Like to Thank the Academy... for Nothing!
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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
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.
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+
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.
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
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
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-
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.
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-
to Part Two
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