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ALL GOOD THINGS Blu-ray



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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted April 18 2011 - 07:25 AM

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All Good Things (Blu-ray)

 



All Good Things is based on the life of real estate heir Robert Durst, but most of the names have been changed, because the film sticks closely to known facts and draws the same conclusion that anyone who followed the story reached long ago: that Durst – excuse me, “David Marks” – killed his wife and got away with it. Even if legal considerations prevented director Andrew Jarecki from using real names (though he claims otherwise), that didn’t stop him from presenting this grim tale of a damaged man whose wealth lets him make others suffer for his sins and those of his family. Ryan Gosling does his best to make sense of the Durst character, but he remains a cipher. Kirsten Dunst gives a heart-rending performance as the doomed Katie Marks, but it’s the supporting players who steal the show: Frank Langella as the Marks family’s domineering patriarch, and Lily Rabe as David’s best friend from college, Deborah Lehrman, who may or may not know more than she should.




All Good Things wasn’t successful with either critics or audiences – I address the film’s problems below – but it’s worth seeking out on disc, because the disc offers something that changes the viewing experience: a commentary track with Durst himself. Listen to the track after watching the film, and you’ll see it in a whole new light.










Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment

Rated: R

Film Length: 101 min.

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

HD Encoding: 1080p

HD Codec: AVC

Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish

MSRP: $29.98

Disc Format: 1 50GB

Package: Keepcase

Theatrical Release Date: Nov. 5, 2010 (on demand); Dec. 3, 2010 (limited theatrical)

Blu-ray Release Date: Mar. 29, 2011










The Feature:


Note: Jarecki claims in the commentary that he changed the names to give the actors “distance” on their characters, but he also acknowledges being contacted by lawyers for the Durst Organization. I’ll stick with the film’s names, but for names, dates and other information about the Durst case, consult this entry in Wikipedia.




The film is presented as an extended flashback, with a middle-aged David Marks (Gosling) giving testimony at a criminal trial, under gentle questioning from a skilled defense attorney (veteran Broadway star John Cullum). The questioning takes us back to 1971, when David is working for his father, Sanford Marks (Langella), head of one of New York City’s largest real estate firms. The Marks family owns numerous properties in Times Square, which, in that era, was the neon den of iniquity that Travis Bickle famously hoped to see washed away by a “real rain” from heaven. Many of Sanford Marks’ tenants pay in cash, and one of David’s jobs is to make the collections.




David also does whatever odd jobs his father orders. One day, David is en route to a social function his father has arranged so that he can meet movers and shakers, including the next senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (one of the few real names used in the film, played by Francis Guinan). But his father diverts David to fix a leak in the kitchen of a beautiful young tenant who has just moved to Manhattan from Long Island. Her name is Katie (Dunst), and David, instantly smitten, invites her to accompany him to his father’s party. The senior Marks doesn’t approve. Katie doesn’t see it yet, but she’s already stepped into the crossfire between father and son. It’s a fight that goes back to early childhood, when David witnessed his mother’s suicide.



Another relationship over which Katie stumbles is between David and his college friend Deborah (Rabe). The product of a family with mob connections (the father of the real-life counterpart was a partner of Bugsy Siegel), Deborah is an outsized personality who seems to have insight into David shared by no one else. Their special relationship remains a mystery.




Within a few years, David and Katie marry. Her family thinks she’s grabbed the brass ring, especially her brother, Jim (Nick Offerman from Parks and Recreation). But the newlyweds promptly leave Manhattan for Vermont, where they open a health food store called All Good Things and try to lead a simple life. It doesn’t last long. Papa Marks is a man who’s used to getting his way, and he uses every trick he knows to pressure David back into the family business. Katie gets a fabulous Manhattan apartment and a country house in Westchester out of the deal, but the marriage begins to crumble.




The turning point is the issue of children. Katie, who comes from a large family, wants them desperately, but David won’t hear of it. In a heartbreaking sequence, he forces her to have an abortion, and nothing is ever the same. Katie comforts herself with the Seventies party scene and cocaine (courtesy of a friend named Lauren, wonderfully played by SNL’s Kristen Wiig). There are arguments, physical confrontations and consultations with a divorce attorney. The couple begin living separate lives. Eventually Katie gets herself together and begins attending nursing school. Then she applies to medical school and is accepted. Shortly thereafter, in 1982, she vanishes without a trace.




