DVD 7/7/09: Nursery University, Young & Handsome: A Night With Jeff Garlin, Kath & Kim (USA) S1, Five Fingers, Knowing, Night Train

Nursery University (NR, 2008, Docurama)
The baby boom that has descended on Manhattan in the 21st Century has far outperformed any boom in preschool development. That can mean only one thing: flustered parents everywhere jumping though ridiculous hoops to enroll their newborn children in preschools they won’t even attend for a year or two. The final insult? These schools cost more than many universities charge over the same period of time. “Nursery University” follows the process from both sides, rolling camera as a group of hopeful parents enter the circus while a group of preschool administrators try to make sense of the mountain of applications they must sort through and eliminate via lotteries and arbitrary roundtable discussions. That alone is some maddening (and, depending on where you are in life, darkly funny or completely infuriating) stuff. But it’s when “University” takes a closer look at the absurd opportunism that erupts around the process — the private consultants, the seminars and they additional bills they charge — that the whole thing feels like a farce come alive. The line between a parent’s love and a parent’s insanity could scarcely be thinner — or more morbidly entertaining — than it is here. Be afraid, future parents.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, Q&A with filmmakers and subjects, expert tips (in case seeing this film hasn’t warded you off the idea completely), filmmaker bios.

Young & Handsome: A Night With Jeff Garlin (NR, 2008, Shout Factory)
It doesn’t get much lazier than this, but here goes anyway: if you like Jeff Garlin — be it through his hilarious star turn on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or his conversational comedic style in general — you’ll probably enjoy his debut standup special. And if not, this won’t change your mind. “Young & Handsome: A Night With Jeff Garlin” takes place in Chicago’s Second City theatre, and the venue choice becomes rather fitting when it becomes apparent how much flying Garlin is doing by the seat of his pants. Garlin’s act travels to galaxies beyond improv, exploring extreme (and unplanned) tangents during some bits and ending others with Garlin giving up mid-punchljne and praying the special’s editors know what to do. But that’s par for Garlin’s course, and he’s made a career on the same candid delivery that, for those who already are fans, works surprisingly well in standup form. Those not into Garlin’s style likely will vehemently disagree, and such an objection is completely defensible, but if “Handsome” was ever intended for that crowd in the planning stage, it most definitely is not in its finished form.
Extras: Deleted scenes, Bob Odenkirk interviews Garlin.

Kath & Kim: Season 1 (NR, 2008, NBC Universal)
Kath (Molly Shannon) is a single, “with-it” mom who stands on the precipice of engagement to her dorky new beau (John Michael Higgins). Her daughter Kim (Selma Blair), meanwhile, stands on the threshold of divorcing her husband (Mikey Day) and moving back in with Mom after a request for some home (microwaved) cooking proves too much for her to handle. If any of this rings familiar, it’s because “Kath & Kim” is merely an Americanized remake of an Australian show that bears the same name and has enjoyed four (and possibly counting) hit seasons. But while the American remake shares much in common with its source material in terms of setup and premise, it also benefits immensely from Shannon’s and Higgins’ well-established individual comic stylings, which themselves prove a perfect fit for a show about four people seemingly trapped in a bizarre confluence of 1980s, 1990s, urban and suburban style gone hilariously wrong. Blair has no problem playing on her co-stars’ level as the strangely likable but completely impossible Kim, and the lesser-known Day is a scene-stealer as Kim’s sympathetic hero of a husband. The scripts, happily, do their part with patches of brilliant physical comedy breaking up some dryly funny dialogue. It’s merely a shame this is all we’re likely to get: Despite the “Season 1” tag, all current indications give little hope that more lies ahead.
Contents: 17 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes and bloopers.

Five Fingers (R, 2006, Lions Gate)
With the help of a tour guide (Colm Meaney), Martijn (Ryan Phillippe) has arrived in Morocco in hopes of creating a long-the-in-making food program for malnourished kids. That’s all well and good until both are drugged and abducted, only to wake up in the presence of a Muslim man (Laurence Fishburne) who is convinced Martijn is a threat to his interests and is misrepresenting himself. Those little bits of intrigue — along with the fact that neither party has anything more than rhetorical ties to America — offer some hope that “Five Fingers” is a little more nuanced than just another movie about Muslims with an appetite for abducting angelic Westerners. The script doesn’t always carry this hope to fruition with a great deal of grace, and there are unmistakable instances where “Fingers” either feels like it’s repeating itself or (particularly as the conclusion draws near) exists on a plane of logic not of this world. Provided you can accept those conditions, “Fingers” ultimately does fulfill that hope, prioritizing microcosmic characters and scenarios over some laughably sweeping commentary about current events. It’s a better psychological thriller than it is a portrait of the realities of modern-day international relations, and it embraces that role rather well.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes features, trivia track.

Knowing (PG-13, 2009, Summit Entertainment)
In 1959, as her classmates draw pictures of what they expect the future to look like for a time capsule project, a young girl instead fills her page with a long, continuous string of numbers that don’t appear to mean anything (but obviously do). Though the meaning of those numbers — which a classroom of kids uncover while opening the capsule 50 years later — is unfortunately laid bare on the back of the DVD case and is the premise of the movie going forward, it nonetheless feels wrong to expound any further here. That’s because that reveal, along with some fancy special effects that accompany it in scenes ahead, easily rank as the best parts of “Knowing,” which otherwise finds itself treading water in a pool full of tired psychological thriller tricks and an overt need to explain away everything that’s happening. The latter point in particular is a killer, because it puts the film constantly on the defensive, justifying some out-there happenings with equally out-there explanations before, eventually, conceding that it’s just a movie and it doesn’t have to make complete sense. Unfortunately, that only happens at the very end, climaxing with an exclamation point that’s as narratively hollow as it is visually satisfying. Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury,
Lara Robinson and D.G. Maloney star.
Extras: Director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.

Night Train (R, 2008, National Entertainment Media)
Shortly after boarding a late train, a mysterious man slumps over dead in his chair. Peter (Steve Zahn) and Chloe (Leelee Sobieski), who are sharing the same car, naturally are the first to discover this — as well as the mysterious box of valuable jewels the man was holding when he died. Train conductor Miles (Danny Glover) is third on the scene, a plan to hide the body and keep the valuables is hatched, and “Night Train” looks like it has the potential to go deliciously awry and play in “A Simple Plan’s” backyard. That, for a while, is what it does — albeit with an iffy script that leaves our three leading characters with very little in the interest and distinction departments. Problem is, even that eventually becomes too good for “Train,” which abandons any shred of high concept in favor of a completely crazy twist-o-rama that ropes in every last passenger and some ambiguous mysticism for good measure. “Train” never completely forgoes being entertaining, but it devolves into such a mess that it’s easier to enjoy it on an ironic rather than straight-faced level — if only as a means to see just how far it feels like going before deciding enough is enough.
Extras: Making-of feature, photo gallery.