Sunday, July 08, 2007

[DVD] About Schmidt (2002)

Clock Watching

Retirement can be a scary thing. I suppose it's about 40 years before I hit retirement age (given that it's a moving target on the increase), but I do confess at times I think about it, a time where I presumably have the opportunity to do whatever I please - travel, read, and of course watch more movies at discounted ticket prices, and so on, but whether or not I will have the strength and energy to do so will be a different story, and more importantly, whether my retirement funds will be sufficient to support a lifestyle I choose.

Anyway I was surprised with About Schmidt. At first glance I thought it was going to be a mundane movie, but it had plenty of heart, and many moments of contemplation which actually made me ponder deeper about those sunset times. Jack Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, a Vice President of an insurance company who retires at the start of the story. Naturally it takes much getting used to, and with time on his hands, he thinks about the legacy, or the lack thereof, in which he is leaving behind.

From not being appreciated by the younger generation taking over his office, to trying to patch ties with his estranged daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) who's about to get married to a blue collared "loser" Randall (Dermot Mulroney, note that I put that word in quotations, because I thought I'd become fast friends with people like that, those who are genuinely earnest), much against his wishes, here's a portrait of an extremely sad, lonely man trying to take stock of his life, where little routine things suddenly become significant.

The first half of the movie set the scene, before the second half takes us on a road trip of sorts, much like Broken Flowers or even Elizabethtown, during which Schmidt exhibits more of his insecurities and fear. Jack Nicholson did a superb job as usual fleshing out the character of Warren, with the cinematography being tip top in bringing out the detachment he experiences with his environment. You can feel his pain and wanting to belong, holding dear to treasures of his heart, especially his daughter. And to borrow these lines from his earlier movie, Jack's Warren Schmidt personifies "I'm only laughing on the outside, my smile is just skin deep. but if you look inside I'm really crying, you might join me for a weep!" to a T.

Based on a novel by Louis Begley and directed by Alexander Payne (who brought us another road trip movie Sideways), one of the highlights of the movie is Warren's communication with an African child he adopted long distance. Through his letters, it becomes clear the issues he's grappling with, and some of the white lies he tells, which mirrors the way he lives his life. And I must say as much as movie endings are important, About Schmidt has one of the simplest, but most powerful message it brings out, and that is while we worry about the legacy we live behind in the world for generations to come, sometimes it's not necessary that it must be something monumental. The simplest gesture, straight from the heart, is all there is to make a difference, and stamp your mark.

With an excellent waltz like theme for Warren Schmidt, and that shot of Encyclopedia Brown (nostalgia! I read that as a kid!), I'd recommend About Schmidt anytime should anyone ask which recent Jack Nicolson movies one should watch. Be warned though, the Code 3 DVD is censored, especially those bits with Kathy Bates (I suspect for, erm, nudity).

The Code 3 DVD from Alliance Entertainment comes in widescreen 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation, or in full screen (1,33:1). Visual transfer was decent, and audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Scene selection is over 15 chapters, and subtitles are available in English or Chinese.

The Special Features included are the theatrical trailer (2:25), deleted scenes and a featurette known as he Woodmen Sequences. The deleted scenes were presented in "raw form", but it turned out in better quality than I thought. Clocking in at 30:36, about 9 scenes were included here, most of which were omitted to speed things up especially in the first half of the movie (watch it and you'll know why). The deleted scenes are Scene 17 around a dining table, which was painful to director Alexander Payne to remove because of its personal nature, Scene 22 which was shot in the lobby of Woodmen of the World building, Scenes 34-37 which I agreed should be removed because it interrupted the flow of Schmidt's angry letter, Scenes 68-71 which was some excellent father-daughter screen time, Scenes 88-93 touching on Schmidt's arrest, Scene 103 which was not in the theatrical version but in the network TV and airline version, Scenes 110-113 with Schmidt visiting Pioneer Village, Scene 152 involving the highway patrol after an incident at the trailer park and Scene 161 at a breakfast diner.

The Woodmen Sequences are a series of short films made out of shots of the Woodmen of the World building, as well as shots of Omaha, like an ode to both the building and the city. Consisting of 5 short films with a total time of 13:35, they are all distinctly different in style and feel, with short film 1 looking like an alternate opening credit sequence, short film 4 like a comedic short, and short film 5, being the longest, but the most experimental.

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