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Quickband presents
Short 5: Diversity (1999)

"Remember, these aren't idle promises—these are bona fide misleading claims."
- John Schnall in Buy My Film

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 04, 2000

Stars: Vin Diesel
Director: Jacob Rosenberg (Silent Rain in the Ninth); Vin Diesel (Multi-Facial); John Schnall (Buy My Film); Eileen O'Meara (That Strange Person); Arthur Fiedler (The Job), Vin Diesel (Multi-Facial)

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for some abusive and foul language; semi-nudity in Guess ad
Run Time: 1h:00m:33s
Release Date: August 17, 1999
UPC: 085393679828
Genre: compilation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C C-C-D+ C+

DVD Review

Warner Bros.'s fifth entry in the Short is one of the less inspired of these DVD magazines. While there are a few high points, by and large this disc is not up to the caliber of the others I've seen. In part this is because the extras are less full than usual; the unifying theme seems only vaguely related to the films in most cases, making the issue seem like a random accumulation.

Silent Rain in the Ninth (19:14) is a quiet, almost poetic black & white piece on compulsive gambling. The elderly hero, Bernie, is quietly sympathetic and carries the film well. This student film is refreshing, not as self-absorbed as so many of its ilk can be. Filmed in 16 mm, the picture is heavily grained and occasionally soft in focus. This is, however, clearly a fault of the source material. Considering the subject matter, I wouldn't be surprised if this effect were an intentional nod to classic film noir, although the director doesn't make any such reference in his commentary.

Vin Diesel's semi-autobiographical Multi-Facial (20:00) is a mildly interesting reflection on the identity crises an actor must face in attempting to get work in commercials, soaps and the like. Diesel does a nice job of switching from ethnic Italian to Hispanic to African-American to suit the circumstances. He starts from a completely unsympathetic characterization as a macho jerk, but we see him move from role to role, until he eventually concludes with a highly moving monologue.

This volume gives us two pieces of animation. One is the cynically comic "Buy My Film" (2:43), which is largely made up of stop-motion photographs explaining why his film should be bought and the various ways he is willing to sell out. The other piece of animation is the rather aimless "That Strange Person." The latter (4:42) is a lengthy series of line-animated morphs based on a woman viewing herself in the mirror. The series seems lengthier than it really is, since most of the morphs are fairly aimless. There is, however, one memorable and slightly chilling scene where the woman goes down the drain of her tub, only to ooze again out of the tap of the bathroom sink and reform in front of the mirror where her reflection awaits her. The nightmarish quality of this sequence does a lot to redeem the rest of the film.

The most professional of the lot is The Job (10:59), based on a short story by noted horror writer Joe R. Lansdale. The tale begins as a good ol' boy and an Elvis impersonator talk about this and that as they drive to perform a job. It is only gradually that the viewer become aware of what this job really is, culminating in an unforgettable sequence which does nothing but imply the terrible event that is to follow. This story is supposedly based upon true events in the wars between Vietnamese immigrants and Texas fishermen.

The concluding sequence is a 7:00 interview with Erik Friedlander, a jazz cellist who discusses his unusual instrument in a jazz ensemble and his album "Topaz." This was the one sequence on the disc that left me truly wanting more. I would have liked to have seen more of the cello doing its thing in the ensemble. The sweet and mellow tones of the cello are said to most closely approximate the human voice, and Friedlander's cello truly sings in performance. The interview is not as interesting as the performances, and I would have been happy to have heard several more excerpts.

The Junk Drawer section contains a few less than interesting clips, such as Roll the Dice, where you get to generate a random number with two dice and "Vin Goes Deep," where Vin Diesel sits in thought for about ten seconds. There is another episode of the goings-on in the mysterious woodshed, and a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. set over a Pong game where one side's score increases logarithmically as the size of its paddle also increases. Presumably this is a message about the Man putting down and abusing those diverse from him, but it could also be read subversively as a reactionary comment on affirmative action. Somehow I don't think the makers of this clip thought through what they were presenting as an example of diversity.

The theme of diversity is only tangential to most of the features on this disc; The Job and Multi-Facial come the closest, but even they at best are ambivalent about diversity and its effects on the human condition. The assemblage seems to have been given this label as a desperate attempt to justify the films rather than an effort to find films on the subject matter of diversity. I would call this poor prior planning.

