Extra Credits

The Oscars' peripheral characters get more play on DVD.

By Leo Charney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 12, 2006

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Scene stealers: Joaquin Phoenix (from left), Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal (below) make way on DVD for other actors' less lauded performances.

Inside every movie there are always other stories fighting to get out. Characters who are sketchy, neglected or wandering around the edges of the frame can pop out at you when you're going through a DVD for the second or 10th time-like an optical illusion where the front recedes and the background looms larger and brighter.

Going back to this year's top Oscar winners on DVD could feel like 2005 all over again-especially since a different movie won each of the top six awards (which hasn't happened since 1956). But even if your brain can't hold one more word about Brokeback Mountain or Philip Seymour Hoffman or Crash-which an Internet poll just named the worst Best Picture winner ever-there are still alternate stories to imagine and lonesome characters to love, not to mention hours of interesting and uninteresting filler.

(Attention emailers: Grades are just for the DVD extras, not for the movies themselves.)

Walk the Line

Watch Johnny Cash's dead-eyed dad and understand what the man in black was rebelling against. Robert Patrick's perfectly cold and self-righteous performance makes you want a prequel showing how the guy got that way. Patrick makes him a human-sized monster, understandable if despicable, which only heightens his snaky allure. Patrick should have gotten an Oscar nomination-but he'd be the front-runner to play Rumsfeld in some future movie about the Bush administration.

What's on the DVD: This one's a model for amplifying a movie with relevant and illuminating DVD content. Choose between a single-disc DVD, with director James Mangold's commentary and 10 deleted scenes, and the much richer double DVD, with an illuminating doc about Cash's influence, three musical scenes from the movie and two featurettes about the Cash/Carter marriage and Cash's legendary appearance at Folsom Prison. Single disc: B Double disc: A


Truman's pal Harper Lee skulks around with dowdy clothes and a drab personality. Suddenly she publishes To Kill a Mockingbird -where did that come from? No one here seems very interested in her story, though they did cast the usually radiant Catherine Keener in the part. Lee's mystery keeps feeling more compelling than Capote's. How come she wrote only one book? What has she done for the rest of her life? Is she a closeted lesbian? There's a great spin-off biopic in someone's future-maybe Keener's own ticket to Oscar.

What's on the DVD: Pretty much what you'd expect-background on Capote,
behind-the-scenes footage and two genial commentary tracks-one from director Bennett Miller and star Philip Seymour Hoffman, and one with Miller and the cinema-
tographer (writer Dan Futterman couldn't make it). It's a perfect fit for the movie's (un-Capote-like) not-too-ambitious vibe. B+

The Constant Gardener

Rachel Weisz got all the award-winning attention, just as her "look at me, I'm a free spirit" character does in the movie. But Ralph Fiennes, shambling around as the love- and then grief-stricken antihero, lives deep inside his part as a man who can't speak the language of his own emotions. Feelings flicker across his almost translucent face like lights switched randomly on and off. His paradoxically volatile stability makes the movie more than just a literal clash of cultures-it's about a man who doesn't know the territory of his body.

What's on the DVD: Not much more than the movie-not even a commentary track. Some typical behind-the-scenes stuff, some background on novelist John Le Carr´┐Ż, some deleted and extended scenes. Gardener's taking the highbrow route, but it would've been great to hear from the very intelligent Fiennes and Weisz. B-

Brokeback Mountain

There's a lifetime of hurt, mystery and evasion in the weary, wary eyes of Jack Twist's mother, unforgettably evoked by Roberta Maxwell in her one scene near the end of the movie. Eyes darting between two taciturn men, Maxwell tells a whole story about her character in a few minutes on-screen-which is more than overrated Michelle Williams manages in all her stagy, weepy speeches as Ennis' wife. And spread some cred to ex-Princess Diarist Anne Hathaway, who shrewdly underplays her critical phone monologue scene, sure to be a future audition favorite.

What's on the DVD: Surprisingly little-watch for a future "Special Collector's Edition" with at least a commentary track (none here) and some cast and crew interviews. For now you get canned featurettes that feel like placeholders on a DVD rushed out to capitalize on Oscar buzz, secure in the cynical knowledge that rabid fans will buy the next one too. C

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