Commentary Commentary

Commentary CommentaryOne thing that technology has brought the most dedicated movie fans is the commentary track, introduced with the wave of digital formats, from DVD to Blu-ray. The ability to hear your favorite filmmakers talk about their work while you’re watching their work is something so intensely nerdy that it we can’t help but dedicate some serious time to it. Join our own Jeremy Kirk as he breaks down the most useful lessons from some of the most iconic commentary tracks every week.

Updates Every: Thursday

Paramount

Johnny Depp’s latest film, Mortdecai, looks like an absolute train wreck, and since Lionsgate has decided not to screen it for press we’ll all find out together this weekend if that initial assessment is valid. Well, some of you will find out — I’ll be skipping it because it looks like an absolute train wreck. Tim Burton also has a new film in theaters, and while it’s not quite wowing audiences it appears to be a step in the right direction after the disappointments of Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland. Depp’s career is a mixed bag of fantastic, awful and average films, and examples of each can be found in his eight collaborations with Burton. Most people tend to point to Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood as their best pairings, but I’m oddly partial to their 1999 gothic comedy, Sleepy Hollow. It’s one of Burton’s rare R-rated films and fully embraces the gory sensibilities of a story about a headless horseman. The movie is also quite funny thanks in large part to a lively and game performance from Depp. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Tim Burton’s Sleep Hollow.

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MYSTIC RIVER commentary

Clint Eastwood‘s latest film, American Sniper, opens wide this week on its way to some possible (and probable) Oscar nominations, and while I haven’t seen it yet I hope it’s a return to quality filmmaking. It’s been some time since he’s directed a truly engrossing and entertaining film, and one of his last was 2003’s Mystic River. The film, adapted from Dennis Lehane’s bestselling novel, is a Boston-set crime story involving three men who were once childhood friends. It’s a tale of loss, revenge and secret pains, and a major part of its dramatic effect is due to the three leads. Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins deliver stand-out performances, and it’s the latter two who recorded a commentary track for the film. Eastwood doesn’t appear all that interested in the idea of commentaries judging by his numerous home video releases. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River.

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A24

Kevin Smith has retired and un-retired from filmmaking more than once, and his most recent return to the director’s chair resulted in his most unusual movie yet. That’s not to say Tusk is a good movie exactly — but it’s most definitely an incredibly strange one. Happily though, Smith’s real talent remains unscathed. He’s a continuously entertaining speaker, overflowing with funny, crass and ridiculous anecdotes, and his gift as a storyteller — often better-suited for talking than for filmmaking — shines on his commentary tracks. Tusk features a lot of dialogue scenes, his usual bread and butter, but there’s also an obvious thread of narrative wackiness that promises excessive fodder for Smith’s verbal chicanery via the commentary. Because seriously, it’s about a guy who threatens to surgically alter Justin Long into a walrus. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Kevin Smith’s Tusk.

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Nathan Fillion Guardians of the Galaxy

This summer, director James Gunn led Marvel Studios onto a new path with the cinematic gamble Guardians of the Galaxy. That gamble paid off, making the film the highest domestic grosser of 2014 and introducing the world to bizarre characters like a talking tree and an outlaw raccoon. Gunn, who is best known for his work in low-budget filmmaking after getting his start in Troma films, took some time to watch his blockbuster film for the DVD and Blu-ray release of the film. Looking ahead to both The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the 2017 release of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Gunn dissects his movie with stories from the set and how things changed from the film’s inception to the final cut.

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CHRISTMAS EVIL

John Waters has referred to Christmas Evil as “the greatest Christmas movie ever made,” but odds are you’ve never even seen it. It’s understandable as writer/director Lewis Jackson‘s 1980 feature about a slightly unbalanced man who holds the world to Santa’s high ideals has never been on cable, barely received a theatrical run and has only been available on hard-to-find home video releases. Now thanks to Vinegar Syndrome the film has gotten a beautiful new Blu-ray release featuring a 4K restoration, three commentary tracks and a handful of other special features. The movie is frequently billed as a “psycho Santa” flick, but it’s far from a slasher. Instead, the movie is more of a drama concerning one man’s descent into madness, and while there are some killings they occur late in the film. It’s an interesting and enjoyable movie all the same though with some bloodletting, some laughs and a very unexpected ending. We recently gave a listen to one of the three commentary tracks — the one featuring Jackson and Waters together — and we learned a few things along the way. *A quick note on the audio setup menu: It appears two of the commentary tracks are swapped on the menu. Selecting the Jackson/Maggart one plays the Jackson/Waters, and vice versa. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Christmas Evil.

