An independently produced family Christmas film leads these titles that are new to DVD, including two of the year’s biggest hits, “Despicable Me 2” and “Fast & Furious 6.”
“Angels Sing” (Lionsgate/Blu-ray, 2013, PG, $24.99, Blu-ray and digital versions). Harry Connick Jr. stars in this family movie set around Thanksgiving and Christmas, which would look right at home on the Hallmark Channel. (And maybe next year it’ll be there.)
Connick plays an Austin, Texas, college professor with a loving wife (Connie Britton) and son (Chandler Canterbury) who doesn’t like Christmas because it dredges up memories of a family tragedy that occurred when he was a child. But when they buy a new home they discover they are living on Live Oak Lane’s “Trail of Lights,” a neighborhood that has become world famous for lighting up every house during the holidays, complete with live nativity scenes (including real sheep and camels).
There’s a bit of “It’s a Wonderful Life” here and a dash of “Miracle on 34th Street” there, and the Christmas lights would make Clark Griswold envious in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” But the film benefits from an able cast, which also includes country singers Lyle Lovett as a goofy neighbor, Kris Kristofferson as Connick’s dad and Willie Nelson as a sort of guardian angel named “Nick.”
The first half of the film is very good and exhibits a sharp sense of humor that quickly engages us and demonstrates the chemistry between Connick, Britton and Canterbury. But when it goes all serious in the second half it threatens to sink into gooey sentimentality. If only they had kept up the quips.
Still, it’s better than most of the many new holiday films that show up each year, and the cast is more than game. Authentic Austin sites help and the film takes full advantage of the city’s music scene. (Also on DVD, $19.98)
“Despicable Me 2” (Universal/Blu-ray, 2013, PG, $34.8, deleted scene, audio commentary, featurettes, three mini-movies). This animated sequel is sort of hijacked by Gru’s little yellow minions (similar to what the penguins did to the “Madagascar” franchise). But it’s pretty funny as the reformed-master-criminal-turned-single-father is recruited to take down a bad guy, unaware that a traitor is in his midst. This film is the second biggest hit of the year, after “Iron Man 3” (although “Catching Fire” is catching up). (Also on 3D Blu-ray combo, $49.98, and DVD, $29.98)
“Fast & Furious 6” (Universal/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, $34.98; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; theatrical and extended versions, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes). The late Paul Walker, along with Vin Diesel and the rest of the franchise’s team, including recent addition Dwayne Johnson and returning Michelle Rodriguez, star in the latest crash-and-dash car-chase epic with some of the most ridiculous stunt work you’ve ever seen (thanks to digital-animation enhancement). This one isn’t quite up there with No. 5, easily the best in the series, but it’s fun for adrenalin junkies. Ranks at No. 7 among the year’s top 10 moneymakers. (The title on the screen is “Furious 6.”) (Also on DVD, $29.98)
“Battle of the Year” (Sony/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, $35.99, Blu-ray and digital versions, featurettes). Dance movie released in 3D has B-Boy teams hitting the stage to compete in the title tournament. The American team is the underdog, of course — but can they overcome the odds and win? Gee, I wonder. (Also on 3D Blu-ray, $45.99, and DVD, 30.99)
“Far From Vietnam” (Icarus, 1967, not rated, $29.98, in English and French with English subtitles). This vintage semi-documentary (there are fictional elements) — a sort of sketch film from Jean-Luc Godard, Claude LeLouch, Alain Resnais and other filmmakers in the 1960s — was their way of protesting the war in Vietnam. Love it or hate it, and there is likely no middle ground, it’s an interesting, if not persuasive, cinematic exercise.
“American Bomber” (IndiePix, 2013, not rated, $19.95, audio commentary, featurette, bloopers, trailers, short film). After his brother is killed in Afghanistan, an angry young soldier is manipulated into joining a militia extremist group and agrees to become a suicide bomber. Along the way, circumstances change his feelings but it may be too late as his co-conspirators and the FBI close in.
“Saving General Yang” (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, in Mandarin with English subtitles, featurettes, trailer). Ronny Yu co-wrote and directed this Chinese epic set in the year 986 as a family of fighters sets out to rescue their father, a general who has been kidnapped as vengeance for a past massacre. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“The Rooftop” (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, in Mandarin with English subtitles). Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou wrote, directed and composed the songs for this musical comedy, in which he also stars as a street kid living (and singing and dancing) on rooftops with his songwriting gang. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“The Seasoning House” (Well Go, 2013, not rated, $29.98). After her family is murdered, a deaf mute (Rosie Day) is abducted and taken to a Balkan brothel, where she tries to help the other girls. Then the killers of her family show up and she plots revenge. (Also on DVD, $24.98)Comment on this story
“7E” (Virgil, 2013, not rated, $19.99). Supernatural thriller based around a New York City apartment building where a young woman finds the body of her roommate. When her cousin moves in to help her recover, he begins investigating the death until strange happenings overtake him. Natasha Lyonne, John Savage and James Russo are among the supporting players.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com