Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
In Theaters
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Savant
Horror DVDs
The M.O.D. Squad
Art House
HD Talk
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info


Project Greenlight 2

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // Unrated // July 13, 2004
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 17, 2004 | E-mail the Author
"Yeah, this is a fulfillment of a childhood dream for both of us. I've always wanted to direct a film. Efram's always wanted to demand a car."

"There are two options: either they're naive, or they're passive-aggressive manipulative fucks."

The first Project Greenlight had Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and producer Chris Moore offering prospective filmmakers an unprecedented opportunity, plucking a script from obscurity through an online contest and enabling its screenwriter to bring it to fruition on the big screen. The result the first time out was Pete Jones' Stolen Summer. One recurring theme throughout the second season of Project Greenlight seems to be "this time, it's commercial", as Miramax and the producers at LivePlanet are still licking their wounds from the critical and commercial failure of Stolen Summer. The process has evolved in its second iteration. Rather than selecting one individual to both write and direct, taking a cue from Jones floundering around on the set the previous season, LivePlanet sponsored contests to select individual writers and directors. Writers submitted scripts, naturally, and selected directors offered their own unique takes on an incoherent script they were sent. I don't think I'm spoiling much by revealing who the eventual winners were, since they appear on the cover, innumerable magazine and newspaper articles, and scores of television interviews. The winning writer is Erica Beeney, who penned the screenplay The Battle of Shaker Heights. The series made the unusual choice of selecting not one, but two directors to helm the film, although I'm not sure it's fair to call Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin two people. They seem to work from a collective hive-mind that would make them perfect foils for the Legion of Super-Heroes. Project Greenlight follows the creation of The Battle of Shaker Heights, from assembling an initial cast, scouting for locations, principal photography, and assembling a finished product, all the way through the gilded doors of its premiere.

Chris Moore has publicly insisted that the winners were selected for their talent and what they'd bring to the project, not to amp up the drama for television. I'm not sure if I buy that, but Kyle and Efram definitely make for some compelling television. Maybe it was their pure, unabashed devotion to eyeliner that helped them trounce the other candidates since their submitted film is lacking in comparison. Kyle and Efram have been churning out movies and shorts in their hometown of Portland, Maine for years, and they're so used to doing everything themselves in the microbudget world that they have a hard time playing well with others on a real film set. The directors have difficulty communicating what they want, and whenever anyone has the gall to make a suggestion, they pretend to take it under advisement and wind up doing whatever they were originally going to do anyway. They're frequently frustrated throughout pre-production but avoid taking steps to alleviate whatever problems may be present, such as rolling over when an actor for the lead role is forced on them. Even when they're on-set and become incrementally chattier, the pairing seems much more heavily weighted towards Efram. Kyle gets comparatively little screentime, but Efram's the one who's bounding around the set in an over-caffeinated craze, barking out orders, getting in tiffs, and berating anyone who imposes on his perceived boundaries as director. Efram turns away a respected DP after feeling he was interrupted too often, and he rails into an experienced boom operator who gives him a little lip. Kyle and Efram have a wholly undeserved sense of entitlement, threatening to quit when a casting decision doesn't go their way and dragging down production when they feel attacked from all sides. Although film production seems to have gone pretty well for the past three-quarters of a century without the use of notecards to silently exchange ideas, Kyle and Efram are disinterested in sticking with the status quo. One of the most memorable moments comes when Efram, tired of puttering around in an Eagle Summit and green-eyed upon seeing Beeney's Beamer, insists on having a car too. He picks up his tricked-out SUV and manages to miss a meeting with Kyle and Erica when time is already strained as it is. Although they seem to be joined at the cerebellum, there are times when Kyle and Efram have differing opinions, seen in one frustrating sequence of the movie shot in a limousine. As soon as one darts back to the monitor after giving direction through a limo window, the other director trots to the opposite window and instructs the actors to do something entirely different. Then again, these are also guys who wanted Jack Lemmon in the role of the junkie father, apparently unaware that he was dead.

