Earlier this year, "15 Minutes" came out to mixed reviews and some additional criticism. In the middle of a period where the government was leaning on studio executives to curb the kind of violence that's often seen in mainstream cinema today and keep it away from children, "15 Minutes" showed a film where characters videotaped their violent acts and try to gain fame from it. The film is an attempt at social commentary, but these elements have been gone over before at various levels in films like "To Die For" and, to a lesser extent, "Strange Days" - both of which were better films.
Robert Deniro stars as Eddie Flemming, a NYC Homicide detective and a celebrity of sorts who always provides the scoop to the media. He's good friends with tabloid TV show host Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer) and also is carrying on a relationship with a newswoman (Melina Kanakaredes). Lately though, he's been trying to keep on a slightly low-profile, as it seems that the local authorities either resent him or want his autograph. One night, he steps into the territory of Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns), an arson investigator. The two meet up at the burned-down house of a couple. Their back-and-forth chatter is a part of the picture that turns into another "buddy cop" picture. What romantic relationships that do develop for both the Burns character (with the witness) and Deniro (with the newswoman) are only covered in the most minimal terms.
Earlier, two Eastern Europeans (Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) and Emil (Karel Roden) have arrived in the city to get money that they're owed from an old friend. When they find that he's spent the cash, they kill him and his wife, but leave a witness. After watching a lot of daytime television, they come up with the idea that they'll continue their videotaped crime spree, sell the rights to television and then come up with an insanity plea.
The film has several problems that get in the way of it being a better picture. First, the film's messages about tabloids and the media is rather heavy-handed, while the picture at the same time is rather (and "rather" is putting it lightly) violent itself. There's not much in the way of thought-provoking commentary throughout the picture - the majority of it just seemed like another police thriller to me and what little social commentary there is seemed rather repetitive and tired. The film also isn't quite sure what it wants to be. Starting off with a rather strangely dark comedic tone, it soon becomes aparent that this is definitely not a comedy. Neither of the lead performances are too inspired, either. Deniro simply is playing Deniro again, doing a fine job of doing what he's been doing for years now, no better or worse. There's one particularly unncessary scene that has the actor spoofing "Taxi Driver", as well. Burns is better playing cynical comedic characters in his directorial efforts "She's The One" and "Brothers McMullen". Kelsey Grammer gets a few scenes as a tabloid reporter where he simply overacts and is about as unsubtle as the rest of the picture
The film's few chase sequences are very well filmed, using New York locations to their fullest. Jean Yves-Escoffier still remains one of my favorite cinematographers and his work here is another superb effort. Sound designer Leslie Shatz ("The Mummy Returns") also accomplishes some fine work, especially during the exterior scenes, which provide a wide-open sound environment with good dimension. These two turn in fine efforts in the middle of a rather uninspired, depressing film.
"15 Minutes" tries to be both a police drama and social commentary and really doesn't succeed well at either genre. I suppose that a good film might be made satiring the "reality shows" that are currently invading television, but I think that the Wayans Brothers have more than likely already planned on parodying these in "Scary Movie 3".
VIDEO: New Line's first edition in their Infinifilm series was "13 Days". The film offered a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, but the effort wasn't up to New Line's usual outstanding standards - some noticable flaws were encountered and the picture often looked rather grainy. Whether or not the film simply had a less than remarkable visual style or New Line had too much information packed onto the disc remains to be seen, but things have improved considerably with "15 Minutes", with looks superb. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, this effort definitely shows the kind of effort that New Line is capable of. Sharpness and detail are stellar; the picture takes on a very "film-like" look with solid depth to the image. The scenes shot on "video" are not as crisp or well-defined, but still look fairly good.
Flaws are very minor - a couple of slight traces of pixelation and edge enhancement were noticed, but neither of these problems appeared more than extremely briefly and only during a couple of scenes - nothing noticable or distracting. Print flaws are non-existent; I spotted no hairs, marks, scratches or even a speckle on the print used.
Colors look terrific. Cinematographer Jean Yves-Escoffier("Crow: City Of Angels", "Good Will Hunting") uses color masterfully and also comes up with some wonderful compositions. Colors look bold, well-rendered and well-saturated, with no instances of smearing or other such flaws. Although not always successful in terms of storytelling, "15 Minutes" does look quite good on this DVD edition from New Line.
