Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Curse Of The Commentary Tracks Of The Damned

In the 10 months since The Onion A.V. Club first confronted DVD commentary tracks in their most terrifying form–on discs for the likes of Battlefield Earth and Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows–lousy films have continued to hit the big screen, and their creators have kept cramming themselves into recording booths to register their thoughts. For this second installment, The Onion A.V. Club dug through recent disasters and classic cinema boondoggles, listening for the defiant pride and sheepish shame that define the Commentary Tracks Of The Damned.

Death To Smoochy (2002)

CRIMES
• Spoofing the Barney phenomenon at least five years after it peaked
• Helping end Robin Williams' self-imposed exile from the big screen
• Promising a darker, more adult Williams; delivering a louder, more profane Williams

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DEFENDERS
Director and co-star Danny DeVito and cinematographer Anastas Michos

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Fond, technical, sunny, and cheerful.

WHAT WENT WRONG
Nothing, apparently. Aside from an early crack about the "mourning period" for Death To Smoochy being over, nothing in DeVito and Michos' commentary indicates the film is anything other than a triumph.

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COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Uniformly gushing. Catherine Keener is praised for her legs, Jon Stewart for his hilarious hairstyle, Edward Norton for his hemp clothing, Williams for his wit and energy, and everyone else for their wonderfulness.

INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
DeVito compares Williams to Bob Fosse. A sequence depicting Norton's initial success is described as an homage to Stanley Kubrick.

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THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
Discussing a particularly colorful transition, DeVito wistfully talks of doing "stuff to make it fun for yourself" before adding, almost as an afterthought, "and the audience, hopefully."

The Country Bears (2002)

CRIMES
• Taking a mixture of The Blues Brothers, The Muppet Movie, and This Is Spinal Tap and weighing it down with scenes of bickering live-action bears
• Giving said bears the speaking voices of character actors and the singing voices of John Hiatt, Don Henley, and Bonnie Raitt to create surreal musical interludes
• Lacking actual country music

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DEFENDERS
Director Peter Hastings, bears Ted and Zeb (voiced by Diedrich Bader and Stephen Root)

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Amusing. While the movie lets its moments of inspired weirdness dissipate into a dull, literal story about a Country Bears reunion, the bear commentators indulge a run of dry whimsy funnier than anything on the screen.

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WHAT WENT WRONG
Ted and Zeb's debates about who wrote which Country Bears song is symptomatic of the movie's overemphasis on ursine discord.

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Hastings, talking about the casting process, says, "We saw so many bears… Hollywood bears with their frosted hair and sitcom credits." Zeb says he loved Stephen Tobolowsky, but when speaking of villain Christopher Walken, explains, "I tried to meet him once, but he looked at me and I got frightened."

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
Zeb: "Was this shot on 8mm? Or is it a bigger millimeter?"
Hastings: "We went all the way up to 35."
Zeb: "Oh my goodness!"

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
Ted: "I was sorry there weren't more bears in the movie."
Zeb: "A good third of our audience is bears, Peter."

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Newsies (1992)

CRIMES
• Dramatizing complex historical labor issues through singing, dancing, grimacing moppets who sport fakey New York accents, call newspapers "papes," and pepper their choreography with flips and pelvic thrusts
• Laying on about a dozen climactic "toppers"
• Temporarily reburying the movie musical

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DEFENDERS
Director and choreographer Kenny Ortega, producer Michael Finnell, writers Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, and choreographer Peggy Holmes

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Breathlessly complimentary. White is near tears as she praises the cast, crew, and herself, while Ortega calls one child actor "a little tyke who carried himself like a giant." Ultimately, he enthuses, "[Newsies] means more to me today than it did when I first watched it. So much heart, soul, and passion from every direction." The whole team thanks the Newsies fan base for still "carrying the banner."

