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Lions Gate presents
The Last Minute (Unrated Director's Cut) (2002)

"The clock's always ticking. I've only got one life."
- Billy Byrne (Max Beesley)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: August 03, 2003

Stars: Max Beesley, Emily Corrie, Jason Isaacs, Kate Ashfield, Tom Bell
Director: Stephen Norrington

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, sexual perversity, drug use)
Run Time: 01h:54m:29s
Release Date: July 29, 2003
UPC: 658149814820
Genre: black comedy


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

DVD Review

Everyone knows life is fleeting. But if you break down a normal human existence into months, weeks or days, the brevity of it all really hits home. Ninety years may sound like an eternity, but when Billy Byrne (Max Beesley) enlightens us that it's merely 1,080 months, 4,860 weeks or 32,850 days, and then looks us square in the eye and asks, "So what did you do this week," death seems just around the corner and that banal question suddenly takes on a sober, urgent meaning.

The Last Minute, Stephen Norrington's fascinating, brilliantly conceived yet downright strange black comedy, bitingly examines our inherent desire to matter—to make our mark and carve a slice of immortality before the last grain of sand falls through the hourglass. Shot in the bowels of London and on the seedy streets of Soho, the film borrows elements from such diverse sources as A Clockwork Orange and Charles Dickens to tell its twisted tale. The end result is a mixed bag, but like the life of its hero, The Last Minute is one hell of a ride.

Self-obsessed and fiercely driven, Billy Byrne craves the spotlight, working tirelessly to rock the world with his ideas and intelligence. Touted as "the next big thing," Billy courts the news media and basks in public adoration, strutting his stuff on TV, in clubs and on the street. But when Billy's debut is a dud, viciously panned by the same critics who hyped him to the hilt, the attention vanishes and even his agent turns a cold shoulder. Bitterness and self-doubt shift Billy's focus further inward, enraging his girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) and shoving him down a path of self-destruction.

Into this downward spiral walks Anna (Emily Corrie), a teenage homeless pickpocket who adopts Billy and brings him to the subterranean Catacombs, a murky shelter for assorted oddballs and ragamuffins ruled by the Fagin-like Grimshanks (Tom Bell). (While the setting is undeniably Dickensian, trust me on this one—Oliver Twist is nothing like this!) Cut off from the establishment, Billy indulges his demons, doping and thieving, until disgust over his lifestyle and the inescapable ticking clock jar him awake and spur him to plot a comeback.

The Last Minute strays far from the mainstream, but Norrington's riveting presentation and sick sense of humor catapult it into its own unique realm. In Norrington's world, grotesque characters pop up continually, slick musical numbers accompany brutally violent acts, and a dark absurdity underscores every scene. Using slow and fast motion photography, jump cuts, freeze frames and stop action, the director breathlessly evokes Billy's turmoil and the crazy world that controls him. The visual wizardry initially seems a substitute for substance, but moments of deep emotion, powerful confrontations, and symbolic imagery are deftly woven into the insanity. In addition, such thought-provoking topics as the fragile aura of celebrity and an ignorant public's ability to determine an artist's worth also lie beneath the film's hypnotic veneer. It's those ideas, along with the basic premise of beating the clock, that resonate throughout The Last Minute.

Of course, with so much going on (and at such a frenetic pace), the film demands a second viewing to digest the subtleties. Taken individually, many sequences are gems of innovation and style, but when heaped together they begin to blur and overwhelm, pumping out too much sensory information. The characters' thick Cockney accents, which render huge chunks of dialogue unintelligible, don't help. But Norrington creates such a surreal and absorbing atmosphere, it's easy to surrender to the film and allow it to sweep you along.

I love the movie's first half, which chronicles Billy's brush with fame and the beginning of his decline. It's packed with funny vignettes, memorable characters, blistering satire and terrifically inventive filmmaking. Unfortunately, when Billy and Anna descend into the Catacombs, The Last Minute loses some steam and its edge. The Dickensian overtones, while clever and intriguing, strike a sour note, despite some of Norrington's most poetic writing and camera work. When Billy re-enters civilization, however, the film regains its stride.

The cast of seasoned character actors and young newcomers is uniformly excellent, but Beesley carries the film with his uncompromising portrayal of Billy, refusing to shrink from or soften his many unlikable qualities. Beesley infuses The Last Minute with a passionate energy that compliments Norrington's artistry and gains Billy sympathy and support. Jason Isaacs as the sadistic crooner "Percy" Sledge and Emily Corrie as the manipulative Anna also file standout performances.

Maximizing time is one of the film's recurring themes. With stunning visuals, an insightful script and plenty of bizarre surprises, Norrington rarely wastes a moment in The Last Minute. While sitting around watching a movie may go against the film's grain, this one in particular just might be a worthwhile wake-up call.

Remember, you've only got one life.

