This week’s releases spans a spectrum of genres: an early holiday issue with lots of extra goodies; an intriguing tale of murder and mystery; and an indie film about doing what’s right in life and love.

Elf Collector's Edition on DVDElf – The Ultimate Collector’s Edition (DVD)
Once upon a Christmas Eve, an orphan baby crawled into Santa’s bag of gifts and was taken to the North Pole. Raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), Buddy (Will Ferrell) comes to realize he doesn’t fit in with the other elves. Determined to find a place where he belongs, Buddy searches for his real dad in New York City. In the Big Apple, Buddy finds out why his dad (James Caan) is on the naughty list. But more importantly, he sees that the world is seriously lacking in Christmas spirit, which causes Santa all kinds of problems. So with the help of a beautiful store elf (Zooey Deschanel), Buddy tries to teach his dad and the world the true meaning of Christmas and to prove to everyone that Santa (Ed Asner) really exists.

This quickly became one of my holiday favourites. It’s warm, heartfelt, as well as entertaining, without being cheesy. Buddy’s naiveté of the real world is funny, while his childish approach to life is sweet but not annoying. The soundtrack is filled with holiday classics, including a very good rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Deschanel and Leon Redbone. In addition, the holiday message of be kind to your neighbour and loved ones is obvious, but not preachy.

Special features include: commentaries by director Jon Favreau and Ferrell; deleted and alternate scenes; music from Elf; behind-the-scenes featurettes: “Tag along with Will Ferrell,” “Film school for kids,” “How they made the North Pole,” “Lights, Camera, Puffin!” and “That’s a wrap…”; Beyond the Movie features: “Kids on Christmas,” “Christmas in Tinseltown,” “Fact Track,” “Deck the Halls” and “Santa Mania”; Fun ‘N’ Games: “Elf Karaoke,” “Elf – A Short Story of a Tall Tale read-along,” “Buddy’s Adventure Game” and “Secret Elevator o’ Fun”; DVD-ROM content: “Make your own storybook,” “Be an elf photo activity,” “Script-to-screen,” image gallery and printable activities. Also included in the collector’s edition are Elf gift tags, a collectible Elf tree ornament, an Elf magnetic picture frame and a plush Elf holiday stocking. (Alliance Films)

The Girl Who Played with Fire on DVD & Blu-rayThe Girl Who Played with Fire (DVD & Blu-ray combo)
Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is about to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europen and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society. On the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered and the fingerprints on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace).

This second chapter of Steig Larsson’s trilogy is not as strong as its predecessor, but still very good. The first story benefitted from an enticing and gradually unfolding storyline; the second instalment also revolves around a mystery, but the subject matter is less exciting. Furthermore, Mikael and Lisbeth have very little contact in this episode, which was one of the first film’s major strengths. On the other hand, the personal stakes for each character is much higher. Both actors continue to be stellar in their roles, with Rapace wholly embodying Lisbeth and Nyqvist impeccably portraying the determined journalist. In the end, the film is solid and a good subsequent chapter that follows the path laid out in the first picture.

Special features include: cast and crew interviews; “Niderman vs Roberto: Behind the Fight Scene,” and an exclusive sneak peek of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. (Alliance Films)

Nice Guy Johnny on DVDNice Guy Johnny (DVD)
Johnny (Matt Bush) is engaged to a girl who demands he drop his dream gig as a sports radio deejay and work for her dad in the cardboard box industry. But his bed-hopping, fun-loving Uncle Terry (director Edward Burns) has different plans and soon whisks Johnny away to the Hamptons for a weekend. While there, Brooke (Kerry Bishé), a beautiful tennis pro, tempts Johnny to figure out exactly what being a nice guy really means.

Special features include: commentary with Burns; deleted scenes; an extended version of the bar scene; and Bush’s and Bishé’s auditions. (Entertainment One)

The Misfortunates on DVDThe Misfortunates (DVD)
Gunther Strobbe is a 13-year-old boy who lives in his grandmother’s house in a small Belgian town with his alcoholic father and three alcoholic uncles. Life in the household is clearly dysfunctional, yet it’s hard to condemn the Strobbes. Their hearts are in the right place – it’s just that they can’t seem to help turning everything around them into an unmitigated disaster. The Strobbes enter drinking contests, ride bicycles naked, teach vulgar songs to little girls and end up in hospital or prison, then head right back to the bar the next day. Gunther is an observer in this broken home that reeks of cigarette smoke, spilled beer and sweat-stained clothes. He participates in his drunken uncles’ shenanigans only to fit in, hiding his true passion for writing.

Though told from the point-of-view of an adult Gunther using his childhood as material for his latest book, he does not wear rose-coloured glasses when reminiscing about the past. As a teenager, he was well aware of the negative influence of his “role models.” But as an adult, he appears destined to repeat his father’s mistakes, quipping that he similarly impregnated a woman by accident and wishes for the birth of a stillborn if only to make it easier to cut ties with the child’s mother. This tale of deep familial bonds and real emotion is captivating as it displays the fine line between good intentions and bad decisions. The balance of misery and laughs is perfect in director Felix van Groeningen’s adaptation of the autobiographical novel by Dimitri Verhulst.

Special features include: an interview with Groeningen (French subtitles only); a making-of featurette (French only); and a booklet including an exclusive director’s note and a foreward. (Evokative Films)

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