Video Verdict: New DVDs for Feb. 3

Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks in "Zack & Miri Make a Porno."

Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks in "Zack & Miri Make a Porno."

This week’s new video releases range from a raunchy sex comedy by writer-director Kevin Smith to an animated family film featuring the voices of Ben Stiller and Chris Rock.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
3 stars
Rated R for strong crude sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity and pervasive language
The Weinstein Company
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

A pornographic movie set may not be the ideal backdrop for a romantic comedy, but writer-director Kevin Smith has never been traditional. And that’s why he’s so funny.

Enter “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” the story of two 20-somethings (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) who decide to shoot a porn film because they’re low on cash. The premise isn’t sweet, but Smith still finds a way to work romance into the plotting. That only happens, however, when he isn’t rolling out extremely dirty but always-funny sex gags.

Because the film features copious nudity and a constant stream of profanity, it isn’t recommended for the prude or easily offended. But folks who thrive on off-kilter sex flicks and politically incorrect humor had better prepare to laugh.

DVD extras include outtakes and bloopers, deleted scenes, an hour-long making-of feature, a bit from Comic-Con 2008 and more.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
2 stars
Rated PG for some mild crude humor
Available Feb. 6 on DVD and Blu-ray

As good as the original “Madagascar” was, this sequel suffers from the traditional sophomore slump. It returns all the popular New York City Zoo animals introduced in the animated original — Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo — but it lacks vitality and frequently drags.

“Escape 2 Africa” joins Alex and company as they are preparing to leave Madagascar and fly home to New York in a flimsy aircraft restored by their mischievous penguin pals. Predictably, the plane fails to reach the States and instead crashes in Africa where our heroes get a taste of their homeland.

“Escape 2 Africa” is wonderfully animated, and the fine voice cast includes Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen and the late Bernie Mac. This is a talented group, but the script is second tier, making the film good enough for children but that’s about it.

DVD extras include a making-of feature, music videos, games, downloads and other activities for kids. The film is available on an individual DVD or as part of the Move It! Move It! Double DVD Pack, which contains an extra disc with two new adventures from the Penguins of “Madagascar.”

The Secret Life of Bees
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some violence
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

It’s no surprise when Dakota Fanning turns in an excellent performance, but as she ages she is landing increasingly dark — and deep — roles.

In “The Secret Life of Bees,” she plays Lily Owens, a teen living in racially turbulent 1960s South Carolina. Raised by an unaffectionate father and convinced that she is responsible for her mother’s untimely death, Lily’s childhood is miserable until she runs away from home with her black caretaker, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson).

The two women are taken in by a family of progressive black women headed by a wise and industrious beekeeper named August (Queen Latifah). Although she’s happy in her new life, Lily’s past and the hardships of the racially intolerant South threaten to ruin everything.

“Bees” addresses the weighty issues of childhood guilt and black-white relations, but not with the sort of authority one would hope for. Also, writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s pacing is off kilter, and that prevents the film from reaching its potential.

The DVD contains the theatrical cut of the movie plus an extended director’s cut. Extra features include two commentaries by the filmmakers, deleted scenes and making-of featurettes.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

With “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” director Peter Sollett has taken a clever, two-author book and turned it into a romantic comedy that should resonate with 20-somethings and older viewers alike.

The film focuses on Nick (Michael Cera), a struggling musician devastated by a recent breakup, and Norah (Kat Dennings), a rich girl trying hard to hide the silver spoon in her mouth. When they meet after one of Nick’s gigs, they end up sharing a wild night marked by everything from rock music to gay theater.

Cera and Dennings have nice chemistry, and they give their characters an earthy believability that sets “Nick and Norah” apart from most romantic comedies. Throw in the generally good storyline and you’ve got a winner.

DVD extras include a commentary by cast members, deleted scenes, bloopers, storyboard comparisons and featurettes.


“Bottle Shock”: Truth-based dramedy about the events leading to the Judgment of Paris, in which California wines beat French wines in a blind taste test, setting the industry on its ear. Co-written and directed by Randall Miller, the film stars Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Freddy Rodriguez and Dennis Farina.

“Hounddog”: If Dakota Fanning’s starring turn in “The Secret Life of Bees” doesn’t sate your appetite for the young actress’ work, you can turn to this independent drama. Fanning plays a 12-year-old girl who tries to escape her troubles through music.

“Space Buddies”: Disney’s talking golden retriever pups are back in a direct-to-DVD adventure that takes them all the way to the moon.

“Mystery Science Theater 3000” — Volume XIV: Pop culture nuts have long enjoyed “Mystery Science Theater,” which features an eclectic group of space travelers wisecracking about terrible B movies. This volume includes their take on “Mad Monster,” “Manhunt in Space,” “Soultaker” and “Final Justice.”

“Oliver and Company” — 20th Anniversary Edition: Can you believe it’s been two decades since Disney took Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” and re-wrote it placing animals in the lead roles? Well it has been, and the re-release of this animated classic proves it.

“Escape to Chimp Eden” — Season 1: Animal Planet series following conservationist Eugene Cussons as he tries to rehabilitate chimps in war-torn Africa.

“Inside Moves”: Director Richard Donner’s 1980 picture about a crippled athlete (John Savage) who finds solace in the company of offbeat characters at his neighborhood bar. Savage is joined by David Morse and Diana Scarwid, and the latter earned a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her work in the film.

“A Good Day to be Black & Sexy”: Direct-to-DVD film exploring black love and sexuality through vignettes about several Los Angeles couples. Written and directed by Dennis Dortch.


— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose bylines have appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. Read more of his work at


Copyright Forrest Hartman, 2009

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