- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

Holy high-definition hijinks, the adventures of DC Comics’ famed vigilante are celebrated in a trio of new Blu-ray releases.

First, Batman: The Movie (Fox, $39.98) explodes with pop-art color and nostalgia in the 1966 film starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. In this campy story, styled in the manner of famed 1960s television series, the Dynamic Duo take on the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether).

The best extra to the single disc is an interactive tour of the classic George Barris-designed Batmobile. Fans control a 360-degree inspection of the car and hone in on 22 parts of its interior and exterior. Some areas can even be activated for a look at such gadgets as the Bat Slicer or Bat Ray.

The next Blu-ray is a selection of grim cartoons compiled in Batman: Gotham Knight (Warner, $34.99). This direct-to-disc release contains six too-short vignettes in a Japanese animation style written by such Bat chroniclers as David (“Batman Begins”) Goyer, Alan (“Batman: The Animated Series”) Burnett and Greg (Detective Comics) Rucka.

This pretty lackluster set is no “Animatrix” — a cartoon collection based on the “Matrix” — and badly needs a Joker story. The best extra is a 38-minute biography of Batman’s creator, Bob Kane. Stan Lee’s memories of him are especially humorous.

Finally, the 2005 film makes its return in high-def with Batman Begins: Limited Edition Gift Set (Warner, $49.99). The brooding bat, played almost too seriously by Christian Bale, takes on the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul in the Christopher Nolan-directed effort.

Unfortunately, a retread of the previously offered extras from the last DVD and HD-DVD releases will not make Blu-ray fans happy.

However, an optional PIP (picture-in-picture) presentation over the movie helps. It contains a decent selection of interviews and stills.

Additionally, owners get the first six minutes of the new film, “The Dark Knight,” presented in Imax high-def glory, and it really jumps from the screen. Also found in the package is a 32-page book storyboarding that footage and a comic book adapting its action.

— Joseph Szadkowski

21 (Sony, $28.96 for DVD, $34.95 for two-disc DVD, $38.96 for Blu-ray) — If you like Las Vegas, chances are you’ll like the Las Vegas flick “21.” It captures perfectly the heady feeling of winning in Sin City and the excitement that comes from being in a place where it seems anything is possible. Perhaps that verisimilitude comes from the source material; the film is based on the best-selling nonfiction title “Bringing Down the House.”

British actor Jim Sturgess (the baby-faced Paul McCartney look-alike from “Across the Universe”) tries on an American accent as Ben Campbell, a working-class Massachusetts Institute of Technology student wondering how he’ll pay next year’s Harvard Medical School bills. A solution is suggested by math professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey). He offers brainy Ben a spot on the school’s underground card-counting team. The honest Ben is at first reluctant to join, but the team’s gorgeous Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) quickly recruits him. Soon the group is flying from the East Coast to Las Vegas and winning thousands of dollars each weekend at the blackjack tables. Ben’s troubles appear to be over, until he begins using the proceeds saved for medical school to finance a high-flying new lifestyle. (Hey, who hasn’t spent their Vegas winnings at the city’s plethora of designer stores?) Almost as dangerous is the fact that a casino enforcer played by Laurence Fishburne is hot on the group’s tail.

The single-disc DVD includes a commentary from producers and director Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”), as well as featurettes on the making of the film and creating that Vegas look. More helpful is a featurette on the strategy behind card-counting. The two-disc DVD includes those extras, as well as a digital copy of the film that you can watch on your computer or portable device. The Blu-ray release adds a “21 Virtual Blackjack Game,” in which you can try out card counting for yourself.

Beau Brummell: This Charming Man (Acorn Media, $24.99) — If it weren’t for Beau Brummell, men might still be wearing britches and we’d likely all be stifled by our own filth.

The original dandy didn’t just give us the first modern suit and tie. More important, the fashion icon of Regency England popularized daily bathing and teeth-cleaning. Of course, few of us take the reported five hours that George Bryan Brummell did to get ready each day. (He eventually had an audience of voyeurs for the daily event.) But then, we’re not friends with the Prince Regent and future King George IV. James Purefoy (Mark Antony in HBO’s “Rome”) is very charming in this enjoyable 2006 BBC production based on Ian Kelly’s biography of the man who was born to fairly privileged circumstances in 1778 and died in poverty and insane in 1840. His influence spread through his friendship with the Prince Regent (Hugh Bonneville from “Iris”), who followed his advice to remove his French-style white wig and face paint. Not everyone liked the simplified style and cravat that went along with it. “Dandy,” one man hisses at Brummell. “Fop,” he calmly retorts. In a bold and clever move, Brummell uses his relationship with the prince to get out of debt. Rather like today’s celebrities, he gets freebies wherever he goes. Matthew Rhys (TV’s “Brothers & Sisters) appears as the poet Lord Byron, whom Mr. Kelly speculates had something to do with the famous falling out between prince and adviser.

— Kelly Jane Torrance

Art House Vol. 1: Basic Shapes and Animals, (Art House, $17.99) — This 35-minute DVD of art instruction for wee ones makes art look easy (a good thing) — and formulaic (not necessarily a good thing). A supremely chirpy, pigtail donning, “real-life” art and preschool teacher, “Emily,” shows a pretend class of young art students how to make shapes and then how to use the shapes (ovals and triangles) to make dogs and fish and other fauna. It’s easy to use, interactive and has a cutesy original soundtrack. But does it inspire creativity? Doubtful.

Yet it’s still a good buy for the art-challenged or too-busy-to-draw-with-my-child parent.

— Gabriella Boston

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