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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

The DVD Geek: Harry Brown

A British remake of Death Wish with the inspired casting of Michael Caine in the title role, Harry Brown, has been released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.  Caine’s character, a former marine who is no stranger to violence, is a widower living in whatever the British version is of public housing.  His one friend is murdered by the slacker punks who generally terrorize the area, and so Caine’s character systematically wreaks his vengeance while a police detective, played by Emily Mortimer, gradually pieces together what is going on.  The 2009 film has limited artistic merit.  Despite its political undertones in addressing the connections between poverty and anarchy, the villains are superficially nasty in a classic, exploitation movie sort of way.  While Caine’s character is more realistically vulnerable than Charles Bronson, the purpose of the movie is to root for the old guy and disdain the snotty youngsters.  It’s an efficient formula and, thanks primarily to Caine, remains essentially entertaining.  The class he brings to the part, in fact, makes the 103-minute movie highbrow and lowbrow, simultaneously.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The colors are generally drained and yellowish on purpose, and the movie’s grungy look is in keeping with its setting and environment.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has a modest dimensionality, and there are optional English subtitles.  17 minutes of deleted scenes have also been included.  They answer a few story questions but were sensibly excised.  Doubling the value of the DVD, however, is a commentary track with director Daniel Barber, producer Kris Thykier and, most importantly, Caine.  Caine’s contributions to the chat are super.  As they go over how the film was staged and what went on during the shoot, Caine shares many terrific anecdotes about his career, including marvelous stories about Charles Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock (who wanted Caine for Frenzy and was annoyed when Caine turned him down), and quite a few excellent insights to his craft.  “Stanislavsky is very good for movie actors, because the basic tenet is the rehearsal is the work and the performance is the relaxation.  If you’re still working on the performance in front of the camera, the camera will spot it.  It’s got to be the relaxation.  They talk about theater acting and film acting as though it’s a similar thing.  It’s a completely different animal.  I always remember when I was in theater the first time, my voice wasn’t very loud.  You know, I didn’t have one of these ‘actor voices,’ and the producer said, ‘Michael,’ he said, ‘There’s a man right in the back of the balcony who has paid to hear every word you say.  Let’s have some projection.’  In a movie, you’ve got to cover up any acting that you’re doing from a camera that is three feet away.  That’s how different it is.  And the problem with a lot of critics is that they start out as theater critics and move into film, and you see the most hammy performances getting great reviews and then the same guys, if you give a movie performance, they say, ‘I think he was just playing himself because he didn’t do anything.’”

The picture on the Blu-ray is a little sharper, but the colors remain deliberately ‘brownish’ and bland.  The DTS track, however sharpens the details on the audio, enhancing the thrill of the action scenes and making the film more involving over all.  The subtitling and special feature options are the same as the DVD.

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon