New on DVD & Blu-ray, Week of June 28: ‘Sucker Punch,’

The major theatrical releases coming to home video this week are a real disappointment. ‘Sucker Punch,’ the latest outing by Zack Snyder, is a disjointed exploitation film starring a quintet of scantily-clad girls living in an alternate reality; ‘Beastly’ is an adolescent take on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that tries to modernize the parable with mixed results; and ‘Season of the Witch,’ a supernatural action thriller in which a motley crew of 14th century warriors transport a witch to an abbey to end the Black Plague, is so low on the expectation totem pole that it actually succeeds by not trying to be more than it is: fluff. The best bet for the week: ‘Barney’s Version,’ a genuine piece of cinematic art that entertains your heart and stimulates higher brain functions at the same time; and the long-awaited Blu-ray edition of ‘The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: Extended Edition,’ with all three films on 15 discs with more than 26 hours of special features. Read on.

‘Sucker Punch’
What It’s About: Zack Snyder wrote and directed this mishmash of a grindhouse advenure about a young girl — institutionalized in a mental hospital by her nasty stepfather — who retreats into a fantasy world where she becomes a member of a high-priced bordello and organizes her four fellow inmates into a team of ferocious warriors to go on missions against Nazis and monsters in order to gain their freedom. They have a virtual arsenal at their disposal and a wise man to lead them and they kick butt — at least in an alternate reality.

It’s Kinda Like: ‘Chained Heat’ meets ‘Shutter Island’

What We Say: Visually stunning in Zack Snyder’s by-now-copyrighted CGI fashion (i.e., most of the sets are created in a computer, ala his ‘300’), ‘Sucker Punch’ is nothing more than eye candy that repeats the same motif over and over — scantily-glad, nubile girls (Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung and Abbie Cornish) beating up the bad guys. The story line is so nonsensical it’s as if Snyder turned to a computer to create the plot (now there’s a thought). There’s plenty of music and — well, in fact, it’s one long, tiresome music video.

• Extras: Animated shorts, a featurette on the film’s soundtrack
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‘Barney’s Version’
What It’s About: Based on Mordecai Richler’s prize-winning comic novel, ‘Barney’s Version’ is the warm and witty story of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a seemingly ordinary man who lives an extraordinary life (he’s a Montreal TV producer). The story is told from Barney’s point of view as a correction to a book accusing him of having a criminal past. Barney’s candid confessional spans four decades and two continents, and includes three wives (Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, and Rachelle Lefevre), one outrageous father (Dustin Hoffman) who’s also his sidekick, and a charmingly dissolute best friend (Scott Speedman).

It’s Kinda Like: ‘The Barbarian Invasions’ meets ‘The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz’

What We Say: This is the kind of small film that costs nothing to make and invariably makes nothing at the box office, but film culture would be much poorer without it. This is a labor of love for director Richard J. Lewis, screenwriter Michael Konyves, and all the actors involved, each giving superb, well-rounded and nuance performances. Richler’s books — and this film — celebrate the little events in people’s lives that highlight the drama and comedy of existence. Don’t miss it.

• Extras: Three featurettes, commentary and interviews.
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What It’s About: A modern-day take on the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fable where a New York teen is transformed into a hideous monster in order to find true love. Seventeen-year-old Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is the spoiled, shallow and incredibly popular prince of his high school kingdom who takes pleasure in humiliating others. But he messes up when he goes after a classmate rumored to be a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen), who transforms him into someone as unattractive on the outside as he is on the inside. She gives him one year to find someone who will love him despite his ‘Beastly’ exterior — or he’ll stay disfigured forever.

It’s Kinda Like: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ meets ‘Edward Scissorhands’

What We Say: Based on the young adult novel by Alex Finn, this beast of a film is just too predictable and pat. Right off the bat you know that the lovely, outspoken girl on the sidelines (Vanessa Hudgens) will be the target of the Beast’s affection and the key to his salvation. There’s some clever scripting in the interactions between Pettyfer and his new entourage (he’s set up in a Brooklyn apartment by his equally shalow dad with a housekeeper, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and a blind tutor, Neil Patrick Harris) and the resolution is snappy, but, hey, it’s all too much of a surface trip.

