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Last Days

HBO
Movie B-
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

At one point in Gus Van Sant's loosely veiled account of the last days of Kurt Cobain, a woman (played by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon) asks rock star Blake (a Cobain look-alike played by Michael Pitt) if he's talked to her daughter, and asked her what she thinks about him being a "rock star cliché." Cobain's writings and interviews often revealed his hatred for that cliché, a nasty self-esteem problem that, mixed with drugs and a chronic stomach problem, allegedly led to his death by shotgun suicide at his Seattle estate.

Van Sant's film is shot very much like his Gerry (2002) and Elephant (2003), a documentary-like approach with an improvised script. Haters of those two films will probably hate this one more, for it actually makes the first two films feel rather structured and tight in comparison.

There's a pretty good reason for that. Van Sant is obviously looking to portray a drug haze here, an individual who has probably made up his mind to leave the planet prematurely. Blake wanders about in the forest behind his house, swimming in a stream and making campfires. He goes about his daily life, preparing meals and even performing a couple of last songs. Inconsequential conversations with band mates, salesmen and managers fail to move him in any way. He's totally numb, and nobody makes a major effort to help the guy out. While the script doesn't say it, it's obvious that those around Blake are used to him wandering about in a drugged-out stupor.

Pitt is rather good in this role. His own musical talents are reminiscent of Cobain's, and the numbers he performs add a sense of reality to the proceedings. The actors and actresses around him don't really register, and that seems to be exactly the point. There were plenty of people hovering around Cobain near the time of this death and, regrettably, they probably didn't register much with the man.

Van Sant's film doesn't point the finger at anybody, or accuse Courtney Love of murdering her husband as the strange documentary Kurt & Courtney seemed to do. It's just a hazy, murky exploration of what Cobain might've been going through in his final days. It's not electric cinema in any sense (Van Sant's meditative style naturally lends to moments that go on way too long) but it's an interesting chapter in his ongoing experimental filmmaking.

Special Features: A documentary featurette that shows the filming of a long dolly shot, where we see Pitt performing a live musical number through a house window, is actually quite fascinating. A documentary on the making of the movie, and a deleted scene (actually, an alternate, stationary shot of the Pitt performance piece) round out the features.


Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3

Warner Home Video
Cartoons A+
Special Features A+
DVD Geek Factor 10 (out of 10)

For fans of Bugs, Porky, Daffy and the rest, Warner Home Video's treatment of the Looney Tunes archive continues to amaze. This third volume of classic animated shorts divides the treats into four discs, each packed with the sort of old-school animated entertainment that will leave purists cursing the advent of computers.

Disc one compiles more Bugs Bunny classics, including "A Hare Grows in Manhattan" and "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!" Disc two is Hollywood Caricatures, featuring animated shorts with movie star inspirations including "The House That Jack Built" with the voice of Jack Benny and "The Honey-Mousers," a fun parody of Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners. Disc three is a collection of Porky Pig and other pig shorts, while disc four is an All-Star Cartoon Party, featuring, among others, the Road Runner.

Special Features: Unbelievably loaded. Commentaries from film historians and others, such as animator John Kricfalusi (creator of Ren & Stimpy, which owes plenty to Looney Tunes), abound. Documentaries, treats from the vault and featurettes (including the remarkable "Looney Tunes Go to War") provide many hours of information. Also here is the propaganda short "Spies," where a soldier goes to hell with Hitler for letting a secret out. The perks of this box set are too numerous to fully describe here. The Looney Tunes Golden Collections are some of the best DVDs the format has to offer.


Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season One

Universal Studios Home Video
Show A-
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

By 1955, Alfred Hitchcock had already made a major impression on cinema. His legacy expanded to television with this weekly half-hour series (which extended to an hour in 1962) that dealt with murder and mayhem. Hitchcock himself directed 17 episodes of the series over the years, including the pilot episode of this first season, starring Vera Miles as a rape victim ("He killed me!") who suffers a breakdown. Hitchcock appeared at the beginning and end of each episode, often poking fun at the sponsors. This show actually qualifies as a significant precursor to Psycho (1960), Hitchcock's full-bodied foray into cinematic horror (which, coincidentally, co-starred Vera Miles).

Special Features: Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Look Back, featuring interviews with daughter Pat Hitchcock, producers and directors.

More by Bob Grimm

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