Fanboys (PG-13, 2008, The Weinstein Co.)
You think speaking ill of “Star Wars” is asking for trouble? Try breaking bad on “Fanboys,” in which five friends (Dan Fogler, Kristen Bell, Jay Baruchel, Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette) attempt to break into the Skywalker Ranch to steal a cut of “Episode I” so their terminally ill friend (Marquette), who won’t live to see it premiere in theaters, can sneak a peek at the most anticipated film of all time. A motivated cynic could pick “Fanboys” apart on numerous levels. As road trip films go, it takes zero chances, thrusting its fearless heroes into the usual string of wacky circumstances that never seem to happen during road trips in real life. It trades on some old “Star Wars” jokes, makes fun of Trekkers, and rides the curtails of a scheme that’s riddled with logical holes. But “Fanboys” isn’t meant to challenge cynics. It’s a silly, cute, genuinely funny and overtly loving homage to friendship and a special group of moviegoers who have heard all the jokes before but don’t mind hearing them again if they’re told well. “Fanboys” absolutely tells them well, and the cavalcade of smart but accessible bonus winks — from some great cameos to umpteen references to all things 1999 — merely make a sweet thing sweeter. Seth Rogen, Christopher McDonald, David Denman and Danny Trejo, along with a handful of special surprise guests, also star.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes Webisodes, four behind-the-scenes features.
Valkyrie (PG-13, 2008, Fox)
It’s hard not to tip a cap to “Valkyrie,” which attempts the impossible as a taunt suspense film whose ending has been available in history books for more than six decades. Yes, the film is about a group of German military dissidents who plot to kill Adolf Hitler in July of 1944. Hitler died more than nine months later. You can do the math. Guess what? The film succeeds anyway. Explosive introduction aside, “Valkyrie” very arguably suffers from dry beginnings while it introduces the players and explains exactly what Operation Valkyrie entails and who is supposed to approve and enact it. For the uninitiated, though, understanding the full implications of those whats and whos is an eye-opener and very possibly a jaw-dropper once you realize just what had to happen — and how much control these dissidents had to cede to potential whistleblowers and the targets themselves — for such a process to set itself in motion. Those implications leave “Valkyrie” with a stacked deck of characters and shaky scenarios, and even if you already know their names by heart and know how it ends, the slow, dreadful deconstruction makes for a wonderfully tense creep toward the inevitable. Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, David Bamber as Hitler. Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Carice van Houten and Eddie Izzard, among others, also star.
Extras: Cruise/director/writer commentary, writers commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.
True Blood: The Complete First Season (NR, 2008, HBO)
Maybe you’ve read the Charlaine Harris novels on which it’s based. Maybe the premise — publicly-outed vampires fighting for acceptance as a race of people in modern-day New Orleans — intrigues you. Maybe you simply have “Twilight”-instilled vampire fever. There are numerous reasons to give “True Blood” a chance. Problem is, there are numerous reasons to give up on it as well. Even by HBO’s standards, “Blood” is fearlessly divisive, stacking a brick wall of sexuality, attitude and crudity that some will find too wide to circumvent. Worse, most of the main cast — be they strange, unlikeable, archetypical or some combination thereof — take their time leaving any kind of favorable impression. Shows with this level of temperament don’t exactly lighten up as the storylines stack up and the stakes (pun not intended) rise, and it might take a full five or six episodes before enough humanity seeps through or you simply get used to the tone enough to let the concept take precedent. As perhaps is no surprise, that’s where “Blood” shines brightest. Few shows could afford the luxury of taking that much time to let viewers get comfortable, but there’s more than enough intrigue to make that a possibility here. Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Rutina Wesley, Nelsan Ellis, Ryan Kwanten and Sam Trammell, among others, star.
