Weekly DVD Picks & Passes 07.04.2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

The Leopard (1963)

Night Train to Munich (1940)

Two exciting new DVD releases from the Criterion Collection top this week’s DVD picks. First up is Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich, an overlooked but highly entertaining start-of-WWII espionage thriller with romantic and comic overtones made within months of the start of the war.

Written by The Lady Vanishes screenwriters Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, also set on a train, Night Train recounts a cat-and-mouse game between British and German intelligence over an important Czech scientist named Bomasch (James Harcourt) with an important new invention. When the Nazis invade Czechoslovakia, Bomasch flees for England, but the Nazis try to get to him through his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood).

After the Germans spirit them out of England, British agent Gus Bennett (Rex Harrison) attempts a daring undercover rescue. His pursuit takes him as far as the train to Munich and ultimately to the electric climax, a thrilling slow-motion showdown on a cable car at the Swiss border.

Then there’s a lavish three-disc set of the Vatican-list film The Leopard, Luchino Visconti’s lavish epic elegy of the decline of the Italian aristocracy during the 19th-century Italian unification and Garibaldi’s Sicilian campaign.

Jeff Shannon calls the film “an Italian equivalent to Gone With the Wind,” a nutshell designation that evokes something of The Leopard’s elegiac wartime epic sweep, its lament of the passing of an aristocratic way of life, and its elevated soap-opera goings-on.

Film scholar Peter Cowie contributes a commentary track; other extras include a making-of documentary and assorted interviews.

Classical mythology links our other two picks. Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief is the first installment of Rick Riordan’s fantasy pentalogy, a Harry Potter-meets-Clash-of-the-Titans tale of half-human demigod children living in modern-day America. The plot is full of holes, and I have some misgivings about the family themes, but it’s mostly harmless fun.

Finally, Jason and the Argonauts is new on Blu-ray. Much beloved for classic Ray Harryhausen stop-motion creature effects, including the six-headed Hydra and the sword-fighting skeletons, Jason isn’t exactly a classic, but it’s campy, nostalgic fun for the whole family.

Content advisory: Percy Jackson: Stylized fantasy action and frightening imagery; some suggestive content and crass language. Teens and up. Jason and the Argonauts: Fantasy violence and menace. Fine family viewing. The Leopard: Mature themes including unchastity and romantic complications; a scene of urban revolutionary violence. Adults. Night Train to Munich: Innuendo and discreet sexual references; brief mild violence. Teens and up.