Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas Blu-ray — This side story takes place in the portion of the movie in which the Beast has Belle locked up, well into his attempt at initiating Stockholm Syndrome that leads to everlasting love. Belle decides to round up the gang of cursed castle trinkets and throw Christmas festivities, despite protests from her bitter captor. While the story is dull but harmless, the animation struck me as particularly awful. Normally, Blu-ray makes hand-drawn visuals pop, but here they just highlight the inconsistencies and drab coloring. Also available this week, on DVD only and sold separately, are Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World and the elf-themed special Disney's Prep & Landing.
Conan the Barbarian — With all the subtlety and precision of a battle axe, the unasked-for Conan remake stumbles in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger, failing to re-ignite the swords-and-sandals fury of ages past. Jason Momoa makes for an adequate Conan, but lacks the aloof, He-Man obliviousness of Schwarzenegger, and the far too serious script can't quite capture the camp value of the proceedings. A pair of commentaries and a slew of featurettes load up the combo pack, which includes the 3D and 2D versions of the film, as well as a DVD and digital copy.
DreamWorks Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury — A pair of brief follow-ups to last year's How to Train Your Dragon, as well as an online game, make up this Blu-ray. I was impressed with the production quality, which easily could have been mistaken for deleted footage from the movie itself, as well as the writers' ability to craft drama after the core problem from the first movie — that the Vikings are enemies with the dragons — has been solved. The package is clearly for kids, so adults who enjoyed the movie don't need to knock themselves out to see these pseudo-sequels. Deleted scenes, as well as directions on how to draw adorable baby Gronkles, are included.
Rushmore Blu-ray — Like all cool people, Criterion loves it some Wes Anderson. The studio seems intent on adapting many of the filmmaker's witty, sardonic films to HD. After excellent releases of Bottle Rocket and The Darjeeling Limited, here comes Rushmore (1998), which stars Jason Schwartzman as a precocious high-schooler who takes on a millionaire businessman (Bill Murray) as a frenemy/romantic rival. Olivia Williams plays a teacher who takes him under his wing. Anderson unspools a roll call of quirky characters and sly dialogue — thanks to a script co-written by Owen Wilson — to tell a story that pokes fun at the educational system as well as coming-of-age films in general. Wilson, Schwartzman and Anderson team for a commentary track that's nearly as entertaining as the movie itself. A tribute booklet and documentary, as well as audition footage, round out the package.
Sarah's Key — Kristin Scott Thomas plays a journalist who discovers the apartment she's about to move into with her new husband was seized from a Jewish family during World War II. She delves into its history, leading to a timeline-skipping narrative that parallels Thomas' quest for the truth with the plight of two kids who used to live there and tried to elude capture by authorities. An emotionally devastating film, Sarah's Key is packed with twists and tension that keep you agonizing over the characters' fates. A making-of featurette is the lone notable extra.
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D — Writer-director Robert Rodriguez reboots his kiddie James Bond series with a new sibling duo (Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook) while bringing back now grown-up Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara as mentors. Joel McHale and Jessica Alba play the new spy kids' parents, and Jeremy Piven checks in with multiple roles, including the villain, a man obsessed with stopping time and bending it to its will. You'd expect the series to have run out of gas by now, but that's not the case. The movie is exciting throughout and builds to a disarmingly poignant conclusion. Rodriguez could probably keep this thing going for the rest of his career. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes deleted scenes and a Rodriguez interview.
Super 8 — Writer/director J.J. Abrams made this film the same way he did Lost: He sets up a succession of intriguing characters and engrossing mysteries, then tosses it all into the toilet in the final act, unable to come up with convincing conclusions or character motivations. Set in 1979, the drama follows a group of filmmaking-obsessed middle-school kids, played by universally fantastic young actors, as they witness a train crash and scramble to decipher the meaning of the incident and the military occupation that immediately follows. Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights fame plays a befuddled deputy and recently widowed father of one of the kids. After starting with one of the most entertaining hours of any film this year, the story falls apart in the climax and conclusion. Abrams and his filmmaking team provide commentary, and the Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo also boasts a look at the creation of the film's train wreck and the casting process.
Three Amigos! Blu-ray — The 1986 comedy, set in 1916, joins Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short as a fading comedy act who think they're making a celebrity appearance at a small Mexican village, but are called upon to become heroes and save the citizens from a gang of thugs. Anyone who saw and loved the movie as a kid has a natural soft spot for it, and it's fun to see Chase and Martin at the top of their abilities, as well as Short in the brief period of his career in which he was somewhat funny. While the writing has lost nearly all its edge over time, the film is still a quaint relic form a quarter century ago. For an anniversary release, the special features are lacking.
12 Angry Men Blu-ray — The Criterion adaptation of the 1957 courtroom classic sharpens up the fuzzy black-and-white images you might remember from high school civics class. Sidney Lumet's classic takes place almost entirely inside a jury room, as the jurors debate what seems to be an open-and-shut murder case. Henry Fonda plays the one man who wants to stop and consider whether there was a reasonable doubt before they send the suspect to a near-certain death, and gradually the tide begins to turn in his favor. A tribute booklet, the 1955 TV adaptation of the same play on which the film is based, archival interviews and commentary from film historians buff up the rich package.
WWII in HD Blu-ray — The History Channel series rounds up thousands of hours of previously undiscovered footage from the war, forming them into documentaries that take you back to the era and let you see the horrors, setbacks and victories unfold through the eyes of those who served and suffered through World War II. Pulsing with remarkable moments and moving images, the set would make an excellent gift for grandpa. Extras focus on how the footage was found and restored.
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