginning a professional career. In “The Express” — a reference to Davis’ nickname, “The Elmira Express” — Fleder follows the young athlete from childhood in the Jim Crow south to his death at 23.

The film paints Davis as a charming and big-hearted man, and it considers his struggle to overcome racism and other obstacles in the pursuit of greatness. Actor Rob Brown is impressive as the star running back both on the field and off, and he gets excellent support from veteran actor Dennis Quaid, who plays Davis’ Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder.

Well-acted, engaging and ultimately inspiring, “The Express” is a fine sports drama that should appeal even to folks who don’t watch football.

DVD extras include deleted scenes, making-of features, shorts on Ernie Davis’ legacy and an audio commentary by director Gary Fleder.


Max Payne
3 stars
Unrated, but discs also include the theatrical cut which was rated PG-13 for violence including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality and brief strong language
20th Century Fox
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray

Melodramatic, predictable and layered with impressive special effects, “Max Payne” is a modern film noir that fails to break ground but entertains nonetheless.

The charismatic Mark Wahlberg plays the title character, a downtrodden, inner-city police detective who has been living in torment since his wife and infant daughter were murdered. Obsessed, Max spends his days and nights trying to find the killer, and the movie gives viewers a glimpse into both his soul and the complicated events surrounding his tragedy.

Because the film is based on a video game franchise, the storytelling is straightforward and simple, but Wahlberg is outstanding in the lead role and there are plenty of well-drawn action sequences to keep adrenaline junkies pumped.

The movie is available in multiple DVD versions. Extra features vary.


2 1/2 stars
Rated PG for some thematic elements, scary images, action and mild language
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray

This clever, animated comedy features John Cusack as the voice of Igor, one member of an oppressed class of hunchbacks living in the village of Malaria. Audiences learn that the once prosperous farming community was plunged into darkness years before, forcing its residents to reinvent their economy.

The solution? Create evil inventions, then blackmail the rest of the world by threatening to release them. The most powerful and respected members of the village are the evil scientists who create the monstrosities, and Igor — a scientific genius — has long dreamed of joining their ranks. Alas, hunchbacks are only allowed to be groveling assistants.

When Igor’s master is accidentally killed, he sees an opportunity to put his talent on display. So, with the help of his friends — a suicidal rabbit and a brain in a jar — he attempts the ultimate scientific feat: the creation of life.

“Igor” gets points for its unusual plot and the voice cast, which includes Jay Leno, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon in supporting roles. Unfortunately, the storytelling drags, and that prevents it from entering the top tier of computer-animated movies.

DVD extras include an alternate opening sequence, concept art and a filmmakers’ commentary.


City of Ember
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG for mild peril and some thematic elements.
20th Century Fox
Available Tuesday on DVD

Director Gil Kenan’s film adaptation of writer Jeanne DuPrau’s “City of Ember” is an interesting but lopsided affair that considers post-apocalyptic life.

The setting is a vast underground city housing humans who fled an unknown catastrophe that made life on their planet’s surface impossible. Because the city was designed to last only 200 years, the refugees were supposed to return to daylight eventually, but written accounts of the escape plan were lost over the decades.

After two centuries underground, the city’s power source is failing, food supplies are dwindling and a charismatic mayor (Bill Murray) is putting his own needs above those of his people. Then, two teens (Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway) learn that there could be a way out of Ember and begin to pursue the clues.

The setup for “City of Ember” is good, and the movie plays like an odd mix of Harry Potter and “The Da Vinci Code.” Unfortunately, the ending is rushed, making the whole affair less dramatic and appealing than it might have been.

DVD extras are limited to trailers advertising other films.


Henry Poole is Here
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG for thematic elements and some language
Anchor Bay
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray

Luke Wilson stars as Henry, a depressed man who buys a home in his childhood neighborhood with the intention of disappearing. His plan is spoiled when a friendly neighbor (Adriana Barraza) discovers a stain on the side of his house and becomes convinced it’s the face of Jesus Christ.

Henry’s solitude is almost immediately destroyed by an influx of people looking to touch his wall and benefit from the healing powers they believe it possesses. In the meantime, he develops a tentative relationship with a beautiful divorcee (Radha Mitchell) and her troubled, young daughter (Morgan Lilly).

Is the stain a sign from God? Can Henry’s nosey neighbors turn his life around? Is there hope where none seems to exist? Those are the questions the movie seeks to answer, and “Henry Poole” is an interesting, if inconsistent, work.

The actors are solid and the concept fascinating, but writer Albert Torres and director Mark Pellington allow an ending that, while satisfying, will leave many folks scratching their heads.

DVD extras include two music videos, a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Pellington and Torres.



“Saw V”: The horror franchise continues with someone new carrying on the Jigsaw legacy by placing victims in complex traps and forcing them to make horrifying decisions in a fight for survival. The film is available in multiple home video versions including an unrated director’s cut. Scott Patterson and Costas Mandylor star. Directed by David Hackl.

“Moonlight” — The Complete Series: All 16 episodes of this short-lived but well-conceived vampire drama are now available on DVD. The series stars Alex O’Loughlin as Mick St. John, a private investigator who also happens to be a good-hearted vampire. When he isn’t looking into crimes, he is watching over a human reporter (Sophia Myles) that he has romantic feelings for.

“Chris Rock — Kill the Messenger”: Rock’s 80-minute HBO standup show featuring material from performances in New York, South Africa and the United Kingdon. The program is available as a single-disc release or as part of a three-disc collector’s edition that also includes all the material from the three international performances.

“Magnificent Obsession”: The Criterion Collection is offering a restored transfer of director Douglas Sirk’s 1954 melodrama about a playboy (Rock Hudson) who falls in love with a widow (Jane Wyman) who blames him for her husband’s death.

“El Norte”: Another restoration from the Criterion Collection, this 1983 drama tells the story of siblings who flee persecution in Guatemala and journey to the United States. The film was directed by Gregory Nava, and this two-disc release includes his audio commentary plus many other extras.

“George Wallace”: DVD debut of the 1997 television miniseries about Alabama governor and presidential candidate Wallace. Gary Sinise, Mare Winningham, Joe Don Baker, Angelina Jolie and Terry Kinney star.

“Jurassic Fight Club” — The Complete Season One: What could be better than dinosaurs fighting? Not a lot I suppose, and this History Channel series features scientific analyses of likely battles, complete with CGI reenactments. Twelve complete episodes are included in the four-disc set.

“The Deal”: Direct-to-DVD comedy starring William H. Macy as a conniving movie producer and Meg Ryan as a sharp studio executive who is supposed to keep him in line.


— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose bylines have appeared in some of the largest publications in the nation. Contact him at

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