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WHAT WENT WRONG
According to the commentators? Nothing. Only toward the end of the track does anyone acknowledge that the movie was a critically derided box-office bomb. Mostly, they tout their accomplishment in turning a straight drama into a musical by "dredging up old techniques and processes that hadn't been used in years." Finnell also adds that "the first cut was well over three hours" because Ortega "would fall in love with the footage," while Tzudiker notes that the movie is "a period piece with kids, and that's supposed to never sell." Otherwise, everything was hunky-dory, except that…

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
…a lot of the cast had never sung or danced. (Holmes: "I can attest to that. Ha ha ha…") And they had dance-lover Robert Duvall in a non-dancing role. And Ortega notes that star Christian Bale "came to us with this wonderful British refined actor's accent, and we had to take it all away from him." And Holmes thought the flat singing and colorless songs were okay, because it looked like actual newsies expressing themselves. And Max Casella's performance as "Racetrack" was a smash. "Max Casella was invisible to me," Ortega gushes. "It was just Racetrack!"

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
Ortega: "We weren't a huge commercial success. However, this has had a longevity that I don't think that maybe we expected."
Tzudiker: "Like Wizard Of Oz!"
Ortega: "And American In Paris!"

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
White: "It's so astounding what goes into the making of a movie!"
Ortega: "Look at the cuts! And the coverage!"

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The Master Of Disguise (2002)

CRIMES
• Being an adventure-comedy without much adventure or comedy
• Using the "Dana Carvey plays dress-up" premise as an excuse for him to do self-indulgent impressions of Peter Sellers, David Niven, and Robert Shaw
• Quickly overusing its one funny bit, in which Carvey repeatedly says "turtle" while dressed in a turtle suit

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DEFENDERS
Director Perry Blake and writer/star Carvey

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Unashamed/devil-may-care. Carvey starts by promising viewers, "You've clicked on something really fun," but within minutes, he's writing off the rootless craziness by insisting, "It's just a silly comedy."

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WHAT WENT WRONG
The studio paid too much attention, while the filmmakers didn't pay enough. Carvey complains, "We had 12 people in the editing room," and at various points he seems genuinely surprised by what's onscreen, saying, "That's the first time I've seen that. It's… funny?" Later, still confused, he explains, "This is where we're going for kinda like syrupy Disney, almost spoofish, but then… madness."

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
When James Brolin's credit in the movie's opening is placed over a picture of a big baby, Carvey says, "I have no comment." When Harold Gould does a little dance, Carvey halfheartedly mentions, "That was kind of a thrill, because Harold's done Broadway."

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
Referring to the recurring joke of having villain Brent Spiner punctuate his maniacal rants with muted flatulence, Carvey rhapsodizes, "It's like a musical thing… 'Ha ha ha, fffft!'… And then silence."

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
Blake: "The whole thing about the farts… We went back and forth about 'Big farts? Little farts?' Finally, we just determined, 'One fart, all the time, but different reactions.'… Apparently, there's no limit to the number of farts you can have in a movie and still be funny."

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Summer Catch (2001)

CRIMES
• Perpetuating the would-be Abbott & Costello duo of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard, even after Wing Commander appeared to stop them cold
• Tagging summer-league pitcher Prinze as a choker after eight innings of near-perfect shutout baseball, because he hemorrhages runs in the ninth
• Having Prinze stare into space as motivational slogans echo through his head like Successories mottoes dispensed by Obi-Wan Kenobi

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DEFENDERS?
Director Mike Tollin and co-writer John Gatins, with occasional commentary by female lead Jessica Biel

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Genial and self-congratulatory. Tollin and Gatins dig into minutiae about Cape Cod summer leagues, obscure Phillies scouts and managers, and the 1975 World Series telecast. Meanwhile, Bull Durham—the proverbial elephant in the room—goes unmentioned.

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WHAT WENT WRONG
The crucial ice-cream-cone scene between Prinze and Biel took three separate nights to shoot. Biel regrets not doing more with her initial lawnmower-pushing scene. Tollin ordered an arduous search for a '61 Impala convertible for a minor character, who wanted to buy it after the shooting ended. One week after he returned to Los Angeles, the car was stolen.

