The DVD Report #22

Gross-out comedies don’t win Oscars but they do have a rich tradition in film…that is to say they make lots of money.

Starting with National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978, the genre basically was about, and generally appealed to, adolescent boys and grown men in arrested adolescence. In the 1980s, films in the genre included Revenge of the Nerds and Porky’s, and beginning in 1999, the American Pie series, which flourishes to this day in straight-to-DVD sequels. The genre expanded in 1998 to include films such as There’s Something About Mary, which was clearly aimed at that target audience of grown men in arrested adolescence. In recent years, we’ve had everything from the Viagra comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights to the film that expanded the genre to embrace middle-aged men, The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

Judd Apatow, the creative force behind TV’s Freaks and Geeks and The 40 Year-Old Virgin, is back with Knocked Up. It’s a surprisingly sweet, as well as raunchy, comedy about a one-night stand that leads to a pregnancy and a charming, if unusual, romance between a perpetually-high slacker and an up-and-coming TV interviewer played respectively by Freaks and Geeks ‘ Seth Rogen and Grey’s Anatomy ‘s Katherine Heigl.

The supporting cast is led by Leslie Mann as Heigl’s annoying sister, Paul Rudd as her easygoing brother-in-law and Freaks and Geeks alumni Jason Segel and Martin Starr as two of Rogen’s roommates. The two-disc special edition includes over three hours of extras including a hilarious 30-minute mockumentary about actors who were cast in the Rogen role but didn’t work out.

Paul Verhoeven directed his first film in his native Holland in 1960, but didn’t become internationally-known until the late 1970s and early 1980s with such films as Soldier of Orange, The 4th Man and Spetters. Lured to Hollywood where he made such box office hits as RoboCop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Starship Troopers, he returned to his native country to make what is easily his best film, the World War II thriller, Black Book. Like most Verhoeven films, this one is drenched in sex and violence, but unlike some of his Hollywood excesses nothing in it is gratuitous. It’s an epic film in the best sense with many twists and turns, some of which you see coming, some of which you don’t.

Women’s films are so infrequently made these days that one expects the few that are made to be worth their audience’s time. Sadly, most of them are not. A case in point is Evening, by the author of The Hours, one of the few recent films in the genre that I liked. A long, drawn-out melodrama about a dying woman looking back on her life, Evening pretty much wastes the talents of all concerned. A pity because the film features a fine cast of usually-dependable actors such as Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Patrick Wilson, Hugh Dancy, Meryl Streep and Glenn Close. Redgrave is the dying woman, while Danes plays her character more than fifty years earlier. None of the actors have showy parts, but that doesn’t stop Close from chewing the scenery. She is extremely irritating, accentuating every gesture in a pathetic attempt to be noticed in a nothing role as the society mother of bride Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real life daughter. Streep plays her daughter’s character as an old lady with great restraint, and her 11th-hour scene with Redgrave is the only thing in the film that is even remotely memorable.

Still in theatres in the U.S. but out on DVD in Great Britain, is a much better example of a film made essentially for women. Becoming Jane is a lush romantic drama that is better than its reputation would have you believe. Scorned by Jane Austen purists who will tell you it flat out never happened, as well as audiences with no patience for its leisurely pace, it is the story of a love affair between the country girl who became the beloved author and the poor law student who became Chief Justice of Ireland. While the affair is undocumented, the film makes a very plausible case for it. Tom Lefroy did have relatives who lived near the Austen family and he did name his eldest daughter Jane. Beyond that all is speculation, but Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy are letter perfect as the star-crossed lovers. The supporting cast includes Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Ian Richardson and Maggie Smith, who adds to her repertoire of Edna May Oliver impersonations, following those in David Copperfield and Gosford Park.

New releases of last season’s TV series as DVD sets continue to spark interest in the new seasons of such shows as Heroes, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters and Numb3rs.

Two recent releases include the fourth season of Nip/Tuck and the third season of Boston Legal. Both series stretch the envelope, but the safer network series, Boston Legal,is the one that was nominated for a Best Drama Series Emmy, won James Spader his second Best Actor in a Drama Series Emmy and former winner William Shatner another Supporting Actor nomination. The cable series, Nip/Tuck, gets no such respect though it is the better show. The difference is that Boston Legal knows when to stop while Nip/Tuck keeps going with its nudity and softcore sex scenes.

It’s interesting to compare the manner in which the two shows handle controversial subject matter. For instance, last season both shows took on Scientology. Boston Legal did it in a scathingly funny episode while Nip/Tuck covered it in a season long arc.

