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

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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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Coraline

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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Ed Wood

With the popularity of films like The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and Sharknado (now with a 2 behind it!), it seems that some people tend to like bad movies more than they like good ones. However, long before Tommy Wiseau or James Nguyen were directing films, and before Tara Reid was even born, there was a magical man named Edward D. Wood, Jr. Even with his terrible sense of plot, sequence and cinematic structure, Ed Wood managed to give his own flavor to his films, culminating in the granddaddy of all bad movies: Plan 9 From Outer Space. In 1994, Tim Burton directed Ed Wood, telling the story of the infamous director and how his friendship with horror movie legend Bela Lugosi helped breathe some life into both of their careers. The 2004 DVD release of the film includes a commentary with Burton, edited together with his filmmaking cohorts, which delivers a comprehensive look at the film’s creation. It has been 55 years since the release of Plan 9 From Outer Space, and it’s been 20 years since the release of Ed Wood. Before Burton really hit the skids with movies like Planet of the Apes and Dark Shadows, here’s a brighter (even in black and white), more inspirational time in his career that we can all learn from.

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Superman 4

Often great movies come with great commentary tracks. Few things beat listening to filmmakers of masterpieces deconstruct their own films, offering insight into the genius that went into the process. However, some of the worst movies make spectacular commentaries as well. These commentaries give us a look into the delusional process of how an attempt to make fine art turned into some of the worst films in the history of time. Back in 1987, Christopher Reeve convinced Warner Bros. to help him revitalize the Superman franchise from the disappointing third film. He also wanted to bring a level of social responsibility by addressing the nuclear arms race at the height of the Cold War. The result was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a bargain-basement sequel that effectively killed the franchise for almost 20 years. In 2006, co-writer Mark Rosenthal recorded a commentary about the production of the film which is included in the Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray box set. Now, we get a look into the madness and some reasons why the final product was so terrible.

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20th Century Fox

David Fincher‘s Fight Club wowed audiences with his typical technical brilliance and sharp use of CGI, but it remains an amazing piece of work fifteen years later for its narrative, social commentary and fantastic black humor. Misunderstood and under-appreciated by many upon its release, the film has gone on to earn legions of fans over the years, and listening to the commentary track featuring Fincher, Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter (one of four commentaries on the disc) opens up an even more detailed appreciation of the film. It’s actually one of the very first commentary tracks (or “auxiliary tracks” as Fincher calls them) I ever listened to many years ago, and the discovery that we had yet to cover it here made it well worth a second listen. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Fight Club.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

A planet where apes evolved from men? Well, not exactly, if you follow the film versions of the Planet of the Apes series. Based somewhat on the fourth film in the series Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of how tinkering with genetic make-up of a species might just lead to humanity’s demise. Rise of the Planet of the Apes re-rebooted the more-than 40-year-old franchise and sets the stage for the much buzzed about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (we liked it a lot). It also gave an opportunity to show the nuance and artistry involved in performance capture, courtesy of Weta Digital and Andy Serkis For its initial Blu-ray and DVD release, director Rupert Wyatt sat down with his film and talked about the production in his stand-alone commentary. Along with some gushing over James Franco and an answer to the greatest meme of 2011 (“Why cookie rocket?”), Wyatt examines the technical side of the film as well as the performances for both human and non-human characters.

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The Brothers Bloom

If you’re not convinced more Star Wars movies is a good idea, then the news that Rian Johnson will be writing and directing Star Wars Episode VIII should win you over. Johnson knows structure, action, comedy and character, making him the ideal filmmaker to make Star Wars fresh and exciting again. Not only do his talents make him the right filmmaker for the job, but so does his thematic interests. Looper and Johnson’s second picture, The Brothers Bloom, are about how much control someone has over their own narrative. Bloom (Adrien Brody) feels like he’s living a story written by his brother Stepehen (Mark Ruffalo), while Old Joe (Bruce Willis) and Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) battle over the course of their shared, separate life. In short, a franchise focused on creating your own destiny is right up Johnson’s alley. Out of Johnson’s three films so far, The Brothers Bloom is the one that’s probably talked about the least. It was met with a lukewarm response from critics, and it kind of got lost in the shuffle back in 2009, but it’s a richly structured flim flam movie full of heart. It’s as much about brothers as it is the con. The relationship between Bloom and Stephen lives beyond the movie; Brody and Ruffalo let us learn these characters so thoroughly that it’s easy to imagine other adventures they’d gone on. We revisited the film with the commentary track on. Here’s what we learned.

