DVD CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
Knocked Up (Two Disc Collector's Edition) (Grade: B+)
U.S.; Judd Apatow, 2007, Universal
What's more fun than making babies? Not much, suggests this droll, crowd-pleasing movie from Judd (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) Apatow, which by actual laugh count, is easily one of the year's top comedies. Knocked Up is all about the anxieties and delights of sex, pregnancy and courtship. In it, fuzzy, amiable Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) scores big one night -- bedding beauteous career babe Alison (Katherine Heigl) -- but also plants a baby in her trim belly and must decide whether to be slacker or hubby, worm or mensch. Alison, in turn, has to accept Ben, a potential father with no perceptible big career skills and a bad personal dress code.
Rogen is shaggily hilarious and so are his slacker buddies; Heigl plays a woman who might believably put babies and wedding bells in anyone's mind.
This is not only a very funny (if gross) movie, but it's also a sweet one: warmly humane and sharply observant. Apatow is the new American movie laugh auteur these days -- and he deserves to be. At least for the moment.
Extras: Commentary with Apatow and Rogen; deleted, extended and alternate scenes; gag reel; music video.
The Black Book (A-)
Netherlands; Paul Verhoeven, 2006, Sony
Paul Verhoeven has been mostly biding his time in Hollywood since the "debacle" of that flabbergastingly tawdry skin-and-sin epic, Showgirls, a movie that had lots of stuff wrong that you could see (Elizabeth Berkley and her lap dances) and some you couldn't (Charlize Theron was beaten out for a major role). But in The Black Book, he returns to the triumphantly extravagant outlaw stylishness and swagger of his early Dutch classics, Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange and The Fourth Man. Those movies were racy, hell-raising fun, and so were Verhoeven's Hollywood baptism Robocop and, to a lesser extent, Basic Instinct.
The Black Book is a sharp return to form: a spectacular, garishly gripping World War II drama-romance-thriller with Carice Van Houten as Rachel Stein, a Dutch Jewish singer-underground fighter who witnesses massacres and atrocities and has a dangerous affair with handsome Nazi Captain Ludwig (Sebastian Koch of The Lives of Others). All around them the world explodes, conflict raging between the Allied armies, the Dutch partisans and the occupying Nazis, who are mostly murderous creeps, especially Waldemar Kobus as a truly odious heavy.
It's fair comment to call The Black Book over the top; as a drama of war and resistance, it's certainly no Army of Shadows. But Verhoeven is at his best with extreme material like this, with stories this jam-packed with sex and horror, and with casts this unbuttoned. Whatever else you feel during The Black Book, you won't be bored -- any more than you snored at Soldier of Orange or Showgirls.
Extras: Commentary by Verhoeven, featurette.
DVD BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
The Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection (Overall grade: B)
U.S,; Various directors, 1939-43, Warner Home Video
In 1939, the year of The Wizard of Oz, MGM's musical wunderkinder Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney joined forces for the ultimate "Hey kids, let's put on a show" movie, Babes in Arms -- and they gave it so much sparkle and gumption, you could almost forgive the moviemakers their mortal sin of jettisoning most of the original's splendid Rodgers and Hart song score.
Mickey was irrepressible; Judy was irresistible. He was a dynamic imp; she was a full-throated honeybunch. He acted and danced up a comedic storm; she sang the house down. They were both showstoppers, and so felicitous was their pairing that Jude and The Mick were immediately slotted for a steady stream of follow-up shows. Their MGM bosses overworked and overexploited them, but they also gave them some campy immortality -- thanks also to the wild man director choreographer for most of these shows, Busby Berkeley.
These movies have their glaring flaws, but they're sure as hell entertaining. Girl Crazy has a great Gershwin score (both "I Got Rhythm" and "Embraceable You") and Babes in Arms has that one precious Rodgers & Hart left: the heart-wrenching "Where or When." Bravo Mick! All hail Judy! They were both embraceable -- and irreplaceable too.
Babes in Arms (B)
U.S.; Busby Berkeley, 1939)
The Kids put on a show.
Strike Up the Band (B-)
U.S.: Berkeley, 1940
The kids wave flags.
Babes on Broadway (B-)
U.S.; Berkeley, 1941
The kids crash Broadway.
Girl Crazy (B+)
U.S.; Norman Taurog/Berkeley, 1943
Ki-yi-yippee. The kids hoof and warble out west.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
U.S.; William Friedkin, 2007, Lionsgate
Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon -- holed up in a western motel called The Rustic -- are either besieged by bugs, monsters and a corrupt government, or they're a pair of screamingly paranoid lovers gripped by awful delusions and descending into a private hell. Friedkin adapts the play by Tracy Letts, which suggests a '50s sci-fi thriller, like Don Siegel's 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers as Harold Pinter might have written it. A mixed result, but this well-acted lower-budget movie from Friedkin in his Exorcist mood, gets to you.
