The Austin Chronicle

Hearing Voices

Movie stars say the darnedest things on DVD commentary tracks

January 17, 2003, Screens

A requisite on most new releases, the DVD commentary track is becoming an institution unto itself. We bring you an exceedingly random sampling of tracks, revealing insider dish, impressions of Mommy, and the startling depths of one movie star's know-how (or lack thereof).


Universal Home Video, $29.98 Fact: Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the only actors to demand payment for his DVD commentary. Whatever they paid him, it was worth it: Schwarzenegger's conversation with Conan director John Milius is perhaps his best work in decades. Incessantly yukking it up while repeatedly frustrating the other's attempts to steer the conversation in any productive direction, these two men come off as some kind of postmodern reimagining of the radio-comedy team. Witness this priceless bit of fight-scene repartee:

John Milius: You're totally innocent here. ... You've never had any kind of fight with anybody. ... All you can rely on is animal reaction.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Oh yeah, that's right. I remember now. That guy was biting me seriously, huh? ... Then I break his arm.

JM: There's nothing, nothing slick about that fight. It's just ...

AS: ... just the pounding him in the head and then breaking his head.

This kind of exchange is common in the Conan commentary; every time Milius attempts to elevate the discussion with comments like "Conan is an intellectual ... a man of deep philosophies," Schwarzenegger pounds it back down again, giving away Conan's ending 10 minutes into the film and repeatedly stating the obvious, as in, "Now we are running," and "Now he's putting [the sword] in the snow." The two leer at every female who comes onscreen, including a limbless, gutted torso about which Schwarzenegger cries, "There's a corpse that's got really big tits!" At one point, the star boasts to his director, "I was getting laid a lot in this movie. It was amazing. ... Remember, she was, like, totally sweating and oiled up, huh?" then adds: "It was a great scene, actually, because it was done really tastefully." Just as Milius' high-minded references predictably zoom over Schwarzenegger's head, Schwarzenegger's sometimes surreally naive line of questioning (he doesn't appear to know what a mill does, what grain is for, or where it comes from, nor does he remember that there was a sequel to Conan and that he starred in it) accidentally draws the viewer into closer scrutiny of the plot's most gaping holes. In the process, the two wind up robbing this action classic of a bit of its dignity but trade it in for the lightheartedness it always seemed to need. -- Will Robinson Sheff


Warner Home Video, $29.95 Del Toro's Blade 2 managed to outdo Stephen Norrington's original film in almost every respect, so it's not surprising that this two-disc DVD is similarly outstanding. Put bluntly (as would del Toro), it kicks major ass, loaded as it is with two commentary tracks from, respectively, del Toro with producer Peter Frankfurt and star Wesley Snipes with writer David Goyer. That said, it's the former commentary track that really stands out, and while it's become de facto that virtually each and every new DVD release out there includes a commentary track (whether the film merits it or not), few if any recent films boast this kind of revelatory, passionate, and just plain entertaining gabfest as the one given by del Toro and Frankfurt. As del Toro repeatedly compares the film's flawless art direction (courtesy of Elinor Rose Galbraith, Jaromir Svarc, and James F. Truesdale) to the comic work of Mike Mignola (whose Hellboy will be del Toro's next film), Frankfurt chimes in with a disagreeing "Guillermo has his finger prints on it; he's licked it; it's totally 100% del Toro." Unlike so many other commentary tracks, del Toro and Frankfurt have plenty to say; the banter, much of it mildly off color (the subject of "sperm removal" pops up repeatedly) and unabashedly fanboy-ish, is impossible to turn off. You'll want to have watched the film with the commentary off first, of course, but once you've got it on, it's utterly engrossing. Closer to listening to a supremely fascinating game of Trivial Pursuit and comic brinkmanship (Fact: That motorcycle vampire, Rush, who Blade lets go and then returns to in the end is played by none other than Spanish national treasure, comedian Santiago Segura) than the too-often dry and overly cineaste-oriented commentary tracks of the Criterion Collection et al., this is riveting stuff, equal in all ways to del Toro's blood-drenched and triumphant comic-book masterstroke. -- Marc Savlov


