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Windtalkers (DC)
DVD disk
May 2, 2006 By: Jason Coleman
Windtalkers (DC) order
Director:
John Woo

Actors:
Nicolas Cage
Christian Slater
Adam Beach

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
It’s the story of Navajo Indians, recruited to learn a wartime code that the Japanese could not break. It’s also the story of the soldiers who are assigned to protect them, but whose real orders are much more direct and morbid - “protect the code”.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
It’s funny, but seeing WINDTALKERS in the theatre, I remember being thoroughly disappointed. After all, nothing comes close to the brilliant and daring style of cinema Director John Woo had created back in Hong Kong with such greats as THE KILLER, HARD BOILED, and BULLET IN THE HEAD. And once you have experienced these films, everything else Woo has done since coming to America, just feels watered down. Seeing it again now years later, after my hatred towards Hollywood for corrupting such a visionary has now subsided, I must admit, it’s an entertaining flick. While Woo’s trademark comic book styled action acrobatics are nowhere to be found here, they are replaced by a brutal and visceral reality that has a lasting effect. His battle sequences here are gritty and gory and rightfully so, war is not pretty. But in Woo’s world, there is always a tension between friends, a looming question about loyalty and duty, and WINDTALKERS is no exception. It’s the flipside to his previous films – the anti-comic book movie if you will – forgoing traditional action clichés and showing war with a heartbreakingly human side.

The performances all fall in line with Woo’s new vision to a tee, from Cage as the bitter and encrusted soldier battling demons, to Slater as the happy-go-lucky guy with dreams, to even Adam Beach and Roger Willie, who could have played their roles as typical white hating Navajo men, but instead bring a surprising depth and complexity. (Also, look for early work by Mark Ruffalo, great stuff!) And while some lines and moments are redundant and familiar (what war movie at this point isn’t?!), the overall movie does manage to keep the viewer interested. The idea of what a man’s life is worth, being able to choose whether he lives or dies and being able to live with any and all consequences are definitely not new concepts. (It’s war, not rocket science!) It’s been done many times, by such greats as Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Coppola, but what makes WINDTALKERS so compelling is its ability to put a face on almost faceless events. And while at the end of the day, it remains a powerful piece of work, I still miss the John Woo from Hong Kong, who always made films his way.
THE EXTRAS
I guess with the release of the HOSTEL DVD, everyone and his mother is jumping on the multiple Audio Commentary bandwagon. It’s in full force on this Director’s Cut of WINDTALKERS, with no less then three to choose from. (And boldly, no other features!) But let’s find out if there is too much of a good thing….

Introduction by Director John Woo (0:49): A short and very robotic intro by Director Woo, describing the scenes that have been added to this cut, which are mostly just scenes of dialogue and character development. (Did you really think MGM was gonna make Woo trim his brilliant action sequences?!) They should’ve let him talk off the cuff, as it looks like he’s reading off a teleprompter. (And also looks like the screen for the teleprompter is ten feet away from the camera!)

Commentary (with Director John Woo and Producer Terence Chang): For a guy who was described as the Woo-Woo-Choo-Choo on the set of HARD TARGET (named for his multiple dolly shots), Director Woo’s dialogue here brings the train to a halt. This is an incredibly boring, uninformative, and ass kissy commentary track and it really is a shame. Woo is the master of all things visual and could have given some real insight into his process. Instead, we get comments on casting, characters, and what is going on in certain scenes. (Yeah, we couldn’t figure that one out on our own!) Plus the ass kissing is on a new Mother Teresa level, with Woo stating that someone is “very smart, very talented, and has a lot of spirit.” Chang does chime in as well, but it’s no better. Only once does Woo touch on something of interest to fledging filmmakers and fans, when he talks about his affinity for not wanting to shot list a scene, but stops short and goes back to the standard stuff. (Can I please be a moderator on one of these damn commentaries?!)

Commentary (with Actors Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater): You know things are going to go in the wrong direction when Cage states right at the beginning of this track that “I normally don’t like to do this because I feel like giving away all our secrets is like a bad magician and it robs the audience of what they want to imagine or feeling or thinking (sic), but we’re friends of John Woo…” (Hey Nick, most of the people who listen to these tracks, know all about film and its secrets already bro!) I say Cage should have stuck to his own advice, because both he and Slater have nothing new or mind blowing to add. There’s lots of compliments flying (a lot pointed at each other!) and stating why things are great in this scene, or brilliant in that one, and its weathering. Sometimes the guys don’t even give their opinions, saying things like “You can interpret whatever you want.” (Then why do we need you?) Actually I forgot - there is one point at around the seven minute mark, where Cage throws caution to the wind and reveals that he listened to an unknown Black Sabbath song just before an action scene. (Wow, now the magic of this flick is ruined forever, thanks Nic!) Best unintentional funny moment - when Cage talks about laughing uncontrollably on the set of FAMILY MAN, not knowing why. I got a guess – it was probably something about Brett Ratner trying to be a serious dramatic director – shit, it still makes me laugh!

Commentary (with Actor Roger Willie and Navajo Code Talker Advisor Albert Smith): I feel somewhat bad for saying this, but this track is a guaranteed cure for insomnia. Putting these two together, both of whom have a very slow and drawl way of speaking, was a big mistake and I now know what Nic was talking about. Not that any real secrets are revealed here, I just that after listening to this whole track I wanted to die. (And that can’t be good for future DVD sales!) I dare any person out there to listen to this entire commentary (I’m using the term loosely!) and come out feeling satisfied. (It’s too slow, too painful and much too boring to warrant a full length track!) It ain’t gonna happen!

Bottom line is these tracks go from barely tolerable to barely audible. (And trust me, that’s a good thing!) If as an actor, director, producer, or even code talker, you have nothing interesting, new, insightful, or revealing to say, please, pretty please with sugar on top, kindly shut the f!#& up! (A little base for me, I admit, but these three excruciating commentary tracks would even make Gandhi stand up and bitch slap somebody!)

There is also a Theatrical Teaser and Trailer, plus Trailers for MGM MEANS GREAT MOVIES, DIE ANOTHER DAY SPECIAL EDITION DVD, DANCES WITH WOLVES SPECIAL EDITION DVD, and HANNIBAL SPECIAL EDITION DVD.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Sometimes a film can be better the second time around, giving the viewer another chance to possibly connect with the material. For me, WINDTALKERS is such a film, one that I easily dismissed as a paint-by-numbers war flick and a waste of Director John Woo’s talents, but upon a second viewing, turned out to be a very engrossing movie. And while it may not overtake or overshadow the brilliant early work that made Woo such a visionary in Hong Kong, it’s a film that merely wants to entertain and ask questions, and on that level, it succeeds. (Though it really didn’t get enriched by adding the few scenes for this Director’s Cut!) As far as the special features go (if you can call three commentary tracks features!), this is one disc that would be a better buy if it had zero extras. No matter, this is a film that can speak for itself and with a spectacular looking picture and sound here, it’s worth getting. Just forget all the extra commentary talkers here, as they’re simply pissing into the wind.
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