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2004 (2005) - Warner Bros.
Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Like millions of Americans, I did not see the theatrical
version of Oliver Stone's epic Alexander
when it played last year. So I have no way of knowing if the
Director's Cut is, as the cover art promises, "newly
inspired, faster paced, more action-packed". Tell you the
truth, I'm not even sure what "newly inspired" means
or why that's supposed to be a good thing. But even on its own
merits, Stone's revamped Alexander
remains something of an enigma.
Colin Farrell takes the title role. Sporting one of the worst
dye jobs in recent memory, Farrell's Alexander sets forth to
conquer strange new lands, including Persia and India, areas
coveted by his father (Val Kilmer) but forever out of his reach.
Alexander's relentless ambition ultimately begins to foster
dissent among his men, tired from year after year of endless
fighting. Nevertheless, he stays true to his own seemingly
think Oliver Stone is a fascinating filmmaker capable of greatness.
Even when I've hated his films, I still thought they were worth
watching. Well, I didn't hate Alexander
and there are impressive scenes here that are well worth your time.
But for the most part, this is a clumsy beast of a movie, plodding
along and only occasionally raring up to impress us. It reminded me
of an old, classic Hollywood epic like Cleopatra
as it would have been directed by a young, iconoclastic rebel
filmmaker of the late 60s or early 70s. It's like if a strong-willed
director like Dennis Hopper had teamed up with an equally strong and
powerful old-school producer like David O. Selznick. Curious, to be
sure, but the pieces don't really fit together. There are some fine
scenes, particularly in that final battle sequence. Kilmer's
performance is a bit eccentric (no surprise there) but ultimately I
thought it worked. The same goes for Angelina Jolie as Alexander's
mother, although I was put off by the bizarre, seemingly
Transylvanian accent she uses. As for Farrell, he's certainly an
arresting screen presence but I don't think he's really found the
right role yet. His best performances to date have been in a
supporting role in Minority Report
and in the half-baked but fun B-thriller Phone
Booth. As Alexander, I never really understood why these
men followed him so far and for so long. Farrell just doesn't have
the magnetism that would make him appear to be a natural leader of
While the movie is a disappointment, Warner's two-disc DVD is
actually quite impressive. It looks and sounds terrific, which is no
real surprise. Oliver Stone provides an extremely good
feature-length commentary on disc one, regardless of what you think
of the movie. Give the man his due, Stone is one of the best
directors out there at this kind of thing. I actually enjoyed the
167-minute movie more while listening to him discuss it. He talks
about the changes he made from the theatrical version and why, gives
historical background, and provides insight into the production.
There's hardly a dead spot on the entire track.
The bulk of disc two holds an 87-minute Behind the Scenes
documentary by Sean Stone (Oliver's son, you may remember him from
cameos in movies like The Doors
and JFK). Divided into three
parts, this is a very good making-of piece. Probably because he was
the director's son, Sean Stone was able to take his video camera
pretty much everywhere and talk to everybody (if you're working on a
movie, do you want to be the one to tell the boss's kid to get the
hell out of here with that goddamn camera?). By the end, I doubt
you'll have a single question left unanswered about the making of
the film. The disc also includes a couple trailers, a too-brief
interview with Vangelis about his music (his first film score since
1992, if I'm not mistaken), and a DVD-ROM link to online historical
background. My personal preference would have been to have the
historical stuff part of the DVD video side but you may disagree.
Oliver Stone is too good a filmmaker to completely dismiss but Alexander
is a misfire by most any definition. It's a disappointment,
especially considering that it was a pet project of Stone's for many
years, but I don't believe it's a major setback. I remain optimistic
that he still has some great movies left in him. And if he doesn't,
he can always hire himself out as a professional audio commentator.
3-Disc Deluxe Edition
- 2004 (2005) - Warner Bros.
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Clint Eastwood seems to enjoy a resurgence in critical
popularity, a comeback if you will, every few years or so. I'm
sure Clint finds it all very amusing. Not only has he reached
the age where most people couldn't care less what others think
about them (although Eastwood's always had that air about him
anyway). As far as he's concerned, he hasn't gone anywhere. Year
after year, Clint just keeps on doing what he's doing, making
movies quietly and efficiently with little fuss or pomp.
Sometimes people connect with 'em. Sometimes they don't. Let the
chips fall where they may.
In 2003, Eastwood received some of the loudest critical
hosannas of his career with the release of Mystic
River. Most praised it as one of his greatest films.
Personally, I found it a bit overwrought and not nearly as
effective as the novel it was based upon. But I'm in total
agreement with the acclaim and Oscars showered upon his 2004
release, Million Dollar Baby.
starters, I've rarely seen a boxing movie I didn't like. It's a
sport that lends itself to film in a way like no other. But even if
you're not a sucker for boxing pictures, Million
Dollar Baby offers a rich, multilayered story.
Oscar-winner Hilary Swank stars as Maggie, a hungry young boxer
determined to make it big despite being older than most beginners
and the fact that the man she wants to train her (Eastwood) doesn't
train girls. Fortunately, Eastwood's pal Morgan Freeman (another
Oscar winner) believes in her and, with a lot of persuading,
convinces him to take Maggie on.
From that very basic description, it sounds like we've seen this
story and these characters before. The ambitious hopeful, the crusty
trainer, and the ex-fighter now working in the gym have been staples
of the genre since somebody first decided to film a boxing match.
And if Million Dollar Baby
doesn't break new ground with these character types, it most
certainly goes deeper into them than most movies. Each and every
character is well-defined and lived in. And it's this quality that I
believe gives the story's third-act left turn such a punch. Part of
the reason we don't see it coming is because up until that point, we
aren't entirely sure whose story is being told. It could be Maggie's
or Frankie's or even Scrap's. But suddenly, everything we've seen
snaps into focus.
