New on DVD this week:
- Last year’s holiday hit Arthur Christmas is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. From Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Studios, the folks who brought you the incomparable Wallace and Gromit franchise, comes the story of Santa’s bumbling youngest son, Arthur (James McAvoy), who’s determined to save the day and prove his worth to dad and bullying big brother (Hugh Laurie) after he realizes that one little girl has been missed on Christmas Eve. Also featuring the voice talents of Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy, Arthur Christmas offers kids a refreshing message about turning off, tuning out and getting back to Yuletide basics. Extras on the Blu-ray (which contains both 3D and 2D versions) include an Elf Recruitment Video, character and scene storyboards, and a making-of featurette featuring cast interviews.
- The Brave “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” is a five-disc 3D combo pack chock full of extras featuring Highland princess Merida (voice by Kelly MacDonald) and her clan: her mischievous triplet brothers, indulgent King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who gets more than she bargains for when she pushes her headstrong daughter too far. Pixar Animation blends ancient Celtic folklore with a heaping dose of humour and, in Merida, provides an excellent role model for all those wild wee girls out there.
- If the highlight of going to the movies with your kids is the animated shorts that precede them, you’re not alone. The Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2 features 12 of the animation studio’s newest short films, among them several multiple Academy Award nominees. You’ll be amazed at how filmmakers can pack so much heart and humour into such a short running time. In addition to the dozen recent works, the student films of Pixar directors John Lasseter, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton are featured, along with filmmaker commentaries.
- Naysayers said it was too soon for another Spidey sequel, but indie director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) proved the perfect choice to helm The Amazing Spider-Man, a story that’s as much about teen angst as it is about supernatural powers. Brit Andrew Garfield plays the boy bitten by that famous spider, though it takes Peter Parker a while before he can swing between skyscrapers without crashing into the local coffee shop. There’s a super lizard villain threatening the city (Rhys Ifans), but it’s Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) who has Peter’s heart beating faster. An excellent addition to Marvel’s Spider-Man canon. Deleted scenes, commentary with Webb and producers, production design and stunt extras can all be found on the standard disc.
- In Savages Blake Lively plays a Laguna beach babe named O who is in love with two best buddies and self-made drug producers: Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is an impulsive Iraq war vet, Ben (Aaron Johnson) is a Buddhist who uses the drug profits to spread goodwill throughout the world, and all involved seem content with the threesome arrangement. But O warns us at the beginning “just because I’m telling you this story doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end of it.” The Mexican drug cartels are moving north (led by Salma Hayek), they want some of the boys’ action, and they kidnap O in order to get it. Benicio del Toro is a cartel enforcer, John Travolta plays a crooked DEA agent. This is a hyper-stylized Oliver Stone film with some good performances, but it evades deeper storytelling by making Hayek impossibly emotional, and by refusing to force O to choose. Blu-ray includes the theatrical version of this film, rated R for “strong, brutal and grisly violence,” as well as an unrated version, deleted scenes, a five-part making-of featurette, and commentary with Oliver Stone.