March 10, 2008

DVDs: Nov 05, AU Edition

WATCH AND LEARN
James Fletcher on all the latest options for the small-screen cinema

JL.jpgDeath of a Beatle – Collector’s Edition DVD
4 stars

On December 8 this year it will have been 25 years since former Beatle John Lennon was maliciously shot and killed outside New York’s Dakota apartment block. While Lennon lay bleeding to death on the pavement at the feet of his wife Yoko Ono, his assassin Mark David Chapman simply stood watching, oddly fascinated by what he had done and with no comprehension of the global shockwave his actions had created.

The special edition DVD, Death of a Beatle, chronicles Lennon’s rise to fame from his early days in Liverpool to his time in New York City – and at the same time contrasts this ascent with Chapman’s eventual surrender to the delusional schizophrenia which drove his hatred and jealousy of celebrities.

Drawing heavily on the work of journalist Jack Jones, best known as the author of the Lennon/Chapman biography Take Me Down, the film utilizes audio from an interview between Jones and Chapman recorded in 2000. Much of Chapman’s dialogue, delivered in a reflective monosyllabic monologue is captivating, revealing the simplistic and tragic individual behind a façade of insanity.

However, any sympathy for Chapman is quickly diffused as the producers begin a chain of interviews, ranging from the police officers who attended the crime scene to Lennon’s friends and colleagues – including early Beatles member Pete Best, Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith, and assorted media personalities who effectively reinforce the shock and void that was felt in the wake of Chapman’s crime.
Released as a two-disc set complete with limited edition packaging, the DVD features additional interview footage with police detectives.

Also included is an extensive conversation with Andy Peebles who recalls his time spent with Lennon in his final days and Jack Jones who, having extensively interviewed Chapman over the space of 20 years, offers his own unique insight into the motivations and mentality of Chapman on the night of the shooting. An image gallery comprised of Chapman’s bizarre hotel possessions, biographies and a trailer gallery complete a DVD release that will appeal to both Beatles fans and true crime connoisseurs alike.



i7dvdart1.jpgGirl in the Mirror: A Portrait of Carol Jerrems
5 stars

Carol Jerrems may not be a common household name, but her extensive portfolio of work on Australian counter-culture throughout the 1970s remains one of this countries most valuable artistic assets. Now, after the recent success of screenings at the Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington and Auckland film festivals, Girl in the Mirror: A Portrait of Carol Jerrems has found its way to DVD in record time.

Directed by Kathy Drayton and produced by Helen Bowden of Soft Fruit and Traveling Light fame, ‘Girl’ chronicles the works of Carol Jerrems, who spent much of her time immersed among the 1970’s avant-garde artist movement with the likes of filmmakers Paul Cox, Esben Storm and author Kate Grenville.

Although a celebration of Jerrems raw and effecting photographs, the film is also a fascinating look at how damaged and self-destructive her personality was, something that is reinforced by the numerous compelling interviews from past lovers, colleagues and subjects that grace the film.

This dark presence is further captured as director Kathy Drayton skillfully intercuts numerous striking prints, many created for the film from archives at the National Gallery of Australia, with entries from Jerrems personal journals, written after she was hospitalized by a rare form of blood cancer that eventually claimed her life at the age of 30.

The DVD offers a quality extras package featuring a rare interview with Jerrems done in 1978, with previously unseen interview footage from Paul Cox, Daddy Cool member Ross Hannaford and the two Melbourne youths who feature in Jerrems’ iconic photograph Vale Street. Also included is the short film Hanging About written and directed by Jerrems which deals with rape, a subject which is hinted at more than once in the film concerning Jerrems’ past.

Additionally a collection of 66 photographs not seen in the film offer a retrospective of Jerrems’ professional career while video clips from the music artist J. Walker, who composed the frenetic soundtrack, the films trailer, bios and a weblink gallery complete a remarkable package for a fascinating film which has deservedly caught strong attention for the upcoming awards season.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:29 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Dec 05, AU Edition

RINGS AND THINGS
James Fletcher has two good reasons to stay home on a hot summer night

DVD_SUBMARINERScover.jpgSubmariners: The Complete Series
4 stars

During the 1980s the Australian government took the dramatic step of constructing a new Collins Class submarine fleet, to be built in Adelaide and homed in Western Australia. But from the outset things did not go well with massive budget blow-outs and numerous flaws surfacing in the design and mechanics of each boat.

