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'Knocked Up,' just as it was planned

September 25, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

The funniest, most satisfying new DVD release this week is the special two-disc edition of writer-director Judd Apatow's romantic comedy "Knocked Up" (Universal, $30).

Though extras often seem like an afterthought, it's obvious that Apatow and his DVD producer put a lot of planning into the added features because the majority were shot during production. Among the highlights: a wonderfully wry mockumentary that features Oscar-nominated director Bennett Miller of "Capote" fame being hired by Universal to "help" Apatow direct the film, and a mouth-watering "documentary" that finds Apatow going through much angst to cast the lead role of Ben Stone, who is played by Seth Rogen. Among those who try to land the part are Orlando Bloom, Justin Long and James Franco.

After making such big-budget Hollywood films as "Basic Instinct," "Total Recall" and "Starship Troopers," Dutch director Paul Verhoeven returned to his native land for the World War II drama "Black Book" (Sony, $23). Carice von Houten plays a Jewish fugitive who joins the Dutch resistance and is assigned to infiltrate German headquarters.

There's a decent production documentary in Dutch and thoughtful commentary -- in English -- from Verhoeven, who discusses why he returned to his homeland and the genesis of the project.

Though billed as a horror film when released earlier this year, "Bug" (Lionsgate, $29), directed by William Friedkin, is more a psychological study of two lonely people. Ashley Judd plays a waitress with a sad past living in a shabby motel who starts a romance with a handsome, though paranoid, drifter (Michael Shannon). Extras include a new interview with Friedkin, a behind-the-scenes featurette and sharp commentary from Friedkin.

Despite a stellar ensemble of actresses, including Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter, Natasha Richardson; Meryl Streep and her daughter, Mamie Gummer; Claire Danes, Toni Collette and Glenn Close, critical response was tepid to the drama "Evening" (Universal, $30), based on the bestseller by Susan Minot. The extras are unimaginative with deleted scenes and two behind-the-scenes production shorts rounding out the disc.

Also new

"Babel" (Paramount, $35): After releasing a bare-bones DVD of the multi-Oscar-nominated film, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Paramount is offering a two-disc special edition. Though there's still no commentary track with the Mexican director, the second disc includes a revealing feature-length video diary of the director's trials and tribulations in making the globe-trotting drama.

"As You Like It" (HBO, $27): Oscar-nominated director, actor and writer Kenneth Branagh tackles William Shakespeare once again with this enchanting adaptation of the Bard's romantic comedy, which premiered last month on HBO. Bryce Dallas Howard, Kevin Kline and Alfred Molina head the ensemble. The short production featurette, however, is just PR fodder.

"Macbeth" (Starz/Anchor Bay, $27): Australian filmmaker Geoffrey Wright, who directed one of Russell Crowe's early films, "Romper Stomper," takes the Bard's "Scottish play" and transforms it into a contemporary gangster melodrama. Added features include an interview with Wright.

"The Bronx Is Burning: The Complete Series" (Genius, $40): ESPN's acclaimed eight-part series is set in New York in 1977, when the city was dealing with the Son of Sam serial killer, an acrimonious mayor's race and the ramifications of a citywide blackout. What kept the city alive was the New York Yankees, who, despite personality clashes with owner George Steinbrenner (Oliver Platt), hot-tempered manager Billy Martin (John Turturro) and outspoken player Reggie Jackson (Daniel Sunjata), won their first World Series in 15 years. Extras include deleted scenes, Web episodes, interviews with Steinbrenner, Jackson and Billy Martin Jr., and a production featurette.

"Spider Baby -- Special Edition" (MPI, $20): Jack Hill wrote and directed this scrumptious 1968 black horror comedy. Lon Chaney Jr. plays a kindly old chauffeur who takes care of the three adult children of his late employer in a run-down mansion. The siblings (Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner and Sid Haig) suffer from a genetic malady in which they begin to regress at age 10 into pre-human savagery and cannibalism. Extras include a retrospective documentary, a featurette in which Hill revisits the house he used in the film, a heartfelt remembrance of composer Ronald Stein and enjoyable, nostalgic commentary with Hill and Haig.

"The Intruder: Special Edition" (Buena Vista, $15): Roger Corman goes serious in this riveting 1962 drama, which flopped at the box office. William Shatner stars as a charismatic racist who arrives in a small Southern town to incite the white inhabitants to stop the town's court-ordered school integration.

"Discovering Cinema" (Flicker Alley, $30): Fascinating two-disc set featuring the documentaries "Learning to Talk," a look at the birth of sound in motion pictures, and "Movies Dream in Color," which examines the various methods used to bring color to cinema. The amazing extras include a new restoration of the first live-action three-strip Technicolor short, 1934's "La Cucaracha," two films from 1908 featuring Enrico Caruso, the trailer to the two-strip Technicolor 1930 musical "The King of Jazz" and the first hand-painted Lumière films from over a century ago.

"George Carlin: All My Stuff" (MPI, $190): This comprehensive set features the veteran comic's 12 HBO specials from the last 30 years.

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