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posted: 2/16/2013 5:00 AM

DVD previews: 'Argo,' 'Anna Karenina'

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  • Ben Affleck stars in and directed the political thriller "Argo."

    Ben Affleck stars in and directed the political thriller "Argo."

The Washington Post

Coming Feb. 19

"Argo" (R, 120 minutes, Warner Home Video): This captivating, expertly machined political thriller is serious and substantive, an ingeniously written and executed drama fashioned from a fascinating, little-known chapter of recent history. It also happens to be extremely funny, crafty and enormously entertaining. It's two, maybe even three, films in one -- all of which work as enjoyably on their own as they do in concert. Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA expert in disguises and "exfiltration," who at the height of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 is called on to get six American diplomats out of Tehran, where they've been hiding in the Canadian ambassador's residence. His scheme is so crazy, it just might work: He'll impersonate a movie producer who arrives in Iran to scout locations for his upcoming science-fiction flick. After some legerdemain with paperwork and spending a day or two chatting up the new revolutionary government's cultural ministers, he'll depart with the Americans in tow, each of them playing someone on the film's crew. Working from a well-crafted script by Chris Terrio, Affleck (who also directs) threads viewers through the dauntingly tricky geopolitics and tonal shifts with an utterly flawless sense of control. Contains profanity and some violent images. DVD extra: "Rescued from Tehran: We Were There" featurette. Also, on Blu-ray: commentary with Affleck; picture in picture: "Eye Witness Account"; featurettes "Absolute Authenticity," "The CIA and Hollywood Connection" and "Escape From Iran: The Hollywood Option."

"Anna Karenina" (R, 130 minutes, Universal): In a jewel box of a theater, the curtain goes up, the music swells and the camera itself swoons as the players take their places in Joe Wright's ingenious, intoxicating adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel, in which the dense tale of love, adultery, politics and aristocratic manners has been brilliantly re-imagined as light opera. Wright stages "Anna" (played by Keira Knightley) with equal parts precision, playfulness and passion as lively tableau vivant gradually gives way to tragic waltz. While Wright's self-conscious theatricality and dollhouse aesthetic conjure comparisons to Baz Luhrmann and Wes Anderson, he outstrips both those filmmakers in moral seriousness and maturity. Like the masterpiece that inspired it, "Anna Karenina" poses some of life's toughest questions -- about how to be good, how to be bad and the costs of both -- but with nuance and sensuousness that make even its most profound truths levitate on flights of soaring imagination and pure poetry. Contains some sexuality and violence. Extras: commentary with Wright, deleted scenes, featurettes "Anna Karenina: An Epic Story About Love," "Adapting Tolstoy," "Keira as Anna," on the set with Wright, Knightley's costuming and "Anna Karenina: Time-Lapse Photography."

"Fun Size" (PG-13, 86 minutes, Nickelodeon/Paramount): A teenage girl named Wren (Victoria Justice) gets invited to a Halloween party by dreamy classmate Aaron Riley. Clearly, Wren and her best friend, April, just have to go. But there's a problem: Wren's mother tells Wren to take Albert, her nonspeaking Tasmanian devil of a little brother, trick-or-treating so that mom and her boyfriend can hit a party of their own. Wren begrudgingly does her sisterly duty but, of course, loses track of Albert. In the process of trying to find her brother and still make Aaron's bash, Wren also must come to terms with the fact that she's really in love with her nerdy friend. Anyone who has a passing understanding of the term "shenanigans ensue" can figure out where things go from here. Contains crude and suggestive material, partying and language. Extras: making-of documentary, featurette on the young star Jackson Nicoll, gag reel, deleted scenes, "This Kiss" music video by Carly Rae Jepsen. (Nickelodeon/Paramount).

"Sinister" (R, 110 minutes, Summit Entertainment): Played by Ethan Hawke, Ellison Oswalt is a true-crime writer who, in an effort to research his next book, moves with his unwitting wife and two young children into a house where the last occupants were hung from a tree in the back yard. Before he has fully unpacked, Ellison discovers a box in the attic containing a movie projector and a stack of Super 8 films with explicit footage of that most recent massacre, along with several other similarly grisly murders. After watching a few minutes of this snuff-film library, Ellison realizes someone must have left the movies specifically for him. He does what any sane, responsible father would do: consult a specialist in the occult, who tells Ellison that the culprit is most likely the ancient Babylonian deity Bughuul, who feeds on the souls of children. None of this, of course, means that the movie isn't scary. It actually is, from time to time. But it's the kind of empty-calorie terror that may make you jump -- for a second -- but that doesn't keep you up at night. Contains grisly and violent imagery. Extras: deleted scenes, commentary with director Scott Derrickson, commentary with co-writers Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, "Living in a House of Death" and "True Crime Authors" featurettes.

Also: "Undefeated," "Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike," "Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome -- Unrated Edition," "The Cyclist," "The Factory," "The Package," "4 Assassins," "Closure" (created through the 30 Day Film Challenge), "North Sea Texas" (2011, Belgium), "Small Apartments," "Special Forces," "Lake Placid: The Final Chapter," "Junior High Spy," "On the Waterfront" (1954, Criterion Collection), "Puppy Love" (Hallmark Channel original movie), "Riddle," "American Experience: Henry Ford" (PBS), "Missions That Changed the War: The Doolittle Raid," "An American Girl: Mckenna Shoots for the Stars" and "The Garfield Show: Spring Fun Collection" (animated).

Television series:"Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season" (HBO), "The Six Million Dollar Man: Season 3" (1975-76), "Top Gear: The Complete Second Season" (BBC), "NOVA: Ultimate Mars Challenge" (PBS), "Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake" (Cartoon Network)," "Swamp People: Season 3" and "Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes." (ABC series that aired from 1958 to 1963).

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