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

cc rushmore

With only a singular exception (The Darjeeling Limited), all of Wes Anderson‘s films have been works of art that are equal parts entertainment and emotion. Everyone will have their own favorite, but for me the top spot is a rotating position alternately occupied by Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Both films are pure perfection, but while the latter satisfies my darker moods, the exploits of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) and friends are perfect whenever. It’s beautiful, funny, smart, and loaded with heart courtesy of Bill Murray. The Criterion Collection added Rushmore to their Blu-ray roster in 2011, and among the numerous extras is a commentary track featuring Anderson, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman. Unfortunately, the trio appear to have recorded separately, but they still have a collective wealth of information to share on a movie they still hold dear.

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robocop-commentary1

With the RoboCop remake hitting theaters next week and the recent 4K remastered Blu-ray release of the original film, it’s a good time to look back at the story’s humble beginning. While 1987’s RoboCop launched two lame sequels and a terrible television series, the original was a gas-station-explodingly fun excursion into 80s action excess. A few years ago, MGM released a Blu-ray set of the three films, but the RoboCop disc had no special features. These have been resurrected from the old DVD release and encoded on the new 4K remastered version, including the commentary by the filmmakers. It’s been a few years since this commentary track was recorded, but it still gives a nice retrospective of this action classic, including a look at why the film wouldn’t have made it through the MPAA and studio process now. So whether the remake is good or bad, we will still have the original RoboCop in all of its violent glory. On to the commentary…

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cc young adult

Jason Reitman‘s fifth feature film, Labor Day, hits theaters this Friday, but while I haven’t seen it yet the advance word has been a far cry from the critical acclaim his movies usually receive. To be fair, it’s also by all accounts a different beast from Reitman’s previous films as it concentrates more on the drama than on the acerbic, darkly comedic wit. It’s for this reason that I decided to go back a few years to Reitman’s last film, the blackly comic, emotionally tragic, and sadly under-seen Young Adult, for this week’s commentary listen. Well, that and the fact that one of the best films to play this year’s Sundance, Listen Up Philip, reminded me positively of it. Both movies are excellent entries in the canon of “asshole cinema” in that their lead characters are irredeemable pricks struggling to conceal their humanity and causing all manner of hilarity and emotional distress along the way. Charlize Theron plays a young adult novelist who returns home to her small town to reclaim her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) in the hopes that it will knock her out of the doldrums of both her career and her life. Her efforts don’t quite go according to plan and instead she’s forced face to face with the reality of the person she’s become.

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youngfrankenstein-commentary1

Later this year, Mel Brooks’ brilliant homage to the Universal monster movies Young Frankenstein turns 40. Having spawned a successful Broadway musical and inspired countless other spoofs, this send-up of the original Frankenstein films remains the gold standard against which many comedies are judged. Rightfully so. If only Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer paid more attention to what makes it good, we wouldn’t be plagued by so many terrible spoofs out there now. The Blu-ray of Young Frankenstein features Brooks’ frank commentary of the film, examining the contributions of co-writer Gene Wilder as well as many fond memories of the cast – most of whom are no longer with us. Brooks may have changed direction from filmmaking to work on the Broadway stage in recent years, but his expertise at making a timeless comedy is detailed here.

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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Commentary

Actors’ behind-the-camera debuts are rarely great. There’s generally a safeness to those movies, where it feels more like an actor testing the waters than having a story they need to tell. A big exception to that trend: George Clooney. Clooney took a major chance on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Sure, he had a script written by Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation), but he made bold choices as a filmmaker. From the film’s complex style, the timeline they have to show in two hours, and the tonally tricky humor, Clooney’s first directorial outing was an ambitious introduction. Since then he’s tried his hand at varying material, constantly pushing himself as a filmmaker. Nothing against his films since 2002, including the overlooked Leatherheads, but Confessions of a Dangerous Mind remains his best picture. This is a film where big choices were made, and every single one of them hit their mark. It’s an emotional dark comedy that not many filmmakers could pull off.

