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DVD Reviews For 12/12: "It's Amazing How a Few Insults Can Bring People Together in Three Hours."
by Peter Sobczynski

Cowboys, aliens, dead Santas, penguins and Shakira--these are just a few of the amazing things that can be found in this latest round-up of newly released DVDs and Blu-Rays. As an added bonus, there is even additional commentary on "The Help" from none other than venerable Mom herself.


30 MINUTES OR LESS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Jesse Eisenberg reunites with his "Zombieland" director Ruben Fleischer for this comedy, loosely inspired by actual events, in which he plays a slacker pizza delivery guy who is forced by a couple of even lazier criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) to rob a bank for them or else they will detonate the bomb that they have strapped to him. Although there are a few moments of amusement here and there, this would-be stab at a "Pineapple Express"-style action comedy is done in by a premise that isn't especially funny to begin with and which is barely able to sustain itself throughout its abbreviated running time.

9500 LIBERTY (Passion River. $24.95): With immigration and the problem of what to do with illegal aliens still a hot topic, especially among those vying for the Republican presidential nomination, this eye-opening documentary from co-directors Eric Byler and Annabel Park is as relevant now as ever. In it, they follow a Virginia town that, after an influx of immigrants due to a construction boom, decided to enact a law requiring all townspeople to carry proof of citizenship with them at all times and to arrest those who fail to do so. Thanks to the efforts of some of the more conservative townspeople, the measure is passed, even though the local police chief objects on the grounds that it would cost too much money and leave his department open to charges of racial profiling, but I will leave for you discover what happens next. No, this is not what one might consider to be an even-handed and objective documentary but as cinematic forms of advocacy journalism go, this is one definitely worth watching.

ANOTHER EARTH (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): One of the few titles in this year's crop of buzzed-about Sundance entries that actually held up once they were seen in lower altitudes, this drama with sci-fi overtones stars Britt Marling (who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Mike Cahill) as a young woman who, after spending three years in prison a drunk driving accident that killed a woman and child, surreptitiously goes to work as a housecleaner for the man (William Mapother) whose life she unwittingly destroyed. All of this, by the way, is set amidst the discovery of a new planet that appears to be an exact mirror of Earth and the plans to send an expedition up to check it out.

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (IFC Films. $27.98): Just at the very point when audiences finally seemed to begin growing tired of the increasingly useless gimmick of 3D, leave it to a maverick filmmaker like the legendary Werner Herzog to find a legitimate use for the technology. In it, Herzog brings the 3D camera to the recently discovered Chauvet caverns in France, a remote and nearly inaccessible system containing cave paintings believed to be over 30,000 years old, by far the oldest artwork created by man and by providing viewers with close-up looks of the paintings that manage to represent the contours of the cave walls, he transforms the film into a sort of virtual time machine that allows us to see up close what our ancestors were up long, long ago. One of two brilliant Herzog documentaries to emerge this year (the other, "Into the Abyss," is still in theatrical release), this is a film that is genuinely eye-opening and awe-inspiring in equal measure.

COWBOYS & ALIENS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Two great genre taste do not necessarily taste great together as this ill-fated genre mashup, featuring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford as, respectively, a mysterious stranger and a cattle baron, who team up to battle space invaders bent on destroying their patch of the Wild West, proved when it premiered last summer to an anemic response from critics and audiences alike. It sounds like it should be a lot of fun but director Jon Favreau never finds the right tone for the material and while the cowboy stuff is good enough to make you wish that the whole thing was just a straight western, the alien stuff is a total bore and not even the presence of Olivia Wilde as the half-naked gal with a secret can do much to enliven things, especially working under the constraints of a PG-13 rating.

THE DEBT (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this English language adaptation of the recent Israeli thriller of the same name, a trio of Mossad agents who tracked down and captured a Nazi war criminal back in the Sixties learn in the present day that there may have been more to the mission than even they knew and that the past is coming back to haunt them again. The plot is very silly and the ending is especially awkward but if you can get beyond that, the film is sort of watchable in the manner of one of those fast-paced espionage novels that one plugs through on an airplane to distract themselves from the thought that they may be crashing and Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren are both quite good as the past and present versions of the lone female of the group.

