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DVD Review: Boondock Saints, Kill The Irishman and Not As A Stranger

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DVD Review: Boondock Saints, Kill The Irishman and Not As A Stranger

You must give writer-director Troy Duffy credit. Whatever one thinks of his talents or disposition (and I was personally on the receiving end of some angry, harassing phone calls after my review of his debut film), the dude knows perhaps better than any filmmaker of the past 15 years how to milk a living (marginal, one presumes, but still) from one fleetingly hot spec script, and movie. After being on the receiving end of some undeniably cruddy and cruel behavior from originating funder/distributor-to-be Miramax, ‘The Boondock Saints’ came out in 2000 via super-indie releaser Indican, and grossed under $50,000 domestically. After pimping movie merchandise and various home video releases for years, Duffy finally worked up a sequel in 2009, ‘Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day’.

Boondock Saints

His first movie’s story centers on Murphy and Connor MacManus (Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery), blue-collar Irish twin brothers who work in a Boston meat-packing plant and experience a religious awakening that leads them to believe they’ve been chosen to rid the world of evil. No, not with good works, mind you (this is a movie!), but with bullets, of course. As they unleash a brutal stream of retribution on various tubby, Russian underworld criminals, FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) comes closer and closer to cracking the investigation of their bloody murders. Surprisingly, Smecker finds himself torn between busting the vigilantes and joining them.

An orgiastic assemblage of genre cliches you’ve seen hundreds of times before, from balletic gun shoot-outs and slow-mo deaths to block-headed, epithet-fueled dialogue exchanges, ‘The Boondock Saints’ does score some minor points for making Smecker gay, an interesting character choice that at least sets him apart from most lawman-types in movies of this sort. But the story here is a bunch of blarney, and its rendering both garish and amateurish. Some films develop a cult following based on their actual inherent appeal and the skill with which they’re crafted; other films are labeled “cult hits” because they tap into the aspirant impulses of the lowest-common-denominator crowd to which they cater — in this case, late-1990s, post-Tarantino interpretations of indie cool, when guns held at cocked angles and guys saying some badass shit was catnip to hard-toiling kids with dreams of making their own flicks. ‘The Boondock Saints’ is not only an instance of the latter, it’s probably ‘the’ defining example of the latter, at least of recent memory.

Nevertheless, the film comes to Blu-ray in a new two-disc, “Truth and Justice” edition that includes a digital copy of the movie. The technical specs? It’s 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen 1080p on a 50GB dual layer disc, with an English language DTS HD 5.1 master audio track, and optional English and Spanish subtitles. Both the movie’s theatrical cut and its unrated director’s cut (amounting to a handful of frames of excised violence, really, nothing substantively different in terms of story content or even overall tone) are included here, and the video transfers on each offer up strong colors, free from any artifacting or edge enhancement.

The Blu-ray’s new feature finds Duffy, Reedus and Flanery discussing on-set adventures and bizarre fan requests, including tattoos that have sprung up here and there. The rest of the content is imported, it seems, from the title’s previous special edition director’s cut release. Most notable, of course, is an audio commentary track with Duffy that is at times contrite, but also willfully abstruse when it comes to specifics about the project’s fall from grace. Hardcore devotees to the film may find tidbits about the haphazardness of the movie’s set detail and construction interesting, but Hollywood rumor junkies will still come away feeling largely unfulfilled by this track. Duffy can be legimately amusing, as when he wryly recalls receiving a two-page letter from the archdiocese of Toronto calling him “the spawn of Satan,” but he showcases his functional unawareness of production savvy when confessing first choices for various musical cues came from the Beatles, the Doors and Led Zeppelin, and then expressing surprise at their cost. He’s also amazingly myopic; Duffy still blames the Columbine shootings for scuttling his movie’s chances at a widder distribution pick-up, and claims it was “literally blacklisted” from American screens (like it was some sort of international smash), which comes across as the cinematic equivalent of Sarah Palin’s tired, strange bashing of the “lamestream media.” Co-star Billy Connolly, who plays the enigmatic assassin Il Duce, also sits for a separate audio commentary track on the theatrical cut of the movie, but his remarks deteriorate rather quickly into generalized observations about low-budget independent filmmaking. A clutch of deleted scenes runs just under 15 minutes, and a small batch of outtakes rounds things out.

Kill The Irishman

Another, much more interesting guns-blazing gangster flick arrives new to DVD and Blu-ray in the form of Jonathan Hensleigh’s ‘Kill the Irishman’. Based on true events, this well-acted 1970-set crime saga — at once slick and gritty — tells the story of the turf war between title character Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson), his Cleveland ally John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio), and vengeful loan shark Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken) and the Cosa Nostra. Brutality abounds, of course, but the supporting turns (including Val Kilmer, Paul Sorvino and Linda Cardellini) are crisp, and the dialogue and characterizations compelling. The film arrives in both formats in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby digital 5.1/Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio tracks; the lone supplemental feature, apart from some preview trailers, is a nice one — an hour-long documentary on the real-life Greene, which ably shines a light on his darkly charismatic demeanor, and some of the differences between the movie and the man.

With Father’s Day looming this weekend, if the crime flicks above don’t strike a chord, I’d promised to again take a gander at a couple older titles released to DVD as part of MGM and Twentieth Century Fox’s respective manufacturing-on-demand platforms. Executive-produced by Avi Lerner, ‘Buried Alive!’ (the tawdry exclamation point was used in its original advertising, and appears haphazardly in some places on this DVD, but not others), from 1990, incorporates various elements of the famed Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, telling the tale of a teacher (Karen Witter) at a correctional facility for young girls whose pupils start disappearing in horrific fashion. Robert Vaughn and ‘Halloween”s Donald Pleasence costar, and other recognizable faces abound (Arnold Vosloo, John Carradine, ex-porn star Ginger Lynn Allen, and even Nia Long!), but this lame mish-mash of moodiness and horror trades chiefly in hammy overacting, and offers up nothing exceptional in its staging. Presented on a DVD-R in 1.33:1 full-frame with a 2.0 stereo track, the on-demand title of course comes with no supplemental features.

Not As A Stranger

A bit more effective and interesting is Stanley Kramer’s 1955 directorial debut, ‘Not as a Stranger’, in which Robert Mitchum stars as Lucas Marsh, an egotistical guy who’s dreamed of being a doctor ever since he was little. Scripted by Edna and Edward Anhalt, the movie charts Lucas’ life at medical school and after graduation, and is similarly studded with intriguing supporting characters robustly embodied by a gallery of familiar faces (Frank Sinatra, Lee Marvin, Olivia de Havilland, Lon Chaney). ‘Not as a Stranger’, however, is much more rooted in reality than something like Buried Alive!, and the manner in which Mitchum and his young director craft a conflicted character is truly impressive. A shame, then, that the movie drags so righteously; at two hours, it could see 25 minutes lopped off without much sacrifice of its overall insights. Still, if Dad is a fan of any involved, this title — again, even with no bonus features — is a nice gift, and sure to pleasantly surprise.

Written by: Brent Simon

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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