DVD reviews
November 2007


All reviews by Loey Lockerby

Knocked Up – Unrated & Unprotected

It takes some kind of supernatural power to turn an unattractive, irresponsible doofus into a sex symbol. Judd Apatow is Dumbledore.

How else to explain the ascendancy of Seth Rogen, the male lead of Apatow's latest comedy Knocked Up? At first, there is nothing about his character, Ben that would get a woman's attention, unless his obnoxious behavior annoyed her. He hooks up with the beautiful, successful Alison (Katherine Heigl) at a nightclub only because she's drunk and he makes her laugh. When the beer goggles come off, she politely sends him on his way — until she discovers that she's pregnant. Suddenly, these completely mismatched individuals are connected, whether they like it or not.

As he showed last year in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow can take material that would normally be offensive and turn it into something genuinely funny, even sweet. e lets his actors improvise and encourages the kind of raunchy interplay that close, uninhibited friends engage in. The jokes don't always work, but you have to admire the energetic creativity that goes into this process.

Apatow is also a romantic at heart, with the skill to earn the audience's sympathy for characters that would normally be unpleasant. That's especially the case with Ben, whose innate decency emerges gradually over the film's running time without diluting the qualities that made him funny in the first place.

Most of the remaining cast is part of Apatow's stock company, including his wife, Leslie Mann, and KC-area native Paul Rudd. The real revelation here is Heigl, who could have been the weak link among these veterans. Instead, she fits right in and her role as the gorgeous good sport is as appealing as Rogen's charming slacker.

Extras: Lots of deleted scenes and outtakes, which are funny enough, but would have added way too much to the movie's already-bloated running time. The two featurettes are amusing — one covers co-star Jay Baruchel's panic attack over a scene on a roller coaster, while the other is an elaborate fake doc about Capote director Bennett Miller taking over the shoot. Finally, there's a fun commentary track with Apatow, Rogen and comic Bill Hader. (Unrated). Rating: 3.5.

A Mighty Heart

After years of choosing bad scripts and gracing tabloid covers, Angelina Jolie needed to remind people that she is, in fact, an extremely talented actress. With her performance in A Mighty Heart that mission is accomplished, and then some.

Jolie plays journalist Mariane Pearl, the wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whose kidnapping and gruesome murder by Pakistani jihadists horrified the world in 2002. The film focuses almost exclusively on the days between his disappearance and murder, as Mariane and a team of investigators work tirelessly to prevent the tragedy that the audience knows is coming.

That knowledge of the inevitable actually heightens the tension, in much the same way it did in Paul Greengrass' United 93. Using handheld cameras and claustrophobic locations, director Michael Winterbottom makes everything feel immediate, almost like watching a documentary of Pearl's loved ones waiting for news.

This style, however, provides little context from Winterbottom and screenwriter John Orloff. Fragmented flashbacks tell the story of Danny and Mariane's life together, but they are too brief to give a real sense of the relationship. This leaves Jolie with an even greater task than simply starring in a harrowing fact-based film — she also has to bring an emotional weight that isn't really provided by the script.

Winterbottom is no stranger to gritty stories about journalists, having also helmed the terrific 1997 film Welcome to Sarajevo. He clearly admires the tenacity and idealism of the profession's best practitioners, and the Pearls exemplify those qualities, even in the face of disaster. This open, humanistic attitude makes the project an especially good fit for Jolie, whose own well-known views on such matters shape the way she plays Mariane.

Ultimately, A Mighty Heart isn't just the story of a strong woman and her allies looking for a missing journalist. It's also a celebration of everyone who fights for truth and hope in an often hostile world.

Extras: A detailed and informative "making-of" feature, which provides a useful look at Winterbottom's unusual, but very effective, filmmaking style. There is also a feature on the Committee to Protect Journalists and a PSA about the Daniel Pearl Foundation. (R). Rating: 4.

The Film Crew: Killers from Space

Aficionados of bad movies have a special affection for "Mystery Science Theater 3000." During its ten-season run, the makers of that show ripped apart some of the most godawful dreck ever committed to celluloid, earning millions of fans in the process. Anyone who can make Manos, the Hands of Fate entertaining is practically a hero, after all.

In the years since MST3K went off the air, former writer and star Mike Nelson has created RiffTrax, a site featuring pre-recorded commentaries for mainstream films, but you have to download those and sync them up with your DVD player. To make life easier for those needing a fix, Nelson and fellow alums Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett have started The Film Crew, a straight-to-disc project that closely resembles the original show, right down to the silly intros and Z-grade public domain films.

This time, the guys take on Killers from Space a quintessentially ‘50s science fiction cheapie starring a very young Peter Graves. Graves plays an Air Force researcher who stumbles out of the desert after his plane crashes, with no memory of what happened to him. He has a mysterious scar over his heart, and a newfound habit of seeing big plastic eyeballs floating through the air at him. Naturally, this is all the work of evil aliens who want our nuclear secrets.

This one isn't up there with the best these writers have to offer, but then again, neither were most of the MST3K episodes. Nelson, Corbett and Murphy are still masters at coming up with all those clever quips the rest of us only wish we could think of. The Film Crew has already released three other titles, so it's almost like having the Satellite of Love back in orbit again.

Extras: Some minor trivia about the film and a series of related fake outtakes are all the disc has to offer beyond the built-in commentary track. A little more info on the movie would have been a nice touch, as would some of those infamous short films the crew used to have so much fun with. (Unrated). Rating: 3.5.

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


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