DESIGN FOR LIVING (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): One of the classic sound comedies of Hollywood's pre-Code era, this 1933 masterpiece from Ernst Lubitsch, adapted from the Noel oward play by Ben Hecht, stars Miriam Hopkins as a free-spirited woman who meets playwright Frederic March and painter Gary Cooper in Paris and finds herself unwilling to choose between them.. As expected, it is all terribly droll and sophisticated but it still crackles with humor and energy and some of the material is still risqué enough to raise an eyebrow or two. This special edition disc includes such bonus features as a 1964 British television production of the original play and "The Clerk," Lubtisch's segment of the 1932 multi-story comedy "If I Had a Million," which he also filmed at around the same time. For fans of Thirties-era comedies, this one is a must.

DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (TLA Releasing. $24.95): Venerable British actor Edmund Purdom directed and starred in this 1984 London-based horror epic in which a mysterious killer goes around gruesomely murdering people dressed as Santa Claus. No, it isn't very good but as Yuletide-themed slasher films go, it isn't as good as the genuinely bizarre "Christmas Evil" but infinitely better than "Silent Night, Deadly Night."

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Of the two movies released in 2011 involving friends who decide to embark on a emotion-free sexual relationship only to find that it isn't as easy as it sounds, this one was infinitely better than "No Strings Attached," largely because the jokes were funnier and Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis made for a far more convincing and amusing pair of sex-crossed lovers than Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher did in "No Strings Attached." Although its does begin to falter toward the end when it starts succumbing to the very romantic comedy cliches that it gleefully skewered early on, this is still a fine and funny romantic comedy that probably deserved to do better at the bx office than it did and which will hopefully gain a larger audience on home video.

THE HANGOVER PART II (Warner Home Video. $28.98): If you watched the original "The Hangover" and wished that they would make a sequel that, aside from a local shift from Vegas to Bangkok, told the exact same story and deployed more or less the exact same jokes, then you will be happy to know that your dream came true. For everyone else, this unbelievably lazy and hacky followup was notable only for taking one of the least funny movies in recent years and somehow making it worse. Alas, it proved to be successful enough at the box-office to ensure that a third will be coming soon--consider yourselves warned.

THE HELP (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): Figuring that perhaps I might not be the ideal viewer for this exceedingly popular screen adaptation of the best-selling novel about a nice white girl (Emma Stone) telling the stories of the black housekeepers (including Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) that raised her and her fellow belles (including the monstrous Bryce Dallas Howard and the sweet Jessica Chastain) during the 60's--a time of tumultuous change--I figured that I would show the film to venerable Mom as she was presumably closer to the target audience and might have a better read on whether it was a success or not. Near the end of the film's 140 minutes of noble suffering, sanctimony and wacky poop eating, she turned to me during one exceptionally mawkish moment and remarked "I'm not buying it." Of course, many of you probably have or will, so all I will do is merely add that I probably would have enjoyed it more if John Waters had been given the job of directing it.

MEDEA (E1 Entertainment. $29.98): No, this is not another one of those crappy Tyler Perry brawls, though I suppose it might be funny if some of his fans mistakenly picked it up expecting his patented blend of screeching and sanctimony. In fact, it is a 1969 screen version of the classic Euripides play, in which a priestess sacrifices everything for the man she loves and then violently turns against him when he eventually spurns her for another, directed by the controversial Pier Paolo Pasolini and starring legendary opera diva Maria Callas in her only dramatic role. More of a curiosity than a truly successful film, it does gains some power from Pasolini's elliptical shooting style and from the sheer presence of Callas, who manages to bring a genuinely operatic sense of doom to the proceedings without singing a single note.

MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Presumably hell-bent on following the same career path that has all but killed Eddie Murphy's movie career, Jim Carrey stars in this obnoxious and deeply unentertaining family film in which he plays a high-powered New York businessman who, for reasons best left unexplained, finds himself forced to care for a bunch of penguins that were bequeathed to him by his late father. Look, if you are trying to find flightless waterfowl-based entertainment that is suitable for all ages, give this one a wide berth and stick to the "Happy Feet" movies instead. You can thank me later.

