Latest Software Reviews
This avant-garde documentary traces the weeks of rehearsal leading up to a 2000 play by playwright and director Sam Shepard, based on his relationship with his own alcoholic father. Shepard assembled a cast that included Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, and Woody Harrelson, and while it's interesting to watch these pros prepare for their curtain call, they all seem to get along too well to make this more than an occasionally interesting behind-the-scenes look at live theater. The best drama—whether fiction or reality television—comes from conflict, but there's none to be found here, despite the disc jacket's claim that the play's characters "set off a powder keg of emotions so explosive that the actors themselves are drawn into the fray." This is just dull, and even Shepard appears to be dozing off during some of the script-reading sessions. The best moment comes when Harrelson and Penn, apparently competing with Nolte for the title Most Scruffy Looking Actor, bust each other's chops on some of their past film choices (yes, Shanghai Surprise comes into the conversation).
Produced by IFC Films, the full-screen video exhibits a raw, grainy look, as if the film were shot with a high-quality analog camcorder. Some shots are blurred momentarily as the camera looks for a focal point, like many a home video. While this may lend an immediate, you-are-there look, it mostly comes off as low budget. Audio is Dolby Digital mono, and is adequate for the material.
There are no extras whatsoever, making this disc as sparse as the subject matter itself.—Gary Frisch
DVD: Walt Disney Treasures (Wave 4)—Buena Vista
Disney's latest vault exploration has resulted in three new two-disc collections. The Mickey Mouse Club (Week One) presents the first five Mouseketeer meetings in their full, one-hour broadcast versions from October 1955. Mickey Mouse in Black and White (Volume Two) includes more than 40 Mickey cartoons from 1928 to 1935 and is a companion piece to the original Treasures collection of early Mickey shorts released in 2002. The Complete Pluto (Volume One) offers 26 cartoons from 1930 to 1947 that either starred or featured Mickey's pet pooch.
As with other Treasures sets, these releases include bonus features full of interesting archival and contemporary material. All have interviews with animators or cast members, plus galleries of sketches and/or still photos from the original productions. Each has a feature or two tailored to its particular subject matter—the Mickey Mouse Club set, for example, includes rare rehearsal footage shot in color—plus behind-the-scenes views of Walt's hands-on involvement in each project.
The sets are presented 1.33:1 format, and most of the restored footage looks as fresh as the day the cells were inked. Only the earliest Mickey cartoons aren't pristine, but even with their minor imperfections they still look pretty darn good for their age. The Dolby Digital soundtracks are clear and clean, though they won't give any of your speakers much of a workout.—Drew Hardin