America likes to watch.
You'd assume that a movie starring Robert De Niro and Edward Burns would do respectable business at the box office. Touted as a slam bang thrill ride, 15 Minutes failed to drum up much business in theaters upon its initial release. Many critics sited the movie as being needlessly violent, especially considering that the message the film was relaying is that the media itself is too violent. With harsh reviews and disappointing returns, 15 Minutes lived up to its title and quickly disappeared from local multiplex's. Luckily for moviegoers, 15 Minutes arrives on DVD via New Line Cinema's new "infinifilm" brand of DVD. If you missed 15 Minutes in theaters, here is your chance to catch a movie that is sorely underrated and worth your 121 minutes.
Facts of the Case
Manhattan detective Eddie Fleming (De Niro) is one of New York's finest, and not just because he's good; he's also got fame on his side. The press has proclaimed Fleming a media darling, and Eddie doesn't seem to mind at all (as it "helps him do his job a little easier"). During a routine visit to a crime scene, Eddie runs into Jordy Warsaw (Burns), a fire inspector whose expertise is in arson crimes. The two men come to conclusion that this was no accidental fire…this was a double homicide.
The perpetrators are two international men who seek fame and fortune through America's standards. "No one is responsible for their own actions in America!" proclaims Emil Slovak (Karel Roden), a Czechoslovakian madman who has no qualms about killing. He and his friend Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) devise a plan to record all their crimes and murders on videotape. If captured, they will plead "temporary insanity," thus rendering them unfit to stand trial (because only insane men would videotape their crimes is their reasoning). A few years in a psych ward and they'll be free men with movie deals and book tie-ins to render them filthy rich.
As Emil and Oleg continue their crime spree, Eddie and Jordy are hot on their trail, usually only a few steps behind. All the while, Jordy desperately tries to help out a key witness to the homicide while Eddie attempts to propose to his reporter girlfriend (Melina Kanakaredes, TVs "Providence").
As the authorities close in, the media starts to circle…and soon everyone will get their 15 Minutes.
I too like to watch. I will sheepishly admit to being guilty of watching some of those cheeseball daytime talk shows when I am flipping around the channels. There is something perversely attractive about seeing someone's dirty laundry hung out for the entire world to see. Maybe it makes us all feel just a little better about ourselves when we get a glimpse of someone more screwed up then us. Or, maybe it is just human nature to want to view the worst of our society as it rears its ugly head. Whatever the reason, I like to watch. And I know a lot of you do as well.
15 Minutes takes this idea and turns it on its head. The premise is fresh, if a little extreme: two cops are after killers that are taping their crimes for the entire world to see (well, okay, maybe just New York). Are there actually sick people out in the world that would do this kind of thing? I'm pretty sure there are, and they know that the media will swarm to their actions. In an age of Andrew Cunnanans and Jerry Springer-type talk shows, 15 Minutes doesn't seem all that implausible.
Writer/director John Herzfeld shows that he has an original eye for this type of material. 15 Minutes is not just a typical action vehicle (which might have been why it died a quick death at the box office). The director even points out in his liner notes that he "doesn't claim to have the answer in 15 Minutes" about media violence. Instead he hopes that, if anything, 15 Minutes will "provoke thought and discussion" about the topic. Just a bit past the halfway mark, 15 Minutes has a surprise twist that will leave viewers riveted to their seats. From then on the movie kicks into high gear and really delivers with tense, taut thrills.
15 Minutes is filled with a few complex characters, and some not-so-complex characters. The main villains played by American movie newcomers Karl Roden and Olge Taktarov are both well done, though Roden's Emil is much more sinister and stereotypical of the "Hollywood" villain. Taktarov is subtle in his portrayal of Olge, a man whom dreams of only making movies, no matter what the cost is to other's morality. Toward the end of 15 Minutes both these characters end up seeming a bit cartoonish, but maybe that's the point; in our media driven society, cartoons are what the oddballs of society end up becoming.
Both Robert De Niro and Edward Burns are great as the two men tracking down the lunatics. De Niro is no stranger to the "cynical, grizzled cop" role he cakewalks through here. As usual, his performance has gusto to spare, even if it's something we've seen him do a dozen times before. I feel that Burns is one of the best actors around, and his character Jordy is a breath of fresh air. Burns is able to deliver even the most mundane lines with more panache then dialogue like that usually requires. Heading up the supporting cast is Kelsey Grammer (TVs "Fraser") as a crooked tabloid anchorman, and (Melina Kanakaredes as a pushy news reporter who has snatched Eddie's heart. Though both roles are generally thankless, both actors are able to bring them to vivid life, pumping extra blood into the characters and story.