MST3K: VOL XXII (Shout! Factory. $59.97): In the latest must-have collection of episodes from the beloved TV show dedicated to skewering the goofiest movies ever made, Joel, Mike and the bots take on "Time of the Apes" (a bewildering attempt to cram several episodes of a cruddy Japanese television series knocking off "Planet of the Apes" into a feature film), "Mighty Jack" (an even sillier Japanese James Bond knock-off with a hapless hero who is eventually renamed Rex Dart, Eskimo Spy), "The Violent Years" (a hilarious exploitation film connecting juvenile delinquency to communism from the mind of none other than Ed Wood himself) and "The Brute Man" (a bizarre and ultimately depressing attempt to turn Rondo Hatton, whose face was wildly disfigured due to acromegaly, into a horror icon by having him play a once-handsome man who goes around killing the people he holds responsible for disfiguring him along with any obnoxious delivery guys who happen to get in the way). Other new TV-related releases include "30 Rock: Season 5 (Universal Home Entertainment. $49.98), "Big Love: The Complete Series" (HBO Home Entertainment. $89.98), "Designing Women: The Complete 5th Season" (Shout! Factory. $44.49), "The Girls Next Door: The Complete Series" (MPI Hove Video. $129.98), "Hot in Cleveland: Season Two" (Paramount Home video. $29.99), "Law & Order: The Ninth Year" (Universal Home Entertainment. $49.98), "Mission Impossible: The 1988 TV Season" (Paramount Home Video. $39.98), "Portlandia: Season One" (MVD. $16.99), "The Simpsons: The Complete 14th Season" (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), "Smallville: The Complete Series" (Warner Home Video. $379.88) and "Vietnam in HD" (A&E Home Entertainment. $34.98).

OUR IDIOT BROTHER (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): Paul Rudd stars as a cheerfully open and honest goof who, after one of the silliest drug bust in screen history, is taken in by each of his three sisters (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel) and winds up inadvertently destroying their lives in the process. Although it sounds like a one-joke comedy, it gets by thanks to the strength of its surprisingly tight screenplay and Rudd's innate charm and ability to play amusingly off of his co-stars (which also include Rashida Jones as Deschanel's girlfriend, Steve Coogan as Mortimer's faithless husband and Adam Scott as Banks' next-door neighbor/would-be suitor) and though it falls apart a bit during the final scenes, this is still one of 2011's more likable comedies.

POINT BLANK (Magnolia Home Video. $28.98): In this breathlessly paced French thriller, a hospital aide has his heavily pregnant wife kidnapped by thugs who force him to do his bidding if he ever wants to see her again, forcing him to go on the run while figuring out how to save his wife without getting nabbed by either the criminal s or the cops. Needless to say, the plot is as preposterous as can be but director Fred Cavay keeps things moving along at such a brisk and stylish manner that most people won't even notice the gaping holes in logic until long after the film is done. Okay, maybe they will notice during the film itself but for the most part, they will be too wrapped up in the action to care right then.

SHAKIRA: EN VIVO DES PARIS (Sony Music. $24.98): According to Babelfish, this roughly translates as "Giggity!" Other music-related DVDs now available include "Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall" (Columbia Records. $19.98), "Beyonce: Live at Roseland" (Columbia Records. $21.98), "Kylie Minogue: Aphrodite Les Follies--Live in London" (Astralwerks. $32.98), "Taylor Swift: Speak Now World Tour Live" (Big Machine Records. $17.98) and "VH-1 Storytellers: The Dixie Chicks"(Columbia Records. $14.98).

THE SMURFS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): If you liked this movie and are under the age of 9, I weep for you and pray that your taste will soon develop to such an extent that gibberish like this--a cynical and contrived attempt to bring the eternally popular cartoon character to the big screen via CGI, 3D, smug in-jokes and wacky cameos--will quickly and completely be wiped from your memory. If you are over the age of 9 and liked this movie, I would like to kindly request that you never read this column again.

ST LOUIS CARDINALS 2001 WORLD SERIES COLLECTION (A&E Home Entertainment. $79.95): Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit. . .

TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL (Magnolia Home Video. $26.98): In this gory horror spoof, a couple of amiable hillbilly types go up to their remote cabin in the woods for a relaxing weekend and are besieged by a group of idiotic college students who, through circumstances too complicated to get into here, assume that they are standard-issue psycho killers and, through even more complex machinations, wind up messily killing themselves while trying to rescue one of their own from her "fate." Yes, this is a one-joke movie but as these things go, it is a pretty good joke and the film manages to come up with enough variations to keep things humming along nicely for most of its running time, though it does begin to drag a bit in the final reel or two.


BECOMING JANE (Echo Bridge. $20.00)


HORROR EXPRESS (MPI Video. $29.98)

THE LADY VANISHES (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE TRILOGY (Paramount Home Video. $39.95)

SANTA CLAUS (VCI Entertainment. $19.99)

TORA TORA TORA (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.98)

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originally posted: 12/13/11 02:48:21
last updated: 12/13/11 04:52:52
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