Jack Nicholson should have won the Best Actor Oscar last April. Granted, he has won numerous times before and it was nice to watch Adrien Brody’s zeal as he received his Oscar and did the deed that many men have been dreaming about for the past five years: French kissed Halle Berry. [Note: This writer has not seen The Pianist because of Polanski’s history as a child rapist. Perhaps, now that it is on video, he will borrow it so his money does not support a pedophile.] However, it was Nicholson’s performance, above all the other nominees I did, in fact, see that was deserving of the golden statue.
Nicholson is guided by a funny and moving script written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the team behind the brilliant dark comedy Election. While its predecessor is black and sharp, About Schmidt is a bit more subtle and rewarding.
It follows Warren Schmidt, a former insurance salesman, through his retirement while he copes with the sudden death of his wife and allowing his daughter to marry a waterbed salesman/pyramid scheme pioneer all while writing letters to his new foster child, Ndugu.
The second time I watched this film was on DVD and with my mother. She looked at me during the opening fifteen minutes and simply said “Grandpa”. It had occurred to me, on my previous viewing, that Nicholson’s character was almost a mirror image of my grandfather. By providing Nicholson talent with a realistic and sympathetic character, supported by Payne and Taylor’s script and the book the film was based on, the audience is more drawn towards the character and can, almost immediately, think of someone in their life who Warren is based upon. This results in providing more of an emotional investment in the narrative that makes the film’s resolution and Nicholson’s performance that much more rewarding.
One of the second most rewarding performances of 2002 was put forth by Adam Sandler. Usually one of my least favorite actors, Sandler’s films fail to amuse me and only supply me with excess time (usually about an hour and a half) to contemplate a method of suicide. However, his much praised collaboration with Scorsese poser Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) proves to buck the much established trend. Punch-Drunk Love also follows one character, Sandler’s Barry Egan. Egan is a novelty toiletry salesman and an overall lonely loser. He calls phone sex lines to try and get to know people and suffers from occasional violent outbursts when picked on. However, his life is thrown on a crash course when he meets Lena (Emily Watson) and he begins to actually open up to another person, all while fending off a bunch of phone sex operators and collecting Healthy Choice pudding.
While Anderson’s previous films have, on the whole, seemed to be style over substance (they are still favorites of mine), he scales back his visual and audio assault and allows the performances to take center stage (except for the interludes which are incredibly enjoyable in all of their surreal glory). He seems to finally be finding the balance between his stories and the method of his storytelling. He allows Sandler and Watson to share their dialogue without the distraction of rapid cutting or reflexive camera techniques. In short, he takes more of a Billy Wilder approach to a Fellini movie.
There has been a belief amongst DVD consumers lately that extra features are a requirement of any (or at least most) DVDs. While movie companies have somewhat strayed away from multiple disc, extra saturated DVDs (Fox along with Columbia and other DVD manufactures have cut many of their formerly two-disc sets down to one due to costs). The majority of people I’ve spoken to do not seem to care if their edition has a commentary track or those HBO making of specials. They watch the movie because that’s the reason they bought the disc. All it needs, to them, are a good video and audio transfer. While some people, myself included, do enjoy special editions we must consider that these are exactly that: extra. People buy books to read them and compact discs to listen to them, and extras should not be expected, let alone be the determining factor in buying a DVD.
With this said, both About Schmidt and Punch-Drunk Love both come with their share of extra features. Included with the Schmidt package are a number of deleted scenes (and explanation for their exclusion from the finished film), a short film featuring the Woodmen Building (the one from the opening credits), and trailers. Punch-Drunk Love brings a little more to the table in the form of a 2nd disc of bonus features (it’s a Superbit disc so a glorious sound and video transfer grace the first disc). Included is the extremely hilarious Mattress Man commercial (Phillip Seymour Hoffman continues to kick some ass in P.T. Anderson movies), a twenty minute short which basically serves as an abridged version of the film, a number of the surreal interludes from the film, a montage of Jeremy Blake’s artwork, and theatrical trailers. Basically, two of the best films of 2002 reach the DVD medium with beautiful transfers and some nice extras. (On a side note, I would like to apologize for my lack of reviews. Mainly due to writer’s block, work, finding an apartment, and an overall lack of money/ambition. Stay tuned, hopefully, for another double feature next week of Gangs of New York and There’s Something More About Mary.)
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