This week’s releases include: a stoner holiday special; a case of mistaken identity; a family from hell; a real-life terrorist hi-jacking; a classic K-9 love story; an ill-fated relationship; a space parody; a philosophical debate; and a severe cop drama.

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas  on blu-rayA Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (Blu-ray & DVD combo pack)
Following years of growing apart, Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) have replaced each other with new friends and are preparing for their respective Yuletide celebrations. But when a mysterious package mistakenly arrives at Kumar’s door on Christmas Eve, his attempts to redirect it to Harold’s house ends with the “high grade” contents – and Harold’s father-in-law’s prize Christmas tree – going up in smoke. With his in-laws out of the house for the night, Harold decides to cover his tracks, rather than come clean. Reluctantly embarking on another ill-advised journey with Kumar, their search for the perfect replacement tree takes them through party heaven.

Unbelievably, this misadventure occurs while the guys are sober – though watching it that way cannot be recommended. This is a movie made exponentially worse by attempting to add a 3D element to the franchise; it repeatedly pauses the narrative to direct random objects at the screen/viewer, making it appear poorly designed and even more badly executed. The strung out baby is amusing, but sadly the Waffle-Bot is more impressive. All of the half-baked situations Harold and Kumar find themselves in are so far beyond belief it’s difficult to follow them down the yellow brick road – particularly when it is all occurring without the aid of any drugs. The Claymation sequence is clever, but the dick jokes are mostly unnecessary.

Special features include: extended and theatrical cuts (approximately a 12-minute difference); deleted scenes; “Through the haze with Tom Lennon”; “Bringing Harold and Kumar Claymation to life”; and a digital copy. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Anonymous on blu-rayAnonymous (Blu-ray)
Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, the film speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds: who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare? It poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage.

The logic to support the notion that Shakespeare was not the writer of his compositions is strong, though the evidence one way or the other is apparently lacking. The historical backdrop adds an extra sense of drama to the narrative, though outside of the Queen’s soft spot for drama the rest of the film in relation to the plays is unlikely to be historically accurate. Rhys Ifans is virtually unrecognizable, turning in an excellent performance of passion and heartache. The continuity of appearance through his teen years to his offspring is inspired.

Special features include: commentary by director Roland Emmerich and writer John Orloff; deleted and extended scenes; “Who Is The Real William Shakespeare?”; “More Than Special Effects”; and “Speak The Speech…” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Another Happy Day on DVDAnother Happy Day (DVD)
A family weekend is fraught with emotional landmines for mercurial and sensitive Lynn (Ellen Barkin) as she arrives at her parents’ Annapolis estate for the marriage of her estranged eldest son Dylan (Michael Nardelli), accompanied by her three younger children (Ezra Miller, Kate Bosworth, Daniel Yelsky). Lynn’s hopes for a joyful reunion are crushed as her wry but troubled middle son Elliot (Ezra Miller) lobs verbal grenades at his mother and her relatives while daughter Alice (Kate Bosworth), fights valiantly to keep her longtime demons under control. The weekend quickly unravels as Lynn demands to be heard by her aloof, disdainful mother (Ellen Burstyn), ailing, distant father (George Kennedy) and ever-judgmental sisters (Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid), but most especially by her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Hayden Church) and his hot-tempered second wife Patty (Demi Moore).

So many of the films about weddings before this one were comedies, it may be a bit unsettling to realize nothing about these characters’ situations are truly funny. The family Lynn is made to return to is horrific in their unsupportive nature. Melancholy with moments of contentment, the script demands compelling performances from all of the actors – and everyone meets or exceeds expectations. Barkin is stellar and Moore is indescribably horrible in her efforts to ensure Lynn does not regain her place within her own family. The material is an ambitious directorial debut for Sam Levinson, but his accomplished cast instinctively drive the film forward.

There are no special features. (Entertainment One)

The Assault on DVDThe Assault (DVD)
On December 25, 1994, four GIA (Armed Islamic Group) terrorists took the 227 passengers of an Air France plane hostage while it was still on the ground in Algiers. After long hours of waiting and the murders of several hostages, the plane finally manages to take off but a lack of fuel forces the pilot to make a stop in Marseilles. A French special forces unit is given the go-ahead to launch an attack on the plane, which is aired live on television.

There are four stories told simultaneously. The narrative jumps back and forth between each of their viewpoints, which is jarring, sometimes briefly confusing and consistently disruptive to the narrative flow. The performances do not make much of an impact on the viewer with actors simply and adequately fulfilling their roles. Unfortunately the effectiveness of the actors is also undermined by the constant jumping between scenes.

There are no special features. (Entertainment One)

The Hour on blu-rayThe Hour (Blu-ray)
The dynamic Bel (Romola Garai) is chosen to produce the new program, to be called “The Hour,” with handsome and well-connected Hector (Dominic West) set to become the anchor, much to the annoyance of Freddie (Ben Whishaw), a brilliant and outspoken journalist, whose passion continually lands him in trouble. Over the six episodes, the interplay of intense ambitions between the rising news team play out against the backdrop of a mysterious murder and Freddie’s controversial and dangerous investigation.

Special features not available. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Lady and the Tramp on Blu-rayLady and the Tramp – Diamond Edition (Blu-ray & DVD combo pack)
A lovely young pedigreed cocker spaniel named Lady, who lives a pampered life, finds herself falling romantically for Tramp, an amorous street-smart pooch without prospects. Although they have fun together on several dates, including a sentimental spaghetti dinner by moonlight at Tony’s restaurant, their relationship is strained not only by Lady’s loyalty to her human family and their newborn baby, but by Tramp’s devil-may-care attitude that eventually gets Lady in trouble and tossed into the dog pound. However, good-hearted Tramp redeems himself by saving the baby from potential harm and thus wins Lady’s love and the affection of her human family.

