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MGM Studios DVD presents
Personal Velocity (2002)

"I don't know what all this means, but it's got to mean something."
- Paula (Fairuza Balk)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: April 20, 2003

Stars: Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk
Other Stars: Wallace Shawn, Rob Leibman, Lou Taylor Pucci, Mara Hobel, Nicole Murphy, Seth Gilliam
Director: Rebecca Miller

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: R for brief violence, some strong sexuality, and language
Run Time: 01h:24m:15s
Release Date: March 18, 2003
UPC: 027616883599
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-B+B B

DVD Review

Delia (Kyra Sedgwick) has a strong personality and refuses to take grief from anyone. Her attractive form masks the need for power over everyone, especially in dealings with men. Everything changed when she fell in love with her husband, which makes her helpless to combat his physical abuse. Finally, she decides to take her children and leave him for a brand new life. But where can she go? Will Delia regain her need of power over everyone?

Personal Velocity presents three emotional tales of women facing extreme internal conflicts in their lives. Writer/director Rebecca Miller (Angela) has adapted three short stories from her published collection for the screen and connects them only slightly through one tragic event. Each tale runs for a half hour and each showcases a remarkable performance from its lead actress. The daughter of renowned playwright Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis, Miller understands that realistic characters can be presented effectively in films. The stories rarely become overly dramatic and mostly remain on an understandable level.

Greta (Parker Posey) works a low-end job as an editor of cooking books in New York City. Her husband, Lee (Tim Guinee), is a quiet, warm-hearted guy who has no issues with their less-than-glamorous life. Their prospects change remarkably when Greta captures a lucrative editing job with a hot young author. Can she still enjoy the simpler life with Lee considering her newfound success? This question may cause you to consider Greta a vain girl, and to an extent that's true. However, her family background and powerful, judgmental father complicate her personality.

Shot entirely on low-definition digital video, Personal Velocity retains its realistic atmosphere by bringing us directly into our characters lives. With the exception of a few slow-motion and still shots, the events appear in straightforward fashion from an extremely close perspective. Each individual’s problem seems more poignant due to the lack of glossy photography and clever devices. I take nothing away from Ellen Kuras' cinematography, however, which provides a unique look and avoids the typical indie pratfalls.

Following an up-close experience near a deadly car accident, Paula (Fairuza Balk) ventured away from the city in utter shock. Feeling that her luck must be a sign, she decides to do something worthwhile and picks up a troubled young hitchhiker. This boy’s problems are not entirely clear, but they are violent and much worse than any of Paula's issues. While continually trying to cope with her own problems, she aims to help the boy and make a positive change. Is Paula really making a difference? Will he accept her help, or take advantage of her? These questions are never completely answered, but the process leads to a compelling tale.

Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, and Fairuza Balk all give stunning performances in lead roles that rank among their best work. The opening segment is probably the least successful due to the familiarity of its storyline, but Sedgwick still does an excellent job in making her tough character very believable. Posey often appears in less-dramatic indie films, and it's impressive to see her tackling such a difficult character here. The most impressive and surprising work comes from Balk, who has received significant acclaim but never jumped out at me as a major talent. She captures the emotional depth and feelings of Paula perfectly and makes her an especially sympathetic person. The well-defined characters help the three actresses to create touching individuals who elicit a reaction while not always acting in agreeable manners.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Low-definition digital video photography makes it more difficult to evaluate DVD transfers, since the grain and muted colors are more inherent in the medium. However, this 1.85:1 widescreen does succeed in providing an easily watchable presentation. Hazy images do exist, but they seem to fit with the overall atmosphere of the picture. This disc also offers a full-frame transfer, which also contains significant grain but lacks the clarity of its visual counterpart.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Personal Velocity utilizes a decent 5..1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that presents the extensive dialogue understanably and effectively. However, it lacks much power and rarely utilizes the rear speakers. The melodic score does spring clearly from the front channels, but it lacks much force. This is not a serious problem, but it does slightly lessen the overall presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring When Harry Met Sally, Silence of the Lambs, James Bond DVD Set
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1. Director Rebecca Miller
2. Cinematographer Ellen Kuras and Gaffer John Nadeau
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This release contains a mixed bag of extra features that still offer enough to make it worthwhile. Especially interesting is Rebecca Miller and Cast—a 25-minute conversation that allows Miller and the three primary actors to talk openly about their experiences making the film. All of them utilize a down-to-earth demeanor that does not overstate the movie's importance while appearing very proud of their work. Miller, Posey, and Balk spend much of the running time together in one room, with Sedgwick's comments recorded at another location. Also well-done is "Creating Personal Velocity," a 14-minute featurette that provides lots of intimate behind-the-scenes footage. The lack of promotional narration or any specific structure matches the film's tone and offers a comfortable, low-key mood.

The idea of a feature-lengthy commentary by Rebecca Miller sounds like a great idea, but her track has far too many long breaks. She speaks in very quiet tones and does inject a few good points, but there's just not enough to warrant a full viewing. The second commentary includes cinematographer Ellen Kuras and Gaffer John Nadeau and does include some nice material. However, it also suffers from some decent breaks and a lack of enough compelling information.

The remaining supplements include the original theatrical trailer and full-screen DVD previews for When Harry Met Sally, Silence of the Lambs, and the James Bond films.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Personal Velocity has received numerous awards and considerable acclaim for its writer/director and three lead actresses, who all shine in this original format. The low-end production values and lack of a simple point may alienate some viewers, but it you're the type who enjoys more realistic stories, it should be a worthwhile experience.

 


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