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View From The Couch

The Lookout, 300, Wild Hogs, Film Noir

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THE LOOKOUT (2007). Hollywood is never at a loss for rising stars, but far too many prove to be the products of media saturation or studio backing rather than much discernible talent (James Franco, for starters). But Joseph Gordon-Levitt is shaping up to be the real deal. Television viewers might remember him as the kid on the sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun, but since then, he's been delivering memorable performances in feature films as varied as 10 Things I Hate About You, Mysterious Skin and Brick. He's at his most impressive in The Lookout, which marks the feature directorial debut of screenwriter Scott Frank (Minority Report, Get Shorty). Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt, a former high school hockey star whose life was shattered after a car accident (his fault) killed two friends and disfigured his girlfriend. Now suffering from a faulty memory, Chris works as a janitor at a minimum-security bank and rooms with a blind man named Lewis (affable Jeff Daniels). Frank does such a distinguished job in creating the character of Chris Pratt -- and Gordon-Levitt is so touching in the role -- that it's a shame the movie turns into a typical heist flick that runs rampant with all the expected clichés: the smooth-talking roughneck who can erupt in violence at any moment, the silent henchman, the nice-guy cop who's at the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. Whenever Frank turns his attention toward the robbery, the film goes slack. But as long as he keeps his camera firmly focused on Chris Pratt and his inward journey, he insures that The Lookout is at least worth a peek.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Frank and cinematographer Alar Kivilo, an analysis of the character of Chris Pratt, and a making-of featurette.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **

300 (2007). Positioned as the Ultimate Fanboy Movie, this adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel -- a box office bonanza this past spring -- was indeed ferocious enough to satisfy basement-dwellers with its gore, violence and chest-pounding machismo while savvy enough to downplay the homoeroticism that perhaps ever-so-subtly caused heretofore unexplained stirrings in the loins of these same armchair warriors. Yet for all its brutality, 300 also satisfied a sizable female contingent, since it's ultimately a beefcake calendar posing as a motion picture. Beyond its demographic-targeting, however, its greatest claim to fame was that it positioned itself as the next step on the evolutionary CGI ladder, offering (in the words of director and co-writer Zack Snyder) "a true experience unlike anything you've ever seen before." Snyder was responsible for the surprisingly accomplished Dawn of the Dead remake three years ago, but here he seems to have been swallowed up by the enormity of the project, which depersonalizes the major players in the battle between the Spartans and the Persians to such a degree that one ends up feeling more sympathy for the shields that end up receiving the brunt of the sword blows and arrow piercings. 300 contains a handful of staggering images -- and, for once, the color-deprived shooting style fits the tale being spun -- but Sin City, a previous adaptation of a Miller work, offered more variety in its characterizations and, more tellingly, in its cutting-edge visual landscape.

Extras in the two-disc DVD edition include audio commentary by Snyder, three deleted scenes, a featurette on Miller, a piece separating Spartan fact from fiction, and "webisodes" exploring various aspects of the production.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: ***

WILD HOGS (2007). This simple-minded comedy, which somehow raked in a fortune at the box office, has the audacity to reference Deliverance in one scene, yet the only folks who'll be squealing like a pig are the discerning ones who fork over the DVD rental rate, only to find themselves royally screwed after enduring its inanities. Four Cincinnati bunglers (John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy), each suffering though some pathetic form of mid-life crisis, decide to embark on a road trip to the West Coast. They mount their motorcycles with the intent of rediscovering life's little pleasures, but it's not long before these queasy riders are having to cope with menacing bikers, "bomb"-dropping birds and a homosexual highway patrolman (John C. McGinley). The "gay panic" humor is so rampant that it's reasonable to wonder if cast and crew members wrapped each shooting day by beating up a homosexual off-screen. Scatological humor also gets a workout, and there's a late-inning cameo by a Ghost Rider cast member who at this point in his career seems resigned to parodying himself. Speaking of Ghost Rider (also recently released on DVD), there's nothing in this alleged comedy (and companion biker flick) nearly as amusing as the revelation that there's a song on the GR soundtrack called "Satan's Penis." Then again, given all the middle-aged paunch on display in this film, it's perhaps a missed opportunity that no one had the foresight to pen a ditty called "Tim Allen's Beer Gut."

DVD extras include audio commentary by director Walt Becker and writer Brad Copeland, a making-of piece, an alternate ending, and a short called "How to Get Your Wife to Let You Buy a Motorcycle."

Movie: *1/2

Extras: **1/2

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944) / THE STRANGER (1946) / A BULLET FOR JOEY (1955). While Warner's home entertainment arm has just released a fourth volume of film noir staples on DVD, Fox and MGM have likewise offered up four titles of their own, three of which star the great Edward G. Robinson (the fourth film, 1952's Kansas City Confidential, features John Payne and Preston Foster).

The Woman In the Window, directed by Fritz Lang (of M and Metropolis fame), is the best of the trio, a gem about a happily married professor (Robinson) whose chance encounter with a beautiful woman (Joan Bennett) leads to his killing one of her suitors in self-defense. The pair try to cover up his death, a tricky situation since the instructor's best friend (Raymond Massey) is the district attorney leading the investigation and since the victim's bodyguard (Dan Duryea, wonderfully oily) knows the score and attempts to blackmail them. The twist ending is the icing on the cake.

Orson Welles serves as director on The Stranger, though in almost every regard, it's the least flamboyant picture in his oeuvre (and reportedly his least favorite of his own works). That's not a debit, though, since this movie is propelled by its intriguing, Oscar-nominated story about a federal agent's (Robinson) pursuit of a former Nazi war criminal (Welles) who's been living under a new alias in a small New England town and is engaged to a prominent judge's daughter (Loretta Young).

Finally, A Bullet for Joey is a hot-and-cold affair about a Canadian detective (a weary Robinson) trying to piece together a mystery that involves an exiled American gangster (George Raft, dull as always), a moll (Audrey Totter) with the proverbial heart of gold, and a nuclear scientist (George Dolenz) being pursued by a Communist outfit.

There are no extras on the DVDs.

The Woman In the Window: ***1/2

The Stranger: ***

A Bullet for Joey: **1/2

Extras: *

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