It's not typical for a screenwriter to spend much time on a movie set, and Erica doesn't seem to entirely know what her unconventional role is as The Battle of Shaker Heights is filmed. Neither do Kyle and Efram, who want to use her as almost a secretary to type stuff up for them at one point, alternately using her as a scapegoat when things don't go their way. Bombarded with notes and alterations, the stress eventually drives Erica almost to the breaking point. Despite her omnipresence, Kyle and Efram still take it upon themselves to "simplify" things without consulting with her, Miramax, or any of the producers, and their attempts drag down production and wind up adding another layer of complexity. It's every bit as much a clusterfuck as it sounds, which is what makes Project Greenlight so infectiously fun to watch.

With a series where you have fledgling filmmakers tossed into an unforgiving system, I expected to root for the embattled directors that are pitted against nefarious suits driven by per-screen averages and test-screening scores. Unexpectedly, Project Greenlight works the other way. The producers, studio executives, and crew members are almost the heroes of the piece, trying to salvage something redeeming out of the celluloid quagmire wrought by two inexperienced directors under incredible strain. The stuff on the sidelines is often what I found the most interesting, such as second and third-tier actors with such overinflated egos that they deem themselves above having to read for a part, instead showing up for a friendly, insubstantial conversation. I also find it mildly amusing that frontrunner Emile Hirsch passed on a lead role in The Battle of Shaker Heights because he couldn't connect to the material, yet one of his next projects afterwards was The Girl Next Door, which I guess really spoke to him. (Coincidentally, Elisha Cuthbert is listed as one of the actresses considered for the role of Tabby.) I also enjoyed seeing the contrast between the skilled, experienced staff and the comparatively amateurish directors with whom they're paired. Casting director Joseph Middleton almost seems to revel in it. The Project Greenlight crew also seems to be infatuated with Jennifer Lopez, who puts in a few brief, obligatory appearances on the arm of Ben Affleck.

It's noted that a movie is really made in the editing room, and the same can probably be said for this TV show. The cast of Stolen Summer griped about how the first season artificially manipulated footage in editing to make things seem more dramatic, giving viewers the impression that things were much more erratic and neurotic than they really were. I wouldn't be surprised if the same holds true here, especially since the series is produced by the people who come out looking the best. I do think it's telling that after the seemingly-disastrous meeting with Sharon Lawrence, the reaction footage has Kyle and Efram in different clothing, which leads me to think they're reacting to something else entirely. Erica Beeney has said that Project Greenlight doesn't show how smoothly things frequently went, and although that doesn't make for compelling television, it probably makes Kyle and Efram come off looking much more power-mad and inept than they probably were.

There are a couple of fundamental problems I have with the series. Thanks to the media onslaught last summer, even people who didn't catch Project Greenlight on HBO know who won the contest and who the key cast members are. That defuses a lot of the suspense there may have been, especially in the first couple of episodes that revolve around nothing but selecting winners. There are still some highlights in those earlier entries, even though I went in knowing what the end result would be. Jessica Landaw was determined to film The Battle of Shaker Heights even before that script was selected, and in her interview with the producers, she only talked about her enthusiasm for the project, not any plans or vision she might have. That effectively took her out of the running, although I'm cynical enough to think that the producers wouldn't have picked two women since the process was being documented for a television series. Also making a deep impression is Robert Lynn, the egomaniacal writer of Prisoner, which, interestingly enough, is being produced now with fellow finalist Joe Otting attached to direct. Similar to the diminished impact of some episodes from knowing the outcome, the movie doesn't carry as much of a wallop having already seen so much footage from the movie in advance. Despite all the chatter from the producers about trying to make the best movie they can, their process doesn't lend itself to quality. The million dollar-ish budget and three-week shooting schedule are extremely tight, and though it's not entirely impossible to produce a good film under those constraints, those sorts of movies usually benefit from ample rehearsal time and a lengthy gestation in pre-production. The director typically has a great deal of passion for the source material that gives him the drive to overcome the many obstacles that invariably rear their head throughout production. The Battle of Shaker Heights doesn't benefit from any of that. It's no great surprise that the movie turned out to be such a disappointment.