Police investigations and public appeals produce no leads. Then, in 2000, the Westchester D.A., Janice Rizzo (Diane Venora), reopens the case with great public fanfare. (Her real-life counterpart, Jeanine Piro, was one of the biggest publicity hounds ever to hold a job in law enforcement.) David flees to Galveston, Texas, to avoid the limelight. There he strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly man played by Philip Baker Hall, and events ensue that are so bizarre and improbable that no one would believe them, if extensive court transcripts didn’t attest to their occurrence. Ultimately, two murders occur, and one of them results in the trial at which David’s testimony provides the narrative spine of the film.




Jarecki and his two screenwriters (one, Marc Smerling, is a veteran of Capturing the Friedmans) spent years researching the Durst case, but when it came time to make All Good Things, they seem to have gotten caught between conflicting impulses, which are evident in their extensive remarks in the special features. On the one hand, they were making a narrative drama, not a documentary. Working from real events so extreme that no embellishment was required, they wanted to tell a story with a dramatic arc that would engage an audience emotionally. But on the other hand, having spent so much time and effort tracking down the available facts and, in the process, getting to know people whose lives had been deeply affected, they clearly felt a crushing responsibility to “get it right”, to speak for the victims and to afford the survivors some measure of closure.


These two impulses end up sabotaging each other. Especially with material that is inherently lurid and tabloid-ready, effective storytelling requires a degree of creative license, not a documentarian’s restraint. Throughout All Good Things, the two central characters remain at arm’s length from the viewer – puzzling beings about whom we’re given a lot of information but to whom we’re never drawn close. This is no fault of the actors; Gosling and Dunst do fine work and have never had trouble connecting with audiences in the past. Here, though, they seem to have been directed to hold back, as if Jarecki were afraid to let the extreme emotions in their relationship emerge too nakedly on screen. Gosling’s David is a monster, and there are reasons why he becomes one, but the film never lets him be monstrous, merely sullen. Dunst’s Katie is a victim who allows herself to be victimized – there’s a substantial element of “battered wife” syndrome in her character – but the film never digs into that dynamic between the couple, as if the family and friends of the real Kathy Durst would find it too hard to accept.




The actors who make the strongest impression are those willing to play larger than life, which is what the material demands. Frank Langella, an accomplished stage actor as well as a film veteran, pitches his portrayal of Sanford Marks at just the right level of viciousness to show you the ogre who wanted to create David in his own image, and ended up creating something much worse. Lily Rabe, daughter of the late Jill Clayburgh, is a rising theater star, and she immediately conveys Deborah Lerman’s flamboyance, her need to get attention and dominate a room. These qualities eventually lead her to dangerous places, as they did her real-life counterpart.




All Good Things would have been a more effective film if Jarecki had allowed the same aesthetic to inform the entire project. But when hewing to the facts becomes an essential goal, one may as well make a documentary. (Then again, see below regarding the Robert Durst commentary.)







Video:




All Good Things was shot by Michael Seresin, Alan Parker’s regular cinematographer, who gave the film a beautiful surface sheen that reflects the superficial attraction of the Marks family wealth. The Blu-ray faithfully reproduces this look with accurate (but cool) colors, good black levels and a detailed image. Even in a scenes of squalor (e.g., the Seventies Times Square locales), Seresin makes things look attractive, much as he did for Parker’s Fame. Some darker scenes lack shadow detail, but this may be intentional, as these are typically scenes in which we are supposed to have trouble making out what’s happening. I did not detect any digital artifacts or noise reduction.







Audio:




The DTS lossless track uses the surrounds primarily for atmosphere, with the occasional sound placed off-camera for effect: a car, a dog barking, the sound of water. Voices are clear and intelligible, except in situations where they are unintelligible by design (David frequently mumbles to himself). The driving, foreboding score by Rob Simonsen, who also scored Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, is well-represented, but it seems to be trying too hard. The most memorable musical component is the selections from Steely Dan, which Jarecki uses without concern for anachronism. When we first see David in 1971, the soundtrack comes alive with “Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More”. But any major dude will tell you that the song wouldn’t be released until the Katy Lied album, four years later.







Special Features:




Commentary with Director/Producer Andrew Jarecki, Co-Writer/Co-Producer Marcus Hinchey and Co-Writer/Producer Marc Smerling. This commentary is light on technical information, but its strength lies in describing the research underlying the film. Jarecki also provides the occasional detail about locations, casting and actors’ ad libs, but he has little to say about his working process or the experiences on set.




Commentary with Director/Producer Andrew Jarecki and Robert Durst. This is one of the most unusual and riveting commentaries I have ever heard. It’s not the first time a real person has recorded a track about a film based on his life (see Fair Game), but the experience of a suspected multiple murderer calmly discussing a film that portrays him as such has to be unique. It’s particularly noteworthy, because Durst refused to speak to Jarecki when the film was being researched and written.




