May 2008 Archives
Introduction to the film: Within this section of the DVD, there are actually four separate bonus features, all of which can be read/watched before watching the movie to arm you with a bit more knowledge and background than those who braved it at the movie theater.
First up: "What's Not There: Six Faces of Dylan" is a text intro to each of the Dylans in the film. This not only explains the basics -- "(Richard) Gere plays a secluded rancher in a frontier town full of circus folk" -- but also the inspiration for each Dylan -- "Haynes has cited photos of hipster Dylan circa 1965 as inspiration for (Heather) Ledger's character, though the bitter breakup chronicled on 'Blood on the Tracks' is in there as well."
Next up is "Tangled Up in Clues, by Ann Powers," in which Los Angeles Times pop music critic Powers dusts off her own Dylan doctorate. It's the text of a piece she wrote about the film. It's smart and literate, and might elucidate a few (or many) points you didn't piece together on your own.
"Decoding an Entertaining Enigma" is sort of a summary of the film, including descriptions of each character, which makes it a little repetitive for those who dove into the "Six Faces of Dylan" first.
Last we have "Notes on I'm Not There, by Greil Marcus," a lengthy essay from the famed music writer. It's obviously well-written and helpful, but after this much reading on a DVD, you might start to wonder when you'll actually get to watch some live action. It's pretty academic and reads somewhat like a thesis, but it probably tells you more about the film than many of the other writings on it.
View film with on-screen song lyrics: This one is completely self-explanatory. It's kind of cool, though, because even when the songs are just playing in the background, you're conscious of their lyrical subtext. It really drives home how they tie into whatever scene they're playing under.
Making I'm Not There: This 15-minute documentary features Haynes and most of the principal actors. It's unique because every actor seems to have had very different reactions to everything, from the script to the acting process. Of course it's sad to see such a vibrant, thoughtful Heath Ledger here, but it's also wonderful that he wasn't left out to spare us. Cate Blanchett is another real highlight here. She's witty and smart, not to mention her performance earned her an Oscar nomination, so it's fun to hear how she got to that place as an actor. This goes through the Dylans actor-by-actor, which is a great way to illustrate how the movie was made. In some ways it's easier to make sense of the chronology of Dylan's life this way -- each character represented a different Dylan era -- because in the film, the story is not quite as linear.
Director Q&A: This is a standard 25 minute Q&A with Haynes. It has its moments, but it does cover some of the same ground we've already heard. The production is also sort of strange -- this disembodied, unidentified voice asking Haynes questions -- but whoever she is, she asks some good questions you might have wondered about yourself watching the movie.
Trailer gallery: Three trailers from the film: The two theatrical trailers and the "Unreleased Flash Card Trailer (Subterranean Homesick Blues)," which is really cool. It's a number of different trailers of the various cast members (one of each cast member and two -- a long version and short version -- with the whole cast) doing flash cards of the song's lyrics a la Dylan's original "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video. It's a can't-miss homage. If you watch no other special feature on this set, at least get a glimpse of the long, full-cast version.
From the Edit Room: This includes audition tapes (Marcus Carl Franklin's and Ben Whishaw's), deleted/alternate/extended scenes, outtakes (entertaining, but definitely more subdued than most outtakes you might be used to -- and I could have lived without seeing the tarantula again), and a tribute to Heath Ledger. This was the first DVD featuring the actor that was released since his death, and it's lovely and poignant. Short and sweet, set to Dylan's "Tomorrow is a Long Time," it's the perfect way for this film to pay tribute to Ledger.
Look Back: This section of the disc includes "The Red Carpet Premiere," featuring clips and interviews of Haynes and cast at the film premiere. Pretty standard fare -- every movie has a premiere -- but it's unusual and welcome to get this on the DVD. "Making the Soundtrack" is also here. The 20-minute doc discusses how the music for the film was chosen, and describes how the film was really built around the music in a way that almost no other movie was (usually the music is added later). No big shock considering it's a Dylan biopic, but interesting nonetheless. "A Conversation With Todd Haynes" is here, too. This 40-minute "conversation" with Haynes is actually several conversations spliced together into one. It's interspersed with clips and still shots from the film and making of the film, and it's probably the best of the Haynes-centric featurettes on the DVD. Because it's edited, we only get the best questions and answers. They cut a number of different talks together as if it's all one, transitioning from one to the next nearly seamlessly. If you look away while he's talking, you'll have a hard time finding when it moves from one clip to another. Don't trust me? Try it. Did anyone nominate this thing for an editing Oscar?
