DVD Review HTF REVIEW: My Own Private Idaho - The Criterion Collection.

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Feb 27, 2005.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
    My Own Private Idaho
    The Criterion Collection





    Studio: The Criterion Collection
    Year: 1991
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 104 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD 5.1 & DD Stereo
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $39.95
    Package: 2 Discs in a 4 panel Digipak w/cardboard slipcover case





    The Feature:

    narcolepsy.

    Entry: nar•co•lep•sy
    Pronunciation: 'när-k&-"lep-sE
    Function: noun
    Inflected Form(s): plural -sies
    Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary, from Greek narkE
    : a condition of brief attacks of deep sleep
    - nar•co•lep•tic "när-k&-'lep-tik/ adjective


    Like director Gus Van Sant does during the start of his film, I too have included the definition of narcolepsy, for its meaning is crucial to have any sense of appreciation of the film. My Own Private Idaho is a movie that flourishes highlighting the weakness and vulnerabilities of its characters. The lead in the film, Mike Waters (played by River Phoenix) is a young man with many weaknesses however when he needs to rise to the occasion, he merely passes out. He does so, sitting at restaurant tables, during sexual acts even in the middle of roadways. The problem is, whenever Mike encounters any type of confrontation or stressful situation, it exacerbates his sleeping disorder causing him to pass out almost instantly.

    Mike is a distant man, a likeable fellow who rarely has anything to say. He is a street hustler who plies his trade by selling himself for sexual services to mostly other men. As you might imagine, his line of work is by no means stress free and his physical debilitation is more than a liability in terms of his personal safety. Thankfully, he is surrounded by a group of loyal friends who all seem to help their friend in need. Nobody is closer to him than Scott Favor (played by Keanu Reeves), another young street hustler. Although the boys walk the streets selling sexual favors, they come from a class, worlds apart. Mike is a product of a broken home, to be specific in fact, a product of an incestuous relationship and was later abandoned by his mother. Scott, on the other hand, comes from an extremely wealthy family and is next in line to take over his father’s business affording him incredible wealth and power. He is the rebellious son and is keen on embarrassing his father with his lifestyle choices.

    Despite the incredibly different backgrounds, Mike and Scott are extremely close and spend the majority of time in coffee shops or just hanging out, usually discussing their past sexual experiences. While, it would seem that most of these young are merely trying to find themselves, Mike’s need for a sense of resolve seems to be the greatest. He learns of a trip his mother took to Italy and he and Scott venture out in an attempt to track her down. Unfortunately for Mike, not only doesn’t he locate his mother, he loses his best friend along the way as Scott finds love in Italy and decides to finally settle down, leaving his needy pal to fend for himself.

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    The film was written and directed by Gus Van Sant with many elements of the storyline taken from Shakespeare's plays Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V, and is another travelogue by Van Sant chronicling life on the road by a group of young men. While both men are in search of something, Mike’s needs are more basic in nature - searching for the love and comfort he was never shown.

    [​IMG]

    The Feature: 4/5
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    Video:
    This is an absolutely gorgeous film to look at. Presented in its OAR of 1.78:1, this enhanced transfer looks wonderful on the big screen… well 96” big screen. I can’t think of many films that equal this picture in terms of depth. Think of it as an oil painting where you can actually see the thickness and the texture of the brush strokes. The same holds true here, particularly during the country and rolling hill shots. The dimensionality here is amazing. A very dense and lush looking picture.

    Colors were satisfactorily vibrant but never garish. Much of the film has a rather yellowish hue to it no doubt due to filters that were used. Flesh tones always appeared to look real and natural. Black levels were deep and whites were never washed out.

    Image definition was equally impressive. Certain parts of the film are razor sharp while other sequences appear slightly softer but on the whole this is most impressive. Only a hint a very fine grain is noticeable.

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    The print appeared mostly clean with only occasional signs of dust or dirt and was basically free or any blemishes or scratches. I noticed a couple instances of light speckle but the image was very stable and solid. Compression was handled flawlessly but some slight edge enhancement was noticeable from time to time.

