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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO
Director:
David Gordon Green
Cast:
Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, Damian Jewan Lee, Curtis Cotton III, Rachael Handy, Paul Schneider
Screenplay:
David Gordon Green

MPAA:
Not Rated.

DISC DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Subtitles:
English Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/11/2014

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary With Writer/Director David Gordon Green, Cinematographer Tim Orr, and Actor Paul Schneider
• Deleted Scene With Optional Commentary
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• “Pleasant Grove” Short Film With Optional Commentary
• “Physical Pinball” Short Film
• “A Day With the Boys” Short Film
• Charlie Rose Interview With David Gordon Green
• Video Interviews With the Cast
• DVD Copy
• Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


George Washington: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2000)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 7, 2014)

My informal poll indicates that the title of David Gordon Green’s 2000 film George Washington confused the audience. Based on a sample that included one friend and myself, 100 percent of the movie-going public believed this flick would offer a biography of the United States’ first president.

Though logical, that impression was incorrect, as I quickly discovered when the disc arrived on my doorstep. The picture of the young African-American male on the cover offered the first clue, and then I read this description on the back case: “Over the course of one hot summer, a group of children in the decaying rural South must confront a tangle of difficult choices.” Unless this required them to chop down cherry trees and cross the Delaware, I failed to discover a link to the father of our country.

If you want to find a connection between the title and the flick, you’ll fail. Although this set’s booklet tries desperately - and pretentiously - to meld the title to the president, Green essentially acknowledges its lack of meaning during his commentary. As he reveals there, much of Washington is random and without much depth; he indicates that much of what we see and what the characters do occurs because he thought it’d look cool.

If you want to find a coherent and compelling film, you’ll also fail. Also from the disc’s case: “An ambitiously constructed, sensuously photographed meditation on adolescence, the first feature film by director David Gordon Green features remarkable performances from an award-winning ensemble cast.”

I don’t know whether others agree with those statements. Ambitiously constructed? Perhaps. Sensuously photographed? Well, it does offer some lovely cinematography, but I don’t know if I’d actually call it “sensuous”. “Remarkable performances from an award-winning ensemble cast”? I discovered that the kids of Washington did claim a prize at the Newport International Film Festival. What the case doesn’t tell us is that their only competition came from a pack of cigarettes and a stale jelly donut.

I’ll find time to gripe about the acting later, for right now I can find many more important things to criticize in George Washington. Many folks remember the scene from American Beauty in which Ricky shoots the videotape of the bag blowing in the wind. Imagine that Ricky grew up and made a 90-minute widescreen version of the flying bag and you’ll know what to expect from George Washington.

While the disc’s case makes it sound like you can expect some sort of actual plot from Washington, none occurs. Essentially the flick follows a small group of pubescent black kids during the summer. We meet Buddy (Curtis Cotton III) who just got dumped by Nasia (Candace Evanofski); the latter also acts as our narrator.

Buddy’s friends with burly youngster Vernon (Damien Jewan Lee) and fragile George (Donald Holden). No, the latter’s last name isn’t Washington; it’s Richardson, and he suffers from a disorder that renders his skull extremely soft, which means that he has to constantly worry about head injuries.

These kids meander through the summer doing not much of anything until a play fight ends in tragedy. Buddy bangs his head and soon dies. (I guess Green thinks it’s clever to use head trauma to kill someone other than the kid with the soft skull.) The other children hide the body and move on with their lives. George saves a young boy from drowning and receives citations as a hero, something he takes to heart; he quickly decides to don tights and a cape.

And what happens from there? Not a damned thing.

Actually, almost nothing occurs before that point either. My outline makes it sound as though George Washington actually has a plot, but the reality couldn’t be farther from that. Washington offers the worst kind of rambling, self-indulgent filmmaking.

On the positive side, I will acknowledge that Washington provides a sumptuous visual experience. Cinematographer Tim Orr lends the film a warm, golden tone and makes things look terrific at all times. The film shows rich, concisely composed images and presents an appealing, vivid picture.

Unfortunately, it’s all style and no substance. Green takes his cues from loose and fluid filmmakers like Terence Malick, which means he values tone and atmosphere over plot and clarity. That said, Malick comes across as tight and plot-oriented compared with the rambling and nearly incoherent Washington.

