A pair of romantic comedies highlight the home entertainment releases this week. At one end of the spectrum is the low-key but thoroughly entertaining indie ‘Beginners,’ a funny and sad tale of a commitment-phobic young man whose father comes out of the closet in his 70s just before being diagnosed with terminal cancer. At the other end is the lackluster ‘Larry Crowne,’ a star-studded studio production about a middle-aged man who has to reinvent himself after losing his long-time job. Small is better. Read on.

What It’s About: Director-writer Mike Mills (‘Thumbsucker’) has a unique take on life in this lovingly told story of a father, a son and a dog. Chistopher Plummer plays the father, a man who has hidden his homosexuality from his son (Ewan McGregor) for decades. Now that his wife has died, Plummer decides to spill the beans to McGregor, who has his own problems with women … he can’t seem to commit to one. The hook: Plummer’s character is dying of cancer, so there’s little time for the pair to get close. But with the help of a smooth talking dog (in subtitles), and a clever script, father and son find a deep bond in this touching and continuously entertaining story.

It’s Kinda Like: ‘Greenberg’ meets ‘Sideways’

What We Say: This heartwarming story hits all the right notes about the way family members might stray from each other … and then come together before it’s too late. The script paints its three-dimensional characters with plenty of heart and great courage, creating personalities and situations that are about as real as fiction can aspire to. And don’t forget that talking (and very smart) pooch, who steals the show and displays as much of the script’s humor as the humans do. This charming indie outing has great performances by Plummer and McGregor, and by Goran Visnjic and Melanie Laurent as the men’s respective lovers. Watch it with a very close friend.

• Extras: Commentary by writer-director Mills, ‘A Short Film About Making Beginners.’
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‘Larry Crowne’
What It’s About: Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts come together for a romantic comedy about how it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. When he suddenly is laid off from his long-standing blue-collar job, Larry Crowne (Hanks) enrolls at his local college to start over. There, he becomes part of an eclectic community of students and develops a crush on his teacher (Roberts), whose passion for teaching — and her husband — have waned. Naturally Hanks reinvigorates Roberts while learning his own lesson about finding one’s place in the world.

It’s Kinda Like: ‘Last Chance Harvey’ meets ‘Back to School’

What the Critics Say: Despite the mega-star power of Hanks and Roberts, ‘Larry Crowne’ fizzled at the box office. And the critics weren’t enthralled by the film: “When it comes to unemployment-themed cinema, I’ll take the greater realism of last year’s ‘The Company Men’ or this year’s ‘Everything Must Go’ over Hanks’s too rosy vision of life after the pink slip,” Time magazine’s Mary F. Pols said. Anthony Lane of the New Yorker chimed in with “To pluck romantic comedy from the jaws of a social crisis is a laudable project, worthy of Preston Sturges, and it’s a pity that this featherlight drama — written by Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos, and directed by Hanks himself — should falter in its task.” And, lastly, Ella Taylor of NPR said: “Neither fish nor fowl, ‘Larry Crowne’ skitters between pathos and shtick, wasting abundant acting talent as it goes.” On the other hand, David Edelstein of New York Magazine said “The film is sometimes gentle to the point of blandness, but it’s never flimsy.” And Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel smacked his lips over the film: “It’s perfectly pleasant … comfort food — meatloaf, potatoes and apple cobbler served as bubbly Tom Petty and ELO tunes waft from the soundtrack.”

• Extras: Deleted scenes and behind-the-scene featurettes.
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Blu-ray Debuts:

  • ‘My Fair Lady’: (1964) George Cukor’s classic musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ starred Audrey Hepburn — at the peak of her career — and Rex Harrison, whose turn as Professor Henry Higgins resurrected his sagging career. Though corny by today’s standards, the film still holds up, with gorgeous cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr. (who photographed the 1939 film version of ‘Pygmalion’) and wonderful songs by Lerner and Loewe.
  • ‘The Rules of the Game’: (1939) Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Jean Renoir’s classic is a scathing critique of corrupt French society cloaked in a comedy of manners, in which a weekend at a marquis’s countryside chateau lays bare some ugly truths about a group of haute bourgeois acquaintances. Still stunning and beautiful — and pertinent — after seven decades.
  • ‘Three Colors: Blue, White, Red’: (1993-94) A boldly cinematic trio of stories about love and loss from Krzysztof Kieslowski. The films were named for the colors of the French flag and stand for the tenets of the French Revolution — ­liberty, equality, and fraternity — with each film using the title symbol to examine a group of ambiguously interconnected people experiencing tragedy to comedy in their personal lives. ‘Red’ was Kieslowski’s last film — he died at age 54 during open-heart surgery following a heart attack in 1996.
  • ‘West Side Story’: (1961) Five decades after its historic debut, the iconic musical returns in a 50th anniversary hi-def edition. With a record-breaking 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Original Score, the 1961 film took home more awards than any other movie-musical in the history of cinema. This monumental production not only features the timeless lyrics from master American composer Stephen Sondheim, but a brilliant score from Leonard Bernstein and beautiful direction by Robert Wise and co-director and choreographer Jerome Robbins. Stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass, William Bramley and Tucker Smith. Watch an exclusive Blu-ray clip:

Other New November 15 Releases:

  • ‘Bellflower’: (2011) Best friends Woodrow and Aiden spend all of their free time building “Mad Max”-inspired flamethrowers and muscle cars in preparation for a global apocalypse. But when Woodrow meets a charismatic young woman and falls hard in love, he and Aiden quickly integrate into a new group of friends, setting off on a journey of love and hate, betrayal, infidelity, and extreme violence. Written, directed by and starring Glodell, the film is a heartfelt story of obsession, friendship, and young-love gone awry, showcasing Glodell’s real-life creations: homemade flamethrowers and a fire-spewing 1972 Buick Skylark, Medusa. A painfully honest and quirky film
  • ‘Flypaper’: (2011) A nervous bank customer tries to thwart two gangs of robbers — a high-tech trio who plan to break into the vault, and two dumb hicks whose idea of a big score is knocking off the ATMs — who both descend on the building, setting off a gun fight and taking everyone hostage. Stars Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Jeffrey Tambor, Mekhi Phifer, Curtis Armstrong and Tim Blake Nelson.
  • ‘Griff the Invisible’: (2011) Griff, a shy and awkward office worker by day, finds escape from his ordinary, “invisible” life by assuming the identity of a fantastic superhero each night. But his secret is jeopardized when he meets Melody, a cute but unconventional daydreamer who quickly becomes fascinated by his idiosyncrasies, which are equal only to her own, and who takes it upon herself to rescue him. A warm, loving “underdog” superhero romance — that could have used tighter editing — with offbeat, engaging characters. Stars Ryan Kwanten and Maeve Dermody. Watch an exclusive clip:
  • ‘Highway Patrol Man’: (1999) Director Alex Cox’s (‘Repo Man’) Mexican cult film fav has finally made its way to DVD. Against his father’s wishes, Pedro — a naive kid from Mexico City — joins the Federal Highway Patrol but his simple desire to do good rapidly comes into conflict with the reality of police work in a lonely rural environment populated by poor farmers, rich drug dealers, beautiful women, and his father’s ghost. Stars Roberto Sosa, Bruno Bichir and Vanessa Bauche.
  • ‘Rio Sex Comedy’: (2010) A mixed group of tourists and visitors on a working trip find themselves footloose and under the sway of the Brazilian city’s erotic spell. Stars Charlotte Rampling, Bill Pullman, Irene Jacob, Jean-Maric Roulot.
  • ‘Walk a Mile in My Pradas’: (2010) Two weeks before his wedding, a homophobic young man is turned gay — and his ridiculed gay co-worker turned straight — by a magical Christmas tree. Stars Nathaniel Marston, Tom Archdeacon, Tom Arnold, Mike Starr, Dee Wallace and Kirsten Lea.

Check out more November 15 DVD releases at OnVideo.

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