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Housebound Movie

One of the more refreshing horror movies to come out lately is the New Zealand comedy Housebound. After an exciting film festival run, the movie has gotten a U.S. home video release. The story is an homage to various horror films, including The Legend of Hell House, The Changeling, and The Evil Dead. Spinning off the ghost hunting craze and borrowing from some home invasion thrillers, Housebound is one of those movies worth seeking out. Recorded in August 2014, before the actors actually saw the final version of the film, the production brain trust took some time to drink beer and watch the movie together. Here is the result.

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20th Century Fox

No matter what anyone says, there’s no real downside to being a film critic. Sure the pay could be better and the commenters could be nicer, but there’s no real negative to being able to write about art you love (or you don’t, depending). But opinions change, and while a review should stand as an educated and informed viewpoint on a certain film that viewpoint can sometimes shift over time. What I’m saying my first viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox back in 2009 left me unmoved and uninterested. Maybe it’s because I was a big fan of Wes Anderson‘s earlier films up until The Darjeeling Limited — which I still dislike strongly — and was disappointed that he moved away from live action. Maybe it’s because I didn’t understand why some of the animal species talk while others (chickens, the beagle) are just dumb animals. Maybe I just had a bad meal that day. I didn’t review the film, but had I done so it probably wouldn’t have been very positive. What I’m saying — for real this time — is that I’m glad those negative thoughts aren’t captured in a review somewhere, because this movie is a cussing gem. Having re-watched the film in the years since I’ve come to appreciate, enjoy and flat out love it, and since today is the five year anniversary I decided it’d be a great commentary to listen to… and this time I was right. Keep reading to see what I heard on […]

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Dr No

Back in 1991, the Criterion Collection released the three earliest James Bond movies on laserdisc: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. Like any Criterion release, these laserdiscs were flush with special features, including an assembled commentary track for each film hosted by Bruce Eder. However, shortly after the release, EON Productions requested that the company recall all the unsold product. The discs were re-released without the special features, including those commentary tracks. Once MGM released their own DVDs of the Bond films, they had installed their own commentaries. There has been a lot of speculation as to why these commentaries were banned from the marketplace (including possible inflammatory language used, unsavory stories that might be considered offensive to parties involved and releasing sensitive production information). However, now thanks to the magic of the Internet, you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars and secure an old laserdisc player to listen to the commentaries. They can be found in various places for download. Rather than listening to the “approved” commentary from the Dr. No DVD release, here’s a look into the commentary that EON didn’t want you to hear.

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FRANKENHOOKER commentary

Genre comedies remain a tough combination to pull off, but when they work the results can include all kinds of ridiculous and messy fun. One under-appreciated gem is Frank Henenlotter‘s 1990 romp, Frankenhooker. As is probably evident in the title the movie is a tongue in cheek riff on Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein following a young scientist’s efforts to fix his girlfriend after she’s killed in a tragic lawnmower accident. It’s a top to bottom comedy that tells its story with a great sense of humor and liberal nudity — and without a single drop of blood. So naturally it was unable to secure an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA and had to enter the marketplace unrated. Over the years it’s gained somewhat of a well-deserved cult following, and when the UK’s Arrow Video put together a cleaned-up Blu-ray of the film they also produced a new commentary track for the release. It’s almost as funny as the movie itself. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker.

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Saw Movie Bathroom

“If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.” That was Lionsgate’s tag line to the Saw franchise for years. It all began in 2004 when then-unknown horror director James Wan delivered a very low-budget but very grisly thriller about a new killer named Jigsaw who didn’t actually kill people… he simply set them up to kill themselves. Fine line, there. The rest was history. Wan went on to direct other iconic horror films, including Insidious and The Conjuring. Star Tobin Bell and his sidekick Billy the Puppet became as recognizable as Jason’s hockey mask. Torture porn (a bit of a misnomer for the earlier, better Saw films) became its own sub-genre. And for nearly a decade, most studio horror movie releases cleared the way for Lionsgate to drop a new sequel in October just before Halloween. However, before it became a full-blown phenomenon, director James Wan sat down with the film’s writer and co-star Leigh Whannell to talk about the original for the DVD release. Now, for the film’s 10th anniversary, it’s time to look back at this new classic and learn.

