reviews by Peter Schorn of The Digital Bits
2007 (2007) - MGM
Film Rating: B-
Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B/B
Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/C
For a man who seemingly has everything - a successful company,
a beautiful wife (Marg Helgenberger) and daughter (Danielle
Panabaker), good standing in his Portland, Oregon community, a
nice house - Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) has a hunger; an
addiction that diligent twelve-stepping can't totally control:
he is a serial killer who after two years on the wagon finds
himself doing more killing than even he wants to commit. Thus is
the intriguing premise of Mr. Brooks,
a potentially taut psychological thriller that buries itself
under too much plot, proving that more isn't necessarily more.
Brooks was the "Thumbprint Killer", notable for
posing his victims and leaving their bloody thumbprints at the
scene. No substantial evidence was ever found and the cases were
unsolved by the detective on the case, Tracy Atwood (Demi
Moore). Unfortunately for Brooks, his murderous id has been
goading him into killing again.
devil on his shoulder takes the form of Marshall (William Hurt), who
appears and converses with Brooks in a neat way of visualizing
Brooks' interior struggle. Marshall knows Brooks has an appetite for
destruction and it's not that difficult to convince him to kill a
couple he had spotted at a dance studio.
But for all his methodical preparation for and execution of the
executions, Brooks fails to notice one crucial detail of the scene:
the exhibitionist couple liked to make love with the curtains open.
He draws the drapes to finish his dirty work before returning home
to glower over photos of the scene he's taken before burning them
and the clothes he wore in the ceramics kiln in his studio. Marshall
has to chide Brooks not to even think about keeping the photos. If
Brooks had wanted souvenirs, he doesn't have to wait long before "Mr.
Smith" (Dane Cook) shows up at his office with photos of Brooks
at the scene. He'd been photographing the couple for his own
personal spank bank and as exciting as he found that action, he
found witnessing their murders to be an even greater rush. But Smith
doesn't want to blackmail Brooks for money, he wants in on the
action. He wants Brooks to take him along when he kills again.
While this is an interesting premise, co-writers Raynold Gideon and
Bruce A. Evans (who also directed) overwhelm the story with an
absurd amount of tangential rigmarole. Atwood is going through a
messy divorce and is being sued for a huge settlement which
indicates she has means well beyond a cop's salary. A vicious killer
who goes by the handle "The Hangman" (Matt Schulze), that
she'd put away, has escaped and is seeking revenge on her. If that
wasn't enough, Brooks' daughter Jane has a passel of secrets which
tip the whole shebang into the ditch well before the crazy ending.
You know that saying about fashion accessories where you should put
on what you want and then take one item off? Gideon and Evans
should've taken about half of the plot and characters off. Lose the
daughter's problems, Atwood's problems, or this Hangman guy; it's
not that these were individually bad ideas; it's that there are too
many threads cluttering the crazy quilt story.
It's too bad because the performances are uniformly very good and
Evans conducts the proceedings with and unobtrusive slick style.
Costner is generally a white bread actor, but here he's got a depth
and edge that we rarely see from him. Hurt is amusing and less
mannered than he was in A History of
Violence and even the stand-up comic Cook brings a creepy
dimension to his role of someone who fancies the dangerous life, but
clearly isn't half as clever as he thinks he is.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is very good with rock solid black
levels and excellent shadow details. Colors are vivid and clean and
red neon signs don't smear. There were a few instances of filtering
and noise noted, but they were few and far between and would only
bother the most nit-picky viewers. The audio presentations between
the Dolby and DTS tracks are comparable with the usual extra
definition in bass response in the latter. The mix features clear
dialog and would be absolutely generic and unmemorable in its
pedestrian nature but for the thunderous gunshot effects which sent
me scrambling for the volume control twice and scared the heck out
of the sleeping cat in the room. The disparity in levels for this
talky film was way too much to overlook - the shots are crazy loud.
The extras package is slim compared to the overstuffed movie
leading with an adequate feature commentary by Gideon and Evans.
Most of their chatter covers how Shreveport, Louisiana doubled for
Portland and how great all the performers were. While not too
self-congratulatory, it's of modest informational value. Apparently
Zach Braff was originally slated to play Cook's role, but had to
drop out when another project got greenlit.
The half-dozen deleted scenes offer little of interest other than
to show how much more detail they were going into Atwood's life as
if there wasn't too much. One scene that should've been retained
involves a clue left at the scene and explains a baffling line of
questioning that Atwood presses Smith about. Its omission breaks the
movie a little and considering their reluctance to trim anything
else, should've been left in.