Dylanography: This section is mostly facts and figures about Dylan and how he relates to this movie. The first is a New York Times Magazine article by Robert Sullivan called "This is Not a Bob Dylan Movie" and it's the longest single piece of writing I've ever read on my TV, hands down. The highlight of this section is the original one-page proposal Haynes submitted to Dylan to get his approval for the film. It obviously worked, and only Dylan really knows why, but see if you would have made the same decision if someone had submitted this proposal to you. He definitely had the film mostly mapped out before he submitted it. There are also Dylan factoids her e: A chronology, discography, filmography and biography. The filmmaker's notebook (featuring storyboards and notes) and still galleries of each character round out this section.
You don't often get this many extras on a DVD, so you're lucky when they come. You're even luckier if it's a well-made film that's left you wondering so many things. This set should answer any questions you might've had after seeing the film (I should know; I had a lot.) You literally could not ask for more from a DVD set. Even if this wasn't your favorite movie, if you're a DVD junkie, you will definitely want to take a look at this one.
One tip: If you rent this from a standard rental store (it's a Blockbuster exclusive, first of all, so good luck finding it anywhere else), you're only going to get the first disc, which includes the movie and everything in this review starting from the top through Director Q&A. Everything after that is on the second disc that you can only get by buying the two-disc set or adding the bonus features disc to your Netflix queue.
Buy It Now
Allow us to enact a scene played out in offices across the country this week: "So didja see Iron Man? Wasn't it great? Who would've guessed that all they needed to do was fill the cast with Oscar-nominated actors and give them a fun script and good special effects? And how about that one scene? Wow!"
You know, there was a time when Marvel movies were terrible, back when DC movies ruled the cineplexes. Those were the days of the Christopher Reeve Superman and the Tim Burton Batman, and I don't care if those two movies were technically 21 years apart, because I'm making a point here. There was a Captain America movie made in 1944, and then the next Marvel-based movie wasn't until 1990, and that one was another Captain America which was so bad it couldn't even get an America theatrical release. Even though Marvel had successful comic books, they just couldn't get the movie deals together.
But those days are past, and you can hardly walk past a theater without bumping into someone delirious from Stan Lee-derived Comic Booky Fun. And as time has gone by, that has resulted in said Comic Booky Fun being inscribed onto DVD and being made available to you, the home consumer. Don't believe me? Well, clap your peepers on this list!
5. Ghost Rider
OK, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that a movie in which Nicolas Cage turns into a guy with a flaming skull and a crazy motorcycle might not make a great deal of sense. And of course, you're correct. In fact, it makes even less sense than you think, since Cage sits around eating jelly beans out of champagne glasses and watching TV shows that consist of monkeys fighting. It's so strange, it must have been done on purpose. And it's not like Cage doesn't know the material; he already had a tattoo of the Ghost Rider character, which he had to cover up for the movie.
DVD EXTRAS: Pretty standard fare, really. There are two commentary tracks (which seems like it might be at least one too many) and a couple of "featurettes" about the making of the movie. There are no interviews with anyone saying something like "This movie makes no sense and I'm not even sure why it got green-lit. Nicolas Cage has lost his damn mind," although the producer's commentary track is surprisingly critical.
4. Fantastic Four
"Fantastic Four" was the comic book that put Marvel on the map and changed the world of comics forever. The movie, on the other hand, is a mostly forgettable mish-mash of special effects and laughable dialogue. The best part is that Johnny Storm is gleeful about becoming the Human Torch. Too many superhero movies feature characters who mope around, depressed that they can suddenly perform superhuman feats, so it's nice to see someone whose reaction is "Whoo-hoo! I can fly! And check out these flames, baby!" This is balanced off by The Mopey Thing, as interpreted by Michael Chiklis. The worst part is Jessica Alba's "performance" as the alleged head of a genetics research division.
DVD EXTRAS: DVDs have two choices with unused footage: they can either label them "deleted scenes" or they can cut them back into the movie and call it an "extended cut". Fantastic Four goes with the latter, and it's not really clear why. This isn't like Lord of the Rings, where hours of subplots are being restored; it's more like several small scenes that were cut because they were distracting. And they still are! There's a commentary by three of the actors, which I always enjoy. Even if they don't know much about the movie ("In this scene, I was alone in a small green room for three days"), they're at least trained to be entertaining. The other commentary, with the director, producers, and writers, is very informative. Some might consider it more informative than this movie actually deserves.