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Gatins on Lillard: "If you ask him to go to 10, he goes to about 15." Tollin considers minor player Beverly D'Angelo a trouper for consenting to a dialogue looping session while she was on a bed, in contractions, preparing to give birth to twins.

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
In a film without an ounce of originality, Tollin singles out a slow-motion rosin-bag shot as something "no one has ever done before."

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
Biel: "I've seen this movie three times, and every time I see it, it gets better. So please watch it two more times."

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Juwanna Mann (2002)

CRIMES
• Updating Tootsie as a star-making turn for third-rate Orlando Jones wannabe Miguel A. Núñez Jr.
• Ghettoizing women's professional basketball as a haven for mustachioed freaks and lesbians
• Casting "comic mastermind" Tommy Davidson as a gold-toothed rapper named Puff Smokey Smoke

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DEFENDERS
Núñez and director Jesse Vaughan

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Vain, defensive, and contentious. Núñez repeatedly steals credit from the screenwriter, and laments all the ad-libs that got cut. Vaughan complains about shooting for the PG-13 rating. The two argue over which scenes should have never made it into the movie.

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WHAT WENT WRONG
Núñez thinks the editor who removed his choice lines should be working for 7-11, a phrase he repeats like a mantra. Vaughan gripes over all the little things that didn't work, from cramped locations to "flat" scenes to ratings battles to the $5,000 price tag on Davidson's gold teeth. At one point, Núñez admits to getting drunk on the set, when he beckoned the crew for his "special bottle of water."

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Núñez seems unduly confident about his improvisational genius, in spite of an order from Warner Bros. executives to stop all the ad-libbing. Vaughan fans the ego flames, telling him, "If you really study this movie, you'll see all the really subtle looks and nuances you gave us."

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
By adding a schoolmarmish aunt to temper Núñez's brash arrogance with modesty and conscience, Vaughan says he gave the film a "classic Greek structure."

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
Vaughan: "Every time I see this scene, I cringe."

Virus (1999)

CRIMES
• Attempting to evoke scares with villains that resemble oversized Erector sets
• Attempting to evoke scares by turning Donald Sutherland into a killer cyborg
• Attempting to create sparks by hosing down William Baldwin and Jamie Lee Curtis, then throwing them into close quarters

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DEFENDERS
Director John Bruno, composer Joel McNeely, and supporting actors Marshall Bell and Sherman Augustus

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Nuts-and-bolts. Bruno, a former James Cameron special-effects man, goes into great detail whenever effects appear on screen. Sounding like a poor man's Joe Don Baker, Bell lamely tries to inject humor. McNeely waits for someone to ask him a question about the score, then answers as quickly as possible.

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WHAT WENT WRONG
Bruno confuses technical shortcomings for major flaws, while overlooking the movie's dreary tone and lack of thrills. "This creature was supposed to have wings… but the studio wouldn't give me the money," he complains.

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Mostly, everyone tiptoes around the big-name cast members, though they do mock Donald Sutherland for pausing to remove his captain's hat before putting a gun into his mouth to commit suicide.

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
None, in spite of the film's humanity-is-like-a-virus-if-you-think-about-it-dude premise. Bruno does seem unusually proud that Curtis admitted to being scared of having 500 gallons of water dumped on her.

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
During an early ship-hailing scene, Bruno notes, "This is technically accurate as to how you'd hail a ship."

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Zardoz (1974)

CRIMES
• Creating a high-minded, incomprehensible science-fiction scenario packed with floating stone heads that vomit guns, mustachioed villains in towel-hats, a magic ring that explains the world, and topless horseback-riding
• Saddling star Sean Connery with a ponytail and a loincloth
• Being otherwise totally weird

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DEFENDER
Director John Boorman

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Warm and gracious. As if narrating a home movie, Boorman notes his personal connection to the places, people, and props onscreen. ("That horse you just saw was called Snowy. My children rode him for many years. Not bare-breasted, of course.") His tour-guide tactics are especially amusing when paired with images of a grimacing stone head floating across the screen shouting, "The penis is evil! Go forth and kill!"