An experienced interviewer, Jarecki questions Durst throughout the track, and Durst doesn’t hesitate to treat the characters in the film as if they were himself, his wife, Kathy; his father, Seymour; his friend, Susan Berman; and his Galveston acquaintance, Morris Black. At the same time, he talks about both them and himself as if he were discussing other people, especially when he’s being forthright about his poor treatment of Kathy and her family.




When the film reaches the later scenes in which the David character begins to commit violent acts, Durst detaches. He laughingly protests to Jarecki that he would never have killed Kathy’s dog, as the film suggests, and from then on Durst never directly addresses any of the criminal acts of which he’s been suspected or accused. Nor does Jarecki press him directly, as if a prior agreement had been negotiated that Jarecki wouldn’t ask certain questions. (I don’t know of any such agreement, but I would expect someone in Durst’s position to have counsel negotiate one as a condition of Durst’s participation.)




In the end, one is left with the distinct impression that Durst is there to shape the story as much as he can at this juncture. He keeps contributing details about Kathy that aren’t in the movie – including her affairs, her independent streak, his claim that his father pulled strings to get her into med school, his argument that he wanted her to become a doctor because then she wouldn’t need him financially. These additions are clearly designed to undercut the film’s portrait of him as a control freak and Kathy as an unfortunate waif who got in over her head with a family of rich cutthroats. Durst does this calmly, efficiently, and with an easy charm that we never see in Gosling’s portrayal of David and that would have helped explain what attracted Kathy in the first place. Then again, sociopaths are often charming – not that I’m saying Durst is a sociopath, because how would I know?




If anything, the commentary leaves you more uncertain than the film. And when it’s over, the first thing you want to do is turn on the lights. The commentary supplies the element that’s missing from All Good Things: the genuine creepiness of being in the presence of a seemingly normal man who may be a fiend.


Deleted Scenes (SD; 1.78:1, centered in 4:3) (5:23). Four scenes are included. The first is a dispensable snippet in which Katie tells her mother that David proposed. The remaining three scenes all introduce elements that would have been confusing to an audience without additional exposition and were no doubt dropped for that reason. The longest involves Katie’s discovery, through an unusual means, that David is having an affair.




All Good Things: Truth in Fiction (SD; 1.78:1, enhanced for 16:9) (26:08). This making-of featurette contains interviews with Jarecki, Hinchey, Smerling, Gosling, Langella and producer Bruna Papandria. It covers much of the same ground as the commentary with Jarecki and the two writers, but from different perspectives, especially in Gosling’s and Langella’s comments. Also included is information about the involvement of Kathy Durst’s family, the McCormacks, in research and pre-production, including extensive meetings with Kirsten Dunst.




Back in Time: Researching the Original Story (HD; 1.78:1) (22:49). This featurette gives one a sense of how a documentary about Durst would have looked. It contains interviews with friends of Kathy, neighbors, family members and law enforcement officials. Opinion and memory mix freely and, of course, those who really know what happened are either dead or not talking.




Wrinkles in Time: Ryan Ages (HD) (1:46). A time-lapse record of the lengthy make-up session required to transform Ryan Gosling into the middle-aged David Marks.




Beneath the Surface of All Good Things: Interview with Andrew Jarecki (HD) (58:23). More informative than the commentary, Jarecki discusses the development of the project and the extensive research. He also talks about working with the actors and provides insight into his directorial technique.




Trailers. The film’s trailer is not included but can be found on various Magnolia discs. At startup, the disc plays trailers for Vanishing on 7th Street, Black Death, Monsters, Four Lions and HDNet and HDNet Movies; these can be skipped with the top menu or chapter forward buttons and are also available from the special features menu.




BD-Live. The BD-Live entry for this particular Magnolia disc returns the familiar message “Check Back Later for Updates”.







In Conclusion:




All Good Things is a true crime story that should have played at the frequency of a horror film, and at moments it does. But it doesn’t really find the right pitch until you hear Robert Durst’s voice speaking over the dialogue.










Equipment used for this review:



Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)

Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)

Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough

Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier

Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears

Boston Acoustics VR-MC center

SVS SB12-Plus sub 


COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted April 18 2011 - 09:55 AM

Thanks for the review Michael.  That commentary sounds really creepy, but in a way completes the package.  Its odd that they changed the names but were able to get him to do the commentary.



#3 of 3 OFFLINE   David Wilkins

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Posted April 18 2011 - 12:41 PM

Another fine review, Michael. I've watched the movie once, but didn't have time for any of the bonus features. I liked it but didn't love it, for some of the reasons you stated. After reading what you had to say about the Durst commentary, I feel certain about a re-visit, whether through rental, or purchase when the price is right.