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LEGO Movie Batman

With the release of The LEGO Movie on DVD and Blu-ray this week, we’re taking a look behind the scenes of the movie with the cast and crew. Christopher Miller and Phil Lord lead the commentary, joined by many of the actors in the studio, as well as Elizabeth Banks who phones in her contributions from an undisclosed location. Miller and Lord are riding a wave of cinematic goodwill with two of the biggest openings of 2014 (is a 23 LEGO Jump Street far of?), but they managed to tear themselves away from counting their cash and diving into piles of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck to devote an hour and forty minutes to the cause of pulling the curtain back from the magical world of LEGOLAND.

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Sony Pictures

22 Jump Street hits theaters tomorrow, and you should probably go see it. I say probably, but I mean definitely as it is ridiculously funny and entertaining. If you enjoyed the first one it’s guaranteed you’ll love the follow-up. I re-watched 21 Jump Street the night before the sequel’s screening and was happy to see that it remains a fantastically fun watch even two years after its premiere. Watching it yet again — this time with the commentary track featuring directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller as well as leads Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum — proved to be an equally good time. The quartet are clearly a good team, and it’s as evident in the film as it is in their shared commentary. They appear to have recorded the track just after the film’s opening weekend, and it’s clear they’re still on a high from audiences’ reception of it all.

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Princess Leia in Star Wars - Troopers

It’s hard not to think about Star Wars with all the news and potential spoilers about Episode VII dropping lately. Still, for the purist, the original will remain the greatest of the series, even if there is no high-quality version of the theatrical releases available. With so much Star Wars lately, it only seems appropriate to go back to the beginning and revisit Star Wars before it was ever known as A New Hope. For the DVD release in 2007, a commentary track was added to the film, which has been preserved through the subsequent Blu-ray releases. Recorded separately and cobbled together for relevant points of the film, the commentary includes George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt, and Dennis Muren. While this particular commentary does not offer a modern perspective of the legacy of the prequels or the upcoming films and spin-offs, it does give a look back at the making of a classic.

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Drafthouse Films

The past couple of years seemed to see a rash of films dealing with the somewhat similar plot device of people doing increasingly dangerous, disgusting or risky things for cold, hard cash. 13 Sins, Would You Rather and others deal with the idea in different ways, but one of the most celebrated of the bunch is E.L. Katz‘s Cheap Thrills. The film follows a down on his luck man named Craig (Pat Healy) who’s fired from his job on the same day he receives an eviction notice. With a wife and baby son counting on him he willingly steps into a bizarre scenario involving a wealthy, thrill-seeking couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) willing to pay Craig and his friend (Ethan Embry) to take part in a series of often grotesque challenges. Things go about as well as you’d expect. It’s an alternately funny and tragic film that walks an incredibly fine and blackly-comic line, and it’s just been released on Blu-ray/DVD from Drafthouse Films. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Cheap Thrills.

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X-Men Movie Commentary

Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that the X-Men franchise is solidly in its teenage years. It’s going to start driving and dating soon. The series is so significant to cinema history that it is responsible for launching the modern superhero film era. (Remember that this film came out only three years after Batman & Robin.) Without X-Men, there might not have been Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series or The Avengers films. With Days of Future Past hitting the theaters, it’s time to look back to the year 2000 when superhero movies weren’t given $100m budgets and unlimited power automatically. Writer/director Bryan Singer had something to prove with X-Men, and with a limited budget and a production schedule shortened by five months, he succeeded. Five months into shooting X2: X-Men United, Singer recorded a commentary for his groundbreaking film for the X-Men 1.5 DVD, which is preserved throughout subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases. Here’s a chance to listen in on what was happening at the dawn of the modern superhero movie.

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