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Radius TWC

Korean director Bong Joon-ho‘s latest film, Snowpiercer, is about a train-shaped metaphor hurtling around the planet’s surface at high speed. Inside a rebellion is unfolding as the train’s lower class citizens begin a fight towards the front of the train where they believe they’ll find answers, freedom and the life they feel they deserve. It’s an entertaining film filled with solidly crafted action, a strong visual sense and an international sensibility evident in its cast, crew and themes. The Blu-ray (pre-order it now from Amazon) features a commentary track that, much like the film itself, is a bit different from the norm. Instead of featuring a member of the cast or crew the track consists of a film critic hosting a series of five additional critics who join him one at a time to offer insight and thoughts on the film. Usually critics on commentary tracks act as moderator for the talent or are there to discuss an older film for which no cast/crew members remain alive, but neither of those are the case here. They are film critics — and friends to varying degree of myself and this site — but they’re understandably not here fully in that capacity. Instead, they’re here as fans of the movie, and they use their time to talk about the elements of the film they love as opposed to offering anything that could be perceived as negative criticism. Also worth noting, while we’re used to seeing the studio’s warning that the commentary track is […]

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Dracula 1931

Every year near Halloween, I find myself re-watching at least some of the classic Universal monster movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. This year, thanks to purchasing the Universal Classic Monsters 30-Film Collection, I’m pretty much revisiting all of them. Kicking off that list is Tod Browning’s timeless classic Dracula, which was the first Hollywood production of the character and also the risky endeavor Universal diving into the monster movie market. Of course, being more than 80 years old, there are no contemporary filmmaker commentaries available on this title. In the DVD box set, which packages together all the Legacy Collection discs, we are left with a commentary by film historian David J. Skal and the screenwriter from Dracula: Dead and Loving It. As much as I enjoy Mel Brooks’ works, I felt it was a better bet to go with the possibly drier but more insightful historian. This was a good choice as Skal packs quite a bit of information into this relatively short 75-minute film.

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Anchor Bay/Scream Factory

There are eight films in the original Halloween series, and while it’s a given that all of the ones from part four onward are pretty uneventful the sixth film — Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers — has more baggage than most. Director Joe Chappelle’s film was the unfortunate byproduct of too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen resulting in a troubled production and a high percentage of re-shoots done at the behest of the Weinsteins. An alternate cut — labeled the Producer’s Cut — featuring entirely new scenes and story turns found its way on to bootleg VHS tapes and online torrent sites over the years, but now thanks to Scream Factory and Anchor Bay’s Halloween: The Complete Collection box set that bootleg has been remastered into HD for our viewing pleasure. I was surprised to discover that I had never seen part six in any version, and watching it for the first time I was highly entertained by just how bonkers it gets. And then I watched the Producer’s Cut where it gets even wonkier, and while it’s still not a good movie it quickly became my favorite of the sequels post-Season of the Witch. The newly remastered Blu-ray is loaded with extras including a commentary track featuring screenwriter David Farrands and composer Alan Howarth. So no, there are no producers on the commentary track for the Halloween 6 Producer’s Cut. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for the producer’s cut of […]

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Focus Features

Stop-motion animation is a dying art of cinema. Fortunately, the good folks at Laika have been keeping the artistry alive for years. The Boxtrolls is their latest selection to come to theaters, but the process started with Coraline in 2009 and then ParaNorman in 2012. While these movies have not been a mega-money-makers that we see with the Pixar and DreamWorks films, Laika’s films have made enough money to justify making more of the movies, and that’s a great thing for cinema. Coraline, based on Neil Gaiman’s visionary book, started the Laika ball rolling, and at the helm was The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick. For the 2009 Blu-ray and DVD release of the film, Selick sat down to talk over the film and give some personal insight. Composer Bruno Coulais is also listed as one of the commentators, and he does show up over the final credits to talk about the music, but almost the entirety of the film features Selick’s commentary. This is where pretty much all the relevant information comes from.

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Captain America The Winter Soldier

One of the biggest hits of the year so far has been Captain America: The Winter Soldier, making it a bigger success than the first film. It helps that it follows up The Avengers and cross-pollinates with other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, what also helped it along was a fresh story that was less of a gee-whiz superhero film and more inspired by the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s. Now that the film has been released on home video, the directors and writers have sat down and dissected it in their commentary track, available on the Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray. (Sorry, folks… the DVD does not have the commentary on it, so you’ll have to spring for a Blu-ray player if you want to listen. But, seriously, why don’t you have a Blu-ray player already? You do? Thought so.