After the initial public relations disaster, which played out in both parliament and the media, the negative attention eventually subsided and for the past few years has remained relatively quiet. But now, a new six part made-for-television series takes a look at the Collins Class fleet from a very different perspective.

Submariners, released as a two DVD set, is a unique independent series filmed aboard the Collins Class flag ship HMAS Rankin during its crew shakedown and subsequent voyage around the globe in preparation for RIMPAC, the world’s largest military war games, off the coast of Hawaii. With the cameraman and producer granted unparalleled access over three month at sea, the Rankin is revealed warts and all in an intimate profile of her strategic capabilities and crew dynamics. In fact, director Hugh Piper reveals a military culture which suffers from an 80% divorce rate, continually demonstrates its resistance to change, and sincerely embraces the Australian spirit of camaraderie – to the point of hazing rituals which, shall we say, don’t always benefit the Navy’s reputation.

However, the series does manages to capture the claustrophobic habitat and isolation of life aboard a submarine, and to its credit efficiently strips away the Hollywood glamour to instead reveal a raw and unnerving sense of distress, a feeling which is effectively demonstrated when the Rankin’s air supply becomes toxic after an engine malfunction while submerged as well as during a tense and unrelenting cat-and-mouse game played against a US Naval destroyer.
Set against some breathtaking cinematography, the series is both an intriguing insight into modern high-tech warfare paralleled with the reality of life aboard a military submarine, a theme which is mirrored in the DVD’s two galleries featuring images from renowned photographer Jon Davison. And surprisingly, the series also manages to blow the Collins Class reputation as a dud right out the water.



lord of the fans copy.jpgRingers: Lord of the Fans
4 stars

After the recent spate of pop-culture fan-boy documentary DVDs such as Trekkers and Comic Book Confidential comes Ringers: Lord of the Fans – and with it a breath of new life to revitalize a tired and neglected genre.

Without question, Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has carved its way into film history, drawing audiences as diverse as university academics, heavy metal rockers and the palest of Star Wars geeks, but love or hate Jackson’s interpretation, Tolkien’s novels remain a seminal part of modern pop-culture. And it’s from this perspective that Ringers explore the evolution of its global fan base.

Utilising a unique blend of animation, interview techniques, reenactments and a superb soundtrack, Ringers explores the history and inspiration behind Tolkien’s Middle Earth from its initial conception to the critically disastrous release of The Fellowship of the Ring before it found a home within the counter-culture of 1960’s America.
Resonating with comedic moments and fascinating trivia, Ringers also delves into the various incarnations of LOTR’s influence in western culture over the past 50 years, from an hilarious pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy gaily singing “Happy Hobbits” to the cryptic, drug-infused lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and John Lennon’s failed big-screen adaptation.

But it’s the impressive celebrity talent that director Carlene Cordova intercuts with interviews from Tolkien’s enthusiastic fan base that drives home just how wide-spread the series’ influence has become. Featuring many of the film’s cast, including Dominic Monaghan (who also supplies the film its charismatic narration), Ringers also includes interviews with fantasy writers Clive Barker and Terry Pratchet, Motor Head front man Lemmy Kilmister, filmmaker Cameron Crow and actor David Carradine who, along with many others, sing the praises of Tolkien’s visions and themes.

Released as a Special Edition, the DVD includes a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes, along with deleted scenes, an amusing audio commentary from the production team, and some hidden material. Overall the DVD manages to deliver a fun, entertaining and fascinating look at the culture and influence that LOTR’s still maintains in today’s society.


Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Mar 05

dvamerica.jpgALISTAIR COOKE’S AMERICA
PG, 663 Minutes

We have had the book of Alistair Cooke’s America sitting in our living room shelf for as long as I can remember. Its dust jacket is faded and torn in places and I’m not sure how much it’s been read. It should have been; Newsweek described it as ‘The first and maybe the finest tribute to the nation’, and, if this DVD is anything to go by I’d agree.

Alistair Cooke was one of Britain’s best loved American correspondents and for over 50 years he reported on all aspects of American life in his BBC radio series Letters from America. In 1973 he wrote and presented this insightful thirteen part documentary (following closely his same-titled book) in which he provides his own personal history of America, telling numerous interesting stories about the people, places and events that shaped the nation. These 50 minute episodes succeed in covering much historical ground: The past 400 years of American history in fact. In the introductory episode ‘The First Impact’ Cooke visits some of his favourite places, including New Orleans, the home of many jazz greats, Vermont and San Francisco. What is made obvious right away is the passion Cooke has for this ‘adopted’ country and also the effect this country has had on his life. In episode two he discusses the Spanish conquistadors who settled in Mexico, Arizona and Texas, right up to looking at 1972 America in episode thirteen where Cooke visits Hoover Dam which helped transform the desert into a gambling paradise.

