Oscar Underdogs on DVD
Written by Frank J. Avella
Dev Patel and Freida Pinto
major Oscar winners have recently been released
on DVD and both easily prove why they won numerous
awards and are considered to be among the best of
2008. Each deserve to find a larger audience on
the small screen.
the little crowd-pleaser that came dangerously close
to not getting theatrical distribution, is given
a striking digital transfer, looking as mesmerizing
as it did in theaters.
Winner of a whopping
eight Academy Awards, this gem is a structurally
brilliant tour of today’s Mumbai via the young
but turbulent life of three of its more destitute
citizens, particularly, Jamal, our Who Wants
To Be a Millionaire contestant/protagonist.
Helmer Danny Boyle’s
frenetic style all but engulfs the viewer, never
allowing us a moment to breathe. I almost paused
once but didn’t want to lose the momentum—and
I had already seen the film twice! I have always
been an advocate for seeing films in theaters, but
I was even more moved by the intimacy of this film
in the home theater format.
Anthony Dod Mantle’s
breathtaking camerawork and Chris Dickens’
precise editing along with A.R. Rahman’s infectious
score enhance Simon Beaufoy’s clever script.
And in the hands of Boyle, the film nearly jumps
out of the TV. All of the above won well-deserved
The disc is abundant
with special features including over 30-minutes
of enjoyable deleted and extended scenes, the last
two in particular help to fill in some of the plot
blanks (they’re not vital, but are certainly
interesting) and others add to the film experience.
Two separate commentary
tracks allow us to enjoy the schoolboy excitement
of Danny Boyle and Dev Patel as they provide scene
specific insights as well as producer Christian
Colson and Beaufoy’s comments.
a pretty standard documentary, features further
reflections on the making of the film including
the fact that it was Beaufoy that made up the word
The film is in 2.35:1
widescreen. DVD audio is 5.1 Dolby Surround.
Sean Penn is quite
simply one of the best actors of his generation,
but rarely will an actor win two Oscars in a five
year time-span. The main reason Penn won again so
shortly after taking home the gold for Mystic
River in 2004 is because HE DESERVED IT. Penn’s
performance is the reason cinephiles get excited
about acting. His Milk is an absolute immersion
into the body, mind and spirit of this gay icon.
It is not an impersonation or recreation as much
as it is a melding of who Milk was with who Penn
chose to create. He is captivating from beginning
The DVD is a testament
to this amazing achievement.
Credit must also
go to director Gus Van Sant who breaks so many of
the predictable rules of the biopic and has fashioned
a galvanizing gay rights film that is as urgent
as it is relevant. With the passage of Proposition
8 in California, Milk proves timely and
has the balls to boldly stand for human rights without
ever seeming preachy or didactic.
Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black is responsible for
the smartly structured and perfectly calibrated
filmmaking at its best and boasts great camerawork,
deft editing as well as an impressive ensemble,
including a wonderfully nuanced performance by the
underrated James Franco.
The film looks fantastic on DVD with perfect color
saturation. The blending of archival footage with
Van Sant’s work is remarkably effective.
The special features
include: a 13-minute documentary titled Remembering
Harvey, with interviews of some of Harvey Milk’s
friends but, strangely, no footage of Milk himself;
an 8-minute short called March for Equality
as well as a paltry 3 minutes and 46 seconds of
deleted scenes. The highlight is the way-too-short
14-minute Hollywood Comes to San Francisco feature,
an insightful and entertaining “Making of”
segment that boasts interviews with many of the
creative team (although Penn and Van Sant are not
among the interviewees).
The brevity of the
bonus materials is a great disappointment in an
otherwise terrific package. One can only hope there
is a Special Edition planned where we can get some
true meat to the story of the making of this landmark
presented in widescreen 1.85:1 and enhanced for
16x9 television screens.Audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital.
Also out on DVD
Steve Sandvoss and Nick
Wechsler in Fling
an edgy and exciting film that deserved a theatrical
run, even if it fails to live up to its provocative
premise. The opening segments begin brazenly enough
as we meet our two lovers at a wedding and soon
realize they’re in an open relationship that
appears to keep them both carnally content. The
hand-held technique, reminiscent of Rachel Getting
Married—especially in the opening scenes,
adds to the sexually-infused, refreshingly honest
feel of the film.
the first hour, a cliché’ plot contrivance
derails the narrative and it never recovers—worse,
the writers (director John Stewart Muller and producer
Laura Boersma) start to moralize and judge their
characters instead of continuing the enlightening
exploration they so ambitiously began.
The acting is adequate.
Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) gets top
billing even though his role is a supporting one
but the real breakout performance is by Steve Sandvoss
who does so much more with Mason than the dialogue
would normally allow. Nick Wechsler is also a standout
as Mason’s best friend/manager.
The DVD is nice to
look at (especially since so many of the young cast
are nice to look at). Much is shot in close up and
that bodes well on the small screen. The audio,
however, is often muffled and the dialogue is sometimes
difficult to hear.
special features include commentary by the director,
producer and cinematographer as well as deleted
and extended scenes that include a hilarious turn
by NY stage actress Deborah Rush. There are some
neat interviews with the actors and a cheesily put
together ‘making of’ documentary.
New York Theatre:
Before Meryl Streep came of age onscreen, one woman
dominated the films of the late 60s into the early
80s. She was rightly considered the most outstanding
actress of her day. Then she made a few, self-admitted,
misguided career- and life-choices and disappeared
from the screen until…recently.
Jane Fonda has, thankfully,
reappeared onscreen and…on Broadway! After
a 46 year absence onstage, at 71, Fonda easily proves
why she received all the accolades she did in her
film heyday. 33 Variations, by Moises Kaufman,
is a fascinating and ambitious work that never quite
achieves greatness, yet Fonda transcends the material
and creates an amazing portrait of a woman trying
desperately to understand the significance of her
life…and of life in general, through her appreciation
of music. It’s a masterful performance that
should not be missed by anyone who appreciates great
The revival of Noel
Coward’s silly but funny Blithe Spirit
has a quartet of marvelous thespians to keep it
alive as well as Michael Blakemore’s smart
direction. Go see it, if only for the delightful
Angela Lansbury (a legend still going strong at
83!), the delectable Rupert Everett, the delovely
Christine Ebersole and, stealing every scene she
is in, the divine Jayne Atkinson.
Even when the play disappoints, these titans soar.
Over at the City
Center Encores! series they continue to push the
staging parameters with a rousing revival of Finian’s
The spirited musical
first bowed in 1947 and played 725 performances.
With a memorable score by Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg,
the show’s social lessons make it feel quite
dated, yet the fiscally cynical theme gives the
show a renewed bite in 2009. If only the book were
richer and Act Two had more bite. What makes this
production so worthwhile are the wonderful performances
by many in the ensemble. The always dashing Cheyenne
Jackson is so charming as Woody, you want to see
more of him.
Newcomer Kate Baldwin is enchanting and her stirring
rendition of the show’s signature song, “How
are Things in Glocca Morra,” stops the show.
Jim Norton, so good in The Seafarer last year, is
a delight as Finian even with his limited vocal
abilities. And Alina Faye’s graceful dancing
is absolutely captivating.
For me, Francis Ford
Coppola’s underrated 1968 film adaptation
with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark, is the perfect
time capsule version of the show, but this production
allows a new generation to appreciate the many wonders
to be found in a show that, in its day, was pretty