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apes-commentary1

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2014, but the high-budget prequel/sequel would never have been possible without the original film series from the 1960s and 1970s. The Planet of the Apes Blu-ray features multiple commentary options, including a recorded track with actors Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and Natalie Trundy, as well as make-up artist John Chambers. Spliced together by existing interviews, this is more of a voice-over through the movie. To augment the commentary, there’s a text commentary provided by Eric Greene, author of the book Planet of the Apes as American Myth. That’s enough to shake a fist at.

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cc the act of killing 1

The Act of Killing is a fascinating piece of cinema that illuminates not only a tragic and disturbing slice of history but also the humanity behind it all. The term is usually used in a positive light, but one of the film’s points is that these aren’t monsters committing such acts of barbarity. They’re people. Director Joshua Oppenheimer‘s film is one of the year’s best, and while he received a helping hand from two big names in the documentary field both Werner Herzog and Errol Morris give him full credit for the accomplishment. Drafthouse Films’ upcoming Blu-ray release includes the theatrical cut with some solid special features, but it also comes with a second Blu featuring the 166-minute director’s cut (an additional 44 minutes). Even better? The longer cut includes a commentary track with Oppenheimer and Herzog. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for The Act of Killing.

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heathers-commentary1

Going to high school in the 1980s, I was the perfect age to connect with a film like Heathers. Knowing a friend who struggled with suicide and together rolling our eyes at the idiotic depiction of it in many films made it hit even closer to home. Extremely daring for its time, Heathers challenged and threatened media stereotypes of teenagers and high school. Long before Diablo Cody gave an edgy pop vocabulary to high schoolers in Juno, Daniel Waters’ script introduced moviegoers to a particularly colorful jargon that we all licked up. The commentary from Waters, director Michael Lehmman and producer Denise Di Novi on the original DVD release was recorded nine years after the film was released, revealing a look at the film only recently after evolving into a full-on cult classic. Fortunately, the hindsight adds to the darkly sardonic experience.

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The Muppets Christmas Carol

Another wonderful moment from the archive to help you celebrate Christmas… Christmas is just around the corner, and you’re probably catching up on some old and new favorite films about the holidays. Among your viewings of A Christmas Story, Die Hard, and Gremlins, maybe you picked up a copy of The Muppet Christmas Carol, which has recently had a 20th anniversary Blu-ray release. This repackaging of the 1992 holiday classic includes a commentary track by Brian Henson as well as a new commentary by the Muppet characters themselves. One is more technical, and the other is more silly, but together they give a nice look at the making of one of the more faithful-yet-original adaptations of the Charles Dickens book. And on to the commentary…

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cc gangs of new york

Gangs of New York was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and yet, I still can’t shake the feeling that Martin Scorsese‘s revenge epic has been overlooked. With a filmograpyy as refined as Scorsese’s, a few gems are bound to go unnoticed, but even at the time of its release many were split by the film. It wasn’t a domestic box-office hit, scored a modest 75% on Rottentomatoes, and, from what I can recall, most people I knew weren’t a fan Scorsese’s impressionistic period piece. That’s a pity, because this fictional tale of Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) seeking revenge on the man who killed his father, Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), is one of Scorsese’s most thrilling and hypnotic films. Even if you found the acclaimed director’s untraditional approach to period distancing, you can’t dismiss it has one of the finest pieces of acting ever put on film courtesy of Day-Lewis. He was so magnificent in a supporting role that the Academy instead nominated him for best actor, but it’s well earned since he is Gangs of New York. Technically speaking the movie is stunning, from the sets to the editing to the you name it, but when Gangs of New York fans start talking, it’s Day-Lewis’ towering performance that usually dominates the conversation.

