Being that I rarely throw videotapes into my slowly decaying VCR anymore, I hadn't seen this film in a long, long time (probably 13 years or so). While I hadn't forgotten that I regarded it as a masterpiece, I certainly grew fuzzy on some of the details that led to my love for it. Seeing it again on its DVD debut, I'm reminded how remarkably beautiful and creative Gus Van Sant's movie is.
This will always be remembered as the highpoint of River Phoenix's tragic career, unless you are a major Stand by Me fan. As Mike, the narcoleptic street hustler searching for his mother and painfully in love with best friend, Scott (an uncharacteristically vibrant Keanu Reeves), his performance reveals that there's just no telling what he could have done with his career had he kept his bloodstream free of narcotics. Phoenix was the best actor of his generation, and everything from Mike's conflicted emotional core to the physical throes of his sleeping condition is amazingly portrayed. His work here is one of the most heartbreaking performances to be seen in American cinema.
By including portions of Shakespeare's Henry IV in his narrative about Oregon street hustlers, Gus Van Sant took a big risk that works. When the characters drift in and out of Shakespearean text, Van Sant somehow makes it appear natural in the modern setting. His film is also a landmark for gay cinema, one of the first to portray gay men without stereotyping. The infamous campfire scene in which Mike reveals his love for Scott is historic for its honesty and sensitivity.
While I knew Van Sant cast real street hustlers as extras, I didn't know that some of the terrifying stories being told by the actors were actually accounts of their real-life experiences. That puts a new twist on the viewing experience.
Throw in the fact that this one is remarkably shot--and actually uses Slim Whitman on the soundtrack--and you're basically looking at one of the more unique movie experiences of the last quarter-century. It's also a reminder of how much it hurts to have lost River Phoenix.
Special Features: It's Criterion, so it's packed. Van Sant sits down for a long interview with filmmaker Todd Haynes. The interview (which is audio-only) gives plenty of insight into Van Sant's motivations, and goes into great detail about such minute moments as the barn crashing onto the ground (that was pretty involved stuff). There's a pile of deleted scenes, an interview with Rain Phoenix (River's sister) and a nice behind-the-scenes retrospective. The package also comes with a commemorative book containing articles and interviews.
This stands as my favorite period for SCTV. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas had risen to mega-stardom as a result of the Bob and Doug McKenzie craze, and they were looking to leave the show. Rather than getting bored with the routine, they got a little crazy with their work, resulting in some of the better shows of the series. The Pre-Teen World Telethon episode stands as my all-time personal favorite, not only for the cast's dead-on renditions of prepubescent kids, but for Maudlin's Eleven. The cast placed some of their regular SCTV alter egos (Bobby Bitman, Bill Needle, Sammy Maudlin) into a remake of Ocean's Eleven, with results that top any of George Clooney's remake efforts. Highlights also include Chariots of Eggs--a hybrid of Chariots of Fire and Personal Best starring Hall & Oates--and a spoof of Deliverance starring Moranis and Thomas as the Pig brothers. Martin Short joined the cast and thankfully showed the world his Jerry Lewis and Mr. Rogers impersonations.
Special Features: A couple of so-so commentaries with guys laughing at how funny they are. The best feature is a 1997 sit-down with a large part of the cast. This one is notable for the participation of Rick Moranis, who has seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth in recent years.
What a great movie. It won the Oscar for Best Animated Film, but it deserved to be nominated for Best Picture. Some (such as filmmaker Kevin Smith) have gone so far as to call it the best superhero film ever, and I would say it is right up there with Superman and Spider-Man 2. Writer-director Brad Bird, with the help of Pixar, managed to make cartoon characters that were more "real" then most of the flesh-and-bone humans occupying most live-action films last year. At once a great superhero yarn and family drama, this film has set the high watermark for all future animated movies. How it can be topped is beyond me.
Special Features: A two-disc set that includes a Bird commentary with techies on the feature, and plenty of supplements to keep you busy. The best feature is storyboard mock-ups of deleted scenes, including a barbecue mishap that should've made it into the film. Plenty of behind-the-scenes stuff and a small blooper reel are also included.