An endearing comedy from Kevin Smith, a surprising documentary and a hulking collection of 1960s and '70s action shows are all in this week's DVD review column.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
The anticipation when this film came out last fall was that director Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Clerks II," "Dogma") was finally going to be discovered by new larger audiences. Smith -- one of my favorite filmmakers -- has a very loyal fanbase, but the success of the raunchy but sweet Judd Apatow movies such as "The Forty-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up" had widened the audience for the kind of films Smith has been doing for years.
With Apatow star Seth Rogen as his lead actor, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" was thought to be a hit waiting to happen. It received good notices and performed respectably at the box office, but didn't do what had been anticipated.
Now with the film on DVD, it will undoubtedly reach its wider audience and I heartily recommend the film to you if you enjoyed the Apatow comedies I mentioned earlier.
"Zack and Miri" tells the story of two best friends, both slackers, who are facing eviction from their apartment. Out of desperation, they decide to make some quick cash by shooting their own porn movie, an enterprise that awakens an entrepreneurial spirit in Zack and a realization about their relationship in Miri.
Like any Smith film, the dialogue is funny but potty-mouthed and with the subject matter being what it is, I need to warn the faint of heart that this isn't "Masterpiece Theater." That being said, this is in many ways Smith's best movie and is a sweet and sincere love story.
While the two-disc set doesn't have a commentary, it does have loads of features including a making of feature that goes into great detail how Smith accomplished the most notorious moment in the film.
Hell on Wheels
Some readers might remember this newspaper looked at the local roller derby scene in Western Massachusetts in a feature story last year. Our local team is part of a national grassroots movement to reclaim and reinvent what had been a sport in the league of professional wrestling that had been dead for years.
"Hell on Wheels" is a documentary that shows just how this rebirth took place when a group of women in Austin, Texas, ran -- or perhaps rolled -- with the idea of forming a four-team roller derby league in their city.
What makes this documentary so intriguing is that director Bob Ray was in on the creation of the phenomena from the very beginning in 2001 and the film tells the story from then until last year.
This is not just a story about young women who adopt personas and crash into each other while skating. It develops into an interesting drama in which the four founders of the league find themselves transforming from people getting together organically to do something to business owners making unpopular decisions.
Roller derby as a sport always confused me as a kid. I couldn't figure out how the points work or who was the jammer and who was the blocker. It's not necessary to know such things in order to enjoy this solid little film.
The Spy Collection
Sir Lew Grade and his ITC production company might be forgotten today, but the British entertainment mogul brought forth a parade of interesting television shows in his native country, many of which saw broadcast on this side of the Atlantic. This new 14-disc collection brings together a group of the ITC action/adventure programs and is a very mixed bag.
The shows represented are "The Prisoner" starring the late Patrick McGoohan; "The Champions"; "The Persuaders" with a post-"Man from U.N.C.L.E." Robert Vaughan; and the high concept star vehicle, "The Protectors," starring a pre-James Bond Roger Moore and Tony Curtis.
Interestingly, the producers of this set have four discs of each of the shows with the exception of "The Prisoner," the show with the biggest cult appeal, which is represented on only two discs and three actual episodes.
The show I liked the most was "The Champions," a low-key superhero show in which three secret agents are granted powers they don't thoroughly understand by a mysterious civilization in Tibet. The programs centered on the three agents trying to figure out what they can do while they keep them a secret from their boss.
The least successful show was the Moore and Curtis opus in which both stars showed very little interest in doing anything but goofing for the camera. Curtis is one of my favorite actors, but this program was definitely a low-point in his career. The two men play rich playboys with plenty of time on their hands who are recruited by a retired judge to go after criminals who have eluded justice.
You can't believe the concept or either of the stars for a moment, although I did enjoy learning by reading the credits that Moore designed his own garish 1970s wardrobe.
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