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furious6-commentary1

After fourteen years, the Fast & Furious franchise has gone through quite a few changes. The first three films struggled with changing casts and somewhat unconnected storylines. However, after Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift, director Justin Lin took the series in a very different direction. He brought back the original cast, then morphed the series from some street racing flicks to a bona fide action franchise complete with international villains and bigger-than-life action sequences. This second trilogy (!) in the series culminates with Fast & Furious 6, which was one of the highest grossing movies of 2013. Lin lends his voice to the commentary track on the film, which was recorded before the tragic death of Paul Walker. Similarly, the DVD and Blu-ray of the film were produced before this event, making a lot of the matter-of-fact comments in the film, the bonus features and the commentary naturally bittersweet. Still, there’s a lot to be learned from Lin’s commentary, which serves as a look back not only at the film, but the franchise as a whole with a great emphasis on the dynamic of those involved behind the scenes.

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cc all the boys love mandy lane

Seven years is a long time to wait between a film’s festival premiere and its release, but better late than never I guess. Jonathan Levine is best known for star-studded films like 50/50 and Warm Bodies, but his debut feature, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, has actually become his most recent. It was picked up by the Weinsteins after a successful premiere at TIFF in 2006… and then disappeared. Well, it disappeared from U.S. shores but found minor success overseas and a cult status here in the States. Unless you saw it at a festival appearance (or were savvy enough to import a copy from the UK), 2013 was the first real chance to see Mandy and figure out why all the boys love her. Seven years of hype and expectations are a lot to meet, but the movie remains an attractive and fun little retro slasher that has a surprising amount to say about teenagers, bullying, body issues, and more. Plus, you know, Amber Heard. The film hit Blu-ray/DVD this week, and the only special feature included is a commentary from Levine. The nearly bare-bones nature would normally be something to criticize, but knowing the long, hard road this film had to travel the presence of a newly-recorded commentary is more than enough of a bonus.

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nightmare-commentary1

When it was released twenty years ago, The Nightmare Before Christmas was not an immediate success. However, over the following two decades, it has become one of the most beloved holiday movies, and composer Danny Elfman admits that autograph seekers inevitably have The Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise for him to sign above all other films he has worked on. When the 15th Anniversary 2-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD was released in 2008, Elfman joined in with producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick to record a commentary track. This track, along with many of the other bonus features, is also included on the 3D Blu-ray, which was released in 2011 (and likely all other annual releases as Disney moves forward). Seeing as we’re at the half-way point between Halloween and Christmas, and since it is the 20th anniversary of the film’s release, it seemed appropriate to revisit the film and hear what the filmmakers had to say about the production.

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cc the worlds end

The Cornetto Trilogy is the comedic equivalent of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy for at least two reasons. First, all three films are pretty goddamn fantastic, and second, they’re not even really a trilogy. There’s no actual storyline or characters that repeat across the films, but some common themes (along with the presence of Cornetto ice cream) have turned the trio into an unofficial collective. The World’s End is the latest and last (after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), and there’s a very good chance it’s the best of the three. Edgar Wright directs and co-writes (again) with star Simon Pegg to deliver a smart, very funny, and truly engaging piece of entertainment, and as has continually been the case, they’ve filled it with a brilliant cast. Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan join Pegg as five friends attempting to revisit their youth who find an unexpected surprise instead. All of Wright’s films come loaded with gags and references, but this one beats them all in the sheer detailed genius of its structure and execution. Multiple viewings are required to catch them all, but the Wright and Pegg do a good job of highlighting several moments of foreshadowing and hints at what’s to come on their commentary track.

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THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Shire, Warner Bros. has released the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.The movie, which grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide is getting its second home video release in the course of the year, meant to prime the pump for the upcoming sequel in December. Director and all-around Tolkien movie guru Peter Jackson joins with his production partner Philippa Boyens to dissect the first installment in The Hobbit trilogy. It’s a long one, clocking in at just about three hours, the commentary was recorded in the summer of 2013 while they were in post-production of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. This commentary track is exclusive to the extended edition of the film, and there is none available for the theatrical version, which came out in March of 2013.

