Jason Schwartzman has spent his short
career playing shlubby, oddball intellectuals (He’s
got a part in almost every Wes Anderson film). In
Bored to Death he plays Jonathan Ames, a neurotic
writer who is (barely) working on his second novel. Jonathan
is too preoccupied with smoking pot and drinking—which
is reason enough for his girlfriend Suzanne (the delightful
Olivia Thirlby) to abandon him.
Jonathan inadvertently places an ad
pretending to be a private detective and the season follows
his adventures as he attempts to solve some bizarre cases
that turn pretty hilarious.
The show takes a few episodes to establish
its rhythm and style but the writing soon catches up to
the impressive acting.
The featured players often upstage Schwartzman,
particularly Ted Danson who plays a magazine honcho and
is so side-splittingly funny (the antithesis of his Frobisher
character on Damages) that I can’t comprehend
how he was overlooked for an Emmy nomination. Also providing
great support are Zach Galifianakis and Heather Burns.
And some surprise guest appearances add to the craziness.
Bebe Neuwirth and Kristen Wiig are particularly nutty.
The DVD anamorphic transfer is decent
enough with daytime shots looking much better than nighttime.
It’s nothing special, though, and considering how
new the series is, it should look much better.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds fine
and the music is mixed well.
The enjoyable Special Features include:
four fun audio commentaries; a pretty good “The
Making of Bored to Death” featurettes (20 min.);
a tour-type docu titled “Jonathan Ames’s Brooklyn”
and about seven minutes of funny Deleted Scenes.
I look forward to seeing where Season Two goes
DVD Reviewed by Frank
Original film release date: 1970
Robert Altman was a bold and unconventional
filmmaker whose body of work is unlike any other director.
His films are often subversive, sardonic and euphorically
Brewster McCloud (along with
M*A*S*H earlier the same year) began the true
Altman trend of anti-establishment and conformity, pro-anarchy
and eccentricity. His view of America was at once loving
All of the Altman staples can be found
in Brewster including: strong female characters
(they are the ones in this film that rule the car chase
sequences); overlapping dialogue (which he would master
in Nashville); multiple plots maneuverings
and convergences (Nashville, Short Cuts,
Gosford Park to name a few); marvelously individual
characters who never behave quite the way we expect
them to as well as fantastic and rich use of the widescreen
As the film opens the MGM lion appears
and instead of roaring, we hear Rene Auberjonois’s
voice say: “I forgot the opening line.”
His character, known as The Lecturer, is a kind of narrator
but as the film progresses he metamorphoses into something
Sally Kellerman (Oscar nominated for
M*A*S*H) perfectly embodies Louise, an angelic
figure in a trenchcoat (a figure revisited brilliantly
in the form of Virginia Madsen’s Angel of Death
in Altman’s lovely swan song, A Prairie Home
Companion). Is she a fallen angel? She’s
certainly conniving and devious. And bent on helping
Brewster (the odd and delightful Bud Cort) achieve his
So much more is going on in the film
including a ribbing of some of the popular films of
the day like Shaft, played by soon-to-be Altman
staple Michael Murphy in a hilarious turn as an arrogant
cop who has no real skills, but does have magnificent
blue eyes. Bullitt is also made fun of via
ridiculous car chases that never end quite the way you’d
Even The Wizard of Oz is
referenced repeatedly thanks to the appearance of Margaret
Hamilton as a racist soprano in ruby slippers and Jennifer
Salt (Waldo’s daughter, from TV’s Soap,
now the Eat Pray Love screenwriter) wearing
a dead-on Dorothy outfit.
And we get the early ramblings of
Shelley Duvall, who would go on to star in a slew of
Altman films including Thieves Like Us, Nashville,
3 Women and Popeye.
Did I fail to synopsize the plot in
a cohesive way for you? That was deliberate and my tribute
The DVD box states this is a “Remastered
Edition.” The MGM/UA, laserdisc edition a while
back, was a pretty murky transfer. This 2.40:1 anamorphic
transfer is much better, though not great. Some specs
and spots have not been cleaned up, but the colors look
really good and I am just grateful we finally have a
DVD of this wonderful film.
The 2.0 stereo audio is well-done,
sounds great (we can hear most of the signature Altman
overlapping dialogue) and the fabulous songs are crisp
and mixed well.
