Armchair Cinephile 


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Criterion Collection)
The Killers (Criterion Collection)
Full Frontal (Buena Vista)

The award for "Most Enjoyable DVD Bonus Features" for February of this foul Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Three must go, hands down and eyes bugged out, to Criterion's new edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The movie itself is magnificent. Many critics didn't get it: They didn't find it funny, didn't think it held together. But Terry Gilliam's Loathing feels just like the book Hunter S. Thompson wrote: desperate and jagged, with all the harsh mood swings of a binge that's gone way too far. And anybody who doesn't laugh at the cartoon spectacle of Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro as two wiseasses in Wonderland is probably ill-equipped to deal with the current political climate.

This new edition (not to be confused with the plain-jane one that's been out for a long time) has a great BBC documentary from the '70s that follows Thompson around and proves that Depp was closer to the source than one might assume. In another feature, Depp appears onscreen to read some of the letters he and Thompson wrote while the film was being planned - a correspondence filled on both sides with flowery four-letter prose. Finally, Dr. Thompson visits the set to film his cameo, clearly an uncomfortable task. Another part of the disc tells the story of a dispute over the adaptation's writing credit - a nightmare of bureaucratic silliness that could've been an unused subplot for Brazil.

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Criterion also goes above and beyond on their new double disc of The Killers. They give us both feature adaptations of the old Hemingway story: the 1947 Burt Lancaster one, and the one Don Siegel made in 1964 with Lee Marvin (and Ronald Reagan). As if those weren't enough - it sure ought to be - they throw in a couple more versions of the story for free. There's the radio play from 1947, there's Stacy Keach reading the original story on an audio track, and there's a short adaptation from the '50s made by some Russian film student named Andrei Tarkovsky. (It's his first film, by the way, co-directed with another student.)

If that last name is only vaguely familiar, you might remember seeing it a lot last December, in reviews of Steven Soderbergh's Solaris. Soderbergh's first film of 2002, Full Frontal (Buena Vista), took its share of critical knocks, but filmgoers who were intrigued by it will be delighted with the new DVD, which has some really special extras.

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One of the components of this filmmaking experiment was that each actor was required to sit down, in character, for an improvised interview with Soderbergh. Six of those interviews are included here (some of the actors pull the exercise off better than others), and whether you view Frontal as a breath of fresh air or an exercise in self-indulgence, it's difficult not to get a little caught up in the game. The same holds for the short "director's spy cam" segment, candid video footage which makes it clear that at least a couple of the cast members weren't quite sure what was going on in their own movie. And yes, Nicky Katt fans: The deleted scenes contain some hilarious bits of improv that didn't make it into the final cut. •

More by John DeFore



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