Most of Washington exists just for its own sake. By that I mean the movie actively tries to be loose and non-linear. It wants to be experiential rather that lucid, as director Green openly favors looks over intelligence. As he notes on the disc’s audio commentary, Green selected many elements just for their visuals and often paid little attention to any form of logic.

Someone needs to tell Green that it’s possible to look good and still make some sense. Washington simply shows a director who wallows in his own excesses. Green badly wants to make a movie that’s “different”, and I admire his desire to do something unusual.

However, “different” doesn’t automatically mean “better”. During Washington, it feels as though Green actively avoids filmmaking conventions not for any true purpose; he does so simply to be atypical. It doesn’t work. The movie ambles along with little reason and goes nowhere.

The poor acting doesn’t help. Washington mainly provides a cast of amateurs, most of whom were kids. They seem stiff and awkward from start to finish. Not a single one of them can deliver a natural or believable performance, as they all appear flat and unrealistic.

The adults don’t fare any better. Most of them ham up the screen with self-conscious goofiness, while others seem just as wooden as the kids. How in the world anyone thought this crew should win an acting award seems beyond me; these are some of the clumsiest and most stilted performances I’ve seen. The vague and lifeless characters don’t help; there’s little about them to make any of the personalities compelling or interesting.

Washington offers a deeply polarizing film; I’ve read a number of opinions and folks either seem to love it or hate it. Obviously I fall into the latter camp, as I think George Washington shows the worst excesses of the independent filmmaking camp. When a director favors style over substance for a fast and flashy flick, the cineastes slam the results as superficial and shallow. However, when a director creates a visual movie that has virtually nothing else going for it, too many film buffs fall over themselves to praise the work as daring and deep.

That might be true of some movies, but it definitely doesn’t describe George Washington. The movie offers fine cinematography but comes with little else of merit.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B / Audio B- / Bonus A-

George Washington appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a good but not great presentation.

Sharpness was generally positive but had ups and downs. Most of the movie offered solid delineation, but occasional soft spots occurred. Still, the majority of the film looked pretty concise. I noticed no issues with jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes failed to occur. I didn’t sense any overt digital noise reduction, and print flaws were minor; I noticed the occasional small speck but nothing more.

Colors offered a strong point for Washington. The movie displayed a warm, golden look most of the time that came across with positive clarity and richness. Black levels appeared deep and dense, while shadow detail was clear and appropriately heavy for the most part; a couple of slightly dense scenes occurred, but nothing problematic occurred. In the end, the film offered good visuals but it could be a little inconsistent.

In addition, the DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack of George Washington worked fine for the material. The soundfield largely remained oriented in the front channels; in that realm, the forward spectrum showed reasonably good stereo imaging for the music and displayed decent general ambience for effects.

There wasn’t a lot of unique audio from the sides throughout the film, but the mix displayed a nice sense of environment. The surrounds worked along the same lines; they reinforced the overall tone of the flick with moderate use of music and effects from the rear, but they didn’t provide much in the way of distinct audio.

Sound quality seemed good as a whole. Dialogue was distinct and natural, and speech showed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were accurate and clean, without any distortion. Those elements also demonstrated good bass when appropriate, such as for the exaggerated thumps heard in some scenes. Music offered nice fidelity and depth as well, with clear highs and tight low-end. The track wasn’t anything special, but it seemed solid for the material.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2002 DVD? Audio seemed a bit warmer and more robust, while visuals appeared more accurate and concise. Even with some criticisms about the transfer, this became a good step up in quality.

The 2014 Blu-ray duplicates the extras from the 2002 DVD. We begin with an audio commentary that includes writer/director David Gordon Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider. All three were apparently recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. I say “apparently” because although it’s clear they usually sat together, the piece seemed to show some edits that made it come across as though a few segments featured them separately.

In any case, much of the commentary clearly came from group sessions, though not surprisingly, Green dominates the piece. Despite my disdain for the film itself, I find this track to offer a fairly compelling experience. Green nicely discusses his inspirations for the film and what he wanted to do with it. He also covers various technical and practical issues, while the others kick in some helpful tidbits as well. Green and company can’t change my negative opinion about George Washington - indeed, some of their statements confirm my suspicions in regard to some elements - but I appreciate the attempt to clarify their intentions.