Fox Lorber, $19.98 Isn't every Margaret Cho fan really in it for the impressions of her mom? In Margaret's stage act, the unsinkable Mrs. "Mommy" Young Cho puzzles over gay porn and torments her progeny via answering machine. On the DVD of Notorious C.H.O., "Mrs. Cho" chortles and howls on the commentary track, checking out the fans ("Oh ... very sparkling drag queen!") and telling yarns about growing up in Korea (where, in lean times, she learned to make gum from wax paper). It's cute, if not quite the knee-slapper one might expect, lacking the impact the impression makes when it pops up as part of Margaret's material. At 95 minutes, Notorious is on the lengthy side for a concert film, and the commentary runs a bit longer still. Cute as she is, that's a lot of Mrs. Cho. So Margaret shares the mic with two voice actors (they're billed only as "Mrs. Cho and Friends") in the roles of a sassy neighbor and a police officer. The setup is forced and makes for a lot of nattering (about the Food Network, about casseroles, about Margaret's too-small shirt). When it's on, it's on. Mrs. Cho thinks "fisting" is a kind of embroidery stitch and doesn't like the Renaissance Festival ("Too many knights!"). She's deliciously random and loopy but as unflappable as ever, even in light of Margaret's increasing raunchiness. (Describing a well-hung "leather daddy," Margaret says, "His dick had a dick." Mrs. Cho's response: "Oh, they can do that?") Bits of personal trivia also make the commentary worthwhile for the ardent Cho buff. But the real show is onstage. -- Marrit Ingman


Twentieth Century Fox Home Video, $14.98"This film kind of does need Cliff's Notes."

-- Donnie Darko director, Richard Kelly

Fans of Kelly's stunning but somewhat inscrutable debut may still be puzzling over exactly what happened back there. Finally, the director explains all about his fiercely imagined universe, where a troubled teen is summoned by a man in a rabbit suit to save the world through violence. Joined by the movie's infinitely crushworthy star Jake Gyllenhaal (altogether now: JILL-en-hall), Kelly elucidates the time travel at the story's heart as well as how he achieved his eerie, elegant shots. The commentary is compelling, with amusing tangents, like when the actor cuts off another one of Kelly's deconstructions to explain that during one scene, he was just really hungry. (Kelly: "I was in the middle of a pretentious reference to a famous photograph, and you interrupted me to say that?" Gyllenhaal: "People want to know about how an actor motivates, and I was motivated by sausage-pepperoni-pineapple pizza.") Overlooked during its theatrical run, Donnie Darko is finally finding an audience on video and DVD. Just try finding it on the rental shelves. (Word to the wise: Waterloo.) This is for anyone who wonders why. -- Sarah Hepola


Artisan Home Entertainment, $26.98 Been gone too long, QT has, but the new online teaser trailer for Kill Bill certainly gets the mouth watering. We've still a while to wait for that one, but the 10th anniversary disc for Reservoir Dogs is a welcome distraction, crammed to the gills with goodies, including an audio track with commentary from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, executive producer (and longtime cult fave) Monte Hellman, DP Andrzej Sekula, editor Sally Menke, and actors Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, and Kirk Baltz. The interviews were all taped separately, which means no sounding off each other and too much opportunity for self-congratulation, but let's be honest: We're in it for Quent. He's not in it enough. When he does take the mic, he's informative and engaging, but too rarely does he launch into hyper-animated mode. (An exception: He rants about when Dogs' nonlinear structure is wrongly labeled as flashback: "I'll let you know when it's a fucking flashback.") Other highlights include Tarantino's reflections on Roth's audition process (they got shitfaced then read the script out loud at 2am, a process, Tarantino recalls, not unlike Uma Thurman's tryout for Pulp Fiction) and on Madsen's sicko Stealers Wheel dance ("I defy anyone to not enjoy it a little"). The same might be said for the DVD commentary track. Maybe more than a little. -- Kimberley Jones

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