The remaining trio of behind-the-scenes pieces - The
Birth of a Serial Killer: The Writing of Mr. Brooks, On
the Set of Mr. Brooks, and Murder
on Their Minds: Mr. Brooks, Marshall and Mr. Smith (total
run time: approx. 26 mins.) - are tilted toward the EPK fluff side
of things with plenty of mutual appreciation for everyone else's
brilliance, but also provide a few inadvertent insights as to why
the film turned out as it did. Costner had declared the script to be
"perfect" and decided it needed to be made outside the
Hollywood system to prevent meddling, though perhaps some script
editing with a big red marker could've improved things. There are
also several references that this was intended to be the first of a
series of two or three films if it did well. Can't anyone be
satisfied with making one tight movie instead of trying to make a
franchise out of everything?
Mr. Brooks is destined to be a
case study for screenwriting classes of how overwriting can be as
bad as underwriting. While it's too flawed to recommend permanent
inclusion in your DVD library, its strengths do recommend it for a
rental for those with the desire to see a near-miss of a bloody,
Kind of Wonderful
Special Collector's Edition
- 1987 (2006) - Paramount
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C+
For nearly two decades I have held the opinion that Some
Kind of Wonderful was Eighties teen movie king John
Hughes' penance for botching the ending of Pretty
in Pink. While that Molly Ringwald epic was a hit,
that she would toss away Duckie (Jon Cryer) at the last moment
for Blaine (Andrew McCarthy), thus sacrificing the loyalty and
lifelong love of one for the vapid blankness of some traditional
ideal of manliness never sat right with me. Why would this
offbeat girl want to sell out to the traditional hunk,
especially when he's blander than soggy Wonder Bread?
Despite the test screening results which indicated the audience
wanted that result, the fact that Hughes and director Howard
Deutsch would immediately reteam to tell almost the exact same
story, beat for beat, a couple of years later suggests that
perhaps Hughes felt something wasn't done properly and only a
Mirror Universe treatment would set things right. While they
reversed the endings, it's remarkable how similar both films
are, right down to their extensive flaws.
misunderstood red-haired outsider this time is Keith (Eric Stoltz),
a sensitive artistic type whose best friend is Watts (Mary Stuart
Masterson), a tough-shelled misfit girl who loves playing drums
almost as much as she pines for Keith, whom hasn't a clue that true
love is staring him in the face on a daily basis. (Feel free to keep
a running tally of recycled Pretty in
Pink elements.) Keith probably hasn't noticed Watts
because he's fixated on Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), a girl from
their wrong-side-of-the-tracks neighborhood who is dating Hardy
(Craig Sheffer), a snobby rich jerk who constantly dealing on other
girls, yet she doesn't abandon her ticket to higher society.
One night, Keith spies an opportunity to ask Amanda out on a date
and if you've seen Pretty in Pink,
you pretty much know what comes next as Amanda's "friends"
and Watts react badly to this mismatched romance and that some
misunderstandings, misgivings and a happy ending that's too rushed
will surely follow. Frequently, it seems as if Hughes merely
shuffled the script pages from Pretty in
Pink, substituting "Keith" for "Andie",
"Watts" for "Duckie", "Amanda" for "Blaine",
"Hardy" for "Steff" (the James Spader
character), and so on, and slapped another pop song title onto the
cover page. (Oddly, the namesake song is never heard during this
The scene where the misfit best friend declares that if the
protagonist is going to go out with that shallow person who can't
possibly understand them, they'll have to disassociate themselves
lest the heartache grow too much to bear? Check. The confrontation
scene between the parent and child where one is sensible and the
other acting rashly? Present. Hip rock clubs, wild rich kid parties
and the total absence of any parental figures other than the hero's?
Yep, 10-4 and you betcha! (If stealing from others is plagiarism,
but stealing from oneself is style; John Hughes is the Style
With so much in common, what distinguishes Some
Kind of Wonderful from its pretty pink predecessor? For
starters, a much darker tone as Hughes and Deutsch deftly lay out
the principal characters and their lives in the span of the opening
credits, scored to the menacing "Abuse" by Propaganda.
(Peppy "Pretty in Pink", this isn't.) Scenes play out with
discomforting tension due to the near-absence of underscore - the
musical accompaniment which subconsciously cues the viewer how to
feel. The rich-poor class divide is more subtly handled because
Amanda is a poor girl trying to run with the rich kids, not a
native-born spoiled brat.
But where Some Kind of Wonderful
falters is in its third act when Keith takes Amanda out on the big
date; an event so momentous that he literally cashes in his future
to finance it. It's noteworthy that I found myself with no
recollection of this whole part of the movie from my initial
viewing; I'd simply edited it out of my memory along with Duncan
(Elias Koteas), the colorful skinhead thug character. It's easy to
see why as it veers wildly in tone and logic as they take turns
acting out their mutual contempt and class aspirations against each
other in passive-aggressive fashion. Has Keith been pining all this
time for a girl who he knew absolutely nothing about and thus
dreadfully misplaced his affections? (Well, duh.)