Ten Canoes (B+)
Australia; Rolf De Heer, 2006, Palm
A wonderful period adventure epic from Australia auteur Rolf De Heer (Bad Boy Bubby). It's a quest and revenge film, set in the Outback and acted by a terrific cast of mostly nonprofessional aborigine actors. One definite pro here, though, is David Gulpilil, as the narrator; most of us first met him as the tragic aborigine boy of Walkabout.
Extras: Interviews with De Heer & others, featurette, map, trailer.
Cracker: A New Terror (B-)
U.S.; Antonia Bird, 2006, Acorn Media
The last installment of the justly celebrated Cracker crime-thriller series, from writer Jimmy McGovern and star Robbie Coltrane (as acid-tongued Dr. Eddie Fitzgerald). Not as good as the last Prime Suspect (recently released on Acorn), but still full of the old brio and snappishness, with Coltrane's brash detector Fitz returning to London and tackling a murder with connections to the Iraq war.
Cujo (25th Anniversary Edition) (B-)
U.S.; Lewis Teague, 1983, Lionsgate
Stephen King's rabid doggie horror tale, still murderously effective. With Dee Wallace.
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (B-)
U.S.; Philip Kaufman, 1972, Universal
A revisionist Western from Phil Kaufman (The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being), which retells the legendary saga of the James Gang's botched last bank robbery, from the perspective of the counterculture Vietnam War era. Full of eccentric details and good performances, notably from Cliff Robertson as Cole Younger and Robert Duvall as Jesse James. (The cast also includes those primo character actors Elisha Cook Jr., Royal Dano and R.G. Armstrong.)
Spider Baby (Special Edition) (B-)
U.S.; Jack Hill, 1968, MPI
The weird, offbeat exploitation work of Jack Hill (Coffy, Foxy Brown) lies somewhere between Quentin Tarantino, Roger Corman and Russ Meyer -- not to mention Ed Wood Jr. -- and this is his funniest, creepiest movie. The original title was Cannibal Orgy: or the Maddest Story Ever Told, and this twisted flick gives us a demented, flesh-eating family, their compassionate butler (Lon Chaney Jr.) and lots of cheap thrills and dark comedy. Shot in 1964, it was shelved for four years. But it's a genuine cult movie and genuinely entertaining.
Extras: Commentary with Hill and actor Sid Haig; featurettes, extended scene; alternate opening credits.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (B-)
U.S.; Byron Haskin, 1964, Criterion Collection
The special effects are pretty cheesy -- lovably so -- but this engrossing, sometimes touching Red Planet translation of Daniel Defoe's castaway classic, by director Byron (War of the Worlds) Haskin and writer Ib (The Angry Red Planet ) Melchoir, is one of the more science-savvy and smart of the pre-2001 science fiction epics.
Paul Mantee stalwartly plays Commander Kit Draper, who crash-lands on Mars with Mona the monkey and faces worse problems than Crusoe, including the seeming lack of oxygen and water and the presence of marauding spaceships. Adam (Batman) West has a scary scene as Kit's co-pilot, Dan McReady, and Vic Lundin is this movie's Friday, a spaceman slave who looks like an Inca warrior from the TV Star Trek. Shot in Death Valley and on soundstages, it looks great -- except for those damn attacking spaceships.
Extras: Commentary by screenwriter Ib Melchoir, Mantee and others; audio interview with Haskin; featurettes, screenplay excerpts, music video, trailer.
As You Like It
U.K.; Kenneth Branagh, 2007, HBO
Another Shakespearean romp from the gifted actor-director Branagh.
U.S.; Lajos Koltai, 2007, Universal
Ambitious ensemble drama from Istvan Szabo's cinematographer-turned-director Koltai, who made the excellent Fateless.
U.S.; Lee Tamahori, 2007, IEG
Nic Cage knows what's going to happen....
Inside the Actors' Studio: Leading Men
U.S.; 2007, Shout!Factory
James Lipton interviews Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Russell Crowe and Sean Penn.
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series
U.K.; 2007, various directors, MPI
The definitive TV version, with Jeremy Brett as Holmes.
The Stendhal Syndrome
Italy; Dario Argento, 1996, Blue Underground
Horror maestro Argento (Suspiria) directs daughter Asia; the great cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno's last fiction feature.