There is one sole extra (not a surprise
from an archive pressing) but it is a fascinating curio:
the theatrical trailer. Watching this misrepresentation
of the film proves enlightening. You can feel a befuddled
and confounded studio trying desperately to make the
film appear conventional—the one thing it is certainly,
and most refreshingly, not. How to sell Brewster
McCloud to the masses? If they were simply smart
they would have sold it as an original work from one
of the most original filmmakers of that time. And today,
after five decades of one of the most amazing contributions
to celluloid, it can be said: one of the most original
filmmakers of all-time.
Brewster McCloud is
a highly ambitious, deliberately erratic film about
a serial killer who wants to fly. No, it’s about
a boy who shuns racism and the establishment. No, it’s
a send-up of just how ridiculous cops are. No, its…it’s
whatever you take away from it. Altman allows the viewer
a part in the process, so if you’re willing to
work a bit, the results are often sublime.
The Complete Third Season
DVD review by
Frank J. Avella
Spotted: An oxymoron. An intelligent
show about teens.
The CW’s Gossip Girl
has managed to survive three seasons without relying
too much on tired soap plots. The writing isn’t
as crisp as previous seasons, but the show still packs
a punch and keeps viewers on the edge of their seats
with exciting cliffhanger endings and good storytelling.
Based on the best-selling series by
Cecily von Ziegesar, the show now follows our favorite
Upper East Siders to college—some of them anyway.
Long-lost sons, a long-presumed dead mother, a long-absent
father, are just a few of the surprises in store. Season
Three is loaded with plot twists and turns that
really rev things up mid-way through and there’s
quite a finale to keep audiences hungry for Season Four.
The cast, for the most part, continues
to shine—especially the gorgeous Leighton Meester
as Blair Waldorf. Her scenes with the terrific Ed Westwick,
as Chuck Bass, are some of the best on television. Kelly
Rutherford as Lily and Matthew Settle as Rufus continue
to do good work, although it’s frustrating to
watch the writers find new ways to rattle and upset
this wonderful couple. Rutherford deserves her own series.
Blake Lively is just a fabulous Serena—chock
full of complexities and insecurities. Long may Serena
and Blair reign. Guest appearance by the stunning Laura
Harring (Mulholland Drive) and Aaron Tveit
are also quite welcome. I hope Season Four
reintroduces the Tveit character.
Chace Crawford's acting abilities
have yet to be challenged. He's really nice to look
at and may very well be a decent enough actor. Time
will tell. Look for him in an upcoming Bruce Beresford
film with Jane Fonda."
On the minus side: Taylor Momsen,
as Jenny, went to the Kristen Stewart school of acting.
She does petulant very well, but can’t muster
much else. And Penn Badgley, as her brother Dan, is
just irksome. In Season One he was marginally
likeable. Now, he’s just annoying—the character
and the actor. Finally, Jessica Szohr, as Vanessa, has
little to no appeal. I just wish Dan and Vanessa would
move away somewhere--preferably to the island on Lost—and
take Jenny as a pet.
The DVD anamorphic transfer looks
amazing with the Upper East Side and other locales popping
nicely. The sound is also quite good.
The paltry Special Features
include a gag reel and two GG-oriented Lady Gaga videos:
“Bad Romance” and “Bitch.” There
is also a featurette titled “A Gossip Girl Fabulous
Affair: Throwing a Party Gossip Girl Style.” What
fans crave, though, are interviews with these wonderful
stars. Perhaps Season Four will oblige.
Own it now on DVD (release: August
Note: if you visit www.gossipgirltvondvd.com,
you’ll be able to connect to the GG facebook
page and read fabricated gossip about randomly chosen
friends and try and guess who it is.
Pornography A Thriller
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
The DVD release of the mindbending
feature, Pornography A Thriller, gave me the
opportunity to view it a third time. Was it less confusing?
No. But it still held my interest and fascinated me
The Mulholland Drive-esque narrative approach
is refreshing as writer/director David Kittredge asks
compelling and disturbing questions and refuses to answer
them in any direct, cohesive or obvious way.
Pornography explores the nature of desire and
why people are drawn to porn. The movie also delves
into the dark side of the industry and how aficionados
of porn (as well as folks in general) are soon bored
with the same old-same old sexually, and crave the new
and thrilling—and how dangerous losing oneself
in fantasy can be.
Kittredge is a clever filmmaker and he keeps the mystery
of his crazy/crackers/cuckoo narrative alive. He even
pokes fun at the expectations—requirements that
audiences have (thanks mostly to Hollywood) that films
be simple and packaged---all must be explained in the
end…well, not in this madflick! Kittredge dares
the audience to fill in their own blanks—to think,
for a change—to piece it together themselves,
but to also ruminate on their own complicity in the
necessity for pornography.
