This week’s DVD releases include a World War II thriller starring Tom Cruise, a goofy comedy featuring Kevin James and the first season of an excellent television drama led by Anna Paquin.
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Director Bryan Singer’s take on the July 20, 1944, assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler is a workmanlike, if unremarkable, historical drama.
Tom Cruise stars as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, one of several German military officers who plotted to kill Hitler, then assume control of the country using the Operation Valkyrie emergency defense mechanism. The plot failed, but the intrigue surrounding it is fertile ground for a movie, and Cruise and Singer do a good job transporting viewers to the proper time and place.
Cruise wasn’t an obvious choice for the lead, and this isn’t one of his best performances, but he is adequate, even when playing across from international greats including Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson.
Although the film does a good job explaining the mechanics of the attempted coup, it lacks the emotional resonance that would have made it a better feature. Singer attempts to build such resonance through scenes between Von Stauffenberg and his wife and children, but these are small pieces of a two-hour movie, and they aren’t enough to keep things from feeling coldly analytical.
“Valkyrie” is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
1 1/2 stars
Rated PG for some violence, mild crude and suggestive humor, and language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and UMD for PSP
Kevin James is a likable comic performer, but he’s the only thing “Paul Blart” has going for it.
As the film’s title character, James portrays a veteran security officer at a New Jersey mall. While his colleagues are happy to simply punch the clock, Paul sees his job as a calling, and he spends his days proudly zipping about on a Segway PT.
At home, things are rougher because Paul desperately wants a romantic relationship and his daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez), and mother (Shirley Knight) constantly remind him of that fact. When he meets a pretty, new sales clerk (Jayma Mays), things start looking up, but he promptly embarrasses himself in front of her. Then, a group of thieves take over the mall, giving Paul the perfect chance to foil their plans and redeem himself.
The plotting is lightweight and predictable, and director Steve Carr delivers relatively few standout gags during the movie’s 91-minute run, this despite a typically charismatic performance by James. But, hey, you can only do so much with “security guard jokes.”
DVD extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, several making-of features and an audio commentary by James and producer Todd Garner.
My Bloody Valentine
Rated R for graphic brutal horror violence and grisly images throughout, some strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
The best slasher films give their villains a warped-but-deep-seated reason for embarking on a crime spree, but you’ll find no such depth in “My Bloody Valentine,” a gory remake of the 1981 Canadian film.
This version of “Valentine” is all about bloody violence, gratuitous nudity and — with the 3D version — things that pop out of the screen. None of this adds up to a good flick, but there’s definitely a market for the goods “Valentine” is selling.
The story, such as it is, revolves around a series of brutal murders committed by an insane miner named Harry Warden. Trapped in a cave-in, good ol’ Harry murdered his fellow miners to preserve his air and survive. After being retrieved from the mine, Harry spends months in a coma, only to revive on Valentine’s Day and kill nearly everyone in the hospital, plus a bunch of kids partying at the mine where he worked.
Ten years later, one of the kids — Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles) — rolls back into town after a long absence. His father has passed, leaving the mine to him, and he plans on selling it. Before a deal can go through, people start dying, leaving the town sheriff (Kerr Smith) — who also witnessed the original killings — with a devastating murder spree on his hands.
There are a few subplots, none of which matter because the film spends less time building characters and fleshing out story than spraying blood across the screen. The 3D effects, which are available on some home video versions, are respectable, but they show off much better in a movie theater than a home setting.
The movie is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc special edition with four sets of 3D glasses. Extra features vary.
True Blood — The Complete First Season
3 1/2 stars
Rated TV-MA (for mature audiences only)
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Vampires have been the subject of more bad films than just about any creature, fictional or otherwise. Still, when a good bloodsucking drama comes along it’s irresistible, and “True Blood” is very, very good.
The HBO series debuted last year, and this boxed set rolls out the first 12 episodes in time for newcomers to catch up before the second season premieres in June. The story is set in a time when vampires have begun to openly mingle with humans thanks to the invention of a synthetic blood that can keep them alive. Still, many humans are leery of the powerful and dangerous creatures.
The show focuses on the adventures Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress at a Louisiana bar and grill who has the ability to read people’s minds. Sookie finds her “gift” troubling and has a hard time blocking other people’s thoughts, which makes it thrilling when she meets Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a vampire whose mind is blank to her. Still, it doesn’t take Sookie long to learn that associating with vampires can be dangerous, and not just because they’re faster and more powerful than humans.
Along with considering Sookie’s life, the show introduces a number of interesting subsidiary characters, including Sookie’s boss, Sam (Sam Trammell); her brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten); her best friend, Tara (Rutina Wesley); and a gay drug dealer named Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis).
“True Blood” presents a dark vision of the American South and mixes some fascinating racial and social commentary into a show that is entertaining even if you don’t want to dig too deep. The cast is outstanding and the writing is above average not only for a vampire story but for television in general.
DVD extras include a feature on the integration of vampires into the human world, advertisements for the Tru Blood synthetic beverage and public service announcements from those for and against vampire rights.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Fanboys”: Comedy about a group of friends who set off on a road trip with plans to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal an early copy of “Star Wars Episode I — The Phantom Menace.”
“The Friends of Eddie Coyle”: Criterion Collection release of director Peter Yates’ 1973 drama about a small-time crook (Robert Mitchum) who becomes a snitch when faced with jail time.
Pigs, Pimps & Prostitutes — 3 Films by Shohei Imamura: This hefty set, released by the Criterion Collection, features Japanese director Imamura’s “Pigs and Battleships” (1961), “The Insect Woman” (1963) and “Intentions of Murder” (1964).
“Driven to Kill”: Direct-to-DVD effort starring Steven Seagal as a reformed Russian mobster drawn back to his violent ways when his family is endangered.
“A Bug’s Life”: The Pixar animated film about an ant who attempts to assemble a band of warriors to battle his grasshopper foes is being released on Blu-ray for the first time.
Arnold Schwarzenegger DVD Collection: Four movies starring the action-hero-turned-California-governor. They are: “Red Heat,” “The Running Man,” “Total Recall” and “Terminator 2 — Judgment Day.”
“Man Hunt”: Director Fritz Lang’s 1941 drama about an English big game hunter named Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon). Although he finds himself in a position to kill Adolf Hitler, Thorndike hesitates and is captured, beaten and left for dead. Even after he slips back to England, Thorndike finds himself relentlessly tracked by a Nazi officer (George Sanders). The film is available on DVD for the first time.
“Outlander”: James Caviezel stars as Kainan, a space traveler who crash lands on Earth during the time of the Vikings and who must team with them to battle a monster. Sophia Myles and John Hurt also star.
Scholastic Treasury series: Children’s book publisher Scholastic has released two new, four-DVD sets — “25 Storybook Classics: Dinosaurs, Trucks, Monsters and More!” and “25 Storybook Classics: Fairytales, Magic and More.” Each collection includes DVD adaptations of popular children’s books ranging from “Pete’s a Pizza” to “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com