When I saw Some Kind of Wonderful
almost 20 years ago, I wondered why Keith didn't find a way to date
both of these cute chicks, but now I found Amanda's shallowness
immediately grating and Keith's mooning over her more mystifying.
This is mostly due to Masterson's raw, hurt performance as the
soft-boiled Watts - hard and brittle on the outside, but all soft
and runny within. Even though she never explicitly states her ardor
for her oblivious friend - there's no "I love this woman"
scene a la Duckie here - we get it and we grow to resent Keith for
his denseness. His constantly clueless sleepwalk only makes his
last-moment road-to-Damascus epiphany seem more arbitrary. Knowing
what they learned from Pretty in Pink,
the reliance on a flashback shot to sell this change of heart is not
one of Hughes and Deutsch's finer filmmaking moments.
Once upon a time, I thought Some Kind of
Wonderful was better than Pretty
in Pink because the proper love match was made in the
end. Looking at it now with a more mature sensibility reveals it
doesn't hold together as well and is the less-entertaining film of
the pair. While both films' leads mistake infatuation for love,
because of Masterson's aching portrayal of an unrequited soul forced
to support a friend choosing another over her, Some
Kind of Wonderful almost ends up some kind of bummer.
Yes, the right people end up together in the end, but it's not
handled very gracefully.
While Hughes' redundant ruminations on love (ahem) and class has
had their fans for all these years, they suffer in comparison to
another film which copped its title from a song: Martha Coolidge's
1983 film Valley Girl, which
starred Nicolas Cage in his first leading role. Despite sharing many
of the conventions of Eighties teen movies, this opposites attract
tale actually took the time to build the relationship between its
lovers instead of expecting us to root for people who barely know
each other and it came out a few years earlier than either of these
teen epics. If you haven't already, you should definitely check it
1.85:1 anamorphic transfer does a decent job of presenting the
image with only minor flaws, starting with some moderate grain which
intensifies the grittier vibe of this film. While black levels are
good, there is some muddiness in shadowy areas. Overall detail is
good and any softness appears to be deliberate, rather than transfer
flaw related. The print is free of excessive grunge and no damage
was noted. Edge-enhancement is minor and colors and skin tones
Audio choices are English Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 Surround and French
stereo with subtitles in English. Predating the surround audio era,
the track is understandably front-loaded with little, if any,
surround activity conjured up for this release. Dialogue is clear
and free of undue hiss or distortion and the music is reasonably
dynamic in tone and range.
In annoying Paramount fashion, you have to chapter-skip through
several trailers to get to the main menu, but the respectable batch
of extras kicks of with a feature commentary by director Howard
Deutsch and Lea Thompson. This track by the married Deutsch and
Thompson - they met making this film and have two children together
- is lackluster with long silences and little in the way of insight.
Thompson has almost nothing to say, while Deutsch occasionally
discusses the themes in Hughes script. Considering the
nearly-identical stories, there is only a single passing mention of
the similarity to Pretty in Pink
and the biggest surprise is that the painting is in a prop house
somewhere and not in their possession, as I had guessed.
The Making of Some Kind of Wonderful
featurette (7:44) has new interviews with all the major players
(except Hughes who only appears in vintage footage) with the biggest
tidbits being Stoltz talking Thompson into doing the film in the
wake of Howard the Duck's
plucking and that his Method acting technique causing some butting
of heads with Deutsch.
The Meet the Cast featurette
(13:26) runs through most of cast with more newly captured
interviews and Stoltz opines that Watts is the central character,
not Keith. While everyone has aged fairly well into their 40s, the
shocker is Maddie Corman (Keith's bratty sister Laura) who was 16
when this was shot and now looks about 19; she probably still gets
carded at bars!
John Hughes' canny soundtrack choices gave many artists - Simple
Minds, Yello, OMD, and The Psychedelic Furs are a few - a boost and
The Music featurette (5:07)
discusses how he used music mix tapes to inspire his writing and
vintage interviews explains his choices for this movie.
The John Hughes Time Capsule
interview feature (10:49) shows that all the Hughes footage was
culled from an interview conducted by Kevin Bacon. (One degree of
separation!) It's a good discussion of the film's themes and his
career starting with writing Mr. Mom
and National Lampoon's Vacation.
Unfortunately, the audio from Hughes microphone is really muddy, so
you'll have to listen sharp.
Wrapping up is a photo gallery of a couple dozen promo and
production stills and the opening previews from the disc. Missing in
action is the striking teaser trailer for the feature which
consisted of abstract shots of Watts - though we never see her face
- pounding her drums on a darkened stage. It's mentioned and
partially shown in the cast feature, but should've been here, too.
