Five Movie Commentaries to Listen to in January

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (featuring writer-director Shane Black and stars Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer)

Why Listen: This commentary is almost as entertaining as the movie. The rapport between these three gives a decent idea of why the film works as well as it does. Shane BlackRobert Downey Jr., and Val Kilmer are incredibly quick and always keep things lively. Kilmer might (jokingly) name drop more than he does discuss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Pretty much anything Kilmer says makes you lean in, listen, and more often than not laugh. In addition to the humor, you do gain some insight into how the three participants like to work.

What’s Said: “Robert is a very generous actor,” Kilmer says. “He likes acting with actors. And sadly, a lot of actors don’t. A lot of actors don’t. You ever see a little movie Tom Hanks did where he’s acting with a volleyball? That’s pretty much every actor’s favorite role.”

A Day on the Job: There’s not a whole lot of discussion about specific days, but Kilmer is honest about filming the Russian roulette sequence. “You’re dying to tell everyone what happened, aren’t you?” he asks Downey with a laugh. “Go on. I’m beyond scrutiny now. You can’t touch me. I’ll admit, I had a little trouble with the exposition, and then you had a couple of little problems with some lines, Shane, which we talked about changing, and we did, and that’s my excuse for asking for cue cards. That’s what Robert’s alluding to. I didn’t end up needing them? Did I, Robert? Did I?”

Trivia: Some people actually wanted Black to cut the bullet gag from the script.

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Swingers (featuring Doug Liman and editor Stephen Mirrione)

Why Listen: Doug Liman provides great commentaries for aspiring filmmakers. He offers up so much advice and spends a lot of time covering the technical side of things. Liman’s commentaries for Go and Swingers are especially enlightening. He says Swingers was “at the end of the day meant to be a resume film,” which allowed everyone to take chances and break rules. Liman discusses at length trying to do the best with what the footage he got, in addition to reading books on cinematography on set and taking advantage of unfocused shots, jump cuts, and continuity errors. Stephen Mirrione and Liman frequently mention how limitations led to some of the film’s most beloved scenes.

What’s Said: An important lesson Mirrione, an Academy Award winner who’s edited many of Soderbergh’s films, learned from Swingers: “It’s very easy when you’re doing something low-budget like this, where you don’t really know what you’re doing — you can’t ever give up. There’s always a way to get around something, there’s always a way make something work.”

A Day on the Job: You can’t get a permit to shoot along I-15. When Mike and Trent are sitting in the car and about to head home from Vegas, there were five or six police cars on the other side of the camera. Liman explains:

Luckily, Jon and Vince aren’t facing them. One time we projected dailies we heard this lecture from some independent film producer giving, like, a film school for a weekend class. He explained you can film without permits because you just tell them you do have a permit, but it’s in the office, and the office is like, a seven-hour drive away. By the time you’ve come back, the cops have changed shifts. That’s what’s going on right now. Avram Ludwig, who worked as my A.D. on this and really can accomplish anything, is surrounded by these enormous Nevada state troopers, who eventually figured out what was going on and told us to pack it up, or they’d throw us all in jail.

A lot of the scene was shot as they were pretending to pack the equipment.

Trivia: Favreau wrote the last scene in a day after it was decided the film should end with Mike’s friend seeing him happy, not with a phone call.

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Training Day (featuring director Antoine Fuqua)

Why Listen: Antoine Fuqua is commentating solo, and like most commentaries with one participant, there’s some stop and go. That’s not an issue here, though, as Fuqua speaks with confidence and intelligence, explaining the life of an undercover cop, the challenges of shooting in Los Angeles, and the lengths he went to create a sense of authenticity. Fuqua clearly understands this world and did his research. Hearing the director discuss soldiers coming from home Vietnam and becoming cops, like Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), and how undercover cops manipulate informants is the kind of information that’s as fascinating as all Fuqua’s memories from making the film.

What’s Said: Everyone knows Washington is a great actor, but he also has a hell of a memory.

Denzel can hear something once, and a month later you’ll hear him saying it. [Alonzo says] ‘You wanna go to jail or you wanna go home?’ I think he heard that once from an undercover cop, [named] ‘Cool Cat.’ You say things around him, he’ll absorb it, and throw it at you a month or two months later in a scene. He doesn’t write it down. I’ve never seen him write it down. He becomes his character. Denzel became Alonzo. Every day on set I was dealing with Alonzo, which is, you know, a little horrifying sometimes because you don’t know what’s going to come out of his mouth. You just roll with it, man. Not only does he stay focused on the story and the scene, he just brings this reality to it. You can’t rehearse it, you can’t write it in a script; you just need to give him the room he needs.

A Day on the Job: One of the most dramatic and intense scenes in Training Day — Alonzo trying to reason with Jake (Ethan Hawke) after killing Roger (Scott Glenn) — was originally two minutes longer. Washington, showing Alonzo at his most vulnerable, was as powerful to watch on set that day as he is in the finished scene.

If you listen to the words, he doesn’t lie to him about anything in this scene. I’m glad we trimmed it down because we got the best out of it, but they did so many things when I shot the scene. Denzel was so sincere. There’s one shot I have where his eyes were watery, almost like a tear was about to drop out of his eyes, as he talked to Jake like his son. It was so intense between Ethan and Denzel. Everyone on the set was just captured by these two. This is incredible acting to me: these guys sitting in a car with not a lot of room to move, and to keep you interested and focused. I mean, they’ve been doing it the whole movie. This is more exciting to me than any action. I love seeing these two go at it.

Trivia: When Terry Crews‘ character uses the pigeons to warn the neighborhood cops have arrived, it’s called flipping pigeons, and it is a deep subculture. Some of these birds cost “about $8,000 a piece” and can represent power or a sign of respect.

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