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You'll want a second helping of sweet comedy
By Matt Arado | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/27/2007 12:04 AM

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"Waitress" -- I was worried this would be yet another story about a good-hearted but lonely person who expresses her inner beauty via the preparation of food (see "Like Water for Chocolate" and "Chocolat"). Thankfully, "Waitress" is something different -- a sweet and funny look at how the choices we make affect our chances for happiness. The impossibly cute Keri Russell plays Jenna, a waitress in a small-town diner who's stuck in a loveless marriage to Earl, a low-class, abusive jerk. She's able to escape her dreary life only by inventing and baking unusual pies. (When she learns at the start of the movie that she's pregnant, she creates the "I Don't Want Earl's Baby" pie.) Then Jenna meets Jim, her awkward, kind (and married) obstetrician. An affair begins, pushing Jenna to decide once and for all what kind of life she wants to live, and with whom. "Waitress" was written and directed by indie star Adrienne Shelly, who gives all her characters, even the supporting ones, real depth and humanity. All the actors are excellent. (Andy Griffith, in particular, shines as the crusty owner of the diner.) The script is tartly funny and Shelly never lets the story become saccharine (though it dances close to that line a couple of times). This is a fantastic movie to watch during the holiday season. The DVD comes with a commentary and several behind-the-scenes featurettes. It also includes a touching memorial to Shelly, who was killed in her Manhattan apartment shortly before the movie's premiere. (PG-13; Fox, $29.98)

"Hot Rod" -- I'm chalking this flick up as the most pleasant surprise of the year. I had low expectations, given its hostile critical reception and brief stay at the multiplex this past summer. But "Hot Rod" is a funky, weird and funny comedy. "Saturday Night Live" star Andy Samberg plays Rod Kimble, a nerdy slacker who has two dreams: to become a famous stuntman and to earn the respect of his macho stepfather. When the stepfather becomes ill with a heart condition, Rod vows to raise money for an operation by jumping his moped over 15 buses. A silly plot, yes, but it's just an excuse for Samberg, director Akiva Schaffer and co-star Jorma Taccone to let loose with their absurdist brand of comedy. The three of them --Schaffer and Taccone are "SNL" writers -- gave that creaky show a shot in the arm with the classic digital film shorts "Lazy Sunday" and "(Bleep) in a Box." A similar comic sensibility is on display in "Hot Rod," which features a hilarious "Footloose" parody and a funny scene about the correct way to pronounce words that begin with "wh." "Hot Rod" won't go down as one of cinema's greatest comedies, but it's a uniquely strange and funny piece of work. The DVD includes a hilarious making-of featurette and a nearly-as-funny commentary with Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone. (PG-13; Paramount, $29.99)

DVDs for under the tree -- The holiday shopping rush is well under way, and there are probably a few movie fans on your list. Here are some notable DVD collections and box sets being offered this season.

"Rocky: The Complete Saga" -- All six films about the Italian Stallion, including last year's "Rocky Balboa," are available together for the first time in this set, which will be released Dec. 4. (MGM, $59.98)

"The X-Files: The Complete Collector's Edition" -- All nine seasons of the popular television show are here in their entirety, along with the 1998 "X-Files" feature film. A mammoth 61-disc set. Available now. (Fox, $329.98)

"The Coen Brothers Gift Set" -- Filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are standard-bearers of the American independent film movement. This set includes five of their quirky films: "Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink" and "Fargo." Available now. (Fox/MGM, $49.98)

"Star Trek: The Next Generation Complete Series" -- This 49-disc set collects all 176 episodes (seven seasons) of the acclaimed television series and a full disc of bonus features. Available now. (Paramount, $440)