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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Double Jeopardy! Potpourri
(Continued)


Back to Part One

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

My Brilliant Career: 2-Disc Special Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

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My Brilliant Career
2-Disc Special Edition - 1979 (2005) - Blue Underground

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B

And now, a shocking change of direction from Blue Underground! The studio that brought you The Mondo Cane Collection, Lucio Fulci's Zombie, and Jess Franco's Venus in Furs now brings you… Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career, a G-rated Australian period drama with strong feminist themes.

OK, so it's not what you might expect from Blue Underground. Get over it. For one thing, it isn't entirely without precedent. The company has also released Susan Seidelman's Smithereens and The Alan Clarke Collection, both of which are relatively high-brow (especially compared to movies like Snuff). For another, My Brilliant Career happens to be a very good movie deserving of a high quality DVD release. And since it's somewhat on the obscure side, it takes a specialty company like Blue Underground to do it justice.


Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career is the story of Sybylla (Judy Davis in her film debut), a strong-willed young woman determined to find her own path in life. But options for women in Australia at the turn of the century are limited to say the least. Her family presses her to accept any marriage proposal that comes along, particularly one from the extremely desirable Harry (Sam Neill). Sybylla rejects that idea, certain that she can take care of herself without resorting to marriage.

Sybylla's journey is an interesting one, taking her from poverty to wealth and back again. Equally interesting is the fact that Sybylla doesn't know exactly what she wants to do with her life apart from living it independently. She has dreams of a "brilliant career" in literature, music, the arts in some capacity or other but she doesn't discover her true talent until later on. Judy Davis is a great actress and the strength and character she brings to every role is on full display in her debut performance.

Blue Underground has given My Brilliant Career the 2-disc treatment, presumably due to the plethora of audio options on disc one. Everything from the original mono on up to a DTS-ES 6.1 mix is offered. The mono track would have been more than enough as this is a quiet, low-budget movie anyway but if you love fiddling around with surround sound, you've certainly got plenty of opportunity to do so here. Most of the extras are found on disc two and while they aren't as plentiful as some Blue Underground releases, they are of consistently high quality. Miles Franklin's life is explored in a brief featurette before moving on to separate interviews with producer Margaret Fink and Gillian Armstrong. There's also a couple of minutes worth of footage from the film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, apparently taken from Australian television, a poster and still gallery (somewhat skimpy by Blue Underground standards) and a DVD-ROM study guide. By far the most valuable extra on the set is Armstrong's commentary on disc one. It's full of valuable information, choice anecdotes, and comparisons between this and Armstrong's later hit, the thematically-similar Little Women. It's unfortunate that Judy Davis couldn't be coaxed into contributing at least an interview for the set. Her performance is so vital to the film's success that the disc can hardly be considered definitive without her presence.

Blue Underground's presentation of My Brilliant Career proves that the company isn't just a "guilty pleasure" label, as it has dubbed itself in the past. They're capable of producing quality DVDs no matter what the film. My Brilliant Career is a must-see for fans of movies like Little Women and this disc does a fine job preserving it for future generations.



Run Ronnie Run

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Run Ronnie Run
2003 (2004) - New Line

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C-

With the exception of Monty Python, success in sketch comedy does not translate into success in feature films. Exhibit A: Run Ronnie Run, the long-anticipated film from David Cross and Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show fame. Instead of going the Python route and creating something totally new (a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail), Bob and David went the SCTV route and built a feature film around a character from the show (a la Bob and Doug McKenzie's Strange Brew).

Run Ronnie Run reintroduces us to Ronnie Dobbs (Cross), a man with more mullet in his head than brains, who has a talent for getting drunk and getting arrested. British infomercial producer Terry Twillstein (Odenkirk), desperate for a hit, builds a show around Ronnie that becomes a huge success. Will success spoil Ronnie Dobbs?


As usual, building a story around a sketch character doesn't add up to greatness. There are long, painful stretches here that go past without a laugh, simply because the premise has been stretched too thin. But Run Ronnie Run bears a strong similarity to the flawed Kids in the Hall feature, Brain Candy. A lot of it isn't funny at all but the stuff that does work is freakin' hilarious. Like the Kids in the Hall, Bob and David are talented enough that it is probably physically impossible for them to put together 90 minutes worth of material that doesn't have something in it that's funny. Run Ronnie Run has some terrifically funny material and hands down the best celebrity cameos of any movie in the past decade (including Jack Black, Jeff Goldblum, and funniest of all, Mandy Patinkin, of all people).

The movie was shelved for a long time and apparently both Bob and David have washed their hands of the whole thing. A troubled production would make for some fascinating behind-the-scenes documentaries and audio commentaries but because major studios only want to promote the rah-rah everything's super school of filmmaking, we never get to see anything like that. Sure enough, Run Ronnie Run boasts eight deleted or alternate versions of scenes (all of which are pretty funny) and a music video for the song The Greatest Love in History (which is clever but not as clever as the one in the movie itself) and that's about it apart from some New Line promotional material. I'm not surprised by the dearth of extra features, just disappointed.

If you're a fan of Mr. Show, you should check out Run Ronnie Run at least once. It isn't great but it has its moments. It's not going to replace HBO's discs of the show itself in your rotation anytime soon. But a movie built around a sketch character could have been much, much worse. It could have been Superstar… or The Ladies Man… or A Night at the Roxbury… or It's Pat… need I go on?

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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