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DVD Pick of the week:

BEGINNERS

(Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Writer/director Mike Mills’ warm, bittersweet drama about a son and his father is graced with an uncommon humor and humanity by its terrific leads: Ewan McGregor as Oliver the son, and Chrisopher Plummer as Hal the father.

The story shifts back and forth through time, as Oliver reflects back on Hal’s life. Once widowed, Hal came out of the closet and spent his last years content in his identity, even after being stricken with terminal cancer. While Oliver struggles to maintain a relationship with Anna (Melanie Laurent), whom he met shortly after Hal died, he contemplates his father’s legacy of love, trying to put his own life in perspective.

Thanks to the sensitive cast, including Goran Visjnic as Hal’s lover and Mary Page Keller, seen in flashbacks as Oliver’s mother, Beginners never slides into maudlin soap-opera territory. The inimitable, always-welcome Plummer is being touted for an Oscar nomination — which would be as much for his career as his performance here, and hardly undeserved on either count — brightens every scene he’s in. Then again, Christopher Plummer tends to brighten anything he’s in. Rated R.


CHRISTMAS MAIL (Monarch Home Entertainment): Light, easy-to-take holiday fluff with Ashley Scott as a postal worker who answers Santa’s mail and winds up winning the heart of a lonely co-worker (AJ Buckley). Nice plug for the US Postal Service.

DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (Mondo Macabro): This low-rent 1984 shocker involves a masked maniac slaughtering people dressed like Santa Claus throughout London, with Scotland Yard inspector Edmund Purdom (also the film’s director of record) slow on the trail. Released in the United States to capitalize and cash in on the controversy surrounding Silent Night, Deadly Night, it did neither — the whole matter having dried up by then. One poor victim is roasted over an open fire along with the chestnuts and poor Caroline Munro performs a silly pop song before discovering a dead Santa. This was Alan Lake’s final film, and a tacky one it is, but it has its devotees and admittedly never looked better than in this special edition.

GENEVIEVE (VCI Entertainment): The annual London to Brighton road race forms the backdrop of this 1953 comedy starring Dinah Sheridan, John Gregson, Kenneth More and Kay Kendall. “Genevieve” is the name of one of the cars! Academy Award nominations for Best Story & Screenplay and Best Score. The DVD retails for $19.99, the Blu-ray for $24.99.

THE HANGOVER PART II (Warner Home Video): Director Todd Phillips reunites Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha and Zach Galifianakis for another bawdy bachelor bash — this one set in Thailand, where they essentially cause an international incident — in this followup to the smash 2009 comedy. Frequently raunchy and frequently funny, with Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis solidifying their status as a comedy trio to be reckoned with. Ken Jeong and (briefly) Jeffrey Tambor encore from the first film, while Paul Giamatti turns up briefly. Rest assured, another Hangover is imminent. Rated R.

“IT TAKES A THIEF”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Entertainment One): An 18-DVD boxed set ($199.95 retail) of all 66 episodes from all three seasons (1968-’70) of the popular prime-time ABC espionage series starring Robert Wagner as Alexander Mundy, a smooth and sophisticated cat burglar sprung from prison to ply his trade on behalf of the US government. Wagner, who is interviewed on a bonus disc, scored an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series in 1970. Guest stars included Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten, Ricardo Montalban, Susan Saint James, Paul Lukas, Teri Garr and Fred Astaire, in a recurring role as Mundy’s larcenous father.

MR. ROBINSON CRUSOE (Alpha Home Entertainment): Douglas Fairbanks (in one of his few sound films) plays the title role in this lighthearted 1932 riff on the Daniel Defoe classic, as a New York playboy who bets he can survive on a tropical island with no modern amenities — although he does end up with pretty Maria Alba as a native girl he calls “Saturday” (!).

NO HANDS ON THE CLOCK (Alpha Home Entertainment): While on his honeymoon in Reno, private eye Chester Morris takes on a missing person’s case for some extra cash and winds up embroiled in murderous intrigue. This light-hearted 1941 whodunit, which co-stars Jean Parker as Morris’ increasingly suspicious wife, trades nicely on Morris’ wise-cracking Boston Blackie image.

“PABLO FRANCISCO: THEY PUT IT OUT THERE” (Entertainment One): A stand-up comedy special ($14.98 retail) featuring the title funnyman, who cut his comedy chops on “Mad TV” and “Frank TV.”

PEOPLE’S ENEMY (Alpha Home Entertainment): Mobster Preston Foster isn’t happy when his lady (Lila Lee) starts making time with his attorney (Melvyn Douglas) while he languishes in prison in this fast-moving 1935 programmer that clocks in at under an hour. Look for Charles Coburn (like Douglas, a future Oscar winner) as the judge.

THE PERFECT GIFT (One Village Entertainment/Image Entertainment): Ruben Stoddard and Golden Brooks play a couple who discover the meaning of Christmas in this pallid holiday comedy based on Alvin Moore Jr.’s play, replete with laugh track… except nothing funny happens. Despite Stoddard’s “American Idol” status, nobody sings until the last 20 minutes. *

THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS (VCI Entertainment): Michael York and Simon MacCorkindale star in this genteel, old-fashioned 1979 adaptation of Erskine Childers’ popular novel as friends who stumble across a German plot to invade the coast of England in 1901. Also on hand: Jenny Agutter, Alan Badel, Michael Sheard and Wolf Kahler (as Kaiser Wilhelm). Good sailing footage. This didn’t reach American shores until 1984, by which time Badel had been dead two years. Rated PG.

SANTA CLAUS (VCI Entertainment): Jose Elias Moreno plays the Man in Red in this low-budget Mexican-made 1959 fantasy, which American producer K. Gordon Murray re-cut and redubbed for US release a year later. The resulting film played the kiddie circuit for more than a decade and became a TV staple. The “collector’s edition” DVD retails for $14.99, the Blu-ray for $19.99, and a Spanish-language DVD for $9.99.

THE SILVER FLEET (VCI Entertainment): Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger produced this fact-based 1943 World War II opus, with Ralph Richardson as a Dutch shipping magnate accused of collaborating with the Nazis during the German occupation. Well-mounted, propaganda-minded melodrama, with Esmond Knight a standout as the nasty Nazi officer Von Schiffer.

THE SMURFS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The popular blue characters make the jump to the big screen — and to New York City — in this pedestrian (but profitable) comedy featuring the voices of Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry and George Lopez as the Smurfs, while Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara and Hank Azaria (as the villainous Gargamel) representing the human contingent. Rarely has a recent film been so overstuffed with product placements, to such an extent that it overwhelms the (admittedly underfed) story. Available as a single-disc DVD ($30.99 retail), a 3-D holiday gift set including the mini-movie The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol ($40.99 retail), or a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($45.99 retail). Rated PG.

SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (Dimension Films/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez goes back to the well — once too often, actually — for the fourth installment of the franchise, which introduces Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook as the “new” Spy Kids while also reuniting their grown-up predecessors (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara). Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale and Ricky Gervais (as the voice of a hi-tech canine) round out the cast. Painless at best, with some amusing new gizmos and gadgets, but the novelty’s clearly worn off. Rated PG.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2011, Mark Burger