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Bonus Points

The monthly guide to DVD extras

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2004;

More than a decade has passed since author Douglas Coupland inadvertently coined the term Generation X. This month, "Bonus Points" salutes the alleged "slacker" generation with three DVDs: "Mystic River," which earned an Oscar for Sean Penn, the actor who turned Jeff Spicoli into an icon for those who came of age in the '80s; the 10th anniversary edition of baby-buster comedy "Reality Bites"; and season four of "The Simpsons," every card-carrying Xer's favorite TV show.

"Mystic River" (R)
Release Date: June 8

"Simpsons" fans will undoubtedly welcome the hilarious season four DVD, which arrives June 15. But hopefully, unlike Homer, they'll keep their clothes on. (20th Century Fox)

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"Mystic River," an absorbing drama with a distinguished cast, comes in an equally distinguished-looking DVD package. Three discs are part of this set: One that contains the movie and a commentary track by stars Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon; a second filled with bonus features; and a CD of the film's soundtrack. Adding music to the mix is a nice touch and something more DVDs are starting to do. Since director Clint Eastwood composed the score, it's an even more appropriate inclusion here.

The extras, however, don't quite equal the quality of the Academy Award-nominated film. Two documentaries -- "Mystic River: Beneath the Surface" and "Mystic River: From Page to Screen" -- are somewhat interesting, but slightly redundant, as some segments appear in both features. On a more positive note, interviews with Eastwood, Robbins and Bacon from "The Charlie Rose Show" are worth a look. And the film itself, which earned Oscars for both Penn and Robbins, merits multiple viewings if only to more fully appreciate the nuances in the knockout performances.

Most Political Bonus Point: During a nearly hour-long interview with Rose, Robbins -- well known for his outspokenness as well as his acting and directing talents -- discusses the fall-out of 9/11 and his opinion of the media. He even makes vague reference to his 2003 disagreement with former "Reliable Source" columnist Lloyd Grove. Whether you agree with the "Shawshank Redemption" star's sentiments or not, it makes for compelling viewing.

Most Boring Bonus Point: Long pauses and occasional mumbling make the Bacon-and-Robbins commentary track a dull experience. It's possible the insights get livelier during the film's second half, but after about 45 minutes of droning, I was too sleepy to find out.

"Reality Bites"
Release Date: June 8

For those of us who stood on the cusp of college graduation when "Reality Bites" was released, this movie is a cultural touchstone. Everything about it -- the characters' angst about finding a job in a post-recession economy, the pop culture-related drinking games, Winona Ryder's tendency to sing "Schoolhouse Rock" songs while depressed -- smacks very specifically of the early twenty-something experience during the 1990s. As Post critic Desson Thomson noted in his 1994 review of the film, "Reality Bites" encapsulated an era.

Revisiting it in this 10th anniversary edition DVD is a pleasure for a number of reasons, including its surprisingly ample set of bonus features. The half-hour "Reality Bites: A Retrospective" is an engaging reminder of how many of the stars' careers were propelled by the film, including Janeane Garofalo, Ethan Hawke, Steve Zahn and first-time director and star Ben Stiller, all of whom appear in seemingly recent interviews. (Ryder, the movie's marquee name, has fallen off her celebrity pedestal in the decade since "Bites," but gamely appears in interviews too.) The DVD also includes seven deleted scenes; a short documentary on Lisa Loeb (remember her?) and the video for her song "Stay"; and a commentary track featuring Stiller and screenwriter Helen Childress.

With VH-1's "I Love the '90s" series slated to broadcast in July, "Bites" may even be coming back in style. Either way, this DVD is a lot like the Big Gulps Ryder's Lelaina so adores: refreshing and full of sweetness to savor.

Best Piece of Bonus Point Trivia: During the restrospective doc, Garofalo reveals that she competed with several other actresses for the role of Vicki, including Parker Posey, Anne Heche and Gwyneth Paltrow. Can you imagine Gwyneth carrying around a lunch-box purse and dancing in a gas station to "My Sharona"? Neither can I.

Bonus Point That Requires the Most Patience: Childress gets overly giggly at times on the commentary track, but it's worth bearing the low moments to get to some of the noteworthy nuggets she and Stiller share. Here's one: Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way," which appears on the soundtrack and plays a pivotal role in the plot, was originally supposed to be a Beck song.

"The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season"
Release Date: June 15

If for some reason you can only afford to own one "Simpsons" season on DVD, the fourth is the one to buy. Even Comic Book Guy might call this the Best Season Ever (though, admittedly, the fifth season comes very close).

Not only are all 22 episodes in this four-disc set bona fide gutbusters, they're all classics. It's hard to believe that one season gave us such gems as "A Streetcar Named Marge," "Mr. Plow," "Marge vs. the Monorail" and "Krusty Gets Kancelled," but this DVD delightfully provides tangible proof. As has now become standard with "Simpsons" box sets, there are loads of extras, too, including featurettes (one with behind-the-scenes footage of the voice actors), deleted scenes and commentary tracks for every single episode.

The design of this set also is the best yet. Illustrations are used in the accompanying booklet, making it easy for overzealous fans to find the bonus materials for each episode. And the menus -- including the language options screen where Sideshow Bob shouts in a variety of dialects -- often provoke laughs. Do I wish there were more extras? Sure, but that's a little like wishing Santa Claus had brought more gifts even though there's no room left under the Christmas tree. Between watching these iconic episodes again and again, and continuing the hunt for those coveted DVD Easter eggs, season four should keep Bart buffs plenty busy.

Best O'Brien Bonus Point: As a writer and producer during this season, Conan O'Brien pitches in on commentary for the episode "New Kid on the Block." But you can also hear him in a second, hidden commentary track on "Marge vs. the Monorail." Just press the audio button on your DVD remote until you've accessed it. Among other things, you'll hear O'Brien confess that "Star Trekker" George Takei was originally asked to appear in the episode but refused because, "he didn't want to make fun of monorails."

Best Picture-in-Picture Bonus Point: Season four allows viewers to see storyboards and animatics (a mock-up of the show's animation without color) alongside the finished versions of certain episodes by utilizing the picture-in-picture format, providing a new perspective for that 85th viewing of "Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie."

Most Disappointing Bonus Point: The few deleted scenes are generally very brief, around 15 seconds or less. But don't miss "The Usual Rejection Letter," the first deleted scene on the episode "The Front." That one almost made me do a spit take.

Geekiest (in a Good Way) Bonus Point: The commentary tracks are the centerpiece of the "Simpsons" DVDs. And though they can get tedious at times, the writers and directors often spill fascinating secrets. Among them: The "Mr. Plow" theme was loosely inspired by the old Roto Rooter jingle, and executive producer Al Jean claims he actually has the words "I choo- choo- choose you" (as featured in the episode "I Love Lisa") inscribed on his wedding band.

Best Marketing of the Month: Though I'm not reviewing the season one DVD of the F/X drama "Nip/Tuck"(June 15), I have to give Warner Bros. props for the most creative packaging. I received a copy of the box set wrapped in gauze, with a syringe-style pen and an Instant Face and Neck Lift Kit. All of which makes me wonder what Fox will do to get attention for its inevitable DVD version of "The Swan."

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