The Battle of Shaker Heights stars Shia LeBeouf, who broke through with last summer's Holes, and I'm not ashamed of admitting to being a rabid fan of his Disney Channel series Even Stevens. Kelly has a passion for war re-enactments, though he focuses on the emotions of the conflict and can't be bothered to stay on script. During a weekend re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge, he stumbles upon Bart (Eldon Henson), whose homelife is vastly different than his own. Kelly's father (William Sadler) is a recovering heroin addict who relentlessly volunteers at a halfway house, and his mother (Kathleen Quinlan) is a hippie who pays at least some of the bills by hocking assembly-line paintings on the street corner. Bart, on the other hand, comes from a wealthy, WASPy family. His father flits from one passion to another, recently having shied away from an awe-inspiring collection of Civil War memorabilia towards Russian nesting dolls. It's Bart's sister Tabby (Amy Smart) who intrigues Kelly the most. She's a few years older than the high schooler, balancing her time between her artwork and studying as a graduate student at Yale. Kelly is instantly smitten, disregarding Tabby's impending wedding and shunning the affections of his cute coworker Sarah (Shiri Appleby). As Kelly fosters his crush, he and Bart cobble together a revenge scheme against a tormenting bully. If that synopsis seems to ramble on and bounce incoherently from idea to idea...well, that's kind of how the movie itself is.

"That was a joke? That's what they sound like? For some reason, I always thought they'd be funnier."

The Battle of Shaker Heights is a lot like looking over a battlefield after a particularly brutal assault: a bunch of parts are strewn around without any connective tissue holding them together. The movie is choppy and disjointed, lacking any flow or rhythm as it groggily stumbles from scene to scene. There are several B-plots but no strong central story, and it doesn't build to much of a climax. It almost feels as if they went the Master Ninja route, taking a couple of episodes from a TV show, cutting out the fade-outs for commercials, and pretending it's a movie. At 75 minutes or so before factoring in the end credits, The Battle of Shaker Heights can barely be considered feature-length. The only character painted with substantial brushstrokes is Kelly. There's no sense why I should care about what's going on in his life or anyone else aside from the fact that he's the lead character in a motion picture. The rest of the cast is fine individually, but they still seem somewhat disconnected. There's no believable spark of friendship between Bart and Kelly, for instance. William Sadler, who comes across as both a hell of an actor and a hell of a nice guy in the Project Greenlight episodes, is cut down to near-nothing. His dramatic moments are gutted entirely, and even with the majority of the drama in the movie excised, the tone still feels inconsistent. It's not a funny movie. Sure, it has a charming performance from a talented young actor with incredible comedic timing, a handful of funny lines, and a couple of particularly well-executed scenes, but the end result is still not a funny movie. The Battle of Shaker Heights was designed as a drama with a quirky, comedic bent to it, and after principal photography wrapped, Miramax pushed for a straight comedy with as little drama as possible. There just isn't enough strong comedy in the movie to head in that direction. I really wish Kyle and Efram had gotten the chance to direct Rebound Guy instead. They can do broad comedy incredibly well, as anyone who's had a chance to see their widely-circulated and completely hysterial Alias spoof can attest. Putting them on a movie that doesn't take advantage of their talents, handing them a script for which they have no intense interest or passion, putting them in a pressure cooker for time and money that even an experienced director would have a hard time clawing his way out of, and instructing them in post-production to deliver a different movie than the one Erica Beeney wrote isn't going to turn out a stellar product. I don't know if I've ever seen a movie as damaged by the editing process as The Battle of Shaker Heights, and I can't recall ever noticing this amount of obtrusive, badly-overdubbed dialogue. I know suspension of disbelief is an inherent part of enjoying cinema, but putting myself in Kelly's shoes, if I had Shiri Appleby fawning over me, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't brush her off in favor of an actress that looks eerily like one of the Gelflings from The Dark Crystal. The romantic elements are botched. The big scene between Kelly and Tabby is woefully underwritten, and the bits between Kelly and Sarah weren't written at all, coming straight out of left field. I don't understand why Bart was in a murderous rage about a kiss. It's really just not much of a movie, leaving me wondering about the possibilities of what could have been...if Kyle and Efram had been given more resources to flesh out the production, if they had been handed a different script, if Shaker Heights had been assigned to a different director... On one hand, it's a disappointment that the television series about the making of the movie winds up being so much more interesting than the movie itself. On the other, at least its numerous missteps are well-documented, and hopefully Chris Moore and company avoid some of these pitfalls when Project Greenlight 3 debuts on Bravo in February.

