You know 20th Century Fox used to be a pretty good studio. It’s hard to believe with all the crap they release these days, but there was a time when people used to get excited about the 20th Century fanfare. Back when they worked with artists, back when they seem to be after something more than proficient mediocrity. M*A*S*H and The Girl Next Door are two of their winners, and my review of them is after the jump.
Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H launched several careers. Elliot Gould, Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerrit and Altman had all been around at this point, but here they came. You’ve also got the beginnings of the Altman company, with players like Rene Auberjonios, John Schuck, Michael Murphy and Bud Court all making appearances. The premise is that the film is about a squad of Korean War doctors. Introduced by their insouciances, we get to meet “Hawkeye” Pierce (Sutherland) and “Duke” Forrest (Skerrit) as they come to camp. They immediately come in conflict with Maj. Frank Burns (Robert Duvall), which eventually leads to “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) joining their ranks. Also added is “Trapper” McIntyre (Gould). Since both Hawkeye and Trapper played some college football, the film builds to a game against a colonel who’s got his own team.
A scatter-shot narrative, it really is just about incidents, but the premise is about how professionals rebuke at bureaucracy and false piety getting in the way of dealing with the war as professionals, which is though dark humor and fucking. The winners, the ones integrated into the group are the ones who are honest about doing their jobs, and what they want, and the ninnies are the ones who get in the way of this for egos sake. This though is the broad outline of the film, where the film itself feels as if it finds its narrative by searching. From the overlapping dialog, to the lenswork, Altman’s war film is anything but conventional, though the backbones of the up and up’s being assholes gave this a counter-culture stature. Regardless of how you feel about the film’s politics, it’s a funny, breezy portrait of men in difficult situations doing what they have to do. And for ostensibly a liberal text, the heroes are the grunts who are just doing their job, so the main outrage of the time – the swearing – is now old hat. But this was the film that established the language and skill of Altman, and he was obviously a major talent. It’s apparent from the first reel.
20th Century Fox’s Blu-ray is as good as it’s going to get for a title like this. This was never a pretty film, but the transfer here is as excellent as it could be (2.35:1), considering the source material has always been muddy, and the look is brownish-green. Same can be said for the DTS-HD audio. It never gets too surround crazy, but it definitely has some separation, and purists can rest with the notion that the original English Mono track is included. Once a Five Star Collection DVD, here all that material is copied. There’s a commentary with Altman (dry), an interactive guide to M*A*S*H with icons highlighting what’s going on (an advanced trivia track), the AMC Backstory on the film (24 min.), “Enlisted” (41 min.) the story of the making of the film, with most of the primary cast (sans Gould and Duvall), and then “M*A*S*H: History through the lens” (44 min.) which is an extension of the previous featurette. Then there’s a 30th Anniversary get together (30 min.) which gets a lot of Altman’s friends and the cast to talk about the film, and gets Fred Williamson and Elliot Gould. There’s also two trailers, and a still gallery, so it’s got a lot of stuff.
Luke Greenfield’s The Girl Next Door is one of those films that some people love, and other don’t remember. It’s a very familiar premise, but also a modern one. Mathew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a kid about to graduate from school, but is not experienced in the ways of love. Next door Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in. He sees her nearly undressed, which leads her to come over to his house, and take him out and force him to run around naked. The two begin to date, and it’s sweet, and he finally makes his move, but then his best friend Eli (Chris Marquette) reveals her big secret: She’s a porn star. And she still has a manager in Kelly (Timothy Olyphant) who does not want her to leave the industry.
A.I.D.S., the readily available nature of pornography, and the rise in emasculated men has changed cinematic sexuality, and has given rise to the nerd protagonist in a totally different way than was made present in the Hughes era. And cinema no longer gives much credence to cocksman. Men are now often the inexperienced ones, confronted with women who have had much more experience. For the virginal types, this can be intimidating, and though the device is shopworn, Greenfield manages to find the sweetness in the era of youporn. Both leads are great, but the shining star of the film is easily Olyphant’s Kelly. Playing what amounts to the Guido, the Killer Pimp role, he manages to make his character more than just a plot device, and oddly engaging and sympathetic, if not thoroughly disgusting. He becomes part of the rite of passage. It’s a small movie, with a lot of borrowed music cues, but it’s charming, and Paul Dano has a nice small role as the nerd character.
20th Century Fox presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD. The surrounds are better for the soundtrack than anything else, but it’s solid. Director Luke Greenfield offers a commentary, along with scene specific comments by Hirsch (9 min.), and Cuthbert (13 min.). “The Eli Experience” (8 min.) lets Marquette run around a porn expo, while “A Look Next Door” is a standard making of (10 min.). Then there’s a gag reel (3 min.), sixteen deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary (11 min.), and the film’s trailer.