Broken into three specific portions, the film first
chronicles the last few days in the life of porn star
Mark Anton (Jared Grey). The bracingly lengthy scene
between Alton and the sleazy producer is compelling
and a perfect example of how well written, directed
and acted the film is. The look of this first segment
has a very gritty, 70s-movie feel to it with a porno-blue
Just when you’re settling in for being unsettled,
the film jarringly switches gears as we flash forward
14 years and writer Michael Castigan (a believably grungy
Matthew Montgomery) is investigating the actual disappearance
of Anton. He has just moved into a new place with his
lover and the apartment seems to hold some clues to
the ever-growing mystery.
But don’t get too comfy because just when you
feel you’re becoming as unhinged as the characters
onscreen, the film shifts a third time as we watch porn
star/writer/director-wannabe Matt Stevens (Pete Scherer)
writing the story of Mark Anton. Apparently he’s
been dreaming his life, not even certain there was ever
a real Mark Anton, and has been typing it into a porn
extravaganza. Stevens insists on playing Anton and directing.
Many of the characters in this segment resemble people
in the first and second segments.
The surreality of the situation reaches a plateau as
the film speeds towards its ambiguous and spellbinding
The cast is mostly above par with Jared Grey and Pete
Scherer particularly outstanding as the porn star and
The film’s murky, deliberately erratic visuals
transfer fairly well (aspect ratio: 1.66:1) while the
Dolby audio is adequate.
Extras include: a 13-minute, sound-bite-heavy
Featurette, 19 minutes of Deletes Scenes that actually
fill in some plot holes while managing to delightfully
confuse things further as well as a chatty, playful
and sometimes insightful Audio Commentary by Kittredge,
producer Sean Abley and three of the actors (Montgomery,
Sherer and Grey).
For gay (and straight) audiences that
like being challenged by their films, this is the film
to buy or rent. If you want mindless, best to go elsewhere…like
Koppelman & David Levien’s
BLU-RAY Review by Frank J. Avella
I missed this sleeper earlier in the
year, and now I get all the Oscar buzz around Michael
Douglas. Just when I was about to write him off and
declare that his last great performance was in The
Wonder Boys in 2000 (for which he should have been
nominated), along comes this wonderful gem where Douglas
gets to play an uncompromising, womanizing cad with
such believability, I began to weep for Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Douglas is fearless and directors Brian Koppelman (who
also wrote the crisp and lean script) and David Levien
refuse to compromise his character and force out a feel-good
movie. Thank the cinema gods!
Douglas plays Ben Kalmen who, for
spoiler-reasons I won’t go into, begins an ethical
and moral downward spiral that includes: cheating on
his now ex-wife (Susan Sarandon); embezzling monies
at his auto dealership; and even sleeping with the teenage
daughter of his current girlfriend…for which he
pays a high price.
Ben does whatever it takes to get
what he wants. In a particularly wince-inducing moment,
he even tries to steal the girlfriend of a young college
kid he is mentoring. It’s rock bottom, to say
Besides Douglas, the ensemble is uniformly
excellent. Susan Sarandon simply ups the quality-ante
of any film she appears in. This is no different. With
her cast as the ex, we wonder why he would ever even
think of hurting her. Mary-Louise Parker has some fun
playing a woman with wealth and power. Jenna Fischer
shines as Ben’s long-suffering daughter. Imogen
Poots mixes just the right measure of bitch and cocktease.
And Olivia Thirlby has a kickass (uncredited) scene
where she gets to put Ben in his place.
It’s definitely a Michael Douglas year with the
Wall Street sequel right around the corner.
Solitary Man proves he is still working at
the top of his craft and willing to take risks.
Solitary Man looks better
on Blu-Ray than an indie has a right to. The film’s
theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is nicely preserved
in the transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is clear
and crisp enhancing Michael Penn’s impressive
score as well as the Johnny Cash rendition of the title
The paltry extras include: a decent
commentary featuring the directors and actor Douglas
McGrath (who is in the film briefly); a ridiculously
short (11-minutes) Making of docu titled, ‘Solitary
Man: Alone in the Crowd’ and the original trailer.
Whether you get it on DVD or
Blu-Ray I do recommend this film.
Released September 7, 2010