Video: A lot of material is crammed onto each of the Project Greenlight discs...right around four hours a pop, but the image quality of these full-frame episodes doesn't seem to suffer much. It remains reasonably sharp throughout, not substantially different than I remember when these episodes made the rounds on HBO's digital channel. As for The Battle of Shaker Heights, its 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation bounces from "okay, I guess" to "pretty good". The source material's clean, although the lower budget and rushed shooting time is evident in the occasional veil of heavy film grain and some of its softer, undetailed shots. It also looks like a handful of other scenes have an artificially sharpened appearance to try to compensate. Not particularly impressive.

Audio: The Project Greenlight episodes feature a set of Dolby Digital stereo tracks encoded at a bitrate of 192Kbps, and despite what the packaging insists, they aren't flagged as having matrixed, monaural surrounds. Documentaries, which I guess includes quasi-documentary reality shows like Project Greenlight, don't really inspire lengthy tirades regarding their audio, so I'll just move on after mentioning that conversations and interviews are clear and discernable throughout. The episodes include both English subtitles and closed captions.

The Battle of Shaker Heights sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (448Kbps), and it sounds great. Most DVD reviews of comedies and dramas tend to rattle off the same few comments incessantly: dialogue driven, most of the activity is anchored front and center, surrounds are sparsely used, LFE lies dormant should know the routine by heart. Although that's still true to some extent for The Battle of Shaker Heights, it uses the six channels at its disposal pretty well. The battle that opens the movie in particular stands out, with sound roaring from each of the five speakers and coaxing a monstrous low-frequency rumble from the subwoofer. Although much of what happens throughout the rest of the movie doesn't really lend itself to that sort of sonic assault, there's still a lot of effective ambiance in the rears and very noticeable channel separation up front. Dialogue is lavished with most of the attention, of course, and it comes through cleanly without any concerns. There are subtitles in both English and Spanish as well as closed captions.

Supplements: The only extra on the first Project Greenlight disc is a plug for the DVD collection of the previous season. The bulk of this season's extras are on the second disc, beginning with nearly a half hour of deleted scenes. They include Kyle and Efram poring over MPAA regulations over the use of "fuck", puffing on a celebratory cigar, Jimmy Fallon's visit to the set, Shia showing off his pissin' hole, Jesus' buoy test, a film crew lurking in the directors' shower, Jeff and Chris squabbling about a lack of communication, a debate about including one of the last lines in the movie, Shia continually fumbling over a line about patriarchal stereotypes, Chris getting chilly and putting on a skirt, Kyle and Efram suffering through the initial rough cut, the filming of the invasion, and a tiff about one of the last shots in the movie devolving into schmaltz. It's too bad these were cut out since almost all of it's gold. Several of them give Kyle and Efram more personality and make them a lot more likeable, and the bit with Chris and the skirt is brilliant. The invasion was my favorite sequence in the entire movie, and I was surprised to see that it wasn't given even a passing glimpse in the meat of the series. The only one that really, really deserved to be cut was Fallon's appearance, since it's not funny, it's not informative, and it contributes absolutely nothing. Fallon even says as much on camera. Between the emphasis on him and on Jennifer Lopez, I guess the Project Greenlight cameramen are just easily starstruck.

