DVD reviews: Intrepid crew

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Kristen Bell returns as the title character in “Veronica Mars,” which picks up the story line nine years after the cult TV series. Former high school detective Veronica Mars is now a newly minted lawyer.
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Sleuths and soldiers stick their necks out in new DVD releases

This week, we begin with Veronica:

Veronica Mars

3.5 stars

Rated PG-13, 108 minutes.

Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray. Available now in various digital download formats.

In this rare blend of detective tale and comedy, Kristen Bell plays the title character, reprising the television role that earned her a devoted following.

Having graduated from being her high school’s only detective, Veronica Mars has now finished law school and leaves her home in Neptune, Calif., for a possible job in New York. But when an ex-high school classmate-turned-celebrity is found murdered and Veronica’s ex-boyfriend (Jason Dohring) is accused in the crime, she returns to the home of her private investigator father (Enrico Colantoni) to track down the real killer.

Director, co-writer and TV series creator Rob Thomas has taken the time to flesh out a story and script that is clever, funny, engaging and populated with interesting characters. Thomas also has notable names in small roles, like the ubiquitous James Franco, but also comedy mavens Martin Starr, Gaby Hoffmann and Ken Marino.

DVD extras: a comprehensive, near-hourlong “making of” featurette with plenty of cast and crew interviews with discussion about the film’s interesting history. Dedicated TV fans initiated a Kickstarter campaign that led to the film’s financing. Plus: five minutes of deleted scenes, a five-minute gag reel, and six brief “On-Set Fun” featurettes.

*

As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, Warner Home Video brings two notable films set during World War II to Blu-ray.

The Big Red One (4 stars) Hollywood maverick Samuel Fuller wrote and directed this film in 1980, near the end of his long career. The film follows the 1st Infantry Division through almost the entire war, from North Africa to Sicily to Omaha Beach and on into Belgium and Germany.

Lee Marvin stars as the veteran sergeant who leads the squad, including four young men who travel all the way. Robert Carradine narrates and plays Private Zab — a thinly disguised stand-in for the young Fuller, a cigar-chomping writer from the Bronx. He joins his fellow soldiers (Mark Hamill, Bobby Di Cicco and Kelly Ward) as they experience war at its worst, including many battle scenes that will test your surround sound system.

Fuller waited until he was in his late 60s before he turned to the subject that had changed his life and his generation. In doing so, he turned out what became just about the most comprehensive — if not the best — film ever made about World War II.

DVD extras: In testing the capacity of a single Blu-ray disc, The Big Red One comes in the original, truncated theatrical version (rated PG, 113 minutes) and the much superior 2004 “Reconstruction” (rated R, 162 minutes). Only the longer version does justice to the complete majesty of Fuller’s complete vision. Also included is a 55-minute biography of Fuller, 47 minutes examining the film’s reconstruction process, a 12-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette, 19 minutes on Fuller’s direction, and 32 minutes of alternate and deleted scenes.

Memphis Belle (2.5 stars) This 1990 film also stays with one group of young men, here the crew of the titular aircraft as it heads off for its 25th mission — which, if successful, will allow them to return home. The “one last mission” scenario opens the door for plenty of first-half war movie cliches, but the second half consists of many finely executed aerial sequences.

Matthew Modine plays Capt. Dennis Dearborn, backed up by crew members played by D.B. Sweeney, Billy Zane, Sean Astin, Eric Stoltz, Harry Connick Jr. and Tate Donovan.

Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.

DVD extras: Wisely selected for inclusion is three-time Best Director Oscar winner William Wyler’s 1944 documentary Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (not rated, 40 minutes). Made under the auspices of the U.S. War Office, the excellent film joins the actual members of the Memphis Belle as they prepare, take off and execute that celebrated 25th mission. Tense and involving, the riveting work remains one of the finest documentaries to come out of World War II.

*

Indiepix returns with two documentaries probing subjects that might be of interest.

American Jesus (2.5 stars) Aram Garriga traveled this country for interviews with people involved in various ministries, and the weirder the better. Unfortunately, he covers so much ground that the superficial portraits result in briefly showcasing sincere people who might have even greater histories to relate.

Not rated, 67 minutes.

DVD extras: an eight minute “making of” featurette and eight interviews.

Shelter Island (2.5 stars) Michael Canzoniero directed this look at Jimmy Olinkiewicz and Harald Olson, two residents of Shelter Island, N.Y. There, Jimmy O. runs a gas station that displays Harald’s outsider art. The two men’s relationship proves affecting and engaging.

Not rated, 77 minutes.

DVD extras: a short film by Olinkiewicz and a montage of Olson’s paintings.

*

And, finally, from this week’s TV arrivals:

Rookie Blue: Season 4 After four years, the handsome group of recruits in the 15th Division are somehow still rookies. No matter, because this summer series holds 13 episodes on four discs, and again features Missy Peregrym in the lead role as Andy McNally.

The alpha cop contributes the most to the weekly dramas, whether in the form of her in-house romances or her adventures undercover. Backing her up are her academy classmates and her superior officers, including Sam (Ben Bass), Dov (Gregory Smith), Chris (Travis Milne) and Traci (Enuka Okuma). The season sees Andy moving on from Sam, Sam meeting a new love (Rachael Ancheril), Chris trying to mix family and work, Dov finding an inappropriate new love, and Traci dealing with tragedy.

Not rated, 553 minutes.

DVD extras: five separate “making of” featurettes and “Rookie Blue: In Session” webisodes.

China Beach: Season 3 And speaking of war, the 22 episodes of this popular series took place during the Vietnam War.

This third season ran from 1989 to 1990 and once again centered on Dana Delany as nurse Colleen McMurphy, working alongside K.C. Kolowski (Marg Helgenberger). The season sees the duo involved with some unforeseen crisis each week, such as constantly tending to the never-ending parade of wounded soldiers to being trapped in one of Vietnam’s infamous tunnels.

Robert Picardo plays Dr. Richard, Brian Wimmer appears as Boonie Lanier, and Ricki Lake joins the cast as Holly Pelegrino. The season also featured such guest stars as Thomas Haden Church, Ruby Dee, Don Cheadle, Helen Hunt, Vince Vaughn and other notables.

Not rated, about 18 hours. On six discs.

DVD extras: commentaries, season bloopers, deleted scenes and interviews with Delany, Nancy Giles and John Wells.

*

Also available Tuesday on DVD: After the Dark, Burn, Generation War and Still Mine.


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