CATEGORIES DVDs, Movies, Blu-ray DVDs

As we slide into the home stretch of the 2011 holiday season, Hollywood is inundating the marketplace with the DVD versions of major and independent theatrical releases from the past year. This week, in descending order of boxoffice success, we have 'The Smurfs,' 'Friends With Benefits,' '30 Minutes or Less,' 'Our Idiot Brother,' 'One Day,' 'Another Earth' and 'The Future.' Read on.

'The Smurfs'
What It's About: This live-action/CGI film revolves around the mythical blue Smurfs, who live hidden away in a forest somewhere in Belgium and have a happy, carefree existence. Unfortunately, there's an evil wizard who wants to put an end to that, and while chasing six of the Smurfs, the wizard, his cat and the Smurfs are transported via a magical portal to New York City. There the Smurfs are befriended by two humans -- Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays -- and together they try to get the little ones safely back home before the nasty Gargamel tracks them down.

It's Kinda Like: 'Gnomeo & Juliet' meets 'Toys'

What We Say: Unlike some of the other films on view this week, 'The Smurfs' makes no pretensions to be other than what it is: A blatant exploitation film for the kids, designed to sell Smurf toys and goodies. And, surprisingly, despite some mean-spiritedness, nasty shenanigans and an occasional impolite bit of behavior for a PG-rated film, 'The Smurfs' is kind of fun to watch. If you have to watch it because you have kids, then rest assured you won't be totally bored. If you don't have kids, you can skip it.

• Extras: The DVD contains commentaries, a pair of featurettes, "Blue-pers" and a game; the Blu-ray adds deleted and extended scenes.
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'Friends With Benefits'
What It's About: Here's another adult comedy about friends attempting to navigate the rocky shore of sex without love, a theme that now seems to have become a 21st century movie staple. Dylan (Justin Timberlake) is done with relationships. Jamie (Mila Kunis) decides to stop buying into the Hollywood cliches of true love. When the two become friends, they decide to try something new and take advantage of their mutual attraction -- but without any emotional attachment. They soon realize, however, that romantic comedy stereotypes might exist for a reason.

It's Kinda Like: 'No Strings Attached' meets 'When Harry Met Sally ...'

What the Critics Say: For what it is -- unabashed voyeurism -- most critics jumped into bed with Timberlake and Kunis. Logan Hill of New York Magazine summed things up by saying "Fast-paced and fabulously fake, 'Friends With Benefits' is the Red Bull of romantic comedies, unapologetically delivering a hyperactive, synthetic buzz," while Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com said the film was "often uproariously and profanely funny, and anchored in high-spirited performances from its central duo, who are well matched as comic foils if oddly lacking in erotic electricity." Meanwhile, Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times summed up the naysayers by saying, "Even with all their huffing and puffing, this very salty, often funny affair is never quite as satisfying as it should be."

• Extras: Commentary, a blooper reel and deleted scenes; the Blu-ray adds "Bonus Benefits: A Pop-Up Trivia Track" and two featurettes.
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'30 Minutes or Less'
What It's About: Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a small-town pizza delivery guy whose mundane life collides with the big plans of two wannabe criminal masterminds (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson). The volatile duo kidnap Nick, strap a bomb to his chest, and force him to rob a bank. Nick enlists the help of his ex-best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari), to help him and, as the clock ticks down to the deadline, the two must deal with the police, hired assassins, flamethrowers, and their own tumultuous relationship.

It's Kinda Like: 'Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle' meets 'Seems Like Old Times'

What the Critics Say: Audiences and critics alike gave low scores to this haphazard action-comedy. Richard Corliss of Time magazine spoke for most of the critics when he said "For a soul-sucking 83 minutes, you're trapped inside the film's tiny, ugly mind." On the other hand, Peter Howell of The Toronto Star, speaking for the minority, wrote, "In a year lousy with badly written movies filled with phallic fixations, it's a relief to watch one that is happy to be rude good fun without excessive raunch."

• Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, outtakes.
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'Another Earth'
What It's About:
This sci-fi melodrama of sorts stars Brit Marling as an astrophysics student who causes an auto accident that kills the wife and child of a music professor and composer (William Mapother) on the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth. Both spiral into despair and self-hate, each in their own way, and as the new Earth comes closer and closer to their Earth -- offering the possibility of alternate realities -- the two begin an unlikely love affair and reawaken to life.

It's Kinda Like: 'Solaris' meets 'Donnie Darko'

What We Say: This slow-moving darling of the indie (and Sundance Film Festival) set loses its way as it tries to integrate a melodrama about lost opportunities and tragedy with a speculative story line about alternative worlds and second chances. There's too much of the former and not enough of the latter -- the film wallows in its own despair, never giving the possibility for redemption a chance to come to the fore until too late in the game. Still, the film gets points for its originality and the strong screen presence of star Brit Marling.

• Extras: Deleted scenes, a pair of featurettes.
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Other New November 29 Releases:
  • 'The Art of Getting By': (2011) A lonely and fatalistic aspiring young artist and a "popular" girl find themselves in a charming yet unconventional high school romance. Stars Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Rita Wilson, Sam Robards, Alicia Silverstone, Elizabeth Reaser, Blair Underwood.
  • 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams': (2011) Director Werner Herzog gained exclusive access to film this documentary inside the Chauvet caves of Southern France, capturing the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind in their astonishing natural setting.
  • 'Chillerama': (2011) Four-film anthology of gore, guts, goofiness and good times that celebrate the golden age of B horror schlock: 'Wadzilla,' 'I Was a Teenage Werebear,' 'The Diary of Anne Frankenstein' and 'Zom-B-Movie.'
  • '5 Days Of War': (2011) Thriller by director Renny Harlin, set during the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, focuses on an American journalist, his cameraman, and a Georgian native who witness and document the devastation from the full-scale crossfire and cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians.
  • 'The Future': (2011) Slow-moving, erratic indie drama about a thirtysomething couple (Miranda July and Hamish Linklater) who decide to adopt a stray cat, altering their entire perspective on life: They give themselves one month of freedom to prepare for the adoption, and both wander away from their relationship and reality.
  • 'One Day': (2011) This 21st century variation on 'Same Time, Next Year' follows two friends -- working class teacher Anne Hathaway, who dreams of becoming a writer, and spoiled rich kid Jim Sturgess, who's unhappy with his playboy life -- through two decades by letting us glimpse key moments of their relationship experienced over several July 15ths (the anniversary of the day they met) in their lives. Interesting plot idea (based on a book) gives us snippets of sex and drama and little else. And throws in a bogus ending for good measure.
  • 'Our Idiot Brother': (2011) This sleeper of a comedy stars Paul Rudd as an organic farmer whose willingness to rely on the honesty of others -- and his own honesty -- gets him in trouble -- and causes trouble for his three sisters (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Bank and Zooey Deschanel) when he stays with each of them after being booted off his homestead by his ex-girlfriend. Though the film is outright silly at times, the excellent cast and the film's straight-ahead momentum makes for a pleasing viewing experience.

Check out more November 29 DVD releases at OnVideo.