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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

I'd Like to Thank the Academy... for Nothing!

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

The movies covered in this column have one thing in common. At some point on their trek from development to the silver screen, I guarantee that somebody, somewhere thought they'd be Oscar contenders. All look like prestige projects, tackling Important Issues and Important People. All have pedigreed backgrounds, with a who's who of previous Oscar nominees and winners both behind and in front of the cameras. A couple of them even got as far as the Kodak Theatre, with a handful of nominations here and there. But none of them were quite able to lay hands on the little gold guy. Let's take a look at them, listed in order of how close they came to achieving their dreams of Oscar glory, and try to figure out where they went wrong.


Blood Diamond: Two-Disc Special Edition
Blood Diamond
Two-Disc Special Edition - 2006 (2007) - Warner Bros.

Nominated for a surprising (to me, anyway) five Oscars this year, Blood Diamond represents the type of big-budget, big-issue drama that seems to turn up every holiday season. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as diamond smuggler Danny Archer, a military man turned soldier of fortune who teams up with a displaced fisherman (played by Djimon Hounsou) to retrieve a rare and valuable stone. Also offering help and, more importantly, exposition is a firebrand journalist played by Jennifer Connelly. She's there to blow the lid off the illegal diamond trade that has brought so much suffering to Africa and in our two mismatched heroes, she has a perfect storm of primary sources.

I've seen far too many truly bad movies to ever mistake Blood Diamond for one of them. The problem is it's simply forgettable, perhaps a result of trying to tell too many stories than the narrative can withstand.


You have the forced diamond mining, the smuggling, and the ins and outs of the illegal trade back in England and the U.S. On top of all this, there's the plight of Hounsou's kidnapped son who has been brainwashed into joining the rebels, which opens up the whole other issue of underage soldiers. Plus, there's the refugee camps, the complex political scene, and oh yeah, an adventure story with DiCaprio and Hounsou shoehorned in wherever there's room.

Director Edward Zwick's movies are usually very well-intentioned and handsomely produced and Blood Diamond is no exception. The storytelling is very earnest but that doesn't necessarily make it compelling. DiCaprio is pretty good, although his performance takes some getting used to. Once you figure out what he's up to, though, he's reasonably effective. Hounsou is also fine. Although he spends too much time either bellowing or looking like a wounded puppy, he shines when he finds a balance between the two extremes. Connelly is given a thankless role and frankly, she isn't up to it. She's a good actress when given the right material but she isn't one who can make something from nothing, which is pretty much what she has here.

Warner's double disc special edition is nice enough with a very good transfer and a terrific 5.1 audio track. Disc one and the single disc version feature a dry but reasonably informative commentary by Edward Zwick and the movie's theatrical trailer. Those who splurge for the second disc will be slightly disappointed. Most of the featurettes here are brief and by-the-numbers, including the DiCaprio-boosting Becoming Archer, the Connelly-boosting Journalists on the Front Line, and a mildly interesting technical piece called Inside the Siege of Freetown. You also get stuck with the music video for "Shine On 'Em" by Nas, a fairly inappropriate attempt at giving the movie a hit single. There is one worthwhile documentary, however. Blood on the Stone is a 50-minute piece featuring journalist (and advisor to the film) Sorious Samura. It's a mostly compelling look at the reality behind the movie, updating us on the successes and failures of the Kimberly Process touted at the film's end. I'm not sure it alone is worth the price of the set but it's not bad.

Blood Diamond could easily have been a worse movie but the fact that it should have been much better makes it tough to recommend. It's worth a look if you're a big Leo fan but it hardly seems the type of movie that needs to be a part of anybody's video library.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/C+



The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd
2006 (2007) - Universal

On paper, The Good Shepherd probably seemed like a shoo-in for Oscar recognition. It's a period film, a true story and one that tackles politics and other hot-button issues. It boasts an all-star cast, including previous Oscar winners and nominees like Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and William Hurt. And best of all, it's directed by legendary actor Robert De Niro. The Academy loves actors who step behind the camera.

Yet when the nominees were announced, The Good Shepherd only nabbed one for Art Direction. Not for lack of trying, though, because The Good Shepherd is actually better than a lot of the other movies that ended up getting nominated.


