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 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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houseofwax-commentary1

Long before Avatar and RealD broke new ground to bring a new version of 3D to movie audiences, Warner Bros. released the wildly successful major motion picture House of Wax in Polarized 3D. This helped launch the 3D craze of the 1950s, but that fad soon fizzled as the films released in this format rarely held up on their own once the gimmick wore off. Still, House of Wax has earned a long life for genre fans, shown with anaglyph prints and also flat on various home video formats. Now that 3D technology has reached home theaters, Warner Bros. has released House of Wax with its original stereoscopic presentation on 3D Blu-ray, just past the movie’s 60th anniversary. For the new Blu-ray, film historians David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr lend their voices to a technical and historical commentary, shedding some new light on the film that gave Vincent Price his first real step into the world of horror movies. Whether you appreciate the 3D of the film, or even if you’re a hater who won’t watch anything in 3D unless you absolutely have to, the new release of this classic horror flick gives unique insight into the cycle of 3D trends and how it emerged in the early 1950s.

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Beautiful Mind Commentary

Ron Howard is at his best when he’s directing award contenders. “Oscar bait” would be the cynical way to label them, but the sincerity of Howard’s movies makes it difficult to approach them with that type of mindset. As much as I love Night Shift and Parenthood, those movies were sometime ago, and since then, Howard has jumped from making lightweight entertainment to audience-friendly dramas. After the Robert Langdon movies and The Dilemma, I hoped to see him make more movies like A Beautiful Mind. He’s now returned to that territory with Rush. What makes Howard’s take on material like the Formula One rivalry is the amount of fun he brings to potentially heavy drama. He certainly achieved that balance with A Beautiful Mind as well. The movie may deal with mental illness, but the espionage segments of the film are as exciting as a Bond movie, and there’s genuine joy to be found in the romance. For the release of Rush, I gave a listen to an engaging Howard with the commentary he supplied for his 2001 Best Picture Winner. Here’s what I learned.

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ironman3-commentary1

Much like The Avengers last summer, Iron Man 3 was the undisputed box office champion of the season in 2013. Building off the good buzz from The Avengers and the events in the end of that movie, Iron Man 3 offered the new director of the series Shane Black a chance to take Tony Stark to new places. Namely, he got him out of the Iron Man suit and toyed with the notion that Tony Stark was the real hero, even without all the technology. Following up two massive movies before it, and one of the biggest box office successes in history as an ensemble piece, Iron Man 3 was still a bit of a gamble. It paid off for all the parties involved. However, when Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce recorded their commentary to the film, the film had not yet proved itself completely. They had only been open for a week overseas, with the American opening on the horizon. Sure, it was a huge success at that point outside of the U.S., but so was Battleship. Still, Black and Pearce move through the commentary with confidence that it’s a hit, and that gives them the stones to explain why they chose to change some character elements from the original source material and why there were about as many revisions to the scripts as revisions to the Iron Man suit in Tony’s basement. Iron Man 3 comes out on DVD and Blu-ray next week, so take a few […]

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commentary friday the 13th

The original Friday the 13th caught a lot of critical heat back in 1980, and now many people see it as little more than another in a long line of generic slasher films, but it actually deserves a lot more credit than that. It obviously wasn’t the first of the genre, that honor would probably go to films like Black Christmas and A Bay of Blood, but it (along with Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street) began a long, three-way race for horror franchise supremacy that affected the genre for decades. This week sees a new Friday the 13th release hitting shelves, appropriately enough on Friday the 13th, consisting of all twelve films in the series (including the 2009 reboot) in a Complete Collection. It’s not actually as complete as it could or should have been, but one special feature it does include is a commentary track for the very first film. It’s not screen-specific and instead consists of edited together snippets from interviews, but there are still some interesting tidbits to be found. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Sean S. Cunningham‘s Friday the 13th.

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nowyouseeme-commentary1

Sandwiched between massive blockbusters (like Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel) and high-profile flops (like After Earth and The Lone Ranger), Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me became the little movie that could over the summer of 2013. On a relatively modest summer budget of $75m, the film grossed $117m (and counting) on the domestic side and will finish its worldwide run with well more than $300m. This makes it the highest-grossing film from Summit/Lionsgate outside of the Twilight and The Hunger Games franchises. The new Blu-ray includes a commentary with director Leterrier and his producer Bobby Cohen on the theatrical cut of the film. Of course, because they’re revealing the secrets of the feature film magic trick, they discuss all the plot twists in the movie. If you haven’t seen the film yet and don’t want these points spoiled, you might want to rent it first before proceeding. Fair warning: spoiler alert! And now, on to the commentary.