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WHAT WENT WRONG
Sounding embarrassed, Boorman says, "I think the film was probably too ambitious for the amount of money that we had. I'm astonished at my hubris… A lot of this can be pretty laughable, really, if you don't enter into the spirit of the thing." Later, during Connery's trip-out scene, Boorman adds, "I'd cut this down a bit if I was doing it again. You can fast-forward this if you want to."

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Connery stayed at Boorman's home during the shoot, and Boorman mostly talks about his manners: "He was the perfect lodger. He'd always turn the lights off." Connery even drove himself to the set and offered to split his driving per diem with Boorman. As for leading lady Charlotte Rampling, who engages in some tepidly sexy make-out sessions with the hero, "Charlotte was disappointed… She was looking forward to being raped by Sean Connery."

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
Where to begin? How about "It's a kind of allegory for the notion of the haves and the have-nots, taken to a kind of extreme degree." Or "So here's this kind of Noah's Ark." Or "This sweat-licking scene was like something from Greek mythology… Wasn't it the goddess Isis?" Eventually, while laying out the film's complex philosophical underpinning, Boorman says, "You could say there were too many ideas in this picture."

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
"It was very difficult to get the Irish girls to expose their breasts."

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Joe Somebody (2001)

CRIMES
• Casting Tim Allen as a schlub training to fight the bully who beat him up in front of his daughter and coworkers, a role that requires him to seem likable
• Casting Jim Belushi
• Montage-sequence abuse during the many scenes in which down-on-his-luck martial-arts star Belushi attempts to train Allen

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DEFENDERS
Veteran Tim Allen director John Pasquin and veteran Tim Allen producer Brian Reilly

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Muffled enthusiasm. Pasquin and Reilly sound slightly sleepy as they discuss their shoot in the exotic land of Minnesota, constantly recounting problems caused by such un-California phenomena as "rain" and "wind." Pasquin musters up some enthusiasm for a scene between Allen and love interest Julie Bowen, but Reilly immediately qualifies it by saying, "Then again, we made the movie. So we like it."

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WHAT WENT WRONG
Both express regret that the film was cut in order to get a PG rating; the longer version featured, among other elements, Belushi's pot-smoking habit. "A little bit of the color of the movie was hurt by deleting some of those things," one commentator observes, shortly before a scene in which Allen, having been kicked in the testicles, sits on a bag of ice.

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Apparently, nothing teaches like experience. Observing a scene in which Allen wakes up in a drunken stupor, Pasquin notes, "I think that's another reason Tim was drawn to this character. He's been through alcoholic experiences in his past, and knows what this is like, and knows how difficult it is to come back out of it, and has certainly been in this position in his past a number of times." Later, Reilly says of Belushi, "This was a really great character choice for Belushi, because he came into the audition saying, 'I am this guy.'"

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
As Allen kisses Bowen, Pasquin says, "This, to me, was always sort of what the movie was about. This was a man who had gone through a loss and some humiliation, and the way out of that is to love again."

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
As Allen engages in some slapstick 42 minutes into the film, Pasquin says, "Now you begin to know you're in the world of a comedy, and you begin to see Tim do things that are a little bit more expected of him. The first part of the movie, the darker part of the movie, is where people began to wonder, 'Are we going to see a real comedy here?'"

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The Guardian (1990)

CRIMES
• Choosing a batty scenario about a sexy nanny who sacrifices infants for a tree-worshipping druidic ritual
• Finding increasingly ridiculous reasons for victims to flee into the forest, where they're beheaded by branches, impaled by roots, swallowed by a bleeding tree trunk, and eaten by wolves
• Including a scene in which Jenny Seagrove, the nakedest villain since Mathilda May in 1985's Lifeforce, gets fondled by twigs

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DEFENDERS
Director William Friedkin and Dennis Bartok, programmer for Los Angeles' American Cinematheque

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Serious and probing. Bartok uses the film as a pretext for a career-spanning interview with Friedkin, who comments intelligently on his methods and a range of other subjects. At one point, he refers to Nazi Germany as "a case of demonic possession on a mass scale."

