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posted: 1/12/2013 4:00 AM

DVD previews: 'To Rome With Love,' 'Taken 2'

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  • John (Alec Baldwin) becomes a mentor to young Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) in one of four subplots juggled by writer/director Woody Allen in "To Rome With Love."

    John (Alec Baldwin) becomes a mentor to young Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) in one of four subplots juggled by writer/director Woody Allen in "To Rome With Love."

The Washington Post

Coming Jan. 15

"To Rome With Love" (R, 112 minutes, in English and a fair amount of subtitled Italian, Sony Home Entertainment): The comic roundelay opens with narration by an anonymous Roman traffic cop talking directly to the camera as cars whiz by. Filmmaker Woody Allen's Rome-set story unfolds as a bumper-to-bumper backup of multiple, interconnected tales about love, lust and the swirl of humanity. It isn't just the story, which involves four main threads and numerous sub-threads. The movie is also crowded with characters standing in for Allen, from Alec Baldwin to Jesse Eisenberg. Somewhere in here is a real movie, but it's hard to find in all the mess (which, despite everything, is actually funny from time to time). It's as bustling as its titular city's piazzas, but it goes nowhere. Contains sexual situations and some obscenity. Extras: "Con Amore: A Passion for Rome" featurette on Allen's filmmaking process, featuring exclusive cast and crew interviews with Baldwin, PenÚlope Cruz and Greta Gerwig.

"Taken 2" (PG-13, 91 minutes, Fox): "Taken," about a former CIA operative who rescues his teenage daughter from sadistic sex-trade traffickers, was a surprise hit in 2009. Its appeal, apart from a straightforward, unpretentious approach to otherwise pedestrian material, was Liam Neeson. As "Taken" protagonist Bryan Mills, he infused an otherwise by-the-numbers procedural with an ineffable, highly appealing blend of Celtic soul and 6-foot-4 heft. But the sequel is every bit as clumsy, ham-handed, outlandish and laughable as the original was sleek, tough and efficient. "Taken 2" finds Bryan back in Los Angeles, teaching his daughter to drive and gazing wistfully at his ex-wife. When Bryan travels to Istanbul on business, circumstances conspire to bring his daughter and ex-wife there, too. Soon, all three are caught up in a nasty web of kidnapping, torture and revenge by earlier vanquished Albanian bad guys. It's a perfectly acceptable setup, but "Taken 2" seems more invested in going through the motions than raising its own bar. Contains intense sequences of violence and action and some sensuality. Extras: alternative ending (20 additional minutes), special effects featurette. Also, on Blu-ray: additional unrated cut; "Black Ops Field Manual" and kill counter," "Tools of the Trade" featurette, and deleted and extended scenes.

"The Intouchables" (R, 112 minutes, in French with English subtitles, The Weinstein Co.): A box-office smash in France, this is a feel-good movie about a distinctly feel-bad subject: quadriplegia. The fact-based story, which focuses on the relationship between Philippe, a white millionaire paralyzed in a paragliding accident, and Driss, the black hustler who becomes his live-in caregiver, neatly avoids most of themes and stress of the subject. Aside from a scene or two hinting at Driss' initial reluctance to change Philippe's diapers, there's little to suggest that there's anything terribly disagreeable about the setup. The two go for breakneck car rides, goof around with shaving cream and, in general, have a great time. The lens through which the "The Intouchables" was filmed may be too rose-colored for some people's taste, but the window that these talented performers throw open -- a window onto the strange and touching friendship between two very different men -- is crystal clear. Contains obscenity, drug use and some suggestive material.

"Won't Back Down" (PG, 121 minutes, Fox): Viewed through one lens, "Won't Back Down" has the contours of a David-and-Goliath story, this time about moms who face down an educational bureaucracy to get the school their kids deserve. When two women (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis) join forces to turn their school around, it's impossible not to cheer their solidarity and perseverance. And it's even more impossible not to boo and hiss when the teachers union representatives foil the women's efforts. This is where a second lens that proves useful: More than a portrait of motherly outrage, the movie has been designed as an anti-union, pro-charter screed. Based loosely on the "parent trigger" laws in California enabling citizens to take control of failing schools, the film passes over the questionable results from those takeovers. Contains thematic elements and profanity. Extras: commentary with director Daniel Barnz, deleted scenes and "A Tribute to Teachers" and "The Importance of Education" featurettes.

"The Possession" (PG-13, 92 minutes, Lionsgate): A Jewish variant on "The Exorcist," the film recounts the torments of a nice suburban American family infiltrated by an evil spirit ("dibbuk" in Yiddish). Actually, the dibbuk is the second malevolent force to attack Clyde and Stephanie and their two daughters. First came the monster called divorce. Clyde has been banished for being inattentive, but he dotes on 10-year-old Em and 13-ish Hannah whenever he has temporary custody. So he agrees to stop at a yard sale and doesn't argue when Em insists on buying a dark wooden box inscribed with Hebrew letters. Clyde and the girls haven't been warned, but the audience has. The movie's prologue reveals what happened to a woman who tried to destroy said box. Anyone who believes in dibbuks and other ghoulies will find "The Possession" terrifying. For the rest of us, the movie is a cleverly constructed, well-paced piece of hokum. Contains violence and disturbing images. Extras: commentary with director Ole Bornedal, commentary with writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White and "The Real History of the Dibbuk Box" featurette.

"Farewell, My Queen" (R, 100 minutes, in French with English subtitles, Cohen Media): In the spirit of "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey," the French film looks at the final days of Louis XVI's reign through the eyes of a servant. The movie opens on July 14, 1789, which unfolds much like any other day at Versailles. Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux) is tasked with reading to the queen (Diane Kruger), who appears to have a rather serious case of attention-deficit disorder. As information about the storming of the Bastille trickles in, Sidonie and her cohorts are spellbound by uncertainty. News is scarce, and while everyone claims to know something, it's difficult to distinguish gossip from fact. While many flee, choosing survival over loyalty, Sidonie remains, even as Marie Antoinette becomes increasingly volatile. The dynamic between the women is subtle yet engrossing, thanks to memorable performances from the actresses. The film, based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, excels in its sense of realism, even amid the fairy-tale setting. And while Marie Antoinette's fate is widely known, the film creates suspense with Sidonie's tenuous destiny. Contains nudity, some strong language and depictions of death.

Also: "Allegiance," "Detropia," "30 Nights of Paranormal Activity With The Devil Inside the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "Branded," "17 Girls" (France), "The Bishop's Wife" (1947, MGM), "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934, Criterion Collection), "The Tin Drum" (1979, Criterion Collection), "Cupid" (Hallmark Channel original movie), "The Other Dream Team," "I Am Bruce Lee," "Joan Rivers: Don't Start With Me," "Battle for Brooklyn" and "Harland Williams: A Force of Nature."

Television series: "Merlin: The Complete Fourth Season," "Men of a Certain Age: The Complete Second Season," "Life's Too Short: The Complete First Season" (HBO), "Bill Moyers: Becoming American" (2003, PBS), "Being Human: Season 4," "The Amazing World of Gumball: The Mystery" (Cartoon Network) and "Thomas & Friends: Muddy Matters."

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