While Nip/Tuck doesn’t get very much Emmy respect, it has gotten Golden Globe, Satellite and Saturn Award nominations for the show and its three stars, Julian McMahon, Dylan Walsh and Joely Richardson. The most exciting thing about the series’ fourth season was the unique manner in which it used its many guest stars including Larry Hagman, Jacqueline Bisset, Richard Chamberlain, Peter Dinklage and Rosie O’Donnell. O’Donnell is especially appealing as an unhappy lottery winner who finds a unique way of bonding with the Nip/Tuck staff.

Another series that doesn’t get as much respect as similar shows is the crime drama Bones, the second season of which has also just been released on DVD. The series gets its name from the nickname of its lead character, a forensic anthropologist, as well as the focus of her study, human remains reduced to bones.

To be fair, Emily Deschanel was nominated for a Satellite Award in the show’s first season and both she and co-star David Boreanaz have been nominated for Teen Choice awards. Similar in concept to CSI, in that it combines both scientific research and the time-honored whodunit, the chief difference is that CSI generally has two cases to solve in the course of an hour, while Bones usually concentrates on just one.

The supporting cast of Bones, which includes Michaela Conlin, Eric Millegan, T.J. Thyne, Tamara Taylor, and, for a good part of Season 2, Eddie McClintock and Stephen Frey, are all given moments to shine in each episode.

Anniversary editions continue to be big in the DVD market. In recent weeks, we’ve had the 20th Anniversary Edition of Wall Street, the 30th Anniversary Edition of Saturday Night Fever, the 35th Anniversary Edition of Deliverance, and the 40th Anniversary Edition of The Graduate.Out today is the 50th Anniversary Edition of Funny Face. A two-disc 80th Anniversary Edition of The Jazz Singer arrives next week. All of this started me thinking about what we might expect in the way of anniversary editions next year. Maybe we should start telling the DVD companies what we’d like to see.

For my part, I’d like to see these never-on-DVD-in-the-U.S. films: 80th anniversary editions of The Crowd and The Wind ; a 75th anniversary edition of She Done Him Wrong perhaps with a second disc of Mae West impersonations through the years.

Never-on-DVD: a 70th anniversary edition of The Baker’s Wife perhaps from Criterion; a 65th anniversary edition of The Human Comedy while Mickey Rooney is still alive to do commentary; a 40th anniversary edition of The Subject Was Roses while Patricia Neal is still alive to provide commentary; a 30th anniversary edition of Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? with a profile on the career of Robert Morley.

Other films: a spruced-up 60th anniversary reissue of Red River, which had been one of the first films to be released on DVD and is in bad need of restoration; a 55th anniversary edition of the even more badly in need of restoration Shane ; a 50th anniversary edition of Auntie Mame with archival footage of some of the legendary actresses who’ve played the role beginning with Roz Russell’s Broadway replacement, Greer Garson; a 45th anniversary edition of the woefully under-rated Tom Jones with special features explaining its impact on early 1960s audiences; a 35th anniversary edition of Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams while Joanne Woodward is still alive to provide commentary; a 25th anniversary edition of the under-rated Testament with special features on other Doomsday films.

Sure, most of these are pipe dreams, but one can hope.

Peter J. Patrick (October 2, 2007)

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Top 10 Rentals of the Week

(September 23)

  1. We Are Marshall
              $4.59 M ($4.59 M)
  2. The Condemned
              $4.15 M ($4.15 M)
  3. Blades of Glory
              $3.68 M ($25.7 M)
  4. Death Proof
              $2.87 M ($2.87 M)
  5. Georgia Rule
              $2.57 M ($8.99 M)
  6. Delta Farce
              $2.56 M ($8.96 M)
  7. Fracture
              $2.1 M ($25.1 M)
  8. Perfect Stranger
              $2.09 M ($18.4 M)
  9. Wild Hogs
              $2.06 M ($31.3 M)
  10. Vacancy
              $2.05 M ($24.7 M)

Top 10 Sales of the Week

(September 16)

  1. Grey’s Anatomy: Season Three
  2. Blades of Glory
  3. Wild Hogs
  4. Charmed: The Final Season
  5. The Office: Season Three
  6. 300
  7. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dream
  8. Heroes: Season 1
  9. Supernatural: The Complete Second Season
  10. Georgia Rule

New Releases

(October 2)

Coming Soon

(October 9)

(October 16)

(October 23)

(October 30)

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