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Humor, verve make ‘The Savages’ a Can’t Miss

U2’s 20th anniversary edition of “Joshua Tree” and Anna Quindlen’s “Good dog. Stay.”  are  also among the week’s best offerings.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Movies

Phillip Seymour Hoffmann, Laura Linney in \"The Savages\"

Often, if you’re unsure about whether to take in a movie, you can usually get a hint from the actors involved. Not always (I give you “Lions for Lambs”), but often. “The Savages” stars Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, two of the best in the business. They could stand at a bus stop for two hours and I’d watch. Fortunately, director Tamara Jenkins puts them through more challenging paces. Linney and Hoffman star as siblings who are suddenly pressed into duty to care for their elderly father, who is suffering from dementia. Although the topic may seem less than the cheery fare many seek around the holidays, the story is told with enough humor and verve to negate the bummer aspect. And watching Linney and Hoffman together anywhere is enough to lift the spirits. (Fox Searchlight, opens Friday)

Television

Admit it, you’re used to being insulted, especially if you’re doing a lot of shopping in the malls. The prices alone are insulting, but then you add the harried, temporary clerks and the surly drivers in the parking lot fighting for spaces, and pretty soon you’re ready to let somebody have it. A suggestion: Instead of doing that, spend a night with Don Rickles. He’s a quiet, amusing man with a gentle touch. Oh, he may verbally rip you to shreds, but at least you’ll laugh, and besides, he’s a professional. “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project” is a documentary by director John Landis (“Animal House”) about the life and humor of one of comedy’s funniest and most beloved individuals. The film features interviews with stars such as Clint Eastwood, Chris Rock, Robin Williams and others as well as clips of Rickles’ standup act. So watch it. You wouldn’t want to insult the man. (HBO, Sunday, 8 p.m.)

Music

Sometimes one album just stands out. For the Beatles, it was “Sgt. Pepper.” For Led Zeppelin, it was probably the fourth album. And for U2, it’s “The Joshua Tree.” The 20th anniversary of “Joshua Tree” is upon us, and to commemorate the occasion the band has reissued the CD in a new set. Many bands remaster and reissue as often as they change their socks; for U2, it’s rare. That’s why this one is a keeper. It’s a three-disc package with the original set of songs that includes “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You,” but there is a second disc with the B sides of the extended singles, such as “Sweetest Thing.” The third disc is a DVD that includes performance footage from Paris. And there is also a booklet of extra photos by Anton Corbijn, who shot the cover. U2 may reissue some of their other albums, but they may not. Why take a chance? (Island)

DVD

Alfred Hitchcock had a delicious sense of humor, even when he was having people murdered in his movies. He is known primarily for suspense thrillers such as “Psycho” and “Notorious,” but once in a while over the course of his staggeringly brilliant career, he would slip in a bit of comedy. “The Lady Vanishes” isn’t a gut buster, but it’s a delightful tale of a woman traveling across Europe by train. She meets an old spinster who suddenly disappears, causing her to put on her sleuth hat and try to solve the mystery. “The Lady Vanishes” is out on DVD in a two-disc set that includes a new restored transfer, commentary by film historian Bruce Eder, excerpts from Francois Truffaut’s audio interview with Hitch in 1962, and much more. Hitchcock could blend mayhem and mirth better than anyone. In this one, he just indulged a little more in the latter. (Criterion Collection)

Books

A dog may be a man’s best friend, but women are quite fond of pups also. Ask Anna Quindlen. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author offers a tribute to Beau, her black Lab, in “Good Dog. Stay.” It’s a memoir written by a dog lover, but it’s more. Quindlen understands the life lessons one can absorb by simply hanging out with and observing a close canine companion. Those nutty pooches do more than just chase squirrels, leave presents for you in the yard and sneak snacks from the table. They endure the ups and downs of everyday life just like we do. They don’t have agendas, or at least they’re fairly upfront about the ones they do have (a hunk of cheese, please). And if one of them can inspire a writer of Quindlen’s talents to devote an entire book to him, then it means dogs have us right where they want us — in the palms of their paws. (Random House)