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Bonus Points

The weekly guide to DVD extras

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2004;

"Bonus Points," which reviews the features on the latest DVD releases, is now a weekly column. If you have feedback about the column or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

"Slacker" (Rated R; list price $39.95)
Release date: Sept. 14

Kevin Smith takes center stage in many of the extras on "Clerks: 10th Anniversary Edition." (Courtesy of American Film Institute)

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When the Criterion Collection releases a DVD, it's a sure bet consumers will get their money's worth. The Criterion version of Richard Linklater's "Slacker," appearing on DVD here for the first time, is no different. One of the stand-out films of the early '90s independent film movement, "Slacker" comes in a beautiful two-disc package with numerous extras, including cast audition interviews, home movies from the set, excerpts from the original screenplay, three commentary tracks and Linklater’s never-released first feature film. And that's just scratching the surface.

Meandering as it does from one eccentric character to the next, this true indie -- which launched the term "slacker" into the American lexicon -- may be the perfect movie for our current high-alert, high-intensity society, where another well-informed, slightly paranoid rant literally waits just around the corner. Indeed, this small film works as both a memento of a significant cinematic movement and a still-timely commentary on living just outside the American mainstream. Linklater completists, and anyone determined to own all the major films mentioned in Peter Biskind's book "Down and Dirty Pictures," would be remiss not to get their hands on a copy of this ambling, challenging and prescient film.

Most Illuminating Bonus Point: Linklater, along with Jack Black, created a truly enjoyable commentary track for his most recent movie, "School of Rock." He scores again here with director’s commentary that flows naturally, as if Linklater is just talking among friends. He shares tidbits about the actors, personal nuggets -- including the fact that his favorite childhood book was "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" -- and his dismay that the term slacker now carries negative connotations. "I always thought to be a slacker was a badge of honor," he says. A commentary track index allows viewers to skip to the observations that most interest them, making this one of the more pleasurable ways to listen to a movie. Slackers may not care for grades, but this gets an A+.

Most Nostalgic Bonus Point: Footage from a 10-year "Slacker" reunion held in Austin, Tex., in 2001 shows us what many of the uber-articulate cast members look like now and, sadly, pays tribute to a few who have passed on since the movie’s release.

Most Frustrating Bonus Point: Linklater’s first full-length feature, "It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books," is almost impossible to watch, as it has even less plot structure than "Slacker." But "Woodshock," a six-minute film made at an Austin music festival in 1985, is a gas, and clear evidence that this director was destined to do "Dazed and Confused," the special edition of which finally comes to DVD this November.

"Clerks: 10th Anniversary Edition" (Rated R; list price $34.99)
Release date: Sept. 7

During the DVD documentary, "The Snowball Effect: The Story of 'Clerks'," director Kevin Smith confesses that "Slacker" was the movie that made him want to become a filmmaker. It only makes sense, then, to review this 10th anniversary collection in conjunction with the DVD of Linklater's directorial debut.

Like its Criterion Collection counterpart, Miramax's "Clerks" packs tons of bonus material into its three-disc set, including multiple commentary tracks, cast auditions, excerpts from Smith's journals, the original cut of the film and that aforementioned documentary, a compelling 90-minute look at Smith's life and the making of "Clerks." The talky black-and-white indie, which launched Smith's career and introduced the world to goofball duo Jay and Silent Bob, has been released on DVD before in a collector's edition. But this latest release, packaged nicely with a detailed booklet, is undoubtedly the definitive version of the movie that gave voice to convenience store clerks everywhere. But even this is not the end of "Clerks": Smith recently announced that the creation of this DVD inspired him to write a sequel, "The Passion of the Clerks," which is scheduled to begin filming next year.

Most Worthwhile Bonus Point: "The Snowball Effect" is far superior to most DVD documentaries, which usually feature actors and directors collectively patting themselves on the back. "Snowball" includes interviews not only with Smith, but with his friends from high school; cast and crew members; Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein; and Smith's mom, who repeats the question she asked after her first "Clerks" screening: "You spent $27,000 on this piece of garbage?" Even the outtakes from the doc are worth a look, particularly producer Scott Mosier's remembrance of sitting on a yacht at Cannes with Duran Duran's Simon LeBon.

Most Helpful Bonus Point: Smith, Mosier and several cast members gathered to record a commentary track for the movie's original cut, located on disc two. Smartly, the DVD gives viewers the option to hear the track while watching the film, or to watch video of the guys recording the commentary. Hopefully other DVDs will start doing the same.

Most Annoying Bonus Point: Be prepared to hear Smith ramble on during several exceedingly long introductions to some of the DVD's features. So much for being Silent Bob.

Coming in next week's "Bonus Points": The force will be with you thanks to the long-awaited release of "The 'Star Wars' Trilogy" box set.

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