Happy Holidays all. It may feel like Easter and Passover time "in reality," but in DVD world we're in the heart of the Christmas and Chanukah season, with family fare (Charlotte's Web), big-budget artistry (The Good Shepherd), potential Oscar winners (Volver) and, um, that strangely untapped subgenre, holiday horror (Black Christmas).

The Good Shepherd DVDThe Good Shepherd
There was a common refrain among critics underwhelmed by Robert De Niro's first directorial effort since 1993's A Bronx Tale: "It's too long." Now, while I feel their pain (or, you know, their rump's pain) after 167 minutes, the film seemed unfairly targeted: In a way it became emblematic of the overly long movie that's once again become so commonplace. And I don't blame them: Most had just suffered through 138 freakin' minutes of The Holiday. But Shepherd chronicles the start of the CIA, not from how many different angles it's possible to capture the gleam of Cameron Diaz's grins. So give it a break. While I wouldn't necessarily agree with Larry King, who called it the best spy movie EVER (and who apparently hates James Bond), it's an engrossing, surprisingly sinister tale featuring what could be Matt Damon's best work yet.
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Fun Fact: Like many women, Valerie Plame sometimes wishes her husband looked like Angelina Jolie.

On the other side of the critical bandwagon sits Pedro Almodóvar's latest, a film that's impossible to dislike, yet seemed to get more credit than it probably deserved. It's true, when all is said and done, Almodovar is a genius, and has a tone and style all his own. But I wonder how this film would've been received had it not been helmed by the Spanish auteur. Volver feels a little sloppier than his past work (especially in terms of its preposterous plot), and you can almost hear the director's faithful gushing with each quirky misstep: "Oh Pedro! You crazy!" But Oscar nominee Penélope Cruz, playing a woman who covers up her husband's death and reconnects with her dead mom over the course of one wacky week, is indeed phenomenal, despite mixed results in the "special effects" department. The prosthetic rump is niiiice, but the lip-synching? Kinda painful.
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Fun Fact: Pete Hammond from Maxim called Volver "The best film I've ever seen this afternoon."