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WHAT WENT WRONG
Friedkin admits that the original script was "not very good or interesting," and that his aspirations were "not exceptionally high." Nevertheless, his own harrowing experiences with nannies leads him to call it his most personal film. In a peculiar defense, he claims that The Guardian succeeds because of its flaws, like "scars in fine leather."

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Friedkin pushed for a no-name cast, under the logic that Gene Hackman was not a big star before The French Connection, nor was Ellen Burstyn before The Exorcist. Dwier Brown, Carey Lowell, and Seagrove have him to thank for launching their careers.

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
The disparity between the high-minded references and the onscreen silliness is staggering: When Seagrove and the tree start heavy petting, Bartok compares the moment to something out of Jean Cocteau. Friedkin claims the synth score, by Wang Chung's Jack Hues, evokes Dmitri Shostakovich.

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
Without irony, Friedkin asserts, "The whole notion of film as art has disappeared in American film."

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Ringmaster (1998)

CRIMES
• Trying to cash in on The Jerry Springer Show's popularity while limply criticizing it
• Pretending to champion common folk while portraying them as amoral sex fiends
• Employing wacky sound effects

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DEFENDER
Director Neil Abramson

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Repetitive and sonorous, with excessive self-esteem. Abramson trumpets how the handheld camera brings "reality" and the Mickey Mouse score adds "humor."

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WHAT WENT WRONG
For legal reasons, the film couldn't refer to "Jerry Springer" or The Jerry Springer Show. (Springer's character is just called "Jerry.") Abramson also says, "Jerry didn't want us to delve into certain aspects of his life," though he insisted on putting in some steamy bedroom antics for himself. ("I was vehemently against this," Abramson grumbles. "It doesn't do anything to enhance his character.") But Abramson is gung-ho about the rest of the sex in the movie, noting that some lesbian smooching "wasn't difficult to shoot," and lamenting that in an oral-sex scene, "the ratings board made us cut out some head bobs." The main problem though, was that Abramson shot the movie three weeks after reading the script for the first time, using whatever cast and locations he could scare up. Of the trailer-park set, he says, "The carpet stank so badly that people had to run outside every few seconds."

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Abramson is impressed by the creative input of costar Wendy Raquel Robinson, who "had this idea of having different hair colors at different times in the film… It's real in terms of African-American women going through all their ordeals with their hair." He also touts the stamina of the extras, who "had to say 'Jerry, Jerry, Jerry' a lot of times." And he adds, "The character of the cars is something we paid a lot of attention to."

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
"A lot of the pathos of the movie comes out of the desperation of these people… there's an underlying sadness." Abramson also insists that he "used the camera a lot to indicate POV. It brings a freshness, creates an inner life." He adds that being a South African helps him "see things Americans would miss."

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
"The blow-job scene really comes alive because of the sound effects. Really, nothing else is happening in that scene."

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Sleepaway Camp (1983)

CRIMES
• Serving as a time capsule for dozens of ill-considered, early-'80s cultural artifacts, from Loverboy to Suzanne Somers-style pigtails
• Taking place at a summer camp where the campers seem to range in age from 7 to 25
• Dispatching victims in ways that violate all known laws of physics

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DEFENDERS
Director Robert Hiltzik, star Felissa Rose, and Jeff Hayes, creator of the fan web site sleepawaycampmovies.com

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Fun and unnecessarily admiring. "The story, I think, is great… The characters are so well developed," says grown-up child-star Rose, after the child-molesting cook is killed by a giant pot of boiling water, but before a camper gets stung to death by bees while sitting on a toilet.

