RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: The Help and Cowboys & Aliens

Plus, the Wolf Pack is back, a Mossad film is Certified Fresh, and this mission just got a hell of a lot more impossibler.

This week on home video, we've got a handful of big releases that came out earlier this year; while a couple of them did surprisingly well, a couple of them fell far below expectations, and another one pretty much turned out the way we all thought it would. First up is the Emma Stone and Viola Davis-powered drama about race relations, followed by a sci-fi genre mash-up that should have been better than it was. Then, we've got a children's film starring Jim Carrey, a smart retro spy thriller, and the sequel to a wildly popular comedy from a couple years back. In the reissue department, we've got a new Criterion Blu-ray for a Hitchcock classic, a popular franchise box set, and a Blu-ray for an historical WWII epic. See below for the full list!

The Help

76%

What seemed on its surface to be another schmaltzy, pandering examination of race relations turned out to be one of the surprise hits of the year, thanks mostly to the efforts of its terrific cast. Based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, The Help stars Emma Stone as Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, an intrepid young journalist during Civil Rights era America who decides to write a surely controversial novel about the experiences of black maids from the maids' perspectives. During the course of her interviews, Skeeter befriends her subjects and an unlikely bond develops, lending Skeeter's project a new sense of import and purpose. Though some critics felt the film somewhat glossed over its racial themes, the power of the performances, including superb turns by co-stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, helped to elevate the picture to a Certified Fresh 75%. The Help may not quite be the grand lesson in race relations some might want it to be, but it's a moving look at the era and a worthy adaptation of its source material.

Cowboys & Aliens

44%

Tell anyone you've got an alien invasion movie set in the old west, starring Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and Olivia Wilde, and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man), and chances are that you'll have the listener's full attention. Too bad, then, that the actual film this describes turned out to be a flop. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Cowboys & Aliens is exactly the kind of genre mash-up that contemporary audiences eat up heartily; 007 himself (Craig) plays a wandering stranger with no memory who stumbles into the New Mexico town of Absolution, only to find that the town's residents don't take too kindly to strangers. However, when a mysterious otherworldly menace begins an assault on the town, the stranger must team up with the local lawman (Harrison Ford) to battle for humankind's survival. So what was the major problem here? Critics felt that, despite appealing performances from Craig and Ford, the film simply shifted its tone too abruptly and too often, never quite settling into a comfortable and effective groove. At 44% on the Tomatometer, Cowboys & Aliens isn't the awesome genre action flick it could have been, but it may still satisfy those in dire need of a fix.

The Hangover Part II

34%

Back in 2009, Warner Bros. had a surprise hit of their own with the raucous bromantic comedy The Hangover, and it was immediately expected that a sequel would follow. Sure enough, two years later, audiences were treated to a second outing with the "Wolf Pack," namely Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and Doug (Justin Bartha). If you've heard or read anything about the movie, you know that the typical summary offered is "It's pretty much the same as the first one, except that it takes place in Thailand." This time around, it's Stu who's getting married, so the gang travels back to his fiancee's homeland for the festivities, and again, it's Alan who inadvertently brings about another forgotten night of mayhem that the fellas must piece together the day after. What the first movie had going for it -- namely, the element of surprise and a sense of joyful mayhem -- is largely missing from this sequel, which sports raunchier jokes and a much darker tone. If you don't mind a sense of déjà vu, feel free to dive right in.

Mr. Popper's Penguins

48%

Look, it can't be denied: penguins are adorable. With that in mind, it's quite understandable why there have been so many films in recent years, from documentaries to CGI-animated tales, centered around our most cuddly, flightless friends. And, of course, as demonstrated by other entries in this week's list, adaptations of books are a Hollywood favorite as well, which brings us to Mr. Popper's Penguins. Jim Carrey stars as the titular Mr. Popper, a divorced realtor whose globetrotting father leaves him with crates full of penguins upon his death. Popper decides not to turn the penguins over to the zoo when he observes how much his children love them, and in caring for his new feathered friends, he not only mends his personal relationships, but also succeeds in landing an important and sentimental real estate deal. Based on a children's book from 1938, Mr. Popper's Penguins is pretty standard stuff, which means the plot points are predictable, and there are enough "aww shucks" moments for the kids. The film, however, fails to transcend cliché and become something more, and for that, it sports just a 47% on the Tomatometer.

The Debt

77%

Have room for one more unoriginal story? A remake of the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, The Debt at least does a good job of adapting the original for a new audience. Flashing back and forth between two eras, The Debt tells the story of three Mossad agents who, in 1966, undertook a mission that made them national heroes... But did they really complete their mission, or is there more to the story? Three decades later, having enjoyed a life of some notoriety, the agents must decide whether or not to follow up on their original task, and as more details are revealed, the path becomes more treacherous for all involved. Though the shifts in time may be a little problematic for some at first, critics largely found much to praise in The Debt's smartly executed script and impressive acting. With a Certified Fresh 76% and stars like Tom Wilkinson, Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Ciaran Hinds, and Marton Csokas filling out the bill, you can be assured this is one thriller that will engage you from start to finish.

The Lady Vanishes - Criterion Collection Blu-Ray

98%

Two years before leaving his native Britain for Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock made The Lady Vanishes, a deft blend of thrills and laughs that established a formula the master would utilize in his American films. On a train ride from a fictional Central European country to her native England, Iris (Margaret Lockwood) becomes acquainted with an elderly fellow traveler -- who proceeds to seemingly vanish into midair. With the help of musicologist Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), Iris tries desperately to find the old lady, and to prove she's not crazy. Filled with eccentric supporting characters (including Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford, whose characters Charters and Caldicott became a favorite of British audiences) and plenty of suspenseful twists and turns, The Lady Vanishes finds Hitchcock at an early peak. A new Critierion Blu-ray features a fresh transfer of the film, plus a making-of video essay, audio excerpts of a 1962 Hitchcock interview by Francois Truffaut, and Crook's Tour, a 1941 film that re-teamed Charters and Caldicott.

Tora! Tora! Tora! - Blu-ray

59%

A troubled production and a flop at the box office, Tora! Tora! Tora! certainly can't count lack of ambition as one of its faults. A history lesson come to life, the film dramatized the attack on Pearl Harbor from both the American and Japanese perspectives; while many praised its commitment to historical accuracy, others felt the film lacked dramatic heft. The American scenes were directed by Hollywood pro Richard Fleischer, but it was the Japanese scenes that caused headaches for the producers; originally, Akira Kurosawa (!) was to direct, but he backed out, only to be replaced by action director Toshio Masuda and future Battle Royale helmer Kinji Fukasaku (!!). With a cast that includes Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, and Jason Robards, as well as Kurosawa and Ozu players So Yamamura and Eijiro Tono, the new Tora! Tora! Tora! Blu-ray is a great stocking stuffer for military buffs on your holiday shopping list; special features include featurettes on the film, behind-the-scenes photos, and commentary from Fleischer.

Mission: Impossible Extreme Blu-Ray Trilogy

For those looking to get primed and ready for the upcoming fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise, Paramount is releasing a gift set of all three previous films in the Mission: Impossible Extreme Blu-Ray Trilogy. Most will be inclined to debate on whether the first or third installments were the best, while the John Woo-helmed second film is widely regarded as the worst of the three, but for those looking for a bit of globetrotting spy intrigue, they all pretty much serve their purpose. The three disc set comes with dedicated bonus features for each film, most of which have been previously released on earlier editions, so the big draw here is getting all three together for a pretty decent price. This could make for a pretty decent gift for a fan of the series who has yet to upgrade their collection to hi-def.

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