World's Fastest Indian
1987 (2006) - Magnolia Pictures (Magnolia)
Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B-/B-
Despite a long and varied career, the roles most associated
with Sir Anthony Hopkins in most minds are the evil genius
Hannibal Lecter in a trio of films beginning with The
Silence of the Lambs and various repressed British
butlers in several films including The
Remains of the Day. It's against these archetypes
that his performance in The World's
Fastest Indian is such a surprise, though it really
Hopkins plays real-life motorcycle maven Burt Munro, a
63-year-old codger who lives alone in a shed on an overgrown lot
in Invercargill, New Zealand where he tinkers endlessly on his
1920 Indian motorcycle, forging pistons in the quest for speed.
His neighbors tolerate his eccentricities, though they draw the
line at his gunning his engine in the pre-dawn hours.
dream is to bring his "motorsickle" (as he pronounces it)
to Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats for Speed Week, when the fastest and
most furious cars and drivers descend on the legendary dry lake bed
to vie for land speed records. When he has a heart attack, it spurs
him to make the journey sooner than he expected since who knows how
much longer he has on this Earth. So with his Indian crated up, he
sets off on a road trip adventure.
Along the way, he encounters the expected Murphy's Law speed bumps,
but he is able to use his mechanical savvy and refreshingly no bull
candor to win people over to supporting his cause. Whether it's Tina
(Chris Williams - former Miss America Vanessa's brother), the drag
queen desk clerk at the motel he stays; Fernando (Paul Rodriguez), a
car dealer; or Jim (Christopher Lawford), the high-rolling racer who
takes pity on Burt when he gets to Bonneville only to find that
registration was long-closed and his bike doesn't meet basic safety
standards; Burt's unpretentious crankiness carries the day.
While the outcome of his journey is given away by the title - it's
not called A Long Trip That Ends in
Failure after all - it's the well-observed episodic
details of his trip that make The World's
Fastest Indian a simple pleasure of a road movie. It
reminded me of David Lynch's The Straight
Story in both structure and tone and with Hopkins
irascible performance at its center, it's a trip that certainly
should be taken.
While the film was exhibited at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it is
presented here in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. After the
controversial Lord of War DVD
in which the film had its sides lopped off to make a "widescreen
fullscreen" picture, I was afraid that this was another example
of a studio butchering the director's compositions to assuage
unsophisticated viewers who were whining about "black bars on
my widescreen TV." However, in this case, it appears that the
film, shot on Super 35, has merely had the matting opened up
expanding the vertical dimension.
While the aspect ratio is fine, problems with the transfer appear
right off the bat with considerable noise and grit in dark shadowy
areas resulting in some strobing of highlights. Outdoors scenes were
a tad blown out in the highlights, too. Colors were clean and free
of smearing, but could've been more vivid. Some compression
artifacts and edge-enhancement were quite evident in spots, but less
offensive elsewhere and overall detail was good.
Audio choices are English Dolby 5.1 Surround and 2.0 with subtitles
in Spanish. The sound mix wasn't particularly exciting with even the
obvious places for surround activity - for instance when his
motorcycle goes whipping past - remaining almost exclusively up
front in the sound field. Dialogue was clear with the exception of
some accents and engine sounds were well-mixed, if sonically
The feature commentary by Roger Donaldson is very interesting as he
details the development of the project and what the specific
inspiration for each scene was; an invaluable touch for a biopic.
Some scenes were drawn from Munro's experiences and others from
Donaldson's travels as a newcomer to America, doing things like
driving on the wrong side of the roads.
Making of The World's Fastest Indian
(45:23) is a lightweight featurette consisting mostly of everyone
praising Donaldson's passion for the project and Hopkins
performance. Not much really nitty-gritty information is conveyed
despite the length and until the end of the piece, when they go into
each of the characters and the actors portraying them, speakers
aren't even identified as to who they are, making for some
frustrating viewing. (Would some simple captions have been such an
There are four Deleted Scenes
totaling approximately four minutes, half of which don't add much,
but the others could have added some additional flavor as Munro
balks at the cost of staying in a hospital for observation and scams
The treat of the extras is Burt Munro:
Offerings to the God of Speed (27:28) which is a 1971
documentary by Donaldson showing the real man in action on the salt
flats and at home in New Zealand. Through testimonials of friends,
we learn a lot of the back story that the film didn't bother with,
and astute viewers will notice many lines of dialogue that have
their origins here, including a shot of Munro in a t-shirt reading,
"Dirty old men need love too."
Southland: Burt's Home of Invercargill
(2:55) is little more than a tourist bureau montage of the lush and
varied scenery set to a particularly awful tune and the Soundtrack
Promo is merely a page saying that a soundtrack album is
Perhaps The World's Fastest Indian
was a box office disappointment because the title suggested it was a
movie about Native American Olympian Jim Thorpe, but with its
arrival on DVD, hopefully it will find an audience as a