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Following his complex and intricate science-fiction productions The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998), and in the breathing room preceding his new Hollywood behemoth I, Robot, director Alex Proyas wanted to scale back and create a relative trifle—a small Aussie comedy about the crazy adventures of a garage band. An interesting decision, to be sure, and one that had me curious. I'm a big admirer of Proyas' dark-fantasy concoctions, and although his chosen subject matter for this small film didn't exactly ignite any burning anticipation in me, I was ready to give him a fair shake. Unfortunately, Proyas has stumbled with this little movie, which is frustratingly at odds with itself. Garage Days is a modest film in its narrative ambition that contains all the stylistic effects and whirligigs of a much larger production. It's a go-for-broke comedy in the Trainspotting mode that just isn't all that funny. And, unfortunately, for all its kooky energy, the film underneath the style isn't terribly compelling.
There's no denying that Garage Days aims to please. It flies at you with gusto, particularly in its first half, which has an MTV quality in its quirky effects and strobe editing. (Proyas got his start directing music videos.) Proyas has set Garage Days to a funky, progressive-rock beat and has amped up the film's pace, and his characters are prone to wild gestures and crazy antics. I admit to really liking the way Garage Days launched out of the blocks, daring me not to have fun with it. But at a certain point, perhaps the 15-minute mark, I felt the smile on my lips cracking at its edges. The movie started coming across as trying too hard. If only all its energies were fueled into a screenplay that contained more effective humor and stronger writing. The sad truth is that, despite the spastic energies of the filmmakers and cast, Garage Days is surprisingly lifeless.
Ostensibly about the trials and tribulations of an earnest Sydney garage band finding its way toward success, Garage Days spends the bulk of its time among the band members themselves, becoming a ho-hum, comic examination of their love lives and petty jealousies and drug parties and inner squabblings. Freddy (Kick Gurry) is the front man, and he's sorta involved with bass-player waif Tanya (Pia Miranda), but she's growing tired of their limp romance and has eyes for eccentric drummer Lucius (Chris Sadrinna). Freddy, meanwhile, really pines for the lovely Kate (Maya Stange), who's going to have the baby of the band's lead guitarist Joe (Brett Stiller), who himself is having an affair with gothchick Angie (Yvette Duncan). All this melodrama occurs as Freddy and the band's loudmouthed manager, Bruno (Russell Dykstra), try to wheedle and cajole Sydney's legendary rock manager Shad Kern (Marton Csokas) into listening to the band's demo tape and giving them their first real break.
As much as I like these young actors, I found myself put off by their characters' entanglements. The primary romance that we should be rooting for—the one that the film trumpets at its swirly end—just doesn't grab the heart. There's no weight to the film's emotional revelations. Garage Days is all so cocky and exuberant that you want to slap it. The characters laugh and joke, and the film throws gags at you left and right, but you're strangely unmoved by any of it. This is surely a film that's all style and no substance.
I was surprised and dismayed to find that the movie's punchline (which I won't spoil here) has been pretty much destroyed in Garage Days' own marketing—even on the DVD case—and it's the reason we hardly hear any of the band's actual music until the end. But there's something inherently troubling about a movie about a garage band that doesn't share any of that band's music. The necessity to withhold the music that these kids are actually playing does hamstring the film, regardless of the climax.
Special mention should be paid to the quite entertaining end-credits sequence, in which the cast performs a long, choreographed dance routine to a Tom Jones tune.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Fox presents Garage Days in a very nice anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Detail is just short of exceptional, reaching into backgrounds and boasting a particular strength in close-ups. The image, however, is on the contrasty side, introducing a bit of digital graininess. Backgrounds tend toward softness, but I was impressed with the sharpness of this presentation. I did notice moderate edge halos that were intrusive in quite a few scenes, as well as other digital artifacting—for example, in middle-distance clothing. The film's bright color palette fares well, looking quite vivid and enthusiastic without bleeding or going too red.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is excellent, with good punchy bass and very active directional effects. In keeping with the film's aggressive style, the soundtrack comes at you from all channels. Dialog is accurate, with no distortion at the high end. But what I'm most impressed with are the energetic bass and the totally immersive surround experience. Crowd noise, traffic sounds, and the score all play heavily in the rears, with good panning across channels. The soundtrack also features a terrific use of rock music, pounding all around you.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The Garage Days DVD comes with a pretty good selection of extras. Unfortunately, they're spread on both sides of this disc, which features a widescreen presentation on one side and a fullscreen image on the other. Let's start with Side 1.
First up is an informative Commentary by Director Alex Proyas, in which the director provides a laidback chat about his intentions and about the process of making the film. The most interesting aspects of this track, for me, occur when he takes time to compare the making of this film to that of his other films, and I was surprised to hear that he had more fun on this set than on any other film, calling it a "looser" experience. On the other hand, I suppose it's not so surprising, considering that Garage Days marks the first time he's made a film both set and shot in his native Australia. I also enjoyed his discussions of the film's visual effects, which are more plentiful than you realize. He acknowledges the film's autobiographical elements, and he talks about acquiring songs for the soundtrack. It's a fun listen with only occasional empty spots.
The 4 minutes of Deleted Scenes mostly amount to scene extensions and, sadly, don't add up to much at all.
Faring better are 5 minutes worth of Goofs, which are pretty damned hilarious. It's your typical collection of mistakes from the shoot, but these seem particularly funny. Perhaps it's because these actors are really engaging, as you can see in the film's end-credits sequence.
Over on Side 2, you'll find the 4-minute Garage Days Backstage Pass, which is an obviously brief look behind the scenes. Proyas talks a bit about his inspirations, his desire to make a rock saga, and his casting of "a who's who of young Australian actors." Producer Topher Dow contributes a few words, as does Pia Miranda.
Finally, you get Behind the Garage Door: Interviews, 7 minutes of chats with cast members Kick Gurry, Pia Miranda, Maya Stange, Chris Sadrinna, and Brett Stiller, who talk very briefly about their characters and the experience of working with Proyas.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Garage Days is a noble effort in style—to the detriment of the underlying plot and characterization. If you're a Proyas fan, and I know there are many of you, this film is worth a look if only to see his stab at comedy. The DVD is good, offering great image and sound quality and an okay selection of extras.