CATEGORIES DVDs, Movie News

Despite some flaws, the movies kicking off November's DVD releases all have one thing in common: entertainment value. 'Cars 2' lacks the originality and pizzazz of its predecessor, but hums along at a brisk, mostly enjoyable pace. 'Crazy, Stupid, Love.' is pat and predictable, but has likeable, enjoyable characters. The sleeper of the week is 'Water for Elephants,' a Depression-era circus-set action-drama that is pure storytelling at its best. Read on.

'Cars 2'
What It's About: In this unabashed Pixar merchandising vehicle, 'Cars' stars Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and hillbilly tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) return for more fast-paced action, this time in Japan and Europe as the pair head overseas for the inaugural edition of the World Grand Prix to determine the world's fastest car. While McQueen basks in the glow of being a champion -- and has to go up against a snazzy Italian Formula One racer -- Mater is mistaken for an American secret agent and gets embroiled with British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) on a secret mission to make the world safe for alternative fuels.

It's Kinda Like: 'Cars' meets 'Goldfinger' by way of 'Grand Prix'

What We Say: It's been five years since 'Cars' drove up to the big screen and knocked viewers out with its anthropomorphic vehicles and situations. In those five years, the folks at Pixar had plenty of time to prime the gas pump for this sequel, culminating in a merchandising campaign that saw 'Cars' toys, clothes, games and other paraphernalia sold in virtually every store in America. It's almost as if the movie were an afterthought. At first blush it all seems so cool -- cars as spies and thugs -- but once you get used to a world run by and for cars, the movie's cleverness starts to get a bit weary, as does the corny "message" about friendship and "being yourself." And Mater's dumb, ignorant American persona grates after awhile; he's kind of like Gomer Pyle with wheels. Still, there's the saving grace of the Brits, who, like their live-action counterpoints in 21st century cinema, save the day.

• Extras: Commentary and bonus shorts.
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'Crazy, Stupid, Love.'
What It's About: What do you do when you're a fortysomething man, married to your high school sweetheart, and you discover that you've been cuckolded by your dear wife? Well, if you're straight-laced Cal Weaver (Steve Carell), you move out of your nice house and start hitting the single bars, trying to pick up women. Which, you must admit, you suck at -- until you meet handsome, hard-playing thirtysomething Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), who takes you under his wing and turns you into a ladies man. Things do get complicated, though: You still want Emily (Julianne Moore) back; Jacob, a champ with women, falls in love with a sensible law student (Emma Stone); Cal's 13-year-old son, Robbie, is crazy about his 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica; and Jessica harbors a crush on you. What's a guy supposed to do? Follow the script to the happy ending.

It's Kinda Like: 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' meets 'Short Cuts'

What We Say: There's a lot of talented firepower in this rom-com that -- despite a few surprises near the end -- is full of pat and predictable situations. Joining Carell, Moore, Stone and Gosling are Marisa Tomei (as one of Cal's conquests) and Kevin Bacon (as Emily's paramour). Despite the star wattage, however, the screen never crackles with excitement. The story takes a well-trodden path: The naive married man gets turned into a player, trading love for sex; the sophisticated player, who has the world on a string, wants to trade sex for love; and everyone else is looking for love in all the wrong places. The film's saving grace: likeable characters.

• Extras: Deleted scenes and a couple behind-the-scenes featurettes.
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'Water for Elephants'
What It's About: Devastated by the sudden death of his parents at the height of the Great Depression, a young dreamer from the wrong side of the tracks, Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson), abandons his veterinary studies at Cornell University and -- of all things -- joins the circus. Hired as a veterinarian to care for the animals of The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, Jacob works his way into the hearts and minds of the troupe. But when he falls in love with the star attraction, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who just happens to be the wife of the circus's owner, the violent and abusive August (Christoph Waltz), Jacob makes a fatal decision that changes his life and the lives of everyone around him.

It's Kinda Like: 'The Greatest Show on Earth' meets 'The Postman Always Rings Twice'

What We Say: Ah, finally, an old-fashioned Hollywood movie. Sara Gruen's best-selling circus novel has been lovingly adapted for the big screen -- with painstaking attention to detail and realism by director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese. Their hard work in recreating the 1930s and a real-life circus has paid off with an eminently viewable and enjoyable movie -- pure, pretension-less entertainment from beginning to end. You've got good guys, bad guys, love, suspense, humor, action, violence -- and animals (Rosie the elephant, to be precise). The acting is first rate -- Witherspoon is the ultimate American girl, circa 1930, while Waltz is the perfect nasty villain. And say what you will about Pattinson's white-faced performances in the 'Twilight' films, the youngster has talent, carrying the film from beginning to end. This movie is a real pleasant surprise -- and definitely not a white 'Elephant.'

• Extras: Commentary by director Francis Lawrence and writer Richard LaGravenese and 'The Traveling Show: From Page to Screen," a nifty behind-the-scenes featurette
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Other New November 1 Releases:
  • 'An Invisible Sign': (2011) A quirky young woman who had retreated into a private world of numbers after her mathematician father was struck by mental illness becomes an elementary school math teacher, bonding with the kids and entering into a romantic relationship with the school science teacher. Stars Jessica Alba, Sophie Nyweide, Chris Messina, J.K. Simmons, Sonia Braga, Bailee Madison, John Shea.
  • 'Magic Trip' (2011) Documentary about Ken Kesey and The Merry Band of Pranksters' legendary, LSD-fuelled 1964 cross-country road trip to the New York World's Fair.
  • 'Rejoice & Shout' (2011) Documentary traces the evolution of Gospel through its many musical styles, from the spirituals and early hymns, the four-part harmony-based quartets, the integration of blues and swing into Gospel, the emergence of Soul, and the blending of Rap and Hip Hop elements.
  • 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' (2011) Wayne Wang's ('The Joy Luck Club') latest is set in 19th century China and centers on the lifelong friendship between two girls who develop their own secret code as a way to contend with the rigid cultural norms imposed on women. Stars Bingbing Li, Gianna Jun, Russell Wong, Vivian Wu, Archie Kao.
  • 'Tabloid' (2011) Errol Morris' documentary about the salacious adventures of Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney, a beauty queen with an IQ of 168 who made her mark as a tabloid staple in the late 1970s by kidnapping her former beau, Kirk Anderson -- who had become a Mormon missionary in the U.K. -- and tying him to a bed to "deprogram" his religious beliefs by having nonstop sex with him.
  • 'Trespass' (2011) Home invasion thriller has Nicolas Cage fending off cold-blooded criminals, bringing his family together despite everyone being tangled up in betrayal, deception, temptation and scheming. Also stars Nicole Kidman, Cam Gigandet, Liana Liberato, Ben Mendelsohn.

Check out more November 1 DVD releases at OnVideo.



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