- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Up (Disney-Pixar, $29.99 for DVD, $39.99 for two-disc DVD, $45.99 for four-disc DVD/Blu-ray) — “Up” is a rarity: a blockbuster (with $293 million in box office, it’s the third-top-grossing movie of 2009) that’s also one of the year’s best-reviewed films (with 98 percent at RottenTomatoes.com, a Web site devoted to reviews and information on new films). Of course, it seems every Pixar film manages this feat. Last year’s hit “Wall•E” ended up on many critics’ top-10 lists, as “Up” seems destined to do.

Ed Asner voices Carl Fredricksen, a curmudgeon who finally fulfills his promise to his much-loved deceased wife when he attaches thousands of helium balloons to his house in the hopes of moving it to South America. As with “Wall•E,” there’s a bittersweet sadness to this film that even some adults find hard to take. However, Pixar’s gorgeous animation makes children and their parents alike fall for grumpy old Carl, whose adventure becomes a journey of self-discovery.

Extras on the two-disc edition of the film — which was Pixar’s first in 3-D — include the shorts “Partly Cloudy” and “Dug’s Special Mission”; a documentary on the research filmmakers undertook in South America; an alternate ending; commentary with director Pete Docter; and a digital copy. The Blu-ray edition, which also includes a DVD copy, adds games along with eight documentaries.

Monsters, Inc. (Disney-Pixar, $29.99 for two-disc DVD, $40.99 for four-disc DVD/Blu-ray) — Pixar’s fourth film was Pete Docter’s first and almost as critically acclaimed as “Up.” The 2001 feature explores the behind-the-scenes world of the monsters that scare children in their bedrooms each night — it’s a business like any other. Featuring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn and Jennifer Tilly, this funny film takes some very adult concerns to a children’s world.

To coincide with the DVD release of “Up,” “Monsters, Inc.” is being re-released on DVD and released for the first time on Blu-ray with plenty of extras. Among them: a commentary with Mr. Docter and some of the other filmmakers; a round table with the filmmakers; behind-the-scenes featurettes, a tour of Pixar Studios; two animated shorts, “For the Birds” and “Mike’s New Car”; and a collection of games.

The Ugly Truth (Sony, $28.96 for DVD, $39.95 for Blu-ray) — “The Ugly Truth” isn’t just another romantic comedy. It’s the first of what could become a very interesting genre: the R-rated romantic comedy that appeals equally to men and women. There are life lessons for the gals and gross-out gags for the guys, all very cleverly packaged in an often-hilarious film. Katherine Heigl stars as a morning news show producer forced to work with the on-air talent provided by Gerard Butler, who plays a shock jock dispensing Stone Age advice to single women. From the get-go, you can sense that these two attractive leads have real chemistry. The ending might be obvious, but they take us there on such an enjoyably wild ride, it’s hard to mind.

Extras include a commentary, deleted scenes, alternate endings, a gag reel and making-of featurettes.

Dawson’s Creek: The Complete Series (Sony, $119.95) — This prime-time soap for teens aired on the now-defunct WB network from 1998 to 2003 and launched the careers of stars Joshua Jackson, Katie Holmes and Michelle Williams — although the Dawson of the show’s title, James Van Der Beek, hasn’t found the same success. Young people loved the series, perhaps because it flattered them — no real teenagers talk the loquacious way they do on “Dawson’s Creek.”

All 127 episodes from the show’s six seasons are here on 24 discs as well as a collection of extras: audio commentary, a new interview with creator Kevin Williams, a trivia game, deleted scenes, an alternate ending for the pilot and more.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Passion River, $24.95) — This is a bare-bones documentary, but it doesn’t need any glitz or gimmicks. The story of the women who helped end Liberia’s second civil war is fascinating enough on its own. A quarter of a million people died in the conflict, which started in 1999, two years after Charles Taylor took over the country, founded by freed American slaves, and became its bloody dictator. The film is focused — we only hear from about a half dozen of the women who decided to do what their husbands and brothers couldn’t — which is both a strength and a weakness. Religion might have been part of the war — Taylor was Christian, the warlords he battled mostly Muslim — but it also helped end the fighting, as Christian and Muslim women worked together to end the bloodshed that shattered their lives in many terrible ways.

There are a couple extras on this disc, including an interview on journalist and PBS host Bill Moyers.

The Merry Gentleman (Genius, $19.95) — Michael Keaton’s directorial debut is no heartwarming holiday fable. Nor is it like anything Mr. Keaton has acted in before. In this very original chamber drama, Mr. Keaton is a hit man with a conscience saved from suicide by Kelly MacDonald as a Scottish transplant fleeing an abusive boyfriend. There’s much religious imagery in this film, which takes place in the months between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. However, redemption doesn’t come easily for either the characters or the viewer in this film, which shows Mr. Keaton is as impressive behind the camera as he always has been in front of it.

Sadly, there are no extras on this disc.

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