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The Lookout

Scott Frank wrote some of the best films of the past 20 years. His work on Out of Sight, Get Shorty, and Minority Report is nothing short of fantastic. After plenty of experience as a screenwriter Frank finally got behind the camera in 2007 with The Lookout. His snowy neo-noir was a hit with critics, but didn’t perform quite as well at the box office. That’s a shame, because it’s an exceptional dramatic thriller, boasting outstanding performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Isla Fisher, Matthew Goode, and Jeff Daniels. You also couldn’t ask for a more rewarding script: it takes its time for quiet moments, and yet moves at an exceedingly fast clip; everything set up has a satisfying payoff; and Frank’s original story plays with archetypes. The friendly cop could’ve been a bumbling moron with a gun, but when he’s in a shootout, he’s portrayed as a genuinely competent enforcer. Frank also subverts expectations with Lovlee (Isla Fisher), an empathetic, three-dimensional femme fatale. There’s so much to love about this movie, which is why it’s disappointing Frank hasn’t directed more the past few years. After a seven year gap we’re seeing his sophomore effort A Walk Among the Tombstones hit theaters in a few weeks. It’s a detective story perfectly suited to Frank’s talents. As for The Lookout, Frank begins the commentary welcoming us “to another episode of how the rookie director screwed up.” What he meant to say is, “Here’s another episode of how the rookie director got it right.”

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The Fisher King

Back in the 1990s, Terry Gilliam provided a commentary track for The Fisher King, which has since gone out of print. Now, thanks to the magic of YouTube and MP3s and internet tubes, it’s possible to listen to this commentary track even if the disc itself is hard to come by. Not only does this commentary give an intimate look into one of Gilliam’s best, it also lives on in cyberspace to allow film nerds like us to learn more about the production. Due to differences in running time, you can’t simply synch all versions of the video with Gilliam’s commentary. For example, the Netflix version of The Fisher King runs 131 minutes instead of the unaltered 137-minute disc and theatrical presentation. Still, with the background soundtrack intact, you have a pretty good idea of where he is in his own timeline.

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The Sacrament

Look, I’m not one to brag, but I’ve hugged A.J. Bowen. Of course tens of thousands of people could make the same claim, but how many of them managed this feat shortly after giving his latest film a C+ review grade at last year’s Fantastic Fest? Any fear I had falling into his arms melted away when I realized he bore no ill will my way and instead was a funny, smart and personable guy. It probably helped that he knew my opinion carries little to no weight, but still. I guess what I’m saying is I’m now one degree away from hugging Amy Seimetz, and that’s not too shabby. Anyway, The Sacrament. Writer/director Ti West has made several feature films now, and while his love of genre and intentionally methodical pacing has remained steady across most of them he’s made a noticeable shift with his newest one away from the supernatural and into the evils of the real world. The result is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s an entertaining and tense-enough watch where the parts are somewhat better than the whole. The film is newly released to Blu-ray this week, and one of the disc’s special features is a fun and informative commentary track featuring West, Bowen and Seimetz. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for The Sacrament.

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Aladdin

One of Robin Williams’ most iconic roles was as the Genie in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin. For being a supporting role, he certainly commanding more than his fair share of attention (which got the Mouse House into some trouble when the character’s overt presence in advertising violated his original agreement to do the film for scale). Since the release of Aladdin, Williams became a Disney legend and lent his voice to the character later for the direct-to-video sequel Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Of course, Aladdin represents more than an iconic role for Williams. It was riding the wave of Disney’s second golden age of animation, followed by the record-breaking film The Lion King. For the DVD release in 2004, co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements sat down with co-producer Amy Pell to record a commentary of the film. So much has changed in the last ten years since this was recorded, though it is still a worthwhile listen for fans of Disney animation.

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Tri Star Pictures

There’s been a lot of talk recently regarding the lack of female superhero films in general and the lack of great ones in particular, but I’d argue the singular fun one has been sitting right in front of us since the mid-eighties. And it stars Helen Slater in the title role. And it’s not Supergirl. The Legend of Billie Jean is about a young woman who stands up for truth and justice, changes into a sexy costume (of sorts), has sidekicks and a nemesis and even has her own catchphrase in “Fair is fair!” It’s cheesier than a constipated cow, but the story and character beats deliver fun and excitement all set to a catchy ’80s soundtrack. The supporting cast is a roster of familiar faces in Christian Slater, Yeardley Smith, Peter Coyote, Keith Gordon and Dean Stockwell, but the film belongs to Helen Slater. The film just hit Blu-ray a few weeks ago, and it includes the commentary track recorded for the 2008 DVD release featuring her and Smith. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for The Legend of Billie Jean.

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published: 01.29.2015
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published: 01.28.2015
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published: 01.28.2015
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published: 01.28.2015
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