• Extras: Behind-the-scene featurettes, deleted scenes.
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‘Season of the Witch’
What It’s About: Supernatural action adventure about a heroic 14th century crusader, Knight Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and his fellow soldier, Felson (Ron Perlman), who return from the Crusades to a countryside ravished by the Black Plague. The church, deeming sorcery the culprit of the plague, commands the two knights to transport an accused witch (Claire Foy) to a remote abbey, where monks will perform a ritual in hopes of ending the pestilence. Behmen and Felson are joined on their journey by a priest, another knight, an itinerant swindler and a headstrong young man who wants to be a knight, and their trek is fraught with danger and evil. But a surprise awaits them at the abbey, and they find themselves battling a terrifyingly powerful force that wants to destroy humankind.

It’s Kinda Like: ‘The 13th Warrior’ meets ‘Army of Darkness’

What We Say: ‘Season of the Witch’ got one of the lowest scores of all time at Rotten Tomatoes — 7 percent — so we expected it to be poorly acted and directed with a weak story line. Surprise. What we got was typical Cage theatrics and Perlman snarls, some OK special effects, a mildly interesting story arc, some cool Black Plague makeup and 92 minutes of mindless entertainment while we ate lunch (it was a long lunch). But nothing to warrant the disdain heaped on action-director Dominic Sena’s (‘Gone in 60 Seconds,’ ‘Swordfish’) head for this. I’d rather save that for the next Jennifer Aniston film.

• Extras: Alternate ending, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentaries.
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Other New June 28 DVD Releases:

  • ‘Bloodworth’: A wanderer returns home to Tennessee after 40 years to find hatred in the hearts of the family he left behind. Stars Kris Kristofferson, Val Kilmer, Hilary Duff, Reece Thompson, Dwight Yoakam and Frances Conroy
  • ‘Erasing David’: First-person documentary about a law-abiding man who discovers he is being watched all the time. How much do the government and private corporations know about you? How much can they find out? In order to discover how much privacy he has left, British actor-filmmaker David Bond sets out to disappear from his own life by hopping around random European locations in the U.K. and the continent. The results will surprise you — it’s practically impossible to disappear these days.
  • ‘Lebanon, Pa.’: A young man leaves Philadelphia to bury his recently deceased father in small-town Lebanon and forms an unexpected friendship with his bright, newly pregnant 17-year-old cousin. As he becomes interested in her married teacher and his cousin confronts her conflicted father, they struggle with decisions about the future paths their lives will take. Stars Josh Hopkins, Samantha Mathis, Mary Beth Hurt and Rachel Kitson.
  • ‘Tetsuo: The Bullet Man’ (2009 — Japan): A calm office worker whose father ran illegal experiments on human guinea pigs transforms into living metal when his anger reaches a peak after his only son is killed in a car accident.
  • ‘3 Backyards’: Story of three residents of the same town over the course of one seemingly perfect autumn day. The film looks past familiar suburban exteriors and instead peers deeply into the private lives of its characters as they embark on tiny, personal journeys that eventually carry them vast distances from everything that is familiar. Stars Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Rachel Resheff and Kathryn Erbe.
  • ‘The Warrior’s Way’: A warrior-assassin is forced to hide in a small town in the American Badlands after refusing a mission. Stars Jang Dong Gun, Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth and Danny Huston.
  • ‘Wild Cherry’: Three high school seniors are shocked to discover their names in a legendary book that pairs the school’s virgins with football players. Outraged, the girls form a pact to maintain their virginity and get even with the boys.

June 28 Blu-ray Debuts:

‘The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: Extended Edition:’ This massive set has just about everything any LOTR fan would want — 15 disks with all three films and hours and hours of bonus features that will keep you in Middle Earth for an extended period of time: 26 hours, to be exact, highlighted by the rare behind-the-scenes documentaries created by Costa Botes, the filmmaker given unprecedented access to the set of each production by Peter Jackson.

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Check out more June 28 DVD releases at OnVideo.

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