Damon plays Edward Wilson, recruited straight out of Yale to join OSS, the covert agency that would eventually become the CIA. Jumping back and forth in time, we see Wilson's life shaped by a series of betrayals and secrets, leading him inexorably into a life where he cannot confide in anyone, least of all his wife (Jolie).

This is a dense, complex movie that improves with a second viewing. Admittedly, the first time I saw this, I was doped up on cold medicine and this is the last movie you want to see under those circumstances. Damon's performance is remarkable. If you're not paying attention, it may seem as if he's not doing anything. But appearances are deceiving. Damon's stillness is perfectly modulated and with every close-up, we see a little deeper into him. He's surrounded by nothing but the best actors, including Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, De Niro, Tammy Blanchard (easily holding her own with this lineup of veterans), Jolie and Hurt. De Niro's direction is restrained and nothing if not methodically paced. But he lays out the pieces of the puzzle and trusts you as an audience member to put things together.

The good news about Universal's DVD is that it looks absolutely terrific. And while it's a fairly quiet movie, the 5.1 audio track is also quite good. The only extras, unfortunately, are seven deleted scenes that total about 16 minutes. These are well worth watching as most of them revolve around a plot thread that was eliminated completely from the finished film revolving around Jolie's brother. While some other bonuses would have been appreciated, their inclusion would have either necessitated a second disc or severely compromised the presentation of this nearly three-hour movie.

De Niro has only directed two movies to date, this one and the modest but underrated A Bronx Tale in 1993. While I don't think anyone wants him to give up his day job, his work here demonstrates that at the very least, he paid close attention while he was working with some of the greats.

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/C-



Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut - Two-Disc Collector's Edition

Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut
Two-Disc Collector's Edition - 2004/2007 (2007) - Warner Bros.

Say what you like about Oliver Stone. You have to admit, the man's persistent. Back in 2004, he released Alexander, his dream epic about the life of Alexander the Great. Not satisfied with the way the theatrical version turned out, Stone went back to the drawing board and came up with his Director's Cut. Fair enough and most people thought that'd be the end of it. Everyone except for Oliver Stone, that is. Still working the story out in his head, he sequestered himself in the editing bay one more time and now has produced Alexander Revisited, which he swears is the final word on the subject. What this makes the director's cut now, I'm not sure. The director's rough cut, I suppose.

The sad thing is that while this is arguably a very slight improvement over his last pass, Alexander still isn't a very good film.


The big changes are in structure, with a major battle scene now moved up front and center to the beginning of the film and scenes of Alexander's childhood intercut with scenes of him as an adult. Instead of presenting the story chronologically, the transitions are thematic. This works to some extent, although it demands considerably more effort to make the timeline clear.

There are also some additional scenes fleshing out the previously too-vague relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion. However, none of this is enough to overcome the problems that are inherent in the film from the get-go, namely the casting of limp noodle Colin Farrell as Alexander and a screenplay that manages to be both overwrought and underdeveloped at the same time. That's quite a trick and not one I recommend anyone try to duplicate.

Perhaps the most welcome change is a purely cosmetic one. Stone has split the movie in two, spreading it over two discs and adding an intermission. I'm a fan of intermissions in long movies like this and this change adds to the feeling of the old Hollywood epics Stone was apparently trying to emulate. Oddly, spreading the movie over two discs hasn't made it look any better. If anything, it looks a bit worse than the last time I reviewed it, with more visible digital artifacts and shimmering. The audio isn't bad, though maybe a bit less refined than last time around.

There are no extras on the disc, which is fine considering that the Director's Cut edition covered essentially everything. The one sort-of bonus here is an introduction from Stone where he explains what he's trying to do and candidly admits that if you hated the movie last time, you'll probably hate it again.

Unfortunately, Stone's assessment is right on the money. If you're expecting Alexander Revisited to be a revelatory new version that finally uncovers the gem buried inside this mess, you'll be sorely disappointed. And if you already liked the movie well enough, this probably won't raise it from good to great or great to masterpiece. As it is, Alexander Revisited is essentially a curious experiment from a filmmaker who just doesn't know when to call it a day.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D-


On to Part Two

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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