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Away We Go

Universal

$30

Blu-ray: $40

Plot: An unmarried pair of soon-to-be parents (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) set off on a cross-country trip in search of a new place to call home.

Opinion: Already big names in the television biz, Away We Go confirms that Krasinski (a.k.a. Jim from The Office) and Rudolph (a.k.a. Whitney/Beyonce/Oprah from Saturday Night Live) have the movie star goods. Their moving, funny and emotionally honest performances help distract from the film’s uneven supporting cast, some of whom go so far over the top, it’s painful to watch (we’re looking right at you Allison Janey).  It helps that director Sam Mendes displays a lighter touch here than he has in virtually every other film he’s made to date; in fact, in many ways this movie is an antidote to his last outing, the overbearing Revolutionary Road.  The episodic structure results in a few dead patches, but whenever Rudolph and Krasinski are onscreen, you’re happy to spend time in their company.

Bonus Features: A commentary track with Mendes and the film’s writers, real-life married couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida and a making-of featurette.

Verdict: Buy It

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Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Warner Home Video

$25

Blu-ray: $30

Plot: After Lex Luthor frames Superman and Batman for a crime they didn’t commit, the Caped Crusader and The Dark Knight have to fight off hoards of their enemies-and a few of their friends.

Opinion: A more accurate title for the latest direct-to-DVD animated feature from DC Comics would be: Superman and Batman Fight the DC Universe.  The majority of this movie’s slender 67-minute runtime is given over to epic battles that pit Batman and Superman against such villains as Mongul and Solomon Grundy and supposed good guys like Captain Atom and Power Girl.  At least these action sequences are very well executed-in fact, they’re far more exciting and innovative than the fights on display in most live-action superhero movies.  But compared to such previous DC cartoons as The New Frontier, Public Enemies doesn’t have much to offer in the way of a great story or eye-catching animation.  Still, if you’ve ever wondered how Batman would fare in a fight with Captain Marvel, Public Enemies is worth a look.

Bonus Features: Lots of fun sneak peeks at past and future projects from DC’s animation wing, most notably their Spring 2010 release Crisis on Two Earths.  There’s also a twenty-minute documentary exploring the psychologies of Superman and Batman, a half-hour conversation between actor Kevin Conroy (who voices Batman) and the film’s creative team, and two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series, which ran in the mid-’90s.

Verdict: Rent It

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gfe_3d_cmyk1The Girlfriend Experience

Magnolia

$27

Blu-ray: $35

Plot: Steven Soderbergh chronicles a few weeks in the life of a high-end Manhattan escort (porn star Sasha Grey).

Opinion: Coming off one of his biggest-and best-films, a four-hour profile of controversial revolutionary Che Guevera, Soderbergh switches gears and delivers a small-scale character study that lasts a mere 80 minutes.  Filmed on the streets and in the luxurious high-rises of Manhattan in October 2008 just as the economy was starting to crumble, The Girlfriend Experience is a captivating portrait of a city in transition.  Never one to shy away from challenging the audience, Soderbergh scambles the film’s chronology, recounting events out of sequence and building towards a deliberately ambigious ending.  It’s the kind of movie that rewards repeat viewings.  Beautifully shot by Soderbergh (who, as usual, served as his own director of photography) and well acted by its non-professional cast, The Girlfriend Experience is a minor gem from one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today.

Bonus Features: Soderbergh contributes another one of his eloquent, insightful commentary tracks, which at times into an extended interview with his star and fellow commentator Grey.  Also tucked away in the extras menus is an unrated alternate cut of the movie that does feature some striking differences from the theatrical version.

Verdict: Buy It

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Monsters vs. Aliens

Paramount

$30

Blu-ray: $40

Plot: The title pretty much says it all: a crew of monsters battle an invading army of aliens.

Opinion: In the never-ending Pixar vs. DreamWorks Animation debate, I tend to come down on Pixar’s side.  That said, with Monsters vs. Aliens, the DreamWorks guys have achieved something their rivals have yet to accomplish: they’ve built an entertaining adventure entirely around a female protagonist.  MvA puts girl power front and center in the form of Susan Murphy (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), an ordinary small-town woman who is transformed into a 50-foot-tall giantess following a freak encounter with a glowing meteorite.  While the female empowerment aspect of MvA is worth celebrating, there are plenty of other things to like here as well.  The action sequences are lots of fun and the characters are wonderfully realized by the animators and the vocal cast.  As enjoyable as MvA is, I have to concede that it doesn’t measure up to Pixar’s best efforts.  The truth is we’ve been spoiled by films like Wall-E and Toy Story-to say nothing of such exceptional non-Pixar productions as Spirited Away and Coraline-which seek to both entertain and elevate animation as an art form.  MvA is purely interested in the first half of this equation.  It deserves praise for succeeding at what it sets out to do, but you might leave the theater wishing it had aspired to just a little bit more.

Bonus Features: There’s plenty here to entertain both adult and kid viewers alike; the 25 and older set will likely enjoy the commentary track and making-of featurettes, while those 15 and under will want to check out the games and bonus animated adventure B.O.B.’s Big Break on the second disc.

Verdict: Buy It

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Also on DVD:

One of Hollywood’s most beloved movies turns the big seven-oh this year and what better way to celebrate than with a super-deluxe box set?  The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Edition (Warner Home Video, $70) offers a remastered and restored version of the 1939 Judy Garland classic along with a host extras ranging from new documentaries and featurettes to four silent short films based on the writing of the real wizard behind the curtain, author L. Frank Baum.  How I Met Your Mother: Season Four (CBS, $40) collects the fourth season of the best sitcom currently on the air–yes, even better than The Office.  Last but certainly not least, The Unit: The Complete Giftset (20th Century Fox, $200) contains the entire run of CBS’s underrated action series, created by playwright David Mamet and The Shield mastermind Shawn Ryan.  A terrific showcase for leading man Dennis Haysbert, The Unit mixed impressive action sequences with a lot of juicy drama.  It’s a shame it didn’t last beyond four seasons, but at least viewers who missed the show the first time around will be able to get hooked on it with this set.

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