March 2008 Archives
A movie like Into the Wild -- a really haunting, beautiful film that took a lot of time and effort to make and that's based on a true story -- is the type of film you would expect to be released in a big, collector's DVD package with more extras than you could ever get through. That's why I was so excited to find out it was being released in a two-disc collector's edition.
Well, let me spare you the heartache. There are two discs, sure, but I have no idea why. There are three special features on the disc; only two if you don't count the trailer (which is a good trailer, but trailers really shouldn't be considered special features at this point; they should automatically be part of any DVD release).
Luckily, the two featurettes here make up in quality and content what they lack in quantity.
First up is the 20-minute documentary Into the Wild: The Story, The Characters, which takes us from the moment Sean Penn read the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer to the making of the film.
Penn says he more ore less judged the book by its cover (but in a good way), bought it, took it home and read it cover to cover that night, and spent the next 10 years trying to get the rights to turn it into a film. Obviously, he did, and the rest is history.
We also get Krakauer's reflections on how this story came to him, and how he eventually became obsessed with Chris McCandless (the main character in the book and film), and had to tell his story and explain him, to also in a way explain himself.
The doc goes on to talk about virtually every character in the movie, all the way down to the smallest bit players, and to explain how each actor was cast in his or her role. The coolest tidbit is finding out that Brian Dierker, who plays Rainey in the film, wasn't an actor. It was a part they hadn't cast when they started filming and they ended up casting Emile Hirsch's kayak trainer. Seriously. If you look Dierker up on IMDb, you'll see his credits include the one acting credit, along with "river unit" on The River Wild, and production coordinator on a movie about the Grand Canyon.
In other words, the casting stories are a lot more interesting than the usual, "He auditioned and after that we couldn't see anyone else in the role" (though there is some of that, particularly about lead Emile Hirsch). For example, there was the guy Penn got out of jail for a night to perform in a concert for the film. Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Hollywood anymore.
The other featurette, Into the Wild: The Experience, is a 17-minute documentary about...well, the experience of making the movie. As good as this one is, if you've seen the movie (and why would you be watching it if you haven't?), it will leave you wanting more.
You'll find out a few really fascinating things: how the "Magic Bus" scenes were filmed (Penn chose to create an exact replica of the trailer rather than use the one Chris actually lived in, out of respect for his family); about Emile's weight loss (he dropped from 156 to 115 in eight months); how they used the actual production sound in nearly every scene (unlike most movies that add background noise and even have actors re-record a lot of their lines in post-production); and how they used the exact locations Chris actually visited whenever possible.
This documentary truly does take you inside the experience of how this film was made, but it doesn't answer everything, so you'll wish it were more complete. Basically, what this DVD is sorely lacking is a commentary track with the filmmakers, where you usually end up getting those memories of filming from the cast and crew as they come to them. These docs, as good as they are, mostly serve to remind us why commentaries are such popular DVD extras.
One of the biggest criticisms of this film, and the book before it, is that it glorifies Chris McCandless. And people who feel that way will hate these featurettes most of all. They definitely end up heroizing McCandless. The cast and crew talk about how amazing he was, and while he certainly had some wonderful qualities, it's hard even for a fan to agree with this level of glorification of someone who made some big mistakes. Leaving asides the mistakes he made in Alaska that ultimately killed him, he took off for years without so much as calling his sister to tell him where, why, or how long he planned to disappear. She says she understood, but it's still hard to fathom why he'd do that to someone he loved so much.
This is a terrific movie and worth owning for anyone who's a fan of the story, but don't let the two-disc edition fool you with its measly three extras and its lofty "Collector's Edition" title. It's really just a basic DVD with a couple of short docs, and not worth the extra money they're charging for the second disc. -- DeAnn Welker
Buy the movie now on Amazon.com
Oh, Richard Kelly, why? Why did you have to go and make a movie as bad as Southland Tales and ruin all of that goodwill from Donnie Darko?
Save one hypnotic scene in which Justin Timberlake lip syncs and dances (Budweiser in hand nearly throughout), the movie is a big dud: boring, over-the-top, making none of the points it wants to make and all of those that it doesn't.
Fortunately, the film's creators seemed to know they hadn't made anything worth much of anything, so we were given a mercifully paltry smattering of extras on the DVD release.
There's a 30-minute featurette, hidden behind the kooky name: USIDent TV: Surveilling the Southland, in which Kelly and the other creators make it clear that they think the movie is much more important than it is: It's all about alternative fuel and how we're destroying ourselves as a nation. Which...OK, but that is not how the movie plays. The featurette is actually not bad. Kelly is eloquent, as are the other folks who speak (including stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake, and various other cast and crew members). If I'd seen only the featurette and not the movie, I probably would find myself drawn to the film. Unfortunately, if you see the featurette after the movie, you're going to know these people are blowing smoke up your ass, and they'll start sounding to you like humans sound to dogs in a Gary Larson cartoon: "Blah, blah, blah, blah, oil. Blah, blah, blah, blah, film. Blah, blah, blah politics and art." Ironically, Booger from Revenge of the Nerds (Curtis Armstrong) says the most intelligent thing about the movie. He calls the script "impenetrable." I'll say.
Part of this featurette turns into a detailed look at special effects. First, the filmmakers show us how they pull off a tricky stunt: someone getting hit by a car; then they show how they chop people's hands off and other body effects. It's pretty interesting, but doesn't fit in this featurette, and probably should have broken out into its own documentary for inclusion on the DVD.
The highlight of the featurette is when Kelly shows how they made the Timberlake singing and dancing scene -- mainly because it's the only thing to really care much about if you've seen the movie.
The other extra is an amateurish animated short, This is the Way the World Ends. It has little to do with the movie, except that they're both trying to be overly political, and it's really pretty terrible. If you watch it anyway, it will feel like the longest 10 minutes of your life -- and, remember, you won't get those 10 minutes back.
The best part of this DVD, then, is without question the cheestastic trailer for Zombie Strippers, a movie starring Robert Englund (yes, Robert Englund, as in, the guy who played Freddy Kruger) and Jenna Jameson (yes, that Jenna Jameson). You might never watch the movie (I know I won't), but the trailer is one of those glorious finds that you might never know about if you hadn't rented a movie as horrific as Southland Tales.
Buy it now on Amazon
Flying into theaters today comes Superhero Movie, following the same path as Epic Movie, Date Movie, Not Another Teen Movie and the Scary Movie series, which I believe by now has had more installments than Friday the 13th. Now I'm sure some of these films are good for a fair amount of laughs, but it's odd that a genre has sprung from essential laziness.
Compare these films, little more than a collection of unrelated gags, to the great spoofs of movies past. The great Airplane! was very specific (and didn't have to be called Disaster Movie) and actually had a plot, albeit a silly one, to carry it from beginning to end. The other films in the genre spawned by Airplane!, even the lesser ones such as the Hot Shots! movies, also zeroed in on their satirical targets without relying on the broad. Can you imagine anyone trying to make the underrated Top Secret today? Try selling a spoof that tosses Elvis movies, Beach Party movies and WWII tales into a blender and hits puree?
Look back even further at Mel Brooks' heyday. Watch Young Frankenstein and admire the care taken with its cinematography and even some of the same sets used in the Frankenstein films of the 1930s. The lowest common denominator is alive and well. I just wish they'd cut to the chase and start naming some films Crap Movie and just add Roman numerals after them (or Arabic numbers if you find the Roman numerals too highbrow).