Special Features: Interview with Alistair Cooke that took place on the television programme Pebble Mill at One, interviewed by Bob Langley. This documentary series also comes with English subtitles.

Final Word: Certainly more accessible than a daunting 3cm thick ‘coffee table book’. These 13 episodes on 4 disks manage to impressively chart a 400 year history of a nation which most outsiders (and insiders) choose to criticize. On this note it was refreshing to watch and listen to a man who delighted in this country despite its differing views. This is quite possibly the reason he took to this nation like he did.


dvblkball.jpgBLACKBALL
M, 93 Minutes

As sporting movies go it is not often you find ones that involve the game of lawn bowling and as for playing the game, unless you fit into the ‘acceptable’ age category you might be looked at quite strangely. In the seaside town of Torquay this game is taken very seriously, especially by Ray Speight (James Cromwell) – gifted bowler and club champion for 20 years; a man lacking the conviction to take his skills to the national level, content with his 20 year reign at the local bowling club. Beyond the manicured lawns however, in the run down section of town resides Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) who plies his skills as a bowls prodigy, ready to take on Speight. Armed with his American agent and sportswear executive Rick (Vince Vaughn), Cliff begins to turn the game of Lawn Bowls into quite a spectator sport receiving much attention for his ‘bad boy’ persona. A person Speight seeks to ensure never gets to play in Britain’s championship. Unfortunately for Speight, one of Starkey’s biggest fans is a local teacher named Kerry, Speight’s daughter.

Special Features: Commentary by Director, Mel Smith, Cast & Crew Interviews, TV and Radio Spots, Theatrical Trailer.

Final Word: A ‘family movie’, one which pertains to the familiar theme of good triumphing over adversity. As I uphold the belief that British comedy is the best comedy I have to be honest and say that despite this being a decidedly British movie it doesn’t quite hit the spot.


dvmetal.jpgMETALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER
M, 141 Minutes

Yeah, like you, we never foresaw ourselves reviewing a Metallica DVD. However, this one is different. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky set off to produce a kind of cinematic fanzine about the heavy metal band they loved, but in the process captured on film the disintegration of rock’s bad boys during the recording of their recent album St Anger. The documentary, shot in largely fly-on-the-wall mode throughout, throws up a stark contrast between the carefully manufactured demonic images that music companies use to market their metal bands, and the human fragility of the men in the band itself.Rather than Metallica, the group could arguably rename itself The Lost Boys, because the DVD shows them trying to break free of the marketing machine that grips them.

While playing to concerts of thousands of angry young men thrusting “the horns, man” (a fist with forefinger and pinky raised) into the air, Metallica’s musicians are agonising over how to write lyrics rejecting the anger and violence and drug use of their youth in favour of something more positive. The boys from Metallica, you see, are all grown up. They’re fathers, they’ve kicked the drugs and booze, and they sip Evian water. Heck, the band even hires a motivational shrink to analyse a communication breakdown within the band.

While the language is offensive, the documentary is fascinating.

Special features: 40 additional scenes, intimate interviews with band members about the film, audio commentaries from both the band and the directors.

Final Word: Not a ‘family’ movie, but certainly a deeper insight into the people caught up in the ravenous demands of the heavy metal music biz. - IW

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:27 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Sep 05, AU Edition

WAR STORIES
James Fletcher reports on the latest home-viewing offerings

DVD_ALFslickthumb.jpgA Loving Father
Rated: M
4 stars

Director Jacob Berger, son of well known English writer John Berger, isn’t a man afraid of presenting himself as a target within the subtext of his own films. A Loving Father, or Aime Ton Pere for the traditionalists, is a prime example centering on the emotional turmoil of a son trying to connect with a father isolated by fame. But what makes this film remarkable are the confronting performances he draws from his two lead actors, Gerard Depardieu and his own real-life son Guillaume Depardieu, who have their own dark history inspiring their on-screen conflict.