Though just a cartoon about two dogs, this is one of the best movie love stories ever produced. The candlelit spaghetti dinner behind the Italian restaurant, Tony’s, has been impersonated numerous times. They are an adorable couple and it breaks your heart when it looks like they may not make it. The Siamese cats, Si and Am, are key players in Lady’s fate and memorable personalities, tearing through the house and making sure Lady takes the blame. “The Siamese Cat Song” is unforgettable, likely to replay in the viewer’s mind for days afterwards. “He’s a Tramp” is another impressive number that is also pretty catchy. And though the beaver’s role is small, he’s quite amusing.

Special features include: never-before-seen deleted scenes and song; “Inside Walt’s Story Meetings”; “Diane Disney Miller: Remembering Dad”; a making-of featurette; “Finding Lady: The Art of the Storyboard”; original 1943 storyboard version of the film”; “PuppyPedia: Going to the Dogs”; “’The Siamese Cat Song’, Finding a Voice for the Cats”; “Bella Notte” music video; trailers; excerpts from “Disneyland” TV shows; and “Disney Second Screen.” (Disney Home Entertainment)

Love Story on blu-rayLove Story (Blu-ray)
Harvard Law student Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal) and music student Jennifer Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw) share a chemistry they cannot deny and a love they cannot ignore. Despite their opposite backgrounds, the young couple put their hearts on the line for each other. When they marry, Oliver’s wealthy father threatens to disown him. Jenny tries to reconcile the Barrett men, but to no avail. Oliver and Jenny continue to build their life together. Relying only on each other, they believe love can fix anything. But fate has other plans. Soon what began as a brutally honest friendship becomes the love story of their lives.

Just ahead of Valentine’s Day, they’ve re-released one of the most romantic films of all time. It even inspired a Canadian version called Face Off. Their unrelenting devotion to each other is what everyone hopes to find in a partner – though preferably without the tragic test of that love. Produced in the ’70s, it’s somewhat dated but still as affecting as ever.

Special features include: commentary by director Arthur Hiller; “Love Story: A Classic Remembered”; and the original theatrical trailer. (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Robot Chicken: Star Wars III on blu-rayRobot Chicken: Star Wars III (Blu-ray)
In this all-new hour-long special, four very different characters — Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and Gary the Stormtrooper — reveal untold stories that weave and interconnect throughout all six Star Wars films.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of the Star Wars prequels, Seth Green’s latest spoof could convince you to revisit the films. It will reignite a passion for the franchise that maybe high-definition transfers could not. Of course, the humour relies on the viewer being at least familiar with the characters – but that’s all that’s required to enjoy this hilarious parody. From the lengthy murder of an Ewok to the realization that Chewbacca has been naked all this time, the laughter never stops.

Special features include: four audio commentaries; 26 deleted scenes with video intros; six behind-the-scenes featurettes; special appearance by George Lucas; sketch by sketch video commentary; Skywalker Ranch premiere; Star Wars celebration V panel; and trailers. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

The Sunset Limited on blu-rayThe Sunset Limited (Blu-ray)
This searing two character drama is about the choice people frequently make; to go on or give in to despair. Set in a New York tenement apartment, the story focuses on two very different men: a black ex-con (Samuel L. Jackson) who claims to hear the voice of Jesus, and the white professor (Tommy Lee Jones) he stopped from throwing himself in front of an oncoming train, The Sunset Limited. What follows is a philosophical debate with incredibly high stakes – can Black convince White that life is worth living; that once he goes out that door he should not head for a return date with the Sunset Limited? Souls are bared and secrets shared, with Black’s faith increasingly challenged by White’s bleak but meticulously reasoned view of a world gone wrong. The conflict reaches a shattering conclusion.

A film starring only two actors is quite unique; especially in an age of movie releases in which minimalism is almost extinct. It places a lot of onus on the story and performances, which are both outstanding in this film. The power of these two men to pull an audience in and draw their complete attention for 90 minutes is exceptional. The philosophy that drives the story is a pertinent one in a society that has so much upon which to reflect negatively. Black clings to religion to make all that is bad bearable, while White believes life is what we’ve made it and there can be no reprieve – two powerful arguments that will keep you thinking long after the credits roll.

Special features include: commentary by executive producer/director Jones, writer Cormac McCarthy and Jackson; and a making-of featurette featuring interviews with the cast and crew. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Texas Killing Fields on blu-rayTexas Killing Fields (Blu-ray & DVD combo pack)
Inspired by true events, it follows Detective Souder (Sam Worthington), a homicide detective in a small Texan town, and his partner, transplanted New York City cop Detective Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as they track a sadistic serial killer dumping his victims’ mutilated bodies in a nearby marsh locals call “The Killing Fields.” Though the fields are outside their jurisdiction, Detective Heigh is unable to turn his back on solving the gruesome murders. Despite his partner’s warnings, he sets out to investigate the crimes. Before long, the killer changes the game and begins hunting the detectives, teasing them with possible clues at the crime scenes while always remaining one step ahead. When familiar local girl, Anne (Chloë Grace Moretz), goes missing, the detectives find themselves racing against time to catch the killer and save the young girl’s life.

The horror of crime in major cities, such as New York, Detroit and Philadelphia, has been documented in film for some time. However, who would’ve guessed Texas City would have such a scary rate of rape and murder – particularly enough to have a field nicknamed based on the number of bodies found in it. Though it’s possible these cases were spread out over more time than is presented in the film, it’s still a side of the lone star state not often seen. Morgan and Worthington portray different types of cops; the latter just doing his job and the former on a mission to make the world a better place. Moretz utilizes her sullen persona previously seen in Let Her In, while Stephen Graham plays that subtle creepy you know is trouble.

There are no special features. (Alliance Films)

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