Contents: 12 episodes, plus commentary, a vampire mockumentary, Tru Blood beverage and service ads (you’ll understand after the first episode) and mock PSAs.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (PG, 2009, Sony Pictures)
Any hope that the Segway scooter could make good on its original promise (a method of transportation that will change the way cities are designed) instead of settling for its current status (humorous physical comedy prop) is now lost. For roughly two-thirds of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” the Segway is the arguable star, carting around the film’s eponymous, hypoglycemic mall cop (Kevin James) while he haphazardly attempts to maintain order after a band of athletically-gifted thieves (Mike Escamilla, Natascha Hopkins, Mike Vallely, Rick Thorne, Jason Ellis and a few more) take the mall under siege. Frankly, it could be worse for the Segway, because as pandering comedies go, “Blart” could be a whole lot worse itself. James pokes easy fun at his job and his lifestyle, but somewhat remarkably, the film goes for likeable laughs instead of the same old mean-spirited cheap shots at the usual easy targets. “Blart” goes so far as to humanize its not-quite hero with almost remarkable credibility, reserving the bulk of its cartoon potshots for the characters who deserve them. What ultimately happens isn’t the least bit believable, but it is surprisingly likeable, and it’s hard to begrudge a film that elicits good feelings even as it makes your eyes roll. Jayma Mays, Keir O’Donnell, Stephen Rannazzisi and Raini Rodriguez also star.
Extras: James/producer commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, 10 behind-the-scenes features.
Eden Log (R, 2007, Magnolia)
For the first six-plus minutes of its life, “Eden Log” barely goes anywhere while its main character, the amnesia-addled and mud-covered Tolbiac (Clovis Cornillac), crawls around in the darkness and tries to make any sense at all of his surroundings. Consider it a test, because few of the 92 minutes that follow are much different. “Log” does gradually shine some light on Tolbiac’s whereabouts and the societal implications they represent, and even a peek at those answers fills the film with oodles of potential. Whether it achieves all of any of that promise will lie in the eye of the viewer. “Log’s” artistic shooting style — lots of contrast, color desaturated to near-monochromatic levels — screams “art film,” and for impatient viewers who expect too much, the script may inadvertently do the same thing. Dialogue is sparse, character progression even sparser, and if the blocks of silent, slow plot movement cause you to space out, “Log” will make zero sense when that movement arrives at a stop. But all of this amounts to giving “Log” more credit than it deserves or needs. It looks high-minded, but it’s really no more than an amalgamation of classic sci-fi and horror themes repackaged with an artsy exterior. The temptation to make more of it than that is there, but you’re best off resisting the urge.
Extras: The original French cut of the film, which essentially is the same movie outside of a few scenes that were replicated with English dialogue for the English cut. English subtitles are included.
Worth a Mention
— “Friday Night Lights: The Third Season” (NR, 2008, NBC Universal): The show with at least four lives continues to stave off cancellation with short but excellent seasons. Includes all 13 episodes (including an extended finale) from season three, as well as commentary and deleted scenes.
— “24: Season Seven” (NR, 2009, Fox): The paint is barely dry on “24’s” seventh season, which wrapped this week, but Fox is trying something new by making the DVD set available immediately. If you missed it while it aired and dread the usual exercise of avoiding spoilers until November, this should work quite nicely. Includes all 24 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes and two behind-the-scenes features.
— “Scholastic Storybook Treasures: Treasury of 25 Storybook Classics” (NR, Scholastic/New Video): On the heels of its wonderful 50-story compilation of preschool classics come two more volumes — “Dinosaurs, Trucks, Monsters and more” and “Fairytales, Magic and more” — aimed at a slightly older crowd. As the titles indicate, each set features 25 uniquely animated and narrated stories based on books from Scholastic’s vault.
— “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: Centennial Collection (NR, 1962, Paramount) and “El Dorado: Centennial Collection” (NR, 1967, Paramount): Volumes eight and nine of Paramount’s terrific Centennial Collection treatments include new commentary tracks (two on “El Dorado,” one complete track plus additional selected scene tracks on “Valance”), seven-part behind-the-scenes features on both, image and trailer galleries and more.
— “A Bug’s Life” (G, 1998, Disney/Pixar): Blu-ray incarnations of existing DVDs aren’t a terribly big deal anymore, but there are exceptions. Chief among those exceptions: Pixar releases. New extras include a filmmaker roundtable and heretofore-unseen animated sequences from the film’s first draft. Preexisting extras (the short “Geri’s Game,” director commentary, outtakes, behind-the-scenes features) are also included, as is a digital copy of the film.