Gerard plays Leo, a cruel self-absorbed writer who receives news that he is to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Against the wishes of his daughter Virginia, played with nervous intensity by waif like actress Sylvie Testud, Leo sets out on a motorcycle journey across Europe to claim his prize. However his son Paul (Guillaume), fresh out of rehab and having heard the news, attempts to reconnect with the man he hasn’t spoken to in years. Of course things don’t go as planned and Paul finds himself kidnapping his renowned father after a fatal accident leaves the literary world, including his sister Virginia, believing Leo to be dead.

Part thriller, part black comedy and part biopic, Berger infuses the script with all his insecurities, angst and obsession while manipulating Gerard and Guillaume’s flawed relationship (which culminated with Gerard publicly disowning his son a year after the films release) to achieve a captivating honesty that saves the film from becoming over indulgent or satirical.

Now on DVD with English subtitles, A Loving Father has little in the way of extra material with biographies on the main cast offering some interesting background facts on the Depardieus’ murky past. However, the stunning performances and obvious emotional investment allows Berger to deliver a brave and entertaining film which explores the darker side of family dysfunction.


DVD_JWTRSslickthumb.jpgJonny Wilkinson: The Real Story
Rated: Exempt
3 stars

With the Tri Nations and the Bledisloe Cup fueling the 2005 Rugby season at the moment, it’s not surprising that Jonny Wilkinson: The Real Story makes its way to DVD this month. What is surprising is just how well made and enjoyable this profile of the Lions’ & Newcastle Falcon’s fly half actually is.

Since scoring the winning goal in the 2003 World Cup against Australia, Jonny Wilkinson has become synonymous with international Rugby, gaining fame well beyond the usual fraternity of sports fans. But for the most part, Wil- kinson has avoided the public eye, doing only the occasional media interview or product endorsement.

Having followed Wilkin- son around over a twelve week period in the lead up to the 2003 World cup, The Real Story delivers an entertaining, humourous and surprisingly intimate profile of the sporting icon which thankfully transcends the run-of-the-mill films typical of sports documentaries. Complementing archival footage of Jonny playing in the under-8s league with hard hitting action from international competition, director Simon Niblett also uses to great effect interviews with Wilkinson’s parents, girlfriend and peers including former Lions captain Will Carling and rugby fan Ian Botham filmed exclusively for the documentary.

However it’s the interviews with Wilkinson himself that establish the core of the show, filmed in candid and unpredictable locations around the UK and on tour, and all designed to capture honest, unrehearsed responses. The result reveals a surprisingly likable and sincere man deftly balancing a professional, sporting and private life with a determined ease befitting a much more seasoned player.

Running just short of an hour with no bonus material, Jonny Wilkison: The Real Story easily stands on its own merits as a simple and entertaining profile filmed for the love of the game and without any tabloid motives. A rare find and well worth adding to
the collection.


DVD_TLIslickthumb.jpgTruth, Lies & Intelligence
Rated: M
4 stars

Truth, Lies & Intelligence is unique in being the only Australian film to effectively explore Australia’s involvement in the lead up to the Iraq War. Filmed in 2003 by award winning filmmaker Carmel Travers the film recounts the origins of the intelligence fraud surrounding Iraq’s WMDs and its use in achieving the eventual invasion of that country by the US, Britain and Australia.
Featuring insightful interviews from high profile whistle-blowers such as Greg Thielman, the former advisor to the US Secretary of State, Australian ex-intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie and Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to key figures in the Middle East including Hamze Mansour, the head of the Islamic National Front and common truck drivers along Iraq’s dangerous highways, highways they point out, which remained safe under Saddam’s rule, Travers delivers a decisive political documentary rich in journalistic integrity and dramatic revelations.
Now on DVD, Truth, Lies & Intelligence boasts an impressive extras package that opens with an introduction by Travers explaining her motivation in making the film. The usual suspects also appear with the film’s trailer, an image gallery and biographies on the key figures included, however it is the two extended interviews that make this package stand out, the first with Greg Thielman, personal advisor to Colin Powell, and the second with Australian Andrew Wilkie who speaks candidly about his role within ONA and the double-edged relationship Australian intelligence agencies have with their American counterparts. He also elaborates on his motivations in exposing the truth, along with details of his resignation and subsequent treatment by the Howard government.
Although threatened by the Attorney General’s Office and forced to surrender her computer hard drives and personal emails during the films production, Travers has managed to produce an undeniably compelling film and a stunning document of Australia’s current political climate.


Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Feb 05

before_sunset.jpgBEFORE SUNSET,
M, 77 Minutes

What if you had a second chance with the one that got away? This is the tagline of this film, the sequel to the 1995 cult hit Before Sunrise. In Before Sunrise, two strangers met on a train and end up spending a night and exploring the after-hours of Vienna together. Before parting they swear to meet up six months later.

Nine years have passed since that morning.

Now, in Before Sunset, on the last stop of his book tour, at the tail end of a reading in a Paris book shop, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) finds Celine (Julie Delpy) watching from the back of the room. She lives in Paris now, he in New York. He’s flying out that evening. Will he make the most of the few hours he has with her? Why did they not meet up six-months later like they both promised?

Before Sunrise illustrated the intoxicating promise of youth and romance, meeting strangers on a train and then spending hours talking about love and life under the stars, and Before Sunset carries on exploring these promises. The director, Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Dazed and Confused) has an almost casual disregard for the usual imperatives of screenwriting the result being this film feels so ‘real life’, we feel as if we are the fly-on-the-wall watching two people re-connecting after nine years in such an unexpected, unrehearsed way. Jesse and Celine are perhaps the archetypal male/female making it very easy for their thoughts to resonate deeply with our own. Linklater gives his characters as chance that we rarely get in real life but he does give us the chance to carry on exploring these two characters thus exploring ourselves.

Special Features: Behind the Scenes of Before Sunset, Theatrical Trailer

Final Word: Gorgeous; an absolutely honest and beautiful depiction of the nature of relationships and of love lost and found. If this film slipped by you in 2004, watch Before Sunrise then you’ll just have to see this sequel.


841407.jpgCOFFEE & CIGARETTES,
M, 96 Minutes

Director Jim Jarmusch went out looking for “something different” and he found it. Coffee and Cigarettes, shot over the course of a 17-year period is a collection of eleven short films, vignettes, based around the seemingly insignificant acts of drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. In the first short film, Strange to Meet You, Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni discuss the benefits of cigarettes and coffee; Somewhere in California, Iggy Pop timidly tries to befriend Tom Waits, who decides that he can have a cigarette because he just quit. In Cousins Cate Blanchett delivers a brilliant dual-role performance, playing both her Hollywood superstar self as well as her bitter cousin. One of the most comic short films is Delirium, in which Rappers Rza and Gza (Wu-Tang Clan) discover that Bill Murray is a coffee addict, and they use their expertise to preach to him the benefits of alternative medicine. Despite the huge diversity of characters/actors used in these films; from rock ‘n’ rollers Jack and Meg White to familiar faces like Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett, Jarmusch succeeds in building a poetic conclusion to these pieces.

Being shot in black-and-white really does imbue this film with a certain artistic quality – snippets of real life that have become art: A tribute to the art of conversation and the joys and addictions of life.

Special Features: Interview, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer.

Final Word: If you’re looking for a one-of-kind slightly eccentric watch, then this is the DVD for you.


angels_in_america_not_appropriate_for_schools.jpgANGELS IN AMERICA,
337 Minutes

In this screen adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America, director Mike Nichols captures New York City in the 1980’s; a city where Aids is just beginning to surface and its inhabitants trying to navigate their way to somewhere: Some world where everyday life doesn’t seem so impossible. This is certainly the desire for Prior Walter who is abandoned by his tormented lover Louis, or the pill-popping Harper (Mary-Louis Parker) who is on the verge of losing her sanity when she realizes that her husband, Joe (Patrick Wilson), is a closet homosexual.

Other characters include a deluded lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) who is frequently visited by Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep), a woman he helped to condemn, and who now wants revenge.

Although brilliantly acted (Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson lead an all-star cast) and wonderfully poetic dialogue, at six hours of viewing it really does go on and on.

Special Features: None

Final Word: The Themes this mini-series certainly doesn’t shy away from, most notably Aids, Homosexuality and Politics are not ones that everybody would choose to be exposed to for six hours.

Angels in America does however showcase some of the best script writing and screen performances our TV sets have afforded us for a long time.


dennis_the_menace_ver1.jpgDENNIS THE MENACE,
PG, 96 Minutes

It is impossible to forget the 5-year old with his slingshot and dog Ruff: Dennis the Menace. This Special Edition 10th Anniversary release of the much loved, though critically loathed, adaptation of Hank Ketcham’s comic strip and TV Series is back to remind us just how much fun it is to be a kid.