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cc the lords of salem

Rob Zombie‘s latest film is a bit of a surprise. It’s horror, but it’s a completely different beast from his previous movies. There’s a real (and mostly intentional) sense of humor about it, too. And perhaps most surprising? It’s actually a pretty fun watch at times. (My review.) The Lords of Salem made the festival circuit for several months before getting a limited release this past April, and one of its stops was Austin’s SXSW Film Festival with both Zombie and his wife/the film’s star Sheri Moon Zombie in attendance. The audience response wasn’t quite what the couple had hoped for, leaving the director to tackle a post-screening Q&A solo when Sheri bolted for the exit. But rather than accept defeat, Zombie proved himself an incredibly entertaining speaker with a great sense of humor about himself and the business as well as an endless stream of anecdotes. His tale of witches in modern day Salem who try to bring Satan’s spawn into our world is a wacky one, but his vision remains clear. Granted, it’s clearer in the way he describes it than in the way it actually unfolds onscreen, but you’d be surprised how much good will a little dancing turkey demon can buy you.

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hotfuzz-commentary1

After making a splash with the zom-com Shaun of the Dead in 2004, Edgar Wright teamed up again with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to make another send-up of a beloved genre. Hot Fuzz deconstructed the buddy cop action film genre with a hilarious and fresh perspective. Only after the production did Wright and Pegg, who co-wrote the film together, stumble on the Cornetto connection, which paved the way for the production of the eventual finale The World’s End. Upon the release of Hot Fuzz, Wright and Pegg sat down to record a commentary track, which is available on both the DVD and Blu-ray. There are other commentaries available on the film, depending on which release you get, but this is the most common one, and the most contained.

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commentary a boy and his dog

A Boy And His Dog is an odd duck in the world of post-apocalyptic cinema in that it’s neither pure action nor pure drama. It exists somewhere in between the two extremes with a dark yet playful sense of humor courtesy of Harlan Ellison‘s source novella. It tells the story of a young man (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog trying to survive in a world devastated by a global five day war. Food, water and companionship are priorities, but sometimes you have to settle for two out of three. Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release includes a sharp HD transfer, a previously-recorded commentary, and a brand new conversation between Ellison and and director L.Q. Jones as they rehash the film’s production and their nearly forty year old disagreements. This is a must-buy for fans of Ellison, misogyny or sci-fi in general. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for L.Q. Jones’ A Boy And His Dog.

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district9-commentary1

Four year ago, Neill Blomkamp directed the surprise hit District 9, a speculative sci-fi film about the integration of aliens into human culture. Based in his home country of South Africa, District 9 was embraced by critics and audiences, earning three somewhat expected technical Academy Award nomination and a completely unexpected Best Picture nod. However, before the film was released anywhere, Blomkamp recorded his commentary on the film, giving a unique insight into its production with no knowledge of its eventual success. At the time of recording, Blomkamp had been present to show the film in public once, at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Com, and he was feeling pretty good about the movie based on the audience reaction. At least this time, the Comic-Con love translated into box office success and critical acclaim.

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commentary aftershock

Eli Roth is best known as a director of small, gory horror films like Cabin Fever and Hostel, and for giving a memorably bad performance in Inglourious Basterds. Needless to say, the announcement that he would be producing, co-writing and starring in a Chilean disaster picture was met with both interest and uncertainty. I first saw Aftershock at the Stanley Film Fest a few months ago, and I was happily surprised by just how fun and thrilling the damn thing ended up being. It’s exploitation-lite and comes packed with an unexpected amount of humor and subversive scripting too. Roth joins director Nicolás López as the two friends do the commentary while thousands of miles apart, Roth in L.A. and López in Chilé. López makes it clear that he was in no way trying to make the official film of Chilé’s recent earthquake saying “we wanted to make a fun, roller coaster ride mwovie where an earthquake happens in Chilé, but it’s not about our real earthquake.” He succeeded. See what else they had to say in the commentary track for Nicolás López’s Aftershock.

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wolverine-commentary1

Back in 2009, Gavin Hood came off some smaller independent character pieces to direct the big-budgeted superhero film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. After a work print leaked online, resulting in a string of negative reviews, the film still did well in the early summer box office. It was a hit from a financial angle, but it left a lot of fans cold and led to a very different approach taken in its follow-up film The Wolverine. Now, looking back at the film, we can see how things played out behind the scenes as Hood talks over the movie in his commentary. Available on the original release DVD and Blu-ray, this commentary track highlights Hood’s love for Ryan Reynolds’ comedic timing and his views on how mutant powers manifest. But if you’re looking for an apology, it’s not here. Here’s what is:

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