Tick-tock.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Such seductive visuals demand a top-notch transfer, and Lion's Gate delivers with a superior anamorphic widescreen treatment. The source print is just a rung or two below pristine, with only occasional white specks marring the image. The dreary, grungy atmosphere of London and its underground club scene is appropriately rendered with pale colors and a light haze, yet sharpness is not compromised. Even the bleak Catacombs possess good clarity and shadow detail. Black levels are solid and rich, featuring clean lines and little evidence of edge enhancement. Norrington's visual shenanigans present numerous challenges, but the transfer admirably meets them, resulting in an above average viewing experience.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio levels are slightly uneven on the DD 5.1 track, with music and effects often overpowering the dialogue, which sometimes requires an interpreter to decipher the heavy accents. The woofer, however, gets a good workout, and the surrounds kick in frequently, supplying presence and depth. The Last Minute employs a mélange of musical styles, ranging from big band and techno to classical and R&B, and all come across well. A DD 2.0 track is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sex and Lucia, The Believer, Scratch
Production Notes
6 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Writer-director Stephen Norrington, actor Max Beesley
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:29m:29s

Extra Extras:
  1. Music Video Selector
  2. TV Show Selector
  3. Countdown Calculator
  4. Hidden Scenes
Extras Review: Lion's Gate has padded The Last Minute with a hefty batch of extras that really enhance the viewing experience. Two terrific commentaries—from writer-director Norrington and star Beesley—add a wealth of perspective and background information. Norrington leads off and chats in a lively, animated style about his numerous autobiographical connections to the film, including lip piercing, a long-suffering girlfriend, getting bounced out of a club, and his own artistic failures. Introspective and at times confessional, he never minces words as he explains his kinship to the self-centered and often delusional Billy Byrne and the dark themes that swirl about him. Norrington also divulges technical secrets and the philosophy behind certain set-ups and shots. He discusses low-budget filmmaking and the imperfections and obstacles inherent within, as well as the unique challenges of shooting in Soho after midnight.

Equally entertaining, Beesley offers the actor's viewpoint with natural sincerity and abundant good humor. He provides plenty of insight into Billy and his approach to the character, and relates how his experiences in show business aptly mirror the film's satire. While he occasionally clashed with Norrington, he showers the director with respect, comparing him to Mozart in the way he "doesn't work within the rules of harmony." Beesley imparts his own behind-the-scenes tales, but mostly his relaxed manner and pleasing vocal timbre keep one listening and involved.

Producing The Last Minute is a typical making-of featurette peppered with comments from producer Matthew Justice, cast members and various technical personnel. Justice discusses how the big budget, high pressure Blade, Norrington's previous film, prompted the director to take a step back and work on an independent project over which he could exercise complete control. The producer also chronicles how The Last Minute was financed and artistically constructed.

Last Minute Style examines the film's costumes, sets, locations and overall "look." This five-minute featurette contains several glimpses of on-set and location shooting, including Beesley on a treadmill in front of the green screen running from the bad guys. Crafting Prosthesis is a behind-the-scenes look at the film's most notorious set piece, a funky fetish club that plays host to a super cool, edgy and scantily clad clientele. Clips of Norrington orchestrating the action, as well as set drawings and a "fashion show" of the medically inspired "costumes" highlight this entertaining featurette.

A collection of cast interviews, the Character Tree featurette focuses mainly on Beesley, who terms the role of Billy "one of the oddest things I've ever done." Shallow and brief, this six-minute piece could have delved deeper into the involvement of the supporting cast. The cast and crew bios are much more informative, providing welcome facts about the little known actors and production team.

In SN Connections, the crew coyly discusses how portions of The Last Minute mirror episodes in Norrington's life. Beesley and friends speak in general terms, purposely avoiding specifics and carefully pointing out that the film takes the autobiographical events much further than did Norrington himself. Equally brief, What Billy Does examines the ambiguity of Billy's profession. The cast makes educated guesses as to what his job might be, with responses ranging from animator and graphic designer to filmmaker and multimedia wizard. In the final analysis, Emily Corrie opines, "God knows, it could be anything."

The Music Video Selector offers three strange videos, none of which seem to have anything to do with The Last Minute. No film clips are included in any of the videos, which feature either rap or techno music and can be skipped altogether. Much more fun, the TV Show Selector contains expanded versions of the film's cleverly satirized TV talk shows, as well as a Godzilla-like short called Mutanos, which was meant to appear in the final print, but ended up on the cutting room floor. Also amusing, but ultimately depressing, the Countdown Calculator is an interactive keypad that, once a person's age is entered, computes how many (or how few) weeks remain until one's 90th birthday.

Extensive production notes, weblinks, some trailers and a few easter eggs (for those who take the time to locate them) round out the extensive and satisfying extras package.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Quirky, full of surprises, visually dazzling, well acted, searingly funny, and a little scary, The Last Minute grabs you by the throat and makes you take a look at your life—its fragility, its beauty, its possibilities. Whether we're having fun or not, time flies, and we owe it to ourselves to cherish what we can. Stephen Norrington's complex film puts this simple idea on the table and lets it percolate. Whether we apply the lessons or not, The Last Minute remains an engrossing, often breathtaking film that merits our attention. Hopefully, this handsomely produced DVD, bursting with extras, will expose it to the wide audience it deserves.

Time will tell.

 


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