The second disc of features (tired yet?) is composed of several featurettes that appear to have had a lot of work put into them. If you're looking to spend hours learning about how the bridge scene was shot, this is where to go (and more power to you). There's also a terrific documentary about Jack Kirby, the artist who practically reinvented the world of comic books in the 1960s in the process of co-creating almost every Marvel comic book there is.
3. Men in Black
Did you know this movie was based on a Marvel comic book? Well, it is. So there. Now you can impress your friends, assuming of course that you have easily-impressed friends. If you don't, I recommend you find some, since it can be fun to rattle off your vast knowledge of pop culture minutiae to people who gasp in awe rather than rolling their eyes and muttering "Who didn't know that?" Oh, and the movie is good fun, playing Will Smith at his sassiest off against Tommy Lee Jones at his crustiest.
DVD EXTRAS: This was a fairly early entry in the "Two-Disc Fancy Edition" arena, which means that some of the extras feel kind of weird. For example, during Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones's commentary, you can actually see them, and they do kind of a Telestrator deal on the screen. You don't see that too often, possibly because it requires the director to do more than blather into a microphone for two hours. The second disc is where the fancy part is, because you get to actually edit together a (short) scene. I should mention that I'm describing the old "Limited Edition" release, but it looks like all this stuff (and probably more) is going to be on the Blu-Ray version coming out in June.
As the movies get better, there's less need for me to describe them. You remember Spider-Man, right? Tobey Maguire, a spider, some neat action sequences, an upside-down kiss with Kirsten Dunst, and so on. Right. This was before they decided to make Spider-Man all emo in Spider-Man 3.
DVD EXTRAS: There are many, many different versions of Spider-Man out, including one for the PSP. If you're after special features, you probably want the Deluxe Edition, which piles on the commentaries (Sam Raimi is a very entertaining individual, although there are those who prefer learning how the shots were digitally altered to make room for product placement), trivia subtitles (it's like watching the movie with a fanboy right next to you), and a million mostly-forgettable featurettes. Oh, and outtakes from the featurettes, which seems like a slippery slope. How long until someone includes "Making of the Outtakes of the Featurettes"?
The X-Men movie gets top billing because it's my favorite Marvel comic book. Well, it used to be. Back in the 1980s. You know, when Marvel couldn't get any movies made. I covered this in the introduction. You are paying attention, aren't you? My point is that I awarded it first place and if you don't like it, you can feel free to make your own list. This was an interesting adaptation of the comic book because they mostly stuck to the 1980s roster (good choice, at least as far as I'm concerned) but rearranged character traits, so that Rogue now has Kitty Pryde's personality. I could go on about this, and how it means that the film and comic book continuities don't need to sync up, but I'll spare you. This time.
DVD EXTRAS: This got completely out of hand, if you ask me. There's so much extra stuff here that they just went ahead and named the DVD X-Men 1.5, like it's a whole new movie. You've got your audio commentary, your deleted scenes, your behind-the-scenes clips, your alternate angles, your trailers, your animatics, the usual featurettes (which, incidentally, always include too much footage from the movie for my taste; I just watched the movie! You don't need to show me three minutes of movie before showing me five minutes of people talking about it! It makes it too obvious that what I'm actually watching is some "sneak peek" thing they threw together for HBO), TV commercials, and on and on and on. There's also a lot of promotion for X-Men 2, of course.
I am always skeptical when a DVD is turned around so quickly after its theatrical release. To me it either says that they were super prepared and thought ahead about what extras they wanted to do while they were making the film, or (more likely) that they slapped some shit together in order to get it out on the shelves. The latter is clearly is the case with 27 Dresses, which was released in theaters on January 18th and has arrived on DVD just over three months later on April 29nd. Come to think of it releasing the film in the doldrums of January isn't much of a good sign either... so really shoddy DVD extras should come as no surprise.
