It’s a big week for fans of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance Twilight, which was adapted into the biggest movie phenomenon of 2008 and is headed to shelves this Saturday, March 21. But which exclusive DVD/Blu-ray package should you pick up for your favorite Bella and Edward devotee? For those who react violently at the very mention of Twilight, we’ve got the perfect antidote: the brutal comic book crime thriller Punisher: War Zone, which reboots Marvel’s anti-hero …again. Also this week, check out Disney’s Certified Fresh animated flick Bolt, the Penelope Cruz-Ben Kingsley drama Elegy, and a few classics given the re-mastered treatment (Akira Kurosawa’s Dodes’ka-den, the F.W. Murnau box set). Read up on more new releases here.

 

Twilight (3/21) — 49%

 

Twilight fan girls, the most exciting week of the year has arrived! (That is, until Twilight‘s sequel, New Moon, hits theaters on November 20). The teenage romance about a girl named Bella and her vampire beau, Edward Cullen, was the biggest movie phenomenon of last year, and came out of nowhere to score over $372 million in worldwide sales, spawn a hit soundtrack, and single-handedly keep Hot Topic stores everywhere in business. This Saturday, the savvy folks at Summit will release the first film in the Twilight franchise on 2-disc, 3-disc, and Blu-ray versions with enough bonus materials to satisfy your Twilight jones.

Which Twilight release should you pick up? The standard-issue 2-disc DVD comes with an impressive array of extras, headlined by an audio commentary with director Catherine Hardwicke and her two stars, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Hardwicke introduces five deleted scenes, and joins her cast and crew (and Stephenie Meyer) in a seven-part documentary about all aspects of the Twilight production. A Comic-Con buzz piece reveals the 2008 panel that took San Diego by storm, and music videos by Paramore, Muse, and Linkin Park give the MTV crowd a few tangential Twilight extras.

But why settle for the standard DVD when you can get much, much more? A Borders-exclusive 2-disc release offers additional cast interviews and video from the red carpet premiere, plus 10 exclusive collectible cards. Over at Target, you’ll find a 3-disc exclusive set that includes a digital version of the film and a third disc of additional Twilight movie footage that includes Edward’s piano performance, Pattinson and Stewart featurettes, Bella’s Lullaby remix video, a conversation with Stephenie Meyer, and — most importantly — a vampire kiss montage created by Hardwicke herself. The Blu-ray release — available only at Target and Best Buy for the first few months — contains all of the above-mentioned extra features.

Target’s 3-disc exclusive is our recommendation for Twilight on DVD…that is, until Amazon’s Ultimate Collector’s Edition box set ($109.99) hits on May 5, 2009. (A Twilight charm bracelet and jewelry box and a teaser for New Moon?? We’re so there. ) Until then, camp out for your local midnight DVD release party and watch our exclusive DVD bonus clip below.

 

Next: Marvel reboots its anti-hero again in Punisher: War Zone

Punisher: War Zone — 24%

Hollywood has twice before attempted to bring Marvel’s violent anti-hero The Punisher to life, failing miserably in both efforts. Would the third time be the charm? The answer, according to critics, was no. Though director Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans) brought a certain genre-indulging flair to her Punisher: War Zone, reviews nudged this redo a few notches below its 2004 predecessor; somewhere, Thomas Jane shakes his fists in triumph. Alexander’s vision catches up with Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher (Ray Stevenson), years after the tragic loss of his family, when he inadvertently lends a hand in the creation of his archnemesis, Jigsaw (Dominic West). Shot darkly and with intense, gory violence, this is a comic book thriller shot more like a horror film — see Stevenson literally slam his fist into a poor thug’s face in our exclusive red band clip below. A filmmaker commentary and making-of featurettes accompany the standard DVD, while Blu-ray viewers can use the nifty BD-Live MOLOG application to insert images and text into the film and share their own “blogs.”

 

Next: Disney’s Oscar-nominated adventure, Bolt

Bolt (3/22) — 87%

Disney’s Oscar-nominated tale about a canine actor trying to find his way home to Hollywood won over critics and audiences alike — and kids and adults alike — thanks to its sweet “a girl and her dog” sentiments and pop culture-savvy dialogue. The Certified Fresh release arrives on DVD and Blu-ray as one of the more satisfying family-entertainment titles of late, and, proving that Pixar doesn’t have a complete monopoly on the genre, drew kudos as one of the best animated flicks of 2008. Tween fans will be delighted to see lots of Miley Cyrus all over the DVD and Blu-ray bonus materials, as well as insightful making-of featurettes and behind-the-scenes glimpses; a feature dedicated to Rhino (Bolt’s hammy hamster sidekick) is a nice coda for the film’s biggest scene-stealer.

