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DVDs In Brief: December 7, 2011

A.V. Club Staff

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling, Oprah-approved novel, The Help (Buena Vista) was this year’s The Blind Side, a leaden racial melodrama in which the real heroes (and the audience) are the well-meaning white folks who truly drive the narrative. Stockett tries to defuse this problem through the sneaky conceit of having a white author (Emma Stone) document the harrowing stories of black maids in small-town Mississippi in 1963, but no amount of literary flim-flammery can lend credibility to anything that happens. Only the reliably excellent Viola Davis emerges unscathed…


The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros.) didn’t become the top-grossing R-rated comedy of all time by recklessly messing with a winning formula: It did so by diligently delivering everything audiences loved about the first film, right down to a crowd-pleasing, mildly painful cameo from fan favorite/beloved cut-up Mike Tyson. The action moves from Vegas to Thailand, but the change in latitude brought about no change in attitude: This is just as frat-boy-friendly as the first one, if not more so…

Cowboys And Aliens (Universal) had cowboys, aliens, James Bond, and Indiana Jones. But it didn’t have a compelling story, memorable monsters, worthwhile special effects, or much reason to exist beyond its title. The same audiences who avoided this in theaters should consider avoiding it at home, too…


In Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Fox), Jim Carrey stars as a real-estate developer who opts to keep half a dozen Gentoo penguins, despite his lack of experience in the care and feeding of the animals, and the dubious prospect of a Manhattan duplex as an acceptable habitat for them. Nevertheless, the zookeeper who points all these things out is the villain. Yet even PETA activists might have trouble raising their hackles over this mild comedy, which sharply reduces Carrey’s rubber-faced shenanigans in order to give time to its half-real/half-CGI penguins…

The Debt (Universal), John Madden’s remake of a 2007 Israeli drama, adds another formidable entry to Helen Mirren’s outsized canon of iron-willed gray ladies, but the film really belongs to veteran character actor Jesper Christensen, who makes his ex-Nazi doctor the smiling, creepy personification of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”


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