Hard Eight:Special Edition
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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 4, 2000
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Paul Thomas Anderson may have first achieved fame as a director from "Boogie Nights", but "Hard Eight" was his first effort as a director in 1996. The film stars Phillip Baker Hall in an excellent performance as Sydney, an older man and successful gambler who finds friends in a young, naive man named John and a woman named Clemmentine(Gwyneth Paltrow). The film opens with a highly engaging sequence where Sydney teaches John how to work the casinos.

What I like about Anderson as a filmmaker is that he offers the audience a world and doesn't always answer every question. He doesn't lead us by the hand through his films. He thinks we're smart enough to maybe solve some of the puzzles and plots presented and of course, it's a much more rewarding viewing experience.

John and Clementine do become a couple and it's Sydney who has to help them when things go wrong and John finds himself having to clean up a violent act. Add in a mysterious character named Jimmy(Samuel L. Jackson) and the sort of slow, detailed pace of the opening part of the film begins to come together as the film turns a corner and begins to move forward with it's characters towards the plot's conclusion.

"Hard Eight" is all about performances. Phillip Baker Hall is outstanding as Sydney, and Paltrow as well as John Riley as John are both excellent in supporting performances. The film also puts Anderson's talent on display; the writing and direction are both excellent. "Hard Eight" had an enormous amount of problems in it's distribution and unfortunately, left theaters all too quickly. It's wonderful to see Tristar giving the film another chance on DVD with a very well-done special edition.

The DVD VIDEO: It's Tristar. For those who have seen almost anything done by Tristar lately, you just know you're going to get quality. This studio, in my opinion, has a more consistent track record than any other out there. They take a small film like this and not only give it an excellent transfer, but 2 commentaries on top of it. "Hard Eight" is no exception to the kind of quality that Tristar presents each and every time out. Here we're presented with a sharp, clear 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Colors are nice and natural, presenting the vibrant tones of Vegas clearly and accurately.

This is not only a clear looking image, but it's a clean looking one as well. Edges are consistently clean and there are little or no problems with aliasing or pixelization. The print used is clean as well. Contrast and brightness are fine, and flesh tones are consistently natural. Again, Tristar offers a high-quality effort.

SOUND: "Hard Eight" is a fairly small picture and mainly dialogue. There are other pleasant aspects of this soundtrack though: Michael Penn's score sounds very good, coming across very clear and full. There are some nice instances of ambient sounds, as well. This isn't a major soundtrack, but it certainly gets the job done very well. Dialogue is fine, clear and never thin sounding.

MENUS: Some basic, but stylish and easily navigated main menus.

EXTRAS::

Commentary 1: This is a commentary from director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Phillip Baker Hall. The two of them go back and forth on how they met and also, their history together and how Hall has become Anderson's favorite actor. If you've heard the "Boogie Nights" commentary, you've heard Anderson- very wired, a lot of cursing. Same here, but I think when Anderson does focus on either talking about the film or talking about filmmaking in general, he's informative and interesting. Anderson really isn't a commentator who talks about more technical issues such as camerawork, he focuses far more on working with the actors and issues that he faced during the writing of the film. Phillip Baker Hall mainly talks about meeting and working with Anderson and the process of building this film from the ground up. Don't worry about any pauses on this track, as Anderson just talks and talks and talks. Some of what he says is just insane, but he says so much you just have to pull from this discussion the sort of gems of information. This is certainly an "actor's" commentary, though: Anderson certainly has a lot to say about who he likes to work with and how he prefers to work with actors.

Commentary 2:This commentary includes Anderson, Hall and Michelle Sater(director of the feature program for the Sundance Institute). This is essentially a continuance of the first commentary for Anderson and Hall, but what's said here is no less interesting. The commentary starts off with a fascinating discussion on the Sundance Institute and the process that filmmakers and their projects go through during their stay at Sundance, from how films are accepted to the process of testing and working and workshopping their films till they get it right. You can see the results of some of this testing on this DVD, which includes some of the test shots that Anderson did during his stay at Sundance.This commentary also mentions some of the mentors that Anderson had at Sundance such as Richard LaGravenese("Living Out Loud") and Michael Caton-Jones. Before I go on, the rather weird thing about this commentary is that you can't hear any dialogue or anything like that behind the commentary, but you can hear the score loud and clear behind the commentary, which makes for sort of an isolated score. There isn't quite as much to this commentary track either, which makes for more chances to hear the score play out, which is a good thing, because Michael Penn's score is definitely cooler than cool. When the commentators are speaking, this seems more focused on the birth of the movie, leading it through Sundance. The wildest thing doesn't happen till halfway through the track. The track moves outside(or at least it sounds like it) and other various locations where Anderson begins to interview people who were involved with the movie. I'm still not quite sure who some of these people are, but I did enjoy the question and answer sessions. The stories these people have and memories about the film are frequently hilarious.

Trailers: 2 Trailers For The Movie

Sundance Lab Scenes:: These are 3 scenes that were shot on video as Anderson worked out ideas for the film at the Sundance Institute. These are definitely interesting viewing for after the movie to see not only the early ideas for the film, but to see the kind of work that Anderson talks about in the commentary and examples what filmmakers can do while at Sundance.

Deleted Scene: A scene titled "The Kiss", taken from Anderson's first cut of the film. It's a well-acted scene and although I'm sure there were reasons why it was taken out, it's certainly nice to have it included.

Final Thoughts: This is the first time I've ever seen the film and I found it enjoyable. The disc is fantastic, though: 2 very enjoyable commentary tracks and more. Video and audio quality is certainly good, as well.



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