Video Verdict: New DVDs for March 17

Doug Hutchison, rear, and Ray Stevenson in a scene from "Punisher: War Zone."

Doug Hutchison, rear, and Ray Stevenson in a scene from "Punisher: War Zone."

Both of this week’s major video releases are built on fantasy, but the titles are nothing alike in tone or presentation.


Twilight
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality
Summit Entertainment
Available Saturday (March 21) on DVD and Blu-ray

“Twilight” was a phenomenon even before it became a motion picture thanks to the novels by Stephenie Meyer. Director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”) won the right to transition the franchise to the big screen, and she did so with mixed success.

While the idea of a vampire romance has appeal, Hardwicke’s storytelling is often labored and the special effects are sub-par for a major motion picture. Most distressing, however, is the fact that Hardwicke undersells the relationship that drives her film.

The focus is on Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a Phoenix teen who moves to Forks, Washington, to live with her father. As the new girl in a small high school, she creates a stir with the popular kids, but she’s most interested in a silent loner named Edward (Robert Pattinson).

In short order, Bella learns that Edward is a vampire, begins dating him, and the two fall madly in love. Sadly, Hardwicke undersells the whole love angle, leaving us with characters who do radical things for one another without really establishing the depth of their relationship.

Despite its flaws, “Twilight” has camp appeal that is likely to keep viewers hanging on to the bitter end, if only to learn what happens. What’s more, Stewart and Pattinson are likable in the lead roles, meaning there’s hope for the sequel.

DVD extras include deleted and extended scenes, a seven-part making-of documentary, music videos and an audio commentary with Stewart, Pattinson and Hardwicke.

 

Punisher: War Zone
1 star
Rated R for pervasive strong brutal violence, language and some drug use
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Marvel Comics first brought its Punisher franchise to the big screen in 2004 with Thomas Jane playing special-forces-officer-turned-vigilante Frank Castle. That movie wasn’t exactly a world beater, but that didn’t prevent this scaled-down sequel starring Ray Stevenson in the Castle role.

During a bloodbath that sees Castle slicing and dicing his way through dozens of organized crime figures, the vigilante accidentally kills a federal agent. Just about the time he’s ready to hang up his guns forever, he learns that a baddie he failed to kill — a disfigured nut named Jigsaw (Dominic West) — is after the family of the agent he mistakenly gunned down. Obligated to come to the rescue, Castle straps on a personal armory and does what he does best: wreak havoc.

Although the concept behind the Punisher character is good, this picture is relentlessly melodramatic, often poorly acted and surprisingly bloody and violent. Plus, the plotting is as run of the mill as it gets.

None of the problems should be laid on Stevenson’s shoulders, as he’s actually quite likable as the silent-but-deadly Castle. But he’s a lone bright spot in a movie covered in ominous shadows.

“Punisher: War Zone” is available on multiple DVD releases, including a two-disc special edition with a digital copy of the film. Extra features vary.

 
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Elegy”: Independent drama starring Ben Kingsley as David Kepesh, a self-absorbed professor who begins a romantic relationship with his much-younger student (Penelope Cruz). Despite their age difference, they grow serious, but David’s personal issues create a rift. Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper and Peter Sarsgaard also star. Directed by Isabel Coixet.

“Goal II — Living the Dream”: Sequel to the 2006 sports drama “Goal: The Dream Begins.” The film tells the story of up-and-coming soccer star Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) and the pitfalls that accompany his newfound success.

“Vampire Secrets”: With “Twilight” making the rounds, A&E Home Video saw this as the perfect time to release a History Channel documentary about the mythology of bloodsuckers. This 100-minute piece considers the origin of vampire legends as well as modern twists.

“Azur & Asmar — The Prince’s Quest”: Computer-animated film centered on the son of a nobleman and child of a nurse who become rivals in the quest to rescue a fairy princess. The movie was created in Arabic and French, and the DVD includes the original audio (with English subtitles) as well as an English-dub.

“The Velveteen Rabbit”: New film version of author Margery Williams’ story about the special relationship between a young boy and his stuffed rabbit. The picture mixes live-action and animation, and it features the voices of Jane Seymour, Tom Skerritt and Ellen Burstyn. Directed by Michael Landon Jr.

“Dodes’ka-den”: Restored version of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s first film shot in color. The 1970 drama considers the lives of a group of people living in a slum just outside Tokyo. Presented by the Criterion Collection, the DVD includes a 36-minute documentary on the making of the film and a booklet with an essay by film historian Stephen Prince.

“JAG — The Eighth Season”: Another season of drama centered on lawyers who prosecute and defend military personnel. David James Elliott, Catherine Bell and Patrick Labyorteaux star.

“A Pup Named Scooby-Doo” — Complete 2nd, 3rd & 4th Seasons: Seventeen episodes of the animated series depicting Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Freddy and Daphne as grade-schoolers with a penchant for solving mysteries.

“Bunnytown — Hello Bunnies!”: Four episodes of the Playhouse Disney series starring colorful bunnies who love music and get into wacky situations.

“Groom Lake”: William Shatner co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in this 2002 science-fiction film about a young couple that travel to Area 51 hoping to prove that aliens exist and that there is life after death.

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

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