New on DVD & Blu-ray, Week of Dec. 6: ‘The Help,’ ‘The Hangover Part II,’ ‘Cowboys & Aliens’


It’s another banner week for home video. There’s five major theatrical releases and one foreign film coming to DVD — a mixed bag that includes something for everyone: melodrama ‘The Help,’ comedy ‘The Hangover Part II,’ sci-fi Western ‘Cowboys & Aliens,’ spy thriller ‘The Debt,’ family film ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ and the delicious French thriller ‘Point Blank.’ Read on.

‘The Help’
What It’s About: This compelling story of a group of Southern women during the early 1960s incorporates melodrama, politics and plenty of powerhouse acting. The drama revolves around young white writer Skeeter (Emma Stone) who returns home to Mississippi, only to become involved in the cause of the local black women — maids, live-ins and all around nannies — who have served their white mistresses for generations. Hoping to expose the horrors of segregation — and make a name for herself — Skeeter decides to write their stories; soon the “help” secretly meet her to tell their tales to her — learning from their “tellings” how better to stand up for themselves and throw off their domestic chains.

It’s Kinda Like: ‘Corinna, Corinna’ meets ‘Driving Miss Daisy’

What We Say: ‘The Help’ offers a stellar cast of actors (in addition to Stone, there are standout Academy Award-level performances by Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain) who rub up against a solid, believable and heartwarming script. The result: a genuine tug at the heart strings. It’s a first-rate women’s film that gives us a peek into an inequitable world of second-class citizens and the privileged white women who controlled their black help’s lives. Like 2009’s ‘The Blind Side,’ this is an uplifting film “that they just don’t make anymore.”

• Extras: Deleted scenes and a pair of featurettes.
Rotten Tomatoes Reviews | Buy DVD | Save DVD to your Netflix queue

‘The Hangover Part II’
What It’s About: The “fearless foursome” of ‘The Hangover’ travel to exotic Thailand for Stu’s wedding (Ed Helms) and, naturally, all hell breaks loose when what begins as an innocent round of beer around the campfire turns into another lost weekend. This one involves drug dealing, a crazy monkey, Buddhist monks, motorcycle hit men, tattoos and wild women. Director Todd Phillips transposes the original characters and story structure, adds more filth and raunch, and comes up with the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time.

It’s Kinda Like: ‘The Hangover’ meets ‘The Big Boss’

What We Say: ‘The Hangover Part II’ is to ‘The Hangover’ as ‘Bruno’ was to ‘Borat’: a pale imitation of the original. This is a nasty film that wallows in bathroom humor and “dirty” jokes. If you like the idea of a monkey licking a simulated penis, then the humor of this beastly outing is for you. Please make this the last one.

• Extras: Several behind-the-scenes featurettes and a gag reel.
Rotten Tomatoes Reviews | Buy DVD | Save DVD to your Netflix queue

‘Cowboys & Aliens’
What It’s About: In this melding of science fiction and Western genres, Daniel Craig plays a wanted man who wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory of his past and a mysterious metal shackle encircling his wrist. Turns out the nearby town of Absolution is under attack by aliens from outer space, who are abducting people for nefarious reasons — experimentation, natch — and the gunslinger, the townspeople, a tribe of Native Americans, a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde) and the local land baron (Harrison Ford) and his minions team up to stymie the monsters.

It’s Kinda Like: ‘War of the Worlds’ meets ‘The Searchers’

What We Say: Director Jon Favreau and executive producer Steven Spielberg studied tons of Westerns and sci-fi films while working on this big-budget ‘B’ film, but it was all for naught — the genre-bending oateater has none of the excitement of its forbearers. It’s also humorless, slow-moving, predictable and, at times, just plain stupid. There’s only one twist in the movie, and even that one is a dud. What a shame — it’s a great idea that certainly worked much better as a graphic novel.

• Extras: Commentary by Favreau and a couple behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Rotten Tomatoes Reviews | Buy DVD | Save DVD to your Netflix queue

Other New December 6 Releases:

  • ‘Bobby Fischer Against the World’: (2011) A searing portrait of a brilliant, yet troubled man — chess prodigy Bobby Fischer — using news clips and archival footage, as well as rare interviews with Fischer himself.
  • ‘The Debt’: (2011) Story of three Mossad agents who endeavored to capture and bring to trial a notorious Nazi war criminal — the Surgeon of Birkenau — in a secret Israeli mission in 1966 that resulted in the man’s death. The film jumps back and forth between the past and the present, where a man claiming to be the doctor has surfaced. Stars Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain.
  • ‘Dragon Tattoo Trilogy Extended Edition’: (2009) A four-disc set with all three ‘Dragon Tattoo’ films, encompassing nine hours with characters and plot developments only seen in European versions.
  • ‘Mangus!’: (2011) Trailer trash comedy revolves around a high school senior who will do anything to fulfill his family’s tradition of playing Jesus in the local annual production of “Jesus Christ Spectacular.”
  • ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’: (2011) Jim Carrey’s career takes another icey turn in this story about a driven businessman divorced from his wife and kids who’s clueless when it comes to the important things in life until he inherits six, “adorable” and mischievous penguins from his arctic explorer father.
  • ‘Point Blank’: (2011) A happily married male nurse working in a Paris hospital who saves the life of a wounded criminal must help the gangster escape or face the death of his kidnapped wife (and unborn child) in this exciting French thriller that takes viewers on an exhilarating non-stop ride through Paris’ streets, subways, hospitals, warehouses, and police stations.
  • ‘Triple Tap’: (2010) Hong Kong actioner about a cop who makes it his mission to bring down a media hero who single-handedly stopped an armored van robbery when it becomes apparent he was actually the mastermind behind the crime.