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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Personal Velocity
Personal Velocity
MGM // R // March 18, 2003
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Blair | posted March 26, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Personal Velocity isn't so much a movie as it is a mini trilogy. It doesn't play like a movie, but rather a string of short stories, which isn't surprising because Personal Velocity is based upon the writings of writer/director Rebecca Miller. Yet, however odd this movie may be, one thing for sure is that it's told in the most compelling manner.

Personal Velocity shows us three intimate portraits of three extraordinary women. Each portrait runs about 30 minutes in length and does an amazingly effective job at showing us how each of these women have gotten to where they are today. After only ten minutes into each story you'll feel like you personally know each character like a neighbor. The stories range from depressing, to comical, to confusingly odd.

The first story stars Kyra Sedgwick, (Something to Talk About) who plays a mean, street tough, and sexually boisterous housewife who finally makes the decision to take her three children away from her abusive husband. The story is harsh, and emotionally brutal, but very convincing at the same time. Sedgwick's gritty performance is spot-on, and never lets you for a moment forget her character's lifelong hardships and vulnerable soul.

The second story stars the delightfully quirky Parker Posey (Best in Show). Posey plays a New York cookbook editor whose thirst for excitement and success draw her into a sudden life of infidelity. Luck and talent gives her the opportunity to make it big, and she must make a decision that affects not only her life, but also the life of her faithful husband. This lighthearted and upbeat tale was my favorite story of the three and made me wish it were longer. Posey's screen presences is mesmerizing, and makes you think her story is longer than it really is.

The third story stars Fairuza Balk, (Almost Famous). Balk plays a punk-ish, street girl that experiences one traumatic experience after the other. Every event takes her seemingly farther away from reality until her life changing decision in the end. As much as I enjoyed Balk's performance, this was my least favorite story of the bunch. To me the story came across as confusing and unsatisfying. In the end though, all three women make a single decision that changes their lives forever. A decision brought on by immediacy, repressed guilt, fear, and revelation.

The acting is superb, and the direction from Rebecca Miller is excellent. It's shocking that this movie ended up this good considering the budget and equipment used in this Mini DV independent film. Most women should be able to connect with at least one of the three stories; however don't expect this to be a fully satisfying movie experience, because it's not. Each story is merely a glimpse in each characters life, and purposely offers no closure, which will ultimately bother some. No matter how you look at it, Personal Velocities is the visual account of three short stories, and though beautifully told, it still lacked the ever-important element that it needed to bring all three stories together.


Video: Personal Velocities is presented in both 1.85:1 widescreen and 1.33:1 full screen. Both versions are offered on the same disc, which is refreshing to see. The picture here isn't entirely great, but this is not the fault of the video transfer, witch is quite wonderful. It does however have everything to do with the source material. This movie was shot entirely with mini digital video cameras, and as such, looks the part. There is a lot of graininess to the picture, which was actually purposely added during the shooting of the film via smoke machines to help reduce the harsh contrast that Mini DV usually displays. There is also a lot of pixelation present in many background scenes, but it's unclear if the transfer, or the low-res digital cameras caused this.

Despite the picture gripes, this movie has to be considered somewhat of a breakthrough for Mini DV films, for this is the most professional looking independent film I've ever seen shot with Mini DV cameras. And though it's clear that Mini DV is a long way from surpassing film, it sure proves to be a worthy cost effective alternative.

Audio: Here we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The audio is fairly excellent, though far from impressive. The only time you'd even remember you're listening to a 5.1 track is when the music kicks on, which is quite often in the first story. But the sound is crisp and clean, and the dialogue is plainly prominent at all times. Overall this is a nice audio track that doesn't come close to overpowering the beautiful visuals.

Extras: We actually get some pretty nifty extra features on this disc. Here you'll find two audio commentaries, the first is given by writer-director Rebecca Miller, and the second by Cinematographer Ellen Kuras, and Gaffer John Nadeau. Miller's commentary is a real snoozer, and I'd avoid it unless you're real hard up for a time killer. I had high hope for this commentary because she seems like an amazingly intelligent person who could offer a wealth of deep information about the stories, but unfortunately she gets way too caught up in the movie, and goes into "silent mode" negating to say a word for long periods of time.

The commentary given by Kuras and Nadeau however is excellent, and well worth the listen. Kuras constantly gives fascinating into as to the hardships they had to endure filming in Mini DV, as well as tricks that had to be performed to compensate for the formats limitations.

Also included:

In Conversation: Rebecca Miller and Cast: This is a lengthy interview-like conversation with Rebecca Miller and some of the cast of Personal Velocities. This was somewhat interesting, and offered a good look at some of their real-life personalities.

Behind-the-Scenes Featurette: This is a very entertaining featurette that shows us snippets of footage taken during the shooting of the movie. This gives a good look at how shots were made, and how the crew acted when the pressure is on.

Final Thoughts

Personal Velocities is an excellent movie highlighted by emotional acting and precision directing. Each story pulls you into the characters' head, and lets you into their heart. If you're in the mood for a trio of emotional female portraits than this movie is something you really must see. And even though this movie left me feeling wholly unsatisfied in the end, I don't want to discredit it for my personal expectations. I'm sure most women will enjoy the picturesque storytelling style of Miller and Kuras. I believe Miller has a bright future in films, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

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