To sum up the flick, basically Izzie Stevens has dyed her hair brown (to look plain -- yeah, that totally works) and is living in the shadow of her glamorous sister shadow. She's remotely less whiny out of the Grey's scrubs, but still just as irritatingly obsessed with living everyone else's lives for them. Here the control freak is a weddingaholic who is always a bridesmaid (natch, she has brown hair, who would want to date her) and lives in this outstanding New York apartment and has a crush on her super cool and environmentally friendly boss (Edward Burns, who really isn't aging all that well, though I never thought he was so hot to begin with). She's the kind of girl who sits down and reads the bridal announcements in the paper from cover to cover, which is like so convenient because at wedding, she meets Cyclops (James Marsden -- who is hot as all heck with his chiseled jaw line and he's so best thing about this movie) who writes about weddings for a newspaper. Everything goes to pot when Izzie's sultry sister comes to town and snatches up Mr. Brother's McMullen for herself. Sis and boss get engaged, sis turns into a bridezilla and steals Izzie's dream wedding plans. Then Cyclops discovers that Izzie is a wackadoo and has been in a bazillion weddings and writes a story on her and they get drunk and sing karaoke and well... if you've ever seen a romantic comedy, you know how this one ends.
Despite the complaints, the movie didn't suck that much. It was just kind of run-of-the-mill rom-com that you've seen a million times, but with different pretty faces. All pleasantly innocuous, with the exception of Mr. Marsden's lovely smile, which was worth the price of admission. I imagine that there are people out there who will buy this movie just to stare at him and watch him sweep Izzie off her feet over and over again and ignore the fact that there are even extras on this DVD, but I am not one of those people.
First off, there is no commentary. I was kind of looking forward to Katherine Heigl trying to explain her motivation, but alas, instead we're treated to "The Wedding Party," a featurette that is stuffed with cast interviews and all the boring details about why this movie is really the best thing since sliced bread. One producer blathers on for a while about the amount of character development they did, which, whatever... I just want to see what crazy obstacles are thrown at the pretty people before they hooked up. There is also a little clip of Judy Greer (she plays Izzie's BFF), which really only made me wonder why this sassy and smart-mouthed woman doesn't have her own movie where she lands the hot guy. Then I remembered Miss/Guided and how I had to delete the final two episodes that were in my DVR because she got really annoying. Small doses, but she's very good at what she does.
Next is "You'll Never Wear THAT Again" a segment about how the costume designer found the tackiest dresses ever. And indeed, they were hideously awful. But it reminded me of my pet peeve when I saw this movie in the theater. I'm not so good at math, but when Cyclops discovers Izzie's datebook (yes, it is an actual book and not a PDA) he sees that she's got like weddings constantly, several a month it seems, and sometimes two on the same night. Right? But yet over the course of her entire life she's only amassed 27 bridesmaid dresses? At first that seems like a huge amount, and you are like, wow, how many times does a girl get to be a bridesmaid, but even if she is in one wedding a month for several years, that would be more than 30, and since wedding-going seems to be her hobby, I think it should really be closer to like 87 dresses. There's one point where she says that she's been to three Gone With the Wind themed weddings, but yet, she only has one big hoop dress. So is she just attending all these weddings and not actually in to them? Am I putting too much thought into this? Don't answer that.
If you are interested in unrealistic set designs of New York, watch "Jane's World." This feature did nothing for me, except make start chanting "Jane's World" to the tune of the Wayne's World theme. Followed by the most bizarre feature, "The Running of the Brides." This like a "documentary" special on the annual Filene's Basement wedding dress sale that turns normal women into crazed velociraptor-like beasts who are on the hunt to get a wedding dress on the cheap. I guess that is loosely related, but they don't go to Filene's Basement in the movie... whatever. Oh, and don't get fooled by the feature labeled "Inside Look." It is completely unrelated to the film, and is just commercials about other upcoming flicks from the studio. Unless you want to see Cameron and Ashton talking about the horror show that is What Happens in Vegas. Yikes!
There are the requisite deleted scenes. One where nice girl Izzie gets her taxi stolen, one where she's forced to discuss the all important butt bow on her dress and then the most inane scene ever, which made me realize that there is a time for deleted scenes to be shared and a time when they should be deleted forever. Izzie's sister takes Ed Burns' pampered pooch to the humane society because she gets it confused to with a doggie daycare and the pup is nearly put to sleep. Utterly ridiculous. I'm so glad this scene wasn't in the movie. I might have gotten up and left the theater.
All in all, an unremarkable assortment of mediocre extras, a wedded miss, if you will. I guess if I wanted more I should have picked it up at Costco, where it came with a copy of the book 101 Uses for a Bridesmaid Dress. Then at least I'd have gotten some practical information out of the deal.