    This is a terrific looking transfer.

    Video: 4.5/5
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    Audio:
    The disc comes with two soundtracks, the first is DD 2.0 and the second is a DD 5.1 encoded track. I switched back and forth but I preferred the 5.1 track for the film. The track is absolutely clean and free of any hiss or other noisy distractions. There were no pops or cracks or audio dropouts at all.

    Again (and this is something I do like), Criterion mixes the dialogue information exceptionally bold and clear. In terms of dialogue, Criterion always excels in this department.

    The soundstage was also fairly vast and wider than I anticipated as could be evidenced with many of the off-beat numbers chosen to accompany this film. Dynamics were also terrifically rendered with the subtlety of blowing grasses to the thunderous cloud filled skies to the walked-on-gravel to Mike’s weeziness – a very nice job.

    The surrounds were limited to some ambiance as well as some music filler – never really a standout, but more than effective for a film of this nature. There was virtually no LFE to speak of.

    Not a track that’s likely to leave a lasting impression but it certainly is more than capable here.

    Audio: 3.5/5
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    Special Features:
    This set is absolutely loaded to the brim with informative special features. While the majority of supplements are on the second disc, the set looks like this:

    Disc One:
    [*] The only special feature located on this disc is the Theatrical Trailer. It is in good condition but pales in comparison to the film itself. Duration: 2:17 minutes.


    Disc Two:
    [*] First up is a feature entitled Gus Van Sant And Todd Haynes. Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven (2002), Safe (1995) sat down with Van Sant to discuss the film with him and to talk about his unique cinematic vision. Their conversation was recorded in the Fall of 2004 in Portland Oregon for The Criterion Collection. It is a lengthy audio conversation and discussed, interestingly – among other things, is the significance of the crashing barn and the scratch. Duration: 124:28 minutes.
    [*] The Making Of My Own Private Idaho. Veteran Van Sant editor, Curtiss Clayton, DP’s John Campbell and Eric Alan Edwards and production designer David Brisbin recall the development, production and post-production on My Own Private Idaho in this documentary made for Criterion in 2004. Duration: 42:20 minutes.
    [*] Kings Of The Road. This is a video interview which features film scholar and critic Paul Arthur as he discusses Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Orson Welles’ Falstaff (also known as Chimes At Midnight) in My Own Private Idaho as well as the influence of the road movie and the Western on the film. It was conducted in September of 2004. Duration: 44:13 minutes.
    [*] Next up is a video discussion between producer Laurie Parker And Rain Phoenix, River’s younger sister as they discuss the late actor’s commitment to the film. Both participants speak candidly about their personal experiences with River as well as their relationship with Gus Van Sant. Duration: 19:24 minutes.
    [*] There are a total of 6 Deleted Scenes as well as the “barn crash with the scratch” which runs a mere 6 seconds. They are:

    - Scene #1 (7:48)
    - Scene #2 (0:56)
    - Scene #3 (0:40)
    - Scene #4 (1:25)
    - Scene #5 (1:00)
    - Scene #6 (0:47)

    None of the clipped scenes offer much in the way of substance, however Scene #4 provides an interesting flashback sequence and concludes with an explanation of how Mike finally got off that old road.
    [*] J.T. LeRoy And Jonathon Caouette. These individuals phoned each other in December of 2004 to discuss their experiences on the street - which influenced Caouette’s 2004 film Tarnation and LeRoy’s novels and short stories (The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things & Sarah). Van Sant served as executive producer on Caouette’s film and worked from LeRoy’s original screenplay on Elephant. It is broken up into 16 chapters. Duration: 53:14 minutes.
    [*] And finally a 64 Page Book is included which not only includes the cast & crew and technical credits, but a number of essays relating to the film by JT LeRoy and film critic Amy Taubin, a 1991 article by Lance Loud and reprinted interviews with Gus Van Sant, Phoenix and Reeves.