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WHAT WENT WRONG
Harsh words are few and far between on this track, though Hiltzik does suggest that it might not have been smart to commence shooting with a complicated, stunt-intensive scene that put him days behind schedule.

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Hiltzik, Rose, and Hayes offer praise all around, but everyone singles out newcomer Owen Hughes, who plays the child-molesting cook. "He stepped on the set and everyone just went, 'What a great actor," says Rose. "When I auditioned him, he was just on a different level," Hiltzik responds, presumably referring to an audition involving the character's signature line, "Look at all that young fresh chicken."

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
"Even though I was only 13… When you're a child, you're more apt to have that big imagination, and I created a whole character for myself," says Rose, describing her process. Later, in a flashback that reveals the potential psychological damage of being raised by two gay men, Hiltzik notes, "It's all about blurring gender roles." After a scene in which the killer guts a victim with a hunting knife, Hiltzik proudly points out that it's the only blood in the entire movie, saying, "I thought there were more creative ways to kill people rather than just blood." "Definitely," Hayes responds.

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
Upon seeing herself with teased hair, Rose, in one of many appropriations of Austin Powers' signature line, says "Yeah, baby! They teased my hair!"

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Deliver Us From Eva (2003)

CRIMES
• Gratuitous use of montage sequences
• Predictable double entendres involving LL Cool J's job as a meat-delivery man
• Ridiculous third-act plot twists involving kidnapping and a faked death

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DEFENDER
Director and co-writer Gary Hardwick

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Warm, overly explanatory. For some reason, Hardwick spells out everything that's happening in the film, making his commentary feel like closed captioning for the intelligence-impaired.
WHAT WENT WRONG
|A minor supporting character's marijuana habit was cut for time, as was a traffic accident and a flashback dramatizing Cool J's woman-slaying ways. Gabrielle Union, an excellent pool player, objected to her character's lackluster pool-playing skills.

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COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Hardwick dwells on his actresses' attractiveness in a way that borders on creepy. Apparently, a scene in which Meagan Good takes off her shirt had test audiences' "expectations" rising. Hardwick notes that while Union didn't want to do a scene wearing only a teddy, the crew's male members did want her to.

INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
In one of the montages, a character can be seen reading one of Hardwick's novels.

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THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
During a fantasy sequence in which Mel Jackson imagines Union chopping off his genitals, Hardwick helpfully explains that Jackson feels Union is "pretty much taking away his manhood."

Valentine (2001)

CRIMES
• Resurrecting the old tormented-child-grows-up-to-kill-the-people-who-rejected-him plot
• Exploiting the slasher-movie clichés Scream should have permanently killed, while further lowering the bar for slasher films targeted at the WB crowd
• Making little sense

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DEFENDER
Director Jamie Blanks

TONE OF COMMENTARY
Anxious, apologetic, Australian-accented. The filming of Valentine was apparently an endless series of compromises.

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WHAT WENT WRONG
Plenty. Blanks refreshingly concedes that much of the film doesn't make sense. He didn't want to rip off Halloween and Carrie so blatantly, but claims he had to. He wanted to hire a horror-movie icon like Bruce Campbell or Robert Englund to play the film's detective, but had to settle for Fulvio Cecere. Blanks tried to make Valentine a whodunit, but David Boreanaz was outed on the Internet as the film's villain early on. Due to the "political climate" of the time, the filmmakers had to scale back the violence, leading Blanks to not-so-tantalizingly refer repeatedly to his much bloodier director's cut.

COMMENTS ON THE CAST
Overwhelmingly and predictably positive. Boreanaz was disappointed that a stuntman did his character's actual killing. The Angel star came up with a slew of ideas for his
character, like wearing a watch that permanently stopped when he murdered his father.

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INEVITABLE DASH OF PRETENSION
A scene in an art display is conceived as an homage to the mirror scene in Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai.

THE COMMENTARY IN A NUTSHELL
"A little too much blue in this scene, but what can you do?"

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