Disc two also includes a collection of video biographies submitted by the directors and writers. Erica Beeney, Sam Bozzo, Jay Hayes, Peter Hunziker, Jessica Landaw, Jeff Marcello, Thomas Vullo, Christopher Davis, Al Martinez, Dagen Merrill, Joe Otting, Kyle Rankin, Efram Potelle, amd Mark Whiting are all featured, with the total runtime falling just over half an hour. Rounding out the Project Greenlight extras is the footage each of the directors in the finals were required to shoot. They all tackled the same script, which was so vague that they each have unrecognizably different takes on the material. Among the submitted clips are a desaturated piece of bizarre experimental filmmaking, robberies with a clever twist, an otherworldly stroll through a party, a glimpse into the lives of U.N. weapon inspectors, corporate espionage, and a gory, inhuman audition. The standouts -- the ones given the most screentime on Project Greenlight -- are from Dagen Merrill, who uses the J.F.K. assassination as a backdrop, and Joe Otting's hallucinatory vampire battle in a mental institution.

The previous DVD release of The Battle of Shaker Heights didn't have anything in the way of extras, and the DVD packed into this collection corrects that. First up is an audio commentary with directors Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle. The echo-drenched audio from the movie is waaaaaaay too loud in the mix, to the point where I seriously had trouble telling what Kyle and Efram were saying. I don't know how anyone who was handed a test disc before replication could give this a thumbs-up. There's way too much "________ is great" backpatting, and they acknowledge the Mutual Admiration Society bent after a while. I keep a notepad handy whenever I listen to a commentary track and scribble down a bunch of my favorite highlights, and it remained entirely blank for the length of this track. Kyle and Efram are talkative throughout, chatting about structure and flow, scenes that were entirely recut, alternate dialogue, character motivation, some behind-the-scenes stuff, and none of it really made an impression. I was kind of surprised at the overall positive tone of it all, expecting them to be more disappointed about the changes forced upon them in post. It's an okay track, but given how lively and personable they seemed to be in the series, this subdued, frequently dry track caught me by surprise. Kyle and Efram also contribute audio commentary for eight deleted scenes which run around 14 minutes total, including a little exchange between Kelly and his father after swiping a sandwich, an excised subplot with a domino-crazed veteran, a misinterpreted transaction with Kelly's pop, accidentally running into Kelly's mom as she tries to sell some art, a tense confrontation between Kelly and his father, Kelly shredding one of his mother's paintings and the aftermath, Kelly reeling after one of his dreams is dashed, and the dreaded three-way hug that was eviscerated in the final cut. Another option will branch to related footage from Project Greenlight when an icon displays on the screen. Finally, they've packed on what, at fifteen minutes, is probably the longest gag reel in DVD history. Since it has more laughs than the actual movie, that's tolerable. Thrill to run-by fryings, a prick montage, footage of Shia's hopelessly goofy looking double, Kyle and Efram ribbing everyone that's out of earshot, and way too much more to list here.

Both Project Greenlight and The Battle of Shaker Heights include animated 16x9-enhanced menus. The thirteen episodes of this season of the series can be viewed individually or consecutively, and each episode has been divided into a pretty healthy number of chapters. This three-disc set is packaged as a pair of keepcases that slide into a glossy slipcase. The two Project Greenlight discs are in one keepcase and The Battle of Shaker Heights is in the other.

Conclusion: It's the thirteen episodes that document the making of The Battle of Shaker Heights, not the movie itself, that make Project Greenlight: The Complete Second Season worth picking up. The film finds its chief appeal as a curiosity for viewers who have invested seven hours watching the project come together, and otherwise it's not really worth taking the time to seek out. Although the process of Project Greenlight makes it difficult to produce a good movie, at least it makes for good television. Recommended.

Related Reviews: DVD Talk also has reviews of the first Project Greenlight set and Miramax's barebones release of The Battle of Shaker Heights.
Buy from







E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Popular Reviews

Sponsored Links
Sponsored Links