There are several highly irritating features about the design of this disc. First off, the time function is disabled for no good reason. Second, and most irritating, there are these stupid commercials that come up before and after every short and extra. At least they can be skipped with the Next Chapter button, but their placement is seriously annoying. While there is no sexual content besides some rough language in the films, parents should be warned that there is a Guess jeans ad that contains semi-nudity. Other ads include several spots for Timex and BMW and a sport for Circuit DVD magazine and the Clint Eastwood film True Crime.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The quality of image on this disc is heavily dependent on the source materials. We have a range of extremely poor sub-VHS quality on some of the extras to "Silent Rain", to a superb quality picture on "The Job." The main films are by and large acceptable in quality; the colors onThe Job and Topaz in particular are bright and well saturated. While there is some grain on Silent Rain, as noted above, the transfer appears to be accurate enough. The extra materials, in contrast, are rather horrific in quality: the extra footage for Silent Rain is wobbly, smeary, and overall awful, and the interviews for Multi-Facialare far too highly contrasted. Much of the time the picture is barely recognizable. Oddly enough, the letterbox bars on these interviews are white rather than black: those with RPTV's will not want to watch this segment often, if at all, given the danger of burn-in. Given that the extras are just extras, I won't allow them to detract too much from the overall grade. Just don't expect very high quality.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio is generally unexceptional DD 2-channel mono. That Strange Person is mixed in 5.1, although the mix hardly seems justified. There are a few instances of a throbbing sound from the surrounds but virtually nothing from the subwoofer. The sound on the Friedlander interview is superb, with the instruments of the jazz ensemble coming across with nice clarity.

The sound on The Job is clearly ADR and sounds unnatural. However, the Deliverance-style banjo comes across bright and clear. This track is in stereo and has good directionality-it almost appears over-exaggerated at times.

Again, the extras are where this disc really suffers. The radio playlet Big Steve is very tinny and canned-sounding; the racetrack audio is noisy and of highly uneven levels. The mikes on that sequence and also on the Vin Diesel interviews catch a great deal of wind that is highly irritating and leads to serious sound degradation. This should have been cleaned up somewhat in mixing and equalizing to minimize this racket.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Rosenberg and O'Mear
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio play Big Steve (15:55)
  2. Footage of Vin Diesel doing voice work for The Iron Giant(6:47)
  3. Additional audio track of the true story behind The Job
Extras Review: While Short is usually at its best when it comes to the extras, this disc doesn't quite measure up to the others in the series. Silent Rain offers a commentary by the director, which is quite informative when he doesn't feel compelled to narrate what's happening on the screen. There is also 15:55 of second-unit racetrack footage shot at Sussex Downs in Boston, against which we hear what seems to be a radio morality drama of some kind relating to compulsive gambling and Gamblers Anonymous. The highly touted "easter egg" of audio from the racetrack (not related in any way to the second unit footage) can be reached by toggling the Audio key on your remote. As noted above, neither the sound nor the video is much to get excited about. They could just as well not have bothered.

The footage of Diesel doing voice work for the title character in The Iron Giant is interesting, if nothing more than to see the many nuances the voice director will try out on a single line of two or three words. Diesel is a trouper throughout, varying his delivery from one extreme to another. The interviews are pretty worthless, and are so contrasty as to be nearly unwatchable. I found it rather funny that the producers of the disc felt it necessary to describe this as six additional interviews when they are clearly all done at the same time, in the same place, and don't total even ten minutes in length. Clearly the producers of this disc were groping for valuable content.

The commentary to That Strange Person was initially annoying, but I appreciated the film a good deal more by listening to the commentary than I did on first viewing this animated short. I would recommend giving this commentary a listen before dismissing the film altogether.

The Job includes a brief narrative of the racial difficulties between the Vietnamese and the Texans between 1979 and 1981, which is invaluable to an understanding of what is happening in the film. I wouldn't, however, listen to this until after I'd seen the film, for maximum impact. The storyboards provided are interesting, in that the film hardly follows them at all. We also see that an important photograph, which is displayed in the storyboard, is wisely kept off-screen in the finished film, maximizing the impact of the finale.

No extras are provided at all for Buy My Film or the Friedlander interview. A second audio track of music would have been particularly welcome for the latter.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

No. 5 is rather one of the more disappointing in a usually terrific set. Followers of Vin Diesel and Elvis impersonators will certainly want it, but overall the content and the quality is not really worthwhile. Nor is there much apparent thought or effort put into development of the theme. There are much better volumes of this series available.

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