In a perfect world, you wouldn't be buying 11:14, the feature length debut by writer/director Greg Marcks, when it comes out on DVD this Tuesday.
No, in this hypothetical
meritocracy, 11:14 would've gotten at least a limited theatrical release instead of languishing on the festival circuit throughout 2003 and 2004, and this DVD would've been on store shelves a year and a half ago. Instead, distributors wouldn't touch it for several years, and when New Line finally did sign on the dotted line, they dumped it in one theater in San Francisco and churned out this DVD without any promotion or fanfare. It's kind of depressing to think that something as vapid as Supercross can splash across 1,621 screens, but an independent comedy this wickedly clever has to fight for years to make it onto one.
11:14 is told in reverse, opening with the slightly-sauced Jack (Henry Thomas) understandably startled as a lifeless body is dropped from an overpass onto the hood of his car just as the clock on his stereo ticks forward to 11:14 PM. It's quite a bit more complicated than the hit-and-run that Jack and an investigating officer mistake it to be, though; with an ensemble cast including Hilary Swank, Rachael Leigh Cook, Patrick Swayze, Colin Hanks, Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, and Barbara Hershey, 11:14 consists of a series of interconnected vignettes showing what led up to that point, each set a few minutes prior to the one before it. Within the space of twenty minutes or so of movie-time, the disposal of a corpse whose head was mid-coitally crushed by a crumbling tombstone, a frantic search for a severed...um, organ during a late night vandalism run, and a mock-robbery to snag enough cash for a girlfriend's abortion are just some of the seemingly unconnected events that all somehow culminate in Jack's accident.
...and despite the way that synopsis probably reads, 11:14 is a comedy...or, at least, it's as much a comedy as it is anything else. The easiest point of comparison is Go, which also weaves together separate but connected stories and has a similarly dark, quirky sense of humor. 11:14 doesn't rely on an onslaught of one-liners, prat falls, or mugging to the camera; the comedy stems from the severity and strangeness of the situations these characters get themselves into and how they react, and each vignette has at least one funny but mildly unsettling jolt. It's the type of movie that makes me jump, cringe, and laugh at the same time, which is hard enough to pull off once, let alone six or seven times.
a brilliantly structured film. Everything that happens is important, and writer/director Greg Marcks does a remarkable job of highlighting all of the puzzle pieces without anything ever seeming confusing or overly obvious. Each vignette assembles a couple of pieces in the puzzle while tossing a couple more on the pile, and when the movie wraps up, the story comes completely full-circle in a way I wouldn't ever have expected. It's tough to maintain suspense in a film that begins with the ending, not to mention the fact that there are so many characters that that no one's "the star" or "the hero" or "the villain", but Marcks pulls it off effortlessly. Clocking in at 78 minutes minus the opening and closing credits, 11:14 is a lean movie without a single moment of filler, and I have to love a flick that literally tosses its first dead body 38 seconds in. The entangled events become intertwined not by coincidence, but as a consequence of what these mostly dim, self-serving, manipulative characters do, and with as skillful as the writing, directing, and acting are, 11:14 doesn't use the unconventional storytelling as a gimmicky crutch. 11:14 is worth seeking out not because it starts on the next to the last page of the book and works its way back, but because it's a funny, witty, inventive movie. Highly recommended.
Video: The majority of 11:14 was shot under pretty low-light, and that means grainy photography and a limited palette. That's just the nature of the movie and isn't meant as any sort of gripe; the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video is clean, decently sharp, and has the sort of deep, inky blacks you'd expect from a movie taking place just after 11 PM. No complaints.
Audio: 11:14 offers a few different soundtracks, serving up audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kbps), DTS, and 2.0 surround. I didn't feel compelled to meticulously compare the pair of six-channel soundtracks, but the DTS audio sounds good. Dialogue and sound effects are crisp and clear, the music has a strong presence
in all of the speakers, the subwoofer rattles pretty consistently...neither amazing nor disappointing, but again, no complaints.
The DVD includes subtitles in English and Spanish, and it's apparently closed captioned, although I couldn't get the captions to display on my DVD-ROM.
Supplements: For a movie that had such a hard time finding distribution, there's a decent assortment of extras on the DVD, beginning with an audio commentary with writer/director Greg Marcks. I wish he could've piled one or two of the actors into the booth with him to keep things a little more conversive; the commentary's informative but on the dry side, and between that and the pauses between comments, I'd occasionally forget that I was listening to something. Viewers interested in the technical side of filmmaking will find plenty to enjoy -- Marcks delves in depth into the motivation behind and the execution of the lighting, camerawork, and effects -- and he also comments about the various locations where 11:14 was shot. Some of his other notes include the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple being a source of inspiration, the difficulty of shooting a movie entirely at night, getting pulled over when a van plowed through a red light during shooting, Patrick Swayze having to wear a fat suit, and the legal hassle in trying to clear the electronic skwawking from "Ms. Pac Man". Kind of an average commentary overall.
"46 Minutes to Midnight: The Making of 11:14" is a standard issue ten minute featurette, alternating between behind the scenes footage, clips from the movie, and kinda lightweight interviews. Greg Marcks, executive producer David Rubin, Rachael Leigh Cook, Colin Hanks, Hilary Swank, Henry Thomas, and Ben Foster are interviewed, chatting about how much they loved the script, how much they loved their characters, and how much they loved working with Marcks. Like a lot of these sorts of featurettes, it feels pretty promotional, geared more towards people who haven't seen the movie than those who have already shelled out fifteen bucks to buy the DVD.
There are four deleted scenes that run
five and a half minutes in total. Most of them are extensions of what made it into the movie, but the lengthiest has Frank (Patrick Swayze) trying to explain to a cop why he's trying to smash a car window without revealing that he has a dead body in the trunk. These scenes can be viewed individually or consecutively, and Greg Marcks offers optional audio commentary where he talks about why they were pulled out of the final cut and points out things like the difficulty of getting a dog to pee on cue.
Although 11:14 is told non-linearly, there's a character jump feature in the extras that'll overlay a "Jump" icon whenever two characters interact, and hitting that icon jumps to the next part in the story with that character. There are also two storyboard-to-screen comparisons, showing the body both being tossed off the overpass and colliding with Jack's car. Rounding out the extras are anamorphic widescreen trailers for 11:14 and Havoc. The DVD comes packaged in a keepcase without an insert, and the disc includes a set of 16x9 animated menus and 24 chapter stops.
Conclusion: I guess the referential pitch would be something like "Memento meets Go", and if that sounds appealing -- or if you're just in the market for a clever and hysterically funny dark comedy -- it's worth the effort to track down a copy of 11:14. Because of the way everything ties together at the end, that also leaves 11:14 being a blast to give a second spin, and there are enough extras in the package to make this DVD worth the pretty modest sticker price. (As I write this, at least, it's available online for just over $13 shipped.) Highly Recommended.