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cc prince avalanche

David Gordon Green‘s Prince Avalanche is a small, simple film with a pair of recognizable faces in Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. It wasn’t seen by many people in theaters, and that’s a real shame because it remains one of the year’s best films. Audiences will get a second chance starting next Tuesday though when it comes to Blu-ray and DVD. It’s the story of two men, Alvin and Lance, who discover a friendship and some unexpected self-realizations during an isolated summer spent working rural back roads after a devastating fire. They have nothing in common but loneliness, and while that sounds like a setup for drama the film finds joy in their conversations, disagreements, and personalities. After four acclaimed indie dramas and a mixed-bag of three studio comedies, this is easily Green’s best and purest film in years. Don’t let that scare you off though… it’s also incredibly funny. Keep reading to see what I heard during David Gordon Green’s commentary for Prince Avalanche.

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thefog-commentary1

It’s Halloween, which means it’s the last day you can obsessively watch scary movies until tomorrow and the day after that. Obviously, one of the greatest Halloween films of all time is John Carpenter’s seminal slasher named after the holiday. As a follow-up, Carpenter eked together another small budget classic with co-writer and producer Debra Hill: 1980’s The Fog. While it was a horror film at its core, it was a decidedly different movie. Instead of being a simple stalker film, The Fog is a throwback feature to the older ghost story movies from the 40s and 50s that Carpenter watched as a kid. It may not hold up as well as Halloween, but The Fog is still a fun relic made during Carpenter’s heyday (which included 1981’s Escape from New York and 1982’s The Thing). Recorded shortly after Carpenter shot his 1995 stinker Village of the Damned, the commentary on the original DVD release features Carpenter and Hill reminiscing about the production that appears larger than it actually was.

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commentary pacific rim

Guillermo del Toro is a director of visually arresting films that continuously announce his love of cinema from the rooftops. His best works (including The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth) mix fantasy and reality into intoxicating concoctions, but even his lesser efforts (everything else) are imaginative and stylish creations. His latest, Pacific Rim, is a fun and exciting adventure that mashes giant monsters and giant mecha into a wet dream of action, epic fight scenes, and pre-teen joy. It’s a big movie for kids and the kids in all of us, and that comes with both good and bad. The former outshines much of the latter, but it doesn’t excuse it. So how does del Toro’s commentary stack up against the film? Will he talk about Charlie Hunnam‘s acting performance? Will he teach what amounts to a two-plus hour film class on how to make effects heavy movies? Will he acknowledge the script’s deficiencies including the silliness of punching monsters to death instead of using bunker-buster missiles or, I don’t know, a big ass sword? Let’s find out together! Keep reading to see what I heard during Guillermo del Toro’s commentary for Pacific Rim.

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killerklowns-commentary1

Clowns. Who doesn’t hate clowns? Who doesn’t fear them? Even though some crazy people see them as adorable comedy figures in a circus, most sane folks are terrified of these things. Maybe it’s the innate human fear of someone wearing a mask, even if that mask is make-up. Whatever the case, clowns have been a source of nightmares in film (such as in Stephen King’s It) and in real life (like the creepy clown figure that stalked the streets of Northampton, U.K., recently). It was this near-ubiquitous fear that drove the Chiodo Brothers to make the film Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Meant to be an homage to 50s monster movies like The Blob, Killer Klowns from Outer Space was a ludicrous low-budget movie that became a worldwide hit. In honor of the Northampton clown being unmasked, and enjoying some midnight horror movies during the month of October, it’s time to look into the world of the Killer Klowns by way of the Chiodo Brothers’ commentary track on their 2001 DVD release.

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cc much ado about nothing

Joss Whedon and his friends started doing readings of William Shakespeare’s plays at his house (Whedon’s, not Shakespeare’s) as long as 10 years ago, and while the idea of making a movie was bandied about it only became a reality during the busiest and most high profile time in his life. And yet he was able to adapt Much Ado About Nothing without seemingly anyone outside of the movie knowing about it. Even more surprising? It just may be the best damn thing Whedon’s ever directed. The film (and the original play) is a mix of romantic comedy and drama, and Whedon and his cast infuse it with more of both. Smart visual cues and charismatic performances fill the screen alongside the Bard’s original words, and the result is a film that should leave you smiling for days. Now, thanks to Whedon’s commentary track, we’ve learned a lot more about Much Ado About Nothing.

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