 

Next: Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz in Elegy

Elegy — 72%

Although she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Penelope Cruz drew the praise of critics for another 2008 performance — that of the alluring Consuela in Elegy, Isabel Coixet‘s adaptation of the Philip Roth novel “The Dying Animal.” In Elegy, Cruz catches the eye of college professor David Kepesh (Sir Ben Kingsley), a sixty-something intellectual whose habit of seducing and discarding younger women changes when the two strike up a long-term romance; his self-destructiveness leads to their break-up, though he remains haunted by the loss. Sadly, the DVD contains only one making-of feature and an audio or commentary by writer Nicholas Meyer (who wrote two of the best Star Trek flicks, The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home, as well as The Human Stain).

 

Next: International animation and adventure — Azur & Asmar

Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest — 85%

This French animated film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival but never made it into theaters (although the Weinstein Co. owned rights to release it), so its debut this week on home video is its best bet at reaching a wide audience in the states. Award-winning director Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress) based his original tale of two brotherly friends on a quest to free a fabled fairy on folk stories from Africa and the Middle East, and enlisted Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour to provide a score. Stills, storyboards, Ocelot interviews, and a Q&A with children are found on the DVD, along with a charming animated short film made by a group of schoolchildren.

 

Next: Criterion releases a rare Kurosawa gem

Dodes’ka-den — N/A

Most movie-watchers know the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa for his epic samurai films (Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Yojimbo among them) so it’s nice to discover little gems like Dodes’ka-den, a comparatively small movie that marked the auteur’s departure from his best-known genre. In 1970, Kurosawa filmed a project of firsts — his first color film, his fastest production, his first film after breaking with favored actor Toshiro Mifune — focusing on a commune of poor citizens who live in a Tokyo slum; the film’s title refers to the sound of an imaginary train that one character, a young boy, fantasizes of driving. After Dodes’ka-den tanked at the box office, Kurosawa attempted suicide but bounced back to direct Kagemusha and Ran, films now thought of among his best work.

Criterion has given Dodes’ka-den a new transfer on a disc highlighted by a making-of documentary and an essay by film scholar Stephen Prince.

 

Next: Silent film auteur F.W. Murnau gets a new box set

F.W. Murnau box set (Tartuffe/Nosferatu/The Last Laugh/Faust/The Haunted Castle/The Finances of the Grand Duke) — N/A

Tartuffe, Nosferatu, The Last Laugh — these silent film classics are just three of six F.W. Murnau films presented in a newly restored box set put out by Kino this week. Along with Faust, The Haunted Castle, and The Finances of the Grand Duke (none of which have been previously released on DVD), all six films have been remastered from 35mm archival prints and loaded with bonus materials (ranging from retrospective making-of features, original scores, newly composed musical arrangements, production art, and analyses by film scholars), a treat for any fan of silent cinema or of the innovative German filmmaker.

Next: Euro-soccer fervor meets sequelitis in Goal 2: Living the Dream

Goal II: Living the Dream — 41%

What, did you think one Goal movie was enough? (A third film in the series, Goal 3, has been released to DVD in the UK.) In the sequel to 2005’s Goal! The Dream Begins, Mexican-American soccer player Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), is still Living the Dream as a pro-footballer when he’s traded to Real Madrid and moves to Spain — but will personal demons from his past leave his career and relationship sidelined? Alessandro Nivola, Rutger Hauer, and Nick Cannon co-star, while David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, and plenty of your favorite international pros make cameos.

Next: The Princess Bride comes to Blu-ray

The Princess Bride on Blu-ray

Looking for a great new addition to your Blu-ray collection? The Princess Bride has it all: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles… and on the new Blu-ray release, MGM and 20th Century Fox are adding a standard DVD to boot. However, beyond the high definition treatment, Rob Reiner’s tale of love, adventure, and storytelling isn’t getting much in the way of new special features — offering most of what previous DVD editions have offered, albeit in one release — so this Blu-ray will be best for BD owners who don’t already have Princess Bride in some iteration. Have fun stormin’ da castle!

 

Until next week, happy renting!

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