Dennis Mitchell (Mason Gamble) is no menace to society, his intentions are always good it’s just…well… he always ends up wrecking havoc and challenging the sanity of his neighbour Mr Wilson (Walter Matthau). The advent of the shady stranger Switchblade Sam, who is brilliantly played by Christopher Lloyd, unleashes Dennis’s prankish nature and this 5-year old isn’t captive for long.

Special Features: Featurettes: A Menace Named Dennis, Behind the Scenes, Memories of a Menace (Interviews), Theatrical Trailer.

Final Word: For the “kids” (An elusive term that includes those who consider themselves still kids inside). Can’t get enough of Dennis the Menace? Have a watch of Dennis the Menace Strikes Again.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2007

DVD review: Knocked Up, Dec 07 issue

knockedup.jpg

"Knocked Up" throws away the rule book on romantic comedy to give us a giddy relationship story that is as fresh and messy as real life.

The smart, sharp story is neither a male fantasy (though it surges with high-testosterone, R-rated rowdiness) nor a female date-movie daydream (though it overflows with heart). There's no magic or fate in the way the Ben (Seth Rogen) and Alison (Katherine Heigl) meet; they just bump elbows at a club. There are no contrived hurdles keeping them apart until the fadeout; they're just unsuitable for each other. She's a stunning, ambitious interviewer for the E! channel. He's a pudgy pothead slacker. Lovely individuals. As a couple, inconceivable.


Yet after a night of dancing and drinks to celebrate her promotion to on-air talent, the tipsy Alison finds herself stripping down with Ben. ("You're prettier than I am," is his disarming idea of sweet talk.) Since the camera-ready blonde is so far out of his league - Ben resembles a scruffy, pink-painted Shrek - their hookup looks as if it will be a one-night stand.
But when a birth-control blunder turns the pair into expectant parents, they set out to fashion an alliance, move on to "friendship with benefits," and press ahead into love, commitment and sacrifice. The film is a ringing defense of traditional values, delivered with clever, raunchy humor.
Like "The 40 Year-old Virgin," Judd Apatow's debut film as a writer/director, "Knocked Up' is a winning ensemble comedy with a rudimentary plot. Apatow, who honed his craft on standout TV shows such as "Freaks and Geeks," "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Undeclared," understands that appealing characters are the lifeblood of the genre, and delivers them.
Rogen, a scalawag supporting actor in his first starring role, makes Ben the kind of easygoing, sardonic dude you'd like to pal around with. He's not such a good bet for a life partner on paper. He rooms with four arrested-adolescent stoners, and his idea of a career plan is building an Internet database of tasty movie nude scenes. When Heigl's Alison sees him playing with her little nieces, though, she melts, and so do we.
Alison is no "Legally Blonde" stereotype of young, successful beauty, but a tolerant, warmhearted optimist who believes that her sister's bad marriage won't be the pattern for her relationship. Ben's reluctance to memorize baby books and tuck in his shirt for a real job, along with Alison's hormone-induced mood swings and the likelihood that her TV bosses won't take kindly to her increasingly visible pregnancy, contribute an undercurrent of comic tension.
Around the couple, Apatow builds a solid foundation of likable minor characters. Alison's pampered but vinegary sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow's wife) and her agitated recording executive husband Pete (Paul Rudd) are still wrestling with individualism and togetherness issues. Debbie wants exciting girls' nights on the town (leading to a hilarious scene where a club doorman informs her she's too old), and after hours Pete sneaks off to so-called work meetings (which cover up his secret passion).
Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and Martin Starr play Ben's roomies and deliver some of the most quotable bull-session insult profanity since - well, since "The 40 Year-Old Virgin." The smallest parts are so richly conceived and well cast that you can't wait until the characters wander back into the story.
Singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III plays a reassuring but irresponsible ob-gyn to sly effect. Charlyne Yi is a hoot as a hippie chick who invites Alison to "trade boyfriends - just kidding," and Kirsten Wiig is explosively funny as a conniving E! producer who encourages the willowy interviewer to "tighten" her body before going on-camera. James Franco, Steve Carell and Ryan Seacrest parody themselves in short, vivid cameos.
"Knocked Up" invites us to spend a lot of time in this crew's company - it clocks in at a longish two hours and 12 minutes - but the astute mix of soul-baring and stoner gags keeps the film from overstaying its welcome. Grownups, your summer smash has arrived.
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KNOCKED UP
3 { stars
Starring: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Rated R for sexual content, drug use and language

Reviewed by Colin Covert

Posted by Ian Wishart at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)