Our review of America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection, published December 20th, 2010, is also available.
"You notice how it's Monopoly out there? Remember Boardwalk, Park Place, Marvin Gardens?"
"Go directly to jail?"
"That's me. Don't pass Go, don't collect $200."
Many younger film consumers have missed many films that contribute to the overall aura and mystique of some of the "grand old actors" who grace Hollywood. Jack Nicholson in particular has a rather strong reputation as a veteran and skilled actor. Films like The King of Marvin Gardens are part of the reason Nicholson is revered so much, especially by his acting brethren.
David (Nicholson—One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Terms of Endearment, As Good as it Gets) is a late night radio host in Atlanta City, mixing fiction and fact nightly as he spins yarns and tales of captivating entrancement. His brother, Jason (Bruce Dern—Coming Home, Mulholland Falls, Diggstown) is a small time criminal scam artist always chasing a dream of get-rich-quick wealth. David, called to bail Jason out of jail, ends up dealing with yet another of his brother's schemes amid Jason's fellow underworld associates' influences and activities.
When people talk about why Nicholson is a great actor, it's quiet little roles like this one. The story is very methodical, playing out almost like a theater production, and places the burden of carrying the story and the film solely on the shoulders of the lead actors. If they fail to enthrall and enrapture the audience, The King of Marvin Gardens ends up a very slow, very confusing film.
But Nicholson, he has a certain innate charm. His acting skills are considerable, even over a quarter century ago, and his measured performance uses body language, voice and the occasional bit of reactive dialogue to present the character as a quiet, reserved man. Dern's Jason is more outgoing, more openly charismatic, more vibrant. The contrast plays well throughout the story.
The video transfer is nicely done, though unmarked as to aspect ratio, it appears to be in the 1.85:1 range. Anamorphically enhanced, the print is clean and undamaged. Visually, the film is very dark, very '70s. Despite this, the image never degrades due to shadow or low light levels, and remains visually appealing. Edges are natural, colors solid, blacks deep and even.
Also offered are a wide variety of subtitle options; six language options are offered, including English and Spanish. Under the special features menu, there are biographies on the film's major names, and also trailers for As Good as it Gets, Wolf, A Few Good Men, The Last Detail, and Easy Rider are available on disc. Each trailer is presented full frame, which is unfortunate, but at least there are a lot of them, so you can have a better sense of the work Nicholson's done throughout his career.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, there are some things to not like about this disc. The audio is presented with only two options. English Mono and Spanish Mono. No stereo or surround tracks are present. Further, the audio is very muddled, very quiet. Dialogue is hard to understand at times, leading into the inevitable "continual volume fiddling" as you increase it to hear lines, then lower it again quickly when the scene switches to a loud city street. There's something to be said about "Original Audio Tracks," but there's also something to be said about clear and easily discernable audio too.
The "extras" on this disc aren't. The movie itself is presented, and that's about it. So much could have been done with this disc, but wasn't. A missed opportunity.
The King of Marvin Gardens is a character piece, quiet and methodical; but with good work by Nicholson and Dern, the film ultimately succeeds nicely.
Some work could be done on the disc, especially in the audio department, but otherwise this is a case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailer
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