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Sweet, insightful independent film East Side Sushi on DVD this week
A Mexican-American foodie (Diana Elizabeth Torres) stays up late every night for a year to teach herself how to cook sushi in the charming independent film "East Side Sushi," now on DVD. - photo by Chris Hicks
A gentle low-budget film leads new movies on DVD and Blu-ray this week.

East Side Sushi (Sony, 2015, PG, deleted scenes, featurettes). A young Mexican-American single mother supports her father and young daughter by operating a fruit cart. But after being robbed, she applies for a kitchen-assistant job in a Japanese restaurant to get off the street and because it will give her benefits.

As she observes the chefs and immerses herself in the menu, she develops a desire to be a sushi chef, only to learn that being a woman and not being Japanese are major stumbling blocks. So, to prove her stuff, she auditions and becomes a finalist in a popular sushi-chef competition show.

Anthony Lucero, writing and directing his first feature after laboring as a Hollywood special-effects editor for nearly two decades, shot the film in his Oakland, California, hometown, and his understanding of the area and the people comes through in every frame. But his real find is Diana Elizabeth Torres, a wonderful actress who is completely winning in the lead role.

The result is a sweet, insightful look at the pursuit of the American Dream set against a unique backdrop, a culinary clash between Mexican and Japanese cultures. This little independent charmer sneaks up on you and its a real rarity, a live-action film rated PG.

Ride Along 2 (Universal, 2016, PG-13, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, bloopers). You know how some sequels feel more like remakes? In this follow-up, motormouth comic Kevin Hart has gone through the police academy and is a rookie in Atlanta, which moves him closer to his dream of becoming a detective like his surly soon-to-be brother-in-law (Ice Cube). So, of course, they are teamed up to take down a Miami drug lord (Benjamin Bratt). Frantic comedy ensues. Ken Jeong, Olivia Munn and Bruce McGill co-star.

Krampus (Universal, 2015, PG-13, deleted/extended scenes, alternate ending, audio commentary, featurettes, photo galleries, bloopers). The titular demonic spirit (from German folklore) terrorizes a suburban family on Christmas Eve in this decidedly offbeat horror comedy. This one is hit-and-miss as both horror and comedy, with a surprise ending that rips off a specific Twilight Zone episode. The game cast includes Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, Adam Scott, David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell.

Son of Saul (Sony Classics, 2015, R for violence and nudity, in Hungarian with English subtitles, deleted scene, audio commentary, featurette). In October 1944, a Hungarian Jew in Auschwitz is forced to dispose of the bodies of fellow Jews that are duped into entering gas chambers they believe to be showers. One day, he comes across a young boy that could be his son, so he attempts to surreptitiously arrange for a rabbi to give the child a proper burial even as his fellow prisoners plot an uprising. It is a distractingly directed but nonetheless gripping Holocaust drama that won the Oscar for best foreign language film this year.

The Driftless Area (Sony, 2016; R for language, drugs, violence; featurette). Bartender Anton Yelchin returns to his Midwest hometown after the death of his parents and meets an alluring woman (Zooey Deschanel) who may or may not be an apparition. Then theres the bumbling crook (John Hawkes) whose bag of stolen money is too tempting for Yelchin to ignore. The title says it all for this indifferent blend of crime drama and ethereal ponderings laced with dark humor. Frank Langella co-stars.

Backtrack (Lionsgate, 2015, R for violence and language, featurette). Suffering from nightmares that force him to remember things he had long suppressed, a psychotherapist (Adrien Brody) returns to his hometown to confront a 20-year-old mystery. This Australian supernatural thriller owes far too much to The Sixth Sense and is all too obvious regardless of whether you are familiar with that film.
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