15 Minutes is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a brand spankin' new title, and being so includes a near flawless transfer. Colors were bright and solid with flesh tones looking very natural. There was no edge enhancement spotted, no shimmer, no grain or dirt…nada. New Line has done a terrific job on this transfer, and it's about as close to reference quality as you can get.
Audio includes Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as a Dolby Surround 2.0 track, both presented in English. The 5.1 track sounds excellent, an aggressively fun ride for your system. Rear and front speakers were all utilized during most of the film, and the bass was nice and deep (just as I like 'em). The dialogue was mostly clear with only a slight about of distortion (due to being filmed on the streets of New York I suspect). Music and effects were mixed accordingly. English subtitles are also included.
As with their first "infinifilm" release Thirteen Days, 15 Minutes (notice a time theme here?) is packed pretty full of supplemental features. First up is a commentary by director/writer/producer John Herzfeld. Herzfeld is a very intelligent man, filling in the viewer with all kids of information on the making of 15 Minutes. 15 Minutes was passed around studios until New Line gave it the green light, and Herzfeld sounds thankful that it was finally produced. Herzfeld is very chatty, usually never letting up with the information (and sometimes just recapping the action happening on screen). This is a very good commentary track and worth the time.
Two documentaries are included, "15 Minutes of True Tabloid Stars" and "Does Crime Pay." In "15 Minutes of True Tabloid Stars" we're given viewpoints on sleaze TV from different "news professionals" (notice I use that term loosely) such as Deborah Norville, Jerry Springer, and Maury Povich, among others. Each person seems to have a general view that tabloid TV is underhanded and only used for a ratings bonanza. Sally Jessie Raphael seems to blame the sleaze on Jerry Springer, who seems to defend himself by letting us know that he's just "providing a platform" for these people to express their views and opinions. Uh-huh…right Jerry, whatever you say. "Does Crime Pay?" features attorney Gloria Allred, LAPD detective and O.J. Simpson star Mark Fuhrman, author Aphrodite Jones, TV/film director and writer Ted Haimes, and Loyola teacher Stan Goldman. This ends up being a roundtable discussion about the responsibility of the media, if criminals can really profit from their crimes, for whom does crime pay, and other topics on the media and criminals. I liked one panelist's observations that "crime pays when you don't get caught." Not that I'm advocating breaking the law, but hey, he does have a good point. This is a great short segment featuring professional opinions on many of the topics explored in 15 Minutes.
Next up is a "fact track" that plays while you watch the film. This subtitled track provides information about the making of the film, ideas behind it and tidbits of info regarding the topic of tabloid TV. This track tends to run a bit slow, but is fun to read along with the after your first viewing of the movie.
The second menu contains six deleted scenes (running about 12 minutes) with optional commentary by director Herzfeld. The commentary explains where the cut scenes would have been in the film, and the reason for their exclusion. "Oleg's Videos" are two full running scenes from some of the murders that took place in the film. For a more authentic look director Herzfeld had actor Oleg Takarov videotaped these scenes without any breaks. These scenes are the unedited takes of those sequences. This feature is very realistic, and for weak viewers may be a bit disturbing to sit through.
Finally there is a music video for the song "Fame" (made famous by David Bowie) by God Lives Underwater, as well as an anamorphic theatrical trailer and some cast and crew biographies. For those with a DVD-ROM equipped computer, there is some DVD-ROM features (script-to-screen access, link to original website, and exclusive access to on-line "infinifilm" features).
FYI: The New Line "Infinifilm" series is a bit different from regular DVD titles. Many of the menus are slightly complicated (for those who have never flipped around this series before), and some of the features are "hidden" in different areas of the disc (i.e., you can access different bonus features as the film runs by looking for icons in the corners of the screen). Thankfully, New Line has included a "help" button that should help you get where you want to go.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though 15 Minutes is a pretty original idea, it doesn't include a ton of original sequences that we haven't seen before. Many of the action takes or thrills are standard Hollywood stuff, but done with great care and expertise. Critics did bring up a good point: for a film denouncing violence as much as 15 Minutes does, it seems to be excessively violent. However, I guess it's kind of hard to balance preaching and delivering without tilting too far on one side; and 15 Minutes does deliver.
15 Minutes at the very least is worth picking up as a rental. I was shocked at how well I liked this movie, considering the lambasting it was given when it opened earlier this year. New Line has done a great job with the transfer and the audio features, and as with their other Infinifilm titles have packed this full of extra features. Don't always listen to the critics (well, except this time); 15 Minutes is better than you think.
Both 15 Minutes and New Line Infinifilm are free to go, though Jerry Springer is guilty of so much BS that his underwear must be solid brown by now.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Documentary: "15 Minutes of True Tabloid Stars"
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