    Special Features: 5/5
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    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    A very difficult film to describe. While the movie has its fair share of comedic parts (most notably, poor Mike succumbing to his frequent narcoleptic fits), it has just as many that’ll leave you biting your bottom lip praying to God, your son or daughter never reaches the same level of desperation to pay for their next meal. Whether it is the intent of the film or not, it is most effective in its attempt at de-glorifying the streets and its youthful sex trade – disturbingly so. Ironically, River Phoenix turned in what might very well have been his finest performance after his own life was cut short due to a drug overdose only two years after this film was produced.

    Without question, this film plays on the side of peculiarity, not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination and I suspect some will find off-putting (thus my reluctance to outwardly recommend), so those unfamiliar with it may want to proceed with caution. However, if you are familiar with the movie and you are considering a purchase, this package is absolutely astounding. Not only are the special features entertaining, highly informative and plentiful, but Criterion has done a masterful job with the presentation. Absolutely gorgeous…!!

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
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    Release Date: March 1st, 2005
     
  2. Dane Marvin

    Dane Marvin Screenwriter

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    *applauds this review*

    Criterion rules. This will be mine (if I can track it down) Tuesday.
     
  3. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    This beautiful movie was a long time coming to DVD, but I was thrilled when I heard that Criterion had acquired the rights. The results look and sound spectacular! Another fine review, Herb - thanks.
     
  4. Martin S

    Martin S Stunt Coordinator

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    I guess I'm alone in not singing the praises of Criterion but I'm disappointed that there was no audio commentary on this one and it doesn't look like any input from Mr Reeves.
    I've been waiting a long time for a good copy of this one and in the end of the day, picture quality and sound are the main things but i still would have liked to see some more actual making-of footage.
     
  5. Dane Marvin

    Dane Marvin Screenwriter

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    Well, not screen specific anyway. But I'm sure the over two-hour audio conversation on disc two covers much of what you'd want to know. And then there's the 'making of' doc. Then the film scholar angle is covered in the 45-minute interview. This set sounds pretty loaded. And Reeves is probably tough to get a hold of these days...
     
  6. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Great review. Gorgeous screen-caps!

    I saw this years ago in the theater and it was a very difficult film for me to take. I think I'd like to revisit it and this DVD sounds like a good opportunity.
     
  7. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

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    Stellar review. A great, if not underrated film.
     
  8. Joel C

    Joel C Screenwriter

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  9. WillardK

    WillardK Second Unit

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    The disc 2 interview is possibly more informative than a commentary track could have been. MOPI is so filled with imagery that a parallel scene specific track would have likely been a distracting mess. I think Criterion made a wise decision.

    Nice review Herb.

    I can't believe now that I hesitated about buying this. Watching it last night I was reminded of why I ran to the theaters at least three times to see it during it's first run in Boston. It's an amazing work. So many iconographic images and set pieces that come at you BAM BAM BAM BAM!... but edited into an effective flow that just engulfs. Truly amazing. ...and I DO think it's underrated. Even if you find the Shakesperean graft to be a little rough (I found it to be much less so this time around, I've always liked the artifice of it), it's an imperfection that barely undercuts the films overall powerful effect.

    Now, where in the hell is that dvd of Mala Noche? It looks as if Plexifilm no longer plans to release it.
     
  10. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Wow. Wow. Wow. Am I the only one who couldn't find this one "early" at the B&Ms? So far, not at Best Buy, Newbury Comics or Virgin... anybody in the Boston area find this locally?
     
  11. Dane Marvin

    Dane Marvin Screenwriter

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    my BB in west Omaha had a ton of them. Surprised you couldn't find them at BB in Boston. BB even put this in their ad.
     
  12. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    None early at my local Best Buy (as many others had reported), but they may be there now. I got one last night from Newbury Comics -- the clerk told they'd probably just sold out of the ones on the shelves on the previous night and hadn't yet restocked (I shoulda asked!). She said they expected it to be a hugely popular title for their customers, and all three local locations had tons of stock in.
     

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