The first disc of Warner's triple-disc Deluxe Edition features
nothing but the movie and the trailer. When a studio does this, you
hope that they've given the movie space to breathe. Sure enough, the
space is well-utilized by the film, with an amazingly good image and
a solid 5.1 audio track. Disc two holds the special features, a
small but generally well-produced selection of featurettes. The
19-minute Born to Fight
examines the world of women's boxing, primarily through interviews
with boxer/consultant/actress Lucia Rijker. The
Producers Round 15 only runs about 13 minutes but it's
actually fairly interesting, with Albert S. Ruddy, Paul Haggis and
Tom Rosenberg sharing their perspective. You don't often see a
featurette devoted solely to the producers, so I enjoyed their take.
Finally, the awkwardly-titled James
Lipton Takes on Three has the obsequious host of Inside
the Actors Studio chatting with Eastwood, Swank and
Freeman for close to half an hour. This doesn't start well, with
Lipton practically licking his chops over their just-won Oscars, but
eventually does settle into some good stuff.
The third disc of the Deluxe set is actually Eastwood's score on
CD. The music is very good, a mixture of piano jazz, strings, and
almost Ry Cooder-esque guitar. It's a nice addition to the set,
although you probably don't think so if you already bought the
soundtrack album when it first came out.
There's no question that Clint Eastwood is an outstanding
filmmaker. His Best Director Oscars for Unforgiven
and this film are richly deserved. And like all great directors, he
has some underrated movies in his filmography waiting to be
rediscovered (personally, I'm very fond of Bronco
Billy and White Hunter, Black
Heart). But while I was pleased he won again for Million
Dollar Baby, I'd hoped he'd win Best Actor. This movie
features one of Eastwood's very best performances and I think that's
what will make Million Dollar Baby
endure. He's well past retirement age but I hope Clint decides to
keep working for some time.
2005 (2005) - Lions Gate
Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
(* except for the commentary, which rates an A)
Speaking of Paul Haggis, the Million
Dollar Baby screenwriter has been basking in his own
critical kudos this year thanks to Crash,
his directorial debut. The film has received some of the best
reviews of the year and justifiably so. A provocative
multi-character drama set against a backdrop of racial tension
in modern day Los Angeles, love it or hate it, Crash is a movie
designed to get you talking.
Unlike Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia,
to which Crash bears more than a passing similarity, this movie
makes no attempt to hide the fact that it has an agenda. Race is
first and foremost on the mind of every character and most of
the dialogue is centered firmly around these issues.
Fraser is a district attorney who becomes the victim of a
carjacking, then immediately goes into spin control so that the
incident doesn't cost him the black vote. Ludacris and Larenz Tate
are the carjackers and when we first meet them, they're arguing
about the black but still, in Ludacris' eyes, racist waitress who
just served them. Sandra Bullock is Fraser's high society wife who
becomes even more suspicious and insulated after the carjacking.
Ryan Phillippe is a cop shocked by the behavior of his racist
partner (Matt Dillon) and spends the rest of the film trying to
overcompensate for it. Dillon's worst tendencies are brought out
when they pull over TV director Terrence Howard and his wife,
Thandie Newton. Howard is emasculated by the experience and must
come to terms with himself. And that's just a handful of the
characters and stories in this mosaic. I haven't even touched on Don
Cheadle as the detective sleeping with his partner (Jennifer
Espotio), Michael Peña as the locksmith who works on the
doors of two other characters, or Shaun Taub as the convenience
Crash is a movie designed to
provoke debate and at that, it's very successful. But when I first
saw it, I was slightly put off by how blatant that design was (I
also had a bit of a problem with some of the coincidences inherent
in the story... I have a hard enough time seeing people I know in
this city, so I kind of don't buy how easily these total strangers
encounter each other repeatedly). Crash
certainly isn't the first movie to attempt something like this,
either in its structure or its message. My own preference is for
movies that stimulate thought and reflection with more subtlety,
like Kieslowski's Decalogue
for example. But is it really fair to expect subtlety from a movie
called Crash? The second time
around, I was able to get past the often-hammerhead dialogue to
focus on the film's positive attributes and there are quite a few.
J. Michael Muro's cinematography, for instance, is remarkable, often
hypnotic. And while it should be fairly obvious that there are no
slackers in this cast, some of the performances are downright
spellbinding. The best of the bunch are Peña, Cheadle,
Dillon, Bullock and most especially Terrence Howard.
Crash has not been given a
particularly noteworthy treatment on disc but for a standard
edition, it's not too shabby. Picture quality is fair, though I
suspect that any perceived flaws are not the fault of the digital
transfer but inherent in the film itself and there on purpose. Sound
quality is pretty darn good. Most of the extras are disposable,
including a 10-minute "behind the scenes", a music video
by the group Kansascali, a clutch of trailers for other Lions Gate
releases, and a pointless introduction by Paul Haggis. In fact, the
disc would be a loss if not for the audio commentary by Haggis,
actor/co-producer Cheadle, and co-writer Bobby Moresco. This is an
honest-to-God great commentary, funny, informative and illuminating.
For example, Haggis explains how important it was to get Cheadle on
board first because at the time, Haggis himself had no track record.
He knew other actors would want to work with Cheadle, whereas they
wouldn't exactly line up to be in a movie directed by "the Facts
of Life guy".
It's unlikely that you'll walk away from Crash
with a lukewarm response. Most folks I know either love it or hate
it. I'm in the "like it" camp but concede that it's a
movie that rewards multiple viewings. And as such, it's a great
movie to have on disc, no matter what side of the debate you're on.
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