We discover some films that predate George Washington. First up is Pleasant Grove, Green’s 1996 student film that functioned essentially as a demo reel for Washington. The videotaped feature runs for 14 minutes and 55 seconds and it basically acts like a shorter version of the main flick. Actually, it only offers a few of Washington’s elements; we see just one kid - named Garland, he strongly resembles George - and a few adults.

However, some of Grove’s scenes were lifted without much change for use in the later film, and it features the same languid pacing and tone. It might make sense to watch Grove before you see Washington, as I believe the latter would be more compelling when viewed second. As much as I dislike Washington, it looks much better compared to the woefully amateurish and awkward Grove. Man, I thought the acting was bad in the feature flick; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen performances as weak as those in Grove!

Pleasant Grove can be viewed with or without commentary from Green, Orr and Schneider. Again, Green dominates, but Orr adds some remarks about how he got into cinematography, and Schneider provides some insightful statements about his own work. Green relates how he came to make the flick and his own film school processes. It’s another nice track.

Another Green short appears in the form of Physical Pinball. Made in 1998, this 20-minute and 28-second film features Candace Evanofski and Eddie Rouse from Washington.

Unlike the freeform Washington and Grove, Pinball actually attempts a minor narrative. Evanofski plays a tomboy who gets her first period, and her Dad (Rouse) has to deal with these changes. It’s nothing much more than what you’d find on an “Afterschool Special”, but it’s significantly more interesting than Green’s other works featured here.

Apparently Clu Gulager’s 1969 short A Day With the Boys served as an inspiration for Washington, and that 17-minute and 58-second film appears here in its entirety. Day focuses on a wordless period in which we watch some young boys romp around before they apparently kill and bury a businessman. It’s trippy in a Sixties way and seems almost as pointless as Washington; it’s another example of style over substance, and I don’t care for it.

After this we find one deleted scene. An eight-minute and 27-second clip, this snippet shows Rico as he organizes a meeting of concerned citizens. Essentially this shows one long take of a bunch of stupid people who try to solve problems despite their lack of intelligence.

How dumb are these folks? Rico the moron seems like the brightest of the bunch. It’s actually funny as a satire of well intentioned but clueless sorts, but it wouldn’t have fit within the final film; it focuses too much on the adults and seems a little too “on the nose”.

The deleted scene can be viewed with or without commentary from Green, Orr and Schneider. This is a spotty track that doesn’t fill the entire clip, but it delivers enough useful information to merit a listen. We hear some remarks about the shoot and find out why it didn’t make the cut; clearly they recognized how poorly it melded with the rest of the movie. It’s a short but interesting discussion.

In the Cast Reunion section, we find 15 minutes and 55 seconds of interviews with the young actors of Washington. Conducted on September 15, 2001 by David Gordon Green, we hear from Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, Damien Lee, Curtis Cotton and Rachael Handy. They don’t give us a lot of insight, but it’s interesting to see the real personalities of the kids, especially since some of them seem very different from their characters.

Cotton comes across as a kid with a budding ego as he tells us about his natural acting talent and lets us know he’s better than Denzel Washington. If he seemed to be joking, this’d be entertaining, but I think the kid was serious. Since apparently Cotton never acted again, I guess Hollywood missed its chance at the next big star.

By the way, a look at IMDB shows that virtually none of the then-young actors from Washington went on to much work in show business. A few got a handful of jobs but no one achieved success. Based on her IMDB picture, though, it appears Handy developed into a gorgeous woman.

After this we get a Charlie Rose Interview with Green. This clip lasts for 14 minutes and 38 seconds. Although it’s a solid little discussion, a lot of the material appears elsewhere on the disc, so much of the chat becomes redundant. If you don’t have the time for the full commentary, the Rose piece acts as a substitute, but otherwise it doesn’t add much new information.

Finally, we get the movie’s theatrical trailer as well as a booklet with some text information. Green provides a “Director’s Statement” while we also find pretentious comments from film critic Armond White. He stretches desperately to locate meaning in nothingness, and he fails.

A second disc provides a DVD Copy of the film. It replicates the same extras as the Blu-ray.

George Washington exists as a self-indulgent film exercise. All attempts to pretend otherwise appear destined to misfire. The Blu-ray offers generally good picture and audio as well as a strong selection of supplements. Washington leaves me totally cold, but its fans should feel pleased with this release.

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main