SOUND: New Line presents "15 Minutes in Dolby Digital 5.1. The 5.1 presentation offers up a suprisingly engaging, realistic and immersive surround-sound experience. Although the interior scenes mainly stick to simply focusing on the dialogue and music, the exterior scenes offer up an exceptional amount of detail in the surrounds - city sounds are enveloping and convincing. The music also comes from the surrounds often throughout the film.
Audio quality is stellar throughout the picture - the music and ambient sounds came through quite clearly and crisply. Some very nice low bass occasionally also accompanied the more intense scenes. Dialogue occasionally sounded a bit sharp, but otherwise came through fine. Overall, "15 Minutes" provides a very good sound experience for this DVD.
MENUS:: Nicely done animated menus revolving around Grammer's tabloid TV character.
Infinifilm Track: This is the second release in New Line's "Infinifilm" series). When selected, a blue band enters the screen at various moments (usually during the opening of the chapter) and allows the viewer to skip to another bit of material such as a clip from a documentary, a deleted scene or some text material like a filmography. I think that, for the most part, the Infinifilm feature can be an interesting one when it comes to checking out deleted footage that would have maybe occured at that point in the movie. But, at this point, I begin to worry that this means that all (or most) of the documentaries and other features on the disc will be forced to be included on the first disc, because they need to be able to be jumped to for a clip when the Infinifilm option gives you at points in the movie. This likely will often mean that Infinifilm editions will be one-disc efforts. The problem is, with all of that extra material locked into the first disc, will there be room for DTS?. I still think the idea of Infinifilm is good when it comes to "going beyond the movie" in terms of documentaries about the subject of the movie and not just the production itself, but I'm not quite as sold on the interactivity during the movie.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director John Herzfeld, who provides a very interesting discussion of the movie's production history. Herzfeld provides quite a few neat tidbits of information, such as the fact that the director made one of the villians watch five films and write essays on them - probably one of the few times that an actor has actually had to do homework for their role. Herzfeld also provides a wealth of information about how the filmmakers had to do quite a bit of research to portray accuracy in the film itself. Herzfield really doesn't leave much in the way of pauses of silence, but at the same time, he also occasionally goes over what's happening on-screen to fill time. Overall, I thought it was a fine commentary track, with a strong amount of information and only some slow periods.
15 Minutes Of True Tabloid Stars: This is a documentary featuring such tabloid names as Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy Raphael, Deborah Norville. As with New Line's other recently produced exclusive-to-DVD documentaries, this is a well-done featurette that does a fine job providing information and taking viewers behind-the-scenes in this particular subject. There's some very informative tidbits, such as the fact that Norville writes her own material for the show, which I personally found interesting. Sally Jessy also provides some good insights into how the business works. This documentary is a very good look at how talk shows have changed from something that was very dignified to something that's often considered (and often rightly so) sleazy. Don't watch until after the movie. It runs, of course, 15 minutes.
Does Crime Pay?: A 21 minute documentary, this offers a discussion between LAPD Detective Mark Fhurman, Stan Goldman of Loyola Law School, Gloria Allred and others, who provide a discussion of society today and the reality of the current laws. A very interesting and informative discussion, this is a well-produced and engaging documentary.
Deleted Scenes: 6 deleted scenes are presented, including a decently done chase sequence that runs into a movie theater where Herzfeld's "Two Days In The Valley" is playing. Optional commentary from the director is available, but unfortunately, you can't select "play all".
Videos: Two of the "unedited" videotaped scenes from the movie.
Music Video: "Fame", from God Lives Underwater (uh, he does?).
Also: Trailer (1.85:1/5.1); cast/crew filmographies; production fact subtitle track that can play throughout the movie; DVD-ROM including script-to-screen access.
Final Thoughts: Although it had a few well-staged moments, "15 Minutes" was, more often than not, a loud and often monotonous picture whose attempts at either a police thriller or social commentary are rarely that successful or interesting - the clash of the two often seemed awkwardly handled, as well. New Line's DVD, on the other hand, is definitely not awkwardly handled, it's expertly handled. Providing superior audio/video quality and strong extras, it's another excellent effort from the studio - it's just unfortunate that all of these quality features couldn't have accompanied a better movie. "15 Minutes" is more of a "rental".